Ever since I’ve been a high school teacher, July has been a month of detox; it’s when I learn to breathe again, relax, slow down, and let myself find a rhythm of life that is natural and centered on what feels good. If I plan anything in July, it is fun and family oriented. I might do a day or two of workshops at my school, but I typically don’t take on any big projects or outside jobs. I’m lucky I don’t have to, financially, and I see this month as an important rejuvenating part of my year. There was one summer where I felt guilty about not working, but that was only because I had been consistently working outside the home since I started babysitting at the age of 12. Now, every July is about remembering who I am outside of a job, and it’s absolutely lovely to experience it.
This July has been no different. Here’s the wrap-up: I had two weeks in Vermont with Free and my mother and sister, then home for Free’s birthday party, then a trip to Grey Fox for the bluegrass festival, and then a weekend trip to Ohio. Sprinkled in there were a few days at the lake house, our trip to the Brimfield antiques fair, and some quality down-time at home. Newman and I have had lots of easy date nights, mostly to sample some summer seafood (i.e. “Buck a Shuck” oyster night at the local golf club restaurant). I’ve slept in, read some novels, puttered around the house a bit, and generally lived the good life. I have relaxed with Free, watching her swim and jump and read and chatter. I have felt the summer stretching in front of me, and I’ve re-learned what it feels like to not have to do anything if I don’t feel like it.
I’m really lucky to have July. I know this. The wrap-up helps me to remember it, to soak it in, to let myself smile and be thankful for this blessing. I used to tease Newman when we first started dating because it was his habit to frequently do a verbal wrap-up. After a good date or a long weekend or even a nice meal together, he’d take a minute to review it, noting its positive qualities and what made it memorable. It made me laugh when he did it, but I loved it and looked forward to it too, and I often find myself asking him to do it now. I’ve come to see how useful it is as a strategy for finding peace and joy. Within our relationship, it helps us to make note of what’s working, what blessings we share, and what we might have done better. It allows us to compare our impressions and tune into details; Newman will often note something that was a highlight for me too, and it reminds us that we are continuing to be in tune with each-other.
The wrap-up is a form of a gratitude journal, really, and one that I can practice more easily than a journal. It only takes a moment to review and appreciate things; it is akin to the way that writing helps us revisit memories and examine them for nuance and flavor. At its best, the wrap-up can elevate simple gestures and aspects of the day to the significant ingredients of a happy life that they are. It’s a practice I want to incorporate into my life.
August is peeking around the corner, and while some of my teaching peers might be panicking about those “back to school” ads that are creeping in from all sides, my wrap-up is helping me feel totally excited about the fact that I have another whole month to do my thing. I’m not trying to make any of you non-teachers feel bad, really. There is so much of summer left for all of us to experience, and it’s all full of potential. What will we do with it all? I’m getting geared up for August. This morning, I woke up and thought: “Let’s go!”
So here’s my Let’s Go plan for August. If July is about winding down, August is about focused planning and preparation. I still get to enjoy myself and work on the big picture goal of finding happiness, but I feel rested and ready to start tackling some projects and setting some goals. Here’s what I have so far:
- Writing: I have always wanted to write about my childhood days in a focused sort of way. There, I
saidwrote it. I think the blog is a good place for me to start digging in. I’m going to think of my audience as Free, for I think it would be lovely to give her a collection of vignettes about my childhood when she is older. I will write about it all: school days and countryside and family life and the village community, and I will NOT let fear of bad writing stop me from writing. I do fear that, constantly, but I have to be brave and just get some stuff down. Having the blog deadline will help me. So, blog-partners, get ready for some quantity over quality; I simply must get down to business.
- Home Decorating: Newman and I have got to bite the bullet with some home decorating. I think fear is holding us back here too. I realized that he is as nervous about putting holes in the walls as I am in terms of hanging things, and it’s time for us to throw caution to the wind. I want to love my home, not just in the abstract, but in each specific space that is a part of it, and just like with the writing, I have to be prepared to make a mistake or two if it means getting on with it.
- The Big Clean-Up: Before we start making the house more of a home, we have to clean it out. My sisters and I had a book when we were little called The Big Cleanup, and it was a lovely story about a little boy who tries to clean up his room only to imagine all kinds of possibilities for every thing he finds, leading him to throw nothing away. Although I love this book, I must embrace the exact opposite message if I am to meet my goal of having a place for everything and everything in its place. I simply must get rid of stuff that I will not use, wear, or love. I simply must. Wish me luck.
There’s more that will come in August, of course, more fun and family and preparations for work, but the three goals above are the main self-motivated projects I want to undertake in order to find more of the happiness and peace I crave. I’m eager to get going.
And just so you can see I’m serious about the writing goal, there’s a memory that came to me recently, and I didn’t write about it because I didn’t think I was capable of capturing it well. I still don’t think I can do it, but I’m going to try anyway. Here’s the snippet so far:
Some of them shake rulers at you so you can never see their hands, only the long thin wood flapping back and forth dangerously, flying and buzzing near your ears, hitting the desks, landing on your own hand, perhaps, in a stinging reminder to be good, be good, finger on your mouth in the hall so you won’t talk and elbows down off the table and eyes on your work and head down in church.
One of them comes on suddenly, no rulers necessary, smacking you hard on your back with the full force of her arms behind them. I don’t think they’d dare smack you in the face, but I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if they did it. I’ve heard stories from my brother about the Brothers at the monastery school, and I know they’re worse than the nuns. They’d hit you in the face no problem, I’m sure.
One of them always has her finger in her ear, wagging it back and forth, digging for something she never seems to find, and she’s always adjusting her veil too, especially when someone comes into the classroom to see her. She’s a younger one but meanest of all when no-one’s around. She loses her temper easily and even when she’s nice it’s like she’s only setting you up to be mean later. She walks like she has somewhere important to be, and she only smiles at the grown-ups. She is crisp, tidy, and a constant worry to me.
But Sr. Mercy, when she comes, sits down slowly and spreads her hands out on the desk and lets her smile spread out with them like melting butter on warm bread. Her hands are pale, wrinkled, soft like my mother’s. She is old and only comes when one of the other nuns is sick or away, and she tells us bible stories and listens to ours. Her face is what I think of when I think of the word “gentle,” bright and worn at the same time with eyes that won’t turn on you, no matter what. I like to tell her things and am not afraid to run up to her when I see her walking in the convent garden. She likes it when we come to her. When I lent her my favorite books on the children who Mother Mary had appeared to, she returned them with brown paper covers neatly covering them. Once she brought me a bar of chocolate from the shop across the street from the convent. She had it hidden and gave it to me quickly, and I knew she wasn’t supposed to be buying or sharing it.