Category Archives: Books

Gratitude

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After she retired, my mother regularly watched the Oprah show on television. Sometime in the 1990s, Sarah Ban Breathnach was a guest on the show. It was shortly after her book about gratitude, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, came out, and she was there to promote it. It made a huge impression on Mom.

That Christmas, Mom got every one of her daughters a copy of the book, and the accompanying journal. We each thanked her, and did the obligatory gushing over what a thoughtful gift it was. And maybe my sisters took it more seriously than I did, but I remember thinking, “yeah, I don’t have time for that!” Mom might have sensed my reluctance, because she took me aside and spoke to me directly.

“Just try it, Cindy, and see if it doesn’t help,” she said, “give it a chance!”

I don’t know where my hesitation was coming from, to begin with. I devour self-help books! I always think I need improvement, and that the help I need is right around the corner…or in the next book of instruction or advise. Anyway, I assured her that I’d read it and give it a try, and I did.

It certainly made sense, and my attitude surely could benefit from a little adjustment. So, I started a gratitude practice. Several times, actually. I’d begin, then forget about it, or let it fall into neglect. I’d pick up a journal to make an entry, only to find that several months had gone by since I’d last written anything.

Even when I was writing regularly about it, my idea of gratitude was pretty skewed. The “dark side” of gratitude. Entries included:

“I’m grateful that I wasn’t totally depressed today”

“I’m so glad the tire didn’t go completely flat”

“My hair looked okay for a change.”

“I did not sit home alone feeling sorry for myself tonight”

“I’m glad I left the party before I got even more depressed”

“I am grateful to have made it through the day”

“I’m grateful that I don’t feel totally miserable today”

“I’m glad the green paint doesn’t look so bad on the bed frame”

I was a pathetic excuse for a thankful person!

Then, some time last year, what had been a miserly, sporadic habit suddenly seemed important…and worthwhile! Now, I fill a whole page, every single morning, with things that I am grateful for. It has caused me to pay attention. I’ve learned to look at simple, ordinary things – a cup of coffee, a wag-tail dog, birds on the lawn, a good night’s sleep – as the blessings that they are. I’m sure I am more appreciative; I’m probably happier, too.

Last week, after a rough few days, I got out of the shower and put on my Mom’s old fishing shirt, to wear as a pajama top. The next morning, I pulled on the fleecy white robe she bought me, some other Christmas. And, when I sat down to write down what I was thankful for, I realized that, in a week when I needed a little comfort, there was my mother, her presence in the old fishing shirt, the warm bathrobe, and the gratitude practice that she’d encouraged.

“I’m so grateful for my Mom,” was my first entry that day.

A Year After “Aloha”

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Last year, when I started the “April A to Z Challenge,” I was in Hawaii, and my title was “Aloha.” I was, in fact, stranded in Hawaii by shut-downs associated with the – then brand new – Corona Virus. What a year it has been! What a time we have all been through! Today, beginning on this first day of April, I feel that this last year has got to take center stage.

First of all, let me remind you what the April A to Z challenge is. Through this month, I’ll post one blog every day except Sunday, based on the letters of the alphabet. I don’t have a particular theme in mind; maybe one will develop as I move through the letters. For now, it’s just the commitment. During this month, I am setting aside the list of blog topics that I’ve been writing about on Sundays, based on David Whyte’s book, Consolations. I plan to take Sundays off from blogging in April; I’ll pick that up again in May. I’m also changing my “Timeout for Art” blog. I’ve been working my way through the alphabet with that, too, and had just gotten to those difficult few letters at the end…I’m happy for the interruption there! Though art will still turn up as a topic, this month it will have to fall in to whatever letters turn up mid-week..

I should clarify that “stranded in Hawaii” sounds a lot more dire than it actually was. My older daughter and I had travelled together for a visit to my younger daughter and her family. Our one week planned vacation was extended to almost a month. Truly, it was quite wonderful! The weather, of course, was fabulous. We always felt safe. We were comfortable and well taken care of in my daughters house. Until last spring, I hadn’t had more than a couple days at a time with my two daughters together in at least thirty years. So, though there were concerns about our jobs and pets, and our lives were put on hold, I feel blessed to have experienced that special time.

By the time I got home, and finished my mandatory self-quarantine, I had been replaced in my job at the hardware store. That was, without a doubt, challenging in many ways. Still, it offered me several weeks OFF, in the spring and summer, on Beaver Island, for the very first time since I moved here in 1978! My vegetable and flower beds were never so well-tended. My lawn got mowed before it looked like a field. My dogs basked in the attention. And I loved it!

Since last year at this time, I started a new, seasonal job at the Beaver Island Golf Course. I began volunteering at the Island Treasures Resale Shop. I worked out the details for an art show next October. I read at least one book each week. I continued and expanded on a rewarding morning routine. I took care of several long-neglected medical procedures. I found and enjoyed quite a few new recipes. I walked almost every day.

It’s not possible, though, to look back on this year without acknowledging the tremendous devastation caused by Covid-19. How many lives have changed? How many jobs have been lost? How many businesses have closed? How many have died? Everyone knows someone lost to the disease. Everyone has been affected by it. This virus has touched all of us, in the entire world, in one way or another. We are experiencing trepidation and fear, trauma, and grief on a scale never experienced in my lifetime. This year has altered our thinking, and our behavior. I think, as humans, we are forever changed.

That’s the crux of it, I guess. This last year has been defined by the ways that the virus has changed our lives. Everything else seems unimportant in comparison. That makes it all the more necessary, I think, to continue to notice all the little pleasures along the way. As long as I’m here to appreciate them, they still matter!

Genius

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So, what could I write about genius? I’d been puzzling over that topic for days. I have no special knowledge nor even a particular opinion about the subject. Certainly, I’m no genius!

Then, in a bit of synchronicity that the author would have relished, I turned to a new chapter of The 5AM Club to find The 10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius. “Well,” I thought, “It’s about time I received some kind of pay-back for the endurance I’ve shown with this book!”

I used to be a more steadfast reader. I finished every single book I started. Some were more worthwhile than others, but I appreciated every one. I was younger then. I had better vision. I had more time for reading. No more! If a book doesn’t grab and hold my interest, I will set it aside.

There are exceptions. The Shipping News not only started slowly, but had one of the saddest first chapters I’ve encountered. Sad in the manner of The Grapes of Wrath. Discouraging, like The Beans of Egypt, Maine, where every single character lived a sad, pathetic life. I wasn’t in the mood for another depressing book! At this time in my life, I am almost never looking for that in my reading material. I stuck with it, though, and The Shipping News redeemed itself, and became one of my all-time favorite books.

I didn’t expect that from this book, though. The author, Robin Sharma, has written several well-received books, and the premise sounded interesting. Anticipating some travel that would give me more time for books, I downloaded it onto my reader in January of last year. Yes, last year. A self-help book disguised as a pithy romance, this book did not appeal to me at all.

Now, I don’t mind a self-help book. In fact, I have kind of a weakness for them. I almost always feel like I could use improvement, and that more insight would help. I get a little bristly when other humans offer advice, but I accept it pretty easily from books. I don’t mind information being passed on through the telling of a story, either, when it is done well. Daniel Quinn managed it brilliantly in Ishmael; Richard Bach succeeded, too, with Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions. The Celestine Prophesy, not so much. It, and the several sequels by James Redfield. had a wonderful message, but I found the story-line distracting.

Looking into other books by Robin Sharma, it appears that this author is both prolific and popular, and I may be unfairly judging his work or ability based on my singular experience. From what I’ve read, though, the characters that promote the message in The 5AM Club are poorly drawn caricatures that introduce and promote the information through one stupid question after another. Answers are doled out in a painfully slow manner, between burps, inexplicable bits of yodeling, and severe bouts of coughing. Only one character has a name; the others are known only as the Artist, the Entrepreneur, and the Spellbinder. The fourth, Stone Riley, is most often referred to as the Billionaire. For most of the book, it seemed like I was the only one who knew that his terrible cough was something to worry about.

In fairness, the book does have merit. There is good information, and even some inspiration in it, but it was a dreadfully long time coming. It was only because it was on my reader, and I was without any other reading material, that I ever got back to it. If it had been an actual book that I had set aside, I would have never picked it up again! But, then, I would have missed out on “The 10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius,” and something to write about today. As for the actual tactics…well, maybe you’ll have to read the book!

Disappointment

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The more I think about it, the more it seems that disappointment is a pretty common emotion in my household. I’m surprised at how often it comes up!

I was planning to write about a job I recently applied for, and did not get. With help from my sweet daughter, Kate, I updated my resume. I filled out the application form and read through the job description. Then I debated about whether I really wanted the position or not. At the eleventh hour, I turned in the paperwork. An interview was scheduled. I anticipated topics and prepared possible responses. I also wrote out several questions about the job requirements. I had a long conversation via “zoom” with Kate and her family, to make myself comfortable with the on-line meeting format, and to make sure the screen was placed so that I was not looking ghoulish, or like I had a double chin.

The only glitch, on the day of the scheduled meeting, was several inches of fresh snow. While I was waiting for the interview to start, the road truck went down the road, throwing all of my dogs into fits of barking. They had just calmed down when the other participants showed up on screen. I started right out with a warning that, if the young man showed up to plow my driveway, I’d have to interrupt the interview to put at least one dog (Rosa Parks is the instigator) into “time-out.” It’s good that I warned them, because that exact thing happened!

Beyond that, though, the interview went well, in my opinion. I was able to communicate my abilities, voice my concerns, and address their questions confidently. I know all of the other participants, and they were each as friendly, kind and generous as I expected they would be. The next day, I got a call letting me know I did not get the position.

I felt a little twinge of disappointment, sure. It would have been nice to be working at something challenging like that. It would be a chance to use my abilities and education; I’d be learning new skills, increasing my knowledge and stretching my boundaries. The money would be helpful.

If I had gotten the position, though, I’m sure I would have felt an equal amount of disappointment. I’d had so many concerns. Did I really want to take on a third part-time job? The hours to fulfill the requirements of the position would not, I’m sure, include the self-training I’d need to update my computer skills. Would I be a failure? Was I trying to do too much? When would I find time to make art? To walk the dogs?

So, that’s one example, in my life, of “Disappointment-No-Matter-What.” It’s a fairly regular occurrence. I walked, penguin-like, to the end of my icy driveway yesterday, only to find the entire length of Fox Lake Road to be equally as icy. Too slippery to take a long walk. That’s a disappointment. The day before, the road to the north was nearly clear, and the dogs and I went for a good long walk…which eliminated time to get in the studio before dinner. That was disappointing.

It’s kind of a trade-off. I’m always a tiny bit disappointed when I finish a good book, but I’m excited, in equal measure, to begin a new one. Every page that I turn in my journal gives me a wisp of disappointment at the lack of accomplishment and the too-swift passage of time. Yet every new page is a fresh start, with new promise and possibility. Disappointment at not being able to travel means, at the same time, no guilt and turmoil over leaving the dogs at the kennel. Disappointment over not being able to eat out is accompanied by the comfortable pleasure of enjoying my own cooking at home, with book in hand, and three dogs waiting for leftovers.

Disappointments are just little bumps along the road that remind me to take notice. They aren’t devastating; they don’t lead to despair. They are part of the juggling act in my life, where there are many good things that cannot all be acted upon at once. That kind of disappointment, I can live with!

Despair

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Last week, I looked at the next topic to write about, from the list I compiled from the table of contents of David Whyte’s book, Consolations: Despair. Oh, dear. What to say about despair? How could I relate to that?

Of course, I know what the word means. I have probably experienced it at one time or another, in my long life. I recall times of great upheaval, others of tremendous sadness and loss. Despair, though, was different somehow. Though it seemed like something I had a personal understanding of, I didn’t quite recall the feeling. I couldn’t get a handle on how to write about it.

Instead, I added another topic. “Deliriously Happy” was still roughly following the alphabetical order of the list, and was easier to expound on. It wasn’t the first time I’ve altered the format, and I’m still very close to the beginning of the alphabet! I wrote two essays on the topic of “Besieged.” I added “Christmas Past” and “Cancer” that were not a part of the subjects Whyte listed, and then I wrote two essays on “Crisis.” So, not feeling in the mood to write about despair, I did it again. It’s my blog and my list (complements of David Whyte), so I guess I can adjust it when the mood strikes.

It is easy to write about being happy, when happiness is all around, and I’m feeling it in my bones. I didn’t know exactly where it had come from; I noted several small and unrelated events that led up to it. I compared it to a great astronomical event, caused by all the stars and planets quietly and slowly converging into just the right formation. Well.

A few days later, I woke up at two o’clock in the morning. I noted the little dogs, snuggled in on either side of me, as usual. I looked out over the room, dimly illuminated by the moon. Nothing was out of the ordinary; nothing was wrong. And yet, like a damp and musty, heavy woolen blanket, a great feeling of sadness and isolation washed over me. Ah, yes. Despair.

I was smart enough to analyze, right then, how the feeling differed from sadness. In my life, even extraordinary sadness brought on by immeasurable loss was tempered by the knowledge that I was not alone in my misery. When my sister died unexpectedly just a week before my mother died of cancer, and less than two years after my little brother died, I had other siblings around me, sharing my grief. We shored each other up, and helped each other through. In despair, I think, you are all alone. Or, at least, you feel all alone.

Sometimes, circumstances or feelings of depression conspire to make you believe you’re isolated, whether that is actually true or not. I often feel like my frustrations are my own fault. Sharing them seems like a sign of weakness, and/or a cry for help. I’m rarely looking for help. It is keeping things to myself, though, that leads to feelings of despair.

So, what went wrong? How did I fall from “deliriously happy” to “despair?” I don’t know, really. Nothing big, certainly. Minor annoyances, small disappointments, little vexations. Much can likely be attributed to normal fluctuations in mood. When I’m laughing hysterically one day, I kind of know I’ll be crying uncontrollably before long.

How to fix it? First, I got out of bed and wrote a long rant. We won’t have a dentist here until spring. At least until spring. My tooth, that I’ve been trying to get repaired for almost two years, continues to crumble, leaving sharp edges that scratch the inside of my cheek. Getting it fixed before spring means an airplane trip to the mainland and the use of a car there, all adding to the cost of the necessary crown.

The new manager at the hardware store is young enough to be my granddaughter. She doesn’t have any idea how much I know, and she’s a little bossy. Beyond that, there’s the owner, who I’ve worked for for over 18 years, who should know my capabilities, who put her in the position of being my boss without a word to me beforehand.

The window estimate from the contractor came back high. Or, much higher than expected, anyway. Do I want new windows…or tooth repair? And on and on, in that fashion, about every little rotten thing.

Next, I went for a long walk. The dogs don’t care if it’s a good mood or a bad mood to credit for my desire to get out in the fresh air, they always enjoy a good energetic walk. Later, I made a couple phone calls. I spoke to my friend, Linda, and my sister, Brenda. They are both good and sympathetic listeners. Slowly, the feelings of despair faded. Luckily, not before I’d gleaned enough information to write this post!

Beginning

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I adore beginnings. Beginnings are charged with energy, filled with possibility. They haven’t been tested yet. Devoid of failure and disappointment, beginnings allow me to believe that anything is possible.

This is true of almost every fresh start: the first day of a new diet or exercise plan, or the beginning of a new routine. The first year in a new location, the first week in a new job, the first day of vacation. A movie I haven’t seen before. A new restaurant. A new friend.

Life becomes smaller in these lock-down days, but there are still plenty of opportunities for beginnings. I pull out a stack of blank notecards. I page through my address book, and fill out envelopes. Who to write to? What to talk about? I could share my frustrations, tell funny stories, or just let someone know that I’m thinking of them.

I start a new book. Sometimes it announces itself right away, with a first line that draws me in to the center of the story, and holds my interest. Other times, I am teased along. “You might like this,” the book whispers to me, “keep reading.” Then, it’s like a birthday surprise when the effort pays off, with characters and plot that were worth the wait.

I turn to a new page in my sketchbook. Oh happy day! In my gratitude journal, I write, “I am so grateful to be starting a new page in my sketchbook today!” I muse to myself, and may even write down, “What was I thinking anyway, to decide to fill an entire page – six little drawings – with leaves that blew in from outside?!” And I smile as I settle on filling the next page with sketches of shells or stones.

The beginning of a new week is always filled with hope. I flip the page in my bullet journal. This week, the quote is from Sister Mary Corita Kent: “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.” Along the bottom left margin I’ve written, “You can do this!” On the facing page, it says, “It’s going to be a great day!”

Beyond that, the week is blank, ready for me to fill it. First, with places I need to be, and things I have to do. Second, I block off time for special projects, either outside or inside. Beyond that, I wait. I prefer to write things down after they’re done. That way, the entries mainly reflect what I have accomplished, rather than what I’ve failed to get to.

The first of the week is the beginning of my “weekend.” Three days off, to fill any way that I choose. The time stretches before me so vastly at the start, I often while away hours or even entire days on frivolous nonsense, before I realize time is limited. Often, I’ve been preoccupied, just enjoying the renewal of a fresh beginning!

Ambition

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For writing inspiration, I’ve turned to a book that I have not yet read: Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by Davis Whyte. It sounded like a book I would thoroughly enjoy. It was recommended by a friend who loves words at least as much as I do. It received excellent reviews.

Elizabeth Gilbert, who did not impress me with Eat, Pray, Love, but who won me over to her engaging writing style with Big Magic, said of Whyte’s book, “Beautiful, elegant, tiny essays on the consoling power of words, written by one of my favorite living poets…” She then suggested, “Keep this book by your bedside forever. I know that I will.” So, I purchased it, and added it to a short stack of similar books that are good for reading before sleep.

Bedside books should not be “page-turners” that will keep me awake and reading to figure out the twists of a heart-pounding plot. They should be thoughtful, but not overly thought-provoking. I try to avoid books, at bedtime, that will keep sleep at bay while I plot revenge, shake in fear, search for solutions, or even just mull things over for hours. What I am reading affects me deeply; I have to be careful. My stack of bedside books often includes art books, memoirs, and poetry.

For several months, now, David Whyte’s book has sat, unread, within the stack. For no reason, other than that my attention was pulled to another book. Last week, I picked it up again, and flipped it open to the table of contents. There, like a gift, was a list of words, in alphabetical order.

I’ve been struggling, lately, for topics to write about. In the nine years that I’ve been regularly writing for this blog, I have published more than eleven hundred essays. I have pulled ideas from books on writing, current events, my family history and my own life. To the point that I can hardly begin to relate a humorous personal anecdote without a hand going up to stop me. “Already know about it,” they’ll explain, “I read your blog!”

I’ve reported on the antics, health and demise of several pets. I have led readers through one household repair, painting project or organizational undertaking after another. I’m sorry (or maybe NOT sorry!) to report that my life is not so exciting as to provide a steady stream of writing material.

So, I was happy to find a whole list of new topics on the Table of Contents page of Whyte’s book. All the better that I have not read his essays. I wouldn’t be intimidated by his brilliance, nor accidentally plagiarize his interpretations. I decided to deliberately avoid reading what he’d written about each word, until I had completed my own writing.

Last week, I started with the first word: Alone. That worked out fine. The next word? Ambition. Ambition has proven to be an unreasonably difficult topic for me. I hear voices, always negative. “…Not showing much ambition,” I hear. And, on the other side of the spectrum, “That’s a little overly ambitious, don’t you think?”

Who spoke to me this way? I have wracked my brain to know. My laziness as a child was well-recognized within my family. I rarely wanted to be involved in household projects, and had to be forced to do my share of regular chores. I had a hundred different ways to get out of work. Still, my father would not use the word “ambition.” “Show a little gumption,” is how he’d put it. My mother would not hesitate to say “lazy.”

As an adult, I’d present elaborate ideas for house plans or home remodels to my husband or others who might be called upon to help. I was often told that my ideas were beyond reach, either because of time or money constraints. Likewise, when I approached professors and mentors with plans for research papers and art projects, I was often encouraged to narrow my scope a little. It’s easy, on paper, to push to extremes, and I often do. Still, I don’t recall being told I was “overly ambitious.”

Clearly, though I don’t know why, this word holds a negative connotation in my mind. I’ve struggled with it all week. I was tempted, but resisted the impulse, to read Whyte’s essay. I consulted the dictionary and the thesaurus. I considered just skipping over the word. Who would know? But, just two words in to my list of topics, that would be a bad precedent to set. I continued to puzzle over it. Ambition. It shouldn’t be so hard!

Yesterday, the election results were called. Like all of the world, I watched the process unfold, and I tuned in last evening to listen to what our newly elected leaders had to say. Within the inspirational, joyful and exuberant speech of Kamala Harris, our history-making, ground-breaking, brand-new vice-president-elect, came this advice: “Dream with Ambition.”

Dream with ambition! I wrote it down immediately! It feels exactly right! From now on, when unknown but persistent voices lead me to believe that ambition is a negative idea, always too little or too much, I’ll replace those thoughts with this concept. It’s always okay to dream big! Dream with ambition!

Alone

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I never planned to live all alone on Beaver Island. Honestly, having gone, as was expected, straight from the large family I grew up in right on to my own marriage and children, I hadn’t really ever imagined being alone at all. Other than a few hours here and there, solitude wasn’t anything I’d experienced in life.

When I first moved to this island, it was with my husband and two young daughters. We imagined a rural life that would include gardens and animals, art and handicrafts. I had been inspired, at a young age, by reading The Egg and I, an uproarious account of life on a chicken farm. I’d furthered my education as an adult, with Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, and with E.B. White’s stories about life on a salt-water farm in Maine. As we settled into life on Beaver Island, the Little House on the Prairie books, one chapter, read to my daughters each evening before bed, continued to bolster our confidence.

We also imagined a life full of friends and family. We knew just a few people on Beaver Island: Topper, who had worked for my Dad downstate; Russell, the captain of the ferry boat; Stanley, who always met the ferry, joshed with the adults and teased the children; and Barb, who owned the Shamrock Bar, and had already hired me to be the morning server. We’d make friends, though. We were nice people; we had bright, adorable children. People would like us.

Others would come. Of course my family would still make their annual trip; friends would visit, as well. Having experienced this place only through family vacations, I saw it as charming, quaint and wonderful, and expected that everyone else would, too. In between rounds of company, we looked forward to family time. We planned activities with our daughters, and plotted occasional date nights at the bar, playing backgammon while enjoying a cocktail.

My Dad tried to open my eyes to the day-to-day realities of island living. “It’s not an easy life,” he said, “and it gets damn isolated there in the wintertime.” My Mom was the one that called it, though. “Of all my kids, Cindy could live on Beaver Island,” she predicted, “She has always been the most anti-social of all of my children!”

I believe she meant that in the kindest way possible. In fact, I think “asocial” would have been a more correct description. I have never needed to be around people the way some people seem to. Solitary activities, reading, writing, drawing and handicrafts, have always appealed to me. Growing up in a large, noisy family, I often went to great lengths to find a quiet spot, away from the fray.

That tendency has served me well because, despite the future I’d imagined and plotted out so carefully, my life on Beaver Island has been mostly spent alone. Some things proved true. I’ve made friends. The entire island community feels in many ways like a family. I have three dogs; I keep a vegetable garden; I devote a fair amount of time to making art. These things enrich my life tremendously.

Others things, I didn’t plan for. My marriage ended; my daughters grew up. The months stretch out between family visits. Many local friends have moved away; others have died. Amazingly, this place doesn’t have the broad appeal among other friends that I expected it would.

So, I live by myself, and am often alone. And, just as my mother suspected all those years ago, I do just fine with that!

My Favorite Day

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Sundays have lately become my favorite day of the week. I don’t work on Sundays, and since I also have Monday and Tuesday off, there is no urgency to get things done. I have plans, of course, but I approach them slowly. The most important thing on my Sunday agenda is relaxation.

I don’t set the alarm for Sunday. My morning routine stays intact, but it begins when I wake up naturally. I take my time with it, too. Journal-writing can get a little more expansive on a Sunday morning; I put additional time and effort into my drawings. I may spend a few extra minutes in meditation practice, or increase the time spent exercising.

When I open my book to study, I don’t have to watch the clock. On a work day, I may only get through two or three pages, reading and taking notes. Sunday mornings, I can finish a chapter, or complete a topic. I can continue until I’m tired of it.

On days when I have to be at work by eight o’clock, the dogs don’t usually get a morning walk. They often sleep in, and wake up slowly. One by one, they go outside, and come back in. I take all three of them out for a quick turn around the yard before I leave for the day. Most of their exercise happens after I get home in the afternoon. Sunday mornings, though, we set out early.

I bring my little tablet to take pictures, and to listen to whatever book I currently have downloaded. Right now, that is Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. Often, the book I’m studying, the one I’m listening to on Audible, and the one on my nightstand for reading before bed are widely disparate. At this time, they are all quite similar in topic and energy. In the morning, I’m taking notes and doing exercises from Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte is what I turn to before I switch off the light at night.

When we’re back from our walk, the dogs are ready for a nap; I’m ready to turn on the news. Because the programs I like are available on my computer, I’m not tied to their programming schedule. I enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. It’s the news, but more inclusive of personal interest, arts and entertainment as well as the usual headlines. Then I watch Face the Nation, which gives me an in-depth look at the current happenings.

After that, I plot out my day. My blog had moved to Friday, when that was my only day off. Now, I think, it’s better planned for Sunday, when I have the whole day to fit it in. In addition to that, I have a few choices. The weather is cool, but the sun is shining; I could start the mower and finish giving the yard one last good trim. The raspberries need to be pruned before winter, and I’d like to transplant the roses this fall.

I brought movies home from the library yesterday, to entertain me while I worked in the studio. That’s another good possibility; there’s plenty to do there. I also picked up a book review, and haven’t read it yet. I got a new catalog in the mail yesterday, and a magazine the day before that. No need to rush to any decisions. I have this entire wonderful Sunday ahead!

Open Loops

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“Each man should frame life

so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.”

~ Victor Hugo

In my on-going, continual effort to (1) organize my life, time, space and daily activities and (2) make actual change to foster personal and creative growth, I came upon the “Open Loops” concept.

According to the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen, “open loops” are any tasks, projects and commitments you’ve started and not finished. “Started” can even mean “had a random thought about doing.” Open loops are not regular tasks that you do automatically. They are not “favorite things.” They are not chores.

Open loops are things that you’ve invited into your brain by starting them, or by acknowledging that you want to start them, or that you should start them. They are physical things, these thoughts and ideas that represent a task or project to be completed. They take up space.

Our brains can only hold so much information in active memory. If you’re holding everything you want or need to do in active memory, you are inviting anxiety. You’ll feel overwhelmed at the number of tasks vying for your attention, and anxious that you’ll forget something.

Open loops foster procrastination, by constantly presenting several optional activities to any job-at-hand. They all feel pressing. They are like promises to yourself. Promises feel urgent, so they end up taking precedence over dreams. No matter how insignificant the open loops. No matter how important the dreams.

Allen’s advice for dealing with open loops? Write them down! Listing all of the onerous little “to-do”s will prevent them from sabotaging legitimate efforts toward progress. Once they are on paper, they no longer need to play constantly at the edges of your thoughts. No need to worry that they’ll be overlooked or forgotten. They have a place.

Now that they are all written down, it becomes obvious that some are trivial, and that others are truly important. Amazing, that they all seemed to carry equal weight when pulling at your attention! You can rank them, now, in order of urgency or significance. There may be some that can simply be crossed off the list. Some can be easily knocked-off by a letter or a phone call. Others will need to be planned for, and scheduled in. On paper, dealing with open loops becomes a real but not insurmountable goal.

My own list, which easily covered two full journal pages, included “thank-you”s and other letters owed, subscriptions to cancel, and phone calls to make. It also had several big projects (move the snowball bush; re-hang the bookshelves), and a few dreaded activities (last year’s taxes, for one). I was able to check many items off in the first week. Others, I continue to plug away at.

Unfortunately, I continue to come across new or forgotten items to add to my list. I may never have a blank page! Still, I find it is helpful to have all of my open loops down on paper, rather than playing constantly around the edges of my mind.