Posted in mindset, motivation

Selfies

Selfies are given a bad rap. As with most reputations, there’s some legitimacy in there, and also as with most reputations, the legitimacy is overgeneralized.

Some selfies are from single parents who have no one else to take photos of them much of the time. If they want a picture together with their kid, they have to take it themselves.

Partnered parents whose partners are not inclined to pick up the phone and snap a photo—that’s a weird phrase—have a similar problem. They have someone they could ask to take a picture, if the someone is around and amenable.

Some selfies are simply pride or excitement in how one is looking in the moment. New haircut, good-looking outfit, fun jewelry, silliness for a group event (school, work, whatever), new glasses. Why not show it off?

All of the trans people I know shared selfies, either during their transition or once they felt safe enough to do so. This ties in to the “pride or excitement” piece above, but I think it deserves its own mention because it’s much higher stakes.

And of course, selfies are taken to try to make it look like life is amazing when it’s not.

I know a lot of people are struggling (I am certainly one of those people sometimes) and post stories or photos or videos of “wins”—things that are going well, or are funny, or any other positive attribute. No indication anywhere that life is hard. It helps highlight the good.

(The problem with that, of course, is that no one can help if no one knows there’s an issue. But that’s another topic for another day.)

I don’t consider that Fakebooking. Sometimes the validation you get from sharing a bit of happiness gets you through the next hour. Sometimes you want a space where you can ignore the mess of real life and just live in the good stuff. Whatever the reason, it happens, and it makes sense to me.

People who take pictures in their yard to make it look like they’re at the beach? Or who otherwise straight up lie about where they are or what they’re doing? I don’t have a lot of patience for that. But don’t tear down all selfies because of those few.

Posted in about me, motivation, vulnerability

Ideal Heat vs. Real Heat

There are two Heats. (I suspect there are two of you, too.)

There’s Ideal Heat, the one that does All The Things. The one that followed through on learning to crochet, or had the patience and attention span to sew. She makes some of her own clothes and when it’s cold and she needs an ear warmer, she just whips one up. She’s diligent about learning Spanish (I’d be fluent by now…), has regularly used the calligraphy kit she got for Christmas a couple of years ago. A project started is a project finished.

There’s Real Heat, the one who doesn’t have the attention span to get through the rough beginnings of fabric arts and who doesn’t do them often enough to remember much from one session to the next, making the learning curve even rougher. She has a lot of interests and not enough time to pursue them all, but also wants to have some skills without earning them. 

Real Heat does do plenty. This is not disparaging her at all. But she can’t do it all. And some of the things she thinks she wants to do, she doesn’t really want to do—she wants to want to.

The reason this distinction is important is because it allows me to unload physical and metaphorical baggage. 

All the fabric and patterns from projects I wanted to do but in real life was not actually going to complete? I gave them away to a friend who sews like crazy. Maybe she used them and maybe she paid them forward—don’t know and doesn’t matter. They’re not taking up space in my house any more.

And they’re not taking up space in the back of my mind any more. I am free from the Weight of Unfinished Projects. At least those unfinished projects.

Yarn and crochet hook? Crafting stuff? Art supplies? Gone gone gone.

Not everything needs to be used daily or even regularly. I go in fits and spurts playing my ukulele. It’s not an unfinished project. It’s something I like to do from time to time. The ukulele makes the cut.

Getting rid of the stuff that belongs to Ideal Heat lets Real Heat have less clutter in the house and in the brain, so there’s more room for what she’s actually going to dig into.

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 differences, education, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Take the opportunity: band teacher edition

What a fantastic opportunity we have been forced into!

I know that could be interpreted sarcastically; I mean it completely sincerely.

I am a teacher. Sometimes, I am a phenomenal teacher. Sometimes, I am a mediocre teacher.

We all know teachers who have been teaching for a long time, teaching the same thing, plugging along more or less on auto pilot. (As much as auto pilot works in this gig.)

Not now!

We all know teachers who have completely resisted learning/using technologies.

Not now!

We all get in routines, have our way of doing things, etc., even if we’re consistently learning and growing.

Now? Now we have the opportunity to re-think ALL OF IT.

I teach band. I’m in band teacher groups on Facebook where I get and share resources and ideas regularly.

Man. There are a lot of people trying to figure out how to do what they’ve always done, just through an internet connection or a face mask.

Missing the opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s time-consuming. And we’re all at square one again. Everyone I’ve talked to feels like a first year teacher.

Being a first year teacher is rough. Really rough.

(I can’t imagine being a first year teacher this year…)

If you’ve been banging your head against the wall trying to make this year like every other year through Zoom and face masks and life-draining expectations, I’m here to tell you—it’s not too late to change the course. Rethink everything. Do something differently. Do everything differently. What do you have to lose?

“But then my kids will be behind!” Behind what? Your expectations for where they “should” be? Your fear of someone else’s judgement of where they “should” be? And by extension, judgement of your competence as a teacher?

There is a global pandemic. Let the expectations go.

Right now, nearly everything is hard for nearly everyone. Stressing yourself out trying to make kids—who have their own laundry list of stresses to deal with—jump through hoops to try to pretend that everything is normal is … well … stressful.

Also, kids have so much less autonomy in choosing how to deal with everything that’s going on, or even knowing what healthy coping mechanisms are available. Do we want to be someone helping or someone hurting? I’m not convinced anyone is neutral now, or ever.

“Band is some kids’ safe place!” Yes it is! It was mine. Does that mean it needs to be as close to what they did last year as possible? You are their safe place. The group is their safe place. Keep the space sacred, but the activities? They can be shaken up.

Take a deep breath, let some of the weight go, and see what you come up with.