Posted in about me, connections, gratitude, mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Inspiration, hope, and being on display

For a few years now, I’ve received “Notes from the Universe” in my email.

Sometimes I read them and hit delete and that’s that.

Sometimes I read them and smile and hit delete and that’s that.

Sometimes I read them and they hit me just the right way. Or the wrong way. Or both.

Here’s an example:

Do you know what you’ve created, Heat?
No, besides an intergalactically known saunter named after you.
Inspiration, in the eyes that have watched you. Hope, in the minds that have admired you. And love, in the hearts that have known you.
Not bad, kiddo, not bad at all –
The Universe

There are days when reading this makes me happy. Inspiration and hope are the best I have to offer, and when people have been changed for the better because of their interactions with me, it feels fantastic. This has happened in teaching, in health coaching, in blogging, in “overdisclosing” about personal struggles.

There are other days when I’d rather just have a few people close by than admirers from afar and that paragraph cultivates loneliness, or feeling like a zoo animal to be watched (with a variety of reactions) but not interacted with.

An intergalactically-known saunter is kind of fun, though.

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 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, 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!