Reading My Will(ingness)

Okay, I hadn’t quite expected to roll up the sidewalks here for an entire month while doing my Shakespearian NaBloPoMo experiment.*

In retrospect, perhaps I should have seen that coming. After all, my November schedule–full-time job, 2 “college courses”** (one of which is still ongoing), choir, regular Shakespeare blogging, and all the ephemera of embodied life (cooking, laundry, sleep, etc.)–was pretty rich.

With 20/20 hindsight, it’s not terrifically surprising I didn’t have a lot of extra time to keep the momentum going here at JALC.

But here’s the dirty little confession about it all: I didn’t exactly try that hard to keep the wheels turning here. And when I say “I didn’t try that hard,” what I really mean is I didn’t try at all.

Continue reading “Reading My Will(ingness)”

Taming the Paper Dragon: Again

I’ve written before about the challenges of dealing with paper clutter in the house. Well, the last several weeks of gloomy-time meant that I’d been letting all the mail pile up again in a big way — aside from those few essential bills I’d pull out and handle as soon as they arrived. So a big project for me this past weekend and the last couple of evenings has been to once again try to tame the paper dragon.

In addition to handling the most immediate paper accumulation from the last couple months, I also emptied out a couple boxes of longer-term paper accumulation. You know, the kinds of paper piles that built up in other busy times during the last year, but then got shoved into a box in some last-minute cleaning frenzy before an anticipated visitor’s arrival.*

And, after this accomplishment, I am now turning my analytic attention to the other main source of paper influx, aside from catalogs.

My overabundance of magazine subscriptions.

Continue reading “Taming the Paper Dragon: Again”

Step by Step, Across the Galaxy

norman-rockwell-facebookOne or two days ago, I did that thing you’re never supposed to do: I shared an infographic on my Facebook wall without actually double-checking the sources and the veracity of the information.

You can read all about it here. About the infographic, I mean, not the Facebook part of things. The Facebook faux pas is a tale as old as time, as the sages say.

At the very bottom of the post is a copy of the original infographic with what turned out to be incorrect (or at least, unverifiable) stats about the cultural decline of reading. Once he found that the original stats — which were really super shocking (80% of households haven’t bought a book in the last year, stuff like that) — were unverified, the infographic creator did a v.2 that brought in some different statistics that could be verified.

The funny-ironic thing, as far as I was concerned, is the way I would have been equally happy to post the v.2 “corrected” info graphic rather than the more dramatic/problematic v.1. Because what had most caught my eye was a quote that stayed intact between v.1 and v.2, in large part because it was so obviously aspirational rather than scientific: “If you read one hour per day in your chosen field, you will be an international expert in 7 years.”

The concept is attributed to motivational speaker Earl Nightingale on personal development/coaching to success sites like here, or most clearly presented by author and success coach Brian Tracy here:

Earl Nightingale said many years ago that one hour per day of study in your chosen field was all it takes. One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.

I’ve been chewing over that notion ever since I saw the quote.

I talk now and again about the fields of public education and educational reform. It’s the field I’ve been working in for a few years now, but I still only feel as if I know the tiniest bit about it. So the quote on the infographic started me thinking: what could I accomplish if I followed through on my often-stated desire to become more of an expert in my field? If I made a more serious commitment to reading/learning more about education? Could I make the time for regular self-study, and, if so, how might that benefit my work and my life?

Now, the truth is that I already have lots of daily practices going on. The morning journal-writing. Blogging here on JALC. Coursera classes. Regular commitment to ongoing household responsibilities like dishes and laundry and such. So I found myself of two minds as I considered this new daily practice. On the one hand, I found it a little bit intimidating. Can I really take another thing on?

journey-beginsOn the other hand, I find Nightingale’s concept really inspiring in its reminder that small, sustained effort can add up in really significant ways. Yes, in many ways, this is a familiar and often-stated concept. After all, isn’t there a proverb about the thousand-mile journey beginning with one small step? But sometimes it is really impactful for me when a new phrasing or formulation allows me to see a familiar-ish concept in a new way. Like when I read a book, some years ago, spring-boarding off the proverb to point out that the author’s small steps had, without her really noticing, carried her across the universe.* The Nightingale quote now, like de Grandis some years ago, helps shift my attention away from the sense of a slow, endless slog — 1,000 miles times 5,280 feet/mile, divided by 2.5 feet/step** — towards the reminder of what can be accomplished with sustained effort.

And yeah, I have a fair number of daily practices already. But I also spend enough time doing the TV/Facebook zombie thing that the hours could almost add up to being their own part-time job. Besides, the activities in question here (reading and thinking) are things that come to me as naturally as breathing. And even if an hour each day feels a bit like a stretch, I know that smaller pieces of effort can also add up:

As I’ve said before, we overestimate what we can do in a week, and underestimate what we can do in a year. But if you spend 15 minutes a week reading your industry journal and it takes you four weeks to read it, is that a bad thing? Of course not- it probably only comes once a month anyway!

So, in concert with this fellow, I’ve started spending 15 minutes each night reading a bit about education, starting with another book I borrowed from the company “library.”

As with so much else in my life, I imagine this to be a “progress, not perfection” kind of movement. I imagine there will be times when my daily practices need to be triaged and weighed against one another. Last night, for example, after our drive up to the lake, I found myself prioritizing education reading and early bedtime over JALC post. (Heck, we have baseball tickets and I won’t be able to post tonight, either, so a midday Saturday post kinda works better anyhow.)

Some nights I can imagine prioritizing JALC over ed-reading,and some nights I can imagine prioritizing both of those activities over sleep. Day by day, I’ll work it out. Heck, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to stick with JALC when I resurrected it, and yet here we are 5 months later. (Which is, by the way, 4 months longer than JALC’s first-phase lifespan. Go figure.)

Step by enjoyable step, around the world and back again.

* The book in question is currently not available to me, so I can’t confirm the precise quote. (After the Facebook error, I feel as if I should be extra-aware about such things as the accuracy of my citations and the credibility of those sources I quote.)

** Why doesn’t my keyboard have a division sign? Ah, the indignities of aging, when one’s native symbol set slowly gets displaced by the new generation’s symbology…


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Norman Rockwell:

The journey begins:

Peace Out

peace_out_by_wirdoudesigns-d62lrkoSo today’s proposal went in and things got locked down at work, the suitcases are pretty much packed, the house-sitter is keyed up, and the boarding passes are printed. Guess it’s almost time for vacation.

Of course, all of this is being done in my usual human & imperfect fashion. The house is WAY messier than I would have preferred the house-sitter to see, but I ran out of time. There’s a couple tasks at work I wanted to get done before I “handed the baton,” but I ran out of time. (Sense a theme here?) I didn’t get as many posts in the bank as I wanted to, but — sing it with me! — I ran out of time.

Oh well, I do the best I can. And sometimes my best includes packing rather too many clothes so that I have lots of options and therefore (with any luck) can stave off some of the waves of physical and existential insecurity that happen when I’m with my extended family. The luggage scale confirms that I am within airline limit, so I’ll just count my blessings on that score and let my ego-selves have this little piece of comfort. If having the extra clothes options helps me stay in my body, enjoy all the new sights and sounds, and maybe even get deeper insight into my lineal and family patterns? That’s a trade I’m willing to make.


For all the “cut corners” and imperfect execution around different pieces of the pre-trip preparations, there’s one piece of preparation I’m giving its due measure to: taking the time to set an intention for this journey.

I’m not using the term in the way it so often gets public airplay in a manifestation/law of attraction kind of context. Phillip Moffitt, in Yoga Journal, does a good job of defining intention-setting from a Buddhist perspective, a definition much more in harmony with my use of the process:

Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are “being” in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present “now” in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.

The extra layer in my practice is to use the process as another way of seeking Spirit’s guidance — usually through drawing a card and using the card’s message as a springboard to help shape the intention I create. (See here for a description of someone doing a similar practice as a way to kick into a new year.)

Drawing a card allows me to get out of my own way and get more of a true read on whatever it is I’m going to be studying/transmuting in a particular experience. Instead of fooling myself into thinking I know what I’m going to be studying, in a very assumptive, ego-driven, self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way.

So, my card has been drawn and I will shortly go to do a little writing meditation on the card’s message. Then, if my usual system holds true, I’ll let my unconscious work on the question while I’m sleeping, and I’ll formally put pen to paper to scribe my intention tomorrow morning. Maybe even while I’m at the airport.

Stay safe, y’all. Catch you on the flip side.


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What I Learned in Grad School

Okay, so the big super-huge work project got even more intense than I’d anticipated, so I went full-out on it till Thursday night. Then, instead of sleeping and catching up on my rest and my writing, Mr. Mezzo and I have been out of town for the past two days celebrating my niece’s graduation. So, suddenly I missed an entire week’s worth of Writing 101 assignments, and the next crop of assignments is due to start up again tomorrow morning.

Now, one thing I learned in grad school is the strategic folly of always trying to go back and play catch-up.

Let’s say you fall behind on your reading for Week 3 in a particularly dense syllabus — like, say, the kind of syllabus where the professor keeps adding new articles to the reading list year after year, without taking away any of the older, less-academically-relevant ones. (Not that I ever had any grad classes like that back in the day. This is all purely a hypothetical exercise…..)



One approach to take to this conundrum would be to start Week 4 by going back to the things you missed in Week 3, hoping to address all of the backlog and all the new assignments. But, if each week’s workload is too robust to be handled in a week, the only thing you gain by that approach is to just get farther and farther behind.

So after one or two courses where I tried to do the virtuous “going back and catching up on everything” routine, I developed a new discipline around falling behind on homework.

Step one for me is to jump right back into the stream at this moment. Hit the reset button, start with the new crop of work, do all of it to the best of my ability — and then, if I do end up with some luxurious extra time after that, only then will I try to go back and fill in what I’ve missed, using my own instincts to triage out what’s most important and what’s most able to be let go.

So, tomorrow I’ll be jumping back into the Writing 101 flow with this coming week’s assignments, and I’ll go back and fill in the missed ones in whatever order I choose to do them.

I have some hope that the work week will be a little quieter than the past fortnight has been. If that turns out to be the case, I may get home early enough to manage a double-posting day or two throughout the week, which would help with the backlog. I also could get creative and see if there’s a way I can kill two assignments with one essay, as it were. Or there may just be an assignment or two that I let slide by, water flowing under the bridge of best intentions, never to be seen or recaptured again.

And I’m okay with that. Aside from the specific workflow strategies I am applying here to my bloggy-life, the main thing I learned in grad school was the complete psychic and energetic uselessness of perfectionism and how pointless it is to do that inner ballet of self-flagellation when one shows one’s humanity by doing an imperfect or fallible thing.

Admittedly, that main lesson only partly sunk in. I keep learning and studying and practicing into that one. Step by step, I continue ever onward — following the trajectory away from self-punishing perfectionism and towards maturity and self-acceptance.

Here, now, with Writing 101, is as good a time to practice that as any.


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The Quicksand of Inertia

Xena_640px-ROC_quicksandAll week, as I was posting my responses to the Writing 101 prompts, I had the half-beginnings of other posts germinating — ideas and titles rolling around my brain, as well as possible citations/quote-sources accumulating on my Pinterest “bookmarks” board. However, things were also very busy on the work and home front, so there wasn’t time to do anything with those germinating ideas.

Instead, I kept telling myself that I’d find time over the weekend to start catching up. Maybe I’d have a couple double-post days where I responded to the prompt and laid down some independent thought, or at least I could get some drafts started that I could then flesh out and schedule for posting somewhere down the line.

And yet? Yesterday, when as it turns out, there was no Writing 101 prompt even to handle?*

I did bupkis.

That’s slightly an overstatement. Mom spent part of the day with us. It was her first-ever visit to the house,** so the early-morning pre-arrival hours were spent in those last frantic moments of cleaning,*** and then there was the time spent visiting itself.

Still, she left early afternoon, so there was a good stretch of time where I could have been writing or outlining or something. Instead, I watched lots of things on DVR and did many sudoku.

Call it whatever you will. The energetic crash after a stressful week. A small eruption of the depressive brain chemistry I will be managing until the day I die. A well-served piece of down-time. Laziness.

All of those names are likely true in their own small portion. Beneath those different labels, the feeling-tone was rather like sinking into quicksand for a day. There were moments in it when I was awake enough to ask myself whether the TV zombie thing was really feeding my soul and my sense of enjoyment, and after a certain point, I was awake enough to sense that yes, I’d kinda reached my limit for truly enjoying the TV and no, these extra hours of watching past that point were not feeding my life. But I remained in the inertia and never really pulled myself out of it till the moment I crawled off to bed.

This fear comes from being handed a branch while waist deep in quicksand. While it’s easy and reasonable to be scared of sinking in the quicksand, it’s utterly terrifying to think that once you haul yourself out, you are unwittingly volunteering for the next awful thing to come.

But here’s where the whole inertia concept really starts working. Inertia tells you, “Sink. It’s easy and natural.” [. . .]

Amazingly, what happens next is a true testament. . . . Science be damned, the inevitable motion of life is a stronger force than inertia could ever wish to be.

~ Karli Marullli, “Inertia, Quicksand, and Other Things that Suck

So, here we are today. Don’t know yet whether there will be a double-post day, or if some rough-drafting will occur to set up future double-post days. Don’t know how many hours I’ll spend doing work for my employer.**** But if nothing else, this post is up and the TV is off.

I’ll take it. Every step forward is a step forward. And every step matters.

Oh, and one last thing, a factoid offered in the spirit of public service. While searching for an image to accompany this post, I have made the unsettling discovery that there is such a thing as a quicksand fetish. Rule 34 strikes again.

* A detail I didn’t notice till yesterday: the folks at Blogging U give us the weekend off. (And themselves, which is only fair. After all, my employer doesn’t usually expect me to be devoting much weekend time to their endeavors.)

** Two prior attempts to schedule things during her time in the northeast — she’s a snowbird and spends half the year way far away below the Mason-Dixon line — had to be cancelled for various act-of-Gaia kinds of reasons. like blizzards and trips out of town to see relatives in the hospital.

*** Have you ever noticed that no matter how much a matter adult one becomes, there’s an almost-universal regression to that teenager-cleaning-your-room feeling when parents are due to visit one’s abode?

**** Alas, this is one of those rare weekends where I am expected to buckle down on their behalf — at least to some degree.


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basket of magazines

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

I’ve done a halfway double down on the 5×5 goals tonight. Not on account of choir tomorrow. (Which I do have. I’m just hoping I’ll still manage to get tomorrow’s “quota” handled on tomorrow.)

Let’s call tonight’s double down a combination of playing catch-up and covering my ass (in case tomorrow’s rehearsal does throw me off-track).

Anyhow, one of the things I tackled tonight in the “everyday cleaning and clutter management” category was to get a (partial) handle on however-many days of accumulated mail. (Checkbook-balancing and bill-paying are definitely on the agenda for tomorrow morning or during lunch break.)

Now, one of the biggest categories of mail these days is the mail we call “junk”: advertising mailers, credit card offers, and lots and lots of catalogs. I’ve gotten pretty good at discarding the first two categories with ruthless efficiency,* but the catalogs have ended up having a slightly different ritual of their own.

basket of magazinesHere’s how the system works. I put a basket in the living room specifically to hold catalogs, and as new ones arrive, I just keep adding them to the front of the “stack” until such time as the basket is full. Then I sit down and weed out all the duplicate catalogs until the basket holds just the most recent catalog from each company.**

I’ve been doing it this way for a number of years. Why? I wish I had a better answer for that question. At this stage of the game, the pattern has become so unconscious and unthinking that it’s hard to recapture whatever reasons I may have had to do this in the first place.

I think I wanted a rich collection on hand to give me ideas whenever a holiday came around where I needed to buy a gift for someone. I think I wanted sources of inspiration as I lived surrounded by parental hand-me-downs hoping someday to have/create a home environment that was more authentically expressive of my soul and passions. I think I hoped that being able to glance through catalogs and imagine having things would allow me to develop a deeper level of discernment around which desired-for purchases were items that would actually enrich my life and which were more passing, addictive, covetous moments.

That last thought/hope certainly never came to fruition. Not that I’m trying to suggest that my ongoing shopping addiction is caused by having catalogs in the house.*** However, I don’t think it’s been a great help to have them around. Better than nothing insofar as having a way to (somewhat) contain the paper monster, but still: probably not a great help to have them around.

So tonight, as I went through the accumulated mail, every catalog went right into the recycling bin. Over the weekend, when we’re gathering up paper for the recycling run, I’ll probably make a good dent in the basket, too. And, as new catalogs come in with the day’s mail, I’m going to experiment with tossing them straight into recycling with the rest of the junk mail.****

Will it have any great effect on my shopping issues? Who knows?

Will it have an immediate effect on the amount of paper clutter in the house? Why yes, yes it will.

And I’ll celebrate any win I can get.

* Except, of course, in stretches of time when I let the mail pile up unexamined. Like now. (Also, for the record: “ruthless efficiency” as regards credit card offers includes a trip through the shredder. For the offer paperwork, not for me.)

** There are, yes, a few companies that just go straight to the discard pile rather than being part of this whole ritual of commerce and covetousness. But not as many as you’d think, and definitely not as many as there should be.

*** After all, who needs catalogs to spark temptation when there is the Internet and the corporate media machine?

**** Or tossing most of them, if there turns out to be a catalog that is honestly timely and relevant to some purchasing decision of-the-moment. Hey, this is all about practice, not perfection…


Tonight’s soundtrack: Gipsy Kings, Este Mundo.

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Fall Down Seven

fall down calvinMy 5×5 ritual fell a bit by the wayside last week. Knowing that choir rehearsal would pull focus on Wednesday, I “doubled down” on my goals last Tuesday as preliminary compensation — but somehow, that day’s interruption in routine caused a general halt in momentum. Said halt was, of course, further perpetuated by the number of hours this weekend that were devoted to matters choral.

But, as the old saying goes,

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

[Word-nerd digression.]

There’s part of me that’s always wondered about this saying. To my sometimes overly-literal way of filtering words, the scenario’s math just didn’t work out. If you’re choosing to demonstrate perseverance in a circumstance where you fall seven times, then you need to stand up only and exactly seven times: one for each time you fall.

I’d even wondered is maybe the saying got mistranslated along the way, but today’s office hours with Professor Google suggests that the common translation of the phrase is pretty accurate:

this Japanese proverb reflects an important and shared ideal: “Nana korobi ya oki” (literally: seven falls, eight getting up)

So now I’m simply telling myself that the first time one stands in this proverb  is when getting out of the bed in the morning and prior to the first of fate’s knock-downs. I find linguistic comfort in that notion.*

[End digression.]

So, in yet another round of the “practice, not perfection” movement in my life, I’m re-engaging in the nightly rituals of house care.

Even though I had yet another choir rehearsal tonight, I have already met my daily quotas for folding laundry and addressing the clutter. Now it’s time for some unpacking and putting away of things.


* I know: none of this demands the level of thought and attention I have lavished upon it, but this is how my inner nerd operates.


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