Happy Mother’s Day! Find your magic.
I had the day off today, really off. I was not required to go anywhere and the husband was working so the house was mine. The plan was to relax a little, study what I will be teaching tomorrow a little and clean a lot.
It started out well.
I got the laundry in around 8:30 AM. I set myself and my laptop up on the patio since it was overcast and cool enough to be outside, and I went over all my notes for tomorrow’s class.
Then something happened.
I still have a ton of my mother’s stuff to go through – mostly papers now – and it feels imperative to my purging process to take care of this. So I poked around my room a little to see if there were any boxes or notebooks stuffed into corners that needed attention.
Let’s just say 8 hours and two recycle bins later I am ankle deep in unplanned sorting and purging. Lucky for me, I fantasize about organizing. So this has actually been… fun? No, rewarding maybe. Productive? Satisfying. That’s it.
What I noticed about myself, my thoughts really, during the process is how they jumped from project to project while I was attempting to work on this one. Cleaning the house was back-burnered in favor of this impromptu purge, but laundry continued amidst the shuffling of papers.
There were future projects and current concerns also vying for attention. And I still wanted to clean.
While I was pulling the laundry from the washer and carrying it out to hang on the line, I would catch sight of my room and think, “I really want to put crown molding in there,” or “I need to get those two boxes out of the garage and go through them too,” or “If I switch the hood out on the kitchen remodel I can save almost $1,000,” and on and on.
This is normal for me. Probably you too. But it can be frustrating and fragmenting. I find myself trying rush through one thing to check it off to get to the next. This is my lifelong tendency. It often serves me well, but not always. It creates a false sense of urgency and what I really wanted today was to be where I was, doing whatever I was doing. In it, you know?
So I made an adjustment.
When I felt that usually helpful knot start to tie itself in my stomach I told my self, “Just do this.” And I had to remind myself a lot. It allowed a breath and a moment to refocus. A disruption.
Eventually it got shortened to “Just this.”
And then finally, “This.”
Present: being with whatever it is I am doing. Thoughts always interrupt, but it’s up to me to interrupt them to remain present. Now I have my code word when my mind runs amok with my attention.
Sitting outside on my patio staring at all things green. Too much swirling around in my head right now to focus on one subject to expound on.
How America got the whole food thing wrong somehow. When I travel I notice how no one is really obese, some overweight of course, but not confined to motorized scooters because they’re too big to move. I know this is a combination of things but mostly it’s the food industry and the culture – that both positive and negatively impact individuals. We’re so sick here. It’s so avoidable.
My potential kitchen remodel and all the tiny little decisions that go into it. And the less than tiny amount of money that is attached to each choice. And how necessary every little piece is.
Receiving my new composter. So excited to have it, too tired to try to figure out how to put it together and start using it. But there are bags of vegetable bits waiting in my refrigerator from juicing that need a new home.
Wondering when it will rain again.
Writing about my twin gay great uncles. One was an opera singer who fled to New York and married three different women. His brother lingered a little longer in Pennsylvania before heading off to Europe to work for Fortuny, the fashion house itself, but not before being introduced (by his brother) to the completely out and daring world of circuit parties in NYC. “There were all these men, just men, it was amazing.”
Plus a million more thoughts about my cat and dogs, yoga teacher training, smart people, my mother’s car and all her stuff, acid reflux, lizards drinking water, recycling, stone pathways, gossip, birds…
When the all the thoughts are competing for space and jockeying for position the only thing I want to do, the only thing I can do, is sit and stare at nature. Just sit. And stare.
It’s a form of meditation that’s highly portable and super simple, and that’s what I need right now.
Sometimes the most curious thoughts cross my mind.
Everything from philosophical probings like “Why are we really here?” to the more distracting ruminations on political theater and nefarious marketers.
We’ll leave the life purpose question for later. Right now I want to address marketing.
Not all marketers or advertisers are bad. Advertising has a long and conflicted history. On the surface, businesses just want someone to buy their product or use their service. They believe fervently that their product – above all others – is going to be good and necessary for you.
But within the past 100 years, maybe longer, advertising has become increasingly clever and insidious.
Advertisers, marketers and public relations all pull from the same spin manual. Make it look good, make it not only seem necessary, but vital. You need this, it will make you a better person and everyone will want to be you. Ergo: you’re not good enough the way you are.
- Did you know there is really no such thing as medical halitosis? It was created by advertisers so they could sell the cure. Mouth wash.
- Did you know you don’t need soap to clean your laundry? It’s the agitation of the washing machine that does the work.
- Did you know that our current understanding of what Santa Claus looks like is due in large part to the advertising geniuses at Coca-Cola? They did not create the images of the jolly fellow, but rather advertised it so ubiquitously that it is now the standard Santa.
We are assaulted a million times a day by branding and advertising. There are the obvious: billboards, magazines ads and flashing online annoyances. There are placemats, the backs of receipts and gas pumps. But there is also product placements in your favorite TV shows or movies, sometimes obvious like the giant red Folgers can in most Hallmark movies and some more subtle like the brands of cars people are driving.
In addition, companies pay pretty people to wear their clothes and post “candid” shots on Instagram and other forms of social media. You might follow them because their lifestyle looks awesome or they’re beautiful.
Everything we wear has a label, usually on the outside, making us walking billboards for such companies. And also so we can readily identify our socioeconomic tribe.
And now Facebook has us marketing to each other. Only some of your friends’ comments and posts come up in your feed, the ones you engage with the most. To see them more often you must visit them more often and comment on or like their posts. Businesses that have Facebook pages can no longer be found easily, they must reach out with paid advertising and even then the user must visit that page often enough to see the posts in their feed. This makes sense if it’s an actual business, but many of the “pages” are individuals who are making jewelry or soap or trying to get you to come to their play or yoga class.
We are under assault and the enemy is us.
Take your power back. Choose what you see. We can’t unsee billboards but we can not pick up a magazine or newspaper. We can unsubscribe from services that are little more than selling algorithms. We can recognize we need or want something organically, then seek out a solution. We can allow the thought of someone we haven’t heard from in a while to float into our awareness then reach out to that person. Actually ask them how they’re doing rather than just checking in on Facebook or worse, trolling their feed to satisfy your own curiosity. We’ve all done it.
This may sound angry, but anger is really fear. And I will admit I am afraid that we are losing connection with each other. Real face-to-face and voice-to-voice connection. The art of conversation has been diminished to characters, empathy and compassion are being co-opted by a barrage of violent images to which we are becoming desensitized.
And we are lazy. We are having parties online now. (My eyes are rolling so far back in my head I may detach something.)
I am grateful for the internet, it’s hard to remember life before it. I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends through social media. And maybe it’s not really social media’s fault. Could they have predicted how we use this tool? Perhaps.
Choose how you will spend the precious commodity of time. How will you use up your life force?
I had the brilliant idea that I would do a fast/cleanse of sorts every Monday and maybe Tuesday, possibly Wednesday. And maybe, just maybe, I would do this every week.
I stocked my fridge with coconut water and ordered more from Amazon as back up. I bought a truck load of kale, chard, spinach, carrots, celery, parsley, a few apples, pears and pineapple for juicing. There are enough bananas on my counter for a zoo.
The plan: Only raw fruits and vegetables in their recognizable form or spun into juice. Loads of water and a couple coconut waters a day.
The back-up plan: All of the above plus steamed fresh veggies with a bit of ghee. And maybe a dash of salt and pepper.
The back-up to the back-up plan: All of the above and maybe a hard-boiled egg or two if I was feeling particularly weak.
- No caffeine
- No sugar
- No meat
- No legumes
- No grains
- No dairy (except ghee)
- No spices other than salt and pepper
Unfortunately all of that seemed to add up to no energy. So I cheated. Right. Outta. The. Gate.
An hour into my Monday morning, post coconut water, I was fading fast. I have a four cup coffee maker and my typical morning brew is half caf/half decaf – and all four cups – but I really didn’t think I’d miss it that much.
It called to me from the kitchen, it was moaning and bargaining and it just wouldn’t shut up. So I had 1 of those four cups with less than half of it caffeinated. BUT (in the interest of honesty) I also added a dab of sugar and a splash of milk.
I am not one of those brave souls who take their coffee black.
The rest of the day went according to plan until about 4. You know, that hour. At which time I gobbled up a handful (or 3) of macadamia nuts.
Dinner was steamed veggies with ghee as planned. And there was plenty of water and juice throughout the day.
It wasn’t a total fail.
I learned a long time ago not to shame myself. I’ve also learned that one “mistake” doesn’t ruin the whole plan. It would be so easy to give up and eat the chocolate. But I didn’t and I call that a win.
The whole reason behind the plan was to disrupt the crap fest I suddenly found myself in the middle of. Habits creep back. Sugar wants sugar. Carbs want carbs and so on.
If I can make this my base and go back to it a day or two a week, even with the coffee, I imagine I’ll be feeling pretty good.
It’s been a week since I put myself on restriction. I found myself scrolling endlessly through Facebook liking and reposting copious videos of adorable animals doing silly things and inspiring folks talking about consciousness.
It wasn’t the worst way to spend my time, but it felt like I was cheating myself somehow.
In just one week a lot of my tendencies and beliefs have been revealed to me. I notice when I want to check out. It’s often when I am thinking creatively, problem solving. I’ll reach for a distraction, my phone, a piece of chocolate, something to break up the knot of thought I can’t seem to get past.
I’ve also noticed my propensity toward multi-tasking. Women, I believe, are genetically predisposed to a certain level of activity with divided attention. What with the baby producing, cooking, cleaning and working and all.
Still, this isn’t permission to go overboard.
I cannot seem to just watch TV. (I realize this isn’t a “real” problem, but it has shone a light on an annoying habit.) If the TV is on I am inclined to do some sort of activity in tandem. Eating, ironing clothes, scrolling. It has to be mindless, which means it’s probably not necessary. It’s very Pavlovian. I do not have this tendency while engaged in conversation or reading. TV on, do something additional.
This bit about the TV had me wondering too, about how much I really like the shows I record. Or did we just see one once and think it looked pretty good so habit has us watch the rest? This will become apparent soon enough.
I made a few decisions based on the insight provided by engaging in social media less. And I have laid the ground rules that I hope will continue after the month-long diet.
Here’s the short list:
- I have removed notifications from my phone for FB, Instagram and several other apps. No more seductive red circles.
- I no longer scroll on FB. (I do have to go on periodically for specific groups and business.)
- I respond only to direct messaging or queries in the groups I host or business related pages. Again, on Facebook.
- I post only through WordPress and Instagram – usually one blog and one or two photos a day.
- I am ditching cable completely. I have ordered an antennae and will be making that swtich this month.
- I have been writing every day.
- I am spending more time outside. (Unitl it’s a thousand degrees – coming soon.)
- I no longer start sentences, “Did you see that article/video/post on Facebook…?”
Most notably I feel a lot less urgency. Sometimes this feels good, sometimes I wonder what I should be doing with myself. I always find something. I have time to read the books on the teetering stacks surround me. I am sorting through old family photos – tons of them – to create books and remember stories. The house is clean.
So far there is no downside to less phone. But then it’s only been a week.
Someone, one of my second, third or some number removed cousins, accused my great grandfather of inappropriate touching. I don’t remember which one, but she would be hovering around 70 at this point.
I don’t know the details. None of them, simply that it allegedly happened. She was the only one of dozens of girl cousins who made such accusations.
When something like this comes up there are any number of appropriate or expected responses: disbelief, denial, entertain the possibility, shut down and talk about the weather. I chose the third response. Anything is possible.
I leaned toward curiosity more than repulsion or embarrassment. He was long gone by the time I heard this bit of family gossip and I knew so little about him, that I couldn’t piece together an argument either way, but I could wonder.
I suppose it’s natural to sweep something like this under the rug, why would I bring it up? But humans as a species, and my family in particular, fascinate me. I get excited at the idea that I have dissidents or deviants in my bloodline, that we’re interesting, even in the worst way.
My great grandfather was born in 1896. He met the love of his life just before The Great War wherever it was she was singing. (I like to imagine a smoke-filled USO hall with a great deal of drinking and patriotism, but truthfully a church would probably be closer to the mark.) Once betrothed he gave her the false option of marrying him or continuing on with this singing silliness. The fact that I am writing this is evidence of a passion thwarted. It came back later in the form of stage mom, but that’s another story.
After the war he worked at the post office and advanced in pay grade despite the obstacles of The Great Depression. (So much greatness back then.) He and his beloved silent song bird would produce six children. The accuser belongs to one of them.
Perhaps he was too old and tired by the time I met him, but he was nothing but a really old funny man to me.
When we rode around in his 1960-something metallic aqua Ford Galaxie with the front and back windows that rolled all the way down, he would throw the question into the back seat, “Hey there Allison, is that back wheel going around?” To which I would reply, “If we’re moving, they’re all going around.” This would elicit a grand guffaw. Too smart for old grandpa.
I remember standing in the front yard of his Florida home kicking the dirt, bored while adults made small talk about food and directions. Noticing my impatience and wrapping up the conversation my great grandfather would ask me if he could pick me up by my ears. I ran to him to experience such a feat of strength. Both his and that of my ears.
He would make a great show of gathering my ears into his fists, then he would carefully place his palms over my ears and lift me off the ground. He was of course picking me up by my whole head and I wonder just now how wise that really was. There doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage so, no harm I suppose.
Somewhere between those memories and going off to college his wife died, after a rousing bout of dementia – including stories that shouldn’t be funny, but are – and he aged dramatically. “Just sitting around waiting to die,” he would say daily to anyone who asked how he was.
But that didn’t stop him from cocktails in his driveway at 3:00 pm with his two cohorts, Jim and Frank. The youngest was 78, the oldest 86.
This was near the beginning of his day. After drive way happy hour there would be early bird dinners out and waitress flirtation and sometimes pinching or grabbing (aha!), more cocktails, driving home after many cocktails, cocktails at home, nodding off in front of Johnny Carson, waking up to a test pattern but in time to take medication, then bed. Up at 8 in the morning for more medication, back to bed until noon, local news, put the lawn chairs back in the driveway and so it continued.
Until it didn’t.
One of the side effects of minimizing social media was to be time to work on THE BOOK. In truth there are a few books battling it out in my brain, but the one I have made the most progress on was my intended.
The India Book.
A lot of it has been written. Well, a lot has been written, whether it makes it into the mythic book or not will depend largely on my friends who honestly read and comment, a paid editor and my mood.
This was the plan until yesterday when I made the decision to pick up a memoir I had started reading some time ago – before I realized my world was not under my control – and now I am questioning where to put those writing hours.
The book is Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas. The cover promises a chilling, gripping, and thoughtful read and it does not disappoint. I am fascinated with Ms. Thomas’ self- assessment (and later professional diagnosis) of sociopath and what that means. Her stories of childhood, adulthood, her professional career as an attorney and volunteer Sunday school teacher and her dispassionate, yet raw and honest depiction of these things has me rapt. But more than the actual details of her life and her postulation that sociopathy is a cocktail of genetics and environment, I am deeply in love with her command of language and writing ability.
So much so, that I’m leaning away from India and closer to the “memoir” I accidentally started a few year ago.
By the way, I now understand why it takes some writers 10 years to complete a book. It’s not that they get up every morning and work from 9-5 pounding out prose and researching characters and methods of murder; it’s that they can’t stop editing and complaining and changing their minds. I’m guessing.
Perhaps writing a new chapter for the memoir will lead me back to India.
Telling the stories no one wants told. This single sentence keeps showing up in the front of my mind like a wall street ticker on an Apple product release day. Telling the stories no one wants told…Telling the stories no one wants told…
Sleeping with cousins, inappropriate touching, being slapped down the stairs into labor at nearly nine months pregnant, affairs, illegitimate children, alcoholism, murder, serial marriages, deceit, war, strength, undying love, suffering, living on a boat, living out of a car, killed in the line of duty. It’s all in my family.
It’s all part of my story.
Been thinking a lot about urgency lately.
Particularly how social media creates a sense of urgency without really doing anything. Almost all social media channels use their users to create it for them.
Think about it: Aside from the algorithm-driven passive sales on Facebook, we’re reacting to the posts of those we know.
We are compelled to up our game, drop out, do more, do less, get the app, sign the petition, boycott him, support the other guy, all because someone we know, or someone who knows someone we know, is somehow suggesting it. Just by sharing their own opinion. No matter how uninformed.
It’s genius, really. Somehow.
We need to do more. We need to go out more. We need to post food pics and selfies in front of quirky places. We need to practice our inversions so when we’re in Germany we can pop up into one in front of where the wall used to be. We need to post the best version of ourselves we want others to see. We need to prove we’re unique. Just like everybody else.
It’s a mad scientists social experiment. It has to be.
I’m only halfway through day five, but I see this just through my tendencies to reach for my phone when I want to escape a conversation, or I’m bored, or I have a few minutes. I’m filling space and avoiding being present with nothing. Photos and posts of things I normally wouldn’t choose to read. Probably.
And as I scroll my mind is making calculations and decisions, seemingly without my permission or input, about what I should post next or what glib response I can throw down on a friends photo.
But what if we picked the people or pages we wanted to visit rather than minlessly scrolling? Showed some restraint, some control. What if we chose how to use social media rather than being pulled along by the suggestions of a computer program? Is that even possible?
I get the irony here. I am suggesting you reframe how you use the very media on which you are likely viewing this. I’m just another voice asking you to do something, creating urgency.
I don’t know the answer. There’s a happy medium in there, or out there, somewhere. A place where information and mindfulness meet. I haven’t found it yet, although I am kind of partial to blogs. 😉
It all just makes me very tired.
So, today I spent some time in nature. And some time reading. An actual book with pages that I turned with my hand instead of tapping the right side of a screen. My whole house was open, the wind blowing the curtains on the back patio, breezes running from the front to the back. I caught the light outside and thought more than once about capturing it in my phone. But my phone was in another room and did not go get it. At least twice.
Then finally when it was time to start dinner I retrieved my phone to check for messages – just one, and finally took that photo.
This afternoon, just a few hours of cleaning my house, watching birds and butterflies and shamelessly reading seemed to reset something. No telling if it will last, but for now I would much rather sit on my back porch with a glass of wine and that book.
And no phone.
I had a dream last night about my yard. It was scruffy and scrubby and for some reason I was surprised to be ashamed of it.
In truth, my own yard has, how shall we say… a natural look to it. It is in fact made up of mostly drought-tolerant, native plants. The front yard came with a towering live oak and preening magnolia, both of which shed leaves all year long. The back yard has an orange tree and out-of-control rubber tree as squatters from the beginning. Everything else we planted.
In the beginning of our occupation we added loads of native wild flowers: galardia, dune sun flower, porter weed, blue curl and our front yard was an explosion of healthy color. We just sort of let the plants take over. We let nature be nature.
Our landscaping philosophy prompted a new, now gone, neighbor across the street to stand with arms folded, one hand aloft to alternately rest on her chin and point to our yard while sharing with another new neighbor (also gone) that “they actually intend for their yard to look like that.”
Nature is messy, and like a child, it should be given certain liberties to explore. But also like a child it needs some discipline. Especially if you’re living in a deed restricted neighborhood. We did receive a lovely letter from our HOA in those early days citing us for our misuse of visible property. We fired back with an environmental manifesto and have been left alone since.
A few years after we were shamed by the HOA, the city encouraged native planting and less grass. We felt vindicated, but our yard was still messy. Again, in the natural sense.
I am compelled to design my yard, like I would an interior space, with a space plan and recommendations. I have, in fact, done this. Even to scale, but I lack the enthusiasm to implement or enforce it. Instead the yard upkeep is the domain of my husband. If I want to change it, I have to change it.
It remains largely unchanged.
Our back yard has been given more consideration. Probably because it is where I spend my time. We planted a winged elm, bay tree, a couple of privets and some other small trees. When I say we, I mean I supported the choices and effort while my husband did the actual work of planting.
We added a stone patio that I actually did work on and design and there’s a hint of a wall we lost interest in around one of the trees.
Our yard is small. If I stood in the middle of it and extended my arms toward our house (the screened enclosure) and the fence that proves this space is ours, I can practically touch both. I would love to have an open patio, with simple columns holding up a simple roof or even a vine covered pergola, but mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds hover just on the other side of the screen like desperate paparazzi, and they’re all looking at me. So the screen stays.
Aside the from the intoxicating fragrance of the orange tree in early spring, the winged elm has captured my heart. In fifteen years he has grown to over 30 feet from just a spindly little sapling. He drops his leaves sometime around December, stands stoic for a month or so then shimmers back to life with tiny green buds in March. Perhaps it is his timely deciduous nature that reminds me of trees from home that tugs at my inner nostalgia. Maybe it’s his happiness to return in the spring that makes me swoon.
Over the years, he has produced offspring, tiny shoots and saplings. They have started grow. Most are about a foot tall, many we have removed, but one has reached about 6 feet. It is a single sinewy stalk with thin, but strong little branches. She can’t stay where she is. There’s no room.
Next to our driveway we removed a diseased some-kind-of-myrtle tree a couple of years ago and that space feels naked. We decide to move the young tree here.
Her roots are long and we lose a few inches on them here or there but otherwise the earth released her easily. A deep hole has been dug and is awaiting her arrival.
It’s been a particularly hot and dry spring and we’re concerned for her survival. We water her daily, usually three times a day.
It has finally rained. And against the vibrant colors of wet nature, she is brown. All her leaves have turned brown. I touch her leaves gently, they’re still very soft, not brittle. I bend her tiniest branches and they still have life, they do not snap.
There is still hope.
I have named her Elma. She deserves a name.
This morning as I am getting ready for my day, Larry (that’s my husband) comes in looking bright, “Don’t give up!”
“Yes, two little green shoots around the base.”
“Her base.” I correct.
As he was tending to her and reconstructing the little moat around her tender roots he spied signs of new life. She’s strong. She wants to live out her dharma in our front yard and provide shade during the brutal summer months.
And when she gets bigger and stronger she will be able to see her dad over the house. I’m pretty sure he can see her.
And I’m certain he’s been encouraging her.