Tonight as I watched my professor-spouse grade his 90 exams, I was reminded when we were in graduate school and it was never, ever possible to even get close to reading you were supposed to do.
I used to joke that you got to graduate when you could plow your way though 100 pages of scientific journals in under an hour. Toward the end of my 8 years being a full time graduate student, I would sometimes take a yellow highlighter and make random marks on the page like I had thought some sentence useful. I did read the article but at a gallop. I felt when I went to class I had to show that I had read it, not just know that I had read it. Usually this worked. On occasion I got in a fix with it. Every once in a while someone would say, “I see you highlighted the first paragraph on page 969. Would you like to share with us what was interesting to you?” At that point I would have to shuffle my papers that were strategically arranged on the conference room table in our classes of 5-7 students. Frantically I said to myself, “Which one was numbered 969?? Help! What does it say?” Usually I could plow out of the ditch I had dug reasonably well but not always.
You can never get done all the stuff you need to get done. When you pick what won’t get done it the very thing you did that no one notices and the thing you didn’t do that shows up right up. Graduate school taught us how to survive that panic. There was a lot of learning content we put the yellow highlighter to but we think we learned a lot more about process.
These days our life is made up of process. There is content, we have a house plan that we now know we cannot build unless we win the lottery. That is OK. We knew all along we were going to have to nip and tuck and even knew we were have to make hard decisions here and there. What we did not understand was how long the process of getting enough information to make the all important decision to regroup was. We could do the math, we could see the handwriting on the walls, we could prognosticate but every prognostication until the past few days ranged from top to bottom of the “this is how much it is going to cost” scale.
We will figure it out and it will be a good house. I suppose it is part if the process that we had not learned yet. Like those journal articles that were marked but not read you cannot know what is on page 969 if the markings are only random. We made markings, lots and lots of markings on the beautiful plan our architect has made for us. None were random yellow highlighter. Each marking had a value. It was valuable to us and it was valuable to the people who are going to build our house. No one is going to treat us unfairly with a price, but each line, each turn of a wall, each extra step and each extra foot of space has consequences. Some of our earlier choices were wrong and some of the new markings are right. Now we face the task of seeing how we can keep what we discovered that was right and let go of what only seemed important. Easier said than done. One of the “you cannot have it both ways” things we want is an office all the way across from the stair core. It is a wonderful office and there are great things you can do with the space that emerged from adding a 15 foot bride across the living room. 1 foot, $100, 2 feet, $200, 3 feet, $300, 4 feet, $400 and so on it goes until you get to 15 feet, $1,500 and that does not include paint.
We are considering all sorts of extremes from “I give up let’s just rebuild the old house exactly, we liked it pretty well except for the ….[fill in the blank a lot of times]” to “What do you think, we could put $100,000 on our credit cards. Just imagine all those frequent flyer miles!”
In between those two extremes is reality. The reality is that nothing we do will yield a bad home or an ugly home or one that is not designed just for us. We can rest easy. It will be exactly us. Rather than using the yellow highlighter method of house building where you don’t know what is on page 969 until you literally walk into it, we will know every page, every jot of a pen, and every square inch of our house and our yard. We will survive the fire with a new home that will be just as much us as the old house was. Soon we have the best of the old and the new. It is reassuring to know that.