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 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 differences, mental health, mindset

Two old women

During the summer of 2019, I got to visit my great-aunt, the twin sister of my late grandmother, my biggest fan as I grew into being a musician.

Whenever I go back east, I make sure to visit Aunt Ellen. I learned on my last visit that she’s in an assisted living facility now—against her will—and lives about an hour away from where she used to live.

When we were young, Mom-mom was my grandmom and Aunt Ellen was The Other Mom-mom. When they reached a certain age, they had different updos and dyed their hair different shades of their former color, but otherwise, they looked the same.

My last visit to her house, I stopped by unannounced. I let myself into the back yard—she never used the front door, probably because the garage was at the far end of the back yard. She didn’t drive—neither did her twin—but her late husband did, and after years of going in and out the back, why change?

It was autumn. The weather was still pleasant, and the screen door allowed fresh air into the house.

I knocked on the door. No answer. I looked through the screen and could barely see the old familiar dining room, with the living room beyond. The same furniture had been in the same places for as long as I could remember.

I knocked again, hoping that my pop-in wasn’t going to give me the honor of finding she had passed. We were just past her 90th birthday.

Still no answer.

The yard wrapped around the far side of the house. A few large walnut trees stood in that space, as well as the totem pole her husband had carved at least a decade earlier. 

Rustling came from around that corner, so I went to investigate. Aunt Ellen was decidedly not deceased. She was raking up the walnuts and leaves that coated the ground; she had three garbage bags done.

We went in the house immediately and she fixed tea and cookies. We visited for hours, eventually taking the visit to one of her favorite restaurants for dinner.

She has fairly advanced macular degeneration and can’t see very well as a result. As is often the case with people in their 90s, she has some hearing loss and wears hearing aids.

While we talked, she said that everything was fine until she turned 90. Now, not so much.

On our most recent visit, Aunt Ellen was 92 or 93 and generally unhappy. The dissatisfaction she found in turning 90 hadn’t reversed—not that I expected it would—and being forced to move out of the house she had lived in for 70 years didn’t make life better.

She lamented her sensory shortcomings and life’s insistence that she remain a part of it. 

For Christmas, my ex-mother-in-law had dinner with us (along with The Tall Daddy, The Climbing Daddy, and The Kid). Grammy is 93.

She has some hearing loss but not as much as Aunt Ellen and doesn’t wear hearing aids. Although we were sitting at a distance, when we didn’t have masks on for the meal, she seemed to be able to hear everyone without issue. Masks made it more difficult. Masks make it more difficult for everyone.

She has her vision. She plays cards and Rummikub, reads books and writes letters.

When we visited Aunt Ellen, The Kid tried to show her a LEGO thing he had with him. She was happy to talk with him about it but didn’t really follow the conversation and couldn’t see the pieces very well.

After dinner with Grammy, The Kid brought out his new LEGO lunar lander and, masked up, gave Grammy a detailed tour. She followed, engaged in the conversation, and told him at the end that she had learned a lot from him.

Both were delighted to have this moment with The Kid.

It was striking to me, as I watched him interact with Grammy, how different it was than it had been interacting with Aunt Ellen. 

So many factors play into people’s dispositions as they age, but I wonder, in her position, how Aunt Ellen could be happier. She can’t see or hear very well and is displaced. Displaced I can see how to manage, but not without critical senses.

I’ve often thought about what life would be like if I lost my hearing. My right ear went deaf in a matter of hours, and I’m acutely aware that at any moment, the other could go and that would be that.

But I could still see. I could read and write and take pictures and watch my boy and see my husband and friends.

What would I do if I couldn’t see?

So much has happened in my life, and I’ve come through all of it. Losing my vision? I don’t know how well I would come through that. Compounded by losing hearing. Especially if I was 93 and displaced.