Showing posts from February, 2018

Watching the trains go by

This is my new favorite livestream to watch on YouTube.

It's calming, peaceful, enlightening to watch the traffic and the trains go by.

There are also lots of people on bicycles. This reminds me of how I wish now that I had bought a house in town with the specific feature of being within walking distance to the library (and also a restaurant or two would be nice but primarily the library) instead of being out of town a bit where there is no ability to walk anywhere and I would be in fear of my life if I drove a bicycle out of my neighborhood and up on the main highway.

P.S. YouTube livestreams can only run so long and then they have to be restarted as a new video so the channel is here if you see this far off in the future and the embedded video is no longer live.

I hold the bags

I have appointed myself a very specific role whenever my family shops at the outlet mall. I bring my book or Paperwhite, find a comfortable bench and am the designated bag holder.

This keeps me from making stupid purchases. If I don't see it, I don't need it and I know in my head that I have everything I could possibly need. It's my eyes that get in the way of this knowledge. I walk into a store and see something on clearance and my eyes and mind have sort of a meeting in which my eyes convince my mind that this is a really great deal and who doesn't need another shirt, bag, pair of pants, pair of socks, etc.? Then there is the real kicker that my mind delivers, "It's on the clearance rack! BARGAIN!"

It's this way of thinking last summer that had me buy a shirt on a trip to the mall with my daughters only to get home and discover the exact same shirt hanging in the closet. What can I say - I must really like that shirt.

Along with my "don't enter the store if I absolutely don't need to" tactic, I am also extremely skeptical about the items I do end up putting on the shopping list. For example, my Suzanne Somers poetry book was falling apart and we can't have that. I had to fix that posthaste!

On my weekly Walmart grocery trip of suffering, glue was on the list but when I got to the glue I considered how stupid it would be to buy a five dollar bottle for what amounted to one little strip of glue with zero future plans for said glue. I decided I would ask around - surely someone had already made such a purchase and I could borrow their glue. As luck would have it, my father-in-law had glue that worked perfectly. I saved five dollars and Suzanne Somers poems are now preserved for generations to come!

I think I am really making progress when it comes to dumb purchases and don't you dare call my recent purchase of Suzanne Somers poetry dumb! :-)

As a matter of fact, today was the day I cleaned out a tote in my closet that had been the cooling period tote of gadgets and what-nots. I believe I talked about this on the podcast a bit back. This is a tote I filled before Christmas of things I know I never use and probably should never have bought in the first place. Aside from a few items I actually pulled out and used, the rest of the items are boxed for the thrift store and another tote of stuff is out of this house along with two more bags of trash.

I am finally getting down to just what I use and the things that spark joy. I no longer look around and see and feel the guilt of items being wasted and the money I wasted buying those items. 

There is so much to do

I had to force myself to sit down at the kitchen table just now. It is quiet at work for a moment and  I have my cup of coffee that is still hot and a few emails to look at plus a book I am about halfway through.

However, I am having a hard time concentrating on doing any of this because my mind keeps being invaded by all of the tasks on my to do list and with the tasks that aren't on there but surround me like floors that desperately need to be swept and mopped. I think of these and convince myself it is now or never. If I don't mop right this second while there is time to mop, other things will happen and the floor will stay dirty. Oh, the humanity!

My problem is my desire to "get it all done" and I try to convince myself that "my time" will come after all of the tasks are checked off and the chairs are put back at the table once the floor is dry. My time to create, concentrate, meditate, read, learn or do nothing is the carrot I dangle out in front of myself so I run the race faster and faster.

I will read for me once the mopping is done. I will relax when the last task in my Todoist is checked off.  Then and only then will I be rewarded and reward is only possible with the peace of mind that everything is done.

Of course, I know once everything is done that I will be too tired to read.

Too tired to create.

Too tired to truly relax.

This is the value of leaving the house and paying too much money for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It's the escape from the to-do's that need to be done here. They will be waiting for me when I get home but that is fine. The escape is needed because even with Friday's to-do's checked off, Saturday's list is looming around the corner.

There is so much to do and we're never truly done with it all.

If I'm ever going to raise the bar for myself and take that leap to the next level of creating or being a creator (Whatever that next level is, I know it's out there but I can't completely grasp what I'm aiming for), I must be able to set aside the mopping for another day or at least have the confidence that it will happen later today or the acceptance that it may not happen at all. The floor will still be here waiting to be cleaned tomorrow and the floor starts to get dirty again almost as soon as it is clean anyway.

This morning I realized the need to sit, the need to write this, the need to drink this cup of coffee while it is still hot. This morning I realized what is really important.

We must be the positivity that we seek

After a Twitter conversation this weekend with Heavy D and similar conversations with others over the past weeks and months and years (I've been complaining about this for a while, apparently), I had a tiny breakthrough about my ongoing angsty relationship with social media.

I have a like/hate relationship with social media. I'm typically an early adopter so I've tried all sorts of social media networks multiple times looking for the "right" network (for example, my active but pretty much abandoned Ello account) with the "right" network being a utopia, a fantasy world, a future Disney production that has zero negativity, zero complaining, and zero TMI.

This network does not nor will it ever exist. If it did, hardly anyone would sign up. People love their negativity, complaining and TMI and so do advertisers.

The simple realization I had (and this has been a long time coming) is we must be the positivity that we seek. We must be like the salmon of social media, swimming upstream, sharing positive thoughts and funny stuff and trying to share those things that someone else might not have seen, something that represents your own specific interests that might be specific enough to allow you to find others with similar specific interests.

We can turn social media into a place of encouragement and learning and good vibes at least on our own personal profiles, right? Maybe our examples will cause a revolution!! Or, maybe not but at least we won't be putting the same old crap out there. We won't be adding more fuel to the garbage fire that has engulfed so much of the internet and so much of our culture.

My problem with social media has been two-fold.

First, I have quit things many times. As soon as something (a blog, podcast, social network) gets splattered even a little bit with negativity, I run for the hills. I delete that profile, website, etc. like that will fix anything. I am all for deleting things that no longer have a positive impact on my life but I have been quite hasty in my decisions to quit things many times in the past and this is not a good thing.

Second, my latest strategy was to not quit things but to just fall silent, not participate, ignore. I realize now that this is no better than quitting. Nothing at all positive can come from having no voice at all. (One thought here - this is different from limiting time on social media which I think is necessary for productivity and good mental health.)

I've just got to be me and if that means sharing silly thoughts when the rest of the world can't stop talking about the Russians and all of the other bad news out there, so be it!

Write everything down. Keep a journal.

In Nora Ephron's "I Feel Bad About My Neck," there is an essay titled "What I Wish I'd Known" and it consists of a list of all sorts of true (in my opinion) things such as "Buy, don't rent" and "You can't be friends with people who call after 11 p.m."

Also found in this list is "Write everything down. Keep a journal."

I know that this blog is a journal of sorts but it's not really a journal describing day to day life. I have kept many journals with detail of what I did each day, starting back in 1987 but I decided about the time I started seriously blogging in 2007 that all of that should meet the shredder. Sometimes I regret that afternoon but I realize that it was an overall mentally healthy move. This was at the time of my mother's cancer diagnosis and I realized that I needed to let go of a huge chunk of the past that was recorded in those journals or it was going to suffocate me and if it didn't actually suffocate me, it would still poison the present and I needed as much energy to deal with the present as I could muster.

Fast-forward to 2016, a few months after my mother died, when I was walking through the gift shop in Cracker Barrel and I noticed a Five Year Journal. I had been drifting from blogging but I still had the desire to write and I had a new realization of the years that had passed in a blur, unrecorded, with me trying to rely on dim memories, things I saved and pictures to piece it all together and I also had the full understanding that the memories I did have were going to get dimmer and dimmer with time.

I didn't buy the journal right then because it looked like something aimed at a twelve-year-old kid. I decided to go home and check Amazon. There had to be something similar that was a bit more "mature" looking.

I was proven wrong. Every five year journal on Amazon that had a "mature" cover was also smaller than the one at Cracker Barrel and I didn't want to try to write legible tiny letters every day. I can barely write legible full size letters. So, I went right back to Cracker Barrel and became to owner of a cowboy-themed Five Year Journal.

And, since July 2016, I have written a little bit just about every day except for in the fall of 2016 when I suddenly stopped. I had gone out of town on vacation and forgot the journal so I convinced myself that the idea was dumb and the journal sat abandoned for several weeks before I finally tossed it into my wastebasket. Finally, after seeing it in there all day and thinking about how dumb it was to give up, I pulled it back out of the wastebasket and I have written daily ever since.  I also set up a daily Todoist reminder set as a backup so I don't forget to write each evening.

I can describe my typical day in very few words. This is proof that my life is not particularly exciting but that is ok. I have learned to appreciate the not exciting days.

Here's an example entry from February 25, 2017:
"Honor band concert. Much colder. Went to Walmart."

Oddly enough, this is all the detail I need to recollect that exact day. Instead of the details of February 25, 2017 being lost to the blur of history, they are there for me to recall whenever I want via eight sloppily written words.

The journal doesn't give you a ton of space to begin with and some days I fill in all the lines and some days I don't. Here is an image of two future blank days is below so you can see how much space I have to document each day.

Last night, when I got to the part of Nora Ephron's book where she wrote "Write everything down. Keep a journal," I started thinking about the importance (to me) of keeping the five year journal. I'm glad that I happened to see it in the first place and that something in me made me go back and buy it and then pull it out of the trash when I almost gave up on it.

Completely present

The weirdest thing happened last night. I sat in the living room in front of the television and watched the Olympics and then three episodes of a tv show without my phone or my tablet or even my Kindle nearby. There was nothing distracting me from watching television aside from the occasional dog disruption or need to get and then consume various snacks.

It was briefly like the 80's and 90's all over again.

Sometimes I forget what life was like without the power to retrieve of all of the world's information at any moment and I'm really bad about watching something on television and having that something trigger the need for me to grab my all-knowing device in order to confirm some bit of trivia (Where have I seen this actor before? Was he ever on The Love Boat?) or add something to my shopping list (A commercial for Mercedes! That reminds me. I need to buy more Charmin!) and then, once the device is in my hand, I get sucked down the Internet sinkhole and stay distracted for the rest of the night, one foot in this world and one foot in cyberspace.

I was thinking about this a bit ago as I was walking through the house with my iPhone in my hand and I heard a boop from one of my devices so I go to the device and instantly forgot what I was walking through the house for. One tiny distraction was all it took for me to no longer be completely present.

I know we all do this. I am in no way unique but my age does give me the ability to remember a time without the distraction of the internet, a time in which we focused on just the task at hand, just the show we were watching and just the person we were talking to. I don't remember ever being bored and I have to assume I was an awful lot less scatterbrained.

The worst part of my experience last night was how the desire to go get my iPad kept popping into my mind, the curiosity about what I might be missing serving as it's own distraction. I don't want to call it FOMO but I do think I always wonder if I am accidentally ignoring a seriously important message from someone or maybe a really funny message from someone (really funny messages are obviously more important that seriously important messages). And, I have trained myself to have that itch all the time, the itch for more information, the desire to answer the queries that naturally pop in my head when I am having any experience. This desire can be immediately fulfilled if I just get up and go get my device, my auxiliary brain, my window on the world!!

I struggle. I know that less is more and I know that living with distraction as the rule means that I don't get complete fulfillment from any one singular activity I am doing but I am also a member of the online world that keeps running at full speed no matter what break I think I need to take from it.

The question then becomes how much am I willing to miss out on, both right in front of me and online.

Art regret

I've noticed my musical tastes have taken a bit of a shift in the past few years, away from popular music and toward jazz and classical music. I stream stations that play this music. I even bought a better FM radio so I could get the local classical station clearer. I've bought MP3's, CD's and even more vinyl albums. I guess I am in a rediscovery phase.

I call it rediscovery because I was a liberal arts major in college and I had to learn so much about jazz and classical in such a short time in the early 90's that it suffocated the joy out of it for me. For example, when you have to cram classical tapes in order to score high on tests that prove you can recognize composers and styles (most of which I seem to have forgotten permanently, oddly enough), you sort of develop a distaste for it all. Well, maybe you wouldn't, but I did.

Now I have what I keep referring to as art regret. You see, I had the chance during my college years to not only really develop a love for jazz and classical, but to really immerse myself in it and I chose to just do the bare minimum (which was quite a lot) and to not love the music but instead to have a forced relationship with it, a relationship which put up a barrier in my mind and prevented me from really digging in deep and understanding and appreciating it.

In fact, I treated all of my time in college like this. I was never really content being in music, the honest truth being that I wasn't that good at it. I always had in the back of my mind that I should have been majoring in English or journalism. My heart just wasn't in it. So, when I had the opportunity to go to art shows, plays, musicals, etc., I only did what I had to do and I feel like I missed out on quite a lot. Now I long for all of these things but I have plenty of responsibilities that keep me from them. There is not much free time to drive to a photography exhibit or to go to a college concert and I see that I missed out on doing it all the time, 24/7, when I had no other responsibilities. I could have been a much more well-rounded person and I might (might) be doing something creative as a career now.

I've been thinking about all of this for a while, as I've sought out jazz stations to stream and slowly built up my classical vinyl collection via the local Goodwill and even as I've read book after book from the library. All of this rediscovery of how connected I once was with the artist that apparently lives inside of me wishes I had realized all of this when I really had a chance to experience art in all forms. Now I feel I am on the outside looking in and really too late in life to make any sort of meaningful change aside from dipping my foot in by listening to some records on a quiet, rainy Saturday morning or flying through another book that gets me fueled up, ready to create, before remembering that my ship has pretty much sailed, each new and rediscovered experience tied a bit to the regret over what I had the chance to do long ago and simply didn't.

Sure, John Mahoney was 37 when he realized what he was missing out on and he took action. I'm not far beyond 37. The big problem is that I don't exactly know what I am missing out on or what I should be doing. There is just the feeling that there is something missing. I know that the empty space is there but I don't have any idea about what to fill it with.

Planning on paper

I've been trying something new since about the second week of January. Instead of just using online tools, such as Google Calendar (where my family calendar is), Outlook (where my work calendar is) and Todoist, for planning, I've added a paper planner to the mix.

It started with this article in the New York Times which led to this article but none of the planners shown was exactly what I wanted. I ended up lucking upon this planner on Amazon.

What I really like is the huge area for tasks in addition to the huge area for your daily schedule. It's like Todoist at the top and Google Calendar/Outlook Calendar at the bottom and that's exactly how I use it. On Friday, I plan the week ahead, looking at my three online tools and I write everything out in pencil, including the reoccurring tasks that I know I typically do on certain days.

I would post a picture of an actual week written out but I don't like sharing work information online and although my work tasks would probably not make any sense to anyone but me I find it's best not to risk it!

Then on Monday, I have a task scheduled at 9AM that is simply called "Review Calendar" and that is when I check everything again and refresh myself after the weekend away.

I ordered the 7x9 size of the planner. I thought 8.5x11 might be a bit too big and 5x8 might be a bit too small and I've been very pleased. I think it is just right.

I did add the tabs. They are from 3M /Post-It and I added one to each monthly calendar although I've found I don't use the month view, just the weekly pages. I also have a yellow Post-It for the week I'm currently in so I can quickly flip to it although that is where I keep my pencil also!

It might sound like redundant work but it only takes about ten minutes to review my schedule and tasks from the three online tools I use and write it all out and it really gets me thinking about the week ahead as a whole. I find that having everything hand-written in one place keeps me quite focused on the big picture. It also allows me to keep my work calendar completely separate from my family calendar without having to worry about missing something.