Friday, February 12, 2010

10,000 Hours

I recently read Malcolm Galdwell's Outliers. In the first part of the book he discusses the reasons behind people's success, what truly helps them reach the outer limits of accomplishment. One contention he makes is that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly remarkable at something.
For example, Bill Gates had unprecedented access to computers at his posh Seattle school in 1968. This led to access to computers at the University of Washington, which led to access to more advanced computers, which led to Harvard. You know the rest. By the time Gates reached Harvard he had already been sitting at a computer somewhere everyday for 6+ hours a day for several years. 10,000 hours worth.

My daughter says she wants to play soccer in the Olympics before she goes to college. She is nine now and she has been playing since she was 4, but at her current trajectory she will not be anywhere near 10,000 hours by the time she is 18. A sobering thought. Just loving the sport is not enough.

This got me to thinking about other things, not just the Bill Gates and Mia Hamms of the world. Does it take 10,000 hours of working at it (sleeping doesn't count) to have a truly remarkable marriage? How about 10,000 hours of really trying to be a remarkable friend, neighbor, sister, person?

What about being a good writer. I've known I wanted to be a writer since I was 12, at least that is how old I was when I said it aloud. Have I reached my 10,000 hours thirty years later?
How about insanity? Has my mother reached new levels of craziness just because she has been working really hard at it for years? Has she reached her 10,000 hours?

Maybe I'm trying to apply this rule to accomplishments that don't reside beyond the boundaries of plain-Jane-everyday-life. But it makes you think.

Monday, June 8, 2009

This One is for Allie

My niece and avid (perhaps only) fan of my blog sent this email message to me this week:

I can't take one more day of disappointment!!! If you've turned your back on the blog world...just announce it already!!!
I love you, even if you don't update your blog.

So I'm taking this opportunity to save at least one person from disappointment (a truly noble endeavor, I think. After all, life is full of disappointments).

I was at a technological disadvantage for awhile in that my laptop only worked at 15 minute intervals before it would die and have to cool off before it could be used for another 15 minute span. I used all my limited computer time to work for the last few weeks. But as fate would have it, I received Allie's plea the SAME day that I got my new laptop.

I have not turned my back on the blog world, in fact I've wondered about all my blog friends:

I've hoped Pseudo is planning to have a relaxing summer working on her memoir/novel. I've worried about her migraines and the stress of the end of the year.

Ditto on the-end-of-year stress for Movie. I've hoped the drama has been a minimum for her lately.

I've wondered if Hollywood has come knocking at Vodka Mom's door offering to turn her hilarious blog into a blockbuster movie (staring Angelina as VM).

I've wondered about my principal friend, Beth, and what is happening in the publishing world with Kerfluffle. I've missed the humorous Austin observations over at The Bean. And I'm sure RockZee is far too busy starting her own advertising co to update her blog. I've wondered what the Idiot has stirred up as late and have missed the poignant observations of Slouching. (notice I'm too lame and lazy to link all these wonderings). There are many others that I have missed, too. I look forward to catching up with everyone this summer.

As for me, I'm a bit stuck at Mile 17. We still haven't found a house...long story. I guess I know what I'll be writing about in my next post!

It's good to be back. (though I hesitate to use the word "back" lest I disappoint certain people, again)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Groundhog Day Theory

I really like this movie, partly because I'm a huge Bill Murray fan. But the real reason this movie resonates with me is the idea that only when you offer the world your best do you get to move on to better things. It's not a great movie as far a acting goes and the plot is not that impressive, but I still love to watch it over and over.

The truth is real life is mundane and it's easy to get stuck in the safety of the routine. The routine is inescapable--I can't NOT feed the kids, clothe them, bathe them, send them off to school. I can't NOT feed myself, shower, get dressed, and take part in the world (though there are days when all this is done at a bare minimum).

My husband calls this last eighteen months of limbo "The Lost Year" (s0 he's a little off in the math). But I think of it as The Found Year. I spend far too much time in my head. Even as a child, I was over-thinking things. This time in Texas has allowed me to find a way out of my head. It has been an extremely healing, healthy time for me mentally and emotionally. I found forgiveness and found a way to forgive. I found a way to be joyful with my family in the midst of the mundane routines of life. I'm finding my writing voice again. However, I've come to realize that all that time in my head, healthy or not, makes for a very self-focused person.

Here comes the Groundhog Day part. Bill Murray's character starts off as a self-centered jerk, but ends up helping everyone in the little town of Puxatony, Pa. It's far-fetched and corny, but they might be onto something. Maybe the only way to move forward in this world is to help others.

I'm not sure exactly what I need to do or who I need to help, but I plan to enjoy finding out. I've been inspired by so many bloggers (one of the best parts of blogging has been all the amazing things people out there do to help one another through this crazy world). I'll let you know how it's going!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cleanslate City, Texas

I am no longer a resident of Limbo. Please forward all my mail to Cleanslate City, and you can start sending those mail order catalogs again. And the real estate ads--especially the real estate ads.

The view is nice here and the air is clean, but I'm sure Cleanslate City will soon be polluted with neurotic angst, doubts and uncertainty. Until then, pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine and enjoy all the possibilities.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is Happiness a State or a State of Mind?

I don't live in Texas, not really. Yeah, sure my mailing address is Austin, Texas. And I haven't actually left the state of Texas in almost 18 months. Yes, my children go to school here and my husband works here. But really I live in Limbo (and quite happily, I might add).

For the last eighteen months it's been all about questions: When is the house in Connecticut going to sell? What were we thinking moving to Texas? How could we know that we put our house on the market at the beginning of #@$% recession? Should we rent out the house? Should we move back? What's more valuable: a mortgage in Connecticut or a job in Texas?

In the meantime, I've been thriving here in Limbo Land--grew my hair out, love wearing flip-flops year round, on much more stable land brain chemically speaking. Despite the financial burdens, life is simple and relatively stress free. I know, I'm weird.

Except this week has been a whole new limbo, what I like to call Yucky Limbo Land. We have accepted an offer on our house--which I realize should be super good news (remember how weird I am). And it is GOOD NEWS, except that we have to jump through 50 hoops of decreasing size before we get to the finish line. This is the kind of limbo I am very, very bad at. This is the kind of limbo where someone else gets to make all the decision. In my my Limbo, there were no decisions, only possibilities.

Do you see what I am getting at? Have I only been happy here because really it required very little of me? I don't really live here, I just MIGHT live here. And I know that the questions would have eventually worn me out (there have certainly been days like that in the past 18 months), but never having to make a decision was fun. I hate making decisions. I am lousy at making decisions (just ask my husband).

Right now the status in Yucky Limbo Land is that our CT house is undergoing the various inspections and then they will proceed. They will probably ask for us to pay for some repairs. My husband will probably get surly and refuse. The whole deal could fall through. Then I would be back in Limbo. But it wouldn't be the same.

Monday, March 23, 2009

80 Years

My dad celebrated his 80th Birthday this past weekend. That's him sitting in front of the cake as "Happy Birthday" is being sung. That's my oldest sister and me standing in the background, ready to swoop in and cut pieces of cake to pass out to the fifty or so members of the family that showed up for this tw0-day bash.

It was exactly the way my dad wanted it to be. On Friday night he sat around with his children and siblings making jokes and telling old stories. The weather was perfect, the barbecue was delicious and abundant, the jokes were as lame as ever and the stories had been told many times. A better evening could not have been scripted. Even my mother was on her very best behavior.

The party took place in my parents' front yard and most of the action was here under the carport. That's my dad holding court with his brother (standing) and his sisters and one of his brothers-in-law. People drove from California, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and all parts of Texas. Others flew in from Colorado, Washington and San Francisco. As Dad said, "I'm tickled and humbled to have so many people come from so far to celebrate with me."

On Saturday all my mom's sisters and their families joined the party. It was something to see my girls running around the yard and playing games with their second cousins, just like me and my cousins did at my grandparents farm in Oklahoma. And it was the farm stories that I liked to hear best. The continuity and stability of that life is most striking. It's been almost sixty years since my dad left the farm and headed to the northwest to become a logger. Despite somehow ending up in college and then seminary and becoming a minister in Idaho, Washington, Oklahoma, Colorado, Hawaii and eventually Texas, it is the years on the farm that still loom large in his memory.

Dad gave us quite a health scare last spring, but as you can see in the pictures he is doing very well now. In the last year both my parents have started to show the years and suffer the inevitable consequences of aging. There was a poignancy to this gathering, an unspoken need to celebrate before...before the next gathering is for a far different reason. Happy Birthday, Dad, and please know that I am far from being done with listening to the lame jokes and the old stories.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mile 17

Forty days after my wedding I ran a marathon, my first and my new husband's sixth. It was the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vermont on an unseasonably warm Memorial Day Weekend in 1999. I have been a runner for a long time, but this was by far the longest race I had ever done. We had trained for it together, our race preparation nearly as important as the wedding plans.

The day was beautiful and sunny and Burlington is a fun, funky little town. My husband's entire family came to watch and celebrate after, as they did the year before when my husband and his sister ran it.

The race started well and I breezed through the first eleven miles, literally I felt light and lighthearted. I was quite impressed with myself, waving like a movie star at my new family members who popped up along the course to cheer us on.

The next five miles didn't feel so great. It felt like someone had poured concrete into my shoes as the late morning sun bared down on us. I trudged along, finally stopping to walk around Mile 16. I don't remember specifically any conversation we had, at least not on my part. My husband may have said something along the lines of "You just ran sixteen miles, you should be really proud of yourself." But that may just be an exhaustion-induced hallucination I was having or maybe he was cutting me some slack because we were newlyweds. We had established pretty early on in our relationship, he's more coach than cheerleader.

I do remember him walking over to a group of his family and saying "Find everybody, we are leaving the course." Maybe that's what did it or maybe it was the goo and Gatorade I had. As I continued to walk into Mile 17, I decided I was not going to walk off the course.

There was no flash of lightening or angels-singing-in-the-background epiphany. The moment of decision was rather fleeting in the face of the two hours of grit and determination that followed. Somewhere along Mile 17 I started running again. I ran, walked, limped and fought the urge to throw up until I finished the race in five hours and eight minutes.

I hold that fleeting moment of determination like a smooth stone in my pocket. It is there to quietly remind me that I can finish what I start. I've been reaching in to worry that stone quite a bit lately. It's not so much that I want to walk off the course, as I'm not sure what course I am following. I have been easily sidetracked by the grocery list and the bank statement and have forgotten that this race of being a mother and a writer is the only one that counts. I started this blog as the journey of a writer and I'm not going to walk off the course.

Stepping away from the blog for awhile reminded me of a time I left a boogie board along the edge of the beach in Hawaii. When I sat up from my suntanning spot to survey the shoreline later, the board had drifted out into the water. I went jumping through the little waves trying to retrieve it, but the farther I went out, the farther away it got until it was a pink dot on the horizon. Things can too easily drift away.

So, I'm back.