Weekend Pith: Cleaning Slates

I always switch gears a little once September is about to come around. Obviously, that’s usually because school is starting, and even though my grad school is set up a little differently, there’s still a definite summer’s end and fall’s beginning. Should my plans for teacherhood pan out, my life will always be this way.

And I don’t really mind; Autumn is my favorite season, and I take joy in pausing and rerouting, in digging down and musing. Autumn always means a return to both physical coziness and heightened mental work. I love the interaction between the two.

This fall, I’m switching gears from my summer writing projects to my very different school-time one. Sometimes the transition can be jarring. I’m going from my work on a heady, multi-faceted mystery to continuing my draft of a more creative children’s novel. 

Obviously, this is a huge change, so every time I make the jump from adult lit to kid lit and back again, I let myself take a week off. I don’t work on any big writing projects. 

Of course, I periodically take unnofficial breaks in my writing, more than I’d like to admit. But this one is different. This is a break to make a break. This is a break to retool my mind, to pack up the old work and bring in the newer-old work. This break creates a separation and clean slate so I’m fresh and strong again.

Lots of things in life need little breaks, sometimes. I’ve taken breaks socially, spiritually, educationally, the list goes on. And I think it’s important to remember that sometimes the presence of a break does not mean the erasing of a certain part of your self, or a rejection of and falling away from what you are. Sometimes a break is just that, a separation and clean slate so you’re fresh and strong again.

Remember to take breaks. 

Weekend Pith: (Try to) Live and (Try to) Let Live

This week’s life rule is sort of long, so I suppose it doesn’t quite fit the “pith” bill:
Your goals aren’t always someone else’s goals. Their goals aren’t always yours. This is okay.

This is the same principle as my “It’s not a contest” rule, but apparently that pithy one-liner wasn’t enough for me, so I had to spell it out better.

I often find myself unsatisfied or discontented with various aspects of my life and self, not because I’m genuinely unsatisfied, but because I feel that I should be. I see the lifestyle and discipline of other people, and I think, I should be like that. And I’m not. And therefore, I must work harder. 

While there’s something to be said for pushing yourself to do and be better, this should never come from feelings of inadequacy. I’ve found that when you change because you don’t feel good enough as you are, you’re doing it wrong. When, however, you change because you want to improve and progress, the change is more positive and lasting. There’s a difference between being motivated by the idea of filling a deficiency and that of regenerating something. They are completely separate mindsets, one negative and one positive.

And the truth is, sometimes my life looks different from someone else’s because my goals are different. My values are different. And sometimes, even if the goals and values are the same, the approaches and methods are different. And this is okay.

I fall into the comparison game more times than I can bear to realize. Just when I think I’m good, I’m not. So I remind myself I am content. Because I am. And I can only get better from here.

Weekend Pith: You Schmooze, You Lose

One of my Life Rules is not so much a conscious rule I carefully crafted and then imposed upon my life, but something I’ve gradually realized to be a conviction, and as it seemed to serve me well, I’ve formally adopted it as a rule to life by.

Don’t Schmooze.

Now I realize that the word “schmooze” may have slightly different meanings depending on who you are. So when I say it, I use it in the way I heard it growing up: to be a flatterer, to make someone feel better about themselves because they’re socially more powerful or attractive or whatnot.

I believe kiss-ass is the more advanced term.

The “don’t schmooze” rule isn’t very difficult for me to follow, because I’m not naturally someone who’s good at small talk and flattery. I’m polite, of course, and I think everyone should be. But Schmoozing takes politeness to another level, where someone expects the royal treatment because people give it to her.

The problem with schmoozing is that it creates a lose-lose situation. The schmoozer can never really be authentic, because she’s always trying to protect the feelings of the schmoozee. And the schmoozee isn’t really benefited either, because she never deals with a challenge to her ego. It’s mutually destructive, even if subtly so.

I’m not really sure if there’s a specific cure for the serial schmoozer, but I think the remedy must be, like schmoozing itself, subtle. You don’t go from being a schmoozer to an antagonist overnight. Nor should you. Freedom from schmoozing comes with the realization that you are valuable in your own right and way, that your experiences are valid, that your thoughts and opinions matter. Freedom comes from learning to bear the momentary discomfort of disagreement, the temporary pain of disapproval. Freedom comes from recognizing your own strength and integrity, something a schmoozee has to get from others.

You schmooze, you lose.

 

Weekend Pith: Namaste to You

Yoga is my hobby.

I’ve made this one of my life rules, because quite frankly I need it to be true.

I’m not a particularly sporty person, but I’ve always loved the idea of being one. However, by the time I had the freedom and resources to commit to something, I was literally out of the game. I’d spent too many years reading books and playing the piano. I married an athlete, this is true, but athletic skills don’t necessarily transmit themselves as soon as you change your name and merge bank accounts.

It’s one of my biggest struggles and disappointments.

When I was in high school, exercise was a chore I had to get done for gym class. Also, I was homeschooled. So it was a solitary activity. And not really that fun. As I got older and started college and dated my very very (like obnoxiously) athletic Russian (like we met at a basketball game he was playing in), I tried many forms of athletic activity in turn.

But I soon ran into a very stupid conundrum as I tried basketball and running and lifting and golf: I hated when people made me exercise, and yet I couldn’t make myself do it. I liked how I felt afterward, but in the tough moments, the moments that counted, I was totally disgusted with myself and everything else. It sucked because I was out of shape, but I was out of shape because it sucked too much for me to do it.

It became a vicious cycle: go exercise, struggle, cry, get home, feel better after a shower, be in pain, put off exercising, finally force self to go, etc. The biggest struggle was not the physical discomfort but the mental pain. I wanted to be better than this. I wanted to run and lift and play and love it. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t make myself love it.

“That’s the point of exercise,” people say. “It’s those hard moments where you hate it but you push through and emerge victorious on the other side. That’s what makes it so good. No pain, no gain.”

Nope. Not me. Doesn’t work. I have to enjoy it. I have to inherently love every minute of it or I won’t do it. Sorry. Won’t.

And I realize this is rather babyish, but because apparently I am a baby about it, I must take baby steps. The only other option, I’ve realized, is doing nothing at all.

The first step is accepting that this is how I am. The second step is tricking myself into exercising anyway. The third step is becoming the kind of person who golfs before breakfast, lifts before lunch, runs before dinner, and plays pickup soccer after dinner.

(Those people do exist. I’m married to one.)

That last step will take a while. But the second step is what I’m working on. Yoga is my hobby, I tell myself. And I believe it, because I love it.

Even though yoga really is hard as hell, and you shouldn’t believe anyone who tries to pass it off as a bunch of Stretching for Pansies, I love every minute of it. Because yoga by its very nature makes you aware of yourself. It makes you accept the sucky moments and enjoy the lovely ones. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle, and to me that’s so much more rewarding. I don’t hate myself every time I think about exercising, and I definitely don’t hate myself while I’m doing it. And that’s a long way from where I used to be.

And someday I’ll take up running or the golf my husband tells me I’m good at. I look forward to these things as a goal to savor when I get to them. For now, I’m just happy that yoga is my hobby.

So namaste to you.

 

 

Weekend Pith: Don’t Forget to Dance

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The Russian and I are going to a wedding this weekend.

And not to brag or anything, but we’re pretty good at wedding dancing.

Wedding dancing requires that perfect combination of class and awkwardness, which we can easily achieve if we dress nicely and then proceed to act, well, as we normally do. Wedding dancing requires the ability to pseudo-waltz, swing, and twirl while still taking part in original moves like my signature, the Flappy Bird, and his, the Gravedigger. Of course, we must also be proficient in old favorites such as the Chicken Dance, Electric Slide, and all variations of Don’t Stop Believin’.

Last year at a wedding someone asked us if we took lessons.

“Oh bless your heart, how sweet of you,” I more or less said.

While I like to think we are good, and there is something about dressing up and dancing while music plays and the stars come out, weddings are fun because they’re like a concentrated reminder of something we do every day.

We dance.

Not literally, which explains our lack of technical finesse. We dance daily by living, by taking joy, by being awkward, by having fun. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that I was sent the husband I have because he reminds me to have fun. I need to remember it’s okay, necessary even. I need to notice every little moment of magic, when silent music plays and invisible stars come out.

I need to remember to remind myself.

Don’t forget to dance. 

 

Weekend Pith: Life Rules

One of the newer features of my repainted blog is the little page at the top of the screen, which I call “My Life Rules.” It has pithy little one-liners that describe or sum up life, or at least the kind of person I want to be.

This idea was inspired by a book my best friend gifted to me, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. The book is full of practical ways to simply be happier, but it goes deeper than that. Happiness occurs when we have meaningful relationships, discipline, and joy in day to day life, and there are simple, down-to-earth steps to make that happen. It was the practicality of it that really spoke to me; we often talk about being happier or having more joy, but these are usually abstract concepts we don’t back up with a plan. You can’t arrive at a goal without a plan.

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Rubin starts the book by listing what she calls her “rules of adulthood.” They are little principles she’s found to be true in her life, and so they help her remain true to herself while becoming better. And in the end, that’s what the point of her book is: we must always be working towards better versions of ourselves, and that in turn will give us greater satisfaction in life.
This inspired me to look for my own “rules of adulthood,” the little principles I live by even when I don’t realize it. Every so often they cross my mind, and now I catch them and tag them before letting them fly away again. In this way I become a lot more mindful and aware of the unwritten rules we all govern ourselves by, and as a bonus they sound pretty cool in a blog post.

Here’s a little look at some of my life rules. The list is ongoing, and I’m adding to it daily. 

 

It’s not a contest.

We get pretty competitive with the other people in our lives. Someone else’s successes, joys, and blessings become like vinegar in our mouths. I’ve noticed myself often envying friends my age as their lives start to become more settled, more sure, with stable careers and permanent homes and (even more permanent) children. It’s often hard to be okay with the fact that my life is rather tumultuous right now, and that’s okay. It’s not a contest.

Choose to be friends.

I’ve always had this fatalistic view of friendship, where I just hope someone likes me enough to stick around. I’ve had some friendships, ones I really liked, dissolve, leaving me to want to dissolve along with them. Then I had a realization: I can be friends with anyone I damn well please. Sometimes relationships do run their natural course, but sometimes you get to just decide: you’re one of my peeps now. Let’s be friends. Always. M’kay?

Always be more loving than you feel.

This one is so hard. I once had a boss tell me that one of my strengths was my ability to leave my life at home and focus on the task at hand, to keep my emotions under wraps and set aside a bad day without letting my frustrations shine forth.

To which I looked at her and said “Really?”

I don’t know what she saw in me, but I’m terrible at concealing my emotions. If I’m upset, I will cry. If I’m angry, I won’t look you in the eye (this could also happen if I’m especially shy, so don’t panic). If I’m happy, I can’t wipe the silly grin off my face.

So this is why, when I’m not feeling very loving, I… won’t be very loving. 

This quality is especially unfortunate in married life, when acting exactly how you feel all the time doesn’t help anybody. Especially if you’re an emotional person who could feel ten different things in the space of an hour. It’s confusing for a spouse to keep up with. 

(Not that I’m speaking from first-hand experience, or anything…)

I’ve often found a tense situation to be greatly improved by just acting even a little more loving than I feel. Because it makes him feel better, and soon I feel better too. Love is like gravy on a Thanksgiving plate. It gets in and around everything and makes it taste better. Just as we can never have too much gravy, we should never be sparing with love. Even if we’re not always feeling it. Because the monumentous effort it may take to be loving returns even more monumentous results. You literally cannot lose by showing love, just as you cannot lose by passing the gravy. 

(You’re welcome for the gravy analogy.)

Beware of fads.

This is one you see a lot on the internet. Everyone look over here! This person did that! Everyone talk about this! It’s trending now! Everyone buy this! It’s in style!

This might be my hipster streak showing, and as I type this I realize being hipster is somewhat of a fad as well. Dammit. At any rate, I try to be aware of what new thing I genuinely love or appreciate and what is just a fad. Sometimes our brains ping pong from one thing to another, and we lose our mental autonomy. We lose the energy to recognize what to purge from our lives and what we’d really like to keep. We become dependent on fads for mental stimulation. And it leaves us even more exhausted, more cluttered. It’s a terrible cycle, and not worth it.

Sometimes, however, the fad of the day is fun, and sometimes you like it. And that’s when you should ask your doctor if this fad is right for you.

 

So there’s a little look at my life rules. Hopefully they inspire you to recognize your own unwritten life principles. I’ve found writing a few down where I’ll see them daily, or making a note on my phone, helps me revisit and recommit whenever I forget. It’s way to be more mindful and evermore myself.

What unwritten rules will you write down?