Never mind the new year---it’s my new year that makes me stop and think.
Longtime readers might remember a column I published on New Year’s resolutions. In “My Undo List” (12-31-13) I talked about resolving to let go of guilt, regret and perfectionism.
Now I have a birthday approaching, and while I’m not entering a new decade I can feel its breath on my neck. I find that I’m thinking not so much about “undoing” as I am about scaling back on some activities and spending more time on others.
More music. Less news.
Ever since I worked at the Rock Hill, South Carolina, Evening Herald right out of college I’ve been a ravenous consumer of news. Back in those olden times I had to rely on the newspaper and three television networks to keep me up to date on current events.
Now, in addition to the legacy media, we have 24/7 cable networks and whatever the internet dreamed up 10 seconds ago. There are TV screens on gas pumps, for heaven’s sake. We’re awash in information and starving for knowledge. Even writing about it makes my nerves jangle.
So I’m putting down the remote and turning on the radio. (Yes, I’m old school.) Or playing a CD. (Further evidence thereof.) Or listening to my iPod. (Welcome to the 21st century.) Or calling up one of my Pandora stations. (See, I’m not a Luddite after all.)
I have eclectic musical tastes: Aaron Tippin to Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd to Leonard Bernstein and Beethoven to Bruno Mars. Great music grabs me by the collar and lifts me out of whatever stressed out, distracted or sad state in which I may be wallowing. Let’s put it this way: On a normal, non-apocalyptic day “Canon in D” by Pachelbel always makes me soar.
I’ll continue to read our local paper and The Wall Street Journal daily and I’ll turn to the TV for small doses of whatever folks are yelling about on any given day. But then I’ll stream my Christina Perri station as I wash dishes and fold clothes. (And I'll dance if a really good song comes on.)
More Bible. Less internet.
Hear that giant sucking sound? If you’re of a certain age you may recall that presidential candidate Ross Perot said it was the sound of jobs being lost in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But that was small potatoes, Mr. Perot. This is the sound of the internet dragging countless hours into its gaping mouth.
Come on, I know you’ve been there… You go online to check your email. Then you wonder if anyone ever “liked” your status on Facebook. Then there’s a news website, which might give you a link to something not so newsy. Finally you step into the Google abyss because you remember you wanted to find the name of that tall actor in the old movie you saw yesterday and before you know it you’re researching the history of pirates on the Barbary Coast.
As Mama would say, “Merciful fathers.”
In the meantime, I’ve got Bibles in three or four translations acting as bookends. I’m disciplined about reading Scripture when I’m in a Bible study group, but when I’m on my own...not so much. So I’m taking at least 15 minutes of that online time every day and cracking open one of my big study Bibles. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a start. And way better than looking up movies on imdb.com.
More apprehension. Less comfort.
Now that is simply weird, right? It’s human nature to gravitate to the soft and easy. I’m sure that at this moment someone is making plans to fly drones carrying pepperoni pizza directly into family rooms everywhere. I’ll take mine with extra cheese with a side of recliner and fuzzy blanket.
But I’m concerned that the older I get the harder it is to step outside my comfort zone. I’ve never been a daredevil, but my list of dread-inducing things used to be much shorter. Around 20 years ago I drove two children from Colorado to North Dakota, bought a house, went back to Colorado, then made the return trip when it was time to move. And yet a few months ago I had to give myself a pep talk before driving over to Northern Virginia to visit Older Son and his family. Granted, it was Northern Virginia, NOVA to our ROVA (Rest of Virginia), a strange and foreign land. But still…
So I’m making an effort to try new things. Not jumping-out-of-a-plane new. More like signing-up-for-Ladies’-Paint-Night-at-church new. Don’t laugh. For a recovering perfectionist the idea of trying to follow along as an artist takes us step by step through the creation of a painting is daunting, to put it mildly.
Did I mention I have no discernible artistic skill? Did I mention there will be other participants? In my nightmares I envision myself trying over and over to make a truly round circle while everyone else finishes up a landscape worthy of Andrew Wyeth. It does not help that one member of our group has taken part in a paint night before and says it’s easy and fun. Yes, that’s what they told me about skiing too.
But I’m signing up and going into the whole endeavor with a Teddy Roosevelt “Man in the Arena” attitude. And even if I wind up with something that resembles a landfill (or that belongs in one) I’ll pat myself on the back for trying something new. I might even branch out further and try a new flavor of ice cream.
No doubt there are many other activities which deserve more of my attention and many more which deserve less. But this is a start. In home renovation terms, I’m going for a “refresh,” not a “gut job.” (Although I don’t care for the use of “gut job” in this context.)
I’ll check in next year to let you know how this re-balancing act has worked out. Even if I fall off the high wire I will have had a wonderful view.