Counting up the Years

The days are long and the years are short, someone advised me when I was a young mother. They were right; those years flew by! And not just the years of hands-on motheringall of them seem to be accelerating. I'm hitting a round number this year and thinking about what I might do to mark it in some way.

Photograph of a white coffee cup with a teal upright bicycle on it and the words "Life is a beautiful ride", sitting on a wooden tabletop with sunlight falling on it from the front so its shadow stretches out behind it on the table. Photograph (c) Barb Chamberlain.

A fun idea that got some discussion in an online community I'm in: Whatever age you turn this year, take that number and think of things you can do up to that count. Not all things that involve spending money eitherthings that might involve time or attention or effort or friends and loved ones. These can become part of your celebration of your birthdayweekmonth (which is what we call it at our house). You might have to start before if you want to accomplish a certain total by that date but this isn't a competition.

I'll get the ball rolling with some of my ideas and some from my younger sister, who more than rose to the challenge when I asked for her ideas. Some of my ideas definitely draw on things I've picked up reading the book and then the ongoing newsletter The Art of Noticing, by Rob Walker.

If you're turning 60 this year, for example, you could write in your journal, draw or paint if that's your talent, or otherwise record:

  • 60 people who matter to you or made a difference in your life
  • 60 of your favorite things/things you appreciate or are grateful for (early mornings enjoying the view before the world gets moving, the color peacock blue, the foam on top of a latte, chevron wooden floors in old houses, old couples holding hands, a really good hair and outfit day, warm and fuzzy sox, smell of cut grass, home-cooked meal I didn't have to make or clean up after, hot coffee in the morning, Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and Vivaldi's Four Seasons)
  • 60 fabulous words (scrumptious, poppycock, kerfuffle, facetious, and of course fabulous itself)
  • 60 places you'd like to go and/or have already been (map with pins—one color for "been there" and another for "going there")
  • 60 things you like/enjoy about yourself/your life
  • 60 holidays you invent with associated food, symbolism, and celebratory activities people would engage in on those special days
  • 60 favorite moments (whether you've had them yet or not!)

    Things you could do, whether it's a treat you give yourself, a hobby or challenge, or an extension of yourself for others:

    • Take 60 different walks/hikes/bike rides (going the opposite way around a loop counts)
    • Notice 60 different things over a week or two of your regular daily walk/bike ride
    • Find 60 treasures (rocks, driftwood, shells, beach glass, perfect pinecone, seed pods)
    • Find 60 instances of a particular "something" while on a walk, ride, or transit trip—like occurrences of the color yellow, traffic signs, blooming shrubs or trees, houses of a particular color or configuration
    • Leave 60 "somethings" for people to find—could be poems you write, rocks you paint, books in a Little Free Library, chalk messages on a path, dollar bills tucked into library books (or your own pockets!), arrangements of found objects, little game tokens (I keep finding glass game markers in Squaxin Park when I go for my walks and I've been leaving one of my painted rocks in the same locations to create a kind of silent dialogue with whoever's leaving those)
    • Try 60 new recipes or taste 60 new foods/dishes/sauces/seasonings
    • Pay 60 compliments
    • Laugh out loud 60 times in 60 days (cat videos count but can't be the dominant source)
    • Do 60 squats every day (not all in a row and not all strenuous/deep)
    • Start and end your day with 6 deep breaths while lying in bed—one for each decade
    • Give yourself a hashmark every time you straighten your posture or pull your head back so it isn't jutting far forward from your spine; work on reducing the # of days it takes to reach 60 (one idea is to to use doorways as a trigger; every time you go through one, think of entering the room standing or sitting a bit taller)
    • Go for a 60-minute walk, run, or bike ride (or miles instead of minutes, if that's what turns your cranks)
    • Get on the bus or light rail, ride 60 stops, get off and explore wherever that leaves you
    • Get 60 flowers and put them all around the house
    • Do 60 Sun Salutations (oof—haven't been practicing)
    • Read 60 books, poems, essays, or authors (over the course of some time frame—point is to make space for reading but I read more than this every year anyway)
    • Spend 60 minutes in a nice, hot bath (aw, do I have to get out after 60? Can I make a down payment on future birthdays?)
    • Sit out in the back yard or some other peaceful space where you won't be interrupted for at least 60 minutes listening to birds, relaxing, NOT thinking about the unfinished gardening chores
    • Get a 60-minute massage
    • Meditate for 60 minutes
    • Watch 60 waves come into an ocean shore
    • Hug someone for 60 seconds (most hugs last an average of 3 seconds so this will feel really long)
    • Learn 60 oddball facts about some topic or topics (did you know wombats produce square poop?)
    • Take 60 pictures of the same thing, trying to make it different each time whether that's through angles, lighting, or taking the pictures over a series of days
    • Knit, crochet, or quilt 60 squares to be made into blankets for people who need them
    More ideas please! What would you do? Is it something you could do now or something you'll work up to? (Notice the absence of 60 push-ups on the list above....)

    Walking a Path

    In the span of three days, in three different books and websites, I read these three quotations.

    The path is what happens--
    it is not an end in itself.
    In order to walk the path,
    you have to become the path.

    ̶ Gary Snyder

    When we are fully on one path, we are indirectly preparing another.

    ̶ Ry├║nan Bustamante 

    No matter what you do, no matter what happens,
    it is impossible to leave the path.
    Let me say that one more time:
    No matter what you do, no matter what happens,
    it is impossible to leave the path.

    ̶ Teddy Macker, excerpt from "A Poem for My Daughter"

    I didn't go in search of statements about paths. You might say that without seeking the path, I found the path.

    That's what happens, isn't it? You're proceeding along living your life. You turn around and consider what lies behind and there it is: the path you made. Short. Long. Direct. Circuitous. Branching. Rocky. Smooth. Monotonous. Scenic. 

    Whatever it is, it's yours. Making the path that brought you to this point made you who you are. 

    I imagine we all have pieces of ourselves we leave behind, and other pieces we wish we could leave behind. When I think about choices I wish I had made differently I have to remind myself that no matter how often I might think about something that happened or something I did, that doesn't change the past. It doesn't change the path I created. It brought me to who and where I am now. I have become the path.

    If on the whole I like who I am now I have to recognize that I am this person because of everything on that path. Everything. 

    If I am kind today it is not only because my mom emphasized kindness. It is also because at times I was unkind and I remember that and am ashamed. I don't spend time beating myself up for those moments. There is no point in being cruel to ourselves; the world does enough of that for us. I simply take the lesson learned: "Be kind. It is who you want to be and how you want to remember yourself when you look back at this moment from farther along your path."

    More than one writer has said something along the lines of, "We find what we look for." That is, if I want to review the path behind through a framework in which I consider myself a person who makes mistakes, I'll definitely find mistakes to dwell on. If I want to review it through a framework in which I consider myself a kind person, or a caring person, or a person who likes to try new things, I'll find those moments as well. 

    What's on the path that I enjoyed and that I want to experience again as I move forward? What are the qualities I have acquired coming to this point in my life that I want to reinforce, and which qualities do I want to consider setting down and leaving behind? What path am I preparing?

    Related reading

    Lost Year. Lost Future?

    Nothing anyone writes about 2020 can capture what it really felt like. Human memory doesn't want to hold onto horrors. We want to look away, look forward, move on. If we don't do that we risk sinking into existential dread, drowning in the realities that rise over our heads.

    Because it was tragic, at a level we wouldn't believe if someone put it in a movie plot. It is still tragic. Even as I rejoiced in the amazing feeling of having coffee with a friend in a coffee shop--something I took for granted in January 2020, something I treasure as a special moment now--I have to live within these realities.

    We still have deep, divisive, damaging racism embedded in everything about the way our world is structured. We've had it for far longer than white people like me recognized, even as we benefited.

    We still have the devouring, thoughtless habits of careless consumption that will kill our species. Not the planet--it will survive, in some shape. The Earth doesn't need us to go on. We've lit the planet on fire and we're pouring more gasoline on it every day.

    We still have the violent, strange, and polarizing politics that made the simple act of getting a shot--something most of us experienced as a child and yeah, I'm glad I didn't get measles, mumps, whooping cough, or polio, aren't you?--a dividing line.

    We still have the yawning chasm between the wealth of a Jeff Bezos--who earns more in one second than some people make in an entire month of hard and thankless work that exposes them to the risk of a potentially deadly disease--and the desperation felt by someone who has to call the back seat of a car their bedroom because that's all they have left.

    Historians describe turning points, which are easier to recognize in hindsight than in the moment. I have one particular turning point in mind, though there are many.

    I remember my anger when 9/11 happened and I listened to then-President George Bush give us a rousing speech--about why we needed to show that we couldn't be beaten by going shopping. 

    I'm the daughter of a World War II veteran. I know that when we were asked as a nation to rise to the challenge of the moment by changing our way of life we were able to grow victory gardens, save tin foil, reduce consumption at home so resources could go to our soldiers overseas. 9/11 could have been a turning point to ask that we reduce our dependence on foreign oil so we wouldn't end up making more enemies in the Middle East. We didn't have to put the lives of our own citizens and others into the tanks of our ever-larger vehicles.

    We could have committed to a cleaner and greener future. We could have risen to the challenge. We still could.

    And if we did that we would also be doing something to confront the terrible legacies of racism. We would be acknowledging and then reducing the greater burdens of pollution and death by traffic violence created by building an economic structure that asks people to spend more and more time driving farther and farther. We would be making healthier places for everyone. We would treat this lost year as a portal to the future that we want.

    When I say "we" here, by the way, I mean "we white people who still hold the majority of decision-making power in this country in every sector." Because "we" is me. "We" is you if you're not speaking up, speaking out, taking action. If we can't collectively learn from this lost year then we have truly lost our future.

    2019 Blogging in Review

    January: I got the year rolling with a post listing various bike challenges, not all of which I intended to try to complete. Speaking of challenges, compiling a list of everything I read in 2018 was a self-imposed challenge in an effort to give a shout-out to authors who enrich my life with their talents.

    February: I decided to make it a lot easier to spotlight authors by compiling my list of books read in smaller chunks, hence the list of books I read in January.

    March: I wrote quite a bit more in March. What I read in February, some musings on how differently we would interact on our streets and roads if we all moved the way we do in grocery stores, a round-up of some of my transportation reading (meaning articles, not books), a piece on why someone who owns a bike would use bikeshare, an introduction to my new e-bike Zelda!, and on the last day of the month the list of what I read in March.

    April: My blogging energy continued into the cruelest month, sparked by the biking energy that goes with tackling the #30DaysOfBiking challenge. For a while there I thought I might actually do another run of 30 Days of Blogging to go with the biking, so I pushed out a lot of posts:

    I even dropped in another round-up of transportation articles along the way.

    May: Then life returned to normal and my blogging pace dropped. I posted the list of my April reading.

    June: Another quiet month with only my list of May books.

    July: You guessed it -- June reading list

    August: I should have blogged every single day of my wonderful trip to Copenhagen and London. I didn't. Too busy living the actual life to record it, and that's not an apology.

    September: Caught up on the reading list with a July-August round-up, then posted on the innumerable thankless chores of digital housework.

    October: Another "too busy to write" month.

    December: Something about the end of the year gets me writing again. I had a really wonderful experience with a great version of #BikeSchool, a Twitter chat I lead every so often, this time with guest hosts and the added tags #MoveEquity #WheelsMoveMe to invite in new participants. I belatedly reported on successful completion of the 2019 #coffeeneuring challenge as a series of bike dates with my sweetheart, discussed how my approach to holidays has evolved (and gotten much simpler and easier), and reviewed my year of bike challenge participation. I wrapped it up with a confession about nonfiction books I've started and haven't yet finished to create a bit of public accountability.

    And that brings us to 2020. Such a nice, symmetrical number, that. Here's hoping that I round out this new year with enough reading, riding and writing to make me happy. I need high doses of each of these.