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

A Writing Retreat in The Green Study

The Green Study will return on April 1, 2018.

I’ve made some progress over the last couple of months on both my novel and some essay writing, and I’ve reached that point where I need to do a final push to meet internal and external deadlines. I’ll leave you with some thoughts before I head into Michelle’s Writing Month (MeWriMo).

On Vulnerability and Writing

When I wrote about book reviews earlier this month, I began to think about the nature of being a writer in today’s world. If I’m deep into writing, I have no armor. I find after spending a lot of time writing, even going to the grocery store feels like an assault on the senses. I’m exposed. A hermit crab without a shell. I wince at the overhead speakers and all the beeping noises of the register. People seem too loud, the lights too bright.

canstockphoto17784854I have to harden up a bit again, develop a wind break against the sensory onslaught. And this is only to physical sensation. What about those writers who read a review of something they’d published, something they’d poured themselves into, only to be eviscerated by a careless reviewer? The Amazon hit piece: This sucked. I want my money back.

Writers talk about not reading their reviews and I used to wonder if it was an issue of ego, but now I think it’s necessary protectionism. Reviews serve no purpose for writers. The work is done. Writing to audience specifications will not create better art.

International Relations

I’ve noticed a lot of readers from countries where English is not the main language. With all the available tools we have to translate, I would encourage you to engage, practice your English here or write in your first language, and maybe we can learn a little more about your language and country. You are welcome here at The Green Study.

canstockphoto7037830I just started studying Chinese, but also have some German, Spanish, French, and Russian under my belt. I spend a little time each day studying, using apps like Duolingo and Memrise. Lately, too, I’ve been using Quizlet to improve my geography knowledge. There is something about learning location and language that brings the world closer to home. And it’s excellent exercise for the brain.

At a time when our U.S. leaders seek to sow discontent, we must free our minds and open our hearts. The U.S. is shedding experienced and knowledgeable diplomats, so we must step up to the plate. We must reach out, talk to each other, make connections, learn languages, read internationally, and not allow our leaders to define our relationship with the rest of the world.

Microresolution Update

It works. It really works. Back in December, I did a post series on resolutions with the intent of doing monthly updates. I’m a little late, but I’m sure no one is losing any sleep over it. I ran into trouble when I kept picking the wrong resolutions. I kept modifying until I finally hit on a couple more that worked. The results, like the resolutions, are small, but have shifted me more towards my personal goals than not.

canstockphoto8037195Writing: I have written every single day now for almost three months. As soon as I log into my computer, a blank Word doc comes up, and I am writing. My current resolution is a nightly habit of planning the next day’s writing. I don’t always follow through on the list, but I’ve given myself a map and travel with it as far as I can. As long as I’m still moving, that’s progress.

Fitness: I’ve mixed up my workouts and avoided my usual pitfall, which is to progressively add more weight and distance and time until I burn out for weeks on end or get injured. Whatever I do is fine, as long as I do something. The sun is out today and the sidewalks have finally melted off – it’s a walk for sure.

Nutrition: Forcing myself to eat only at the kitchen table has completely changed how I approach mealtimes and snacks. It is now a ritual and not a dash-and-grab. In the words of Caroline Arnold: small move, big change.

canstockphoto11693411My latest microresolution is eating food that requires me to slow down. Soup or salad and fruit for lunch. Unless I slurp cold soup with a straw, it’s a slow meal. And the time it takes to peel and eat an orange is meditative. I can feel my relationship with food changing, becoming the pleasure it should be.

Lifestyle: For the last couple of months, I made the resolution to always log off my computer by 7pm. This has improved a lot of small, meaningful things for me. I have more conversations with my family, I read more, and when I’m ready to go to bed, I sleep.

What is the most significant thing about taking a long time to make small changes, is that it changes the narrative from one of failed resolutions to that of incremental victories. This has given me a sense of optimism about my ability to make change and the confidence I’d lost in the repeated failures of bigger goals.

I still get a little impatient, but after seeing how consistent I am able to be when I whittle down to the smallest resolution, I’m going to keep at it. Five new habits in three months? That’s 20 new, positive habits a year. Where will I be then? I’m kind of excited to find out.

Gratitude

canstockphoto4839212Thank you to the many readers and commenters who have connected with me here. The blog is now six years old. It has learned to walk, wipe its own butt, and doesn’t drool quite as much – with only an occasional temper tantrum. It would have languished long ago if not for the people who read it and those who take the time to share their thoughts and perspectives. Thank you!

Have a great month of March and I look forward to reconnecting in April!

An Introvert Walks into a Caucus…

In the United States, a precinct caucus is the smallest unit of politics one can participate in – it’s the beginning of the beginning.

Last night, the Republican and Democrat caucuses took place in little class and canstockphoto50751416conference rooms all over the state of Minnesota. I have always considered myself an independent and in the distant past, voted for whatever candidate I felt would be best. These days, moderate Republicans are like unicorns and independent parties keep putting up fringe operators at best, so last night I went blue and attended my local precinct caucus for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (Democrats in Minnesota).

In a fit of pique after the 2016 election, I had joined the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (LWV). They focus on voting rights and community issues, which appealed to my sense of egalitarianism (wasted in the current environment, but old habits die hard). I was dipping my toes into the pool of activism. I’d always been politically informed, a nerd who read The Economist and Foreign Affairs, but joining a march or going door-to-door made me shrink away in horror. And meetings give me a shiver of revulsion.

Current events being what they are and simply being pissed off enough to overcome my personal inclinations, I typed up the voting rights resolutions (items you put forward to be added to the party platform) supported by the LWV and packed myself off to the precinct caucus.

canstockphoto26667276The last time I attended any caucus was about 20+ years ago, while I was attending the University of Iowa. I was working three jobs and trying to get through college. I’d gotten out of the Army with some vestiges of Republicanism, but had given up religion and was turned off by the conservative morality police, so I attended a Democratic caucus down the street from my apartment. Like most of college, I have little recollection of the proceedings.

As an introvert, I have to prepare myself for events. I’m usually filled with nervous anxiety, don’t sleep well the night before, and find myself issuing mental commands: Breathe. Relax your shoulders. And then the reassurances: It’s only two hours. It will be fine. In the case of this precinct caucus, it wasn’t just a case of showing up and listening. I had to speak as well.

My suburb has 14,000 registered voters divided into eight precincts. Statewide, Minnesota has a slight majority of Democrats over Republicans, so statistically, my precinct caucus should represent around 800 Democrats. 15 people showed up. Low-level participation during a midterm year is common to both parties. A woman told me in 2016 that you could barely move through the hallways, it was so packed.

canstockphoto10803271The 15 people ranged from 30-80 in age, all of us having the blotchy pale color of a six-month Minnesota winter. We were ensconced in puffy clothes that made us all blobbish, wearing shoes with traces of road salt on them. This is the red carpet of an involved citizenry. Due to the small number, we were all automatically delegates to the next meeting. Yay?

We followed the rules of order and an agenda, while being interrupted by politicians popping in to give their mini stump speeches. They all seemed a little breathless, as if they were attempting to go to every one of Minnesota’s 4,117 voting precincts.

The first major bit of business was doing a straw poll for gubernatorial candidates, since ours is on the ballot in the fall. I was one of two uncommitted voters in the room. It’s early in the process for me to determine who I’d support. And I simply hadn’t done the research.

canstockphoto39668856When it came to resolutions, I had five. There were only two others from the rest of the room. One was from an elderly gentleman who shook slightly as he spoke – he wanted a moratorium on factory farms. I knew that there were lobbies in our surrounding states to do the same, due to the health issues and the pollution of waterways. His resolution passed.

I went through three voting rights resolutions: automatic registration with the driver’s license (an opt out system rather than the current opt in), pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-old voters (raises early voter participation), early voting using actual ballots and not absentee ballots (saves money and less confusing to voter). Then two government accountability resolutions: no more omnibus bills in the state senate and house, must follow single subject line rule (with the exception of major finance bills which have a lot of moving parts) and transparency in electioneering communications (currently if ads don’t say “Vote for” or “Defeat” in Minnesota, advertisers don’t have to identify themselves).

All my resolutions passed unanimously. A slight victory, since these resolutions will have to go through many more filters before having a shot at making it into the state’s party platform, much less any actual legislation in the very far future.

The last resolution was done on the fly by a man hastily filling in the form. He was talking about school referendums and I didn’t understand what exactly his resolution was, despite asking for clarification. Since I did not have the opportunity to do any research, I abstained from the vote. It, whatever it was, still passed. Easy crowd.

canstockphoto48358399I walked into the caucus with apprehension, but I walked out as the precinct chair, a delegate, and an election judge. I am reminded of a magnet on the fridge that a friend gave me: Stop me before I volunteer again. I am an introvert, but I’m also tired of the loudmouths having all the power. Our system suffers when the extroverts and impulsive blabbers dominate.

It was a big question among my introvert friends last year. How can I make a difference without being loud? I remember a sign that showed up at marches: “So bad, even introverts are here.” The world has become so hostile and angry that people like me want to retract our limbs into our shells. But now is simply not the time. Better to counter the impulsiveness of shameless self-promoters. Just breathe, relax your shoulders, and step into the world, resolutions in hand.

So You Want to Start a Resolution…(Part 2)

This is the second part of a three-part post. You can read the first here.

canstockphoto17363632I am in the giddy, excited stage of discovering something new that most people already know, but I’m a slow learner. If my friends and family hear the word microresolutions one more time (“It’s not even a real word!”), they will likely be making some of their own that involve earplugs and duct tape.

Inspired by a lot of reading and a desperate need to make some changes, I made two small resolutions four weeks ago. As a result, I sleep better, read more, eat fewer calories, and have written 40+ pages (10,500 words) in the last month that I would not have written otherwise. Painless, immediate results.

What is this magical elixir you speak of?

I log into my computer in the morning and then I log off at night.

Wait – what? This post is a scam!

Hear me out. I have two major personal goals in my life right now. I want to be a paid published writer and I want to be as fit and healthy for as long as I can be.  I am not published and my shirt buttons could become deadly projectiles should my belly continue to expand. This is all to say, that my reality is far away from my goals.

canstockphoto2656709The authoritarians among us would just bark “Write!” and “Calories in, calories out!”. Most of us know that easy answers are easy to give, but much harder to live. And if you’re truly skilled, like me, you’ve built layer upon layer of self-defeating behaviors. No single action could pierce that crust of hardened habits. The first stop on the way to any resolution is an honest assessment of those habits.

 

Finding the Tipping Point

I’m on track, taking care of business for the day and before I know it, I’ve blown the day doing things that aren’t remotely useful for meeting my personal goals. Where did I go wrong? It seemed to me that it was logging into the computer that did it. From that point on, all good intentions were gone and I was pulled along by habits – news reading, email sorting, blog surfing. Logging into the computer was where I needed to start with a resolution.

I decided that my first resolution was that I would immediately, upon logging in, write 250 words (a single page, double-spaced). I could do nothing until those words were written. I didn’t care what they were. It just needed to be the first thing I did.

In conjunction with that, my second resolution was that I’d log off the computer every night by 7pm.

Making It as Easy as Possible

Despite my long history of making life more difficult, I focused on making my resolutions as ecanstockphoto2658109asy as possible to accomplish with additional cues. I set up my computer so that a new Word document would open as soon as I logged in. The first thing I’ve seen on my computer every day for the last 28 days is a blank page. I’ve written poetry, rants, laments, essays, and silly lyrics. The task took me all of 15 minutes and I wrote an average of 380 words per session.

Every night at 6:45 an alarm goes off, letting me know that I will need to log off by 7.

Letting Everything Else Go

These were my only resolutions. That was all I had to do. I had to let go of all my goal baggage. There were things I wanted to work on – working out more consistently, improving my diet with more nutrient-dense foods, sharpening my foreign language skills. I still did some things to support those goals, but they were not required and didn’t sidetrack me if all didn’t go to plan. I only had to do two very small things.

Framing the Present

Let’s start off with a few clichés. Life is short. It’s the journey, not the destination. Be present. All of these are about today. When working out my resolutions, I made myself write down what the immediate benefits would be.

canstockphoto19357489Writing those 250 words would do this for me:

  • Start my day off productively
  • Start my day off positively (no news is good news)
  • Improve my writing skills

Logging off at 7pm would do this for me:

  • Prepare me for good night’s sleep.
  • Leave room for better choices, like reading or interacting with my family.
  • Less likely to make poor eating/caffeine choices to stay awake.

Scope Creep and Resistance

Initially, my resolutions seemed paltry. How was I going to get healthier this way? How was I going to get my novel past the revision stage? I felt the old tug of desperation tugging at me to do more, that these things couldn’t possibly be enough. I had to fight the urge to GO BIG. I’d gone big before and for the three days it lasted, it was glorious. Going small is for the long game.

If you’re like me and you get all happy-lab-puppy excited about new things, you might decide to tell your friends and family about your resolutions. They are also part of the GO BIG culture, so will likely be underwhelmed by your mini-goals. And they’ve heard your intentions before. The nice thing about easy, attainable goals is that you don’t actually need a support group for them. Maybe keep it under your lid. Wet blankets can often dampen resolve.

Unintentional Consequences

While I could imagine the possible benefits of my two small habits, they’ve turned out to canstockphoto6502520be so much more – in measurable ways. I was at the point of thinking that maybe I needed to give up my ideas about being a writer, but I rediscovered how genuinely happy writing makes me, not just as an end-goal pursuit, but in the moment. This meant the overall tone of my day improved. I was not seeing the headlines first thing in the day. It meant that before I absorbed the bad things in the world, I was first in touch with the joy.

Sleep had become a real problem for me – whether it was hormonal or anxieties, I was not well-rested, stayed up too late, and woke repeatedly at night. Logging off my computer earlier changed how I spent my evening. First of all, it made me realize how very tired I really was – a missed cue masked by a surfing habit. At loose ends, I prepped better for the next day, settled in with a book, or just engaged with my family a bit more. I slept better and longer. It also ended my nighttime snacking habit, which meant less heartburn, fewer calories, less restlessness. Good sleep is a magic potion unto itself.

What’s Next?

canstockphoto0201754

So while I can write my self-satisfied posts about my new habits, I am still far away from my big picture goals. Trying to decide what to do next was like starting all over again…

Tune in tomorrow for So You Want to Start a Resolution, Part 3

Building your resolutions, Jenga Tower or Rock of Gibraltar?

So You Want to Start a Resolution… (Part 1)

canstockphoto17363632It’s the time of year when many of us fall into the cyclical trap of “this year sucked and next year will be so much better because…”. We take the bait and before you know it, we’ve decided to completely re-vamp ourselves from being human to being perfect. And by February, it turns out we’re still human, but just a little less self-confident than before we failed that resolution.

I am known as The Goal-Maker. Okay, I’m not. As hard as I’ve tried, that nickname has never caught on, no matter how many times I tell people to call me that. Friends and family will tell you that I am, however, a perpetual goal-setter. I have been all my life. Out of the womb, my first goal was to get grownups to talk jibberish to me. Goal accomplished.

From very early on, I set diet goals, workout goals, reading goals, writing goals, nicer person goals (that never panned out), and financial goals. As a friend pointed out, I don’t wait until January 1st – I do it year round. Part of this pattern of behavior is pathological – the never good enough syndrome hit me at a young age. It’s taken me a decade or three to untangle that web and come to terms with whoever it is that I am.

canstockphoto13579921Over the last few years, I’ve set and failed goals at an alarming and increasingly rapid rate. I justify this pattern by saying that even a failed goal is partial success. I tell myself that some progress is better than no progress. The truth is that, while I’ve made some steps forward, the failures and the lack of positive, permanent outcomes have chipped away at my confidence. In the last year, I set goals halfheartedly and gave them up at the first sign of resistance.

Goal-setting became a rote reaction to getting on the bathroom scales, noticing a loss of muscle, not sleeping well, feeling stupid, panicking about how old I was getting, or feeling an overwhelming sense of personal underachievement. Goals made in a reflexive panic are the least likely to be thoughtful, reasonable, or attainable.

I have, over the last year, had a slow epiphany about speed and time. We are inundated by the quick-fix mentality that focuses on outcomes and not process. The seductive before-and-after picture, the TV show that shows extreme personal changes in what seems like one week. It sets up the idea that self-punishing rule-setting in the short term will bring us happier long-term outcomes.

I bought into every bit of this. I consider myself a fairly rational, intelligent person, but in the area of goal-setting, I’ve been a bit of an idiot. I knew I’d hit a point of just going through the motions, as if any attempt at self-improvement was actual improvement. It wasn’t. It was damaging my belief that I could change anything. It was bringing me to a point of bleak acceptance. Not the fuzzy warm self-acceptance that people go on about, but the dismal, aren’t you a complete shit kind of acceptance.

canstockphoto1076788Whenever I come up against a wall in my life, I do the research. I read everything I can get my hands on, I take notes, and I spend some time letting it all knock about in my noggin. In a movie, this montage would be accompanied by “Chariots of Fire”. I went to outside experts. I have the good fortune of having a personal trainer/life coach/friend who asks all the right questions when I’m trying to get things sorted.

Even with all that, I am at a point in my life that could cause despair. I turned 50. I have no career. I’m still unpublished. I’m heavier than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m in an ongoing battle with aches and injuries. I still wrestle with depression. On the flip side, I have a wonderful family, great friends, accessible resources, and that magical, exasperating quality of persistence.

A month ago, I fell for it again. I resolved to make changes. I wrote everything out. I worked my way through my intentions, I thought through the obstacles. I mentally practiced in the days prior to my goal start date, adjusting my goals to be more attainable.

canstockphoto5001137Today, I have met both the goals I set every single day of the four weeks. And it was relatively easy. As I write this, it feels like this is one big ad for a book I read or a system I want to promote. I write this because it feels like a small miracle. And when you experience a small miracle, you want to blab to everyone about it.

I had been doing it all wrong. I’d blamed my lack of willpower or self-control for failing to meet goals. I blamed it on my depression and hormones or circumstances beyond my control. The real reason for my failure was that I didn’t know how to set attainable goals. My ambition and overestimation of my abilities always got ahead of reality. I expected myself to be someone different or my life to somehow function differently tomorrow. The reality that I wrote the goals for was not the reality in which I lived.

A lot of people have written blogs and books about changing habits and setting goals. Some things made sense to me and hit home and many others did not. But I think this is a key point – meeting resolutions starts at the very beginning, with the resolutions you select. If the resolutions aren’t right, no amount of willpower is going to get you to your goal.

canstockphoto37460924As a result of my two small resolutions, I sleep better, read more, eat fewer calories, and have written 40+ pages (10,500 words) in the last month that I would not have written otherwise. Immediate results. No pain.

Wow – what miracle did you procure? What magic wand did you wave? And can I send you $19.95 for it in six installments?

But wait, there’s more…

Tune in tomorrow for So You Want to Start a Resolution, Part 2

How to play resolution roulette while avoiding trap doors, anvils, and wet blankets.

*****

Great Resources for Figuring Out Goals and Resolutions:

Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently by Caroline L. Arnold

For whatever reason, this book resonated with me. The basic concepts are covered in the first half and then loads of examples are given. I also watched her talk at Microsoft. Her approach is the incremental building of positive habits to slowly push out the negative habits.

Mini Habits: Smaller Habit, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise

Similar concept, smaller book. Especially useful in working on exercise resolutions, since that is his main example. He also writes a blog.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

This covers a lot of the science involved with habits for people who need more than the “do this” kind of explanation. Runs more to the business and productivity talk, but the concepts are the same. It also approaches it from the perspective of breaking negative habits. He explains the cycle of habits here.

Auntie Scrooge’s Unsolicited Advice for the Holidays

Now that the competitive shopping marathon has begun and social events designed to crush the soul are in full swing, I’ve grumbled my way through a mall, a holiday party or three, and the receipt of numerous greeting cards with pets and coordinated outfits, and sometimes pets in coordinated outfits. I’m in the mood for unsolicited advice-giving. You’re welcome – in advance of the overwhelming gratitude you will surely feel.

Let’s get the respective holiday greetings out of the way. Merry Happy Holiday Christmas, Hanukkah,  Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Ōmisoka (大晦日), Three Kings Day, Winter Solstice, Festivus, Quaid-e-Azam Day, and fill-in-the-blank Day. And for people like me, good luck with avoiding hugging, food poisoning, and advice from well-meaning and sometimes just mean relatives, on how to be someone other than who you are.

In addition to my much-loved (by me) post on how to survive the holidays as an introvert, here are some other invaluable tips:

Shopping for Gifts

canstockphoto4907306Remember that we all die. Remember what happens to our stuff when we die. Remember what other people do with the stuff we give them – usually before they die.

One year I gave a relative a yoga set – a mat and DVD. She’d been talking about her stress and various aches and pains and was considering yoga. The next year when I went to visit her, she’d cut up the yoga mat and made treads out of the pieces to keep her from slipping on the stairs. Indeed, it likely served the purpose of reducing her stress and prevented injuries, but actual stair treads would have been cheaper.

Don’t spend a lot of money on stuff. Sure, it makes the economy go round, but after the latest tax “reform”, we’re going to be in a recession in a few years anyway. Save your money. You’re going to need it for healthcare when you lose your job.

Overindulging

canstockphoto32200781I hate going to the Y in January, because the resolution gang is there trying to work off holiday pounds, accidentally flying off treadmills, talking more than moving, taking workout tips from any random employee who will talk to them, and wandering from machine to machine without wiping any of them off after use.  I’m all for working out and for people finding their groove, but come mid-February, when my retinas will have recovered from all the neon polyester workout clothes, I’ll look around only to see me and four senior citizens.

So don’t do, eat, drink or buy anything that requires a follow-up resolution, pregnancy test or bankruptcy filing. Or at the very least, don’t go to my gym.

Mental Gymnastics

If you’re a writer, there’s a fun little exercise you can do. Find that relative that makes you want to flip a table and back into their car as you tear out of the driveway. Watch them. How would you write them? What would their death scene entail? Or less violently, which Muppet would they be? Which reminds me of a great way to enter (and exit) any gathering:

 

Practicing Gratitude. In the mirror.

Get your game face on. Someone is about to give you a really ugly, useless gift that has nothing to do with any of your interests or personality. They either a) want you to change or b) don’t remember anything about you c) received it last year or d) are viciously delighted that you’ll be forced to put it out every time they come to visit.

canstockphoto15420316There’s the nostalgia/long distance relative gift. Your aunt remembers that when you were 11, back in 1978, you used to collect porcelain hedgehogs and she just happened to see one in a souvenir shop in Nashville that says I ♥ Tennessee on it and thought of you. Smile big now. She thought of you, even though you’re 50 years old and traded that collection in for boys when you turned 13.

I joke a lot, but my favorite gifts are good pens, pictures, a cherished poem written out, any creative endeavor, books if you know me, socks if you don’t or Ghiradelli’s Limited Edition Peppermint Bark Chocolates (always be specific on which chocolate you like, or you’ll end up with spackle-filled samplers). This is all to say that I’m a cheap date and most people, with a little thought and a whole lot less money, are too. And if they’re not, make sure you give them a card that tells them you’ve donated money in their honor to some charity you know they’ll hate.

Look for the Moments

It’s an odd year. I’m not much inclined towards commercial or cyclical sentiments in the first place, but this last year has been a real test of the idea of joy and what that means. I know it doesn’t mean the holidays, which entail too many expectations, too much work, too much of everything.

canstockphoto15427711There are moments, though, that give one pause. My daughter’s orchestra performed in the middle of a busy shopping mall (hence the forced mall visit). The music swelled and drowned out the chatter, expanding up to the high ceiling. A full orchestra of kids from every background, playing this beautiful music. My eyes welled up as I listened. People slowed down, taken off guard by an orchestra in the middle of everything. I like those moments. Moments that transcend shopping.

Some moments are just unexpected. I joined a voting rights organization earlier this year and made myself attend their holiday party in spite of my inclination to hide. I ended up sitting next to the city mayor and had a great conversation. I’m a bit of a political junkie and learning about city level politics fascinates me, as well as learning about the people who are willing to enter that arena. I met quite a few interesting people. What I thought would be merely tolerable, was surprisingly enjoyable.

Those moments sometimes find us, but most of the time, we have to keep our eyes open, be willing to say yes, not burden them with our nostalgia or expectations. It’s important to find the time to give ourselves room to breathe, to slow down, to step back. And to imagine a piano falling on the head of that relative who dominates every conversation with bumper sticker politics or vivid descriptions of their fungal issues. Pass the eggnog, indeed.

Wishing you and yours an uneventful holiday season, and a whole lot of peace!