Quick Lit

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It’s that time again when I participate in Quick Lit, a down-and-dirty review of the books I’m reading, for better or worse.  I’m on a binge these days, which is how my reading life seems to go half the time.  During the other half I realize I’m reading nothing longer than an article or, heaven help me, a blog post.  Happily, I have a list going just in time for the link-up.  On my nightstand are

Beyond the First Draft, John Casey.  This is a writing craft book but it reads like a memoir and, well, I loved it.  Some craft books are so technical I feel like I’m inside a Swiss clock when I’m reading them.  Others are so woo-woo I might as well be watching Oprah.  This book is a collection of essays and it’s both beautifully written and informative.  Yes, please.

Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin.  This book is helpful for deciding on and implementing useful daily habits.  Padded out with research and plenty of anecdotes, it’s both a practical and breezy read.  Rubin posits that habits make us who we are and that we can and should develop ones that propel us toward living according to our values.  While the author comes across a little heavy-handed at times, her writing style allows the reader to clearly “hear” her voice.  A good thing.

Woe is I, Patricia O’Conner.  OK, it’s a funny book on brushing up on grammar that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I’m a writer and I have to remind myself how to use the tools of the trade.  Did I mention it’s funny?

The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis.  This one’s for my kids and it’s the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, a beloved series I started reading to them at the end of last school year.  Fast-paced and layered with meaning, it may be my favorite of all the books in the series and seems especially apropos in dark times such as these.

That’s all for now.  Well, not really.  I’m skimming Decoding Your Dog and already feeling guilty about making my dogs kiss me when they’d (apparently, according to the authors) rather not.  But, you know, I’m trying to get better.  And that’s my list for now.  What’s on yours?

 

 

 

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The Routine God

 

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I love the liturgies of daily life.  I scramble to bring order to my days and I sometimes think I’m nothing without my routine.  So when things come along to throw off my groove (and they do, routinely–see what I did there?), I feel lost.

I could lie and say this love of habit blossomed after I finally woke from a compressed and super-intense baby-producing phase in which I trust I was present but only have scrapbooks and stretch marks to prove it.  But, no.  I was making workable life plans for myself in second grade.

The thing is, I have seen daily disciplines work.  I have, in fact, used them to lose weight, to read through the entire Bible in a year, to play certain difficult pieces on the cello, to learn to speak Hindi, to write a novel.  I also know that the slapdash, open-ended ways of a creative often hinder her from getting actual stuff done.  The Muse visits the writer whose bum is already in the chair, etc, etc, etc.

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But the workable routine always wants to become my god.  It promises to save me from sloth and chaos and irrelevance.  Or that’s what I hear it say, anyway.  And then the real God, the One who helps us even when we didn’t ask him to, castrates the fake god by letting mess happen, instead.  Not because routines are bad–they’re helpful–but because they aren’t more important than life, or God himself.

All of that is to say that I haven’t written in a week and I feel crazy.  I’m working on a project with a deadline I made up because it helps me accomplish more when I pretend disaster is looming.  But, like I said, life happened this week and I ended up thinking instead of doing.  My teenagers needed me and so did some friends.  And after that I just wanted to watch Netflix and read books that have nothing to do with the one I’m writing.  I wanted to go limp.

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So now I’m trying to get back to my former routine (again!) without loving it too much. Oh,  how I hate getting back into something instead of already being in the middle of it.  I also hate confronting the fear that fills the vacuum my ruined routine leaves in my psyche.  On the other hand, I want to grow trusting and flexible enough that I can ride these longterm contractions with quiet confidence that God knows what’s best for me, that I can trust him with all the things–including my writing habits and my time.  That I can get back to work eventually.

I should be working on my novel.  But I’m blogging instead.  Baby steps.

Avoiding (and recovering from) the Dreaded Goal Drift

DSCN0939Drifting.  It’s something we all do, I suspect.  We start out with plans or goals, and for a while, if we’re very motivated, we implement them.  After some time, new habits start to feel kind-of normal, and we think, “This is it.  I’m a changed person.  Look at what I’m doing these days.”  We’ve turned a corner and now we’re unstoppable.

And that’s when it starts to happen:  the drift–the sliding, ever so slowly, away from our original intentions.

It may be that we’d committed to eating better, and for a while we do.  But then, after a month or so, when we’ve shed a little weight and kale is our friend, we indulge in fries once.  Then twice.  Then three times a week.

In my case, I’d been waking up well before my kids for several weeks.  When my alarm sounded each morning, it felt wonderful, if also a little painful, to know that the sun wouldn’t be up for a while, and that I had loads of time to read, write, and pray.

But then, little by little, I started to shut off my alarm a couple mornings per week.  Sleeping in felt wonderful, too.  I began to want sleep more than I wanted to observe my morning routine.  Before I knew it, I was consistently using all of my reflective, alone time in order to sleep in.  This meant that I tried to grab that time during other windows in the day when it was much harder to protect.  I grew grumpy, as if this predicament were my kids’ fault (it wasn’t).

Furthermore, even with the extra sleep, I didn’t feel more rested.  I felt irritable.  I knew I needed to revisit my original goal.

These days, I’m waking up early again, and it feels great, just like it used to.  I’m reminded why I made this decision in the first place.  Instead of beating myself up about my previous drifting, I’m simply savoring the return to this happier (more disciplined) state.  My hope is that, if I pay attention to how good it feels to wake up early, the next time I’m tempted to drift, I’ll remember why I chose to do it in the first place.

Because, in the end, joy and contentment are better motivators than guilt and fear.

In Search of the Flexible Life

My husband and I are looking after my youngest sister’s three kids this week.  Her oldest is nine, and there are a five and three-year-old in the mix.  Then, of course, we have our own three middle-schoolers.  Add to that #Snowmagedon2015, an emerging flu-like croup among those younger than thirty in the house, and blow-up mattresses that keep leaking air, and you’ll start to get a feel for things.

Actually, in all honesty, it’s been smooth sailing–in spite of a very real potential for madness.  The fact that my husband’s school was cancelled for the entire week was a blessing because it meant that he’s been home helping out.

Also helpful is the fact that most kids like plain, ordinary days and a sense of routine, especially young kids.  We’ve been able to keep things very Netflix, Lego, and peanut butter sandwich around here, and there’s been a serious lack of chaos, all things considered.

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Something that had me (selfishly) worried, though, was the fact that I’ve made goals for myself this year, daily disciplines that require repeated, focused attention.  Any change in routine means that I could derail on them at any point.  And since it’s only February, and the disciplines are still new, I might have a painful time getting back into them whenever normal returns.  I hate pain.

In times past, I would have told myself that a week of six children and snow and sickness meant temporarily forgetting about making any progress in personal disciplines at all–  that to do otherwise would only mean setting myself up for frustration and failure.  But I’ll be 37 this Saturday, and something about being three years away from 40 has made me want to figure out how to be open to serving others while still keeping up with my own stuff.

Easier said than… I know.

However, I figured out that I could exercise on the elliptical for ten minutes while the youngest kids dump dominoes out on the floor in the same room.  I told them that if they stay near me, and share the trains with one another, they can keep on enjoying this extremely special privilege–but only when I’m on my machine.  Happily, it’s working out, and so am I.

Since I can’t wake up early without all the kids joining me in my bed, I have taken to writing in the afternoon when the youngest boy naps.  I sit in the room with him, cross-legged, silver Mac on my lap.  He tries to talk to me for the first ten minutes or so, of course, but eventually fades away to the tapping of the keys.  Unexpectedly, I discovered that I am writing as much this week as I did last week.  And the bonus is that my little nephew is thrilled to have someone with him while he rests.

Finally, I’ve switched to reading my Bible at night instead of in the morning.  I don’t prefer doing it this way, but the thing is, I’m managing to keep it up (I desperately need it) while still giving love and attention to those in my care.  In the end, this is more important than doing it at the “right time.”

What I’ve learned this week is that I can do more than I think I can if only I’ll be flexible and resist an all-or-nothing mentality.  Of course, I’m asking God to sustain me daily, and he graciously is.  One of the ways he’s helping me is by giving me the strength to go with the flow.  Another, though, is by helping me to find pockets in the day when I can practice body and soul care.

The upshot is that, so far, I’ve been able to love my people and take care of myself.  I’m calling it a win-win.

How do you keep going when things get crazy?

A Little Yes

It’s February.  I told myself I’d introduce my 2015 goals slowly so that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and quit on them.  It’s mostly worked and I feel like I’m making progress,  except with the working out thing.  Somehow I haven’t been able (willing?) to make it happen.

I talked about getting a pedometer so that I could track my steps. As it happens, though, I feel crazy doing laps from one end of the house to the other in order to up a step count.  Then, too, I have no intention of going outside.  That left me wondering whether I needed to splurge and purchase a machine like this.  It’s always been my tried-and-true form of exercise in the past.  I even owned one in India and used it every, single day.

I finally bit the bullet and bought one.  Yesterday I got on it for the first time for ten minutes.  Ten minutes was all it took for my bronchial tube to feel as tight as one of those coffee stirrers in a hospital cafeteria.  When I finished my “workout” (I’d managed to log just over a mile), I was basically doing Lamaze to catch up on oxygen.  My daughter looked at me and said, “Good job, Mom?”  She seemed unsure whether to say more.

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Now, ten minutes is nothing, right?  Really almost not worth putting on my ancient running shoes for.  And it was ten minutes of hurt, adding insult to shortness of breath.  But the thing I’ve come to realize is this:  all worthwhile achievements start out as little yesses that look like nothing much and hurt a little (or a lot).

So today I will get back on my machine.  I will play my radio station on Pandora and set my timer for ten minutes again.  I’ll do this for a week without lengthening the amount of time I work out.  Next week, I’ll make it fifteen minutes, then twenty, until I’ve reached a length of time I think is beneficial.  I’ve learned that the key to establishing better fitness is not to despise these early ten minute sessions, not to try to speed through them to get on the other side of a goal.  They’re necessary to establish habit and endurance.

Maybe, in the end, 2015 is really about my learning to appreciate the wobbly, feeble beginnings of things, to keep saying little yesses, one day at a time. Because without beginnings there’s nowhere to go.

What about you?  Do you find yourself hating the beginnings of new habits?  Do you wish you could skip to the “this is easy” phase?  How do you keep going when you aren’t there yet?