Saturday, November 16, 2019

Friday Feature: Routines

The past few weeks have been peppered with a variety of things that have wrecked my routine. Some were mundane, others more serious and needing immediate attention, but the end result, once everything had been taken care of, was me feeling overwhelmed and off-kilter.

This week, I've been trying to fall back into my routine, but everything from sloth to interruptions to an unanticipated need to recover from all of this routine-busting has created a pile-up of obstacles. Yesterday, my husband came home sick and spent the day resting in order to recuperate. I had a list of things I'd intended to do to get me back on track but, once I'd finished the ones outside the house, I quickly fell into a rest-to-recuperate cycle of my own, accomplishing only a fraction of what I'd set out to do. Even this blog, a regular part of my week every week for over a decade, was one of the casualties.

Once upon a time, I equated routine with boring, something that becomes increasingly less true as I get older and crave the sense of calm (and accomplishment) that routine can bring with it. Routines, as it turns out, are good for us not only in terms of productivity, but also in terms of creativity. Putting some things on autopilot, or on o a perpetual to-do list keeps us from having to worry about when -- or whether -- they'll get done. They can actually be an important part of our mental health as well, easing anxiety and keeping us focused when simply staying focused requires more energy than we have available.

If you're a regular reader, I apologize for disrupting your routine by making this post unavailable on its usual day. If you're finding me for the first time, I hope you'll drop by again. I'm here on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

It's part of my routine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

World Kindness Day
Today is World Kindness Day.

In other news, the impeachment hearings began in Washington, D.C.

Those who know me know I have a very definite opinion about the hearings and about this presidency in general, but this post is not about that. Instead, it's about how much we need World Kindness Day today.

This morning, I introduced a new book in my first year seminar -- the last book we'll be reading this semester. Ironically, the book I introduced on World Kindness Day was Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. As part of this morning's discussion, I shared what research has found about how much control we actually have over our our own happiness. According to studies, our genes make about a 50% contribution to our happiness while our circumstances contribute about 10%.

The rest -- 40% -- is on us, meaning that we are, to a significant extent, about as happy as we make up our minds to be.

Does this mean that those suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues merely need to cheer up? No, of course not. And, to suggest as much would be anywhere from woefully misinformed to downright cruel.

But it does mean that, even when circumstances beyond our control make us unhappy, we can choose to take charge of our own little corner of the world in big ways and small ones. We can step out of our preoccupation to look up and around us to see the beauty of the colors in the fall canopy. We can revel in good news, despite the bad, celebrate our blessings and make our favorite meal for dinner to try to salvage a bad day.

Most important, we can be kind. We can smile at the barista who makes our drink, yield to another driver in traffic, make a donation to a charity that matters to us. We can take ten minutes to meditate, twenty minutes for a quick nap or thirty minutes to immerse ourselves in a good book.

Last night, it turned cold where I live, temperatures dropping close to 40 degrees from morning until bedtime. Whether it's the world or the temperatures that are cold, kindness -- whether toward ourselves, others, or both -- can make the world seem a little warmer.

There are a wide variety of things over which we have little to no control. Some matter a lot, others hardly at all. But we can choose to be kind. Doing so takes very little time, yet it is perhaps the best investment in happiness -- ours and other people's -- that we can make.

Happy World Kindness Day. Spread joy.

Monday, November 11, 2019

4 Things I like about Facebook Parties

Last weekend, I was part of a multi-author Facebook event, something I really enjoy. These are some of my favorite book events because, although they lack the face-to-face benefits of in-person events, they can be less stressful, while still offering the benefits of a book event.

Here are four things I like about Facebook book parties.

1. Dress is semi-professional casual. While it's not unusual for me to roll out of bed and up to the computer where I write in my pajamas, I don't get that casual for Facebook parties. Instead, I dress comfortably and even put on makeup (though no one can see me) because a professional event demands some semblance of professionalism. Still, it's nice to know that I could wear pajama pants and a sweatshirt if I wanted to.

2. I can sit the whole time. An author coach once told me that she doesn't allow her clients to sit at signings and events, and that's advice I've taken to heart. I do take advantage of available seating when signings are slow but if customers are in the store, I am standing. Facebook parties don't require this.

3. I meet new people. At physical book signings, my goal is to stand, smile and greet everyone who comes into the store. Most walk right by (some avoiding eye contact all the while), but a few stop to chat. Sometimes Facebook events draw a lot of people but, usually, only a few engage. Both situations are nice, but for different reasons. It's great when lots of people are interested in my books, but a small group that I can actually chat with feels more personal.

Bru-nO via Pixabay
4. They give me a chance to introduce/talk about my characters and my books. This is, after all, the purpose of an event like this, and it's something every author loves. If we're going to spend months (or years) of our lives developing characters and ideas, it's wonderful to have a chance to share them with the world -- especially an audience who wants to hear about them (almost) as much as we want to talk about them.

So, if an author invites you to a Facebook party, I hope you'll drop by. You can pop in and out as it
suits your schedule and, if you're feeling unsure, you can just hang out in the background and take it all in.

And you can even wear your pajamas if you want to.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Friday Feature: The Joy of Failure

In my First Year Seminar, we are reading Carol Dweck's Mindset and today, we talked about failure résumés. Technically, they're not a part of Dweck's work but they fit into the topic beautifully.

Then this evening when, at the end of a very long, very off-kilter week, I realized that I hadn't posted yet (another word Dweck is fond of), I came across this article on the benefits of set-backs, particularly early in a career.

Sometimes, the perfect resource lands just as perfectly.

I certainly don't fit the "early in my career" designation, but I'm a big believer in learning from what went wrong, a characteristic Carol Dweck attributes to those with a growth mindset. When we take time to assess our failures and setbacks, Dweck (and others) assert, we can use them as learning experiences in an endeavor to do better next time.

Does this mean we should run headlong into failure? Maybe. But, more likely, it means that we shouldn't fear failure. I love the description of failures as data because I can't think of a better way to de-personalize something that feels entirely -- and often painfully -- personal. When we can think of the endeavor as less-than-perfect (or even failed if that is indeed the case), it doesn't sap our sense of self but rather, it frees us up to troubleshoot, plan and establish new goals and new directions.

While the world (or our little corner of it, at least) would be a whole lot more comfortable if we always succeeded, our world gains depth and breadth when we have the courage to take a leap, even it if means we might fail.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Hanging Out on the Porch Swing

Today is International Stress Awareness Day. It's also National Saxophone Day and, if I played the saxophone, I'd not only celebrate, I'd play my stress away.

I considered using this space to share something I've shared before -- that how we view stress depends a lot on how we label it -- but since I'm planning a party this weekend that includes my characters, I thought I'd hand off to them instead.

So, here on the porch swing are Bets, Marita, Angel and Charli with some thoughts on stress.

Angel: I have a question. Do you get stressed easily?
Bets: No, not at all. Cool as a cucumber.
Marita: You're kidding, right?
Bets: I'm not any worse than you are.
Marita: You're just more dramatic than I am.
Bets: Oh. That's true.

Charli: Okay. I have one. How do you deal with stress?
Angel: I pray.
Charli: Does that help?
Angel: Almost always.
Bets: I shop. And when that doesn't work, there's alway happy hour. And Ri-Ri.
Marita: Why, thank you! You're one of my favorite stress relievers, too. You and Charli. A Charli hug can fix almost anything.

Charli: Okay. I have another one. What stresses you out? Besides Dad, Mom.
Marita: I wasn't gonna say that. Although "teenagers" crossed my mind as a possibility.
Charli: Gee thanks, Mom.
Angel: I worry more than stress. Mostly about Spencer. And you, Charli.
Charli: Me? You don't need to worry about me. Mom does enough of that.
Marita: I can't argue with that.
Angel: I know I shouldn't worry -- I should just trust God -- but sometimes I struggle. Do you think stress is ever good?
Charli: Ooh! I know that one! We talked about this in health class. Stress can actually energize you to do stuff.
Marita: Really?
Bets: Now there's a motivation I could do without.

Huh. What do you know? I got it in there after all :-)

Please join me on Saturday and/or Sunday from 2 - 3 EST on Facebook for this event.

Monday, November 4, 2019

5 Things About Old Friends

Old friends make us smile.
(and occasionally photobomb us)
Yesterday, I had the wonderful fortune to spend time in New York with not just my husband and my daughter, but also with a group of old friends and acquaintances from my high school days. Though our graduating classes varied within a few years of several decades ago, we were all united by our high school drama club and its director. We gathered at Lincoln Center to see a play directed by one of our own, then walked many city blocks from the show to a pub where we hung out and caught up and reconnected. Most came from New Jersey, where some still lived in the same town as my high school, a few are now New Yorkers and my husband and I took the train from Pennsylvania, meeting our daughter, who took the train from Connecticut. My high school drama director and his wife and one of my English teachers rounded out the group, which ranged in age from late teens to retirees, and which had no difficulty whatsoever reconnecting.

Today, I remained submerged in the warm glow of time spent with friends. While that is always something to treasure, the time spent with old friends is tinged with a special sort of glow -- the sort of aura reserved for special occasions and events that are rare. Old friends...

  1. Remind us of who we were (for better or for worse). My high school self was a tad dorky, but she was a happy, optimistic person who loved performing with her friends. Not yet jaded by heartbreak and loss, she seemed lighter, and she readily emerges when I'm with the people who knew her.
  2. Connect us to who we are. Some days, I feel far removed from that girl (and some days, that's not such a bad thing), but it doesn't take much to connect the dots that formed the path from there to here. No matter how much we grow and change, there are always remnants of all of our previous selves -- again, for better or for worse -- and time spent with those who knew and cared about the person we once were can help us to appreciate that person in a different way and to understand the through-line from past to present.
  3. Assure us that change is possible. Most of us are not the same people we were in high school. Whether we sought out new paths or had new paths thrust upon us, visiting with those who knew us when can inspire us to move forward or, perhaps, to take a few steps back and reclaim any good that was lost or forgotten along the way.
  4. Make us smile. I hate selfies and I'm self-conscious about smiling in photos, but when my friend Nick suggested a selfie with the fountain at Lincoln Center in the background, I was in in a heartbeat. I'm not going to analyze the why, though factors like height differentials and seizing the day have crossed my mind. Instead, I'm going to cherish the moment the photo captured -- an evening spent picking up almost precisely where we had left off.
  5. Anchor us and remind us that time is precious. That wonderful phenomenon that allows us to pick up where we left off leaves us feeling that no time has passed when in fact, much time often has. Old friends are a reminder of so many things, the fragility of time and friendship perhaps foremost among them. The older we get, the more we realize that these are not the kinds of time to take for granted.
Victoria Borodinova via Pixabay
As I typed this, several movie and music references popped into my mind, reminding me that these discoveries are not new and are, in fact, often the subject of works of art. How fitting that it was a work of dramatic art that brought us all together to reconnect and to rediscover what we probably knew already -- that some of the best friendships have a platonic happily ever after that sustains us in ways we take for granted.

As for me, I've been happy to spend the day wrapped in the warm embrace of an evening spent with friends.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Friday Feature: Seasons

On Monday, I wrote about fall (my favorite season) and today, because November is National Gratitude Month, I went in search of an article on gratitude.

And found one on fall.

I considered "throwing it back" since it was less about gratitude and more about attitude, but it was so beautifully and thoughtfully written, I just couldn't do it.

The author, Adam McHugh, explores fall itself and seasons in general from the perspective of a Californian. Why does this matter? Because when it comes to "fall," Californians and Pennsylvanians (not to mention transplanted Jersey girls) have a very different view outside their windows. This leaves McHugh to examine seasons from a perspective that differs from mine, as well as in a larger sense of the word.

I can connect with McHugh's longing for crisp, fall leaves and temperatures and everything they bring with them, but I especially enjoyed his take on internal seasons. So much so that I expect I'll read the essay again.

What is your favorite season? What role does actual climate play in the choice you've made?