What I Missed

I have maintained a rather apolitical stance through all the election hubbub and refrained from posting any comments one way or the other on my Facebook page as many of my friends posted endless streams to support their viewpoint.  Some have been unable to let go, even as the election results are cast in stone and the work of running the country goes on.  One helpful post appeared (whether he realized it or not), directing the reader to a site that advocates for a national sales tax with some interesting aspects to allow those with little to better afford what they might buy.  Within the first site (ah the internet, one thing leads to another and another), I discovered a site that has a wonderful history of the tax system in the United States from European settlement to present-day. I include that link here because it is NOT political and I found it fascinating http://taxhistory.tax.org/

The main reason I suppose that I found it so fascinating is my lack of education in American History.  Yes, I took all the required classes, and did well, but much of it was rote memorization of parts of documents, facts and dates, an endless stream of information regurgitated for the instructor with little concern for comprehension.  I recall an exit requirement from the eighth grade was to memorize the preamble of the US Constitution.  By the end of high school I was memorizing key Supreme Court cases, and a brief one line synopsis of the issue.  Little of this gave me an understanding of who we are and how we got here.

In beginning to read the tax history I was immediately confronted with my lack of knowledge in general and resolved before too long that it is time to focus my non-fiction reading on US History.  That I know so little and yet consider myself intelligent and fairly well read and well-informed was not so much a shock as a reminder that it in the age of information overload it is easy to focus on the minutia and overlook the big picture which reveals itself to us in the study of the past.

In my short exploration I found that our tax history points to a couple of trends.  The first is that taxes have been used to the end of social engineering since their inception, and I suspect I would find that the case even if I continued to trace tax history to the days of the Roman Empire.  Second, the opinion of the value of private wealth to the greater society ebbs and flows, often with the overall prosperity or lack of, in those with the least.  In times of full employment and wages balanced against cost of goods, personal wealth is more accepted.  That taxes have such a consistent history, albeit a roller-coaster ride with the economic times, opened my eyes to another aspect of the axiom “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, George Santayana.

And thus my resolve.  Learning our history with an eye to what drove the events will help me to understand the present more clearly when I am able to see the patterns of the past.  Perhaps it will also help me temper my reactions to my dear friends who are so insistent in pressing their passionately held beliefs on others.

Believe in You

Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in and that is herself.” ~ Virginia Woolf

This speaks to the power of books but also to the struggle for women to find ways to believe in themselves.  One of the most powerful tools that any person has is their intuition, that gut feeling that may or may not drive decisions, depending on how well-developed it is and whether one trusts it.  Recent research has discovered that there is far more to “women’s intuition” than old wives’ tales.

“Intuition is the result of the way our brains store, process and retrieve information on a subconscious level says Professor Gerard Hodgkinson of the Centre for Organizational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School. According to his research, intuition is a real psychological phenomenon which needs further study to help us harness its potential.

Through analysis of a range of research papers examining the phenomenon, the researchers concluded that intuition is the brain quickly drawing on past experiences and external cues to make a decision on a non-conscious level. In other words, it happens so fast that we’re not aware that the intuition actually stemmed from a supercharged burst of logical thinking.” from Rebecca Sato in the Daily Galaxy 3/6/08

When we discover ways to harness this supercharged thinking it will have added applications; but the first step is to trust this phenomena.  Women especially are adept at this particular style of decision-making because the storage of emotional responses is more readily available in the female brain.  Yet women are more likely to second guess themselves and look to external factors to drive a less intuitive response.  This may come in the form of self-minimizing; I should try harder, I’m being too sensitive, too emotional, etc.

It is vital that we support the women in out lives in a way that allows them to trust themselves and teach girls the importance of looking inward for answers to life questions.  For all the wonder of a great book, the secret to trusting oneself is not between the covers.

Coming tomorrow…how one middle school in Montana made a tiny change with big rewards for girls and boys.

NaNoWriMo

Earlier this year after reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin I found inspiration to begin writing again.  I was especially taken by the idea of writing a 30-day novel and determined to give it a try.  I apparently skipped over the brief mention of National Novel Writing Month, but it must have stuck with me because I decided that November would be my month.  My reasons were weather (the first month of more indoor time), and the obvious fact that November has 30 days, perfect!

While I was enjoying the Sunday paper I stumbled upon an announcement about November being NNWM and decided to look into it more this morning.  I am now officially registered on the NaNoWriMo website and will be participating in any local events and entering my work for judging.  The last bit was wholly unexpected, but it is a useful tool to keep me on it when the going gets rough.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the 30-day novel is 50,000 words (the approximate length of “Catcher in the Rye” and “The Great Gatsby”) written in yes, 30 days.  That means 1667 words a day, give or take.

Anticipating the things that most often derail my attempts to focus on a task that has the potential to frustrate and make me want to quit, I plan on employing a few tactics in advance.

First – the ongoing office disorganization.  I will spend at least one hour a day for the next 15 days regaining order and making sure I have all of my supplies at hand.  Being able to find what I am looking for and not having the excuse to run out to buy printer paper will keep my eyes on the screen and my fingers on the keys.

I plan to follow a schedule similar to the one I have now but stretching out the writing time to allow for an additional 1667 words a day.  Part of the challenge is NO EDITING, saving that for December.  How I will manage that I have no idea, but the point is to grow creatively and resisting interrupting the flow to edit is key apparently.  As a result, I will complete each day’s writing in one sitting with my inner editor locked in the closet.

Make this my number one priority.  The dishes, the laundry, dealing with email, chatting on the phone with family and friends; any and all of those will be on hold during my time to write.  And how much time will that take?  I’m not sure and expect it will vary daily.  I will give myself a two-hour window to start and then adjust as needed.

Likely this blog will see shorter entries, some about this endeavour and others on the usual range of topics.  If you are planning on participating in this challenge, let me know, I hope to keep up with my fellow writers with encouragement and when that fails commiseration.

We Are Not Alone

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

As I continue to write this blog I have come to discover so many like-minded people out there who are doing the same.  As my followers grow, I look to their writing to see what might have resonated for them.  Some are a mystery, in others I find kindred spirits. The longing for connection is universal; the ability to connect with such a diverse and far-flung audience is one of the great gifts of technology against which I sometimes rail.

Literature takes the connection into the realm of flight.  Words knitted together with golden needles; emotions laid bare, stripped naked; portraits of places visited only in dreams; all found lashed together, placed in a pocket or bag and carried about for quiet moments of reflection and joy.  Peopled with characters familiar as a friend; struggling, celebrating, tackling the fearsome and mundane with grace or collapse; relatable all.  Literature, the craft, the inspiration and the gift do not come to most who write. It is rarified air those few breathe, as they take what is known and recognizable and build around it a stone castle of enchantment and wonder, a cave of terror and pain, turning the people and problems on end to tell the tale.

In the end though, the thing that captures us is the ah-ha moment when we see ourselves and know that we are not in this alone.  That another must have felt the same sorrow or despair to be able to so clearly describe it, to feel as though they were peering into one’s mind at the very moment of grief, gives us a small dose of hope in the darkness.  Be transported, uplifted, informed, inspired; great authors connect your world with theirs.

Waxing Philisophical

It occurred to me that I have done very little reading in contemporary philosophical thinking and to that end I availed myself of the trusty online catalog of my local library to see what was out there that might introduce me to new ideas or new spins on old ideas if you are of the school, ” there is nothing new under the sun”.

First up is Phillip Shepherd’s “New Self New World, Recovering our Senses in the Twenty-First Century”.  Having only worked my way through the Forward by Andrew Harvey and the Introduction and first chapter by the author, this is not a book review by any means.  If I am following correctly the main concept is to seek wholeness, within ourselves and with our connections with the outer world.  In order to accomplish this he believes that it comes through the work of the body, that we need to “get out of our heads”.

As much as the word mindfulness sounds like a “head” word it is very much a body word.  Learning to pay attention to one’s body can give a volume of information that helps identify placement in the present space and time.  Chosing to pay attention to the sensory input and the bodily response to it is a step on the road the wholeness.  The fully integrated self, in tune and in harmony with the inner and outer world, especially the physical senses, gravitates to wholeness.  It is the center of all life to seek completion of the whole, reproduction, the yin and yang, to and fro.  No joy comes without knowing sorrow, no honest tears flow without having laughed with abandon.

The exercises from https://cathrinemclaren.com/2012/03/06/loose-ends/ of H.A.L.T. and S.I.F.T. are a great way to get in touch with where one is in the moment.  It can be used as it is in Loose Ends, to identify the cause for emotional eating; but it has far broader applications in the practice of mindfulness.  When lost in one’s head it is easy to ignore the basics; often something as simple as addressing physical fatigue or hunger can transport one from sorrow and frustration to a more realistic view of the issue at hand.  Continuing to practice mindfulness as a strategy for getting out of one’s thoughts and moving towards body awareness begins the unification process of wholeness.

Loose Ends

I realized last night that in my enthusiasm to do new things, and find my happiness in everything, I have started more projects than I have the time to devote to them.  Today I will wrap up a few loose ends to allow myself more time to devote to the things that truly make me happy – happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. Today will be a day of less fun tasks that will lead to greater happiness in the long run.

  • Finish vacuuming the rest of the house with my new vacuüm – that means the baseboard, the window sills, everything!
  • File or throw away every computer related CD & instructions – just do it!
  • Create order for my books in progress – too many
  • If I stumble upon something that I can wrap up in fifteen minutes or less I will do it now.

 I know that spring in western Montana is a little of this and a little of that but it may be on its way!  Last night we had rain, such a soothing sound that I slept with my window open enough to hear it.  This morning there was a dusting of snow but the sun is out and it has melted in the sunny spots already.  Another beautiful day in the neighborhood!

On mindfulness, I bought a little notebook to track all of my food and beverage consumption, which I will decorate to make the un-fun a little more so.  I need to pay more attention to what goes in my mouth, and knowing I have to commit it in writing may slow me down some.  I found an acronym from someone  who had been in rehab; I think it is  a healthy tool to use to bring oneself back to mindfulness in the present.  Ask myself:

  • H – Hungry?
  • A – Angry?
  • L – Lonely?
  • T – Tired?

And then use a mindfulness technique to become fully present while sitting quietly with eyes closed:

  • S – sense – what do I feel in my body? Cold, eyes tired, back hurts, blister…
  • I – image – what do I see with my eyes closed?
  • F – feeling – what emotions am I feeling right now?
  • T – thinking – what am I thinking?

By the time I go through HALT and SIFT I may have lost the urge to mindlessly graze – one can hope!  Time to start my terrific Tuesday – I can hardly wait to see how much I can finish today.

Sunny Sunday

The sun is out, and it feels like spring.  There are two robins in the tree outside my window cavorting and celebrating as well.  What a glorious way to start the day!  I am incorporating mindfulness (paying attention to the here and now) with gratefulness into my thinking about every moment. I am using what the politicos refer to as spin to change my thinking.  Last night during a roaring wind storm, during which I tend to worry about all sorts of flying objects and damage, instead I turned my thoughts to how lucky I am in a warm safe home, with a cheery fire and a huge selection of books; gratefulness.

One of the risks of this somewhat Pollyanna-ish thinking is the loss of being taken seriously, always hugely important in the past.  But when I framed it in a new way, would I rather be taken seriously and be unhappy or would I rather be happy and let the chips fall where they may?  I chose happiness.

Today I will sing, loudly, all the way to Missoula, dance when I dry my hair and put my purchases away, and laugh just for any old reason or no reason at all.  Happy Sunday.