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 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.

 

Mar 242020
 

There are lots of two-word combos that pack an almost disproportionate amount of power. As a lover of language, I am intrigued by a number of possibilities.

  • Think big.
  • Stand up.
  • Time flies.
  • Heart health.
  • Forever love.
  • Take action.
  • Make memories.
  • Think different.
  • See success.
  • Finally bedtime.

These are all good examples of strong two-word phrases yet not one can come close to packing as much power as this one. Ready?

“I’m bored.”

(Of course to get the full impact try hearing them pronounced like this:  ‘I’m bo-ooo-r-ud.’ It is a sound that is particularly chilling for parents.)

It is a sound that is particularly chilling for parents. Click To Tweet

It may be unwise of me to raise questions about what it means to be bored: it’s not something I’ve often experienced. One of the reasons? I’m chronically curious. When I decided to revisit old blog posts about kids, parents and boredom, I tripped and fell into a rabbit hole. It’s name? “Reading about boredom.” And guess what? It was interesting. I wasn’t the least little bit bored.

To Study Boredom

Apparently the topic of boredom also appeals to social science researchers. As with many research topics, the initial struggle was with definitions. The articles I read described boredom as an emotional or psychological state that can arise when a person doesn’t have an especially engaging task or activity before them, is stuck in a “tedious time period,” or lacks interest in their surroundings.

I also learned the term “boredom proneness” and that there is a Boredom Proneness Scale. So, while many of us tend to minimize boredom as trivial, researchers have correlated it with depression and other significant life issues.

Additionally, researchers tell us there are three types of boredom:

  • circumstances are preventing us from doing something we want to do
  • we are obligated to do something we don’t want to do
  • there are factors that prevent us from being fully engaged in the task at hand

Ennui Among the Animals or Boredom at the Zoo

As I continued to think about the topic, I realized that animals get bored, too. Our dogs, ranging in age from a baby to a senior citizen, love to go to training. They love the five hour round trip. Nobody (except the human) gets to stay in for the entire class, but each dog gets enough mental stimulation to make for a very quiet, sleepy ride home.

Not to be outdone by engaged pet owners everywhere, the National Zoo now gives donors the opportunity to provide keepers with discretionary funds for added enrichment items ranging from food to toys and special scents for their charges.

I believe a high level of inborn curiosity vaccinated me against becoming boredom prone. To me, when that “meh” vibe starts to creep in, it’s a signal that my creativity needs slightly different time and space. It encourages me to check in with myself and my HALT: hungry, angry, lonely,tired.  It’s a nudge to try stuff.

Boredom is a nudge to try stuff. Click To Tweet

 

I guess that reaction is part of what makes me wonder why so many parents believe that boredom is bad for kids and  it’s their job to ‘fix’ it.  If  we respond like cruise ship activities directors on steroids what are we doing for the kids?  What do they take away from our behavior? What example are we setting?

Am I exaggerating? Just think about the number of times that, upon hearing this particular set of ‘magic words,’ you’ve seen parents leap into action. Like exhausted super heroes, they quickly shuffle through their repertoire of activities, snacks, electronic devices, and other entertainment to find the one special remedy that will most quickly put an end to the dreaded condition called boredom.

Unintended Messages

We all know that actions can undermine and contradict both words and good intentions. Attempts to alleviate another’s discomfort can be interpreted as thoughtful and kind and Boredom-Rescue behavior is no exception. All behavior can send powerful (and sometimes unintended) messages; intervening in our kids’ boredom could be interpreted as:

  • You deserve to be passively entertained
  • Your uncomfortable feelings are very important
  • Uncomfortable feelings should be avoided at all costs
  • Someone or something outside of you is responsible for fixing your feelings

And even if  those aren’t their take-away messages, how much thought have you given to what happens to your kids when you’re not around to entertain them? If we build our schedules and priorities around filling, enriching, and stimulating their every waking moment, how will the young ‘uns manage being in a group or in a classroom setting? Or alone?

Oddly enough, I started working on this post before Covid-19  hit our shores. As people gradually start to understand how such diseases spread, they are taking responsibility for their portion of herd immunity by self-quarantining. And, in the course of staying home, some of them are feeling bored. That might not be a bad thing.

Quiet Minds, Open Minds

I’m a huge fan of new ideas and experiences.  Novelty is great for brain health which, in turn, benefits us physically and emotionally. We live in an amazing time with no shortage of things to learn and do and think about and try.  And, given the opportunity, we will discover our passions and interests. Maybe there will be powerful new interests. But in the course of pursuing those opportunities, we will need to manage more than a few uncomfortable feelings along the way. So will our kids. But to seize those opportunities we will need to make sure our hearts and minds are quiet and open enough to recognize and seize those opportunities.

Mar 062020
 

Time for true confessions: even before I became a goofy grandma, laughing baby videos have been one of my guilty pleasures. That’s true even when I haven’t spent an entire day editing stuff.  (What did we ever do without YouTube?) When I feel like I’ve been chained to my desk all day, they give my attitude AND my energy a much-needed boost.

So, having rendered myself sleep-deprived, indulged in all the bad food choices, and created the ugly messes that are part and parcel of a very long editing session, I came across this. It may have helped keep me from tearing up a manuscript section or three.

This may have helped keep me from tearing up a manuscript section or three. Click To Tweet

 

You probably know that when humans converse and have some sort of rapport, they automatically start to mirror speech patterns and mannerisms. In fact, in training programs for sales people, advocates, and other interviewers who’d like to enhance client connections, participants are invited to notice and subtly mimic the mannerisms of the other person. I know language buffs who, when conversing with someone from another region, unconsciously pick up and start using a “foreign” accent. It’s a subtle form of enhanced connection, n’est-ce pas?

So what about laughter? And puppies? And babies? What’s the deal?

Language buffs may unconsciously pick up and start using a “foreign” accent. It’s a subtle form of enhanced connection, n‘est-ce pas? Click To Tweet

 

Not to ruin a guilty pleasure, but, as neurologists, neuro-psychiatrists, and biologists continue to explore and map various parts of the brain, the concept of contagious emotions becomes more intriguing. (You know I love brain biology, too, right?)

And while the research on mirror neurons has a long way to go, we’re all familiar with the concept of being known by the friends we keep. Overweight people tend to have more overweight friends than thin folks. Same for people who are feeling negative about their world. So are we attracted to those who are like us? Or are thoughts and feelings really contagious?

Look! I've finally achieved nerdvana ~ a laughing baby AND a dog! Click To Tweet

Gotta love those two-fers.

 

Babies pay close attention to voices, especially high-pitched ones. This fact leads many of us to become fluent in baby-talk. It’s a voice and speech pattern that animal trainers sometimes use, too. And, while the sense of hearing starts to function more or less from birth, it takes time for any mammal to make sense and meaning of sounds. In dogs (sorry, new parents) this can result in some adorable head tilts as they check out the source of strange sounds. And in humans? Check out this “silly baby” who is alternately horrified and delighted as he watches his Mom blow her nose.  His expressions are fantastic.

 

So what’s your online guilty pleasure? Pretending to make all the things on Pinterest? Twitter tantrums? Cat videos? Share your favorites in the comments so we can join you!