The Message Worth Reading Every Day in 2010
I received a holiday card from Julann Jatczak and husband Mike Davis that I put under the see-through plastic protector on the surface of my desk … right where I can see it every morning as I prepare to start tackling my “Hi-Priority/Hi-Relevance & Urgency” to-do list.
That card was the only holiday trapping carryover from Christmas to make it into the New Year this year, and eventually I’ll tell you why.
First, I’d like to remark that I removed and replaced the holiday wallpaper decorating my office before I left for Christmas vacation. Remember that Wednesday sleet storm just before the holiday? I stayed at the office until after midnight, dining on Tootsie Rolls, working toward replacing a Snowflake & Santa Christmas Den decor with a gaily-flowered Think Spring motif for the New Year. When I left the in the wee morning hours, I had 2″ of ice covering my car, the lot wasn’t yet plowed from the earlier snowstorm, and I was alone.
Putting myself in that situation was pretty dumb, as I later admitted to my husband (after falling on ice while trying to get my frozen car door to open). He deserved to hear me say it because I had disregarded his recurring phone calls asking me to come home earlier; the pleas disregarded because I wanted to get as far as I could with the wallpapering project. And the next morning, I was back at it, more determined than ever to finish the job.
I hate winter. There is nothing I like about it except Christmas, so I skipped a “Think Snow” decorating theme and went straight to spring flowers. Though to be more honest, my choices were limited. I “wallpaper” with wrapping paper purchased at The Dollar Tree and when I went to select something to replace the beautiful and festive holiday papers, my options were two: NASCAR or flowers — the only designs the store had in sufficient supply (about 12 rolls) to do the job.
Doing a wallpaper job with wrapping paper is sort of fun the first time, but after that, it takes about 18 hours labor to remove the old staples and staple the new paper. It eventually looks just like wallpaper if you do it right, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a first DIY project. Stapling is not nearly so fast as wetting and placing pre-pasted wallpaper, and wrapping paper isn’t designed to match itself at seams. Maybe it takes me a little longer, too, because I don’t have a ladder at the office, so I move my desk all around and stand on it.
Why on earth did I ever do it in the first place? Because the building lease prohibits me from painting the walls myself, or using traditional wallpaper. My office is painted a pink color selected by a previous occupant, and I’ve found I literally can’t stand being in a plain pink room all day. I have strong responses to color (my favorites are green, purple and blue blended). Pink, even disguised as “mauve,” is not a favorite. Since there is no window, I have the sensation of being trapped in a Pepto Abysmal bottle inside those four walls. So rather than make someone on staff trade with me (they won’t do it voluntarily), I cover the walls.
Sometimes it’s actually fun. For Halloween last year, I turned my space into a cemetery complete with black gauze walls and some gruesome hanging creatures, with loads of Styrofoam tombstones and feathered crows. As a finishing touch, I put fake blood here and there. Then I played “Jaws” and other creepy music most October workdays to accentuate the fact that Halloween is my third favorite holiday (Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween).
Getting a sophisticated Christmas look was easier. I put up a tree with lights, and a Nativity scene and my angel collection — all of the things that bring me joy, including sentimental Christmas music. I’ve amassed a lot of Christmas ornaments over the years, so I had to do was empty my garage, plastic tub by plastic tub.
Obviously I have an “unusual office” reputation to live up to now, and it’s just too much work (and $$) to decorate for Valentines Day and then almost immediately need to change it for St. Paddy’s Day. I considered going totally Irish and leaving that up all year, which makes the most sense. However, listening to bagpipe music and Celtic Woman 40 hours a week — while it would please me — would probably prove annoying for some coworkers, so I let that impulse go unchecked.
I accented this latest “Invitation to Spring” look with a large assortment of fake flowers and wonderful vases bought at a 50% off sale at Hobby Lobby. I worried for all of about one minute that perhaps my space now looks too much like a funeral parlor, but I don’t mind funeral parlors, and my coworkers can surely live with it until I decide to change it again. We don’t have “decorating” as a line item in IB’s budget, and my husband reminded me that we don’t have it in ours, either, so I’m really having to be resourceful now to pull it all off.
If I DID have extra money, I’d just pay the building owner to repaint my office.
Meanwhile, remember that card from Julann and Mike that started this blog? Now I’m ready to tell you why it meant something to me.
There was a listing on it — a simple list of simple things to do. Very simple things: Play Yahtzee. Go for a walk. Read a book. Plant a tree. It was a just a string of simple instructions, but there was a gestalt that was, indeed, bigger than the sum of its parts. Put altogether, those little sentences shouted “TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. TEND TO WHAT REALLY MATTERS.”
That resonates with me. I obviously control my own environment (within the boundaries set by rental contracts or societal conventions or human consideration) and I choose how to embrace my professional life in the midst of everyone else’s expectations of me. In other words, not only am I “the boss of me,” but I’m also the one ultimately responsible for taking care of me.
Which brings us back to my office space. I am ALIVE; I’m not a robot. I want to be productive in that office, so I bring into it what I need to flourish and sustain myself. Like Tootsie Rolls, for example. And music. And something interesting to look at on the walls.
I thought, holding that greeting card tightly between my thumb and finger the day it arrived, that it was different from the others I received and those I sent. I don’t have to be reminded to remember the Reason for the Christmas Season but I do have to be reminded, from time to time, to consciously set aside one more “opportunity” to get ahead after the work day (After Hours) with office emails or stories. Instead, I should work more diligently during my home time to play more pointless games of Yahtzee with my husband. Because it isn’t pointless. Trivial time spent with him isn’t trivial. How easy it is to forget that when the computer is so close, the Internet so fast, the connection so good … my emails so urgent ….
Last year, I created seven different books for people. I can count the pages and essays I wrote, and number the events keynoted/emceed, the number of Powerpoint presentations delivered. But to give that much away, I also needed to take care of myself. I can do that by reading great books, listening to music, playing with our grandchildren and dogs, dining with friends, praying, and losing a few Parcheesi games to you know who.
I don’t think that I did enough of the “taking care of” things in 2009. As a matter of fact, I know I did not. I spent too many hours standing on a desk removing staples and not enough hours at my kitchen table, playing and laughing. So I’m going to keep that card in plain sight, and I’m going to start crossing things off that list as well as my office “urgent” list.
And I’m going to convince the landlord to repaint (my New Year’s resolution).
So thanks, Julann and Mike, for the thoughtful message. Regardless of how my office is decorated in the next time you stop by, you’ll find that card under the plastic desk protector.
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