A man I have had two dates with has each time found a way to comment on my “intensity.” I mention this to a friend who says my intensity is one of my best traits and if he doesn’t like it he is not for me. But I’m not so sure.
Today at breakfast I shared with Alyssa the wonderfully efficient plan of 6 liberal arts colleges in Ohio to create an “Ohio Colleges Tour” whereby prospective students can visit 6 schools in 2 days. She looked horrified and did the equivalent of a stand-up comedy routine on my manic need for busyness and efficiency above all else, something along the lines of “OK!! Today I’m going to go to yoga, take a bike ride, teach 20 lessons, have coffee with a friend, go shopping, go to choir, write 5 blog pieces, plant some flowers and paint a picture. What are YOU going to be doing?!?!” She explained to me in that careful, slow, kind voice that both girls seem to be practicing for when I’m truly senile, that she and I were very different people and that although a whirlwind tour of Ohio colleges might appeal to my extreme need for effective time management, it would completely stress her out and maybe we could plan to visit schools one at a time. (Ugh! Blech!)
My sweet mother once complained in her later years that I was just “so fast”. My kids have always cringed when I stood in the kitchen clapping my hands and shouting “Chop! Chop!” as I was rushing them out the door to school or church or any of 100 other places. I am always in a hurry. Always looking to squeeze maximum accomplishment and productivity out of every minute. This is not restful, for me or anyone in my vortex.
I have written in these pages before that I was raised in a culture of busy. My parents were whirling dervishes of church and community meetings, committees and obligations. My siblings and I all but exchange calendars to prove the jam-packedness of our schedules and thus our worth as busy, contributing members of society. Because my actual volunteering (as opposed to check writing) seemed to be lagging the family standard, I once foolishly agreed to serve on my church’s governing body only to have beg to be released a year into my term because I thought I might do bodily harm to the blatherers who gathered each month. OMG could those people beat dead horses! Endless circular arguments where each person’s voice was patiently heard, understood and considered. I HATED it! Just make me queen and we can all go home and watch Gray’s Anatomy!!
Usually this intensity and abhorence of wasted time has served me well in the work place. I once landed a big deal because I beat the guy to his office early one morning and he thought that showed the kind of initiative he wanted in a banker. Meetings that I chaired were never long and anyone ever looking for a brief summary of a situation knew exactly who to come to. Even now it seems to work as each student or group of students only comes under my laser scrutiny for 30 short minutes and receives enough to think about/work on to last well into the next week. And evaluations often mention my “patience” which makes my own children roar with laughter and disbelief. They can mock me, but it’s true—when sitting on my little bench listening to someone play piano–good, bad or indifferent–I can hear them out fully, jot a few notes and speak kindly about what was good and not so good. I don’t know why, but it gives me hope that this slightly slower pace and the kinder, gentler woman who takes it might spread into the rest of my life like an oil spill. (God, did I just quote a Bush? Shoot me now!)
Here is the only thing I have figured out about life after lo these MANY decades: Sometimes we are gifted with or develop skills that serve us very well for a long time. And then they stop. And that’s when we need to dig deep, grab up all the miles of creeping roots and let them go. Stare at the empty hole for a while and think hard about what should get planted there. Consider that the best answer might be no-thing. That a little empty spot in the garden might work out just fine. Might even allow those pretty coreopsis to spread a little farther.
One of my favorite up north choir anthems starts “Slow me down, Lord, I’m going too fast.” I’m going to copy that down and hang it on my mirror for a while. Stare at it in preparation for my upcoming 5 day (gulp! what was I thinking again?!!?) “noble silence” retreat at a Buddhist center in SW Washington state. Nothing like throwing the non-swimmer smack in the deep end to see how she’ll do!!
I’ll keep you posted on my intensity de-tox. But in the meantime want to take a bike ride, or a hike or have coffee or lunch or join a book club?