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There's a lot going on and much to consider. Safeness and the covid-19 pandemic, our role in community activism, 4th of July celebrations with restrictions (and maybe frightened pets and wildlife), and the upcoming elections. Let's play full out safely with kindness and compassion to make this a better world for everyone.
It has occurred to me that this awful covid pandemic crisis could have a silver lining.
No, not that more people work from home, but that's true.
No, not that we're all more aware of how we spread our germs - all kinds - but that is a good thing.
No, not that we've figured out how to better appreciate time spent at home, but that is cool.
No, not that we've all learned to bake banana bread, but I won't complain about that.
The silver lining I'm thinking about is that this crisis offers us a stock/standard reason to say NO to some things...to get out of some commitments...to make changes we've wanted to make but have thus far hesitated.
Have you noticed how tolerant we've all been with each other during this time (not all, but many)? When people say they're having a hard time focusing, we say, "it's understandable." When people lament that they weren't able to meet _____ expectation, they get empathy and support. People get it - this is a weird time. We're in flux.
Sidebar: After I was first diagnosed with cancer, I got all kinds of grace and understanding when I backed out of things or changed commitments, or changed my mind or goals. It's understandable and was warranted. This is what loving human beings do for each other. AND...every now and then, I played the "C-Card" to make a change that I would otherwise have been too self-conscious or guilty to make. And while you might be thinking I was being a manipulative person, using my disease to garner unwarranted support, hear me out. If I was no longer committed to something or still inspired to accomplish a goal, I should never have felt bad about making that change. But sometimes we do feel weird, because we don't want to disappoint others. But here's the kicker, people are often more disappointed when we aren't straight with them about what's really important to us and - perhaps - what is no longer as important.
Back to covid. It's a great time to take stock of your life and identify and changes that you've been wanting to make but have hesitated. Use the current situation to provide a bit of cover, to make it feel less weird. I LOVE this idea and have already implemented a couple of changes. Several more are in the works. And the lovely thing is that these changes will set me up to experience a more fulfilling and misadventurous life.
What might you STOP, START, or CHANGE that would make a big difference?
Repeat after me: You know, this covid crisis has turned parts of my life upside down and I've been thinking about what it all means or should mean. And what I realize is that _____________ (this is where you say, what you want to stop, start, or change).
And this is all true and authentic. This crisis, like any (even like being told you have cancer), has made us all take stock a re-think some things. Let's use this opening to act upon what we know is best for us now.
I've been thinking about the act of creation and the dilemma we face because we need to unplug to create.
Some of you might argue with this point and say that you can create while your email pings, cellphone vibrates with a new text, or you overhear eavesdrop on (we're all secretly voyeurs, don't you agree) several conversations.
Maybe...but not likely...and we could be creating at a much deeper level if we focused.
My email just pinged. I went to look, deleted the new message and now I am back. It is taking me a few moments to get back into what I was writing for this post. Sip of coffee might help.
… We need to unplug to create. I know this to be true for my writing. My best stuff flows when I shut down all outside influences for at least four hours. This is tough a challenge impossible with all the plugged-in things we have managing our lives (it's like they're in charge, isn't it?). Add to this the warm-blooded people and pets who seek our attention.
And then there are bodily functions, thirst, temperature, and other physical interruptions that pop up.
My writing was just halted by thoughts of being cold. I couldn't decide whether to turn the heat (no, because it will be hot later) or put on a fleece pullover. Or perhaps I should get on the WaterRower and generate heat. That seems like a lot of work.
Creation demands our undivided attention. And yet, so many of us find this a hard gift to give ourselves. Even the little red squiggly line that pops under misspelled words can disrupt our thinking.
Another ping. Should I look? Heck, I've already diverted my attention, might as well look. Two messages, deleted them both.
Where was I? Still cold and, oh yes, creativity.
Perhaps instead of a sensory deprivation tank, we need a disruption-free module somewhere in our home or office. We could remodel an Airstream Bambi and make it a safe zone. Or get one of those new office sheds. But the key would be to NOT bring cellphones, email, phones, or other potential distracters into the module. Or if a tighter space would be more practical, we could repurpose an abandoned phone booth (aren't they all?), paint it black and use a barstool sit on and the little shelve for your pad for laptop. Like a tiny house craze for offices!
Another ping. It’s OK, I'm still distracted because I'm shivering and haven't put on another layer. Why? My fleece pullover is in the other room and I don't want to get distracted. Wait, this email is GOOD – the REI summer sale starts today.
When I think about great writers – Hemingway, Steinbeck, other dead guys – I imagine they went to secluded places where they could write undisturbed. I've been to Hemingway’s home in Key West and, other than the genetically mutated extra-toed cats, it seems like a place that would have allowed him to focus while writing.
I am now distracted by my own mental interruption. I can’t help but wonder why there are BOTH too many wild chickens and too many street cats in Key West. It seems as though one would take care of the other and they would just have too many freaking fat cats. Having an extra toe means having an extra claw, too. Doesn't it? Not sure, but if so, they'd have one more weapon against the chickens. Will google.
But this has nothing to do with creativity.
The heater just kicked on, which tells me that I was not being a sissy, it was cold in here (we have the thermostat set at 67, so it must be colder than this).
I'm trying to think back to the last time I was able to create in a –
Another ping. It’s my daily Publisher’s Lunch email. I love seeing all the deals agents get for their clients...who write and FINISH books. How is it that some are so prolific? Do they not have a life or any friends? Or Twitter?
I am trying to think back to the last time I was able to shut out disruptions. It's been a while. I've read about famous writers who said that they took years to write a book. This seems like a long time, but maybe this is because it takes that long to string together bits of uninterrupted writing time.
an hour here
25 minutes there
two hours last week
I am distracted by the fact that this is likely the first time I've ever typed out the word etcetera in a sentence. It looks strange. We get so used to abbreviations.
The heater is still going, which tells me that it was VERY cold in my office. No wonder I was having a hard time thinking. Jeezze.
What is the solution to this conundrum fight never-ending bloody battle? How can we create works of beauty within the ugly mess that is our everyday lives?
There is no magic pill. Not legal, anyway, and drugs are never rarely the answer. We need to embody personal accountability (there's a sexy phrase, said no one ever). We need to do the best we can to reduce distractions. Turn all pings off, wear a diaper (kidding), dress comfortably, go for a pre-thinking walks, pet the cats and then lock them in another room, and then fill up a large mug of coffee and create.
We should avoid driving off a cliff.
We should avoid ingesting poisonous plants.
We should avoid jumping into a pit full of hungry tigers.
Some of the more common words used to describe misadventures include mishap and misfortune. Even tragedy. And misadventures can be these things and often are. But let's talk perspective and scale.
Common mindset based on what we often learn about misadventures: Misadventure = something to avoid.
Consider another, bolder mindset about misadventures: Misadventure = opportunity to live full out and have a more vivid experience.
But how do we avoid driving off a cliff but welcome trying driving with no destination in mind or map? How do we avoid eating a deadly berry but welcome experimenting with new foods?
Misadventure as opportunity is a mindset that nudges our every day habits closer to the edge of our comfort zone. Eventually, misadventure as opportunity is a mindset that routinely takes us out of our comfort zones, but not irresponsibly (like jumping in a pit of tigers).
This week: Reflect on what misadventure as opportunity might mean for you. It's different for each of us, because our comfort zones are at different places.
For me, nudging or blasting through my comfort zone could mean:
- Being really open and nurturing, spending time in this way.
- Transcending what I think I'm capable of physically.
- Engaging in a new enterprise that requires strong teamwork and co-leadership to succeed.
- Cooking something new from scratch.
- Taking a trip with no agenda or plan.
Yes, I'm a recovering control freak. I'm currently cooking up potential misadventures for all of these types of experiences. What might your list look like? And if you embraced your list, how might this impact your work or life? I think the more we nudge or blast past our comfort zones, the more interesting and fulfilling our live will feel.
In Anthony Brandt's TEDxHouston talk, he shared how creative endeavors involve bending, breaking, and/or blending. If you're interested in creativity, I recommend you listed to Anthony's full talk.
This weekend, I'm contemplating the breaking apart part. Knowing some of my habits and assumptions are fairly ingrained, perhaps breaking some of them are in order.
Like the spider plant pictured here, we can become root-bound and stuck. Stuck in our thinking and ways and stuck with beliefs that no longer serve us. Still alive but not growing. The antidote for the spider plant, and perhaps us, is to clear away some of the hardened roots and reimagine a freer way to exist. This task involves some risk.
The planting exercise was one of my weekend mini-misadventures, but it's also a pretty good metaphor for what we all can try to make leaps forward in progress.
I admire those who simply MUST do X (and X is a good or decent thing) and ensure they do X even when barriers make doing X hard or near impossible. Case in point. David Sedaris' commitment (obsession) with racking up huge numbers of steps on his Fitbit.
And by huge, I've learned that Sedaris routinely gets thirty thousand, forthy thousand, even sixty thousand steps in a day. He's even walked 20 miles in one day. And he loves beating the total daily step numbers of his Fibit pals.
I first heard about his walking habit a few years ago in a New Yorker story. Then Bill and I saw Sedaris perform and he talked about it there. While getting him to sign a book, I told him I also used a Fitbit. He signed it accordingly (see pic).
That was when Sedaris could walk through his neighborhood in Normandy (or wherever he was). Then the covid crisis occurred. This recent story from the NYT shares how David got his steps in while being home-bound and restricted in NYC. At first, he walked around his apartment for hours each day. Then, when it was allowed, he started walking the New York City streets while wearing a mask.
That's dedication! That's grit! It might be a few other things, but I admire his resolve.
But this isn't a story about steps; it's about discovering something that is important enough that we become unstoppable. What would you put in that category and how might you like the targets of your grit and determination to change?
If you made one small change in the right direction, I bet it would make a big difference. Like the Butterfly Effect.
For me, I need to get a more assertive hold on my various health issues. I have an appointment with my oncologist in a few hours and it's time to be decisive. I've been dinking around the corners and welcoming delays and inaction (some of it covid related, sure). But this is something that is keeping me zoned out and inactive. Barriers be damned. I'm ready to get this surgery over with and re-health back up to whatever my new normal can be. I've got some projects waiting for my focus and concentration (which is low right now).
Is there something that you could recommit to that would help put things on a clearer track forward
I attended a Startup Advantage zoom session yesterday that offered a few interesting tips.
The talk was called, Get Uncomfortable: A Mindset for Innovation and Disruption. It was lead by Randall Stevens, CEO of AVAIL and co-owner of two large coworking spaces.
He related his ideas to a large disruption we're all living through right now: covid-19 and its reverberating impacts. Here are the key points:
Stop, slow down, or change what you can and should. This means that, even if decisions are difficult, we need to adjust some things. And as leaders, entrepreneurs, and community members, it's our responsibility to have eyes wide open and act accordingly.
Tell a new story. You might have a product, service, or skills that could help people and organizations right now - especially right now. Think Zoom. Think NTI technologies. Think grocery delivery services. But to add value and operationalize this capability, we need to tell a new story so that potential users or customers, who might not be thinking this is something they need or could trust, see the potential for how it might add value to their work or life.
Create features FOR the moment. Any disruption - whether broad like covid or specific to one location or industry - calls for some things to stop and new things to begin. What are the services, messages, tools, or features that would best serve the moment? I decided to start this blog at this time partly with this in mind. That people might need suggestions and encouragement for how to best enjoy their lives and careers during this major disruption. How to have fun in a fog kind of thing.
Meet your "customers" where they're at NOW. Things have changed. Needs have changed. Bank accounts have changed. The structure of family life has changed. Recreation has changed. Goals and aspirations may have changed. Don't expect people or organizations to restart right where they were in January. Start thinking about how to best help and serve them based on their current reality.
This is not rocket science, but it is helpful to think about at this time. I'm going to use these suggestions to assess how best to ensure the success of my writing, the Lexington Writer's Room, and my other endeavors. I hope you will, too!
I'm as Type A as they come and my swirling mind constantly takes an inventory of how things are going. I'm a world class list-maker and until recently, this was the problem. WHY? Because I was listing the wrong stuff. The silly little gnatty items that, when checked off, felt momentarily satisfying.
But then left me feeling hollow inside thinking. Is this all there is to my life - tasks? Which is silly, I know, but a problem I created.
I don't want to die a person who crushed to-do lists filled with meaningless, soul-sucking tasks.
Epiphany time! What if I changed what I put on my to-do list?
I love the Todoist App. This is the first to-do list app that I've enjoyed, stuck with, and feel is totally worth paying for. You can make it "do" whatever you want. And when you check things off, you get "karma" points which I psychologically love earning. And this is the first app that has flawlessly synched across all my devices (had major frustrations with others in this regard).
Want to create a list of dumb stuff? Check. It can do that.
Want to create a list of micro-misadventures? Check! Ding, ding, ding! Let's do this.
And so that's what I'm doing now, and it's helping me have better days. I still have basic reminders on my list, but I ensure I have 2-5 items that have misadventure potential. Apps work great when we put great data into them. Here's an actual pic of today's to-do list in my Todoist app. You'll notice a mix of the usual boring stuff (take pills) and more interesting stuff.
Give it a try!
And now I get to check off a fun thing I've done today.
I remember my father, Lee Devine, often, but there was a double dose of reflection yesterday because it was Father's Day. We lost my father in 2015 after he succumbed to prostate cancer that had metastasized. I bit of a surprise because our money had been on the heart disease, diabetes, or Alzheimer's to do him in. He was 85.
My dad was a world-class misadventurer, and I learned about how to find and get in the middle of a misadventure from him. This is not an exaggeration or some sappy made up dedication story. Consider:
- He routinely set our house on fire while tinkering in his shop or attempting to jury rig some broken mechanical concoction back to life.
- He once made a jeep/dune buggy Frankenstein vehicle out of six other vehicles. It had no doors or seat belts, but had a horn that played several different melodies. He took me (8 or 9 years old at the time) for fast rides in it, which did not please my mother but pleased me very much.
- He got this fun new zero turn radius riding lawn mower. Top of the line for the time! He then drove it into our canal because he was going too fast and the grass was a wee bit wet. He stayed sitting on it and screamed as it kept going into deeper and deeper water.
- He brought me home a turtle that he found on the side of the road. It was a snapping alligator turtle.
- He then got me a chicken and rooster (we live in a small city). My rooster Chico crowed a lot. Then the alligator in our canal ate my rooster.
- He built a diving board to go into that very same canal.
- He believed in pyramid power and started making small pyramids in the scale of the Great Pyramid. He gave me one to hang from my rearview mirror in my first car (a VW Fastback). I then crashed three times. I was 16, so the pyramid may have had nothing to do with it. Or did it?
- He built a pool in our backyard in the shape of Africa. Southern Algeria was very deep, deeper than most pool companies deemed safe. I loved sitting on the bottom while holding my breath.
- My parents divorced when I was 13. My dad started having toga parties and made me help the guests fashion togas out of the bed sheets they'd bought. Some things are hard to unsee.
- He would take me to the uninhabited canals in Cape Coral to catch wild guppies to feed to our Oscar fish. The wild guppies ate the pretty colorful tails off all the ornamental guppies we had. Envy?
- He started painting after retirement and was prolific for a time. Not his strongest skill, but always interesting.
- He took up making stained glass and did some beautiful work.
- He liked it when I made him new, made up cocktails.
- He bought and sold crap and garage sales. He once gave my mother fake pearls from a garage sale. This did not go over well.
- He routinely ran our boat onto sandbars. One time, we all got off and walked to a nearby beach that they didn't realize was a nude beach until too late.
- He drilled a small hole into the edge of my boxer turtle's shell so I could walk it on a leash and to keep it from escaping. This did not work.
- He played harmonica and a few other instruments a wee bit. He'd jump in and play at any hootenanny. Even when we was clearly losing his battle with cancer. The harmonica pic above is one of the last I have of him. Playing, still, but out of breath and strength.
I could go on. And consider these are just some of the stories I remember. Being the youngest child, he'd already lived a life chock full of misadventure by the time I was born. Heck, I might've been one of those misadventures since I was born seven years after the next youngest sibling (oops! hahaha).
The spirit of the misadventurer is unmistakable. They demonstrate an almost childlike willingness to jump into a new situation - with known skills or none - and give something a shot in the name of adventure and having a great life. Or just to figure something out.
What a special gift it was to have watched my father misadventure his way through what turned out to be a fascinating and well-lived life.
May we all embody the misadventurer's spirit.
One of the ways I experiment with making my life more misadventurous is to go against my type and strengths and try something that falls into the category of "things I usually botch." Often fabulously and flamboyantly botch.
Today's story is about a wee thyme plant (pictured above).
I'm a hit and miss gardener. Not much in the way of good instincts, but I've learned a few things that seem to work for me. As a result, we tend to have a decent herb garden each year. If you've read my stuff for a while, you know that my husband Bill does all the cooking. The herb garden is my contribution to our food preparation. And placing pick up orders.
I decided to broaden the narrow list of things I managed not to @%$* up by one or two but knew I'd need to find a coach or take a class. Not read a book. Have you read gardening books? Most are far too detailed and so boring they make better sleep aids than skill builders. No offense to gardening book writers out there (but, come on...).
I found and decided to take Ron Finley's gardening class on Masterclass. He calls himself the "Gangster Gardener," and was the perfect teacher for me because he cut to the chase and gave practical, doable advice. He talked action, not science.
One of his lessons was on propagation - making new plants from other plants. Propagation is a 301 level gardening class, and my capabilities had proven to be 101 at best. But Ron made me think I could do it.
I had a dead thyme plant that had been undone by Lexington's cold and wet winter and spring. Poor thing. I had cleared it out of its planter and was about to throw it in the compost bin (another thing Ron taught me to do). I looked at the ugly mess on my planting bench. Was it really all and completely dead?
I decided to try propagating a part of the brown, brittle herb plant. I cut it down to the base and separated a small piece that felt less dead. I stuck the new creation in the corner of one my raised beds. I vowed to talk to it every day to encourage my creation to spring to life.
At first, it did not look promising. The wee twig/plant just sat there. But then, weeks later, I saw a tiny green leaf. And then another. And although I've never really had motherly instincts related to humans babies, I found myself proud of my little creation. I starting planning for when it would grow up big and strong and change our culinary world.
Ron had been right.
Propagation is the slow way to go, though, and after three months my wee thyme plant is still just two inches tall. During this same timeframe, I've managed to plant and kill a dozen other herbs and vegetables (the confidence I gained from taking Ron's class might've gone to my head).
So while home grown tomatoes, broccoli and melons will not be featured on the Haneberg dining table this year, we will have, in time, very special thyme.
This misadventure has been a circuitous but resounding success (she says with her fingers crossed behind her back hoping not to jinx herself given that much can go wrong in matters involving outdoor gardening).
What new against-type-and-strength skill shall I try next?