Happy 2008!

Today, I made a schedule for my weekdays. Since so much of what I am trying to have time for doesn't have a specific time associated with it, I very often get much less done than I want or could. Setting up schedules has helped me in the past, so I decided to do it again (schedules also have the potential of pissing me off and making me rebel, or of shaming me and making me give up, so it's a fine line I gotta walk here).

My new schedule allocates time for my 3 paid jobs, plus taking a class at Cal next semester, and five other activities that I want time for. It also leaves me with most of my weekends unscheduled, which I am hoping will prevent any insurrection perpetrated by (and upon) myself.

Of course, it doesn't really start until next week, when school reopens, but I'll start implementing parts of it tomorrow to give it the oomph of new year's day!

Unrelated side comment: Our downstairs neighbors returned from their holidays this morning with a real piano, a piano which is perfectly audible through the floor. Luckily, I do like piano music. Here's to hoping they learn a variety of pieces!

Although many of my friends are jaded about the marking of the new year, I like it. I like the idea of recognizing and welcoming change. I like the idea of fresh starts and new beginnings, and also the reflection on the past year. Making resolutions is a way of embracing hope and intentionality. It's a stand against fatalism, which has its place and usefulness the rest of the year, but which should be made to sit quietly in the corner sometimes while optimism and can-doism take the floor for an ecstatic dance.

May your new year be full of happy surprises, opportunities to learn and grow, and many moments of pure joy.

group hug

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Game + Vocab + Helping People

If you pride yourself on your large vocabulary, have a little free time, and like a challenge, go check out Free Rice. It's a multiple choice vocab test with words at every level of English knowledge. You find out immediately what the correct answer is and then get a new question. If you get three questions in a row correct, then you move up to the next level. You can also move down by getting too many wrong (I'm not sure if just one wrong moves you down; I was too busy answering questions to figure it out).

If you're not already sold, how's this? For every word you get correct, a donation of rice is made to feed the hungry through the UN. How can this be, you ask? Well, there are ads on the site. The ad revenue goes to the UN food program. The site is actually operated without profit. It is a sister site to poverty.com, for eradication of world poverty. I think it is a clever idea well instantiated. Go there.

(Thanks, Langguj Gel, for the referral!)

Why ask if you know the answer?

"Perhaps real wisdom lies in not seeking answers at all. Any answer we find will not be true for long. An answer is a place where we can fall asleep as life moves past us to its next question. After all these years I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company." --Rachel Remen [my bolding]

Does she really mean that we shouldn't pursue answers at all, or simply that we should pursue answers without any expectation of finding them? That we should not be afraid of the unanswerable questions?

I can't give up looking for answers entirely, but I think trying to find The Answer to any question is misguided. Without some answers, even lowercase, we wallow in inaction and indecision, places that are all too familiar, but rarely satisfying. I believe in intentional change, both of ourselves and our environment (which we change unintentionally merely by existing). Intentional change must be directed by something like answers, however temporary they may be.

I agree wholeheartedly with Remen that life's journey should be taken in good company!

Olden Goldies

Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.” I remember questioning this song when I was a child, not liking the generalization that old friends would be more valuable than new ones (the whole thing further confused by the fact that I liked silver, as a metal, better than gold, but knew their symbolic place in relation to each other). I’ve been re-exploring this issue lately, though, with a new appreciation of the old song.

Last summer we visited the northwest and had the opportunity to hang out with various old friends. Some we have never been out of touch with, so they are not just old friends but current friends. Others we hadn’t seen in years. We spent a weekend with a couple and their lovely children of 7 and 5 who were not yet born when we’d last seen the parents. It was completely relaxed and comfortable, which really amazed us all. Another friend was one from elementary school, whom I’d seen once or twice in high school but not since. Although I was under the cloud of a head cold at the time, it was remarkable how well we felt we knew each other, despite having lived more than half our lives since we’d last really hung out. Does this mean that who we are is already completely established by our teens? In some ways it seems it is; however, I would hate to think that the intervening years of experience haven’t affected me (and I know they have).

What is it about an old friend that is so exciting and yet comfortable? Less than a week ago I had a lovely visit from a friend from high school and our early twenties. We were joined by my best high school girlfriend, whom I have been seeing more and more of since I’ve been back in California. Hanging out with these old friends left me feeling light-hearted and joyful, almost giddy. And I’m not just talking about the wine or the fact that are both really smart clever funny people who make me laugh. There was something that lingered.

The next day, I sought, as I had done several times unsuccessfully in the past, to find some of the other people who were in our writing group “back in the day” (as kids now refer to anything more than a minute ago). Whether through my superior search skills or just better net saturation, I found two fellow students and our creative writing teacher. What a bonanza! A small flurry of emails ensued and promises of a reunion in the new year.

The pleasure of reconnecting with these old friends is perhaps enhanced by the fact that they are all writers or creators of some type, all with a deep love of reading and appreciation for language. While teaching students all of last year who, in the majority, did not like to read, and then spending my writing energy on the very unsatisfying task of graduate school essays, I have become more distant from fellow language-lovers. With these new-old connections, I feel revitalized and renewed, like I will be able to walk again after a long convalescence.

All of that writery hooey aside, I think there is something generally comforting about old friends. I don’t know who I really was eighteen years ago; I know that I feel in some ways like a completely different person—wiser, more patient, more flexible, less bossy, more certain about some things, less certain about others—but I’m also the same person. I've come to realize since my childhood dislike of gold, that it's not considered more valuable than silver or bronze just because it's shiny but because of its other important qualities. Maybe what we seek in an old friend is the flexibility to accommodate our changes and the strength to maintain the bond: like gold, old friendships are pliable yet strong. [Okay, metaphor, please retire now, I've used you beyond respectability.]