Posted in connections, differences, mental health, mindset, parenting, socializing, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Distance, leverage, growth

Tempe Town Lake is a man-made lake not far from here where you can use a paddleboat or a kayak or go fishing. It’s also a popular location for triathlons. 

The water is not crystalline.

When I swam in Tempe Town Lake, I couldn’t see my hand at the end of my completely outstretched arm.

The water you swim in affects how you see things, both literally and metaphorically.

What did you think was typical across households until some startling point in time when you realized that your family was the only one who did that thing? There are threads of these anecdotes across social media.

We project our surroundings and circumstances onto everyone. We assume everyone is the same “base model” and that others just make different choices. 

Who we were raised by, who we spend/spent time with at school, at work, during free time, online and off affects both who we are and what we see as “normal.”  

(I recognize these upcoming statements are easier said than done, particularly if you’re following shelter-in-place guidelines and the concept of spending time with people is anacronistic.)

If you want to eat better, spend more time with people who eat well and less with people who don’t, because eating well in that context is “normal.” 

If you want to save money, spend more time with people who save and less with people who spend, because saving money in that context is “normal.” 

If you want to feel happier, spend time with generally happy people.

And so on.

This is true of habits not as easily measured, too. Spend time with generous people, with thoughtful people, with empathetic people, with kind people, if those are the people you want to be like, if those are the skills you want to develop.

In this light, it’s possible to have affection for people and also not want to spend a lot of time with them.

Part of the difficulty many recovering substance addicts have is their social circle. If I spend my time with my friends who spend their time getting drunk, I either need to be able to be with them and not get drunk or I need to spend time with other people.

It’s hard.

It’s applicable to anything that could be considered addiction: drugs, alcohol, junk food, shopping, gambling, working, gaming, etc. Maybe also to frames of mind: generosity, complaining, benefit of the doubt, victimhood, thoughtfulness.

Beginning in August, I took part in The Creative’s Workshop, where I spent at least an hour every day virtually interacting with other people engaging in creative work and being vulnerable in a space where showing your work and giving and receiving feedback was normal.

It changed me, for the better.

“People like us do things like this.” Find the people doing the things you want to do, and join them. Be open to who they are and who you might become, and over time, you will shift.

Posted in about me, connections, ebb & flow, exercise, mental health, mindset, motivation, tips

Wandering and staying focused: a working plan

In a conversation on Zoom this morning, we chatted about staying on track with work and life. A system I guess-and-checked my way into is working really well for me right now and seemed to resonate with others, so I thought I’d share it with you. Take what resonates, leave the rest.

First, I made a list of things that in my ideal life, I would do every day. It’s not a to-do list—there’s no way I can actually do all of these things every day. I left the list out on my desk for a few days and added to it and made notes as I thought of them.

I edited the list and organized it by section. This is what I ended up with:


  • foam roll
  • move (walk, run, bike)
  • body weight exercises
  • stretch
  • Alexander Technique


  • prompts
  • book
  • blog
  • newsletter


  • laundry
  • food
  • paperwork


  • photography
  • music
  • Spanish
  • read
  • Forward Link
  • connect

I printed the list and put it in a picture frame (surely I’m not the only one who has extra picture frames hanging around?), because dry erase markers work well on glass. I keep it on my desk. If my desk was located differently in my house, I’d hang it on the wall next to my desk.

Any time I do something from the list, I check it off. On Monday, I check on the left side; on Tuesday, I check on the right. On Tuesday, I make a slightly larger effort to get to things that were neglected on Monday. At the end of Tuesday, I erase it all.

Wednesdays, the schedule here is off, so I check things on Wednesday and then erase it at the end of the day. Thursday and Friday are paired, Saturday and Sunday are paired.

Why did I make this list?

Because I’m working from home in a self-directed pursuit, I needed some structure. But I know myself well enough to know that a schedule wasn’t going to work; it’s too easy to get derailed. I found myself finishing a task and wandering around the house, wondering what I was forgetting to do next, and looking for a snack.

The list keeps me grounded. There are lots of options, for a variety of focus levels. All of them are good ways to spend time—I won’t feel like I’ve wasted an hour on any of them.

How did I make the list?

The first two sections—body and writing—I broke down into specifics, because these two are the most important and the easiest to blow off. Funny how that works. All the body pieces and the first two writing pieces I strive to do every day.

The blog sees a new post three days per week, but I’m writing or editing more often than that. It’s nearly daily.

The newsletter is every other week (sign up here) but I kept forgetting about it until the last minute. So I don’t need to work on it every day, or even close, but this keeps it on my radar which improves the quality of both my time and the newsletter.

Household. Just things that get backlogged. Except food, these aren’t things that need to get done every day, but again, they stay on my radar, and it feels good to check them off when I’ve done them. “Eh, I don’t feel like doing any of these things, let me go throw in some towels” is still forward motion.

In the other category are things I want to do regularly but don’t need to be as specific about, because any variation within them works for me. For example, under photography, some days I’ll take photos, some days I’ll work on the online course I bought a while back, and some days I’ll work on editing. If photography was my main thing, I’d have those listed separately, but it’s not, so I don’t. A day when I do any one of those three things is a good day.

Connect is a reminder to connect with people outside of my house. This was a thing before COVID, because traveling teachers can easily make it through the day without interacting with other adults in any meaningful way.

I’m working on connecting more via phone or video call and not relying on text as much. I hate making phone calls (though I love talking to most people most of the time once we’re talking) and have been pushing through the dread of dialing. Sometimes the calls have been short—I only have 10 or 15 minutes and just call to check in—but still, they’re something.

In the frame, there is room around the list to write things I want to remember—specific tasks that need to get done, things that pop into mind and just need to be recorded somewhere obvious—and that has jogged my memory quite a few times already.

Using some of this, I’ve created a morning routine that doesn’t involve screens. 

We already have a “no screens in the bedroom” policy (unless The Kid is sleeping in our room and needs a sleep meditation to get to sleep), so I’m already not on my phone before I get out of bed.

In the mornings, I’ve taken to coming to the living room before The Kid gets up and the day gets busy. I’ll do some foam rolling and stretching (check off two things right away!), and then in my notebook, I’ll do some writing or a writing prompt (check a third thing!). The whole process only lasts 20 minutes or half an hour, but it’s grounding for the day and gets everything moving nicely before I get sucked into screens.

Could I spend more time than that on any of those things? Of course. But I’m giving them all some time, which I was not doing before, and if I want or need to return to them later in the day, I can. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Either way, it’s OK.

I’ve used this plan for two weeks and I’m very happy with it. Hopefully there’s something here you can use, too!

Posted in connections, mindset, socializing

A tangent from … May

 I wrote in May about sharing things you feel good about on social media—getting exercise, baking, creating art. (You can revisit that post here.)

At the end of that post, I indicated I had a tangent from it that I would share tomorrow.

I have a huge stash of drafts. Some just notes. Some partially written. Some fully written but I don’t like how they flow so they’re waiting to be rewritten.

Some were timely and will end up just deleted.

This one? Fully written. Flow is fine. No idea why I didn’t post it in May. Enjoy!

“No one cares that you ran today.”

1- You can’t generalize your own dislike to everyone. Even if you and all of your mutual friends agree, that’s still not everyone. If the posts are truly offensive or simply bother you that much, remove the person from your field of vision. (Different social media platforms achieve this differently, but “remove” is also an option in all of them.) It’s not their responsibility to meet your approval with what they share.

2- On the opposite side of that, some people are inspired. I have had people tell me that because they saw this right now, they decided to go do something right now. Typically, these are people who already do the thing and are in a bit of a slump. They’re kickstarted.

3- It’s passive aggressive. If there’s an issue with a person, either have a conversation with them or stop letting their stuff come into your feed.

How we react to things is our own baggage, so being upset about benign posts is often because they poke at a sore spot.

Maybe you want to be doing the thing and can’t (for any of a million reasons) and are angry and/or sad about that.

Maybe you feel like you should be doing the thing and you aren’t (for any of a million reasons—some the same as the previous million) and others sharing their success triggers shame.

Maybe you know the person and you know that what they’re sharing and what happens in real life don’t match (again, for any number of reasons, possibly reasons you’re not aware of) and you bristle at the inauthenticity.

Maybe it’s just redundant.

Sometimes what people are excited about and what you’re interested in listening to don’t match.

The Kid can talk to me about rockets or Star Wars or Minecraft for extremely long periods of time. I could go with the extra-condensed version and be quite content. If these were Facebook interactions, I could just scroll past them (because I don’t have to engage) or I can hide him, or I can unfriend him.

If we have interactions with a person in real life and they always talk about the same thing and it’s not at all interesting, often we stop spending time with them. (Which is unfortunate that we don’t usually say, “Hey! I’d really like to talk with you but this topic isn’t really interesting to me. Can we talk about something else?”)

Social media seems to be a space where we still spend time and just complain about it. If it bothers you that much, stop giving them attention!

Posted in audience participation, connections, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

Conscientiousness and community

My great-aunt apparently drove later in her life than she should have. I never rode in a car with her but I remember overhearing grownups laughing that she was like Mr. Magoo, where she always turned out fine but there was a trail of chaos behind her.

We’re not always aware of the effect we have on others.

When we hold on to trash until we find a trash can, when we snap at people who we perceive as worthy of our judgement and ire, when we tell someone something we admire about them, when we cut people off in traffic … we affect others. Often, we affect more than just the person we’re targeting.

Do you want your ripples to be positive or negative? Assume there is no neutral. (The option of neutral leads to inaction, and inaction nearly always feeds the negative.)

Take a moment and think of something small that someone (known or unknown) did that affected your mood.

My hikes are much less pleasant when there is trash on the trail. The most common trash on the trails I frequent is bags of dog poop: people bag up their dog’s poop and then leave it on the trail. Pack it out. Leave no trace. Something small that affects countless others.

One day at work, I got three compliments on my dress. Each made my day better.

Small things matter. Offer small things to others. People you know. People you don’t know.

Drive thoughtfully. Give praise. Do favors. Clean up after yourself. Turn the volume down. Send a card. Be patient. Live generously.

Posted in about me, connections, ebb & flow

A hundred concerts

In a normal year, my social media feed would be full of posts from music teacher friends and parents of music students. It’s concert season.

Band, orchestra, choir, drama, and others. Schools, churches, and others. Cute little ones, well-refined older ones, the ones in between who have neither the charm of the littles nor the skill of the bigs.

Those are my students. The ones in between. I love them.

A winter concert for beginning band—at least when I’m running it—is 20 to 30 minutes, enough music to show off what the students have accomplished, solos from students who are capable and willing, and whatever else we come up with that year. Students make the majority of announcements—parents are there to see kids, not me—and audience members have the what and why of a good audience in their program. 

I use my “teacher look” on the audience if they’re noisy while my students are performing.

The announcements and program are in both English and Spanish. I tell students they’re nervous about performing on their instruments, and I’m nervous about addressing their parents in Spanish, and no matter who messes up, we’re all going to be OK.

In my career, I’ve organized and executed almost 100 concerts. At this point, most of them blur together. Especially when there are two or three in one week.

While any given concert might be my 75th or my 90th or my centennial, the December concert is still the first for the fifth graders. I offer my excitement to them accordingly and we prepare both music and mindset for the stage.

I don’t remember my first concert, but I still have my music and the program from it. 

The only elementary concert I actually remember is from the year we played Sweet Caroline

My grandmother—my dad’s mom—was my biggest fan. She was also a huge fan of Neil Diamond, and I was excited to be playing a song that she would love.

Being 11 years old, I didn’t consider that the elementary band version might not be the most exciting performance she could attend of Sweet Caroline, and she didn’t say a thing about it.

My grandmom—Mom-mom—came to every performance I had through all of elementary school, middle school, and high school. She didn’t drive, so she recruited someone to pick her up for each one. As a musician herself, she would always give me a little bit more feedback than “good job.” Always enough for me to feel like it was the best performance ever.

Mom-mom was the only relative who supported my decision to go to college for music education. I was supposed to be a genetic engineer or an accountant.

When I graduated from college, she gave me a gift: a scrapbook of all of the programs from all of those concerts. She had saved them all.

The following Christmas, just a week after my first concerts as a band teacher, she said to me quietly, off to the side, “Good for you for doing what you wanted to do.”

My social media feed in 2020 (or, perhaps, 2019) of winter concerts is downstream from that first concert in 1984, of everyone’s first concert. My feed is full of concerts that have parents or grandparents or neighbors who might enjoy better-polished music but wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else that evening.