Springing Time

“Would you like a refund? You know…this is a hard medium…and you really don’t have any talent here.”

Years ago I signed up for and started a watercolor class. I’ve always wanted to learn to paint, and I enjoy the softness of watercolor. But, two classes in, the refund offer – in front of the whole class – was more than I could bear. I took my money and ran.

This past July a moment happened in my poetic life that had the same effect – I ran away. I quit. I stopped.

Well, it’s spring, and spring is a time of renewal and rebirth, according to the ancients. In the 14th century this time of year was called Springing Time, in reference to the plants springing from the ground. A new round of life. Another chance.

I drive a great deal in my job – all over Eastern Iowa. Because podcasts and music only do so much, I enjoy looking at other drivers. And, you know what I see? Bovine stares. Boredom. (They’re probably listening to local radio stations – you do know they still regularly play Duran Duran and Paula Abdul, right?) But, the stare. It’s death. It’s the I-have-to-do-this-to-make-money-to-pay-the-bills-to-go-to-the-grocery-store-to-buy-food-to-make-even-though-I-do-not-want-it-and-those-ingrates-at-home-will-complain stare. You know the one? It’s the stare that tells you about a life constructed without enough thought; legos, mortgage payments, and repeat episodes of shows that weren’t that good the first time around.

Well, folks – it’s spring time. And, I know it’s spring time because the schools I work with are beginning reflections on this past year and planning for next year. I know it’s spring time because daylight savings time has made early morning rising a chore. I know it’s spring time because I slept with the windows open last night.  I know it’s spring time because even here in Iowa we have a few daffodils up. I know it’s spring time because it’s the end of Masters’ Week in Augusta.

And, since it is spring time, perhaps it’s time to cast off the resignations of the past; time to find a non-bovine facial expression. Maybe you have some springing you’d like to do? I don’t mean the things you see as the usual requirements of spring; I mean some activity, hobby, habit of mind that you’d like to grow into?

Let’s go obvious: flowers. Have you always wanted some great flowers around the house or in a pot on the deck? Get them! Plant them! Start some seeds so you have cucumbers in July. Cleaning out the garage? Well, okay. Probably needs to be done, if it’s anything like mine.

How about an activity? It’s cliche to say it’s time for running or biking. It could be that. Or go for the less obvious: learn to play Call of Duty with your son; figure out how to bake bread from scratch; choose a new sex technique to try with your lover. Maybe something as simple as smiling more – even and especially in line at the grocery store?

Really, it can be anything. It’s time to spring; whatever your thing is, get out from behind the bovine stare, and embrace the spring. Sign up for the class. Put the festivals on your calendar, and actually go to them. Scoot down the the lake and rent a kayak. Adopt the pet you’ve always wanted; learn a yard game; read more; get out your old guitar and tune up; take painting lessons.

It really doesn’t matter – there are myriads of things you can try or do no matter where you live. Open up your world and jump in!

And, no matter what you choose to spring into, don’t let anyone try to force a refund on you.


Flying Lessons: Commentary from the Garage

LessI have made over $1500 selling stuff on Craigslist and selling books.

I sat in my garage and cried yesterday.

My social media is filled with images of graduations, weddings, and reunions being celebrated. With a vengeance. It’s my 30th high school reunion in a few weeks, and – surprise, surprise – many of those people have kids graduating from high school right now, and – surprise, surprise, surprise – those couples are celebrating 25th wedding anniversaries.

I’m crying in the garage.

I find myself purging evidence of two marriages, twenty-two years of teaching, nine houses, eight schools, and two states, a Baltic republic, and a Soviet regime.

I confess several things: 1) I had way too much crap; 2) I can now finish the basement of my condo; 3) I probably still have too much crap; 4) Son #2 has to help me evaluate my wardrobe before he leaves for Russia; 5) If you shop Goodwill, hit up the Cedar Rapids store for gently used ladies’ clothing next month; 6) Half-Price Books has some great volumes of classic literature and slightly used beach reads from the past two decades, courtesy of yours truly.

The things (translate: crap) are not the sum of life experiences or knowledge.

It’s not that I’m sad to be getting rid of things. I don’t regret the stops and starts that these things represent. I’m not sad that son #1 lives on his own. I’m not sad that son #2 is traveling and studying. I’m not sad that son #3 still has six years at home. I’m definitely happy that I’ve lived in different places among various people. I’m glad I was married; I’m even more glad that I’m not married now.

I’m still crying in the garage.

I am cleaning my slate. Getting rid of this stuff is the most cathartic undertaking in my life. In facing my past, I do not rail against it or moan and weep at love lost or dreams shattered. By getting rid of the I-might-read-that-some-day books, I lose the weight of a thousand expectations. In picking a few momentos to keep, the dusting lessens (as does any chance of being featured on a future episode of “Hoarders: Buried Alive”). With each box that goes out, I welcome in more light and air.

But this clean slate asks for new plans, innovative ideas, individualized lists. In short, I am challenging myself to truly adopt a new way of being.

A few months ago, I looked at houses because having a family means living in a house with a crippling mortgage and yard work every weekend, right? At least that what I felt obligated to – like my obligation to store way too many things that neither bring me joy nor are beautiful. I felt old looking at these houses. Weighed down. I looked at my boxes. Resigned. Embattled is not the feeling one wants when purchasing a home.

When I considered buying a condo and getting rid of stuff, I felt younger and lighter. The question is: can I get rid of my stuff without losing myself? The answer has to be yes. Because if anyone knows anything about reinvention, it is those of us who majored in Russian at the end of the Cold War. We definitely had to think on our feet – what were we going to do with our degrees?

I don’t believe my cleaning out is as spiritual as some minimalists would have me believe, but it is freeing. My son and I filled our little car and made the rounds at Goodwill and Half-Price Books again yesterday. I’m feeling lighter. I might be considering celebrating.

The universe has given me many chapters thus far, and I am grateful. I’m going to store the chapters in my heart rather than the basement.

Springtime celebrations are all about flight; happy endings; new beginnings; joyous festivities around milestones. I hope your spring celebrations fill with the gorgeous smiles of loved ones and happy memories.

I’m done crying in the garage.

Mary Oliver writes, “I think, just for the joy of it, I’ll fly.”

I think I will, too.


 birds flying