I remind myself of Nicholas Cage in Adaptation, when his character has writer’s block and can’t seem to make progress on his current project. He daydreams, “I should start jogging again. Five miles a day. Really do it this time. Maybe rock climbing. I need to turn my life around...I need to read more. Improve myself. What if I learned Russian or something, or took up an instrument. I could speak Chinese. I’d be the screenwriter who speaks Chinese and plays the oboe. That would be cool.”
We’re just over a month into this move into our new home, and—of course—it’s been strenuous. Things are improving constantly. Wendy works miracles every day to make each corner of the house more familiar and beautiful to us. (And these are true miracles since she does it all on the very meager remains of our moving budget.) Some important areas are taking shape. Our desk is set up. The silverware and frying pans are where they should be. And we’ve accounted for most of our ties, shoes, and dresses. The yard, while still a disaster, is much less an eyesore to the neighbors.
But it’s still been a strenuous month of little rest, disrupted routines, and chaotic inefficiency. Everything you do takes longer because you can’t find all the right tools to do it. Wendy and I had a meltdown fight because I couldn’t find a 3/8 size hex driver for the drill. We have maybe five drill bit sets, and they were all missing that piece. And I just knew for sure that I’d seen one lying around somewhere. (Later that night, after buying our sixth drill bit set, I did find it in a drawer in the bathroom.)
In the midst of all this commotion, I’ve felt like I’m just barely getting by. Work, which is always demanding, has been overwhelming, and school has been a catastrophe. And so, in true form, instead of rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, I decided that I wanted to start reading Chaucer. I wanted to be that nurse who reads Chaucer. Wouldn’t that be cool?
We have the most wonderful room in this new house. I call it our Reading Room. It’s got big windows and comfortable carpet. We’ve kept all electronics out of it and furnished it just with our comfortable older couch, some bookshelves, and the piano. The bookshelves are still half empty, the pictures aren’t all hung, and there are still boxes waiting to be unpacked. But it’s already the most special place in the house. It’s an area where we go to talk, to wrestle, to read, to study scriptures, and to pray as a family. It’s the room in which we chose to gather when we dedicated the home.
During all the commotion of the last month, I told Wendy that what I really needed…not wanted, needed...was an interlinear copy of Canterbury Tales and an old-fashioned looking scribe desk to rest it on. Not a normal desk, because that would get cluttered with other stuff. And I couldn’t just put Canterbury Tales on the bookshelves. That would never do! Then I wouldn’t be able to pick it up every day for a few minutes. It would just be lost in a sea of other books I bought and never read. Plus, people should be able to see that I have a fancy old-fashioned desk with Canterbury Tales just sitting on it like I read it every day, like it’s something I do all the time. Then I’d definitely be that nurse who reads Chaucer. And, of course, it would have to be an interlinear version because I’m, of course, going to want to read it in Middle English. What’s so great about reading a modern English translation of Chaucer? Anyone could do that. I might as well just watch that horrible movie version of Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger instead of reading it. And why did I take all those years of German anyway if I can’t at least feel really smart about how I can muddle through Middle English? Something good has to come from all that work, and I certainly don’t speak any German.
For the next few weeks, “Chaucer” has been an inside joke between me and Wendy. When I get too tired and can’t even finish the basic stuff like laundry and making dinner, we laugh about how much Chaucer I’ll be reading that day. When I get ridiculous about other fancy hobbies I’m going to have this year, Wendy quips, “Maybe you can do that while you’re reading Chaucer!” And, just to prove a point, I actually have read a little bit of Knight’s Tale this month. Especially when people were around and could see me doing it.
Last week I finally got sick of having my head in the clouds, so I sat down to distill a list of the must-do items from my impossibly long to-do list. I titled the new list my “Magic Wand List,” which meant that these were huge projects that I wish would magically be done with the wave of a wand. Some of them were months old, and one was a project I’d been working on for almost a year. All of them were complex and vexing. And they all made me want to start training for that marathon I’m never going to run or to practice the piano for an hour.
But instead of being distracted by my fantasies, I buckled down and got to work. In one day, I knocked the list in half. By the end of the week, every task had been either completed or had been restructured into meaningful discrete steps with time-measured progress. It’s been the most wonderful feeling. I just can’t believe how much more capacity I have now for work and how relieved I feel of the burden I had from so much work left undone.
And, ironically, because I got all that work done, I actually have more time for my hobbies. This week I started reading again, which I haven’t done since we moved. We went to the gym. I took a long bike ride with Isaac. And we started making yummy, healthy meals again instead of living on burgers and pizza.
In the last LDS General Conference, Boyd K. Packer said the most wonderful thing: “Mature love has a bliss not even imagined by newlyweds.”
I can tell you that this is the absolute truth. I’ve thought it over and over again through this whole last month of moving. Nothing could have prepared me for how much Wendy and I would grow in love for each other as we work side-by-side to beautify our new home. And, as just one wonderful example, guess what was waiting for me in the reading room this week when I got back home from a business trip?
Now I really am that nurse who reads Chaucer. That’s so cool.