Friday, January 15, 2021

The Planner, The Plan

I know enough about myself and my bad habits to understand that I can't just wing it through this year of discipline. As you may imagine, winging it is how I came to need discipline in the first place! I would say that I'm a fairly organized person, but accountability regarding how I spend my time and energy is lacking.

My tool of choice to help rectify this is a loose-leaf planner. I bought it a few years ago and have been tweaking the process since, with varying degrees of success. I think I'm pretty close and am happy with my setup for 2021. 

I know there are countless apps and online tools for scheduling and accountability, but I really am a pen and paper person. I like the feel of it, and research shows that writing things down increases the brain's engagement and boosts memory.

Having said that, you will not see my planner on Pinterest. I'm not opposed to fun tape and stickers, but there comes a point where those embellishments just mean more time and more decisions. I have my fine-tipped markers for color-coding, and for now, that will have to do.

We're about two weeks into the new year, and my success rate for daily tracking is pretty good. But I'm always looking for new tricks, so if you have any tips for planner success, leave me a comment!

Oh, and if you're inspired to shop for a planner, New York Magazine has this list of the best choices for 2021.

Friday, January 8, 2021

My Writer Word of the Year

Dog discipline (Also: not my dog)
Every year, the members of my writing critique group each choose a word to guide us through the coming 12 months. Last year, as you may know, my word was Joy. My sister gifted me with the book Joyful, by Ingrid Fetell Lee, and I used it to inspire me through what I called Joy Project 2020. It was a good word for a tough year, and I very much appreciated being reminded to seek joy in my home, work, and relationships.  

On Wednesday, my critique group met via Zoom to discuss our words for 2021. The list included submit, thrive, open, close, and a couple that are still under consideration. In the past, I've chosen feel-good words such as joy and actionable words such as engage. This year, my word is discipline. 

I'll delve a little deeper in future posts, but the big reason I chose discipline for 2021 is that I've realized how frequently my bad habits get in my way. If someone else thwarted me as often as I thwart myself, I'd be none too happy. And yet, I let myself off the hook time and again.

So, I'm setting out into this brave new year with the dual goals of weakening bad habits and strengthening good ones. I'm sure it will be an ongoing process, and if you have any suggestions for success, leave a comment! I think I will need all the help I can get.

I hope your new year is off to a satisfactory start!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Joy Project Wrap-Up: The Tools

2020, am I right?

When 2020 began, none of us had any idea what the year had in store. And here we are at the end, looking forward to gentler days ahead. We are wiser now, more cautious, with a weary sadness that will take a while to shed, like sloughing off a tight snake skin. But through it all, 2020 had small silver linings and moments of joy. I hope you experienced both of those.

This year, as I read my way through Ingrid Fetell Lee's book Joyful, I was reminded time and again that often, joy is where you find it. We just need to move through the world with our senses in tune and our hearts open. An open mind doesn't hurt, either. 

At the back of the book is a "Joyful Toolkit" with exercises and tips for promoting joy, and recognizing and removing "killjoys." I plan to refer to this often in the coming year to keep my joy mojo going. Other inspirational resources from Ingrid include The Aesthetics of Joy website and The Joyspotters Society Facebook page.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy New Year, full of joy and abundance. And rest.

See you soon!

Friday, December 18, 2020

Joy Project: Renewal

I've made it through the last chapter of Ingrid Fetell Lee's book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, and I cannot think of a better topic for the end of 2020 than renewal. This "unprecedented" year affected everyone to a lesser or greater degree, and we are tired, limping toward the holiday season dragging stubborn hope along with us.

A new year is of course a time of renewal, but other than a fresh calendar and some resolutions (or not), where do we find help in hitting the reset button? As with so many things, looking to nature for inspiration is a great place to start. Nature cycles constantly through decay and renewal, death and rebirth. Even now, in the midst of wintry weather, I notice the cycles of freezing and melting, sun rising and setting, birdsong and silence.

But plants have got to be one of the best and most accessible symbols of renewal, whether it is a simple leaf stretching toward the sun or a giant flowerhead bursting into bloom. As anyone who has battled a weedy garden knows, plants have energy that is sometimes difficult to quash. From a design standpoint, reproducing the elements of viney curves and colorful blossoms in our space reminds us that change is not only possible but inevitable. Or, as Ingrid puts it, " suggest a momentum toward a more abundant world."

This is also the reason indoor blooming bulbs such as amaryllis are so popular during the scarcity of the colder seasons. The gradual process of growing and unfurling gives us the anticipation of beauty, with a serving of hope on the side. So, friends, as we make our way to the end of 2020, I encourage you to buy a plant from your local greenhouse, sow a few seeds in a pot, force some bulbs, or suspend an avocado pit in a jar of water...anything to serve as a daily reminder that renewal isn't only reserved for the turning of a new year. It's with us every day, even in small ways.

I'll leave you for now with these lines from the last paragraph of Joyful:
To fix the world is a tall order, but to renew it is not nearly so daunting. The lesson of renewal is that from small seeds big things grow.

Stay safe and well, and enjoy whatever makes the holiday season special for you!


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Joy Project: Celebration

Celebration is the perfect chapter for this time of year, though it is a foregone conclusion that our holiday celebrations will look much different in 2020. American Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and most people I know have scaled back, or even eliminated, their traditional gatherings. Travel, especially by public means, is highly discouraged. 

Local holiday ale party from a few years ago

My mother is in an at-risk population, so she will not be joining us for only the second time in I don't remember how long. My sister lives in Washington State, where restrictions have recently tightened, and she will not be able to gather with her friends. I fear Christmas will be very much the same. 

But I firmly believe that anyone with the physical and emotional energy to do so should find reasons to celebrate as this year winds down. It helps us forge and strengthen connections, even in these socially distant times. Celebratory emotions such as joy are highly contagious and much healthier to spread than a certain coronavirus that continues to plague us. 

In Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee offers suggestions for fostering a celebratory mood, including:

  • Festive attire
  • Music
  • Song and dance
  • Color and motion
  • Things that sparkle, flare, or burst
And guess what? This is the perfect time of year to find all those things! Even 2020 can't keep us from donning ugly sweaters, hanging lights and sparkly decorations, and dancing around the kitchen singing "Jingle Bell Rock."

Please take time in the coming weeks to unplug from the news, make popcorn and hot cocoa, watch cheesy holiday specials, and drive around looking at lights. Find celebratory moments whenever and wherever you can.

Thursday, I will eat turkey and pumpkin pie and celebrate gratitude with my husband, sons, and dog. And as soon as the leftovers are put away, I'm leaning hard into the Christmas season. 

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Magic of Alice Hoffman


On Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending a virtual book event for Alice Hoffman's latest, The World That We Knew. I love how Ms. Hoffman works magical realism--if not outright magic--into her stories, and this one is no exception. And she seems like a very nice person :-)

Here are a few short takeaways:

Themes of the book include affirmation of life, but also how the tolerance of aberrant behavior often leads to terrible things. It is a fable of feminism and fantasy, a novel ultimately about mothering, especially in times of crisis. She also referred to the book as a "deadline" novel in which the characters must move fast and cannot take time for granted.

She attributes her success at so masterfully intertwining storylines in part to the fact that she is an admittedly bad knitter. Like knitting, writing can be complicated, but you still have to get the threads right.

Storytelling is sometimes seen as a lesser achievement, but Alice sees it as the female way, passing down stories the way her grandmother and mother did for her. 

Fiction tells the truth on an emotional level. It's about feeling, whereas non-fiction is often about thought.

She starts a book with a question, i.e. how did people survive a terrible time? Then she creates the world so the characters can walk in. Eventually, as all characters do, they will let her know where the story should go.

Simple enough, right? I thought the book was wonderful and wholeheartedly recommend it.

Take care, and I'll see you next time!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Joy Project: Magic

This was a fun chapter to read this time of year, because who doesn't want to believe in magic at Halloween? Kids are open to magic any time, but (with the exception of Harry Potter) adults often see it as frivolous. Impractical. We might call it superstition or fantasy and leave the pure wonderment of it to the young ones who still believe in the Tooth Fairy. 

(To be fair, there's a pretty strong cultural component, as magic is seen as very real and very potent in many Caribbean, African, and Asian countries. And Icelanders are pretty forthcoming about their belief in elves and hidden people.)

As Ingrid Fetell Lee points out, for many of us, magic is most accessible in the transformation of the mundane into something joyful and fleeting. Rainbows and fireflies and beautiful patterns of ice on a winter window--courtesy of Jack Frost, no doubt. It might seem difficult to replicate these things in our day-to-day environment--after all, magic is also elusive. For this, Ingrid turns to the play of light off of prisms, mirrors, and anything iridescent. 

Some years ago, I found this doorway divider on clearance at Target:

As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted it hanging on the wall. Made of shell, the squares catch and subtly reflect the light, which often reminds me of a glistening stream. When the window is open, the squares clink against each other like a wind chime. It is right in my line of vision as I come down the stairs, and I never get tired of it. Before reading this chapter, I hadn't thought of it as magical, but now I do.

I hope you have something magical in store for you this weekend. The moon will be full, and that's a good start. Have a safe and healthy Halloween!