Habits

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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.

 

Bad Grandpa, Good Grandpa

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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.

All in the Family

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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.

 

Urgency Reset

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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.

 

Inheritance

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Tomorrow it will be a month since my mother passed away. It was unexpected. Nearly a decade ago she had surgery to replace a heart valve. After that she had lots of energy and spunk but she would be on medicine for the rest of her life. It is that medication that is likely responsible for her death. “A catastrophic bleed.” A stroke, she simply laid down in bed one night really tired and never regained consciousness – it’s how she wanted to go, but probably not when.

I share this with you not to elicit sympathy or use her life as a cautionary tale, but by way of explanation for my absence from the interweb. And to share a little story about a lot of stuff.

In the weeks since she died I have been handling her “estate” and its contents. She had no money, was on social security and Medicaid, but her modest two-bedroom apartment told a different story.

My mother was not a hoarder, but she did have an affinity for all things crafty and written. She had three enormous bookshelves packed with books – floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall, sometimes two rows deep. She had one bedroom, the larger one, dedicated to crafts. She sewed, knitted, made jewelry, painted, drew, fantasized, dreamed and created all sorts of things in this space. She had 5 bookcases in this room filled with fabric, beads, yarn, paper and more books. Two desks for working. And when those filled up she opened a table.

Her closet and dresser were packed with clothes, good quality, known brands, yet she often complained that she needed new clothes. She had items stored in her kitchen that she never used. At least a dozen cups full of notepads and pens, crochet hooks and feathers, dotted the landscape of her home. She had multiples of personal care items like deodorant and soap – different brands, not like she bought them in bulk – just in case, I suppose.

Dealing with her home and its contents provided a welcome distraction from grief for a while, but in the larger picture it was full of life lessons on prosperity, abundance and stuff. It felt like a cruel joke at first: this is my year of letting go of stuff, of purging my home and now I have added a whole (almost) two bedroom apartment to the mix. It wasn’t about me of course, only it was.

It was a lesson for me. So many lessons, some still being revealed.

I brought a lot of her things home, but I was also able to off-load a ton of the fabric and craft supplies to a crafters guild she belonged to, I left some furniture behind for her neighbor and donated some clothes and kitchen items to the local charity thrift shop. But I still filled 6 car loads, an SUV and one of those super tall vans.

It overwhelms me, but it was very clear to me that I wanted to take my time with what I culled. And I’m glad that I am. There’s not much of monetary value, but a lot of memories and clues to the woman that was my mother.

I was completely prepared after this “year-long purging project” to chuck all my personal things and never look back. That could still happen, but as I paw through the personal effects of a life that spanned 75 years, and a handful of states from coast to coast, I’m starting to recognize value in things.

Not all things. I am not changing my tune completely.

But finding the book my mother read to me as a child stirred the sweetest of memories. All the bad artwork my brother and I created as children was saved, as were a tiny outfit or two, a blanket, locks of hair.

I uncovered a poem my grandmother wrote and some of her artwork. Tucked in a folder I found an autobiography my mother had written for admittance to ministerial school that revealed a few things I did not know. And a mountain of cards and letters from my mother’s friends showed her to be much loved.

While it’s true the memories do not live in these things, they do serve as a touchstone that creates a picture of the person who elected to hold onto them. These things convey what was important to her, what mattered. It’s a comfort.

I have already released many items. I just needed to touch them, to take my time with them, learn something from them, investigate. But now, they have served their purpose. I am slower in giving up photos and items she made and maybe I’ll always hold onto them. I have set aside a few items I know she particularly loved. But I have also been able to gift specific books and items to my friends who are a perfect match.

I have let go of the self-judgment that would have forced me to toss them before I was ready. My mission for my own home. Instead I am learning the value of a few items to bring comfort.

My mission for my home, even with her stuff in it, is still the same. I am going to go through everything and release that which does not serve me or bring me happiness. This was never about living in an empty home, but about lightening up, I just have more stuff to go through now.

It’s a process, a journey, and like all journey’s it’s made much sweeter by taking time and moving mindfully.