BookTubeAThon 2015

I know I said I was taking a break from blogging and I totally am, but I felt honor-bound to tell you about BookTubeAThon 2015.

BookTubeAThon is a week-long reading challenge where participants are encouraged to read as much as they can. In addition to reading at a ferocious pace and engaging the community on YouTube and Twitter, there are seven specific book challenges each year. This year’s challenges are:

1) Read a book with blue on the cover

2) Read a book by an author who shares the same first letter of your last name

3) Read someone else’s favorite book

4) Read the last book you acquired

5) Finish a book without letting go of it

6) Read a book you really want to read

7) Read seven books

As many of you know, I’m already participating in the 2015 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge. Part of what gave me the confidence to attempt the Pop Sugar Challenge and set a 24 book goal for 2015 was knowing I would be participating in BookTubeAThon.

And then life happened.

Unfortunately BookTubeAThon is going to overlap with A Holy Waste of Time, a young adult retreat weekend that I am super stoked about. I still intend to read once I’m there, but I may not be able to complete all seven books if the campfire is calling. In addition to the retreat, my plan of having no meetings at work so I could leave early most days fell through when we hired a new employee. She starts the Monday of BookTubeAThon, and part of my job is to train all new employees.

Life challenges aside, I am still stoked about the book challenges. I’ve already picked my TBR (To Be Read):

BookTubeAThon 20151) Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (blue on the cover – I’ll be listening to the audiobook)

2) The Wizard of Seattle by Kay Hooper (I share both first and last initials with this author, so it will count towards my Pop Sugar list as well)

3) The Man in the Ceiling by Jules Feiffer (Rob’s favorite book – well, one of them. He had a tough time picking a favorite.)

4) The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann (the last book I acquired – a loan from work I got just last Friday)

5) Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore (a book I’m hoping to finish without putting it down)

6) The Martian by Andy Weir (a book I’ve been wanting to read since I got it last Christmas – I’ve been saving it for BookTubeAThon)

7) Little Murders by Jules Feiffer (my seventh book – also counts toward Pop Sugar because it’s a play)

Looking at my book pile this feels both exciting and impossible. I can’t wait.

Time Off

Yesterday I forgot to write for the first time in 89 days. There was no reason, no excuse, I just completely forgot about it and then went to bed.

I’ve got a lot going on right now, all of it good, but writing hasn’t been the creative joy that it normally is. I’ve put a lot of interesting things on my plate, and I’m sure to write about many of them eventually, but the burden of getting in my words every day is getting to me. So I’m letting that go.

I’m going to take some time off. I’m not sure how much, but I know that I’ll be back to writing every day by November at the latest (to participate in NaNoWriMo) and eventually to blogging (stay tuned for the exciting adventures of Rob and Katrina in Utah). I may surprise myself and find that I don’t need much time off at all, but I have to give myself permission to stop for awhile. That’s how it works when you’re an enneagram one: you have to give yourself permission, even when what you want is what’s best for you.

 

Life Update

You may have noticed I haven’t posted anything new in almost a month. That’s because I’ve been putting all of my energy into preparation for my Great Utah Adventure, which consists of two parts.

In Part One, Rob and I drive down to southern Utah and tour through the national parks. Utah was a part of the country I missed entirely on my big trip, so I’ve decided to make up the oversight. I waited too long to plan which means we don’t have any reservations. I REPEAT, I’M GOING ON A TRIP AND I DIDN’T MAKE ANY RESERVATIONS. I’ll admit it’s stressing me out. Rob seems unconcerned.

Part Two is the General Convention for the Episcopal Church. General Convention is held once every three years, and this will be my fourth time going as an elected deputy. The convention itself is in Utah, and lasts 11 days (they’ll try to convince you it’s only nine days, but many of us have to arrive two days early for committee meetings).

I’m not sure I’ll have the time and head space to blog Part One as it happens, so I think whatever I end up writing will be posted in July or August. However blogging General Convention is something I’ve been doing for years, and will do again this time. My General Convention blog can be found here, and I try to do a post every day of the convention.

With my travels already begun and daily blogging at a different site on the horizon, this is likely to be the last post you see here for yet another month. I encourage you to check out the convention blog even if (especially if) you have no prior knowledge or interest in the Episcopal Church. I try to write it with the layperson in mind, so no matter what your background you should be able to follow it.

I’ll see you in Salt Lake City!

Sit Up Straight, Part Four: Keys to Creativity

I never learned how to type properly. I went from hunt-and-peck to 50 words per minute on my own. I started by staring at the keys. I still stare at the keys.

Let’s be clear about one thing: I have the keyboard memorized. I don’t have to look at it to find the letters. What I have to do is face it. My muscle memory for typing is so strongly tied to looking at the keys, it shuts down if I try to face the screen. I’ve tested a few different positions, with the following results:

Can Type Just Fine:

  1. hunched over the keyboard and staring at it (natural resting state)
  2. hunched but with my eyes purposely unfocused
  3. hunched with my eyes closed
  4. sitting up but with my head still tilted down

Still Works But Slower and with More Mistakes:

  1. sitting up with my head down but eyes closed
  2. facing the screen with eyes unfocused
  3. facing the screen with eyes closed

Get Stuck After Two Sentences:

  1. facing the screen and watching as I type

The profound connection my brain has made to my neck is amazing. Somehow I’ve managed to tie a physical posture, a dexterity-based task, and creative imagination together like a Gordian Knot . When I try to change one, the others shut down.

KeyboardI tried taking online typing courses, hoping I could re-learn by being taught properly. I got better at typing while looking at the screen, and thought fixing my typing posture might be simple. But when I tried keeping that posture during my daily writing session everything fell apart. I couldn’t do it. I would write a sentence or two and my brain would just stop. Normally I can write an entire post in one sitting without stopping. The words flow naturally and uncritically and I can come back to edit later. But when I was typing properly I found my internal editor could not shut up.

After much trial and error I determined the problem. When I type hunched over and facing the keys, I know the words because I am listening to them. Some voice in the back of my head starts talking, and the fingers follow. This is probably why I have such a problem with typing the same words twice or replacing words I mean to say with ones that look or sound similar. My fingers are just playing catch-up, like a personal assistant following my brain around and scribbling furious dictation.

But when I watch the words on the screen, I hear them twice. I hear them first in my head when they come to me, and again as my eyes read them on the screen. There’s an echo. Watching what I’m typing is like having that assistant quietly repeat everything I say right after I say it. It’s maddening.

So far I’ve been focusing on just losing the hunch. I still look at the keys, but I focus on keeping a soft tilt in my neck instead of rolling my whole back over. When I’m doing really well I’ll try to soften my focus and reenforce the fact that I don’t need to see the keys. This doesn’t seem to slow me down, but I keep unconsciously re-focusing my eyes and having to purposely bring the softness back.

In addition to the typing techniques, I looked up a few stretches designed for office workers who hunch over their keyboards. When I remember to do my stretches they seem to work well, but the effects are temporary and I always forget about them. I even tried putting the stretches on my task list at work, but I keep glossing over the task. At least I can soft-focus with some things.

The more research I do in my goal to correct my posture, the more I hear that general stretching and exercising are where I need to start. I’m still working on moving more, though it’s hard. I’ve had to resort to finding more challenges and schedules in order to keep myself motivated to exercise. Sometimes I look back with longing at my college days majoring in drama and dance, when exercise was a part of my grade and half my classes required me to wear yoga pants. I used to eat giant cinnamon rolls for breakfast without gaining any weight. I probably had terrible posture but I never noticed. My calves looked amazing. Sometimes I find my mind drifting off and I hear a familiar tune I’m finally starting to understand…

On Racism and Being Wrong

Last year I spent a wonderful Sunday morning at an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Mobile, Alabama. The experience itself was interesting and enlightening for a number of reasons, but the one that keeps popping up in my head is realizing that I had approached the church with a deep and unknown racism.

Outside Big Zion - postedYou see I went to that particular church because I was chasing a story I’d been told. I’d seen it in movies time and time again. Forest Gump is always the first example that comes to mind. It’s the story that in the south there are these fantastic and full congregations made entirely of black people. And their preachers are passionate. And their parishioners are enthusiastic. And most importantly, their choirs are fantastic. I wanted to visit that place, the one I’d seen in movies. I wanted to hear the choir.

It hadn’t occurred to me that assuming that every predominately black church would automatically be filled with wonderful singers was racist. It is, by the way. It’s racist because I was taking a skin color and assigning an unrelated trait to it. I imagine I didn’t think of it this way because I was engaging in what’s often called “positive racism.” One example of positive racism you may have heard is the idea that Asian people are good at math. This feels like a harmless thought to have because it’s complimentary. We all wish we could be naturally good at math. But no matter the compliment, we are still stripping people of their identity as individuals and lumping them into a group defined by their race. And it quickly  turns into something overtly negative: Asian people who are bad at math are seen as failures to their race, and Asian people who are good at math receive no praise because it’s assumed their race is the cause.

I was envious of the black churches I saw in movies and longed to be in a place where people could be so passionate about their faith in a way that didn’t seem to attack others. I thought my assumptions were complimentary, so it never occurred to me that they were racist. That is, until I showed up and their choir was no different than choirs I’d seen at plenty of white churches. I felt a twinge of disappointment before I was overcome with shame. That moment of disappointment reminded me that disappointment can only come as a result of expectations, and the church had only failed to meet the expectations I had invented for them based on race.

A few years ago I watched a TED talk by Kathryn Shulz titled “On Being Wrong.” During the talk she asked audience members what it feels like to be wrong.

“Dreadful,” they told her. “Embarrassing.”

She told them that those are good answers, but they are answers to a different question. They are answers to the question, “What does it feel like to realize you’re wrong?” Feeling wrong, she explained, feels exactly like being right.

That’s how I felt walking into that church in Mobile. I didn’t feel racist. I had an abstract appreciation that we live in a racist society and that as a member of that society I will occasionally and unintentionally engage in acts of racism, but I didn’t think I was engaging in one at the time. In fact, I never feel like I’m currently engaging in acts of racism. Why? Because if I felt that way I would stop.

And that’s the key. There is a person I want to be. I try to be her everyday, and every day I fail at least a little. Because intellectually I know that I can’t possibly be right about everything, which means one day (hopefully), I’ll discover the ways in which I’m wrong. I will have a chance to change, and change is hard. Realizing you’re wrong feels so awful that sometimes you’ll fight to keep believing you’re right. You’ll twist the facts and make up excuses. Not to be malicious, but because change means admitting that all the reasoning you had to support your previous position was wrong. And you’ve been operating and living under that wrong reasoning every day of your life.

There are parts of the person I am right now that will be an embarrassment to the person I will become. It’s hard to think about, because admitting it means I’m already wrong and not changing. I’m already being racist and haven’t stopped. I’ve already twisted the facts and will continue to repeat them. Not only am I doing something horrible, but I’m not fixing it. My only saving grace is my ignorance. I don’t know which thoughts are the wrong ones. Yet.

Sit Up Straight, Part Three: Ariel Yoga

Not long after I published my first post on learning to correct my posture, a friend told me I should try Ariel Yoga. She said the inverted postures allowed your spine to hang freely and your head to be “loose and bowling-ball-y.” She said she left the classes feeling taller and straighter, and suggested it might improve my walking posture. There was a studio she’d been going to that was only a few minutes’ walk from my apartment. I was sold.

The first class was expectedly awkward. Like any form of yoga, I spent my first day turning my neck around trying to look at the other people and confirm I was doing everything right. Ariel yoga is done using a large silk hammock to support and alter typical yoga stretches and postures. The hammocks are mostly opaque, but just see-through enough that if you press your face against them you can still see what the teacher is doing. We started class by sitting in our hammocks and doing basic stretches normally meant for the floor. Sometimes the hammock versions seemed less helpful than the standard poses, while others were leagues better in the hammock. I’ve never known a pigeon pose to stretch my hips quite as well as a pigeon pose suspended two feet off the ground.

Ariel YogaAfter a few starter stretches to get us comfortable with the hammocks, the inversions began. The most basic is called the Spiderman, in which you hang upside-down with the soles of the feet together and the knees bowed out. You know, like Spiderman. The first moment I did it I felt the effects. Because the hammock holds you up by the pelvis and not the waist or the legs, nothing is straining or yanking. Your entire spine is allowed to relax against the pull of gravity, all the way up to your tailbone. It was amazing. I felt like my lumbar spine was massaging itself.

We did a few more inversions that first day, and a few more stretches. Like any yoga class, we ended with the savasana relaxation pose. It was so amazing to be floating in the air with every part of the body evenly supported by a silk hammock. While I still I wasn’t sold on the concept, it was worth trying again. Besides, I’d bought the beginner’s two-class pass.

My second class made more sense and involved less peeking through the hammock to see what I was doing wrong. I was still in the beginner level, full of students just as clueless as myself. I already felt more confident in the hammock, and was able to try a few things I hadn’t done the first time. I bought another set of three classes, and started to move on to the All Levels classes. I did a Flying Dog series that was pleasant murder on my hip flexors. I did a one-legged balancing Sun Salute that made all other Sun Salutes seem like child’s play. And in each class I got to flip upside-down and feel the weight of my entire existence empty out of my coccyx like an hour glass. It was great.

Unfortunately, Ariel Yoga didn’t seem to have any direct effect on my posture. I still slouched, even on the short walk home from class. I did notice some positive, indirect effects. I was stronger, and there was more movement in my life. Holding myself up at the computer was getting just a bit easier, because my body didn’t feel so stuck in itself. The individual postures and inversions in Ariel Yoga didn’t matter as much as the fact that I was exercising again. I was building muscle again. I had been trying to strengthen my glutes and abs after reading about Anterior Pelvic Tilt, but my yoga practice was working out my whole body. Being inverted felt good on my back while it was happening, but the real benefit was the ab strength I used to get back up.

After a couple weeks of classes I decided that Ariel Yoga wasn’t a complete cure for my posture, but it was a fun, easy, and most importantly convenient way to increase my strength and flexibility. I loved that it took less than 10 minutes for me to get dressed and walk to the studio, and that it was challenging but never made me sweat enough to require a shower. Then I heard the news. My precious studio was moving to “a great new space” in Belltown. I’d either have to pay for the bus or pay for parking, and both would require at least a 20 minute travel commitment to ensure I got to class on time. My perfect little yoga situation was gone.

And so the search continues.

Living Adjacent to Depression

I am not living with depression in the typical understanding of the term. I am not living my life while depressed. Instead, I am living in an apartment with a man who is sometimes depressed. This depression comes and goes in waves, but because depression can take hold of someone so completely, when it takes hold of him I stop living with the man, and start living with Depression.

While it may be difficult to believe, with an unwelcome visitor like Depression you’d rather the intrusion be big and obvious. When Depression first came into our lives, it was so quiet we didn’t even notice anything was wrong. Like a cat burglar who replaces all your valuables with cheap knockoffs, Depression can take so much without you realizing what is happening. But over time it became forceful and loud. It would grab the man I love and hold him down on the couch. He couldn’t get up, even when he was dressed and ready for work. Depression would cover the man’s body in molasses so he couldn’t move fast, if at all. Depression would put a hand over the man’s mouth so he couldn’t speak. Depression tried to keep itself secret, but I could tell. It was obvious. I knew there was an intruder in my house.

Depression ran away for awhile, and it didn’t come back much. Occasionally it would surprise us, showing up suddenly one Monday morning, but we would act quickly and get it out of the house within a day or two. We were on to it. We knew its weaknesses. We were winning. Depression had to make a new plan.

These days Depression doesn’t break down the door and wrestle the man to the floor. Instead, it sneaks in quietly while I’m away at work. It does its work in tiny batches, never being too obvious. That’s when Depression goes from a guest to a roommate. And Depression is a terrible roommate.

Unlike the man I love, Depression doesn’t do the dishes. The man and I divvied up chores when we first moved in, and part of the agreement was that he was fully in charge of the dishes. However Depression wasn’t present during that discussion, and it never agreed to do any dishes. Normally the man does his chores on a daily basis; he stays on top of it. But Depression doesn’t care about dishes in the sink. Depression lets them pile up until one whole sink is full, then the other. And when Depression does finally get around to doing some dishes, it only does a few. The dry rack isn’t even full and Depression stops working.

Depression never wants to talk about anything exciting that may have happened to you. Oddly enough, Depression is very good at being polite, and will say all the words a person is supposed to say when someone relates good news. But there’s no substance when Depression congratulates you. It’s like telling a good story to one of your customers, only to realize she just wants her coffee.

Unlike the man I live with, Depression can’t really get mad at me. It’s a trade off Depression has to make in order to never be happy about anything I’ve said – it can’t be unhappy either. It can be polite, responsive. But that’s it. It sounds like living with a robot but it’s not. A robot would be programmed to try its best, even though it will fail. Depression never tries.

The man I love creates things, some big and some small. But Depression hates to create. Depression only wants to consume. Depression likes reading forums online, even the ones where everyone is just being nasty to each other. Depression can read a single forum for hours on end, while most of the other users have come and gone. Depression never writes comments. It only reads. It only consumes.

Depression doesn’t encourage you when you’re struggling. Depression doesn’t do things when you ask. Depression doesn’t kiss you on the forehead to be sweet. Depression doesn’t kiss you at all.

When Depression breaks through the window I know what to do. I know how to fight back. I know how to defend my home. It’s like seeing a baby that’s fallen into the river. I don’t blame the baby and I don’t wait for it to figure something out. I just jump in head first and know that whatever happens it was worth trying. But when Depression crawls in during the daylight, I don’t recognize it. I see the baby in the river and I just think, “You’re going to get your clothes all wet, don’t you know any better?”

There is no way to compare my experience with the suffering of the man himself. I am lucky in that regard. I don’t know what it’s like to be Living With depression, I only know what it’s like when you are living with Depression. Once I know it’s there I can help chase it away, but by the time I realize it, so much damage has already been done. And I can fight and claw and lock the doors all I want, it doesn’t matter. Depression never really dies. It is not cured, it is not defeated. It knows where we live. It will always find its way back in our house.

_________________

NOTE: The above piece was posted with both permission and encouragement from man in question. I hope this post helps to open up the conversation so often left in silence.

Close Call

This weekend I almost broke my writing streak – just three days away from hitting 500 days in a row. I went to Emerald City ComicCon with some friends, and didn’t get home until 9PM. I had some prep to do for Sunday School the next day, so that took priority. If I hadn’t gone back to my computer to check my Facebook one last time and reload a few pages, I might have forgotten completely and gone to bed without realizing I hadn’t written anything that day.

The streak is important to me and I’m glad I remembered in time. But more important is the habit that I’ve built. I know that even if I had broken my streak, I could pick up again the next day. I might be more willing to make excuses on hard nights when times are tough, but I would know how much I can suffer through and what it really means to say that I “didn’t have time to write today.” I’ve certainly had those days. I’ve had days where I was staffing youth conferences and had to wake up at 7AM, spend every moment of the day chaperoning kids or meeting with the staff, and then go to bed at 11PM after an hour of cleaning the church. I didn’t have time to write on those days. I still did it.

Recently I read about the ‘100 Times’ method to habit forming and productivity. When you’re about to make a choice you know isn’t the best, you ask, “What would happen if I made this same choice the next 100 times?” It’s easy to say you’re just going to miss this one workout, but you know you’d get really out of shape if you missed the next 100 workouts. Likewise, I know that I wouldn’t be failing as a writer if I genuinely forgot to write for just this one busy and unusual day, but I know what would happen if I ‘forgot’ for the next 100 days in a row. I would stop producing. I would stop practicing. I would stop writing.

I don’t want that. So at 12:06AM on Sunday morning I was still in front of my computer. And these were my 372 words for the day.

Intro to Decluttering

Some time ago while working as an executive assistant I coordinated my boss’s move. He was married with a toddler and a very pregnant wife. I arranged for the movers, set up the appointments with the condo, called for internet installation, the usual. On the day of the move I sat around as his old Condo was packed up and put into the moving truck.

After many hours I got a message from my boss that there were two storage areas in the parking garage that also had to be emptied. He forgot about them when we originally brought the movers out for an estimate. I took two of the movers downstairs and we opened up the units to reveal bicycles, bins, and the other sorts of things one stores in a condo garage unit. One of the movers turned to me with a smile on his face.

“This makes more sense,” he said. “It didn’t seem like they had a lot of stuff. I was like, ‘Where are the golf clubs and ski equipment and stuff?’” He laughed.

I’m sure the mover thought nothing of it, but his words really stuck with me. This is what he does for a living, and it was finally making sense to him right as it was becoming astounding for me. Obviously it made sense that a family of three should have more stuff than I do and I don’t begrudge them their possessions, but after hours of packing it already felt like a lot to me. But not to this guy. He knew exactly how much there would be.

Most of us find it easy to justify what we own in aggregate, or justify any item individually. Recently I started a document called “Why I Have Everything I Own.” I turn to it when I need to get in my daily words and don’t have any ideas. I look towards any section of my apartment and list every item. I’ve started with the things that are in and around my desk, and may one day make it through the whole apartment. It’s dull writing and it’s unlikely to produce anything worth sharing, but as an exercise it’s been helpful. It’s easy for me to justify having purses in general, but to justify each individual bag by itself, defending its merits and explaining why none of the other bags could fully replace it – that’s a struggle worth attempting. Every so often I end up throwing a few things in the giveaway bin before I’m done with my word count for the day.

I have this dream of one day owning very few things. It’s a weird dream when you think about it. I could have it right now if I wanted. A couple trips to Goodwill and the dump and I could get down to only what would fit in my car. But that’s not the struggle of course. I’ve been slowly minimizing my belongings for several years now, and I’m starting to hit a wall. It’s easy to get rid of the broken and stupid and useless things in our lives. It’s harder to get rid of the good-but-too-much and if-I-just-wait-long-enough things.

In the coming months I’d like to write more about the art of paring down and my personal struggles with it. It’s more complicated than most people realize, and the problems are more universal than most people think. When I went on vacation in February and told people I did work as a professional organizer, I ended up in a lot of mini-counseling sessions with the people around me. I always thought I’d have to see a clutter problem to fix it, but you can learn a lot from how a person describes their situation. If you have a specific problem you need help with, feel free to leave it in the comments. You’ll help me to know which topics to focus on, and you may just find a solution to your problem!

Things That Don’t Need to Be Done

I’ve been reading about productivity for a long time now. I’m long past the point where every article sounds the same and it feels like there’s no new advice out there. But there’s one piece of advice that I’ve been hearing for a long time, and only recently was I finally ready to listen:

Don’t do things that don’t need to be done.

It sounds stupidly simple. Of course you shouldn’t do things that don’t need to be done. But it’s easy to fool yourself. After all, you can tell yourself exactly what you want to hear.

Stacked PapersI’ve been slowly going through all my old college papers and scanning what I want to keep. It’s a slow process, but we have a commercial scanner at work which makes it a little easier. One day after work I was standing over the copier with my computer, slowly scanning old script drafts. They were for a play I wrote many years ago. I like to keep the scripts from the readings because people write on them and it’s interesting to read comments about my old work.

These scripts are arguably the lowest priority of things worth scanning. These are old drafts, and the play that was actually performed ended up being very different. But they hold a certain sentimental value. And as a writer there is an education to be had from occasionally reading your old work.

The scripts were originally printed landscape and double-sided, so when I ran them through the scanner I ended up with a PDF where every other page was facing the opposite direction. I was clicking around and rotating pages when I realized how utterly unnecessary the task was. I might never look at these files again. And if I do, I’ll be going page by page to read them, and could easily rotate pages then. Plus it’s very possible that if I wait six months they’ll have invented a way to tell the PDF reader to only rotate odd pages, without having to click each individually.

This is what they meant when they said I shouldn’t do things that don’t need to be done. I felt the need to rotate the pages because it was in line with my habits of proper organization and storage. But even I know that I may never open these files again. I can barely justify scanning them. The time spent rotating is a complete waste.

Once I figured this out I realized something even more important: I don’t have to name them either. I was on auto-pilot, assuming it had to be done because that’s usually the case. Most of my files need to be named, but not all. I had eleven scripts that were going to be named after the person who had made the notes, but that information is already written on the first page. I can do it later if I need to. Instead I threw all the files into a single folder labeled “Reading Scripts” and called it a day.

Wasting time on over-organization is a problem of mine, I know that. Most of the time I can justify it because I like organizing and it can be meditative and satisfying. But I don’t like naming files or rotating PDFs. And not everything has to be done. Don’t do things that don’t need to be done.