Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Slower Pace

If time streams by, the bit between Christmas and New Year’s is among the parts I like best, because it slows down and becomes more like a lazy river. I sort of started a christmas letter that isn't quite finished, so desultorily I go back and poke at it, and try to get Michael to pay attention to it, too. This year, it will be a new year’s letter, or maybe whatever the next calendar marker after that is. That’s ok; it’s the connection that matters, I figure, whenever it happens.

In finishing up the syllabus and lesson plans for the new course that starts on January 25, I spent hours yesterday playing with the formatting and learning new things about Pages, Apple’s answer to Word. That felt ok, because time is slower now and so I could follow the obsession where it went without the little voice in my head telling me I was wasting time. And it was an obsession; it seemed impossible to focus on the substance while the documents didn’t look right to me for some reason. It’s entirely backwards, as the formatting should follow the content, but my brain was stucker than stuck on how it looked. I did finally get the set of documents to do what I wanted them to do (mostly) after a while. It’s very cool, with one source for a bunch of standard stuff that can be differentially pulled into others that all have a standard look and feel--and that are different on the first page of each section and the following pages in long documents with a new section for each class session. It’s cooler than it sounds, trust me. As with many pieces of complex software, there’s a lot of power there, if only you know how to use it. The main problem is that in their re-conceptualization of the word processing universe, the Apple folks used a completely different vocabulary than the Microsoft folks do, so finding things in the help is not so simple. Googling turns out to be the fastest way to find out how to do things, since the many truly helpful people out there mostly use more familiar vocabulary in building their tips and tricks hints. My conclusion is that the Apple people should get over the less-is-more glossy aesthetic of their help pages and actually put more useful content into them. Why should it be so hard to figure out their new mail merge approach, or even how to make the first page of section different? I hate context-specific menus, if anyone out there cares.

I’m still mulling over the happiest day thing; that post brought a torrent of responses, the most of any in quite some time. Most who wrote have happy moments, but would have trouble picking out a happiest day. The lone writer who had an unequivocally happiest day described a pivotal, life-changing event that was, at the time, clear in its import and made for an unreservedly happy day, celebrated at the time. It was fun to read about. More common, though, were moments of pure happiness embedded in otherwise complicated events, or times that turned out to be life changing in positive ways, but that weren’t obvious at the time. I had one of those moments of pure happiness awakening from surgery and feeling more like myself than I had in many a month, out from under the grey, blurry oppressive cloud of the summer. On the other hand, that was a moment in an otherwise not-so-fun period in the NICU, with morphine hallucinations, staples in my head, bloody scabs and bruises all over, not to mention the charm of generally being in the hospital with tubes installed. That moment, though, was truly one of piercing, penetrating joy.

Not long after writing about the happiest day conundrum, Dear Abby had a column about whether it’s inevitable that couples grow apart after many years. Michael and I are working on 35 years, and we haven’t grown apart, so I know it’s not inevitable. On the other hand, long term relationships--with life partners, with friends, with colleagues--are a lot of work. While Michael and I have always been friends and always committed partners, we’ve had patches that took a ton of work to get through, to figure out how to communicate, to balance, to come to terms with each other. Neither of us come from particularly open emotional backgrounds, so learning intimacy was a long work in progress. The bonus is that, on the other side of (most of) that work, life is surely wonderful. Michael has always been endearing and charming (when he’s not completely, totally aggravating) and there’s little than can top his habit of saying, as he awakens each day, how happy he is to wake up next to me. Of course, he didn’t say that in the years when we were struggling, but all that pales in comparison to the contentment and security and happiness of now. Life is good.

Yesterday’s NYT Science Times had an article about the social psychology of pleasure procrastination and the concept of “resource slack” to explain why so many coupons go unused, tying it into why those who live near landmarks never get around to seeing them unless they have tourists visiting them--or right before moving out of the area. (It also explains why it’s so much easier to accept an invitation to give a talk a long time out, when we assume we’ll have more free time than we do at the moment, but of course, we never do.) This reminded me that we’ve never seen the new Lincoln museum in Springfield, which is supposed to be stellar. I don’t usually do new year’s resolutions, but I’m now resolved that we’ll go visit it next week, as soon as it’s open again after the holidays. Shea has a friend staying with us now, and our house has been full of teenagers the last few days; a charming group, their pattern appears to be to stay up until 4 or 5 doing whatever they’re doing (right now, they’re on a puzzle binge) and then a number of them flop out and sleep on our couches and floors. Since they’re all here, we’re delighted by this, even if it does mean ceding the ground floor of our house to them after dinner every night. As soon as this visit ends, and we can get Shea up during the daytime, we’ll go together, for three reasons: to see it, to get over the procrastination of the “we can do that any time” thinking, and to lay down another experience/memory with Shea. In our theory of parenting and family, laying down memories and experiences is one of the main positive things we do. So, next week, an expedition to the Abraham Lincoln museum.

Beautiful snow is drifting down around us, cleaning up the layer that’s gotten dirty. It’s a great day to be inside by the fireplace, even if it involves grappling with and, I hope, finishing the substance of the lessons plans, now that I’ve (mostly) conquered the formatting. It’s a question for another day why I got quite so obsessed with how it all looked before the content was done, but I really did, and my brain simply would not go onto the (interesting) problem of interlocking all the sessions until it looked right. That’s worth mulling--another later. For now, a quiet day bobbling down the lazy river in my metaphorical inner tube, enjoying the scenery with my papers by the fireside, at least as soon as the inert bodies down there wake up and clear out. And think how much better the inner tube ride is than the medical conveyor belt of last year. Cheers to all.

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