The order of things

Alternative title: Priorities. Are mine in the right order?

It’s been A Month, friends. I knew November was going to kick my rear and it truly has. I think it was the travel out of state, combined with several things at work finally moving forward (and therefore requiring my involvement/participation/presence), that sent me over the edge. I have finally managed to feel like I have a grasp on my time, and my to do list, now. Which, of course, means that we’re heading into the end of the semester and things are going to get bonkers again.

I haven’t been writing (as in, writing in longhand) in my paper journal recently. But I have been doing nightly mini-journaling in the Reflection app. I’ve mentioned this before – it seems similar to the Day One app other bloggers have said they use. It sends reminders to write something about each day, and provides options for tagging (e.g., highlight vs. lowlight), as well as prompts if your mind goes blank.

The other evening, I actually followed the prompt , even though I usually do not. Here’s the prompt:

Busy is a decision … you don’t find the time to do things — you make the time to do things. – Debbie Millman

If you’ve been reading here any length of time, you are right if you suspect that hit me hard. Here is part of my response:

Oh, but I am awful at not being busy. I find things to do. Always. Even when I am sick or injured. Rest just seems anathema to me. I know I should rest more but it’s so hard when you feel time crunched and like you’re never going to get to the finish line.
But is there one? I mean, I could keep going forever and the finish line will just keep receding into the distance.

It was that last sentence that really hit home for me after I wrote it. I know I’ve blathered on about this endlessly here, but for some reason, the word priorities really brought it home. Hopefully once and for all. Because it’s absolutely true. I will honestly never cross the finish line – there will always be another goal to achieve, another grant to write, another study to (try to) conduct. What does it say about me that I prioritize work over taking the time to do the things that bring me joy, outside of work?

My priorities are all wrong. I’ve prioritized work for years now. I haven’t prioritized my relationships (which are important to me, but how would anyone know that, looking at how I spend my time?). I haven’t prioritized making sure that what I am doing in any given moment is what’s best for me in that moment.

Turning, as always, for wisdom and insight from others, I found a few mini-gems in saved essays and quotes:

The Western collective consciousness teaches us that when we get to the end of something, then we will be happy, whole, complete, and successful. When we graduate from high school or college, when we get married, when we have kids, when we get the dream job, then life will really be rolling. We’re constantly chasing a carrot on a stick that’s always just out of reach. When we reach the milestone that we thought was our golden key to happiness, the feeling of satisfaction is fleeting. So we think, “Okay, well I did that, and it didn’t quite bring me the happiness I was thinking it would, so maybe it was just a stepping stone. Maybe when xyz happens, that will make me happy. That will be the real win.” This elusive state of contentment is always around the next corner. We’re racing toward something that will never give us what we’re hoping for. The only way to truly win this race of life is to realize there is no race.” ~Polly Green (via TinyBuddha)

“First, know your priorities. Every time you say “yes” to more work you’re saying “no” to the other aspects of your life that you value. By taking inventory of your list of priorities, and where work lies on that list, you can make decisions that will help you live a more fulfilling life. Second, address the underlying issues. Oftentimes we work to avoid thinking about our insecurities or shortcomings. Or, we think we need to have more money in order to be loved. I’ve been guilty of both of these.” ~Mike Fishbein (also via TinyBuddha)

So, more ideas and questions for me to consider… Why do I think working all the time will make me happy, or will fulfill me? What insecurities do I have that I may be trying not to think about? (Haaa…there are so, so many…) What are my shortcomings? And, perhaps most important, what are my values? What is important to me? Are actions or activities that are important among my priorities? If not (and, spoiler alert, I suspect most will fall into the “not” category…), why not? And how can I change that?

Guess it’s time to pick up that journal again… Thanks, as always, for listening to me ramble on and on, friends. Working through all these cognitive, emotional, and psychological knots is not easy, and knowing you are out there (even if you just read the first paragraph, rolled your eyes, and said, “Again???”) helps a lot.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the US. I’ll be celebrating with my ex-spouse and his family. This is 2022. 😉

On expiration dates and doomscrolling

I’m mindful that the road ahead of me is way shorter than the one behind me. ~Maria Shriver, in her Sunday Paper from 11/6/2022)

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. ~Annie Dillard 

April 22, 2022 ~Expiration date on cheese purchased last Thursday (just as a reminder, that was 11/2/2022…)

I’ve been thinking about expiration dates, life behind me and life ahead of me, and doomscrolling recently.

I haven’t been writing here, with the usual excuse of not-enough-time-busy-busy-busy.

I haven’t been journaling in my handwritten journal.

Where I have been mini-journaling is in the Reflections app, a favorite of mine (linked with my Holstee account) that I access through my phone and that I have used nearly every evening for the last year, with the exception of some days around surgery and vacation. And nearly every evening, I lament that I didn’t “have the chance” to reflect, to journal, to write out my thoughts that day.

It’s occurred to me that I may be avoiding something – something that emerges that I am not consciously aware of. But it’s also occurred to me that I may simply be spending my time in meaningless doomscrolling, vs. spending my time on activities that are more likely to feed my soul. Perhaps it’s both. But I think the second option deserves some attention because friends, it is getting bad.

I have always been highly engaged with the news, from childhood breakfasts, when the local paper (um, such that it was) was always on the table, through college, when I would listen to KYW 1060 in Philadelphia, a classic all-news AM (AM!!!) station, and then post-college, when I started accessing the news on the internet. I’ve continued and even escalated that engagement in recent years – digital subscriptions to two major newspapers, subscribing to email newsletters from those publications as well as others, and just generally drowning myself in the news-of-the-day.

Unless you’ve been living under a really large rock, though, you know that the news in the last, oh, 6 years or so has not been, shall we say, overwhelmingly positive. I know I am coming at this with a very VERY partisan lens, but I think it’s true regardless of one’s political leanings. The news is overwhelming. It’s negative. It’s panic-inducing, sometimes (like, well, today). And that is what I have chosen for my primary non-work activity each day.

I listen to or read the news while working out. While brushing my teeth and getting dressed post-shower. In the evening. On my phone, when I’m moving around the apartment during the day. I refresh Google news all. the. time.

And this is where expiration dates come in. (Yes, the cheese I inadvertently purchased on Thursday had expired nearly 7 months ago… and yes, the store manager was appalled when I exchanged it yesterday…) My life has an expiration date. All lives do. Our time on this planet is limited. Do I really want to spend so much of my time doomscrolling and obsessing over the news? Is that what is going to create my best life? I think you know the answer, and I think I do, too.

I spend way too much of my limited time on the news. I know this. Even if I cut back by half, I’d have more time to read, to reflect, to journal, to write here, to catch up on all of your blogs, for the love of Pete. The challenge is actually doing it. I think my next step – anxiety-producing in its own little way – is putting a time limit on my use of the Washington Post app, the one I use most frequently. I need to think about how to operationalize it, but my goal is to do that when I return from my (first post-COVID) conference this weekend. (I’ll note that that is also a very anxiety-provoking ‘thing’ on the near horizon…)

Because, after all…

It’s not how many years in your life, but how much life in your years. ~Edward Stieglitz

Wish me luck.

Bright Spots

I wanted to get my previous post off of the top of the page. While it was cathartic to write it, to complain, to share my frustrations, that’s not what I want to focus on with this blog. No, life isn’t always rainbows and bunnies. But. Life is good, in general. It’s my attitude (and, honestly, the way I live that life) that I need to work on.

So today I wanted to share some bright spots from the last week. My blogging friend Elisabeth talks about “joyfinding”, which is such a lovely and appropriate term. But I don’t want to co-opt it for my own. Instead, I’m trying to focus on bright spots from my week, to keep my eyes up and on the positive, instead of mired in the depths of my own frustrations and challenges.

(1) OK, you’re going to think I’m insane. But. In-person meetings Friday were a truly unexpected bright spot in my week. I haven’t been shy about my full-on embrace of pandemic life. As the introvertiest introvert who ever lived, I am so much happier working from home when I can, rather than working in a cold, uncomfortable office, where I have to keep the door closed, I am never warm (seriously – always, always freezing), and there is a fair amount of non-work socializing and distraction. Yet, seeing my colleagues and friends in person, in a meeting that was just like meetings in the pre-COVID days, was surprisingly uplifting and energizing. It reminded me that just because something is comfortable for me (I still do love virtual meeting attendance), there are also benefits to attending them in-person. (It also helped that I was able to advocate for adding one of my passions to our curriculum, in collaboration with two of my favorite faculty colleagues… an academic nerd’s mini-heaven. :>)

(2) Fall. Oh fall. It came in – literally – overnight this year. On the day of the equinox. I do not remember a previous fall that arrived so abruptly and that (to this point) has not taken a bit of a break so that temporary summer could come roaring back. (I hate it when that happens. If the seasons are going to change, just change. Don’t be wishy-washy about it!) It’s been refreshing but also, for some reason, more challenging this year than in years past. I am finally starting to adapt to the idea of heavier jackets and gloves and (soon) my handwarmers and heated vest. Despite that, I will be eagerly anticipating the return of slightly warmer weather in a few months.

(3) Phone calls and lunches with friends. Again, don’t fall off your chairs. These involve… socializing. In person and on the phone. I know – who am I? But last weekend and this I had the opportunity to have an (excellent) lunch out with a friend (cannily timed during the home football game). The only drawback with lunch was my view of the person in the next booth, who… um… didn’t have the best table manners. I tried not to look. (My ability to achieve this varied, unfortunately.) And then Saturday I talked with a very old friend on the phone for an hour+, about the book we buddy read (Longitude, by Dava Sobel, which we both loved) and life in general. Our lives are so very different but I really appreciate that she takes the time to update me on her kids’ lives and what HER life is like these days. That said, we have made some very different choices in life and some things she said yesterday highlighted those (these are “big” choices – related to religion, and political leanings, etc., so not easy to dismiss out of hand, at least for me). It was still wonderful to connect, though. She’s picking the next book. Nonfiction, usually science-focused. We are both nerds. 🙂

(4) Quotes. I’ve had some quotes come to me this week that I wanted to share. What is eerie (side note: I just love that word. There is something about how “eerie” is spelled that is just, well, eerie. It’s not onomatopoeia, really, but… anyway, I digress…) is when multiple quotes from different sources all point towards the same general idea. Here are the ones that spoke to me this week:

  • “Even when I work so hard to be perfect, it’s never good enough.” Catherine Andrews
    • Oh, the truth in this statement. Driven home by the fact that I took Ingrid Fetell’s quiz on killjoys. Mine were (not surprisingly), the Taskmaster, the Perfectionist, and the Control Freak.
  • “It’s these choices that add up to make you, you. You are the sum of one small choice stacked upon one small choice stacked upon one small choice, ad infinitum. If your life were a painting, these choices would be the brushstrokes that compose it. In other words, your life is defined by your choices, by your discipline. Which is why, as we have said recently, discipline is destiny.Ryan Holiday
    • I don’t always like Ryan Holiday’s writing but this one spoke to me. It’s the little things we do every day that make a life. In one way, this puts a lot of pressure on what often seem like they should be easy choices. On the other hand, this also makes me feel a sense of relief, that no one decision is going to derail my entire life.
  • 5 AM Joel shared this one: “The slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call tempo giusto – the right speed.”  – Carl Honoré
    • Living at the right speed. Something I really, really need to work on (see previous post…sigh…).
  • Oliver Burkeman shared this one in his weekly newsletter: “action is the antidote to despair.” Joan Baez
    • This also aligns with the quote about choices, from Ryan Holiday. Doing just one thing can make a difference. Start chipping away at things.

(5) You. All of you. All I can say is thank you for being here, for supporting me, for your comments on my last post. You could have rolled your eyes, thought “there she goes again, complaining about something that’s her own darn fault”, but you didn’t. And I appreciate that more than you will ever know. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – finding this little corner of the blogosphere has been life-changing for me. A small group of people who write about their lives, who share their thoughts, and who show up? What more could I ask for? So, thank you again. I appreciate you more than you will ever know. <3 <3 <3

And with that, here comes another week. I got good (work) news very early this morning that has me breathing a small sigh of relief, and a to do list that is full but not overwhelming. Time to do this thing.