Giving Up Procrastination For Lent

Drowning man

I was going to do something for Lent, but never got around to deciding what.

I don’t want to “give up” anything; I want to add something.

I want a new challenge, a new activity, a new project.

I did the digital declutter in January and started a book club in February, now I really need something for March.

I could (re)commit to Edna’s O (my new reference book about endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, anandamide, serotonin and oxytocin) and say: FIRST DRAFT: By Easter I’ll have a first draft.

I could do that, but it doesn’t meet one of my Project-Driven Life criteria for a new project. It doesn’t check the “excitement” box.  And it really needs to. Or else I’m not going to be happy.

At the same time, I also realize that happiness isn’t a requirement for a worthwhile and enriching project.

I realize too that happiness requires struggle. (I wholly subscribe to that Stoic tenant. I do.)

But, I also need stim every day, even painful stim, if necessary. I want to feel as amped doing my work, as I will for having done it.

And truthfully?  This research really does excite me —once I’m in hip deep. So why all this sissy toe-dangling at the beginning? All this reluctance to get wet?

Once I’m in I know I’ll be fine, happy as a clam in fact. But it’s the anticipation of that head-hitting-the-water dive into the deep end every day that stops me, that fuels my procrastination. That’s the real struggle, not the actual work.

So I resist. But not for the next 6 weeks. No!  For the next 6 weeks I’m going to slay the resistance monster, make it numero uno on my To-Do List every day.

Might also be a good time to re-read The War of Art, and find an accountability partner.

Any takers?

My Rules for a Book Group

Year 2018 standing on library shelf

Last night was the first meeting of the book group.

At this first meeting, I felt I needed to leverage my power as Group Instigator and Generous Benefactor Of Meeting Space, to impose a vision, my vision, of how this should roll.

Without being too overbearing, but, I hope, making it clear that my continuing membership is contingent on adherence to these principles, this is what I hoped I got across:

1. I don’t want to read anything I’ve already read. And I don’t think anybody else should either. This means we have to pick something nobody has already read.  Even if you say you could happily re-read something, I don’t think you should. Unless it’s something you read in your callow youth and didn’t really get when you first read it.

2. I will never bring cupcakes. Or wine. Or snacks. Ever. However if you want to bring snacks, knock yourself out. Surprise us.

3. I want to talk about ideas. I have heard of Book Groups who get together and never talk about the book. I don’t want that.  There’s nothing wrong with socializing. I love it. But I want a Book Group to meet another need: a need for intellectual stim and an interesting discussion of ideas.

4. I want to to talk to people who’ve recently read a book. When we’re both still reeling from a book, our convo about it is going to be fresh, and alive, and relevant, and exciting. But if you’re still reeling, and I read it two years ago, this isn’t going to be as much fun. I’ve gone stale and you’re fresh from the oven. That’s why book groups are so fun. We’re all still fresh.

Ten people showed up last night. A whole bunch more contacted me wanting to be kept in the loop.

We picked Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders as our first book.

Here were the other contenders:

(someday when I have more time, I’ll link to all these, but today is NOT the day.)

The Odyssey

The Name of the Wind

No is Not Enough

Sing Unburied Sing

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

The Great Alone

Strangers In Their Own Land

White Rose, Black Forest

The Power Within

The Woman In The Window

Guns, Germs and Steel

Stiff

Thinking Fast and Slow

Sapiens

Putting Your Passion Into Print

All The Light We Cannot See

A Wild Sheep Chase

The Witch of Portobello

The History of Love

A Discovery of Witches

Our first meeting to talk about this book is scheduled for March 11th at 4:30 in the MSY Lounge. Plan an hour and a half. If you’re interested, and local, come.

Defending The Beauty Of My Kitchen

kitchen window

 

I can’t tell you how much I’m still thrilled with the new kitchen. I’m noticing how the light is changing in there as the season changes day by day. I fall in love  with this new space every day.

Ever since the renovation I have been especially sensitive to clutter and mess. I no longer let dishes pile up. I keep everything in its designated place. I polish the stainless.

I’m zealously defending its beauty.

This concept of “defending beauty” is one I recently heard about on a Gretchen Rubin podcast. It’s the idea that once you’ve created a little piece of beauty in your home, you work to defend it. And in this act of defending  beauty, I seem to be  defending a place of beauty in myself, too.

It could even turn out to be a big part of who I am, or a part of my life’s work: To become a defender of beauty.

When people “Adopt a Highway” for instance, they defend a little piece of public thoroughfare. When Lady Bird Johnson planted wildflowers on median strips, she was defending the beauty of the highway.

There’s a spur of road behind our house that tends to get littered. I notice if I keep the litter picked up, it doesn’t accumulate as fast; but if I don’t pick it up, it gets worse daily. If people sense that someone cares for something, defends its beauty, even only on a subconscious level, they seem to have a different attitude toward it.

I have other little places in my house whose beauty I defend. They kind of function like shrines to different parts of my self. My space chair, for instance, is where I write and read.

space chair

I also have this  bedside table where I pen notes to people.

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When I was a kid I had a battalion of brown plastic Mary statutes I won in school for answering catechism questions.

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I had about 30 of these things and I’d arrange them in various formations on the top of my dresser. It gave me a lot of pleasure to do this.  Nothing else was allowed to be on that dresser top. Maybe it  was a shrine to my dedication, or my effort.

As I defend the beauty of my new kitchen, I feel like I’m am defending the space  inside me that loves food, and food prep, and just time spent chopping and sautéing and tasting and spicing.

Time spent nourishing and feeling nourished. Time spent doing what I love.

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Digital De-Clutter Re-Cap

dog computer

The whole idea behind this project was to help me align my social media habits with my values.

Here is my personal Manifesto which I wrote a few years ago during my Winterlude:

Be human

Be calm

Be mindful

Seek flow

Be kind

Express gratitude

Extend your abilities

Risk vulnerability

Engage with the world

Make conscious choices

Restore yourself

These are the things I aspire to. This is the kind of person I want to become. These things may not be values in and of themselves, but they express my core values.

If I go back to engaging with social media in the same way I did prior to this media fast, I would endanger “calmness.”

If I go back to engaging with media as I did before, I would not be making “conscious choices” but voluntarily submitting to manipulation.

Because I would be in a constant state of agitation and fear all the time, it would be a lot harder to be kind, especially towards people who don’t share my world-view.

I also wouldn’t have time to “extend my abilities” because I would be dithering around, wasting lots of creative moments engaging with info way beyond my locus of control.

Since I am always looking for ways to hack into the flow state, social media has to go because it is flow kryptonite.

Sometimes FB, etc allow me a platform to express gratitude, and if I use it that way (exclusively), it would align with my manifesto/values. But most of the time I don’t use it as a platform for gratitude expression; I use it to confirm my hair-trigger negativity biases.

Is social media a way I might “engage with the world?” Might that be a justification for continuing to use it?

Well, if I’m honest, I really don’t “engage” as much as I simply act the voyeur.

I do like saying Happy Birthday to people, as corny as that is. That one interaction with others has been the single thing I’ve missed the most this month. I also like hearing about engagements, and happy relationship status updates, and seeing pictures of new babies and grand babies. I like extending congratulations when good things happen. I like being part of a crowd of people making a “joyful noise.”

And when someone dies, or needs support, I like knowing about that, too, so I can extend condolences or provide some real-world support.

But that’s it.

I can’t post political junk anymore. I can’t foment outrage anymore: Did you see THIS??? (“This” being some outrageous political decision, or some gut-wrenching planet-endangering disaster.)

No. I just can’t do that anymore.

So here’s the plan going forward:

I’m not going to reload FB or Twitter on my phone. It’s just too much.

I’m also not going to reset notifications. I don’t need to be “notified.”

I’ll check the socials: FB —but just notifications. I don’t need to troll through my entire, often bot-infested feed. I’ll graze around in Twitter occasionally.

I’m going to be happy to reload Instagram, however. I like pictures, and I miss seeing the pics of the people I follow there.

I am going to go back to reading the NYTimes and the The Washington Post online. Unless, I find that they disrupt my equanimity too much, or I find the content I read there bleeds into my life too deeply, or spikes my cortisol to the point that I have trouble down-regulating it.

This is going to be the tricky part.  I’m going to have to be really careful here. But shifting reading news to the late afternoon, rather than the morning, will help. (I hope.)

That’s it. It’s been a revelatory month. I’m glad I did this. Thanks to Cal Newport for suggesting it. I hope he posts his findings. I’m really curious about how the others made out this month.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my journey. I am super curious to know how other people manage the time-suck of social media, so if you have any tips, or just want to commiserate, let me know in the comments.

Digital De-clutter Week 3: The Big Takeaway

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Yesterday I broke down and bought a paper paper. (Real newspapers are allowed on this Digital Declutter.) I got The Sunday New York Times. It was an irritating and filthy experience.

And I’m not even referring to the content.

I forgot how newspapers make your hands black, and how you can’t adjust the font or the brightness.

And then there’s that whole origami business of folding the damn thing just so you can read it without a full-arm wingspan.

And most stories get continued on later pages, which by the time you finally get to them, you’ve forgotten the whole gist of the thing.

As I finished each section, I dropped it on the floor beside the couch, and then had to to step over the whole mess, gather it all up, and bring it to the recycling pile after the reading experience.

And don’t even get me started on the issue of the dead trees.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to the attractive user interface of online news reading again. I miss the ability to swipe and click.

The other thing I’m missing is the snark of my Twitter feed. I follow some very smart and witty people on Twitter. They make me laugh and they make me cringe. But I find them very comforting.

I’ve also figured out that once this fast is over, I’m going to do all my news reading and Twitter checking between 2 and 3 PM.

This is my My Big Takeaway from all this. I discovered that it’s not the THAT, it’s the WHEN.

After a day of reading, writing, thinking, planning and being a creative ninja, only then will I allow myself to check the media. And I’ll keep to an hour or less. After that I’ll walk the dog, take a shower, and go and teach my yoga class.

The activity of teaching yoga puts a strong arm-bar on any thoughts about political nonsense. There’s no place for that stuff in the practice room. The yoga, both the doing and the teaching of it, is a powerful palate cleansing activity for the mind, the body, and the spirit.

After class, I’ll go home, eat a little dinner, and relax with my honey before bed.

This is the perfect solution. I can max out my creativity between 10 and 2, catch up on the bizzaro world between 2 and 3, and then reestablish my equanimity early enough so that it doesn’t disrupt my sleep.

Bam.

Trouble is, there’s 2 more weeks to this project and I’m extremely itchy to try out my new “Strategy Of Sanity.”   I really don’t think there will be any more major epiphanies coming down the pike, I really don’t.

But since I’ve committed to a month, I’ll stick with it. A big part of me thinks once you get the message, though, it’s okay to hang up the phone.

Digital Declutter Week 2: News Creep

Charming female texting on her tablet after waking up

I’m succumbing to a little bit more  “news feed creep” than is probably “legal.”

It’s hard to escape.

Even when I think I’ve barred all the entrances, I’ll find myself innocently opening a Google Search, and bam, right there below the search bar, sits a tantalizing bit of “Trending News.”

And what do I do?  I hit it. Especially if it’s from The Times or The Post.

I never actually took those newspaper apps off my iPad, just my phone, and now I just don’t open my Ipad at all anymore for fear I won’t be able to resist.

It’s funny, because I’m now reading The Odyssey instead of The Times and The Post and  I just read the part where Odysseus puts wax in the ears of his oarsmen and has them tie him to the mast so he can hear the Siren’s song, but they can’t, thereby saving them all from certain death.

Those icons for The Times and The Post are my Siren songs. I have voluntarily tied myself to the mast, so this means I can just as easily untie myself, so it’s best if I just don’t open the iPad at all this month and risk seeing them. I know I wouldn’t resist.

The latest missive from Cal was about leisure. He’s assuming that we all have more of it now that we’re not dinking around in social media all the time.

He had this great line about, “rediscovering the types of old school, dirt-under-the-fingernails, defiantly analog activities that used to fill our most satisfying leisure hours.”

Among the list of those kinds of things he mentioned as “defiantly analog” was starting a book club.

This is something I have been thinking about for well over a year now, but have never acted on. I was talking  to Nicole Parsons after yoga the other day about this new Odyssey translation and she said, “You should really start a book group, Kath. If you did, I’d join.”

So yesterday I spent a good amount of time moodling and scribbling  about this: how it might work, what the rules should be, etc. and  I got it pretty much nailed down to the point where I think it would be an unquestionable new source of joy for me. I now have a rough draft of an email I’m going to send out to my peeps soon, and start to make it happen.

I think without this media break, I might have thought: I don’t have time for this. And I would have been right.

For me, this whole experiment has been all about reclaiming my time.

I still have worries about where news reading is going to fit back into my life after this, though.  I need a slot for it. A place. I need guide rails, or bright lines, or constraints, or whatever you want to call them, where I can just relax about the news knowing that it all can wait. I’ll get to it, but it will be have to be on my terms.

This is still to be worked out.

  

Digital De-Clutter Update: Week 1

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The good news: Instead of trolling Facebook, I’m reading Homer.

The bad news: I’m still sneaking into news feeds.

But here’s the thing: Instead of wallowing and rolling in that dirt for hours, I’m now getting in and out as fast as possible so I don’t get “caught” hanging out in there.

And as nuts as that sounds, and as nuts as it is, it’s working.

I’m getting back at least 2 or 3 hours a day to do stuff I can really control. And that feels incredible. Two to three hours a day. Think about it.

Plus, my mind doesn’t feel all polluted with garbage I can’t control. It feels clearer to work on things I can control.

(See above reference to Homer.)

My Findings So Far

1. Facebook and Instagram are not addicting for me. I can check in once a day for 10 minutes or so, and get off. No problem. I could go a few weeks without missing either.

2. My addiction is news. First, online news in the form of the Times and the Post. Then, Twitter. I am really jonesin’ for both.

At the end of this experiment I am going to fall back into the arms of both of these bad-boys, for sure. I know it.

But I think what I’m learning now, is that my problem isn’t news, it’s when I consume the news.

My peak hours of cognitive productivity are from 10 to 2, so if I give any of those hours to news reading, I’m giving my best hours away.

If that’s prime time, I definitely shouldn’t let news in there anymore. So now I know: News and coffee first thing are a no-no.

Somebody in yoga told me she reads all her news feeds at night before bed. That would be okay, except for the small matter of sleep. I would never get any if I did that.

I remember my father read the newspaper, in his chair, before dinner. But I don’t have that kind of a life. It can’t be during primetime, and it can’t be too late at night.

Something I have to work out.

In the 2 to 3 hours a day I was able to save by not reading news, I read The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A-mazing.

I also read another novel, not as good, but decent, called The Yoga of Max’s Discontent by Karan Bajaj.

Now I’m sailing into The Odyssey, a new translation, and the first translation by a woman.

This feels good and right. The struggle is still real, though, I cannot lie. Proof? I bought the Wolff book. It’s a book, right??