Boredom Update

By this time each year, most people have let their new year’s resolutions slide into oblivion. So, it made sense to wait six weeks before reporting on how my boredom experiment is going.

It’s been an abject failure.

Let me explain.

My life has improved dramatically in just a few weeks. Last year I read 16 books over the year. More than one a month. I considered it acceptable, though for a writer, less than stellar. This year, on Goodreads Reading Challenge, I committed to reading at least 50 books. With largely TV free evenings and weekends, I read 9 books in January. (So far, Beneath a Scarlet Sky – a true story of a 17 year old Italian boy during WWII, is my favorite.)

With more free time away from screens, I began meditating regularly again. I decided on the schedule of 20 minutes, twice daily. Yes, it meant getting up earlier, which I am loathe to do. There have been many mornings when I thought about going to just 1 evening session a day, but I wanted to stick with it until it was a habit — give it a fair shot. I’ve reached that point. I look forward to the time on the cushion, and am reaping the benefits of a regular practice, though some mornings, I would still rather sleep another 20 minutes.

It’s great I’m reading so much more, after all, I recently heard that every hour of reading is like an hour of studying writing. But, I also have a shelf full of writing books, many of which I’ve never read. It made sense to add more academic endeavors to my reading regimen.

After looking over the titles, I picked The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. In just the first chapter I saw things I could do to improve both books I’ve been working on. It felt like my opening chapter of Fear Unleashed didn’t grab the reader like I wanted it to. My intention was to create a slow build of getting to know the main character, but I don’t think that helped sell the story. It has inspired me to rethink much of my first novel, and since I have a lot of passion for those changes, I think I’m jumping tracks and letting my current work in progress go for a moment while I rewrite Fear Unleashed.

The truth of my boredom update is this… I have failed miserably at being bored in 2019. I now see that I already was bored and screen time was just a lazy way to fill the boredom. So I guess I am sort of breaking my resolution. I no longer resolve that 2019 is the year of boredom. Instead I resolve it is the year I switch boredom off and reengage with the things that give life meaning. It’s an easy resolution to keep.

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going? Have you also tried less screen time? How is that working for you?

Read any good books lately? Please tell me about them, as I’m constantly looking for my next book.

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Relax and Exhale

The grief of losing a coworker is still creating ripples across our lives. Grief comes in waves, leaving you feeling fine one moment, and devastated the next. It also comes in layers. Just when you think you’re moving forward, a new reality of the loss wraps itself around you and squeezes the breath out of you. We are all still adjusting to this new reality. It’s going to take a while.

Recently a friend posted this to Facebook.

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It summed up recent expereinces so perfectly. At first, life in L.A. was amazing. Then it was awful (for a loooong time). Then when I left  and came to Missouri, it was suddenly amazing. Then losing a coworker was awful. However, between each of those amazing and awful cycles, there was a lot of ordinary and mundane. I don’t do ordinary and mundane so well. I start to feel a little depressed. I begin to question, is this all there is? Week after week, getting up, brushing my teeth, going to work, coming home, watching TV, brushing my teeth again, and going to bed. Day, after day, after day with some occassional fun thrown it. Is this really life?

The answer to that – yes it is. That restlessness, that desire to create distance from the miracle of the ordinary, tells me I’m no longer in the moment. Rather than become restless for something else, I need to enjoy those moments as much needed breaks from the upcoming awful and amazing. Because, as amazing as the last few months have been, they cannot be sustained. Eventually the shiny dulls. Thankfully the periods of awful are also usually brief. If you’re lucky, you spend most of your life in the ordinary. Wouldn’t it be a shame to miss out on most of your life?

For me, meditation is the answer to this dilemma. Making a committment to be still, focusing on nothing but the ordinary act of breathing in and out, makes it completely clear how rarely we are present. The mind is full of thoughts it seems to generate itself… thoughts that, upon examination, can be tied to either running away from awful, or chasing amazing – two states that simply can’t be sustained. With practice, those thoughts can be stilled, and the heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life reveals its beauty – The quiet moment of trust when a kitten curls up on your chest and purrs. When crickets sing you to sleep. When a stranger holds your gaze on the street and breaks that barrier between souls. When a cooking casserole fills your home with a salivating aroma. When a coworker tells a story that makes you laugh so hard you can’t breathe.

What breathatking beauty ordinary life can hold. Relax and exhale, and try not to miss a moment of it.

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Do Be Do Be Do

The slo-MO life I envisioned has finally arrived. The major projects that took up my brainspace and free time have mostly been completed. So, now when I have time off, I actually have time to daydream, or just be, which is the precursor to writing.

This daydreaming thing is not considered very American. We are supposed to work 80 hours a week so that we can retire and afford to be, once we’re old and not able to do anything. The American mantra — DO, DO, DO, DO, DO, be, die. It doesn’t make for a very compelling lyric.

I once again fell into that trap when I first moved here. Suddenly all these things I wanted to do in Los Angeles were available here, but without the hour+ commute, paid parking, and hordes of people. Life seemed accessible for the first time in about 25 years. I was a kid in a candy store.

Granted, there were a lot of necessary tasks to be done, like rent a house, move, settle, get a Missouri driver’s license, etc. The transition period was naturally busy, but then I started signing up for things like the a cappella choir. My job turned out to be 8 more hours a week than I had anticipated. I was taking fitness classes. Three days out of the week I was away from home for 12-13 hours. I found myself feeling just as stressed as I had in LA. Where was the slow-paced life I craved? Had I moved 1/2 way across the country to be just as frazzled by obligations?

That’s when I had to do a dream check. I remembered the life I had envisioned for the last year while still living in LA. That vision had not included spending hours sitting in front of my computer learning complex music, or rushing from my job to rehearsal with only time to grab something unhealthy to eat along the way. It had not included every day being filled with one obligation after another. It didn’t include feeling spent on the weekends and needing to recuperate. Somehow I found myself in the middle of building a life I didn’t really want.

I had come here to write.

Period.

It was time for another course correction.

The a cappella choir has been dropped. I’m temporarily out of the fitness classes while I get some physical issues resolved. I’m refocusing on my priorities. That’s not to say I won’t take part in extracurricular activities, but they will be far less demanding, and more in line with my goals. I’ve joined a writer’s group that meets once a month. Once I’ve settled into that, I will join a meditation group I checked out when I visited here last fall. They meet every week, but only for an hour. Aaahhh! Better.

One creative project I do want to undertake is a vision board. Now, almost every spiritually focused gathering of women usually involves vision boarding. For all the magazines that have been cut up, and glue fumes that have been inhaled by us women, we should all be living our dream lives. Sadly, many of us are not. Still, I want to persue this project, not to help me create an ideal future life, but to remember the life I intended to create here. When I get off track again, which I likely will, I can pick it up and remember the things that are important to me here. I don’t want to just do, I want to be. Being allows my mind free rein to run, dream, and create. Being will allow me to write. Our American culture could do with the opportunity for more being.

You can’t live without doing, but you can’t have a life worth living without just being.

Do be do be do. That makes for a far better lyric.

Have you done a dream check lately? Are your ‘do’s and ‘be’s balanced? What can you do to have more time to be?

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Breaking Hab(ituation)

Habituation is mostly a good thing. We are able to live our lives because of habituation. If we didn’t, we’d be like infants that gasp with wonder every time they see something move. When things become predictable, we stop being awed, and just interact with them. There’s a fascinating show called Brain Games that explores the tricks this feature of our brain can play on us. For instance look at this picture:

It’s obvious this is a picture of a a dark gray rectangle above a white rectangle. Would you believe it if I told you both rectangles are exactly the same color? Our brains see what they see because over years of seeing shadows and light, and having them behave in a predictable way, our brain becomes habituated, and cease to react in any way other than to interpret what it sees based on past experience… that there is a gray box and a white box.

Now, take your finger, or a piece of paper, or a ruler would be perfect, and place it across the dividing lines of the two rectangles. What colors do you see now?

Amazing, isn’t it?

That habituation of my brain is something I have been fighting for the past three weeks. Over the past 25 years of life in Los Angeles, I have become habituated into knowing that things work a certain way. Despite being in a new location, my brain just continues along familiar pathways. I do things the way I have done them, because it doesn’t occur to me that things may be different here. I see black and white, when all around me it’s actually gray.

This is where being present can really help. Rather than skimming along the surface of life, letting thoughts distract us and giving the habituated mind free rein, when we are present we fully explore each experience. I have to admit that my meditation practice has been almost non-existant since the move, and that has to change. It will likely help me break out of my ruts and help me adapt more quickly. That’s good because once I wake up and stop doing things out of habit, I find the way to do things here, in a smaller community, definitely makes life easier.

As for the car…

Yep, the Honda dealer blew Toyota (Dealer 1) and Subaru (Dealer 2) out of the water. I liked the handling of the CR-V better than the Rav-4, though I think the Rav-4 may have had a slightly better interior design. I look forward to having the money to finally have a car of my own again.

And speaking of having some money…

There has been movement on the house, and though I’ve said this many times before, by next week, this should be wrapped up or at the worst wrapping up. There’s one small detail left, and then a whole lot of signatures. However, I won’t sleep any easier until the deal is done. After 20 years of feeling stuck, it hasn’t been a pleasant experience to once again feel  like I can’t escape. I want this over. I want to move on. I want my new life. I’m trying my very hardest to be patient and positive. It has not been easy. Yet another habit to break.

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