Posted in about me, differences, ebb & flow, mindset, socializing, vulnerability

Is awkward defined by the subject or the observer?

As an introverted child, I did a lot of people-watching. I noticed people who were boorish and didn’t notice others’ fake smiles and “oh look at the time!” exits. I saw people who droned on about disinteresting things and didn’t notice others’ eyes glazing over.

I was so scared about being one of those people, of not seeing and reading body language during a conversation, that I didn’t really talk much to people at all.

The adults in my family, and their friends who spent time at our house, cast judgment for sport. I heard what was wrong with any action or statement offered by anyone in their orbit, including the people who had been there last weekend.

That was my “normal,” and as such, I assumed for a long time that everyone was like that—friendly to your face, butcher you when you’re not in earshot.

This didn’t help my fear of interacting with people.

As I started to learn to interact with people—a distressing multi-decade task—I felt … awkward.

In my late 30s, I realized I was just an introvert (“just”) and that it was OK that making conversation with unfamiliar people didn’t come easy. This is me, I have many strengths, and that’s not one.

Throughout my 30s, I became more transparent about my experience, and through doing so learned that most of the time, I didn’t come across as awkward. I had a pair of colleagues who would give each other looks—thinking I didn’t see them—in response to things I’d say. Other than that, I haven’t had direct experience with people known to have my parents’ approach to interpersonal relationships.

Then I started to see people proclaiming their awkwardness everywhere.

They’re all people I have never perceived as awkward, even a little bit. I see them as genuine, true to themselves, and often engrossed by an interest: dancing, teaching, movies, reading, music, baseball, history. 

It’s not awkward—it’s animated and excited and uninhibited and wonderful, and we need more of it.

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, gratitude, mindset

A moment of perfection

Sitting in the living room I rearranged over the weekend, enjoying the the new energy the room still has, facing the window with the blinds open, at my table in the corner with my moleskin and a felt-tipped pen.

Felt-tipped pens are perfect for certain writing. They’re not fast, but my handwriting is lovely when I write with them (because they’re not fast), and I have so many colors. Colors make me happy.

I decided early in pandemic that the moleskin was for writing with these pens. I can only write on one side of each page which feels wasteful, but I’m letting that go. I know I will be more upset with the difficulty in reading it with the other side bleeding through.

It’s a journal of sorts, so when I want to write about goings-on, I choose it and a color contrasting the most recent color, though sadly not yellow, because it’s too hard to see. I do have a darker yellow that I can get away with occasionally.

I sat down with my spiral notebook this morning, planning to do some free writing in it, but the pen wanted to write about the moment. I put the spiral and ball point pen away, took out the moleskin, and wrote.

The Kid is at school. It’s the first morning in a full month—between winter break and two weeks of virtual learning—that he’s had school at school. The Climbing Daddy is working in the other room but not on a call. The dogs are napping on the couch next to me.

It’s quiet.

It’s beautiful.

The weather is cold, overcast, wet, dark this morning. The sun is among those of us having trouble getting up today. I have a candle burning and a cup of hot tea. This moment, as I just enjoy it, is one brand of perfect.

(There are so many types of perfect moments.)

If I get to thinking even a little bit, the moment loses its luster. Schools shouldn’t be open. All three county dashboard metrics are at red for the whole county. The country is potentially on the brink of civil war. I hope it doesn’t go that far but I can’t be surprised if it does.

Those realities are definitely not part of my perfection.

There’s enough time for those later. For now, I will soak in the quiet of my little corner with my tea, candle, and felt-tipped pen.

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:

Body

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

Writing

  • prompts
  • book
  • blog
  • newsletter

Household

  • laundry
  • food
  • paperwork

Other

  • 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 about me, audience participation, ebb & flow, gratitude, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation

The sun is setting on 2020

It’s easy to see the bad parts of 2020. They’re on the news, they’re in articles, they’re in memes, they’re showing up in expected and unexpected places in our lives.

For the overwhelming majority of us, there were good parts to 2020 as well, even if some of them are double-edged.

For example, both of my fifth grade classes were fantastic—the first time that’s happened since I’ve been in this position. The other edge is that our year got cut short. But the third quarter was still part of 2020 (we all seem to be starting 2020 in March…), and teaching those kids was great.

Even though school was a mess, they were great sixth graders this year.

It seems to me that in some homes, there is a lot of complaining, a lot of gossiping, a lot of seeing negative, expecting to be cheated, swindled, taken advantage of, stolen from. Try to raise ourselves by making others lower.

Other homes are more loving, seeing the good in people, reliving the best parts of their days with each other. (This is not to say that they ignore bad things—that’s just as toxic as focusing on them—just that they don’t marinate.)

My house growing up was definitely negative. Good things spoken of others were few and far between, and every compliment had an asterisk. Most commentary was degrading and judgmental.

And so to some extent, this became my outlook. Judge, put down, roll eyes, cluck tongue. Be aware of our superiority to them.

Little pieces of how this is dysfunctional came into my consciousness over time, and today, I am happy to say that much of the time, I see positivity in many things, I can wonder what in people’s story leads them to where they are, I can give benefit of the doubt.

I am certainly not saintly and still have more negative undercurrent than I’d like, but it’s much better, and I’m much happier. I actively work to make my household one that sees the good.

My life is better with this shift.

Experience combined with introspection have also given me the solid knowledge that challenges are opportunities to grow, and that life-upending challenges are both the hardest and have the biggest payout. Sure, occasionally you win $1,000,000 on the nickel slots, but not often enough to make it a financial plan.

Enter pandemic.

I’ve been frustrated for nine months that we, culturally, are smashing our heads against the proverbial wall, trying to make things as close to “normal” as possible, missing so many opportunities to redesign the systems, to redesign our lives for the better instead of for the “have to.” Especially when our cultural “normal” wasn’t all that great to start with.

So tell me: what was good in 2020? Whether a result of pandemic or not. I’ll go first.

The Kid and I got to spend way more time together than is normally available. We did projects together, learned new things together, ran together, and still had time to do our own things off in our own corners.

Friends who don’t live nearby were part of game night, along with the usual crew. We’re really restricted on what we can play online (do you have any suggestions?), but we always had a good time.

I learned so many new technologies! (Definitely double-edged.) I got to figure out ways to try to engage with kids through the computer.

I took the opportunity to teach bucket drumming. It was so much fun (and so much work to figure out) and something I wouldn’t have done if not for necessity.

Through a weekly Zoom call, I got to talk with a small group of friends every week. It was more than I would have gotten to talk with these lovely ladies in regular real life.

I participated in The Creative’s Workshop, which was truly an amazing experience. I met people from all over the world, got to see other’s work, got feedback on my own work, made friends.

Related but deserving of its own paragraph: I wrote a book. Beginning the process of editing now. It’s been in my head for at least a decade, and now it’s out.

We had a pool put in, just in time for the record number of 110-degree days and 100-degree days. The joy of The Kid—both in watching it be built and in using it—was infectious.

Taking the same walk around the neighborhood and up the canal most days in the spring, I got to see the duck families born and grow.

That’s off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more, but this is a good start.

So tell me—what was good for you in 2020?

And then tell me—what’s good for you today?

Leave a comment, send me an email. Do it today. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. What’s good? There’s no avoiding what’s bad—but is marinating in the bad really where you want to live?

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.