Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sunrise, Sunset

When I included watching the sunrise on my 40/40 list, I had no idea what an impact it would make. At the time, it felt like a freebie and a list filler. I didn't envision its profound effect on me. Since that early morning, I pay much more attention to the position of the sun in the sky. I pay attention to the light and shadows it casts at different times of day. This attention feels spiritual. Like an internal metronome ticking a slow, steady rhythm to my day.

I recently read the book Learning How to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. By way of exploring spiritual darkness, she researched physical darkness to understand all forms of darkness. She discussed how the electric light had changed human's relationship with the dark. Before electric light, people rose with the light and went to sleep when the sun set. Tangentially, she also learned that “sleeping through the night” has not been a thing throughout human history. Researchers have learned that pre-electricity, humans would have nocturnal periods of wakefulness, where they would rest until sleep revisited them. This was a comforting finding given my insomniac tendencies.

I am naturally an early riser, so early bed times are also natural. But Taylor's book had me pondering what it would be like if I decided to orient my days with the sun too. I wondered how different my days would be if I went to bed when the sun went down. How much would I have to adjust my evening's activities if I chose to stop when it got dark considering I spend my entire day away from home? I thought about doing this for awhile (on days when Cadence isn't home) and writing about my experience as this coming October's #write31days topic.

I told Cadence about it. 
 
Ugh. That sounds awful. DO NOT do that.” I laughed and asked if I had her permission to write about her reaction on my blog. 
 
Sure.”

My daughter is a night owl and a little bit opinionated.

Before my conversation with her, I had gone to sleep when I would otherwise turn on a lamp. I'd wake up and jot down notes for a future 31 days entry. This happened for a few nights, and then I got into a really good book. I didn't want to stop reading at 8:00, so I turned on the lamp. I thought this would make an acceptable entry. After a few days of taking notes, I decided I would not have enough material to fill 31 days of blogging, so taking my daughter's advice to “NOT DO” that topic.

But on given evenings, like last night, I still go to bed with the sunset. I watched the sun through my neighbors' trees. The sky gave quite a show. I laid on top of my cozy new comforter, hugged my pillow, and watched the colors change in the sky and in my room. I decided there wasn't anything else I felt like doing for the evening, so I washed face, slathered my face with my age-fighting creams, and brushed my teeth. It felt good to welcome the weekend with an early bed time. 

 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

When Breath Becomes Air - an AudioBook Treasure

I finished to When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi this week.

It is such an exceptional read/listen that I am loathe to say much about it. It is the memoir of a young neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with aggressive cancer months before he is set to graduate from his residency training. He faces his terminal diagnosis with such grace, clarity, and bravery.

Before he chose to pursue medicine, he'd considered being a writer, so when he found himself at his truncated life, he returned to writing and this breathtaking book is the result.

I laughed at myself during one of his surgical anecdotes. He was observing the pre-term caesarean delivery of twins. I had to turn it off for awhile--I could not "stomach" the description of the procedure. Not in one sitting. It's also strange to hear a surgery you have personally experienced described in such technical terms.

I had the privilege to volunteer at the pre-gathering for the School of Medicine's commencement program. I was surrounded by some of the best and brightest new physicians in the country. I helped them adjust the hoods that they wore for the ceremony. One of the things I do in my day job is to draft profiles for scholarship recipients. I am blown away by these students' stories. I enjoyed seeing them in person and recalling the anecdotes that led them to pursue medicine. It made listening to When Breath Becomes Air even more poignant and meaningful. And devastating.

His writing is so exquisite that it brought me to tears throughout the book and by the end I was audibly sobbing. I cried so hard (I needed a good cry) that I was exhausted when my tears finally dried.

The epilogue is written by his wife, Lucy. She said something that I haven't stopped thinking about: "What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy." What a beautiful way to frame the bad things that befall us all.

This TED Talk came to my inbox while I was still listening to the book. I didn't want to watch it until I finished his account. I have watched it, teared up, and marveled at the lessons this couple learned and their willingness to share them with us.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Better than Before - a book recommendation



I am drawn to books on subjects that I know a little bit about with the express purpose of comparing notes. I read Rob Bell's How to be Here last year to test how well I was doing at living in the present. I read Ron Lieber's The Opposite of Spoiled to determine how I was parenting Cadence in the area of teaching her the principles of finance, consumerism, and generosity. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown gave me a measuring stick for how I was doing as a recovering perfectionist.

You get the idea.

In this spirit of reading, I'm able to find myself in the pages of the books I'm reading. I can pat myself on the back in the areas that sound familiar and that I am already practicing. I'm open to the areas that reveal I still have work or exploration to do.

In other words, I am a life-long learner, and I love these reads.

My newest title, taken off my never-ending list of to-be-reads, is Better than Before – Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.

Rubin writes that there are four Tendencies (Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, Rebel) that guide how we create good habits and work to diminish bad habits. She uses these four tendencies to frame every aspect of habit forming throughout the book. What I especially liked was the way she wove her own habit forming into the book and the stories she collected about helping others think about their everyday habits.

What is particularly helpful is her assertion that what makes us different will absolutely affect the way we approach habit forming. She poses these questions: Am I a lark or an owl? Am I a marathoner, a sprinter, or a procrastinator? Am I an underbuyer or an overbuyer? Am I a simplicity lover or an abundance lover? Am I a finisher or an opener? Am I a familiarity lover or a novelty lover? Am I promotion-focused or prevention-focused? Do I like to take small steps or big steps?

I am an Upholder, a lark, a marathoner, an underbuyer, a simplicity lover, a finisher, familiarity lover, am prevention-focused, and take small steps. Knowing all of this helps me better understand how and why I approach habits the way I do.
 
I was particularly interested in contemplating my big, goal-y year of 2015 against the assertions of this book. That year of the 40/40 list and novel writing was unlike any other year in my life. I now understand that as an Upholder, I “respond readily to outer expectations (Dan's encouragement to write a page a day) and inner expectations (my desire to complete all 40 activities between the date range I set.)

I recognized myself here too: “They're self-directed and have little trouble meeting commitments, keeping resolutions, or meeting deadlines...They want to understand the rules, and often they search for the rules beyond the rules—as in the case of art or ethics.”

Rubin talks about the relentless quality to Upholders. Yep, that's me. And about it's dark side: “the gold-star seeking, the hoop jumping, the sometimes mindless rule following.” 

Yep, me and those damn rules. I often resent how rule following I am, but reading that proclivity in this context helps me chill out.

I also like reading about other authors' "processes," what a writing life looks like for them. This book did not disappoint. Rubin and I are very similar in the habit department, so it was fascinating reading as she walked through her day and her habits. From the groundwork she laid, I better understand how and why I write at the times I do and why the daily habit (when I'm doing it) works so well for me.

This book reinforced the notion that the better we know ourselves, the better able we are to understand our actions, our motives, and our achievements and flaws.

This book will stick with me for a long time, and I will definitely add it to the list of titles I offer when I'm asked for recommendations.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rejection #7

After waiting for two weeks and a day, I finally learned via the Women's National Book Association web site, that my essay did not win the contest. Congratulations to the winners! I look forward to reading their work.

I am bummed that my bio is still lacking a publishing credit, but thrilled to now be free to submit it to the next place I have in mind.

The thing about celebrating the rejections is that it means I am writing! I can't control what gets published, but I can control what gets submitted, and the only way to submit is to write.

As a wise friend once told me, Writers write. He's absolutely right.

293 rejections to go.

Onward I write and submit!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Woman of the House - Vol. 6

One thing I have learned about myself is how easily overwhelmed I can get. As I observe this tendency, I have noted that it's usually mundane, everyday things that can set the overwhelm into motion. It's a stress response from way back that has become habit. I was raised on unhealthy doses of "things must be perfect" and "avoid mistakes at all costs," so my circuitry didn't get the practice it needed in error making and course correction.  Overwhelm has been a protective state because until recently it thrust me into temporary mental paralysis. Now that I have labeled this thing in my life, I honor that it is what it is. I haven't tried to shame myself out of it. I've simply found a way through it: I break the overwhelm down into smaller steps and proceed incrementally--without judgment or apology.

This insight was helpful when I planned the purchase of a new IKEA bed frame and  Casper (mail order) mattress.  This is the breakdown of the larger project:

1. Purchased disassembled bed frame.
2. Returned to IKEA to exchange bed frame for correct size. (Thanks Cadence for pointing out that I had purchased the full instead of the queen.)
3. Set a date with friends who would help me assemble the frame.
4. Returned to IKEA to purchase galvanized metal beam. (Two cashiers commented on my not buying the $10 item with the other pieces. I explained Operation Underwhelm. They were polite, and continued with their customer service tasks.)
5. Friends spent a Saturday morning assembling the bed sans wooden slats or actual mattress on the premises.
6. Ordered mattress online.
7. Made first trip to Home Depot for slats. (I chose this option based on friends' recommendation and to save some money.)
8. Mattress arrived ahead of schedule.
9. Casper instructions about space between slats required a second trip to Home Depot.
10. Carried up box containing mattress from porch to entry way to second floor bedroom--solo.
11. Unpacked mattress, watched it fill out.
12. Scratched my head and wondered aloud, "How am I going to get this mattress onto the platform on my own?
13. Texted friend to ask if she was available to help. (She lives 10 minutes away.)
14. Resolved to accomplish this task alone.
15. Did it with much shimmying, running around the mattress back and forth, and deep sighing.
16. Placed newly washed, brand new linens on my new bed.
17. Slept well and satisfied by another job well done.

When I review the steps it took for me to accomplish this project, it's tempting to chastise myself for all the little detours it took me to get this job done. But I also know that throughout the entire 17 steps the only times I felt overwhelmed were carrying the box that ways more than me up the stairs and maneuvering the mattress on the platform bed. And then I smile because I managed those things on my own after all.

The more I practice this strategy for reducing overwhelm, I am certain I will exercise new practices that will make the overwhelm diminish over time.
Assembly is beginning.



This circular piece had me endlessly fascinated. I love IKEA engineering.

Lots of steps to get to this finished project. Time for slats.


On the way up the stairs.

Progress, but first, the box slid down and I caught it before it reached the bottom.
Success!
Now for snipping the mattress out of its protective covering.
More unwrapping.
As soon as I cut into the plastic, I heard a whoosh of air.
There she is. How in the WORLD am I lifting it onto the bed?

Let the running back and forth begin!

Tada! Part One
Tada! Part Two
View from my new bed. Sweet dreams, indeed!
It is getting much easier for me to ask for help without feeling like I'm wimping out or not capable of taking care of myself. I am grateful to my friends Tracy and Juan who helped me assemble the bed. This purchase has been one I've been planning for for two years. I am grateful that I'm able to wait for the things I want and choose the right times for the next steps forward. I have been sleeping so well in my new bed. The space feels lighter, and I have a daily reminder of my ability to get done what needs to get done--on my terms.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Cure

I spend so much of my time in daily commutes listening to audiobooks that I miss whole swaths of new music, much to my daughter's disdain.

On one of the rare moments the radio was on, I heard a snippet of Lady Gaga's new (it's new, right?) The Cure. It piqued my attention because I really liked the quality of her voice on this track. I also liked that it was a little “poppier” than some of her creative works. When I first meet a new song, I tend to listen to it on repeat. For hours. Days. Sometimes weeks.

The more I listen to a song, the more I hear its layers: the bass line, the harmony, the bridge, the lyrics. The lyrics intrigued me. It was clearly a love song. One devotee singing to her beloved about fixing the other, which was a bit of a turn-off. I mean, in this brave new world I am navigating, I understand so much better how “fixing someone” is a problematic relationship goal. But I could get on board with her assertion that her love could make a difference, so I kept listening.

As I listened repeatedly, and admittedly overthought this song, a deeper meaning and change in perspective emerged: I can buy into the lyrics when I hear it as an anthem of self-empowerment and self-love.

I'll undress you, 'cause you're tired
Cover you as you desire
When you fall asleep inside my arms
May not have the fancy things
But I'll give you everything
You could ever want, it's in my arms


These words speak to the theme of physical self-care. In the past two years, I have put myself to sleep early in the evening, and have been surprised each time I wake up nine or ten hours later. Sleep is a healing tactic, and I have embraced it. I have had to examine my relationship with food and appetite. To confront why I tend to eat better and more frequently when my daughter is with me. I wouldn't dream of not feeding my daughter, why do I think it's okay to skip meals when I'm alone. When you (under)weigh what I weigh, this is a real issue. I have returned to a daily yoga practice, which is good for the heart pumping inside my chest, but also for mental clarity and my soul. As my practice grows, so does my physical strength. My self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem are boosted, too.

If I can't find the cure, I'll
I'll fix you with my love
No matter what you know, I'll
I'll fix you with my love


I have spent a lot of time with a trustworthy, reliable counselor. She has helped me name my wounds, how they occurred, and given me the tools to heal by feeling the hurt, grieving the losses, and not getting stuck in the past. What I am learning, is that I am the only one that can fix what's been broken, and self-love and self-trust are the tools with which I must employ to get the job done. I used to believe that other people had to admit their mistakes, to own up to things, for me to be able to heal. I know now that not only is that unlikely to happen, but I am in charge of my healing. I also know I am more than capable of doing it. All I can count on is me, and I have proved to be a dependable companion.

And if you say you're okay
I'm gonna heal you anyway
Promise I'll always be there
Promise I'll be the cure (be the cure)


This reminds me that sometimes I hide things from myself when “I say I'm okay,” but I'm actually not ready to face them. “Heal you anyway” means I'm going to keep working at peeling back the layers until I'm able to look the pain in the face. I will always be there—I will not betray myself again. I'll be the cure—I'm the one who can fix my broken places. Places that will end up being stronger than before. Places that will make me kinder and more compassionate toward others who are walking or have walked similar paths. After all this repetitive listening, it turns out I am my own cure. 
 
The Cure requires solo work. It's painstaking. It's long and sometimes seemingly endless. But oh my goodness, on the other side of this sad, grueling work is FREEDOM. Beautiful, sweet freedom. 
 
I'm so grateful I stumbled onto this song. It's now my anthem. The tune I'll dance to after a long day at work. The song I'll pump myself up with before another first date. The song that I'll bounce to in the moments before I take the stage for my TED Talk. (This is a dream. I'm dreaming BIG, and waiting for the topic and the opportunity to find me.)

What's your pump up song of choice?



Saturday, May 6, 2017

Why I Did it






At three my mom could put my hair into a fist-sized bun.

"You know, she has so much hair I really should charge you for an adult cut." This is what the hair stylist said to my mom when I got my hair cut. I was four.

I have always had a ton of hair. And luckily, it's always been thick and healthy. For the first twenty years, I was a long-hair person. Then in college, I went short. Since then, I've had it every length-- a bob, a swing, and long, straight locks. I have donated my hair twice.

Today, I took in this magazine ad for inspiration.


I knew my stylist would be nervous, but I was insistent: the hair salon is THE ONLY place in the world I can be impulsive. This wasn't even an impulsive move...I've been planning and preparing for it for months. I was ready for a change of scenery, and after all, it is only hair. It will grow back if I don't like it or don't want to maintain every-three-week hair appointments.

There are deeper reasons for this haircut. I subscribe to Rob Bell's "Everything is Spiritual" dictum. Even haircuts.

In the years when I was more self-conscious, less self-confident, I didn't believe I had much going for me in the looks department. I had big, blue eyes and long, thick hair. Those didn't seem the attributes the boys were into, but I made the best of mine.

I have grown into loving myself inside and out. This hairstyle is one way of asserting that what I look like does. not. matter. I have so much to offer the world that has nothing to do with what I look like. I wanted to test that belief in a physical, tangible way. I know that there will be people who think I shouldn't have cut my hair or don't like it. That is perfectly fine. It's my hair and my decision. This extreme cut asserts this truth for me. What matters is what I think of it, and I love it.

The haircut also feels like a continuation of the shedding of physical stuff I have been evaluating and letting go of. The lighter I travel through this life, the happier I am. Could a super short hair cut add to this mindset? Less shampoo and conditioner. Less time getting ready in the morning.

It's a reminder that nothing is permanent. I have no idea how long I'll wear it this way, but in the hour I've had it short, I get the sense it'll be awhile.

My heart was racing as my stylist put the clippers to the back of my head. It felt good to be scared and to do it anyway. Facing our fears with courage and adventure is good for us. What change do you want to make that scares you?

I say, Go For It.

That is A LOT OF HAIR.



Not quite done with the razor comb. Look, my silver streak still shows!

I promise it looks better in person. I absolutely Love. It.
PS: I am proud of listening to myself and doing what I wanted to do. More proof that the forties keep getting better and better.


 



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

To Kill a Mockingbird - Reflection

I have lost count how many times I have read or listened to To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It's more than a dozen times.

The book was required reading my sophomore year of high school. Our student teacher, Miss Collard, taught the book. I only remember her name now because it was the answer to a quiz question I missed.

I returned to the book as an annual ritual in early adulthood. And later got the audioversion read by Sissy Spacek as a Christmas present. So now that I'm thinking of it, I've probably read/listened to it closer to twenty times.

The thing about reading the same book so many times is that with each pass, the reader/listener is a different person and hears different things. For years, I read the book and aspired to be like Atticus. This was a goal long before I became a mother. And then I had a daughter, and I listened to his conversations with Scout and redoubled my efforts to be like him.

For years I read it only as a reader, but in recent years, I've begun approaching it like a writer studying her craft. Now when I listen, I am mesmerized by the mastery of the storytelling. (How did Lee nail it on the second rewrite?) I marvel at the pace, where Lee used dialogue vs. prose, the sense of place and plot. I am stunned by the consistency of Scout's voice--it's mixture of childlike perspective, explanation, and wisdom beyond her years. And how she slowly and expertly ages Jem from a young boy into an adolescent without missing a beat.

The timeless quality of the story has always struck me. Though it is set in depression-era Alabama, it's never felt outdated or old-fashioned. It reminds me of My Antonia by Willa Cather in that respect. It tackles ages-old difficulties and human drama. And now listening to it with the backdrop of a new presidential administration, the story has never felt more relevant with its theme of discrimination of race, sex, and class.

During this listen, I adored Atticus as usual, but it was Miss Maudie Atkinson that piqued my interest. My pivot away from Atticus this time has to do with the fact that I now have a child old enough to discuss big, important topics with, and I feel good about my ability to do so. Atticus's cool, calm, composed way of explaining things--hard things--has settled into my bones in the years that I was childless. Waiting dormant and ready to be put into action. With Atticus as my guide, I've found my own approach to discussing the hard bits of life with her and I am pleased with my competence in the area.

Miss Maudie Atkinson is a minor character in many ways, and yet, she plays a large role in the Finch children's small world. She is a voice of reason when life gets chaotic. She is a moral compass not only for the children, but for her neighbors and the entire town of Macomb. She calls it like she sees it, and isn't one bit wishy-washy. I want to be like Miss Maudie Atkinson, and heaven knows how much we need her type--male and female--in the world right now.

I am fascinated by what captures my attention each time I pick up this story. It truly is like comfort food for my head and heart. I will never grow weary of it, and I miss the characters every time I come to the end of the story. I can't wait to introduce my daughter to this novel.