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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Friday, September 15, 2023

We’re doing a project.

After some conversation about how we have to get out of Franklin, in part because the powers that be are turning it into a tourist destination hell, in part because of the noise that entails, Ralph and I agreed to stay here through the end of our lease then do [something else].

That [something else] is open to debate but we’ve been doing a combination of thinking, researching and counting.

Counting down, to be specific. Ralph got the idea, somewhere around day 306, to count down the days to the end of our lease.

It started with a chalkboard and a number. Every day we wrote down the number of days left and an aspiration. The aspiration could be anything – something we wanted to do more of or less of. Something we dreamed of doing or having, however big or small. Something we wanted to start now and work toward or something we could take on eventually.

Sort of goals meet bucket list with a sprinkle of hopes and dreams.

Then I got the idea to count down with stones. Seeing a jar of stones dwindle day by day is a lot more impactful than looking at a number on a chalkboard. It becomes rather real when a jar empties out the days of your life.

Today is day 269.

The counting is the easy part. The aspirations can be trickier. Some days I want a hundred things. Others nothing.

It’s early in the project but already there are patterns.

There’s the do. Visit all the national parks. Spend more time outdoors. Read, write, master cocktails.

There’s the have. The awesome kitchen and the vegetable garden. The gas stove and the ice machine. All the cats.

And there’s the be. Slow down. Worry less. Connect more with the people I love.

Not all of these depend on the end of a lease. I can certainly do more paint-by-numbers now. And I’m not waiting 200-plus days to go to the park.

But we’re people, and we need to play little psychology games with ourselves to make things happen. Having a deadline is a powerful motivator. Writing down what you want, whether it’s silly minutia like finish puzzle or more meaningful like spend week drinking wine with mom, is a tangible reminder that there’s more to life than figuring out how to organize a closet.

Don’t get me wrong – organize closet, or more specifically organize everything – is on the aspiration list. But it’s not the only thing.

I might have saved this reflection for later in the project, when there were more aspirations and more evidence of my goals, but it didn’t take too many days for me to figure out the Pecking Order Of Things.

At the bottom are the haves.

I want a lot of stuff. I mean, the fact that have ice machine made it to my list of aspirations in the first couple of weeks should be an indication.

But the have list is really just filler. I’d like to have a giant freezer and heated floors and a yard full of chickens. It’s fun to imagine my own little private Utopia Of Stuff. But I’ve made it this far in life without a Zen garden, I can probably make it the rest.

Besides, if I did have a gas stove and a dream kitchen and a non-white all-stone bathroom one day, what on earth would I complain blog about?

In the middle are the dos.

I want to do a lot of things. I want to see and touch and taste and experience everything. There aren’t nearly enough days in a life to satisfy the urge. If ever there was a case for cloning, this is it.

There are things on the list that I can aspire to – like visiting all 50 states and every continent – that may or may not come to pass and it wouldn’t matter much. If I only see 42 states and three continents, I won’t go to my grave mad.

There are other things it would make me very sad not to do. Like go back to Olema or spend more time oceanside.

And there are things it would be ridiculous not to do, like improve my cocktail game and finally finish that blasted white puzzle.

So it’s a mixed bag of priorities, but it’s still fun to entertain, and on a Saturday afternoon when I’m sitting around doing nothing because I have no idea what I want to do, I will have evidence of my options.

Finally, there are the bes.

The be list happened quite by accident – literally – when I accidentally left our Yeti cooler in the middle of the parking lot and Ralph accidentally drove over it. My aspiration that day was: slow down.

That may sound like a do but it is much more a state of being. Less headless chicken, more Zen, no garden needed.

Less rushing, more meandering. Less haste, more noticing.

I suspect that no dream kitchen in the world would be able to withstand the fury of my daily whirlwind.

Since then I’ve paid more attention to the being. More reflection on what’s important. Less obsession with perfection. More perspective. Less compulsion to solve and fix everything.

As outlandish as some of the things on my have list are (a whole play room all to myself), and as ambitious as some of the things I want to do (complete the Kentucky Bourbon Trail), it’s the be list that is the most challenging. And yet it is also the one I am looking forward to the most.

Since we started our project it has morphed from a countdown to a count-up. Rather than looking at our lease as an end of something, we’re looking it as the beginning of something better. We’re not sure what that is, not in a precise “we have it all figured out” way, but every day we have a chalkboard to remind us that we’re working toward it. Not waiting for it – but planning it where we can, thinking about it when we can’t, doing what’s reasonable in the interim, and aspiring to it one stone at a time.

Photo: my stone jar, as of today’s count.