Although my inner child may be impatient and clueless at times, it’s my inner 30-year-old who has the most need for caring and encouragement from her future self.

Just getting her to sit down at the table with a cup of tea required some coaxing, as with a skittish animal. Truth be told, she didn’t even have any tea in the house, as she had been staying home with small children for the past few years and had nearly forgotten how to take time for herself. So I brought along some calming honey-chamomile tea during my imaginary visit, along with a big copper teakettle for the soothing old-fashioned ambience.

When the teakettle started whistling, she turned a rather alarmed glance toward the kitchen from where she was nervously pacing in the hall, perhaps worrying that the noise might wake the baby. But all was quiet when I took the kettle off the stove; and eventually, when I had brewed the tea and set two cups on the table, she felt safe enough to sit down across from me and take a small sip.

Just outside the dining room window there was a lovely mature blue spruce. I couldn’t find any pictures of it, though. My 30-year-old self was too frazzled to give much thought to taking photos, and the primitive technology made it harder—no digital cameras or smartphones. Anyway, it was a beautiful tree, and I opened the window to let in the scents and sounds of nature.
 

Mature blue spruce in daylight.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

The younger face across the table still looked anxious, even after we sat down to tea. She was always finding something to worry about—if it wasn’t the children, it was fear of being judged for not having a job, and how hard getting into the job market would be after several years at home. An afternoon tea break wasn’t nearly enough time to address all of her issues, but I could leave her a few thoughts to ponder.

“It’s a them problem,” I declared, firmly setting down my teacup for emphasis.

She gave me a puzzled look; evidently she hadn’t yet heard that expression, and wouldn’t have known what to make of it anyway. Ignoring criticism never had been her strong suit. She tended to take it much too seriously, brooding over random remarks long after everyone else had totally forgotten what was said.

“When other people give you negative stuff,” I explained, “you don’t have to keep it. Just send it back to them with love and light.”

A bright flash of wings rose from the spruce branches as a small bird took flight. My younger self breathed deeply, holding the teacup between her hands to absorb its warmth. I thought I saw the tension in her face relax a little; but I also knew that this lesson would take many years to understand.

My inner child needs to learn some patience.

I sat down with her yesterday afternoon, in the warm spring grass of April 1978. Wild strawberry blossoms dotted the meadow like tiny white stars. Bees buzzed in the dandelions, birds sang in the trees, and puffy clouds piled on each other along the horizon to make fanciful castles—a wonderful moment to be savored for as long as it might last.

Wild strawberry blossoms and dandelions.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

But, truth be told, my inner child wasn’t appreciating it nearly that much. Well, except for the castles, from which she pictured angels and fairies swooping down to grant wishes. And what was she wishing for? To be grown up already. Just being a child with nothing to do besides sitting in the grass was too boring, you see. She wanted to get on with all those exciting grown-up adventures that surely had to be waiting for her.

“If you bring me forward in time, just a few years,” she said out loud to the imaginary angels and fairies, “then I’ll…”

And here she ran into a bit of trouble, having nothing to bargain with for the time travel she wanted. She had no precious jewels to offer a fairy, nor was there a magical jar anywhere nearby from which she could release a grateful genie.

“Then I’ll be happy even if it’s the end of summer,” she finally said, which she thought would be a great sacrifice. After all, she liked spring and early summer the best of all the seasons. Picking the wild strawberries in May and the raspberries in June always was great fun; and later she would look back fondly on her memories of sitting in the spring grass with the strawberry blossoms and the dandelions, even if she couldn’t have been persuaded of it at the time.

I did try, though, when she paused to listen for fairy-voices amidst the birdsong, just before I reluctantly left this peaceful scene. I couldn’t stay any longer, but had to go back to my exciting grown-up world of mortgage payments, work schedules and to-do lists.

“You don’t have to be in such a hurry,” I told her. “That wish is one you’ll get soon enough.”

My latest approach to banishing those to-do list pressures from my personal creative projects is to put together a “Fun Things To Do List” every three or four months. It’s just one page of whatever activities I happen to be enjoying at the time, mixed in with a few creative projects that I would like to get done—or, at least, to get moving forward.

Picking a few items for the list helps me to stay focused on making progress with them. Even if I write only a few sentences at a time, that still gets something done on the project, which is better than sitting there looking at a big heap of unfinished stuff and wondering what to do. By putting my creative projects in with random unimportant things like “watch the latest superhero movie” or “play video games,” I remind myself they are mainly for fun. No life or death consequences are attached to finishing a blog post or a story.

That’s not to say I consider the projects unimportant. On the contrary, I would describe myself as an ambitious writer, seeking to touch my readers’ emotions and have a positive impact on the culture. But just as with anything else, stressing about creativity and trying to force it can be counterproductive. The muse needs plenty of space to fly around sprinkling fairy dust on whatever takes her fancy!

Production schedules can be helpful in reasonable doses, of course. Since I began writing weekly Clutter Comedy posts, I’ve made a lot more progress in getting old junk out of my house, in addition to creating more content for my blog. I also enjoy taking part in Nurturing Thursday, which reminds me to set aside time for restful, nurturing activities.

Having regular features on my blog does not overwhelm me with production pressure because those entries are relatively short and structured, so they flow easily. What’s more problematical is writing unstructured blog posts on different topics regularly (such as this one) while also having plenty of other creative projects in various stages of completion, which totally lack a schedule.

When I work on a book or other large project, I sometimes feel pressured to write a blog entry instead, as otherwise it might not get done. And if there’s a week when I don’t write anything but blog entries, then I feel like I’m slacking off with the large projects. Because I have too many large projects to put them all on a production schedule, just deciding what to do can feel like a major drain on my mental energy.

Choosing two or three projects for the near future gives me permission to set aside the others till later, without feeling guilty for neglecting them. The projects I’ve picked for my current list are turning a short-story collection into a free Kindle book, creating content for a new website, and writing more installments of Breaking the Ice. Setting a fuzzy “due date” a few months from now gives me some impetus to stick to the schedule, but it’s not looming over me as an anxiety-provoking hard deadline.

Posting this entry also gives me a bit of accountability, in that I may have readers looking for the free Kindle book or expecting to find more story installments over the next few months! Coming soon…

I didn’t get around to writing a Clutter Comedy blog entry last weekend, though I had good intentions. There was some disruption to my schedule, and also my husband upgraded our home computers from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows 7, which he said took a long time because it should have been done sooner. When tasks are left to wait longer than they should, there’s usually more work as a consequence. With software, there are more upgrades to install.

This is not even the final task; it’s all just preparatory to installing Windows 10 later this year, which will require buying more memory because operating systems have gotten enormous. That’s the way of things in the modern world—technology has given us much more capability, but keeping up with all its changes can feel like running frantically on a hamster wheel.

During my mostly unplugged weekend, I started thinking about how there’s not much difference between upgrading our gadgets and refurbishing our minds. If we let too many bad habits, outdated assumptions, and other mental junk pile up, then it’s harder to clear that stuff away than if we had done timely maintenance all along. Same thing with clutter in the house and weeds in the garden—there’s always something in need of attention that wasn’t a problem when we last looked.
 

Big leafy green weed between orange and yellow snapdragons. 

I have no idea how a weed resembling a small tree got into my snapdragons, when I’m sure it can’t have been more than a couple of weeks since I last did something in that garden…

Of course, our ancestors also had to do plenty of weeding and other chores, without benefit of today’s labor-saving devices. Their work couldn’t be neglected because if too many weeds got into the fields and choked out the crops, they might starve over the winter. Still, their lives were much simpler and more structured than ours, so they didn’t feel overwhelmed by the pressure of having to keep up with thousands of different things all at once.

We don’t really have to juggle huge heaps of tasks either—it just feels like we do, sometimes, because we haven’t yet settled into comfortable routines for such a fast-paced world. There are plenty of computer programs and smartphone apps to keep track of the little things. For example, my husband has a reminder in his Outlook calendar to run the self-cleaning cycle on the oven every four months, which was easy to do last weekend when it was cool enough that opening the windows was comfortable. Way easier than our ancestors had it, cooking over a hearth where they had to bring wood and sweep out the ashes every day. Their tasks rarely changed, though, so they didn’t have the stress of keeping up with to-do lists.

Our world has left behind the familiar customs and simple chores that once allowed people to go through their days without much need for conscious decision-making. We have many more choices now, and that means we need to manage and upgrade our choices proactively, so they don’t overwhelm us. It’s not just about getting used to new gadgets, either; the culture is changing rapidly around us, which means our assumptions are constantly being challenged. Sometimes everything feels like a leap into the unknown.

I am optimistic that as time passes, our society will develop more effective ways to help people navigate its complexity. The concept of supported decision-making refers to informal arrangements that assist people with disabilities in making choices. As I see it, people in general could benefit from having more structure and support in their lives. It’s not that modern humans are any less competent than our ancestors; we just live in a much busier world.

May 20, 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: , ,

One question that people are regularly asked in opinion polls is whether they believe that their children will have better or worse lives than theirs. Considering how fast technology has been advancing and how many new choices we have in today’s world, one might expect a lot of optimism. But in fact, it’s the other way around—many people have become convinced that their children’s lives will be harder.

Why so much gloom? Don’t we like having plenty of choices? Well, maybe not so much. Although we might not want to go back to the days when there were only three commercial TV networks and playing games meant the cards and board games in the closet, we now have at our fingertips literally millions of ever-changing ways to spend our time. That’s just plain overwhelming. And, who knows what’s happening with the economy and our jobs? When we try to imagine what our children’s lives will be like, we end up with a jumbled mental picture that’s a blur of confusing details. Confusion=bad.

I have to confess that I got distracted while writing this entry, which I meant to post yesterday. My mind filled up with random thoughts about what I might be doing several years from now, how this blog would fit into the life of a future me, and whether or not I would accomplish anything significant in those potential scenarios. And that illustrates a large part of the problem—we’ve gotten so used to thinking in terms of goals and accomplishments, rather than simply enjoying the moment.

Once upon a time, when we were young, it was okay to just sit under a tree and write notes in a journal. If we looked up from the page and watched an ant climbing the rough bark or a hummingbird hovering beside a fragrant flower, we didn’t feel obligated to do something more productive instead. Life felt complete in itself; we didn’t look upon it as consisting of goals and tasks to be worked through according to business principles of efficiency and continuous improvement.

Now we are far removed from those long-ago days when mindfulness came easily to us. It’s hard to imagine either that we’ll find our way back to that peaceful mindset or that our children, having grown up in such a busy world, will ever know what it was like. Of course, any of us could set aside time each day to clear away our worries and distractions—but we overcomplicate that also, and the idea of a simpler life becomes just another to-do that hasn’t gotten done.

That’s probably why bucket lists have become so popular, too. Modern humans lead such regimented lives and are so afraid of not getting things done without a schedule, it seems perfectly normal to plan out every major activity for an entire lifetime. That’s not for me! Just to remind myself that I’ll always have plenty of fun choices, even though there’s no telling what might happen in the future, I keep random notes on things I might want to do someday. If I never get around to them, well, that’s perfectly fine because there are so many other possibilities!

So I’m standing in front of the washing machine on Sunday afternoon, not really thinking about anything besides putting in a load of shirts. It’s a dark day with heavy clouds hanging low. That is all right because I don’t have to go anywhere. It seems like a calm, quiet day with no distractions going on. But when I look a bit deeper, I realize that I’ve got two conflicting lines of subconscious thought running through my head.

#1: What a nice, quiet, peaceful day for relaxing. Just what a Sunday ought to be. No worries. I’m just standing here being myself in the moment. It’s all good.

#2: So where’s all the productive work today? That blog isn’t going to write itself, now is it? And when was the last time anything got done on a story? Writers are supposed to bubble over with fountains of spontaneous creative energy. None of that seems to be around today, so there must be something wrong.

I close the washer door, start the cycle running, and step out of the laundry room. The vertical blinds have been drawn back from the sliding glass door in the kitchen, showing a view of the backyard where the slender branches of the willow hedge are whipping around in the breeze. Pale white catkins are just starting to open.
 

View of my backyard fence and willow branches through the kitchen door. 

Meanwhile, the inner dialogue continues.

#1: This would be a perfect day to curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of hot tea. Mmm, vanilla caramel tea…

#2: Why waste a quiet day that would be just right for writing? Tomorrow is another busy Monday—always a lot going on. Time is precious! Nothing will get done without seizing the moment!

Walking into the kitchen, out of habit I find myself trying to mediate the internal conflict—how about drinking that cup of vanilla caramel tea while composing a blog post? But then I decide it might be more useful to drag my subconscious assumptions up into the light of day (what light there is on this dark winter afternoon) and take a good look at them.

The first line of thought seems pretty simple—it assumes that I’m not in a hurry today, which the empirical evidence of being in a quiet house on a Sunday afternoon would tend to support. The second line of thought assumes that the time available for creative pursuits is scarce and must be snatched whenever it is found. There is some historical evidence in its favor; in past years when I let myself get too busy, my writing suffered as a result.

But at present I’m just standing in my kitchen with nothing in particular to do, and I can’t see any good reason to hoard time as if it’s a scarce resource. Like anything else, creative energy gets harder to hold when one grabs at it desperately, rather than just letting it flow gently along its natural course. I ought to be able to read a book on a quiet Sunday, while trusting that I’ll find inspiration for stories and blog posts later.

“We’ll see about that,” scoffs Voice #2, “it just sounds like an excuse for laziness. What’s to be done when no inspiration shows up?”

That’s when the muse peeks out and settles the matter by deciding to turn this entire internal conversation into a blog post—but not right away. Truth be told, she’s feeling just a tad miffed about being hurried. Writing the post later will work just as well. At present, there’s a nice comfy couch and a cup of vanilla caramel tea calling my name!

Last December I set myself an ambitious task for 2014—to find and comment on a positive blog every day. I had been wanting to read more uplifting and inspirational material online, but hadn’t known where to find it. My site was less than two years old, and I hadn’t yet written many entries or commented much on other blogs. I wanted to do more, building connections and broadening my perspective. My goal was to improve myself while having a positive impact on the culture with my writing.

I had a conversation with a friend (as described in this post) about setting small changes in motion that radiate out to the world, simply by brightening one’s own life. That gave me the idea of going on a virtual quest to find positive blogs, while keeping a chronicle of my discoveries for the benefit of both myself and my readers. I named this project the Random Kindness Blog Tour because I didn’t know what I might find, which made it random, and also because bloggers enjoy unexpected kind comments. I chose Kindness and Positivity as my words of intention for 2014.

To give myself impetus to follow through, I publicly committed to it on my blog as a New Year’s resolution. That felt scary at first because of the unknown time requirements—I had no way of knowing how long it might take to find a positive blog on any given day! What if I got overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up the pace, or if it took so much time that I couldn’t do anything else all year? But I decided to look at it in a playful way (as discussed here) just like going on an adventure.

After the project got underway, I found that it wasn’t nearly as difficult or time-consuming as my worries had made it out to be. Positive bloggers naturally attract commenters who have an optimistic mindset, plus they often include positive sites in their blogroll. So I always had plenty of links to follow and new sites to investigate. Even if I got busy and missed a day’s entry, I always managed to find two positive blogs the next day to catch up. As the page of links got longer, it became a powerful visual reminder that the world is full of good people—all one has to do is look! That in itself helped to banish gloomy thoughts.

I found many inspiring sites and made new friends, including the Nurturing Thursday bloggers—I’ve started thinking of them like an online support group. Their encouraging words have helped me to deal better with disruptions, work on getting clutter under control, arrange my house more comfortably, and remember to appreciate the moment. As a result, I’ve had more mental energy to put toward my writing this year, along with reading and commenting on more blogs.

I’ve also been reminding myself that not everything needs to be done right away, on a schedule, or perhaps even at all. Today’s world is so full of possibilities, it can be hard to decide what to do. Having so many options leads to anxiety about making wrong choices, wasting time, and not getting things done. Usually it’s needless anxiety because nothing calamitous would happen anyway. Mistakes are more likely to be useful learning experiences than disasters, and neglected tasks may not matter much as circumstances change.

Although the fast pace of modern society can make it seem like a constant rush to keep up, there’s really no need to let life get so hectic. Incremental changes can have powerful, far-reaching effects without consuming huge amounts of time. Persistence is what’s needed, along with setting clear intentions and allowing enough quiet, unhurried moments to notice the beauty and abundance all around.

December 23, 2014 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

I’m on vacation this week and next, so this seems the right moment for composing the final entry in the series that began in July with Tithing Time and then moved on to Attracting Time. In these posts, I have been exploring the concept that when we donate time (or anything else), we naturally attract more of it by reason of having a more abundant mindset.

At first I wondered if I might find it easier to organize my schedule, thus causing me to feel that I had more time. But what actually ended up happening over the past few months was more disorganization—nothing really major, just some unexpected and distracting events that left me feeling off my stride. Definitely some lessons about patience in there for me!

Among other things, my daughter did not move to Cleveland as she had planned, but instead met a new boyfriend and decided to find a job closer to home. So she is still living here, along with her dog (who is curled up at my feet comfortably snoozing as I write this). Boyfriend and dog are both very nice, so there is really nothing for me to complain about, other than my daughter’s atrocious clutter in the hall closet and the house not being as quiet as usual.

Because I felt distracted, it was already December before I thought about how much unscheduled vacation time I had left. As with most jobs nowadays, my vacation days do not carry over from one year to the next, but must be used by the end of the calendar year. I had told my manager that I wanted to take off the last two weeks of December—that was scheduled already. But I still had three days left in this year’s allotment, after subtracting the two days I donated; and, of course, by then no Fridays were available because my coworkers had snapped them all up. I ended up taking a Wednesday off and working the other days.

So, the final result of my time-attraction experiment was that after donating two days of vacation time to a coworker who was caring for a dying relative, I found myself short two additional days because I got too distracted to do anything with them. Although this obviously wasn’t one of the possible outcomes I’d had in mind, on reflection I would say that there really was a positive shift in my mindset, however circuitous the route to it might have been.

In past years, I always paid close attention to my vacation balance and made sure to take whatever was coming to me. After all, it was part of my compensation, just like money—so, if I ever had given back any unused vacation days to the company I’d have been just as annoyed as if I carelessly lost money! But something changed in the way I thought about my vacation time this year, and instead it seemed like no big deal. Vacation time, work time, whatever, it soon will pass. Why worry about it?

To be clear, I don’t mean that my holiday time off this year is any less enjoyable. On the contrary, the past few days have been peaceful and relaxing. We all need time to rest and recharge! But what we don’t need—and what I hadn’t realized I was doing, until now—is to hoard time like a long-ago miser sitting on a heap of gold coins. Holding onto anything too tightly, whether it’s time, money, or old stuff that has turned into clutter, means there’s no space left to hold anything more! And that is a lesson I would consider well worth the money equivalent of two vacation days.

I had in mind to write a post for today about the concept of an authentic self, and put together a few paragraphs on that topic yesterday. But then I got busy with other things, never got back to it, and put my partial draft in a folder with other half-finished stuff. That wouldn’t have been a problem except that I started worrying about whether I’d have time to finish the post today, and how it would mess up my planned schedule for the blog if I didn’t, and I had some work to catch up on, so maybe I wouldn’t be able to get anything written for Thursday either…

And then I thought, whoa! What’s going on with all these pointless worries! First of all, a personal blog is supposed to be fun, rather than just another chore to get done. If I didn’t enjoy it, there wouldn’t be much reason to keep writing it, would there? So there’s no sense in taking the fun out of it with self-imposed production schedules; my job gives me enough of those already! And second, to the extent that I write for insight and sharing rather than just for fun, I can accomplish those goals much more effectively when I set aside the time I need for meaningful reflection. Hurrying through a task never gets the best results, even when it’s just a blog post!

So, I took a few minutes just now to refresh my mind by browsing through photos of peaceful nature scenes to put myself in a reflective mood. Here’s one that I enjoyed:
 

Photo of trees reflecting on water at sunset.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

That was definitely more fun than worrying about whether I’d have time to finish writing yesterday’s draft. Hope you enjoy it too!

July 29, 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

This post is a follow-up to last Wednesday’s entry Tithing Time, in which I considered how an abundant mindset in giving away time might result in attracting more time. Cultivating a feeling that time is an abundant resource can lead to reflection and positive behavioral changes, I concluded, thus resulting in better time management. Having recently donated two days of my vacation time, I set myself a challenge to monitor my time more closely for the rest of the year, to see if any unexpected additional time does in fact turn up.
 

Shiny brass analog clock. 

At first, there didn’t seem to be anything promising on the horizon when it came to attracting time. Thursday was a long day with a lot to do; I had two personal errands on my calendar for Monday morning and expected to take a half-day of vacation; and on Tuesday (today) I had a hair appointment scheduled, making my workday run longer afterward. Also, when my daughter gets her new apartment, my husband and I plan to help her move. So it just looked like I would be busy, busy, busy, with no relief in sight!

Friday went smoothly and left me feeling pretty relaxed, though; so I decided to do some work on Sunday afternoon to make up for Monday morning, instead of taking a half-day off. That was something I usually hadn’t done in the past because I felt that I needed my weekends to rest, and didn’t want to cut into that time. But as it turned out, the work seemed like it went quickly; and I didn’t end up feeling deprived because of having less time to read, play video games, or whatever I might have been doing instead.

By the time I got started on Monday morning’s errands, I realized that I’d already gotten back 4 hours of the 16 that I gave away, just by not taking the half-day of vacation time! Although working on Sunday is not something I would do as a general rule, I didn’t feel that it had made this particular weekend stressful or hectic. And I am sure I’ll appreciate that vacation time whenever I decide to take it. So, at the end of the first week, I would describe the time-attraction challenge as going well.
 

Click here to read the final post in this series, Making Peace with Time.