mindfulness · self-care

Math Woes

When I’m not happy with my life, I start doing math.

This is not a coping skill; it’s a sign that things are not going well.

For example – years ago, I lived in Staten Island, NY, and I commuted to the Lower East Side in Manhattan every day for work. It was the longest commute I’ve ever had. First I walked to the Staten Island Railroad. Then I rode the train to the ferry. I rode the ferry to Manhattan, got off, and then hopped on a bus, which took me to the Lowest East Side. I then walked 15 minutes to get to my office.

OH. MY. GOSH.

It was terrible.

It honestly didn’t feel weird at the time. Many people who live in New York are used to that kind of commute. But I absolutely hated it, and I think that had more to do with my overall state of mind at the time than the commute itself.

That was a really rough year for me. My dad had died about a year earlier, and I had come home from living abroad to live with my mother and work in New York. I quickly got depressed in the cold New York winter. I started daydreaming about finding a job as a college professor so that I could teach in Hawaii during the school year and spend my summers with family in New York. My job was okay, but it was indoors and not exciting. I missed AmeriCorps, doing projects outside surrounded by other young people. I was stressed and struggling.

And I did math obsessively, every single day. I would count up all the hours I spent commuting, and I’d make myself sick thinking about what else I could be doing with that time. I’d add the commuting hours together with the actual work day hours, and the math would get even more depressing. I believe it added up to about 80 hours of work/commute in a 168-hour week -practically half my time. Then 56 hours for sleep, leaving about 32 hours for actual Kerriann time.

SO TERRIBLE.

But, the thing is – the math was terrible because I was unhappy about my life. If I had loved my job and felt great about my life status, then that commute would have been a dream – time to read books, time to talk on the phone with friends, time to write in my journal. I think about that ferry boat ride, and it sounds delightful – I was out on the New York Harbor, sailing by the Statue of Liberty, twice a day, five days a week. That’s amazing! A lot of people would love that.

But, I was unhappy. So I didn’t practice gratitude. I didn’t look for the good. Instead, I did math, and then got depressed when the numbers added up all wrong.

30742985_978110109030597_6935452377138855936_n

Ever since my son was born, I have noticed this tendency of mine – doing life-related math when I am stressed and unhappy – more clearly. It was difficult returning to work after maternity leave, and I found myself adding up the hours I was spending away from Edgar – the hours that belonged to my job, not to me. While looking for a new job, I found myself calculating commute and daily work hours and feeling physically weighted down as I considered different opportunities. “If I take this job, I will get two hours per week day to be with Edgar while he is awake.” (The math of a working parent can be really tough!)

The opposite of this stress-induced Life Math is what I think of as Vacation Time Zone – that feeling when you’re on  vacation like time matters SO LITTLE. We spent a few days at the beach this summer, and I got to experience that special vacation feeling – a) you have no idea what time it is, b) you’ve been having so much fun on the beach that you don’t know whether you’ve been there for one hour or three, and c) time DOES NOT MATTER because you’re on vacation and have little to no responsibilities in the moment. I love Vacation Time Zone. I wish I could live in it always.

Now that I am enjoying my Summer Sabbatical, I am enjoying an in-between state. There’s a lot on my to-do list, but my life has a very open-ended vacation-y feel to it.

HOWEVER.

I can tell I am feeling some stress when the Life Math starts to creep back in.  When I start counting the weeks before my new job starts, for example – that’s a really good sign that I’m feeling some kind of distress, and that I am not embracing the present moment.

One of my wise and gentle friends advises me that when I feel like time is running away from me, I can come back to where my feet are and just be in THIS moment. That’s my goal. It eludes me, often – but that’s my goal.

self-care

The Mental Health Benefits Of Getting Away

There is something sotherapeutic about a vacation getaway.

We don’t get away a lot, especially as a whole family, but this summer Tamara, Edgar and I got to spend a few days at a beach house in Oak Island, NC, with family.

One of my favorite parts of being on vacation is the possibility of losing track of time. When you’re relaxing or playing or lounging or doing what you do, and you have no idea what time of day it is, because you don’t NEED to know, because you’re on vacation. That’s magical.

We take days off from farming/writing/working from time to time, but there’s something particularly beneficial about having time off while we are physically away from our home. This is especially true for people like Tamara, who work at home. When she sits down to relax, all the stuff she needs to do for her job isn’t out of sight in an office building twenty minutes away – it’s right in front of her. Everything on her to-do list could be done at any moment, even if the purpose of that moment is supposed to be relaxing.

It applies to everyone else, too, even if they don’t work at home. When you’re in your home, there are always so many things that need to be done. The to-do list is staring you right in the face when you’re trying to kick back and relax. But when you’re on a vacation getaway, you can’t tackle the items on your to do list. (Not all of them, at least.) And if you can’t get them done, it’s silly to be worrying about them at all. The work, the errands – they’ll get done, eventually, when we’re back to real life.

I also enjoy vacations as a reset of sorts. This vacation, in particular, felt like a great reset with regard to food and exercise. Each morning, I ran on the beach – my favorite kind of running. And swimming is one of my favorite kind of exercises. And diet-wise – I’ve been feeling confused about my diet recently; I don’t know what to eat and when to eat it. I sometimes realize at noon that I haven’t eaten anything all day, and then I’ll eat something random or unhealthy that isn’t particularly satisfying. But this vacation week was full of delicious home-cooked meals and healthy snacks. I know a lot of people use vacations as times to indulge, to treat themselves – but I actually find them a great time to reintroduce good habits that I want to foster. Particularly when it comes to food, I make better choices when I am away from home than I do when I’m in my regular routine.

This particular vacation was far away from home, but I often see the same benefits with just a day trip or an overnight camping excursion. When we get OUT of our regular routine, away from our regular environment, we can escape the stresses of everyday life, and we all need that – even homebodies like me.

I strive to remember how much a getaway can energize me, even when I am burnt out or stressed from everyday life.

goals · writing

Immersed In The World Of Writing

One of my goals is to become immersed in the world of writing. At least, as immersed as I can be in my current circumstances.

There’s a bulletin board that hangs on the wall beside my bed. Not much is pinned there – a few inspiring quotes, and then these three pieces of paper that I created during a group therapy session I led a few months ago. Three pieces of paper – three words, one written on each one. The words? Family, service, and writing.

When I zero in on what my priorities are, it’s these three things: my family, service to others, and writing. I am hopeful that, with my new job and my new schedule, it will be possible for every moment of my life to be in pursuit of these three priorities.

Now, my instinct, as always, is to write out a detailed plan for how I can stay immersed – how I can be connected to my writing pursuits at all times. 1. Listen to writing podcasts. 2. Read books about writing. 3. Use non-writing time – like time walking the dog – to think about specific pieces of writing. However – one thing that recovery has shown me is that things work out way better for me when I let go rather than when I tighten up and try to meticulously plan out every minute of my life.

So, my aim has been to let go a little. I now have more time to write than I’ve had in years, and that’s great. I don’t need to beat myself up for WHAT I decide to write at any given moment in time. Some days, I’ll show up to my computer, and I’ll start typing out blog posts; some days, I’ll want to visit my novel or a short story. If there’s ever a need for concentration in one area, it will arise naturally; for now, I have the freedom to write the thing that feels best in the present.

I only have a certain amount of time to write. But I want to devote as much of my non-writing time as possible to runway work – time to prep for the moments when I can finally sit down and put words on the blank page. I can feel it happening already – I’ll start pondering a potential blog post while I’m out on the trail running, or I’ll make a note when I’m reading of an interesting plot point an author has used.

Ever since my sabbatical started, I have a feeling of lightness in my heart that I haven’t had in years. I’m excited to see where the lightness takes me. For now – my butt’s in the chair, and I’ll be here, typing away.

76d3440af82e0b53e59d5b84839fa334

books + reading · parenting

Edgar’s Faves (Best Books List For Six-Months-Olds)

One day when Edgar was just a few months old, I looked up to find Tamara reading him Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning.

Now, when you’re reading to a very young baby, it’s more about the sound of your voice than the subject matter of the book. So Tamara and I took advantage of that stage and just read our own books out loud to Edgar until he was older.

However, I found that Man’s Search For Meaning – which is a beautiful and inspiring book about a man who survived the Holocaust – was a step too far. TOO INTENSE FOR A BABY. And, to keep that from happening to others, I decided to make a list of the books Edgar has loved the most throughout his first two years. Edgar has had specific favorites from the time he was four months old, so this list will be produced in segments according to age.

Recommended reading from 6-month-old Edgar:

Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden. Sweet, simple, and (spoiler alert) a little mirror in the back so our narcissistic babies can gurgle at themselves on the book’s last page.

Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi. Tamara is SO GOOD at wandering around bookstores and picking out children’s books. She found this one, which is really colorful, rhythmic, and sweet. When Edgar was crying in the car, I would read this book out loud (from memory, of course) to help him calm down.

The Itsy Bitsy Pumpkin by Sonali Fry and Peter Rabbit’s Halloween by Beatrix Potter. I don’t know if this is a foreshadowing, but tiny baby Edgar loved Halloween. He was always drawn to books with pumpkins and Halloween costumes. Toddler Edgar is pretty skeptical of actual Halloween so far; he tends to look around at all the school-aged kids in costumes like WHAT IS THIS MADNESS.

Sherlock Holmes: A Sounds Primer by Jennifer Adams. It was easy to understand why Edgar loved this one – it was all spooky noises, and what babe doesn’t love that?

First Farm Words. Edgar loved books with really clear pictures labelled with their name. “Tractor. Corn. Farmer. Harvesting.” They are scintillating to read, let me tell you.

Today Is Monday by Eric Carle. Every year when my mom’s kindergarten class graduated, they would sing the song “Today Is Monday” at their celebration. I’d always sing this book to Edgar, and the singable books were big hits at this age.

Edgar hopes that you (and your baby) enjoy!

snapshots

All The Things (July 2018)

This month has been fantastic. Here are all the things:

Things I’m Reading: This month I read The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne, and it was INCREDIBLE. So freaking awesome. Currently I am reading Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson, which is good so far.

Things I’m Watching: The Break with Michelle Wolf; reruns of The Good Place; and the first three seasons of Community, which is such a funny show and has been my comic relief and my stress relief. (A great antidote to the daily news feed, which can really weigh on me.)

Things I’m Trying: I’ve been doing some reflecting about how to best keep my weekly routines. One of the big things I want to try is having a Weekly Planning Date with myself – just sitting down with my planner and thinking about the week ahead, with regard to work, socializing, writing, exercise, cleaning, and meals.

Things I’m Grateful For: A great vacation with the family to Oak Island; some time away from work to rest and recuperate; and some creative writing juices, which have (finally) been flowing!

18839020_1316933538360937_5278688363498780518_n

 

writing

Mornings

Today I am reflecting on the goals for my Summer Sabbatical. There were seven goals. A few of them will definitely be met, and a few of them are proving really challenging. For example – I have been pretty diligent about making time for writing, but that has meant that getting things on my to-do list done has been more challenging.

One of my intentions which was not on my list of goals is to form good routines with regard to everything I want to do and get done. This can be hard, because life is seasonal. What works in July won’t work in December. In my ideal world, I’d set up a regular weekly routine and I’d never have to change it unless I wanted to. It sounds exhausting to me, readjusting my schedule every time daylight or the work day changes.

I feel so grateful to have this break from work life to form good habits and to consider best practices. And, when possible, I really want to try to form habits NOW that I can carry with me once my new job starts.

The more I think about it, I zoom in on mornings as the time when I need to get up early to write. When I look at my days, there are chunks of time that can be devoted to writing, but the biggest periods of time available once work starts will be early in the morning or after Edgar’s bedtime. And I am NOT my best self in the evenings; I am, and I have always been, a morning person. If writing is important to me – and it really, really is – then I want to give writing my best and most reliable time of day.

My evenings can sometimes get lost amidst tidying and tiredness and outside events (meetings, dinner guests, etc). My mornings are mine – ESPECIALLY if I get up at four to make sure I have a significant amount of time to get writing done!

I gave this a try this morning – so this is my first Morning Pages-esque attempt at getting words on the page. My alarm went off at 4:30 A.M., and I didn’t sleep well last night, so snoozing and sleeping on sounded appealing – but I got up anyway, because this is important. And I’m grateful to have had this time to reflect and center before my day of adventures with my toddler begins.

37856374_10156033246273172_5328530778982711296_n

 

creativity · writing

Clearing The Cobwebs

Whenever I am away from my writing for a while, I find that it’s hard to return to fictional writing when I’m back at work. Before I’m able to dive back into fiction, I am usually drawn to writing a whole bunch of blog posts. I call this clearing the cobwebs, and I think it’s an important part of my writing process.

Sometimes, it’s been a few days or weeks since I’ve been able to sit down and write, the creative juices aren’t exactly flowing. And usually after that much time away, my thoughts are racing and crisscrossing and bumping into each other – to the point where I have to allow myself to focus on writing personal blog posts. Once I’ve gotten my multitude of thoughts somewhat formulated on the blank screen – only then can I turn to fiction and be both creative and productive.

I often wonder if this is true for other creators. Maybe painters who’ve been away for a while need to do some pencil sketches before they can run back to their easel. Maybe musicians need to jam a little, freestyle, before trying to compose after some time away. It could be true for others; it’s definitely true for me.

My instinct has been to chastise myself for this in the past. “You finally have time to write!  You should be writing the great American novel, not just scribbling about your trip to the beach and a little free library!” These past few weeks, though, I haven’t been beating myself up at all. I’ve accepted that this is part of my process, and I’ve enjoyed it. I think I’m able to enjoy this more because I’m not feeling as pressed for time as I usually am. When I look ahead, I know I will have time to write, even after I return to work in late August. I have a tentative plan, and some flexibility, and some faith.

With my new schedule and the intentions I’ve set, I’m hoping I’ll never be away from writing for too long or too often again. But I know it will happen from time to time, and I’m happy to have this playful, peaceful space where I can come to clear the cobwebs.

36248131_1964517346914494_4087173063072808960_n