Think I could stop with just three? Naw. Seven's a magic number. I won't spend all January congratulating myself on the resolutions I'm conveniently re-making, but I did have a few more to add to the 2014 list.
Re-Resolution Number Four (shorter and sweetish) - maintaining offline zones.
I am so connected these days, that the slight quiver of adjacent atoms can trigger panicked groping for the phone, the reload button, the twenty different wireless devices within reach. Constantly alert for the blinking blue light of notifications. Always loading, checking, searching... something. Waiting... forgot Godot. He won't call, text, or chat me. But something might. Maybe.
It's uncannily easy to forget how to be present, or how to be appreciably bored. Both of which are vital to my mental balance and brain's unloading.
This year, I started having short windows of un-wired time. Not much, admittedly, but little bits and pieces where the phones go off . Even if I don't know the answer to a mused quandry, even there's an awkward silence of some sort, at those times I just sit in that ambiguity and restlessness far from the endless static of blips and inputs. Working out and going to theaters are a few times that blessedly require such offlining. A few others require a more will power. When I bring coffee, the phone stays off (most of the time) other than some music it is playing. Our bed or couch time is special. A hollowed out pocket of desultory conversation, slurps, stares and smooches. Our date night is another time where I leave the cell phone straight at home. My Wednesday lunch time with my mom is the last one. I strayed from that a bit, but have redisciplined myself.
There is something ameliorative, creative and healing about the stillness of a non-digital world. My brain's mad lucubration suddenly sings out from the background noise, free-range and cascading through consciousness like water bursting through a dam. Conversations become more interesting. Stranger. Less templated. My random curiosities turn to the person at hand: what art classes did Andrew take as a child, when did he start drinking coffee, what book would he write if he could write any book, what language would he most like to learn, what skill would he master? He may not always reciprocate the question, but my brain will happily fill it in for myself as well.
It doesn't last. There's a lure that is almost unavoidable for too long absent battery death. But those little pockets keep me in mind of an unwired life and affect my habits through out the day...
Re-Resolution Number Five: Three Things - Last year I wrote a bit about the practice that and I had developed back when we lived in different cities. Every night before bed, I would write him an email listing three things that had "gone right" in any way shape or form that day. It was kind of a way to polish up the positives before heading off into the world of Morpheus' memory-making magic; it simultaneously mixed in a nice intimate moment with my sweetie in the telling. He'd read mine and respond in kind, allowing me to start my next day with his own "right" things. Sometimes they sparked further conversations. Sometimes not. There was no pressure to respond in any way, allowing the exercise to linger between purely private journaling and intimate conversation.
When we got hitched and shackled ourselves to a common lease agreement, we revisited the Three Things practice. After a series of little notecards on various pillows and other experiments, Andrew suggested a journal. A nice journal. I'd take one side of the page and Andrew would take the other.
Similar process applies: around an hour before bed, I begin my evening ritual by distentangling from distractions and penning my list on the left folio. When I'm done, I have my evening snack and do a twenty minute wind down routine involving a crossword puzzle and record breaking slow-yogurt-eating (Olympic champion, baby). Around the time that I start to head upstairs to brush my teeth and wash my face, Andrew finishes whatever thing he's up to, reads mine, writes his, does our dishes and then follows me up. When I get up in the morning to start the coffee, I read his.
The practice lingers now 'twixt journal and love letter. We can talk about whatever we want within the confines of the threeness of things (and when it's been a good day, the triumverate of positivity is certainly stretched into several subparts that can often break down to morning - afternoon - evening), but inevitably there are positive aspects of living-togetherness that pop up on a regular basis. No expectation or obligation for those to be listed, but while culling my brain for rightness, it's not uncommon to stumble upon a little gesture or moment shared between us that definitely went right. And it's a chance to mention that rightness free of the confines of expectation and obligation.
Gratitude and love are things best well-waxed and displayed in all their gleaming. I think our survival is dependent on muscle memory, habit and taking certain things for granted to avoid paralysis. I also believe that once survival is handled, there's always a luxurious moment to pause and restate what may be so obvious that it's forgotten in the onslaught of minor novelties. I'm glad to snuggle and nest in that moment when I can. And snuggling in bed on weekend mornings, or on the couch on weeknight evenings rarely escapes the dragnets of my brain at these moments.
Other ongoing motifs this year (in no particular order and largely reminiscent of 2013)
1. Experiencing flow in my work or avocationary work product. Research, brief-drafting, memorandums, the manic minutes of the Whatcom Collaborative Professionals, the odd article written for trade journals, or just my usual bloggery. When time slips away and it's just me, my fingers, and the unfurling tendrils of my myriad mind...
2. Moments of connection with friends, family, or even brief encounters in which strangers drop their social guard and lock something a little more than eyes with me. Connection may be worldess or deeply conversational. It may be physical or simply a moment of aligned energy. It may be a note from a friend I haven't seen in a while, or the brushing of a hand with the sales clerk. Most often it's a conversation that delves beyond the usual niceties into something utterly unvital, but fascinating. In fantastic moments, there are parallel evolutions of thought and will, helped by moments of mutual listening.
3. Physical flow - dancing is one of the ways I get this most easily, but also running, walking, thrashing around like a Maenad on the elliptical to some some or other until my phone goes flying off the consul and rips the headphones from my ears... strength training. The blend of endorphins and the utterly embodied experience transcends the merely physical.
4. Music. Going to the opera or ballet or sitting at home with the stereo set to twelve, and experiencing the million minor catharses in each infinite phrase and timbre. The music pulsing its ichor through my arteries, the boundaries between self and other effervescing into ether. The chills and bubbles and the endless quiet in a perfect chord.
5. Funnily enough for me, food. Mostly the ritual of making food. Often with my father, as that has been the prior tradition for family meals and one that always carries the import and auger of tradition. But as time passes, I become more intoxicated with the process itself. Chopping and prepping and soaking and milling and seeing what is to come of it. The redolence of a fully utilized kitchen. Discovering new grains and weird foods. Modifying recipes. And daring to turn on the stove despite my likely tendencies to endanger the house whenever me and fire are involved.
6. Reading. I read on a less consistent basis far less than several of my affiliates. I'm not necessarily somebody who is always reading something and I'll sometimes shrug when the conversation turns - as it does in my family - to what I'm reading. When I do read, I tend to become fully immersed in the subject matter. Even the minor tug of the real world can feel physically uncomfortable. I often read in bursts and spurts - a tome in a day, or several books in a few weeks - and then need a break to reemerge into the waking world and decompress before my next leap. But oh when I do read, I relish it in fine and endless detail. I similarly attach to a television show or movie that sets my mind a spinning and my pen a whirling at the end of an evening. Even the more drawn out sporting events, like the Tour, have a similar thrall of epos and excitement.
Re-Resolution Number Six: Become Myselves and Play With the Moment:
I've often found "be yourself" to be a particularly paradoxical and facile adage. Lest we delve into any inherent skepticism of leaving any moiety of raw self exposed naively to a world of unspoken signals, rules and praxes, I'll start with the more elemental: Which self? In what way? And how?
My illusory self is hobbled together from a series of ebbing and flowing traits, habits, beliefs, memories, stories, thoughts, and tendencies; many of the former list are self-contradictory. Each self is a fluid creation of mind and will. The images we project of ourselves have an enduring coherency deeply inconsistent with a more objective measure. Our memories pave over the inconsistencies by adding the glue between moments and editing the raw and flickering data into the unwavering consistency of a life. The stories change. To ourselves. To others. Every moment. The selves change. One memory may be reinterpreted a million different ways, fashioning and destroying connections and alliances as the mind weaves its works.
And of course, whatever self may be is defined by more than any inner essence. The protean nature of being demands ongoing adaptation in the face of sedimentation. Where "we" refuse to change, the world around us persists in doing just that; the result is that we change in relation to the world whether we want to or not. The actions we take reflect who we are while simultaneously shaping us. Smiling more makes people report feeling happier. Volunteering more makes people feel like they have more time. Whenever we act, then, aren't we ultimately becoming our selves in some way? Even if not in the way we anticipate or hope? Should that be freeing, perhaps? If I know that I am mutable, then I know I get to create myself in every moment. I may not have the clearest GPS model towards ideal self, but I can remain a work in progress with a sketched out road map and I can make turns along the way.
Of course there are certain consistent traits. I mentioned earlier that I'm an introvert. I'm a highly sensitive person. I am uncharacteristically apt with certain modes of thinking that tend to be challenging for others. Despite fluency with logic and rational argument, I have an affinity for the metaphysic, the allegory, the spirit, and the things that transcend the words I compulsively throw at them.
I'm perpetually uncertain. I'm a touch mordant. Because of the sensitivity, I can be over-sensitive, impatient. Unlike most people I don't really think that I'm particularly clever or enlightened, but I'm pretty damned sure nobody else is either. Because of the skepticism and caustic nip to my mind, I can be distant or harsh. I'm told I had a way of telling people devastating truths about themselves in the most banausic manner when I was a bit younger. I'm moody and restless. I'm sometimes a little bit haughty and perpetually exasperated by a world that has the volume turned on so loudly that they hardly seem capable of listening.
I could be an awful drag to be around as a result. Except that I'm also and over-archingly prone to whimsy, mischief and fancy. To drag out the old chestnut from storage: Life is too important to be taken seriously. Playing is what bevels out the obstreperous erosity of any prickly part of myself. It's what lets the better qualities unfurl. What keeps hyper vigilant self-consciousness from imprisoning wholehearted engagement. It rescues me from the limbo of self-deluded pretension and reminds me of connections when times are hardest.
It keeps me quite entertained where I may otherwise be bored. When I'm irascible, a gentle self-teasing can pull me right back to a cathartic laugh or two. When an unpleasant situation cannot be changed, I gain a sense of control over it by transforming it into a rollicking farce of itself. When I need some time away from the world, I can drift off with a vacant smile and think silly and happy thoughts.
Sometimes my nephew will be in the thralls of temper when something funny happens. There's a moment of indecision. If he laughs, the spell of rage will be pierced. He often fights the moment before giving in. I find myself fighting those same silly battles - holding onto an anger or a grudge against the winds of affection, as if losing it would lose the veracity of the incident that provoked my feelings.
Sometimes a series of misunderstandings will create an interpersonal tension fortified on defensiveness and irrational reflex. Sometimes my fears project themselves into nooks and crannies. At those times, a simple human moment through recognizing the absurdity of a stalemate (carefully applied, of course and with self-humor above any third party mocking) can be life-changing. A connection is all that it takes to unlock a situation. An apt reminder of love shared. A second questioning initial conclusions. A drop in defenses long enough to see the empathy that lies beneath. Sometimes, it just gives reassurance that a tense moment has not undone every warm and affectionate moment that preceded it.
When Andrew and I first went out dancing, I had a moment of revelation. He has a very serious default facial expression. It's not that he's actually unhappy. It's just the natural way his face falls. At first, I found it quite disconcerting to be dancing and flirting with somebody looking - to my mind - quite dour. In younger days, I may have grown prone to my own insecurities and surreptitiously stormed off. Instead I made it a goal to break up his concentration and make him smile. Not quite by kicking him (like his brother had me do during our wedding photos), but by playing. The more serious he looked, the more I caught him by surprise with some flirtatious variation of dance on nonsense phrase. When he responded, I knew we'd found something. Silliness has been one of the binding connections in our relationship, despite our many other affinities. He does not always think to indulge proactively, but my sincerely serious engineer is also quite... silly, when you get him going.
As it turns out, this is often a bridge when there are moments of perceived estrangement. Playing is a way to process through little rough spots, as well as a way for us to express affection in a way that often feels more sincere than the most serious of gestures (which have been so codified in the social norms as to feel potentially rote).
And so, whatever self I choose to "be" today (I didn't even start in on being and not-being), I'll remember to let go the flare ups of singular self that threaten to solidify in unpromising ways. I will remember to consult with and listen to all my selves, and hopefully share a chuckle with them all.
Re-Resolution Number Seven: Write Wright Right! (Or some such sequence)
No, I'm not giving up on the ubiquitous parenthetical around the W of my new surname. It was a momentary stab at cleverness (to which cleverness turned dolefully about and whispered "et tu, Adella?" before keeling over in horror).
About a year ago, I penned a lengthy little piece about why I had once again failed to participate in NaNoWriMo and all the authorial pomp and circumstance surrounding it. Perhaps the takeaway was I'm lazy and a little cowardly. Or perhaps there was something more nuanced and rational and brimming over with self-knowledge and reflection.
My many potential rationales included a familiarity with the glut of talent and dearth of opportunity; that was blended with some recognition of my own lack of discipline and sheer stubbornness to write for a wider audience. And then a dash of the surmise that my closed-world story telling tends to be more compelling when my life is less ... pleasant... for reasons familiar to at least some of the artistic persuasion.
Don't get me wrong. I love my idealized fantasy of writing for a living. You know the fantasy where there is creative control, where there is more evoking of muses and midwiving exquisite absurdities and illogical truths into earthly existence than self-promotion, where the demands are unstructured and the brain well-oiled. I do sometimes think that perhaps my preferred profession would lean more towards contract legal work (as in research and memoranda on a contractor basis, and less in the negotiating over details basis) or appellate work. I further think that it wouldn't be so bad if somebody decided to pay me to live a fabulous life and write about it - offer is still open if any one wants to fund that one! But absent that, avocation sometimes maintains the purity of passion, right? Right?? Sure. Besides, as I blather on, I'm not really an author and often question whether I consider myself a writer as much as somebody who writes. Compulsively. Prolifically.
I may wax philosophical or transcendental about the act of writing. It has psychological benefits. It processes specifics into abstract universals and transmutes these back into symbolic specificity that bears the aegis of universal truth. But it is also a good rollicking exercise. I often feel the same little rush of endorphins after a good typing jag that I might after a run. It's a talent, yes, but also a skill. And there is something innately satisfying about building that skill, even incrementally. Regardless of whether my horizon is dotted with reevaluations on the above points about identity etc. Regardless of what mutable moieties of self my habits my or may not lead me to embrace, writing is as important an exercise for me as any quotidian gymnastics. It keeps my mind fluid and flexible. It keeps ideas flowing through instead of clogging up. And it lets me tat my words into pretty little configurations. Occasionally, it even lets me connect with others.
Writing has been a bit of a theme of my re-resolutions in different ways. Hand writing gratitude, journal/love-notes, even the simple practice of jotting down words or sounds that spring to mind, or shreds of thoughts as they flit past the viewscreen of my conscious mind when I'm not allowed to have my electronic distractions. Writings unravels and reconstructs the world's seductions of my psyche, gives shape to my stories, and spices evolving identities and philosophies. It connects me to the outside world by unfurling my interior world.
The common advice for writerly types is to (wait for it, wait for it) write. To set aside time every day and write no matter what. Find a block of time, turn off the distractions, and just start typing. Write crap if need be. Learn to edit, sure. Learn to outline, ok. But also learn to let go and write.
Perhaps not with the aim of reaching some perfect craft, but I follow this advice in my minor way. I don't have a word goal. I don't have a story or a book I'm working on. I (obviously) don't really have a comprehensively thematic online presence. I don't set aside several hours or set myself to serious study of pushing my comfort zones and expanding my abilities. But I write something with a small assignment every day. The smallest assignment is the aforementioned three things. The more regular assignment is just to write a post every day (the posts that are compiled into a blog). Open the window, find a picture, find something in the picture and start typing. Figure out what I'm saying later if need be. But start typing. Needless to say, I always find something to say. And something more. And something more. Until ... well... see above.