Thursday, March 28, 2013

Aggrandized Oatmeal

On those Saturday mornings when my insistent desire to have something different from the daily granola clashes with my fatigue or laziness, I fall back on a little something I call Aggrandized Oatmeal.

Cook up rolled oats the usual way.  Nothing interesting happening yet.

Top with fruit (chopped apple or pear, sliced bananas, fresh berries in summer, dried fruits in winter) and toasted nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, whatever you have on hand).  Anoint with real maple syrup or honey.  Suddenly the ecru porridge is crunchy and sweet and very intriguing.  Grand, even.  And the whole lively bowl only takes about ten minutes. No recipe necessary.

Afterward I can go back to the couch or stare at the sky and forget the laundry for a while longer, feeling virtuous about breakfast at least.

Luxury and virtue.  A delightful combination for a weekend morning. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

All Process All The Time

Many of the times that I sit down at the keyboard and wonder what to write, what comes to mind isn't a product but the process of trying to write itself.  I don't burst with experiences that must be described, nor stories that need telling, nor fictional characters that I ache to bring to life, nor even a cause to champion. What I seem preoccupied with a good deal of the time is the process of trying to be a writer at all.  Or maybe it's the process of trying to be at all.

This has troubled me for some time now.  For years actually.  Many of them ago I wrote a poem in which I described myself as always budded, never bloomed.  That was sad and melodramatic, but relates to my current process entrapment.

As a writer, I still feel sometimes like an actor who rehearses but never performs, an athlete who practices but never plays, and, yes, the flower who forms a bud but never flourishes.

Maybe I need to get over myself.  Or maybe that's just the way I'm made.  Either way, I am incapable, and I do not use that word lightly, of just doing something without examining how I'm doing it.

When I was a girl I ate my sandwiches in a pattern, taking bites in rows or circling in from the crust edge.  When I eat my cereal now, I notice whether there is a raisin in each bite or two nuts in this bite when there may be none in the next one.  When I wash dishes, I lay them out in a certain order that I observed years ago allows me to fit them in the drainer best.  I never just toss clothes in a suitcase, not even on the way back when a wrinkle won't matter because they're bound for the laundry. My closet is organized by kind of garment and sub-organized by color, light to dark, with  shirts hung sleeveless to long sleeve as well.

OK.  Now I sound like an utter anal retentive, but I'm not entirely.  I do allow small pockets of chaos in my life.  One is under our deck.  Please don't go there if you ever find yourself a visitor, and there will be no pictures.

But that's not the point.  The point is that I wouldn't be controlling or arranging such things if I weren't paying grand attention to how I'm doing them.  I'm always interested in How and also How to Do It Better, no matter what the It is, even just living. Especially that. The motivations, the options, the challenges that arise in the attempt--those are some of my fascinations. I envision how I'm doing a task just as thoroughly as I envision the task results. I'm as aware of the process as I am the product, sometimes more so.  When there's trouble in the workings, how do I not notice?  Right, I can't!

It strikes me now that if I'm so fascinated with how I'm doing writing, I would be more interested in learning how to do it better, when I've said here that I'm choosing to be untrained for now.  I allow myself that contradiction and won't sort that one out today.  Instead I share the news arising from all this:  I decided the other night to just accept that I'm a process person.

I'm not the only one, either.  Many writers that I've encountered are as well.  They help the rest of us by sharing what they experience in their "during," which helps ours.  And apparently we need that help.  Many creative types tell of trouble in the process that must be dealt with to ever get to the product. So maybe process is a worthwhile topic after all.

I think I'll quit feeling sheepish now about being a process princess.  Joy in the process may be all I ever get or the best I get.  I can't control readers or publishers or consumers (well, maybe I can--I just don't want to be a manipulator), but I can enjoy the doing that is mine to do.

I'm still working on that.  Over and over again, evening after evening, trying to choose creating over Facebooking so I'll respect myself in the morning.  If I had it down, I'd be here every day spouting joyous prose with a purpose, sharing poetry with abandon. Until then, if process thoughts are what I have, then so be it.

Wait. If the examined life is the one worth living, then maybe I'm flourishing after all.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The View from Bliss

What's the point
of anything
but love?

Everything else

Everything we can touch

That which we can't grasp
abides forever.

Participating in
the mystery,
being love as
much as possible,

seems the only point,
the only arrow home.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Picture from a blog called Wind Blowing

I drive by some
until they exist
no more.

Who knows if I'll
have another season?

I pull over,
leave the door
hanging open,
gather those odd
chartreusy orbs

like the wildflowers
when I was in love,
running in the
ditch laughing,
arms full,
pollen on my nose.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Idea of Fast Food #4

Today was one harried day, booked solid and punctuated by a sputtering car that couldn't be driven home and gifted wagyu ground beef that I had foolishly allowed to become of questionable safety.  My precious dinner, that restorative of my soul planned with loving care, was threatened.

Then I remembered a good trick for times like these:  the Italian egg sandwich.

I found it on some strand of the world wide web attributed to Giada De Laurentiis. She's way too beautiful to be credible.  Her super easy open-face sandwich is far more approachable.  Especially speedy and useful with leftovers around the house. A slice of crusty bread, a bit of tomato sauce, a near-rind of Parmigiano, a clove of garlic.  Odds and ends really, that become the stars of the plate when introduced to an olive oil-fried egg.

With some dressed greens on the side, a balanced and satisfying meal is on the table in 15 minutes or less.  Now that's real fast food. Or real food, fast. Good red wine and snappy chocolate only made it better.

The car will have to be towed and possibly expensively fixed.  I have to be out of town all day tomorrow if the impending ice storm doesn't imprison us.  Saturday is claimed.  All of no consequence when a good dinner was on the table, and I had my love with whom to share it.  Sitting down to a good meal in a snug, warm house, I was happy anyway.  And quickly.

Italian Egg Sandwich
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 1

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large egg
Salt and pepper
1 slice rustic white bread, 1/2 inch thick
1 garlic clove, cut
1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano
1/4 cup tomato or marinara sauce

Heat the oil in a small heavy skillet over medium heat.  Crack the egg into the skillet. Cover and cook until the white is firm and the yolk is almost set, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile. toast the bread until golden brown. Rub the cut clove of garlic over the toast.  Sprinkle with most of the Parmigiano. Spoon the tomato sauce over the Parmigiano. Top with the egg.  Sprinkle remaining Parmigiano over the egg. Plate and serve.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tools Chosen and Found

Well, the first month of the new year is well over, and it's time to assess my resolutionary progress, because monitoring helps, according to Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, the authors of a book called Willpower that jumped into my hands at Half Price Books over Christmas break.  In some studies, folks who regularly checked on their behavior or received regular feedback about it made more significant changes than those who didn't.  So here goes.

I planned to:
  • Intervene with action whenever I felt my mood slipping
  • Take a 5 minute calming break in the middle of my work day and at the end if necessary
  • Send a hand written note to one person a week
  • Awake half an hour earlier to allow for more morning self-care
  • Add deep cleaning duties to the weekly schedule
  • Plan two quarterly dates with my husband
How have I done so far?

Being more active, particularly on Saturdays, which had been my most difficult day, has helped my mood control.  I am apparently not meant to sit around too much these days.  Been there; done that; had enough of it.  I slipped a bit last Saturday with a little too much leisure in the morning, but righted myself soon enough.

I have managed my 5-minute calming break at work exactly twice.  Or was it once? Not winning at this one, but then I haven't needed it much.  The whole point is to maintain functionality.  If I have that, I may not need the break.  However, if I do need it, I know, having tried it, that it works and is available to me.  

I have prepared and mailed two notes thus far.  My mother really enjoyed hers. This past Sunday was a weird snowbound day that threw me off, so I forgive myself for that.  Actually, I forgive myself period. I was two for four for January, two more notes than I've written in past years.  I'll just get back to it.

We're still rising half an hour earlier than before and still don't seem to be suffering from it.  I have time to write, stretch, and sit, except for the occasional extra-work-duty morning, which hasn't ruffled me much.  When there's a daily habit, there's always another day to get round to it.  No harm, no foul, no reason to worry. Working so far and very welcome.

I have done a little extra deep cleaning in my zones of responsibility each week and haven't found it burdensome.  This kind of piggy backing is a relatively easy way to add accomplishment without piling more weight onto a full life.  I get the gleam of a truly clean range or sink without dreary hours of effort. Success so far.

As for the dates, I am preparing to book the first of mine.  With next weekend being my birthday, I'm extra determined that we are going somewhere special, of my secret choosing.  Unless the weather trumps my intention, this one is in the old hip pocket. (Promise, honey!)

There are two little changes that I didn't even list, but that have been surprisingly effective so far.  In my efforts to keep my calm at work, I felt led to carry a small stone in my pocket as a tangible reminder of my intention.  It's an amethyst, which is my birthstone, given to me by a friend.  It's smooth and soothing, reminding me of times equally so.  The phrase that continues to pop into my head when I take it into my hand in the morning before I put it in my pocket is: "I remember who I am."  

I didn't plan that mantra.  It just came to me, as they usually do. Without consciously deciding that it should be so, the stone represents the power I now know I have to sit peacefully and let all fuss and worry fall away and become like voices overheard.  It reminds me that I am capable of peace.  I begin to know how to claim it and how to let go of what blocks it. A daily reminder of all that has been powerful.

The other change was locational.  Instead of reading in bed before lights out, we now sit in our living area. It may be a coincidence, but I have slept better since we made that small change, I suspect because I'm physically more comfortable. Reading while propped up in bed was creating tension that cozying on the couch doesn't, which was probably not conducive to relaxed sleep. It's too early to tell yet, but I'm hoping for causality.  I need all the relaxo help I can get.

Over all, not bad.  It's only the first month, but still.  Positive reinforcement works. If I'm a very good girl, maybe I'll give myself a massage. Reward is another effective tactic, according to the Willpower authors.  I'm open to using it and every other positive tool I find, both chosen and found.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The One I've Waited For

I've got an idea.  How about something completely normal after all my carrying on about emotional challenges and life management?  How about a carrot salad?

For years, in a latent kind of way, I've wished for a good one.  Carrots themselves are cheap, abundant, and nutritious, all good reasons to eat more of them.  They are also sturdy enough to stand up to lounging in dressing with structural integrity intact, which is important since we love leftovers and find them quite handy.

Unfortunately, the ones I'd tried were not thrilling.  Some were snappy enough for me but too vinegary for Dave.  Some were flavored unacceptably. Some required that the carrots be cooked first, which was tedious.  Some were composed of shapes that were too large to eat comfortably or stayed too crunchy when raw. I'm sure someone somewhere thought they were good, and we ate them, but not with repeated enthusiasm. Decently edible is not the same as so-good-that-I-could-eat-it-for-days-in-a-row-and-not-tire-of-it, which I didn't think I was requiring until I found it.

I chanced upon my new favorite by happenstance one guys' gaming night when Dave ordered pizza, and I felt the need for a vegetable, preferably of the acidically dressed, crisp variety to balance the fluff and goo of the pizza. I took another go at carrot salad to find the balance I was seeking.

Well, balance in the dressing is one of the things I love about this salad.  No vinegary pucker here, just a mellow zip that doesn't wear out its welcome or leave my lips tingling.  The mustard and honey in the dressing round out the oil and vinegar into a moderate kick that keeps pleasing for days. The original recipe may say to eat the salad soon after its made, but I have eaten it five or so days later (I lost count) and suffered not from quality decline.  Amazing and welcome, perfect for the workday lunch box.

I suppose this was destined to be the carrot salad of my dreams: It's modeled on a French classic, carrottes rappees, and shared by Dorie Greenspan who lives over there. (Those French are so suave and so my weakness.) Her version brings back memories of the first vinaigrette salads I ever ate and loved during my first visits to the continent. They were as strikingly simple as a couture dress and a revelation to me then, after a childhood at table with iceberg lettuce and gloppy ranch or my dad's preferred "French" dressing.

Ms. Greenspan listed some ingredients as optional, namely chopped nuts, chopped parsley, and raisins.  With the crucial dressing being perhaps, I will risk saying, perfect, they could indeed be happily omitted.  But I've used them all, and all are wonderful. The parsley livens up the color as well as the flavor. The nuts add crunch, protein (carrots are nutritious but starchy), and flavor kapow if toasted, which is never a bad option, surely.  The raisins contribute sweetness and a chewy texture, although I do leave them out now that I know keeping it around for days is possible, as they are the one ingredient that looks a little sad after marinating.

We ordered pizza Saturday night.  If I hadn't been consumed by another cleaning attack on my range (It's still January!), I would have made this salad again--and I had just eaten the last serving of the previous batch two days before!

Being lazy---I mean the soul of efficiency--I streamlined the original recipe to suit me.  If you need more detail, follow the link to the source.  Either way, happy eating!

Grated Carrot Salad
adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Serves 4 or more

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup canola, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
1 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed, and grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped, optional
Parsley, chopped, optional
Raisins or currants, optional

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, honey, vinegar, and oil.  Add the grated carrots and the nuts, parsley, and raisins, if using.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator, covered. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tinkering With Time

My physical space hasn't been the only object of tinkering lately.  We (the sweet husband was very on board this year) also examined our schedule.

For years, I've known exactly what components I would love to have in my ideal weekday morning: tea time with my beloved, journaling, yoga, meditation, and a walk, in addition to the usual tasks--not treats--of showering, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and packing lunch.

I know.  I don't ask for much do I?

Well, all right I do.  But I have learned that we bring on our predicted doom by limiting ourselves.  Who knows what is possible if we leave room for it to happen and never give up trying?  Or tinkering, as the case may be.

I have tried various permutations over several years without ever managing to fit it all in except for when I was under-employed, which is not my recommended route to a luxurious morning.  Though I have never had it all while fully employed, I have still never given up hope that it could happen, nor been able to stop wanting a long, soothing wind-up as the rule. (I know that there will always be exceptions.  And holidays.  God bless the holidays!)  This new year's beginning was the time to try again, examine the blocks one more time for a possible new arrangement that would create the necessary room for a dreamy morning.

Luckily this year David was every bit as into time management as I was.  He suggested that we get up half an hour earlier to make more time for good things.  I was surprised that the idea came from him, for he does love his sleep and was the one who convinced me to get adequate amounts of it myself years ago.  He persuaded me then that morning rituals are wonderful, but much more so when one is actually rested, and he has guarded our sleep time ever since.

Given its rarity, I eagerly agreed to his suggestion, and we began a trial last week. So far, I'm relieved that we have not missed that half hour of sleep. I am also comforted by the memory of an article I recently read about a study on sleep and longevity that showed an association between moderate sleep (7-7 1/2 hours a night) and long life. The science may say that we're doing a good thing for our bodies, as well as our schedules. 

All desired parts still don't fit in, but I'm awfully close.  Were it not for the cold season and Reynaud's phenomenon, I could fit in the walk elsewhere and have a perfect score across the day, if not the morning.  Hopefully warmer weather will allow a walk before or after dinner later, which will complete the package.  Until then I have majority satisfaction. I am blessed indeed.

With that adjustment in play, we also agreed on some additions to our schedule that are part of crafting a finer life.  One is what I call the Sunday Summit.  After our Sabbath rest (Mmmm), we will come together on Sunday evenings for review of progress toward our intentions and goals and brainstorming for future effort.  It's an appointment to re-visit those things we said we'd do, evaluate changes made for success or failure, and draft further ideas and plans.  It's accountability, a way to keep on track, for any list not looked at regularly doesn't get checked off. And I do love to check off lists!

We're adding to our couple time as well.  We love each other dearly and enjoy our daily life together, but I have lately noticed the lack of novelty in this hobbity life. To bring back the freshness, we will have quarterly dates.  He is responsible for spring and fall, and I have winter and summer.  We also get the element of surprise back because the responsible party must plan it solo, with nary a word to the mate. This is something we used to do, but got away from, partly for financial reasons. Let me tell you, it's really quite lovely to be loaded into the car, with no idea where your dear one is taking you but with a certainty that it will be delightful. Now, we'll have that back.

The only additional rule for the dates is that, although the responsible spouse may plan whatever he or she wishes for the purpose of sharing, it is not acceptable to bore the other silly.  Account must be taken of the mate's preference limitations. He may not plan all day comic-cons unless there is a suitable diversion for me, and I would never dream of mapping out a shopping marathon for him. Barring such inconsideration, a little divergence from the normal choices will be considered exploratory.  We might even learn something more about each other after all these years.  At the very least, we'll make more lovely memories.

One other tiny task I've added to my own weekly schedule is the writing and sending of one note of thanks or cheer or validation to someone.  Already I have prepared one and have two more recipients in mind.  I'll do these on Sunday afternoons when I'm rested and full of love after my hours of reading and pretty pictures that leave me feeling like an indulged child--the very same reason it's a good day on which to have the Summits.

Therein lies the reason for all the schedule monkeying:  self-care leads to giving, for charged batteries are obviously energetic.  One day this week, one of those exceptions I mentioned and am willing to accept, I headed out to work super early, with no meditation, stretching, or journaling. I felt bleary the rest of the morning, not at all fueled and ready to tackle the day's demands.  Self nurturing in the a.m. is important like that.

This tinkering time of life is another season.  For almost twenty years, I didn't have quite the luxury of choosing that I have now.  I had a child to raise, and that duty created different priorities, namely him.  That work is done, and I may care for myself more now.  It's one of the gifts of mid-life, along with the wisdom to know that I need to do so.

I don't know that all my intentions will manifest exactly as planned--I haven't succeeded in having my proposed mid-day calming meditation regularly, nor can I seem to get to work early enough to have the quiet planning time I also decided to try--but I'm glad to feel up to trying again at all to steer my life rather than ride it. If these plans fall through we'll just make new ones and try some more.  That I can never seem to quit.

Monday, January 21, 2013

This Brief Season

For the last week or so I've enjoyed sitting at my desk even more than I usually do because it's so clean. That's January for me.

It isn't a proper New Year's beginning unless I do at least one reorganizing or cleaning out project. This year the last two days before returning to work found me belatedly fired up to fine tune my desk top. (The real one, that is, not the virtual one.) I didn't change it much at all.  I removed one storage container that I had pressed into service but didn't really want there anymore, a slant-front vegetable basket that instead held odds and ends:  address book, rulers, calculators, book marks, random business cards that I thought I might need. 

With time to build up some energies, I truly noticed that I had a basket I didn't like holding things I didn't need out daily, while I also had two storage boxes that I did like holding next to nothing.  That situation has now been righted.  The lovely boxes are now fulfilling their potential, and there's less clutter before me every day.

I still have something creatively pressed into service (a vintage toast rack that's now serving as a vertical file for sticky notes, note pad, address book, business cards, and book marks), but I like this make-do much better for now.

I also cleaned a few items off my ribbon board and moved everything else for a thorough dusting, the kind that I confess I just don't have gumption to do regularly. Now it feels not only pleasantly tweaked but very clean.

Not for long of course.  Dust is indomitable.  Which is one of the reasons it's so easy to talk myself out of too much removal effort, meaning any more than is necessary to avoid shame when visited.

But this is the annual Brave New Year.  There's a solution for dust, too. We drafted a new cleaning plan!  No more skimming by with the basics.  We intend to have that truly clean feeling more of the time by dividing the house into zones of responsibility and deep cleaning a room every week or so. (Hey, life happens. We're not going to get crazily unrealistic.)

I also reorganized and improved the pantry. Now most of my flours are in proper storage containers.  No more crumple-topped paper bags shoved into plastic bags to avoid the regional humidity. Rice, lentils, and nuts are in their own jars now, too, and all items are grouped better by kind. It's a recovering control freak's dream.

Then we hung things on our walls.  There is fullness now where there was emptiness, intentionality where there was procrastination.  We took a look at what we had on hand with new eyes and found things that would work.  An old hat, a gift, a wrap, a collection--they all became wall jewelry.

The attack came late, but I was on fire.  And loving it.  This brief season when anything seems possible again is delightful.  I fully expect that the endless grind will bring my management enthusiasm to an end for a while, so I savor the time when the urge to organize and beautify flares into action.  Some seasons I'm doing good to keep up with life's demands and rest a little.  Other seasons are beautifully empty enough to rebound me into action.  I honor them all, for they all come in their time. 

These are the good waves to ride, ones that roll toward beauty and satisfaction.  I await the next lift, ready with my list of future projects.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Very Definition

Just when I think I have a clue or a solution, I find that maybe I don't.

A few days ago I was thrilled to relate my process of exploring and eliminating my negative feelings.  It seemed that with consistent action of that kind I could be free, maybe in control of my own emotional life, steady, serene.  Maybe that's not how I'm made.  Sometimes I do everything I know to do to make myself feel better and nothing works.

The investigative process I described did help that day. A few days later, near bedtime on Return to Work Eve, I had no such relief, and I began to wonder if there was ever going to be any mastery for me.  I sat, I listened, I got truthful with myself, I could see the logic of ceasing to feel bad.  No matter.  I suffered the usual storm anyway.  This has been part of the story of my life.

Ironically, tonight, back into the fray though I am and without trying, I'm happy.

That fits the pattern for me, too.  I will always be most tortured by something that hasn't happened yet.  Once the dreaded event arrives, I pull it off, face it bravely, or flat out triumph. 

It's like that with flying, too, which also makes me terribly anxious.  I'm most cool about it during take off and landing, when something is happening.  Never mind that the something is the ground falling away or rushing up to meet me and that those two parts of any flight are the most dangerous.  Hanging statistically safe in the air is when I'm battling my mind and jumping at every bump, checking to see if the flight attendants are showing panic yet because if they aren't then it's all OK, RIGHT?!!

I don't make sense.  Or rather, anxiety doesn't make sense.  Not a bit.  Whatever anxious fear I feel is almost always over blown, groundless, or just plain stupid. Unfortunately, knowing that may or may not change the feeling.

All of the above has usually made me judge myself as unstable, an emotional wreck, and weak, when I want to feel steady, strong, and capable.

This latest round of dramatic down and up gave me a new thought about those judgments of mine.  In amazed conversation with my sweet (read long suffering) husband the morning after the storm crested, I decided that I do have a strength, even if it isn't the kind I'm coveting.  My strength is that I keep coming back.  I keep trying no matter how scared I am, which is a lot. A ridiculous lot.

I've been feeling lowly for falling down--freaking out again, laying awake again worrying stupidly, unable to stop again, even though I know that there's no use, indeed I'm only torturing myself--when I could feel pretty buff about going on anyway, bouncing back, being resilient.

Another amazing truth that struck me during that conversation is that I've been scared part witless by almost every major thing I've ever done.  And I've done them anyway.  I am freakin' brave, the very definition.  Feeling fear and acting anyway? I'm a champ by now.

And that circling thing I mentioned?  I really should no longer feel shame about that either.  I've been focusing on the failures without giving myself credit for starting over and over again despite failure if I believe that I should.  I know many people who don't try at all, who won't face their fears, even though their denial is shunting their fear into harmful manifestations.

I would still rather be one of those unruffled, serene people who provide a radiating calm to the world, but the data say that I have never been so.  And resisting what is can cause a lot of misery, too.  What would happen if I embraced my roller-coaster self?  What would the ride be like with my hands in the air, wringing though they may be?

I also felt better today when a woman I know and enjoy confessed that she has one minute crying jags in response to the vicissitudes of life, after which everything is better. Emotionality is not abnormal, and I am not alone.

Really, none of us are.  I may have felt like a shameful freak for being so over wrought, but I believe that most of us get that way at least a little of the time.  We just don't want others to know.  At times lately, I think that the world is one long stage performance, with most people posturing to be who they think they should be instead of being who they really are.  We're all wounded and scared and lonely and many other hurtful things, and nobody's talking about it.

Ok, I'll back down. I'm not suggesting that we should turn life into an unending therapy session.  There's a lot to be said for cleaning up and soldiering on.  I've learned that feelings are only gossamer strong:  they die of neglect very easily.  No need to let them win the war.

Yet sometimes they win the battles, and I don't know what to think about that.  I just do my best to manage what I've got, which is often much froth and bother to endure and sometimes deep joy and gratitude and insight to cherish.  I may feel like a weak freak, but there have been plenty of people who thought I was worth the trouble and told me so.  I must not be any worse than anyone else.

Now I need to continue working to believe that and keep my eye on one other thing: if I can't give anything else to this world,  I'd like to help a few other precious souls know that they're not alone on the waves either.  Maybe that's a better clue than the cure I think I want.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Job One

The first stop for this girl's resolution wagon yesterday was a full fifteen minutes of meditation with self-inquiry afterward.  I'm used to the sitting.  The questioning ramped it all up considerably.

It's funny that I can be aware of my negative thoughts, even be trying to soothe them, remove them, or counter them, but none of it succeeds until I hear them out and directly investigate them.  They will not be mollified or brushed off. 

If you're not familiar with what I'm even talking about, I highly recommend a small, slim book by Martha Beck called The Joy Diet.  Tellingly, I didn't buy it for myself years ago.  A friend snatched it from my indecisive hands and gifted me with it.  I am grateful all over again.  Martha is now on my list of the people I want at my dinner table in heaven or however that goes.  After Jesus and Ghandi, of course.

The first prescription in Ms. Beck's book is fifteen minutes of doing nothing.  Call it meditation, stillness, whatever.  The point is to get quiet enough to be aware of and observe your thoughts, otherwise known as What's Really Going On In There. Once you've mastered that (I have, and I love it), she prescribes a little dialogue with yourself to discover what you actually feel and what hurts, if anything.  Then you have a little conversation with yourself during which you discover, pretty much every single time I'm thinking, that you don't have to hurt any more.  If you're hurting that day. Hey, some days are clean and good.

My painful story, which I knew, was how horribly busy I'm going to be when I go back to work, what with the beginning semester chaos and two extra events before the middle of the month.  My inner toddler had a dire, wailing sermon about all that.  I let her preach it, lay out all the horrible suffering she saw coming.  I had known it was there, but in that moment I was fully with it, hearing the depth of her/my fear and frenzy.

The next oh so sneaky step is to ask yourself if you can be sure that your painful story is true.  This is almost a trick question, because what can we be absolutely sure of in this world really?  Especially about the future, hmm?  My answer was a grudging no.  Yes, it could be exhausting and crazy, but it could also be easier than I expect.  There's no way I can truly know.  It's all just forecasting.  I've been wrong before.  Actually, lots of times before.

Next, you are asked to decide if your painful story is helping you.  Umm, guess what the answer there is.  Mine sure wasn't.  Hovering dread, mild depression, general crankiness.  Nope, not helping.

And then it's time to see if you can come up with a better story, one that is more positive, more helpful, and probably more accurate.  My alternative take on returning to the fray boiled down to "It'll be bumpy, but I'll handle it."  Much more optimistic and serviceable, and I felt better.

That little Q & A with your recalcitrant thoughts is what Ms. Beck calls your Moment of Truth for the day.  It's amazing what it can do for you.  It delivered me from lingering negativity into peace and clarity--the usual case when fears or uncomfortable truths are confronted directly.  I learn this over and over again.

But that's fine.  I accept that part of being human is falling down and getting back up again.  Ca suffit. That's all there is in fact. That's one definition of discipline.

This particular discipline is one I intend to commit to--no, to which I am committed--this year because, in the clarity after being truthful with myself, I remembered something else I've learned before and now circle back to: the number one thing I have to be is OK.  Other goals or desires may be wonderful, but they are doubtful if I'm riddled with anxiety, and they can't be properly enjoyed anyway. At least for this month, as I re-commit and observe, I can let go of other pressures and focus on what I can see today matters most, spiritual health.

Two other surprises have arrived out of this writing.  One is the memory that I have previously had an equally revealing moment of clarity and relief using Ms. Beck's technique.  I recall it fondly now, and the lesson of that time is still serving me, was in fact a part of me that I discovered.  I really am a circling learner. The problem was--and here we are back at my word for the year--I didn't keep up the practice.  Fuel for the action resolution fire there.

The other ah ha! is that I'm writing this at all, after surrendering all other ambitions to regaining my equilibrium, thus proving the accuracy of choosing an internal spiritual focus as job one. 

Maybe this will be the year that I remember in the noise what I've learned in the quiet.  If not,  I'll hop onto the next wagon bound for glory when it rolls by.  There are plenty of them, as many as there are days and moments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I Choose to Begin--Again

I'm beginning to think that one of the secrets to life is choosing to begin over and over again.  Once isn't enough.  Every day might be required.  At least until an iron clad habit is formed.  So here goes.  Again.

I've decided my word for the year for 2013. It chose me early this time.  Action.

Even though my life is fabulous right now, I still struggle to feel OK, to be free of anxiety and depression.  When I can think of no good reason to feel bad, it seems ridiculous to go on doing so.  Trying to decide or think my way out of negative feeling states isn't working.  The time has come for action.

These are my plans for the new year:

When I feel myself sliding into a funk, ACT.  Interrupt the slump with changed behavior, which I hope will change the feeling (as it usually does).  I can go sit in meditation and just drop it.  Or I can bake or make something, both of which leave me feeling better when they're done.

I will also insert some calming practices into my demanding work day that will hopefully help me defuse the spin and distraction that creep in along with the multiplicity.

These aren't geologic scale changes.  I don't intend to live in bliss 24/7 or make myself perfect.  I just want to act instead of reacting, do something instead of thinking, in small, hopefully sustainable ways that might bring more change than I expect.  And all I expect is calm.  That's all I want folks.  It isn't too much to ask, surely.  I just want to be OK.

The renewal and hope of another year is so seductive.  Every New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, I feel a cozy sense of optimism and daring.  By February or March, like everyone else, I'm coughing in the dust cloud left by the wagon.

I want this year to be different.  The only way I know to make it so is to take ACTION.  Write down the  schedule changes, goals, steps, and commitments.  Track them like a science nerd.  Wishing won't work.  Thinking won't work.  Dreaming alone won't work.  Doing will.

Doing has never been my biggest, best thing though.  I can think, talk, and analyze a subject or problem to death, but jumping directly from knowing to doing has never come easy to me.  Occasionally I make leaps, when I reach my "That's it!" point, and I'm grateful for them.  But I'm tired of puttzing and dawdling until critical mass is achieved by some kind of miracle.  I want to make things happen, hold the reins of life and steer.

Of course, life, like a horse, has an agenda of its own sometimes, a homing instinct to which I must surrender.  The breath in its flanks flaunts its presence and power. I in no way think that I will bend life to my paltry wishes and emerge perfected. But I could at least do, do, and do some more, since I feel better (as in like a capable functioning adult) when I DO something that cuts through the hissing fog. Why not try?  Again and again and again.  Or at least get something done regardless of how I feel.

Now, it has been Christmas break.  I've had lots of sleep and fewer demands.  It's easy now to think many things might be possible and to see what those things might be. When work life resumes, it will be harder.  I know it, or at least that's the story I tell myself.  Fatigue and stress will narrow my view and blunt my desires.  They will affect my good sense and my resolve. That's why I need charts, tables, contracts, lists, calendar entries--the power of the written word to remind.  Get it? Re-mind.  Yes.

I'm putting this down incoherently and against much resistance (My fingers are more woefully lost on the keyboard than usual tonight!) to begin--AGAIN--just where I am, hopeful and determined, wary and awkward, lost and found.  Every word falls stupid and true and muddled and real.  I'll need determination to spell and dispel.  I'll need a concrete commitment to practicing calm until I claim it, and even to dusting, for pity's sake!  I'll need the discipline of a sculptor's hammer.  

I'll also need self-compassion if--no, when--I falter.  That's OK, too.  Beyond OK. Expected.  And easy enough canceled out with a new day, a nap, a deep breath.

May my actions create good habits with a gentle, supporting grip in this new year. May I spend more time in peace rather than in pieces. 

Bonne Annee!