A Wanderer’s Watercolors

img_9650This weekend, I went to Savannah to spend a day to two with my husband. Brett stayed behind at the conference, and I’ve headed home for some alone time (and work tomorrow). While he was learning EMS-educator stuff yesterday, I spent the afternoon on the balcony of our room painting.

The night before, we had tried to stretch out in separate double beds – enjoying the leg room for a change.  It took me about one minute to realize that separate beds were not doing it for me. “Nope!” I said out loud, and got out of my bed and into Brett’s.

The short watercolor book I made him the next day was inspired by that moment.

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“I travel far away when I am asleep…”
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“It feels like I am a very small adrift in the sea.”
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“Pagan tries to help me stay put”
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“But she is very small. Too small.”
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“Sometimes I have nightmares.”
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“But when you sleep beside me, it’s like MAGIC. I know where I belong.”
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“Even just touching you with one little toe does the trick!”

(We refer to this as “the love toe.”)

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“I don’t float away so far on my own.”
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“And no matter how dark the night, I can always find my way home.”

My Self-Care Mistake

I’ve got the classic Calgon lady in the featured image because “Calgon, take me away!” was the TV-commercial version of self-care I remember growing up.  I’ve only learned very recently that the bubble bath variety of self-care is part of the reason why conversations about self-care so frequently left me feeling awful.

I would walk away from conversations about self-care feeling guilty, shameful, and down on myself. As if I were somehow a less-good person because of my obvious failures at bubble baths.

In reality, it comes down to a few key things: First, the cultural myth of the effectiveness of the grand gesture, instead of the day to day small bits of attention. Second, the definition of how, when and where self-care actually occurs in women’s lives – writ large – and my life in particular.

I’ve journaled about this a lot, and I’m writing this in the hope that it can help someone else stop feeling ashamed of bubble-bath failures and instead see true self-care emerge.

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The Cultural Myth of the Grand Gesture

The best metaphor I have for this is a romantic one.  Imagine a romantic partner, who on the brink of being dumped, shows up with the big giant flourishing romantic gesture after six months of never holding hands or hearing how your day was or washing the dishes. The gesture is enough for you to know they care. They really don’t want you to leave, right?

Our movies, television and pop culture like to pretend that standing outside with a boom box level gestures are enough to get the girl back. They like to say that these huge, climactic, grandiose things are the way we keep and stay in love. When all of the science says otherwise.  In reality, the big gestures are only helpful as flourishes to already-healthy relationships.

Our cultural myth applies this exact same theory to self-care.

 

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“If I go spend an afternoon in the sun by myself, I will be all better.”

(Read: If I give myself a dozen me-time-roses and a pair of earrings, I will be all better.)

 

Now, I’m not knocking the afternoon in the sun by myself.  Nor am I knocking my husband giving me flowers and jewelry. The problem comes in when that is the only demonstration of love and care that is given. Carving out me-time after dinner doesn’t cut it.

You see, I thought that self-care had to happen in the form of the grand gesture. It had to be an act of doing. I would carefully list out all of the the things I could do to take care of myself. It was a long list. It included everything from dieting to bubble baths to taking days off to just lay in bed.  It was a growing list that felt like it was becoming increasingly inadequate at taking care of anything I really needed.

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It was around this point in time that I realized I was stressing myself out about being stressed out. I was not doing adequate self-care, because my list of self-care items was overwhelming, and I couldn’t get to any of them.  I went to my therapist and burst into tears, telling her that I failed at taking care of myself.

Obviously, we’ve spent several sessions on this topic since then.

The cultural myth of self-care is that it’s something you carve out time to do – that it’s something you can put on a to-do list at all. 

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this is good stuff… in addition to the real thing!

When, How, and Where Self-Care Actually Happens

My mini-epiphany came when I realized that the self-care items on my to-do list were all “too little, too late,” and that I needed to short-circuit the need for the to-do list to really achieve any sense of inner peace of mind.

Self-care happens in the moment. It happens when we decide whether to speak our truths or bottle emotions. It happens when we breathe through pain and let it work its way through us instead of pushing it away. It happens when we try to figure out ways to honor our needs in the day-to-day rush of life and be true to our authentic selves.

For me, self-care happens when I put on my headphones more at my desk.  It happens when I carve out a few hours a week at work to be free from interruptions to get a few things knocked off my to-do list so I don’t freak out about not getting things done.  It happens when I say no to social engagements when I’m overstimulated, or on the verge of being so.  It happens when I spend a lunch hour alone in the sun.

Self-care is taking care of myself, respecting myself, and honoring myself in each moment of the day – not just during down time after dinner.  I need to give my Self the small, constant, consistent gestures of love and respect that build a solid long-term relationship.

 Why I’m Writing This

Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to be writing this. My husband, when I told him all of this, said “I just assumed you were doing all of that already.”

But I wasn’t.  So I figured there had to be other people out there like me, who might need to read this blog. I figured I couldn’t be the only one blundering along, trying to get by on grand gestures of self-care and feeling like I was failing at it. I figure I can’t be the only one feeling like it got all turned around. A vicious cycle of stress and exhaustion that ultimately made it all my fault that I was stressed and exhausted because I just wasn’t good at taking care of myself.

I wrote this in case there’s someone else who needs to read it.

I also want to put this out into the larger conversation, because I think there’s another question to add to the mix: How much of the myth of the grand gesture of self-care is to turn women’s stress and exhaustion back on ourselves? To make it our problem?  To shame us for being stressed and tired?

We are working full-time jobs, parenting, running ourselves ragged, and being superwomen. We’re still doing it, patriarchy be damned.  We’ve given up on the myth of work/life balance and we’d really just like the knot between our shoulder blades to relax. If old Calgon can’t do that, isn’t that our fault?

I don’t have any answers to that question. But I thought I’d ask it. It’s rolling around in my head, and I feel like it’s worth asking.

Unpacking Camp Songs

Last weekend, I attended Ladies Rock Camp Atlanta.  I was one of 25ish campers who spent the weekend raising money for the amazing cause of Girls Rock Camp via the bizarre experience of learning instruments, writing original rock n roll songs, and performing live on stage after just 3 days.

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People on Twitter keep asking me how it went. TWITTER! Twitter is not the place to unpack those bags 140 characters at a time, thumb-typing all the feels. I’ve journaled 3-4 times and had a session with my therapist, and I’m still trying to sift through all of the discoveries layered into this weekend.

To start with, I’m no stranger to camp. I loved camp as a kid, and unpacking smelly camp clothes and remembering camp songs for always and forever are very deep parts of me. I still know the Whitewood Pep song, even if those durned kids today don’t even know what a pepper pot is.

I’m thinking about that first surreal week after getting home from camp when you still remember all of the awesomeness, and real life hasn’t taken over the brainspace yet. All of my stories right now are from Rock Camp. All of my metaphors are Rock Camp related.

I’m trying to figure out how to organize the experience into something resembling a thought process.  But honestly, I’m not sure whether I’m going to be able to make much sense of any of the things I want to say.

Thoughts & Impressions

“How was it?”

“Was it fun?”

“Will you go back next year?”

This is not an easy set of things to unpack. It was a hothouse creative experience. A pressure-cooker of intense vulnerability and anxiety, trust and joy. They knew it was a pressure cooker, so they created a solid container to deal with the pressure, and it was safe even while the heat was on.

It was a trust fall. It was mutual respect. It was honesty and authenticity. It was a whole bunch of new Facebook friends.  It was working with people way younger and way older and all of them equally awesome.  It was inclusive and exclusive at the same time.  It was terrifying and hard and easy and brilliant and excruciating and perfect.

I have no idea whether it was fun. It’s still too soon to say whether I’ll go back.

I’m really glad I did it.  It was life-changing.

Self-discoveries

Here is a shotgun list, in no particular order. Just know that you’re really lucky it’s not a hand drawn mind-map:

  • I still love performing. A stage is a magical place.
  • I need to figure out a way to sing more that doesn’t involve the cat trying to stick her head in my mouth to find the sound. That was why I stopped playing the ukulele, and I don’t want to stop that again. I need music.
  • I want to arrange this song for my uke. It’s totally doable… I think.
  • I learned that I can write songs. This is a new revelation and something to be explored.
  • I am a perfectionist, even when I’m an amateur, and it only takes the slightest nudge to send me careening into skidmarks of self-doubt
  • I realized that even when it’s an art form I know nothing about, I’m still very comfortable within the creative process. I’ve learned to trust the experience of flow. I discovered that I was so comfortable that I was willing to facilitate it for others.  That this is something I almost feel qualified to teach – this is a also a revelation. (Folks have actually asked me to teach similar things in the past and I’ve demurred. Perhaps I won’t now.)
  • And “Nancy Wilson came to me in a dream and said I had to come” is a totally viable reason to show up.

In case you want to see the rough (I might edit a more polished version of the video later) video of the song – Here’s a link.  (Be sure to wait for Linda’s drum solo at the end!)

My Love/Hate Relationship with Facebook

I’ve been taking a quiet, not-very-strict break from Facebook for the past few weeks.  I didn’t post a dramatic farewell.  I didn’t delete my account.  I haven’t ruminated on my wall about the pros and cons of such a choice. I just… haven’t liked how I feel when I go on Facebook lately. And because I’m not the kind of person who likes feeling yucky, I’ve just… not gone there.

But, now that I’m sort of ghosting Facebook, I’m realizing some things about it. About why I hate it. Why I love it. Why it makes me feel yucky, and why I can’t just forget my password and never sign in again. (Though I have done that at work. I had to clear my cookies. And I’m too lazy to reset my password everywhere else and I don’t remember either password. So I can’t get on Facebook or Twitter at my desk, and it’s sort of amazing.)

I suspect that my observations may resonate with folks, so I thought I’d share them. Also, writing them out helps me think through and unsnarl them for myself.  I’m going to plunk them down here and see what threads I can start to tease out.

Learning Things vs Feeling Inundated

I have certain friends who have taken it upon themselves to educate their Facebook family. For whatever reason, they feel like the however-many people who are receiving their posts need to be constantly kept abreast of Information with a Capital-I.

Much of this is political. Some of it is pre-election politics, but frankly, these people talk politics when there’s no election to be had. Some of this is social – commentary about what’s in the news, for example. Sometimes, it’s the latest feminist / environmentalist / whateverist take on some cultural phenomenon.

And sometimes, with those posts from those people, I learn things.  I like learning things.  I like learning things enough, and I like those people enough, and those posts are intermittently valuable enough to me that I continue to follow those people and their posts.

However, when I’m not in a learny mood? Or when I have already read quite enough about whatever topic is being posted about?  Those people, and their hyper-informative posting can get… Preachy.  Or when the 2-3 hyper-informative posters become a crowd of 12-15 hyper-informative people? Or if those 2-3 take to Facebook and just decide to up how often they are linking to things?

At this point, maybe because it’s an election year. Maybe because of a combination of my mood and a bad mix of too many people deciding I don’t know enough and having too much time on their hands…  I’m seeing way too much of this type of post right now for my taste, and not enough baby pictures.

Instead of feeling vaguely interested, and like my intellectual curiosity might want to go haring off on an adventure, I feel…  I feel like I’m inadequate.

I feel like I’m not a good enough feminist because I just don’t want to find out what the casually sexist things I should stop saying are, or because I don’t think I need to download the chrome app that stops me from saying “sorry” in my gmail.

I feel like a bad American because this election is full of yahoos that I don’t want to vote for. I don’t want to click on any one of those links about any of those people doing or saying something I disagree with.  I don’t click on any of it.

Yucky feels #1 for the potential pay off of 1 possible click through of an informative read out of what 15-20 links I scroll past?

Let’s Chat About Post Spam vs. Anti-spam

My feed is half-full of people who really believe you have to post a privacy policy in your status, or if you ask Zuck for money, you’re entered in a lotto.  The other half of the people in my feed are the ones trying to convince the rest that this is entirely bologna.

Never the twain shall meet.

So what happens is, my feed is full of BOTH sets – like a pair of dueling banjos.

I have 5 minutes to chill before I have to go do something stressful. Can I just see a photo of your dog doing something adorable? Status update of what you’re up to today that is out of the ordinary? Funny thing your kid said?  Picture of awesome lunch? Anything.

Nope. I get to scroll through the dueling banjos of spam and the information-holics.

Then there are the THINGS THAT JUST WANT TO MAKE ME CRY

I really feel like a horrible person because I don’t do anything to help the abused animals – WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE POST HORRIBLE PHOTOS OF ABUSED ANIMALS?

Seriously.  I rescued all of my pets. I love them. They are the starfishes in whose lives I’ve changed everything. I can’t do anything about the horrible abused animals and now I’m going to cry.

And how happy this dog is when he sees his Veteran master home from war?

Shut up. You’re crying. Not me.

Why do we post things that make us cry?  Why? I don’t want to cry.  This is not okay.  Why do I want to get on Facebook to cry? I don’t.

I get on Facebook when I’m bored on a MARTA train and want to catch up on the mini-newsletter of my friends’ lives.  Unless it’s your dog and your husband coming home from war, I’m sort of over all of it.

What I FREAKING LOVE about Facebook

You know what I love about Facebook?

I knew that my friends in Paris were okay. Or my friend in Egypt.

It’s a tool. It’s a powerful, global tool that can be a force for good in the world. It was absolutely essential to the early days of Saving Sweet Briar.   Closed groups can be safe places to talk about things you wouldn’t want on wider social media, and can be powerful generators of ideas and “Packs” of people who can team up and create amazing things, like the quests I do in December.  I feel like I know how my family members are doing, even though none of them live in my hometown. And sometimes, when you’re lonely, it can be a real way to reach out and connect with a friend.

It’s annoying to have to fiddle with settings constantly, and trying to fix the algorithm so it stops showing me that same Lifehacker post again and again.

It’s a tool. It’s a weird habit that I’m kinda breaking. But mostly, it’s a way to stay in touch with people – if we do it right.

Well, at least we’ve stopped poking each other.

2016 Is Going To Rock!

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This Ent-ish looking fellow greeted me and my friend Clarice on our overnight hike on the AT in October. Isn’t he cool? I’ve got more Appalachian Trail hiking planned for 2016, so I decided he could the the image for today, even though he’s wood, and not stone.

As I looked at the 2016 calendar and started to write down the things that I’d already committed to doing, a theme emerged. It was a dorky, silly theme, but a theme all the same. So I’m going with it.  There were 6 things on the list of things that I was already planning with the word “Rock” in the name. The Rocky Mountains. Hiking old Rocky Top, Tennessee. Visiting the House on the Rock in Wisconsin.

I’ve embraced it. For 2016, I’ve decided to try to something that “Rocks” once each month. February is in the bag. I’ve signed up for Ladies Rock Camp!  I’ve researched enough state parks, tourist attractions and random things within a day’s drive with “Rock” in the title to make this happen. If I get lazy, I’ll get a pet rock. If I decide to cheat, I’ll watch a movie with Dwayne, “The Rock” Johnson in it.  But no matter what, 2016 is going to Rock.

As for my usual goal setting and priority setting stuff that I do each year? Well, yeah, I did that too. I did finish the #Quest2016 prompts, even though I did a number of them in the privacy of my journal rather than blogging them.

I’ve set myself daily, weekly, and monthly goals just like I did last year and the year before that.  Getting out into the woods once a month is exceedingly good for me, and having a check-box on the calendar reminding me to do that isn’t a bad thing. These are healthy habits that work for me, and I basically just write them down to remind myself of what works.

When I am doing well, I don’t need the checklist, because what works is already working. But when I’m stressed out, the gentle reminder to take a walk in the woods is exactly what I need. Most of these regular goals are baby-steps toward larger ones (e.g. word counts per day toward getting draft two of this novel done this year).   Others are just basic self-care nudges.

Between you and me, I’m in the middle of some really big transformations. I’ve been pretty quiet for a while because of this. I’m probably going to stay pretty quiet as things continue through this course. It’s all good – if anything, I’m just becoming more me. I really do think 2016 is going to rock.

I’ve got to come out of this chrysalis sometime, right?

Missed Me, Missed Me?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m participating in Quest 2016 – a group of wonder-trackers and business artists mulling over what 2016 will bring them by answering prompts from visionaries.

Today’s prompt is from Seth Godin.

Would they miss you if you were gone?
What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?

It’s a lot like the question he asked last year, because he wanted people who have participated both years to notice how their answers may have already changed.

Whoa buddy, has mine changed. I think I’m just going to transcribe this straight from the journal entry that I poured my response into this morning….

 

Dear Seth, You must have really hated Existentialism. I’ve read this prompt five times. I keep imagining you in college, feeling the nausée  for the first time, and desperately wishing you could leap back in time and punch Jean Paul Sartre in the nose.  I don’t know whether you were studying him in French class, or in Philosophy. Philosophy, I think. A Sophomore-level class. No earlier. No later, certainly.  Phil201.  I imagine you curled up on a stained rug being angry at a dead French guy that we can’t ever really know what other people think of us. And there’s nothing we can do about it, even if we did.

I don’t know who would miss me. Would the lady with the brightly colored scarves and the jaunty walk miss me? I miss her when I don’t see her after a while. What about the leaf-blower dudes? Or the gay couple that always kisses at the intersection where they have to part ways – one heading north and one heading south. I smile at the tall one, he smiles at me.  The short one travels north and walks very, very fast. I’ve never met him. What about the sweet homeless man who talks to tiny hallucinations and reassures them that they are wonderful mothers?  What about the blond guy with the black plastic sunglasses straight out of the 1980s? What about the tall, thin woman with two tiny dogs who is always covered with hats and scarves and I don’t know whether it’s a religious observance or that she’s just always chilly?

These people see me almost every day. We do not know one another’s names or stories. Do I inspire them? Comfort them? Sometimes they inspire and comfort me. I would miss them if I didn’t see them. Would they miss me?  How the hell would I know?

What does it matter? What does it change?

This question – like the one last year – is targeted to an entrepreneur. A business artist, or someone with something to sell. Right now, I’m midway through rewrites, I’m not querying much. I’m editing short stories to re-submit to magazines.  I don’t have anything to sell, and I don’t have an audience, and I don’t mind any of that.

I’ve sorted out my priorities, and being missed didn’t make the cut.

A few amazing posts that you MUST read by other questers:

Authentic Help & The Serenity Prayer

Remember last year, how I did that “quest thing” with a bunch of people online? I’m doing it again. Yesterday’s image was my response to the first prompt. Below is my response to the second.

You wake up to discover a knock at your door. A wealthy uncle you barely knew has passed and left you a fortune. It’s more than enough to live out your days in glorious splendor, but there is a condition. To be eligible to collect, you must commit your full-time working energies to the pursuit of an answer to a single question of your choosing for the next 12 months.

You are welcome to continue that pursuit after the year ends, for years or decades if it warrants, but you must remain fully focused on seeking the answer until the last minute of the 365th day. A minute shorter, the entire inheritance goes to your annoying and equally long lost cousin, Philly.

What is your question?

My first thought is that I need to see the fine print on this will, because I think cousin Philly rigged it. 2016 is a leap year, and I don’t know whether the 366th day counts.

And rereading this, I don’t think you actually get to collect the inheritance until 2017. Meaning that I have to go on paying my bills without said inheritance – presumably by keeping my full-time job – and while all the time spending my full-time working energies on the pursuit of this single question.

The science-fiction writer in me would also like to know what sort of thought-police tactic will be employed to ensure that I’m pursuing this question during the hours and days required.

But enough with my sarcasm and nit-picking. With the question I’d live in, it doesn’t really matter if I’d be working full time or not.  My question is a simple one.

How Can I Help?

There is no object in the preposition of the above question. Sometimes, the question will mean “How can I help myself?” and sometimes it must mean that.  But there are many other potential objects to that same preposition. How can I help… my family, Sweet Briar, the world?

This question is only four words, but say it with the emphasis on each of the words separately.

How can I help?

In what real ways can I help. What are the things that I can do or say that can help in this situation? This is the emphasis on the how – in what manner – can help be given. Monetary? Expertise? Empathy? Attention? Kindness?

How can I help?

Here’s where the Serenity Prayer comes in. I don’t have the money to help everyone in need. I don’t have the power to change laws. I might not have the energy or the time to lobby congress. What can I do? What is within my means and power and scope of “things I can change?”

How can I help?

This one is important  – because Jeffrey often talks about sharing your medicine. What do – I – specifically, uniquely bring to the table that could help this situation? What do I have to offer that can help?

How can I help?

Sometimes, the things we most want to do in outrage and righteous indignation can do more harm than good. Coming from the goal of creating change, or helping in some way, it can change the way I will tackle a sticky situation.  What’s the actual solution here, what’s going to help rather than just making me feel better.

That’s it. That’s my question. I guarantee I can carry it farther than 366 days. I hope I can carry it my whole life. This question is not a hand-wringing one. This question comes from a place of great power, and from a place of great humility.

A Low Key Thanksgiving

I realized this morning that I’ve written a number of blog posts about thanksgiving, why it’s my favorite holiday, what I love about it.  Facebook memories are popping up reminding me of a challenge I gave my friends a few years ago to list 10 things a day they were grateful for.  Some of my posts are schmaltzy gratitude lists.  Some of them are free-write blurts of whatever was going on.  Last year’s made me sob.

It is in honor of last year’s post that I decided Low Key’s nose would be at the top of this page. And because Low Key woke us up bright and early on a day we could have slept in. And because little dog is going to inspire us to go for a bracing walk later this morning to burn some calories before the day’s indulgences.  I’ll be glad when we aren’t living with a puppy and have settled comfortably back into the maturity and relative laziness of a dog. But he brings us joy even when he’s badly-behaved.  (And yes, for you American Gods readers, I know that naming a dog after a trickster god was pretty much asking for trouble.)

As for the rest of it – the stuff I’m grateful for and whatnot – I’m not sure about writing all of that out today.  My heart hurts for the world.  I keep thinking of the Joseph Campbell quote that’s bumper-stickered to the back of my bicycle, “We can’t cure the world of its sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”

I’m going to enjoy today by living in it.  I’m going to enjoy walking this crazy little dog with my wonderful husband.  I’m going to give my mother-in-law a huge hug for making sure there’s gluten-free gravy.  I’m going to try to make my niece and nephew laugh.

I hope you, too, live deeply in the joy of today.  Happy Thanksgiving.

 

What’s Your Definition of Success?

When will you have succeeded? If you close your eyes and envision your life, what is it that you see yourself doing or being that shows you that you’ve met your goal? That you’ve achieved your dream?

Be honest. Be concrete. Be specific.  Then figure out what it takes to get there.  

I have given the above advice at least three times in the last 2-3 days to different people. They are asking me different questions. But they are asking me about the nebulous world of writing. About their creative goals. About work.

If you keep a reminder of that goal visible, and if you check in with that goal regularly, you will be able to make solid baby-step decisions toward it along the way. Each action should move you in that direction.

also recognize that when I find myself in the pattern of repeatedly dispensing the same advice that it is something I, myself, need to hear.

I think, perhaps, some of my goals are shifting.

Not my book. My goal with my writing is to hold my book in my hand. My definition of success – I will know I’ll have “made it” when I see it in a stranger’s hands on a plane or train. Or when I see it on the shelves of a bookstore.   That’s my real goal.  You see, with that specific definition of success in mind, why I chose trad pub over self pub.  You see why I keep plugging away.

I’ve not been writing much these past few months. I’ve only just gotten back on it. But the goal is still there, and now that I have some more brainspace, it feels like the writing is there and ready to happen.  Words are flowing again.  It feels really good.

I don’t think I need the bigger house anymore.  Not since we rearranged the furniture a bit.  My real goal there was to have a sewing room and a corner to read in. I have both of those things now.  Do we really need to move?  Probably not anytime soon.

I’m going to have to think pretty hard about my goals for my physical goals. I’ve been working a lot on them, and they definitely feel like they are in flux. I couldn’t tell you what that real, concrete “sitting in the future” goal looks like, right now.  It’s hard to make decisions when you don’t know where you’re headed.

As for the other, smaller, more manageable things? Yeah, sure. I’ve got those in the bag. I’m speaking at a conference next week. I’ve been sewing and getting woods time. Blah blah blah.

Don’t get distracted by the little crap. There are only the biggest, most important heart’s desire goals. Go after those.