Setting Rhythms, Taking Rest

Today is the first day in quite a while that I feel a sense of progress, rather than of spinning my wheels. I have finished the two big things that were on my plate for the last few weeks – proposal revisions, and grant work. We’re writing a grant at work, and it’s a team effort. I’m a small part of that team, and grateful to be part of it. I’ve learned so much from the job that I love, and am fortunate that my supervisor, mentor and staff are all good people, the kind who inspire me, and who really work together. That’s something I don’t take for granted, having been part of a lot of teams over the course of my work life. And the proposal…ah, dissertations. Such an undertaking. Same mentor, different project, and here too I am glad to have him guiding me through it all. In spite of all that support and teamwork, I get stressed out. I suppose we all do. 

I find that when dealing with stress, it’s good to set some parameters around it. To set a rhythm, even. I will work on this project from hour X to hour Y. I write that down on my calendar, schedule it like a meeting with myself, and go to it, cup of coffee by my side, in my office or (more often) at home on the couch. Josh and I both work from home most days, and it’s usually quite companionable, music playing in the background, the pup nestled next to me on the couch. I set a timer to keep me working, and to let me know when to stop, and when it goes off, I find a stopping point and set the project aside. At dinner time, I stop for the day. Perhaps if there’s a deadline I’ll set the timer again and work in the evening, but I always stop to take a walk with Josh and the pup or watch a movie or play a board game later in the night. And at bedtime, I wash my face, brush my teeth, and curl up in bed with my book for a while, then turn off the light. “It is done for the day,” I tell myself. And – this is always true – it will still be there tomorrow. It is good to know what “enough” looks like, in the context of one day, and to have a sense of when we have done enough.  

I also find that it helps to have a rhythm throughout my day. I try to get up around the same time in the morning, make coffee and brush my teeth, sit outside for a few minutes, get dressed, have a bite to eat, and then (this is important) check my list of tasks for the day and decide what’s important. What needs to get done, on this day? In what order? That helps me decide what to work on, and gives me a way to check back and know when I am done. In the evenings, too, I have a routine. I’m not married to it – if a friend calls and says “let’s get an ice cream,” I go and have an ice cream. Being social, cultivating some spontaneity and close relationships, is one of the keys to a well lived life. But in general, a daily rhythm has been good for me, when I’ve been able to maintain it. I think it’s good for the dog, and for Josh and our relationship, and while I think it’s important right now for our childless state of being, I think it will be even more important when we have children. For kids, daily rhythm is essential (for a great article on family rhythm and how one family goes about it, click here).

We decide how much of our lives we will devote to a thing, even work. I think it’s popular in our culture to talk about how busy we are, and to dwell on our stress. I think perhaps we should stop that. I was so inspired by a professor who told me she was “giving up busy-ness.” When I asked what that meant, she said “I’m going to do one thing at a time, and not talk about how busy I am.” Such a simple commitment, but such a revolutionary one.

I am giving up being busy. Trying to, anyway. I too will try to do one thing at a time, to set my tasks for the day, go to them, and then set them aside when the day is done, to take a rest. I will try to follow a rhythm in my life. And I will focus on how fortunate and grateful I am to be doing work that I love, rather than how busy I am. Busy-ness, as my friend and professor Jenny so astutely pointed out, is more a state of mind, a way that we choose to experience and approach our daily lives.

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Project 333 Fall 2013

Project 333 Fall 2013

I’ve done a lot of thinking about Project 333 lately, and put together this collection of images similar to what I’ll be wearing this fall. Who else is participating in Project 333? For me, it’s been a great way to live a bit more simply, especially as I’m travelling a LOT for work and school this fall – keeping my wardrobe a bit more minimalist has made packing for extended trips (including a few that wound up being a few days longer than planned) much simpler! These items aren’t identical to the ones in my wardrobe, but they are pretty similar, and they’ve worked for presentations, classroom visits and teaching, office days, the occasional day hike in the woods, and relaxing on the weekends (including visiting the state fair!) I did “cheat” a bit for a Halloween party, delving into the back of my closet to throw together a Julia Child costume. I decided that was fair game – the point of being part of Project 333 is to simplify my daily life, not miss out on dressing up for the occasional costume party. 

Tiny Apartment Revolution (adAPT NYC)

I’ve been following the news with interest lately, because there’s been so much coverage of the New York design contest for tiny apartments known as adAPT NYC, and so much speculation about how this is the way we’ll live from here on out. (We, in this context, appears to mean broke young people like myself who move to urban areas. I’m not sure Chapel Hill counts as an urban area…perhaps that’s why I no longer live in a tiny space, although I hope to again someday). For my part, I’m on board – I just can’t figure out why people are so flummoxed about it, and so frequently condescending about small space living. There’s a housing shortage, especially when it comes to affordable housing, in almost every urban area in the country, and yet the most sustainable thing to do is to live within the urban areas rather than in the suburbs. This is about more than aesthetics and comfort. This is, with very little hyperbole, about finding a way for us to survive as a species. How shall we live more sustainably? How shall we live packed in on top of each other like sardines, while preserving some green space? How shall we evolve beyond the two car garage and fenced back yard, which is (all together now) no longer tenable and must stop being the “American Dream”?

What followed Mr. Bloomberg’s announcement was a media frenzy of sorts. There was this snarky and not particularly helpful article on furnishing your tiny apartment, from someone who probably hasn’t lived in a tiny space (and who thinks those of you who do are freaks). There was this much better, more thoughtful article from the same paper’s CityRoom section, which described the motivations for moving to a tiny apartment as including simplicity and efficiency as well as necessity. There was much coverage, and several video tours, of the lovely apartment of Erin Boyle, who writes the gorgeous blog Reading My Tea Leaves.

Finally, there was an entire model apartment built out of paper by the mayor’s office to demonstrate the concept:

Image from a less-than-enthusiastic article about the project at amny.com. Click image to read full article.

Tiny spaces were in the news before this announcement, of course. In June, there was Inhabitat’s coverage of five awesomely little studios. I am in love with this one, which I freely confess is my dream apartment:

(Photo from inhabitat.com. Click photo to see full article; see more photos of apartment  here).

It does seem, though, that tiny apartments are now giving tiny houses a run for their media coverage, and I’m glad to see it, as I think both are valid and viable options…but my own tastes run strongly toward apartment living! What do you guys think about all of this?