Outsmarting My Smart Phone, Part I

My first cell phone was too big to put in a pocket or a purse. It was larger than a Princess desk phone, and all the rage before wireless made its debut. We bought it because everyone had one. It seemed like the cool thing to do. It sat between the front seats in the car that Bill drove. We only made calls with it when we were going to be late for an appointment or in the event of an emergency … both of which rarely ever happened. It was more a pain in the butt than anything else. It was a while before I got a flip phone that I could hide away in my purse.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my cell phone. Firstly, I don’t enjoy talking on the phone that much anymore. I rarely give out my phone number and I often don’t carry it with me. I simply don’t like being interrupted when I’m shopping, eating a meal, reading a book, taking a walk, or anything else for that matter. When I’m out of town I do take it with me, just so I can be reached if there is a problem at home or with my kids. I think the use of cell phones in public is way overboard. I worry about the all the little ones who know how to use these gadgets as they are learning to walk. Then there are the teens and tweens like my grandkids who spend way too much texting, playing games, and not watching where they are going. It’s quite frequent around here to watch UVA students crossing the street without looking either way to see if cars are coming, because they are checking their email. And there are lots of adults whose cell phone manners are particularly atrocious. Have you ever had dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time and he or she pulls out a cell phone to check emails, even before she reads the menu, or asks you how you are?

Over the last few years and the last one especially I’ve gotten more hooked on this canned entertainment than I’ve ever wanted to be. I believed those who told me that I had to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter to sell my book, and connect with my readers. If I didn’t have friends on the internet what did I have? Nothing, I was told. So I opened accounts on both of of those time wasters and took up checking my emails way too often, as if checking it eleven times an hour would guarantee that I’d just won a prize for my fantastic writing.

Then the last election happened and because I was so caught up in the anxiety and fear that many of us experienced, I was constantly on Facebook checking out the latest Breaking News that brought me into a dark period of depression. Being a news junkie, the cell phone did not ease my growing addiction to having to know everything that was going on all around me. I no longer needed a television set to tune into. I started carrying the phone with me everywhere, as if knowing what the president-elect was doing right this very moment would cause a major world war, or stop the world from spinning without my knowing it. I even checked it while I was eating breakfast and lunch. Something I said I’d never, ever do. If I had an appointment, the first thing I did was pull out my cell phone as I walked out the door.

There were the hate posts from both sides chewing out those who were upset about the election and how to get over it. Even those I agreed with most of time got nasty to those whom they said weren’t doing enough to resist. Making phone calls, writing postcards, marching, and signing petitions was all the rage. If you didn’t do enough of any one of those things you were bashed by those who spent all of their available time doing them. I absolutely believe in resisting, but when those on my side start picking on those who can’t do it all, I really begin to question exactly what is going on here. Fortunately most of that activity is over at least for the time being.

Then one morning I woke up, feeling especially down. I realized how much complaining I was doing because I never had time to finish anything I started. As the weather warmed, I wanted to spend more time outside pruning last summer’s garden left-overs and listening to the birds chatter around me. But I didn’t have time. I wanted more time to read, write in my journal, and prepare delicious food. I spent a lot of time over a lot of days, trying to figure out how to change my lack of time. What I discovered that nothing was really holding me back from doing what I wanted to do. I was simply addicted to the cell phone, the internet and all that it represents.

I’ve started making choices about how to spend my time, rather than being run by robots and having my brain get hooked on something out in the atmosphere that I can’t even see. When ever I get the urge to check my email or see what’s happening on Facebook, I ask myself why I need to do that now. Sometimes I still go down the rabbit hole but other times I hold off and enjoy the sunshine and the newly blooming flowers that are growing around me.

I’ll be writing more about this over the next few weeks. I’ll share ways to have more time for yourself and be more mindful. In the meantime, have a glorious week. And before you check your cell phone, ask yourself why you need to do that right this minute!

The Word for 2017

When you see the light stop and take another deep breath.

When you see the light, stop and take another deep brea

Wow, Happy New Year!  Where does the time go?

We’ve all had people tell us, “Life ain’t easy.” And all of us would like to escape the pain and anxiety brought on by that thing called life, especially those things that we have no control over. We constantly struggle to set things straight and keep our hearts from aching. We cling to the past, take revenge, utter nasty words, give those who disparage us the finger, and maybe worse. Loss, illness, rejection,the political situation in our country and the world, can send of us off into a state of rage, depression, and angst that keeps chewing at us until there is little of us left. We give up, slam a door behind us, climb into our caves, and rant to ourselves and anyone else who will listen.

One of those things I have always struggled with, especially in the last couple of months, is my reactivity. Like when someone says something nasty or critical to me or someone I care about. Or when another driver parks his or her car in the spot I’ve been trying to get into for the last 15 minutes. Or when I’m on a six hour flight and am seated next to a screaming toddler and a parent who doesn’t know how to handle her child. I can also be triggered by certain words, people who look like other people who have been abusive, and certain public figures.

Too often I embarrass myself with snide remarks, critical push back,  nasty looks, or sighs that can only mean I’m pissed off. While I experience brief satisfaction in doing those things, it never lasts. I break down in tears because I’ve made such an ass of myself, along with feeling a deep sense of shame. None of that does anything for my sense of self-esteem.

You’d think that after living with my mother for seven years and writing a book about it, that I’d be an expert at pausing before putting my foot in my mouth. But being as human as anyone else, I tend to forget what I’ve learned. I’m always amazed  how certain issues we thought we were done with rear their ugly heads somewhere down the road, reminding us that we’re truly never done.

So once again I’m planning to seriously work on this problem by relearning to PAUSE before I react.  If I can count to ten, take several deep breaths before I say a word, or take a quick time out, perhaps I can tame my wild feelings.

So I’m saying,“whoa,” to myself. I’ve chosen PAUSE as my word for 2017, in hopes of leaving that ugly part of myself behind. I’ve made little signs as reminders to stop and breathe. I’ve taped them in places where I’ll see them every day. There is one at the bottom of my computer screen, and one on the mirror in my bathroom.

I also plan to take time to pause in other areas of my life. It will help  me to stop and rest when I’m feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
And perhaps the PAUSE sign on the refrigerator help tame my appetite after having spent the last two months overindulging in the season’s fabulous food.

Do you take time to pause before reacting to a difficult situation?

Have you chosen a word for this New Year?

Keeping The Spirit Alive

Making Bone Broth

Making Bone Broth

In the past few months I’ve been a bit OCD about keeping up with what’s next on my to-do list. I’ve been pushing myself and being ultra serious about going beyond what is possible in order to get my book off the ground. I’ve been working nonstop and getting tired of it all. It’s what I tend to do when I’ve got something big going on. Whether being a caretaker to my mother, or getting my my book off the ground, I always overdo.

After the book launch, which I enjoyed immensely, I had a hard time separating myself from my book. I asked, What happens now? Do I go back to the way I used to live my days, taking breaks to read a good novel, taking long walks, napping, and keeping my garden tended and in bloom?

I’ve been very tired, needing time to process what has been happening and where I am today. I’ve kept finding more things to do to keep my memoir in the forefront … writing new content, doing more guest blog posts and updating my website … never feeling satisfied with what I’ve done.

When I’ve thought about taking a break I felt guilty. I’d invested so much time and energy in this project, how could I not keep up the momentum in order to make my book a success?

In the meantime I forgot about some very important things. I neglected to take care of myself, my home, and my relationships. I hadn’t seen friends in a very long time. I’d been too busy to go out to lunch or have a cup of tea with those I’ve missed being with. I didn’t take time to water the garden when it was noticeably wilting. I started binging on chocolate and did everything I could to keep my eyelids propped open when I really needed to take a nap. I felt very resentful when I needed to cook a meal, do the laundry, or go grocery shopping. I don’t normally dislike doing those things and actually love to cook. If someone asked me for help, I got pissy. Don’t they know I’ve got work to do?

Experiencing more anxiety and imbalance than ever, I’m slowly coming to my senses. I’ve declared my home a NO SHOULD ZONE. If I feel I need to take a nap, I take a nap. If I can’t wait to get into that great book I’ve been longing to read, I start reading. I do a little bit of book promotion, write a blog post, take care of a few chores, and then give myself a reward.

Laughing through a facial.

Laughing through a facial.

This past week I took time for a pedicure and facial. I had lunch with a dear friend I haven’t seen in years. (We live less than two miles apart.) I took time to clean out the freezer. I put all of the roasted chicken carcasses I’d been saving into a big pot, along with an onion, carrots, celery, lots of herbs, dried mushrooms, and a few other secret ingredients, and simmered it on the back of the stove for the better part of a day.  As a result I’ve replenished the empty shelves in my freeze with healing soup stock. It all felt so good and my malaise about doing anything that felt like work began to ebb. In taking life too seriously and burning myself out with unending work is not helping me live a balanced life.

It feels wonderful to just putter through my days. Birthing my book has been a long row to hoe, but it’s done and it’s time to relax. I am by no means planning to stop the continued work that still needs to be done, but taking time to watch the sun rise, share laughter with a friend, or keep the garden well tended is as necessary as writing new content to keep my book in the forefront. And it keeps my psyche running smoothly.

How about you? How do you keep your life well balanced and your spirit alive?

 

If you missed it check out my guest blog post over at Susan Widener’s blog Women’s Writing Circle, here.  It’s about writing difficult stories.

It’s A Book!!

Book Reading and Signing, september 30, 2016, New Dominion Bookshop.

Book Reading and Signing, September 30, 2016, New Dominion Bookshop. Photo by Mark Rough.

Scattering Ashes, has been launched!! I had a great crowd on Friday night and the question and answer period could have gone on forever, but having done a few poetry reading in the past, I know it’s good to stop and leave the audience wanting more. From the calls and notes I’m receiving from those who were there, my reading and book talk were very much enjoyed.

Writing my book and getting it published has been a humbling and educational process. But I need to take some time to let it settle before I can truly say what it means to me. I loved the whole experience for sure, but I want to think about what the easiest part was, the hardest part, and how it will affect me in the future.

So far I’ve noticed that my sense of self-esteem has hit the top of the charts. I did it. I really did it. Who’d a thunk this highly sensitive, shy, introvert would actually share the details of her life with others in a book and enjoy doing so? How do I separate myself as an individual who wrote a book from the book itself? Am I the book or am I still Joan, who happens to have written a memoir? Why does it matter?

There are so many questions rolling around in my noggin and I haven’t had time to get to the end of the list just yet. Needless to say, I will be writing about all of this in coming blogs.

In the meantime check out my newsletter which was published yesterday morning. I’m giving away two signed copies, of Scattering Ashes, to those who send a comment and reply to my newsletter. I’ll be choosing the winners at random. If you haven’t yet subscribed to my newsletter now is a good time to do so. You can sign up at the top of this page on the right.

Here’s to life’s journeys and the learning! My love and best to you all!

Autumn Palette

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Bright and early Tomorrow morning, Bill will undergo  complete shoulder replacement surgery. With one knee already done, many friends are calling him “The Bionic Man.” I wrote this poem for him back in 2005, and since it is fall and he’s on my mind as we step into another healing adventure together, I thought I’d share it with you.

Autumn Palette
for Bill

Across the river trees flare
yellow orange gold
the flow of water a painting
awash in late day light
ever changing in intensity
as ruffles of wind eddy the surface
invisible fingers at play

A walk we took years ago
before we became us
in woods of scarlet sugar maples
Vermont air crisp and clear
the lake before us blue shimmering
deep and endless as the sky
we wandered under
projecting our future together
on the white canvas
of a passing cloud

We were young and limber
ready to climb the mountains
flame red in the distance
never imagining this day
you and I burnished by time
settled on a river bank
reflecting in October light

JZR
10/5/05