Sunday, November 27, 2011

Real Stories from Real People

I get so excited when I receive emails from readers and seminar participants who write to tell me the exercises in“What Will I Do All Day?” are making a difference in their life. Recently I heard from a retired teacher who wrote:

“I emerged [from the seminar] with excellent ideas to put into action as well as welcome confirmation of my outrage at being suddenly undefined in our society since I was without employment.”

I asked Gwen if she would be willing to write a blog entry about something she was doing specifically as a result of the seminar.  Below you can read in her own words how the “Molehills into Mountains” principle is working.

“Quit making mountains out of molehills!”  As children, we were all told this when we sobbed over a skinned knee or a missed play date with a friend.  “You won’t remember it when you’re thirty,” we were reminded, “so don’t make it such a big deal.”  The thing is, however, that sometimes a mountain is a great thing to make out of a molehill and precisely because if it’s a mountain, it will be memorable!

Last summer, for example, when I found myself suddenly “retired,” not because I’d chosen to be but because my job had disappeared, I was in horror of not knowing how to fill my days.  Not that they had become empty, you understand, because there were still plenty of chores to do and even some new avenues to explore, but it was the thought of having unoccupied time at some vague point in the future that cast a pall over otherwise pleasant summer days.  What if all my friends forgot about me?  What if I suddenly ran out of new directions to take?

Just about that time, I invited four friends from my suddenly former workplace to come to my house for lunch.  After I’d scheduled the get-together, I attended one of Patrice’s seminars on retirement and it occurred to me as she talked about making mountains out of molehills, that I could make an outstanding mountain out of the simple gathering I had already scheduled.  So out came my grandmother’s lovely linen tablecloth and the handwoven placemats for the dining room table and the bright blue plates I’d recently splurged on, along with the eggplant rollitini, the homemade bread, the wine and the strawberry shortcake.  Normally, I might have opted for a much simpler menu and a casual setting, but making a big deal of it made it a big deal, both at the time and in memory.   Definitely a healthy move.

Another “taller” mountain came from the course in making socks I took one afternoon last summer at the local yarn shop.  As I was knitting away at my first pair and finding the task both challenging and fulfilling, it occurred to me that I could make socks for everyone in my family for Christmas.  Each year in addition to selections for each person, I try to find some gift I can give to everyone, male and female, old and young, with variations to individualize each present but with enough in common to make it a shared experience.  Everyone, I decided, wears socks, so this year handmade socks it will be.  

So far, this was a bit of a mountain since for past holidays I’d been satisfied to find gifts I could buy, books and pajamas for everyone, for example.  Now I was choosing to make something and giving myself a very definite deadline for completing the project.  But why not make this molehill even more of a mountain?  The first pair I made looked like colors from a Mary Cassatt painting, so I could buy a variety of yarns and make socks inspired by a variety of artists to fit the personalities of each gift recipient.  That would make it an art project as well as a knitting one.  And if I made tags to accompany each pair of socks, replicating (to the best of my limited watercolor abilities) a painting and identifying the artist, that would make the project really individualized.  

So there I was, assigning myself a dozen or so pairs of socks to knit and paintings to copy – looked like a mountain to me!  From Mary Cassatt I went to Jackson Pollock, Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Edvard Munch (“The Scream” for my niece who currently styles herself a goth), Henri Rousseau, Georgia O’Keefe, and several more.  Definitely this was becoming creative and fun for me, and definitely it had turned a molehill (another shopping expedition for some gifts) into a very pleasurable mountain, one that gave me satisfaction for months and brought my family a few smiles on Christmas day.

I’m not sure what my next mountain will be (an item for Patrice’s blog, perhaps?), but I am convinced of the necessity of having one.  It makes simple things much more memorable and fulfilling, not to mention more fun.