On wading in: Day 3. Breathing.

Today I’m all about the intention.  I woke before the kids this morning (which means before the light and pretty much before the birds) and lay in bed turning over all the little pages and post-its in my mind, until I realized that I was tense.  I became planful and a little anxious just in the process of sorting and sifting my commitments for the day.  I forgot to breathe.

At the gym, I was reminded how critical breathing is, though I kept forgetting to do it well or thoughtfully; on the way home, I tried singing along to Adele and realized that my vibrato has become chronic lately not because of age but because of lousy breath support.  When I breathe the way I was trained to (as an athlete, as a singer), I remember my wholeness.  My posture improves, my face relaxes, the limits of my body become both obvious and right.

I know these things.  But still, my busy little brain keeps moving me right past my body and into the next abstraction. This is not how I live best.  (For the record, it’s not how anyone lives best: see Jon Kabat Zinn and others’ The Mindful Way Through Depression or most any basic Buddhist or yogic text for more on the power of the breath.)

The agrarian writer and critic Gene Logsdon says that firsthand experience is what makes a good writer.  I’d say it’s what makes us good HUMANS — a willingness to be present, with mindfulness and intention, to whatever shows up.

So today it’s clear to me that the intention, the breath, need to come first.  And in my effort to wade in more fully to this rich and rushing life, I need to set those intentions early in the day.  Smooth stones in my pocket, I carry them with me.

On wading in: Day 2

I’m enjoying the fact that Day 2 is September 2nd…and also painfully aware that when I miss a day, we’ll all know it.  But hey.  This little practice is more for my benefit than yours, so perhaps I’ll be the only one to care.  (Assuming you can live through the agony of missing a post from me…I know, I know.)

Today was a mixed bag of a day.  It was our second Sunday and it sure felt like it.  (Explanation: when I was an academic, someone once explained to me that the summer months could be best understood if labelled as weekdays: June is the Friday night of summer; July is Saturday; August is one long Sunday.  Sunday always involves a little relaxation and introspection, but it’s mostly filled with housework, homework and dread.)  We had this beautiful gift of a four-day weekend, and I was all giddy with a sense of possibility before I realized a) it would rain the whole time; b) we had no plans and it was Labor Day weekend; c) we don’t really have disposable income at this time; and d) we have tons of stuff to do around the house.  So we decided to make it a staycation of sorts, with predictable results.  We loved having two Saturdays (I lobbied briefly to call it three Saturdays and one Sunday, but let’s be real) and used them well, with a picnic by the river and lots of fun garden time.  There was picking of homegrown veg (based on Alice Waters’ Simple Food refrigerator pickle recipe), singing, dancing, and a whole lot of important house and yard work.  But today the rain was INTENSE, and we loafed about all morning and then spent the afternoon with friends we haven’t seen in ten years.  Which was satisfying in itself.  And now…and now…

Here I am, trying to imagine what this project of wading in means.  Partly, it seems to mean paying attention to things so that I can develop a habit of living in the moment and recollecting it with some reasonable calibration to reality.  That’s not a strength of mine.  I notice the dramas: the joys and failures.  I tend to discount the mundane.  But in life with kids, the mundane is kind of the point. It’s the source of the joy.

All this is reminding me of this brilliant new series I’m creating (and scholarship I’m writing) for the Maine Humanities Council on the agrarian novel.  It’s not much of a category in the US, you see, though it should be.  It’s farm literature that illustrates a love of the land, a reverence for the ordinary, an appreciation of people and nature and the routine, miraculous systems of nature.  It tends to be skeptical of gimmicks and passers-by, preferring deep roots and time-tested solutions.  It pays attention, sitting quietly for a while to make room for the wise, the funny, or the beautiful.  Just in case they show up.  That’s the kind of approach I’m trying to take to my life these days…and it’s nice to be living it even as I let my ever-scrambling intellect go play with the abstractions.  Gene Logsdon says “firsthand experience” is the difference between the agrarian writer and the writer; I’d argue, today, that firsthand experience is the difference between happy living and muddling through.  Not just HAVING the experience, but showing up for it.  Being present with it, sharing it with others, and remembering it as best you can.  These are my work, today.

What’s yours?

On wading in: Day 1

Rabbit rabbit, or whatever you say to herald the new month.

It’s September.

Everyone’s going back to school, cleaning up, settling down.

Except for me. I’m jumping off a cliff.

Well, that’s what it feels like anyway. I’m wading into a vast unknown ocean of freedom to choose my projects and commitments, and I’m equal parts thrilled and horrified. So to avoid checking out entirely and spending the next month with my head in the sand, I’ll be starting a little group instead. The September group, I’d like to call it. Join us by following and commenting here, and by checking in on Facebook (The September Group: On Crafting a Life).

What’s funniest is that sticking my head in the sand is only half of my usual response to freedom and opportunity. The other half is manic activity, and what’s kind of worrying is that we never quite know how long these cycles will take. And when it’s, say, six months in the sand, well, that’s not really something we can afford. So like all efforts toward health, we’re not trying to eliminate the pendulum swings, but rather to bring them back to center a little more quickly. And that seems mostly like a process of mindfulness.

So here I am: Day 1 of a 30-day adventure in checking in, writing down, reaching out. I’m looking forward to hearing what all of you have to say about your lives and projects. Here’s mine, today:

My baby boy got his first haircut today — I couldn’t bear to cut it too short, which was fine because he kept wanting to hold the comb. He loved how it sounded when he ran it against the edge of the water glass. (And how fascinating that his big brother could always sit perfectly still and watch a show, but Chi is all in love with how everything works and sounds and feels…)

We spent some excellent time in the garden, earning Chi his new nickname: Tomato Joe. He CANNOT leave them alone. Seeds everywhere. It’s gorgeous. And if any of you have ever considered growing haricot vert (bush green beans that don’t get huge): try Masai. From Fedco Seeds. I’ve never seen a more prolific bean — and so delicious! And patient with a late harvest! Also, I have to note the asclepias (butterfly weed) in its orange profusion of gorgeousness. It’s self-sowing and I’m letting it, because I’ve seen zero butterflies this year. Total. And not one in my garden. I am gravely worried for our world.

I finished Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation last night, and I can’t recommend it enough. Silly, beautiful, profound, painful, awe-inspiring, concerning, and consciousness-raising. It’s a fun trip and one you’re glad you took.

My best work today (usually, in fact, I’m seeing) is happening when I don’t quite mean to Work. I fall into it because it’s fascinating. I’m trying now to let that falling happen. (Years ago, my insightful and loving mother-in-law gave me a card that said “Books fall open and we fall in…” and I’m realizing that books aren’t the only things the universe holds open for us.)

What else? This is clearly a strange and disjointed practice, like mind-dumps, like photo-editing at the end of a trip. But day by day, I imagine this one way we find courage and continuity and compassion and creativity. I hope so, anyway. We’ll try it for a while and see.

On teaching and learning, part 2

I may have mentioned that I’m teaching a “blended” course this summer.  It meets for fifteen weeks, with seven face-to-face sessions broken up by an array of online weeks (not even online synchronous class sessions; just online assignments).

I’m pretty unhappy about this.

You see, I believe that good teaching can happen in all kinds of ways.  And I believe that there is much good to be gained from online teaching and learning, in some forms, for some people.  But the folks I know who are really gung-ho about online learning believe that the problems of education are, at bottom, problems of access, whereas I believe that they are, at bottom, problems of motivation.

I’ll use myself as an example, though it’s totally not just me.  I’ve set up assignments that are clear as day, and at least a third of the class doesn’t do them.  Not the SAME third all the time — so I know people can access the assignments and understand how to do them — but lacking (I posit) the motivation of feeling ashamed in class, they are simply willing to eat the lower grade.  That disappoints me mightily.

There are any number of factors that make the proverbial horse thirsty: desire for good grades; tendency toward people-pleasing; intellectual curiosity; fascination with the subject matter; desire to make a difference through the work; ambition for mastery; avoidance of embarrassment; refusal to rock the boat…but most of these depend in some way upon a present community of peers and authority.  If the space of the course shrinks to a faceless, mediated exchange of edited sentences, we’ve lost a great deal of the human drama that constitutes and contrives learning.  Online learning SOUNDS like it expands the dimensions of our classroom, but for me, when you take the course away from the seminar table and toss it into the ether, you’re actually shrinking the possibilities for meaningful interaction.  (With some exceptions, I’m sure…but this is a senior thesis seminar, which is a deeply traditional, scholarly exercise, and I’m just not seeing good methods for meeting these goals with these tools.)

Embedded in this complaint is another: teaching, at its best, invites transformational learning.  In a “traditional” classroom, a conversation can be pushed and pulled, ideas can be stretched and shaped, students can be challenged, comforted, confronted as need be.  They learn from each other through the whole range of interactions they participate in and witness.  I had a student nearly break down once in class because he finally realized that an argument didn’t have to mean winning and losing or shouting someone down: it could mean quietly and logically framing a position of justice and reason.  He was so relieved his whole body dropped back into his chair at the end of his tirade, and he picked up his pen, a little ashamed of his passion but eager to get back to the work that would now be transformed.  HE was transformed, as a scholar and a person. I’m just not seeing that, nor seeing how that might happen, in the online environment.

But what do you think?  What are your stories?

On the challenge of being yourself

If you’ve never watched the movie “Center Stage,” you should.  It’s cheesy and beautiful and uplifting and all the right people get what they deserve.  It’s a dance movie that functions perfectly as a metaphor for life: dance the dance you have inside you, with all the effort and discipline you can muster.  And recognize when you’re trying to dance a dance that’s not your own.  And of course, roses and standing ovations follow immediately when you have the wisdom to be yourself.

But here’s where I’d add a few things: it’s not just about wisdom.  It’s just as much about opportunity, and foresight, and connections, and plain old good luck.  It’s about having sufficient freedom from constraints that you can actually DO the kinds of movement your own self demands.  And for most of us, absent full-time child-care and a perennially healthy bank balance, we just don’t get that freedom.  So what do we do?

I hate that all the best answers seem to revolve around “patience” and “self-love” and being “mindful.”  We need an Action Plan.  A Career-Planning Mom action figure.  She’d be a myth, like all the other super-heroes, but she’d have her s*#t together.  Perhaps I need a costume.

On various forms of training

It’s always strange when things that are supposed to line up don’t: when the brilliant, highly verbal, well-adapted child refuses to potty-train until three-and-a-half; when the ten weeks of gradual and successful getting-back-into-running suddenly collapse in a new and constant bilateral knee pain; when remarkable patience and empathy in the face of all kinds of difficulty suddenly vanishes, leaving you astonished you ever behaved reasonably at all.  But that seems to be the bear of this thing called life: nothing is linear.  “Progress” is only ever incremental and more or less impossible to chart.  We can’t move forward efficiently unless we pause at every point where someone needs a hug or an ice pack or a listening ear.  It makes sense that we are this way; the part that doesn’t make sense is that we keep imagining our world works differently.  We maintain hopes and expectations that have nothing to do with reality, and, still worse, that we KNOW have nothing to do with reality.

And so, we are advised, we try to let those go.  We try to be here and now, accepting whatever is going on.  And I love that approach, I really do.  It opens me to all kinds of possibilities that I wouldn’t even NOTICE, otherwise.  But somewhere deep inside me is always that other set of voices, asking “really?  You’ve pooped on the potty before: you can do it again, no?”  I hear those voices, I try to nod to them and thank them for their good intentions in supporting our boy’s efforts, and then I ask them to please keep it down for a little while.  There’s someone else I need to listen to right now.  And I wrap him up tight in my arms and try to hear.

The grand irony here, of course, is that many of these myths of progress find their homes in various kinds of training: to use the potty; to follow a physical therapy regimen; to keep a household manageable; to build a career.  But those training arenas, those places of learning, are precisely where the myth of linear progress is most powerful and most damaging.  What we need is training in mindfulness, training in training, if you will: the kind of training that will enable us to see where we fall down and give ourselves a gentle hand back up.  We need to be reminded that we are always practicing and never perfect, that we all have accidents and make mistakes and that the trick is learning to accept it with grace.  So as much as supporting a potty-learner can be a hassle (yes, I was the recipient of a full stream of urine down the center of my back today), it’s also a good chance to say out loud to someone else these most vital lessons: we listen to our selves and then try to do what seems best.  We have courage if we are afraid.  We understand that everyone tries new things, that this is a big part of what life is about.  Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t.  But we keep on trying and that is what makes us who we are.  Like the lambeosaurus in Jane Yolen’s “How do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food” — we try things. Like the deal I make with my students in every class I teach: you trust me enough to give the work your all and I will trust you enough to really hear what you desire and are capable of.  This kind of testing, this exploration of trust, is one way we live out our faith in the world and in each other.

On teaching and learning, part 1

I say “part 1” because I assume there are going to be a bunch of these.  Yes, I’ve started teaching again — just one course, for senior-level university students, in which they study issues of sustainability and write a thesis on it.  I have always loved teaching, especially the part about getting to design awesome new courses myself, so this is very satisfying.  But this is the first time my time (and income) have been so incredibly constrained, so there have been some challenges on those fronts.  Raising babies, as they say, is really a full-time job.  But here’s what I’m learning so far:

1. Adult learners rock.  The average age at the public institution where I’m teaching is 32; the student body is 80% women; sounds like everyone has kids or jobs or both, and often several of each.  These people are not interested in wasting time or money, and they bring their whole selves to the course.  Keeps me on my toes.

2. Online teaching (the course is “blended,” so we meet face-to-face for just under half the weeks of the course) takes a lot of preparation but is no different, in essence, from other forms of thoughtful and effective pedagogies.  There are lots of cool new tools to learn and lot of time necessary to get things up and running, but it’s all premised on the same basics: start where people are; be clear about goals and processes; provide space, time, and encouragement for exploration.  Whenever possible, engage people’s whole selves — we know from research as well as from common sense that people learn about what they care about.

3. And go meta.  It’s always worthwhile to teach ABOUT what we are doing: reading and writing ABOUT research help us think more intentionally and more effectively about what our goals and methods are when we do our research.  Especially for adult learners, the largest obstacles often have nothing to do with the reading, research, or writing itself: they have to do with the mystification of the process and the apparent inaccessibility of the culture.  (Because of sentences like that one.)  But it’s not a closed club, and it’s not rocket science.  We are already scholars.

For those of you who don’t know me, it might be relevant that I’ve taught at three very different kinds of institutions before that, some of them very prestigious and all of them full of very interesting and engaged students…as well as a variety of folks who are there because of parental or cultural expectations.  Much of the energy you bring to the classroom (and course design, and responding to writing, and all the other places and activities of teaching) has to go toward motivating students and capturing their elusive (and often partial) attention.  As I’ve always said: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink…good teaching, then, is about finding ways to make the horse thirsty.  I’ve typically done that through community engagement, which works powerfully for these purposes and often has the beautiful side effects of waking students up to vital issues of (in)difference, (in)justice, and the inextricability of our various lives.  But these students, this summer, already KNOW a lot of that stuff — they’ve lived it.  And I’m thrilled for the chance to support them in their deepening scholarly work.

On the day after I taught my first class this week, I was home reading with my younger son.  He does not like reading, or has not.  This has troubled me mightily, as I adore books and so does my older son.  I’ve noticed that there are a few books Chi likes, and they all have baby-pictures in them, or songs, or overt rhythms, or moving parts.  I’ve been waiting and waiting for the time when he begins to like STORIES for their own sake, when the characters and plot-lines take on importance.  But on that morning, I learned something essential: maybe he won’t ever like stories for the same reasons I do.  Maybe he is simply motivated in different ways.  But that doesn’t mean he won’t also be a reader.  He recently fell in love with Grandma’s dog when they brought her here on a visit, and after they went home again we actually called Grandma and Grandpa to Facetime…with the dog.  Chi could not contain his excitement, and he bounced and shouted and tried to grab the phone.  Afterward, I remembered a book he had rejected before, a collection of dog “portraits” in pictures and poems that the rest of us had loved.  Well, my heavens.  Now it’s Chi’s favorite book ever.  And I was reminded, for the nine-hundred-and-eighty-first time: what we do as teachers is NOT to make people into us, or even assume that we might want to.  What we do as teachers is try to figure out what moves them and work from there.  We try to give them the tools, the know-how, and perhaps even the inclination to understand and move purposefully in the world.  Because a sense of caring, just as much as a set of competencies, is what we need to try and fix what we see is broken.

What are you taking care of?

Ezra, in the midst of pulling books off his shelf the other morning, turned to me and announced: “When I grow up, I am going to take care of giraffes.”  Then he turned to his brother, who was standing on Ezra’s bed with his tiny face pressed to the window: “Malachi, what are you going to take care of when you grow up?”

We are invited to think about our work in a lot of ways – what we do, how much money we make, what industry we are part of, what sector we contribute to.  But maybe this should be our core question: what, or who, do we take care of?

I used to teach a senior seminar on work as service; all the students were doing a non-profit internship of some kind as a way of exploring a field they might consider for the future.  And we all came together one evening a week to talk over readings on vocation, sustainability, meaning-making, community, and the sociology of work.  It was one of my gladdest times, one of the truest moments of vocation for me personally, because it brought together my best and favorite tools: teaching, critical reading, group discussion, exploratory writing, program-management, community partnership, administration in the original sense of caring for or ministering to.  And the seminar asked essentially Ezra’s question, though never so bluntly.  I wish it had.

As I write this, Jack Johnson’s “lullaby” version of “With My Own Two Hands” is on the stereo, and I realize that it names our common desire: to make the world a more beautiful place, a safer place, with our own two hands.  And open beside me on the scuffed blue kitchen table is Wendell Berry’s incomparable Hannah Coulter, and she is telling us of how in times of grief we stand by one another, we stand with one another: “He came to offer himself…to love us without hope or help” (55).  And eventually, she says “the comfort somehow gets passed around: a few words that are never forgotten, a note in the mail, a look, a touch, a pat, a hug, a kind of waiting with, a kind of standing by, to the end” (62).  What we build and what we hold up only exist by virtue of love, of ad-ministration; what would it look like if we named that truth?  If we thought of our work in the world as always a taking care?

William Sullivan wrote a brilliant book called Work and Integrity: the Perils and Promise of Civic Professionalism.  In it, he traces the civic roots of the professions – business began because people needed goods; lawyers happened because people needed a system to manage disputes and to institutionalize fairness; doctors, well obviously, doctors have always existed in one form or another, though only in recent history do we carve out with such diligence the many forms and ranks of physical care-giving.  He suggests, boldly and reasonably (in fact, it’s bold to be so plainly reasonable) that we might all benefit from a return to these foundational commitments.  Yes.  Of course.  The absence of them is what makes us all so outraged, astonished, and generally speechless: when a drug company hides evidence that its medication does harm; when a financial corporation allows the loss of lifetime-savings entrusted to its care; when food crops are sprayed with poisons so someone can make a bigger or faster profit.  These are betrayals of the basic human contract and certainly violations of the unwritten code of professions.  Who, we might ask, are those decision-makers taking care of?

I know there is room for disagreement.  There always is, and there always should be.  But can we begin with better questions?  Can we learn to question ourselves and our colleagues?  Can we keep a clearer sense of what’s at stake?  Because it’s pretty big and there’s kind of a lot of it: our whole selves, our communities, our nation, our earth.  The air we breathe and the water we drink.  And, Ezra would add, “oceans and jungles and fish and gorillas and babies.”  Right.

So: what are you taking care of?

On tension

Surface tension.  Also known as total serenity.

Surface tension. Also known as total serenity.

I used to be a singer, a habit which has served me well as a parent (and not just for singing pretty songs).  Four nights a week when I was in college, my women’s acapella group would rehearse for two hours, and we’d usually perform at least one other night.  It was a lot of singing and it came from a place of extraordinary joy.  Plus, my abs were things of beauty: firm, sculpted, and in perfect support of my breath, voice, posture.

Shortly after that, I started taking yoga for the first time.  I listened enthusiastically to the suggestions on breathing: “Let the air fill you up!”  I can do that!  “The fullness of your breath grounds you, connecting you to the world around you.”  Yes!  But then: “Let your belly be soft.”  WHAT?  Obviously, I said to myself, these yogi people know nothing about breathing.

Now, nearly twenty years later, I find that I have lived, mostly, in a constant state of suspension between these two ideals: tension (albeit supportive) and softness (albeit chosen, and therefore disciplined).  I suspect this has something to do with the human condition: that we are given certain circumstances and we need both to accept them (softness) and to make something of them (tension).

This is the essence of Saul Alinsky’s principle, that we have to live in the world as it is and work toward the world as it should be.  It is also the essence of productivity: understand where you are that you might move forward (and the kind of non-acceptance that manifests as self-flagellation doesn’t help).  It’s the essence of teaching: start where the students are and go on from there.  And of course it’s the essence of parenting, of love, and creativity: compassion, for ourselves, our kids, our world, must undergird every disciplined effort to build and teach and grow.

All the love is making this dog tense.

All the love is making this dog tense.

We can all agree that breath (and for “breath,” from here on out, read “love,” “openness,” “curiosity,” or “spirit”) fills us up, that it simultaneously grounds us and lets us fly.  The musculature and intentionality that produce such breathing are real and profound: such breathing is our natural state (as in sleep), but in the world of our realities, pretty much everything gets in the way and messes it up.  So between nightmares and day jobs, childcare and health care, commuting and computing, we end up – most days – tangled beyond recognition.  For most of us, it takes a walk in the woods (which we don’t take) or a round of meditation (which we don’t get) to rediscover our core.  When we do, we can begin to parse our lives with a little more clarity.  Without clarity and rest, we tend to experience stress (which might be considered tension with an attitude problem).

But here’s the thing: tension itself is not bad.  Tension is a kind of discipline or structure, and its manifest in both.  There are many ways to good posture, or effective work habits, or appropriate human interaction, and tension is a part of them.  I am reminded of the persistent knee and hip pain I experienced in graduate school that stopped my running habit, and of the excruciating SI joint issues that developed in my first pregnancy and didn’t resolve long after the second.  I had worked out and stretched diligently through the first but learned in the second that rest was the only solution, so by the time I sought expert help I was not the strongest person you know.  I was, however one of the more flexible.  And that turned out to be the problem.  I didn’t have enough tension!

You maybe can't tell, but this is a tension rod holding up our puppet theater.  Tension promotes play.

You maybe can’t tell, but this is a tension rod holding up our puppet theater. Tension promotes play.

Hahahaha, she laughs, only slightly hysterical – two babies under three years old and mounting fiscal pressure that made it important to get more work and find more daycare…but it’s true.  That kind of emotional tension was keeping me from the strength-training that my body needed in order to create the muscular tension that would hold my bones in the right places.  Roughly.  Part of the pain was from too much tension; part of it was from too little.  Sound familiar?

It’s the same logic with our lives: an absence of tension doesn’t mean smooth sailing: it means we aren’t learning or pushing or changing or MAKING change.  Of course it’s delightful when in the midst of complications something goes smoothly (I still remember, as do all women who have delivered a baby vaginally while conscious, that moment of exquisite, whooshing relief when at long last that tiny body fully squeezes out of your own).  The trick to managing tension in the rest of our lives, I’m finding, is that damned balancing act.  We need some tension, but not too much; we need resilience and self-care for when we are overwhelmed by too much tension anyway; we need the right kinds of tension, at the right times and places, to keep us alert and accountable; we need counterbalancing forms of relaxation to remind us of our natural state and to help us recalibrate.  This is to say, we need the sturdy muscles of our singer’s core to give us voice, to help us run.  And we need to know how to release that posture to assume a gentler one for the yoga mat.  We need to relieve that tension through twisting core stretches and maintain it with vigorous exercise.  But what we can’t do, it seems, is sidestep the question entirely.  Which I’ll admit makes me a little grumpy.  Because I like the idea of smooth sailing.  I’ll let you know how that works out for me.

Excuses, excuses

I’ve been reading a range of books on how to live better, manage tasks better, be kinder, explore more — you know, LIVE.  I’m always fascinated by how many of them articulate the same kinds of common sense we’ve been hearing for years, yet make it sound fresh and important and attractive.  Which is vital if you’re someone like me, who has a great deal of common sense and yet a whole host of excuses for being stuck in a rut.  It’s MY rut.  It’s not uncomfortable.  I’ve made it sort of homey, papered it with possibilities and laid out a few nice cushions on the floor.  And I spend a lot of time there.

But these writers say we should explore!  We should take risks!  And be uncomfortable!  And the bummer is, they’re right.  Sometimes the discomfort is as small as giving up the precious quiet cup-of-coffee minutes of a baby’s nap to write a blog post; sometimes it’s as huge as cold-calling for consulting gigs.  Sometimes it’s in between, like meeting the new neighbors and trying to decide what if anything to make them for a welcome dinner.  I guess I’m more of an introvert than I thought.

The most important tool, I find, for staying stuck in my rut is the excuse.  I rarely even have to offer them to others — I use them on myself.  I’m truly gifted at rationalization.  But there’s a point when our knowledge of ourselves makes even the best excuses evident: when we wake up in the morning with back pain because we keep skipping our exercises, well, then, there’s really no excuse for skipping the exercises.  No matter what I tell me.  If we want a particular kind of job, then all our brilliant excuses for postponing the search are going to be, well, stupid and self-defeating.  And I don’t know about you, but I dislike feeling stupid and defeating myself (though again, I am excellent at both: this is one area where you really don’t want to run with your strengths).

How, then, do we get past all this?  I’m on the fence about that.  Surprise.  I am really liking Scott Belsky’s “Making Ideas Happen” and its Action Method; I also really like the gentler, more spiritual approaches of Patti Digh.  I am drawn to the clarity and categorization of Strengthsfinder, but I believe in the broader, more mindful approach of, say, Parker Palmer.  As much as I appreciate what she’s doing, Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project” makes me a little itchy — perhaps I am just allergic to the tone of direct achievement and 20/20 hindsight when I feel myself groping around in the dark.  And Seth Godin is always appealing, but usually more as a shot in the arm, maybe-I’ll-take-up-mountain-biking-while-I’m-churning-out-utterly-brilliant-novels kind of way.  Mostly, I think, what I need is a Natalie Goldberg-esque kind of practice, a daily writing-cum-meditation that helps me see what’s in play and sit quietly in its presence.

What I DON’T need is a computer that has stopped connecting to the internet anyway anyhow…but that’s what I have.  Now I have to see if I can fix it, or see if I can find someone who can, for cheap, or buy a new one.  All advice welcome.  (And yes, that’s my excuse for late posting.  I’ll get back to it, I promise.)

🙂