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Category Archives: Fragments and shrapnel

Howling and Getting Messy

It’s Sunday and I absolutely hate Sundays. I wake up knowing there are looming responsibilities ahead and blog posts to write and Facebook pages to update. There’s work I stupidly brought home on Friday thinking I’ll get to so I won’t have as much to do the following week, but it somehow stays in my car over the weekend collecting dust. I put a lot of my Sunday chores off until the minute on Monday because I absolutely HATE doing any sort of work on the weekends. So why do I bring work home on the weekend and not write blog posts during the week instead?

My desperate need for balance.

I am, by my genetic disposition, an overachiever and tend to be a workaholic when I can get away with it. As a modern woman I sometimes feel like I have to expertly maintain a balance between work and home, being active and enjoying the fruits of the Pacific Northwest. No one places these expectations on me except me and the hamster in my brain. Maybe I read too many magazines but I keep thinking there’s a magical Pot O’ Balance and if I keep turning over rocks, I just MIGHT find it. I was like that in college when I refused to focus on just one class and let the others go and I’m like that as an adult. Luckily, the Universe had an answer for me this week when this article landed on my Facebook feed and made me stop and re-think the whole idea of balance. For those of you who didn’t click on the link, the author summarizes the act of trying to finding balance by saying, fuck balance! We aren’t meant to find balance! We were born to shift and be selfish and howl and get messy.

Powerful words, huh? I wish I had written them, but I didn’t so I printed them out and put them on my computer. My journal is full of lists on ways in which I “should” be finding the elusive Pot O’ Balance instead of just howling and getting messy. Finding balance is what prevents me from sitting still for too long or just enjoying the moment before moving on to something else. That’s not to say I’m not curious because I will always be curious, but trying to find work/life balance is never going to happen so maybe it’s just time for me to jump head-first into the void and enjoy the ride. Mark Twain once wrote, “What is joy without sorrow? What is success without failure? What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other.” That Samuel Clemens sure was smart.

What about you, Gentle Reader? Do you keep searching for the Pot O’ Balance or have you learned to “sod it all” and howl and get messy?


Jumping off cliffs and developing wings on the way down

Before I put 40 candles on my birthday cake, I wrote a blog post about getting better consistently, and, like a fine wine, improving with age. The day after I wrote the post, my 10 year old cousin died and I went back to Minnesota for a wedding. When I returned from the whirlwind tour of the Midwest, life took over, work got busy and I found myself coasting again with no plans or benchmarks.

I did have an e-mail waiting for me at work from our HR Director letting everyone know they were starting up another round of Biggest Loser. Much like the reality series, participants gather around the postage scale at work and weigh in each week. Those who lose weight get a dollar back from their entry fee and those who don’t are left talking smack with the other participants. I decided it was time for me to join in on the fun as I wasn’t hitting the gym as much as I should and my body was craving exercise.

My first adventure with the giant postage scale was a bit of a shocker. I knew I had some work to do but the mean, red number was much bigger than I thought. My new job, stress and a long commute were reflected back at me as I stupidly asked if the scale was correct. The shipping manager said it is calibrated every week and yes, it was correct. I left the shipping dock ashamed.

As I walked back to my desk reflecting on the number, I realized I could stop at the vending machine and buy a bag of peanut M&Ms and pout or I could accept it and make plans to do something about it. It also got me thinking about my after work schedule and how I’ve been content to come home, eat, and sit in front of the computer or TV and not take a more active role in my creative life.

Like many writers, I tend to go after the shiny object and abandon them when I’m stuck, it gets hard, or when the next shiny object presents itself. I have a hard drive with too many projects collecting dust and people waiting for me to deliver. I have written in the past about my Unfinished Symphony which I never really completed, and I have written about benchmarks and never really set them. Now that 40 has come and gone, it’s time for me to get working and start clearing things off my plate and dropping weight. It’s time for me to start setting micro goals rather than trying to eat the whole whale in one bite.

So, the first micro goal on my list is to adapt a more active lifestyle. One hour at the gym after work is a good start, but it’s not specific enough. I really need to be more active on the weekend which means more walks with my husband or finding a group that meets and goes on walks, rides, hikes, etc. I find doing things in groups is a better motivator and holds me more accountable.

I don’t have benchmarks yet on my weight, but I will work on that next week. How it feels, what it looks like, where I want to be at a particular date. Each week as I beg the shipping scale to be kind, I will check in on this here blog and write about my exercise and creative processes in addition to my regular blog posts. My goal is to make it interesting so you’ll come back or join in on the conversation and not make it a blog of me whining about how hard it is.

As for my creative projects, I expressed my lack of word count to my friend Jaymi who told me about a writing group that meets once a week to write. I now have a date this Tuesday to write with the group and will talk with them about writing goals and word counts and projects I’ve been ignoring for too long.

What about you Gentle Reader? What micro goals can you set to achieve greatness or make friends with the bathroom scale? Drop me a line. We’re all in this together.

I am not young enough to know everything

Last year when I turned 39 I vowed this would be the year I would take on Herculean tasks and become a Better Person™. I had no plan or benchmarks set in place just a proclamation to the Universe and a written submission in my journal.

Well, shortly after my 39th birthday I lost a job I never liked and stumbled through 6 months of unemployment until I found a job I did like. I hiked and biked and learned new things and met some interesting people. Some people were temporary blips and others stayed and helped me grow out of my comfort zone.

My 30s were all about learning what I really wanted and who I really am. It wasn’t the easiest decade as a deployment was thrown in halfway through and I learned new acronyms like PTSD. I also lost a couple of grandparents and a close friend or two but I gained many new friends and learned important lessons.

If Hallmark is to be believed ones 40th Anniversary is the “ruby anniversary.” Rubies have many regal qualities and, according to one website, stimulate the base chakra and increase vitality and life-force energy. Rubies also banish fear and improve concentration.

Instead of looking at my 40th birthday with dread (as I have been doing) I plan to take on qualities of the ruby: Banish my fear of crossing off another decade and embrace this life force energy. Appreciate that I’m in good health, have amazing friends and family and an excellent support system that doesn’t care how old I am.

Before sat down to write this post, I was reading something an acquaintance wrote about why he runs. He didn’t make any lofty goals or proclamations about why he runs or the goals he sets, he simply said he wants to get better consistently.

As I enter into my fourth decade, my goal for next year is to get better consistently. Set benchmarks, explore how things will look and feel, and shave time off my mile.

Happy early birthday to me.

You ain’t gonna miss your water until your well runs dry

Perhaps it’s the unusually warm and dry weather we’ve had this summer or perhaps my muse is taking an extended vacation, but my creative well dried up a few months ago and refuses to replenish itself. I occasionally drop my bucket into the well hoping for inspiration and ideas and bring back an empty, dusty bucket. The same old ideas seem contrite and overdone and the new ideas are a distant mirage in a hot, dry desert.

Earlier this summer, when I pulled up the last drop of creativity from my well, I wrote about putting together a creative automat to use during times like these. I have actually been trying to put mine together but I can’t seem to find anything that truly speaks to me. I’ve toured antique shops and craft stores and come up empty handed. After a particularly frustrating moment in a craft store, I realized I had no plan for my automat, I just wanted one. I had no idea what I wanted it to look like or how I planned on using it.

I recently took advantage of a slow lunch hour and made a list of what I wanted out of my automat. From there, I turned it into a real place and put it on a corner in Greenwich Village. I described the patrons – who they are, what they did there and what they wanted. I painted the walls, selected the music and made plans to serve my patrons delicious food with fresh Stumptown coffee for only a nickel. My automat is open 24 hours and can be picked up and moved around the world whenever I need a change of scenery.

Turning my automat into a “real” place helped me develop a better plan to get around my creative road blocks (or paint them pink with silver glitter). As my list grew, the ideas flowed and I was able to make a list of writing topics and future blog posts. Perhaps maybe my creative well wasn’t completely dry; it just needed direction to nearest ocean.

What about you, Gentle Reader? How do you replenish your creative well when it runs dry and the ideas just don’t seem to be flowing?

We know what we are, but not what we may be

I have been sitting at my computer for 20 minutes trying to think deep thoughts ™ and write my weekly blog post but nothing was coming to me. I rolled around the usual ideas: trying, failing, journey through life. Nope. Already did it. I mined the inner-depths of my brain for a creative post idea and all I got was bread pudding. I can’t be too hard on myself; I did spend most of the afternoon helping teach a workshop so my brain looked a lot like bread pudding.

So, I did what most creative people do when they are stuck and checked in on all 190 of my Facebook friends. It was the usual Sunday night miscellany filled in “inspirational” posts from bizarre pages and vague comments about not wanting to work tomorrow. I did see a new journal entry post from Neil Gaiman so I clicked on it to see just how fabulous his life is as I sipped my $10 wine. In his blog post, Neil had the latest installment of his Blackberry Keep Moving Project. The video was stunning as usual and you can watch it below, but one quote from the video stood out: There comes a moment in all art when you have to leave things behind and go on to the next thing. But you do it really happy because whatever you leave behind you has taken on a life of its own.

When I worked in radio, we were trained to write at a level we considered a happy medium. Tight deadlines made it difficult to create true masterpieces and there was no room to be a perfectionist. At some point we just had to let it go. Besides, unless it was a barn-burner, using up anything more than three brain cells on a city council meaning wasn’t worth it. But we did eventually let it go, and it took on a life of itself. I occasionally go back and read old blog posts or stories I wrote and realize just how good they are. At the time I thought they were OK but a little time and space changes my mind.

This week, Gentle Reader, I would like YOU to think about the projects you have stored on your hard drive, stuffed in your closet or just collecting dust and let them go. Show them to world and see what kind of life they on. Come back and tell me your success, or not so success stories and we’ll talk.

Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures

When I was young, my mom used to have a phrase that would secretly drive me into a blind rage. It was usually delivered at moments when the world wasn’t spinning the way I wanted or I was forced to do something I wasn’t interested in doing. Think of it as an adventure she would quip when I was fuming over having to get out of my comfort zone or “try something new.” Think of it was an adventure was NOT what I wanted to hear at the time and I’m sure I would have kicked a small child or puppy if I was that type of person. But I’m not.

So, I found it interesting last week when Rob Brezsny posted my horoscope for the week on his Free Will Astrology website that read:

Here’s a passage from Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations: “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” Judging from the astrological omens, Virgo, I suspect your life may be like that in the coming days. The emotional tone could be sharply mixed, with high contrasts between vivid sensations.

The nature of your opportunities may seem warm and bright one moment, cool and dark the next. If you regard this as interesting rather than difficult, it won’t be a problem, but rather an adventure.

There are weeks I swear Mr. Brezsny follows me around and takes notes because this horoscope was “spot on” as my British friends say. Things have been interesting in my life and I could react by kicking the wall or yelling at the Universe but I have instead chosen to look at it as an adventure. I have been trying to open myself up to opportunities and sometimes it clicks and other times the Universe just shrugs its shoulders.

I try and learn from each successful and failed opportunity and think about what I did that worked and what didn’t work and how I can improve. After a recent disaster at the hair salon I wrote about a few weeks ago, I sat down and wrote an “after action review” as they say in the military about what could have gone better. Certain patterns emerged and I realized I can’t just flip a switch and make some flyers and hope people show up. I could have beat myself up over it, but instead, I just saw it as “an adventure”.

I’m sure my mom would be proud.

What about you? How do you change your challenges into an adventure?

Such is a game she plays, and so she tests her strength

I am not a morning person. I don’t like getting up early and I have a hard time focusing on the tasks at hand when I start work. When I was working full time, I would stare at my computer for the first hour upon my arrival hoping my computer and the gallon of coffee I just drank would jump start me into my day.

This morning was no different. I sat down at my computer and pointedly ignored my To Do list while clicking on Facebook and fashion blogs. It wasn’t until I clicked on this article from Tiny Buddha that the light switch finally came on. For the past 6 months I have been swimming in a large pool grasping on the smallest item as I tried to give my life a little more direction. Some of things have lead to successful partnerships and others not so much. Two weeks ago I met with a Life Coach for a free consultation and halfway through our meeting, she threw up her hands and asked me if I even knew what success looked like. I probably looked like a fish hit me in the face because I knew what it looked like financially but nothing beyond that point. I sat there in the busy Starbucks and realized I was a little … lost.

The article on Tiny Buddha didn’t talk specifically on how to get un-lost so I figured I would make up my own list and submit it for your review.

  1. Start with what you love. What gives you happiness? What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? I love the creative process, I love finding new things, and I love to travel. I love funky restaurants and coffee shops. Having a clear idea of what I’m going to get done that day, looming deadlines and a sense of purpose gives me reason to get out of bed in the morning. What keeps me in bed is not having anything on the calendar and a long list of vague ideas and concepts with no real direction or plan for expansion.
  2. Chunk it down – The best way I deal with big lists is to turn it into easy-to-swallow chunks. For example, one item on my vague To Do list says: Update website. Nothing sends me to Facebook or fashion blogs more than vague concepts and ideas. What my list should have said is: Write bio, post an introductory statement and organize blog into categories. I can further chunk these ideas down: Write a 500 word bio, post an introductory statement with three key items, and organize my blogs into categories: Reviews, self-help, business and marketing, travel. If you like to write, create art, or want to start your own business, this is the best way to stay on track and make sure each day is focused and clear.
  3. Organize Your Day & Recognize Rhythms – When I’m working, I do my best when my day is full. I don’t do well when my plate only has a few random things on it. I have also found I do my best work Wednesday through Sunday and I’m fairly useless on Monday and Tuesday. Instead of forcing myself to be productive, I spend those two days planning and organizing my week and sending out e-mails. For those with 9 to 5 jobs, it can be a little harder to adjust your jobs to your rhythms but what you can do is schedule your weeks and productivity based on your own peaks and valleys. I tend to put too many things on my plate at once so I have learned to spread the tasks out through the week allowing for wiggle room when things come up
  4. Set Limits – Advancing technology gives us plenty of distractions with the latest shiny object, app for folding and sorting your laundry, Facebook cat posts and Pinterest pages. Sitting down at the computer to work can lead to hours of looking at useless web pages and fashion blogs. We all need a little escape so instead of spending hours surfing useless websites, set a limit as the amount of town you will spend online. Better yet, set a time with a goal of writing for half an hour or painting a picture or working on your business plan for one hour. When you’re done you can update your Pinterest page for 15 minutes and then go back to writing or working. I also recommend getting up and moving around and stepping away from your work.
  5. Have Fun – It’s kind of sad when we have to schedule fun time into our days but it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae instead of enjoying the process or just taking time to enjoy life. Many of us feel we have to spend money to have fun but that’s simply not true. Last week my husband and I went to a free lecture on the state of the publishing industry (yes, we’re nerds) and really enjoyed ourselves. I have attended many free art lectures and recently found a local (free) authors lecture series. I make a point to find out when local galleries and museums have their “free night” or get to festivals and events early and pay a discounted price.

It’s so easy to feel lost in a sea of internet overnight success stories. It’s also easy to feel lost when you’re the only one sitting behind your computer trying to making a go of things with no map or compass. What do you do when you’re feeling lost? Schedule your day to the minute or just let things flow naturally? Let me know and I’ll share your ideas in a later post.