Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Bottleneck

Elizabeth Willis Barrett
October 20, 2010

I feel like I have entered a very long bottleneck in my life. I’m not sure what has caused it. Maybe it’s because Brad is home more after becoming semi-retired or maybe it’s because more of our kids and grandkids live nearby. Doing volunteer work with some young adults that takes me away from home a couple of nights a week could have something to do with it. All I know is that I used to be able to sit down and watch an old movie while I cleaned out a drawer or folded the clothes or put pictures in scrapbooks or something else as necessary but mundane. But now I seem to have no time for anything. Not even for cleaning the toilets or brushing down embarrassing cobwebs. Not even for calling a friend and suggesting a time for lunch.

Maybe it’s because I now go to work for two mornings a week. This life crunching really started in earnest at the exact time I went to Real Estate School. But since I stay at work for such a short time, my co-workers would marvel if they heard me say that work keeps me from the life I used to know. In the beginning I was supposed to work a lot at our new On Q Property Management business, but as it turns out, I can’t seem to get around to carrying out even the few assignments I am given.

Maybe it’s because I try to take care of my Mom a little. I’m afraid, however, that my brother and sister-in-law would be quick to say that I’m not putting too much time into that project either. Mom needs lots more of my help.

Is it Facebook? I’m definitely not into Farmville or any of that stuff although I do check Facebook two or three times a day to see if anyone has said something interesting. They usually haven’t. But it is easy to stay at the computer too long—checking e-mail, renewing library books, looking up bits of information. My blog takes a bit of time, too, but not nearly as much time as I’d like to give it. There are so many topics I want to write about and post on my blog. I planned to post once a week but I can’t get around to that either.

I feel like I am in traffic that as a body slows down to gawk at a minor fender-bender which makes everyone wonder what the holdup is. Then, for no apparent reason, the traffic picks up speed again and everyone is on their way. Only I’m not on my way. I’m still gawking. I’m still in the bottleneck with all the stuff I should be doing crammed in here with me.

Part of the problem is that I’m gone a lot. We go to the mountains or to a conference Brad has or to visit Jana in Utah. I don’t do that nearly as often as I’d like either. But it does seem that we are frequently packing and unpacking which could be adding to the bottleneck sensation.

When the kids were little I thought life was jammed to overflowing and I looked forward to the time of existence when life would slow down. What a surprise to get to this stage and find that it is just as overwhelming.

It’s not that I want to just hang around. I’ve always loved being busy. I like a schedule—my schedule, not someone else’s. I like waking up to an alarm and stretching and biking and writing down the things I want to get done that day and getting at it. But I can’t seem to get that far anymore. Like I say, I have hit a bottleneck.

I keep thinking I’ll pull out of it soon—this crowdedness of life. After all, traffic bottlenecks eventually loosen up. If I could just exercise every day and do one little project like clean out a closet, update family pictures, or plant some flowers, I don’t think I would feel so tight and congested. But I seem to be on a variety of other people’s schedules and I can’t get to mine.

I sense that I am only muddling through this phase of my life. I’ve got my foot on the pedal looking for an opening so I can break out. But just when I think there is a chance of escape, someone says something like, “Hey, Christmas is only 9 weeks away!” And the bottleneck closes around me and I quit looking for an exit. Maybe, for now, there isn’t one. So I guess I’d better start looking out and enjoying the view because it doesn’t look like things are going to change for a long, long time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Love a Piano

Elizabeth Willis Barrett…October 6, 2010

Like Irving Berlin, I love a piano. He said it much more melodically than I ever could in his semi-famous song with that title. Ever since I can remember, (which sometimes isn’t all that long) I wanted to play the piano. I would tap out a tune on an imaginary keyboard on the headboard of my bed or painstakingly figure out the notes by numbers on my cousins’ piano. But our house for many years was piano-less.

Then when I was in the 3rd grade, a piano finally made it into our home. For a few moments I was triumphant! Unfortunately, in an attempt to slide the piano down the stairs and into the basement rumpus room, it slipped to its demise. I believe it was a cast-off from the Rollan’s home so it wasn’t a great monetary loss. But it was a monumental loss to me. My eight year old fingers needed a piano!

And then it came—a grand piano! Well, not a Grand Piano, but a strong and sturdy older upright that was grand to me. (Actually, I had really wanted a beautiful small spinet, but as my dad would always say with a twinkle in his eye: “Beggars can’t be choosers.” Something else he often said was: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” which he might not have said on this occasion but it would have fit. It took me a long time to understand that saying, but now it makes perfect sense.) This piano was placed right in the living room. No bad attempts at the basement for this instrument. At last I had my piano, something I could really sink my fingers into. I loved it. Now I just had to learn to play it.

The task of teaching me was undertaken by Sister Alta Standage, the piano teacher of our ward. Growing up in a very strong Mormon family, we called everyone Sister or Brother as the case may be and the Ward was Mesa 8th Ward, our religious parish so to speak.

Sister Standage lived about 6 blocks down Country Club Drive. Since Mom didn’t always have a car to take me, she would walk with me as I carried my John Thompson and Carl Czerny books. A back pack would have been a great place for these noble works of piano instruction but we didn’t have back packs then. I don’t think they had been invented yet! To make the walk a little less tedious, Mom would play Hang-man with me all the way up and back. “Is there a ‘D’?” “Nope, you now have an arm.”

Thank you, Mom, for giving me the opportunity to learn to play the piano. I hope I told you thank you enough times when your mind was clear enough to understand me. As a family we didn’t go out to eat very often; we didn’t have closets full of clothes; we didn’t even get a TV until the rest of the world was quite entrenched in TV watching. But you always saw to it that we were given opportunities to learn and grow and become what we had the potential of becoming. That is still what matters most to me—learning and growing and becoming. Thank you, Mom. I will always be grateful.

I thought often of writing Sister Standage a letter telling her thank you, too. Thank you so much for teaching me how to play the piano—the notes, the measures, the one-e-and-a, two-e-and-a’s of music. It is possibly my most valued skill. Playing the piano has brought me so much pleasure, joy and opportunities to serve. But I never wrote that letter. It is just one of a myriad of uncrossed-off items on my eternal “to-do list”.

But I do thank you, Sister Standage. Maybe you’re teaching a few piano students in heaven right now. I hope so. There had better be pianos in heaven. I would really be sad if there weren’t. How would heavenly choirs be accompanied without them? Harps? Maybe. Harps are fine, but I love a piano.