Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Taking Time for the People in Our Lives

A number of things today combined to make me think about the ways in which some of us postpone relationships and procrastinate about their upkeep.  And while a few of us actually seem to put acquiring relationships on our to-do lists ("Meet a man."  "Get married and have kids."), more of us seem to take for granted that relationships of all types will just happen along in due time.  And worse, that when they do, they will somehow take care of themselves, while we tend to more important things, like working on our tennis serve and making partner by age 30.  Like shining our sinks and picking out new couch pillows.  Like perfecting our apple pie crust and getting published.  Makes me think of a pot holder my dissertation chair gave me long ago--for some unknown reason, since I was already a mother--that featured a bluish cartoon graphic of a woman and the legend "Darn!  I forgot to have kids!"

Anyway, I don't as a rule put lunches with friends, walks with my sons, dates with my husband, or calls to my mom and my sisters on my lists of things to accomplish either.  I am just beginning to get beyond the view that such occurrences interrupt my productivity, that I am stealing the time they take from more pressing commitments--i.e., work.  And this from a woman who, not so terribly long ago, believed so strongly in the fleeting nature of childhood that I willingly, though not without unwanted constraints, walked away from work I loved and had invested heavily in.  But this same woman has been known to hide in my own house when a friend came by unannounced, so that I could continue checking off items on the day's agenda.  I am, in a word, torn when it comes to spontaneous socializing.

I have, however, taken to listing relationship "achievements" on my "done lists."  And while I still generally prefer to be able to plan these occasions, I am reminded today that the people who still want to hear from me and to spend time with me, despite years of my unavailability, are precious and deserving of the gift of my time and attention.  They are even worth blowing off the occasional meeting, or scheduled project.

And maybe, just maybe, I can get my husband to pencil me in for sometime next month.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

. . . By Any Other Name

Beating The Little Hater

December 18, 2007

My son the hip hop blogger sent me this, from ill Doctrine--"a hip-hop video blog hosted by Jay Smooth, creator of the hip hop music blog and founder of New York's longest running hip-hop radio show, WBAI's Underground Railroad." And though I'm not as videogenic, or as hip as Mr. Smooth, I identify strongly with what he has to say here about the relationship of perfectionism to procrastination.  And why my standards for writing have grown over the years of not writing, until they loom like furies as I sit at the keyboard.

Every day, I understand more about the scourge in my life that is perfectionism.  And it is not just a stumbling block to creativity.  It comes into play in virtually every arena.  This past weekend, I was upset with myself for not being a perfect grandmother, who, in my "little hater's" view, would relish every minute in the sandbox, never tiring of pretending to be a front end loader, or of the incessant conversation of a three-year-old with a sophisticated vocabulary rendered partially unintelligible by the enunciation idiosyncracies of his age.  And yesterday, it was my mothering, life-partnering and household maintenance whose subpar results gave me grief.  I really need to rein this guy in.  Jay Smooth calls the actions of "all these little haters" a conspiracy, and appeals to all creative people to work together to beat them.  He asks us to share strategies.

Therese Borchard, author of the hit blog Beyond Blue, refers to perfectionism in a recent post as her personal "brick wall."  Her strategy? 
getting up at 5:30 in the morning to begin my day in prayer. Because if I go to God first thing each AM I'm less likely to hit that wall so hard.

Gretchen Rubin includes this advice in her post "Ten Tips for Being Happier:"

There are two types of decision makers. Satisficers (yes, satisficers) make a decision once their criteria are met. When they find the hotel or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the best possible decision. Even if they see a bicycle or a backpack that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every option. Satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers expend more time and energy reaching decisions, and they’re often anxious about their choices. Sometimes good enough is good enough.
Apparently, I may have gone a bit overboard yesterday, when I spent an hour an a half "maximizing" my choice of personal checks, though I think you'll agree that the results were excellent. 


But I see what Smooth means about all those open tabs. . .

Turning to another source of wisdom, I learned of the Buddha's perfectionistic (if occasionally homicidal) cousin, Devadatta. His story and its meaning are summarized in The Psychology of Mature Spirituality: Integrity, Wisdom, Transcendence, by Polly Young-Eisendrath and Melvin E. Miller.

The story of Devadatta shows that perfectionism is the enemy of perfection.

Of course, Devadatta was a moral perfectionist, caught up with rigorous rule-bound practice. Not really my issue. But still, the cushion recommends itself to me as a place to start befriending my imperfection. And it just might help, too, with what begins to look more and more like adult ADHD--which I am starting to think is a cultural artifact of our times.

I am taking away from Jay Smooth's video blog the "little hater" terminology. It is more evocative than the "internal editor" nomenclature I have been using for years to identify the voice that stops me from writing. An editor one might deal with rationally. A hater should just be tuned out for the killing influence he is.

So I will work on turning a deaf ear to "It's too late to make your mark," "You don't really have anything to say," "What the world doesn't need is another hatchet job of a manuscript in search of a drawer to die in," and their ilk. And just get on with it, already.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Tips for the Post-Vacation, Pre-Vacation and I've-Used-Up-All-My-Vacation-Time Sufferer

This week, we are contemplating Marshall Cook's 10th chapter in Slow Down. . . and Get More Done, in which he writes about taking "365 Vacations a Year."  Last week--actually just two posts ago, we considered Cook's advice on escaping "the tyranny of time."  Of course, as Cook reminds us, 
You'll probably never be able to fully escape your schedule[s].  So you must schedule your escape.
We are in need of some serious daily R & R, according to Cook if we:
  • find our energy and spirits seriously lagging during the day
  • feel tension build as the day goes on
  • have trouble relaxing when we finally get a chance to put our feet up at the end of the day.

Who in these crazy, sped-up, is-this-or-is-it-not-a-"double-dip"-recession days doesn't recognize themselves in this description?

Cook says we should 
Examine your day, searching out opportunities for breaks, rewards and minivacations.  If giving yourself a break doesn't come easily for you, if you feel guilty even thinking about it, don't trust yourself to rest when you need to.  Schedule your breaks, and give those appointments to rest top-priority status.

Elements he recommends for such a program include:

  • the three-second time-out--basically a breathing space between stimulus and response, which, for example, could keep us from engendering road rage in the driver we flip off angrily
  • the fifteen-second zone-out--noting our stress responses, and taking a few seconds to "talk down" those shoulders that are hugging our ears again, or to resume breathing when we find ourselves holding our breath
  • the fifteen-minute vacation--pleasant interludes of non-work-related activity, e.g., fiction reading, a short walk, a music break, closing our eyes and revisiting a favorite spot  in our minds[1] 
  • the favorite strategy of felines everywhere--naps[2] 
  • learning to love the little everyday things--if you are gratitude-challenged, I advise a visit to one of my favorite places on the internet, 1000 Awesome Things, where you can learn to appreciate such things as the air just before a thunderstorm and the sound of water lapping against a dock  and watching cream go into coffee and, well, you get the point
  • taking note of the life-enhancers (the people kind)--like the grocery store checkout clerk who tells you to have a great afternoon, and means it, or the guy who chases your wind-snatched hat down the block and returns it 
  • making intelligent use of rewards by sprinkling 3-second, 15-second and 15-minutes breaks throughout the day, "shunning unrewarding rewards," and "eas[ing] important pleasures into [our] li[ves] now"--not waiting for the end of the week, or vacation, or retirement, and 
  • enjoying tasks for their own sake--I tried this today, and found myself taking before and after pictures during my kitchen reclamation project, so I could see again what a good job I was doing.  (Is that perhaps just a little pathetic?)
I intend to continue thinking about these ideas, since I have been experiencing a pretty serious disconnect between my vacationing life and the dreary-by-contrast existence I've come back to.  It seems I would have done well to bring a little vacation back with me in my packed-for-carry-on bags.

[1] Here Cook warns that “[y]ou must know that nobody will give you time, not fifteen minutes or even fifteen seconds, and not even for something as important as daily maintenance of your health and sanity.  And you’ll never find the time.  You must make the time, and you may have to be fairly ruthless about it.  Pressures, obligations, demands—scheduled and unscheduled—will never let up.  Carve out a piece of precious time for yourself each day and use it to restore yourself.”

[2] Cook on catnaps:  “Nothing on a cat’s schedule is more important than the nap.  If a cat made out a “to-do” list, almost all the A-1 priority items would be “take nap” (along with the occasional “eat kibble,” “use box” and “scratch furniture”).  For us it’s the opposite.  Rest is the last priority.  We rob from rest to pay for work and pleasure.  Cats rest when they feel like it.  We rest when we finally allow ourselves to.  We have much to learn from the cat.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Done for the Past Two Weeks: And the Time Just Flew!

I'm still transitioning from my week away, and what my grandson refers to as our "two sleepover" weekend immediately following.  Somehow when I'm away, I imagine my life as more settled and appealing than it turns out to be upon my return.  I don't want to think of it as "back to the salt mines," but I haven't yet tuned-up my attitude as I take up the reins of my everyday steed.  

Here's what is behind me, as I head into a new week, in my old location. 

Done List--Weeks of Sept. 13-26

  1. Continued off-season triathlon training, on vacation mode--biked once, swam once, ran twice, two of these exercise sessions in New Orleans heat
  2. Finished The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson; The Moon and Sixpence, by W. Somerset Maugham
  3. Continued significant support to transitioning nonprofit organization
  4. Worked my two part-time jobs, taking one week off
  5. Published 10 blog posts, including 5 vacation reruns
  6. Meditated 1 time
  7. Wrote 5 Gratitude Journal entries
  8. Wrote 1 Morning Page
  9. Spent second 1/2 day cleaning garage--not quite finished
  10. Had new mattress set delivered, and spent one night on it before leaving town
  11. Wrote for two hours on my novel, as planned
  12. Went out with my husband for Happy Hour; continued reading aloud Elizabeth George's In the Presence of the Enemy
  13. Babysat 3-year-old grandson for 51 hours, and lived to tell the tale
  14. Took my dog to the dog park once
  15. Flew to New Orleans with my two sons, including the flight-phobic one; took the overnight train back; enjoyed (almost all of) the trip
  16. Spent lots of time with my mom
  17. Despite my hate-hate relationship with football, gladly cheered the Saints to 2-0; mourned yesterday's loss
  18. Ate beignets twice, barbecued shrimp once, crab cakes once, middle-Eastern fare twice, bread pudding and other excessive departures from regular diet (it is New Orleans!)
  19. Got my sons to clean mom's carpet
  20. Helped my brother-in-law reseat his stone patio
  21. Spent some, but not enough time relaxing
  22. Visited my father's grave
  23. Arranged transfer of my old refrigerator from my daughter's house, since our new one is no longer working
In red above the most important thing I did this over this two-week period.  As my mother continues to celebrate birthdays, I grow ever more aware of how much she means to me, and of the distance that separates us.  It was really satisfying to be with her long enough this visit that she began to relax into our time together, and stopped worrying so much about my imminent departure.  With the exception of our couple of late night talks like those of old, we didn't really do anything remarkable.  But it was great to greet the mornings at her breakfast table; to sit with her in her small patio garden when the steamy temperatures allowed; to accompany her on dog walks; to ooh and ahh at the ancient items we spotted antiquing with the boys; to join her and the rest of the family in rooting for their beleaguered area's football heroes; to sip cappuccinos at the local coffee shop; to share a pew, if not a faith, at her church; and to know that we had helped each other alleviate the loneliness of our living conditions.  I hope to go back soon.  As my husband frequently reminds me, it's not something I can afford to procrastinate about.

Highlighted in green is the accomplishment related to my modest focus goal from two weeks ago--to spend a couple of hours before I left on my novel, and to work on believing that I can write it.  I did what I planned, which was an improvement on the previous week.  And I have a plan for this week, which is to spend Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons on the novel.  This is time I can count on in the upcoming weeks, which should help in establishing a regimen I can stick to.  For the present, that is enough.  One thing I can apply from my triathlon and 5K training is the notion of building skill and capacity.  When I can consistently carry out my writing plan for the week, it will be time to consider adding sessions.  And standards?  We're a long way from that sticky wicket!

I am also hopeful that this week I will meditate frequently, exercise more, and get my house in better shape so I can stand living here until I can leave again.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Off the Clock

I know, it's not Tuesday.  But I was on vacation on Tuesday.  So this week, Procrastinating 101 runs on Friday.

I've been looking forward to Chapter 9 of Marshall Cook's Slow Down . . . and Get More Done, entitled "Can you escape the tyranny of time?"  Well, can we?

Cook begins this chapter with a brief mention of the Hopi people, who have no word for tomorrow.  He suggests that this is a linguistic artifact of their dwelling in the moment, in the present.  That place I'm trying to find on my meditation cushion.  He goes on to describe award-winning photographer Vern Arendt's ability to 
immerse himself in the present, to suspend his sense of time and with it the urgent need to be someplace else, doing something else. . . . [to] lose himself in the moment, focusing completely on the task at hand
and how this capacity serves him in his work and his life.

Cook's next topic I think of as "watchlessness."  He relates a Bulova Watch Company sponsored experiment in which people went without watches for two days and two nights, and the disorientation some experienced.  
A few even said they didn't know whether they were hungry because they didn't know if it was "meal time."
He writes, too, of a colleague's year without a watch, initially prompted by forgetting his watch one morning, and of his own several months unchained from this ubiquitous little time-keeper so many of us strap on each day to keep track of the hours and minutes we've "made up" to parse our days.  

His discussion of the merits of going "timeless" reminded me of my undergraduate days, many suns and moons ago, when I refused to wear a watch for fear it would turn me into an automaton.  I don't remember where I got the idea.  Like many things I did during those relatively carefree years--like "smoking like a writer," and holding my coffee mug backwards in the manner of the character in Kazantzaki's Zorba the Greek--it was a bit of an affectation.  But if Cook is right, it may also have contributed to a sense of being present in the experiences of that time.  Eventually, someone persuaded me to "get with the program," like the rest of our society, and to install my own little time piece on my wrist, where its descendant continues to tick.  I am intrigued with Cook's recommendation that we give watchlessness a try.

The rest of the chapter is a reflection on "the Timeless Zone."  He wants us to think about occasions when we have become unhooked from time, have found ourselves so absorbed that we have "lost track" of its passage.  He suggests that our life's most important memories have likely been made in this zone.  He instructs us to recall in some detail our trips to the Timeless Zone, to see what circumstances they may have in common.  And to ask ourselves how we might replicate those conditions.  

I come away from Cook's observations more aware of my enslavement to our agreed-upon  fabrication.  Of course, we still have to rely on what Cook calls "Little Mind" to get us to appointments, to meet obligations, to, as Eliza Doolittle's father put it, "Get [Us] to the Church on Time."  But Cook argues that arranging some timeless time, periods when  relatively unbound, imaginative "Big Mind" can inspire us even to eat the roses, is restorative, and may help us to survive the journey.

This afternoon, I begin my 48 hours with a three-year-old.  I am going to challenge myself to rely on his sense of time as much as possible.  He doesn't own a watch.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reentry Blues

Reentry is an incredibly disorienting time for astronauts as the body is trying to adjust from the near weightlessness of orbit to the regular ol' forces exerted on us planet-side.
I am suffering from reentry today.  My sons and I reached home around midday, after nearly 24 hours of train travel.  Our sleep had been interrupted by some late-night boarders, who encamped near us and left their door open, so that the dulcet sounds of the two urchins in their group cut through our clickety-clack dreams.  We are also coming down from seven days of New Orleans style eating.  But the biggest shock to my system is the resumption of the everyday stresses I still haven't learned to handle.

So I'm going to have to ease back in.  I have unpacked, and begun some of the straightening up that I ran out of time for before leaving.  The three of us have spread out since returning, having endured over a week of enforced, and mostly enjoyable closeness.  But now we need our space.  And our familiar things, and activities.  

Tomorrow brings a forty-eight-hour date with my favorite three-year-old.  Tonight, I am going to make like a returning astronaut and get some extra rest before planning my next mission.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vacation Reruns, Part 5

This is the last post picked by my husband to rerun while I'm on vacation.  We return tomorrow.

His intro:

How could I not end with this beginning. You can do anything. 


Now What?

Part of a group of 10 young Nepalese women who scaled Mt. Everest in 2008

Finishing the triathlon I first dreamed of entering 11 months ago brings me once again to the challenge of coming down from a personal Mt. Everest.  My intention is to handle this descent with more grace and aplomb than I have previously mustered on such occasions.

Earlier feats that have involved elements of fatigue, let-down, the need to rest without resting too long on one's laurels, a sudden shift in a rather stringent routine, and the question of  what new focus might arise, have included giving birth; completing a stint as a special ed para working one-on-one with a severely autistic child; finishing grueling semesters as a graduate student; turning in my master's thesis; passing doctoral prelims; coming to the end of semesters teaching college; helping care for my father through a long terminal illness; transporting my frail elderly parents back to their Louisiana home after Katrina brought them to live with me; and ending a number of demanding temporary jobs.  In each instance, I recall the inability to relax, to remember what I did for fun before being sucked into the vortex of this latest absorption.  

(Incidentally, my wetsuit model was Xterra's Vortex 3--an upgrade when the Volt I'd ordered was on back order.  And I experienced wearing this rubber deathgrip, especially at first, as though I'd been "sucked into" it.)

This time, in my latest venture, I tried to balance my effort throughout with yoga and meditation and mindful self-care, along with continued interest in other parts of my life.  It remains to be seen what the aftermath of the triathlon will bring.  But I suspect that, despite the unaccustomed high of the last few days--after a long difficult onslaught of challenging life events and circumstances, I am not used any longer to success, and to elation--I am going to have an easier time "coming down."  

For one thing, I don't intend to abandon the exercise that has become an important part of my life.  As the post-race soreness and tiredness recede, I am slowly resuming physical activity.  And I mean to adopt, and keep to, an "off-season" training routine that will maintain a base of the endurance and strength I worked so hard for.  

For another, I am enjoying a new calm, which I imagine is a product of having faced some pretty intense fears.  Other things that have intimidated me now seem more doable.  The lesson is fresh that "doing the thing I think I cannot do" brings amazing benefits.  And there are a lot more "things I think I cannot do" where that one came from.

For starters, there is the novel I started this summer, and put on the back burner in order to concentrate on the triathlon.  The feeling that "If I can do this, I can do anything" is waiting to be harnessed.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vacation Reruns, Part 4

My husband chose this post to run while I'm on vacation, probably because it ends with an endorsement of him. He says:  

Let me tell you about my first wife.... No she was something completely different. Now I have to get back to studying international war crimes tribunals.

FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 2010

Married to a Workaholic (Again!)

If I am becoming my mother, as so many of us fear, it may have something to do with the fact that I keep marrying my father.  

The workaholics in my life, past and present, are, or were, good men.  They are, or have been, absorbed in activity that I recognize as meaningful, and morally valuable.  

My father was a doctor, the kind who made house calls and got paid in rabbits and farm produce as well as in cash.  When he kept patients waiting, it was because he took the needed time to listen to each of them, and to relate to their lives and their true illnesses.  I was used to his absences from family outings and occasions, the skid marks he left arriving late for dinner and leaving afterwards for the hospital, the interrupting phone calls and even police dispatched to our home if our one family phone was tied up too long and an emergency call couldn't get through.  His work was important, and it came first.  And last.  

My first husband was, and is, a clinical psychologist.  Like my mother before me, I spent long evenings alone with our child, since he worked late, past her bedtime, several days a week.  Unlike my father, he didn't break for dinner.  We took two cars to parties when he was on call, which was almost always since he usually practiced solo.  My sleep was broken by patients' calls to discuss their insomnia, as well as more urgent problems.  His patients were important, and their needs came first.  And last.

My second husband is a university professor and committed change agent, who commutes to work in another city, in another state.  His students and the disenfranchised community groups he works with command his energy and attention, in between writing, preparing for classes and presentations, traveling internationally for meetings and research, and fulfilling other professional obligations.  In the last few years, he has begun to provide expertise, always for the defendant, in death penalty cases.  His iPhone accompanies us everywhere, even to bed and the dog park, and can be relied upon for late-breaking bulletins and late-night and weekend calls from graduate students and project participants.  These people are important.  I should have listened when he told me that, in his first marriage, work came first.  And last.  I thought we would be different.

But why am I writing this sad saga in my blog about procrastination?  Because, for whatever reason, this pattern in my relationships with men is part of how I got where I am today.  And part of how I didn't get where I thought I wanted to be.  My husbands would tell you that my choice to devote much of my time and energy to child-rearing necessitated their focus on work, and on providing.  In both marriages, I experienced it differently.  It seemed that their fevered work paces were unalterable, and after initial skirmishes, I gave up and worked (or didn't work) around them.  Having grown up with one mostly absent parent, I felt that my children needed to be someone's first priority while they were young.  And it was clear that person was going to have to be me.  Whatever other work I took on, for pay and as a volunteer, had to occupy the space that was left.

But in truth, I can admit now that there was an element of martyrdom in my compromising. And that motherhood, for all its challenges and importance, functioned partly to get me off the hook of dealing with fears of failure and even stronger fears of success.  An even more uncomfortable confession is the naming of my own inner workaholic.  Had I known how to manage the perfectionist mother and the unfocused but nevertheless perfectionist scholar/writer in me, I might have been able to give attention to more of the work I longed to do.  

I still live with a workaholic, and our routines at this point assign much of the family and household work to me.  But I aspire, as does my spouse, to effect some small but important changes in how we share time and responsibility and freedom for our own pursuits.  My blog writing has been partly fueled by his willingness to assume the dish-washing chores--mostly--for the last few months.  After years of wrangling about this domestic task, years which saw me trying to restyle dish-washing as a meditative practice, and trying to hold my male children accountable for a job their male parent escaped as much as possible, he somehow heard me, finally.  He says it was when I pointed out that washing the dishes took at least an hour an a half of my time each day.  He thought I could do something more important with that time.  And he was right.

So I defend to the death these days his right to do this work without criticism.  When my children complain about improperly stored items or food residue baked onto plates, spoons and bowls by the dishwasher, I invite them to do better.  

I have accepted that my partner's approach to work is a product of his own demons, and not a realm for my reform efforts.  But I am no longer going to use it as an excuse to give up on myself and the use of my talents.  If nothing else, his example is a cautionary tale in my face that can motivate my own more human-friendly work balance.  And who knows?  Maybe if I stop fighting it, he may eventually come less to defend it.  As I said before, he is a good man.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vacation Reruns, Part 3

My husband's third pick for my week off--and his comment:  "Triathlon--the gift that keeps on giving."


11 Gifts From My First Triathlon Season

Last week, the New York Times featured an article by music critic and composer Edward Rothstein entitled "Triathlon Training with Chopin."  Rothstein writes of using what he learned tackling a "rigorous artistic enterprise" such as the coda of Chopin's first Ballade as he trained for the New York City Triathlon.  The race, which would have been his first triathlon, took place without him on Sunday, after he sprained an ankle on a training run in Central Park.  But Chopin served him well during training, particularly as he struggled to master swimming, his weakest skill.  From the piano, Rothstein knew that
Practice is partly physical training: teaching the body to feel comfortable with the artifice and its intricacy. Ultimately, the playing must seem effortless; all the tension, the strain, the struggle must be dramatized in the music, not in the body. And when I have practiced enough, I no longer have to be aware of every minute finger motion or position of my elbow. Movements mold themselves into phrases, becoming supple and poised. My body’s once uncoordinated parts cohere; the body can be forgotten.
As I continue preparing for my first triathlon--my ankle sprain came early enough that I had time to recover, though it called for some serious tweaking of my schedule--I am finding that the opposite is also true.  What I am learning as I train to join the swelling ranks of amateur triathletes can be applied to other areas of my life.  

Here is a brief list of some of my more useful "tri" lessons:
  1. Even a mountain climb is made up of individual steps, one after the other.  Know where you are going, but don't get too far ahead of yourself.
  2. Resting between sessions of exertion is important for consolidating increasing strength.
  3. Adequate sleep and attention to nutrition is essential, especially when you are engaged in a particularly challenging undertaking.
  4. Believing you can do what you've set out to do is half the battle, and worth whatever mental and spiritual work it takes to maintain/restore that belief.
  5. Take advice and instruction, but be the final arbiter of what is right for you.
  6. Enjoy the process.  
  7. Don't look down--or in the case of triathlons, don't read grisly reports of disastrous injuries or other medical calamities.  Prepare yourself to perform within your own capacity, and don't invest in fear.
  8. Avoid comparing your accomplishments with others.  
  9. Pay attention to and appreciate the unanticipated side benefits of the endeavor.  
  10. Use crutches--hopefully not real ones--and toys as necessary and available.  E.g., an iPod, a fun purple swim cap, a heart monitor, protein gels (if you have to ask, you haven't gone deeply enough into the tri-universe).
  11. Remember to breathe (critical), and to laugh.  
For now, I'm off to yet another meeting, to begin a full day of work.  I am looking forward to my resting-week 23-minute run later, and hoping to apply some of this wisdom to novel-writing with the energy that remains.   

Friday, September 17, 2010

Vacation Reruns, Part 2

Day 2 of vacation.  Here is the second of the blog posts chosen by my husband to run while I'm away.  He says "I have no defense for the choice of this post."


In Defense of Blogging

My husband is bored with my blog.  He's had enough of procrastination, posted and real-life.  He is of the opinion that writing about procrastination is getting in the way of writing.  He could be right.

I am spending an average of an hour and a half per day writing these posts, and solving the intermittent technical glitches that interrupt their publishing.  At the rate of two pages per hour, the blog may be "costing" me about 15 pages a week.  Not that all of those 15 pages would be ultimately usable.  But they probably need to be written anyway, as what poet William Stafford called "scaffolding" erected in the process of writing a finished piece.   

On the other hand, I am reluctant to abandon or foreshorten what has been a useful vehicle.  This blog has allowed me to reflect on why I have put off things I want to do and things I have to do, and failed to finish so much of what I have started.  It has prompted me to read more widely and deeply about procrastination, to discover what research is being done and what it reveals, and to identify some strategies that may prove valuable.  I am clearly not done with this subject, as the problem itself has taken deep root in my life.  If we use the "pregnancy weight" maxim--"Expect it to take as long for the weight to come off as it took to put it on"--I could be at this for years, if not for life.  

Blogging about procrastination has also gotten me writing regularly, and with purpose.  No small accomplishment, given my previous starts and stops.  Something about the public nature of the venture--even if my "public" is small, and sporadic, and seeded with friends and family--and the commitment I've made to regularity keeps me juggling obligations and schedules and unseen occurrences to make sure I get this done, five days a week, every week.

And then there's the fact that I enjoy doing it.  The process itself, as so many of us have discovered, is fun!  I look forward to opening the blog "dashboard" and finding out what I have to say.  And I like having a Google presence in addition to my 2004 dismissive mention on the Dummocrat site.  I love hearing from readers who like what they've read, or take issue with it.  I love seeing my "visitor map" sprinkled with dots all over the globe, and imaging the reader in Sweden, or the Phillipines, or Kansas.  I enjoy learning the new skills and tricks involved in blogging, and feeling a part of the community of bloggers, so many of them contributing work I respect, and admire, and am made wiser by.

So, for this day anyway, I choose "to blog."  And recognize that my husband is not really "one of us," the procrastinators of the world.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vacation Reruns--Part 1

The better part of today was spent traveling.  Before leaving on this trip, I decided not to write new posts while I'm away.  I am staying with family that I don't get to see enough, and want to concentrate on visiting.  I have asked my husband--who is among my most faithful readers--to select five previous posts that he feels are worth running again.  I have no idea what criteria he used, but here is his selection for today.  

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thtuck! (and Unthtuck)

Remember Ralphie's friend Flick in the movie A Christmas Story? He was "triple-dog-dared" to put his tongue on an icy flagpole in the schoolyard, and eventually needed the fire department to free him. My blog title attempts to spell his plaintive cry, pronunciation compromised by the situation.

I have been struck (not stuck) recently by the multiplicity of book titles coming tmy attention which feature the word "stuck." Recently published examples include these:

Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On by Anneli S. Rufus (2008); Stuck! Break Out of Your Emotional Prison and Get on With Your Life by John Volkmar (2006); Why We Stay Stuck by Tom Joseph (2007); the especially intriguing If the Buddha Got Stuck: A Handbook for Change on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte Sophia Kasl (2005); and the stripped-down Stuck! by Terry Walling (2008) and Stuck by Elisabeth Rose (2009).

Others approach the subject more from the fire department perspective, focusing on "unstuck," as in: Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression by James S. Gordon (2009); Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer's Block by Jane Anne Staw (2004); Getting Unstuck by Don Kerson (2008); Simple Acts of Moving Forward: 60 Suggestions for Getting Unstuck by Vinita Hampton Wright (2009); Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns & Encountering Naked Reality [With Earbuds] by Pema Chodron (2009) (a "Preloaded Digital Audio Player"); Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Restoring Work-Life Balance by Sharon Teitelbaum (2005), and also apparently concerned with remaining intact in the process, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity by Susan O'Doherty (2007).

I have already read or am reading a few of these works. I probably won't be able to resist several others. Pooh Gets Stuck (Isabel Gaines, 1999) remains one of my favorite children's books (despite one Amazon reviewer's insistence that it is really about constipation, and not metaphysically). You might say I'm stuck on "stuck" and "unstuck."

But why do so many of us want to read and write about being stuck? Is this moment in our cultural history particularly characterized by the sense of being mired? The book titles imply the experience of having broken down on the way to some destination, like the Isuzu Trooper that either was or wasn't "stuck in the mud"--I could never remember which, though the phrase "stuck" in my head. But where is it we are trying to go?

Other images come to mind, from Flick and his icy pole to pinned entomological specimens--though now that I think about it, I believe (and hope) that insects are dead before being mounted. But the core of the stuckness with which we are so concerned appears to be the inability to move. This especially interests me, since the first thing I think of in response to that observation comes from my training in meditation--the advice to "Be here now," to sit (literally) with whatever is, without struggling. And yet Buddhists and mindfulness meditators are also speaking and writing in the language of "stuck."

For whatever it's worth, I am very recently engaged in a process that feels like getting unstuck. I am moving into new places and ways of being. I may not know where I'm going; may, in fact, not be going anywhere. But I am breaking free of some old inertia. And movement is at the core of what distinguishes the living from the unliving. I am no longer quite so "thtuck!"