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

Monday, April 2, 2012

Unplanned Spring Break

or unplanned spring breakdown.

It has become clear to me, after post production ground to a halt last week, that I am suffering an acute case of work exhaustion.  Since everyone else in my household has had or will be having a spring break, I have decided to follow suit.  Instead of feeling guilty about not blogging, I am giving myself the week off.

Back next Monday.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Done for the Week: First Things Last?

I'm continuing to fight the good fight--with myself.  And I'm continuing to lose.  I just can't get it all done.  I can't even remember what it all is. 

Despite having read about a zillion books and articles on slowing down, and simplifying, and living at the speed of life, I find myself busier and busier.  New assignments creep in under the door while I'm not looking.  New wrinkles, in time, on my face, and in the form of complications present themselves at every turn.

Things continue to get done, somehow.  Not necessarily the most important things, but . . .

Done for the Week:  Mar. 19-24, 2012

  1. Biked twice
  2. Worked with physical therapist once to restore injured foot
  3. Continued reading Elizabeth George's A Place of Hiding aloud with my husband
  4. Read A Mind to Murder, by P.D. James
  5. Continued reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past
  6. Continued to work my two part-time jobs
  7. Published 3 Put it to Bed blog posts
  8. Attended an Altitude Design Summit web class
  9. Continued work on current clients' projects
  10. Contracted with new client
  11. Prepared bid for prospective client
  12. Attended one yoga class
  13. Did laundry
  14. Continued college conversations with youngest son
  15. Meditated 2 times
  16. Met with Communications Team co-chair
  17. Co-chaired Communications Team meeting 
  18. Spent hours mocking up potential newsletter
  19. Helped take my baby granddaughter swimming for the first time
  20. Had lunch date with my husband
  21. Took my dog to the dog park
  22. Spent time digging out the kitchen
  23. Made arrangements to convert stock to IRA
  24. Made changes to the nonprofit website I volunteer manage
  25. Attended church service on e. e. cummings
The most important thing I did last week was. . .   Actually, I have no idea what the most important thing on this long and somewhat exhausting list was. 

Sometimes, I can answer this self-imposed question rather easily.  Something jumps out.  Today, I'm too tired to judge.  And to busy to take the time.  Not good signs.

Last week, I continued to try to focus on meditating and writing daily--or at least regularly.  

But, to my chagrin, "it's still not working."   I'm beginning to think I don't know much about focusing.  Maybe I'm missing the gene for this important human capability. 

If I'm honest, I have to admit that I never really give up trying to do all the other things on my literal and mental lists, so focus goals don't enjoy real primacy. 

For next week, I'm going to experiment with not setting a focus goal.  I wonder if it will make any difference to how I allot my time and energy, and to the results.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hot and Bothered

Yesterday was the first day of spring.  Where I live, the temperature was a record-breaking 83 degrees F.  And today, the record set yesterday was broken when temperatures reached 84.  This comes at the tail of a record-setting string of March days above 70 degrees.

While the unseasonably warm weather has been mostly enjoyable, it is also worrisome.  And I gather, from what I've been reading in the brain science literature, that I am unlikely to be the only one who is "going there" in these unusual circumstances--our brains being wired, as they are, to respond anxiously and to look for the dark side.

So what am I worried about?

Well, of course, there's the whole global warming thing.  As I shed my accustomed layers, I can't help but think of Al Gore's friend, the boiling frog.  Having taking my share of science classes, I get that we shouldn't freak out about a strong trend that may prove to be insignificant in the long run.  But still . . .

And then there is my immediate concern with the flora in my region, my neighborhood, and my yard.  On NPR's All Things Considered last week, in a segment entitled "What's the Impact of Early Blooms?," Melissa Block interviewed Jake Weltzin, an ecologist and the executive director of the USA National Phenology Network.  Phenology, Block informed her listeners, is the the study of the effect of climate on the life cycles of plants and animals.  Phenologist Weltzin told us that
We are seeing strong trends almost wherever we look.  In the last decade, we're actually now starting to be able to say OK, well, we see patterns of plants and animals coming earlier.  And we have better and better climatological records, temperature records, and we can start to link those together.  And there's a paper coming out it seems every week now that's saying OK, here's a trend in bees coming out 10 days earlier over the last 130 years, and we can attribute that to warming temperatures.

When Ms. Block asked "If a plant or tree does bloom or leaf out early, does that affect its seasonal cycle for the rest of the year?," Dr. Weltzin answered, it seems to me ominously, that
We don't really know for a lot of plants. And we're just starting to get that information organized. Some plants do, indeed, have a deterministic life cycle, which means that if they come up early they will shut down early. Others are indeterministic and they'll grow and grow and grow all season long.
He was clearer about bugs, asserting that early bug growth is correlated with early plant growth, and that scientists are concerned about more problems from "bad bugs" this summer--like the mosquitoes who carry West Nile virus, for example.

On Monday, I opened the local paper to learn that "Wisconsin maple producers endure worst year in memory," answering Friday's question from a Yahoo contributor "Will an Early Spring Ruin Your Pancakes?  Yes, apparently.

On top of global warming, plants and bugs running amok, and the end of breakfast as we knew it, there is my fear of a blisteringly hot summer.  Again, I am not alone, as readers and callers, columnists and bloggers and weather analysts have expressed this apprehension.  And again, "scientific" study yields little in the way of clarity or prediction.  All seem agreed.  This summer may be hotter than usual.  And it may not be.

So to review.  We are probably experiencing global warming, but we kind of knew that, right?  The plants and trees are all screwed up, and we're in for a swarm of bugs, which were already in evidence in my grandchildren's backyard yesterday--several weeks ahead of schedule.  And it may or may not be extra hot this summer.

All of this should probably not stop me from enjoying the blooming violets and primroses encountered on my walk today; or the reprieve from wearing the heavy winter coat I'm entirely sick of after six months; or the opportunity to sit in the grass with my summer clad grandkids this afternoon.  Indeed, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Buddha's Brain:  The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom advises us to soak up such positive sensations and experiences to counteract that negativity that is our brain's natural state. 

So I guess I'll just have to suck it up and deal with the balminess, the sunshine, and the gift of this crazy unseasonal season.  And anyway, it's supposed to rain tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Procrastinating 101: Catching Up to the Can We Kicked

This week's Procrastinating 101 deals with Chapter 7 of Dr. Timothy Pychyl's book, The Procrastinator's Digest:  A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.  Chapter 7 is entitled "Why Getting Started Isn't the Whole Solution."

At this over-halfway mark, Dr. Pychyl warns that "just getting started," as he advised in the previous chapter, engenders positive feelings.  Wait.  Warns?  Positive feelings?  All good, right?

Wrong.  Because those positive feelings can come back to bite us, setting us up for another round with those "biases in planning and thinking" that we know so well.  You might say (if you want to ring an over-used chime in this seemingly endless political season) we've "kicked the can down the road."

And so, says Pychyl,
we have to recognize other points at which we typically abandon our goal pursuit.  We have to be prepared to address each of these as they arise, otherwise we will fall back into habitual ways of responding. . . . [because] [p]rocrastination is not just a failure to get started.
And specifically
We have to be prepared to deal with changes in our mood related to setbacks and disappointments.  We have to be prepared to deal with distractions.  We have to be prepared to overcome obstacles.

Pychyl puts forth two main strategies to deal with this "delayed onset procrastination."  (As a runner who has suffered DOMS--delayed onset muscle soreness--I contributed this term.)  Here again, predecisions and implementation intentions are key.

The first approach is to "predecide" to eliminate/limit distractions--proactively.  The second is to formulate "if/then" implementation intentions to deal with distractions, obstacles and setbacks.  Ala this chapter's mantra--"I need to be prepared to deal with distractions, obstacles and setbacks."

Pychyl provides the following table to help us identify the distractions, obstacles and setbacks we typically experience with respect to or main procrastinated task(s); and to formulate a strategy to head them off proactively, or to resist the urge to procrastinate when they occur.

Distraction, Obstacle or Setback
Remove Proactively?
Implementation Intention

Example:  Email

Yes, shut it off before I work.

Example:  Friends’ Invitations

IF my friends call to invite me out this weekend, THEN I will immediately say “thanks but no, I’m committed to finishing my work.”

Example:  Stuck on my work and don’t know what to do

IF I get stuck, confused and worried because I don’t know what to do, THEN I will stay put and list what I do know to be sure what it is I don’t know.  Once I know this, I can seek help if needed.  I won’t give up.

Next week, willpower.  In the meantime you're missing some great cartoons, and lots more detail if you don't read the book.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Done for the Week: Up the River

Another crazy busy week.  And the coming one promises to be worse.  Lots of stuff seems to be getting done; not much of it particularly well planned.  Planning takes a bit more time and energy than seems to be available to me just now.

At any rate, here's the list.

Done for the Week:  Mar. 12-18, 2012

  1. Swam once with my workout partner; canoed once
  2. Worked with physical therapist twice to restore injured foot
  3. Continued reading Elizabeth George's A Place of Hiding aloud with my husband
  4. Read The Black Cat, by Martha Grimes; Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen
  5. Continued reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past
  6. Continued to work my two part-time jobs
  7. Published 4 Put it to Bed blog posts
  8. Continued to participate more in the BlogHer community
  9. Continued work on current clients' projects
  10. Resumed work on previous client's large project
  11. Attended two yoga classes
  12. Did laundry
  13. Continued college conversations with youngest son
  14. Meditated 2 times
  15. Straightened my work room
  16. Attended Board meeting
  17. Attended Issues Night meeting; joined new voter id task force
  18. Traveled to Minneapolis with my husband and one son, to visit with my stepdaughter and her family
  19. Met my newest step-grandson
  20. Experienced a "wild ride" adventurous late evening canoe trip down the St. Croix River
  21. Celebrated St. Patrick's Day Eve Happy Hour with my husband
  22. Spent extra time babysitting my sick grandson
  23. Took my dog to the dog park
    The most important thing I did last week was traveling with my husband and son to visit my stepdaughter and her family, including their new baby.  

    I have often commented that my "blended" family is more like something out of a Cuisinart gone wrong.  At this late date in my second--and last--marriage, I wish to provide all of us with as many pleasant experiences as possible.  And although this one required sitting in a car for more than 16 hours, among other inconveniences, it was completely worth it.  Wedging a seven-mile canoe trip, between river banks dotted with snow, against the wind and the dwindling light, sandwiched into a 2-1/2 hours round trip by car from their house, was totally over the top--and again, well worth it.  A high point was rowing past an island whose trees were filled with blue heron nests, and watching the beautiful awkward birds take flight.

    We also took the scenic route home from Minneapolis, driving along the banks of the Mississippi.  The riverfront vistas of  bluffs and locks and aspen filled our eyes and souls with unaccustomed wonder.

    Back in the everyday world, last week's focus goal was "to continue the effort to meditate regularly and to write every day for the remainder of March."

    As in previous weeks, I continue to have difficulty pulling this one off.  According to all the magazine articles I peruse while on a stationary bike or at my physical therapist's office, all the books I'm slogging through, and all the blogs I consult, it should be a simple matter to effect these habit changes.  All I have to do is implement the programs dictated by the "new science of the brain," and voila!  I should be meditating and writing up a storm, as desired.

    But as with my governor's job creation approach, "it's not working."   However, I'm not being recalled--at least not yet--and so I have some time to get it right. 

    Next week:  same focus goal, same resolve in the face of anticipated same uncooperative circumstances.  I plan to tweak, and tweak some more.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    A Blogging Handoff

    Today got away from me.  Too many appointments, meetings and work commitments.  One too many naps in the sun.  Not nearly enough meals.

    So tonight, instead of cranking out some drivel to fill this space, I'm going to direct my Put it to Bed readers to this excellent post on the subject of procrastination, "Why Procrastination Is Good for You: 5 Ways to Make it Work", by Lisa Earl McLeod.

    And here's why.  Because:

    • It's way better than anything I'm going to write tonight.  Trust me.
    • It takes a position pretty much the opposite of what the experts tell us to do about procrastination, which appeals to my inner Che.
    • I find myself knee-deep in great posts to read, and bowing out on this occasion will make more reading time available for an existing post that deserves attention.  (If my seven regular readers all follow this bread crumb to the post in question.)
    • Of some other reasons I'm too tired to articulate adequately.
    Thank you Lisa Earl McLeod, for providing this fortunate "out" for a played out blogger.

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    Dr. Mom, Nurse Nana, and Undoing My To-Do List

    As a mother for thirty-four years, and a grandmother for four, you'd think I would have figured this out by now.

    Kids get sick!  And then the other kids get sick!  And then I get sick!

    I'm sick of this!

    One of the most frequent interruptions to work I have tried to do, and a life I have tried to make, has been the illnesses of children.  Acute and chronic.  Slight and more serious.  Physical and mental.  And quite often, some combination of these, and affecting more than one child at a time.  And always requiring some alteration of my routine, either minor or grand.

    I accept that providing the care and nurturance needed to support these children who depend on me in their return to health and functioning is my responsibility.  Not my responsibility alone, but one that has fallen mainly to me, if for no other reason than that I am capable of fulfilling it.  Exceptionally capable.

    At present, my household includes one minor (in his late teens), and one young adult, in addition to a spouse who is by nature helpless when it comes to dealing with his own incapacitations, let alone those of others.  Additionally, I provide part-time childcare for my daughter's four-year-old and five-month-old.  I am no longer chiefly responsible for any of these individuals.  But their illnesses still throw a wrench in my works, as they have done this week--what with the extra trips for Pediacare, and for prescriptions and sick food; the extra hours spent sitting on the floor with a barfy preschooler; the worrying and advising as my asthmatic, acutely ill, and recently employed son learns to work while sick.  The chicken soup.

    But here's the thing.  Not only is it inherently stressful to deal with sick people, and particularly small sick people.  There's all that regression, the whining and screaming and demandingness.  And there's the barfing, the uncovered sneezing, the shiny green snot on the upper lips.  The hacking cough that hurts to hear.  And the loss of sleep, the twenty-four-sevenness of the whole thing.  But added to all this are the demands of work that are incompatible with this job of home nursing.  Demands that don't go away, just because we are not in a position to respond to them. 

    In our society, we don't arrange our work lives to accommodate illness, though it is pretty much a given that it will occur.  And it is generally women who pay the price of this lack of "intelligent design."  For some of us who are employed outside the home, it is an issue of paid, or unpaid sick leave.  Some workers cannot take time off, period, to deal with illness.  Others must sacrifice income to do so.

    In my community, we recently passed a paid sick leave ordinance, which was subsequently stopped by an injunction; then the injunction was overturned on appeal; then the governor signed into law a bill blocking the ordinance.  The ordinance would have required that employers allow workers to earn paid sick leave, which could be used for their own or family members' illnesses.  It would have been a major benefit to low income women and their children.  Other communities have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, and still others have attempted to do so.  The National Partnership for Women and Families is working to establish support for national legislation providing for paid sick leave.

    It will never be fun or easy to take care of sick children.  Or to be sick ourselves.  But we shouldn't be punished for stepping up to the task.

    In addition to the paid sick leave issue, there is the societal more that work must come first.  No excuses.  This expectation is increasingly problematic as work creeps into our homes, and beyond its workday boundaries, with email, texts and smartphones expanding our accessibility.  It is difficult to contend with the feelings of guilt and resentment engendered by these requirements while simultaneously carrying barf buckets, washing extra laundry, administering medicines, visiting doctors, taking temperatures, and providing TLC.

    In this environment, it is a radical act--one that I am trying to educate myself to perform--to let oneself off the hook.  So this week, I intend to let go the work that interferes with what I need to do for the sick people in my family.  And I will not push said work into the time I need for rest, so that I don't get sick.  'Cuz God knows, no one has time to take care of me!

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    Procrastinating 101: Just Start, to Finish

    Okay.  It's Tuesday.  I don't know about you, but I'm still a procrastinator, in some form or another.  So it's time, once again, for Procrastinating 101--our (mostly) weekly survey class-type discussion of the findings and writings of experts in the field.

    At present, we are making our way through Dr. Timothy Pychyl's blessedly boiled-down treatment, The Procrastinator's Digest:  A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.  We are up to Chapter 6:  "The Power of Getting Started."

    And the mantra for this chapter?  "Just get started."

    So, let's begin.  

    Pychyl tells us that "getting started changes our perceptions of a task," according to research he has conducted.  Specifically, once we have gotten our feet wet with respect to a dreaded task, we see that task as significantly less unpleasant, onerous, daunting, etc.  And we feel differently about ourselves, too, once we get started--"more in control and more optimistic."  So if we
    'prime the pump' by making some progress on our goals, the resulting increase in our subjective well-being enhances further action and progress.
    (And now that I am a few paragraphs into writing this post that I couldn't get to earlier today--thanks to a barfing grandson, a moody spouse, and the usual unanticipated work obligations and other interruptions--I feel more positive than when I began.  The post seems more "writeable" and I feel more capable of finishing it.  Dr. Pychyl and his academic crew seem to have gotten this one right.)

    At this point, Dr. Pychyl returns to his advice, set out more generally earlier in the book, that we use the device of an implementation intention as a cornerstone of our strategy for change.   This time around, he provides a bit more detail:

    As defined in the well-developed psychology of action created by Peter Gollwitzer (University of New York) [mentioned in an earlier post drawing on the book Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath], an implementation intention supports a goal intention by setting out in advance when, where and how we will achieve this goal (or at least a sub-goal within the larger goal or task).
     An implementation intention that aims to interrupt our procrastinating behavior pattern could look like this:

    IF I say to myself things like, "I'll feel more like doing this later" or "I don't feel like doing this now," THEN I will just get started on some aspect of the task.

    Pychyl cautions us against going all Nike--"Just do it!"--lest we get overwhelmed.  We are "pre-deciding" only to start, after which "the 'doing it' will take care of itself."

    I was particularly taken with Dr. Pychyl's reference to meditation as an example of something that takes continual "re-starting," as we return our wandering attention to the breath.  He uses this as an analogy for the process of starting on a task, not just once, but again and again throughout the day.

    He goes on to provide research-based advice that we need to think concretely about a project, and to begin with a small, tangible action.  For example, we might begin a writing task by typing a title, or assembling references.  I might begin a blog by finding an image, or choosing labels.  

    Tucked ever-so-subtly under this positive section describing writing, sculpting, farming, and carpentry as beginning with  "roughing" in, is this bit of "tough love" from the man whose students have dubbed him "Dr. Procrastination:"

    Honestly, if you are not ready to make this first step, to just get started, on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis, then put this book down now.  You are not committed to change yet, and nothing else I have to say will matter in your self-change.  Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to discourage you.  I am just being honest.

    If we are still hanging in after that "talking-to," Dr. Pychyl directs us to begin concretizing a project on which we have been procrastinating, using the following table:

    Goal or Task

    Priority or Order of Completion
    List of Sub-tasks


    And now that I've reached the end of this post, please excuse me while I proceed to fill in the cells with every trivial thing I can think of which might move me closer to the completion of my novel.  Of course, sharpening pencils is not only the most tired of cliches, but also anachronistic.  But what about cutting out pictures for a story board?  Or replacing the lamp in my work room?  Or . . . .

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Done for the Week: Focus Pocus

    If Samson's voluminous hair was the source of his fabled strength, my formerly reliable left foot may have been mine.  
    It has been months now that I've been struggling with pain and diminished mobility at the aggravated site of a five-year-old injury.  For much of that time, I have been ordered by various health care professionals to "rest" the offending appendage.  While I can bike and swim, and most recently use the elliptical trainer, I am still enjoined from running.  Which makes this newbie triathlete more of a bi-and-a-half-lete.  And not a very happy one.
    The enforced suspension has kind of muted my overall motivation to train, and dented the athletic identity that kept me moving.  I am getting lazier and lazier about working out.  And that laziness threatens to expand into a general miasma.
    I did get some things done last week, but I had to lash myself from time to time to do so.

    Done for the Week:  Mar. 5-11, 2012

    1. Biked once; swam once with my workout partner
    2. Worked with physical therapist twice to restore injured foot
    3. Continued reading Elizabeth George's A Place of Hiding aloud with my husband
    4. Read Plain Truth, by Jodi Picoult
    5. Continued reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past
    6. Continued to work my two part-time jobs
    7. Published 5 Put it to Bed blog posts
    8. Continued to participate more in the BlogHer community
    9. Continued work on current clients' projects
    10. Resumed work on previous client's large project
    11. Attended two yoga classes
    12. Went out to dinner with my two sons
    13. Did laundry 
    14. Continued college conversations with youngest son
    15. Signed youngest son up for ACT testing
    16. Meditated 3 times
    17. In addition, attended day long Buddhist meditation retreat, involving approximately 200 minutes of sitting and 60 minutes of walking meditation 
    18. Straightened my work room 
    19. Attended Social Justice committee meeting 
    20. Met with Communications team
    21. Attended church service
    22. Signed up for Journey to Membership classes at new church
    23. Watched an episode of Trigun with my son
    24. Survived transition to Daylight Savings Time
    Continuing physical therapy on my injured foot was the most important thing I did last week.  I am coming to understand the importance of working through this injury, and the drain it has placed on my energy and exertion in all areas of my life.  So keeping the therapy appointments, and doing my "homework" in between is crucial.  In addition, I will need to keep fighting the urge to sit down and stay seated.  And that will mean forcing myself to get to the gym more often.

    Last week's focus goal was "to concentrate on writing and meditating, continuing the approaches that have been working recently.I would say that I succeeded in holding the line--more or less, and by hook and by crookA very intense day-long meditation retreat stood in for some of the shorter daily sessions I didn't manage to squeeze in during the week.  And though I fell short of my goal to write something each day, I did publish five original blog posts, begin work on a new poem, and complete a journal entry that led to a blog post.

    I have finally learned, it seems, that I need to stay with a focus goal for at least a month in order for it to "take."  So I have decided to continue the effort to meditate regularly and to write every day for the remainder of March.    

    I guess it says something about me, and about my ongoing organizational challenges, that I would attempt to implement a "focus" approach that has more in common with a firefly than a laser beam. . .

    Friday, March 9, 2012

    Taking Out Each Other's Trash

    Gretchen Rubin's latest happiness tweak is throwing away someone else's trash.  

    I get the whole thing about doing something small for someone else.  And not just to "boost your self-esteem."  The application with which I am most familiar is related to stress reduction.  It is said, and I have experienced, that the act of slowing yourself down by letting someone go ahead of you in traffic, or in the checkout line--especially when you are feeling rushed and short on time--creates the perception of more time.  It works.  It really does.

    Not incidental is the positive feedback that generally attends such public generosity--although occasionally the response is more like "What are you?  Nuts?"  And you can end up feeling a little sheepish.

    But the kind of trash that troubles me most in my own environment, I think of as "life trash."  In this category are undone tasks, unfinished projects, and unfulfilled dreams.  It strikes me as a particularly appealing kindness--one I'd love to be on the receiving end of--to help another dispose of detritus of this sort. 

    As a mom for more than half my life now, I am in a great position to help out in this way.  Living with two young adult men, I find myself frequently hip-deep in refuse, life- and plain old.  But as a mom, I have learned--not without pain and stumbling, on my part and theirs--that it isn't always a purely good thing to rush into the breach without summons.  

    Yet another opportunity to practice that all-purpose virtue--BALANCE.  

    But it does feel really good to magnanimously offer to move a load of wash to the dryer for one of my roomies.  Or to put gas in the car when they're running late.  Or to post a letter they forgot to send.  And helping them to experience life as a bit more doable helps me to believe that I can manage, too.  But it's not so much fun if they begin to rely on my rescue.  And if they ask, it had better be done nicely.  I don't do demands from this crew.

    And just for the record, if someone offers to do the dishes I haven't gotten to, I'm taking it. 

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    Written in My Sleep

    So maybe health and well-being are overrated?  

    The latest wrinkle in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) vein is Joseph Bates' book, The Nighttime Novelist:  Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time.  What spare time, you may well ask?  As I am asking.

    As you might have guessed from the title--really, it's not hard, since the word "nighttime" is right there after "the"--Mr. Bates, in fact, has in mind that same part of the day that Gretchen Rubin [The Happiness Project] tells us we should spend comatose, if we want to be happy; that Dr. Andrew Weil advises we pass unconscious in order to be healthier and more energetic; that doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend we devote to dreaming in order to improve blood pressure.

    But Bates is more concerned with our artistic output.  He holds up as exemplars those "famous authors who held day jobs and then did their best work by night."  He intended to begin his book by mentioning 
    Franz Kafka, who spent his days at a cramped desk at Workers Accident Insurance Institute of Prague and his nights hunched over his writing desk at home, making stories and novels so fantastic and strange it would be necessary to coin a term, Kafkaesque, to describe them[;]
    and to go on to name
    William Carlos Williams (practicing physician) or Joseph Heller (advertising) or Toni Morrison (publishing). . . . [and to] bring up stories, by now well known, of authors currently making more-than-comfortable livings who began by stealing time to write:  Stephen King, for example, who taught high school English, or John Grisham, who worked as an attorney, or J. K. Rowling, who, as the story goes, was actually fired from her job and was on welfare when she began writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  For a bit of comic relief, I'd bring up William Faulkner's stint as a postmaster ... comic because I find it difficult to believe any mail was actually delivered.
    But, he says, his list grew too long to consider these individuals anamolous.  
    The truth is, there are only a handful of writers working who make their living solely by their fiction.  Most are people who put in long days, have families to care for or responsibilities to meet, work hard to make the bills, could probably use a rest, and who nevertheless feel compelled, after all is said and done, to sit by themselves and write stories.  These Nighttime Novelists publish the majority of books on the shelves.
    To be fair, Bates concedes that this "spare time" can also be found by getting up early, and by writing on weekends.  But in either case, it's still coming out of the rest we are constantly being reminded is essential to our general welfare. 

    Another writer who prescribes midnight oil burning is Jonathan Manor, guest blogger on Jeff Goins Writer.  (Goins introduces Manor as "obnoxious, insecure, and above all else, awesome."  Maybe he'd have a better personality if he got a little more sleep?)

    Manor's guest post is entitled "Why You Should Be Writing at Night."  In it, he tells us that
    Good writers write at night, because it’s devoid of distraction, there’s nothing else left to do in the day, there’s no one else to hurry to. It’s simply just you being yourself and pouring out the emotions that you’ve gathered from your day time experience and using that creativity to create something beautiful and interesting.
    I, personally, designate a time to write “good” pages between the hours of 10:30pm to 3:00am.
    Manor doesn't advise destroying one's health.
    Getting to bed by 3:00am gives me the opportunity for a healthy night’s sleep where I could wake up at 10am and get to work by noon. Sleep is important, never skip out on sleep, meals, and play time.
    He personally has a minimum wage part-time job in an interior decoration store, which accommodates his nocturnal creativity. 

    It does seem sometimes like the only way I’m going to get more writing done is to take the time from sleep, as these gentlemen suggest.  But since lack of sleep can lead to depression, exaccerbate my high blood pressure, or trigger anxiety, that's a problematic solution.  And my day jobs involve meeting with clients at their convenience, learning and utilizing complex new technology, and caring for small children and putting up with big ones.  I need my wits about me, and my work schedule is unpredictable and not especially flexible.

    I suppose it doesn’t make sense for me to keep trying to cram more stuff into my days. But if something’s got to give, maybe it shouldn’t be sleep. 

    For tonight, I'm already up past my bedtime.  My husband is next to me asleep.  I need to be done with this post.  I will pay for this in the morning as I struggle to make an early meeting.  

    Time now for my "medicinal" glass of wine, and the couple of pages of Proust I can finish before I conk out.

    Proust, "most of [whose] writing was done in bed, at night, in a cork lined room, surrounded by the apparatus of the invalid."  Maybe he could have used more sleep?  And a bit more paragraphing.

    Wednesday, March 7, 2012

    What the World Needs Now is . . . Yet Another Blog Post?

    If you're a writer, maybe you are familiar with the dreaded bookstore malaise.  You know how sometimes, in mid-browse, you are suddenly overtaken with the strong sense that the world doesn't really need another book, especially not yours?  All those shiny jackets, fawning blurbs, and beautiful words seem so sufficient.  And really, you're not exactly Jane Austen, or the next MacArthur genius, are you?

    I have recently stepped up my readership in the blogosphere.  Perhaps a mistake. 

    Today, I have that sucked-out, flattened, so-so-many-books feeling about my blog posts.  With all these ideas, and stories, and images and sentences swirling around in hyperspace, what difference can it possibly make if I manage to crank out another post?  I feel redundant.  Cliche.  Superfluous.

    I suppose it's temporary.

    I've always managed to recover from the bookstore thing.  And gone on to scribble, fairly relentlessly, if not yet to a satisfactory conclusion.

    When my children have denigrated their talents, I have attempted to buttress their spirits with the example of a profusion of flowers.  Or of snowflakes.  No two alike.  Each one having its part to play, its contribution to make in the bouquet, or the blizzard. 

    Tonight, my small effort is this self-questioning post.  This reaction to the multitude of online commentary in which I've been immersed.  This dark night of the blogger's soul.

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    Procrastinating 101: Thinking Like a Human

    Chapter 5 in Dr. Timothy Pychyl's book The Procrastinator's Digest:  A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle--entitled "Excuses & Self-Deception:  How our Thinking Contributes to our Procrastination"--is the basis of today's Procrastinating 101.  And his mantra for this chapter?  "I need to be aware of my rationalizations."

    According to Dr. Pychyl, screwy thinking that supports the procrastination habit includes the human tendencies to:
    1. discount future rewards in relation to short-term rewards
    2. underestimate the time things will take and overestimate how much we can do  [leads to poor planning]
    3. prefer tomorrow over today [eventually leads, via something psychologists call intransitive preference, to the point right before a deadline where not only is tomorrow no longer preferable to today as a starting date, but in fact a previous date--no longer available--is preferred to today]
    4. self-handicap to protect self-esteem [like starting so late that you can't be expected to do really well on a project]
    5. think irrationally about the task at hand and our ability to accomplish the task [like insist on perfection, for example], and
    6. manufacture our own happiness by changing our thinking to be consistent with our behavior [i.e., contending with cognitive dissonance, which creates its own problems].

    In order to cope with cognitive dissonance, procrastinators may employ 
    • distraction 
    • forgetting
    • trivialization
    • self-affirmation
    • denial of responsibility
    • adding consonant cognitions
    • making downward-counterfactuals ("It could've been worse!"), and 
    • [actually] changing behavior.  
    Changing behavior would involve acting, instead of procrastinating--something that is difficult to do, and therefore not so likely.  The other coping strategies on this list, while they may result in better feelings in the present, can be maladaptive.  A better approach is what Pychyl calls "planful-problem-solving".  
    Dr. Pychyl also reminds us, as we have learned from others in our Procrastinating 101 series, that, despite what many of us believe, in most cases we don't "work best under pressure."  (He includes in this chapter a pretty frightening cartoon, in which one of our last-minute brethren finally gets around to thinking about packing his parachute on the way down!  Maybe that will scare some of us straight--or early.)

    Pychyl's main piece of advice in this chapter is that we identify those irrational thoughts that lead us to procrastinate; and having done that, that we form an implementation intention, which he described in his Chapter 3.  In this way, the irrational thought becomes the cue (e.g., "If I catch myself thinking/saying 'I work best under pressure,') to implement the desired change in our thinking ("then I remind myself that this is self-deception, and just get started on the task").

    He leaves us with the assignment to list our typical excuses for procrastinating, something he says may take some time.  These lies we tell ourselves, when we hear them asserting themselves again, can then be used to trigger the new response--just get started.  
    Next week, we will learn from Dr. Pychyl why this approach works.   I don't know about you, but from where I sit, it sounds too easy to be true.  But just in case, I plan to show up next week with rationalizations and excuses in hand, willing to take the plunge.  But not without packing my chute.  Not even this inveterate relier on that most motivating of hours--the 11th--would leave that to the last minute.

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Done for the Week: Leaps and Bounds, and a Bit of Limping

    February was full of celebrations, this year even more than usual.  And as I am working with my physical therapist to repair my "gait mechanics," I am challenged as well to negotiate the choppy rhythms of my days with strength and grace.

    March should present a more even surface.

    In this last week of February, in between snowfalls and tantalizingly warm days, stress and happy moments, I managed to get the following done:

    Done for the Week:  Feb. 27-Mar. 4, 2012

    1. Biked once; used elliptical trainer once; swam once with my workout partner
    2. Continued physical therapy for foot injury
    3. Continued reading Elizabeth George's A Place of Hiding aloud with my husband
    4. Read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender
    5. Continued reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past
    6. Continued to work my two part-time jobs
    7. Finished participating in BlogHer's NaBloPoMo for February
    8. Published 5 Put it to Bed blog posts
    9. Published 2 ReVersing Course posts
    10. Invented NaJusWriMo, to keep myself motivated to write; and signed on for March
    11. Began to participate more in the BlogHer community
    12. Continued work on current clients' projects
    13. Attended two yoga classes
    14. Had dinner with friends; baked and brought a (not particularly sad) lemon cake
    15. Did laundry 
    16. Continued college conversations with youngest son
    17. Meditated 6 times
    18. Straightened my work room
    19. Took my dog to the dog park
    20. Made and communicated the decision to leave my current church, coincidentally on Leap Day
    21. Celebrated our Leap Day anniversary with a small late-night Champagne party for two on the actual day
    22. Made arrangements to explore joining new church
    23. Attended new church with my husband and a friend
    24. Saw Art Museum's Accidental Genius exhibit of self-taught artists with my husband
    25. Celebrated our Leap Day anniversary two days late at the County Clare Inn
    26. Watched an episode of Eureka with my son
    27. Watched Devil in a Blue Dress with my husband
    Successfully finishing the February challenge of BlogHer's NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), and establishing my own NaJusWriMo (National Just Write Month) in order to continue the writing momentum inspired by NaBloPoMo, constituted last week's most significant achievement.  I am looking forward to continuing to take my writing more seriously, and to making more regular time for it.  I am beginning to believe that writing constitutes, at this time in my life, the deep yes I wrote about searching for some weeks ago.

    Last week's focus goal was "to strategize; to figure out how to apply what I know and am learning to the problem of wanting and needing to meditate, but not making time for it."   

    For whatever reason, I ended up skipping past the strategy part, and going straight to the meditating.  However, some semi-conscious tactical work appears to have taken place.  The key elements of last week's almost daily meditating, after weeks of wishful thinking about meditating, appear to have been these:
    1. I identified a time of day that had worked for me in the past, slotting in my practice as close as possible to that time.
    2. I forced myself to meditate before lunch, which in turn preceded leaving for my afternoon job three days a week.  In this way, lunch served as a buffer that promoted the feeling of having enough time to meditate, and as a reward for having done so.
    3. I lowered the bar in three ways, so that meditation didn't seem so daunting as it had become:  a.  I shortened the time from 20 minutes to 10;  b.  I relied on relaxation videos of nature scenes and sounds as a way of easing into a time of quiet; and c.  I skipped the cushion that had become a nemesis, and did my sitting on the couch in my workroom.  I view these measures as a form of training wheels to facilitate my return to this "bike" I had become so accustomed to before.  My intention is to continue using them until the habit is stronger, and then to remove them one at a time until I am once again sitting unsupported.
     I observe that I am feeling somewhat calmer--though perhaps only because I am not spending as much time flogging myself about not meditating? 
    For the coming week, I am focusing on writing and meditating, continuing the approaches that have been working recently.   
    What comes to mind is Michelangelo's purported description of how he created his sculpture of David:  "It's simple.  I begin with a piece of marble and remove everything that isn't David."  I feel like I am engaged in the attempt to unearth myself from all the busyness and clutter that keep me from being who I want to be.