Sunday, June 19, 2011

Things Go Right Slowly

...and wrong very quickly.

Nothing out of the ordinary is wrong. No need for extra worry. I'm just thinking out loud here.

One mistake I make is thinking that I have to do a project all the way to the end in one sitting. That's possible with tasks that aren't complicated. I can unload the dishwasher all at one time, after all. But "write a book," "garden," "knit" -even "read a book" -these are not things that can be done in one fell swoop generally.

But here's the thing. Sometimes that thinking keeps me from starting. If I can't get the whole thing finished, I hear myself decide to wait until there's a big enough block of time to get it done. Which of course never happens.

Reframing this, however, I know that sometimes NOT finishing a book is part of the joy. (I do sometimes stay up all night to finish a book, I admit.) It's like a little treat waiting for me at the end of the day. I need to think of more tasks like that.

Get Fit Slowly
Get Financially Secure Slowly
Create the Home You Envision Slowly
Write Slowly (but slightly more steadily)
Create (knit, sew) Slowly
Garden Slowly

It doesn't all have to be frantic. Just intentional.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Living Gently On Purpose

Several threads of truth are relevant here. First, I want things to be gentle for the people around me. I even used the word "gentle" in my mission statement, as it applies to social change and its effects on the very poorest people on the planet. I work hard to create gentle pathways toward success for the people I work with. I want to be gentle to animals and toward the planet.

But I am seriously tough on (mean to?) myself, and more than -or different from- the "negative self-talk" thing we all know about -although I am a master at that, too. I mean that I won't accept gentle change. I feel like I have to lean in and do everything HARD -and if I can't or won't, that's a failure.

And... somehow I have this idea that a high-adventure life is more valuable than a quiet, gentle life. To complicate matters, though, I would never agree that Emily Dickinson, with her quiet life, was less valuable than Sir Edmund Hillary trekking around on mountains. Kind of the contrary, actually. It's just that the rules are different for me, you see ;) I ought to want to be rappelling down a mountain in Belize or canoeing whitewater somewhere. So, in my twisted little mind, it's this:

Or this:

and there's not much in between.

But I have to do something different; I'm wearing myself out, thrashing around. I get it. My life was forced into a new place. There was (and is) a lot to do to get to safety, much less to a place where I could thrive. Besides, I had postponed a lot in the interest of other things -saving an unsalvageable marriage not least among them. There was some resentment there, and by God , it was my turn. So, urgency and entitlement were all mixed up. I needed some things urgently, and felt like it was my bloody turn for a little adventure on the other.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I'm mixing up indolence and calm -gentleness and sloth. I know what the words mean; we don't have to go there! It's just assigning the words to my own behavior that I'm not doing with very much sophistication or tolerance. If I sit for a minute, it's not necessarily laziness -even if there are several visibly undone tasks in my immediate vicinity.

So, given that the list of things I want to do has not gotten any shorter, how might I live gently on purpose? We're talking Gentleness 101, here. What does gentle homemaking look like? What does gentle scholarship look like? What does gently physical fitness look like (especially challenging, since it requires exertion, by definition).

Sigh.... I just don't know.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Step Away from the Ziploc!

I have a bit of a thing about Ziplocs and tupperware and other plastic storage devices. I love having them around. Differently-organized people do this. We think that containers are the solution to being organized. (Note to self -It doesn't work if the containers remain empty!!) To make matters worse, in this busy life I've chosen, the temptation to choose convenience over economy or environmentalism or... pretty much anything else, has been darn near irresistible.

However... just now I used the last gallon-sized Ziploc. I had the empty box in my hand on the way to recycling, and made a mental note to add Ziplocs to the grocery list. Then I thought.... here's your chance to make one more right decision.

I do want to make green choices -and one of the ways to make that real in a small way, I admit, is to reduce the amount of plastics that come into my life. I don't have to buy more of these things; I just have to figure out an alternative.

A quick google search reveals that plenty of people charge quite a bit for making and delivering to your home reusable sandwich bags. I'm not out of those yet, so I'll just use up what I have first. However, when the time comes, with a yard of rip-stop nylon and some Velcro, I could make enough sandwich bags to last a lifetime, probably. The idea would be to make enough for a week's worth of lunches, and to have a few cycling through the laundry.

But as I said, I don't need those yet. And I'm not sure that I want opaque bags of fresh vegetables in my fridge. I waste too many fruits and vegetables as it is Hence the vegetable stock that's simmering in the crockpot right this minute. Vegetables invisible to me in the fridge -that way lies disaster. But, for heaven's sakes, my grandmother didn't have Ziplocs. I'm not even sure that my mother did. So, what did THEY do?

Here's some guidance. It turns out that the Berkeley (of course it was Berkeley, the home of my soul!)Farmer's Market has gone entirely plastic-free. They have published a guide to keeping your produce fresh without plastic: Guide.

When you add this list to my new gentle return to vegetarianism (another casualty of the convenient life), I will be saving a lot of vegetables from a slow miserable death in my crisper!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are the Kleshas Keeping me Fat?

They sound like little gremlins who come in the night and inject saturated fat into my arteries. But no....they're Buddha-identified causes of suffering. Many wisdom traditions identify similar ways we get ourselves into trouble, and common sense will take us pretty far down this path as well.

As you know, my yoga practice has been important to me for a good long while now. And because of that, I knew vaguely about the kleshas when disaster struck my life in the form of a wandering and insulting husband. And I've been staggered by how simply and elegantly true this formulation of human suffering is. I've watched myself move through the kleshas one by one in my healing from that wound -not meaning to imply that I'm finished with this project, by any means. However, I've learned a tiny bit about sitting intentionally with myself in order to let go of these pain-causing troublemakers.

But lately (well, since yesterday) I've been wondering how the kleshas play out in other ways. Specifically, am I making myself fat (seriously... who else could be making me fat?) by a lack of awareness of the kleshas? The pattern certainly seems familiar.

Let's start at the beginning. Avidya (ignorance) is the misconception of our true reality, the belief that the temporary is eternal, the impure is the pure, and that pleasure is painful. This false representation of reality is the root klesha and produces the four others. This ignorance is not a failure of the intellect; it's a failure of the intellectual apparatus. We just can't know everything through the intellect.

Avidya happens when we forget the spiritual (or divine, if you want to go here) side of our nature and focus on the material. In my quest to become fit again, I have made many material-world changes. I have not one, but two, gym memberships, to accommodate my schedule and to eliminate excuses for not working out. I'm reclaiming a yoga practice. I've been saying that for years now, I know; it's just that it's a process. I drink more water. I have completely eliminated fast food. You know the drill.

These things are important, and I need to continue to do them. One can't eliminate suffering simply by switching to the other pole of this bi-polar problem. Fatness isn't solely a spiritual problem any more than it's solely a material one. A yoga practice is all about reclaiming balance, about eliminating needless dualities.

On some level this is nothing more than old habit -trying to wrestle my world into submission through the force of my intellect. (How's that working out, Andrea???) But flipping the question around, what is this fat doing FOR me -spiritually, metaphysically, even psychologically? I must believe on some level that this situation is less painful than its solution. I must believe that it works for me, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

So, what's going on? My marriage was all about shame. Perhaps this is one of those clearly self-defeating strategies to shame myself before someone else does. Or perhaps I am saying physically what I say vocally all the time. I am NOT interested in another intimate relationship EVER. Well, in this culture at this time, fat will pretty much guarantee that. Perhaps my spectacular (seriously... the stuff of legend)inability to say no is just manifesting itself on my hips and thighs. Maybe it's all these things, or something else altogether.

But I'm going to sit with this for a while and see where it takes me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Darn These Life Lessons, Anyway

I've hurt my back. I would love to spin you a tale about rescuing a puppy off a rock face while climbing, and....

Not so much. I was rearranging the furniture in my bedroom. Oh, the glamour.

This kind of muscle strain happens when the abs aren't strong enough. Abs aren't strong enough because they aren't being challenged. They aren't being challenged because I don't work out enough. I don't work out enough because I almost always put someone else's needs ahead of mine. And I do THAT because my metaphorical core isn't strong enough.

It only looks like circular reasoning. My workout PLANS are good. My workout "actual" is ho-hum. Time after time, I put my plans on hold because someone needs me to do something else. Sometimes that needs to happen, granted. But my guess is that it doesn't need to happen quite as often as I let it happen.

One moment while I explain the back story. Psychology-types talk about organizing one's self-concept around a core identity. Bearing in mind that we all live with a lot of inconsistency in these matters, the core story can give meaning and purpose to that role and to all the others we adopt and live, or adopt and discard, across a lifetime.

Most of the time we hold incongruent identities in a workable tension. However, when two mutually exclusive stories each strive to be the core story, the tension can become unbearable. That's cognitive dissonance (in spite of how the term is used in popular parlance, that's what it actually means). People can put up with this situation for a really long time, but when it does become unbearable, it must be resolved or madness will surely ensue.

So, clearly, the idea is to get this taken care of early. Cognitive dissonance can, then, be a motivator for change. My self-concept as the helper is pretty darn important to me. My self-concept as an independent and physically strong person is, so far, mostly words. It doesn't approach the level of a core story, but it could get there. The thing is, the helper identity is actually truncating the independent strong person. If I don't become fully who I am because I stayed at work late to help you, then my failures are your fault. I have "an out" for not succeeding. Of COURSE, that's not true; my frontal brain knows that. My subconscious? I don't think so.

So, my sad stiff back is telling me that I am setting myself up for failure. I need to haul my sorry self to the gym and do some ab work -and all the other things I authentically like to do there. I need to stop pretending to be too busy.

I need to do this for myself, but I also need to do it in order to be in authentic relationships with my friends and colleagues. Because why would healthy strong people want to be in a relationship where this kind of scapegoating -however subconscious- is a possibility?

So, either I've reconciled the dissonance between two of my life stories and now really have to work on getting stronger, or this medicine is making me crazy. Besides, Faith the Vampire Slayer was a helper-girl, too. I just need to change what I'm aiming for in the helping department ;)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Joys of the Handmade life

I'm reading Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of the Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich. For me, it goes in the guilty pleasure reading category. It's like reading cookbooks as though they were novels. I know I will never make...pheasant under glass, or some such recipe, but I love to read about it and look at the pretty pictures. Similarly, I know that I will never be a "live off the land" sort of person. To be fully me, I need to be near libraries and universities and knitters and ...people, I suppose.

Moreover, I don't even WANT to do what she does. She has chickens in her yard. She keeps bees. She wants a farm in Idaho. More accurately, though, my handmade life would not look like her handmade life. She and I do want the same thing; it's just that the particulars differ. Bearing in mind that I do not need to complicate my life further, I nonetheless need to live MY life. We've covered this... I want to make my house a space where people are welcomed, where comfort and conversation are the norm. I want to honor myself and my guests with good food. I want to have an outdoor space that invites people in. I want to make warm and cozy things for myself, for my home, and for people I love. I want my environment to be full of old things, things with a history.

So, my house was emptied and is being refilled with new (to me)furniture, art, knick-knacks. I'm repurposing and repainting rooms. I'm cooking and baking again -witness the Sunday "Susie Homemaker" posts on facebook. I iron the cloth napkins and endure the gentle teasing from my friends about that. I have my garden plans, at least for the backyard. I've relocated my knitting urge, and have socks on the needles as we speak. I go thrifting and hunting in antique stores, and have fun even when I don't buy anything.

And all of this is consistent with my other need to live a more environmentally gentle life. It does matter how my food is grown and delivered to me; making at least some of it myself reclaims some power and artistry. Re-using old things discovered in junk stores supports the local economy and is an elegant form of recycling. Gardening makes a mark, creates another welcoming space, and creates a safe and gentle space on the planet -a place where scary chemicals are not used, thank you very much.

But that's the airy-fairy version. While true, as an ideal, the reality is that for these (and the 40 bajillion other) tasks to be done with anything like the grace they deserve, there has to be a calm order. One can't live gracefully -or even intentionally- in a mess. Rather, it's always an equilibrium-disturbing lurch from one emergency to another. So, the question becomes... how do we get from here to there?

I don't have the slightest idea. Yet.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

la gratitude est la mémoire du coeur

I realized -again- the other day that I love my life. I am grateful for the whole divorce debacle. I will stop well short of saying that Math-Rat was right to do what he did, because he was wrong in every particular. What's true is that I've managed to thrive, in large part because of my friends but to some extent because of strength I didn't know I had. So, yay for us!

I'm grateful that it's going well with Ohoud, the exchange student. She's just a 23-year-old girl, for heaven's sake. She's very afraid of my animals. We haven't gotten into a rhythm yet. She got lost in town yesterday, which scared me (and her) to death, because she doesn't know enough English to tell me where she was. But I showed her that the cats don't have claws, that they're soft, and that if you walk toward them assertively enough they will get up and move. I'll wake her up earlier tomorrow so that I can drive her to school and she doesn't have to walk God-knows-where. It's a start.

I'm grateful that I am healthy and getting stronger. That's a huge thing, and I know now to never take it for granted. I think I'm not doing the AIDS Ride this year, which is sad. However, I'm getting stronger, I'm swimming, I'm training for a 5K, and I'm ready to take my bikes to the shop for a tune-up. All is well.

I have a really cool job, and really astounding colleagues. Most days, I wake up and smile because I get to go do something fun.

And -sadly for the rest of you parents everywhere- I have the best, most astounding children on the planet. I am grateful for that, as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Drowning in Paper

I'm drowning in paper, here, and I'm bloody done with it. I'm not good with paper, apparently, and I'm at least decently good with electronic documents. So, since I'm clearly impaired once it enters my house, my goal has become to get rid of the paper that comes into the house in the first place.

Minor rant..... WHY can't I pay the water bill electronically? Seriously, I can make my church donation electronically (should I be so inclined, which I am not). If they can figure it out, I'm thinking the city Public Works department can figure something out. There is a rickety system, for which they charge you almost $4 to pay on-time, and then they only accept Mastercard, which I don't have and won't get for the sole purpose of paying more for the water bill. Whew. That's off my chest ;)

I have now canceled receipt of 10 catalogs. (Yikes.) All my bills have been coming electronically for a long time -although some of them still send paper copies of the bill, too. I have to get that sorted out. I have tried to cancel the free newspaper, but since 12-year-olds deliver it, success seems improbable. I've canceled most magazines, more out of embarrassment that I don't have time to read them rather than from any sense of environmentalism or organization.

Now, let's think about electronic document storage. Once I electronically pay a bill, I would like to retain electronic evidence that I DID pay it. So I want to save the e-mail that confirms payment. Obviously, I can create a google document from the email. But that stores a hideous copy -one of those 5 pages to save a one page e-mail message deals. So, I've been printing the email, immediately scanning it, and then recycling the piece of paper I used for literally 30 seconds. That's sick and wrong. What am I missing here? How do you do this?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Greening of Sixth Street

The weather WILL improve, right? It must. I insist. And given my certainty, I am working on plans for the yard. Here's the current situation in graphic form. Nothing is drawn to scale, but it's about 60 feet wide and 120 feet deep.

The Current Reality

It's aggressively rectilinear. That sidewalk down the middle leads from nowhere to nowhere, although soon I hope that there will be a kitchen door roughly where the sidewalk ends. I like nothing about this set up. It invites no one in. There are spectacular views of the neighbors' trash cans in all directions. It's gross.

So, I came up with this:

Draft 1

The garage, which is a "someday project" will be a one-car garage, but on the side it will have a shallow room, protected by sliding doors. This will be a seating area/potting shed sort of thing. In the meantime, though, I can plant the raspberry canes to form part of a fence, to stop the walk-through traffic, block the view of neighboring trash cans, and ... give me raspberries! The walkways will either be brick or that mulch stuff. The firepit will be brick. The tulip magnolia tree is sited to be visible from the family room and to further block icky views. But I was still not quite satisfied.

Here's draft 2:

Draft 2

It seems like the walkways make a little more sense. The space is divided into "rooms," but they all sort of flow into one another. I'm not sure about that space in the back, now, though. What is it?

Anyway.... Comments? Thoughts? Improvements?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Come, Let's Change the World

So, here's a thing -and I'm nervous about it.

The back story:

Andrea wants to work for social justice... blah, blah, blah. You've heard about this before.

Also, Andrea has a house that's shamefully big for one person. And wants company, to boot.

The logical thing is for me to share my home with an exchange student, right? I've got nothing BUT spare beds at this point, after all. And honestly, I think that having someone around, while it will be a little bit of extra trouble, will also ground me in some important ways. Therefore, I've signed on. My exchange student will be a slightly older student (by which I mean early 20s at most), who is already a bachelor's-prepared social worker at home. So, we'll have a lot to talk about.

Eventually, that is. Right now, she has almost no English. She's here preparing for the TOEFL, and is in the first of 12 class sessions one can take prior to the exam. So, communication consists of a lot of nouns, where she picks something up and looks quizzical -clearly asking for the English word for that thing. (Although, when she saw tofu, her expression was more like "what the bloody hell???")

The more interesting twist on this, though, is that she is from Saudi Arabia, and is very religiously conservative. She is completely veiled, with only her eyes showing. If my son or male friends come over, she needs advance warning so that she can re-veil. She traveled here with her uncle, who had to meet me and pronounce me fit to serve.

Well, now. I suppose I have conservative little corners of my psyche, but pretty much my politics and theology and moral decisions all land me on the left side of the aisle. I am, or claim to be, tolerant of a wide range of viewpoints, though -although I get persnickety when those viewpoints don't make any rational sense. I exempt religiosity from the "must make intellectual sense" requirement because faith is about something else.

But.... THIS religion, to my way of thinking, stigmatizes and truncates half the population. Not that Catholic Christianity doesn't do that, too -but there is a huge leap between that and this. My tolerance does not extend this far. And if I could find the MEN in charge of enforcing this situation, they would get a piece of my unveiled mind, let me just tell you.

But she's a faithful believer, and my problems are not with her. Moreover, I believe that, when people don't understand each other's beliefs, the right thing to do is to put a real human face to "the other." Get to know them.

That's how we change the world.

But first, I have to clean the house.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Whole Lot of Dailiness

Yeah. That's a picture of me.

And if you believe that....

But I was in the pool this morning, for my 1/2 mile swim. While it turns out that 1/2 mile is not long at all, it is long enough that your mind turns to other things. And I was musing about my return to physical fitness -which is a long-term project if ever there was one.

I haven't had the easiest two months ever. But they're over, and it's time to get back to work. And, what's more, I've been here ("Here" being in terrible shape) before and managed to get back into pretty decent condition. All it is -and I know you know this- is a whole lot of doing the right thing today. Today just pick up this weight and put it back down a few times. Or swim this lap. Or...whatever it is that you do. Having done that, you've done enough.

It's not as though you could put "get fit" on your calendar and just take care of it today and be done with it, right? I think a lot more things go in that category than I had imagined.

Just eat like a civilized person tonight.
Just put that book away where it belongs.
Just contribute to your savings account for that trip you want to take.
Just say the right, kind, compassionate thing.

Just do it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Financial Peace and Thriving

When I was married -as fraught as that was- I didn't see how absolutely relentless this being a grownup thing is. There was always someone to pick up at least a little of the slack. I don't miss him. That's over. I don't even miss that life. I wouldn't take it even if it were offered. But sometimes I'm tired. I have to (or get to, depending on my frame of mind) think about all the pieces that make up the big picture all the time, and it gets wearing sometimes. Figuring out a way out of that muddle is part of the reason I have reactivated my blog. Is there a way to work more efficiently or even gracefully to get where I want to go?

One of the questions on the table is what does financial security mean now. I'm fine. Don't worry. I'm just musing. In this new world -mine and the fragile economy in which we all must now live- what should I even dare to hope for? What CAN a person such as myself hope for?

This is ME. You know that I have short-term goals, medium-term goals, and long-term goals (although those long-term goals look a little improbable sometimes). Once again I'm seeking balance, I suppose. If my calculations are correct, I might even be BETTER off than I was while I was married -in about 6 years. But there are a lot of days between here and there, and a lot of keeping it together. And what divorce will teach you if it teaches you nothing else is that life is more precarious than you think. Always.

So, where's the line between ensuring my security and just being craven? What is realistic -even responsible- extravagance, and what's just stupid? What's enough wealth to hope for and what's just greedy (not that I'm in danger of having so much that it turns my head.) I know there is no official line. I'm just figuring out where I want to draw it for myself.

And here's a thing. Why is it so hard to say out loud that I want enough money to enjoy modest comforts? What is that about?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"As Good as Store Bought"

As with so much in my life, I'm learning again from my knitting. Well-meaning people sometimes say, in admiration of a hand-knit garment, "It looks as good as store-bought." Certainly, all knitters appreciate the intention of the compliment. And we all know to what they are referring -the hand-knit garment we all fear. Check this out: You Knit WHAT?

However, accomplished knitters aim for so much more than "as good as store bought," and our sly little secret is that it's not all that hard to achieve. The techniques aren't difficult, and we're assisted by the sad truth that most ready to wear garments are very poorly made. However, no one knits all his or her clothes. There has to be a limit, right?

I'm aiming for some unknown balance between hand-crafted and wonderful, on the one hand, and store-bought and convenient, on the other hand. A corresponding balance between frugal (a word I hate) and extravagance would be nice, too. In the (to me) clearly out-of-the-question department, we have people who only flush the toilet when, ummm, it's essential. Seriously? No. And there are people who want to use those disposable cleaning wipes, but find them to be too expensive for comfort. So there are websites offering recipes for making your own -recipes that require an electric knife and chemicals and heaven knows what else. Ummm???? A mop and a few cleaning rags?

I tried to make my own dishwasher soap. The story is, equal parts of Borax and baking soda will do it. But no, even though the formula is quite green, it didn't get the dishes clean. That's a no, in my world. On the other hand, I tried the comparatively expensive, convenient, and green laundry soap made by Ecover. When the laundry didn't get clean, I tried a simple stain test; plain water worked better. Another no.

When we clean our homes, of course we want effective. I also want green, not needlessly expensive, and I'm prepared to make my own if it makes sense. In the end, we're going for at least as good as store bought. How do you clean your house with these constraints? Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How, then, shall we live?

I have work to do, and I need help. The small group of thoughtful committed citizens has helped me to figure out social justice issues and later helped me understand how to rebuild a life when my brain would not -could not-wrap itself around that question. But now it's time to figure out how those two go together.

I have learned SO much -and simultaneously been exhausted by the "stunt bloggers" who have become so popular. From the Julie-Julia project, to a year of living without plastic, to a new hand made dress every day, to using your crockpot every day... it's a wonder I get anything done, just from reading blogs ;) And ket's be clear, there is a lot of merit to trying something really hard for a year. We learn more about what's possible, if nothing else.

It occurred to me the other night, though, with some annoyance actually, that it's comparatively easy to focus on one thing at a time. It's HARD to live a life that is integrated and authentic. The picture is a (simplified, truth be told) image of my google calendar. I make lists of how I want my life to go. I make lists of hopes and dreams, which I know may never come to fruition, but somehow they merit a page in my journal. I think about living a more green life, about working with refugees, about how to fix my house, and how to inhabit my kitchen and actually use it, and more... And it all adds up to too much to do, and a not-so-vague worry that my planning and dreaming is all an exercise in over-control.

Moreover, it's easy to get lost in that tangle of trying to balance confusing and conflicting principles. If I buy fair trade coffee but forget to ensure that it's organic, am I going to hell? If I purchase the tennis shoes I need to go running, have I doomed small children to abusive employment? On and on...

It is becoming clear that no one has the answer I'm seeking. I have to become the expert on how to do this for my own life. Perhaps in the course of figuring that out, the principles of how to do it will become clear.

Come, let us reason together.