The Power of Grey

If black is a powerful color, red is bold, orange is happy, and purple is regal, what is grey? I’ve mentioned before that black is not my go-to, grey is. Grey is smokey and blends in; it’s mysterious, aloof, but still kind of cool. It’s neither one color nor the other, but a mixture. Grey it is.

Not that I fancy myself as being aloof. I have too much of a puppydog personality to manage that level of indifference. But grey is my go-to color. This is only important because, in the act of decluttering my closet and minimizing the amount of unnecessary objects I have hiding in boxes, I realized that I have a collection of grey clothing for every season. I think I became the poster person for minimalism (as in, I need to practice this) right about the point where I counted my third matching grey t-shirt in exactly the same cut and shade as the other two. Was I thinking that I’d have backup when I spilled food on my shirt? Probably.

I have been organizing my closets in part because I don’t particularly like overcrowded storage areas, but also because I couldn’t remember what some of the boxes contained. To my nontangibly sentimental brain, this means those boxes could go away without taking up space or being missed. This is a process that’s been happening over time. I am not going to konmari myself out of my sentimental junk, I just like the idea of knowing where to find the objects I’m seeking.

Same thing for my clothes. I am not one of those people who has clothes with the tags still on them. Rather, I like multiple looks from one piece; grey suits my needs just fine. I would be perfectly happy with five grey t-shirts and five grey blouses in different cuts and shades, dark slacks/jeans, and various scarves and accessories in my favorite colors to add a little eye interest. That sounds wonderful. It would be my working and playing wardrobe reminiscent of smoke and ash. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.

So why don’t I do this? I really don’t know. I admire versatile wardrobes and the people who have them. Their lives seem so much more put together for the simple reason that they don’t have to spend so much time worrying about what to wear. Shallow? I honestly don’t think so. There’s a quote in the first fashion book I ever read (Chic Simple: Women’s Wardrobe, 1996): “The more you know, the less you need.” This is attributed to an Australian Aboriginal saying, and the way I interpret it is this: when you know who you are, you don’t have useless stuff lying around mucking up your decision-making process.

Other people have the power suit, the power ensemble, superninja red, clean white, neutral beige, and sleek black. Me, I have grey.

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A short story in 200 words*

I’m at ground zero warming up before I roll the rock up the hill yet again. Many of you have heard of my curse, facing an eternity of hopeless labor. The Gods may have been mistaken, it turns out, in meting out this particular punishment. Far from being pointless, my perpetual chore keeps me focused on the moment, the breath. My daily burden, if you want to call it that, allows me to eavesdrop on the tourists, something else the Gods didn’t plan for.

Maybe the Gods couldn’t have predicted the vastness of reproducing humans, but people of all sizes are littered about, the hum of their prattle a gentle cadence while I toil. They’ve built a gift shop and hotel nearby; the Sisyphus Springs they call it. As they watch me, I watch them. I heave the boulder yet again as I begin to wonder what the Gods were thinking. The tourists take their selfies to prove they were here. Some even thank me before leaving. I am as immutable as stone, but my heart still beats and I still remember. If they wanted to punish me, they should have taken that.

 

*I got this idea from a coffee cup at a fast food chain. I thought it sounded like fun

 

Modern Romantic Fiction

The Romantic era – that post-Enlightenment phase of literature and expression that embraced both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – knew how to feel the feels. Commentary wasn’t limited to the placid appreciation for love and beauty; it necessarily included extremes in human emotion. Wordsworth may have reflected in tranquility, but Mary Shelley brought horror and rage to the page via Frankenstein’s monster while Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean was a Superman before Superheroes even existed. Given a numeric representation, the characters experienced their fictitious lives at about a 14 on a scale of one to 10.

In modern-day experience, we have romantic characters hanging out with absolute intellectuals who are then tossed in with amoral and/or immoral characters who remind us of the complexity of all humans. We can even drop all these character traits into one setting and call it the Starship Enterprise (tip of the hat to Star Trek). Our heroes are either charismatic mavericks who rely on intuition and sidekicks (Harry Potter, Captain Kirk) — or they can be mutant geniuses who could control the minds of people but who are so clearly good they would never willingly do so (Professor X). The occasional character of ethical and moral ambiguity can enter the fray, but they usually end up fighting for some version of “right” (Deadpool, Wolverine, pick most of the Marvel characters).

Why ponder the Romantic genre? For one, why not, but for two because the notion of romance doesn’t have the same connotation it used to. One of the reasons that literature is so fun is that I like to play connect-the-dots between characters and current events. Whether the good guys are in the Resistance or the morally ambiguous guy wants to tell his beloved that he’s still alive, I take comfort in knowing that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Jean Valjean may have morphed into The Fugitive and Frankenstein’s monster may have morphed into an X-Man or the Hulk, but our characters are not as desensitized, or as desensitizing, as we might think at first glance. We’re still feeling on a level 14 even as we’re pretending to be all aloof and cynical. Romance novels may have morphed from breast-beating protestations of innocence to bodice-ripping flights of fancy, but people still like it when the good guy emerges victorious.

Types of vending machines that would actually be useful

 

The newest excitement in my town is a cupcake vending machine. A person can choose whether to sprinkle, frost, flavor, or just eat the vending-cakelet as-is. I wasn’t aware that a cupcake craze had overtaken my town, but it’s generating a huge amount of excitement. While I have a pretty significant sweet tooth (chocolate is, in fact, a food group on my pyramid of happy eating), I can’t really embrace this whole cupcake-in-a-machine notion.

This gives me some great copycat ideas:

Dial-a-Compliment: Feeling slightly down? Here’s a quick pick-me-up for those occasions when a kind word would make a difference.

Hug machine: Dial the type of hug you wish to receive (brotherly hug, pat on the back, full embrace) and the machine will do the rest.

Daily Quotespiration machine: enter a code for the type of inspiration you seek, and a quote will be delivered immediately. Calligraphy costs extra.

Missing item machine: Need those socks that disappeared? The other earring? The pen you misplaced? Dial it up on this machine and you’ll receive a match.

Take it Back: This machine would mechanically remove your foot from your mouth when you’ve said the wrong thing.

Silence Station: Dial an amount of time to enter this vending machine of tranquility so you can regroup.

Just a minute: Get another minute to finish a task, start a task, or read the last page of a book for example.

Count to Ten: Stress threatening your cool? Dial a 10-count of stress relief. Aromatherapy costs more.

There. That’s a pretty good beginning. I’m sure you can think of others that would be even more useful to you than a cupcake vending machine.

 

Stuck on the Couch

I have confessed before that I am something of a couch potato, which is why I generally avoid sitting in comfortable chairs. To do my homework, I sit at the kitchen table but, while I like the aesthetics of the chairs, they are not comfortable for sitting in for long amounts of time. My favorite couch, however, is a beacon of comfort and goodness. It calls to me, most particularly when I’d really rather not be productive.

When I sit on this couch, it’s as if my behind reaches critical mass (or absolute zero) and all the cells in my person slow down. It’s not that I can’t get up, it’s that I don’t want to. This couch has almost everything I need in life: a blanket, a pillow, a cat to sit beside me, my books and tablet on the end table. There’s even a coffee pot in the room. The family calls it my momma cave. I keep the door open so any being, either human or feline, can come keep me company, but I get their point.

I’ve been relaxing there tonight, laptop whirring, cell phone on the end table, a book I am almost finished reading beside that. Tech meets the classics in a mismatched yet harmonious sort of way. Some people might eat comfort food or drink a glass of wine at the end of a day. Me, I have planted myself on the couch. Both husband and son have come to check on me, I presume to see if I’m awake. I am, but not by much. It’s in that in-between state of Doing the Things and Thinking About the Things that I am most mindful of the moment. I could claim to be meditating, but I’m really not. I’m just stuck on this couch waiting until the motivation to Act strikes. It might be a while.

I Didn’t Adult Very Well Today

Most days, I adult pretty well. I bring my lunch, mind my manners, do the day, and go home to reflect on how I can do better the next day. Last night, I got organized: clothing ready, lunch prepared, and lessons planned. I even packed my homework bag so I wouldn’t forget anything.

Today started out straightforward enough: morning routine, made it to work at the usual time, got the day percolating along. Then it happened: I was in a bad mood, the type of mood that greets the world with a growl rather than a grin. I had no particular reason for this, just that there it was, the unwelcome visitor to my regularly scheduled programming. My students, who I respect and admire, pushed the teacherly buttons. The eyeball rolls, the resistance to the lesson at hand. Not educationally awesome. Of course I accept the ebb and flow of a school day, but there’s a pretty good reason I have labeled this time of year the Third Quarter Blues. Today was the exemplar of that reason.

Rather than chugging along, the day hobbled, then fell apart. After I put it back together, it was time to go home. While I’m thankful for every day, sometimes I’m just thankful the day is over. As I sit and reflect on how I can do better tomorrow, the only thing I keep coming up with is that I need to not have today happen tomorrow. Fortunately because time is like that, it won’t.

For days like today, I will forgive myself my mood and try doing that adult thing again tomorrow. Instead, I will drown my self-absorbed sorrows in motivational YouTube videos or reruns of I Love Lucy.

The Courage to be Yourself

In a recent classroom activity, when asked what constituted bravery, most of my middle schoolers answered with some version of ‘doing the thing that no one else will do.’ This included jumping off cliffs, skydiving, and other truly foolhardy adventures. If you are a skydiving cliff jumper, I mean no offense. I just think there are other forms of bravery less likely to make me vomit.

As a devout fan of the Venn diagram, one of my favorite books is a Venn diagram collection of ideas for living a good life (Jessica Hagy, How to be interesting in 10 simple steps). Her illustrations depict various tasks and challenges designed to remind us that our life is our life, not someone else’s. We know that, but all too often we don’t choose to actually live that.

Hagy’s passage on bravery: “Bravery is needed to have contrary opinions and to take unexpected paths.” As the quality of life increases, so renders her diagram, the amount of fear decreases. I really, exponentially like that. This doesn’t mean the cliff diver is brave just because they take an unexpected path. I’m quite sure it’s great fun, but my lack of a desire to plummet and experience the Earth’s gravitational pull in a very real way does not make me a coward. However, I enjoy the whole ‘contrary opinions and unexpected paths’ notion.

I am an abundantly uncool person. I have too much energy combined with too little desire to hang around water coolers and talk about other people. I don’t generally go out to clubs. Sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but there it is. One of my acquaintances tends to ask, “Do you, like, have plans this weekend?” as if my potential negative answer is a reason to pity me. I can’t summon the energy to worry about it overmuch, because I’m perpetually looking forward to pursuing any one of my skabillion interests.

In one sense, though, this makes me brave. I live unabashedly happy in my skin, and I don’t apologize for being who I am. Occasionally, I feel like an ostrich in a field of swans until I remember that I love ostriches and swans are simply pretty.

There are days where I annoy the living daylights out of myself. Wouldn’t it be easier to blend in, to follow someone else’s lead? Probably, but that’s how lemmings jump off cliffs and we’ve already established I’m not a cliff jumper. I am convinced that ‘doing the thing no one else will do’ most assuredly includes being myself. Living out loud as a self-fulfilling person is pretty brave. Not cool, often annoying, but most definitely brave.

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