Monday, April 14, 2014

Stick To It-tiveness

I signed up for an event called “30 Days of Biking” that asks that you bike every day of April. I’ve made if for thirteen days now.

I didn’t sign up because I was thinking about goals to exercise or get out on my bike more often. What I was thinking was PHOTO PROJECT!

I was excited about taking a photo every day to document time spent on my bike. I wanted to experiment and make the photos unique by visiting various places and playing with lighting, motion and different angles to shoot.

I also expected (or hoped) that the photos would show the changing weather from the snowy start of April to (I hope) the emerging plant life by the end of April.

All of those expectations have been fulfilled, except maybe for the weather one. We were teased with some high 60’s, but last night the temp dropped to  25 degrees F, with a real feel of 9 degrees. WHAT THE…

Still, in some way, braving the weather has been the best part. I feel good about sticking to something I said I would do no matter what obstacles come up.

Which leads to the very cool, unexpected part of participating in 30 Days of Biking — I’ve been able to think about what has made this something I’ve been able to stick with and have fun versus so many of the other commitments I’ve made but not been able to go the distance on.

These are the reasons I’ve come up with:

Community: There are a group of people participating in 30 Days of Biking who are taking photos that they are sharing on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. With the hash tag of #30daysofbiking, it’s been easy to find other participants’ photos. I’ve seen a Colorado mountain biker coming down a rocky trail, people riding through snow, some cool sites of the city and countryside, and someone in Florida posted a photo of a sign on a mountain bike trail warning to watch out for alligators. And it's not just bike riders in the USA, there are people from all over the world.

Giving Back: For every 30 pledges, 30 Days of Biking, along with Free Bikes 4 Kidz, is donating one bike to a kid in need. What an awesome thing for them to do!

Support and Encouragement: 30 Days of Biking Participants, friends and family have all been very supportive and encouraging. That means a lot and is a big incentive to keep going. It kind of fits in with the next thing.

Commitment and Accountability: I signed a public pledge. Surprisingly, even to me, that actually means something. Plus I’d feel really lame if I quit now. It helps that the pledge is to bike every day rather than 30 miles a week or 120 miles in a month or three days a week. Every day means that I don’t have to think about it. As soon as I get home from work, I change clothes and get on my bike. On the weekends, I make sure I get my bike ride in before dinner. If I had to go a certain number of days or miles in a month, there would be too much latitude. When I didn’t feel like riding. I’d decide to do it tomorrow. And if tomorrow was no better, I’d plan to go the next day. And pretty soon, I wouldn’t be bike riding.

Daily Photo Project:  It has been challenging to try and take a unique biking photo every day. Challenge equals fun in my book… Sometimes I’m not happy with the results I get, but I’m always happy with the process of experimenting. When something doesn’t work, it usually leads to an idea of what to try next time that might work.

Bike Riding Feels Good: No matter how much I want to skip my ride because I’m tired or it’s cold out or I just feel crabby, experience has already taught me that I’ll feel better once I’m on my bike and will feel less tired and crabby after the ride. As for the cold, there is always the promise of hot chocolate when I get back home (or on the way home).

Sticking To Something Builds Trust: I have discovered that keeping my word to myself is important. When I don’t keep my promises or do as I intended, I lose credibility. Why should I believe myself when I have said things in the past like, “I’m going to cut out sugar from my diet” or “I’m going to write for one hour every day," only to lose my resolve after a few day? In fact, I have let myself down so many times that I don’t take myself all that seriously and figure I’m going to blow it as soon as “the promise” comes out of my mouth.

So sticking with biking every day for thirteen days, has helped me reconsider the idea that I NEVER follow through. It isn’t a total cure for all the years of not keeping my word to myself, but it has shown me that when I do keep my word, I feel pretty good about it and I respect myself for it. So now I want to do this with more than just biking.

I want to find a way to carry this experience over to some of my other intentions. I’m going to keep noticing what is working with my 30 Days of Biking and see if I can determine a way to apply the same kind of thinking to other areas in which I want to make a commitment and stick to it.

But for now, I'm just going to enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is This Fun?

I was looking at my To Do list last Sunday and feeling my anxiety rise. I’d already crossed off a few things - like 'Make bread and yogurt' - deciding I’d buy them instead. ‘Clean house’ was stabbed through with a jagged black line.

Sadly, this is how most of my weekends start off. Hell, this is pretty much my everyday life — lists of Too Much To Do. I’m not enjoying things that should be fun because I feel anxious about all the things I’m not getting done while doing whatever I’m doing.

That is no way to live. I know this. But how to stop it when there is so much to do and I always feel like I’m behind. And I don’t mean behind in things that can wait, I mean behind on things like paying bills, doing my taxes, trying to find whatever is causing the putrid odor in the refrigerator, etc.

But even more frustrating is that if I just try to knock off the things that NEED to be done, I don’t have time for the really important stuff, that which makes me Maery and happy — activities like writing, horseback riding, spending time with friends...

I wish I had a great answer to this dilemma. I could then be the next person out there who has sold a million books and is invited to do a TED talk. But I don’t have an answer. All I have is my experiments that I carry out to see if I can get closer to a less anxious, more fun life.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the idea of “fun” because I’ve noticed the lack of it in my life, even with the things I supposedly “love” and can’t live without — like writing. But I’m going to talk more about writing another day. For now, I want to talk about how I experimented with fun over the weekend, which basically meant paying attention and noticing when things were fun and when they weren’t, especially when I was doing something I supposedly “love.”

Sunday morning, I drove out to the stable to see Luke. Since my friend who owned the boarding facility and who was my trail riding and bike riding and skiing and consignment store shopping buddy moved away, my going to the barn has become harder and harder. There’s less to look forward to and I end up feeling lonely and depressed when I go there. So why would I want to go?

I thought about this and decided my happiness was being screwed with because I was focusing on how things had been in the past and seeing those conditions as the only ones that would make me happy. Things change all the time so that’s not a good mind set. I knew I needed to look for what was good about how things are now. Yes, I still miss my friend a lot, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my horsey time.

There is a certain meditative rhythm to grooming a horse and running a series of progressively finer curries and brushes over a horse’s body from the tips of his ears to the long feathery hairs above his hoofs. It’s also very satisfying in the Spring  to see a sleek coat appearing as you run the shedder over the horse and pull off the globs of hair clinging to its teeth.

My favorite part of grooming is when I remove Luke’s halter and work out the hay he has managed to toss into his mane and forelock.  I take my time, carefully cleaning around his soft, dark eyes and getting the fuzz and hay away from his nose before he sneezes all over me. I worked a rubber grooming mitt inside the thick winter fur of his ears. Luke leaned into my hand, and I imagined how good this scratching must feel.

Luke is the gentlest, most patient horse I have ever partnered up with. He softens my snarls every time I spend time with him. He deserves to have an unrushed, pleasant partner.

When I began to wish I had gotten to the barn a half hour earlier, I drew myself back to being glad I was there now. When I began to think that things were taking too long and I would never have enough time to fit in a bike ride and a walk with the dogs, I stopped myself and focused on how great it was to be riding outside listening to the glopck, glopck sound Luke made as we splashed through the puddles, followed by the shllsh, shllsh, shllsh sound as he high stepped through the snow.

At one point, I started to think about how much I want to trail ride this year and how that means I’ll have to trailer my horse by myself, which means I’ll have to overcome an extreme level of fear (imagine going sky diving for the first time). I felt this terror last summer and wasn’t able to get past it and go trail riding even once. How could I make this year be any different?

But wait. Now I was thinking about the “future” and having that screw with my present time. I drew myself back, deciding I will deal with my trailer terror (which is actually fear of backing into a parking spot that is only about two feet wider than my trailer) later.

As I’ve played around with this idea of drawing my focus back to why I enjoy doing something and being there to enjoy it, this is what I noticed and will keep in mind as I keep doing my little experiments:
  • The moments I am most unhappy and frustrated are the moments when I am rushing to get to the next thing.
  • Comparing the present to a past that is romanticized by memory or a future romanticized by dreams is ruining my enjoyment of all the great things about “now.”
  • Thinking about what could go wrong in the future by doing what I’m doing, not doing what I should be doing, or because the future holds all kinds of scary, claustrophobic, shadowy spaces filled with who-knows-what? causes a crazy, somewhat insane amount of fear. Just the way I wrote that sentence scares the hell out of me.
  • When I do stick with noticing all the sights, smells, sensations and people or animals I am with at the moment, I am a much more pleasant person to be around. Or at least I enjoy my company more, and I enjoy what I'm doing because all of me is actually there doing it!
I know this is really long and rambling -- blame all the noticing and thinking I've been doing. But I must conclude with this touching bit of beauty found amongst the music Terri Windling posts on Mondays on her Myth & Moor blog.

The song is called "Horses" and is sung by Dala (Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther). It expresses the spirit of why animals have always held a special place in my heart.

"I saw horses from my window. They were watching all the cars go by. They don’t care that I am broken, close my eyes and run beside them."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Flipping Through Time

Creating my birthday collage last week meant going through about six big boxes of photos, greeting cards, and other memorabilia that I hadn’t opened since I moved to my house three years ago, The boxes contained both my things and the memory boxes I had taken from my mom’s house.

My mom saved EVERYTHING! All of my brother’s and my report cards, samples of the first papers I wrote in cursive, and cards that I made for my mom and dad. There were a few cool postcards sent from two of my uncles during the Korean war and a not so cool box of funeral notices.

There was a box dedicated to my brother, who died at age 39. It held the baby blue cigar box my dad had purchased to hand out smokes to commemorate the day my brother was adopted. I found the tie my brother wore for his first communion and another tie worn for confirmation. There was a collection of photos, including those from my brother's wedding, and later photos of his daughter. And there was a copy of the service that was held for my brother's funeral.

It was hard flipping through that expanse of time. Seeing a life begin and then end too quickly.

I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor, immersed in a time capsule of remembering, regretting, and wishing things had been different. All of my issues with aging seemed to be amplified as image after image flipped from beginning to end. Less is possible now than when I was younger, not just because of changing physical abilities but because there’s less time left to accomplish all the things I want to do.

Lately my focus has been on retirement, the next big life event, and trying to make sure I have my finances in order. Will my money last until the end? Which has me asking new questions. Like how little can I get by on? Do I work until I have a nest egg that I think will allow me to travel and have some fun? Or do I simplify what I think it takes to enjoy life and retire earlier?

What truly makes life enjoyable? And how do I learn to find those cheap thrills and start incorporating more of them into my life right now?

What do you think? Do you have a clear picture of how you want to live? It seems like that should be such an easy question to answer, and yet...

When someone opens the box (symbolically or physically) that holds the photos and memorabilia of your life, what will be inside?

Monday, March 24, 2014

They Say It's Your Birthday

They say it’s your birthday. [da dun, da dun] 
We’re gonna have a good time. [da dun, da dun]

Fifty-seven years old is kind of a boring birthday – no kind of milestone attached to it. It’s not even a catchy number like fifty-five.

I have no big plans. Nothing up my sleeve. No inspiring thoughts or big changes. I’ve been trying to come up with something wise to say for two weeks now. Nothing…

I do have a mantra though.

"Doing something is better than doing nothing."

And I’ll go ahead and steal someone else’s wisdom that I ran across last week:

"Giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat." ~ Louise Hay

I had to laugh because moments before, I'd been jotting down my thoughts on a scrap of paper and had written this:

"I've hit a huge pothole and flattened my tire. Where the hell is the jack to hold my car up?"

(Not quite as catchy but I think the use of the word "hell" gives it some flavor)

Most of my free time lately has been spent working on organizational issues for my book. I have the problem of having fourteen years of writing to dig through and pluck out the pieces that fit and will make the best story.

To narrow things down, I hold everything I’ve written up and ask whether it answers one of these two key questions:

“What are the consequences of hiding and being silent?”
“What are the consequences of speaking your truth and not being heard or believed?”

As I write, I think there might be a third question that I’m answering. 

“What are the consequences of putting all that behind you
and deciding you don’t care how people react.
You are going to tell the story.”

- Today's post is cross-posted on Vision and Verb -

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Blessings

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are about wearing green clothing, drinking green beer, and watching parades. It is the day when everyone is Irish.

I’m only a quarter Irish and have never been to Ireland so I don’t know a whole lot about Ireland either. What I know is that St. Patrick was British not Irish and he didn't chase away any snakes. He basically went to Ireland to convert people to Christianity, which kind of ties into the myth about snakes (representing evil).

Yet, I imagine Ireland as this beautiful, magical place full of story. I think of writer's like John O’Donohue. One of the book's he's written is called Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, which I highly recommend. This is a short excerpt from the Prologue:

“Through the opening of the mouth, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath the soul. These sounds are words. The world is full of words. There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on television, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there for us. We take each other’s sounds and make patterns, predictions, benedictions, and blasphemies. Each day, our tribe of language holds what we call the world together. Yet the uttering of the word reveals how each of us relentlessly creates. Everyone is an artist. Each person brings sounds out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.”

(my shot of Saturday's full moon with a bit of photo magic added)

It was hard to pick just one piece of Irish music to include in my little celebration, but below is a song performed by Julie Fowlis.

I hope you enjoy (or already enjoyed) St. Patrick's Day! May love and laughter light your days...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Not out of the woods yet, and I don't want to be

To lift my spirits after a tough couple weeks, Steve and I spent much of the weekend playing outdoors. The temperatures cooperated by moving into the upper 30 and 40 degree range. It was amazing to walk from the indoors to the outdoors without a sudden gasp of air and a desperate grabbing for my hood to shield my face from the breath-stopping cold.

Saturday's field trip included a walk with the dogs at Woodland trails. I think we were the only walkers out there, probably because the melting snow meant that we were frequently sinking and tripping as we walked. The dogs couldn't figure out what our problem was.

Sunday's field trip included going skiing at the Sand Dunes State Forest. We hadn't gone there for a couple years and the grooming practices had changed quite a bit from the wide, well-groomed trail I remembered to the narrow, combination ski and walking trail that we found.

It was a test of my skiing skills, trying to avoid the piles of dog poop. Now, my dogs may be lacking in manners in a lot of areas but at least they are polite enough to move off the trail into the deeper snow before relieving themselves. Plus we carry baggies.

Still, the pine trees made for a secluded, towering mountain of greenery that made this swishing whooshing noise when the wind came through. Being surrounded by so many towering trees made me think of fairy tales, which are so often grounded in being lost in the woods.

I did some thinking about commitment over the weekend. You may laugh, but the thing I read that truly got through to me was the forecast for March on the website. Sometimes the message we need to hear comes in unexpected ways.

A sample of what I read in the March forecast is that:

"This is a month of putting yourself 100% behind your choices and decisions. It is about setting new rules, weeding out what doesn’t work, being disciplined about what it takes to manifest your intentions, and doing your work…. It will be critical to anchor your commitments in your heart and to be clear from that perspective about what you are willing to get behind and what you are not willing to put any more energy into... When you have commitment, there is no back door, there is no turning back and there is no ambivalence… Until you are committed there is always a chance to change your mind."

And then this:

"It will also be crucial to stay out of depression, lethargy and denial this month... it is the time to commit to what you really want, from your heart, not your mind. So what are you waiting for? The mind is the trap that will try and sabotage your actions. Listen instead to what your heart says you should be committed to."

I thought I had truly committed myself to a couple things I'd selected to work on this year. But I realized I am getting distracted by problems in an area of my life that is a necessity but not one of the things I want to focus my energy on.

That distraction was causing all sorts of excuses for why I was too tired or down to do the work that I need to do. And that I need to do daily -- not just hit and miss, scrunched in between bad moments.

It isn't that I’m not already familiar with the ideas that were in the March forecast, but I was forgetting. Forgetting is that bad kind of being lost in the woods you read about in so many fairy tales.

Hearing a message you need to hear can force you to look around and see the woods as they really are -- a place of beauty and strength.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What Will You Grow This Spring?

"What in you is tiny and tentative and trying to emerge despite the harshness all around?" -- Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

That’s the writing prompt I saw recently from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew’s Facebook page. It's not easy to think about gardening in the midst of the coldest and snowiest winter we've had in a long time. Deciding what to grow next Spring and ordering the seeds has been sitting on my To Do list for about a month now. But that's not really what Elizabeth is getting at anyway. She's speaking in one of those dang metaphors...

What will I grow this Spring? What tiny and tentative thing wants to emerge despite all the harshness?

If a living thing doesn’t get much nourishment and has no reserves built up, it will have a hard time holding up against drought or disease. And when events keep chipping away at your confidence and everything you try fails, what can a person think except the only relief is to stop trying?

But that’s not relief. That’s depression.

What will I grow this Spring? What tiny and tentative thing wants to emerge despite all the harshness? 

I am tempted to plant nothing. I want to tear everything up by the roots and work poison into the soil so those annoyingly hopeful green shoots will not try to spring up again.

I didn’t reach this point for no reason. Something (years of repetitive somethings) happened that have made me feel like no matter what I do, I’m stuck. I wasn’t meant to succeed at what I’m trying to succeed at. Maybe I have to let it go. I have to accept what people want and don't want, even if what they don't want is all that I have to offer.

I'm a fixer. I see a problem and I want to fix it. I think if I do all the right things, the problem will be resolved. It's hard to admit when something is out of my control and there's nothing more I can do. That doesn't mean I can't do something, but that something may be to turn away from an impasse.   

So what will I grow this Spring? What tiny and tentative thing wants to emerge despite all the harshness?

Grief. That may have to come first. A fertilizer of sorts. A compost mix that’s burning a bit hot now but will hopefully cook and cool into a rich mixture of organic matter. Don’t you love the sound of that? I also like words like humus, mulch and opulent. 

Opulent - ostentatiously rich and luxurious or lavish.

What will I grow this Spring? What tiny and tentative thing wants to emerge despite all the harshness?

A book. It’s coming slow but sure. The hardest part has been trying to figure out what belongs in the story and what belongs somewhere else. The hardest part has been organizing and revising years worth of work. The hardest part is not believing I suck and giving up.

When I'm really discouraged, I talk to myself about who I really am at my core that remains unchanged, no matter what. I say, "You are a writer, Maery, and a seer, not the kind that foretells the future, but the kind who is quiet enough and aware enough to see, to connect the dots, and to be open to what lies unseen. So start seeing."

What will I grow this Spring? What tiny and tentative thing wants to emerge despite all the harshness? 

Writing on the rails. I can’t stop thinking about this… If you are a writer, I encourage you to look into the Amtrak Residency for writers. You might get a free train trip where you can work on your writing project. I’m keeping tabs on this upcoming offer but given my past failure record, I don’t want to wait to be “picked.”  I may just hop a train on my own dime, ride across country, watch the view out my window (there's so much I haven't seen of other states) and use the time to work on my manuscript. A train trip is on my bucket list. It’s about time that list got a little shorter. 

What will I grow this Spring? What tiny and tentative thing wants to emerge despite all the harshness?  

This hawk rested on the bush outside my office window a week ago. I think it might be a Cooper Hawk. I don’t know if he was waiting to catch one of the smaller birds at the bird feeder or was just tired of fighting the wind and cold and needed a rest.

I expected him to fly away when I started to take photos, especially when I switched lenses to get a closer shot. But he just watched me, and I thought, “He’s a seer too.”

What is it about those eyes? What is it about that wild nature and ability to fly that draws me in? I want to know what he has seen from up in the sky. I want to know what it feels like to float.

So what will you grow this Spring? What tiny and tentative thing wants to emerge despite all the harshness? 



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