Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Out of the Blue

It never fails to surprise me - the way an idea, a possibility, an alternative can sneak up on me, show up in the periphery of my vision, appear suddenly out of the blue when I least expect it.

For the past several years, I've taken this week to formulate goals for the coming year.  Usually by arenas - health, relationship, work, etc. Or, occasionally by values - family, accomplishment, creativity, etc. This past year, I had one major, all-encompassing goal. Move to St. George, downsize, and reorganize our home. (Thrilled to say, I've/we've accomplished it.) 

So what about 2012?  What's next? And in the spirit of this blog, how might I approach goal-setting in a new way?  I am slowly wending my way through old journals for insights and new possibilities, true, but that will take months to finish and a goal should be rooted in the future, right?

Then, quite unexpectedly, over a cup of coffee one recent morning, scanning a USA Today, a story caught my eye, a charming, inspiring story. The subject of the story, Jim Henry. He is 98 years old. And he has just published a book, In a Fisherman's Language. Amazing. Even more amazing, however, is that Jim was illiterate until he decided to learn to read and write - in his mid-90's! 

"It's never too late to learn," says Jim. So, what do I want to learn about, says I?  And the organizing principle for my goals for 2012 suddenly crystallized.

I'm starting with a bucket list, not of places I want to see, but of things I want to learn more about and things I want to learn to do. And from this list, I'm creating not so much a series of goals in the traditional sense of the word, but a course of study, my own syllabus. I don't know if this would work for anybody else, but for me this feels so right. Because, unlike too many of the goals of the past, goals driven by what I felt I should  or needed to do, this I want to do.

My initial thoughts - choose a theme per month. To begin with, nutrition. I'm embarrassed to admit I know too little and genuinely want to know more. And learn about the state we live in, including take a trip to explore and become acquainted with it. Or World War II, or the 20's.  And  there are the Impressionists, and the classic novels I've not read. 

And - what I want to learn to do or learn to do better -  to draw, to make better use of the computer, to write more creatively.

An explosion of ideas, generated by a brief newspaper article. Thank you, Mr. Henry.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Road Not Taken

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how I make decisions, particularly the big ones. Not just while rereading past journals, not just to understand for the sake of understanding. I know I've some big decisions ahead of me, foreseen and unforeseen. And I want to make them as consciously and effectively as possible.

In the past, I have been quite influenced, positively and negatively, by the perceptions and opinions of others. The usual cast of characters - parents, teachers, friends, authors. And the occasional stranger.

One in particular. A young woman who impacted the entire course of my life. Picture this - l957, Mid-west, Catholic all-girls school, sheltered girl from a strict Sicilian family, taking clerical courses to become a secretary. Enter a young woman asking to give some IQ tests to juniors for her masters degree thesis.  For some undisclosed reason, I am selected to participate.

After the test is completed and scored, young woman asks what I intend to study in college. "Who, me? College? I'm not going to college." The young woman, aghast, "But you have to. You're too bright not to."

Me, stunned. No one had ever called me bright before. She persisted, speaking to the nuns to support the idea. Offering to speak to my parents on my behalf - did not take her up on that one! And the more she persisted, the more an idea that I had never entertained became a possibility.

So, I summoned the courage and went directly to my father, who, somewhat stunned himself, said, "Why would you do that, you're just going to get married and have a family. Besides, we can't help you. Any money we can spare has to be set aside for your brother." Remember, it was l957!

But the possibility had become a dream and with it came a new possibility. I could make a decision that my parents did not support.  The rest is history. How I was one of only a very few of my class to enter college on graduation. How I earned my own way, becoming the first woman on both sides of my family to get my degree. How I went on to get my masters degree.

Certainly, I will never know what my life would have been like had I not met the young woman, had I not gone to college. But to quote my favorite poem by my favorite poet, Robert Frost...

                        Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
                I took the one less traveled by
                And that has made all the difference.

So, however much I research and contemplate alternatives, how much I seek the wisdom of others, I hope I never forget to stay open to the insights and inspiration of total strangers.