Friday, April 30, 2010

Almost ready

How do you celebrate something? Do you throw a party? Eat cake and ice cream? Do you buy gifts? That’s how a coworker envisioned my year of celebration: a big party with presents and desserts.

It started last week when she asked a question about Earth Day and I answered to the best of my limited knowledge. Then she wanted to know how I know so much about the day and I said that I have been researching holidays for the past few weeks. Picture the confused expression on her face. That is not a normal field of research for a data analyst. Her next question was predictable: Why?

From there I had to explain my new project. I was going to celebrate something every day for the next year. Her next question caught me off guard: Isn’t that going to be expensive? The inquiry should not have been a surprise. In her mind, she envisioned a daily celebration the same way modern America commemorates any holiday: by spending money. We have big Thanksgiving dinners, Memorial Day camp-outs, and Labor Day picnics. There are anniversary gifts, Christmas gifts, and birthday presents. We buy Easter baskets for our kids and Valentines for our loves. We buy candy for Halloween, Christmas, Valentines Day, and Easter (Easter, in my opinion, has the best sweets). We ignite fireworks on the Fourth of July and New Years Eve. Modern culture has irreversibly and inexplicably entwined holidays with commerce.

My colleague’s query got me thinking about how I intend to celebrate 365 different events. To be honest, I’m still not sure. And I’m starting tomorrow. Will it be expensive? I hope not. I don’t have a budget to throw 365 parties. I think my wife might banish me from ever possessing the debit card if I brought home 365 gifts for my kids (we don’t even have enough storage space for that much swag). And the last I checked, Hallmark doesn’t have greeting cards for Thomas Crapper Day (I’m not making that one up – Google it).

How do you celebrate something? How does the dictionary define the word celebrate?

According to Merriam-Webster to celebrate is…
*to perform (a sacrament or solemn ceremony) publicly and with appropriate rites
*to honor (as a holiday) especially by solemn ceremonies or by refraining from ordinary business
*to mark (as an anniversary) by festivities or other deviation from routine
*to hold up or play up for public notice
*to observe a holiday, perform a religious ceremony, or take part in a festival
*to observe a notable occasion with festivities

To perform ceremonies, festivities… Folks, I might be in trouble. I’m not the most festive person. But there are two phrases that stand out more than any other: refraining from ordinary business – deviation from routine.

I might not know how this experiment will play out. The logistics for a full year of celebration is not fully formed. But there is a healthy lesson inside that dictionary definition. Refrain from ordinary, and deviate from routine. We all need to do that. Change can do you some good.

Meanwhile, I’ll begin my divergence from normal tomorrow.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ain't no party like a daily party...

Every party has a pooper, and that pooper is usually me.

I'm the guy who would rather hide in the basement playing Halo after Thanksgiving dinner than sitting around the table sharing the things that make me grateful. I used to spend Christmas day at the theater instead of hanging out with the family. Once family functions reach a certain headcount, my natural inclination is to disappear. That makes my wife sad.

For the seven years that we've been married, there is one big thing that comes up as a difference between us: holidays. She lives for holidays and family get-togethers. I loathe them.

With kids in the home, the ability to sneak off and bury my nose in a book or catch up on reruns of LOST while the rest of the family socializes is becoming less of an option. Unless I want my kids to need counselling when they become adults.

My wife's dream is to make holidays and birthdays special events in our home filled with magic and heartfelt traditions. She wants our kids to look back at those days with fondness. I want to help make that happen.

Unfortunately, that is not an easy proposition. I am not a party animal. And while I can be extroverted and entertaining, I lack a knack for the festive. And I can't just bring out a happy face because it's the Labor Day, or because it's my son's birthday.

If I am to become the celebratory person I need to be, it's going to take some practice. Now, I'm starting to see celebration as a discipline. (And by discipline, I'm not intending to describe parties as some sort of awkward punishment. A discipline is a practice, a routine, forming a habit for the sole purpose of perfecting a skill.)

Meet Tom Morello. Grammy winning musician and one of the hardest working guitarists in the music industry. How he became the accomplished player his is today is a great lesson in discipline. While enrolled at Harvard - working toward his BA in Political Science - he was developing his music dexterity. He had played throughout high school, performing in a couple bands, but he knew he needed to be a better player if he was to have a career in music. So he practiced. And he made it a point to practice every day. He'd go to his classes, study, and play his guitar. Not only did he practice on a daily basis, he practiced for eight hours each day. The habits he created as a college student is apparent when you watch him play. He is inventive and skillful in ways that outshines his peers.

If you want to become good at anything, you have to practice. It has to be a part of your daily routine.

And that's why we're here. Starting May 1st, I will be making celebration a part of my daily routine. I will be spending 365 days in celebration. And by the end of it, I may be an expert party person. Maybe not. A year from now, I might only be a happier version of myself.

But I'm inviting you to come along for the ride. Celebrate with me. From my mother-in-law's birthday to Talk Like a Pirate Day. Through Jewish traditions to the liturgical calendar. In and out of four seasons and 365 reasons to say today is a good day.

Warning, I'm not jumping in with both feet. I had to dip my toes in and test the waters. I've been practicing a bit this month. If you want to see how progress is there, I've posted a preview on my primary blog. You can read it HERE.

Come back May 1st and we'll be going with reckless abandon. And we'll be partying like it's 1999.