Current Affairs

Life in the Neutral Zone - An Opportunity to Create

Haneberg_StiffLizard_Ebook smallI've not blogged much the last two weeks because I'm channeling my writing energy into FINALLY finishing my 4th mystery, STIFF LIZARD. It was supposed to come out earlier this year. Here's the cover.

 - 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.


A fruitful mindset for #NaNoWriMo

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!


Invite a Narrative Dare #amwriting

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?


The Human Body is a System

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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.


Silly in Serious Times

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.

Cat hair

Image Source: Ryo Yamazaki

Or this...(wow).

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.


Further on BHAAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Agile Goals

GumbyPic credit gumbyworld.com

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


BHAAGS for Covid Era Planning - Big Hairy Audacious AGILE Goals

BHAAG - Big Hairy Audacious Agile Goals

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.

For example:

  • 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.

"A BHAG engages people– it reaches out and grabs them in the gut.  It is tangible, energizing, highly focused.  People "get it" right away; it takes little or no explanation." Source here. 

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. 

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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. 


Why blog? Again?

Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again? Why am I blogging again?

Only acceptable answers:

To have fun.

To think through things through writing about them.

To contribute.

To share what fascinates me.

That is all. I just deleted the bloated paragraph I'd written about the glory days of blogging because it was all blah, blah, blah.

This is not me; she's way cooler.

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Follow Up - Experiment: The Decision Filter

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I began using this decision filter one week ago. So how did it go?

Interesting. Well. Disappointing. Enlightening.

Mixed results, in other words, but my experiment was beneficial, and I'll give it another week. I want to see what's possible and if I can learn from my observations which included:

  • Having the words from the Decision Filter graphic as my phone wallpaper was awesome. I looked at those words hundreds of times and reflected on them often. 
  • It's too easy to rationalize suboptimal actions because they kind of meet the filter criteria. It gives me a wee bit of joy. I'm using my strengths (but to what end?). And so on. I need to be much pickier about my choices.
  • The best choices reverberated to affect multiple goals and interests. We recently upgraded our internet service and downgraded our cable TV to basic channels. We have just local channels and PBS now (plus shopping and music). Moving to a speedier wifi helped us make our work-from-home situation more efficient. But the reverberation is that I'm no longer spending hours each evening watching cable news. I'm interested in politics and watched the same news repeated again and again. It was a bit of an obsession. But no longer. Now I check a few websites a couple of times per day and I have 2-3 hours back per day to use however I want. I've also noticed that my stress level is a bit lower because I'm not watching and listening to media as much. I miss watching my favorite news anchors, but binging cable news doesn't pass the Decision Filter. 

Onward!

I'll work harder to make better choices about how I use my time. I like this filter and look forward to experimenting with it further. Perhaps I'll put the graphic on my iMac wallpaper and as a daily task on my Todoist list. Check out the original post if you want to more details about the Decision Filter. 

Progress


Compartmentalization

Found in an old notebook. Thought it apropos to this week's Decision Filter exercise.

I compartmentalize so each precious moment is designed and deliberate. Moves things forward. 

Pardon if I pass on sharing feelings, worries, or concerns. I have them, but can set emotional distractions aside and be here, now, ready to roll. And can tap into and share honest emotion that serves the situation.

I'm not cold but do calculate how to be in each moment. Sometimes that's warm and gushy, others clear and decisive.

There is a fine line between switch tasking and manipulation that I try to never cross. Achieving this is productive self-management.

Note: I'm an INTP, so there's that (analytical, abstract, things-oriented). I like the notion of being more deliberate about how I spend time. Compartmentalizing is a useful skill and practice for doing this.