A Few Things That Made Me Happy This Week

1. Today it was sunny and in the 40s (omg,  my face didn’t hurt when I walked outside!)

2. And G’s wheatgrass is up!

wheatgrass

3. I did a private Beginner Yoga lesson today with a delightful woman who came in with a new mat (the absolutely worst mat she could have gotten, but oh well, she didn’t know.) And a matching yoga towel and a matching water bottle.

She said she didn’t know what to wear so she asked Siri. That made me laugh. I would have never thought to ask Siri what to wear to yoga, and now I am going to think about it the next time I am in any clothing dilemma.

(I can’t think of the last time I was in a clothing dilemma, though. I probably need to get out more.)

4. I am reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before which is about mastering habits. It is freaking me out how alike we are. She did NaNoWriMo on a lark–so did I. She learned Scrivener to make her writing life easier–so did I.  But though I have some strong “Upholder” qualities, I am mostly an “Obliger” in her system.

She says there are 4 basic types of people when it comes to habits: Upholders, who meet other people’s expectations  as well as their own; Obligers who meet other people’s expectations, but not their own; Questioners, who question all expectations; and Rebels who resist all expectations. It’s fascinating, and a fun read. I love these kinds of books about habits, and the creative process, and how the mind works, and sane business strategies, and what motivates people. Can’t get enough of them. (And I have a whole stack of them at my elbow.)

5. I also got a kick out of this Clive Thompson talk about writing with a pencil versus writing on a keyboard. It made me remember my January retreat when I would go back and forth between the 2. (It also made me buy a box of Blackwing pencils and a sharpener!) In a weird moment of synchronicity, the day after I watched this talk, Shelly Clark came to class with a pencil holder filled with pointy Blackwing pencils for us to write down our intentions for yoga class.

6. On my way to Wegmans yesterday for my weekly shopping I listened to the James Altucher podcast in which he interviewed Maria Popova of Brainpickings.org. I loved her distinction between writing “content” on her blog and “substantive” writing. Her blog is an incredible resource for readers and if you are a reader you should check it out. I have found countless gems there.

These things made me happy this week, despite my prana depleted, de-caffeineated, itchy, dragon-eyed, still-snowy-in-March-what-the-fuck situation.

What made you happy this week? Any good finds or happenings? Refrain from sending sunny pictures of flowers, or palm trees, or green grass, though. I’ve seen enough of that on Facebook and it’s really enough, people. Have some sensitivity.

Notice Your Life!

I heard an interview recently with the writer Robert Greene who wrote the book Mastery. The interviewer asked him what he says to people who tell him that they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

My ears really pricked up when I heard that question because this question has been on my “Top 10 List” for most of my life. And his answer shocked me. And chastised me. And embarrassed me.

He said: “This question always disturbs me because it tells me that this person hasn’t been paying attention to his life. Because if they had been, they would know what they should do, or be.”

I felt embarrassed for thinking for so long that my vocation would somehow be “revealed to me.” I felt stupid for mistaking “calling” for something you were supposed to “hear” in your mind,  rather than something you were supposed to be continuously “noticing.”

Calling isn’t something whispered in your ear; it’s the continuous watching of how you act, what you do in your spare time, what you avoid, and perhaps most telling, what you do when you procrastinate.

If you started paying attention to those kinds of things you would know exactly who you are, what your talents were, and what you should be doing for work.

But most of us have not been noticing. We have been sleepwalking through our lives. Either that, or just allowing ourselves to be flippered from thing to thing like some pinball, hitting bumpers, racking up points in some game we aren’t even aware we’re playing.

As a result we can get to a pretty advanced age without knowing who we are and what we ought to be doing.

And this is pathetic. And a waste. And totally unnecessary.

I know so many people who are on the brink of retirement and still don’t know what they should be doing with their lives; they don’t know who they are, or what their gifts are. They are getting close to the end of their lives and they haven’t even come close to maximizing their full human potential.

And that is why they fear death. Or at least the next birthday.

But it’s never too late! Never! Start making lists. List everything you love and everything your hate.

Why do this?

Because these lists will show who you are. If you keep adding to these lists  you will notice trends, and how interesting and complex you are, and where you are a totally unique blend of character traits, and propensities, and weirdnesses. That’s your gift. Then all you have to do is figure out how you can add value to the lives of other people with your special brand.

And when you can add value, you hit the jackpot. You then start living a life of value and purpose. And that’s the whole game.

The Top 10 Reasons I Am Grateful It Is Still Winter in March

The robins are back. The redwing blackbirds returned today. But there is still snow on the ground, and I am still wearing my down coat, and down gloves, and a wool hat.  The temps are not going above 40 degrees for the foreseeable future. The lake is still frozen.

Everyone is talking about it. Everyone is complaining and calling it the “unendurable winter.” Since we don’t live in Florida, we are allowed to say “climate change” and a lot of people are saying it.

So I decided to try to come up with 10 Reasons to be happy that it still winter. I enlisted G in this game, and here is our list.

1. We are saving a lot of money on sunscreen.

2. We can stay in the hot tub all night and not get “too hot.”

3. We have no guilt in indulging in Netflix marathons of “House of Cards.”

4. There is no hurry to go into storage and drag out the capris and the t-shirts and put away the sweaters.

5. Neither of us have finished our winter books, so we can sit by the fire and read without the pressure of feeling we should be doing something outside.

6. We both hate taking the cover off the AC unit and there is no reason to do that.

7.  Shoveling is great functional exercise.

8. Everyone knows you burn more calories shivering than sweating.

9. There are no mosquitos or  bugs.

10. We don’t have to worry yet about exposing our less-than-ready swim suit bodies.

What else can you think of?

Add in the comments. I’d love to hear!

17 Things I Need To Be Happy

Today I hate winter.

Wallace Stevens has this poem called The Snowman that starts with,

“One must have a mind of winter…”

And that line invaded my consciousness as I stared at the kitchen thermometer that read minus something.

(As soon as there is a minus sign, all possibility for happiness is gone, so it doesn’t much matter what number you put after that minus sign.)

I was thinking, Wallace Stevens notwithstanding, that I definitely don’t have a mind of winter.  I have a mind of summer. I have a mind of wisteria, and viburnums, and lawn mowers. I have a mind of ice cream.

I have no patience with stupid snowmen standing stoically regarding junipers shagged with ice.

Fuck snowmen. Fuck ice.

So today I will focus on things that make me happy. (Note the glaring absence of snowmen.)

Happiness Makers

Enough sleep (9 hours, preferably.)

High quality food, and a nearby market to buy it.

To sweat and detox daily.

Yoga. Every. Single. Day

20 minutes of Meditation. Every. Single. Day

Regular fun and play.

Order in my surroundings.

A clean kitchen.

Sun.

Warmth.

A Hot bath. With bubbles.

Wine (in moderation)

Inspiring people in my immediate surroundings. Real people. Not online “friends.”

Beautiful, natural surroundings to live in

One cup of extraordinary, extra bold coffee every morning.

A big, warm, soft bed to sleep in. Alone.

Somebody to speak my soul to, to share my neuroses with, and to tell me (even if it’s not true) that I’m not nuts. Every. Single. Day.

Not “Needed” but Nice

2 ply toilet paper

**Namaste**

ski tracks

We are what we love.

We are what we love. It’s as simple as that. If we do the things we love, we show our real selves to the world. If we show our real selves to the world, that will give us the best shot at living a happy life.

So try it.

Start making a list of all the things you love.

Include everything: people, places, states of mind, activities, food and drink, objects, times and seasons, nature and senses.

Nothing is too trivial.  If you love it, list it.

Dryer lint.

The little spit sink at the dentist.

Mallow cups.

Getting a letter in the mail.

The more things on the list, the better. Get subtle. Get nuanced:

Looking down at the ground from a plane.

The faces of kids in line to see Santa.

The smell of viburnums.

List it all out. List out at least 100 things. Keep the list on your phone and add to it as you think of more and more things. Add to this list for your whole life.

List out all the things you dislike or hate, too:

Shaving.

Parallel parking.

Snakes.

Try to get at least 50 things on this list. We are also the things we don’t like.

Why do this?

Because when you know what you love, you know who you are. You have self-knowledge. This self-knowledge allows you to make conscious choices about who you hang out with, what you do for work, and how you recreate.

If you know you love the outdoors and talking face-to-face with people (because you have these on your list) you’re less likely to take a cubicle job in a call center. You might not know what your ideal job is, but at least you won’t make that mistake.

Your list can function as your “true north.” You can consult it whenever you feel bewildered, or have to to make thorny decisions.

It is incredibly helpful to have a printed list of who you are, because even though we think we know these things, we forget. Then we get lost. And then we make really big mistakes from this lack of self-knowledge.

Mistakes which might have been avoided if we had just consulted our list. It’s like forgetting to get the milk because  you thought you’d remember. You should have put it on the list, dummy.

We frequently forget that we are a complex composite of all the random and incongruent things we love. We forget that if we want to be happy, we can’t forget the milk.

If our friends and our work and our fun activities are all aligned with the things we love, that is our best shot at being happy.

That’s why we need to put it on the list.  So we’ll remember.

list pic

The Life-Changing Magic of Everything

Life-Changing Magic

Life-Changing Magic

I bought this book because of the title.

I am a sucker for life-changing magic of any kind.

(Tidying up is the least of it.)

How about instead of “Tidying up” we go with “The Life-Changing Magic of:

Getting Your Work Done

Overcoming Obstacles

Walking the Edges

Weaving a Latticework of Community

Hacking the Follow-Through

Staying in The Game

Making Stuff Happen

Doing What You’re Good At

I would buy all of those books. I could even write most of them.

I have a raw draft of a book I wrote during NaNoWriMo crying to be “cooked” and no time to cook it at the moment because of all the hoo-hah that is Christmas.

My book is a workbook for people who feel they are not maximizing their full human potential, but want to. It gives them a surefire method for finding what they should be doing with their time, with their “one wild and precious life” if you will.

This book needs a sexy title though, and I have yet to hit upon it, so I am super jealous of this title. I think as soon as you put “life-changing” and “magic” in your title, you win.

That, and “belly fat.”

A Book Snob Finds Love On the Bestseller List

This year I set a goal to read a book a month, which seems pretty wimpy considering that I used to read a book a week in my college and grad school years.

But the thing about reading now, as opposed to then, is that now I am reading for me, for my own edification, curiosity, and pleasure, and not to write a paper about the book.

In college I didn’t so much read, as process books into papers. Armed with a pen, I would take copious notes on thematic approaches, character development, and how this novel might illustrate the philosophy of Aristotle or Nietzche. I was on the hunt for the meaning in those books, and also to be able to manufacture enough verbal garbage to fill up 10 double-spaced pages.

If, god forbid, I got to the end of a novel and I didn’t have a thesis statement and a rough paragraph plan for a paper, I knew I was totally screwed.

Even back then I knew this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with these books. Even back then I knew this was a travesty. I longed to let those books marinate, to seep into my psyche, into my life, my soul. I wanted to enjoy them, and understand them, not dissect them like a frog.

But I couldn’t. There was no time. I had a list, a syllabus, other classes to deal with. I couldn’t muse about anything. There was no time to let a book rattle around in my brain for a while, because hot on the heels of one book, was yet another one to be read and “papered.”

When I think back to all the classic Lit. I read between the ages of 16 and 23, I could positively weep. I was too young for Tristram Shandy, for the Red and the Black for Anna Karenina for Ulysses.

I couldn’t even maneuver my car onto the turnpike let alone follow Leopold Bloom around Dublin for a thousand pages.

Now that I am free of academia, I long to go back and re-read everything I read there. Nabokov said that the best reader, the only good reader, is the re-reader, but do I want to start over again? Now? At this late date? I don’t have that much life left, and even if I did, do I really want to go back and re-read the classics? I am out of shape for iambic pentameter. I’d have to work back up to Shakespeare, to Proust. I no longer have the attention span for the semi-colon. I twitter now.

But one thing I have become painfully aware of in the last few months is that, probably due to all that reading of classic Lit in my “childhood” I have become an insufferable literary snob. I expect a lot from books. I may not have gone deep into the classics, but I went wide enough to know what real artistry is, and I know how to appreciate it.

Funny, I am not this picky about any other art: not music, not painting, not theater. But when it comes to books, I have my standards; I make demands.

I expect structure and voice and poetry and beautifully articulated ideas. I want to be lured down the rabbit hole of a book and feel happy to live in that world  for a long, long time.

I don’t pay attention to themes or motifs or character development or (god forbid) meaning anymore, all I want from a book is to learn something new about the world, and possibly a new way to look at my life.

Even though I am not consciously on the lookout for theme and motif anymore, I still care about them. I still care about character development and pacing and poetry. And I especially care about those delicious silences built in between the words, and the way when things are left out, that makes all the remaining things glow.

I am not often disappointed in anything I read nowadays because one, I don’t read much, and two, my policy is if I get to page 3 and I am not entranced, I will close the book and quietly donate it to the library’s book sale. I don’t waste my time on anything that doesn’t thrill me. And this is why I call myself a snob.

I am a snob because I don’t want to be disappointed, and for that reason I tend to limit myself to Pen/Faulkner Award winners, National Book award winners, Booker Prize winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners. (And yoga books, good and bad.)

I get all squinty-eyed and smirky-faced when it comes to the New York Times Bestseller list, especially when it is littered with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey.

But recently I have read and really enjoyed “Bestsellers” in both the fiction and non-fiction categories that friends have recommended. I found Haruki Murakami on a friend’s recommendation, for example

Recently Emily (my daughter) said she was reading Gone Girl so I picked it up just to see, and got sucked down its rabbit hole. I admired Gillian Flynn’s storytelling, and especially how meticulously crafted her story was, and was flabbergasted when I saw her picture on the back cover. So young!  I could not believe someone that young could craft such a remarkable book.

The book I am reading now, Quiet, is also on the Non-fiction bestseller list (NYTimes) but for some reason I don’t feel as embarrassed reading bestseller non-fiction. Is this just being snobbish? I don’t know.

I recently ordered Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (the 2012 National Book Award winner) so I can compare it to Gone Girl in terms of its artistry. I really wouldn’t mind being called out on my snobbery if Gone Girl holds up against The Round House.

All I know is that I love living in someone else’s dream, in their word world. I love the interiority of reading, the listening inside that it requires. It’s such a relief to have the voice in my head not be my own for a while.

This winter has been especially long, and tiring, and dreary, but I have been consoled immeasurably by the books I have read. I am happy I have mustered the self control to put down the IPad for awhile and let my brain marinate in books. I feel nourished in a new way already, and it’s only the end of March.

Here’s a list of what I’ve read since January.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Worlk that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Have you read anything lately that has made you feel nourished? Care to share?