Habits of Being

 

Closing the door on the dryer, happy to be finishing the last household chore in time to watch slivers of afternoon sunlight ride up over the east-banked clouds, I thought about the turning of the year and what an unusual day it had been.   New Year’s traditions once considered  inviolable had been forgotten or set aside. No one watched the Rose Parade, or football.  Generally weary of houseguests, bored by corporate socializing and constant activity, no friends gathered for barbeque or buffet, preferring to stay home with their leftovers. My own visiting kinfolk were on their way toward home. With no obligations for the evening, supper, I thought, could be a bit of that nice chicken casserole…

Until I remembered.  It was New Year’s Day and I hadn’t eaten a single black-eyed pea.  Walking into the kitchen, I opened the pantry and surveyed my stash. Corn. Butternut squash soup. Fire-roasted tomatoes. Oats. Cannellini. Sour cherries in brilliant ruby syrup. Coffee. Kidney beans. But not a single can of black-eyed peas. For 35 years I’d eaten black-eyed peas for luck on New Year’s – first because new Texas neighbors put them on my plate and insisted, later because of habit, eventually by compulsion.  This year I’d had none, the cupboard was bare and even the small bag of fresh peas I’d tucked into the freezer was gone, consumed as part of an unremarkable and forgotten meal.

I felt my anxiety begin to simmer.  It seemed irrational to make a run to the grocery for a can of peas.  On the other hand, who knew?  Tempting fate never is a good thing, and if black-eyed peas hadn’t brought anything resembling significant luck to my life, who was to say their absence might not occasion some really bad luck?  Not willing to play the odds, I changed clothes, grabbed a jacket and headed to the car. Even if I only opened the can and ate a cold spoonful, I had to have them.  Astonished by my own reaction, I skulked into the store and down the vegetable aisle thinking: I’ve become a Texan.

It didn’t happen suddenly.  When I moved from California to Texas, I was driving a mustard-yellow Toyota that sported Iowa plates, no air conditioning and an I Love NY sticker on its rear bumper.  Eventually, the car was murdered on the freeway by a hit-and-run driver. After I was released from the hospital and returned home, the police stopped by for a visit.  The driver, they suggested, had been going well over a hundred. I could have spun out, but I didn’t. The gas tank didn’t explode. I was lucky.

Later, when I went back to take photos and gather up a few teeth from the car’s interior, the attendant at the storage lot offered his own assessment of the situation:  “Y’all might oughta gotten rid’a that bumper sticker a’fore comin’ to Texas”.

Maybe he was serious, or maybe not, but I never replaced my little memento. Letting it go may have been my first conscious step onto a path leading to inevitable change and acculturation.  Since personal transformation always is more process than event, it would take some time, and taking on my new identity would be far more complicated than pulling to the side of  US 271 south of the Red River, belting out a chorus of San Antonio Rose and declaring, “OK.  This is the year I become a Texan.”   

My own path toward Texanicity wound through  a maze of small, everyday happenings. Almost imperceptibly they began to mold and shape my life as I ate barbeque and peeled shrimp, pulled fence and two-stepped my way through dancehalls and wedding receptions.  Amused by armadillos, I was in awe of Blue Northers. I learned to recognize cracking towers and cotton fields, and developed my own list of “must-haves” for la dolce vita, Texas-style: porch music at sunset, limestone hills, the Sabinal river and roadhouses.  

Eventually, isolated experiences became the habits of a life. I searched out bluebonnets every spring  and pecans in autumn river bottoms.  I took my morning coffee at local gas stations and cafes, sweetened with a little conversation. I learned to inquire about the health of peoples’ families and not to take offense at being called “Ma’am”.  I waved to folks in pickups and picked up kids with fishing poles.  I began to appreciate gravy on my biscuits, boots on my feet and a twang on my tongue.  If folks were fixin’ to leave, I never forgot my manners or the importance of extending the invitation. Y’all c’mon back now, y’hear?

Thinking  about  the new year in the context of my Texas transformation, I’m increasingly convinced New Year’s Day is  less a time to make resolutions than an opportunity to begin nurturing new habits.  Despite the success of Steven Covey’s book, the very concept of “habit” can sound hopelessly old-fashioned.  Who wants to limit themselves to doing the same thing, day after day?  On the other hand, while committing to lose ten pounds, read fifty books, learn a new skill or finish an old project is admirable,  such resolutions can be the New Year’s equivalent to a rousing roadside chorus of San Antonio Rose – once the singing’s done, it’s easy to get back in the car and drive on, utterly unchanged.

Knowing this, my last year’s approach to resolutions was somewhat different. A friend who spent years in the classroom mentioned a sign she posted as a reminder to her students of her expectations for them, and a suggestion of what would be required for success in life.  Quite taken with the words and their relevance to my own life and goals, I adopted them in lieu of resolutions for the year.  Enlarged and framed, they spent 2009 sitting atop my printer, where I could see them easily and read them often, if not daily.

A beautiful presentation of six of the sixteen “habits of mind”  educators Bena Kallick and Arthur Costa present as critical for learning and understanding, they function equally well for a writer. Openness of mind, discipline, careful listening, structure, clarity of thought and simple effort, when cultivated, can bring surprising results.  Combined with other habits recommended by Costa and Kallick – cultivation of the senses, creativity and innovation, humor, accuracy and a sense of wonder –  they easily could nudge a writer onto a path of on-going change and development. Seriously pursued, they could transform a writer’s life.

No writer understood this more clearly than Flannery O’Connor.   In her letters, collected and edited by Sally Fitzgerald and published under the title The Habit of Being, she explores the implications of Jacques Maritain’s concept of the “habit of art” for her own writing and, implicitly, for her life.  Maritain’s insistence that the virtue or habitus of art has an intellectual component and demands cultivation and practice clearly was congenial to O’Connor, whose quirky correspondence reveals a toughmindedness and steely discipline not always apparent to a casual reader. 

Habits of mind, art and being – how we think, what we create, who we are -don’t develop because someone demands them of us, any more than they arise from our passing impulses.  For something to become a habit, it must become second nature to us, and that takes time, repetition and awareness. As O’Connor herself says, the good always is under construction, whether in our projects or in our lives.

As for 2010, my journey down the path toward who-knows-what goes on with few changes to the map. The framed bit of inspirational imperative is back in its accustomed place on the printer. A small sticky note with a few refinements is close at hand, suggesting I remember to choose “less of that, more of this”, not to mention “fewer of those and more of these”.  Not precisely resolutions, neither specific nor measurable, the jottings are meant only to support development of the new habits I cherish – habits worth every bit of time, repetition and awareness I grant them.  After all, good habits transform life, and a transformed life endures.

 

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Habits of Being

  1. Oh, I do hope your new year is off to a lovely start – and that the black eyed peas work their magic, whatever that may be.

    I like your approach to resolutions and the new year…it’s both sensible and whimsical, if that makes any sense…

    Courtney,

    What could be better than sensible and whimsical? I know what it’s like to put too much pressure on myself, and I know what it is to take myself too seriously. I try not to do that, these days ;-)

    And it’s been a lovely new year so far – apart from the fact that all of us Southern wimps are sitting around in below-freezing weather saying, “What is this?”

    Enjoy getting back into your own new routine!

    Linda

  2. It would have been a lovelier start to the year if we had not been so danged polite to those ol’ boys from Bama…

    Glad you don’t have the bumper sticker anymore.

    burstmode,

    Sigh. And maybe next time the coaching staff will keep Daddy out of the locker room…

    Funny story, re: that bumper sticker. A friend told me after reading this about her daughter, who moved to Connecticut with Texas plates still on her car. The car was broken into repeatedly. Folks told her to dump the Texas plates and as soon as she did, the vandalism stopped. However much we like to deny it, tribalism runs deep ;-)

    Best wishes for a creative new year.

    Linda

  3. These two words particularly stood out as I read your post: second nature.

    I was reading Madeleine L’Engle over Christmas and she mentioned this, not so much relating to habits, but to how we respond to others and circumstances. She did use the example of driving (lucky you!) that often we’re not given enough time for calculated response, so our immediate reaction often is dictated by our second nature, whatever it is.

    Same with life responses, we need to cultivate positive reactions to people and circumstances, so we don’t need to think but respond positively time after time. Your post here reinforces those words of wisdom. Helpful hint for the year ahead.

    Arti,

    To take the story just one step further, I not only agree with what Madeleine L’Engle said, I can validate it.

    When the person hit me on the left rear of the car, the impact sent me off to the right. According to the fellow who called the ambulance, I went back and forth across the freeway four times, and finally ran head-first into the concrete barrier in the middle. If you look at the tires you can see them shredded from that side-to-side motion.

    No one could understand how I didn’t spin out, but it really was quite simple. From the time I learned to drive, my Dad went with me at the beginning of each winter season and we had ice-driving lessons. We’d go down to the hilly, icy, isolated shopping center parking lot and practice slamming on the brakes, then dealing with the skid. Even when I was in college he insisted we go through the drill whenever I was at home during the winter.

    After I was hit, as I was going back and forth across the freeway, all I could hear was my Dad’s voice saying, “Steer into the skid”. I did, and it conceivably saved my life. While still in Iowa, I was such a cautious thing I didn’t like to drive when the roads were bad, and I can’t remember ever skidding badly on ice or having a close call with winter driving. But when I needed it, the lesson was there, a “second-nature” ready to be retrieved in a second.

    Here’s to a year without skids, or the ability to deal with them when they happen!

    Linda

  4. Resolutions out! Opportunities in! Habits of being — that’s perfect. It describes my agonizing visits to the gym to help bring me better health. And lots of other things too boring to put in comments!

    I also love the thought that you are now a Texan — and didn’t really realize it had happened. I find it wonderful to realize we’ve fallen into ourselves. It’s the best!

    jeanie,

    To use a common example, it’s one thing to say, “I’m going to lose twenty pounds”. It’s rather different to say, “Fewer calories, more exercise”.
    The first sets up a success/failure dynamic and is limited in scope. The second is open-ended, and filled with daily successes. If I pass on that second helping – fewer calories. If I take the stairs rather than the elevator – more exercise. Not only that, when the twenty pounds is gone, habits will have been changed and a healthier life-style put in place. Or so it seems to me. I’ll report back on this in six months ;-)

    And don’t some of the best things happen to us when we aren’t even aware of them? “Falling into ourselves” – I’ve never heard that, and it’s a wonderful phrase. Thanks so much for bring that treasure along with you!

    Linda

  5. Linda,
    We eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day too, and I always soak the dried ones over night and cook them on New Year’s Day. I was positive I had a bag of them, but when I looked for them, there were none to be found. I had to do the same thing you did. I scooted up to the market and bought a bag immediately. Whew!

    I’m not sure they bring good luck, but I’m taking no chances. I hope your black-eyed peas bring you much good luck during 2010.
    Bella

    Bella,

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who does such things. They laughed at me in the store – the peas’ usual space had been emptied out, but they had an emergency stash on an endcap for the forgetful ones.

    Let’s hope good luck and blessings overflow this year – no matter how or why.

    Linda

  6. Well, it’s not a tradition to eat black-eyed peas here, but my sister-in-law’s parents convinced me one year to roll a cabbage through my front door (backward? I can’t remember). They were from Ohio.

    We have a tradition of writing to ourselves….just in a notecard, what we anticipate for ourselves for the coming year – what transpired the past year – just notes – and we tuck them away in our fireproof lockbox to open on New Year’s Day the following year. I keep my old cards too. Looking back on them all shows me in which direction I’m headed, or where I’ve been. Sort of like a condensed journal entry.

    So glad you survived that awful looking crash. You were lucky.

    When we spent our 10 weeks in Texas back in 1972 – we were told to keep a look out – that folks from Texas weren’t partial to folks from California. Thought we were a bit wacky I guess. Nothing happened, but we didn’t venture out much except on the weekends – mostly because hubby was in training. I didn’t make any friends either :(

    Karen,

    Too bad we didn’t know each other in 1972. I was in Houston then – we could have found a way to have coffee ;-)

    I’ve heard of people eating cabbage on New Year’s, too – the peas for luck, the cabbage for money. I suppose it’s because the leaves “look like” paper bills. We need to explore that cabbage-rolling custom. That’s a new one on me!

    I’m entranced by your tradition of note-writing. It’s a wonderful idea, which I’ve already adopted. The thing I find most appealing is the way it pulls the years together, like beads on a string. Resolutions and such tend to focus on particular years, but of course life isn’t lived like that – the hopes and sorrows and successes of every passing year affect the ones to come.

    And yes, there was that little attitude toward Californians – very much like the attitude toward New Yorkers. I’m surely glad I got to live in California for a while or my view of the state might have been warped ;-)

    Thanks again for the notecard idea – very creative and appealing.

    Linda

  7. Habits of being…yes, indeed, that’s a wonderful idea. It speaks to the idea of choice, rather than imperative, and sets one up for more likely success than failure. What’s not to like about that?

    Loved this post ~ you are truly a magnificent writer.

    Becca,

    Choice rather than imperative – there’s the key. I read but didn’t reference Grant Wiggins, an educator and curriculum consultant while writing this. I agree completely with his statement that we don’t develop habits by direct instruction or being told that this or that will be “good for us”, and we don’t develop habits by having them demanded of us – even if we’re the ones doing the demanding.

    I still remember a friend who began making her New Year’s resolutions by saying, “This year, I’m going to beat myself into submission.” Even at the time, it didn’t seem a very useful way to begin.

    I’m so glad Write on Wednesday’s back. You always give us such wonderful starting points for a little writing! I do hope your new year is filled with good things.

    Linda

  8. “First Footing” ~ this is a new year tradition that my MIL insisted take place every New Year’s Eve, after the stroke of midnight. The tallest, darkest haired man at the gathering had to leave the house before midnight with a silver coin, a sprig of greenery and a piece of coal. Once Big Ben had chimed its last chime, (90% of Brits listen to Big Ben at midnight on the 31st December even if they don’t for the rest of the year – another tradition), the shivering, tall, dark-haired gentleman could cross the threshold to be welcomed with a kiss by the lady of the house.

    Did it bring good luck in with the new year? We will never really know, but if she “believed” it did, it did – positive thought is a powerful weapon!

    I like your idea of “less of that, more of this”, not to mention “fewer of those and more of these”. I MUST try it!

    Do you know, I have the self same sentiments framed over my computer, too:)

    Dear Sandi,

    It’s rare that something’s so good it endures from one year to the next – I have a deep suspicion your sentiments may endure even longer. The beauty of the approach is that it doesn’t limit possibilities in the way that many resolutions do. If I begin the year by saying, “I’m going to read 12 novels this year”, when those 12 are read, it’s mission accomplished. On the other hand, if I say, “More reading, less television”, I may end up reading 15 books, or 20. In the same way, cultivating openness of mind, discipline and structure may lead to results that never could have been imagined – and that’s exciting.

    I’d never heard of “First Footing”, but enjoyed reading about it, and the variations on the theme. In spirit it’s very much related to my grandmother’s conviction that what a person does on the first day of the year sets the pattern for the rest of the year. Consequently, January 1 always included a little family, a little work, a little enjoyment, some sharing, some reading – and a LOT of food and drink!

    I didn’t know about the tradition of bringing in the New Year with Big Ben, either, but of course it makes sense and it’s a nice complement to my own favorite – bells. There’s nothing like “ringing out the old, ringing in the new” to bubble true joy to the surface.

    We’ll compare notes in a year and see what our framed sentiments have brought us. ;-)

    Linda

  9. I’ve never had black eyed peas – maybe I should! Thanks for the blog – interesting and well written – Happy New Year ;-)

    houdini,

    I may combine my peas with cabbage next year. My luck’s been pretty good, but I always could stand more money ;-)

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the kind words. I was especially interested in the Magdalene references in your blog. I became aware of the Magdalene laundries only last year, and had nearly forgotten them. I’m eager to explore your site and your links.

    Best wishes to you for the New Year.

    Linda

  10. The saddest words you’ve written in your wonderfully literate blog have to be “I’ve become a Texan.” Personally, if I’d said that, I’d put a bullet in my head.

    On the other hand, I understand the feeling. People rarely suspect that my own New England roots extend back to a time just shortly after the Pilgrims arrived and started taking land from the natives,and my accent reflected that for years after I moved away from Cape CAWD. I was appalled at Castro’s conversion of CUBER to a communist ideology and used to drive my CAH to HAVAHD YAHD. For years my accent was worse than Ted Kennedy’s. That changed over time, of course, but the wives of my uncles are still my AHNTS not ANTS which is a pestilential insect that disrupts picnics and we try to eliminate from our pantries.

    You can’t imagine how shocked I was the first time I heard myself say “water” in that euphonious way that characterizes the accent of the Irish Channel New Orleans “YAT” (They’re called that from their common greeting, “Where Y’AT?” The proper response to which is “Fine, and you?”)

    I wish us all a happy and prosperous New Year, black eyed peas or not.

    Richard,

    Thanks for the morning laugh. I know, I know – stereotypes abound, and Texans have taken their share of hits over the year. But stupid, lame and obnoxious are pretty generally spread around the world – it just makes sense we should have our share, too. ;-)

    Isn’t language wonderful? Your reference to Yat reminds me of the best restaurant name ever. Down the coast from Galveston, near a boatyard in Fulton, Texas, there’s a Cajun/Chinese restaurant that serves pretty good food. The name? Hu Dat, of course! And then there was my beloved Aunt T, chronicled in my post about Julie and Julia. She left Iowa, landed in NYC, married a guy from New Jersey and eventually came back to family reunions sounding like a cross between the stereotypical Jersey girl and an extra from the cast of the Sopranos. She didn’t know how it happened, and she couldn’t change it. That’s pretty much my story!

    Best wishes to you and yours for the New Year. I hope it’s the best ever!

    Linda

  11. Linda, a thoroughly enjoyable read. As a transplant from another culture, I do know what it feels like to wake up one morning and say “I am a ‘Bostonian’, and then 40 or so years later to wake up and say “I am a Virginian”! The acclimatization and acceptance of a new regional identity materialize without the active and purposeful decision to “I am going to change into a Bostonian or a Virginian”. It just happens.

    Black eyed peas are popular in this area as well but I have never eaten one and never worried about bad luck if I do not eat them on New Year’s day. There are some things that just will never integrate themselves in one’s thinking unless they are part of your family childhood experiences. On the other hand there are plenty of other ‘rituals’ that are part of my ‘must do or else’ thinking.

    Keep weaving you lovely stories Linda, and as always, I am looking forward to the next interesting read.

    Maria

    Maria,

    Your culture is so rich and your traditions so varied, the lack of black-eyed peas won’t make a bit of difference. I do think the traditions we hold dear depend as much on the communities surrounding us as any intrinsic value they may hold. You still are deeply embedded in your ancestral culture, and celebrate it enthusiastically. On the other hand, the Swedish traditions of my childhood have faded with the disappearance of that side of the family. I still cook some of the dishes, holiday sweets particularly, but the angel chimes, saffron breads and Santa Lucia garb have faded away. (How ironic that we Swedes should have borrowed from your Santa Lucia!)

    It’s occurred to me today that the emergence of new regional identities finds a parallel in other identities, as well. There’s a great difference between declaring one day, “I’m going to be a painter!” (or writer, or musician or poet) and coming to the day when the self-identification is made casually and without much thought. In the same way, we all know that we’re going to be old some day. But then, the day comes when for whatever reason we look at our parents or friends – or even ourselves -and think, “I’ve become old”. It just happens.

    What a wonderful year we’re going to have, painting and writing and developing. I’m so glad you will be part of it.

    Linda

  12. You make Texan life sound so very appealing, I wanna visit!

    Happy New Year Linda! I’m waiting, excited, to see what you offer up to your readers in 2010.

    Jeannine,

    As we like to say, “Ya’ll come!” The doors always open. We don’t have such splendid lagoons, but we could keep the boys amused with rivers, beaches, mountains and woods. And we could feed you pretty good, too.

    I’m excited about 2010, too. Trust me, I’ll be as surprised as you are to see what I come up with ;-)

    Linda

  13. A beautiful post.

    I have a new Texan family now. Lesley married Brian, who is from Dallas-Fort Worth, though you would never know it from his accent, which he has trained to be accent-less. I was surprised to learn from him about BBQ at the holidays. Who knew! And of course what we in the North call barbecue, and what Texans call barbecue, ain’t even close. We throw a piece of meat on the grill and call that barbecue. So I may be back for points of reference from you. I do very much love my daughter’s new husband, and his mother too, a lifelong friend now that we have e-corresponded since the engagement. I have a vague recollection about black-eyed peas and good luck on New Year’s. Maybe from a blog comment.

    I wrote something in a recent post called Blog Family – where I referenced you, by the way, don’t want you to miss it – where I wrote that what we do here in blogland is to “speak honestly, listen quietly, and connect.” We watched John Travolta in “Phenomenon” last night, a movie I hadn’t seen. It is quite wonderful, and there are scenes whose scripts I would like pasted on my walls. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. It wasn’t critically acclaimed, but it is quite a nice bit of humanness.

    Practice really is key, and some of the things I started practicing a few years ago really have become habit. This year, I want to slow down in transitions and pay close attention. So when I’m walking down the hall at work to go to the restroom, or to the refrigerator, instead of thinking about the next appointment, or the last, I want to see and hear and feel what is happening in the hall, or in the offices off it. Even if it is only silence. There is always something to be observed.

    Ruth,

    I had missed Blog Family, but only because I’m still catching up from the holidays and the unique and wonderful experience of being able to host real-world family who traveled to be with us. It’s a wonderful post. Being included in such a group is an honor and a delight.

    Your assertion that what we do in blogland is “speak honestly, listen quietly and connect” is true, but certainly not the whole truth. The world is the world, after all, and the blog-world has its own portion of deceit, combativeness, rejection and simple nastiness. I do believe modeling decent and respectful behaviors is invaluable – even if we aren’t always aware of the results. And I absolutely believe where honesty and receptivity are the norm, connection will happen – even if agreement does not. This assumes a rather hopeful view of humanity, of course, but that’s the view I’ve chosen. As I’ve said here and there, if we take our readers more seriously than they take themselves, good things will happen.

    Reading your comments about slowing down, paying attention, seeing and hearing whatever might be at hand, I just smiled and smiled. I think you and Miss Flannery would get along just fine. After all, it was Flannery O’Connor who said, “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

    Isn’t that just the truth.

    Linda

  14. Wow, good post.

    You said “For something to become a habit, it must become second nature to us”. Yes and Yes!
    That was worth pondering deeper indeed.

    Thank you. I would like to address you as my teacher of English. You master the language perfectly and put your thoughts so convincingly. Your blog catches the eye visually too.

    Tomas,

    Your words are so kind. I’m happy you enjoyed the post. And I’m very glad you found the page attractive. I’ve been teaching myself how to do such things, and it’s always good to know I’m succeeding just a little in my efforts. As you say on your own page, “Even the fly becomes a troubadour in the silence.”

    Your paintings are beautiful, evocative and rich. I’m looking forward to exploring your site more, and you are welcome here any time. I have readers who stop by from your “neighborhood” – Germany, Sweden, Denmark – but as far as I know you are my first visitor from Lithuania!

    Linda

  15. Yes, our habits define us, as comfortable or uncomfortable a notion as that may be. Mighty sound advice your dad gave you to drive into the skid & never, ever brake on ice…

    Regardless, it means that you are here, now, and reading your words is one habit I intend to keep this year!

    Nothing else to add–it has all been said. But I hope you got those black-eyed peas & enjoyed them, every one!

    ds,

    I just had to laugh at the serendipity of it all this morning. When I got up, our extended cold snap finally had produced ice on the water outside my place. It was only a skim – nothing to drive or skate or slip on – but it was ice nonetheless, and in the context of this post’s memories it made me feel warm, rather than cold. My dad’s been gone since 1981, and as the years have ticked by I’ve found myself many times wishing I could thank him for the important lessons he taught me, including this one.

    It’s going to be a year of developing some new habits, and I’m looking forward to it. I did get those peas, and I ate enough for you, too. I wonder if we can trade black-eyed pea luck credits like carbon credits? Wouldn’t that be great?!

    Linda

  16. Linda,

    I really like how you developed this piece. It began with repetitious housework and ended with words about repetition.

    I like the thought that “good is always under construction…” It’s easy to forget amidst car wrecks and loosing a few teeth…. it’s a sturdy thought on which to hang our hats.

    A White Ten-Gallon hat, of course.

    Janell

    Janell,

    I’m just giggling. One thing I’d like to accomplish this year is to make my housework a little more repetitious. I’ve the capacity to ignore certain realities – dust, for example – that’s truly stunning. I’ll tell you this – if you’re not going to dust, you shouldn’t have a friend who not only writes his name in the dust, but dates it as well ;-)

    I love the “good under construction” phrase, too. Even in the very midst of the freeway accident there was good. There was, of course, the man who stopped and called the ambulance. But there was more! Stepping out of the car to get in the ambulance, I looked down at the beautiful new woven cross-strap sandals I was wearing for the first time and thought, “Well, at least I didn’t get blood on them…” See? More good!

    I do hope your own year is filled with good, and a few white-hatted sorts as well.

    Linda

  17. Linda,

    This is such a timely post for the new year, thank you again. Upon re-reading, I appreciate O’Connor even more, and that statement “the good always is under construction” is so comforting… yes, I can see other readers share similar views.

    And, your narrow escape in that car accident is just amazing. I too was taught to ‘steer into the skid’. Learning to drive on the icy streets of Calgary is itself a lesson in good habits, and a metaphor for facing life’s problems head-on. You just can’t evade them by turning the other way.

    Arti,

    A wise observation about ice-driving as a metaphor for life. Perhaps we should take a few of our political, cultural and economic leaders out and teach them to drive on ice.

    As for the post – you’re welcome. I’ve really spent a good bit of time thinking about this – over the span of months, not days. Now, it’s time to put some of my own wisdom to work!

    Linda

  18. Linda —

    I got a hoot reading about your transformation into a Texan. Funny, I spent most of my youth and early adulthood transforming myself out of being a Texan and into being a New Mexican. And now, midway through my fifties and in another state entirely, I secretly hunger for the flat plains of West Texas and creosote and mesquite and the way they smell after a rain, and horned toads and collared lizards and the Davis Mountains and roadrunners and, yes, the coast and salt marshes and all of it, Lyle Lovett songs and the Pecos River most of all, and the way the names of the rivers roll off the tongue like honey.

    I must say, though, that as a native Texan, I suspect your bumper sticker might indeed have been partially to blame for the collision.

    Tom,

    Ah, yes. West Texas. The place where I learned the phrase “trans-Pecos”, the true meaning of isolation and the importance of a timing belt all on the same day…

    And isn’t it just that way with Texas? You start in one place, and without any effort at all you can do a waltz of free-association all across the state. One of my dreams is to do a series on the rivers of Texas, especially the ones folks don’t know ~ Angelina, Sabinal, Nueces, Frio, Comal, Blanca, Llano… There’s a beautiful recording of the song “Rivers of Texas” by a couple of guys from McKinney who call themselves the E-Flat Porch Band, but unfortunately I couldn’t find a link to an mp3 of their version. Lyle Lovett’s done it, too, but I couldn’t find it, either.

    On the other hand, a Kansas woman has taken the old Texas tune and revised it a bit – you might enjoy her version on a cold afternoon.

    As for that bumper sticker… maybe it’s better the car was taken out before it got me in real trouble ;-)

    Linda

  19. I was introduced to the black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day tradition years ago as an undergrad in Southern Maryland. Also required (as I was taught) were some kind of greens and ham or pork. Like cabbage, the spinach or kale resembles paper money. I’ve since read that pork is important because the pig roots forward as it eats and it is the forward motion in the New Year that is desired. Poultry kicks backwards and cattle can graze in a spot – undesirable trajectories for New year luck.

    Not having witnessed the dining habits of these animals, I can’t say if this baloney or not. Though I now live in Illinois, it is a tradition that I embraced and have introduced to my own family (though the kids remain a little skeptical). May 2010 be a brighter New Year for all of us.

    My grandmother also practiced “First Footing” – it’s a Scottish tradition associated with “hogmanay.”

    sagecap,

    Thanks so much for the interesting additions to the traditions! Cattle do move, of course – you can’t eat from the same spot forever – but they do appear stationary while grazing. I don’t have a clue about chickens, although I know they scratch. Luckily, I know some folks who raise chickens, and I intend to ask them. In any event, forward motion is what’s important, so I say hooray! for the pigs.

    This year, I’ve really enjoyed learning about traditions like First Footing. I suspect one of the reasons people love them so is because they revive a sense of possibility and hope – not to mention that sense of moving forward. Every year I carry that sense with me for a while. It’s usually gone by February (if not sooner), but it would be wonderful to experience it throughout the year.

    Best wishes to you and yours for a New Year filled with enjoyment and possibilities!

    Linda

  20. A pleasure to read, as always. Thank you.

    Désirée,

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I hope the New Year writes a “happy script” for you, and that one – or more! – of yours will find a nice, big audience!

    Linda

  21. What I actually wrote in the post was:

    This is what we owe each other. To speak honestly, to listen quietly, and to connect. When we live like this, our life is a prayer.

    This is different than saying that what we do in blogland is to speak honestly, etc. I wanted to correct my quote of myself! :)

    Ruth,

    I saw that when I went back and read your post ~ and in the fuller context, I agree with you even more than I did at first reading.

    The point I was trying to make is that whether in the “real” world or in the blogosphere, people exist who seem to feel they owe others nothing at all -not even the most basic of human courtesies, let alone honesty in speech or respectful attentiveness. If any of those folks happen by here, or synch-ro-ni-zing, or the Window, or Arti’s or Ginnie’s or any of the dozens of gracious and comfortable blogs we visit, my hope would be that they discover community, connectedness and mutual respect can be real.

    That sounds like a bit of a prayer, itself ;-)

    Linda

  22. Having lived in Atlanta for 22 years, Linda, I certainly know what you are talking about, albeit without totally identifying. I think I was somewhere on only one New Year’s Day when I ate black-eyed peas. But the funny thing is that my dad was a true Southerner and apparently finagled Mom into buying black-eyed peas from marriage on…since we kids grew up on them in Michigan! Funny, though, never on New Year’s Day! It’s sad when I think about never becoming a true Southerner during those years. You did a much better job. Well, maybe it’s because Atlanta and suburbs is so NOT native?

    I wonder if I will more easily become Dutch? That’s an idea I would like. Maybe in a year or so you’ll notice? :)

    Ginnie,

    I’m noticing it already. You’re well on your way – not only because of your willingness to learn the language, but because of your openness to all the new experiences around you. I was laughing to myself the last time I looked at your photos – I’m going to be learning Dutch along with you, just to read your comments, and I certainly am gaining a different perspective on the country itself. I was amazed by the Dickens festival!

    I think you’re exactly right about Atlanta not being the most likely place for transformation into full-Southern to take place. I learned to dance the Cotton-Eye Joe in Houston, but the truth is that Houston has as much in common with New York and San Francisco as it does with Bandera, Lufkin, Childress, Rockport, Amarillo. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is terrific, but much of its flavor comes from the folks who flock in from other places, and it was in those “other places” that I learned to appreciate Texas’ heritage.
    Some of those so-called backwaters are pretty darned interesting, and I’ve been very, very lucky to live in some of them.

    It’s going to be fun to see you discovering some of those “backwaters” in the next year.

    Linda

  23. I lived in Austin for over fifteen years without becoming a Texan. I always thought of myself as a transplanted Tarheel. There were things I missed from North Carolina, such as ACC basketball and four coequal seasons. I missed the Appalachians, the scent of the cool humid air. Eventually I was persuaded to return east where I could keep an eye on my aging parents. I may leave North Carolina again someday, but I have no special desire to return to Texas. The world is a big place.

    Leaving Texas was hard. I made and left behind good friends in Austin. There were things I liked and still miss in Texas, such as Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis and Enchanted Rock north of Fredericksburg. I loved springtime when acres of Lady Bird’s wild flowers repainted the landscape in surreal patchwork. Austin was an interesting place to live and a great place to buy pizza. I’m still looking for better pizza.

    I feel privileged that I witnessed a wonderful slice of Austin’s history. The city grows so fast! When I visit there now, I hardly recognize the place. Forests of condominiums erupt like mushrooms where I used to enjoy Sundays drives through mesquite and rolling fields. I cannot go home with the Armadillo. Somebody else lives there now.

    Bogon,

    The world is a big place, filled to the brim with people who think “this” place or “that” is the best there is. Of course the truth is there is no “best” place. There are comfortable places, memorable places, places so familiar we walk around them like we do our houses at night: confidently, and without hestitation. Generally speaking, those are the places we call home, the places we settle into and never really leave, no matter how far we travel.

    My own mom has been away from Iowa for over fifteen years. And yet, when she says “home”, she means Iowa. She thinks chicken-fried steak is lovely and demands a drive through the bluebonnets every year, but she’d give them up in a minute to be back in the midst of cornfields and silos. On the other hand, when I left Iowa, I never looked back. Through three continents, a dozen countries and a small pile of states, I was happy to be “from” Iowa, and I still am. It was a wonderful place to grow up, but now I’m grown, and have other places to be.

    In the end, it’s a mystery, this relationship between person and place. But North Carolina got a good Tarheel back, and we had the pleasure of your company for a good long time. What could be better?

    Linda

  24. Black-eyed peas for New Year’s…that is certainly a tradition that I have never heard of before. That being said, I can certainly understand the compulsion to do it if it is something you’ve done year after year. Traditions can certainly bring a peace of mind and a sense of connection that grounds us and connects us not only with others but with our own past, even our immediate past. Personally I think this kind of thing is important in a well balanced life, as long as the tradition isn’t harmful and as long as it doesn’t keep one from striving forward, growing, taking risks.

    Over the years I’ve gone back and forth with resolutions. I certainly think the changing into a new year feels like a natural time to evaluate ones self and look at areas where change may be worth while. At the same time I think it is easy to go overboard and plan a bunch of things only to find the plans cast aside as soon as the holiday is over and daily life begins encroaching.

    Having made such profound changes in how I handle my finances it was very peaceful to enter this year not feeling compelled by foolish financial decisions to make resolutions about my finances. Instead I was able to just continue on with a plan that has been working wonders. A couple of years ago I stopped setting reading goals for the number of books I read it a year. I don’t care if it is two or two hundred, as long as I am reading for the pleasure of doing so and not just cramming books in to reach some magical number.

    As for health, I certainly want that to improve. Seeing my in-laws and other relatives go through health related problems makes me want to make improvements now in the hopes of avoiding some of the things that have happened to them because of their weight and other habits.

    I’m looking forward to 2010. I can already see work challenges that I would rather not have to go through and yet I am determined to meet them with a good attitude and know that I will succeed. I hope your year is going well thus far and continues to do so.

    Carl,

    This was a year when I was comfortable to just “keep on keepin’ on”, myself. The most radical change I’ve made recently actually was because of your changes – now I’m without a television, and quite happy to be so. I’m pleased to be saving the money, and pleased to have tuned out a good bit of blather that wasn’t doing me any good at all.

    Traditions are interesting. Some are alive and vibrant, others are carried on simply for the sake of the doing. The black-eyed pea tradition is so alive here I’ve actually heard perfect strangers ask one another in the grocery store line, “Did you remember to pick up some peas?” This year a friend from West Texas called to ask if I’d gotten mine. It’s a shared tradition, that’s for sure. It certainly does help link people to one another.

    I’ve had enough of those concrete, overly enthusiastic resolutions myself. Quantifying almost always leads to disappointment, at least in my experience. Whether it’s how many pounds we lose, dollars we save, books we read or essays we write, setting a numerical goal seems to focus attention on the goal itself, rather than the process, the enjoyment and the transformation.

    That said, one of my goals this year is to be a more faithful reader of blogs and books – and I can’t wait to see what treasures you turn up for us. Just now I’m on a dead run to slip in under the JLC3 wire, but then I’ll be free to look around and see what else is out there, like the Library Challenge you mentioned.

    I do hope this year’s challenges beyond our little world here leave you free to enjoy even more in the book-world. Happy new year – and thanks so much for stopping by!

    Linda

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