I read this recently on Rachel’s blog: On Friday I listened to this episode of Deep Questions and I’ve decided I need to be much better about my remote work discipline.  So often I find myself in the almost meditative state of replying to emails, sending teams messages, finishing one random thing from my inbox.  I know that this isn’t efficient but I love the tiny series of accomplishments I get from the bits and bobs. BUT, no one is going to promote me because I responded quickly or wrote 60 emails in a day.  

I need to be a lot better about big picture. 

Me again…

Oh, Rachel, me too. Which brings me to my other nudge word this year, which is grounded. I don’t mean it in the sense of me being grounded and stuck in place (a la, “You’re grounded for missing curfew”, which ha, would never happen since I’m rarely up past 8:45, let alone midnight). Instead, I’m using grounded to describe how I want to be this year, as I work to engage more with life.

Being grounded, to me, means being clear in my priorities and values, and ensuring that those priorities and values guide my engagement with the world. I could engage more by working more. By (further) blurring the links between work and home. By continuing to work all-day, every day, with my only breaks coming for sleep, exercise, and the occasional Engie adventure.

But that’s not my intent with choosing engaged for my word. And it’s why I think grounding myself in my values and priorities is critical this year, and as I move into the next phase of my life. I still don’t know how that is going to look – there will be a LOT of work-related uncertainty for the next year + – but I can figure out what matters to me, what priorities I have for engaging with the world, and what I value as I work to (re)build my life in a way that lights me up.

I was trying to figure out how this word popped into my mind. It’s not entirely clear, but on reading through the quotes that I saved from the fabulous Keep Moving, by Maggie Smith, I realized that her book may have been part of the reason. A sampling of the phrases and statements that jumped out for me:

  • Stop rewinding and playing the past in your mind. Live here, now. Give the present the gift of your full attention.
  • Today, take one step, however small, toward creating a life you can be proud of.
  • Close the gap between yourself and your spirit – the person you know you can be. Let your choices reflect the person you want to become, not just the person you think you are.
  • And maybe the one that resonated most: Even if you don’t believe you have “a purpose”, think about the work you can do in the world that would make a difference to others.

Reading these words also coincided with me seeing the phrase “Be here now” in multiple places.

It’s important to me to ground myself in the now, while simultaneously figuring out how I want to reach, and extend, from that solid foundation.

These are Big Ideas and Big Thoughts, and obviously this is not a one-month or even one-year process. But good grief, it’s time to start.

And so, to end, with a quote from Oliver Burkeman’s newsletter:

“In fact, to paraphrase Cope, you may really only have one meaningful choice, which is either to move in the direction “becoming who you are” – becoming more and more yourself, in whatever situation you find yourself in – or else to hold back from doing so.”

Setting the record straight

Subtitle: a fun get-together with NGS/Engie/NGradStudent.

As those of you who read NGS’/Engie’s blog know already, we met up at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens last Saturday, during their open house. To be clear, we were not intending to go the weekend of the open house, but, well, that’s how it turned out. Despite the crowds – and my hideous social awkwardness – we had a wonderful time, and had some unexpected, fun experiences.

The best surprise? They had the greenhouses open! As in, “here’s where the magic happens”. It turns out that Engie is – not surprisingly – someone who also loves to ask questions and who also will engage with and ask questions of guards and volunteers. I’ve been known to engage security staff and volunteers in places like Hampton Court, in England. There, I thoroughly annoyed and embarrassed my then-spouse by talking with the security guard in one section for about 10 minutes. They know so much! And they spend so much time there, observing others, that they have fascinating stories to tell. (Side note: The Baltimore Museum of Art had a fantastic exhibit about a year ago that was curated by the security guards. I was so bummed I couldn’t go see it…)

We learned a ton from Don, a volunteer in the greenhouse, who told us how they rotate stock in and out of the conservatory exhibit/display every night. As in, grab the plants that look a little worn out, funky, or overgrown, and (ta da!) replace them with ones from the green houses! How cool is that? Don also taught us that banana trees are grasses. And that they are cut back nearly to the ground in the winter. I. Had. No. Idea. (Also, you really do learn something every day…)

But the best part of the greenhouses – particularly the tropical one – was the temperature. It was 80 degrees. And humid. And wonderful. I nearly took off my coat! (I did get to see the Famous Heated Vest of NGS lore. :>).

Engie even convinced me to put my (exceedingly limited) painting skills to work and do a little watercolor on a postcard. It was so immersive and fun – almost meditative. I’m reposting the picture she sent me and adding a caveat, to set the record straight:

OK, see the boring, monochromatic, exceptionally dull postcard on the left? That’s mine.

See the lovely, colorful, and just gorgeous postcard on the right? Painted by someone who knows that color is not something of which we should be afraid? That’s Engie’s.

Clearly, one of us is more creative than the other. I shall leave it up to you to make the final determination.

The best part of the day – other than meeting Engie, of course – was that this forced me to ENGAGE. This helped me live up to that word that I picked a few (long) weeks ago. I got out of my apartment! I did something fun, that did not involve one of the two people with whom I have Done Stuff since I moved here (a very short list: a coworker [one lunch], and my ex-MIL). It was so enjoyable that I’m starting to (gasp) think about other things I could do on the weekend, other than work. This is… not typical behavior for me, my friends.

I shall be back – I promise – to share the Other Word, soon. In the meantime, thank you NGS/Engie, for nudging me out of my comfort zone. 🙂

You can avoid uncertainty, hide within the familiar comfort of the status quo, and keep doing what you did yesterday.

Or you can step into the unknown, confident that you can use your considerable abilities to handle the cosmic curve balls that will inevitably come your way…if you stick to the familiar, you won’t find the unexpected. ~Ozan Varol

Showing up

It’s already one week into February, and I’m finally at the point where I am ready to set an intention and some related aspirations/intentions for the year. I know most people do this in January. I wish I could do this in January. But thanks to the vagaries of the academic calendar, and my tendency to schedule my annual review as soon as possible in the Spring semester, January is not a good time for me to be looking forward.

And yet. I’ve had my word(s) for the year selected for weeks now. I’ve been considering some aspirations (let’s not call them goals…otherwise I shall hold myself to them and feel quite let down when I do not achieve them…). And I think I’m ready to share. But this morning, when looking for words from another that would help me express what I want to do, who I want to be this year, I hit upon another possible word. Of course! This is the way it always works. Despite my initial despair at questioning my word, I realized after a few moments that the two might actually work together.

My first word is Engage. I am a notorious over-consumer of information. But my consumption is more surface level. For example, I was ‘following’ an insane number of blogs. Blogs that were added somewhat mindlessly to my Feedly. But I realized, as I’ve been desperately trying to catch up (and falling dreadfully behind…) that there are some/many I always skip in favor of others. Why am I following them if I am not following them? I removed them from my feeds, with the goal of engaging – and connecting – with a smaller group of people. I felt lighter the minute I did that, and I look forward to (oh, please, Universe) catching up on blogs and staying a bit more current with those people with whom I feel a deeper sense of connection. More engaged, as it were.

I want to do the same with my books-to-be-read. It will surprise none of you that I download a ridiculous number of samples from Apple Books. Will I ever read many of them? Likely not. So one of my aspirations for the year is to go through my list of samples and remove those that no longer interest me. Same with my Goodreads Want to Read shelf. I’m trying to get on there more frequently so I can use it as one way of tracking what samples I have available, and which ones I might want to actually read.

If it sounds like a lot of digital decluttering, well, yes, it is. Because that’s where I tend to overconsume. Which, of course, pushes back against my plan to Engage more. I want to go deeper with the content I do consume. I want to think more about the books I read – books that I select more carefully – and think about how they might apply to my own life.

But I want to engage in other ways, too. With my family members, and friends. With people who were – and are – important to me, and who I have lost contact with. I want to engage in travel and exploration – an aspiration greatly aided by my planned trip to Ireland. Will it be the ideal, perfect, once-in-a-lifetime trip? Nope. But it will be a wonderful (I hope!) reintroduction to travel and the wider world.

These are just some initial thoughts and related aspirations. And I haven’t even mentioned my other word. I will soon, I promise. But I wanted to devote this post to engage, and why it speaks to me in this moment. Enough with the surface. I want to go deeper.

It’s possible to be so focused on safety, on staying small and the same so life feels manageable and predictable, that we forget that we’re not here to remain an acorn, a caterpillar. We’re not here to stay put. We’re here to change and grow and become…Our being isn’t ever a singular thing. Each of us is in fact a community of parts, and we’re always negotiating between the parts of ourselves that have vastly different needs…Yes, of course, we needed to build that safe haven. But we were never meant to remain there. We were always meant for more. More can be such a small thing. ~ Fanny Priest

Routines, ringing bells, and reality

Oliver Burkeman (yes, I know I need to read Four Thousand Weeks…) writes one of the best newsletters I receive. Recently, he wrote a long post titled, “Because the bell rings”. I wound up saving the whole post, but will only share pieces here. I can forward you the email if you are interested in reading it, though. It really resonated with me, particularly as I face reality on February 1, and rip off the band aid. So to speak. 🙂

From Oliver Burkeman’s newsletter, December 19, 2022:

…there’s often a deep tension between the desire many of us feel to exert control over our time – because we believe, if perhaps only subconsciously, that something will go very wrong if we don’t do so – and the possibility of actually being fully absorbed in that time.

…And the amazing truth that I apparently have to keep relearning is that there isn’t a choice that has to be made, here, between “going with the flow” or “getting things done”. Again and again, it turns out that going with the flow is the way to get things done.

You can spend your life holding yourself back from full psychological participation in this reality – yearning for a mythical alternative version full of perfect routines and precisely scheduled periods for focused work – and make yourself miserable in the process.

Or you can understand that this reality is the actual terrain of your real life. It’s the only place, in other words, where meaning could ever conceivably be made. So you might as well jump in and start making it.

Me again. I usually don’t share that much of someone else’s post in my own, but… wow. That hit me so, so hard. I have not been facing reality. I have had this mythical “future time” in my head, where everything is crossed off the (never-ending, always-growing) to do list, and I find peace. And time for contemplation. And reading. And journaling. Catching up with friends.

But you know what? That’s not my reality. This is the life I chose. This is the life I want. This is the life I have.

I know I keep saying this, but this year (for me, well, January was such a chaotic mess that I’m designating February 1 as my “new year’s day”) I need to focus on figuring out how to live the life I have. I’m not going to have someone else’s life. I love reading about all of your lives. I really do. I love reading about your routines, your self-care, and sometimes? I admit it, I get jealous. But then I look at my own life, and I know that deep down? I really do love it.

So, time to do the hard work of finding the moments and the hours that are for ME. Figuring out how to be me, how to make the life I have the “ideal” life I keep striving for.

More to come… and thanks, as always, for listening. <3

Some highs and lows

Life, as always, is a series of highs and lows. Never of great amplitude, but enough to influence how each day feels as it ends…So, some recent highs and lows off the top of my head (in other words, not one of my typical posts that I dither over for days… ;>).


Unexpected acts of love – This one is a bit odd, but, well, I’ve thought about the unexpected little acts of love that show up in my life, two pop up:

  • My ex (yes, ex-spouse) doing research for me on flights to Ireland (!!!) this summer;
  • My mother buying an extra bath rug (not a mat for stepping on out of the shower; rather, a rug for in front of the sink) when she liked the one she had purchased, and sending it to me, as she remembered me talking about how mine is disintegrating and I haven’t done anything about it. 🙂

The upcoming trip to Ireland! Although this is also a serious source of anxiety. Friends, I forgot how complicated planning international travel can be. And, the last time I traveled internationally (um… hm… 2012?) my then-spouse planned most of it. (He is really good at it, hence the assistance with researching flights). I’m currently in the frenzied figure-it-out phase, stymied by the lack of info on conference accommodations for the conference I am attending. I will only have a short time to myself – probably 2+ days in Galway (at the end of the trip) and 4-ish in Dublin (but 3 of those include conference stuff). Any suggestions (ahem, Stephany? Kae? Susanne?) are welcome.

Getting some of my prep work for my looming, stressful annual review completed and off to my guidance committee. And now I wait for the barrage of comments…

Finally – finally – starting a study that has taken forever to get to this phase. It’s been a year since I learned I got the funding, and I am just now about to launch recruitment. Ooof.

Work friends.

Blog friends. <3 (Although, um, I’m still working through early December posts… I just love reading all of your blogs so much, so please excuse the late comments and do NOT feel compelled to respond if you’re a blog-comment-responder.


Said annual review… I am so blinking anxious about this it is not even funny. This is the make-it-or-break-it year in terms of determining when I will go up for tenure. I’ve alluded to this “event” in past posts, but heck, you might as well know what’s hanging over my head. It’s in mid-February, and I am bracing myself for the likely message of “You’re close but not quite ready… take the year extension.” (We were all granted a “COVID extension” thanks to everyone’s favorite coronavirus….)

Funding for that study I mentioned above. It’s a complicated mix of campus and internal funds and there are certain funds that must be spent down before they expire at the end of June. I was up for an hour last night (10:30-11:30) worrying about it. Sigh.

Fretting – unnecessarily – about not yet firming up my goals and plans (personal ones, that is) for the year. Look, I know this isn’t something to worry about, but well, you know me. If it exists, I will worry about it. I’m trying to remember that I worked at breakneck pace right up until Christmas Eve. So it took me a long time to even kind of unwind from that. And now, we only have 2 weeks left before classes start up again. So. Seeing the sand trickling through the hourglass and wondering just how late my “2023 goals” will be.

Mostly the usual kind of stuff, but a better mix of mini-highs than at most times. I’m trying – I really am – to find the good, to remember that each day does have positive moments (or even seconds, if I’m not being picky) and I just need to remember what they are. It helps balance out my worry and stress.

Thank you all for being such positive moments in my days.

We work hard, we enjoy life as we can, we endure. We try to help ourselves and one another. We try to be more present and less petty. Some days go better than others. We look for solace in nature and art and maybe, if we are lucky, the quiet satisfaction of our homes… ~ Anne Lamott