On August 16th, 2013 I went to a party in a long black velvet dress. I was a curious sight in this outfit, as it was a casual summer potluck. When people asked me “Why so formal?” I replied, “Oh, this is just my summer velvet dress.” One of my friends started calling me “Summer Velvet” which I liked very much. But this party had a ‘maker’ theme, and my dress was actually part of that theme. Some people had brought games they had made, like Giant Jenga, but I decided to bring my dress, some neon paints, and some brushes, and finally I got up the nerve (with a friend’s help of course) to spread out the paints and brushes and encourage people to paint me. The kids at the party jumped right in, some adults too, and before I knew it, I was transformed into a beautiful velvet painting.
That was the beginning of my ‘I Never’ project, although at the time I didn’t know it. Back then I thought I’d try to do something new every day for a week, but then I got hooked. I didn’t want to stop at a week. So I continued for a month, and then another month. I wrote everything down, modified my blog to track it all, and decided to challenge myself to do it for an entire year. And on August 15th, 2014 I celebrated my 365th ‘I Never’ with dinner and drinks, with Todd and friends, on the top of the Space Needle. It was the perfect way top off my year of ‘I Nevers’ and my friend Sonya made me a beautiful encaustic piece as a commemoration, which I will treasure. To me it’s a work of art and a trophy.
So, how hard was this project? Not hard at all. Usually. Actually, doing things I’d never done before every day was probably easier than writing about them. It’s taken me a while to catch up with posting each one on my I Never Log, but I finally did it. So now it’s time to reflect. And as I do, the first thing that comes to mind is how much I loved this project and how happy I am that I did it.
Not only did I love doing something new every day, I loved writing about it, and I loved posting pictures to go with it. Mostly I loved the unexpected things that happened along the way. I loved that every day my son Miles was really interested in what my ‘I Never’ for the day would be, and would offer suggestions, like “Let’s make Frenchman Fingers!” I loved that Nadine, on the first day of summer, made a list of all things she wanted to do this summer that she’d never done before: Swim across Greenlake, Bleach My Hair, Go to Wild Waves, etc. I loved that it inspired other people to embrace the ‘I Never’ mentality and to start doing more things they’d never done before. I was surprised at how often the words “I’ve never done that before” came out of my mouth, and as soon as I heard them, I knew I had my ‘I Never’ for the day.
But while these are excellent side-effects of the project, did the project itself change me? Did it cause me to move into a new and better place? Where would I be today if I hadn’t embarked on this project? Is that possible to even know? Maybe not, but I do know that the more you push against your boundaries, the more you put yourself into slightly uncomfortable places, the better you get at it. I’m not saying you won’t feel scared or self-conscience; you’ll just get better at moving through that fear, and the icky feeling that comes with it. For me, having the ‘I Never’ project really helped me with that, especially since I could justify that what I was doing was part of the project.
I also became very aware of how easily I said ‘no’ to things, and that my immediate jump to ‘no’ was usually out of fear. Like taking the kids to sell lemonade at Greenlake. I wanted to say ‘no’ because I thought we might get in trouble. But then I thought, Well, this can be my ‘I Never’ for today, and what’s the worse that could happen?
So when the kids asked, “Can you jump with us at the trampoline place?” or “Will you play this video game with me?” or “Will you read this awesome book on my Kindle?” I started saying “yes”. Even though I thought that if I jumped on the trampoline I would pee my pants, I did it anyway. I didn’t drink a lot of water, went to the bathroom before jumping, and eventually got brave enough to do a front flip. Plus, I had a blast.
I do not like video games and would never chose to spend my time playing them, but wow, they’ve come a long way since I used to play Super Mario Bothers at my friend Nick’s house twenty years ago. So I was pretty surprised at not only at how much fun I had, but at how good the kids were at quickly figuring them out and getting good at them. I’m terrible.
And I love books. Adult books. Not kids books so much, and not on a Kindle. But the Percy Jackson series is really clever, has sparked the kids’ interest in Greek mythology, and so I promised Nadine I would read them on her Kindle. I had no idea how easy, practical, and inexpensive it was to check out ebooks from the library, or download them from Amazon. Brilliant. But I still have a huge pile of books next to my bed.
As I look back on my long list of ‘I Nevers’ they actually look quite boring and mundane to me. But it’s the mundane ones, I think, that had the biggest impact. Like I wear braids all the time now. I never did it before because I thought I was too old. Who cares? It’s just so comfortable. Nobody spends nearly as much time judging me as I think they do. It’s not like I’m in People Magazine. Although I don’t recommend sporting a uni-brow. That one made the moms at the playground quite uncomfortable. “Please wipe that thing off!” one of them begged me.
As I look back, I think my ‘I Nevers’ fall into one of three categories:
- Doing something new, like trying something, making something, going somewhere, or learning something, or
- Depriving myself of something, or
- Letting go, and trusting the kids, and others.
I think each of these categories are equally important in terms of growth, but when I first thought of doing this project, I thought mostly in terms of the first category. Isn’t that how people grow, get smarter, evolve? By doing new things? I used to think so. Now I think it’s the second category too.
I think that not doing things opened my mind and helped me to think differently. Eating glutten-free, not talking, not using my right hand, fasting, not looking in the mirror, not looking at a clock, not eating sugar – I wish I had done more of these. When you stop doing something, you really have to change your habits, and rethink old patterns, which are so embedded into your subconscious it makes it nearly impossible. Stop looking at the clock and suddenly you realize how often you look at the clock, and base your whole day around it. Stop looking in the mirror and you realize that you subconsciously look at your reflection all of the time. Fast for twenty-four hours and you realize that after the first few hours go by it gets much easier. Not doing something for a while also puts you in others shoes. You think about the people who fast regularly, or who can’t talk. You think about what it might have been like in a time before people had mirrors or clocks. It’s really very very cool. I especially loved not eating sugar for a month. I loved saying no to sugar and having a reason to say no. I said no to sugary treats and birthday cakes and ate practically nothing that came in a package. It was easy to do, made me much more conscious about how much sugar is in the food we buy, and I certainly wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for this project.
The third category, letting go, might have been the hardest. When is the right time to let your children stay home alone? Get dropped off at the movie theater? Make dinner? Hell if I know! I’m sure mine were ready long before I started this project, but now I’m comfortable with it. Yet there are certain things I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to let go of. Like not rearranging the dishwasher after Todd has loaded it. Or not calling him when he’s running late.
When I started out, I wondered if I would be able to pull off 365 ‘I Nevers’ but I also thought that blogging about it would make it more probable. And now that it’s over, I miss it. The kids still sometimes suggest ‘I Nevers’ for me, and there are so many ‘I Nevers’ I still want to do. I thought I’d get a tattoo but never did. I never got my palm read, or went to a heavy metal show, or went vegan for a week, or turned off the internet for a weekend. I still want to do those things, although getting a tattoo seems really scary. How can I continue with my ‘I Never’ project? I’m not sure, but I’ll figure something out. Or maybe it’s time for a new project?
For my 365th ‘I Never’ celebration at the Space Needle we were joking that maybe now I should start an ‘I Always’ project, and start tracking those: “I always fall asleep watching movies” and “I always make coffee the night before” and “I always call Todd ‘Toddweena’” and “I always reorganize the dishwasher after Todd has loaded it.” No, I don’t think so.
Towards the end of my ‘I Never’ project my friend Sonya, who made me the “Suzanne Jumps” plaque, told me that she’d been driving her elderly neighbor to the hospital every day, to visit her husband who was very ill with pneumonia. Her neighbor was, of course, very sad and afraid of losing her husband, and of being alone. Sonya told her about my ‘I Never’ project and so she decided to try it herself, but she decided to call it “One New Thing”. So every day she did one new thing that her husband normally did, like change the printer paper, kill a fly, open the windows. I know those sound like such simple things, but isn’t it the little things that really make the biggest difference? It made me so happy to know my project inspired her, and that she gave it such a sweet and simple name: One New Thing.