Yesterday I wrote a little post about focusing on good things instead of messes. The post felt charming and complete to me, so I didn’t want to alter it, even though I knew there was more to be said on the topic of focus. Because changing focus is sometimes no harder than deciding to do it, other times my brain can be uncooperative. As was the auto-focus on the camera was while I was trying to get it to focus on the hot chocolate instead of the spill. It stubbornly kept that spill clear even when the frame was almost entirely full of blurry hot chocolate. I was fortunate that Gleek knew a trick. She put her finger into the frame and the addition of that one new element made the camera immediately re-focus. So when I’m trying to teach my brain to focus on the good things, I’m going to have to use some tools to control the auto focus.
Tool #1 Write the Good Stuff.
Tool #2 Conscious Attention
Tool #3 Break Your Patterns
Tool #4 Attend Church or Other Worship Service
Tool #5 Enlist a Friend
Tool #6 Seek Additional Help
These are far from the only tools, but they’re a good place to start.
I put the cup of hot milk down in front of Gleek along with the can of hot cocoa mix. She looked up from her book and her face lit up.
She dumped and stirred. Some of the powder slopped onto the table, adding to the spill that was already there from yesterday’s hot chocolate. Vigorous stirring added a little bit more. When she was done stirring, I lifted the cup and started arranging it so that both cup and spill were in the frame.
“What are you doing?” Patch asked, attracted by the unusual request I’d made of Gleek.
Gleek hovered, making sure nothing bad happened to her hot chocolate. She helped make the camera cooperate by placing her finger where I wanted the auto focus to aim. I took several shots both with and without the flash. They weren’t perfect, but they would do. And Gleek was ready to claim her treat.
“Here kids, come see.” I said and I showed them the pictures on the camera.
Both shots contain the spill and the delicious hot chocolate. Focus doesn’t change what is in the picture, but it makes a world of difference in what I see. I have been focusing too much on the spills and messes in my life and not enough on the good things. Life is always messy, it is up to me to find enjoyment in it anyway.
“Ah!” the kids said, enlightened.
“I’m happier when I make things.” Howard said as he walked into the kitchen late in the day. I looked up at him and saw that the grouchiness he’d felt earlier had cleared from his face. It took an hour and 1200 words of a short story, but his day got better.
I know exactly the way that Howard feels. I meant to spend today cleaning house. Instead I worked at making things too. I made thirty five packages which went out to customers. Then I made LOTA closer to being complete by putting in the footnotes that Howard created and by creating the footnote boxes. I too wrote 1200 words of fiction. I have a long list of things which I’d hoped to accomplish today, but I’m glad I chose to make things instead.
Only yesterday I was out to lunch with my friend and asking “Does it ever get easier than this?” I had a week where feelings of being overwhelmed alternated with the hope that we were finally getting life under control. I guess I’d had one oscillation too many, or maybe I was just feeling entitled to whine. In the past year I’ve dealt with lots of parenting things which were outside the norm. Except when I think about it, I wonder if it is more normal than not. Most people don’t know all the details of what has gone on, just as I don’t know all the details for other families. This leads to the illusion that struggle is not normal, when growing up is an inherently struggle-full process.
My friend didn’t answer my question, because she knew that I already knew the answer. No, life will not get easier, but my perceptions of the difficulties can be very different if I’m willing to alter them. I got a taste of this on Wednesday night when I came home from a support group meeting and everything looked different. I got a taste of it today when I spent the day making things and discovered that the house things which bothered me in the morning did not bother me so much this evening. In both cases, the thing I chose to do was pointed out to me by inspiration. This is really the answer my friend waited for me to remember. When I am following the instructions I am given by inspiration from my Father in Heaven, then life will be good even if it is also difficult.
During LTUE I had two people ask me questions that I could not answer right away. I said I would think about the questions and blog an answer later. This is that blog.
It took me several days to figure out why I was stumped for an answer, but I finally did. The answer to this question is highly individual. One person’s con will be another person’s pro. This means that as a teacher all I can do is list the qualities of each and the listeners have to take those qualities and put them in the pro or con column on their own personal tally sheet.
I hope to write up the Community presentation in the same way that I’ve written up other presentations, but that is dependent on time available. I’ve got lots of projects overdue right now.
My answer is really only the beginning of an answer. I hope that those of you who have additional suggestions on this topic will leave them in the comments. This is the sort of brainstorming which benefits from some crowdsourcing. The suggestion I came up with in the moment was speed scrabble as a way to encourage learning vocabulary by giving a practical application for it. It does present some challenges in a classroom setting though. Further thought had me thinking about the literature itself and wondering if it would be possible to structure some classroom interactions based on the conflicts inherent in the current assigned book. A read of Merchant of Venice could be accompanied by a classroom economy of some kind with reward structures. Romeo and Juliet could be enlivened by splitting the class into Capulets and Monteques. These ideas don’t feel particularly original, but more specific ideas could flow from knowing what book is to be read and knowing the personalities of the classes in question. I would caution against any Lord of the Flies live action role play. that could get out of hand.
There is also the suggestion of having reward days earned by accomplishments made on other days. This is also not particularly original, but can be compelling if the right social structure is build about the rewards. If the kids don’t truly care about the rewards, it does nothing. I still feel like there must be some better ideas, so if you have them, please do comment.
My head is full of complicated stories which are not mine to tell. Someday, when they are done, I may be able to tell them in more detail as things we survived. Right now I’m treading carefully as is wise when walking in emotionally complex terrain. I can say that helping a socially anxious kid go back to high school when he has been sick for four weeks is not a quick process. I can also say that sometimes junior high kids do not respect their teachers as they should and then have to write letters of apology. Those sentences seem very understated considering, but they’re how I shall summarize this for now. Maybe next week I’ll have more to say.
I pulled inward this week, focused my gaze only on the day and the work in front of me. I ignored social media because it was what my heart told me I needed to do. I have so much yet to catch up on. I pulled in and in, but it wasn’t me curling inward on myself. It was me pruning away all the noise and saving my energy for core tasks. The process has left me feeling more centered than I’ve been for a long time. I’m going to just keep following my instincts and the flow of inspiration which opened back up after a long dry spell.
A sign on the table in the middle of the meeting circle admonished us all that the words spoken there were not to be shared elsewhere. I will honor that, because it is a vitally important part of what makes those meetings safe. But what I felt during the meeting is mine to tell.
I walked into the wrong room first, before I discovered the right one down a hall. I’d nearly not come. I’d nearly gone home because I made a wrong turn trying to find it. I found the wrong classroom. Then I walked into a meeting where I hoped to be anonymous and immediately recognized someone other than the friend who had invited me. It was a women’s support group meeting focused on many issues, including perfectionism and anxiety. I went because my friend felt inspired to invite me and then the thought would not leave me. Go to the meeting. So I went, even though I felt awkward and out of step with these other women who already knew the format. It was a meeting patterned after addiction recovery meetings. There are aspects of that pattern which felt strange to me.
I began to cry almost the minute I walked into the room. I can’t quite say why, except that I knew this was a very good place, a place of healing. I was there because my Father in Heaven knew how much I’ve been struggling with weighty emotional matters in the last year. He knew I needed to be healed. He knew that six weeks of sickness had buried my spiritual senses under a layer of depression which had congealed. He sent my friend to me and then sent me to that meeting in order to crack through that layer. It was scraped away and I came home able to see my beloved family members clearly. I was more peaceful than I have been in a long time.
I can’t say why the meeting had that effect on me. It happened separate from the words that were spoken, none of which I can really remember now. But I could see when the words of one woman describing her experiences healed or helped another woman. I don’t know that I’ll make attending support meetings a regular part of my life. I do know that I really needed that one on that day. I also know that I needed to bring home the manual they offered and that I needed to write about the experience, because there may be someone else who needs this sort of support and they need to know where to go.
The group meets on Wednesday nights at 7:30 in the Mountain View high school seminary building just west of campus. All women are welcome.
I came home with peace of heart and some direct inspirations about how my hours need to be arranged in the next weeks. I feel so much lighter.
“I heard you were all sick. Are you feeling better?” my neighbor asked over the short fence which divides her garden from my driveway. It was a beautiful day which invited her to begin clearing her garden beds and made me wish I had time to clear mine.
Last night I did an hour of angry cleaning. It is the sort of cleaning I do when I want to cry about something else, so I get mad about the state of the house instead. Then I pick up all the things, because then I will have exerted control over at least one aspect of our lives. Just before I cleaned all the things is when it became obvious that Link was not going to be going back to school this morning. He’s entering is fourth week of absence and a part of me despairs if we’ll ever get back on track. But the mix of fatigue, brain fog, ongoing coughing fits, and social anxiety meant that keeping him home was the right thing to do. It wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted him to be well enough so that we could reclaim the normal patterns of our lives. Instead I’m homeschooling using assignments that we collect from teachers in the after school hours.
Then there are the small evidences that I am not tracking as I should, because I’m recovering too. I picked up Patch from school and noticed the ski lift tag on his jacket. That was when I remembered that today was the fifth grade field trip to go skiing. I looked at my son in his light jacket with no gloves and the first thing I asked was whether he’d been warm enough. He was, we were blessed with a beautiful day and he was hot from exertion rather than cold. Further conversation showed that Patch is firmly re-established in his school patterns. He’s back in the swing after missing two weeks. This is good.
The first thing I did this morning was update my to do list. It was all red because everything on it was something I’d planned to do last week, or the week before. So I rescheduled, pushed forward, canceled. I whittled it away until it was only too much, instead of way too much. I know I can’t get it all done, particularly since there is the huge unwritten task of helping Link get on top of his work and normalize his life again. But today I hit the ground running and accomplished an astonishing amount of things. I do not think it is coincidence that I have a very effective day on the day after I put exercise back into my life. So I put exercise into this day too. Because I need a day like this one tomorrow as well.
Kiki called just as I was finishing my exercise walk. She told me all about the communication she has been doing with professors and other administrators at her college. She figured out she wants to go for the more rigorous BFA because it will allow her to focus more tightly on illustration. She’s also found the paperwork she’s going to need to do in order to set up an internship for next summer. As I talked to her I realized that Kiki was also doing a really good job of finessing her mom to make sure she got to arrange her summer the way that she wants to. It was really good to hear the ways that she is taking control of her life and making plans for what comes next.
I’m told it is going to snow tomorrow. That makes me a little sad. The sunshine and fifty degree weather has me feeling like we’re coming out of the long winter of sickness. I would like it to be spring. I’d like to be caught up on all the things and hitting our deadlines instead of endlessly adjusting them. But I’ll take the snow if we can just have a week’s worth of routine work and catch up on all the things.
After writing yesterday’s blog post, the part of my brain which remembers how to do conventions woke up. I was able to think in advance and organize. This meant today I was prepared to commit commerce and to enjoy interactions with friends, fans, and others. All of this was greatly helped by the fact that Kiki arrived home from college and came to the convention with me. It is a professional event for her as well and we made a good team. She makes me laugh, which always makes the day better.
I had some conversations today that I will treasure. I can’t share them because they aren’t my stories to tell. They really aren’t about me at all. They are about the person who came to my table with a question or an observation. Then some bit of knowledge that I shared or some stray eddy of thought changed them. Because of that conversation, they walked away with a new plan or insight. I love getting to witness those moments. LTUE always provides far more of those moments than any other convention I attend. People’s lives and careers are changed. Things are made possible.
The other thing from today that I will treasure was my reading. People came, which always feels like a miracle, particularly at an event like LTUE when I know that they have to give up something else to be there. It was just us there in that room, me at the front, and an hour to focus on the words that I have written. A reading is an experience that can feel daunting or terrifying, particularly because writers often wonder if their words are good enough. I am fortunate in that I could begin with a picture book. Picture books are friendly. I pulled up a chair and announced the beginning of story time. So there I was, reading a picture book and pausing to show the pictures to the room full of adults. A small piece of my brain was sure that they were bored, particularly because the first book was one that many of them had already read to their kids. Probably more than once. That was when the second miracle occurred. They laughed. It wasn’t loud or long, just a chuckle, but it was enough to let me know that they were enjoying the story.
I switched to some essays and then finished with the first part of my novel in progress. More than once I looked up to see emotion on the faces of my audience. I wrote words, I read those words aloud, and the audience cared. What a gift to see that in action. I forget sometimes when I’m sitting in my house with my laptop that my words can reach out and cause someone else to feel, to grow, to change. That is an amazing power that writers reach for when they tell their stories. I felt humbled to actually see it working. Hours later, I’m still thinking about it and part of me is like a little child crying out “Let’s do that again!” Another part of me thinks that this reading was a special case, a gift to people in that room who needed it, one of whom was me. I’m so very grateful for the people who came and listened.
There were lots of other things about the day which went well. My brain was in full gear for my presentation: Building a Community Among Your Readers. I should blog my notes for that. It was obvious from the comments afterward that people found it useful, which is the point of having panels and presentations. They exist for the attendees. I’m relieved, because the last time I gave presentations I walked away feeling like I could have done much better. I’m also relieved that I managed to get through two hours of talking and didn’t have a coughing fit in front of an audience.
Tomorrow I’m back to being on panels. My solo day is over, which makes me both glad, because I’m not under quite as much pressure, but also sad, because I really love this sort of teaching. One more day.
There was a moment early in the first panel of the day where I thought “I just don’t have this in me.” I arrived to LTUE tired, not sleepy, but weary. I’m still not up to speed after being sick. We still haven’t returned to normal. I’d arrived at the event to discover how many things I’d forgotten to bring in order to stock our table. They were things I normally would not forget. Then in the panel, I was half way through a sentence when a sound in the room distracted me. I lost my place and could not find it again. I handed off the microphone and hoped I’d have a chance to speak more clearly later. I did. The panel was fine, and hopefully useful to those attending.
I just wish I could come to LTUE with my full capabilities. I love this event. I love the energy and the people. They’ve given me lots of great program items. I’m going to do my very best to give back. But I’m tired. People who know me can tell that I’m tired. Sometimes people who don’t know me can tell too. I don’t want to be tired, but I am.
I came home early, in part because I was the only one available to pick Patch up from school, but also in part because I need to conserve energy. I’ll go back tomorrow and hopefully have more energy. I’ll need it, because tomorrow is my day of solo presentations.
Beginning tomorrow and running through Saturday I’ll be at the Life The Universe and Everything symposium in downtown Provo. If you’re local, I highly recommend it. Attendance is FREE to anyone with a student ID. If you’re at LTUE and looking for me in particular, you should pay special attention to the Friday items. I’m giving a solo presentation and doing a reading. I’ve not yet determined whether I’ll be available for the mass signing that is scheduled for Friday evening. Here is my schedule:
Thursday 1:00 pm
Friday 11:00 am
Saturday 4:00 pm