Living in Shades of Taupe

In 8th grade, our class was divided into three pods. Each pod was then divided again into three sub-classes that rotated through three subjects - Social Studies, Language Arts, and Math. The three classes often coordinated. For example, when we discussed the Revolutionary War in social studies we read Johnny Tremain in language arts. Math focused on Algebra and incorporated somehow, but frankly I wasn't a big fan of math and my energy remained focused on the liberal arts then as it does now. Periodically, all of the sub-classes in a pod would work on one big project that incorporated all three subjects. When we ventured into the point in US history when settlers began traveling west, we read How the West Was Won and our project was to work in groups to create a popsicle stick western town. My group of three was assigned the undertaker's building.

Having a somewhat studious nature, I volunteered to take our popsicle sticks home and put together the core structure. Basically, just make an open-ended box that we could all paint and decorate the next day. We'd be finished early and, of course, receive top marks for our brilliance and efficiency. Except...I created a disaster. I measured once and cut a lot. I think I had more hot glue in my hair than on the actual project. My parents, both brilliant at this sort of task, contentedly let me massacre the popsicle sticks into a misshapen mess that, in my eyes, was about the best that could be done with such shoddy materials.

To top it off, I wasn't the only one with this idea. When I walked in to the pod the next day with this crafty disaster, I was forced to place it next to a dozen or so perfectly created popsicle stick structures that looked as if they had been manufactured. Our building looked like a group of three-year-olds found a glue gun during snack time. I knew it. My group knew it. Everyone knew it. We considered starting over. But I didn't want to let it go. I put a lot of effort into creating that mess. I was oddly attached. I thought maybe it wouldn't matter if we put lots of paint on it.

No. The paint somehow made it look shoddier. Facing failure pushed my creative instincts into overdrive. We go with it. We operate with the premise that the building is supposed to be shoddy. I mean, it's a creepy old West undertaker's building, right? We ran with the idea. We made tiny plastic windows with starbursts cut out to look as if the window had been the victim of a stray bullet. We added a front stoop with a slight lean to it. The additions of the intentional disrepair transformed the disaster into success. It turned out to be a pretty cool building, unique among its other shinier, better constructed neighbors. We ended up with top marks after all.

The journey to our desired outcome was not how I imagined it back then. The same is true today. Our intention was to stay in Maui for a very, very long time - forever, if possible. Our intention has not changed. If anything, our resolve has grown stronger. There is nothing wrong with the Midwest, with this place we spent so many decades, but it doesn't fit for us. We exist here feeling out of place, in the way, uncomfortable. That wasn't so in Maui. It wasn't just the beauty and beach. It was the communal sense of family. Looking forward to the neighbor's wave over the fence. Talking story at the dog park. Happily getting lost in conversation with a random stranger on the street or in the grocery store. Not to mention the constant learning about our surroundings. I could spend two lifetimes on that island and still have things yet to discover, both tangible and intangible. Is it perfect? No. But it's perfect for us.

It's very taupe here right now. And cold. The lack of color and inability to expose one's skin to sunlight is a challenge. I miss being outdoors. I absolutely hate wearing shoes. I was once someone obsessed with shoes. That has completely changed. They are unnatural beasts that completely disturb the body's ability to temperature regulate and serve as cargo containers for mass quantities of yuck. They make my feet incredibly unhappy. I despise them. But I can't focus on things like that - the things that are a shock to my system and hold me back from moving forward.

I'm finding ways to cope, but it hasn't been easy. I look for something beautiful every day. Some days are harder than others. I'm not used to having to look so hard. Two days ago, I was elated to spy some daffodils only to discover they were fake. That brought a rush of unexpected tears. But, the taupe will soon give way to summer. Sweet corn, green fields, and the smell of meat on fire wafting through the air. I hold onto that with a fierce grip. I also hold hope that I can continue to appreciate these small benefits and not get swept back into the tide of too-busy-to-care. I never again want to just put on the blinders and go to work. I want to continue to appreciate every day. Life's too short not to. We shouldn't live a life with days in which we simply exist. Whether the world appears in various shades of taupe or vibrant colors, there is still beauty to be discovered.