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Yeah, I’m a fan.

A sign that says "Free Dobby" with a clothesline, clothespins and socks.

Where lonely socks go to a higher purpose

#19YearsLater

Today is the day, in the epilogue of the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that Albus Severus Potter, the son of Harry and Ginny Weasley, boards the train to go to his first year at Hogwarts. The fandom is on fire, of course. And I’m with them.

I’m not a native fan, though. Being a “fan,” of Harry Potter or anything, is a skill I had to learn.

Me dressed as Princess Peach and my son dressed as Bowser

Princess Peach and Bowser

Learning to love

I grew up holding on to my older brother’s coat tails. A true nerd and pure geek, my older brother was a devotee to all things internet, computers and computer games, video games (on Atari and in arcades back then), Dr. Who, Star Wars (SW), and all else sci-fi. He was “in it to win it” as they say. I watched Dr. Who over his shoulder. I was small but I was there along side my brothers and my dad when all three SW films hit the theaters. I struggled at pong when my brothers would finally give me a turn. I sat for hours drawing elaborate futuristic scenes in 16-bit colors once I had time alone with the family desktop. But I never considered myself a “fan” of anything. I doubt my brother did then either.

Things were different then. Only the utterly social-resistant types, like the Dungeon and Dragons players, would be brave enough in those days to identify and present as “fans.” To feverishly support any team was considered over-the-top and unhealthy. To have that same level of excitable enthusiasm for a book, say, or a movie, was considered downright strange. SW fans who “came in costume” (we didn’t have the term “cosplay” then) were so odd that most of the time news cameras would be present to display them like a sideshow attraction of old. To be sure, the term “geek” originates from traveling circus oddity shows. 

Halloween 2016 – Harley Quinn

Fans defined

Today that’s all changed. Maybe it started with SW. Perhaps it was spurred by a generation unabashedly raised on Harry Potter. Now we have a phenomenon called “fandom.” Merriam-Webster (MW) first defines “fandom”  (subscription required) simply as “fans considered collectively in a group.” This implies “fandom” is a term used by a non-fan to refer to people who have in common a love of something.

MW’s second definition is “the state or condition of being a fan” – a self-referencing term to be used by the lovers of said something.

UrbanDictionary (UD), however, adds a little more of the current fervid flavor of what “fandom” means today. It’s first definition speaks to the alliance of people involved: “The community that surrounds a tv show/movie/book etc. Fanfiction writers, artists, poets, and cosplayers are all members of that fandom. Fandoms often consist of message boards, livejournal communities, and people.”

That definition seemed closer to my sense of the word. But only with UD’s second definition does its full image come home: “A cult that will destory [sic] your life.” A bit tongue-in-cheek I’m sure, but effective in portraying the deep ties personal identity has in this phenomenon.

A folded newspaper in the style of Harry Potter

Day of cosplay

While many will disagree on what constitutes a “fan” in any one particular fandom, I consider myself a true fan of J.K Rowling’s fictional world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts. My criteria of “true fan,” personally, is whether or not I’ve participated, in any way, in cosplay of any character or aspect of the story. Clothes make the woman and the woman makes the clothes. If I’m wearing something on my body, you can believe I identify with what those garments “say.”

Keepsakes from Harry Potter Day at the Penn Museum, and the latest movie

What have I cosplayed for, you may ask? Harry Potter was my first major adventure, as I dressed my entire family along with me. Granted, it was only robes. But I designed and made the Hogwarts robes by hand and even fashioned crests to sew on them. I made the robes for us to wear when we attended a Harry Potter festival hosted by an anthropology and cinema class at the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. As part of their field study of fandom, students in UPenn’s “Mythology and the Movies” course invited the public to their transformation of the Penn Museum into Hogwarts. The scene was full-immersion in the Harry Potter universe, complete with a life-size Diagon Alley, potion classes, a sorting hat, wand games, a treat cart from the Hogwarts Express, dark mark tattoos, quidditch games and more. Amazing isn’t sufficient. It was Disney-level effort and it was a day to remember. We still have a few of the items from that day in frames on our “Potter Wall,” along with a “Free Dobby” lost-sock station I constructed for the laundry room.

a picture of skeins of yarn in gray and blue, wrapped in plastic

Yarn for the Ravenclaws in the house

The professor and the class have not produced another festival like it, but Chestnut Hill College and the surrounding town have been working on a Harry Potter festival for the past several years. Having attended the festival in the early years, we weren’t very impressed; We haven’t been back. In the ensuing years, though, the festival has become a phenomenon of its own. We’re planning to attend this year. In preparation, I’ll make new robes and knit scarves for my husband, daughter, son and myself, this time reflecting not Gryffindor but our respective houses pottermore.com‘s sorting hat has chosen for us, namely Ravenclaw for my husband and son, Slytherin for my daughter, and Hufflepuff for me.

A program of OWL classes at UPenn’s Harry Potter Day

Identifying as a Harry Potter fan, for me, means many things. Wearing my robe and scarf at the Harry Potter festival will hold no shame, no fear of being seen as a freak show oddity like those SW fans, broadcast to late 1970s audiences for their amusement and scorn. Loving all things Harry Potter means I can find kindred spirits. We all felt good when we discovered our summer-exchange student also loved Harry Potter (and SW). He was just like us.

Other Cosplays

I don’t really get to cons, although I will someday. My costuming has been mostly relegated to Halloween. Many cosplayers would not “count” Halloween in their domain, but I do try to keep high standards for my costumes nonetheless.


One year I designed and made Princess Peach and a Bowser costume. I was a pink Peach while my preschool son was Bowser, making us a scary couple from the Mario Brothers story. I’ve been catwoman. I was Supergirl while my husband went as Clark Kent. At 6’2” with black hair and glasses, he fit the bill. I was the Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story and he was the “Fragile” box for a Santa bar crawl once. Last year for Halloween I dressed as Harley Quinn, with whom I identify in her awesome, unabashed craziness, a trait I like to interpret, for me, as bravery. Costumes are fun and I make elaborate ones when I catch the fan spirit.

The goals of S.P.E.W. are: to secure for house elves fair wages and working conditions. To change the non-wand use law. To include a house elf in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures

A SPEW treatise

Sometimes my fandom comes across in daily wear. Over the years I’ve had different clothes and accessories for daily use that express my love of stories. We have at least 3 branded Harry Potter tote bags in the house. I wear Wonder Woman tees and earrings. I own a Mockingjay pin but have yet to get around to knitting myself one of Katniss’s scarves. I have the the Evenstar pendant necklace the Elf Arwen wears in the Lord of the Rings films. There’s probably some items I’m forgetting.

The Chosen One

OWL exam from the Harry Potter Day at UPenn. You have to go to the Penn Museum to get the answers (sorry!).

None of this matches my love for the world of Harry Potter. I read the books as they were published. I watched the fever sweep the western world’s children. I begged my husband to read the books but he didn’t come around to their astounding amazingness until he began to read them aloud to our daughter. His enthusiasm now matches or even exceeds mine. I think I could spit out some words if I ever met JK Rowling, but I’m not so confident he could. He adores her and her work, including her other books. Different ways of expressing one’s love, but all fandom nonetheless. 

Like many others, my fandom brings me a sense of community. Reading about Hufflepuff qualities gives me a strong sense of pride. Is it all made up? Yes. It’s a fiction. But can I aspire to be loyal, faithful, hard-working and true, as Hufflepuffs are known to be? Yes. Can I share a warm moment with strangers when we discover we’re both sorted into Hufflepuff? Heck yes. Do I find a path to connection with humanity, our shared lot, our hopes for the future? Profoundly, yes. For me, fandom is fun. Cult-like devotion isn’t my thing. Perhaps others fall into that danger but I am lucky enough to take the good and leave the all bad parts of fandom.

Today the good part is the wide celebrations happening on this one day in history: Albus Potter’s first day of school.

Good luck, Albus! I’m with you. I always will be.

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We all have tiny but profound moments that stay with us. Some people have a clear picture of of their wedding day or their first child’s birth. I, too, have those days locked in. But other, seemingly humdrum, everyday moments struck me like lightning and taught me a life lesson that has saved me truckloads of the kind of panic and distress most people view as unavoidable.

Here are 3 of my moments:

  • Watching an episode of a sitcom
  • Seeing a news clip about an English royal
  • Picking my kid up from a fall when she was little and a burn for me, soon after

Innocuous, common occurrences, right? Especially the last one: kids falling down. Kids are new to walking, after all! They fall constantly. That’s a pretty common occurrence. I’m being obtuse on the other two moments. They were world-level events, even if they went by unnoticed by the majority of people. The sitcom was The Ellen Show and the English royal was Princess Diana. All 3 of these scenes contained a paradigm shift for me. And in experiencing these shifts, I learned a crazy important skill called “reframing.”

The Ellen Show

Actor, writer, comedian Ellen Degeneres came out as gay on her sitcom. Officially, it was Ellen’s character who came out as gay, but we all knew her character was an allegory for her. My moment didn’t come from Ellen’s announcement. What struck me was her friends’ reactions.

I remember so clearly how much another character burst with excitement at her news. Sure, the other character was already out of the closet and his reaction would go on to be disregarded as not universally applicable, but in that moment I suddenly understood what the right reaction is to someone telling you they are gay (or any other oppressed position).

 

Later on, Ellen gets mixed reactions from the rest of her friends, who, it turns out, were betting on Ellen’s coming out. (The writers still managed this serious issue with good humor). The reactions were mostly positive, but it was the first friend’s excited screaming of “I’m so proud of you!” that hit me like a slap upside my head.

Until that moment, I had been accepting of the paradigm that someone’s coming out of the closet was an event to be mourned. Indeed, even Ellen’s friend warned her it would be hard to come clean to her friends. I was to deliver a solemn acknowledgement and empathetic ear. “It’s a hard life,” I’d heard other adults say when it came to this “choice.” When someone told you they were gay, hold their hand and say comforting words in tones reserved for funerals. Wrong! Be joyous! That show clicked the truth into place for me.

Princess Diana hugs AIDS patients in the hospital

This paradigm shift I share with the world. Many people remember Princess Diana putting her arms around dying patients who, at the time, were erroneously thought to be contagious-on-contact. AIDS had no treatment then and it was killing people in its epidemic wrath. But there was Princess Di on the news, touching patient after patient. These men were emaciated and covered with sores. She hugged them anyway.

I felt shame, then. I’d been caught up so easily in all the falsehoods and hysteria. Later in the 1990s when a friend and neighbor was dying of AIDS, I was not afraid to be near him, to kiss him on the cheek, or to give him a hug. And I wasn’t afraid of his partner either (who survived him). Princess Diana not only separated fact from fiction with one gesture, she personified grace. I wanted that grace.

Scraped knee

When kids are babies, you accommodate them. You kiss their boo-boos. You hug out their tears. Then one day, they pass a threshold at some point where, as parents, you begin to teach them to handle their bumps and bruises with stoic calm. Life is filled with adversity. You want them to know the difference between big deals and little deals.

My husband and I had been taking our Irish-American heritage’s approach to parenting through cuts and scrapes: SUCK IT UP. Our daughter was about three years old. We thought we were doing the right thing. We knew “coddling” and “sparing rods” were deserving of the most disdain one can reserve for parents.

I was in the midst of yelling the stoic canon I’d heard as a kid.  Our daughter had taken yet another bumpy fall down the stairs. Here was this little thing, a baby really, disoriented, hurt, crying and begging for comfort, and I was yelling. At a toddler. What was the logic? To brainwash her into thinking she was not hurt? To teach her not to trust her own senses?

Annoyance drained out of my body. Shame and a bit of desperation set in. I quickly scooped her up. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I know that hurt. I know that hurt. It’s OK. You’ll be OK.” I repeated myself as I rubbed her hair.

And get this – she recovered immediately. What would have been a fifteen minute upset was gone in a few seconds. My husband and I, perhaps even generations of parents before us, had been doing it all wrong. Maybe kids are never all that physically damaged. Maybe they simply want some sympathy, and to ground themselves again in safety.

I knew that if the children’s grandparents saw this new approach they would admonish us publicly. And they did. Multiple times. This draconian ethos hammers down on us all, especially on young parents and children. We fight it off every day. We fail sometimes. Sometimes we still deal out the “suck it up” card ourselves. But we try to keep those aces in the hole for when they will truly help, when our kid maybe needs 20 seconds of bravery.

Bad burn

One day, a few years after this, I burned myself badly. In an awkward effort to avoid my husband who was on the kitchen floor unloading groceries into an already-crowded refrigerator, I spilled boiling water from the microwave down my left leg. Despite wearing thick jeans, the spill resulted in 2nd degree burns (and a slight 3rd degree one) on my left thigh. My husband didn’t get up. Instead he breathed out through his nose a terse, annoyed dismissal and kept piling fruit in the crisper drawer. He got a stiff jaw like he did when the kids were upset about something they “shouldn’t” be. I didn’t go to Emergency Care because I feared inconveniencing him further.

My husband never did ask me about or help me with that burn. It was perhaps the worst burn I’d ever had in my life. I spent about 48 hours with ice packs on my leg. I had to get up in the night to change them as they defrosted. My skin came off in wide, ashen grafts as it healed. A scar where the skin scabbed up is still visible.

Crazy, right? To not get up and help someone who is scalded? But that’s what we were taught: “Suck it up! Don’t be careless. If you were paying attention, you wouldn’t be hurt.”

Parents act this way to assuage their own fears. When kids are hurt, we ache for them, and that’s uncomfortable. We think, if our kids are “tough,” we won’t feel so vulnerable. What I saw in my husband’s face that day was anger, yes, but I saw a twinge of fear. He’s not a monster, as most people aren’t monsters. We focus on trivial things. Our empathy and energy go wasted on distractions.

After these lessons, I work hard to counter my suck-it-up instincts. Delivering disdain to a child’s pain and fear, heck to anyone’s pain and fear, is to be avoided. How I was raised was wrong. These 3 moments had shed light on how wrong my learned tendencies were.

Reframing

The paradigm shifts in beliefs I experienced are the basis of something called “reframing.” Reframing is a technique that changes the context and restructures the placement of something in one’s world view. Instead of looking at “I’m gay!” as something to be mourned, I can see the news in a larger context of a person living an authentic life. Of course I would celebrate that! Finally, my friend’s time spent pretending and feeling alone is over. When I am told someone is transitioning from their born gender to their true one, I think, “YAY! you get to be who you are now!”

Seeing AIDS in a bigger context helped me get free of the prejudices and falsehoods surrounding the crisis. Seeing anger and hurt on my child’s and my husband’s faces taught me to lean in with love instead of turning my back with fear. A little empathy and acceptance goes 1000s and 1000s of kilometers farther than scolding does (yes, let’s switch to metric, too).

Once I learned the reframing technique, I started applying it everywhere. When I’m stuck behind a slowpoke driver, I think, “Well, he is saving me from speeding down this road, which I most certainly would do without this lovely reminder.” When someone is promoted over me (and this is a hard one because in tech it happened a lot. Because: sexism), I try to believe that other, better things are ahead for me. The world is a huge place and it is not this little office.

A younger version of myself would call this Polyanna-ing. I’d have said coating all ills with a sugary-sweet sauce is as bad as attacking it with anger and annoyance. Perhaps that’s true. But while reframing is a practice in applying a positive spin, it is not avoidance or denial. A reframe is to take the small picture and find its place in an even bigger world. Some people call this “getting perspective.”

To find a change in mindset, change the borders of the problem. Expand them or tighten them. If you find yourself reacting poorly to a situation, open up the timeline. Will it hurt you for the next ten minutes? Ten hours? Ten days? Ten months? Ten years? If you expect the hurt to go past ten hours or ten days, then stop panicking and start thinking up some solutions. If the discomfort will dissipate soon? Take a few deep breaths and wait it out. Tell yourself: “These things come and go.”

Sometimes big problems can only be dealt with on small scales. Even if I hadn’t been transformed by Princess Di’s actions, I still would have been very kind to my neighbor, because he wasn’t the world’s AIDS crisis. He was my neighbor. I would have looked at the very small part of a big picture. Perhaps without Diana’s lesson, I would have been more careful in touching my neighbor, but I still would have sat with him. My frame was two people, one suffering, one devastated to see it. If I’d blown the situation up in my head I would’ve acted like a cruel jerk.

Try it

Don’t dismiss pain. Don’t say, “This is no big deal.” That’s not how to reframe. A reframe would be, “Wow, this is upsetting. How will it affect things going forward? Do we have to change something right now or do we wait it out?” Do the Ten thing I described above (not my idea, btw. I stole that from some unknown internet place).

You can also say, “Yes! I see how that can be annoying! Let’s go do something else for now.” You can reframe for others as well as for yourself. Widen the lens or focus it in, whichever brings back feelings of confidence and safety in the moment. Once calm, strategies and plans can be created to address any longer-term problems.

Keep learning

I’m always learning. I’ll let you know what my next moment of clarity brings. I hope you have one today.

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Farewell, Winter, my new friend

Something’s different about this winter. Perhaps it is our discontent. We are a nation broken and unwise. Or maybe it’s the weather, obviously straining to process our disquiet.

But it’s probably just me.

A winter scene of a non-frozen creek and snow-covered wood

A regular hike I take with the dog

For over 100 days in a row, awash with the day’s stresses and a lifetime’s angst, I’ve been sitting on the floor of my laundry room atop a purple pillow. For ten minutes each day I sit and breathe. “Monkey mind” is what the Buddhists call racing thoughts during meditation. I find this analogy quaint. One monkey! Imagine! Try barrels full of monkeys.

I’ve been eating less and walking more despite the cold weather. I can safely say my yoga mat and I are no longer strangers. We even have outings to the Y for formal dates. “Look,” I say to Mr. Mat, as I point to the full class. “Other people do this too.” He doesn’t seem as fascinated.black dog in a snowy wood

Back to the odd season. Winter and I –unlike Mr. Mat and myself– were never friends. I am Winter’s child, being born within its months, but being from a non-celebratory family, a forgotten birthday would hardly save the season. Winter was always that jealous witch who froze me while waiting for the school bus. Winter, with the lightest of dustings, gave my mother an excuse to cancel rare plans to do something fun. Winter would laugh when she would see me tossed outside of our warm apartment and told to “go play.”

Once, with a cough so serious I could barely breathe, I heard that witch cackle as a hacking fit took hold of my body. My lungs seized when they took in what they could of her freezing air. Bronchitis and I were quite familiar with each other, having introduced itself to my insides as a newborn. Note to young people: primary and secondary cigarette smoke swirled around the 1970s like baby boa constrictors in a Guatemalan tree. Many of us were born with lung problems.

When the coughing started, I ran around a corner to hide. I didn’t want to be scolded for “being dramatic.” I’d only run a few steps but my lungs would have none of it. I began hacking up globs of mucus so large they blew my mouth up like a balloon. I had no choice but to spit them out. The mean yellow clumps collected on the snow in front of me. Swirling through them were  small lines of blood, looking just like those tree snakes, thin and camouflaged but definitely, eerily present.

a candy cane pile and a christmas candleJust as I was gaining control of the fit and spitting out the last of its wares, a resident in one of the apartments above me opened her window to peer down at me, surely a pathetic, almost Dickensian sight: a little white waif literally spewing blood in the white snow. I was mortified. But I didn’t go home. I sat down right there, in the snow, and tried not to move. I sat and breathed. I breathed as slowly as I could into my wet mittens, concentrating only on my breath and warming the air before it hit my lungs.

I hated Winter, and she could not have cared less about me.

Fast forward to adulthood. Through the wonders of the internet I was recently introduced to a concept called Hygge (pronounced hue-gah). Many Dutch people cite winter as their favorite season because of hygge. The Netherlands gets plunged into more literal darkness than any of us. It’s dark and it’s cold. And yet they love winter. Imagine!

Hygge is a tradition that celebrates the cold and dark season. Wikipedia defines hygge as “a form of everyday togetherness; a pleasant and highly valued everyday experience of safety, equality, personal wholeness and a spontaneous social flow.”  To celebrate hygge, the Dutch spend time cozying up with friends and family. Hygge is filled with spontaneous group dinners, candles, piles of warm blankets, roaring fireplaces, and tons of yummy, steaming drinks. It’s like they turn their homes into private bed and breakfasts for the season.

a set table with one candle and paper hearts spread across it

Bread and soup for Valentine’s Day

Here in Philadelphia, each snow storm brings with it a singular state of panic. We call this panic a French Toast Emergency (FTE). Milk, bread and eggs fly off the shelves in the 24 hours before the storm. Checkout lines snake around the aisles and reach all the way back to the dairy case. An FTE is truly an odd phenomenon, because, as a friend mentioned on Facebook recently, we are never really snowed in for more than 2 days, ever, and most of us live within walking distance of a Wawa, our beloved convenience store chain. Perhaps Philadelphians are required to eat nothing but french toast when it snows? my view

I grew up in the mountains where we were quite accustomed to being snowed in, yet my bad winter experiences had me nodding my head at the FTE. It seemed like an appropriate response. After all, the FTE fits with images of winter in literature. The Dutch are all cozy, but in the stories I read as a kid, a little matchstick girl dies in the snow, as does, I think, the entire cast of La Boheme. Dying in the snow is quite a common form of death, apparently. If characters weren’t dying, they were losing fingers and toes to frostbite (a malady I’ve barely escaped at least a dozen times). So I totally got the FTE.

But I’m warming up to hygge. The concept was revolutionary: one can like and even cherish, that witch Winter. After all: no mosquitos; fewer allergy symptoms; the school year (I’m a work-at-home mom); crackling fires and roasting marshmallows; fresh air. And really, any excuse to buy more candles is OK by me.

I’ll never like the snow or the sub-freezing temps, but I can embrace hygge. I can look forward to a season full of comforts instead of dreading one full of coughs. Perhaps this is what growing older, or just growing up, means. I can not only change my mind, I can calm it. Imagine that.wintery wood

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a hand drawn graphic of the world of bullet journaling

A few weeks ago I started a bullet journal. Does it lead me toward my goals or away from them?

Bullet list to bucket list

A lot of life’s big questions are hidden in daily life. They can be in street signs (Danger Ahead), heard in innocent observations by toddlers (“But why?”) or even in a breakfast cereal tagline (They’re always after me Lucky Charms). Even software wants you to grapple with your existence. The Format menu in Apple’s Pages is actually a list of existential choices:

  • Spacing: Are you Single or are Double(d)?
  • Bullets: Yes or no?
  • Alignment: Are you Centered? All-Right, All-Left? Justified?
  • Font: From whence do you draw your ________ (knowledge, strength, love, stress)?

The new year resolution promises a New You. This is the time of year we attempt to change out fates. We make plans. We write lists. 

Answering the call, many are ready to try yet another technique. Enter the bullet journal, folks! 

Coloring In

A bullet journal in essence is a hand-drawn, highly-customizable life planner.I started my bullet journal unceremoniously at the end of November.  A symbolic system exists to use in a bullet journal, but I chose to wing it rather than take 2 minutes to watch a video tutorial. 

I grabbed blank books from my stash. I wandered over to the Land of Misfit School Supplies (the china cabinet drawer) and took pencils, a 6-inch Scooby Doo ruler and a handful of worn out markers. I dusted off my unused stamps and scrapbooking stuff and dove in to the practice of jounaling bullets.

I stamped a graphic of a Christmassy mailbox on the first page and colored it in. I made a calendar for the week on the next two pages. I wrote down all the upcoming driving (of children to lessons and jobs and things), all appointments, and all fun plans. Each morning when I sat down to actually journal (write thoughts in a diary), I saw my week laid out in my (admittedly grade-school level) designs. Level me up one in organization skill. 

Come to Bujos

It was nice to see the week ahead, but I didn’t yet feel the force of the #bujo. True believers log their entire lives. They track episodes in a free-HBOGO-trial-til-February Westworld binge. They record chapters they read and showers they took and chia seeds they ate.

Those things are not #data. They log them anyway. 

PokémonGO logs my miles (nay, kilometers) as I walked. The Calm app green-circles meditation sessions and noted my “streak” (38 days in a row, currently). Is this not enough logging? I’m no Captain of the Starship Enterprise; my day needn’t be quantified so dearly. I am but a small speck in the universe who leaves a slight smell of shampoo in her wake. I do not leave a trail of data. Anyway, data doesn’t exist until you capture it.

I needn’t capture that much.

The few tasks I wanted to do daily (meditation, yoga, journal writing, a walk for exercise, a craft, and some fiction writing) are in a graphing-paper chart I made with squares to fill in. I added an extra column for “Saw friends” – to be checked off at the very least once a week (One must make efforts to see friends when one is adulting).

Every single day of December, with the simple goal to only observe myself, I filled in (or didn’t) the squares under each task. I nailed meditation (not wanting to interrupt the green circle streak) and missing only 1 day of picking up my knitting needles. The rest of the tasks had varying degrees of participation. The most empty column: fiction writing. And as for friends? I didn’t average even one face-to-face a week. In December, I saw exactly 2 friends. Sadly, this is typical. And simply unacceptable.

I came, I saw, I’m conquered

At the end of December, I had a chart filled with blank after blank. The sight helped me commit to real change in 2017.

I sped over to Pinterest for other #bujo ideas. The eye candy was endless. What else could I track? Pages read? Time spent brushing my teeth? How many shoes I tied? I could track everything! I could color in squares forever!

I could be coloring in squares forever.

Wait.

Ready, Aim, Track

One can get caught up in tallying marks. Soon it become all about the tallies and not about doing the tasks.

Whats the point of tracking my knitting? Projects get done or they don’t. My reading? I’m not struggling to meet grad school requirements. My fiction writing? I finish projects or I don’t. The proof is in the hard-to-stomach publish or perish pudding, Kids, not the checkmarks.

I understand the pull of task tracking. Look up Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t break the chain” trick. It’s an old but good method of motivation, especially when fear, anxiety, or other obligations derail even the best of intentions.

But other data like TV shows watched, movies seen in theaters, eyebrow tweezing frequency? We must be careful not to get caught in the intoxicating lure of the easy fix. If we’re tracking trees, we’re losing sight of the forest. 

Daily bullet journals should track *real* life-changing goals, like how many times I: 

  • “Shut down the negative voice in my head.”
  • “Complemented instead of criticized my kid/spouse/employee/boss.”
  • “Took a deep breath before I spoke.”
  • “Revealed my true feelings by saying ‘I feel’ ____________.”
  • “Used ‘I’ statements instead of ‘You’ statements in an argument.”
  • “Said directly what I wanted instead of expecting others to know by now.”
  • “Talked through my anxiety and intrusive thoughts.”

These are the big life skills that matter. Yet I don’t see the bullet journalers diving deep into the mess that lays at the core of a disorganized life. Logging the little bits allows us to ignore the important in favor of the frivolous.

I’ll use a bullet journal to work on drawing skills and organize my week, but if I pick up a pen to write a story each time I’m tempted to chart vapor, I’ll be GOLDEN.

 __________________

To see the original idea and be sold products: Bulletjournal.com/about

Dontbreakthechain.com – inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s method

First banner photo by Sacha Chua on Flickr. All the other photos are mine, of my current bullet journal. I told you I draw like a gradeschooler. I’ll get better. Maybe. 

Nir Eyal has a happiness hack to keep friends close

 

a hand drawn graphic of the world of bullet journaling 0 comments

Resolution

Resolution

by Christine Cavalier

a picture looking up a big flight of metal stairs at night, empty but for one woman walking up them

I don’t know what to do with myself in this climate. Hate seems to be all around me.

Facebook is an infrequent visit, Twitter I’ve all but abandoned. Instagram and Pinterest I try daily to interact with, faithfully adding a picture to Insta and a tech culture development to my Cyberpunk board. Look toward the future while staying firmly in the present, I tell myself. It isn’t possible, of course. I do know this: The past needs to stay there. (It never does.)

My own present cave of mind is relatively peaceful. This week has been kind enough to provide me with comparisons between me now and me then. I wish I could tell you the exact steps I took in this journey of growth but I cannot. It’s terribly hard to give someone directions when one is still wandering. Some things stick out though: One must read a lot, I suspect, to get any insight into being human; Stories, not web articles or social media essays (like this one), are the keys to brighter minds; You must awaken your brighter mind, that forgotten thing hiding in the corners of your existence, and you must do that by (almost) any means necessary.

Behavioral economics books pique my analytical side. Self-help-with-a-twist books give my spirit the idea to soar. Fiction settles and puts me firmly in the place of the gods of my imaginings.

One’s body must move to be able to read. For the intellect to absorb, the body must move. For the hands to produce, the intellect must be fed. I once saw a doctor speak* and he said the hip, glutes and legs must move daily, preferably vigorously, for anxiety to stay at bay. We must internally know (like an ancient instinct all animals have) that we can “outrun the lion.” A smart therapist I saw once told me anxiety is the result when we (think we) have fewer skills than the current challenge requires. We will have less anxiety if our primate brains think we can get out of a bad situation quickly. We will have better lives if we have more faith in our abilities. I walk and walk and walk. I do yoga. I stretch, and not only metaphorically.

a silhouette of a woman meditating against a sunset over an oceanStillness and presence I’ve learned to adopt as my own, and not as oppression from a religious order that could barely be bothered with my young (i.e. yet non-childbearing) female existence. I have no evidence to share other than my suspicions: Stillness is an ability that is part of outrunning the lion. Meditation changed my neuromap, methinks. How can daily sitting and breathing and not judging the vicious traffic of thoughts rushing by change one’s brain structure? It seems silly. But I can feel a difference I won’t be bothered with explaining. Try it yourself.

Might and wonder must be managed. I can manage none but one: myself. Myself is a wild, bold thing, though, and has always been such. Resolute on undignified habits and unsightly ideas. “Manage” being a euphemism here for “mudwrestling my soul into submission,” a more apt description. You’re probably right when you say such a pursuit is futile. I know many people who would say all pursuits are futile, from laundry to orbiting the earth. My child will still call for his favorite Star Wars shirt come Tuesday.

Yesterday I was navigating an errant garbage bin lid and it occurred to me that all that lama-la-la bullshit about “the journey is the destination” is probably, devastatingly, true. The lid, laying there in the walk, sprouted a soul and wailed, “What if this is it? This is all there is, this is the best it gets?” And I thought of airports and trains and stations afar, the places for which “destination” was coined, and the sidewalk in front of me bent and swayed as the traffic chugged by, steam coming from my face and clouding my polarized lenses. I’m here. Mary Bailey wished to simply exist, in that Wonderful Life house, with that existential bum of a husband George, and she got her wish. She finished a leg of her journey and started another. The movie really doesn’t hold up, all these years away from the imposed stillness of my childhood (for the love of cranberries, go on a trip already, George. Work/life balance, FFS), but Mary knew the skinny. The steps are the goal, not the landing at the top.

So yay! We’re on the steps. We’ve gotten to the steps. We’re here. Let the fun begin.

Resolve to do the steps. Walk. Move, literally, your ass and legs. Start small. Slow. Short. Increments are just steps by another name. Each step, whether up or down, is going in the right direction. Did you know as the number of quitting attempts go up, the likelihood of the smoking stoppage goes up? It’s as if smokers must log about 8-10 attempts before one sticks**. This is life. This is why you should resolve to do many things in the new year. Again and again. Resolve on revolve. One will stick.

Since some of you asked, here are 3 books I enjoyed in the last few years of me on my particular flight of stairs. See my goodreads lists for some others. No epiphanies guaranteed, but at least one is probable, if you’ve been walking enough. https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1726198-christine-cavalier

 

Resolve not to be better this year. Resolve to be.

___________________________________________________

references:

*Kenneth Ginsburg 

**Stats on quitting, Public Health Law Center 

 

Photos: 

Roma Street Steps by Andrew Sutherland on Flickr

“Stillness” by Varia on Flickr

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