The Green Study

The Happy Depressed Place

Perhaps I’ve learned to cope too well with depression, that it has become this natural place within which I can comfortably reside. I felt the descent last week and knew where I was going without a navigation system. The Bird Box of emotions. Unlike the idiot children who have attempted to drive blindfolded as a challenge, I have learned to feel my way through without, potentially, doing damage to others. I know what I need. Solitude, some good books, sleep, and a to-do list that can wait. I need to roll in some bubble wrap, stick myself in a dark corner, and commune with the latent voices of words on a page.

canstockphoto0322864It is likely no coincidence that as the temperatures fall below zero in the middle of a Minnesota winter, the gray skies serve as a tipping point. The furnace runs nonstop like the recitation of personal failures that tugs me into a downward spiral. Being older and marginally wiser has helped me read the signposts, rally the troops, and downshift to self-care. This is, I suppose, the luxury of my life – it is now slow enough to sense the slightest change in mental breeze and to respond accordingly. I no longer have to hit bottom to take action, which is rather surprising to this procrastinator.

Admittedly there are still lessons to learn. One must not be on Twitter if one is depressed. I need to embroider that on a pillow somewhere. It should be said I spend most of my time on Twitter blocking people or reporting them…and then blocking them. They’re not even remotely near my timeline. I just see their comments on other people’s posts and do it, in the hopes that someday, the comments will be filled with erudite, complex thinkers with impulse control. Who’s the idiot now?

36679056I finished reading a book and started another over the last few days. I read R.O. Kwon’s debut novel The Incendiaries. It was an odd read in some ways. So many of the newer writers have a staccato style of writing and I wonder if that isn’t a reflection of our Tweeting/texting culture. Still, the story was compellingly told and like most good novels, I finished it feeling rather unsettled – it will stick with me for a long time. This morning, I spent several hours reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise. I’d never read any of his work (it was on the should list), but found myself silently grinning at his wry observations.

That’s a sign that the slump is ending – the ability to find pleasure has come back. I will have to crawl out of my hole, reconnect with others, get myself back on track. Part of me wishes to stay a little longer, out of sight, unconcerned with social expectations, but I have work to do. Work that does, in the end, contribute to my sense of well-being. Back to editing novels, back to volunteering, back to my writing group, back to striving and struggling to be better at the things that matter to me.

watercycleIn my earlier years, I would likely have benefited from medication. Perhaps I would have been less self-destructive and less difficult to deal with in relationships. I just didn’t have the knowledge or understanding and life from 20-40 goes at a much faster clip. I never knew I was depressed until I’d blown up a relationship, had a confrontation at work, or drank/eaten/smoked myself senseless. Even then, I had to focus on picking up the pieces – mending or grieving the relationship, working twice as hard at my job, berating myself for binging. The cycle I could never see because I was drowning in it.

The thing that often strikes me about a well-written novel is the eventuality of the characters. The novelist builds, word-by-word, to the outcomes of the characters’ lives. If they’ve done it well, you nod your head knowingly when the character abandons their life, killstreecloudsgrasshill someone, joins a cult – does something extreme or awful. You see the choices they made or how they reacted to the events in their lives, bit by bit, one word after the other.

If I think of my life like a novel, there are so many points where I turned one way instead of the other. My story does not build to a dramatic climax and then ebb back out to sea. I’ve learned to build up to a plateau. It’s neither exciting nor riveting, but it is a safe place – a plateau where I hang about, memorizing the landscape, so I can find my way back the next time.

Fearless Friday: A Journey of Little Battles and Victories

Yesterday, I was saddened to hear of the poet Mary Oliver’s passing. For years, I’ve referred back to her poem “The Journey”. It speaks to one’s internal struggles, while framing that process in a wild, wooded journey.  Most of us do not have lives chock full of drama. We’re ants, just trying to drag that big crumb up the hill, each of us with our own particular battles along the way.

As the cold, gray January drags on, my own particular battle is to not sink into a deep, dark depression. My inclination towards depression means that I honor the smallest of victories. Yesterday, just getting myself out for a walk on a rare sunny day was enough to shift things. A tiny victory that lifted me out of a slump. We each have our own little battles and victories. The trick is to honor our own while maintaining perspective and awareness of others’ challenges.

Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness or bravery, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

This week, I’d like to introduce Ranga Rajah, who blogs at Letting Go of Baggages. She sent me her story about a little internal victory she celebrated.

I decided to get some shopping done for my winter essentials. The store I picked had some excellent selection of jackets, shoes, scarves, trinkets, and quality handbags on sale. I picked up a few including a cross body bag.

Before going for the handbags, I had picked a few trinkets and had to hold them in my hand because the cart had large open squares at the bottom. I decided to put the jewelry into one of the bags I was buying.

canstockphoto1878776A salesperson who was arranging the bags saw me putting the jewelry inside the handbag. Comes up, and asks in a very rude manner, “What did you just put inside that bag?”

I showed the inside of my bag. They continued on, “You be careful, there are cameras all over the place. They are on all the time and I am not joking.”

I was taken aback but gained my composure and said, “No cameras can look deep enough and stop people’s intentions. I did not think about negative stuff till you brought it up.”

The salesperson should have taken a moment to think that I put the trinkets in the bag in front of them. While checking for more stuff, that encounter kept coming back to me and I told myself I should leave the cart filled with my shopping, go elsewhere and continue.

I knew I was too upset, therefore decided to divert my attention the books section. I had calmed down by then and decided to end my shopping spree.

But I needed to share my hurt; therefore I mentioned it to the cashier without identifying the salesperson. The important thing for me was to emerge as an emotionally balanced, and a better person. I think I managed it that day.

Thanks, Ranga, for sharing your story.

Normally in this space, I’d add a few blogs that fit in with the theme of this week’s Fearless Friday. Today, though, I’ll share the Mary Oliver poem I referenced at the beginning.

THE JOURNEY

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shoutingcanstockphoto0108300
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver, from Dream Work, 1986

Aging Gracelessly

This was the year I was going to quit dyeing my hair and give into the white hair that has been fighting its way out since my early twenties. To get it started, I got an incredibly unflattering short haircut to let the butterfly metamorphosize into the old lady I was always meant to be. With the extra menopausal pounds, I now look like a potato with a sprig of hair, working my way out to a full pumpkin shape. Occasionally I catch sight of myself in the mirror and just have to laugh.

potatocartoonwitharmsWith all the advice, articles, and products relating to anti-aging, they often fail to mention what an odd ecosystem the aging body is. I watch with bemused curiosity. The random hairs, the delicate balance between hydration and the number of times you have to get up in the night to de-hydrate, your eyeballs sinking in, slowly being swallowed by your eyelids, and how you begin to fade until you look like an old dish towel that’s been through the wash one too many times.

I write this and can already hear the protests about loving yourself and the cruelty of a youth-obsessed culture and how it’s inner beauty that counts. Blah, blah, blah. Beauty has never been an aspiration of mine. I went through the motions when I was younger, but could never really pull it off. I was average and bookish and looked like I was playing dress up when I attempted anything feminine. So I stopped trying. I focused on getting and staying fit and that worked for awhile. Until it didn’t. Injuries took longer to recover from and I started to not want to interrupt a day of reading and writing, with, you know…moving.

peopleachesandpains.jpgYour 50s and 60s are where you get to reap the rewards and punishments of life choices. Every illness, bump, odd intestinal feeling is now accompanied with the anxiety that this is going to be what gets you – a tumor, cancer, some weird infection that incapacitates you and makes you a burden to everyone around you. I mean, it’s going to happen eventually. There are people who use this uncertainty as a launching pad for unmitigated daily joyfulness. I am not one of them. But I stay curious and occasionally have a laugh about some of the more ridiculous aspects of being human.

Still, I feel it’s my duty to make some sort of effort towards health. I’d like to make it until my daughter, now a teenager, is in her 30s. You know, after all the bad boyfriends, fender benders, and years of therapy to undo the damage I’ve done – when there is a possibility that I could call her out of the blue and not hear her eye roll at the other end.

Sochildgirlwomanaging this brings me back to aging. I believe in leading by example as a parent and sometimes I’ve gotten it right, sometimes not. Now, I need to navigate the aging process, the last third of life, the accumulation of good and bad decisions, and whether or not I can still make better ones.

I sense that I’m at a tipping point. Over the last year, I gave up on planned diet and exercise, choosing instead to focus on my creative life. There have been immediate consequences. I’ve suffered insomnia, heartburn, panic attacks, low energy, weight gain, and low spirits. I’m having trouble rallying the troops to get back to good habits. I reverted to childhood – comfort foods, burying myself in books, dreaming of a day when I can feel successful, productive, whole, loved. It’s elemental. All that growth, all that learning, and the moment I stop trying, I become the bespectacled silent girl with a book who loves mashed potatoes and cheese and spends a lot of time daydreaming.

My life coach friend will likely be irritated reading this. She likes to point out progress when I’m in one of my discouraged moods. It’s true, my life is taking a different shape. In some ways, that shape is returning me to who I started out being before the vagaries of family and society became internalized. There is a reason that parallels are drawn between adolescence and middle age. Hormones in reverse. Everything is up for grabs. Suddenly you have to start thinking about potential and possibilities again.

The ride this time is accompanied by a lifetime of lessons. Some of those lessons are about limitations and disappointments. And there’s a lot of here we go again...it’s a little exhausting to think about getting on the right track, making a change, getting my shit together so that I don’t completely fall apart, so I can age gracefully. I hate that phrase. I was never graceful before, why do I have to start now? I’m a mess of habits and emotions aavocadocartoonnd moods. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. Things are wobbly and I don’t remember why I went into a room half the time.

Age gracefully my ass.

I’m going to age just the way I’ve always lived – curiously, awkwardly, and one can always hope, slowly. My life will continue to be the three steps forward and two steps back dance that it has always been. I’m just going to look like an avocado doing it.

Fearless Friday: Learned Empathy

This morning I did my best to avoid a particular cashier lane at the grocery store. My local grocery store proactively employs people with differing abilities, whether physical, learning, or social. There is a young woman who bags and likes to have loud, occasionally inappropriate conversations with anyone, anywhere. I am a jerk in the morning. I don’t want to talk to anyone, anywhere. I tried to pass by unseen, but the cashier called out to me. “I can help you here!” I smiled weakly and turned back into the lane.

canstockphoto3618060She yelled down at me from the end of the conveyor: PAPER OR PLASTIC? and I silently handed her my cloth bags, already feeling the irritation grow. WHAT’s YOUR NAME? MINE IS _____. I mumbled something about not being awake yet. NOT AWAKE YET? THAT’S A FUNNY NAME. I could feel my face grow hot as people in the lanes next to us turned to look. I’m simultaneously ashamed of my self-consciousness, lack of compassion, and growing hostility towards this woman, who obviously could not read social cues. Where was my empathy and understanding? I suspect it was in a cup of coffee and a few hours of silence. In the moment, it completely abandoned me. I could hear her yell as I exited the store. BYE NOT AWAKE YET!

I think about empathy a lot and how a true master wouldn’t ration it. Wouldn’t pick and choose who was deserving of engagement based on whether or not I’d had my morning drug of choice. Empathy is a skill that, like any skill, grows with practice. And practice is sometimes uncomfortable and forced and against all our inclinations. Empathy allows us to flip the script. I wouldn’t have been doing her a favor by engaging – she was not the one with the problem. I saw in a flash, that I was both insecure and petty and it made me less empathetic and kind than I like to believe I am. Next time, I have a chance to do better.

I think we all have empathy.

We may not have enough courage to display it.

Maya Angelou

Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness or bravery, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

One of the gifts of reading is increasing empathy. Hearing or reading about another person’s experience and perspectives, letting them sink in, without preemptive judgment, is a gift to oneself. This is the wonderful thing about the blogging world – so many worldviews being shared. Opportunities abound for us as readers to expand our world, understanding, and empathy for fellow humans. So today I’m sharing some of the blogs that have expanded my worldview.

Robyn at Blog Woman! Life Uncategorized is a citizen of the Cree and Michif Nations. She is passionate about indigenous peoples issues in Canada. I’ve learned a lot from reading her blog and now, her Twitter feed as well. “What’s Under the Fight to Do Right?” encapsulates why she does what she does.

RJ at RJsCorner describes himself as “an Independent thinking highly functional person who is deaf and has some Aspie traits.” He has himself on a rigorous blogging schedule, with each day covering a different theme and a wide range of subjects. His post “Never Stop Learning” is part of his 10 Pillars of life – not only has he continued to learn, but he is unerringly, a teacher as well.

Randall at Midlife Crisis Crossover blogs about traveling, comics, and movies. Here’s the funny thing – I’m not particularly interested in comics or movies, but I really enjoy reading his blog, which is often a breakdown of exactly those things. But strong writing and his obvious enthusiasm for his subjects are a winning combination. As someone who likes to keep up with things a bit, I especially enjoy his roundup posts like “My 2018 at the Movies, Part 1 of 2: The Year’s Least Best“.

Torey Richards, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida, writes at LMHC: Sharing Information and Exploring Human Behavior. The blog is a hybrid of clinical information, case information, and the writer’s personal experiences, which makes for interesting reading. Sometimes the posts are about intense, potentially-triggering issues. But blogs like these, about mental health conversation and information, are part of the antidote to the stigma and silence that have plagued our society with regard to mental health issues.

These are just a few of the blogs I follow that have broadened my perspective. Thank you to those bloggers and the many more who open windows to their worlds.

What’s your empathy look like? And where do you go to broaden your world view?

Acts of Reader Gratitude

Gratitude is one of those words that has become tainted and overused over the last few years. Gratitude journals ballooned into full-blown humble-bragging on social media, ad nauseum recitations of beautiful children or perfect autumn days or that special cup of coffee. I feel immense gratitude for the things and circumstances and people in my life, but also feel grateful that I can, for the most part, keep it to myself. The joy for me is not in the telling, rather in the being. But there is one form of gratitude that I prefer to share over all others. Saying thank you to others.

This week, I burrowed into my reading chair under a couple of blankets with the Virginia Quarterly Review. I read “Stepping Up” by Sylvia A. Harvey, who wrote about the children of imprisoned mothers and the grandmothers who raise their grandchildren. It was enlightening and painful and I sat for awhile after, my eyes welled up with tears. It made me think about the all the different perspectives – the children aching for mothers, the grandmothers struggling to do the right thing, the mothers, living claustrophobic lives of regret.

Empathy. I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to writers who tell the difficult stories and help us see the world. Those who sit with strangers and coax the words out of them and arrange them in such a way as to touch me, hundreds of miles away in my cozy suburban life. To move me to tears, to want to do something, anything to right the ship of social and criminal justice. A single story as a way in to thinking about criminal and social justice reform. I have come into the practice of turning impotent frustration into action. One of my favorite organizations is The Women’s Prison Book Project, so I’m getting ready to send more books, but there is much more to be done.

canstockphoto1787242Criminal justice and social reform has been the fight of many social activists over the years. It’s true that so many things require our attention, our anger, our involvement. It can be overwhelming. But I’ve found that if I shut out the “shoulds” and focus on learning about one issue at a time, and pair action with that knowledge, I can be more useful as a citizen. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about voting rights and campaign finance reform. While I continue to work on those issues, I’ve found my attention captured by the prison system and incarceration rate in this country. Time to learn more.

This is the ultimate power of storytelling, fiction or nonfiction. It gives the reader a window into the lives of others. It gives us the opportunity to be better people. I remember many years ago that someone referred to the writer Anna Quindlen as a “monster of empathy”. It was meant to be an insult for the circumspect way she addressed social issues in her column for the New York Times. I think it’s okay to be a monster of empathy, as long as empathy is followed by an action, no matter how small.

canstockphoto6979194My other slight action was to tell the writer of that article, Sylvia Harvey, Thank you. One of the rare delights of Twitter is being able to contact writers and artists and musicians just to express gratitude. The unknowns, the knowns, it doesn’t matter. Saying thank you to people who touch you in some way, just to let them know that their work is appreciated. We’re so quick to critique and criticize, thinking everything we read and see needs our judgmental pronouncements. What about the work that takes us out of ourselves, teaches us empathy, gives us a new perspective, stops us, for just a moment, from being the self-centered, complacent creatures that we can be?

This is a practice I’ve decided to engage in as a regular thing. I’ve written notes, emails, and now Tweets to writers who have made my world a better place through their work. It’s not idol worship or fandom, it’s simple gratitude. This thing they did brought something to my life. Sometimes they write back and I squeal just a bit, so unaccustomed to all these direct methods of communication. Still, the simple act of saying thank you has added to my reading and writing experience – an act of solidarity with those who seek to translate the world into words.

What Writer or Artist are You Grateful for Today?

Trying Too Hard

I’m starting my third day on a focused work schedule, working on short stories and editing. Yesterday day was novel day and the day before I composed and scheduled my blog posts for the week ahead, as well as, and I blush as I write this, prepped a slate of Tweets for Twitter. That’s right – I have to write and edit them in advance – the equivalent of rehearsing a speech in the mirror. I tell myself that I’ll only have to do this until I get better at it, but I suspect the short, quippy, fleeting nature of Twitter is just not in my wheelhouse. I like full sentences. I hate emoticons. I refuse to put the app on my phone. I think about quitting it every time I use it.

GarbagcanpaperThis is not the post I had planned on posting. Inspired by the work of Rebecca Solnit on journalism, Dani Shapiro on personal truths, and an essay by Lu Hsun called “This Too Is Life”, I saw the threads of a post emerging about the responsibility of the storyteller. It was very high-minded and thought-provoking, with obscure references and some cutesy self-denigration, just so I wouldn’t seem like a literary snob.

So all those voices in my head were competing on the page. I had three, four, then five paragraphs. And it was a clunker. I was my high school writer self – all thoughts and finger-wagging and terrible structure. The output of trying too hard always looks like I’m trying too hard. There’s some authenticity in that, but no reason to impose it on a reader. You’re welcome.

Part of the paralysis and bad writing is borne out of my decision to be a “working writer”. Nothing is more damning than approaching the blank page with the weight of 51 years of rootless potential and desperate ambition. I keep missing the lesson that the things that I try least at seem to render the most reward. I put my nose back to the grindstone, flailing about with the most awkward and tiring efforts.

This is, in essence, the story of my life. I will work my ass off with little to no reward but that of having done the thing. Some days, it’s just not enough. But yay, I persist. When I was in high school, I ran track. I was slow. Very slow. So they put me in the 3200 meter run. You would score points for the team if you just finished, regardless of speed. For my senior year at the track awards banquet, I got the award for Best Effort. That’s going on my tombstone.

canstockphoto0404119I’m reading Angela Ducksworth’s Grit with a degree of irritation that comes when someone tells you something you’ve already rationalized for yourself. Yes, persistence and perseverance can win out over talent. But it can also be damned exhausting and demoralizing. I know I will always try, but maybe I wonder if need to dial it back a bit. I’m one of those people who’s always being told to relax. I respond to this in a laid-back and chill manner – bite me.

It occurs to me that if you put too much effort in, too much pressure on yourself, you’re bound to overshoot the mark. This would appear to have the same outcome as not trying at all, but I know there is a difference. Plotting and planning and working at my writing in any sort of methodical way is difficult right now. I’m too used to being a mood writer and I may as well plan on missing the mark for awhile. Discomfort is necessary for growth. 2019 is likely to be the most uncomfortable year ever.

Blogging in the New Year

When I have time, I go through the list of followers to see if there are new blogs that catch my interest. There is always an influx around this time of year – resolutions are in play and people have a little extra time on their hands. On a side note, I have always loathed the word “Follower”. It sounds like one is starting a cult. If I were to start a cult, it would be one where no one is allowed to make eye contact or conversation, hugs would be banned, and every book would be THE sacred book. Apparently my cult is a library. But that is neither here nor there. At least once a year, I like to do my version of a blogging advice post. So here it is for 2019:

There is no one-size-fits-all blogging advice. Have at it. Have fun. The End.

Just in case you were reading this post for ideas, I can only share what has worked for me, where I find value, and what my own resolutions are in terms of blogging. I’m soon entering my 8th year of blogging, which in digital terms makes me an old-timer. I’m just about to cross the threshold of 19K subscribers and while I recognize the imprecision of that stat, it’s still an indicator that I’ve attracted a little attention. Even if it’s only a cabal of spam bots.

The About Page

canstockphoto37956792Here’s what happens to me frequently. I see someone has followed the blog, I click on the link and it takes me to a template. I’m a little disappointed. I’m always interested in what people are writing and what they are about. But I get nothing.

If you really want to get things going, have that About page done. I know it’s tough. I’ve seen all varieties of About pages: the third person authorial page, lengthy explanations that gave my scrolling finger a cramp, the dating page (my likes are long walks down the hallway and pistachio-colored slippers), the abrupt “I write for me” scoff, and sometimes, awkwardly, pages that make me wonder if I should comment with a suicide hotline number. I go to the About page to find out what kind of writer you are, what topics you might be writing about, and if you care about your reader.

Caring about the Reader

Caring about the reader is considered a no-no for those writers who truck along on faerie dust and high-minded art mantras. I care about my reader in that I want to do my best work. I want my writing to be relatable and just smart enough so that the reader comes away with something to ponder. I care about my reader by using proper grammar – checking spellings and punctuation. I care about my reader by not spraying universal certainty and opinions. I recognize that my own shit is my own shit and may not apply to anyone else. I care about my reader, because those are the writers I want to read.

Tagging and Other Etymological Plot Points

canstockphoto45824701.jpgI originally wrote this section title as Tagging and Other Mumbo-Jumbo. Then I thought, where does the phrase “mumbo-jumbo” come from? From a language perspective, I began to wonder if it were another one of those racist phrases that came into popular use and that I needed to check. I did – and white people were at it again. It can be tracked back to 1738 when a European went to Africa and mispronounced and mischaracterized an African god and tribal language. A century later, it came to mean nonsense words. The linguist in me is both irritated and embarrassed.

The point of that little story is that blogging can be a learning experience. I don’t think that I’d have kept at it this long, if I didn’t learn something each and every time I wrote a post. There is some learning that is very useful up front. Learn how to write tags, how to add links, and how to link your Gravatar to your blog (so your comments are linked to your blog). These things will help your traffic right out of the gate. WordPress has a fairly good reference forum, but a simple search will dig up a lot of people who have written posts and even made videos explaining how to do those things. It’s a good investment of time.

Blogging as a Gateway Drug

One of my own intentions for 2019, is to write more frequently. I fell down the rabbit hole of comparison when I read about one blogger celebrating her 500th post in under two years. This post is my 471st post – in 7 years. Once I stopped hand-wringing over that, I reminded myself that we have to work at whatever pace we’re comfortable with – and for me, it’s simply a slower pace.

canstockphoto37956766What is different in 2019, is that I’ll be learning how to be a working writer with a schedule, deadlines, and actual submissions. So I’m going to up my game on social media as well – posting more frequently with potentially shorter pieces. It’s an experiment on my part – to balance between social media and offline writing that I’m submitting for publication consideration.

People blog for a lot of reasons. And those reasons can change over time. I started off just because I wanted to get over my fear of writing publicly. Then it was about the habit of writing. Now that I’ve fairly mastered both of those things, my next phase is learning how to keep doing this thing I like doing, while taking my work commitment to the next level. For you, it might forever and always be about wanting to get your thoughts out, or a lure for your YouTube channel, or just a connection to the world. And that’s just fine.

There is no one-size-fits-all blogging advice. Have at it. Have fun. The End.

Wishing You Happy Blogging in 2019!

Clearing the Deck

This morning I got around to writing my last holiday card. Many people will be surprised to receive anything from me. I’m pretty hit-and-miss with correspondence around this time of year. I’m ridiculously insistent on writing personal notes, so sometimes I can’t even get started, since the task seems daunting. This year, though, has been more contemplative in nature. I took the time to do it. I’m ending the year on a good note, so that I can begin the next with an empty slate. No odds and ends left undone.

canstockphoto58759250I wrote up my work plan for 2019 yesterday, but I’ve been churning things over in my brain for the last month. I rearranged my study, got a new rug to spruce things up. Cleaned up my computer and did back ups. I now have a work calendar separate from my duties as mom, spouse, and household maintainer. For weeks, I’ve been listening to motivational books, thinking through my daily routines, writing lists, and basically getting my shit together.

It’s been the undercurrent to an uneven season of grieving the loss of my mother-in-law and holiday rituals. For the last year, our family has been in a holding pattern, where death seemed imminent, but not quite possible. And then it happens and it feels like a surprise. But the surprise is not just in the absence of the person, but the absence of the routine built around the person. Life collapses inward a bit.

The shift in time and energy, being snapped awake by a reminder of impermanence, the new year on the horizon – all these things have propelled me forward. I have to live my days differently. I’ve been practicing a long time, trying on and discarding habits that work or don’t work. I’ve been making my life more about writing than laundry. I’ve reached out and connected with other writers. The time for practice is over. Batter up!

canstockphoto3020214That isn’t to say that I won’t have to make some adjustments to my grand plan. Some things will still be untenable, no matter how good it looks on paper. My schedule and work plan are written in pencil for a reason. I think it’s going to be a slog, to shift into a writing work schedule from just “writing when I feel like it”. Moods tend to be a bad barometer for productivity, so my goal is to work anyway. Hello Excuse. I see you. Now go sit in the corner while I work.

So I prepare for the new year not with a burst of unrealistic goals, but with a sense of determination and an understanding that it will likely suck for awhile – the discomfort, the tension and pull of old habits, the voices in my head that tell me I’m ridiculous or untalented or incapable. Change is difficult, even changes that are simply a shift one way or another. What I do know is that this time next year, I want to have a different story to tell.

What do you want your story to be in 2019?

Some resources that give me a mental boost:

Books

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

I just started reading this book and had trouble putting it down. Compelling narrative, but also some immediate great lessons about being a writer. I’m going to have to take notes.

This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution or Make a Dream Come True  by M.J. Ryan

This isn’t a magic pill, but she draws from a lot of useful sources and I enjoyed listening to the audiobook.

Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold

I’ve recommended this one before. Important because she writes about how to create a workable goal for yourself and what that process entails.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey

Sometimes I just read things like this for reinforcement of what I already know. Occasionally there’s a tidbit that sticks and I add it to my own personal motivations.

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

The audiobook is great for those who love classical music, as it breaks each chapter with music. But there were a lot of ideas that I wanted to write down, so I bought the book as well.

Videos

The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown

Hillary Rettig on “Overcoming Procrastination and Perfectionism

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” by Tim Urban

Podcasts

The Good Life Project with Host Jonathan Fields

The Life Coach School with Host Brooke Castillo

Make of It What You Will

It’s an odd space to be in, after someone dies in the midst of a holiday season. We have, over the years, planned our rituals and meals around my mother-in-law. With her passing, it’s a time of sadness, but it also takes away expectations. I’ve never much cared for the holidays, because I’m just that kind of sourpuss who revels quietly in ordinary living, but loathes over-the-top squeals of delight, social interaction with people I wouldn’t share a lifeboat with, and lavish meals that last an entire day. Although if that meal were entirely made up of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, I might stay for seconds.

Rampant expectations send many of us spiraling into a murky depression that is only relieved after the accoutrements are shoved in the attic, the crappy gifts are on their way to a thrift store, and we can enter an establishment without being regaled by some pop star puking out Little Drummer Boy. This is my snarling self on full parade.

My thoughtful, caring self has found a quieter, less rancorous way to get through the canstockphoto24902042holidays without the depression sinkhole. I say “no” a lot. I focus on those things that bring sensory joy – music I like (today it’s pop 70s music), favorite foods, sparkly lights, my child’s happy face when she finds out that we bought those expensive tickets to some nerdy classical music event. But this is not much of a change from our day-to-day. I imagine that is the actual point I’m trying to make. I don’t want the holidays to be a high point in the year. I’m greedy that way – I want happy moments throughout the year. Without all the social expectations.

So we patchwork our way through the holiday. An atheist, a Lutheran, and an undecided. My husband and I brought forth the traditions of our youth – a tree, stockings, and special meal. We added things we liked – like never going anywhere on Christmas day, making cinnamon rolls, staying in our pajamas, playing board games. Quiet joy and love and simple pleasures.

It’s taken decades for me to no longer have that twinge, that hungry expectation of a mended and loving extended family. Spending many years of holidays alone taught me a lot. That we can make whatever of it that we feel like. Sometimes I made overtime and double pay. Sometimes I’d invite a smattering of displaced friends who had nowhere to go. Sometimes I’d not leave the couch all day, after checking out a stack of videos from the library.

The expectation was that I’d survive, that the depression would pass, that someday I’d get to this point, where it wasn’t that big of a deal, where it didn’t become a way to highlight absence, disappointment, or the holes in my life. Instead, it has become a time of reflection, gentleness, gratitude, and compassion.

I wish you peace and small kindnesses, to yourself and those around you, throughout this holiday season.

The Season of Choices

It occurred to me in a restless hour of insomnia that most sins boil down to greed. The many ills we see plaguing our world are borne out of want – a hunger for that which we do not have, but wish to possess, whether it be money, power, material items, reputation, or other humans. Before I step up on a soap box, mount my high horse, or puff up my chest to expound, I turn a critical lens on my own life.

I’ve written before about my own sense of hunger and want. But growing up poor cannot be an excuse for greed and as we go through another consumer season, I am at once chagrined and baffled by the amount of stuff in exchange. My husband is an IT engineer for a large retailer. I am often compulsive in my shopping. I do not look at this from high moral ground. Complicity is not just for politics.

There are times when we, as individuals, get mocked for our minuscule efforts to save the world. Recycling every scrap of paper and tin can, only to see large scale pollution and waste by corporate entities. Buying different light bulbs every five years, because supposedly, the latest ones take less energy and last longer, only to discover that the expensive damned things burn out just as quickly as the old ones. Being “green” becomes its own source of want and consumerism.

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If something is small, it might be said, it may not be worth doing. It may just be a way to distract individuals from seeing the large-scale destruction and greed that so many of us benefit from in the short-term, but that consumes and kills everything in its path. Why should we spend our short time on this earth trying to be better, when the bigger picture says that ultimately, we will consume ourselves out of existence?

canstockphoto34294378It’s no coincidence that I write this post on the heels of visiting a mall. At least once a year, my daughter’s orchestra performs in the middle of a mall. Malls baffle and horrify me. Seeing an entire store devoted to pillows (and only one brand at that) or socks is a special kind of bizarre. Walking past store windows, it was hard to gauge what was even being sold, beyond contorted mannequins and maybe a purse.

We walked around the mall and I couldn’t make myself go into a store, knowing that I’d immediately become every old lady ever. Why would someone pay for THAT? Why are there holes in brand new jeans? I could get an entire wardrobe at Target for the price of that shirt. And that shirt is made in the same damn place – Cambodia or Thailand or Pakistan. I wonder what deft little fingers make our clothes and if the building might not collapse on them. Complicit.

canstockphoto33759.jpgI’ve read of people who attempt to be purists. They are inevitably wealthy and can afford to source all their clothing from sheep who live in their own personal spas. They buy $200 light bulbs made out of recycled feces and have 4,000 square feet of solar panels for their tiny house on wheels. Perhaps we mock them out of jealousy – they get to attain a little higher moral ground. But wait – where did their wealth come from? Did they sell more stuff, inherit hoarded monies, engage in unfair business practices, benefit from a system that rewards greed? Complicit.

If we are all guilty and if what we do as individuals in our own households has little effect, why do we torture ourselves trying to be better? Why not admit that we’re bipedal locusts and get on with things without guilt?

This brings me to a different type of greed. I want to be a better person than I am. I want to be respectful of the earth and thoughtful about what I choose to possess. I want to leave something of natural beauty to those who follow behind me. But mostly, I want to define my life not through constant desire and greed, but through kindness and respect and an ability to sit with what I have and be at peace.

canstockphoto16214070Greed inculcates violence. Whether it be taking something by force or getting something at the expense of others or the planet, it is an inherently violent trait. We see what kind of people use greed as their defining trait – from corrupt politicians who seek power and financial gain, to narcissistic fundamentalists of any ilk who seek to make the world in their image alone – greed for a mirror’s reflection. These people poison everything around them. Many of them have poor relationships with other humans, are detached from the true wonder and beauty of the natural world, and spend their considerable talent in pursuit of more for themselves, instead of bettering the world around them.

I don’t have the luxury or the grandiosity of those extremes, but I can see how greed and want and consumerism can be damaging to those around me, to the natural world, to my own character, to the way I spend my very short life. I’m over the halfway point at best. I’ve spent 50 years on this planet trying to earn more money, to have more freedom and choices through that money. I’ve been generous with friends and family and charities. But I’ve exchanged one sort of freedom for another. I’m more complicit than I want to be in the destruction of this planet.

So the question is, how hard do I want to try? This choice, this evaluation, is a luxury in itself. If you’re just getting by, you don’t spend a lot of time sourcing where your stuff comes from. You don’t weigh getting the $2 versus the $8 light bulb. But here I am, with the choices I’ve worked my whole life to have, in a system that rewards me for making greedy choices. It doesn’t let me off the hook to say it won’t make a difference. If I have the power and luxury of choices, I’m responsible for making better ones, even if they may not save the world.

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