No work declutter!

I complain to my husband that on top of a fever, now my left ear hurts, too, and I have an infected toe and he says to me,”Sounds like your warranty is about to run out.”

Last week, I was well enough to be away from home for three days and enjoy it. Coming home to three days of email at once, a pile of snail mail, laundry, etc., can be daunting. At my best I can’t keep up with day-to-day responsibilities. In spite of the lists and notes littering my desk, it takes some effort to remember what I was doing (or should have been doing) before I left and to pick up the pieces.

Then the ear ache I had assumed was just a variation on my usual myriad pains got worse — throw some weird dizziness in there with it,too — and I end up at an urgent care center. Sinus infection.

My plans for First Day (the day the world calls Sunday) had to be set aside. I missed an early morning meeting, I missed meeting for worship, and I missed visiting a  prison in the evening. I missed seeing friends. It was a set-back to my self-esteem. I want to be reliable, but I’m not. (I didn’t miss the afternoon nap I’d planned. The morning nap was unplanned.)

Of course, this situation is not unique to those of us with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia. Taking your place in the ranks of responsible adults can devour your every waking moment even without the handicap of illness. Anyone can feel overwhelmed. (This is no excuse for telling someone with an invisible illness: “I wish I had time to laze about and read all the books you do.”) There is pressure on us to keep the house clean and the lawn green, to dress with style and style our hair, to cook healthy meals and pay our bills on time and show up on time, and exercise and volunteer and Be Happy! Otherwise, we are failures.

The demands are never ending. You set your head on your pillow hoping for sleep and little worries nibble and nag at your ease — “Did I pay that bill?” “Where did I stick the W-2s?” “Is there enough milk for breakfast?” — and sniffle around for any crumb they might have missed. We live with too much paperwork and too much stuff.

Oh! Just picture those happy (imaginary) aboriginals, who lived from hand to mouth when fruit, fish and fowl were only an arm’s length away. So many contented hours of leisure, wallowing about in warm shallow waters, laughing quietly together.

That was (probably not) then and this (really) is now. Now we are wage slaves, scuffling about for lucre to buy the necessities. And the list of necessities is a long and ever-growing one. Basic food, clothing, and shelter is not only complicated to acquire, it isn’t exactly basic anymore.

My Nana raised her five surviving children in a Pennsylvania fieldstone farm house. There was a pump at the sink and a kitchen garden outside the back door. The upstairs had no heat or lights. Nowadays, we expect electricity, indoor plumbing with hot and cold water, central heat and AC, WiFi and a full array of helpful appliances.0da25afc4650a0f2fbc93bfaf8f0f623

We take such convenience for granted, but it comes with not just a price tag, but also a price. The price is your attention, your time, your life.

The biggest chunk of time required, the chunk that eats up a huge portion of our lives, is earning money to pay for necessities, conveniences, and luxuries, if you are among the privileged. If you have remunerative, meaningful, fulfilling work you might not resent this. But the after-work hours are not all yours either.

As my middle son said to me this morning about filing his income taxes: “I’m a millwright, not a damn secretary!” But he’s wrong and he knows it. He can work with his tools for pay, but he will pay if he doesn’t sort his mail, pay his bills, save the necessary receipts, and file his taxes before the deadline.

And he and his spouse share all these jobs, too:

  • Dusting
  • Washing
  • Cooking
  • Repairing
  • Vacuuming
  • Polishing
  • Shopping
  • Mowing
  • Banking
  • Commuting
  • And on and on . . .

One popular solution to all this busyness is Simplifying! It follows that the fewer possessions you own, the fewer you have to take care of. There are books you can acquire to help you simplify and organize and downsize your possessions. (But beware how many of these books you bring home or you defeat the purpose.) And sometimes downsizing itself can be too much like work.

Quilters have a handy word for those among their number who keep bringing home more and more fabric (it’s tempting — there are so many beautiful fabrics): SABLE, Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy. You can joke about SABLE but if all your fabric is on your credit card and you can’t pay off the balance, maybe it’s not funny. If you spend more time shopping for fabric than you do stitching quilts, you are a shopper/collector, not a quilter. If you are hiding fabric purchases from your significant other you need a 12-step group.

But fabric, like other possessions, can also bring joy into your life. While you are making a quilt, you might think to yourself: This needs some orange to bring it to life. And you have the perfect shade of orange fabric right there in your stash! You don’t want to downsize a stash if you use it. Simplifying, in this case, could diminish your life, not enhance it.

One person’s too-many-possessions could be another person’s delight! My friend Mary displays a collection of hand-blown glass spheres suspended in a row in her front window where they catch the light. They are beautiful! They are joyful! My own front window is unadorned. I prefer not to dust. If I could easily ignore the dust in my house, I would have beautiful things on every surface. Because I can’t comfortably ignore dust in my house for long, I compromise and have only a few things.

Sometimes I fantasize about living in a Tiny House.

But who am I kidding? My sewing and art supplies — let alone my piano — wouldn’t even fit in a tiny house. And my husband might like to bring along his books and my dog weighs 90 lbs. and wouldn’t fit either!

So it comes down to this: Change your attitude, change your life!

I can downsize by tossing off the pressure to be perfect. I can simplify my life by not fighting against reality. This will free up energy for things I enjoy. If I accept a little more dust on the mantle and a little more dog hair drifting under the furniture, I create a happier life. This means accepting myself as I am, not as I “should be.”

And it’s less work. I can do it on my back!

What’s your solution? Or do you even need one?

 

 

 

 

 
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Ignore at Your Peril

It’s the start of a new year — the season for self-assessment and goal-setting. The season for lists proclaiming The Best of 2016: the best movies, the best books, the best headlines, the best Facebook Memes, the best tacos, etc.

Now that I am an experienced blogger — twenty posts in four months!  (I am trying to be funny here) — I have an obligation to share what I’ve learned in an end-of-year list!

So here it is — the best advice on blogging that I didn’t quite follow!

#1    All writers must blog.

  • Unpublished writers blog to build a platform to impress potential literary agents.
  • Published authors blog to promote their books.

To be honest, Point #1 is not something I just learned last year. Point #1 is something that speakers at James River Writers Writers Workshops have been pounding into my head for uncounted sessions. Point #1 is advice I resisted because it seemed to me that if every writer is writing a blog there couldn’t possibly be enough readers to go around. I thought I didn’t know anybody who read blogs.

Actually, I myself read blogs.

My sister writes the lovely Stag Beetle Power for homeschoolers in Portland, Oregon. I live on the other side of the continent but she posts occasional photos of my nephew and lots of photos of gorgeous scenery and close-ups of wildflowers and critters. And it’s packed with news of interesting local exhibits and workshops and great parks.

I have a high school friend who has traveled Tibet by pony and Europe by bike and walked the Camino de Santiago. She blogs to share her travels with her many friends. There is a lively young family I know, with adorable curly-headed children, who appear in a blog about their life, overseas and stateside, and I look at that. Their photos make even Cleveland look good. They post mouth-watering images of the exotic foods they cook, too.

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A watercolor that was intended to show the chocolates.

 

And writing blogs? There are some great ones. I’ve been reading those for years. my  Miss Snark, Literary Agent is my favorite. (Alas! She no longer writes this blog. The archives, however, are an entertaining education.) And Evil Editor! Bless his heart! He’s always ready explain “why you don’t get published.”

And, predictably, there are lots of blogs about blogging — LOTS! (And much of the advice is contradictory, beginning with the basic premise above that authors must blog because their readers will look for them even though many writers, like myself, are unpublished and nobody is looking for us.)

And, like most everyone else, anytime I want to know how to do something — roast chicken, knit cables, make a snow globe — I Google it. And often I end up finding the information I need in someone’s blog. So I was reading blogs even though I thought they weren’t blogs. Maybe everyone with a computer is also following one or two blogs and thinks they aren’t.

Maybe there are enough readers to go around.

#2    Writers are wise to develop a public personality before they need one.

Obviously, I learned this too late to apply it to my blog.

Besides, I don’t have the energy to develop a personality.  A personality requires upkeep and there’s a whole list of stuff I’m already not keeping up with!

Presenting a deliberate, alternative personality? I couldn’t do that with a script! Brain fog and bouts of exhaustion make me choosy about how I deplete my stamina.

It might be fun for a party, on a night I was up to it. Blue eye-liner and false eye-lashes and a wig. Maybe a hat with a sweeping ostrich plume and dangley earrings. I wouldn’t even have to say anything! I could just look mysterious. Maybe I wouldn’t even have to sit up straight. I could sort of drape myself across a piece of upholstered furniture.

That would be an easy public personality. Too bad it won’t work in a blog.

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Sometimes my watercolors also lack focus 

#3  Consistent subject matter is essential for a successful blog.

Okay. Just give me a D-. “Things I am Thinking About Today” is just NOT a consistent theme.

But, it’s early days yet. If I keep writing, maybe I’ll sight a Compelling Theme, like a drowning swimmer, bobbing up in this sea of words. And maybe I can throw out a life-buoy and pull it to shore and get a acquainted it. (Don’t hold your breath!)

In the meantime, this undeveloped personality will aim for consistency in the frequency of posts. It’s a modest goal. I might even pull it off.

But will anyone read it?

 

 

Plan to be Well

Right now, there is a wondrous light show going on just ten minutes away.

I am not there.

Life in a vibrant city offers more people, events, music, art, theater, volunteer opportunities, etc. than even a person in perfect health can keep up with. Life anywhere (assuming basic needs are met) is a rich offering. We all make choices about how we will spend our time. Even if — as we sometimes wish — we could be in two places at once, we still couldn’t experience everything.

I had plans for this afternoon. I ended up in bed.

Like countless others, I have limited energy. CFIDS/ME or Systemic Exertional Intolerance Disorder, or whatever else someone comes up with as a label for my group of symptoms, is a chronic condition with no known cure. Pain, vertigo, tinitus, brain fog. deep fatigue — all are worsened by too much stimulation or effort: Noise, lights, action — or thinking.*

Before this disease, I was curious about everything, high-spirited, and ready to throw myself into a challenge.

Not anymore.

I remember well when I was much sicker than I am now. I couldn’t keep up with the essential duties of a wife and mother. My children suffered. My husband had to pick up the pieces even as he feared for my life. In spite of every test the doctors could think up, there was no diagnosis and thus no prognosis.

I am convinced that the main reason I am doing better is because I have learned to be careful. If I write a time and place in my date book, I leave white space on the dates around it so I can rest up before and recover afterwards.

If I am getting ready to go somewhere and my head hurts too much for me to pick out clothes to put on, I know I don’t have the strength to go. I am still learning to be comfortable with canceling plans when I have to. I still feel guilty about it when it happens. If I’m not willing to take a chance on having to cancel, I can’t make plans at all.  I require a lot of down time — but too much time alone is not good for me either. It’s worth the effort to spend time with good-hearted, engaged people.

This morning, my plan was to stay home before joining the Quaker quilting group this afternoon. I did stay home. But an old friend telephoned.

highquality_pictures_of_ancient_english_letters_170435Except for a few months on a college campus, Anne and I have never lived in the same town. We met in a poetry class and our friendship grew stronger through countless letters, occasional phone calls, and rare visits. Anne is a cancer survivor, several times over. A few months ago, she left voice mail on my phone to let me know she can no longer see well enough to write letters. This was a blow to me. I can only imagine how much worse it is for her, who wrote letters to everyone, often.

It can be difficult for me to make friends or to maintain friendships. I especially treasure the friends who have stuck by me. So if Anne calls, which is still not often, I will answer the phone if I can. We had a long conversation this morning. And afterwards, I went back to bed. I slept through my quilting group. Later, I apologized to the quilters via group email.

Of course, it wasn’t the phone conversation that did me in. I did too much yesterday — met with friends for coffee in the morning, worked with my friend/collaborator on our Knitting Nana novel in the afternoon and then played with the grandchildren. No downtown. Overstimulated, I didn’t sleep well.

Yes, I am not as sick as I was. But I’m not as well I’d like to be or I’d be at that light show right now.

Oh, well. Life is still wonderful.

There’s always a next time. Maybe next time I’ll plan better, not be done in, and I’ll see that light show.

 

*E.g. I could think hard about the punctuation in this sentence but then I’d be too worn out to finish typing the rest of this post.

Repost: Looking For Carrots — from Doodlewash

Doodlewash’s pragmatic outlook — and his sun-rise bright watercolor carrots — were just the motivation I needed this morning. Though I can’t keep up with his paint-every-day example, I can be delighted that others can. Thank you, Doodlewash.

 

Truthfully, I considered skipping painting today for the first time in more than a year. I wasn’t in the mood after the shock of the recent election. The new one-sided regime has big plans that could harm my family and others who are not exactly like them. This has been clearly promised and it’s scary to think of what lies ahead. A […]

via Looking For Carrots — Doodlewash

How to Save the World?

“Start where you are.

Use what you have.

Do what you can.”

Arthur Ashe

Before I got knocked flat by the “yuppie flu” (now more respectfully, if still problematically, titled Systemic Exertional Intolerance Disorder) I was an ambitious person.

In high school I answered the call from a favorite AM Radio DJ to collect money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I organized other kids to collect donations door-to-door and street-by-street. We covered the whole town. At the end of the day, our kitchen table was covered with neatly stacked bills and columns of coins. As a reward, participants took a chartered bus to Cleveland to a live concert with the popular DJ.

While I was pregnant with my third child I organized other volunteers in Scioto county, Ohio’s largest county, to collect signatures for a state-wide ballot initiative. Collecting enough signatures for a bottle bill turned out to be relatively easy. Nobody likes trash and  a deposit on containers was a proven method to cut down on roadside litter and broken glass. Several other states already had a bottle bill and the facts spoke for themselves.

But once our bottle bill was securely on the ballot, those facts didn’t speak loud enough to drown out the flood of money that poured into the state in opposition. The widespread support we encountered while collecting signatures evaporated under the barrage of expensive radio and TV and print ads we couldn’t match. The bottle bill would destroy jobs! Factories would close! And prices on soda and beer would go through the roof! It’s a communist plot!

Okay. Maybe nobody made that last claim but, the bottlers and beverage producers smeared proponents of the bill as a mess of dirty-hippies-who-aren’t-like-you. It was the most expensive ballot initiative (campaign?) in the state up until that time. And, of course, we proponents lost, Big Time. And, of course, soon after that glass bottle factories closed and truck drivers lost their jobs when the beverage industry turned to plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Prices went up. And trash increased exponentially.

But I digress. My intent here is to illustrate my appetite for projects to Save the World! (or at least a part of it).  I was a big donor to the Mothers’ Milk Bank Club (started by bereaved mother and nurse Laura Taylor) and decorated and furnished a large doll house for the club raffle several years in a row. My husband and I were key members in a storefront food coop. If there was a local anti-war rally I was there with my kids and a sign. Etc.

Even after my fourth baby, I was confident there were lots more good fights out there for me, and, as soon as my children were a little older, I’d take on The World!

This didn’t happen. My illness destroyed my expectations. I can no longer be the kind of ambitious that talks to lots of people, remembers their names, encourages them to get involved, and gives them marching orders. It makes me tired just to think about it. These days, on a good day, I might manage to blow a fanfare or wave a banner.

You who have your own limitations, especially invisible illnesses, know the adjustments necessary to self-image. We live in a culture that values achievement and high income.  One where “What do you do?” is a common rejoinder after the exchange of names. Those of us who don’t do much or earn any money are stung by the assumption behind the question.

So what do I do with the embers of my burning desire to change the world?

As the joke goes:

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

So I nibble on the problems of the world. When I can get my thoughts together, I write letters to the editor. I make sure that we take advantage of our relatively secure financial position and donate small monthly amounts to support non-profits. I am a faithful — if fitful– penpal to several incarcerated persons. I add my small bit to committees at our Quaker meeting. I compost. I recycle. I can still participate in the small things that, in the aggregate, make a difference.

Today, in this unseasonable November, I am tending caterpillars. I find black swallowtail caterpillars where the butterflies laid eggs on the carrots, fennel and parsley I planted to attract them. I confine the caterpillars to jars and feed them until they form chrysalises. I’ll keep the chrysalises safe over the winter so the new butterflies can emerge in the spring. Then the cycle will start over again.mermaid-1_1

Linoleum block reduction print/JBH

Not all of these caterpillars would make it to adulthood without intervention. Years ago, I  watched them on the parsley and wondered why I’d see a dozen one day and only three the next. Do birds eat them in spite of the foul-smelling orange horns they sprout when startled? Spiders?

A butterfly flitting by can lift the heart. And there are fewer of them than I remember as a child. As more gardeners use fewer pesticides and herbicides and plant more of the plants that butterflies need, we will see more butterflies. And my little guys and gals will be out there repopulating the world, lifting hearts wherever they go.

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“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

It is no small thing to lift a heart.