The State of the Union: Things to Do Instead of Listening to Someone Lie to You

canstockphoto24688738I don’t watch award shows. I find the whole self-congratulatory process on top of wealth and celebrity status a tad nauseating. The State of the Union is not much different and this year, like anything Trump touches, it will be way worse. The problem with this weed of a president is that everyone keeps giving it light. Weeds like the light. They flourish and take over all the good soil, choking out anything that is newsworthy and meaningful. This year, I’m taking my light elsewhere.

Despite the fact that I’m a political junkie, I hate reality TV and the denizens that occupy it. Since our government and media have turned into The Real World: Washington D.C. Edition, I’ve learned to cultivate my news sources. Pundits and conspiracy theorists scrawl on whiteboards with bizarre connections and fallacies every time this president opens his mouth. Even respected journalists have lost their ever-loving minds reporting on every fart he emits. This is where information is not empowering. It’s enervating. It leaves us all just a little besmirched and exhausted.

canstockphoto3529451The State of the Union sounds important, but it’s not. Especially when the windbag that is speaking is always talking. This guy can’t shut up. We’ve heard all his stories. We’ve heard his memes and talking points. We’ve seen his beady little eyes and flappy jowls a zillion times in the last two years. He’s a bore. He’s a bore that has, to his delight, sucked all of the air out of the room. At this point in a social event, I would have acted like I needed a smoke, gone outside, gotten in my car, and driven away with the lights off, so I wouldn’t be noticed.

Here are some things you can do with your time instead, that will be more meaningful, powerful, and useful:

  • Donate to a “sh*thole” country, where real, live human beings like us are struggling to raise their families, find work, raise crops, get an education, and fight disease. Last week, the 12-year-old girl I was sponsoring in Malawi, died of malaria, an entirely preventable disease. I wrote a condolence letter to her family that will likely mean little. What means more, is that I’m sponsoring more children. Save the Children is an outstanding organization, as is Doctors without Borders.
  • canstockphoto9706791Here’s an easy one – read a book about immigrants and refugees, about the kind of people who come to our shores and what they experience. Here are a few:

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Albert Urrea

The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience by Mark Bixler

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

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  • Eat a delicious, healthy meal and get some exercise. If there’s anything I want to do more, it’s to outlive all these old bastards and watch every stupid, destructive thing they ever did be repaired.
  • Read a science article. In the face of lies, false reporting, random Facebook opinions, television pundits, knowledge is power. Great sources for good science:

How Stuff Works

The American Association for the Advancement of Science

ScienceDaily

Nova

EnviroLink

canstockphoto53119769These are the more serious suggestions, but the fact of the matter is, I’d rather do anything else but listen to this blathering mudslinger. The crimes against syntax and semantics aside, I know that whatever he says will be untrue. Who has the time for that?

What will you be doing during the State of the Union address?

Rays of Light on a Dismal January Day

canstockphoto14568204It’s a gray day here at The Green Study and on such a day, in the middle of a Minnesota winter, one has to scrabble a bit to lift spirits. I’m going to share with you a few things that are lifting mine.

Fellow Bloggers

Sometimes you are really, really funny. Thank you. Here’s a few posts that have given the gift of a good laugh:

“31 brand new animal species discovered by amateur naturalists” by Guy Bergstrom at the Red Pen of Doom

“If my nose is running, my thoughts are leaking” by Ross Murray at Drinking Tips for Teens

“Affirmations” at Tabula Candida

“Becky says things about…New Year’s Resolutions” at Becky Says Things

Books That Make My Brain Happy

6425404I just finished reading Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. I picked this book up at the library after the first essay enticed me (“Their Eyes Were Watching God: What Does Soulful Mean?”). As an indiscriminate reader, I often read above my pay grade. After taking twelve pages of notes while reading this collection of essays, I was definitely in the deep end of the pool.

From vocabulary I had to look up, to literary references to a hundred different writers, this was a challenging read. But a joyous one for me. It re-lit the pilot light for my brain, made me hungry for more. And if, like me, you are on the fence about David Foster Wallace, her essay “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: The Difficult Gifts of David Foster Wallace”, will make you want to revisit his work.

34043886For writing inspiration, I’ve been picking up Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, Ed. by Joe Fassler, and reading one or two chapters at a time. It’s less a “how-to” book than examples from established writers of what inspired them and how their writing reflects that. It’s enjoyable even as I take some notes on more things I need to read.

64369And I want to say thanks to Walt Walker at Waltbox for referring “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana to me several months ago. Mindfulness has been one of those overused words bleached of actual meaning and I wanted to restore it in my own mind. This book is like a meditation teacher without actually having one. Unfortunately, I still meditate to the point where I fall asleep and wake myself with a little snore-snort, but if relaxation were the point, I’d be up for an award.

Exercise Wackiness

For much of this winter, I’ve been walking outside or going to my local YMCA. Every winter I hit that point where I get cold and it feels like I’m never going to be warm again. After a foot of snow arrived earlier this week, the thought of negotiating cold and mountains of snow is unappealing.  And I’m also feeling extremely anti-social while simultaneously self-conscious, so the Y has all the appeal of a pelvic exam at a teaching hospital.

I decided to pull out some old exercise DVDs and use them in conjunction with my 100 No-Equipment Workouts book. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve been a fairly regular exerciser, but more importantly, an adaptive one. When I was a broke graduate student, I got in the habit of checking out VHS tapes from the library to get workouts in. I was working three part-time jobs at bizarre hours, so often my workout would be late at night or extremely early in the morning.

Jane Fonda produced a wide array of exercise tapes, but now they just seem like nostalgia. As a 50 year old woman, I can no longer watch people work out in what is essentially sparkly underwear. Plus, after years working with a personal trainer and doing martial arts training, I am more of a stickler about form. For some reason if you wear a shiny thong leotard with skin-colored leggings, I assume you’re a little loosey-goosey on form.

Then there are the Leslie Sansone DVDs with her low impact walk at home program. These are actually useful for those limited space, indoor workouts. They are enough to get your heart rate up and keep you moving. I’ve found myself muting the chatter and playing my own music. I’m pretty sure Leslie never imagined herself stepping to “Highway to Hell”.

I’m usually not challenged on endurance with these DVDs, but I am always challenged when it comes to coordination. I love Latin dance. As a spectator. As a doer, I’m a danger to myself and to anyone within striking distance. However, I have been part-doing, part-cussing, and part-laughing my way through Crunch’s Cardio Salsa. And it’s been kind of fun.

And Last, but Never Least, the Small Comforts

Good coffee, warm socks, and no flu yet.

What Lifts Your Spirits These Days?

Running with the Bull

There are the lies we tell others and there are the lies we tell ourselves. My lies to others canstockphoto15403110tend to be the carefully curated lie-but-not-a-lie that tries not to hurt feelings or unjustifiably cause pain. I don’t lie about myself, although online I tend to be airbrushed. Catch me when I expected to have some solitude or ride my bumper in your oversized vehicle and the sharp edges emerge.

The toughest lies to untangle are the lies we tell ourselves about who we are and what will make us happy. If I were to imagine my actualized self, it would be as an established writer in good physical condition – an autodidact vegan polyglot. And rainbows would shoot out of my ass.

At this point in my life, it’s all about the reach. I’m reaching towards my actualized self, trying to build actions into my daily life that are in the right direction. That’s the hard part – as exciting as the end game might sound, it is the smallest part of the whole process. The hard part, the boring part, is the action.

I’ve been adding new habits over the last few months – running and language studies. I attended a pitch conference that made me talk about my work, even in its disheveled state. After experiencing a small measure of success, I had the letdown. What now? What’s the next step? I began to think about the process of turning internal bullshit into reality.

Internal Investigation

canstockphoto5050400Assessing where I was should have been easy, but I found myself repeating old excuses or justification for why I hadn’t made progress. I have years of experience in lying to myself, so it took a willingness to say “hey, you know that’s not true”.

There are a couple of things I believe, but didn’t take to heart. One is that if something is important enough to you, you’ll make time for it. I was always telling myself I didn’t have time, but when I looked at how I was actually spending my time, I knew it was a lie. This is an important thing to think about, because it tells you several things:

  • Maybe I don’t really want this thing I thought I did.
  • Maybe this other thing I do is more important to me, and
  • How much of my life is on autopilot?

The other thing to think about is why you want to attain the goals you do. What need does it fulfill? Is it something you still want? I had an experience with a book proposal at the writers’ conference. I’d been carrying around this idea for 25 years and when I decided to let it go, it carried with it more than the idea, it carried my reason for wanting to do it – an old burden of shame for not finishing a master’s degree. Pruning one’s goals to those that really matter is so helpful.

canstockphoto19601309I had a discussion with a writer friend the other day about what need writing fulfills and where one needed to go with it, instead of blindly reaching for what we thought we should. Maybe the act of writing is enough or maybe we want awards or monetary compensation. Maybe we just want a few readers. It’s important to be specific about your goals, so that your actions support it.

I want to be published and paid for it, so I have to create a body of work, write and edit daily, send out queries, etc. That’s a lot of work to do if, at the end of the day, what you really wanted was a few readers or to see your writing in hard copy – both attainable without all the excess work and money. If you are not doing the actions to support what you think you want, you need to be honest about what you really want or you need to make a change.

canstockphoto18049411Over the course of my life I’ve been an irregular regular exerciser. Solid workouts for weeks and then nothing for a whole month. This seemed an intractable and constant problem for me. I read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and started to think about what throws me off positive habits. His flowchart “How to Change a Habit” is useful. It made me realize that I might need a more specific goal and extrinsic reward for working out. Yes, it did my brain good and woo-hoo, I could lift so many pounds, but I had to be honest that this was not enough of a motivator or else I’d be consistent.

I recently started and finished an 8 week to 5K training program. Having a specific goal, an automated workout to follow and a compulsion to finish was very helpful. On top of that, I gave myself a reward at completion – new running shoes and a t-shirt that says “Less Talk, More Run”.

canstockphoto19213064For a year, I followed a plant-based, vegan diet. I felt lighter and like I had made a real effort to integrate my personal ethics regarding animal life by pairing it with action. I felt good and enjoyed the food I was eating. And then I stopped. Holiday food belted out its siren call and I crashed myself upon the rocks, less like a ship and more like a sea lion lolling about, reveling in its layers of warmth.

These are goals I return to, again and again. And maybe a pragmatic person would say, hey, if you can’t stick with it, maybe this ain’t your game. But there’s a learning curve and each time I set goals and miss them by a quarter mile, I figure out what works and what doesn’t work. I get better at it. And the fact that I return to them over and over means I’m doing something more often than not.

It’s reset time at The Green Study. I’m starting a new program with specific goals, time frames, metrics and rewards. For the next 21 days (May 1-21), I’m putting some new habits in place. Autopilot is being disengaged. So for the next three weeks, I am going to be intolerable. And I plan on writing about that here.

canstockphoto25992149If you want to ride along with me for the next 21 days, think about one tiny, daily habit that will help you towards a larger goal and drop it in the comment section. Think about how it works in your day, what obstacles you might run into and how you’d counter them. Decide on a reward and think about who or what might help support your goal. And if you have experienced success, pass on your tips!

Let’s do this thing.

2016: A Few of My Favorite Things, Part 1

It’s been a tough year all around – from the natural disasters to the human disasters, I’d be delighted to set the 2016 figgy pudding on fire.

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Yeah, thanks for nothing, humans.

With the election, the takeover of our country by corporations and zany billionaires is fait accompli. But our representatives are hard at work. Even now, some of our congressional circle jerkers are fighting to have cow milk named the only true “milk”. I can’t even say we the people without choking up a bit. Self-evident truths are no longer evident. We are being gaslighted.

There’s no denying that this year was shit, but I still managed to find some light. I’m going to share some of my favorite things this year over a few posts. That is not to say that they were released, created or designed this year. I go at my own pace. Sometimes that pace is decades behind.

I’m going to share my favorite things from 2016 and I’d love for you to share yours. You can do it in the comment section or, if you choose to write your own favorite things post, send me the link on my contact page and I’ll add it to the bottom of this post.

Dead Celebrity Bonding

Living in the Twin Cities, the year was about Prince’s death and Garrison Keillor staying semi-alive with political essays in The Washington Post, but not on A Prairie Home Companion. I didn’t really connect with either artist/celebrity, although I can air guitar and yowl through Purple Rain with disturbing alacrity.

canstockphoto27307354My “discovery” was Isaac Asimov. I read his autobiography, I, Asimov: A Memoir over the last month. While I’m neither as smart or astute as Mr. Asimov, I suspect that it was his self-awareness and social skills that I related to most. He’s a very straightforward sort of fellow. I’m not a heavy science fiction reader, but some of my favorite essays and nonfiction works are by writers in that genre.

Good Intentions for News Retention

I’m trying to raise my reading game – reading less online and allowing myself to absorb information in a slow, meandering way. After reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, I began to think about what information I was actually retaining from my internet safaris. It was very little, disconnected from context, and a complete waste of time.

canstockphoto13401142One of the other problems this year was the constant drumbeat of how awful the media has become. While there may be some truth in it, the news suffers from the very thing that our products do – consumers want everything the cheapest way possible. And we get what we pay for. I used to rampage through 10 or 20 online publications, reading full articles until the site yelled at me that I’d used up all my chances to be a cheapskate that month.

My answer to all of this was not inexpensive. We’re cancelling Amazon Prime for 2017, so that’s how we fit it into our budget. I’ve paid to subscribe online to my local paper, which also included a free subscription to The Washington Post online. Offline, I picked two publications that I now pay for in hard copy: World Literature Today and The Atlantic. I’m still trying to break my news gallivanting online habit, but reading more in-depth reporting makes online click-baiting seem much less palatable. In terms of brain and cost-effectiveness, I hope it enriches my knowledge of the world and contributes to reporters doing their jobs well and getting paid for it.

Exercise for the Uninspired

It’s been a tough year to stay motivated about getting regular exercise. I’ve had to make huge adjustments because of my knees and experiencing IT Band Syndrome (Runner’s Knee). Too much running and jumping for this old broad. That being said, I’ve discovered a few things that have inspired me or at least kept me moving.

Kinesiology Tape – There are a zillion arguments among exercise and therapy experts about whether or not this stuff works. I used it to get me through some particularly painful rehab walking. If it’s a placebo, I don’t care – it still felt good and looked pretty. Using online instruction guides, I taped my knees. It felt like enough support without having to wear bulky velcro braces that impeded circulation.

canstockphoto6461923Neila Rey’s 100 No Equipment Workouts destroys any excuses regarding the need for special equipment in order to exercise. The book is based on a website DAREBEE, a nonprofit fitness resource. What I love most about the book is that the exercise routines are clearly laid out, easily modified, and can be referenced online for proper execution.

I’m turning 50 in 2017 and that, in correlation with the many injuries I’ve experienced in the last 10 years, means that I’ve got to have a come-to-Jesus talk with my body about exercise. Yoga has to be a regular thing and not something I do when I’m feeling lazy. I also came across this book by Karl Knopf called Core Strength for 50+: A Customized Program for Safely Toning Ab, Back and Oblique Muscles that is useful.

Without regular exercise, I turn into a bit of a nut job. It helps to balance out all my wonky brain chemicals. When I was in my 20s, it was more for appearance and numbers. In my 30s, I felt like I had something to prove. In my 40s it rapidly became about function. In my 50s it will definitely be about function. I spend a lot of time around elderly people and still being able to move on your own steam is a big deal. Strength, balance and flexibility training can make all the difference.

Reviewing this post, I have reminded myself that I am not a fun person. Exercise, reading, crabby politics? Woo-hoo. Maybe I’ll do some organization and housekeeping tips next. How to have healthy feet. What the next super-grain will be. Hang onto to your seats. Prepare to be underwhelmed.