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.


Sentimental attachments: The Libra test

Blogging is an interesting way to occupy one’s time. In fact, I have a PhD colleague who did her dissertation on the occupation of blogging. Her study was fascinating, as she explored the meanings that blogging takes for different people. The thing that I have noted about blogging is that I write something, send it out into the ether, and then have relatively little sense of where it goes. Sure I can see when someone links to the blog, and I can track the number of hits on the site, and comments, but most readers pop in, read, and pop back out. As much as we bloggers talk about “blogging communities”, a blog is mostly a sounding board for a single individual, or a couple of writers, with a percentage of readers who comment on some posts. I love comments, but get relatively few, compared to the number of people who read this site. Sometimes I wonder…what’s the point? So much energy goes into this site. Does anyone really read it? I like writing, and the blog can be a good way to process my own thoughts and record our daily life, like an online journal, but the real hope is to impact some change. Living more simply changed my life. My hope is to pass that along. So it’s always encouraging to hear that someone was inspired by something I wrote, or a link that I shared.

Relatively recently, a friend started a minimalist challenge that she said was inspired by this blog! I found that very encouraging. Then I got a note in the mail from my mom today. She told me that she’s “following my mantra” – a load of stuff to the Goodwill every week! That is indeed how I pared down our stuff, and it felt manageable to make such incremental change, along with a sweeping whole-house Minify every now and then when the spirit moved me. My mom has been such an inspiration to me in so many ways (especially now that I’m a doc student – she’s been an excellent source of advice on life in academia!) It’s nice that we can inspire each other, every now and then. So that got me thinking – what advice helped me in the process of paring down our stuff? What was the hardest part, and where did I get stuck?

And that’s when I realized – I should share the Libra test. (I made that name up, by the way. It’s not a thing. Yet). I’m not an astrology buff, by any stretch. I like the Greek and Roman myths behind the names of the constellations, and I like astronomy quite a bit, but I digress. The point here is that this test has nothing to do at all with astrology, except that it was named after the zodiac image for Libra. Do you know it? The scales, for weighing two things against one another? Like this:

libra scales

The Libra test involves weighing your attachment to a pair of items, while literally holding them in your hands. It’s a way to help you let go of the less-loved thing, and to realize that parting with it will be totally painless. It started because I am a sentimental sort of gal. I save movie tickets, photos I don’t really like because they remind me of someone I do like, gifts that don’t fit. Or I used to, anyway. I have a hard time parting with an object if I have a sentimental attachment to it. “I still like this,” I tell myself, even when the object I’m holding in my hands is one I’ve never used, which lives on the back of a kitchen shelf. I feel an attachment. I really started noticing my attachment to things when I started participating in Project 333. It was so simple, and lovely, to dress with just 33 items. I realized that I didn’t need a closet full of stuff. I certainly didn’t need to own 12 cardigan sweaters. But when it came to actually getting rid of some of them…I had a hard time letting a single one go. “I sewed these buttons onto this one when I was in college,” I would think, holding a sweater that I hadn’t worn in the past year. Or “I got this one at a clothing swap from a friend who has now moved away,” about one that never quite buttoned up the front. I realized that I needed a way to help me remember that it doesn’t hurt to part with a thing that I never really use, and don’t need, especially when it could be put to better use in another home.

Here’s a current example: I have a pitcher that I bought in college. It was handmade, by a pottery student at my alma mater, and it reminds me of the mountains. In fact, that’s why I bought it: the glaze pattern reminds me of the blue ridge mountains. I like the pitcher. Since buying it ten years ago, though, I’ve acquired several that I like better. A fish-shaped ceramic pitcher from my mom, which glugs when we pour water from it. We use that every day. A blue handmade pottery pitcher that matches the set we got for our wedding. We use that whole set of pottery at every meal. And I have a sunset-colored pottery pitcher, also handmade, that I love so much that when it cracked down the side, I turned it into a crock for our kitchen utensils. I use that…you guessed it. Every day. The pitcher from college, meanwhile? The one that reminds me vaguely of the mountains? It sits unused, high on a shelf, because I have too many pitchers, and it’s my least favorite. It’s still a lovely object, and could probably get some daily use in a less cluttered home. Someone out there is going to love it even more than I do. And I can feel that – the sense that I don’t really love or need it – if I hold it in one hand and hold in the other hand an object that I do adore. When I compare the mountain pitcher to the blue pitcher from our wedding set, there’s no question of which object I love more, or would keep if I had to choose between them.

That’s all it takes – that moment of comparison, between a real affinity for an object that I love, and a mild sentimental attachment to an object that I know I should let go. That’s what reminds me that it’s okay to part with an object that I still kind of like, when I have several similar object that you like even better. It’s another way to approach the question, how many of these (scissors, pitchers, cardigan sweaters) do you really need and want to own? Figuring out which things I still really love, and which ones someone else will love even more, has been helping me pare down and get closer to a house that feels well loved, instead of just full of stuff.

Try it. See if it helps. Meanwhile, I’ll be parting with this mountain pitcher. Anyone want it? It’s in search of a better home!

Currently : July 2014

HOME. Also known as the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, where I'm hoping to spend some time later this summer!

HOME. Also known as the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, where I’m hoping to spend some time later this summer!


Reading | Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv

Listening | Zombie, by the Cranberries (in my head! it’s in my head!)

Hoping | To get a rather dreamy job – the interview was last week, and I confess, I’m on pins & needles

Watching | Parenthood reruns. People have been telling me to watch this show for years, and now I’m hooked! It really (really) reminds me of my family

Working | Dissertation proposal edits for days

Procrastinating | Laundry, as ever

Wanting | Lamps to brighten up the living room, but trying to withstand the urge

Wearing | skirts every day, because it’s WAY too hot outside

Recovering | from our summer yard sale. Got rid of stuff, met neighbors, made some cash, got a sunburn to remember it all by…

Drinking | Cold brew coffee

Eating | Kale slaw from the Moosewood cookbook (find it here)

Making | a kitchen pegboard! If it works, it’ll be on the blog in the next few weeks.

Sewing | baby presents. Our dearest friends had a tiny adorable human last month, and we can’t wait to meet him!

Dreaming | of backpacking with Josh this summer, in Shining Rock Wilderness. Still hoping we’ll get the chance this year!


what about you? whatcha up to this July?