A few months ago, a friend texted my sweetheart to say that he was overseeing an estate sale for a woman who had decided that she was done with Southern Cali and was headed to upstate New York with all her horses, material goods, and life. Having grown up in the northeast, I can understand the draw to upstate NY. In many places and at many times, it is picture-postcard beautiful. There's a built-in roughness, too, to that region, one that forces you to dress appropriately regardless of fashion, chop wood out of necessity, worry about your tires from November to May, grow anxious about the coming winter in September and October, and rejoice in deep-seated celebration at March's first sight of crocuses and daffodils. There is nothing happier than true springtime when you have suffered through a long winter. After the last April surprise snows have melted and the rain in May has moved on, June is glorious, glorious, glorious. Of course, then comes September's gorgeous autumn amid growing anxiety about the coming winter.
Although I've never lived in upstate New York, I know these feelings well. Massachusetts is upstate New York's next door neighbor, and I spent more than ten years trading cups of sugar and nor'easters with The Empire State.
I have wondered, since moving to the endless sunshine of SoCal, if the bitter northeast winters are not worth it. After all, here we never have deep lows that come from dark, cold months, but that means we are never sent soaring into the giddiness of Spring Fever. Here in Los Angeles we have the steady state of "pretty happy" most of the time. Even keel. Steady Freddy. I love SoCal, and it's a relief to wake up in February to blue skies rather than darkness, but now in my sixth year here, I appreciate more than ever that amazing je-ne-sais-quoi that occurs with the fierce arc of a swinging seasonal pendulum.
This week I finally cracked open The Happiness Project and am finding over and over that it reminds me of this List. The author, Gretchen Rubin, started a blog when she began her project, which reminded me of this blog that I created about halfway through my first year's List. Gretchen committed to posting regularly about her project. The best bloggers do - and by regularly, I mean at least once a week, but better every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or something like that. Reading of her commitment to her blog and her follow through, I thought, I am a blogging failure. I am not cut out for blogging. Or maybe I rebelliously thought, I am too busy to get boxed in to another regularly scheduled thing. I have a ton of discipline for running, yoga practice, and writing in general, but regular blog posting has thus far escaped me.
Never make excuses.
Okay, I won't. However, I will say this: The List of 100 Things has profoundly affected my life, and I think the reason I don't write about it more often is because it's not always clear to me how it is affecting me, I just know that it is. I do the things on my List and take it all in on a semi-subconscious level. From the beginning I'd been aware on some level of the profundity that would come along with working through the List. I knew that I would change, grow, and in fact I started the List because I wanted to transform in some way. But, also, I embarked on The List in 2012 just to get stuff done. Get stuff done in my own little private life, change quietly, without a blog, alone.
There's a story my mom told me about when I was a little girl.
As the story goes, I was still a baby in a crib, and learning to stand. Like most babies, I would pull myself up by the sides of the crib and rejoice in my accomplishment. But, as my mother has told me, I practiced only in private. My parents watched me through the crack in the door as I pulled myself up, stand, maybe dance a little, my fat little legs celebrating their new-found strength. And then, as soon as I was aware of my audience, I sat down. I wouldn't perform my new trick for anyone until I was solid in my new skill.
I haven't changed much in this regard. Perhaps it is my introverted nature. Perhaps I just like to stay focused without the distraction of others, with full concentration on the task at hand, without worrying about an audience. At some point I realized that nature was limiting. There is no way to take, for instance, yoga classes and not have any one see you. Or swim lessons. Or long distance running. And without readers, there is no way to really become a better writer. Although I have set aside this nature so that I can learn and grow, in many ways I still prefer to master new tricks in my own private room.
And sometimes, as in my excavation of how The List is effecting my life, perhaps I would just prefer to take the easy road. Not even write about it at all.
But The Happiness Project reminded me this week that this blog's purpose is partly for processing. A platform to write about the affect of the List. A place to write through the questions, perhaps, as Rilke says, write my way to some answers.
Unlike The Happiness Project, I didn't start out with categories in mind. Gretchen Rubin started her project from the jumping off point of categories. She examined aspects of her life, and filled her year-long project with exercises that would, in theory, increase her personal happiness. In my List writing, I just allowed my pen to write. Much later, as I worked through it, I realized there were general categories that items generally fell into: Self-care. Learning/growth. Family. Challenging Fun. Laid-back Fun. Adventure. Things like that.
I can't give a book review at this time since I'm only about halfway through, but this book/project does ring a familiar tone to The List. I didn't begin this List project with an eye to increasing my own happiness, but I did begin it with an eye to growing more into myself and the life that I want to live.
Which, I suppose, is a happy life.