Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sheep and Ox (not Moose and Squirrel)

According to the Chinese calendar (I guess I'm continuing the theme from the last post), we are now in the Year of the Ox. As you may think, an "ox year" is one best spent hunkering down and proceeding in a "cautious yet determined manner." Nothing wrong with an ox year, but it's one of those "slow down and take a look around" sorts of times. Not bad advice at any time.

Curious (I don't plan my life around astrology; choosing to believe that huge whirling chunks of rock have little to do with my day-to-day life - but then again, who knows? And it's always fun to read the place mats while I'm waiting from my no-doubt authentic Mandarin pepper steak), I examined what the year is supposed to hold for me. According to the Chinese calendar I consulted, I'm a Sheep. (Keep your comments to yourselves, please!)

Alas, it is at best what in college sports would be called a "building year." I apparently don't have a single "favorable month" in the next twelve, although I seem to be laying the groundwork for later prosperity. Sigh.

And it turns out that I'm an insecure daydreamer who needs to let others run the show sometimes. Hmmm - could be some truth in some of that . . .

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It Is Later Than You Think

So I'd been waiting until Inauguration Day to write, thinking that I'd post about hope being stronger than fear (it was a good line from Obama's speech, I thought) and the groundswell of optimism that has awoken in our country and how good it all made me feel. All that's true, and I thought it'd make a good post.

But -

I find myself writing a totally different sort of post.

In the last couple of days, I've had some losses and a (rather large) scare. Fear not, all is well with Mockingbird and those who encircle her nest. But it served as a king-sized wake-up call.

Years back, I read a story about people whose lives had been deeply affected by a brass plaque in a beautiful walled garden in China. The characters on the plaque read "It is later than you think." At the time, I thought it was a rather neat story, with random people being brought together by the bit of Eastern wisdom and thinking to myself, "Ahh. How very wise."

It means something different now.

It really IS later than you think. And if you allow yourself to get caught up in the minutiae of life (in my case, grading and a high degree of fretting over not getting more done - I haven't answered enough e-mails, I haven't checked in on my students often enough, I haven't researched enough, I haven't read enough, et freaking cetera), you're going to wake up and discover that there are some very important things you haven't done. I'm not talking about "100 Places to See Before I Die" sorts of things; I mean things that are actually important.

Like what? Well, how about this -

Forgive someone. Tell a friend that they matter. Dare to be wonderful. And, for the love of God, don't wait to tell someone that you love them.

It's later than you think.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Type A Minus

It's a New Year, sports fans! The Panthers are in the playoffs (well, at least until the fourth quarter). Sorry - I know we're favored to win tonight, but I've seen a lot of these games just - sort of - trickle away - somehow . . . where was I? Oh, yes. So we'll have to see how that plays out.

School's started back and things are just terribly interesting at the Casa de Cleveland. Unemployment in my community has (very unfortunately) cracked into the double digits, which means an awful lot of people say, "Hey, I better go back to school!" Good idea, but I'm sorry for the reason. My area has been hurting for the last - oh, let's say at least six years. Since at least the Second World War, the main industry around here has been textile manufacturing. Go to your closet and see how many of your clothes, towels, sheets, etc. now bear a tag reading "Made in China." Those are jobs my neighbors don't have anymore and not a whole lot has come into the area to make up for the shortfall. For myself, my job is secure but my students are far more nervous than usual - even given the fact that I teach public speaking, a required course that very few people actually want to take - at least for the first few weeks.

So - to the title. I've been a whirlwind of stress lately. Far too much to do, far too little time and money. So I resolved this year to try mightily to slow things down a bit. I probably will never be one of the "smell the roses" people - as much as I often envy those folks, my approach tends far more to the, "Yeah, yeah. Flowers. Gotcha." But a group of friends and I recently went to an exhibit of artifacts from Pompeii and I had an epiphany of sorts.

You remember Pompeii, right? Bustling, prosperous town that was blithely minding its own business when WHAMMO! That innocent looking mountain that people used to climb in order to picnic turned mean. Vesusvius literally blew its top and more than 20,000 people were wiped out. I'm pretty sure their last thoughts were not, "If only I'd sent that memo to Rome."

I may never get away from being "Type A," but this year, I'm going to shoot to downshift at least to a "Type A Minus."

I think it's a good goal.