Plan B is the new Plan A

Aaaaaaand the self-destructive streak continues!

My phone is telling me my screen time was up 62 percent last week, and I’m sort of shocked it wasn’t higher. Work has been a trial, and I’ve slipped back into my come home, veg on the screen routine. I gave up social media for Lent, but I downloaded a couple new mindless games for the sole purpose of wasting time. Johanna showed me how to put my phone on airplane mode so I can play the thrilling adventures of Block Games without having to deal with periodic ads. That game seriously gives me anxiety (it’s like Tetris, kinda), but I can’t stop playing.

Because I am an idiot.

Look, I’ve done the reading and the research, and I’m actually not an idiot — or, I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb, I guess. I know that after a stressful day at work, I should take a walk or a hot shower or do some yoga or grab a book. I’ve got my spring cleaning list going and know the mental lift it gives me to see sparkling light switches and decluttered cabinets.

And even at work, I know that if I take a walk break after I finish my first cup of coffee, that makes the rest of the day better. I know that if I take a lunch break instead of eating at my desk, it helps me mentally get to the end of the day. That if I turn off my email notifications, I will be able to concentrate on the task at hand.

And I am willfully choosing not to do ANY OF THAT.

I’ve kind of had it with self reflection. I’m tired of weekly goals. Unrealistic work expectations are bringing me down. (What, three and a half people can’t do the work of seven? WHAT IS THIS CRAZY TALK?)

But, for better or for worse, that’s my personality: Take too much on, like to work towards something tangible, want to be a better person, get by through sheer force of will — until my will fails and then it’s me, the couch and my phone. And freaking Block Games.

This week, I am looking forward to taking Friday off — we’re going to spend Easter with Abby and are making a long weekend out of it. I’m looking forward to the FlyLady’s “bathroom and one other room” focus because my one other room is going to be getting Abby’s ready for summer vacation, which for her starts in May. I’m looking forward to Eric’s meal planning extravaganza and the new meals he’s making that meet my dietary restrictions. I am looking forward to warmer temperatures even though it will still be cloudy and a bit rainy.

My gut is telling me not to undertake any new personal focuses or plans or whatnots, to just let this week play out the way it’s gonna play out. To give myself a break with all that. But my brain is telling me I need to figure out how I’m going to do that ahead of time so I have a better chance of success. HA HA HA. The internal war that is Trisha, my friends!

Um … so I have no idea what’s going to go down after it’s all said and done. Will my brain or my gut win?

I don’t know that this is much of a post, but here we are. Maybe I’ll have it together by the time next week rolls around.

Let’s get happy*

Spring has never been my strong point.

I’m not one for change — give me sameness any day of the week, and preferably every day of the week — and this includes the seasons. Spring in Oregon is a mixed bag, and that’s hard to plan for: Do I need a rain jacket today or can I get by with a light sweater? Do I dare wear my pretty new mary janes or should I opt for my ankle boots AGAIN? It’s also a busy time at the newspaper because we put out a four-section special insert to coincide with blossoms on the fruit trees … as well as a home and garden insert, a review of business stories and, you know, our regular biweekly editions.

Spring break passes and everything I want is in the future: Abby will be home from school around Mother’s Day and I’m counting the days until the Walker Four is all under one roof again. I’m looking forward to the long, hot, lazy days of summer.

I strive for contentedness each spring — hey, winter is past! The hard part is over! The sun is coming! — but mostly I feel out of sorts, anxious, overwhelmed and detached.

I’m never going to be happy in the spring — I feel like I need to grit my teeth and just get through it — but this year, I am trying something different: Tackling a spring cleaning project.

I’m looking at this as a way to give myself something to focus on that produces tangible results but doesn’t take up a lot of time.

One thing that DOES make me happy is how my house looks when it’s freshly cleaned. We don’t have a lot in our house (thanks, minimalism!), but we live with three cats (hair and dust) and a kid (art projects). We have a woodstove (ash). We live here (a stack of my journals is currently taking up half of the dining room table)!

Which is how I decided on the spring cleaning project: A clean house makes me happy. I am feeling out of sorts. Plans and schemes help me feel more in control. Crossing items off my list makes me feel productive. And I don’t even have to think too hard about it, because the FlyLady already has.**

She has the entire house broken up into sections; each section is the focus of a particular week. The order of the sections never changes. You set a timer for 15 minutes and focus on one task in that one area each day. What you don’t get this time around, you’ll get next time.

I don’t know, I find that very comforting.

I found myself looking forward to setting my timer and tackling a job in the front entrance or dining room (week one zone). I detail-cleaned our main light switch. I cleaned out five drawers in our hutch and polished the (bottom) front. I dusted underneath the thing (and found a couple of cat toys, which Bean and Goose thoroughly enjoyed for 10 minutes before losing them again). I wiped down moldings and doors and knobs. I got rid of a couple of candles and a wobbly platter that I’ve been hanging onto out of guilt (I spent A LOT of money on that thing and have always regretted the purchase).

This week is the kitchen, and I already know which areas I’m going to focus on for some serious cleaning and decluttering: Two catch-all cupboards, one by the fridge, the other by the stove.

I may not be happy this spring. But I feel like I’ve at least got a plan to get through it until summer hits and I can breathe again.

*My title today comes from a song by The Cure: “Doing the Unstuck” from the 1992 “Wish” album. I like the manic hopefulness of it. Sometimes you have to talk yourself into being happy.

**When the girls were little, I found FlyLady — which is also what led me to minimalism. I haven’t followed her system in years, but I remember how helpful it was and am grateful to have it as a resource. I also like how it’s not about perfection, but about getting shit done. I can get behind that.

March books (no joke)

Let’s start off on a tangent: How is it that February, the shortest month on the calendar, took 57 years to get through, but March was like 87 seconds? Time is a mystery, my friends.

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Photo by James Tarbotton on Unsplash. Incidentally, this is TOTALLY my life and how I read all the time! 😉

Anyway! March was a good month on the book front. Maybe a little TOO good — my eLibrary account really came through in the past couple of weeks and I have five titles lined up at the moment. Fun fact: If you keep your Kindle on airplane mode, they can check the books back in, but they can’t technically erase them from your device. I know, that’s totally cheating, but I promise I’m cheating with a pure heart. Uh, assuming that’s possible, I guess.

Here’s what I read, in order even:

The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Merve Emre. (Before you have to ask, I’m an INFJ — introvert, intuitive, feeling, judging. They say it’s the rarest of all personality types, but I assume they say that to everyone to make us all feel like we’re special unicorns.) Well, Emre isn’t joking — it IS a strange history and it’s kind of amazing that the women who created it, a mother-daughter team, had it in them to be so persistent in getting the thing published. Emre is a skeptic on the personality testing front, and I appreciated that, actually — I felt like it gave her the ability to step back from the hype. One thing I hadn’t realized until I read the book is that according to Briggs and Myers, your personality is set the day you are born and it never changes. That seems weird to me, but whatever. Anyway, it was an interesting read and good to learn that the test is loosely based on Jung’s theories but is in no way scientific. I found that comforting somehow.

Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? by Mindy Kaling. After the craziness of Emre’s book, this book was a fantastic pallet cleanser: It’s hilarious and a quick read. I’m probably the last person on earth to read it as it came out in 2011, but anyway, I recommend this one if you need a laugh.

About a Boy by Nick Hornsby. How did I JUST read this book? I haven’t seen the movie, either. It was just so sweet and funny and great. It’s like the book equivalent of a fancy donut. Recommend!

An American Marriage by Tavari Jones. I suppose it was about time for me to read something more difficult after two fun-fests. This is a great book — well written and made me think about what I take for granted being a middle aged white woman married to the same man for 23 years. There were parts that were hard to take because it was difficult to accept the injustice of it all — for Roy, wrongly accused and imprisoned, and Celestial, who has to navigate life with her husband locked away. It’s not what either of them had expected, and the outcome isn’t, either. Recommend.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I think this might have been an Abby recommendation. One of those sci-fi/fantasy stories with magic and a gang of kids out on an adventure. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the sequel.

What’s on my list:

After about four months of waiting, Educated by Tara Westover has finally come my way via the eLibrary. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book and am looking forward to reading it.

I’ve also got The Friend by Sigrid Nunez and The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin lined up. I’m currently reading The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater, but it’s the fourth in a series and, while all accounts point to this one being a stand-alone (whatever that means), I’ll probably end up reading the entire series just for something to do. More sci-fi/fantasy/kids on a magical adventure. I don’t mind.

Your turn: Whatcha reading?

Paper vs. digital

We’re going to go a different direction with today’s post — and ironically, I’m going to use a digital platform to talk about paper.

I’ve never actually thought much about paper vs. digital formats, I guess because my life naturally involves both. I started blogging on my 39th birthday as a way to deal with having the 40s in my sights, but even before that, most of my working life has revolved around what I produce on a desktop computer screen.

Eric and I got our first home computer in 2001 — Abby was around 2 — and I immediately took to it. I am a fast typer (had to be: English major, history minor, there were a lot of papers going on in my college days) and I enjoyed being able to toss out my thoughts quickly and cleanly. Word docs look so organized!

I have also been an avid journal keeper for … most … of my life. I started at around 10 years old (I was also writing stories in earnest when I was 6, much to the delight of my first grade teacher, who just knew I’d have a writing career. I guess she was sort of right) and kept them religiously until I was 25 or so. Then I just got busy. When the girls were born, I kept journals of the funny things they said while simultaneously writing about how overwhelming young children are. (I’m so happy with my older kids, I can’t even tell you.) And I’d go through phases where I’d keep a personal journal — mostly that was anxiety control, and the thought of rereading any of it isn’t something I’m up for at the present time. I’m in such a better head space now.

All of THAT is just to say that I like and use both formats, the paper and the digital, and I can see the benefits both bring to my life: Sometimes writing longhand is therapeutic; sometimes I want to write quickly and get it all out.

My blogs have served as a bit of a journal from the get-go, and I never really thought about the possibility that any of what I’ve written would ever go away. Until I read “Raiders of the Lost Web” (HERE) about how the internet isn’t exactly forever.

My favorite parts of that article, written by Adrienne LaFrance:

Digital information itself has all kinds of advantages. It can be read by machines, sorted and analyzed in massive quantities, and disseminated instantaneously. “Except when it goes, it really goes,” said Jason Scott, an archivist and historian for the Internet Archive. “It’s gone gone. A piece of paper can burn and you can still kind of get something from it. With a hard drive or a URL, when it’s gone, there is just zero recourse.”

And, later:

“There are now no passive means of preserving digital information,” said Abby Rumsey, a writer and digital historian. In other words, if you want to save something online, you have to decide to save it. Ephemerality is built into the very architecture of the web, which was intended to be a messaging system, not a library.

She concludes:

But the thing unsaid, the fact that unravels even an optimist’s belief in what the web can be, is that the ancient library was eventually destroyed. Not by technology or a lack of it, but by people. Saving something and preventing its destruction are not entirely the same thing.

Huh.

I don’t know that I need to save everything I’ve ever written online right this second and for evermore, but I do like the idea of my grandkids, if I ever end up with any, being able to read my stuff. It’s vanity, of course, thinking that they’ll care or that I have anything to contribute in any possible way, but whatever, I still want that option. So maybe I’ll pursue some sort of paper version of my favorite posts someday.

Because my mother would totally read it even if my own grandkids never materialize. WORTH IT.

It’s interesting to me that right now, my Simple Year co-bloggers and I are working on an anthology that will take a digital media platform and translate it to paper. (Or maybe still digital format, since I wouldn’t mind seeing it available for eReaders.) So I know the process I’d have to undertake to get an anthology of my own work going for those future maybe grandkids. What ticks me off a bit is that had I just written this stuff down in a notebook and not gotten sucked into the idea that digital is better / anyone besides myself would want to read what I’ve written, I wouldn’t have to do anything else besides hand it over at the appropriate time. Um, not that I’m going to stop blogging. VANITY.

And there’s no way I’m transcribing any of those entries in longhand, I can tell you that right now. Plus my handwriting at this point is terrible because all I do is type.

I guess it’s a bit of a war with my minimalism, too, now that I think about it. Of course I’d prefer to write online — nothing physical to have laying around the house. But I also have three paper journals going at the moment: A planner, a bullet journal for daily brain dumps and notes, and a quote book. I like being able to play with these, make them pretty or just scribble. They are whatever I say they are, with no one to please but myself.

And damn! I love journals! I love that paper aspect and how I can go back and read whatever it is I thought important enough to write down without having to scroll through a bunch of screens. There’s a sense of possibility with paper that I don’t get from a blank Word doc. (Word docs symbolize work.)

I have no idea where I’m going with this now that I’ve come to the end of this post. But I like how this aspect of my life is coming to the forefront … that I read an article about the vastness yet limitations of the internet around the time I’m translating my experiences with my zero waste year to paper via the computer screen.

Well, I don’t have a lot of hobbies.

Um, thoughts, feelings, ideas?

What we have here …

… Is a failure to communicate.

**UPDATED**

On Sunday afternoon, we welcomed two middle school Japanese girls to the Walker household. They will be with us until Friday morning. They have limited English and we have zero Japanese. Thank you, Google Translate! But it’s hard to adequately make someone feel at home when you don’t speak the language. Mostly I’m just afraid they’re going to starve under my watch.

So far, we’ve learned that neither have pets. I rushed into their bedroom after I heard a scream, and there was Pearl, hiding under the bed. (“Good call,” said Eric on the screaming. Pearl isn’t all that friendly.) “Do you have pets?” I asked, and they looked at each other, then shook their heads. Well, we got through that conversation, at least.

Basically, we’ve got the two shyest kids in their group, and they’re staying with three introverts. Um, and we’ve never hosted international students before. I feel like I’m lacking in certain skills that are necessary to succeed in this thing, but nevertheless, here we go. What could happen?

Will update as the week goes on … Tips appreciated!

Update, March 21: Tonight is our last night with the girls. We weren’t able to do as much with them as I’d have liked because their schedule was packed with activities, but we shared meals (gringo tacos, hamburgers and tater tots, and spaghetti and garlic bread — the hamburgers were the biggest hit) and an episode of “Survivor” (I do wonder what they thought of that). We showed them around the yard (they took photos of the mountain and the cats). I learned that bagels and cream cheese is a hit and that peanut butter is too.

I’ve learned that there is only so much Google Translate can do, but you can get pretty far with mime.

We’ve got the quietest two of the group, which is awesome because we are also quiet. But it would have been handy to have Abby around; she’s our cruise director and would have had us all whipped into shape. The girls like to hang out in their room with the door closed and unless we invite them to watch TV with us, they seem content to be by themselves. As an introvert, I understand the tendency and want to allow them that space. As a host, I hope that I’m not failing them somehow by not insisting they be with us every waking moment.

Even so, I’ve been gratified to see them get more and more comfortable here as the days go on.

I think that, were we able to communicate better, this would be so much easier. At the same time, I’m glad that we have been able to host these darling girls — they’re such sweeties — and give them a taste of American life. And maybe it’s good that the introverts got the introverts?

That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway. 🙂

And hey: They got to see a professional basketball game, go skiing, go shopping in the city, go shopping in our tourist trap of a town, visit sister city sites of importance, have a cooking lesson at the best restaurant in town and visit Johanna’s school. I’ve got a greater appreciation of our sister city program and the people who chaperone the many activities. It’s really cool to be a part of that.

We’d host again is what I’m saying. But wow, I’m taking all the naps this weekend.

Five things challenge

This week I’ve been working on a simple decluttering challenge: Five things a day, out the door.

Doesn’t that sound so manageable and innocent?

I’m keen on this project because we’ll be hosting a couple of middle school Japanese students next week. Nothing like strangers staying in your house to make you look at it with fresh eyes. Plus Eric and I have always done our best cleaning when guests are involved.

We’re minimalists and aspiring zero wasters, but we still have stuff. Some of it is from before we knew better; some of it we should have known better than to bring home but we did anyway. Some is because someone else didn’t know better. 😉 And of course, we’ve got three people in the house fulltime, and all of us have different ideas on what minimalism and zero waste means.

So paring down five items a day seems like a great challenge — it doesn’t take a lot of time but you can still see results. I gleaned this from my friends at Nourished Planner (okay, imaginary friends); they suggested putting a box or basket someplace inconspicuous, adding items each day and, at the end of the week, taking the whole ordeal to the secondhand shop.

Um, I’m not quite doing that.

I am loathe to admit this, but most of my five items each day are ending up in the recycling or … the trash.

Here’s why it’s happening:

  1. There are items I should have recycled or  thrown away ages ago, but didn’t because of environmental concerns.
  2.  Um, I guess that’s pretty much the only reason.

It’s an easy thought process: If I don’t throw things away, then they don’t get added to the landfill. If I don’t recycle, but simply reuse, those items also don’t get added either. *

And yeah, I mean, that’s one way look at it.

The problem with this approach is that my house is being taken over by stuff we don’t want, don’t need and don’t use. (Hello, glass jars from my sunflower seed butter!) Mentally, I also do better when I don’t have a lot of clutter, or projects, or anything, really because “things” tend to trigger my anxiety — when things are crowded or left undone, I can’t breathe.

So there’s some landfilling going on in my house this week. Case in point: Five kitchen towels that have seen better days. And the last time I was at Goodwill, I asked if they took rags and was told in no uncertain terms that THAT is a lie. Okay then. Trash it is.

I’m disappointed in this result, the landfilling of items. I’m disappointed in myself. But … I came to the conclusion long ago that there are no best-case scenarios when it comes to environmental solutions — we’re just making the best choices we can from a list of really bad options. That doesn’t mean I just toss things into the trash without thought. I’m just not sure what to do about it: Continue to hoard it and delay the inevitable, or get on with it and appreciate a clutter-free home.

I’m going for the latter. And feel like a jerk. But wow, my anxiety is doing awesome!

* HERE is a rather depressing article by The Atlantic about the recycling situation in the States right now. Recycling pretty much equals throwing away at this point.

Thoughts on Lent and kindness

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Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash.

What does a minimalist liberal devout Catholic who can’t eat anything anyway give up for Lent?

That actually sounds like the start of a bad joke, now that I think about it, and yet, that’s my life. Eh, it could be worse.

The answer: Social media sites (Instagram and Twitter; I have to be on Facebook for my job, but I only look at the newspaper’s page, not my personal account. And I am keeping Snapchat because it’s Abby’s primary communication method) and a game (Hay Day. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve been playing that since Johanna was in second grade; my farm looks amazing). I spend a lot of time online after work just messing around. It’s a habit that I’ve been looking to break. I’ve given up a lot of sites, but I can’t seem to shake them all. The threat of eternal damnation is just the thing I need to make it stick.

I’ve also given up the non-dairy, no sugar “ice cream bar” that I’ve become attached to because … I don’t need one every night, that’s a lot of packaging waste, and that’s the only thing I could think of that would be truly a bummer. I look forward to that bar!

Anyway, Lent officially started March 6 with Ash Wednesday, and so far I’ve finished two books. I guess you could say my social media fast is working.

*

I am on Austin Kleon’s newsletter list, and I enjoy the posts he puts up. He’s a thoughtful, creative type that I’d like to have coffee with. All of that is just to say that I found his “You’ve got to be kind” post (HERE) on March 9 a breath of fresh air.

I am a judgmental type. This helps me in numerous ways: I am able to sense and defuse situations before they become awkward or heated, I can read people easily when we’re face to face, and I can make quick decisions that I’m able to stick to.

But I can also be unkind. Instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, I shove them in a box, label them (usually “idiot”) and move on. I mean, sometimes they deserve it. (Thinking of you, driver who pulls out in front of me and goes 10 miles under the speed limit. There’s no one behind me, why not just let me pass? IDIOT.) But mostly, they do not.

Without going into too much detail, my mother shared with me last year an experience that made her see people differently: Sure, they just pulled out in front of her and are going under the speed limit, but maybe they’ve had a stressful day. They just cut in line at the grocery store, but maybe it’s because they’re preoccupied thinking of something that’s life and death. She resolved to be more patient — a kindness.

We don’t know the burdens other people are carrying. And while we are the stars of our own lives, we are merely extras in everyone else’s. This is something I have been trying to remember and act on. I have limited success on a daily basis, usually because I make a judgement against someone and then remember I’ve resolved not to. (Also, why are all my judgments negatives? I suck, you guys.)

Anyway, I copied two quotes from Kleon’s article above into my journal that I’d like to share because … well, they got me thinking that maybe I’m looking at Lent all wrong:

“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

— Roger Ebert

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.

— Emily Esfahani Smith

What’s more beneficial in the long run: Opting to be kind or opting to give up a fake ice cream bar? (This is also mentioned in Kleon’s post — he’s linked a video by a Jesuit who talks about being kind for Lent. I don’t want you to be under the pretense that I’ve come up with an original thought here. No, I’m reporting on what I’ve learned!)

I’m too … Catholic … and it’s too ingrained in me that you give something up that’s concrete. (We’re also asked to be charitable and pray. It’s not just about abstaining from what we’re attached to.) But I really, really love the idea of working on my kindness muscle this Lenten season.

I just have to remember BEFORE I am unkind. Wow, that’s hard.

P.S. Our priest mentioned in a sermon that we could also give up someone who we’re too attached to, and I looked at Eric and was like, well, looks like you’ve got to go. He’s still here, so … I guess that one’s not on.