Interesting

That Was Interesting

July 15, 2019

Interesting perspective in this photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

I have a judgmental brain. Whenever something happens to me, I want to slot it away in either a “good” or “bad” mental filing cabinet. There are many problems with that, including that few things are entirely good or bad, and it’s often unclear what the long-term outcome of any one occurrence will be. Sometimes things that appear positive end up being negative, and vice versa. Good comes out of bad all the time…and yes, vice versa.

Much of that has to do with our own perspective, how we see things.

Instead of immediately jumping into judgment about the goodness or badness of something, I’m experimenting with the phrase, “That was interesting.” It’s a way to at least hit the pause button before judging—or most likely getting upset—to give myself time to think instead of simply react.

I’m not the only one with a judgmental brain. Our world is filled with hotheaded, all-or-nothing folks, who don’t allow for any sort of nuance. Who believe in “my way or the highway” and refuse to listen and learn from anyone else. If they (we) would respond with “That was interesting,” we might be able to understand others better, and even find common ground.

This is just something I’ve been thinking about lately. What do you think? Do you have any tools you use to avoid making snap judgments, or to stay calm in the face of the unexpected or unnerving? Please share!

Peg Duthie. Ease.

Making It Look Easy

July 12, 2019


Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: There’s nothing that can’t be a good subject for a poem. The hard part is to capture something in such a way that it becomes engaging and meaningful. Here's a poem from the Summer 2018 issue of Rattle, by Peg Duthie of Tennessee, in which two very different experiences are pushed up side by side. Her most recent book of poetry is Measured Extravagance, (Upper Rubber Boot, 2012).

Decorating a Cake While Listening to Tennis


The commentator’s rabbiting on and on
about how it’s so easy for Roger, resentment
thick as butter still in a box. Yet word
from those who've done their homework
is how the man loves to train—how much
he relishes putting in the hours
just as magicians shuffle card after card,
countless to mere humans
but carefully all accounted for.
At hearing “luck” again, I stop
until my hands relax their clutch
on the cone from which a dozen more
peonies are to materialize. I make it look easy
to grow a garden on top of a sheet
of fondant, and that’s how it should appear:
as natural and as meant-to-be
as the spin of a ball from the sweetest spot
of a racquet whisked through the air like a wand.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2018 by Peg Duthie, “Decorating a Cake While Listening to Tennis,” from Rattle, (Vol. 24, No. 2, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Peg Duthie and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Beach

Summer Rerun--A Gift for the Remembering Self

July 08, 2019

On Saturday, I drove by the place where I took Tank riding on the beach a few years ago, so I dug up this post from June of 2015 to share as a summer rerun. It was a lot of fun to remember this experience. I hope you’re giving your remembering self something happy to think about this summer! 

A few months ago, Laura Vanderkam used a term in a blog post that intrigued me: the remembering self. Vanderkam described riding the train to New York (from her home in Pennsylvania) on a Saturday night to hear a Christmas concert, even though she was pregnant, the weather was bad, she’d endured a difficult week, and so on. She wrote, “The remembering self deserves consideration in decisions too, not just the present self.”

This term resonated with me so much that I commented: “I love the phrase ‘the remembering self.’ It reminds me that often it’s the things we don’t do that we regret later in life.”  She responded: “I think it’s as much that the remembering self and the experiencing self [or the present self] value different things. The experiencing self is never 100% happy, because it occupies a corporal body that experiences little annoyances like an itchy nose, needing a bathroom before the concert starts, etc. The remembering self looks back on the wash of the experience and doesn’t see all of these details. It’s easy to over-value the experiencing self because it’s what we’re currently occupying, but the remembering self deserves some consideration in all this too.” (Read the entire post here.)

Sometimes I let my experiencing self run the show too much. If it’s hard, scary, or uncomfortable, my experiencing self doesn’t want any part of it. (She’s kind of a wimp.) If I let her dictate what I do, my poor remembering self has nothing of interest to reflect on! Remembering self is not impressed by excuses.

All this is on my mind because last week I checked off an item on my summer bucket list: I took Tank to the beach.

All photos taken by Gayle Bryan

I confess that though I wanted (in theory) to take my horse to the beach, I was anxious about actually doing it. I knew it would be very, very hot, I knew I’d be riding with a bareback pad and halter instead of a saddle and bridle, and I knew that my horse can get excited and strong (i.e., hard to control) when he goes to a new place. I knew the trip would take most of a day, and that I’d be good for almost nothing after spending so much time in the sun, thereby throwing off my weekly schedule. I knew I’d have to wake up earlier than normal and to come up with the money to pay for the trip. My “experiencing self” was full of worries and complaints. But I managed to shut her up for a little while so I could give my remembering self this gift.

And while my experiencing self did endure some uncomfortable moments, they’re becoming hazier by the day. My remembering self is already delighted to look back on the adventure and proud of herself for stepping out of her comfort zone. I know Tank enjoyed the change of scenery, but he was less than enamored with actually going in the water, even though all three of the other horses marched right in, and a couple of them went in deep enough to swim. Some of his expressed thoughts:

“This stuff moves. Is it really safe to walk in it?”

“There’s too much slimy green stuff along the edge, it looks like it might grab me.”

 “WHAT IS THAT BLACK THING ON THE SAND?!” (It was a discarded t-shirt.)

Despite his skepticism, he eventually relaxed and splashed through the water with everyone else, and when we were on the beach itself, I gave him his head so he could explore, which he loved. And he especially loved snacking on the patches of grass we found. Instead of merely walking on the beach, we trotted and cantered on the sand and it was totally awesome. Even experiencing self had to agree.

When you feel overwhelmed at the thought of something you really want to do, how can you help the experiencing self to relax so you can give your remembering self this gift? It helps me to learn all I can about the upcoming event/experience, to look for support from friends or family, and to ease into what I want to do in a way that feels comfortable to me. And even if it’s still scary, I know my memory of it will likely smooth over the fear and remember the joy. Some things will just be more fun to have done than to do.

What are some memories your remembering self especially enjoys?




Alexandra Stoddard

Reach for the Light

July 05, 2019


“To achieve high levels of happiness, reach for brightness in your daily life. Light and dark are integral to the natural cycle of life. We can accept darkness as we point toward the light. Become conscious of all your varied options for increasing cheerfulness of your immediate surroundings. We know firsthand that the sun does not perpetually shine down on us. Not only do we face darkness every evening but there are also many overcast, dark, and stormy days. It is up to us to bring light into our lives.”
—Alexandra Stoddard, Choosing Happiness

Mindfulness

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, It’s July!

July 01, 2019


January through June of 2019 have to have been the quickest six months of my life. And experience tells me that the next six months of the year won’t be any more leisurely if left to their own devices. How can I slow down time—or at least make it feel slower?

Summertime is the perfect time to do that, because generally the pace of life tends to slow down on its own. Many people schedule vacations, kids are out of school, and most of us make an effort to chill a little more during the hot months.

What it boils down to for me is becoming more mindful of the quality, pace, and texture of my days.

Again.

(Sigh.)

Here are a three simple ways to slow down and become more mindful that I swear I’m going to try. Want to join me?

Build in breaks. Use a timer if necessary. After a work session, schedule at least a 15-minute break, to stretch, drink a glass of water, walk around the house or office, look outside at blooming nature, and so on. I'm TERRIBLE at this. I tend to rush from one project to the next without taking a few minutes to reset and suddenly it’s 5 p.m. (And it has to be a break. No sorting the mail (or reading emails), tidying up the kitchen, or pretending that chores are a break. They are NOT.)

Create rituals throughout the day. First thing in the morning, take your coffee outside to see what’s going on in the yard, sit in meditation for 10 minutes and do a few yoga poses, or climb back in bed to write in a journal and read something inspirational. At lunchtime, pause to appreciate the smell and appearance of your food before eating, take a short walk afterwards. At bedtime, jot down three good things that happened to you today, read a poem, or practice relaxation exercises in bed. Rituals can help slow us down, as long as we don’t let them become mindless ruts

Revise the to-do list. Take at least one thing off it, and when you’re done with your list, you're done. Go put your feet up and read a book. Or whatever your favorite thing happens to be.

I’ve written about these things before, and tried them all with varying degrees of success, and it’s time to get back into practice. Do I control my life, or does it control me? Do I want to look back in December and wonder where the last six months went? No, I do not.

What are your tips and tricks for slowing down and being more mindful? Please share in the comments—I’m convinced we could all use some help in this area.

More posts about mindfulness and slowing down:

Also, check out the Action for Happiness July calendar. Today’s prompt: Make a list of things you’re looking forward to. I love it!



Anne of Avonlea

The Sweetest Days

June 28, 2019


Photo courtesy an_photos via Pixabay

“I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
—Anne Shirley, Anne of Avonlea (L.M. Montgomery)

2019

A Midsummer Day Check-In

June 24, 2019

Photo by Kyle Peyton on Unsplash

In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re at the edge of summer. We just experienced the longest day of the year on June 21st, and today is Midsummer’s Day. In many countries, such as Sweden and Finland, Midsummer’s Day (or Midsummer’s Eve) is a holiday that celebrates the longest day. The actual festivities take place on different dates, depending on the location, and activities include bonfires and maypoles.

While I won’t be lighting a bonfire (it’s plenty hot enough here already), I am taking some time today to check in on how my year is going so far. I didn’t set a bunch of big goals at the beginning of the year—I just wasn’t up for it at the time—but I did choose a word of the year, rise, which I’m sorry to say I’ve basically forgotten all about.

Oops.

But I feel more inclined to set a few goals now, though I still want to stay low-key with the process. I’ve already checked off a couple of items on my Summer Fun List, including taking a yoga class, and indulging in a black cow (more than one, if I’m honest—wouldn’t want that root beer to go to waste).  I’m also well into my Summer Reading List—I finished The Foundling, and have started The Island of the Sea Women, Ride With Your Mind, and The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

The year is slipping away all too quickly, and I don’t want to waste any of its precious days. So, notebook and coffee cup in hand, today I’ll be thinking about what 2019 has held so far, and what I’d like the rest of the year to be like.

If you’d like to take the opportunity to check in with yourself, too, here are some questions to ponder:

  • What do I want for the rest of the year?
  • What is working well? What isn’t?
  • What gifts has 2019 given me so far?
  • What habits do I want to break? What habits do I want to continue or start?
  • Is there anything that I absolutely want to accomplish this year? If so, what small steps can I take immediately to work towards that goal?
I’d like to look back on the year in December and be happy about not only what I’ve accomplished, but how I’ve lived—did I savor the simple pleasures and everyday adventures, or was I too busy and distracted to appreciate what I had? Did I make the most of my time, or did I fritter it away on pursuits that ultimately left me feeling empty?

Taking some time to reflect on your life—whether you do it on Midsummer’s Day, New Year’s Day, or every Sunday evening, can help you focus on the activities, people, and thoughts that help you lead your happiest life.

What has 2019 been like for you so far? Please share some of what you’ve been doing, thinking, and learning this year in the comments below!  

Joy

More Sorrow, More Joy

June 21, 2019


Photo by Viviane Okubo on Unsplash

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” 
— Kahlil Gibran

Backyards

Come Visit Our Backyard Oasis!

June 17, 2019


A few years ago, my husband became interested in gardening. Since then, he’s spent hours every weekend working/playing in our yard, turning it into an oasis. He plants mostly perennials, growing most things from cuttings neighbors have shared with him, or that he’s taken himself. Two winters ago, we had several hard freezes, and I wondered what that would do to the yard. As you will soon see, it came back better than ever.

Today, I thought I’d share some photos of his handiwork (click on the photo to enlarge it):


One of my favorite simple pleasures, when it’s not too hot, is to sit in one of our Adirondack chairs and watch the butterflies and birds. 



I also love to take pictures of the flowers.




Coral bush

Coral bush flower 


Angel wing begonia



This is just one small way my husband makes my life beautiful—and I’m grateful to him for it, and many other things.

Have a beautiful Monday!

Dad

One More Little Good-Bye

June 14, 2019

At the harness races--one of my favorite photos of us

Seven and a half months ago, my father died. This year, on Father’s Day, for the first time, I won’t have a father.

This feels strange. Something I have always had, and taken for granted, is missing. The months since his death have been filled with little goodbyes. Realizations that I won’t be able to share certain things with him, and vice versa. For example, when it was time to plant tomatoes this year, I decided not to—not only did I not feel up to battling the bugs and the squirrels for the fruit, gardening was something my dad and I liked to talk about—his tiny backyard plot produced tomatoes and cucumbers galore. We liked to compare harvests (he always had more) and compare what we had planted.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad. Coming to terms with losing a parent isn’t easy, even when you’re all grown up and have a child of your own. I decided to jot down some memories and thoughts about him in his honor this Father’s Day.

Even though my dad had his flaws (as we all do), he was a loving and kind man. My dad loved animals, especially cats. In addition to gardening, he was an excellent golfer, and loved fishing, and going to the horse races. He was in the Navy and served during the Korean War. He was a Baptist, and loved his church.

At his best, he was charming and charismatic, full of zest, humor, and mischief. He worked hard all his life—at 84, until his last illness, he still worked part time doing marketing for a Servpro franchise.

He was born and grew up in Virginia, moving to California as a young man looking for work.

He was extremely lucky, winning often at the horse races or casino, even finding money lying on the ground!

He loved his grandson, my son Nick, deeply. Dad smoked for many years, and after trying unsuccessfully to quit several times, stopped cold turkey when he saw his toddler grandson imitating him smoking.

Dad and Nick

I always asked him to make his special salad when I came to visit. I technically know how to make it myself, but it’s not the same. But perhaps I will try making it in his honor now and then, trying to perfect what he did so well.

The chef at work

My parents divorced when I was three, and I didn’t have much contact with my dad in my earliest years. The circumstances of my parents’ divorce were unusual, and without going into detail, let’s just say it was no one’s fault. I know it was devastating to him when my mom and I left, and I don’t think he ever quite got over it. It shadowed our relationship for years. Once I was old enough to stay with him, I spent part of summer vacation at his house, and either Christmas or Thanksgiving break. My stepmother had always wanted a daughter, and she embraced me as her own immediately. At the time of his death, they had been married 42 years.

At times, my dad and I hurt each other deeply in ways that only family can, each of us making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, convinced the other person was wrong or just did not understand. Now that I’m a parent, I better understand some of our exchanges. I regret that we didn’t have the lifelong closeness I’ve observed in other fathers and daughters. Over the years, I’ve grieved for what was denied us, but now grieve for what we did have that is now lost. Sometimes it hits me anew that he’s gone, taking me by painful surprise.

Now I can choose to remember the fun we had , letting go the old hurts. He did the best he knew how, and so did I, and sometimes we came up short. There was never any doubt that we loved each other, fiercely.

He always called me his favorite daughter (I’m his ONLY daughter), so last Father’s Day, I sent him a sweatshirt with the words, “My favorite daughter gave me this shirt” printed on the chest. He loved it, and since he was always cold (even when the thermostat said 85), he wore it proudly.

I have a voice mail on my phone—my dad’s last message to me from April 2018 when I was getting ready to come to California. He sounds excited about the upcoming visit. I can’t quite get my head around the fact that there will be no more visits, and that when I said good-bye to him last year, it was the final time I’d see him in person.

Last visit

We spoke on the phone many times after that, and I sent him a message on his 84th birthday, which he celebrated while I was in France last October. Only a few days after I returned home he was gone. I knew his health had been failing, but I thought we would have more time. I guess we all think that—or hope that—about the people we love.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you.

Books

It’s Sooooo Hot and All I Want to Do Is Read

June 10, 2019


Last week a friend asked me what I planned to read this summer. Um, everything, and never go outside again until December?

Sadly, that will not happen. I have been mulling over what I want to read this summer, though. I often make a summer reading list, if only to try to get a few books off my TBR shelf/list. (Click here or here for previous lists.)  I’m a highly distractible reader, always diverting into unlooked-for paths (newest obsession: Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoirs), constantly seduced by unexpected reading tangents. 

Here is my tentative summer reading list for 2019:

I like to read the biography or autobiography of a writer every summer, so this year my major reading goal will be the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1. It looks like there are three volumes, but for now I’m only tackling the first. At 679 pages, it should take me a while.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen. Looks like the Kindle version is free, but I have a pretty print hardcover version that is part of a set. This will be my summer classic.

At least one book from Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide, perhaps The Island of Sea Women (one of my library holds, see below) or The Mother-In-Law

My library holds. I currently have eight books reserved, and even though I’m in varying positions on the hold list, sure as I’m alive, they will all become available the same week and I’ll have a mini nervous breakdown trying to read them all within the time allotted.

From my own TBR shelf:

Ride with Your Mind, Mary Wanless. Already in progress.


The Foundling, Georgette Heyer. I have several of her books on my shelf, but I’ve already started this one. If you’re looking for a fun, light read, you can’t go wrong with Heyer.

An art or creativity book, possibly The Journal Junkies Workshop, or The Muse Is In.

Though it’s likely I’ll go off on other reading tangents, I hope to finish these books this summer. Since “summer” here lasts until November I have a pretty good chance.

What do you plan to read this summer?

Choice

Will It Bring You Happiness?

June 07, 2019

Photo by Sorin Gheorghita on Unsplash

“Although there are no easy solutions to avoiding…destructive pleasures, fortunately we have a place to begin: the simple reminder that what we are seeking in life is happiness. As the Dalai Lama points out, that is an unmistakable fact. If we approach our choices in life keeping that in mind, it is easier to give up the things that are ultimately harmful to us, even if those things bring us momentary pleasure. The reason why it is usually so difficult to ‘Just say no!' is found in the word ‘no’; that approach is associated with a sense of rejecting something, of giving something up, of denying ourselves.

“But there is a better approach: framing any decision we face by asking ourselves, ‘Will it bring me happiness?’ That simple question can be a powerful tool in helping us skillfully conduct all areas of our lives, not just in the decision whether to indulge in drugs or that third piece of banana cream pie. It puts a new slant on things. Approaching our daily decisions and choices with this question in mind shifts the focus from what we are denying ourselves to what we are seeking—ultimate happiness.”
The Art of Happiness, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Howard C. Cutler, M.D. 

Everyday adventures

Summer Fun List 2019

June 03, 2019

Luna's summer fun list involves a) balls and b) swimming

Even though it’s summer (or about to be), we’re not kids anymore, looking forward to the unbridled freedom of weeks of summer vacation. We have jobs, housework, and Other Important and Grown Up Tasks to accomplish. That doesn’t mean we can’t schedule a few special, summer-ized simple pleasures and everyday adventures. After skipping it last year, I’m resurrecting the Summer Fun List this year (originally known as the Summer Bucket List). It’s still a work in progress, but instead of making a long list that will overwhelm me, I’ve kept it short and sweet:

  • Read by the pool
  • Have a movie date with a friend
  • Attend yoga classes at Karma (no affiliation) while our circuit training class teacher is off having a baby 
  • Schedule a massage
  • Go on a playdate with Laure Ferlita and her puppy, Shelby
  • Create and read from a Summer Reading List (post to come about this)
  • Indulge in a black cow
  • Escape for a beach weekend with my husband
  • Go to the 2019 Etsy Craft Party
It’s not a very long list, but it gives me several things to look forward to during the hot, humid months of summer.

How about you? What are you going to do for fun this summer? 

Link love

Escape with Link Love

May 31, 2019

I may be spending a lot of time indoors this summer—yesterday, the “feels like” temperature was 101 degrees. And it’s only May! If you need me, I’ll be at my computer, sipping a cold drink.

If you need a break from heat, cold, or just life in general, here are some links you might enjoy:

Check out “9 Mostly Free Ways to Spark Creativity and Fun.” I’m a visual person, so one of my favorites was: “Think of what you want more of in your life, such as a sense of surrender, more time for creative exploration, or more serenity. Then create visual cues that remind you of your quest.”

Jennifer Louden’s “Thoughts on Taking Care of Yourself When Life Is Hard” lists a number of simple, comforting things we can do when we’re feeling down. One of my favorites: “Think of all the other people in the world feeling exactly the way you are right now and imagine everybody holding hands while nodding at each other with kindness.”

What creative type are you? An Adventurer? A Maker? A Visionary? Take this quick test to find out! (I’m a Thinker.) 

I’m a big believer in the power of baby steps and the Japanese concept of kaizen. Check out “The Power of Micro Steps: Take Tiny Steps Forward,” for some ways to use tiny steps to move forward in multiple areas of your life. As Confucius said, “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”

Can Reading Make You Happier? I think so and I’m not the only one: “For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.” And someone please tell me how one gets a job as a bibliotherapist!

If your brain feels overloaded, you may need Sandra Pawula’s, “How to Declutter Your Mind With a Brain Dump.” I haven’t done one in a while—perhaps it’s time. As Pawula writes, “A brain dump will declutter your mind and bring you back to peace. It can be a great way to offload worries or capture creative ideas too.”

Click here to access the Action for Happiness Joyful June calendar.

I found this interview with soccer player/speaker/author Abby Wambach thought-provoking and inspiring. (Be aware there is some adult language.)



After watching it, I put her book, Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game, on hold at my library. Here’s a quote I’m still pondering:

“Leadership is not a position to earn. It’s an inherent power to claim. Leadership is the blood that runs through your veins. It’s born in you. It’s not the privilege of a few. It is the right and responsibility of all. Leader is not a title that the world gives to you. It’s an offering that you give to the world.”

Happy Friday!

Creativity

Creativity and Love

May 24, 2019


Photo by Jamez Picard on Unsplash

“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.”
—Osho

Dry

Spring Break Report

May 20, 2019

Zzzzzzzzzz...

My spring break was boring. In a good way.

I was so tired. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I went blueberry picking. I slept. I read. I took my vitamins every day. I puttered in my house, getting rid of things and putting small messes in order. I visited Tank (who, apparently, is tired, too—see above).

I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. After big strides in productivity last year, a once-in-a-lifetime three-week trip to France, followed immediately by sickness and upheaval in my personal life, and trying to keep up and catch up with everything at the same time, I was due for break, if not a breakdown.

While I’ve been keeping up (as well as “keeping up appearances”) as best I can, I have rarely felt so “dry” as a writer. Writing feels like squeezing a lime—a whole lot of effort for a trickle of juice. Understandably, this has made me very unhappy, as writing has always been a solace as well as a way to contribute to our finances. Hoping for inspiration, I’ve been revisiting my favorite writing books, and participating in the shewrites.com #whyshewrites challenge on Instagram.

Despite this dry spell, I do still have the desire to write, so I’m adjusting and readjusting the balance of work and rest—of creative output and creative input, what I call well refilling. I had not been allowing myself enough simple noodling time—time spent letting my thoughts drift and dream. Some of my best ideas come that way, and this is probably at least partly why I’ve been feeling so parched. While I believe in the Maya Angelou quote I posted Friday, I also believe that creativity needs nurturing, and I have not been doing enough of that. 

You’d think I would understand the need for creative rejuvenation by now, but we don’t learn our lessons all at once and for good. We learn, we forget, we remember, we learn more, we learn deeper, hopefully on a continued upward spiral. 

What do you do (or stop doing) when you’re in need of rejuvenation, creative or otherwise?

Busy-ness

Spring Rerun--What's the Rush?

May 13, 2019


I’m still on my own personal spring break right now, doing my best to rest and slow down. Here is a post from 2014 that shows this is an ongoing issue for me. Maybe for you, too?

“Slowness is an option for everyone on the planet, not just a privilege reserved for the very wise or very young or very rich. All of us can decide (and the phrase is a potent one)
to take our time.”
—Christian McEwen, World Enough and Time

For the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with deliberately slowing down my actions. I’ve been surprised by how many times I catch myself rushing, as opposed to simply moving efficiently and deliberately. When I take the dog’s medications out of the cupboard, when I get out of the car to go inside, when I unload the dishwasher—I feel an internal push to hurry. (Gretchen Rubin describes this feeling perfectly in Happier at Home: “I always have the feeling that I should be working. I always feel pressed for time, as if someone were shoving a pistol in my back and muttering ‘Move, move, move!’”) I’m already aware that when I hurry I break things and hurt myself, and I really don’t need to hurry every minute of every day, so what gives?

It’s at least partly the familiar and eternal battle between doing and being. No matter how hard I try, it seems that I can’t shake the feeling that if I’m not doing something (or hurrying on to the next something) then I’m not worthy. No matter how much I streamline my do-do list, there’s always more to do than I’ll ever be able to accomplish. Hurry has become a habit. One I’m determined to break.

Even with my new focus on not hurrying, and even though I’ve written several blog posts about the concepts of doing less and slowing down (see “Do Less in More Time” and “One Less Thing,” for example), I still struggle to follow my own advice. Take last Thursday. First, while driving home from the grocery store, I stopped too quickly at a stop sign, spilling my coffee into the cup holder and down the center console. After I cleaned that up and got the groceries unloaded, instead of just chilling for a few minutes, I got caught up on the computer and was late leaving for yoga class. I barely had time to take off my shoes, drop my keys and roll out my mat before it started. I felt flustered, distracted and off balance for at least half the class and the quality of my poses suffered. After lunch, while on the way to run an errand with no timetable, I realized I had a death grip on the steering wheel as I tried to hit every traffic light just right.

Slow down there, girl.

After that, I started reminding myself of a principle Natural Horsemanship practitioner Pat Parelli often refers to: Go slower to go faster. Here’s an example in action: that five seconds I saved by hurrying to go in the house is more than eaten up by the time it takes me to retrieve the mail from beneath the car where I just dropped it. If I’d taken my time in the first place, I’d already be inside (in the air conditioning) rather than crawling on the floor of the garage.  

When I remember to slow down, time does seem to lengthen. I’m able to move more smoothly from one thing to another without feeling internal pressure goading me on. So I’ll continue to pay attention to the speed at which I move. Keep saying no to busy work and rushing. Value the time and space between activities as much as the activities themselves. Seek out activities with a slower pace. And I’ll keep working on taking my time.

What makes you feel rushed? How do you slow down?

No rushing allowed

Creativity

Interesting Things May Develop

May 10, 2019


“Creativity is an awful lot like sex. If it always has to be great, that creates a certain amount of performance anxiety. If, instead, you experiment a little, even when you’re not in the mood and don’t have time for a long candlelight dinner with your muse, interesting things may start to develop. You are married to your creativity, not just out on a first date.”
—Julia Cameron, The Vein of Gold

Artist's dates

Spring Rerun--Picking Blueberries: An Artist's Date

May 06, 2019

I’m on my own personal spring break right now, which included a blueberry-picking excursion yesterday. So I dusted off this post from 2015, a throwback to the first time I went blueberry picking (it took me a shockingly long time to fill my bucket—I’ve improved my average quite a bit since then, even with stopping to take pictures and pick a few unripe berries to paint later, as one does.)

A few minutes from my house, and just down the road from where I keep Tank, there is a blueberry farm that is now open for U-picking. After several weeks of unseasonably hot and humid weather, this weekend was fresh and spring like—the sun shining from a cobalt sky dotted with cottony clouds, so I decided to go blueberry picking for the first time. Here’s what happened:

Acres of blueberry bushes

After I park my car, the farm proprietor ties a white plastic bucket around my waist and tells me which sections were picked for market and which should have berries left. I walk down the grassy road between berry sections and choose my spot. There are other pickers scattered through the rows, a few with children in tow. U-picking with kids is popular, and this is one of the first weekends the farm is open. I see several generations of family members, from grandparents to toddlers, enjoying the experience.

And that’s why I’m here: to enjoy the experience. This is an artist’s date as well as a way to stock my freezer with fresh blueberries.

Once I choose my section, I begin slowly walking between the rows of shoulder- to head-high blueberry bushes. It takes me a few moments for my eyes to adjust to seeing the plump purple berries hidden in the foliage. I drop my first berries in my bucket with a thunk. While I search with my eyes, my ears listen to the sounds around me: the breeze flirting with berry bushes, the lady in the red t-shirt humming along with her iPod, the children calling out excitedly, and even the loud speakers periodically blaring screechy bird sounds to keep away other birds who would eat the berries. My mind is free to wander, but I find it mostly stays quiet, absorbed in the task of looking carefully for the ripe berries. I deliberately pick a few unripe berries to paint because they’re such pretty colors. I also remember and use Laure Ferlita’s advice to look up, look down, look all around.



As in life, in blueberry picking, it pays to go slowly, look carefully, and be gentle (so the fruit doesn’t fall on the ground instead of into your fingers). You need to look at the bushes from several different angles, and sometimes you will find perfect berries missed by others who have worked the same row. This is sort of like the process of creativity—good ideas, ripe for the picking are out there, waiting for the right person to come along.

It takes me about two hours to fill my bucket. I probably could have moved to a section with more berries per bush, but for once I’m not in a hurry. It is a pleasure to be doing one thing and one thing only. Once my bucket is full, I return to the entrance, pay my money, and carry a plastic grocery bag to my car filled with my bounty.


When I get home, I’ll have the work of drying out the berries (they don’t like to be wet), freezing them, and deciding what I want to do with the ones I won’t freeze. Blueberry muffins for my son, and lemon blueberry scones for me, I think.

This artist’s date was a huge success. I not only deeply enjoyed it while it was happening, but I also wrote about it in my journal and in this post, and I painted those berries! So far, I’ve only experimented with different colors for the berries, but I also want to do a full watercolor sketch page of various elements from the day.

What did you do this weekend?

Creativity

Do You Think You're Not Creative?

May 03, 2019


Photo by Amaury Salas on Unsplash

“Even if you never go near the arts, you are creating away like mad every single day, working in the medium of experience itself. Actions, objects, words, gestures—literally anything you influence by your choices becomes part of your creation. Every time you voice your thoughts to a loved one, or cook a meal, or choose a new bar of soap for the dish by your bathtub, you are creating a modification in space or time that would never have existed without you. Whether consciously or unconsciously, you have more power to create your own life than anyone or anything else.”
—Martha Beck, The Joy Diet

Announcement

Goodbye April, Hello May

April 29, 2019


I always hate to see April go. In May we usually start getting summer weather: temps in the 90s and rising humidity. And we all know how much I love summer in Florida. Not.

But it’s not summer yet, and I have happy things to look forward to in May—including a visit from my sisters- and brothers-in-law. Maybe I’ll create a summer fun list or a reading project. I’m also working on plans for a belated anniversary trip with my husband. Time to start planning for simple pleasures and everyday adventures to look forward to during my least favorite time of year.

Speaking of simple pleasures and everyday adventures, I’m planning to take the next couple of weeks for some creative well filling. While I’m gone, I’ve scheduled some “reruns” and quotes so the blog won’t be dark.

Be back soon!

Poetry

Waving

April 26, 2019

Photo by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Stuart Dybek was born in Chicago, where there are at least a couple of hundred hotels a poet might stroll past, looking up at the windows. Here's a poem from his book, Streets in Their Own Ink, from Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Curtains
Sometimes they are the only thing beautiful
about a hotel.
Like transients,
come winter they have a way of disappearing,
disguised as dirty light,
limp beside a puttied pane.
Then some April afternoon
a roomer jacks a window open,
 a breeze intrudes,
resuscitates memory,
and suddenly they want to fly,
while men,
looking up from the street,
are deceived a moment
into thinking
a girl in an upper story
is waving.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2004 by Stuart Dybek, “Curtains,” (Streets in Their Own Ink, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2004. Poem reprinted by permission of Stuart Dybek and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


Look for my travel writing here