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My first small, imperfect peaches of the season. 

My word for the year is “alive.” The universe is hilarious.

I had a few thoughts about how this would go. There were a lot of lofty quotes that came to mind and many goals I made that I thought would contribute to a more vibrant existence. I had no idea how often I would have to fight to actively choose living over becoming stagnant or something else.

Today I read Joy the Baker’s post on turning 39, and so much of it resonated with me. I can list the accomplishments I’m proud of and many things I do well, but most days I can’t help but feel that I, too, have been left behind – that I missed a turn somewhere that would have taken me down the path toward those Big Life Goals™ that I just assumed would come along as soon I was ready for them. I also love her curiosity and her intention to set aside the small life story in exchange for embracing the things that sparkle – to “do them badly, then less badly, then maybe almost well.”

When our church decided to start meeting remotely, we didn’t hesitate or put it off a few weeks to figure it out. Our pastor told council, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” He didn’t mean, of course, that doing a bad job at online services should be the goal. Only that it needn’t wait until we had all the information to do it expertly.

As you can imagine, this is not my modus operandi. I am all for jumping off the cliff (metaphorically); I just want to be armed with a gigantic parachute of relevant knowledge before I do.

But I started the year with a commitment to come alive, so whether I know what I’m doing or not, here I am, doing it badly but consistently. This looks like a lot of different things:

To bake and eat the cake that I’ve been craving for a month rather than just think about making it.

To dance, enjoying the way my body – this body, the one I have right now – feels when it moves.

To choose to spend money in a way that actually makes a difference in my life and the lives of others rather than contributing to the greed of entities that exist to homogenize us.

To play Chopin. And also Joplin. And also brand new things that no one but me has ever heard.

To sing, even when there’s no one to carry the harmony.

To eat my veggies and stay hydrated.

To seek out the people who love me well and stop worrying about those who don’t.

To discover how much time I have when I cut out all the things that don’t really matter.

To discover exactly which things do matter so, so much.

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I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s April Love challenge on Instagram, and today’s prompt is “five things about me.” So here goes:

  1. I have a sister who is one of my favorite people. She lives in a state of delight, getting excited about every joy. It’s captivating. I did not always want a sister, though. The whole time my mom was pregnant, I kept saying I was having a brother. I talked about it, prayed for it, dreamed about it. When a sister was born, I was flummoxed. It didn’t make sense to me. Our family already had a girl (me) so we needed a boy to make everything balance out. Gender roles were a big deal and part of my raising, so I figured a brother would have the necessary skills and traits to complement my own. So obviously I thought a mistake had been made and I wanted to speak to the manager. Offended at the audacity of God to deny my request and armed with a supreme practicality (even at the age of three), I set out to find ways to remedy this situation. I called her Tommy for the first three weeks of her life, perhaps hoping it would catch on. MeMaw told me that, if she kissed her elbow, she would turn into a boy. Excellent. Finally, an actual solution! I often snuck into her room to talk her into doing it herself. When she did not comply, I tried to help (don’t worry – no little sisters were actually harmed in the making of this story. I didn’t want to hurt her. Also, her crying would have alerted Mom to my subterfuge, so…not prudent.). But at some point, I discovered how rich life can be with a sister, and I’ve been pleased to call her mine (and also by her actual name) ever since.
  2. I grew up in a small town in the panhandle of Texas, and my parents still live on the farm there. When you grow up in an environment with a lot of narrow, rigid rules and expectations where compliance is valued over authenticity, you learn a few key skills, particularly if you do not naturally fit within those rules/expectations. I learned to pretend that I did by only revealing the aspects of my person that were deemed acceptable. As a result, to this day, it’s pretty difficult to get to know me because I walk into every social situation trying to figure out which parts of me are acceptable there. I’m getting better, but I’m still trying to work out how to turn that off. On the upside, I can get along with just about anybody. I can cheat the system.
  3. A better upside to growing up where you don’t belong is that, to make room for all that I couldn’t reveal, I developed a pretty large, pretty spectacular inner world. I have this world to thank for all the characters I’ve created and every story I’ve ever written. When I have a big decision to make, it’s a great place to walk through various potential outcomes. All my best decisions have been made there. It taught me the pleasure of my own company. It’s not a suitable substitute for actual intimacy, but it’s coming in really handy right now in the isolation
  4. Talk to me for even five minutes, and you’ll probably hear about something I’m reading.  I’ll suddenly get really animated and bouncy about it. I love books. I have a large collection, and I read 4-5 books at a time. I like choices, and this allows me to choose the one that most fits my mood or is in an audio format that allows me to knit or doodle at the same time. In addition to the books we’re discussing at my various (four…maybe five if I finish in time to join the discussion for the daytime book club at church) book clubs this month, I’m currently reading my Isabel Allende collection in the order she wrote them. I’ve read some of them before, but I’m excited about re-reading each of them when it’s their turn.
  5. I have so much yarn. On the one hand, I’m glad. I’ve been able to share some of it and also I am in zero danger of running out of things to knit (Keep Denton Warm is gonna be chock full of blankets, scarves, and hats this year. If that’s a thing we get to do. Someone, somewhere will need them. Surely.). But I thought I had it all organized last year and I just found another bag this week. *sigh* I come from a long line of yarn hoarders.

 

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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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Coffee Shop, Excerpt 2

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An ode to and appreciation of things not possible right now

“You changed seats.”

It takes a minute to realize you’re talking to me. I peel my eyes from the page and give you a once-over that I don’t intend to give.

You seem to enjoy it, but I blush anyway, caught in an unguarded reaction. I’m usually so careful. This is disconcerting.

I like and also do not like it.

You shift your weight, and I remember that it’s my turn to say things. But I can’t think of anything but how beautiful your lips are, and that seems non sequitur. Even I know that.

So I stick with, “What?”

You grin. It probably reaches your eyes, but I don’t have the courage to make my gaze go there yet. So I just have to trust that it does.

Trust is not an easy feat.

You pull up a chair and sit down, as if we planned to meet here. As if you understand that, of course, you’re welcome. I think that takes an enormous level of confidence.

I like and also envy that.

“You usually sit closer to the window.” You caress the rim of your cup with your beautiful lips and seduce the coffee out of it. I should look away, but I can’t seem to do so and also do not want to.

“The seat I like was taken when I got here, and I feel bad moving now.”

Your lips purse into a slight frown. Confusion? Question? Maybe feeling bad requires more explanation?

I continue, just in case. “That’s one more table that has to be wiped down. If I use both.” I shrug in what I hope is a nonchalant way, but I somehow doubt it comes across that way. I can’t often pull off nonchalance. “This one is fine. For today.”

I venture a glance at your eyes, but they’re so attentive, so intense. And blue. So blue.

I like that, but it’s a lot, and I have so many feelings, so I look down at my scone, which is also lovely but in a fully manageable way.

“Is it okay that I’m sitting here?”

It occurs to me that I might not seem like I want you here. Like this is an intrusion. Like I didn’t purposely choose this seat closer to where you usually sit when you come in, even though the seat by the window offers a superior view and was actually completely open when I arrived.

“Yes! Please stay!” Too much? Too exuberant? I force myself to meet your eyes.You’re smiling, so I decide to try a little bravery. “I like it.” Your smile deepens and your dimples show.

Wow. The effects of bravery are awesome. I think I’ll try some more.

“You. I like you.”

My eyes can’t hold your gaze any longer, and I’m afraid as soon as it leaves my lips that it’s too much after all. I’m usually so guarded. Right up the point when I’m really not. And that’s the point things usually fall apart.

I feel my face grow hot again. I can’t look up, but this time, that’s a good thing, because looking at the table gives me an excellent view of your hand gently touching mine.

“Good,” you reply. “I like you back.”

I look up just in time to see your lips stretch into a smile again.

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Honey Lavender Latte from Seven Mile Cafe in Denton, TX

I see you across the shop. You look like you’re glowing. I remind myself that it’s probably just in my head; I have a bad habit of putting halos on people who never asked for them.

But then you turn, and your smile is so easy. And is that relief that I see when you see me? Are you relieved to see someone you know or to see me in particular? Is that an everyone look, or is that what the look you reserve for me is going to look like?

I stare so long, caught up in your gaze and what you may or may not mean by it. I forget to react in any way other than holding that gaze. If I were actually thinking about how I must look, I imagine it would just seem like I’m staring as if I don’t see you at all or don’t remember who you are.

The truth is that I see you. That I catch myself watching for you, even in places I have no reason to expect you to be.

Like here.

As I’m wondering why you’re here, your relief topples into uncertainty, and I realize I still haven’t changed expressions. So I smile. Brightly. Maybe too brightly. I don’t seem to have a mid-range. I go from seeming detachment to over-exuberance in a flash.

I decide to embrace the enthusiasm. I wave and start walking your way, and the relief comes back to your face. Whew. Good. You lock your eyes with mine as you walk toward me.

Yep. Definitely gonna overthink about that.

 

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First page of new planner. A reminder for when I forget.

I love resolutions. Even the ones I abandon halfway through the year (although I would not mind getting to a place where I don’t get all riled up about something just to fizzle out). I like looking forward and fostering hope for making new magic and dreams (and yes, a little madness). I have a lot of small goals for the year, but they all center on a few themes:

  1. Reading – I exceeded my original goal of 100 books last year (by two!), and so I’ve upped the challenge to 120 this year. I have three book clubs, because I love talking about books with people. I think it would be nice if I did that more here, too. Possible posts to look forward to are periodic recaps of what I’ve read and what I’m about to read. I really love what Brenda at Don’t Stop Believing did here, and I really adored some of the things I read in 2019, so you may see something similar around these parts soon. For this year, my focus is going to be on actually finishing the book club choices before we meet (I did this about 60% of the time last year) and reading some of the hundreds of books on my own shelves that I have squirreled away for “someday.” Someday is 2020.
  2. Writing – I finished Fishbowl in 2018…and then I edited it. Now I need to finish it again, because as it turns out, I have no problem killing my darlings. I may enjoy that too much, actually. So this year’s main writing goal is to get it ready to go to beta readers (yes, Maggie – you first)/an editor. I also have a short story project that I am working on, and I want to continue my microfictions on Ello (anyone else on Ello?). I haven’t posted there in a while, but I have a few that I should be ready to upload by the end of the month. I anticipate writing (maybe performing) something in collaboration with Spiderweb Salon this year, too.
  3. Health – I need to be better at keeping up with doctor’s appointments. Just…all of them. I’m terrible at this. That’s a big goal for the year. With my Pilates practice last year, I re-discovered how good I feel when I’m paying attention to strength and flexibility and alignment (hello again, dance!), so I want to continue to build there.
  4. Work – I want to continue to explore the next direction my work life should go. I don’t have a lot of answers here, but I have lots of advice and guidance. Sifting through all of that. We’ll see.
  5. Word of the year – I wasn’t going to have a word of the year, but then I kept seeing quotes about coming alive or being alive and every one of them made me tear up a little bit so now my word of the year is “alive” and I’m pretty enthused about it. My gut reaction for how to pursue this is through music, dance, learning new things, making beautiful things and feeding people, but I’m leaving the possibilities open. I have a short-term bucket list for the year that includes things like “read a book in Spanish with minimal need for a dictionary” and “start learning sign language” and “walk/run more miles each month”  and “brush up on music theory” and it will be fun to see how many of those I stick to. In related news, I may be in the market for a French horn or trumpet soon. You’re welcome, neighbors (but let’s be honest, you kinda have it coming).

Do you make resolutions? If so, I’d love to hear them!

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