Posted in about me, hope, mindset, thoughtfulness

My word

My school district does something at the beginning of each year for staff, to try to give us a common inspirational thing that in theory would carry through the year but rarely lives for more than a week or two.

This year, we were each to engrave a word on a “my intention” bracelet.

It was supposed to be our focus word for the year; we each chose our own.

This is the kind of thing that I get stuck on.

I needed to choose the perfect word. And while I had lots of ideas about what that word might be, perfection is found in a feeling—it’s not cognitive so much.

With many things to work on both at home and at work (I am a constant work in progress), I had many possibilities.

Flow. Trust. Yet.

Focus. Risk. Innovating.

Enough. Believe. Breathe. Margins.

Nurture. Connect. Nourish. Cultivate.

All fit, but none were quite perfect.

And then I read this blog post. And I loved it. And immediately I knew that my focus word is shamash—the candle in a menorah that lights the other candles.

A shamash is not part of my religion. Not part of my culture. Not part of my world in any direct way, really. And yet, it resonated.

I don’t know if I’ve heard the word before. I learned a fair amount about Judaism in and after college when I dated a few guys who were Jewish. I’ve been friends with Carla (the author of the linked post) for a while, and this post was not written this year.

It’s likely that I read it when she first published it and it just didn’t stick. This time? Resonance. Ah-ha! The feeling that I have found the perfect word to remind me what path I want to be on.

Works for me with students, with colleagues, with friends, with family, with strangers.

That said…

There’s a lot of life going on over here. My mental energy is sometimes depleted and often low. I haven’t spent a lot of energy on this yet. Working on it a little. Will continue to work on it. Will continue to figure out what I want it to look like. Hoping that with the seed planted, once the stuff that’s going on now passes, it will have space to grow and bloom.

Shamash. Be the candle that lights others.

Posted in know better do better, thoughtfulness

Concert etiquette

I am a classically-trained musician.

I hate the custom of not clapping between movements of classical works (regardless of the ensemble performing them) and I think we should go back to the old way (which, from what I understand, was changed by Mahler).

But people, when you’re in the audience at a formal performance, be quiet.

At the beginning of every school concert that I’m the teacher for, I make an announcement explaining that it’s hurtful to the children when the audience talks, because they think the audience isn’t listening. And it’s distracting — playing an instrument takes a lot of concentration.

These things are all true, and explaining them has helped the noise level.

For the performances I run, the songs are between 10 seconds and 3 minutes. It’s really and truly not that hard to be quiet for that long. Really.

When The Kid was younger, he could sit quietly through the first half of a formal performance. (We haven’t been to one recently.) We went to see the Phoenix Symphony once. We went to see The Tall Daddy perform quite a few times. We went to other performances as well. Often, there were adults sitting near us who were not as well-behaved as my two- or three- or four-year-old.

Just stop talking.

There are announcements at the front end of performances to turn cell phones off (“vibrate” still makes noise!) but we’re not told to be quiet and apparently need to be.

Whether the performance is young kids, teens, adults, music, theatre, dance—be quiet.

Respect the performers.

It’s hard. No, not hard to be quiet—hard to perform. A lot of work to have the skill to have something worth presenting to an audience. It’s scary to stand or sit on a stage in front of people.

Due to the acoustics in the space I most recently performed in, from the stage, we could pretty clearly hear people whispering on the balcony. It was maddening and distracting.

Not interested in the performance? Daydream. Without your phone, and without sharing those dreams until intermission.

It’s not a sporting event. It’s not a band in a bar or ambient music at a restaurant. Different events call for different behavior. Adjust accordingly.

[curtain closes; you can talk now]

Posted in know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

The value of creative work

There’s a strongly held cultural belief that people who engage in creative work are poor, deserve to be poor, and, in many cases, need to be poor in order to continue to do creative work.

This is all bullshit. Well, except that many are poor.

We scoff at degrees in the arts. We tell people who want to pursue creative careers to get real jobs or to have back up plans.

Creative work is necessary for all of us. It’s part of what it is to be human. But that’s an argument I’ll flesh out more on another day.

Other people’s creative work is infused in our lives. We take it for granted and don’t realize how grey our lives would be if all of those people “just got real jobs.”

Writing: no books. No magazines. No blogs. No movies (someone has to write the script). No plays or musicals.

Graphic arts: no paintings (works hung on walls, works painted on walls). No mosaic works (various outdoor spaces, tabletops, walls). No book or magazine covers. No photographs (family portraits, places and things you’ve seen and not seen, wedding and other special events). Because I wasn’t sure where else to put this: no flower arrangements.

Live performances: no plays or musicals. No stand up comedy or improv comedy. No musical performances in bars or restaurants. No concerts in concert venues. No talk radio.

Recorded performances: all of the same as live performances plus: no movies. No podcasts. No audiobooks.

Music: no CDs/records/mp3s/streaming subscriptions/music radio. No background music in movies. No ambient music on the phone, in offices, in shopping centers, in the gym, at events.

Clothes and accessories: no “cute” clothes or shoes. No pretty scarves, hats, gloves, ties, jewelry, sunglasses. This category runs deep enough—I can’t say no clothes or shoes or bags, because we have made rules that we have to wear clothes and for general functionality, we need some sort of carrying cases, but it’s hard to imagine what the choices would be with no creative work involved. Also: no costumes.

Culinary: No decorated cakes or cookies. No new recipes. No food with good presentation.

I’m sure that list isn’t exhaustive and there are many others I missed. Hit me up and point out where I’ve left holes, and I’ll come back and add a list of things I missed.

Do you really believe that none of those are worth anything? That the people who have spent their lives creating so we can consume the arts should have gotten “real jobs”?

I encourage you to notice today and this week everywhere you consume creative work. And then to advocate for this work to be seen as real, to be paid like any other, not to be stolen on a regular basis. (While a handful of people who do this work are extremely wealthy, the majority of people who do this work are not.)

Posted in gifts, mindset, thoughtfulness

Random acts of kindness

I was the recipient of a random act of kindness yesterday. Even though it was “useless,” it made my day. Here’s what happened.

There was A Thing I saw at Costco and debated buying for a friend. Debated a bit, decided with The Climbing Daddy that yes, we should get it. Went back, and it was gone. Checked back a bit later and it was not restocked (and was not going to be).

The thing about Costco is that you can’t call and talk to someone about general stock. Or I couldn’t.

I’m not a phone person AT ALL, but I’m even less a “drive around to all of the local Costcos” person.

So we checked another (also sold out) and then asked them if they could tell us if any locations had it.

Yes, one. About half an hour from here.

So after work before picking up The Kid from school, I drove out there.

As I entered the section where it would be if it were still to be there, a chipper employee asked me if I needed help.

“I’m looking for A Thing and [other location] said you have a bunch.”

“Hm. How many is a bunch?” he asked as we started to walk towards the answer.

“They said you have nine, but I only need one.”

The conversation went on a bit before he clarified, “You came all the way up here from [other location]?”

Yup. No one else has them.

“We have to take care of you!” And he put A Thing in my cart. I thanked him, considered myself “taken care of,” and on we went.

A minute or so later, as I was finally getting out of that area (it was crowded! and Costco carts do not squeeze through anywhere…), he leaned over my cart, put in a roasted chicken with a note on it, and said, “Lunch!”

The note indicated to the cashier that it was free.

It was such a random and nice thing to do.

I don’t eat meat; been vegetarian for almost 11 years. No way he would have known that. Doesn’t diminish his kindness a bit.

(I texted The Climbing Daddy to see if he wanted it. If not, I would have offered it to a friend or given it to one of the panhandlers.)

So if this little kindness made my day, imagine what you could do for someone—whether you know them or not—with something unexpected and nice. Doesn’t have to be a gift.

(And if you know the person, it should be something that reflects them. If someone in my social circle gave me a cooked chicken, the reception would be different…)

I’ve gotten better about complimenting people I see out and about. I’ve been on and off the wagon with regards to sending people nice notes in the mail. (Real mail. Handwritten.)

How can you make someone’s day today?

Posted in ebb & flow, gifts, hope, mindset, podcasts, storytelling, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Podcast quote: creativity (and so much more)

TED has started a new podcast series called TED Interviews, where Chris Anderson interviews people who have give TED talks about their talks, and they get more in depth.

I haven’t quite listened to all of them, but all that I’ve listened to have been captivating. (As of this writing, there are only six of them.)

I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, mostly known for writing Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t read it.)

First, they got into creativity. She talked a short bit about the history of creativity (who knew there was one?!) I loved the imagery in what she had to say:

“The way I describe it is the way I’ve empirically experienced it, which is broken down in my life to this notion: that ideas are living entities. They have consciousness. They don’t have matter. They can’t be seen, they can’t be felt, they can’t be proven, but they have will. And the way I picture it—and it’s sort of whimsical but I have also literally based my life on this—is the universe is sort of swirling with these ideas that wish to be created and they’re constantly looking for human collaborators because for some reason we have this oddly sensitive consciousness that can hear them and find them. And so the way I picture it is they sort of just roam around being like, ‘Are you my mother? Are you my mother? Are you my mother?’ And every single human who is struck by inspiration describes the experience exactly the same way … there’s this distraction where the idea sort of consumes you and in that consuming which can take months, weeks, years, the idea is interviewing you and asking you, ‘Do you wanna do this thing with me or not?’ And that’s the most important conversation that I think human beings can have, is that dialogue between your willingness to cooperate and show up and make something with this idea and manifest it and the idea’s desire to be made and the question of whether you are indeed the right partner.”

Whimsical was a solid word to describe the idea, but I love the imagery. Even more, though, I love the ownership of the work, and how the idea doesn’t just come and magically happen—it’s a partnership. “Your labor is the contribution to the miracle.” (She says that later.)

She talked more about that in other places in the podcast as well.

They also talked about curiosity vs. passion, enchantment vs. empiricism, fear, memes (not the pictures on the internet), secular magic, dark night of the soul, why to do the work if it’s likely to fail, and quite a bit about grieving.

It’s an hour long, and it’s well worth your hour. I listened to it twice, in addition to the bits I listened and paused so I could transcribe.

Posted in know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

Happy Thanksgiving?

This holiday is such a big part of American culture …

I think that gathering with people who are important to you is important, and we’ve created such a culture of busy-ness that we need a holiday to make us stop and do it.

I think preparing a large, formal meal is something lost (see: busy) and there’s something to be said for it. For people who like that sort of thing. Or for people who can delegate well. Or both.

I think that showing gratitude and taking a moment or a day to be mindful of what we have is important (and needs to be done way more often!).

But I think that we should disconnect the holiday from its roots. I think we should get rid of pilgrims and Indians happily sharing a meal and the feel-good fiction that goes along with it.

(Ideally, we’d use this opportunity to teach the reality of the relationship between those two groups of people, but I think that would be Step 2. Which I think would naturally lead to Step 3: working to right wrongs as much as possible. Or at the very least, ceasing to continue wronging…)

What do you think?

Posted in mindset, thoughtfulness

Sometimes older is just older

People change over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, probably most often a combination.

Ideally, we’d have more “for the better.”

This is the thing: if you don’t own your past, it owns you.

If you did something shitty and/or stupid 20 years ago and it resurfaces (reason irrelevant), there are a few paths:

You can say, “Yes, I did that, and it was shitty/stupid, and here are examples of how I’ve changed since then.” Ideally, if possible and necessary, you’ve already found anyone you injured all that time ago and apologized, attempted to make restitution, and you can include that in your evidence. You embody when I know better, I do better.

You can say, “Yes, I did that, and I’d do it again” or “Yes, I did that, and there’s nothing wrong with it” or “Yes, I did that, because [insert typically lame excuse/reason here].” You haven’t changed, or have changed for the worse, and the fact that this is 20 years old is irrelevant, because the outcome would be the same today.

Or you can pretend you didn’t do it.

Generally, when people choose the third option, it’s because it doesn’t look good to say, “Yes, I did that, and I’d do it again,” or “Yes, I did that, and there’s nothing wrong with it,” so they just deny it happened.

If some ugliness from your past resurfaced today, which one are you? If the one that is true isn’t the one that you want to be true, what are you doing about it? Starting now.

Posted in mindset, motivation, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

The disclaimer post

While it seems to be possible to push someone’s buttons regardless of the topic, many of the things I write about are known triggers for people.

Instead of writing a disclaimer in every post, urging readers to remember this and that, I decided to just write it all once, and I’ll link back to it as needed. (The first link back is tomorrow.)

So here it is: I’m not judging you. I’m not shaming you. In many cases, I don’t even know you.

I’m sharing with you my life experience. This is where I am now; this is where I’ve been. It’s not a contest.

In the past roughly 12 years, healthy living has been a priority. Changing what I eat, how I think about what I eat, (eventually) what I feed my kid, how much I sleep, how much I exercise, how I think about a wide variety of things … it’s been A Big Thing for me for a long time.

Some of it is easy. Some of it is hard. Most of it varies by the day.

My experience growing up in my family was substantially negative and has left all kinds of scars. I promised myself that as a parent, I would do better. It is a high priority for me—higher than healthy living (though they really go together)—to raise my son to be emotionally healthy and astute.

If I’m writing about something you’ve never really thought about, or thought about but haven’t put into place (or a million other possibilities), some of what I write might poke you. That’s not my intention—my posts are not written AT anyone.

But if you examine that poke and dig into it a little and figure out WHY it’s pokey—instead of blowing it off as “Heat is [your favorite putdown]”—you might learn something about yourself. And that’s how we grow.

Don’t compare your insides to my outsides.

I try to be transparent so you can see struggles where they exist(ed), but in real life, these are blog posts, and while I’m willing to share a lot, there are some things I’m not willing to share and some things that aren’t mine to share.

And there’s the issue of volume: there’s only so much I’m willing to write and there’s only so much you’re willing to read (if we’re all honest here).

I’m talking about what I’ve done in hopes that you take something from it and run with it, not so you can berate yourself for not doing better.

Start now. Pick a little something and do better now. Because you can.

 

 

Posted in know better do better, mindset, motivation, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

When you know better…

…do better

I’ve had so many conversations in so many realms in recent weeks that play into this notion.

In a training, we were talking about why people are resistant to change. This was my contribution to the conversation.

My parents are loud-and-proud racist. (I’ll refrain from listing examples.) In order for them to change, they have decades of their own bad behavior to contend with.

This is more than many people can deal with. It’s easier for people just to pretend they still don’t know better, to dig deeper, cover their ears and sing LALALA louder rather than acknowledge that they were wrong and have done immeasurable damage along the way.

People, here’s your permission slip: it is OK for you to change. It is OK for the person you ARE and the person you WERE to be at odds with each other.

There are people I was shitty towards, because of beliefs and attitudes I had. (Dear all the people I proselytized in high school: I’m sorry.)

Instead of thinking I need to stay on that path—which ultimately makes me shitty towards more people going forwards—I can (and have) change(d), and the damage, while not negated, is minimized.

This applies to everything. Social attitudes. Diet/exercise/sleep habits. Parenting styles. Education. Financial health. Interpersonal relationship habits. Anger management.

When you know better, do better. Forgive your past self. Thank your past self for all she/he has taught you. As needed/possible, make amends with people you’ve hurt. And move forward. But you don’t move forward or grow staying stuck in the past.

(Where are you stuck?)

Posted in gifts, hope, meandering, thoughtfulness

Gift-giving

When I got married the first time, my mom gave me an earful for not registering for towels. “Towels make good gifts,” she said.

But he and I were both adults, combining independent households (we both owned our own places at that point), and we had more than enough towels. And we had received good-quality new towels as a gift for registering.

Towels would not have made a good gift (unless, I suppose, there was something unique about them, something that made them different enough that having more towels wouldn’t simply be a storage issue).

But the issue here isn’t really towels. It’s gifts.

I’m strongly of the opinion that as a general rule, a gift should please the recipient. Giving someone else something that I want is not a good gift—unless they want it, too. The best gifts please both parties—one is happy to give it and the other is happy to receive it.

I’ve given gifts off of registries that were not at all interesting or exciting to buy. But I knew they were the mundane stuff that many of us hate to spend money on, and I knew they’d be welcomed and used. Not an awesome giving experience in some ways, but in other ways, it was perfect, because I knew they wanted and would use it.

Now … I’m going to say that we can’t always know that the recipient will be pleased. Even people I know well don’t always love gifts I’ve given them, and it’s often harder when the people are more removed. There is definitely a thread of “it’s the thought that counts” in gifting. But I do think there should be more to it than social obligation.

Most of the time, I personally would prefer not to receive a gift at all than to receive a “generic” gift. But I don’t like scented things, I don’t use many “luxury” personal care items (bath bombs, lotions, etc.), I don’t enjoy wine, and that eliminates the majority of generic gifts for women. Maybe if I loved smelly lotions and candles, I would feel differently about this. *shrug*

It’s important to me to make my best effort to give gifts that I think people will like. And I have a special affection for people who do the same.

Because of a bunch of factors that I had written out but made this too tangent-y (even for me!), I don’t often receive gifts, so much of this is academic.

But.

For my 42nd birthday, my husband threw a surprise party. Some of the people who came brought gifts. Each gift was different (a bag for dancing shoes, a stainless steel water bottle with a cool saying, earrings, a vegetarian camping cookbook, and others), but every single one—no exceptions—in some way said, “I know you.” The party was amazing without any material extras, but gifts were, on that day, a way for friends to show love in a different way.

“I know you.”

Maybe that’s why I’m not into generic gifts so much. I don’t have a couple of wrapped up scented candles in the closet in case someone brings me a gift and I don’t have one in return. I give without receiving. I receive without giving. Over time, it evens out.

This thread pops up for me many times in September or October. People are talking about how much Christmas shopping they’ve gotten done. I can’t possibly start Christmas shopping this early. I don’t know what the few people I buy for are going to want. My husband might just go out and get it himself between now and then. My son changes his mind every 45 seconds. (Last year, I started planning a big Lego birthday surprise a month ahead of time, and he was marginally still interested in the kits we bought by the time his birthday rolled around.)

I’m sure there are some things I could pick up now that would still be relevant in a few months. But what if I find something better in six weeks? (Oh yeah. I suffer from that disease, too. I’ve saved so much money in my life by not buying something because what if I find something better later?)

What about you? How do you shop? What do you prefer to give and receive?