May 182020

What is one to do when you don’t know what to do? How do we choose how and where to put the next foot right when the way forward is unclear?

When I write, I usually know where to go. But this time, there’s a topic lurking just under the surface. So I canoodle around on the keyboard and hope it will decide to join me. Like so many of my writer friends, our current state of affairs has taken creative skills on something resembling Mr. Toad’s wild ride. Sometimes we focus and the words come spilling out. Sometimes they even come out in the right order. Life’s uncertainty can create space for good things to happen as easily as it can drain us of purpose and focus — except when it doesn’t.

I canoodle around on the keyboard and hope it decides to join me. Click To Tweet

I don’t know what else to do with an unruly topic: it won’t go away and leave me alone but it remains elusive, flat out refusing to become clear. In a way, it reminds me of a pan of water on the stove, just before monarch butterfly on plantit starts to boil. There’s a bubble here, and another one over there. And, while their activity level looks a bit leisurely, those bubbles are part of a much bigger picture. They are part of building energy, an energy that will not only heat water but will change part of it from liquid to gas. Steam.

And a change in form is a type of magic, is it not? The stage magician enlists our willingness to be fooled as the ‘nothing’ behind an ear suddenly produces coins. We don’t know how it happens. Alchemy. Magic. A change in form. While it looks simple, it’s a really big, complex change. Just like boiling water.

When you stop and think about it, there’s a lot of alchemic activity swirling around us. The first one that comes to mind is that thing with breath: humans using oxygen which changes to carbon dioxide for trees that then return it to us in its original, usable form. Our airy waste feeds the trees while theirs becomes the source of life for so many air-breathing beings wandering the planet. It’s another matter-changing bit of magic.

There’s a lot of alchemic activity swirling around us. Click To Tweet

Nature provides other examples: snow melts, ponds freeze, and at certain times of year something’s probably hatching almost anywhere we choose to look.

Of course the most familiar example of form-changing experiences is the transition from caterpillar to moth or butterfly. And while it’s a metaphor that’s been done to death there’s a good reason: it’s an example that give us solid toeholds for learning.

Think about it… you’re this little wormy bug thing, wandering around, munching on plants. Some of your friends and neighbors get picked off by weather or birds or well-intended gardeners who don’t know any better. But you’re still there… moving from plant to plant, having your fill. Did you know some species of caterpillar eat as much as 27,000 times their body weight during this part of the life cycle? But, as often happens, I digress.

Somehow, those little critters enter the dark place, are turned into a type of goo and are born again — this time in a more beautiful form. And in this new form, the creature feeds on completely different parts of the plant than it did in it’s last life. Sometimes when I watch the butterflies visiting various garden plants I wonder if they remember the food preferences their caterpillar-selves enjoyed? What carries forward from their previous life? What falls by the wayside?

They have nothing to say (and little to do) about this. Caterpillars that survive long enough to face metamorphosis become moths. Or butterflies. Puddles freeze and dandelions go to seed. Water on a hot burner will boil. Perhaps they don’t know it’s coming. It’s just what happens. They don’t struggle with acceptance.

They don’t need to have faith and I doubt they fear the unknown. Click To Tweet

So what do you do when you don’t know what to do? Hopefully, not much. I plan to try to learn to do less. To stand in place and take the next obviously correct action. Like caterpillars, dandelions, and hot water — the change is gonna come. No amount of  hand-wringing or pot-stirring is going to make that any different. And the quicker we accept that fact, the happier we’re all going to be.


Apr 292020

There’s no denying that excessive use of plastic is catching up with us. Frontline photos from oceans and beaches around the world have brought that home, time and again. Floating islands of trash and fishing-line entangled shore birds can make the problem seem overwhelming, fostering helplessness and inaction.

According to the Pew Trust website the problem may be even bigger than initially suspected. “Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced, approximately only 9% has been recycled and an estimated 60% has been discarded, with some ending up polluting our rivers and the ocean. The amount of plastic entering the ocean is projected to double in the next five years.”

While I admit to an occasional preference for the dramatic, I know that it’s more often small efforts repeated over time that add up to real progress. And while I don’t have any big answers for our global plastic problem, I’m happy to share some of the small, mundane changes my family has made in the recent past.

Powerful, Plastic-focused Words

Words have power. They often last far longer than expected. “Every plastic toothbrush you’ve ever discarded is sitting in a landfill somewhere.” I’m sure the pile I pictured is larger than the one for which I’m personally responsible but it was significant. And when I added the cast-offs of immediate family members it was major.

When it comes to problem-solving it’s not always easy to sort through marketing hype and delivery methods to come up with a product that’s closer to environmentally neutral but bamboo toothbrushes seem to fit the bill. I like them a lot.

Starting with the toothbrushes may not have been an accident: I’ve always been a big coffee drinker. It’s my favorite vice. In fact, I have a travel profile that says, in part, that I’m in search of a cup of coffee that tastes as good as it smells. (I’ve come close but not quite hit the bullseye. Yet.) I’ve tried grinding my own beans, using a French press and a variety of drip pots and other systems. Needless to say, the convenience of individual coffee pods held some appeal but it was outweighed by the image of adding plastic pod rings to the landfill.

Good Coffee is an Added Bonus

I avoided all things k-cup for years. Happily, I’ve found a company that ships its compostable pods in environmentally-friendly plastic-free packaging. Both the shipping box and the pouches containing the coffee pods go right into our garden compost. An added bonus is that the coffee is good — and there are several different kinds. (Favorite Husband and I like the bold.)

While we’re hanging around in the kitchen, I should probably mention that I like to batch cook and freeze smaller portions of the entrees for future use. Uniformly-sized plastic containers are an easy solution but not one we wanted to continue to use. Home-recycling of glass containers works fairly well for soup — but the irregular sizes and shapes take a toll on freezer space. Eventually I found these great, rectangular glass food storage containers that remind me of Grandma’s fiesta ware. The only color on the these is on the tops, around the snap-on rims.

But Wait, There’s More

As I write this, I realize we’ve made lots of other earth-friendly choices but I’m starting to feel like an infomercial. Speaking of which, some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and while I posted them for your convenience, I need to tell you that I may earn a small commission on purchases that result from this post.

And although those online commissions are tiny they are mighty. That $0.27 would be cool —- it would tell me that somebody else has decided to take a step toward painlessly pooh-poohing some of that pesky plastic.

Apr 222020

I love to edit. While some people approach editing with a sense of duty and dread, I bring a sense of adventure and possibility. Although it’s not always obvious from my blog posts, I’m a pretty good self editor. There are a number of writer friends tell me that I’m often able to improve their work.

But today I’m not thinking of editing the written word — at least not until I get started in an hour or so. What’s showing up instead is a very juicy turn of phrase I came across a little while ago: edit your life.

On first reading it evoked small, manageable flood of images: editing web copy, relationships, a wardrobe, editing books…  all difficult but immensely satisfying tasks. Some will wonder how I can apply that same word to so many different domains but that’s where dictionaries kick butt.

Select, Arrange, Prepare

1) The first definition is usually similar to this: to prepare [for publication] by selection, arrangement.

Something written may be first to show up in your mind’s eye but, for me, this one also speaks to getting dressed in the morning. We prepare a “look” by choosing and arranging. We can also select and arrange a playlist, an exercise routine, or a grocery list. By the way, who else is finding that using grocery delivery makes it easier to avoid impulse purchases?

2) The next part of the definition? To prepare and make ready [for publication].

Sorry, y’all — I can’t get past the thought of preparing and making ready a couple of large loads of laundry. (Next on today’s agenda.) Nonetheless, laundry can sometimes be a good example.

3) Here’s one that got my attention today: To supervise and set policy [for a publication].

I’m a grown up and responsible for myself and my choices. I get to supervise myself and my life. But what really got me pondering this whole ‘edit your life’ thing was the idea of setting policies. I’ve worked places with editorial policies and had to conform. But what are the policies I’ve set for my life? Are they the same as my my values? Are they the rules I create that help me manifest those values? I believe that this long period of introspection is allowing me to review some of those rules. And I think it is only when we can once again mix freely and face-to-face that I’ll truly understand these particular edits and adjustments.

Supervise, Splice, Set Policy

4) To prepare [a film or tape] for presentation by cutting, dubbing, splicing, etc

Moving to a different medium changed the picture in my head. In all of these parts of the definition, we’re getting something ready for others to see. (Hey, even the laundry works here!) I like to think of editing as a way to polish a project, to put the author’s best foot forward — to make a good first impression. Maybe that’s why I love the process so much: with good editing, projects and products just keep getting better and stronger. I like to think that’s true of lives as well.

When moving this idea more directly into our lives, there’s a need to take a look at what stays and what goes. This is certainly a good time to bring a Marie Kondo eye to our homes and our lives: what brings me joy? What is useful or beautiful? What’s behind keeping things that don’t fit those descriptions?

Additions, Deletions, New Directions

5) To make additions, deletions or other changes.

Finally, where do we need to add something? A spice to enhance flavor? Proper storage for samples and other work-related items? A sentence or phrase to bring a bit more clarity? A special time for close friends? What will make the completed whole better, stronger, or more beautiful?

This one also reminds me that not all edits are voluntary or welcome. The death of a loved one. The loss of a job. An unresolvable disagreement with a family member or friend. Emergency surgery. These may not be edits that any of us would choose but we need to find ways to get through them. They are the sorts of changes that put me in mind of the current global pandemic and the wide variety of responses to it. What are the messages it is bringing to us? What will it take to clarify them? How do we embrace the process of finding out?

Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you.