Saturday, January 18, 2014

A List of 10 Things I'd Like to Do

In the wee hours of January 13, I dropped off my boyfriend at Camp Pendleton, and (after several hours, a few dimly lit photos - including the selfie to the left - and many tears on my part) he headed off to Afghanistan in a bus - then a plane, then a second plane, and then a third. And I went back home to take a nap and begin my next year flying solo.

Before Jimmy's deployment, I did a lot of searching online about this strange phase I've now entered. I think my search terms were things like "coping with deployment," "what to expect first few weeks of deployment," and many variations of "gifts for deploying boyfriend." (You can see I'm rather verbose - and gift-obsessed - even in my Google search bar.) I landed on some sites that alleviated my anxiety and others that did not. What I did feel was a very confusing mix of emotion as I started to see in action the military culture that says every military spouse is doing her duty, too, by staying stateside with a big smile on her face. A patriotic military wife cares for children, sends decorative packages at regular intervals, and daily tears strips off paper chains or moves glass pebbles from one jar to another to count down the days until her man is back home.

All at once, I wanted to latch onto these palliative methods of marking time - I love Jimmy and I knew I was going to deeply miss him, maybe these habits would soothe me - while at the same time I wanted to swiftly and forcefully reject them. Am I not a strong woman with agency, interests, and an adventurous spirit? I will be thinking of and missing my serviceman, but I don't need no stinkin' paper chain.

For me, the most confusing of these military wife rituals was the creation of what I often saw called the "deployment bucket list." Significant others of deployed members of the military list all the things they hope to accomplish while their loved ones are away and strike through them as they're finished. I wasn't sure how to feel about the "bucket list" because I had an immediate, overwhelming urge to create my own - as I do when the prospect of creating any list presents itself - but I also disliked the term "bucket list." What is it that we women can't do while our men are around? And is this just another superficial way to distract ourselves? We must become the leading ladies in our own lives, I thought to myself, quoting a throwaway line in that classic Cameron Diaz film The Holiday.

But I've succumbed to my love for lists and also realized that while writing a "bucket list" isn't right for me, taking a moment to pause, assess my new life in San Diego, and make a concerted effort to increase my joy here and form habits that will make me a better person - that's something I can get on board with. So, with no further ado, a List of Things I'd Like to Do:

1. Run. Swim. Dance. Every week.
I've now run a 10k. I've always loved to swim - and there's a heated lap pool 100 feet from my front door. And I received 12 prepaid modern dance classes as a Christmas present. Running, swimming, and dancing make me happy and healthy. There is no reason I shouldn't do them all at least once every single week.

2. Let no day be spent totally indoors.
I'm a hopeless introvert, but I must make sure I never spend a single day totally indoors. (I have a dog to walk, of course, but walking the dog around the block doesn't cut it.) San Diego offers beautiful weather and beautiful scenery. I need to soak in the sunshine everyday.

3. Read the books I've purchased but scarcely cracked.
I have the following books to read (this list is way too long): Quiet, And the Mountains Echoed, Five Days at Memorial, Memoirs of a Geisha, Traveling Mercies, Ghost Wars, The Girls of Atomic City, Everything is Illuminated, Bowling Alone, The Heart of the Matter, God of the Oppressed (to be fair, I'm halfway through that one), Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Cost of Discipleship, Slavery By Another Name (another 50%er), Game of Thrones, What is the What (how did I graduate from college without reading that one?), Lies My Teacher Told Me (the author is a little self-indulgent, but I need to give it another try), The Poisonwood Bible, and several books that will be make me better at my job.

4. Eat decadently. But make sure it's homecooked.
I love to cook, but sometimes, in just the right light, my stove looks like a metallic monster with flaming hair, lunging for my sweet, sweet leisure time. Who cares? I need to get my ass off the couch and cook something delicious and healthy. Subway or Chipotle is good enough when I work until 9 and the laundry isn't finished, and the dog isn't fed and walked, and I foolishly left even more work to do at home. But mostly, I need to make the time to thoughtfully, intentionally nourish myself.

5. Learn something new. Try something weird.
The "learn something new" will probably be "figure out how to use my DSLR camera." Jimmy got me a fabulous camera, complete with a huge, long-range lens and a camera bag, for Christmas. Now I must master the thing. The "try something weird," though, I haven't quite figured out. I got some sushi-making supplies for Christmas, but rolling some rice and nori isn't quite what I'm talking about. I want to take a risk for once - a risk for me and my comfort zone. Maybe go parasailing. Or join Toastmasters (ha, yeah right). Or build a piece of furniture not prefabricated by Ikea. Or participate in a protest about something I care about.

6. Get more curious about God.
I've been really struggling with the Jesus question for a while now. Hell, let's be real: I don't think Jesus was divine. A right nice fellow with a penchant for revolutionary troublemaking? Sure. But I'm not so sure he was the flesh and blood Son of God. Which is a problem for me, seeing as how I'm Christian. But I do believe in God. I have experiences in nature, with people, when I'm totally alone, that convince me there is a high-order mystery no one has solved yet. I want to find a group of people who want to talk about that in a serious way.

7. Get out of town.
Austin? Seattle? Appalachia? Phoenix? Dear ol' District of Columbia? Here I come.

8. Keep my job in proper perspective.
I have a history of forgetting that I'm just an ant in the giant, teeming ant farm of the universe. The ting of a triangle in the epic opera of history. My job should (usually) make me happy, and I hope to use my brain most days. But succeeding or failing at work does not define me. I won't have this job forever. And my particular job - in the grand scheme of what is happening at any given moment - is just not that big of a deal. So I'll go to work, do my best, take some risks, and be kind to my coworkers. And when it's all over, I'll come home as close to "on time" as I can get and kick back with a glass of wine. Because my job doesn't come with emergencies - I have it good.

9. Find a few people who think the strange mix of things I like is fun.
For years, I've watched other people's lives on Facebook, convinced that I'm just not that fun. I don't love wild parties, getting hammered, rushing sororities, skydiving, or moving to some remote part of Asia with no job, no map, and no plan. That's not me. But I do love making and consuming art, engaging in (some forms of) exercise, watching good movies, reading excellent writing, spending time in the Great Outdoors, spending time with kids, and making lists like this one. Rather than surrounding myself with the kinds of people who like wild parties et al, I want to find a handful of old souls who like the things I like, who think I'm fun. Maybe by doing what I really like doing, I'll find people who make me feel at home.

10. Stop planning, and do.
And with that...

To be clear, I have the deepest respect for military spouses of both genders. What I take issue with in this post is not military spouses themselves but rather the reduction of these people to just one of the many difficult things they do - wait.