Monthly Archives: March 2020

List Obsession

 

If I walked up to my 24-year old self and revealed that in 30 years, I would be obsessed with making lists, my youth reply would have been, “Did I get a brain injury somewhere along the way?” As far back as I can remember, I sought experiences for superficial reasons, especially if they would translate into stories I could tell to impress people. This (admittedly) selfish focus meant that I immersed myself in a chaotic world that stressed ego over character. Somewhere along the journey, that focus flipped upside-down.

What is vitally important to me now is order and kindness. Organization, neatness, routine, structure, service-all words that would have sent me running for the hills in the last few decades-I crave in a way I could have never predicted. I am not sure when the shift occurred; perhaps I morphed  gradually through the years after being married to a kind and selfless person like Kevin. I certainly was keenly more aware of the transformation in the months following our mutual job loss, and the recent pandemic likely contributed. After the massive life changes and extra quiet time, some self-refection and enhanced order was inevitable. And for me, order means making lists.

My new job as the administrative assistant to the director of the Georgia Cancer Center has locked in this list-making trend for good. Dr. Cortes is adamant about a high level of meticulousness and is accustomed to an exact process in his daily work. This trait is reasonable and expected of a successful Doctor and Scientist, and one that aligns with the environment I was seeking for myself when I made a career change. Any culture shock in the transition between the car business and the world of academic health care pursuits, while difficult, have been truly been suited to the new paradigm of my life.

My brain now works completely in terms of lists. As I work, I follow a checklist of activities I want to perform daily, even if I am only make small, incremental progress. The beauty of my day is that I am likely to be undertaking many different tasks from one moment to the next, but in a way that is ensconced in order. I methodically transition among tasks, documenting progress along the way, an obvious shift from the environment I cultivated in my past career, one I often compared to a juggling act, with plates crashing around me.

In addition to not wanting to forget a step in my day, I admit I also just enjoy the feeling of marking my progress on a list. A hugely daunting day, broken down into easy manageable chunks, becomes a pleasurable flow of one small victory to the next. I have daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, priority, pending, long-term lists and spreadsheets. I make lists for each day, lists for days off, weekend lists, grocery lists, lists of people I need to meet and lists of people I want to stay in touch with (a particularly important list right now).

Friends and family might not appreciate knowing that they are also part of a master list, but I would hope they see it as I do-that I care enough to want to make sure I don’t miss them in my ongoing communication. I strive to not let too much time pass without texting hello or letting them know I appreciate them or seeing how they are doing. When holidays approach, I am looking at the list constantly, making sure that everyone receives a small acknowledgement from me (including my friends at various businesses like the dry cleaners).

Finally, I enjoy thinking of my lists of favorite things. When I hear a song in my car, I consider including it on one of my many playlists. When I watch a movie that blows me away, I consider adding it to my preferred flicks. These lists are dynamic, subtly changing over time, but the core of them stays strong. Casablanca will always stay on the list of Angela’s fave films, Rick Springfield will always be considered one of the top musicians, David Sedaris is a permanent entry in my collection of treasured writers. Some others may fall off, join or re-join through the years, but for now, I have curated what I consider to be a Masterpiece List of Lists, and offer them here as much to have them documented for myself as for sharing with others. I am not sticking to just 10 anymore,  either. If I want to have 11 or 12 favorite songs, then so be it.  I consider them to be a significant statement about myself: as John Cusack says in High Fidelity: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like…books, records, films..these things matter.” Yes, they do. And for that, as well as many other quotable lines and intelligent performances, Mr. John Cusack has made it into one of my lists.

You will notice in my list of favorite books, The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande. I reference this book often, and did even before working for a healthcare provider. Dr. Gawande presents a compelling case for checklists at work, explaining that while our egos don’t like to think that we need a list for work that we do every day, our brains need that safety net, especially when the stakes are high. Pilots who have been flying planes for years can still get careless and omit an essential pre-flight procedure. Surgeons performing a repair they have done countless times can easily skip a life-saving protocol. Our brains spin too fast, our egos distract us, and we do not always operate on all cylinders…the opportunities for error are endless. The one cure for these errors is the checklist.

If I have a favorite list in all these lists, however, it is the last one-my list of most important quotes. My current focus quote is by Ram Dass: ” I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion-and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.” I suspect the shift from random adventures to thoughtful order is one of shifting priorities and general maturity. With clarity, I see the pages of my life’s story shift as I look back and realize the impact of my actions on others, and become less proud of my past and more hopeful for the chance to make amends and build character, seeking compassion for others and finding joy in kind gestures.

Let me know some of your favorite lists-do we share anything in common? The root of compassion is finding common ground and an easy place to start is finding things we all love the most. I would love to hear yours, and I here offer mine. Perhaps my 24-year old self should have learned to appreciate lists before madly chasing grand adventure. In the words of Gretchin Rubin: “Outer order contributes to inner calm”.

List of Favorite Movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. Shakespeare in Love
  3. A Little Chaos
  4. Beauty and the Beast (Disney version)
  5. XXX
  6. Moulin Rouge
  7. Darjeeling Ltd
  8. High Fidelity
  9. The Invention of Lying
  10. Grosse Pointe Blank
  11. The Longest Week
  12. Mulan
  13. Now, Voyager
  14. Truman Show
  15. Pleasantville

Favorite Songs

  1. Show Must Go On by Queen
  2. Show Must Go On (Moulin Rouge Soundtrack)
  3. Life is Beautiful by Sixx AM
  4. It’s My Life (ballad version) by Bon Jovi
  5. Northside by Tim Brantley
  6. Hold On To Your Dream by Rick Springfield
  7. 50 Ways to Say Goodbye by Train
  8. And So I Pray by Jem
  9. I’m Not Ok by My Chemical Romance
  10. Still Got the Blues by Gary Moore
  11. A Song for You by Ray Charles
  12. Comfortable by John Mayer
  13. Sonata in G Minor by Tom Barabas
  14. American Tune by Paul Simon
  15. Song for the Road by David Ford

Favorite Places to spend money

  1. Target
  2. Clinique
  3. Publix
  4. Hallmark
  5. Michael’s
  6. Stein Mart
  7. Dillard’s
  8. Art on Broad
  9. Book Tavern
  10. Barnes and Noble

Favorite Causes

  1. Miller Theater
  2. Georgia Cancer Center
  3. Golden Harvest Food Bank
  4. Augusta Symphony
  5. Leadership Augusta
  6. Child Enrichment
  7. Leukemia Lymphoma Society
  8. Friends of Augusta Animal Services
  9. Salvation Army
  10. Safehomes
  11. Heritage Academy

Favorite Writers

  1. David Sedaris
  2. Will Schwalbe
  3. Fr. Gregory Boyle
  4. Adam Grant
  5. DH Lawrence
  6. Atul Gawande
  7. Russell Brand
  8. Elizabeth Gilbert
  9. Joan Didion
  10. Anais Nin

Favorite Bands

  1. Queen
  2. Sixx AM
  3. Linkin Park
  4. Bon Jovi
  5. REM
  6. Matchbox Twenty
  7. Edison Project
  8. Styx
  9. Journey
  10. No Doubt

Favorite Singers

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. Jem
  3. George Michael
  4. Russ Taff
  5. John Mayer
  6. Stevie Wonder
  7. Tim Brantley
  8. David Ford
  9. David Owen
  10. Sade
  11. Edith Piaf
  12. Gary Moore
  13. Johnny Cash
  14. Babyface

Favorite Hotels

  1. Charleston Place
  2. Chateau Elan
  3. Margaritaville Nashville
  4. Vendue Charleston
  5. Hermitage Nashville
  6. Proximity Greensboro NC
  7. Ritz Lodge Lake Oconee
  8. Studio 154 Nashville
  9. Shamrock Ocala
  10. Four Seasons Whistler

Favorite Foods to Eat

  1. Cinnabon
  2. Shells and Cheese
  3. Takosushi Kevin’s Roll
  4. Guacamole and Chips from Caesar at Poblano’s
  5. Fluff (mine)
  6. Pancakes (mine)
  7. French Toast
  8. Lefse (Dad)
  9. Egg Breakfast Food (Mom)
  10. Lasagne
  11. Birthday cake

Favorite Books

  1. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  2. Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Gregory Boyle
  3. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
  4. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
  5. Selected Poetry of Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell
  6. Everybody Always by Bob Goff
  7. Everything that Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
  8. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  9. Naked by David Sedaris
  10. Give and Take by Adam Grant
  11. Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Favorite Songwriters

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. David Ford
  3. Paul Simon
  4. Richard Marx
  5. Billy Joel
  6. Jon Bon Jovi
  7. Elton John/Bernie Taupin
  8. Mike Shinoda
  9. Tim Brantley
  10. George Michael
  11. John Mayer
  12. Lyle Lovett

Favorite Actors/Actresses:

  1. Jason Bateman
  2. John Cusack
  3. Jane Fonda
  4. Judi Dench
  5. Morgan Freeman
  6. Emma Thompson
  7. Jim Carrey
  8. Nicole Kidman
  9. Ewan McGregor
  10. Renee Zellweger
  11. Adam Driver
  12. Adrian Brody
  13. Mark Ruffalo

Favorite Quotes:

  1. Choose being kind over being right, and you will be right every time. -Richard Carlson
  2. I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion-and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies. -Ram Dass.
  3. May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears. -Nelson Mandela
  4. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. -Martin Luther King Jr.
  5. The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life. -Rabindranath Tagore
  6. Don’t just ask whether you are proud of what you’ve achieved. Ask whether you’re proud of how you achieved it. -Adam Grant
  7. It takes grace to remain kind in cruel situations. -Unknown
  8. The past from intensity to greatness passes through sacrifice.-Kassner
  9. Perhaps everything terrible is something in its deepest being something that needs our love. -Rilke
  10. The more simple we are, the more complete we become. -Auguste Rodin
  11. The objective of cleaning is not just to clean but to feel happiness within that environment- Marie Kondo
  12. The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, honorable, compassionate, to have made a difference. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Team Roland

The guy who sells meat products at Fresh Market knew what Kevin was going to buy: several pounds of the inexpensive chicken thighs, which “the wife will cook for me”, and an equal amount of expensive chicken tenders “which are strictly for the cat”. They had a nice chuckle about it, “I hear ya!”, but it was true. While I did sometimes cook the pricier meat for my husband, in all honesty, Roland was always on the receiving end of the choicest cuts.

While Fresh Market guy might have thought I was playing favorites, Kevin knew I was in a state of desperation, and he kindly accommodated me. Roland had been suffering from hyperthyroidism for many years, and my whole world revolved around getting my beloved orange cat to eat. Adjusting medicine, buying special cat food, making emergency trips to the vet, hand-feeding chicken tenders cooked in bacon and warmed in the microwave for 7 seconds (!), smearing food on his paws so he would lick it off-I was like a madwoman in pursuit of the sweet moment when I would see my bone-thin feline consume calories.

Mom calculated today that Kevin and I lived this way for five years, coping with a what is apparently a common issue in older cats. Throughout this journey, Roland would be fine for months at a time, albeit very thin, clocking in at less than 4 pounds, eating small amounts consistently, in an extremely spoiled and finicky manner. Then he would suddenly go on a hunger strike, during which he acted restless and ate NOTHING, and became insatiably thirsty. It was painful to witness. In these moments,  when even home-cooked Fresh Market chicken or juice from a can of tuna were rejected, I would find myself in the office of my very patient and caring vet, Dr. Scholer at Hilltop Animal Hospital.

Dr. Scholer and his team always worked me in to their schedule, and welcomed Roland as a beloved guest. If my frequent visits or incessant questions were vexing, Dr. S never once let it show. He was always on “Team Roland”, and approached my cat with a sincere concern and willingness to try whatever was needed to get him back on track. He even once met us at the office on a day it was closed because I was too squeamish to give Roland a shot myself. Over time we found a trifecta of fluids, vitamins and steroids to boost the appetite enough to get Roland up to speed.

I have had cats my entire life, but there have only been 2 others who won my entire heart as completely as Roland, and they were both orange tabbies, as well. Roland followed me everywhere, greeted me at the door, slept with me, told me in no certain terms what he wanted, and badgered me until he got his way. I refused to take trips longer than a couple of nights because I hated being away from him. Mom took super-good care of him during these times, and returning from vacations to see him safe and healthy when I returned was pure bliss.

In addition to being a beloved pet, Roland also had fans on the internet. Experiencing the joy of gift wrapping presents every Christmas while he supervised was the reason I labeled my hobby “Orange Cat Wraps” and after sharing pics of him with the gifts every year, he received rave reviews among my Facebook and Instagram friends.

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But the absolute pinnacle of love, the ultimate moments of heart swelling, occurred when I came home at the end of the day and heard Kevin exclaiming to Roland from the other side of the door. “She’s back!” Kevin would cheerily tell our thin orange cat. “Come on, let’s go greet her, she’s here!” I would open the door, and my amazing husband and adorable cat were always right there, welcoming me home with love and hugs and kisses and meows.

Here is a “selfie” that Kevin and Roland took recently. They took selfies often when I was at work, and seeing them together brought me instant happiness. Kevin grew to love Roland in the past 13 years, and the feeling was mutual. Perhaps he knew that Kevin was the one ordering obscene amounts of canned cat food in his favorite flavor (whatever that might be at the time), or he appreciated that Kevin allowed me to turn the entire house into whatever Roland needed. Special beds? Sure! Turn on water in sink for cat to drink? No problem! Chair next to counter for cat to jump? Absolutely. Kevin never got angry when Roland made accidental messes on the floor, or complained about the amount of money spent on his food and care. Kevin, like Dr. S, was always “Team Roland”, and that unwavering support fills me with overwhelming gratitude.

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Sadly and inevitably, the trifecta’s impact diminished after last week’s hunger strike, and we lost our struggle to find a new antidote. Roland passed away on Monday, and my week at work has been one of quiet despondence. Being very new at my job, there is not a single co-worker who knows of Roland’s death or what it means to me. Had I still been working at Lexus, this experience would have been completely different. My team there all knew about my cat and were Team Roland, for sure. I spoke of him constantly, told everyone when I had to leave to take him to see Dr. S, and showed pictures to anyone who would tolerate it. It’s certainly not a bad thing to grieve in silence, and I’m sure my new peeps would express sympathy if they knew, but I keep it in my heart every day until I get home, and then I walk in the door, and there is nothing. The profound silence wraps around me, and my only comfort is the gratitude I have for the extra time I had with Roland. I am also thankful for everyone who was encouraging during his illness and Orange Cat Wrap adventures. I was so blessed to enjoy 15 years with this adorable boss of the house, and to have so many loved ones on Team Roland. We will miss our orange cat.

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Roland supervised all blogging activity