Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Archive for March, 2014

What Did I Mean By That?

In my house, paper and pen always are nearby. I’m given to jotting down thoughts that I might use in my fiction work or in a blog post, and when those thoughts come, they go on the paper in whatever direction the paper is facing. The result, by the time I am ready to do something with the items, looks like a mind map, and sometimes the results are just as mysterious.

This morning, I spied one of these sheets of paper as I was eating my breakfast, and the following notation caught my eye:

People care, greet — far less stress and tension. How do you translate that?

I looked at the note, and pondered. What on earth induced me to jot that thought down? What did I mean by it, and what did I mean to make out of it?

After a minute or two of reading and re-reading the note, it came back to me. In my new home town, and I think “up north” in general, people are different, on the whole, than downstate. People are friendly. Every cashier has a minute to chat while you are checking out at a store. People you see out and about in the course of doing errands are about 80-90% likely to speak to you — either to initiate a greeting, or respond warmly if you are the first to greet. When they say, “How are you?” it usually comes with eye contact and you get this sense that they actually care. Now, in the past, unless I went into a place where I knew a lot of people, I could go through an entire week’s grocery shopping and errands without exchanging a warm word with a single soul. Sure, a cashier at Meijer might ask “How are you today?” but eye contact? Nope. Warmth? Ha. No, the greeting would be mechanical. And if I spoke first and smiled and asked “How are you today?” I’d likely get back “Good-n-you?” It’s all one word, hyphenated, with no inflection.

Up here in my new part of the world, the stress and tension seem to drop away. People are nicer, and the niceness is genuine. In my old part of the world, people rush and avoid eye contact and make mechanical greetings as a matter of form, and when you are out and about you can feel the stress and tension building all around.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. All of the people I know and love in the world are wonderful people, and I am not talking about those people. But I know that most of them, and I as well, would tend to behave that same tense, mechanical way when out in public, because we often tend to respond in like manner to what we encounter.

In my new up-north world, days go by in a warm cocoon of peaceful contentment, especially now that I’ve gotten through some of the adjustment to change and that frisson of anxiety I kept feeling has fallen away. I find myself looking forward to each thing I plan and do, because each thing is full of possibilities.

And so to the last part of the note: How do you translate that? Because frankly, downstate, in my own experience, people speak a language of stress and tension, and when I envision myself back in that milieu, I wonder how I might translate the language of peace and contentment in a way that might help others speak it.

What do you think? I would really love comments and discussion!

On Walking, When Spring is a Promise

Promised, but not yet true. This afternoon, I logged five miles. Let’s call this a “shoulder hike,” since I elected my Keen hikers and Yak Trax and walked on the roads, rather than hitting the trails in snowshoes. And I saw something! There, on the side of the road…shining, reflective, like ice — yet when the little breeze slipped by, I saw the surface move!

Water! It was water! and nearby, something brown, with greenish-brown wisps coming out of it. Wait! Could it be? Oh, sweet Lord, yes it is — it is a patch of bare ground!

Things are melting!!!

It’s only March 8, and we still have some really cold nights and days in the forecast. But Spring is a promise, and I saw the promise today.

Near one of the roads I hiked, I saw this — open water, part of the channel system that connects our chain of lakes:


And then, on the way home, I snapped this shot of Big Island Lake, which is where my little house in the woods by the lake calls home:


This is the lake on March 8, 2014. I plan to take a picture every day until it’s open water again.

A bonus for today’s hike: I found my iPod! Music greatly enhances the hiking experience. Today, my random shuffle was hitting the classical playlists. Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches; some wonderful Chopin piano pieces; and a few Bach organ pieces — my soul is always stirred by music, and today was no exception. Anyone watching me would have been quite entertained. I’m sure none of the artists have been conducted in precisely this fashion before! Some music just won’t let your hands and feet be still.

A day that started off cloudy has turned into blue skies and bright sun. I counted up the months, and realized that even in a year with a really tough winter like this one, the bad weather takes up only a third of our time. My next project is to figure out why the other two thirds goes by so quickly!

Spring is a promise, and I intend to walk with the promise each day.

On Being Shy, and Other Interactions

Yesterday, I went on my second-ever snowshoe trek and discovered that an hour on snowshoes in a few inches of loose snow is a very good workout. The outdoor temperature was about 20F, and the sun was shining. I worked up such a sweat that by the time I got home, all but the outermost layer of clothing was soaked. (Or “were soaked?”) I am so glad I bought the snowshoes! I found my way around a nice loop of trail that gave me a nice variety of scenery. When I first got to the trailhead, I saw a couple of snowmobilers, but after that, I was mainly on trails that are currently closed to snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles.

To be in a place where I can neither see nor hear road traffic and where the most current signs of life are deer tracks and rabbit tracks intersecting my trail, feels like a small piece of heaven. I’m sure that some of the feelings of well-being come from endorphins, but some of those feelings also come from the pure bliss of being out in God’s creation with only the trails themselves to suggest human involvement.

I am not antisocial, but I am solitary — and I am shy. For so much of my adult life, I could indulge my solitary nature only rarely, and I found it necessary to hide and overcome my shyness. I suppose I got to be fairly good at both, although at times the lack of solitude made me grouchy (Tom would vouch for that!), and the fact that most people I encountered refused to believe I was shy was actually a bit painful. In order to succeed by the world’s lights, I was for years very deeply involved in not being my true self.

In the 20 months since Tom’s passing, I have begun learning to indulge my solitary nature again, which is a good thing, and I’ve also found myself retreating into shyness again, which I am not so sure is a good thing. For all the years of my busy career, I found myself in a very front-and-center position where shyness just didn’t work. So I quite literally set it aside and developed techniques for stepping outside myself. I think the best preparation I had was my 6-month stint as a retail store cashier, just before I stepped into the middle-management position I retired from. I found it easy to simply assume a role for the 5 or 6 hours of my retail shift, a role where I was this outgoing, assertive, friendly person whose line customers liked to enter. I gave up that second job when I accepted the corporate management position, but I never gave up the lesson that carried me for the next 25 years: I could be whoever/whatever I needed to be to accomplish what I needed to do. I simply assumed and played the role.

And I did it with great success. I loved what I did for a living, until a day when all the signs told me that it was time to move on. And once I retired, I found out it was harder than I expected to find the real me amidst all the roles I had played.

For six months, I filled the most important position of my entire life — that of caregiver for Tom during his final illness. And then one day he was gone. My final job was to commend and commit his soul to God, and watch while the angels bore him away. And then, along with the grief and sorrow and the relief over his release from suffering, I found myself on this journey to rediscovering myself.

This was a risky business at first. There was a real danger of simply falling in line with the expectations — both real and perceived — of others around me. It isn’t that there was anything malicious or pernicious in those expectations, but they were not always true to my nature, and sometimes it took a little while to recognize that.

And then slowly but surely, I began to be able to recognize and accept my pure enjoyment of time spent alone. And knowing this made it so much easier to enjoy human interaction when I did seek it out.

I am still shy. It is still hard work for me to step out and put myself in groups of people, and I no longer feel it is necessary for me to wear a role in order to do it. The other night, I gathered up all of my courage to attend a Mardi Gras potluck supper at my new parish home. Right up until I packed up my veggie casserole and set it in the car, I was telling myself I did not have to go, but in the end I went. I put my dish-to-pass on the appropriate table and just stood and looked around. Finally, I spotted our parish priest, and figured it couldn’t be too hard to introduce myself to him. So I did it. And the next thing I knew, I was meeting other women of the parish and beginning to get acquainted.

One of the nice things about being shy, I realized, was that it allows you to sit quietly and listen. And if you get comfortable enough to reach out, it allows you to do so by asking questions rather than talking about yourself.

I enjoyed the evening, and came away with the beginnings of new friendships and the promise of new activities and interests I may choose to pursue. And I also earned a new perspective on being me. It’s a good thing.

Dawn, And Working At It

Yes, I am ready for the “time change” this coming weekend. I really wish we could eliminate the switch and just live in real time, but that seems unlikely to happen. And isn’t it ironic that a person who would prefer to stay with “real time” — the time that now prevails only from late October to early March — has a perfectly awful time adjusting to the switch from DST to EST in the fall, and thrives on the spring-time switch.

Wait, let me get this straight: The autumn time change, where we “fall back” and thus gain an hour’s sleep, messes with me, but the spring time change, where we “spring forward” and lose an hour’s sleep, is good for me? Yep, that’s right. I don’t understand it either, but like clockwork, I begin to have trouble staying awake in the evenings when we fall back, and I wake up insanely early in the mornings throughout the winter. Insanely early, like 4:00, 4:30 — sleeping until any time after 5:00 a.m. feels like sleeping in.

I don’t know if it’s some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder or if the “fall back” time change just messes with my circadian rhythms. I know that this year, the maladjustment (which used to readjust itself by Christmas or New Year’s) has persisted throughout the winter, and I am really looking forward to “springing forward” next weekend. I would love to just get up in the morning, stay awake all day and through the evening, and go to bed between 11 and midnight and sleep through until 6:00 a.m. or so.

Fortunately, I am a morning person, and for many years I have required only about 6 hours of sleep a night (yes, including the doze-offs that prevail in the winter evenings).

So, the sleep thing may solve itself in a few days. I hope so. Although I think sleep is somewhat overrated, when I am doing it, I like to do it well.

Now, this morning, I noticed something interesting. I love opening my drapes early, early in the morning and watching daylight find its way into my little wooded hollow. It does not bother me in the slightest that I start out looking into darkness, because I know dawn is coming. But at the end of the day, I find myself closing all of the curtains well before it actually starts to get dark. I don’t want to watch it get dark.

And that got me thinking — again — about change, and how people deal with it. I like the early morning change from dark to light, and I push away and block out the change from light to dark. And it’s because I like morning. I get up feeling excited for what I have planned for the day and feeling energized to get at it. Getting to the end of the day and letting go of its possibilities? Not so much.

Like most people, I deal quite well with change that I choose and, therefore, like. Also like most people, I resist change that I do not choose. And each event of the day involves some kind of change, some movement from what I was just comfortable with to something different. All change brings stress with it, but the stress of coping with a change that one did not choose is a sharper stress, and it requires a more conscious effort to manage it.

It’s the conscious effort, which involves a series of conscious decisions, that gave birth to the second part of this post’s title. Don’t we love reading those wonderful, pithy, positive, affirming quotes our friends and our “liked” pages share on Facebook? Maybe it’s reading a page from a favorite motivational book in the morning. It generates good feeling, and that carries us, some days, for quite a distance.

Then there are other days when that boost falls short and the good feeling does not persist very far into the day at all. Those are the days when we have to Work At It. What a strange idea — to work at feeling good!

Which of these things is true? Is it that “feeling good” leads us to do good things in our day — that acts of kindness, good interactions with other people, going to the gym or out for that walk, doing our best work, accomplishing goals, all are made possible if we start out “feeling good.” Or is it the opposite? What if the way we live our day is what generates our feelings about it and about ourselves?

If the second thing is true, then a person can make a conscious choice to act in a positive way — to take on the unchosen change and find something good in it, to do whatever is the right thing in each situation that presents, to smile, to be pleasant, to be aware and mindful. Those motivational posts then become a springboard; their effect does not have to last so long, because each conscious decision to embrace the next moment creates its own energy.

Now, some people would like us to think that relying on feelings to manage our day is at best a shaky way to manage life. Maybe so. But the fact is, we really spend a lot of time with our feelings, and what matters, I think, is whether we let ourselves be led by them, or whether we choose how they are going to affect us. Grab the good ones and use them to create energy! Make a decision to overcome the not-so-good ones and turn them into something that creates energy!

You can call me Pollyanna if you want, and I’ll still go through life thinking that positive thinking is a good way to live.

Not only that, I just love starting the day with a good ramble!

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