Life on a Post-it

Some people write weekly to-do lists; some people keep up-to-date schedules in their iPhones. Some people (with freakishly accurate memories) simply remember everything they plan for the coming day.
I write Post-its. Each night I write everything I need to do and remember onto a three-inch-square piece of paper and stick it to my kitchen table, where I’ll see it when I wake up in the morning.
I don’t limit the note to calendar events: I write everything down, from the song I want to play as I make breakfast to how far I’ve progressed in this week’s existential crisis. People I want to talk to, messages I need to return, suggested library books and ideas for my next painting. Sometimes I think of my Post-it notes as messages from past versions of myself, offering me a glimpse into who I was yesterday — a person I’ve usually already forgotten.
I often neglect to throw my notes away, and every once in a while I wake up to four or five of them peeling up from the table. Sometimes the messages make me laugh.
Take, for example:
Go to work.
Now, why did I need to write that down? Did past me think future me was likely to forget?
COFFEE 8, 11, noon meetings
A busy morning; I clearly thought I’d need the caffeine.
Sometimes the notes are unnecessarily cryptic:
Pick up book with red cover
…because that’s going to narrow down my options at the library. Past me could have been a bit more specific.
Sometimes it seems past me wasn’t too happy with herself, and was looking for people who were:
I bet God still loves you.
And sometimes past me seems to know more than I do.
Chill out. Everything is going to be amazing.
I wonder what I’ll have to say to myself tomorrow morning.

Charlie’s retirement

My car and I have come far together. Charlotte, affectionately called Charlie, has been with me since high school. I’ve gotten used to her quirks and foibles — the way she runs out of gas before the gauge signals she’s low, the way she locks out anyone who tries to borrow her (proving, of course, her fondness for me), and the way she surprises me every month or so with a new repair bill. We have a history, Charlie and I.
Now the time has come to bid her farewell.
One rainy day a few weeks ago, I started home from visiting my sister in St. Paul. As Charlie and I crawled along in stop-and-go traffic, I noticed a wisp of smoke rising from the hood. Well, actually, more than a wisp — turns out the pounding rain had masked the sound of boiling antifreeze.
Parked on the side of the road with Charlie’s hood popped and pungent steam billowing into the rain, I fielded advice from the drivers inching by and questions from the tow service over the phone.
It took two hours for the tow to arrive.
The parts I replaced last month were insufficient, it seems, and I borrowed my generous sister’s car so I could make it home for my next workday. She agreed to drive my car once the repairs were finished, and we arranged a date one week later to switch back.
Before the week was up, I got a call from the parents.
My sister had apparently called them in concern after spending a day driving Charlie around St. Paul — no AC, broken window controls, a gas pedal that takes a few seconds to engage — and my parents had a proposition for me. Why don’t I take their minivan, and they’ll see if they can find a few long-term fixes for Charlie?
I agreed.
The minivan has character, but its personality is nowhere near as loud as Charlie’s — problems are limited to a broken clock/radio display and a weird noise when rounding corners. I haven’t feared for my life (or my pocketbook) once since I gave up Charlie. And, of course, the minivan doesn’t have a name yet — I’m open to suggestions!
Incidentally, after driving around Bemidji for a total of one day, Charlie found a new way to inconvenience my parents — the ignition key no longer starts the car. They have no idea why. (Charlie’s last practical joke?) In frustration, my cheap, penny-pinching, frugal-to-the-death parents went out and bought themselves a new car. This is so out of character for my parents that my siblings and I are still a little confused. Charlie, it seems, is doomed to remain parked in the driveway, collecting dust and dead leaves until she finds a new resting place.
“We’re trying to sell her!” my mom exclaimed brightly over the phone. “We have an ad out, but no takers yet!”
I am not surprised.
Rest in peace, Charlie. We had a good run of it. Happy retirement.

Wedding daze

People told me the summer after my college graduation would be a flurry of weddings.

I guess I didn’t realize how true that was until I was already in the thick of it.

College friends.Relatives. Family friends. It seems like a third of the people I know are offering or showing off rings this summer, shopping for taffeta and wedding cake and cummerbunds. I’ve spent the last few months chatting with grooms and brides and in-laws that aren’t mine, brainstorming over bachelorette parties and perfect gifts.

The bride of my next wedding told me last week that, as an attendant, I’ll be running point on her big day.

“I’ll give you a list, and you’ll tell everyone what to do,” she said.

She’s the boss, after all.

Sometimes it seems like a lot of effort and expense to pour into trivial details. I mean, you only wear the dress once. You don’t get to keep the cake. And what’s with all the taffeta, anyway?

From a distance, I try to be cynical about weddings — so many twitterpated people, and I can only summon so much emotion to put toward other people’s family drama and fabric preferences.

But in the end, I always enjoy weddings — laughing with (and at) the happy couple, gift shopping, running errands, rounding up extra party favors, getting to watch my family and friends celebrate each other.

Taking care of the details so the people I love can focus on being happy — it’s worth it, every time.

Even if it means I have to form an opinion on differing shades of taffeta…

It’s their day, after all. I just get to be there.

The wind and the waves

I don’t know anything about windsurfing.
To be honest, I’d never heard of it until I came to Worthington. In Bemidji, my hometown, lakes are as common as puddles, but there isn’t much wind.
The novelty of Worthington’s windiness wore off on my very first visit in early February. The snow blew so hard I couldn’t see to drive, filling my eyes with tiny ice particles when I ventured outside my car. (The weather didn’t do wonders for my car, either, but she’s a survivor.)
Since then, I’ve treated the wind as a minor inconvenience. I gave up on my pitiful attempts at hairstyles, started wearing sweaters whether or not the sun was out, and life went on pretty much as before. I got used to bracing for the wind — the gust when I open my car, the steady pressure along the lake shore — just necessary obstacles of living in prairie country.
It’s not an obstacle for the windsurfers, though — it’s a tool for speed and steering. They’re working with the wind; it looks like it takes every muscle of the body to harness that power. And watching them scattered across the lake, sails sticking out of the water like sideways dragonflies — it’s making the wind look valuable, purposeful. Fun.
Today, I hope to take advantage of those free windsurfing lessons. I’m sure (if they let me near a board, despite my obvious lack of skill) I’ll spend more time in the water than out. Still, I want to try.
It just looks fun.

Driving home

This week, for the first time since I moved to Worthington, I’m headed north to my hometown of Bemidji, MN.
It’s a business trip for me — I’ll be meeting with editors of the Bemidji newspaper — but after my work is finished I plan to stick around for the weekend, staying with my parents, spending time with friends. It’s high time I went home.
When I was a kid, my family used to take road trips from Bemidji to Texas to visit my mom’s side of the family. My parents are cheap, so they never wanted to stop for a hotel. Instead they’d drive through the night — a 25-hour trip — driving in shifts as the other napped in the back seat of our minivan.
My father always took the first night stretch, and I always maneuvered my way into the passenger seat beside him.
We’d talk, our voices just loud enough to be heard over the engine, trying (and often failing) to let our family sleep. Sometimes we wouldn’t talk; we’d watch the highway signs zip past us into the black, looking for deer. When my eyes got too heavy to stay awake I would tip the seat back and try to sleep, and then he would turn on the radio. I’d open my eyes when the sky started to brighten, but we never talked in the mornings, just watched the sky and scenery change from washed-out pastels to bold, warm colors.
I have such clear memories of those Texas drives, but I don’t remember much of the rides home. Usually someone in the family was ill, rebounding from the high-energy vacation, and I remember being woken up by the shock of snowy air after a balmy Southern Christmas. However, the drives home aren’t preserved in my memory, clean and specific, just the trips away — I think because the drives away were a hiatus from life for me, even more than the vacation itself.
I don’t have responsibilities on the road away. Everywhere else I have things I should be doing, an itch in the back of my mind pointing out that I really should be doing something, anything, pick an item on the ever-growing list of daily tasks. Even when I was in grade school I had homework, chores, family requirements. On the trip home the responsibility came rushing back. But the trip there was a break, a holiday, a sort of jubilee moment. I could take in the world, all I could see and hear, and I didn’t owe it anything back.
This week’s trip home will reverse the directions for me — I’ll be driving away toward my hometown, driving back toward Worthington. I look forward to seeing what has changed.
I’ll be back soon, Worthington — just in time for the Regatta!

Painting and philosophy

Yesterday was a painting day for me. I bought new brushes and taped a sheet of brown paper to my kitchen table. A few discarded plastic lids served as palettes. My paint tubes had been neglected for far too long, and I took a few minutes to select colors before I started in.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a skilled painter. Halfway into a painting, I usually step back, sigh, and tell myself, “This one will have to be an abstract, too.” I rarely know what I want to paint before I start splashing around; sometimes I still don’t know by the time I’m finished. (And sometimes I know what I meant to paint, but the end result looks like something completely different.) Still, it’s not really about the product.
Painting doesn’t serve any real purpose in my life. It doesn’t advance my career. It doesn’t enhance my relationships. It certainly doesn’t earn me any money! It’s an almost entirely frivolous pursuit, absorbing time and energy that I could use reading, writing, exercising, cleaning, running errands, freelancing to boost my student loan payments and completing countless other useful tasks. Painting makes me think about all the things I could be doing instead of painting.
But that’s sort of the point. Every hour I use to slack could be spent on something immediately, clearly beneficial. Painting, however, is valuable to me in a different way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Aristotle lately. (I learned about him freshman year in an intro humanities class, so don’t laugh if I misrepresent him.) He studied everything — biology, politics, physics — but what I remember most was his focus on the good life. My textbook translated his term “happiness”; my professors used the word “flourishing.” The term refers to a life that is more than economic stability and dutiful citizenship. Aristotle’s good life is about not only surviving but thriving, about living bigger than the daily stuff.
That’s just the starting point for Aristotle, of course. Always practical, he articulated a system for how people can go about achieving the good life. However, what was obvious to him — that life needs to be more than its physical components — I still forget. I need reminding that life is more than student loan payments, being organized, worrying about family. Painting reminds me.
Yesterday’s painting is, true to form, an abstract. (Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself…) The colors blur together because I was too impatient to let each layer dry before I started the next. I opened the windows in my apartment, letting the paint fumes out as I scrubbed my painty hands and brushes clean, enjoying the process. I’m still not sure what to do with my handiwork, in all its lopsided glory. It’s certainly never leaving my apartment.
But I still like it, looking with pride at my slapdash attempt at art. A symbol of the good life.

Car Trouble

My car and I have been through a lot.
Of repair shops, that is.
Charlotte, affectionately called Charlie, is a ’92 Oldsmobile with a splashy personality. Sure, her windows only roll down every other day. Sometimes she shuts down at intersections, and sometimes when I press the gas pedal the engine doesn’t engage. Her doors automatically lock a few seconds after the key turns in the ignition — people who borrow her tend to get locked out. But that’s just her character, a little scrappy, shining through the rust. Whenever she decides my life is too predictable, she likes to throw me a curve.
Last winter it was simple engine trouble. She refused to start at temperatures below 32 degrees. (Kind of a problem in Minnesota…) I struggled through on my friends’ generosity and the occasional warm day. Spring brought repercussions from an accident. Charlie was struck from behind on an icy day, and the collision knocked the muffler loose. The company that fixed the muffler also informed me that my fuel pressure regulator needed replacing.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, raising an eyebrow. I never believe car repair people, at first. I have too much experience being told I “URGENTLY” need parts I replaced a month prior, and the “blinker fluid” trick only works once and creates major trust issues. (OK, that was my dad, not a mechanic.)
But the mechanic was right, and I did need a new fuel pressure regulator. When it was installed I thought Charlie had run out of mischief. I was wrong, of course. Charlie loves surprises.
On a hot afternoon midway through the summer, Charlie’s radiator fans started running. The car had been off for more than an hour, the keys were in my pocket, and I was far, far away. By the time I made it back to the car the battery was drained, and I had to call AAA for a jump at 11 p.m. (The man who recharged the battery then shut the door, locking me out. It was a long night.)
I never solved this mysterious problem. Instead, I started carrying a small wrench in my pocket and unscrewing the battery every time I parked the car. It was tedious, and kind strangers kept offering help, but Charlie finished out the summer.
This spring, when I got back from England, I got a brief respite from car trouble as I readjusted to life stateside. That ended last month, when the blinkers flickered out. True to form, Charlie’s flasher was located in a place not marked on the blueprints; the mechanic had to take apart most of the dashboard and eventually found it behind the ashtray. Still, it’s a fairly minor problem. Charlie was easing me in.
A few days ago I smelled something burning as I drove down Humiston Ave. I didn’t see the smoke rising from the hood of my car until I parked it in town. The clutch bearing on the AC compressor is shot. It doesn’t smoke if I don’t turn on the air, but that’s a temporary fix. With luck and a little help, I think she’ll be trim (though perhaps lacking AC) by next week.
I’m not mad; she’s my Charlie. I’m just glad she’ll be in good shape again.
I bet it’ll last at least a month.

Tiny victories

They always show up at night.
I just got home, I’m tired, I’m ready to sleep. I flip on the lights in my bedroom and something runs away.
It doesn’t matter that it’s so small I can barely see it unless it moves. It doesn’t matter that I am faster, stronger and much, much taller.
When I see it, I shriek like a six-year-old.
Sometimes I find insects I haven’t seen before, more legs than body, scuttling up the bathtub walls. Last night it was a spider—no bigger than a quarter, legs and all.
I spent a few summers counseling at a northern Minnesota nature camp. I taught children to identify plants—which ones you can eat, which ones can kill you. We played capture the flag in the woods, army-crawling under brush and across anthills to reach our goal. We spotted spiders’ webs to the sides of the trails and halted hikes to examine them.
“Look at it,” I told them. “See the beautiful stripes on the spider’s abdomen? See how it responds quickly when we tap the web so gently? No, don’t touch it; we’re trespassing in its environment. Let it alone.”
Well, my home is my environment. I kill all trespassing insects.
In general, I am unpredictable with short-range missiles. I haven’t played basketball since high school. I even struggle at darts.
But in my home, with a shoe aimed at a moving target, I am accurate on the first throw.

Waking up

Mornings are hard.
I am not, and have never been, a so-called morning person. I stand in awe of those who can speak coherently mere seconds after their eyes open. In the past, when morning-inclined family members or roommates have marched into my bedroom and thrown aside the window curtains with glad tidings of the day to come, I have buried myself under my quilt and planned their gruesome and disorganized murders with my pillow.
These homicides have never occurred, of course, because that would require getting out of bed.
Now, however, I don’t have maddeningly cheerful morning people prodding me into wakefulness, and I’ve had to find my own reasons to get out of bed.
One: making breakfast. For me, breakfast used to be a necessary obstacle to starting the day, some fruit or a bowl of cereal to give me energy as I searched for my shoes and pulled on my jacket. Now, however, I’m trying to see breakfast as a way to start the day well.
That means no fast and easy food; it has to take time and care to make. Eggs, scrambled or fried, with fresh vegetables diced and tossed in. Peppers, avocados, tomatoes — whatever I have available. Eggs seem forgiving, when it comes to vegetables. A sprinkling of salt, to taste. Bread and butter, if I have it, or scones, if I feel like baking. Fresh fruit, or fruit juice. And tea, good English tea brewed in a kettle with milk and a splash of sugar, just enough to counter the bitter aftertaste.
Two: music. I find the day begins a little easier if I put on jazz or swing music as I try to jump-start my brain. I never choose talk radio; listening to all the loud voices and strong opinions is almost like having real morning people in the room. It always turns out to be some sort of lovely song or soundtrack — background music — that I don’t have to respond to, something that will drown out the sleepy static in my mind.
Three: written words. I can deal with small doses of words as long as they’re on a page. This is where the newspaper comes in handy, even if I just flip to the crossword or glance through the comics. I’ve been figuring out the local library, and I often leave one or two books sitting on the kitchen table that I can flip through. I always look for something short and interesting, something that will make me concentrate. It helps to phase me into the part of the day where I need to talk.
It’s not the food, or the music, or the words that make waking up worth it; it’s the process. Spending my limited reserves of morning energy on carefully slicing vegetables or choosing a song seems to remind me that it’s not just the end results that matter — a list of completed errands, a good day at the newsroom — but the way I achieve them. Life is not about check marks and success, I tell my tired brain. It’s about the space in between, when my eggs and veggies are sizzling and I pick up the paper, when I listen to jazz as I’m washing my dishes. These things remind me that it’s how I do things, not what I do, that matters.
And that’s worth waking up for.

Starting in Worthington

One month ago I moved to Worthington and became the Daily Globe’s night editor. I grew up in Bemidji, just a few hours south of Canada. I studied at St. Paul’s Bethel University, where I dabbled in philosophy and learned to play a wicked game of broomball. My last semester I spent abroad in Oxford, England, studying literature and developing an addiction to Earl Grey tea. I’m a book geek—I love reading words, whether they’re children’s stories or engineering textbooks. That’s part of what I love about newspapers: I get to read about and share all the interesting and important things that happen, both in the community and worldwide.
I am not, however, a reporter. As night editor I design layout, select articles, copyedit and send it all to print. It’s been a bit of a sharp learning curve—this is my first post-college job—but I’m enjoying it. I still have a lot to learn.
I’ve only been here a month, but I think I like Worthington. There’s so much sky—no trees or hills to block the view. It’s been a cold winter here (definitely the most popular topic for both conversations and articles). But they tell me that the same wind that makes life in the winter months so ridiculously cold here will sweep in summer far earlier. I’m looking forward to it; I have a feeling the summer sunsets will be spectacular.
If you see me around town, feel free to stop and say hi. I’m the girl with the glasses, probably in a comfy chair at BenLee’s, waiting out the winter with a cup of tea and a good book.