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Yesterday I blogged about how, during a transition/change, we can be more creative while in the messy, ambiguous, neutral zone. But I also mentioned how the neutral zone can be draining and frustrating, because things are fuzzy and in flux. One of the ways to lessen the negative impacts of the neutral zone is to define temporary systems. Make decisions for the next day/week/month.
Here's how this holiday season will look.
Here's how I will complete this project.
Here's my role because the nonprofit has paused operations.
Here's how I'll get my walking miles in while I'm struggling with some tricky side-effects.
Here's my new budget for the next two months.
Here's what things will look like this week.
Here's how I'll define a great week given all that has happened.
Here's what staying in touch can look like.
Here are the things I can stop doing for the next _____ days/weeks/months.
We need to switch up our lives due to the pandemic, but these neutral zone coping techniques will help with other goals or changes as well. We should consider defining temporary systems, roles, or actions that will help us move toward the new beginning anytime we're hanging out in the neutral zone.
- I delayed the book because I was going to have to have surgery.
- Then my surgery was delayed by the covid pandemic.
- And then I fell into a covid-fear-haze and didn't feel like writing.
- And then I had surgery.
- And now I'm back to finishing the book (while straddling the continued covid-fear-haze).
It's a quirky mystery set on Galveston Island, TX. The pub date 2021 Stiff Lizard will be a different book than the pub date 2020 one would've been. I've added a few things, subtracted a few things, and amped up the plot and quirk. I'm a different person, and my story will reflect this.
The 2021 version will have the benefit of my neutral zone creativity. The neutral zone (from Bridge's Transition Model) is that fuzzy in-between time when the new reality is emerging but not yet understood. Ambiguity shows up in many ways. Along with being draining and frustrating, the neutral zone is a great place from which to create.
Why? Think about what KEEPS us from creating. Our automatic and rutted routines act like a magnetic tractor pull that can prevent us from coloring outside the lines or conceiving of something new. But when we're living in the neutral zone, we're delightfully lacking in routine and comfortableness.
So while I am fatigued and frustrated and afraid of every living person I encounter (Are you going to kill me with your breath?), I'm also feeling a bit more adventurous and open.
Being in transition is enabling me to write a better story because I'm less sure and secure. Funny how that works. I've promised my editor the book by Dec. 14th, so I'll not be blogging as much until I've turned in the manuscript.
And then, LOOK OUT. Hehehe.
November 1st is almost here, and I've thought about the mindset that will serve writers well as they launch into #NaNoWriMo. The mindset has a few elements that are reinforced by recent blog posts (linked):
#1: Time is precious; choose wisely. I blogged about my Decision Filter here. I'm still reviewing this filter daily and it's helping me make better decisions about how I spend time.
#2: Be a winner and you'll win. Put the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy to work for you. Think and act like a highly productive writer and you'll be one.
#3: Believe that you're in the middle of doing something great. It's easy to give up or give in when we're in the messy middle of things and to doubt that we're on the right track. But here's the thing. Being in the middle of an epoch success can feel the same way. So don't give up. Believe you're in the process of an achievement.
4: Make unreasonable requests that aren't. We might be THIS close to our daily or weekly goals but have a substantial barrier. And while we probably can't manifest a million dollars into our bank accounts so we can rent a villa for the month, we can engage the people who love and admire us in an assist. Making unreasonable requests is a regular part of my regimen and has helped me generate breakthroughs.
I hope you have the BEST NaNoWriMo ever!
Bob was a bit anxious about going to a shrink but promised Sandy he'd try a session in hopes it would help him cope with his diagnosis. His mind swirled and stomach churned as he waited for Dr. Bono.
A nurse opened the door to the lobby. “Mr. Devine?"
“Yes, I’m Bob.”
"Dr. Bono asked that I take you to the exam room."
Exam? I thought this was going to be a conversation. "Great, thanks."
"Can I get you something to drink while you wait?"
"How about a scotch?"
The nurse smiled and left the room. Bob sat and looked around trying to decipher how Dr. Bono might operate his practice. Lots of art. Lots of books. A telescope but no windows. A tambourine hung on the wall.
A tall man in a white coat entered the room. "Mr. Devine? I hope you weren't waiting long."
"No," Bob replied.
"I'm Dr. Bono." The men shook hands and then sat in comfortable armchairs across from each other. "What brings you to see me?"
"My wife suggested it. I was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and I'm struggling with it. I don't know how to think about the future. I worry if there is a future. I don't know how much to share with people and I don't want people's pity. It's overwhelming."
"I'm sorry you have to deal with this," the doctor said. "May I ask what your oncologist has told you is your prognosis?"
"They're not sure. I've more tests and maybe surgery. So far, the indications aren't good."
"Okay." The doctor paused and was quiet. "Hmmm...I feel the vibe of the cancer in the room. Did you know that disease has a vibe?"
"No." Bob looked around as if vibes were visible.
"They do. Cancer, heart problems, diabetes. Each disease emits an aura and a smell." The doctor stood and pulled from the air and smelled his invisible catch. "I'm getting a good sense of it. Are you in pain?"
Bob felt strange about the doctor smelling his cancer. "A little. I've been told the pain will increase as things progress."
The doctor stood still for several moments with his eyes closed. He took big loud breaths in and out. "I can smell your cancer and feel its presence. You want to know how to cope with this, right?"
Bob eked out a slight nod. "The next several months are going to be tough."
"Based on the smell, I'd say the cancer is laughing at you."
"Disease has a personality. Would you like me to talk to your cancer and ask it to behave?'
Bob leaned to the side and put his elbow on the armrest. He cocked his head to the left. "Talk to it?"
"In the right language, of course." Dr. Bono turned his hands in a circular motion and looked at the ceiling.
"Language?" Bob placed the side of his head in his hand.
The doctor walked around the room in a circle, flapping his arms. "Yaaa, yaaa, baa, na, ony, nana."
"Doctor...uh...I think there might be a mistake."
"Mani, na, ba, yaaa. Havi ah wani ka"
Bob stood up. "Doctor...I don't think this is what I need."
The doctor stopped, walked toward Bob and glared. "Mistake? Need? Are you questioning my expertise? You came to me remember? You asked for my help, remember? This is a very complicated situation that requires a high level of focus and concentration. If you don't respect it or me, I won't be able to convince your cancer to behave. So what will it be?"
Bob's mouth hung open. "I don't know what to say."
"That's why I am talking to the cancer, not you. So sit down, be quiet, and let me do my job."
Bob sat and waited while the doctor flapped and chanted for over thirty minutes. He wondered how he'd describe his therapy session to Sandy and caught himself smiling; something he'd not done in weeks.
Lisa's note: This little ditty came to me after I contemplated whether to seek therapy to make sense of my cancer diagnosis. I'm not making fun of therapists or the diagnosed but am highlighting the importance of smiles, from wherever you can get them.
I was watching a video where the owner of Murder By the Book in Houston interviewed authors Jasper Fforde and Matt Haig about their new books. Watch the video here. Something that Jasper said struck a chord with me and I've thought about it several times since seeing the video. He said he "sets a narrative dare" when drafting book plots. In other words, he challenges himself with a specific but not narrow concept. "Rabbits live amongst us. How?" was the example he shared that helped him get going on his newest book, "The Constant Rabbit."
The idea, Jasper said, is to set the narrative dare and then write our way out of it.
I love the idea of challenging ourselves such that we live a more creative life. And if you're a writer, the narrative dare might be something worth trying. Dares that offer some specificity but allow wide-ranging creative freedom work best.
The narrative dare for my current project could go something like this: Iguanas invade Galveston Island. How? The narrative dare for my first novel could've been: an octopus is charged with murder. How? And while I'd not heard of the narrative dare when I wrote "Toxic Octopus," that central idea fueled my interest in and commitment to fleshing out the story.
Here are a few narrative dares I just brainstormed:
- The end of lying. What happened?
- The planet is going to explode in one year. Explain.
- A pill melts fat away in one week. How?
- Placebos become the real thing. Why?
- Cell and Internet service is shut down by aliens.
- Existentialism sweeps the nation. How?
- Poisonous plants from all over the world meet and organize. Explain.
Might a narrative dare, or some other type of dare, help you create?
I had few health challenges until I was 35. Then the chaos-theory-reverberation-making-proverbial-shit-hit-the-fan. But this is not a woe is me post. It's a reflection on the circuitous path we have to walk/run/dance/jump when trying to investigate what ails us.
Wait, Lisa. Isn't that what doctors are for?
If I could hire a private investigator with a medical degree, sure. But our healthcare delivery system is fragmented and focused. And my primary care physician - theoretically the overseer of my care - is so overburdened that she is forced to farm out anything requiring more than ten minutes to resolve to specialists.
I have a lot of "ologists" on my medical team. They're super smart about a few things. They've studied a small number of health problems in depth so they can get really good at treating them.
The problem with this is everything is connected. Human bodies are chaotic systems. Interesting fact: It was in the context of the body that Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, the Father of Systems Thinking, fathered systems thinking.
"As long as we single out individual phenomena, we do not discover any fundamental difference between the living and the non-living." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Problems of Life: An evolution of modern biological thought
"In order to understand an organized whole, we must know both the parts and the relations between them." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, The History and Status of General Systems Theory
Having specialists looking at their assigned piece of me is helpful but insufficient. My oncologist doesn't know about diet or metabolism. My endocrinologist doesn't know about cancer or the heart. My cardiologist doesn't know about the digestive tract. My neurologist doesn't know about arthritis or strength. My personal trainer (not an ologist, but on the team) doesn't know about medications and blood test results. But my cancer affects my digestion. And the oral chemo I take affects my heart. And my metabolism affects my thinking and movement. And my diet affects everything.
My job is to discover how things are connected, make meaning, and fill in gaps. To do this, I listen to my ologists and do a lot of research using reliable sources. Maybe I go back to my ologists with my findings. Sometimes I'm on my own.
It's a lot of work and my most important job. And when I figure something out, it's sweet like cherry pie.
2020 has ushered in some heavy shit. We had a lot going on before - global warming, healthcare, inequities, high chocolate prices - and now we've lomped on a global pandemic, high unemployment, and a divisive election. And murder hornets. And a record number of wildfires, floods, and hurricanes. None of these problems have been resolved. They keep going on and on and on.
It's a dilemma for me, because I prefer to be silly and write about silly things. Baby goats jumping around in pajamas, home haircuts gone way wrong, and humorous books, movies, and anything.
Seems a tad insensitive to focus on cat hair sculptures when the world is falling apart.
Image Source: Ryo Yamazaki
But then again, I'm not an epidemiologist or climate scientist or on the select team of biologists searching for murder hornets in Washington State. My super power is being silly. And while my unique capability doesn't come with a cape, and can't prevent someone from getting covid-19, it's all mine.
Perhaps I'm not giving my small but mighty legion of readers enough credit. Surely they know that while I write goofy stuff, I'm also aching inside for those affected by whatever crap 2020 is handing them. And maybe, a moment of levity is just what some people need to help make Mondays less mondayish. Although a good scream can often help as well.
In the last post, I offered a modification to the popular BHAG - a BHAAG, adding AGILE with a nod to our current times. The major idea being that we should not wait to plan until things return to normal, that goals can be motivating and helpful as long as they're flexible.
Agile like a warmed up Gumby doll. Do you remember Gumby? He (was it a he?) had his own show and best-selling toys. When we're Gumby agile, we're able to progress forward during chaos (in satisfying and circuitous ways).
Agility is our capacity to be consistently adaptable without having to change. It is the efficiency with which we can respond to nonstop change.
Let’s break down this definition.
Consistently adaptable. When we are consistently adaptable, we can modify how, when, and where something is completed with the same confidence and efficiency that we use to make coffee in the morning. Zigging and zagging is second nature, and being adaptable does not cause great stress or worry.
Without having to change. What would this look like in action? Imagine a professional tennis player named Bjorn. In between tournaments, Bjorn practices dozens of shots with a variety of practice partners on hard, grass, and clay courts. Each tennis match is unique, but he will be better able to respond to each new challenge because he has trained himself to adapt quickly. We can train in the same way and increase our ability to respond to new situations without having to change our overall approach.
Personal example: Goal is to improve health and fitness.
Being consistently adaptable means that I've learned how to do my strength training exercises in any room, using proper or improvised weights, in longer or short bursts.
Without having to change means that I've got several different tools I can use to get to my goal. I can walk outside, ride my bike, use the Waterrower, try standing calisthenics, or practices yoga. I can switch tools to my situation and stay on track.
The need to be agile applies to accountability and motivation, too. I need to be able to keep my promises in all conditions and have a variety of accountability tools and practices in play.
If your plans are too rigid or narrow, you might be setting yourself up for setbacks or failure because life throws curveballs. Olympic athletes are improvising their training for next year's games. They have to be agile in order to be prepared and competitive. It's the same for us.
The key to using BHAAGs to maintain progress during these uncertain times is agility. I know this is true for my crazy life and invite you to explore the possibilities.
Be agile like Gumby.
Eddie Murphy played Gumby on SNL. Funny stuff.
Many of us have put off planning because, for the last six months, we've had to cancel or modify everything we intended to do. Jobs, vacations, and get togethers have gone by the wayside. It may have been draining, devastating, or depressing. Or all three!
And with the pandemic far from over, we might be wary of planning, afraid that whatever we shoot for will fail. I believe that not planning might make things worse because we tend to live in the future. No plans = nothing to live toward.
- Imagine you've planned for a two-week camping vacation in Montana. In the months and weeks before the trip, you enjoy researching and getting ready for the trip. You watch movies about camping and conduct energy-bar taste tests. The excitement builds as your departure time arrives. You're living in the future.
- The week before your trip, you're super-focused at work and ensure co-workers will take care of any loose ends. Even at work, you feel the anticipation. You're living in the future.
- Then you go camping. You enjoy the moment but also relish thinking about the next few days. You're living in the future.
- A couple of days before the end of your trip you start thinking about what's next. Getting home, picking the dog up from boarding, and what's waiting for you at work. Your spirits dip a bit during these moments. You're still living in the future.
All the leading up to the trip time is awesome, fun, and helpful. I crave that right now. How about you?
"But the pandemic," you say. It's true, we don't really know how the next week, month, or year will look and if we'll end up cancelling any plans we make. I'm going to make the case for planning anyway with the following considerations:
- Be realistic - planning for a trip next month might not be smart. We KNOW the pandemic will still be raging a month from now.
- Plan with flexibility - don't buy nonrefundable travel. The good news is that many companies are offering no-risk booking.
- Prepare fully and resolve to be OK with delays and changes. If you make an agreement ahead to be totally engaged during this unsettled time, it will make any changes you might have to make less devastating.
- Train, research, and discuss with abandon!
Another example. Here's my new broad plan.
Bill and I are going to spend two weeks in New Mexico in late March, 2021. We both LOVE New Mexico and know the state well. We're planning on a lot of outdoor activities like walking, hiking, and exploring. We intend to get a rental home for a lot of this time so we can cook and stay away from crowds.
There will be one event with more people we hope will be safe to do: I'm going to walk the Duke City Half Marathon in Albuquerque on March 28th. This means TRAINING with a capital T. Several days ago I committed to creating a training plan on this blog. I've Shared the details of my plan at the end of this post for those who are interested.
We have five months to plan, research, and discuss our trip and this will make the next five months more enjoyable and healthy even if we end up changing our plans. I've already made the hotel reservation for the half-marathon (can cancel). I will not be stupid...timid, or hesitant.
In the business world, it's common to hear about BHAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
BHAGs are goal that challenge us in ways that energize, engage, and expand.
That sounds great and scary, right? Let's adapt the BHAG to the times because I get it that many of us are hesitant to commit to a highly-uncertain future.
BHAAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Agile Goals.
You with me?
I'm not suggesting that a trip to New Mexico qualifies as a BHAAG in and of itself. But it is my goal to have a couple of BHAAGs wrapped up in the trip. Walking the half marathon is the first one. It's a BHAAG because of the training and transformation that will be required for me to be ready and able to complete the 13.1 miles. And the second BHAAG? That's TBD.
What's your BHAAG? I hope you've got something that you can live into with excitement. A goal that requires research and preparation you'll enjoy doing. And that this productive anticipation will help you cope with and get through this difficult time.
Lisa's Half Marathon Walk Training Plan
As I write this post, I have about 24 weeks to train for the 13.1 miles. I found a great 16-week training plan here. This plan assumes that the walker has formed a base of regular walking several miles without difficulty. I'm not quite there yet, so I'm going to take the next four weeks to build my base (with a goal of walking 8-10-11-12 weekly miles). I'm also adding a two-week fudge factor to the schedule (since this will occur during winter) and plan to begin the 16-week plan on Thanksgiving.
When I read her email, my initial reaction was:
ACK! What a question!
Which is silly, because I was the one who said - who declared for all to know - that I plan to walk the Duke City Half-Marathon in Albuquerque in March.
And this is what friends do. They follow up. They check in. They show an interest.
ACK! I wasn't ready for interest!
So to my dear friend, and you know who you are, I'll respond to your friendly question in a week. Although I've been doing well with my strength training and cardio, I haven't created a training plan for the half. Which is odd, because I know I need a plan. A flexible plan, a pandemic-friendly plan, a doable but challenging plan. I'm the queen of planning, usually.
Thank you for that little kick in the butt, even though you didn't know that's what your email provided.
Now someone tell me how to create a 1/2 marathon walk training plan! Kidding, I think I know what to do. Please.
All planning during a pandemic-complicated-by-politics has an element of mystery and misadventure, don't you agree?
OK! I'm working on a plan!