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Sweet note on the dry erase board in the office this week

We are finally working from home. The students no longer are answering the telephone. We are having our first Zoom meeting tomorrow morning to check in. Denton’s stay-at-home order kicks in tomorrow night. I have plenty to do here to keep me busy, as my apartment looks like a tornado hit it (yes, ’tis the season, but in this case, just a simile) and thus is in desperate need of some attention.

Also I have books. Hundreds of books.

But I also need a little structure to maintain even a little bit of a sense of well-being. I can’t be alone in my house for weeks (months?) on end with no structure.

My goal checklist that I’ve been using this year to track the progress of my resolutions has thus far been extremely helpful for helping remain calm(ish). Every day I’m home all day, I make sure I’m:

  • drinking enough water
  • practicing Spanish, either through the Duolingo app or by reading a book in Spanish while keeping the dictionary close
  • dancing, whether for just a 10-minute break or a Zumba video or an online dance class (the tap classes Chloe Arnold is hosting through Instagram? Very cathartic. Highly recommend.)
  • exercising with Pilates on demand or with something that helps me stretch/strengthen
  • playing the keyboard (currently brushing up on some theory)
  • doing at least one thing to rest or pamper myself (e.g., relaxing foot soak, face mask, nap, etc.)
  • working on a crafty/creative project (e.g., knitting, poetry, coloring, etc.)
  • picking a different small area of the apartment to clean each day
  • taking a walk (weather permitting)
  • finishing the daily to-do list (e.g., keeping up with bills, checking in with friends, etc.)

I’m also taking the free Yale course, “The Science of Well-Being”. I’m just in the introduction, but I can already tell I’m going to like it.

I knew this weekend that I needed to go ahead and put these things in place now. I had a whole weekend at home. Normally, this would delight me. A whole free weekend? Paradise. But I spent a lot of the time overwhelmed and anxious and terribly lonely, despite the fact that I had a lot of interaction online. I thought when this started that this experience would be a good test of whether or not I could really work from home, but I may need reminders that this is a whole other animal. It’s not going to give me an accurate picture of what working from home would really be like.

What adjustments are you making to make this phase of life work?

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It’s the International Day of Happiness. This week has been w.e.i.r.d., to say the least. I’ve had a few panic attacks, and I’m still at work as we try to accommodate students who have nowhere else to go and figure out what in the world we’re going to do next (I would welcome faster decisions here…I’m just sayin’.). But there’s also been so many opportunities for joy. Just in my little corner of humanity, there is so much goodness. There are also so many fun things online. Here’s a list for times when you’re feeling more anxious than happy or just want something hopeful.

  1. Italians singing from their balconies.
  2. Lots of love happening on the ‘gram. Nikki Mayeaux is posting a daily creative prompt called Poem Passwords. The pictures on #seeninquarantine are spectacular. Between her early start for April Love and purrs from her sweet cat, Susannah Conway is soothing my soul. Julia Turshen is posting daily foodie prompts. I love this list from worn_ware of people offering yoga, meditations, etc.
  3. Tessera Arts Collective in Philadelphia closed the gallery for now, but they are still on for installing a street art campaign throughout the city this Sunday.
  4. Local businesses that can’t afford to shut down completely are making the best of it with delivery and curbside pickup. The Dentonite is keeping a running list. I love watching local business owners figure out how to take care of their employees by offering alternate earning opportunities and giving devoted patrons the ability to still tip their baristas/servers (*cough* support Golden Boy *cough*). Also…Golden Boy has key lime and coconut pie right now, which are in my top three favorite pies (blueberry is the third, if you’re wondering).
  5. Aid Network Denton and the city of Lake Dallas are keeping up a list of ways to get help or get involved if you can give help.
  6. Nature is delightful. The canals are clear and the swans are back in Venice. And penguins at the Shedd Aquarium enjoy a tour of the zoo.
  7. Since you can’t go in person, many field trip locations and entertainment venues are coming to you. You may also be able to watch the stage production of your favorite musical online. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming. Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted himself playing “All I Ask of You”, and Lin Manuel Miranda responded with his performance of “Everything’s Alright”. Yale is offering their course on The Science of Well-Being for free (audit only).
  8. For artists whose income is impacted by all the cancellations, here’s a list of places that may be able to offer support.
  9. Books resources! I didn’t know how much I needed Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog in my life until this week. In fact, many children’s authors are reading their books online this week. And one that made me salivate – download from a selection of over 300,000 books for free from the New York Public Library through their reader app!!!
  10. Debbie Allen is teaching online dance classes! So is Chloe Arnold!
  11. Joy the Baker is just a delight. As usual.
  12. People are putting their Christmas lights back up to spread joy.
  13. All the Julia Child is streaming!!
  14. What am I doing this weekend? I’m so glad you asked! 24in48’s Social Distancing Readathon!

I’m sure there’s more. What are your favorite things people are doing right now?

 

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Sometimes I start longhand.

Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s second volume of Love Letters to Writers comes out on November 19, and I’ve had the privilege of reading an advance copy. I’m also reading/listening to Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can and not participating in NaNoWriMo this month but living vicariously through others who are. So I’m doing a lot of reading and thinking about writing but not actually doing a lot of writing (well, not the creative kind that I like to do, anyway).

As reading about writing usually does, though, today’s selections have ganged up on me to remind me of why I miss NaNoWriMo when I don’t participate. It’s not the goal itself (although that’s a fun challenge) but rather the daily practice.

I balked at the write-every-day rule for a long time because I had a rigid idea of what that looked like.But what these two books and the reminder of what a month of intense word count goals can do for my writing have conspired to teach me is that writing every day is more about consistency than anything else.

I could use some more consistency in my creative writing practice.

I’m not going to try to start late and catch up for NaNoWriMo (although that would be entertaining). Instead, I’m going to set a measurable goal, just like we do every Monday in Andi’s online writing group, of setting a time aside for creative writing every day for the rest of the year. Lauren Graham outlines Don Roos’s Kitchen Timer method for doing so, and I’m going to borrow some of that structure to help with the goal.

  1. Every Sunday night, I am setting specific times to write every day and putting them on my calendar, just like any other appointment. I am also going to keep in mind that 15 minutes is longer than I’ve written most days this year, so if that’s the time I have some days, that’s the time I have, and that’s okay.
  2. During each writing appointment, I have exactly two things open. A current creative project I’m working on and my journal.
  3. The rules:
    * No internet
    * No music with words
    * No sudden spurt of cleaning or organizing
  4. Spend every minute set aside writing. If I get stuck on the project, I can switch to the journal.
  5. When time is up, it’s up. This is the part that I’ve skipped in the past, and I think that was a mistake. It felt good to go on in the moment when I was on a roll, but it also helped me justify skipping the next day (or two or three). Then I got out of the habit of writing daily. But I’m going to honor the rest of my schedule by ending my appointment when it’s scheduled to end.
  6. Monitor progress, but don’t let it prevent future progress. If I miss a day, I need to not dwell on it. If I only write 15 minutes a day for two weeks, I need to take the “only” out of that sentence. I tend to take myself less seriously as a writer if I don’t feel like I’ve spent enough time on it (whatever that means to me at the time). The truth is, though, that many authors have written whole books in the 15 minutes a day that all their children were asleep at once. There’s no reason that time frame can’t also work for me.

If you were to thumb through my handwritten journal, you’d find a motley array of scribbles – blog ideas, story outlines, bad poetry (all my poetry is bad at first), floor plan sketches, recipe ideas, daydreams about how my ideal job would look, etc. Knowing it’s there as an option takes away some of the resistance to a set writing time that I often feel.

I think that fighting that resistance is going to be key. Keeping my writing appointment every day can answer that annoying voice that tells me I don’t care enough about writing to make it a priority. Overcoming that voice (with the occasional assistance of CBD gummies and a qualified professional) can help me fight the anxiety that stifles the creativity I need to work toward developing more focus on my projects.

Definitely looking forward to that.

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So it’s not really Friday. I get that. But it’s the post that was meant for Friday, so here we are. One goal of a 31-day series is to get back in the habit of writing every day (or, rather, writing something other than for work). It’s a process.

To finish out the week of talking about tools I use to help me keep my life on track, I want to mention apps that I use to keep up with goal progression. I love making resolutions, but for most of my life, I would make them and then promptly forget about them. I think a lot of people have that experience. When I started tracking my goals, though, I had more success. Here are five of my favorite ways to track my goals:

  1. Club Pilates app – I know. Again I’m talking about it. I just love it. And now that I have a new phone that actually supports the app, I can track a lot of my health goals as well as schedule and keep track of my classes. Every smartphone comes with a health app, though, so even if you don’t go to Club Pilates, you can still have an easy way to track just about any health goal you have.
  2. Goodreads – I started with a goal of 100 books for the year. Then I extended it to 120. No matter how small or big your reading goal, though, you can track it with Goodreads. I also get a lot of recommendations from friends on this site/app.
  3. Spreadsheet – Looking at a long-term goal can be daunting. It’s important to break down resolutions into smaller goals. To this end, I keep a monthly spreadsheet that tracks daily progress toward goals. I broke my five resolutions into ten smaller goals, and I set a monthly goal for each. Then I tally each day that I reach part of the goal. For those of you who like to bullet journal, this can be not only helpful but cathartic.
  4. Fetch – I’m not sure how long Fetch has been around, but I love it. If you can’t tell, point systems really work for me. For the last few years, I have wanted to cook more at home and make better food choices. But if I don’t have groceries at my house, it’s not happening. Fetch rewards me for buying groceries. I’ve been using it for three weeks and just like magic, I have food in my house. I’m also more than 75% toward my first $10 reward. I do enjoy free things, and free things that help me meet my goals? Double bonus.
  5. Art journal – Different people use art journaling for different reasons. When one of your goals is to pursue creative expression more often, however, it can be a way of showing the progress of that goal. My art journal is a collection of collages, found and blackout poetry, stained-glass-style doodles, and song lyrics I want to set to a melody at some point (yes! I’m excited about it, too.). I have a pretty broad range for what I consider creative pursuits, but I track most of them by art journaling about them.

Do you make goals? If so, how do you keep track of your progress?

 

I’m talking about making my own luck this month.

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“Poets manage to get into a couplet what I struggle to achieve in an entire book.”
– Louise Penny-

March is the best month (my birth-month), but April is easily in my top five. Never mind that spring is trying to murder me. Never mind that the end of the semester is drawing nigh, and the students (and admittedly, all of us, too) have the -itis. Never mind that I don’t have a free weekend until mid-May. All of that pales in comparison to the fact that April is both National Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation Month.

I mean, that’s really every month with me. But others are more intentional about enjoying both this month, which gives me more opportunity to enjoy poetry and jazz with them.

One of my book clubs is reading and sharing poetry all month. We are having at least three poetry gatherings at a local coffee shop to read together and share our books, which seems like the very best outing I can think of.

So far I have started Don’t Get Your Hopes Up/Moon Woman by Courtney Marie and Fatima-Ayan Maliki Hirsi (two of our local poets) and When Angels Speak of Love by bell hooks (not pictured – reading a digital copy). Beautiful verses set a lovely tone for the whole day.

Then at night, I spend an hour or two listening to records as I wind down for bed. I’m looking forward to Arts and Jazz Fest at the end of the month. If you’re in Denton, you should check it out!

“eden all would abandon
to not be alone”
From the collection When Angels Speak of Love by bell hooks

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I wrote and shared this a few years ago. I’m reading through Tanya Marlow’s beautiful Those Who Wait for Advent this year and thus dealing with some things I had buried. Maybe you are, too, this season.

“I will make you a great nation.  Sarah will bear you a son!”

The Visitor always did like to make an entrance.

None of the standards –

No, “How have you been?”

Or, “Friend, that was a long journey!”

Only a big announcement would do.

She heard while she was minding the supper dishes.

And Sarah laughed.

The Visitor was perplexed.

“Why is Sarah laughing? What – does she think I can’t?!”

Abraham, sweet man, tried

To act like it was nothing

To deflect the sound coming from the other room

“Probably just thinking about something funny that happened today.”

She stood in the kitchen, listening to men make plans,

And Sarah laughed.

Wouldn’t this have made more sense, Sarah wondered,

To have told me this Himself?

Abraham’s a good husband,

But there’s only so much even a good husband can do to bring a child.

I guess I should be flattered, she thought.

They’re throwing me a surprise party.

In my womb.

And Sarah laughed.

She remembered elusive promises and hopes stirred.

How long had the story been told?

Around tables and fires, shrouded in wonder and awe.

Descendants outnumbering the sand.

It need only start with one.

But the one was nowhere to be found.

She had been told of His perfect timing,

So Sarah laughed.

She remembered elusive sleep and garments rent.

How many tears had she shed?

Surrounded by a sea of children, but always on the other side of the door.

Skinned knee unbandaged, wedding unattended, grandchildren unheld.

Age showing her what it was capable of

As the bleeding stopped, and the book closed.

She had already cried,

So Sarah laughed.

Is this how promises are fulfilled?

To wait until all hope, desire, and ability are gone?

To finally bring her what she always wanted

But only after it was too late for her to enjoy it fully?

Just to make Himself look more special than everyone already knew He was.

Maybe what she wanted to do was punch Him

But she couldn’t

So Sarah laughed.

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Friday Five3

Both jobs are super busy and all I want out of life is to be sitting at the table in this picture drinking this delicious thing (Harvest House’s cold brew with a shot of vanilla bourbon – DO IT), but that will have to wait until at least the end of next week or maybe September.

Whew.

But I’m taking a little break this afternoon because I love music and poetry and I have lovely musical and poetic things to share with you.

  1. Visceral Trio (one of whom is our former organist Henry who left to tour with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in May) released their debut EP today. You can listen to samples and buy it here.
  2. My social media feeds are stocked full of Aretha Franklin performances, and this is my favorite video I saw this week.
  3. “Poetry is a way of being in the world that wasn’t made for us.” Ten poets to check out. I especially love Ellen McGrath Smith.
  4. Oh gosh. This amazing picture.
  5. And this isn’t about music or poetry, but I can imagine sipping some of Joy the Baker’s lemonade concoctions while listening/reading. Except that charcoal nonsense. Or the cold brew. That sounds like a terrible thing to do to both coffee and lemonade.

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