Monday, January 24, 2022

Happy Macintosh Computer Day!

 

Firmbee via Pixabay


Are you an Apple person or a PC person? I am most definitely the former.

Years ago, when my daughter was small, my husband got his first iPhone. He kept trying to talk me into one, but I was a hard sell. My phone was cheaper, and it did everything I needed it to.

Fast forward almost two decades. I have an iPhone and an iPad and there's no way I'd trade my MacBook for a PC. I'm a hybrid girl, actually, but not by choice. Everything at work is PC-based, so I have to be digitally bilingual. Some days that works better than others.

Today, however, is Macintosh Computer Day, so I'm extolling the virtues of my platform of choice -- or at least sharing a few Apple anecdotes.

I knew I was an iPhone girl when I was trying to get home from one of my first parties as a Thirty-One consultant and got horribly turned around. I pulled over, typed my home address into the maps app and found my way home. That's not to say that other phones (and cars, for that matter) don't offer that same feature, but I'm loyal by nature, sticking with the products and companies that have impressed me and/or served me well.

I was the first iPad owner in my house when my husband got me one for Christmas ages ago  (it's still around here somewhere). I don't upgrade randomly, though. I keep my devices until they no longer function and/or need repairs that justify replacement instead of repair. My husband, on the other hand, is a fan of the latest and greatest. I replace my devices when they die. He replaces his when something cooler comes out.

My favorite MacBook feature is multiple desktops. As someone with an I need to see it personal style, I am the queen of the open tab. Multiple desktops (current total: 12) allow me to organize by task (class planning) or app (Keynote) so I don't have a huge pile-up on one desktop. Do I sometimes get carried away? Why, yes, I do! (But it's worth it anyway). As a MacBook Air owner, the thin, lightweight profile of the MacBook is a close second when it comes to favorite features.

My favorite Apple feature is Handoff, which allows me to open something on my phone, then go to the exact same spot on my iPad or MacBook by clicking on an icon. It comes in very handy when I start a task on one device and want to pick up where I left off on another.

Bottom line? Apple products are just more intuitive, at least to me. I can usually figure out what to do when I get stuck (or Google it, or go to an Apple site for answers). I don't feel that way about PCs, or about PC software. (Don't even get me started on Word). And, if all else fails, there's the Apple Store or chatting with an Apple tech online. 

I don't get a commission for convincing people to buy Apple products (I wish!), nor am I trying to talk anyone into coming over to my side of the digital fence. It's just that Macintosh Computer Day seemed like a good day to think about why I made (and keep making) this choice. 

And it's not just because I'm afraid my MacBook will turn on me and eat my files if I don't. Really. :-)

Friday, January 21, 2022

Friday Feature: Athletes and Mental Health in the Year That Was


I'm a multiple-open-tabs-on-my-computer-desktop kind of girl. I try to go through all of them at least once a week to thin them out and, when I do, I often rediscover articles I've set aside to read for this feature. Today, my discovery was an article in The New Yorker about athletes and mental health, part of a larger retrospective looking back on 2021. I'm glad I found it today; since it's the end of January, I might be getting it in just under the wire.

I'm not an athlete but, as a former school counselor, I'm not only interested in mental health, but have spent a lot of my life advocating for it. It was interesting to read about the brave professionals who stepped out of their public persona to confess that it was all too much. In doing so, they perhaps opened a door for the rest of us to do the same. 

It's been a hard almost-two years, and mental health (and the lack thereof) are more in the forefront now than at any other time I can remember. It's both gratifying and saddening that it took a pandemic, social media, and multiple role models for so many to understand that the hospitalizations, deaths, and persistent symptoms that brought the physical aspects of the pandemic into sharp relief aren't the only long-term effects of the coronavirus. 

So many people are suffering in so many ways. One of the things I liked about The New Yorker article (besides the links to lighter 2021 fare) was that it didn't conclude with easy answers. The truth is, there aren't any easy answers. But, perhaps, a little kindness can help us begin to pave the way to long-term solutions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Reading and Writing and Protagonists


After a long time of promising myself to read more, I finally got serious at the end of last year and started setting goals to finish books I'd started (ones that made the cut anyway), so it was fun to rediscover this post from four years ago (!) at a time when I could celebrate success in that goal.

At the same time, my writing has been a struggle, at least during the past week or so. My protagonist has been elusive (again) and the roads in my story aren't intersecting where they should. After re-calculating my route (again), I seem to have hit paved roads again. We'll see how long that lasts.

This post is a reminder of where I want to go--with my characters and with my reading. I still highly recommend Small Great Things (for anyone looking for a thought-provoking read with complex characters) and I'm happy to report that my new project, no matter how slow the going, ticks all the boxes below.

Now that class is over, I've finally found the time to read for fun. With two so-so novels (which shall remain nameless here) under my belt, I found myself exploring what made them so-so, not stellar.

In both cases, the answer was the same: the protagonist annoyed me. She (in both cases) was okay, and the writing was good enough to keep me turning pages but, if someone asked me if I'd recommend either book, I'd do so with reservations.

Since characters are what drives me when I write, I wondered if there was a takeaway here. As it turned out, there were three: three things not to do with a female protagonist.

  1. Don't make her bitchy. I apologize if my language offends, but that's the best word for some of the behavior displayed by one of the protagonists. Since she wasn't consistently so, and I bought that it was part of her professional identity, I accepted it and kept reading, but it kept me from caring about her, pulling for her or identifying with her. I had to ask myself if I'd've felt the same inability to pull for her if she'd been male...and the truth is, I don't know. I just know I'd liked to have seen her unpalatable behavior balanced with a little heart.
  2. Don't outshine her with other female characters. In both books, which were written from multiple points of view, I liked the sidekicks better than the protagonist. A lot better. In fact, they were what kept me turning the pages. And, lest you think I only like nice girls, let me tell you that, in the second novel, the side kick was way saltier than the protagonist -- but I bought it because I knew enough about who she was to understand the motivation behind her behavior. In addition, she (the sidekick) was multi-faceted enough that when she did stuff that I didn't like, it was so well-connected to the big picture of her character that I was willing to cut her some slack and read on.
  3. Don't leave the reader in the dark for too long. In the second novel, the rationale behind the protagonist's behavior remained mysterious for too long. She was moody, disconnected by choice and carrying a chip on her shoulder for far too long. If it hadn't been for the sidekick, I would have given up on the book and picked up another one. From a writing perspective, another problem with waiting too long for the why behind a character's behavior is that the reveal had better be huge by the time it arrives and it'd better be delivered in a believable and satisfying way. Spoiler alert: it wasn't.
And one more thing, kind of character-related: 
Don't stereotype the rest of the world in too shorthand a way. Minor characters don't need huge backstory, but they need enough personality to entertain us and enrich the protagonist's world. In the second book, the author did this well with a number of fun minor characters who helped build the world the protagonist inhabited. 
Lest you think I'm too picky (the thought has certainly crossed my mind), the purpose of this exercise wasn't simply to criticize. It was to notice.

Pexels via Pixabay
When I finished the books, I felt vaguely unsatisfied. As a writer, I wanted to know why I felt that way. Am I creating the same reaction in my readers? I can never know for sure, but, by analyzing what makes me react that way when I read, perhaps I can avoid making the same mistakes when I write.

My third summer book, picked up after much deliberation at Browseabout Books (my favorite indy bookstore) is Jodi Piccoult's Small Great Things. Why am I naming it while the others remain unidentified?

Because in ten pages, she grabbed me. I care about every single character, even the unlikeable ones (and there are some very unlikeable ones in this book). They're real. They're fleshed out. They're human.

And I can't wait to see what happens to them.

And that is the kind of writing I want to do.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Choices, Lists & Plans

TaniaRose via Pixabay

I've been thinking a lot about routines over the past couple of months. As I'm sure I've said here already, next semester's routine will be different from the one to which I've become accustomed. So, this month, rather than milking my time off between semesters for every drop of R & R, I've endeavored to kick off my spring semester routine early, allocating a chunk of what will be my teaching days to course planning and putting my writing first on what will be the non-teaching days.

Nice work if you can get it. (Wo)man plans, God laughs. The best laid schemes of mice and men.

Yeah. That. All of it.

Turns out that the muse won't always deign to visit just because it's Tuesday, but that every distraction in my house might just rise up to greet me, each placing itself squarely in my path where it refuses to be ignored. 

And then there's the emotional undercurrent. The things I can't control that I set aside, but worry about nevertheless. They simmer away in my subconscious, creating obstacles I cannot see, but that are just as real as the ones I can. They are, perhaps, more pernicious because I can't simply tackle them and check them off my list, and so they eat away at my creativity and my motivation, leaving me wondering why I'm spending so much time doing everything except the one thing I set out to do. 

I'm trying to be more flexible, something I found easy to do when I was younger. But, as with so many other habits we wish to acquire, flexibility refuses to come when called. Instead, it develops slowly and painstakingly over time. In addition, it requires patience, something that blind adherence to a routine does not.

I'm reading an interesting book that frames time management in terms of a series of choices. This has led me to wonder if, perhaps, considering how I spend my time on a choice-by-choice basis is the key to not only managing my time, but also finding that elusive flexibility. Choices are, by definition, fluid; at any time we can choose something different.

Much as I hate to admit it, a desire to control things is a big piece of what lies beneath my acquired love of routine. Routines make us feel as though we're in charge and, in a time when we feel governed by so many things outside our own control (many of which are terrifying), they can be comforting. In addition, routines can be what stands between us and that emotional undercurrent that threatens to undo us if we allow it to pull us under.

As with so much else in life, it would seem that the answer lies in balance. As long as we have responsibilities, our lives cannot realistically be some sort of free flow multiple choice exam with unlimited options. If we want to pay our bills, earn some sort of living, and keep our houses in order, choosing to work and do the tasks associated with work would seem to be unavoidable. In addition, work can also provide our days with a basic structure -- the beginning of routine. 

But satisfying days are also about seizing the choices that lay outside that routine, from the path we take to work, to the order in which we accomplish tasks, to the things we choose to do when the work is set aside for the day. (Notice I didn't say "when the work is done." For many of us, the work is never done. We simply need to learn when to step away). And, since choices are, by definition, flexible, exercising our ability to choose as often as possible has the potential to balance a rigid schedule with a bit of unpredictability, much as the work week and the weekend can afford us some sort of balance between work and play (if we let them).

Perhaps the first choice I need to make is in my outlook. When my best-laid plans are tossed to the wind, I can choose to see this as a terrible thing, or an opportunity. Choosing my outlook will govern not only the choices I make, but how I view them as well -- whether I feel backed into a corner or at a crossroads.

Standing at that crossroads, I can take back a sense of control. Some days, I'll choose the practical path marked out by routine but, other days, I can choose the scenic route, and I can do so without beating myself up for following what is, most days, an arbitrary map.

Why so much ado about routine vs. flexibility? Because finding balance between the two allows us to find some balance within ourselves as well. And because recognizing that choosing to do one thing means choosing to not to do something else is a basic tenet of time management. But understanding the choices we make and fully experiencing them is a basic tenet of mental health.

As with organizing tools, time management techniques should work in our service, not vice versa. When a routine works, leaving us feeling tired but satisfied at the end of the day, then it's a good choice. But if a routine leaves us exhausted and unsettled, perhaps it's time to make another choice.

We are the architects of our days and our lives. What will you design today?


Friday, January 14, 2022

Friday Feature: National Organize Your Home Day


I had an article selected for today’s blog post. But then I got in the car to go grab a Starbucks and heard that today is National Organize Your Home Day! I couldn’t let that go by.

Unless you are already thoroughly organized (in which case you don’t need a day like today), getting organized is a more than one day task. If you, like me, are a work in progress, the best use of a day like today might be simply taking stock. What do you want to improve? What would take a spot in your home from "almost there" to making you smile every time you walk past it? What new tip or trick or tool might you try this week to make things just a little bit better?


Organizing a home is an ongoing task, but taking a day to take stock can be a great way to jumpstart that task. Not sure where to start? Try taking this quiz to figure out your personal and organizational styles. I also like the suggestion in the article to read an organizing magazine or book. If you’re like me, that can be enough to spark ideas and motivation.


Whatever you decide to do, make sure to congratulate yourself on any progress you make, no matter how small. Taking small steps is a sure fire way to get to next year‘s National Organize Your Home Day with a shorter to-do list than the one you have right now. 


What's your reason for getting organized? Share it and/or any progress you make in the comments below. 




Wednesday, January 12, 2022

I Resolve....

Wokandapix via Pixabay
Today is Stick to your New Year's Resolution Day! (No, I didn't make that up). As you know from my post last Friday, I'm more an ongoing goal-setter than a New Year's resolver, but I do take stock at the beginning of each new year. 

In 2020, I created a list of 20 things I wanted to focus on in 2020. Each year since, reviewing and tweaking the list has been part of my January goal-setting. I made some changes from 2020 into 2021, and added a 21st item: Release guilt.

This year, I liked my 2021 list enough that I made only minor changes and I did, once again, add something: Remember that less is sometimes more -- something I hope to remember every time I (or someone else in my family) is tempted to go over the top.

Here's what I want to work on this year:

1. Move more (with a more specific Fitbit goal attached).

2. Be mindful/meditate more.

3. Don't judge downtime, but don't waste it either.

4. Declutter.

5. Create spaces I want to spend time in.

6. Read (for fun).

7. Prize my time and say "no" when necessary.

8. Give people space to do things for themselves.

9. Speak my mind, but also be kind.

10. Use less plastic.

11. Use less paper.

12. Strike a balance between routine and flexibility (more on this on Monday :-)

13. Be grateful often.

14. Define my professional brand and stay true to it.

15. Live on the plateau sometimes.

16. Be optimistic. 

17. Recognize effort and say thank you.

18. Make time for creative pursuits beyond my writing.

19. Stay in the Diamond League on Duolingo.

20. Stop caring what other people think.

21. Release guilt.

22. Remember that less is sometimes more.

How about you? Any high hopes for 2022?

Monday, January 10, 2022

Home




Some days, coming up with an idea is the hardest part of writing a blog post. And today was one of those days. 

So, I did what everyone does when they are stuck. I turned to Google.

Coming up with lists of suggestions for blog posts ideas was not a problem. Coming up with a suggestion that resonated was a different story.

Finally, though, one idea ignited a spark: what does home mean to you?

I started thinking of all the places I've called home, or that have felt like it, even if only for a time. My house of course, where I've lived for the past 28 years. The houses I lived in growing up. New Jersey itself. The condo community we stay in at the beach. The various dorm rooms and apartments I lived in during college and grad school. 

And then, since Billy Joel is my favorite artist (even though he's not from New Jersey), "You're My Home" (one of my favorite songs of his) started running through my mind, and so I had to go on YouTube and listen to it. 

But I digress.

Home is where I'm comfortable. Somewhere I can just be. Home is a place that not only reflects my identity, but becomes a part of it (I'm talkin' to you, New Jersey!)

Home is familiar. A soft landing place. A feeling.

Home is populated by some of my favorite people, but it's also a place where I can happily be alone. It has my favorite things, in the places where they belong (mostly). And when I travel, if I take those people or things with me, the place where I am headed can feel like home for a time, too. 

Home is memories. It's a dynamic space whose changes reflect our own, often in ways that are small enough to be almost unnoticeable. Home can be love, but it can also be the last place we want to be when love is no longer there. 

Home, the subject of songs, literature and even the plaques and decor we use to turn a house into a home, has both one meaning and many. It's one thing when we are small, another when we're teens, and something else when we are grown. 

What does home mean to you?