lists

My life is measured in lists. To-do lists, grocery lists, wish lists, lists of goals, lists to keep the anxiety of life at bay. I even pray in lists. When I wake in the morning, lists race through my head: take shower, pack lunches, feed dog, unload dishwasher, make dentist appointment, etc, etc. It’s these unglamorous details of life that end up written in my journal, in lieu of more substantial, reflective entries.

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The turn of the new year is typically a time to reflect and pursue a more “balanced life.” Perhaps all of my list-making is an attempt to strike that balance–to keep the balls in the air–to keep things from tipping into one extreme or another. However, the deeper I get into this parenthood gig, the more I question whether a balanced life is a reality that any of us actually achieve. I wonder if striving to attain it is, ironically, an exhausting and futile endeavor?

I am reminded of one of my favorite poems by Linda Pastan, called “Lists”, which begins:

I made a list of things I have
to remember and a list
of things I want to forget,
but I see they are the same list.

I suppose it’s a bit sad how much I rely on lists to order my little world, but as I leaf back through my journal entries of lists, I realize how much life exists between the bullet points. As Pastan’s poem continues…

My mother makes lists on tiny
scraps of paper, leaving them
on chairs or the seats of the bus
the way she drops a handkerchief
for someone to find, a clue
a kind of commerce between her
and the world.

A kind of commerce between her and the world. I love that.

Last night we celebrated my husband’s fortieth birthday. Somewhere between the “buy ice for cooler” and “make salsa” and “clean bathrooms” and “pick up house,” the meaningful moments took place.

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I suppose I am coming to appreciate my lists more and more because I realize they are the scaffolding of life. They may not be the heart of life, but they are the skeleton. Our most significant moments can’t be deduced to bullet points, but I think the bullet points provide the framework for the good stuff to happen.

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What lists do you keep?
How do they serve as the “commerce between you and your world”?

Aside

snow and mystery

It snowed again. This is a freakish occurrence in our particular pocket of the world. The snow has accumulated to almost a foot in some places. As I look out the window, I feel like I’m dwelling in some dreamy Scandinavian room with white walls, white floors, a few accents of natural wood, and sparse decor. Pristine and clean.

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So, we are home again. As much as I struggle with the lack of light in winter, or the cold temperatures that get into your bones, I am thankful for the creative space that winter provides. It’s always suitable weather to retreat to your favorite corner of the couch with some coffee and just think.

There’s been this poem in my head over the past few days–a poem I remember reading years ago–but couldn’t remember exactly where I’d first read it. After some digging, I was delighted to find it again. It’s by one of my favorite poets, Robert Hass. The poem, “The World as Will and Representation,” is featured on one of my favorite poetry blogs, How a Poem Happens. In this post, Hass shares the poem and discusses the process he went through to write it, as well as the process he goes through to write many of his poems.

I enjoy getting to see a bit of the “behind the scenes” in any creative work, because in my own experience, “behind the scenes” is not a composed, refined, or finished space. It is not a pristine Scandinavian room.

This particular poem that Hass shares is a narrative poem about his childhood. I suppose it suddenly came to me because I’ve been working through a few narrative poems this week and I feel that I tend to get stuck inside of them, obsessing over the details and order of how things happened, which tidbits are important to include, which things should be left out for the sake of the story and the rhythm, and what, in the end, the meaning of the story is, what the heart is. Hmmm…sounds a bit like life.

I like that Hass says he can come back to a draft after months or years before it is finally finished, and that certain poems, no matter how much struggle has gone into them, don’t ever come together, but how these poems are often precursors to the ones that just flow onto the page with ease.

The creative process is a mysterious one–mysterious like the snow we keep receiving in this coastal town–like the way our past experiences form the people we are today–like the way our minds suddenly remember something after years of forgetting.

…We get our first moral idea
About the world–about justice and power,
Gender and the order of things–from somewhere.”
–Robert Hass

That’s all for today…but one more fun tidbit…and a bit mysterious to me…I just realized yesterday that three of my favorite songs by different artists (Coldplay, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Imagine Dragons) are all called “Amsterdam.” There’s something to that city…and I suppose there’s a poem in that.

Any little mysteries in your life recently?

momentary, ordinary

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Fragmented thoughts on a Wednesday morning, the week after Thanksgiving…

I look out the window at such an ordinary scene. Gray skies and a wet gray parking lot. Early December and the trees are nearly done shedding. The holiday bustle has begun. This morning I write in my journal–fragments of sentences, fragments of thoughts, trying to psyche myself up:

“Trying to stay grounded in the holiday season. Live in the moment! Just do the next thing! Don’t think too much!”

Gosh.

What I find today is a mind jumbled by a series of broken to-do lists. Return this. Register for that. Buy that. Throw it away. Get to this appointment. Paint that wall. Pay this bill. Finish the laundry. ALWAYS, finish the laundry. (It is never finished.)

I sit here at this bench at Starbucks, the first glimpse of stillness in about a week, the children back to school after Thanksgiving, and I am giving thanks.

There are so many roadblocks to creativity, I think. So many things that make us feel caught on a crazy-making hamster wheel. It takes a good hour of just sitting and staring blankly out the window before I can even begin to hear some semblance of truth, to skim the edges of the creative space inside.

Like I said–I struggle with the demands of this time of year. Stress. To do lists. The million details involved in raising a family. Tantrums. Messes. (I currently have two 3-yr-olds.) Doctors appointments and flu shots and antibiotics and missed dentist appointments. The appointment I’m running late for. This…on top of the extra celebrating and joy to make room for! Writing mumbo jumbo posts like this at least help me feel like I’m keeping my head above the water!

The season of Advent calls us to set time apart from the stress of the season. It’s ironic, isn’t it? In attempt to celebrate the birth of Christ, I feel that I can travel so far from the heart of Christmas and inadvertently create things that can lead me away from the core of it all. The simplicity and reality of a baby in a stack of hay, God incarnate. Huh? What is that?

I even feel pressure within the Christian culture–pressure to rise up and get my heart in proper emotional state to celebrate the birth of Christ, to viscerally FEEL the significance of the occasion, to do an Advent calendar, to light the candles and read the proper verses, to dress my kids up in coordinating Christmas outfits and get a professional photograph taken and then have Christmas cards printed and mailed out to everyone on our contacts list (can’t even begin to attempt this one!), to create and implement holiday traditions into my family and then post pictures of it, gingerbread houses, sprinkles all over the floor, cookies, lights, decorations, gifts, Santa’s lap, HOLIDAY CHEER!!! Do you feel this pressure, too?

For me: the pressure of being a “good mom” during Christmas = PARALYSIS.

This is what I’m thinking about, though. This one sentence:

“Let every heart prepare Him room.”

It’s a verse from “Joy to the World” that I saw posted by a friend on Instagram the other day. It resonates.

How does a heart prepare room for God to dwell…not just as a one-time deal, but on a daily basis, and especially during this time of year? I suppose it’s different for everyone. The preparation, for me, today, means an hour at a coffee shop, sipping regular coffee, sans kids, watching regular scenes of ordinary life unfold outside the window. He shows up in mundane moments, to-do lists aside. I prepare Him room today in the monotony, in the moment, in the relative silence. No agenda. No duty. Just sip and listen.

These are the un-fancy thoughts floating through my mind in this brief moment today. How about you?

What practices help your heart prepare Him room? (and stay afloat during the holidays?)

What things block your creativity?

How do you stay grounded, especially during this time of year?