Saturday, September 14, 2013

I never lost that easy

It's a gorgeous September Saturday afternoon.

I'm lounging on my back deck, reading and sipping a blood orange margarita while the rest of the world and my husband are all off doing worldly/husbandly things. It's an awesome day, and I'm enjoying myself tremendously, though I have to keep setting aside the book I'm currently reading to think. Solomon's books do that to me (in the best sense); it took me ages to read Noonday Demon.


When I'm busy with a project at work and need to communicate with my team that I'm unavailable for appointments or meetings, I block my calendar with a generic appointment. "Hold" signals to my crew that I'm busy with department business, maybe on or off campus, and in an emergency, reach me at my mobile.

"Hold" has become a signifier of busy-ness of indefinite length, with wide variability in terms of what I'm actually doing. Maybe (re)drafting a document, facilitating a sensitive interview, crunching data, tweaking budget projections, debriefing with a department chair, presenting to a stakeholder? Could be anything -- one thing I love love love about my work.

Per usual, I have a few "hold"-worthy projects in the works at the moment. ;)

I've wandered, seen visions
I've gone off the deep end
I'm out there, you'll find me
I never lost that easy

Cold War Kids "Lost That Easy" (Dear Miss Lonelyhearts)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

There's a paradox in every paradigm

I had a passing conversation the other day about "To Do" lists -- a little light-hearted moment that was more about sharing some unsarcastic "you busy? me too. ain't-it-great?" banter over a cup of coffee. I quasi-joked that in my personal little universe, "To Do" could be differentiated into a range of categories related to taking some "action," but that most of the time, "do" wasn't, strictly speaking, the right word. The acquaintance I was talking with was immediately intrigued, and we chatted for another minute or so about how much consensus-building and deliberation my work stuff sometimes requires.

Thinking later about it for myself, I came up with the following little list that fleshes out the point, if a bit goofily. Maybe I should preface this by saying that I work in a field that requires me to be responsive to other peoples needs in the context of compliance with a set of civil rights statutes... collaboratively through a recursive, deliberative process utilizing case-by-case analysis... the standards governing which change radically with time and circumstance... all of which entails handling highly confidential records and communications. The abridged explanation I usually give is that "we live in the grays -- there's almost NOTHING black and white about what we do except that it must be done."

"To Do," expanded becomes:

- To Do (the next step is clear and actionable, and I can "do" or delegate immediately)

- To Resolve (meaning the hows are going to have to be developed on the fly)

- To Staff (I need guidance from my collaborators or leadership; or I need to share guidance with my team)

- To Respond (something needs acknowledgment or feedback)

- To Document (what's happened has happened and the "paper" trail needs to reflect that fact accurately)

- To Mediate (there's no way forward but to talk/"hug" it out)

- Pending Research (something's new, something's changed, something's odd, or there's some unusual combination of issues that needs analysis in context; "uh... let me get back to you on that")

- Pending the Second Coming (uh... yeah, it's coming, but maybe not anytime soon)

- ELMO (Enough Let's Move On, usually reserved for "we'll get to that, but not now"; sometimes it's "file under someday/never, legally untenable or politically too thorny")

All that stuff that was not lost on me
Teach myself to see each of us
Through the lens of forgiveness
Like we're stuck with each other (God forbid!)
Teach myself to smile and stop and talk
To a whole other color kid
Teach myself to be new in an instant
Like the truth is accessible at any time
Teach myself it's never really one or the other
There's a paradox in every paradigm

- Ani DiFranco "Paradigm," Knuckle Down (2005)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Half of learning how to play is learning what not to play

Staying focused when the pressure's on

I flourish under a looming deadline -- an attribute (I hesitate to call it a skill, per se) that has served me very, very well as an academic. As I age though, I find I don't particularly like this about myself very much anymore. It's part of what I'm working to adjust with the whole change mumbo-jumbo I've been on about in my last few blogs: planfully and intentionally shifting around the parts of my life over which I have some measure of control so that I don't live in "go" mode. Because frankly, living there as I have for the past 8-9 years will kill me eventually. And I really like living.

Functioning well in "go" has it's utility though, particularly when you work in a field where you must be responsive to the literally on-a-dime evolving needs of multiple constituencies. Reminding myself daily to seek balance in all things, but if I'm honest, I'm working really hard to level up. Is it obvious I haven't yet worked out the boundaries on just exactly how I'm going to do both? ;)

Oblique Strategies

Friends and collaborators Brian Eno (electronica musician) and Peter Schmidt (painter) have worked creatively together for years. Over their long friendship, the two realized that they shared a very similar approach to working through "roadblocks" to productivity. Both "tend[ed] to keep a set of basic working principles on hand which guided them through the kinds of moments of pressure - either working through a heavy painting session or watching the clock tick while you're running up a big buck studio bill. Both Schmidt and Eno realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive when the pressure was off. The Strategies were, then, a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking - to jog the mind." (source + more info)

I've been known to seek out the deck for a kickstart when what I'm working on is creative in some way. And I'm perennially (delightedly!) surprised by how frequently my work in higher education falls under that general banner. Consider checking them out sometime.

half of learning how to play is learning what not to play
and she's learning the spaces she leaves have their own things to say
and she's trying to sing just enough so that the air around her moves
and make music like mercy that gives what it is and has nothing to prove
she crawls out on a limb and begins to build her home
and it's enough just to look around and know she's not alone

- Ani DiFranco "up up up up up up", Title track of the album of the same name (1999)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Be brave, dear one. Be ye changed or be ye undone.

Some roles we choose. Others are ours outside of our own selecting and become something to manage, which includes living with the ramifications if we choose not to engage. And of course, sometimes not engaging or constraining the boundaries is the healthy choice.

Probably too thorny a thing to be thinking about when I'm sleep-deprived. My sleep's a bit disrupted at the moment and this Monday morning I'm up at 3am when I should be resting for the start of another work week.

Kurt Lewin's heuristic for human behavior identifies it as a function of an individual's personhood AND his/her environment.

One role I'm thrilled and enchanted by every day? Pet carer-for. Pet steward? I don't know what term works best, but "pet owner" just isn't it; I don't "own" my pets. It's my privilege to care for, support and share my life with them.

Be brave, dear one
Be ye changed or be ye undone, undone
It's so hard, it's so heavy
To be hungry, to be happy
It's all right, it's so easy just to be
Oh God, what would you do with me?
Oh God, what's my responsibility?
- My Brightest Diamond (aka Shara Worden), "Be Brave" from All Things Will Unwind (2011)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Now I'm ready to start

My new personal anthem, from 3:02 especially. Funny, when this latest Arcade Fire album was released -- and then, IMHO, went on to hold its own as the best of last year -- this track didn't really strike a cord with me. It sure does now.

After some serious reflection, I'm shifting some life stuff around and (re)starting a few new things lately. Perhaps partially motivated by a perfectly glorious transition into spring and all the new life cropping up around me. Spring also means reading poetry for me, a habit I picked up a few years ago from a friend who discovered that the genre of literature he reads tends to shift with the seasons. Yesterday, I revisited an old Mary Oliver favorite and I think it mighta contributed a bit, as well.

I think larger though, I've run the gamut on thinking and considering and weighing and what-if-ing and its simply time to do, move, change. Feels good to have come to this point, but personal transitions have always been a little bit of a stumbling block for me. Helping people come to and navigate change for themselves, I'm your girl; change for myself, less simple. Classic perfectionism. Gotta genetic predisposition for it, which has plausibly been further amplified by reading too much. And having bright friends who have and share all manner of alternative perspectives to be considered.

So the adage goes, "change is a constant." Today, I'm feeling strong and ready.

Listening > Hearing
There's a huge distinction between perceiving sound waves as they interact with the structures of your inner ear and the focused attention, discernment and receptiveness required to really LISTEN. My job requires that I engage in empathic listening about 80% of my day, everyday. In my current role, a fair bit of that happens via email, which is fraught with the peril of being bereft of all the nonverbal communication behind the words and requires a lot of restatement/paraphrasing, checking for understanding and asking of follow up questions. Regardless if the communication is face-to-face or virtual, it takes a lot of energy to do this well and it can be frankly exhausting. I've heard/read compelling arguments that truly great listeners are born not made, but as with any physical training, in time your body does become increasingly more efficient and the act can come to be "second nature" -- something that you can engage in with virtual effortlessness for extended periods, provided you've got the right conditions (rest, energy, support, training, time/release from other obligations, etc). I've been spending time with a colleague who's still working on this stamina for herself, and it's reminding me just how life-changing, even UNIVERSE-changing honing this skill was for me, for others I've known. It absolutely changed my life (positively) and so I find it invigorating to see it happening for someone else.

Regarding listening -- one of my favorite moments from the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction:

Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) to Vincent Vega (John Travolta): "In conversation, do you listen or do you wait to talk?"

Vincent: "I have to admit that I wait to talk, but I'm working on listening."

Would that we were all so self-aware and open as Vincent. ;) Peace, puppy kisses and happy spring to all reading these words.

Now I'm ready to start
I would rather be wrong
Than live in the shadows of your song
My mind is open wide
And now I'm ready to start

Now I'm ready to start
My mind is open wide
Now I'm ready to start
Not sure you'll open the door
To step out into the dark
Now I'm ready!

- Arcade Fire "Ready to Start" from The Suburbs (2011)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A detour in your new life

What's your touchstone when you feel like the usual suspects are dragging you away from your equilibrium point? ...when you slip from that ideal homeostasis where everything isn't easy per se, but you feel like you can readily handle anything that's being thrown your direction?

For me, and as I suspect it is for most people, the simple answer when it gets really bad is plain old, tried-and-true prolonged rest. A week on a beach somewhere. A long weekend in a cabin in the woods with my dogs. A roadtrip to see a friend who lives x states away.

While there's no substitute for the real thing, I've spent the entirety of my adult life trying to create the conditions in Everyday Life so that restoring that balance is Action Item #1 on the agenda. Building in some "protected time." A great workout. A massage. Meditation. My sister and a number of good friends all swear by yoga, and you know, I'm starting to see the power of it for myself, too.

The point is, it takes ACTION to get back on track. When I'm working with a client who's struggling with balance, or what one of them calls "just dealing," I often refer to this process of doing/creating/finding/making something work for you as Sourcing Your Own Peace.

On Monday morning, my husband and I are taking a huge step forward toward making the option of a "Getaway" happen more often, more readily for us. We are buying some beautiful acreage about an hour and a half from our home to build our own little escape -- 24 acres for our own version of Walden, complete with a cabin next to a pond. We're both very excited and can't wait for the adventure of making this spot all our own. And I look forward to sharing our plans and progress here with friends and family.

Redefining what a life well-lived looks like

Check out this TED talk from Nigel Marsh on work-life balance. Brilliant stuff.

"So many people talk so much rubbish about work/life balance.... The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging the reality of the situation you're in. And the reality of the society that we're in is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don't need to impress people they don't like. And it's my contention that going to work on a Friday in jeans and a tee shirt isn't really getting at the nub of the issue."

"Cause they know and so do I
The high road is hard to find
A detour to your new life"
- Broken Bells "The High Road"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I think, yes -- it's time to come back to this notebook of mine. I have some words and ideas to share.

Hello there again, blogosphere.
xx A

Saturday, February 14, 2009

You breathed infinity into my world

Two beautiful glimpses into the complexity of a favorite subject in honor of this Day of Love.

Wishing you a happy St. Valentine's Day.

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

- Pablo Neruda

But oh, now... my world is at your feet.
I was lost and I was found, but I was alive and now I've drowned.
So now I will be waiting for the world to hear my song
So they can tell me I was wrong.

- Missy Higgins "They Weren't There" (The Sound of White)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Like ripples on a blank shore

A man who keeps a diary, pays
Due toll to many tedious days;
But life becomes eventful--then
His busy hand forgets the pen.
Most books, indeed, are records less
Of fulness than of emptiness.

- William Allingham

This certainly holds for me re: this blog... and every other bit of writing I could be working on instead of dealing with the ins and outs of this life. :)

I'm still mourning the loss of so many beloved trees due to our recent ice storm. I find this video oddly fitting. The song is possibly my very favorite of 2008; the band is in my all-time top 10.

I had a busier, wilder week than usual, which ended with a distressing yesterday. Today I'm spending a quiet day by myself (intentionally), walking around my city with my camera and iPod, both of which are choke-full of new gorgeousness. Tonight after my workout, I'll curl up with my book while dinner simmers on the stove. Then I think I'll light a candle and remember and ponder and plan.

I'm craving pickles and peanut butter on toast. Strange.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

I don't always feel lucky, but I'm smart enough to try.

I don't think it's much of a secret to anyone who knows me even in passing that I'm almost always up for some Ani DiFranco tuneage. I particularly haven't been able to get this "song"/poem out of my head after a notably difficult week of co-occurring illness and the worst ice-storm to hit my area in recent memory. Our electricity and heat were out for days on end, and in the end we have a fridge + two freezers of spoiled food (a wasteful hassle for us rather than a deep financial blow, blessedly), a damaged roof (relatively minor, but stressful nonetheless) and a devastated yard full of century-old oak trees (deeply heartbreaking beyond what I would have expected).

I've been very lucky. This storm has claimed dozens of lives. My household and I -- and my local family and friends -- are safe, sound and, all told, only minimally scathed. Now, I've been known to take myself too seriously on more than a few occasions, but the accumulated weight of dealing with all this while trying to keep on living my life conscientiously has gotten a little heavy, and I found myself seeking out some reference points to make it all feel manageable once again. Enter Miz D.

Another favorite.

"I'm cradling the hardest, heaviest part of me in my hand
The ship is pitching and heaving, my limbs are bobbing and weaving
And I think this is something I understand
I just need a couple vaccinations for my far-away vacation
I'm going to go ahead and go boldly because a little bird told me
That jumping is easy, that falling is fun
Right up 'til you hit the sidewalk, shivering and stunned"
- Ani DiFranco "Swandive," Little Plastic Castle

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Summon a congress of angels dressed in riot gear

"Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises." - Elizabeth Zimmermann

Today is the day that I've been waiting for, that so many of us have been waiting for. Election day here in the States. A chance for a new start. A desperately-needed change in the direction of our country -- bettering its relations with the rest of the world and resolving the war in Iraq; tackling the strangling debt wrought by 8 years of W; improving our economic situation and implementing a more sensible tax structure; reducing our collective footprint on the earth and committing to substantive, comprehensive alternative energy plans; bettering public education; closing the gap toward equality for persons with disabilities and who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. Wow. All priorities. So much to do. But so much for which to be hopeful.

I've been knitting on through all of the divisive campaigning. Today it ends and we choose the leadership to take us forward for the next four (eight?) years.

I've voted and now, I'm channeling EZ in anticipation of the returns this evening. How about you?

"Summon a congress of angels dressed in riot gear.
We've got a serious situation down here."
- Ani DiFranco

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I just have this secret hope.

That's it, I'm clearing the cobwebs. After nine months without update, I'm suddenly and strongly compelled to knit-blog on this rainy, relaxed evening. (I wonder, can "knit-blog" be used as a verb? Well, I suppose I just did.) What was it I said I wanted this blog to be? With due credit to Ms. Woolf, of course: "...So elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind."

It's been a very intense whirlwind of a year. It's gone by with such speed, I just cannot believe that we've put another academic year on the books. I'm fast approaching my first anniversary at my job -- which has been, far and away, the single biggest factor keeping me away from my needles and from blogging. My nephews (all four!) are growing like weeds; the youngest turned one last month! My sister and brother-in-law have moved back to the area, and it's wonderful to have them nearby once again. Plans are in place for some more home remodeling. The Garden v. 2.0 is well on its way, and I have much ambition for it this year.

Perhaps biggest of all... in March, I happily became the mama of a darling rescue puppy! Maris is the ten month old, 67-pound, half-chocolate lab/half-weimaraner sweetheart that a friend of mine found abandoned in a shopping center parking lot. I knew she was meant to be part of our family the moment I met her. Just look at this face:

Well, I could keep gushing on about how sweet and charming and funny she is, but I'll stop at gorgeous. ;)

I've been knitting, of course, in the space since my last post. Even when I'm exhausted from keeping marathon hours in my office, the knitting blogs I read and the phenomenon that is Ravelry have been plentiful sources of inspiration. There never seems to be any shortage of wonderful things to make and think about. I wish there were more hours in the day...

"Sometimes all we do is cope."

When things like the Burmese cyclone hit on the world stage, wiping out tens of thousands of people in a blink and leaving millions more in the wake of devastation, it never fails that a wave of guilt hits me. I get that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach reminding me again just how grossly ungrateful, startlingly protected and extravagantly spoiled I am -- that I'm not pulling my weight. Then such magnificent tragedy is followed by the Chinese earthquake just days later...

I've been trying to wrap my head around how to respond to all this assaulting news for days. I was in a particularly reflective mood on my commute home yesterday when I caught a segment on NPR's All Things Considered which really turned my head. The piece profiles a musician/artist named Meredith Monk. Hearing it and later contemplating what I'd heard made me feel increasingly relaxed and centered -- so much so that I want to share it with as many people as I can. Please take six and a half minutes to listen to this.

Monk speaking about her latest work, the CD aptly entitled Impermanence:
"How do you convey a sense of change? How do you convey that everything in our lives, everything is constantly changing? And that one can not hold onto anything? You know, and certainly the impulse was coming from the sense of the preciousness of life and that every moment is only, is the only moment that we have."

Certainly, there is much to be done to ease the suffering of the people affected by these events, but a little regrouping as I listened to the beautifully haunting "Mieke's Melody #5" was just what I needed in the moment. I hope you find it worthwhile, too.

Well, so, hello again. I'm glad to be back at this. I'll return with a proper update and some knitterly pictures later this week!

"I just have this secret hope
Sometimes all we do is cope
Somewhere on the steepest slope
There's an endless rope
And nobody's crying."

- Patty Griffin, "Nobody's Crying" (1000 Kisses)