Life as Lorianne


Green blueberry

In one of this week’s classes, I asked the icebreaker question “What word or phrase do you overuse,” and while “awesome” was my official answer, I now realize “like” is a close runner-up.

Last semester, I casually mentioned my fondness for the word “awesome.” One of my students made note of this, and whenever I’d subsequently say “awesome” in class–which was often–she would either repeat the word back to me (“Awesome!”), or she would look at me with a raised eyebrow.

There’s nothing like a student parroting your linguistic quirks to make you realize how often you use a particular word.

This week, several of my students listed “like” as their most overused word, up there with “right” and “bruh” and “okay.” And I was, like, a bit surprised because I always thought “like” was, like, a remnant from being a teenager in the Valley Girl ‘80s.

It turns out the linguistic quirks of Gen Xers live on, bleeding into the speech patterns of both Millenials and Gen Z. Now I’m noticing how often I say “like” when I’m lecturing: it’s, like, a constant verbal tic. Turns out “Awesome” is the least of my worries.


Roxy with military dog stamps

Last week I ordered an empty stamp binder and set of two-row stamp pages, so now I can easily page through my small collection of first-day covers. And with this modest bit of philatelist organization accomplished, I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much joy it brings me to gather my treasures in this way.

Anything becomes a treasure–a cherished collectible–if you put it in an album. Last night I received another presentation book I’d ordered to archive the pictures, cards, and silly printouts J posts on our refrigerator. A saner soul would toss these out in the name of decluttering, but it brings me joy (again) to flip through an album of memories: an archive of random moments.

Yesterday I heard part of an NPR story about a journalist who wrote a New York Times op-ed in praise of clutter, arguing that sentimental objects and decor help personalize our homes, apartments, and offices. This isn’t to advocate for hoarding, he was quick to add…but I’d argue that one person’s hoard is another person’s treasure.

It’s not accidental that the title of my blog includes the word “hoarded,” as I have always been a collector. A child’s inclination to collect stamps or dolls or coins (or, in the case of my childhood, model horses) is an early manifestation of an archivist’s urge. An archive is a repository of texts and artifacts that are clutter today but will be history tomorrow.

And although I doubt historians will be interested in my ragtag collections, my intended audience isn’t them but me in the future: someone who will be interested in unpacking the archaeology of my younger life.


Hillary aglow

Today is New Year’s Day, and with the day comes the energy of new resolve. It seems hopeful that so many folks start the New Year with intentions to change for the better: this year, we tell ourselves, things will be different.

On the one hand, this is the definition of insanity: here’s to another year of doing the same things and expecting different results. But on the other hand, this is a perfect illustration of the old axiom “Hope springs eternal.” They say that second marriages represent the triumph of hope over experience, and every New Year’s Day, many of us choose hope, again, despite past experience.

We are the same person on January 1st that we were on December 31st, only one day older. But this widespread determination to turn a new leaf along with a calendar page is both hopeful and encouraging. I heartily approve of renewed resolve not because we’re likely to achieve our New Year’s resolutions but because there is something wholesome about trying. The stretch demanded by reaching is itself salubrious.

My goals for 2023 are the same as most other years. Every day, I want to write in my journal, take and post at least one photo, meditate for at least five minutes, and walk at least 17,000 steps. Every week, I want to blog at least three times, write at least one letter, and go on some sort of Fun Outing. Every month, I want to go to the Zen Center and to a museum or botanical garden at least once, and over the course of the year, I want to read at least 50 books.

In 2022, I faithfully kept some of these goals…but others, not so much. To me, what’s important isn’t so much the perfect keeping of a goal but the dogged determination to keep returning to it.


Towering

At this point in the semester–at this point in my life–I’ve given up on chasing the mirage called “catching up”: like a dog’s own tail, “catching up” is an impossible thing to grasp. But I still believe in getting ahead of the curve: a point where you are still running but not hopelessly behind, staying one step with or even ahead of your to-do list. You’re neither behind nor ahead, but right in step, right on time.

I don’t know what the term “ahead of the curve” literally refers to: for years, I’ve assumed it referred to the curve of a racetrack, with the horse that is ahead of the curve turning into the backstretch ahead of the others, rounding the curve ahead of the herd.

These days, I keep another image in mind as I chase the tail of my to-do list. I picture a line of figure skaters locked arm-in-arm as their line rotates like the second hand of a watch: an on-ice version of snap the whip. The skater in the center turns slowly, anchoring the line, with each subsequent skater moving fast and faster to keep in line. I picture myself as the last skater who has to rush faster and faster to catch the line…but once I catch it, I can coast on my own and my line-mates’ momentum, finally ahead of the curve.


Halloween pumpkins

Thanksgiving happens at the almost-end of the semester, so for me it is a working holiday. Instead of joining the throngs of people traveling by plane, train, or automobile to visit family, I typically spend the long holiday weekend catching up with grading.

But on Thanksgiving itself, I try to stay offline, grading as many papers as possible the day before, then doing everything in my power to keep my laptop off until Black Friday, when I return to my paper piles.

During the height of the pandemic, we learned that many of us can be as productive at home as in the office…but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Work from home readily morphs into work anytime, anywhere, without the boundaries that are necessary for a healthy work/life balance.

So while I will write by hand in my journal today, this is a post I prepared yesterday, on Thanksgiving eve, so I can quickly press “publish” today before curling up with a dog, book, and blanket: an abundance of things to be thankful for.


Tulip tree leaves

In my Comp I class on Tuesday, I shared a random snippet of conversation I heard decades ago while walking from the Green to Orange Lines at Haymarket Station.

Two men in business suits walked by, and one said to the other, “She does this amazing thing with her elbows.”

And I was so mystified by that out-of-context statement, I still remember it all this time–more than 20 years?–later.

It’s alarming to think I have memories that are older than my students. Last night I heard Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and I realized my students probably have no memory or understanding of most of the allusions in the song. It literally describes a different world.

I am, in other words, a dinosaur.

***

In my first-year classes at both Framingham State and Babson, we start with five minutes of freewriting. Students are free to write about whatever they’d like, but I post three random words to give students a nudge if they have nothing else to write about.

Today’s entry comes from my five-minute entry from Wednesday, September 21, 2022 in response to the word “Elbow.”


Clinging

Over the years, I’ve decided I’m a solar-powered creature. As the days shorten and darkness descends by 5 pm, a familiar pattern returns: I am ambitious in the morning, when the sun shines bright, but my productivity declines in late afternoon, as daylight wanes.

As a young and foolish grad student, I regularly burnt the candle at both ends, relying on caffeine and sugar to fuel late-night into early-morning grading sessions. But as I’ve slouched into middle age, my body no longer tolerates late-nighters. For good or ill, my lamp doesn’t burn midnight oil.

After-dark hours are best spent on monotonous pursuits like folding laundry or cleaning litter boxes: tasks that rely more on muscle-memory and repetition than intellectual rigor. Rather than working late into the night like a Hop-To-It Hare, I’ve learned to leave for tomorrow the daylight tasks my Inner Tortoise couldn’t finish today.


Corners

The other night I had a disjointed dream that seemed to take place in my 20s or 30s, when my life was filled with uncertainty and drama.

I was apparently still married to (and trying to separate from) my ex-husband, although he himself never appeared in the dream. I was both living in and trying to move into the Zen Center, and I both had and was looking for a job, recognizing I’d need a source of summer income if I was leaving my marriage and moving, too.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, I was also afraid I might be pregnant, so I went to the doctor for an ultrasound, only to discover I was carrying…a stick of butter.


Blue and White

For years I’ve used the metaphor of juggling to describe the busy-ness of a typical college semester. At any given moment, I have multiple balls in the air: classes to prepare, papers to grade, and a ragtag assortment of household errands and tasks. It’s only a matter of time before I drop a ball and quietly hope that it bounces rather than breaks.

Blue and White

This semester, I’ve switched metaphors. Teaching five classes at two colleges isn’t like juggling: it’s like plate spinning. Whereas a juggler stands still while balls dance in the air overhead, a plate-spinner is in constant motion, running from plate to plate in a frantic attempt to keep everything aloft and moving.

On Sunday nights, I prepare the online modules that go live on Monday mornings in all my classes: an attempt to get my plates spinning ahead of another week. It’s simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating: an act I’d enjoy watching if I weren’t so busy doing it myself.


Lego Starry Night

While everyone else on my Facebook feed has been playing Wordle, I’ve been playing with Legos.

Although I had a generic set of interlocking plastic bricks when I was a kid, I blame J for my adult onset Lego-mania. Several years ago, J surprised me with the Women of NASA Lego set for Christmas, and I enjoyed building that to display on my desk. The next Christmas I bought the dinosaur fossils set for myself, and next the Lego White House…then by the time Lego debuted a botanical collection featuring a flower bouquet, bonsai tree, and bird of paradise plant, it was clear that building Lego sets had become a thing I do.

In many ways I am the perfect market for Lego sets targeted to adults. I enjoy the process of building. It’s relaxing to follow step-by-step instructions while watching a structure arise brick by brick. In this sense, Lego building is akin to the rug hooking and cross-stitch kits I enjoyed when I was younger. You don’t have to be a great chef to follow a recipe, and you don’t have to be an architect to build a Lego set.

I also enjoy the display quality of completed Lego kits. I’m not building Lego kits to play with them; I’m building them to sit on my shelves. As silly as it sounds, I like looking at the Lego sets I’ve completed. When I was a child, I collected model horses, and instead of actively playing with them like dolls, I enjoyed simply looking at them and creating stories about them in my mind. Like those model horses, Lego sets are fun and interesting to look at, and seeing them reminds me of the process of building them. There is the simple but profound satisfaction of saying “I built that.”

This past Christmas, I bought myself the Lego typewriter as J’s gift to me. (Like many long-married couples, J and I surprise one another with a few small gifts but largely choose our own presents.) The Lego typewriter is the most complicated set I’ve built yet. Although I bought it as a pure display piece, the typewriter has moving parts so that when you press the keys, a typebar rises and the carriage moves to the left.

It takes a lot of fiddly bits to achieve this functionality, and after making a mistake early on that made the entire structure shift askew, I dismantled the entire thing halfway through to start the build from scratch. When I finished the entire thing and felt how solid it felt in my hand, I felt an embarrassing level of satisfaction. In my writing and teaching alike, I trade in intangible words and ideas. Rarely do I get to hold in my hand something I built, or even see the fruit of my labor.

Although it feels a bit silly to admit to playing with toys, I missed out on the jigsaw puzzle craze during the early days of pandemic lockdown. While others were stuck at home playing board games, baking bread, and learning how to play the ukulele, I was teaching remote classes, prepping hybrid classes, then returning to in-person teaching. Having missed out on the “downtime” of the pandemic, now I’m finding simple ways to debrief from another hectic school year. Between you and me, I’ll take “silly” over “stressed” any day.

So earlier this year, I built the Lego Statue of Liberty, followed by the Lego globe J bought me for Valentine’s Day…and earlier this summer, I built the botanical orchids and succulents sets to display in my bathroom. Today, I finished building a replica of Starry Night, which wonderfully captures the three-dimensional nature of Van Gogh’s thick brush strokes, and next I’ll build the Lego jazz quartet and Space Shuttle.

In other words, it looks like the building boom will continue.


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