Dedicated to Finding Joy

liz-new-year

This is not a New Year/New You blogging post, though it certainly looks like it: more colors, a different vision statement, and as I get better about linking objects and media, pictures. Yes, Philosophically Purple is going to get all visual in your faces. Well, not really, but more so than in the past.

I began writing this blog because I was just on the other side of middle age (50 when I first posted) and thought it would be fun to ruminate and giggle while typing. I achieved that goal, but then I began to see that what appeared to me to be an interconnected path of blogging looked to the outside world like I lacked focus. After all, I have written about anything from cupcake dispensers to Carrie Fisher (rest in peace, you superawesome woman of greatness). Where was the continuity? The branding? The concise thought?

The quick answer: not here. And after careful reflection, I submit that I don’t want it to be. Any human person with a grain of life in their noggins doesn’t think about just one thing, or even just 50 things. We are all of us capable of profound depth in our thinking and our ability to connect with each other contrasted with the desire to eat brownies with an ice cream chaser as a meal, to hell with what we’re “supposed” to have for dinner. That is me. That is my vision. Well, not to eat the brownies and ice cream as dinner, at least not all the time, but to be able to wonder about wisdom, kindness, life, love, and finding joy.

I will continue that mission haphazardly and unapologetically optimistically. I believe that the energy we bring with us into situations can either help or hurt others, and I am committed to being a force of positive energy. I am also still a pretty big fan of quotespirations, so I included mine in my subhead: Here’s to reminding ourselves that kindness matters and that joy is contagious.

Happy New Year.

Just Checking In

In my previous post I mentioned that the death of a friend sent me into a bit of a mental fog so I needed to follow my routine in order to get myself through the grieving process. It has helped, and going to the funeral allowed me to celebrate her and thank the universe that she was in my life. The church was full – as in, standing room only. This was a quiet person who habitually checked in to see how people were doing. She wasn’t obtrusive, didn’t need to be the center of attention; she just cared about other people – and she let them know.

She called me once a year, usually between Thanksgiving and Christmas, to find out about the kids and tell me she loved me. She didn’t believe in social media, preferring a phone call or sitting around a coffee shop talking face to face to a post on a website. She made a difference by working hard and being kind.

In fact, she so fervently believed in working hard that, for reasons that are still unclear to me, she had me washing walls one day in the classroom we both served in. She told me there was nothing that a good bleaching couldn’t get rid of (this was in the days before we knew bleach was a problem) and that the classroom needed a good cleaning. She was also the boss of me in personality if not officially, so I swallowed my snark and got busy. While we washed walls, we chatted about the students, our own kids, the teacher we worked for and adored. When I left that classroom to teach in my own, she reminded me to keep the classrooms clean and bright. I know she meant that both metaphorically and literally. I have not washed walls since then, but I do believe in the joy of shared effort.

I looked forward to those annual calls, whether we’d seen each other the previous week or not for a few months. Sometimes I even called her first, but not often enough. “I love you, keep working hard,” she’d say before she hung up.

I love you too, my friend. I will.

The Power of Routine

Teachers are procedural superninjas. We spend the first days of school teaching the students how to enter the room, how to complete their bell work, how to get ready for class, where to put the homework, and so much more. It is astounding to sit and break down what we consider mundane routines, or the things we do because that’s how we do it. Not important? I present to you the age-old debate of which direction the toilet paper roll should face. It’s okay … I’ll wait while you argue about this either internally or with someone else.

Routine is everything. Still don’t agree? Change the order in which you get dressed, or do laundry, or make your sandwich differently. You will feel that there’s a disturbance in the force, young Skywalker. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is something else entirely if your routines interrupt the flow of your day or interfere with you going to work or living your life, but routines are also something of a life enhancer.

I submit to you the need for a routine of productivity. Have you ever noticed that when you have a lot to do, you either get a lot done, or you don’t do anything at all? I am on my A+ productivity game when I have conflicting priorities. I am also well aware that I get distracted by sparklies – lately in the form of a tech game on my tablet. I also know that these conflicting desires between relaxation and fun, work and chores creates a type of creative tension. In the act of having much to do, I notice that I putter. I do this activity for a bit, then that activity for a bit, then back to this, and so on, and nothing gets completed in a timely fashion.

I don’t believe in 100% structured time, but I do believe in the power of routine. In an effort to up the ante on my productivity so that I have more time for my sewing projects, I have been teaching myself to mind my time a bit better. I have a set time to come home because I pick up my son on the way. I began spending the first half hour after he’s home doing my housekeeping/ bookkeeping, managing the house type chores, and then working on homework and projects in a 25 minute work/5 minute break schedule called the Pomodoro method. At first, I rejected the notion that a break should “only” be five minutes. My five-minute break became 10, then 15, then I would realize I spent more time breaking than working. Oopsie. Because I only use timers for cooking, I put my phone on vibrate and set that timer. For me, that works a lot better and I can whoop out some major productivity before dinner (or before bedtime, if I have appointments after work). It keeps me from ‘needing’ a snack that is, in reality just another task avoidance technique, but also allows me to get the snack during my five-minute break if that’s on my personal free/happy time agenda.

After feeling all satisfied about the increase in productivity, I began to wonder about those times when I don’t have conflicting priorities or when working on anything at all is not on my horizon because of life. That’s the test of routine, isn’t it? I’ve been known to counsel others to keep following their routines when they were working through difficult times, but I hadn’t applied that notion to myself until recently when a friend passed away. I needed to grieve, and my brain got muddled along with my heart, but I still had my job and I still had homework to do. I decided to follow my routines. I did the coming home routine, then the productivity routine, and then when I was finished with my to-do list, I had the time to mourn her loss and send my shouts out to the universe in thanks that I got to know her.

We need our routines. They help us get projects done on time, certainly, but they also help us when our thinking is otherwise distracted, either through stress, confusion, grief, or some combination of any of life’s events. I now wonder whether that’s why my stereotype of a British person includes time for tea. We’re doing the day, we’re breaking for tea, we’re back to doing the day. There’s comfort in routine, and I am absolutely in favor of that.

Celebrate Yourself (and keep going)

My friends tease me that my catch-phrase is “I celebrate you.” I celebrate names on papers, first trips after getting a driver’s license, and winning Nobel prizes with equal amounts of congratulatory gusto. Yes, equal. I have noticed, however, that I’m doing much less external celebrating lately, and the reason is simple: I can’t celebrate for you or with you if your fervor in drawing attention to yourself far exceeds any measure of congratulations I could offer.

I’m not just talking about selfies. I think they’re fun, spiffy, and contain just the right blend of self-congratulation and attention seeking to be mildly annoying and occasionally excessive. What I am referencing is the attention seeking that validates one’s reason for the effort. Did you really just get an A in Chemistry so that I could celebrate you? I surely hope not.

I hope, for all our sakes, that our reasons for exerting extra effort don’t rely on someone else drawing attention to that effort. If you want to run a marathon, that is awesome, but your joy should come from the fact that you lived through the experience and not from the fact that I will hug your sweaty, electrolyte-depleted self and say congratulations.

People who succeed at whatever endeavor they undertake don’t attain their goals so that someone can shout hurray from the mountain tops or so that they can prove someone wrong. They may begin that way, but they succeed on blood, sweat, and grit because that journey becomes more about themselves and less about others. Their successes are mental, not public. Of course people like knowing their efforts are appreciated and will work harder in response to that recognition, but at some point don’t we have to put on the Adult Pants and celebrate our own selves without the validation from the multitudes?

I am reminded of a video clip I watched recently about a person who lost 70 pounds in her quest for a more healthy lifestyle. That’s awesome and I would hug and celebrate her if I knew her. The thing she mentioned having to come to terms with is how little people cared about her weight loss, and how sometimes people undermined her efforts or gave her negative attention for it. That made me sad at first, but then she pointed out that she began to understand that her healthy eating journey was hers. In other words, the things that are most important to you are most important to you, not necessarily anyone else.

We definitely need to do a better job of celebrating others, but we also need to do a better job of recognizing that our own efforts are ours, and not for someone else to celebrate. I am reminded of the phrase that “You have to toot your own horn.” Well, good, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is obligated to sing along, or that you’re any less worthy if you don’t get a parade in your honor with confetti and balloon animals. It just means that we should all build some internal motivation to be a better version of ourselves each day without seeking permission or acknowledgement from others. It’s time to get out those Adult Pants, get to work on whatever thing of awesome we’re passionate about, and let the confetti fall where it may.

Brilliant Acts of Kindness

Kind people don’t get much attention. By its very nature kindness is other-focused in a way that avoids spotlights. Through the advent of social media, perhaps kind people are receiving more attention in viral videos and likes/shares, but kindness at its core doesn’t seek notice. It also doesn’t need it. Kindness goes along in its thoughtful way stopping long enough to add quality to someone else’s life. Kind people, then, are superninjas of awesome who have the strength to work magic for others without necessarily seeking anything for themselves.

I was perusing my newspaper and social media this morning and found two brilliant acts of kindness. First, a couple of retirees who love animals have created a retirement community for old cats that have been given up for adoption. I grinned as I read about how the couple built and ran their feline sanctuary. As a person with a mature cat, she’s 17 and still sassy, I gave a tip o’ the hat to their passion for caring for critters that others don’t want due to their age.

Kitty cat kindness was eclipsed by the case worker who surprised a little girl on her adoption day. The girl, a fan of Disney princesses, wore a princess costume to her adoption hearing. The case worker arranged for a host of people dressed in Disney princess attire to witness the event. Even the judge donned a Snow White costume. The viral video showed the girl waving to Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and their respective Prince Charmings, as she waited for the judge to render the court order. Once rendered, the little one skipped over to her princesses in waiting to receive their hugs and good wishes.

I am aware that people will find this a tear-jerky, naïve bit of attention paid to what else has been going on in America and around the world. However, and this is a pretty hefty however, it serves us well to be reminded that we can behave selflessly. Paying attention to those who live their lives with dignity and grace and striving to do so ourselves make sense. I don’t have a Snow White costume, and two cats is my limit, but seeing others take time from their days add value to someone else is inspiring. I’d rather be inspired to be kind than be inspired to fear. Just saying.

When I am Worried

Here are some essential truths: 1) I live in Florida. 2) I have family and friends. 3) I love my life. 4) I pay attention. These four things sometimes combine to create worry. I worry for my loved ones, climate change, equality for all people, my carbon footprint, whether the oven is on, whether I’ve locked the door. I worry for silly, mundane things and I worry for bigger, more serious issues. In light of recent events, I do not worry that our predisposition toward violence has become progressively worse over generations; I don’t think it has. Instead, I worry that our capacity to do damage unto each other has exceeded our ability to think about what we’re doing. In the good vs. evil scenario we try to place ourselves in, there are no winners and losers; there’s only devastation and heartbreak. I’ve had quite enough of that in my short lifespan. Having been raised all warm and cozy within the loving arms of my family, I realize that my experience of loss and devastation is limited. So I ask myself: what can I do about this?

Worry is a form of arrogance, I’ve read, and I agree. Who am I to think I can control anything except for myself? I can’t control the weather, unless you’re talking about the climate in my house when I’m happy, or angry, or tired. I can only control how I respond to situations, how I act, what I focus my energies on, what I pay attention to, and what I choose to do about what I experience. I am only one small, perpetually and annoyingly optimistic me who is not so blithely sitting in the midst of some pretty serious swamp muck-o-life. To paraphrase Voltaire really poorly, I tend my garden. The act of tending my garden doesn’t mean that I’m avoiding or ignoring what happens around me.

I can worry, or I can act. I choose to act every single time. My version of action isn’t yours and much of the time goes unnoticed. It is nevertheless action. I’ve already done enough laundry lists in the course of these couple paragraphs, but suffice to say my action revolves around kindness. I did some math because why not. I’m closer to 52 these days than 51, but for the sake of my calculator let’s pretend: If I’m 51 exactly, then I’ve been alive for 18,615 days, 446,760 hours, 26,805,600 minutes, and over 1.6 billion seconds (with an error code on my calculator). Many of those seconds were taken up with sleep, waiting in lines, and running errands. The good seconds were taken up with hugs and laughter, and the bad ones were taken up with pain and worry. They were all, however, imbued with my grateful presence on this planet. There’s no less flowery way to say it. I am grateful to be here every day, living with what I strive to be dignity and grace.

I don’t always have a clear-cut sense of purpose and my focus gets a little hazy in the grind of the seconds of my days, but I always come back to this: hate doesn’t work. That just creates a self-feeding system of more hate. And then still more. Indifference is like saying that we don’t care enough to even have an opinion, and whatever happens, happens. Love, though, is some pretty powerful energy. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets a hug and a cookie, but rather that taking care of each other means more than tearing each other apart. I’d kinda like to see that in the news. If we look, we will find it. Better yet, if we are the ones taking care of each other, we don’t have to look because we’ll be the ones solving problems, changing the course of our days, and making our seconds matter.

Endurance

If you are a breathing, sentient adult-type person, life will occasionally whoop your ass. I don’t swear in print often, but when I do, please know it’s not for extravagant effect; it’s because no other word will suffice. We all get our asses kicked, by situations within or outside of our control, by events, by illness, by the death of loved ones, by financial stress, by whatever Life with a capital L decides to throw at us. I don’t care if the Good Luck Charm o’ Life has been hanging around you like a happy monkey of joy feels, there will come a time when that charm gets ripped off your neck. Not my usual lighthearted introduction, I know, but take heart: there’s a reason for this.

One of the most harmful phrases in the human language is “I should.” I should be doing this thing, feeling that thing, living that life, having these types of people around me, and so on. The only “I should” that we should be should-ing is “I should be giving myself permission to be a human person.” My heart breaks and then heals again on a pretty regular basis, but never moreso than when someone I love is hanging around in the land of “I Should” or the flipside, “I should not.” It’s not that I don’t think we need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, it’s that we deserve to treat ourselves with at least the same attempt to understand that we treat others. For example, after a fantastic conversation with one of my favorite people today, I was struck with how my perception of him is so vastly different from his perception of himself. I see him as powerful, awe-inspiring, brilliant, loving, passionate – he sees none of these qualities in himself.

I hate it that I’m reminded of an internet quotespiration at this moment, but here it is anyway: I wish we could see ourselves the way others see us. Self-concept gets distorted over time, particularly in times of stress, when we’re most likely to isolate ourselves at a time when we would least benefit from doing so. Stress, my good friends, is no stranger to any of us. In fact, with each passing year of my life, I am increasingly convinced that the Bogeyman living under the bed and hiding in the closet, lurking around the finish line of every goal we achieve, every obstacle we overcome, is Stress. My stress looks different from your stress, but it’s still an ugly beast. Do we tame it? Do we fight it? Do we ignore it? I don’t know about the last one; ignoring stress is rather like pretending that everything’s okay when it isn’t. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires. Just saying.

Back to my lovely conversation and “I should.” My favorite person felt like he should be climbing his mountain of stressors more victoriously, a Rocky Balboa of life endurance. With all due respect, no. Absolutely not. When life has broken out a can of whoop ass so severe that there are no lemons to make lemonade with because the lemons have rotted, what do you do then? Some people pray, some meditate, some gather their loved ones around, and that’s all great, but in the quest to climb that particular mountain, sometimes the mountain itself is too high. What then?

Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Having faith that everything will all work out with cookies and back slaps for all is too high an aspiration for the types of life-altering stress that I’m referring to. Instead, step, breathe, step, breathe. There’s a rhythm in that, a cadence. In a quote usually attributed to Martin Luther King, the phrasing goes, “If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But keep going.” My friend was ruminating on how to overcome all these stressors, and was looking for faith in the fact that the answer would be found. It would be vapid for me to suggest that of course he’ll find the answer, even when the question itself is elusive.

I suggest most humbly, most excruciatingly, lovingly humbly, that this wasn’t the question he was trying to answer. The question, as I see it, is “Is all this trouble worth it? Am I worth it?” I happen to have the answer to that. You are emphatically worth it. You are essential, necessary. I have faith that there is a time where you will see yourself the way I see you. Until then, breathe and step; breathe and step.

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