Saturday, April 9, 2011

Writing to Myself

I write things down, all day long. Let me clarify. When I say “write,” I don’t mean that I tap notes into my iPad or click away at my computer or endlessly text my bff. I mean that I write myself notes, with pen and paper, about what I must remember or what I wish would happen next or what I absolutely must do before 4 o’clock, no excuses. A Sharpie, the backside of a used envelope and a roll of transparent tape are all that stand between me and complete personal chaos.

If I have a conference call on a Wednesday afternoon, for example, the notes will start appearing 24 hours in advance.  “Call.” (bathroom mirror) “Call at 1:30.” (microwave) “Julie, don’t forget call.” (Pasted in the middle of my computer screen. And yes, I like to use my own name when I write to myself. It gets my attention.)

If an event of great import is looming, or if I’m extra worried I’ll drift into forgetfulness, I have a Code Red method – I pin the notes directly onto my clothes. Once, I was greeting the girls’ cello teacher on a Friday afternoon, asking if she’d like a cup of tea before the lesson started. “Well, will you still have time for your 2:30 conference call?” she asked. I thought she’d added psychic reading to her many musical talents until I looked down and saw a giant “CALL @ 2:30!” on my sweatshirt.

It runs in the family. My mother had a similar ability to get sidetracked cleaning out the spice jars when she had something more important to do. She told me a story about being home one day and opening the door to a meter reader, who kept darting furtive, repeated glances at her bosom. She began to suspect he was a crazed pervert in a stolen gas company uniform, and she locked the deadbolt when she sent him off to “read the meter” (i.e., find a new victim) in the backyard. Then she looked in the living room mirror and saw “CAKE TO EILEEN!” pinned to her chest. No wonder he seemed nervous. He must have wondered what the note on her underwear had to say.

I try to write notes to other members of my family, not just to myself, but readership remains low. “Change Sheets!” taped directly in the middle of the makeup mirror; “Cello First!” tacked across the computer screen – I might as well write these little annotations in Urdu for all the good they do me. In all my years on the parenting beat, I’ve found that the one sure way to get children’s attention about completing their household duties is -- to give up completely and do it myself. (What, you thought I had an actual solution? Have you seen my house?)

I don’t just write notes to myself so that I’ll remember appointments. After holiday hosting or other recurring events, I’ll pen a heartfelt missive about what to do differently next year, and paperclip it to next year’s calendar page. I have years' worth of notes about the annual Chocolate & Champagne holiday party, each, in increasing intensity, urging me to buy no more than four quarts of strawberries. In recent years, I’ve added dark exhortations like “I mean it.” I’ve underlined heavily. I’ve tried exclamation points. Yet still, by the time December rolls around each year, I ignore myself. I buy six quarts of astronomically priced strawberries and end up throwing the leftovers away (just about two quarts’ worth, I always notice idly as I head out to the compost bin). 

And then, yesterday, my strange habit came flying through the months to make me feel actual glee, an emotion with which I am generally unaccustomed. Easter is approaching, and I was unpacking the boxes of tree-hanging eggs and huntable eggs and other rabbit do-dads, when I came across an unopened box of Paas Easter Egg Dye. This note was taped to the front: Julie, you were so smart to buy this at a significantly reduced price after Easter 2010. Good work! Love, Julie.” 

Of course, I had no memory of buying the dye or writing the note. I can’t tell you what I ate for breakfast yesterday, honey. So this note had me completely gobsmacked. I live a life in which I try to do as much cheerleading as possible, and in which nothing I ever do is even remotely cheered. But I now had a workaround.  I told myself “good job,” and then waited for myself to stumble across the encouraging words. I wanted to reach out to that one-year-younger me and give her a big hug. So I hugged myself, instead, standing all alone in the  living room on a Friday night, feeling happy that someone had appreciated me, even if that someone was only myself.

But I’m still ignoring my advice about the strawberries. That’s just wrong.

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