Once upon a sixth grade dreary

I meant to post this yesterday, which was the anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday. Ah, well, better late than never.

My sixth grade teacher for English and reading was Mr. Koliha. One of the year-long projects he had for us was the memorization of poetry. We started with at least five lines (a lot of limericks that first week), and each succeeding week the minimum number of lines grew by one. Of course, being an obnoxious little show-off at the time, I rarely did the minimum.

There was a boy in class who gave me a run for my money, though. One week, I decided to show just how good I was, and I set out to memorize “The Raven.” Sadly, I only got about 3/4 of it down pat. Mr. Koliha gave me credit for that because it was so much longer than necessary. The boy, the week following (or had it been the week preceding? Memory goes vague on the details.) recited “The Bells,” grinning mischievously the whole time.

I still don’t know “The Raven” by heart. (Perhaps I’ll work on that again this year.) Why does that one poem — or parts of it, and my work on it — still stick in my brain decades later, when I can’t recall anything else I did? Maybe because I picked the furthest, most difficult target I could and worked toward it, and discovered that there was some success even though I didn’t reach my goal. Maybe because it was one of my first tastes of not always being the best. Maybe because Poe has always been an inspiration to me.

Life has gone on, and many things have changed, but those core truths have not. I still enjoy Poe. I’m not always the best. And I always reach for outrageous goals.

What about you? Do you have any lessons from your schooling and early years that have stuck with you through time? Share them in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading.

Winter weather gives me an excuse

Dogwood after January snowstorm.

Dogwood in our front yard, January 12.

Lovely day to wake up to. Unlike a lot of my friends farther east and north, I saw the sun shining when I got up this morning — much to the dismay of my son, who really wanted another snow day.

Of course, all that snow on the ground meant the only time I went out of the house (other than barely stepping out the door to grab pictures) was to check the mail (never know when I might get an acceptance or rejection). No walking. No driving to the doctor. Nothing that involved stirring away from the warmth of my computer monitor.

Yes, I know the monitor’s not warm.

The “no excuses” isn’t going as well this week. Haven’t walked. Haven’t written. Haven’t quilted. Spent some good family time, though, and started reading an excellent book that I should have read years ago (The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss). Also, paying work is going well.

I’m not quite hibernating, but part of me wishes I could. This blog post is a step toward doing something more, stretching out. I’ll work on an outline later, after dinner. Tomorrow, I call to make a doctor’s appointment. I can’t move forward if I’m standing still.

Even if “still” is lovely and pristine, like a tree covered with fresh-fallen snow.

Any excuse . . .

No excuses.

That’s my motto for 2011. No excuses for frittering away time I could be writing, playing on the Web. No excuses for giving up on exercise. No excuses for not spending time with my family. No excuses for holding on to stuff I don’t use and have no idea if I’ll ever need.

Let’s be clear, here. Some things are reasons, not excuses. If I sign up to run a 5k race, and I get a broken leg or I’m in the hospital — well, I can’t run the race. That’s a reason. If, however, I then stop running at all, don’t try to schedule a different 5k run, and give up — that’s letting a setback become an excuse.

I’ve done that. Just looking at the exercise — well, after my accident, I tried. I tried running, wound up with blood poisoning in my foot, and spent another couple of months on crutches. I sporadically tried again, but with each setback, I stopped longer. It didn’t help, perhaps, that I had “drop foot,” meaning that my left foot twisted to the side because of uneven pull of the remaining muscles in my leg. (It’s very hard to run on the edge of your foot.) However, I got my foot straightened out and my ankle fused to fix that problem — in 2004.

What’s been stopping me since then? Habit. Laziness. A toddler at home. Heat and humidity. Ice on the road, making me unable to balance. Cold. Rain. Too busy.

Excuses.

I can’t change my entire life overnight, and I really wouldn’t want to. I love my family, I love my home, I love my work. Overall, I have a very good life. I just think I can make it better if I focus on changing the habit of making excuses.

Over the course of this year, I’ll post once or twice a month about specific areas I’m working on, an excuse I caught myself in, or progress I’ve made. I’ve added a new “No Excuses” tag to the blog, so if you’re interested, you can follow along.

What about you? Do you have a motto, a mantra, or a guiding word for the coming year?

As always, thanks for reading!

Even oatmeal has a consistency

Consistency tells us what something is made of or what it’s similar to. We speak of things being like paste or as thin as water. Consistency is how things hold together.

When we strive for consistency in our habits, that’s what we’re after — for our behavior to hold together, to agree with what has come before, to be connected. And often, what we want is to be consistent in a good way — if my habit is to check my e-mail, visit the Forward Motion board, check out Twitter and Facebook, and maybe take a gander at Web comics before I get down to work, I might be incredibly consistent, but I won’t be productive. That’s not a useful consistency.

This year, I’ve striven to achieve consistency in submitting my work, and I’ve been pretty good at it. I figured that my stories do no good sitting on my hard drive; no one can buy them there. This year, 160 submissions; last year, 40. That’s good progress. (I might even get another 6-7 out this week. If not, they’ll provide a good start to next year’s tally.)

Getting the stories out there is a good step, and I hope to continue that practice during the coming year. I also want to expand my consistency — I was pretty good (until the last quarter) of keeping tabs on tax income & expenses this year; I could be better. I finished some old work and started some new; more needs to be finished.

And then there’s keeping my desk clear . . . the less said about that, the better right now. However, I have excellent motivation on that: my husband gave me a lovely tetsubin (Japanese ceramic-lined cast-iron teapot), teapot warmer, and teacup and saucer for Christmas, and they will look beautiful sitting here on my desk. I hope to have a picture of that up within the next week or so (although, to be honest, the rest of the office is a bit of a hazard area as well).

I’m not setting this as a 2011 resolution. Just laying out my journey — this is what I’ve been working on, and where I think it might go next.

Consistency. It’s a good goal.

A new outlook

If you know me, you know I wear glasses. If not, you can scroll down in the window to see my picture over there in the sidebar on the right. See? Glasses.

Except that those lovely glasses, which I thought made me look rather intelligent, broke a few weeks ago in a freak accident. They split right down the middle of the nose piece. Sure, I suppose I could use some cyanoacrylate glue to patch them back together, but the truth is, it’s been a few years since I went to the eye doctor. I was past due.

I couldn’t go right away, however, because between the coughing with the bronchitis and the loopiness the cough syrup caused, I wasn’t fit to get behind the wheel. It’s a good thing I have contacts to wear as a backup.

Today, I finally had my appointment, and my eyes had changed a fair bit from what the doctor said. (I didn’t get an actual copy of my prescription, although I will ask for one when I pick up my glasses.) However, no bifocals needed yet, no glaucoma detected, perfectly normal eyes except for the mild myopia and astigmatism. So that’s good news.

Then came the fun part: picking out new frames. Hundreds of choices. I narrowed it down quite a bit by considering only frames within $20-30 of what my vision plan covers ($60 covered; everything over that at 20% off), but that still left a wide selection — colored metals, heavy plastic, round, oval, rectangle, steampunk, and even some that were shaped like the ones I had in college. I picked out a handful that looked promising and tried them on again, getting some feedback from the woman who worked there.

(As I told my friend Bonnie, if I were really into the 21st century, I’d have taken pictures with my cell phone, uploaded them to Facebook, and gotten a poll going to help me choose. Ah, well. I’m not big on decision by committee, even if it is called crowdsourcing.)

Eventually, I settled on one style; I should have the glasses back in about a week and a half. I promise I’ll actually post a picture when I do.

Do I think this new pair of glasses will still let me look intelligent? Yes, but also more quixotic. That’s probably a good thing — truth in advertising and all that.

Your turn: What kind of changes have you made to your appearance, and have they affected how people perceived you?