Louisiana, Running, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

A 5k in Southeastern Louisiana

a-5k-in-southeastern-louisiana-wwwp5k-dianaklein-com

This week, I took part in the World Wide WordPress 5K, during which bloggers are encouraged to complete a 5K and blog about it.  I walk, and sometimes even run, every day, but I don’t always quite get to the 3.1 mile mark.  Yesterday, however, under the guidance of the Runkeeper app (more about this next week), I went for a 3.5 mile run/walk—alternating a half mile of running with a quarter mile of walking.  Here is an approximation of that excursion. 

I start just after 6 am. It’s gotten a little cooler lately—only 73 degrees.  Of course the humidity is still at 95%, so I know I will be doing some serious sweating.  As I run out of my apartment complex, it’s still quite dark.  Only a few people are stirring.  I bounce across the squeaky wooden bridge that is slowly rotting away as everything wooden here does and into the business park car lot.  I am grateful for the street lights that light my way.  I like the flurry of insects dancing in their golden glow.  But I also enjoy the mysteries of the shadows—how everything is transformed by the dark, becomes more or less than it appears in the light of day.  I find the darkness comforting.  I feel held by it.

I cross the boulevard along which I will continue my jaunt. It’s a quiet artery, connecting several domestic subdivisions.  I take up the path—a few yards from the road—that will lead me alongside the street.  I am grateful for the trees that accompany me on both my left and right—the towering ponderosa pines, the flowering crepe myrtles, the sturdy live oaks, and all those others whose names I do not yet know. I glance briefly at the first drainage pond, often home to various water birds, but it’s still too dark to make them out.  During this first half mile, I groove to the strains of Lady Gaga and Rihanna flowing into my ears and delight in the slight rush of air my movement through the predawn causes.

As I reach each subdivision, I inspect the decorations hung on their signs.  It’s football season and they are mostly decked out in Saints black and gold and LSU purple and gold.  The combinations often come off as a bit funereal, once prompting my mother to amend the Saints slogan from Who Dat? to Who Died?

I’ve past a few other early exercisers already, but it’s three quarters of a mile in before I see any of the regulars: The speedy woman walker whom I often come up on and to whom I gently call out, “On your left.” She always squeezes her arms into her body to take up less space, preparing for any onslaught I might bring.  “Good morning,” I say as I pass her scenting her gentle baby powder aura.  Good morning,” she always beams back—as though her eighty odd years have done nothing to quell the joy that determines to exude from her body.  I want to be like her—not when I’m eighty, but right now.

I also see the adventure dog and her owner. She’s a small terrier mix (I think) who always seems to be moving forward toward a thrilling future.  Her real name is Jazzy.  She typically walks with an older retriever-like dog, but I guess she’s home resting her hips today.  Their owner—a fairly fit man in his fifties—usually has some wisecrack to lay on me.  To which, I all too often, I pull out an ear bud and reply cluelessly, “Excuse me?” making him have to repeat the joke.

I walk some and run some more until, almost a mile later I see my sister at the bus stop, where she has just sent one of her children off to school. We chat for a few minutes.  I love when I see her and my nieces and nephew when I go out in the morning.  I love those unimportant accidental meet-ups that can only happen because we live in the same town.  I turn around at the 1.75 mile mark.  My teenage niece and I exchange smiles on my return trip.  I let my hand rub against her back as I trot by.

It has become much lighter by now.  The streetlamps still smolder, but the sun is rapidly making them redundant.  I greet a few elementary school children in their navy blue polo shirts and khaki shorts.  I gaze at the vines that have conquered wooden fences.  I note the progress of the kumquats and satsumas on their respective trees.  I spot another older woman across the street with her spoiled, little brown poodle, also called Jazzy (we’re just outside of New Orleans).  I wave and she lifts her cane at me.  I see the grey minivan that every day conveys a golden retriever, his head protruding from the open window, proclaiming how wonderful everything is.

As I approach more high school students, an habitual debate resumes in my mind: do I inflict my hellos on them? I often wonder if I am being annoying to these teenagers who have plenty of other irritants roiling in their sensitive brains.  I usually settle for a smile and a quiet blanket good morning as I travel through the groups of students—though I tend to hold my breath a bit when I get to the cloud of cologne and body spray emanating from one particular gaggle of boys.

It’s not long before I return to the second drainage pond and see the various geese and ducks. Right next to it is a gazebo where the Catholic school kids gaze at their phones while waiting for their bus.  During my final walking interval I look up into the sky to find a great egret flying over me.  It looks as though its wide wings are flapping just past the moon whose face still shows in the now light blue sky.  I search the trees’ green leaves for the barred owl I spied a few days ago being chastised by crows, but no luck.

I begin the final bout of running and think about the day ahead.  There is breakfast to make and food shopping to do.  Oh, and let’s not forget a thorough shower.  My predictions were correct.  My clothes are soaked, my body is glossy, and my face—thanks to my Swiss heritage—is a feverish red.  As I run back through my apartment complex, I am passed by several cars leaving, people on their way to work.  I startle a bevy of birds and one squirrel who have been taking advantage of one of the tenant’s birdfeeder.  The white cat across the way peers enthusiastically through her window as they scatter before me

My app informs me that my “workout is complete”.  I stop and stretch a little.  I allow my face to cool a bit. I let a weeping willow tickle my shoulders as I walk toward my apartment, and I look around once more.  The world has come completely alive in the last 40 minutes.  The veil of mystery is lifted and the sun begins to burn in earnest.

Have you done a 5k recently?  What was your experience like?  

Reading, Writing & Reading

At The Crossroads of Should and Must

At The Crossroads of Should and Must | dianaklein.com

I recently finished a lovely book called The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find And Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna. In the introduction she writes: “. . . I’ve found that things appear at the ideal time. Not before. And not after. Consider the possibility that this book made its way into your hands because you wanted it to. Because a part of you has seen a crossroads in your life, and you’re ready for the journey ahead . . .”

This seems to be the case for me. I found it while poking around a book store at Newark airport and thinking about how I was going to step forward into pursuing my passions. I had all this energy from my trip to The Somerset Folk Harp Festival—and that felt great, but I was worried. Would I simply go home and fall back into old routines, ignoring what mattered most to me because I was too scared to do otherwise?

There’s a lot of the how to find your passion in this book—which, at this point was not of much interest to me. After years of trying to deny my dreams, I was finally at a place where I could acknowledge completely what I wanted. What is special to me about this book is not the how, but the why. Some weeks ago, I commented to a friend on Facebook, who is in the process of making the huge life change of moving herself and two dogs from New York City to Malta: “So psyched for you and your bravery. I think that when any one of us lives her best/dream life, we all win.” And I believed this—about her—but not about myself. Following my dreams was okay, as long as it didn’t interfere with being the as perfect as possible daughter, sister, aunt, niece, friend, cat caretaker . . . you get the idea. Because, people are more important than dreams, aren’t they? And really, it’s not like I could ever achieve those dreams, not really. What I failed to realize was that this way of thinking was starving my spirit and, as a result, depleting my resources for being a loving relation. Which is especially sad, since connecting with my friends and family is one of my passions, too.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself, what a man can be, he must be.” Scribed in watercolor in The Crossroads of Should and Must, this quote from noted American psychologist Abraham Maslow brought me nearly to tears the first time I read it—and the second. I could feel that after spending a weekend immersed in music—one of my main passions—I was somehow more alive than I had been in months. And here was the reason why: by moving toward what I might be able to be, I was finding not only peace, but vitality. And from reading this book, I began to find the notion of following a dream becoming less about being selfish and delusional, and more about living the best life a human can live.

The other thing I got from this book was the confirmation that following ones dreams is not all brownies and kittens. It can be tedious, backbreaking, and frustrating. It’s also effing terrifying! The questions of worthiness, the vulnerability, the doubts that one inevitably faces in ANY heartfelt endeavor can seem insurmountable. And it was nice to hear someone say, hey, if you’re in pain or panic while you’re doing this, that’s totally normal. It doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It just means what you’re doing means a lot to you and because of that, the stakes are high. And, in a way, that’s a really good thing.

Have you read The Crossroads of Should and Must? What did it mean to you?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with a friend, or even, subscribing. Thanks and have a great day!

Writing & Reading

Overcoming the Allure of Efficiency

2015-05-22 The Dangers of Efficiency

In a way, it’s in my blood.  My mother was born in Switzerland, and every time she executed any task with a high level of efficiency, say carrying six bags of groceries from the car instead of the more reasonable two, my father (from what is now Serbia) would grin and say, “You’re being Swiss.”  I’m not really sure if this was a compliment or a dig, but, even now, it’s the way I tend to operate.  And it’s a problem.

Some years ago, I read about Douglas Adams rewriting the same portion of a novel over and over—each time tossing the unsuccessful pages into the trash before beginning again.  I was horrified by this.  I have always been terrified of throwing away words I have written, fearing that I might lose hold of whatever decent work I might have done, and hoping that some salvage might be made of the less than optimal parts.  I have labored over sentences, attempting to perfect them, believing they may be the only material I would ever be able to create.  “Waste not.  Want not,” I have told myself, “Time is short and words are precious.”

And yet, a few years ago, in a more inspired moment in the Long Room at Trinity College I instructed myself thusly: Write on!  It is the only path to the path—to write wantonly, wastefully, scattering letters across the page like so many seeds on the winds.  This feels true—the idea of taking it all much less seriously.  I could even have fun writing my new novel.  Make it crazy.  Make it disjointed.  Write bits and pieces, turn them upside down, chew them up and spit them out.  Just do it.  The story will find its way into being.  Just have fun with it.  Start anywhere.

That’s what my four year’s older sister told me when I was a kid and needed advice on tackling my overwhelmingly messy room. “Start anywhere,” she said.  “Don’t worry about beginning in the best place, just pick something up, put it way, and move on to the next thing..”  When I’ve gotten stuck in just about any kind of project, I have gone back to this advice.  Start anywhere.  Just get yourself going.  It may not always be the most efficient way of getting something done, but it works—and sometimes, it’s the only thing that does.

A few months ago I read Dennis Lehane’s book of short stories, Coronado.  At the end, was a Q & A with the author, in which Lehane talked about his need to write his way into a novel.  He may start with only a slender idea, so he has to figure the story out by putting pen to page (or fingers to keyboard) and letting the words come out like so much clay for him to eventually shape into a narrative.

This is my task now.  Forget about being efficient.  Forget about figuring out the best way to do it.  Just take it one sentence at a time, and don’t be afraid to throw away a thousand, a million words, because, in reality, those words are not wasted.  They are building blocks for the next generation, they are inroads into the wilderness where the whole of the story resides.

🙂

Writing & Reading

The Books That Changed My Life (or at least some of them)

The books that changed my life: My Name is Asher Lev, The Complete Works of O. Henry, Beloved, The HItchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | dianaklein.com

This week I was searching in my local library’s web catalog for a book by Alice Hoffman.  They didn’t have what I was looking for, but instead I found The Book That Changed My Life.  Don’t you love that about libraries?  Whether you’re online or in the stacks, you can look for one thing and discover gems you didn’t even know existed.  Of course, that usually means that by the time I get to the circulation desk, my arms are overflowing with items that I will never get a chance to consume in the time they are allotted to me.  No matter.

The Book That Changed My Life, edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen, is a collection of essays from celebrated authors (mostly of fiction) about the book, you guessed it, that changed their lives.  This got me thinking two things: a) How, on God’s green earth, can anyone choose only one book?  And b) To which book would I assign that distinction?  As I dipped into the essays, I found that several of the authors couldn’t limit it to one choice either, so there’s that mystery solved.  But I was surprised to find that not all of them designated novels as their book of choice.  There have been a number of nonfiction texts that have made a huge difference in my life—many of them spiritual or philosophical—but they would never be at the top of the list that jumped to mind when I asked myself the question.  I have learned so much from novels—about the world, the past, myself, that I suppose I think of them as the best textbooks for the school of life.

My sister (eleven years older than I) started reading The Complete Works of O. Henry to me when I was seven.  This book pretty much ruined me for just about all other short stories.  I loved that there was always a kicker at the end, ironic or not.  We never finished a tale with me thinking “Okay, so what’s your point?” which often happens when I read short fiction now.  My favorite story was Springtime a la Carte mostly because it begins:

It was a day in March. 

Never, never begin a story this way when you write one.  No opening could possibly be worse  It is unimaginative, flat, dry, and likely to consist of mere wind.  But in this instance it is allowable. 

It changed my life because it was funny and irreverent and it felt like a personal invitation—as though this man from almost a century earlier was holding out his hand and saying, “C’mon, Diana.  It’ll be fun.”  I think that’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer—not that I thought I could or would ever be good at it, but that, even if I wasn’t ready to admit it to anyone (least of all myself) this was where some part of my passion lay.

I still wasn’t ready to commit to my creativity when I read My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok in my early twenties.  It’s the story of an observant Jew who can’t stop himself from becoming an artist, and further, cannot turn away from the path his art is determined to take—which, in part, is to paint a portrait of his mother entitled The Brooklyn Crucifixion—despite the injury it will cause to his relationship with his community.  I love this book because the protagonist is earnest and really wants to do the right thing, but he knows he has follow his path, despite the difficult consequences—to do otherwise is to be false in the deepest kind of way, and, in a fashion, to turn away from God.  I love the description of Judaism, the rituals such as praying over a simple glass of orange juice.  I love how the book starts.  It’s as though you are walking into a room and hear a snatch from the middle of a fascinating conversation, and you can’t help but want to go back to the beginning and get the whole story.  This book changed my life because it taught me about how close artistry can be to spirituality (or even the same thing?).  It whispered to me about things I might like to do with my life—true things, literary things, small, but powerful things—and it wouldn’t stop whispering.

Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy first came into my life as an abridged book on tape.  I think I was about ten, and this science fiction masterpiece blew the roof straight off my mind.  It was as though Adams had given me a crystal, and instructed me on how to hold it and take it in.  Instead of just admiring one side, I was meant to turn it—just a little—and then consider it from this new angle.  And I was meant to do this again and again, over and over, becoming aware of how unfixed an idea or a reality might be.  The book was also really funny.

I read and re-read Beloved by Toni Morrison when I was 16.  Its story about an escaped female slave several years after the Civil War taught me about beauty and horror.  There was a lot I didn’t “get”, but that didn’t bother me.  When I read an earthy and lovely passage about the main character kneading bread, I found a porthole into the life of a woman whose experience had been so different from mine and I wanted to hold her.  I didn’t know books could do that.  I was glad to learn.

What book(s) changed your life?  How?  Why?

🙂

Writing & Reading

Mary Oliver Praises and May Day Wishes

I feel safe with a Mary Oliver book in my hands. I feel held, understood, though the words in the slim rectangle claim, they are certain of nothing.

I feel whole—as though the slender book were a shard of my own soul returned to me at last. I feel safety and gratitude.  I feel assured and reassured that quietude and nature are true friends.

That words matter as much as I want them to, that they can find a home in a stranger’s heart, miles apart and years away. That they can fit so delicately on a tongue—perching, balancing, dancing. That they can bring forth laughter and sighs. That something so simple—plain text printed in black on a tender sheaf of white paper can bring to me a world that is both mine and another’s.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been reading the poetry of Mary Oliver this week, specifically her book Blue Horses, published last year.  If you know her work, you also know she doesn’t need me singing her praises, but if you don’t, you might want to check some of it out.

On May 1st, when I was a child, my sister and I used to gather flowers from our mother’s gardens and give them to our friends and family members.  So, here are some May Day flowers for you—gorse from Sneem, Ireland.  2015-05-01 GorseAccording to Edward Bach, the vibrations of gorse help one to feel hope in the face of despair; to realize one’s soul potential, even in the face of difficulty.  This is particularly appropriate as many people are currently celebrating Beltane—a Celtic celebration of spring and new life.  So, I also wish you revitalization—in whatever form that you need it.

🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Making Lotuses

No mud, no lotus - Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s been one of those weeks.  The kind where I made a hamster running to nowhere on his little wheel look good.  It’s at times like these that I have to remind myself to embrace the mud.  As the wonderful Vietnamese, Buddhist monk and poet Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.”  So I will slather myself with the muddiness and muddled-ness of my actions and thoughts, and believe—know—that a lotus will grow from this mess—sooner or later.

As I was writing the last (first) paragraph, my mother came in and brought me a flawless white viola—the only plant to grow from a seed packet I bought her a year ago.  It’s not a lotus, but it’s pretty darn special—and well worth the wait.

2015-04-17 Viola

For more on exciting things coming out of decidedly grosser ones, check this post from a few years ago: An Ode to Compost.

Also, April being national poetry month and all, I encourage you to seek out some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful verse.

Thank you for reading.:)

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Learning How to Trust Myself

Trust Zentangle

One of the things I love about writing are the little gifts—the spontaneous pieces of wisdom—that sometimes arrive from seemingly nowhere.  Are they born of my (much) wiser subconscious?  Or are they endowments from some outer source that chooses (thankfully) to take over my brain once in a while?  I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.

What I do know is that when I was writing my first novel, one character decided to tell another, “. . . the best life is not one in which one struggles to be good all the time.  It’s when a person believes in her own ability and desire to do good, and allows those positive actions to just happen on their own.”

This is a lesson I have been trying to learn for several years now.  After college, I spent a summer flailing at massage school.  I attempted to bolster my morale and failing health by making signs with construction paper and magic marker that said things like FAITH and TRUST in big block letters.  At the time, I think I was telling myself to trust in God, but even then, I think I knew that that meant trusting myself as well.  This was not an easy task as I knew what all I had gotten up to in my life.  I knew the stupid things I’d done and the smart ones I hadn’t.  And I didn’t feel very trustworthy.  Older now, I can recognize good reasons for my actions and inactions—many of them related to being hopelessly human—and I can also see how in trying to do the “right” thing, I was getting it all so sorrowfully wrong.  I got so constricted trying to get it right, there was no room for my creativity and love of life to breathe.  I was strangling the very parts of myself that have the most to offer.  I knew I needed to trust myself, but I couldn’t do that because I thought the only way to be trustworthy was to be infallible—something I am most certainly not.

But going back and reading those serendipitously generated lines reminds me that I don’t need to trust myself to be mistake-free or be ceaselessly industrious or know how to handle every problem in my life.  What I need, is to recognize that even though I am human and prone to blunders, my desire to be a positive force in this world is real and that, if I let it, is likely to yield some surprising and delightful results.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

Writing & Reading

Doerr & Dillard: All the Light We Cannot See and The Writing Life

I was lucky enough to finish reading two books this week.  The first was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  I don’t remember why I picked it up, but when I found out it was set in Europe during World War II, I was a little reluctant to go through with reading it.  As the author himself pointed out in a podcast interview with Aspen Public Radio’s First Draft, there are already plenty of stories—particularly memoirs about this era.  And many of them are difficult to read for those of us with strong empathetic streaks.  Yet, in telling the almost independent stories of two children, a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy, Doerr skillfully brings the horrors of the time alive, without making me want to throw up every five seconds.  I found the boy, Werner’s desire to be seen and make use of his innate brilliance, even at the cost of lying to himself about the cause into which he is being initiated, to be particularly compelling and moving.  I like the way Doerr uses various aspects of the natural world (the sea, snails, birds, physics) to propel the story forward in a meaningful way.  I found the language and style to be lovely, and I enjoyed the book’s optimism, which, far from being cockeyed, is founded in reality.

The other book I read was a slim volume probably familiar to many writers: The Writing Life by Pulitzer Prize winner, Annie Dillard (described by Amazon as a gregarious recluse!).  I love her rich, poignant prose that is also somehow matter of fact and no-nonsense.  I am not sure I have the bravery to write like that—or perhaps I am just working up to it.  She imparts advice that isn’t really advice, just what she knows to be true and you can take it or leave it.  Here is a small part of it as I received it:

1) Mostly, writers write slowly; deal with it.  It’s only rare outliers who write super fast.

2) No one really needs a writer’s work.  There are plenty of great manuscripts out there already—enough for everyone to savor for lifetimes.

3) A person’s job as a writer is way less important than that of a shoe salesman—no one will miss the writer if she doesn’t show up to work, but people will definitely be upset if they can’t buy shoes.

4) Writers (and all artists) have a tendency to hold onto the parts of their work into which they have poured the most blood—even if those parts are lousy or (even more painfully) are quite good, but don’t serve the work as a whole and should be discarded.

I feel as though much of this truth should be disheartening, but I found her words somehow cleansing and relief-giving.  I am not completely sure why.  Maybe it has something to do with the idea that it’s okay not to get it right, because nobody gets it right—or at least not all the time.  And, I like the fact that Dillard’s writing makes me chuckle and tell myself, “Jeez, don’t take yourself so seriously, man.  Really.”

Thank you for reading. 🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Just a Moment

Curiousity

Before I got sick in high school, I ran cross country and track.  At the end of each season, there would be an awards night, invariably during which a slide show of pictures of the student athletes would be shown and Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” would be played.  I had already sat through a lot of these presentations during my older sister’s very successful running career, and I remember yearning for the day when my picture would be up there.  More than that, I ached to fulfill the song’s message: to have that special moment “when I am more than I thought I could be”, so that I could “feel eternity” and “be free”.  It didn’t have to be in running.  It could be in whatever field I chose to pursue, but I was sure, with that silky, soaring voice egging me on, that, one day, it would happen.

I think a lot of us live this way—waiting for our lives to start.  We train ourselves to do this with the stories we tell and the ones we consume.  After all, how many movies or novels are there about someone living their lives from day to day as best they can?  A few perhaps, but most of us find them unbearably boring.  We crave adventure, love, excitement.  We meet our favorite protagonists when they have been tasked with a great struggle and we leave them when they have found love or have met some elusive goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love those stories.  Heck, I’ve written those stories, but I think they, like the song, can confuse us about how we might want to live our lives.  For a long time, I thought “One Moment in Time” was such a great, inspirational song—and it is.  It tells us that through hard work and determination, we can become whatever we dream.  And, history has borne this out.  It can be true—but not for all of us.  Sometimes we fail.  Even when we try with all our wits and might and heart, sometimes we can’t capture the brass ring we believe will make our lives whole.  And, I for one, would like to believe, that’s okay.  As Mick Jagger has told us countless times: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need”.  Our job, a part from trying, is to recognize what we need when it arrives.  But here again, I’m talking about waiting.  Living for some time in the future.  For that time when I’ve lost the weight, when my body works the way I want it to, when I get this job or have that relationship.  We put our attention on hold until that magical time when we feel like all our ducks will all be in a row and the euphoria induced by this knowledge will keep us sailing through life.

I’ve been frustrated again lately about my lack of outward accomplishment in this lifetime and haunted by fears that I will never have my one moment in time.  And I realize that even though I am doing a lot of things to achieve my goals, a part of me is just waiting.  Always waiting.  And you know what?  I don’t want to wait anymore.  I don’t want to think of my life as unfulfilled because I haven’t won an Olympic gold medal or gotten a publishing contract.  And, come to think of it, I don’t want just one moment in time—hoping and believing that that instant will carry me through the rest of my life on clouds of ecstasy.  I am determined to have many moments—like when one of the little song birds comes for a visit on my window ledge, or one of my nieces gives me a hug for no reason, or noticing the crazy vivacity of acrylic paints.  Or recognizing how beautiful my harp sounds even when I am struggling to learn a hard passage.  Or feeling how just how soft my little, grey cat is when she comes to greet me in the morning.  Or sensing the subtle trickles of honeyed relaxation that seep through my muscles whenever my mother touches me.  Or remembering how grateful I am that my legs are capable of mobility, even when every step is painful.  Or, or, or.  The truth is I could go on for days.

When I was a kid and my family would eat something particularly delicious, my parents, both native German speakers (though different dialects), would instruct us, “You have to eat this mit verstand.”  I instinctively knew that this meant it was so good, it would be criminal not to savor it, but the literal translation for the German is “with understanding”.  We were supposed to eat with understanding, with gratitude, and with an attentive curiosity about what it was all about—every facet of it.  That is how I would like to experience my many one moments in time.  I don’t always do it—a lot of times I forget—but, I think for me, this is where eternity and freedom truly lie—in realizing the saturation of life in any sort of time—whether it be joyful or dull or difficult.  These are the moments I am living for and that I am resolved to live in now.  And if I get a publishing contract or somehow jump into an alternate universe and win a gold medal, I will endeavor to meet those moments with understanding, too.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Improving Work Space Happiness

I live in an apartment, so my office is also my bedroom, music room, and art studio.  I am lucky that it’s a decent sized space into which I’ve been able to fit two desks, two large bookcases, a filing cabinet, my harp, music stand, and chair, as well as my bed.  It’s not ideal, but it works—sort of.  Lately, I’ve noticed that my body mechanics at my writing desk—a lovely, old, hinged slant top—have left something to be desired.  I didn’t have enough leg room and, because of the height of the desk, I was continually leaning forward—good for my abs, but terrible for my neck and shoulders—and made even more crippling when my little, furry writing assistant demands to lend her brilliance by sitting in my lap.

One of the problems with being sick with CFS (or as the Institute of Medicine has now termed it, SEID), is that time becomes even more precious.  On a typical day, I usually have 2-4 hours during which I feel somewhat normal.  Even though I do tend to have pain, my brain and body still function with reasonable ability.  Anything that requires any kind of physical or mental stamina must be done during this window.  It’s hard not to feel like shopping for a new desk is a lousy use of that time, but given the amount of time I spend (and hope to spend) at my computer, and the amount of pain I already feel due to my ill health, I decided that a new desk would be a good investment in my future wellbeing and productivity.

So, after a lot of online research, a lot of measuring, and a lot of miming my typing habits at various work surfaces, I picked my desk.  But just as I was ready to inform the lovely people at my local office supply store, I realized that there was no way my laptop was going to fit on its pull out typing surface.  What to do?  Give up?  This was the desk—the one that was going to fit in the space allotted, the one that coincided with my price point, the one that seemed to meet my needs in the best way possible.  I thought about it for a minute and decided to go look at the wireless keyboards.  What if I bought one of these as well and basically just used my laptop as a monitor?  It seemed like a good solution, but the thing about me (one of the many, many things) is that I tend to be scared to spend money.  I don’t have a lot of it (who does?), and I am just about always nervous that I am spending it wantonly.  I was already a little trepidatious about the desk, was I now just overcomplicating the situation to the nth degree?  Was I trying to force something that didn’t fit?  I wasn’t sure.  But when I sat with it for a moment, it kinda seemed like the right thing to do.  So I took a deep breath and handed over my credit card.

When I got home and put the desk together, I was relieved to be delighted with how it fit into my space.  I also noticed that when I pulled out my new keyboard, I discovered that having the screen farther away from me was much more comfortable to my neck.  I found a workspace body mechanics illustration online that confirmed that one’s screen should be 18 inches or about arm’s length away.  So, by making the uncertain purchase of the wireless keyboard, I had actually solved another problem of which I hadn’t yet been aware.  Looking more closely at the ergonomics diagram, I also realized that my computer was sitting too low on the desk.  My natural gaze fell higher, so I was having to make continual micro-corrections that was tiring to both my eyes and my neck.  I solved this by placing a favorite book of fairy tales and an air mat (for keeping the machine cool) underneath my computer. Fairy Tale Support I love seeing the book there as I type away.  It reminds me of my deep love of stories—one of the main reasons I started to write.  And now, as I am slowly arranging my workspace, I find it becoming more and more inviting.  Even as I enter the room and glance over, I find myself thinking, “Oooh, I like that spot.  I can’t wait to get over there.”  This was a another goal I had aspired to some years ago—reasoning, that if I wanted to get myself to spend long hours writing, I better make the area in which I am doing it a place I really want to be.

Work Space

I am sure there will be more adjustments to make as I go forward.  For one thing, I still have to train myself to keep sitting properly—keeping my feet flat on the floor, leaning back into my lumbar support (a small, lavender-filled pillow given to me by my mom) and reminding myself that my shoulders aren’t actually meant to be next door neighbors with my ears.  For another, I have to keep my resolve to get up, stretch, and get a drink at least once a hour (even if it means offending my writing assistant), but I am excited to have a more comfortable and pleasant space from which to tackle some of my goals.

Writing Assistant

Thank you for reading. 🙂