Daily Blog Challenge: Three Things I Learned

This is the final post of my October daily blog challenge.

Writing a blog post each day for a month was harder than I expected, but easier than I imagined. I missed one day but I gave myself a deserved pass after energy well and fully spent selling jelly. On at least fifteen other days, I clicked “New Post” feeling doubtful. I can’t do this today. But I did, mostly because it was easier than I imagined.

The Daily Blog Calendar Challenge

I expected this to be the most challenging of my challenges so far, but it easily lags behind healthy daily movement. The goal was to make writing for myself like muscle memory, a good daily habit, a practiced craft. Although I write boat loads of words every day, I was not taking time to write for myself.

In general, the calendar challenges have made me more mindful of how I spend my time, what I make time for. The challenge to make time for and be mindful about writing drove home some specific, unexpected lessons. These are not new thoughts, but the process helped me embrace and trust them.

  • Small things can be profound. Woven into the minutia of our days are subtly rich threads of wisdom and emotion. When we reflect on our rainbow dances, frustrations, or walks through the field, we wrap ourselves in them.
  • It’s a crooked path. Nearly every post I wrote was retitled once if not a half-dozen times. The observations I led with unfailingly took me somewhere else. Seizures might end up being a post about embracing strength in the face of vulnerability, working through the frustration of a botched appointment might become about the culture of blame.
  • Trust myself. If not myself, at least trust my words or thought patterns. This is in part authenticity: being myself. It’s also mindfulness, which is seminal to the calendar challenge I took on. A chunk of it, maybe the most important for writing, is letting go and allowing, letting words lead me, trusting them, even through the crooked jaunts along the way.

Tomorrow I’ll start a new calendar challenge. I haven’t decided on it yet, but I may make it a little less up hill. Especially since tomorrow is also the kick-off of NaNoWritMo. But I’m ready! I have this writing habit!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Strong and Vulnerable

Bernice, our first foster failure, had another seizure this evening. This was a strong seizure. Her legs stiff but flailing as if she were trying to run or swim away, body folded at one moment, hyperextended the next, eyes popping out and sinking at once, and mouth clenched. I held her close to protect her from banging against edges, my hand cupped over her racing heart. How was her heart not exploding under the pressure of these seizures?

I fell to pieces the first time I saw her have a seizure. I woke a little after midnight and I fussed at her.strong

Settle down, Bernice.

When she didn’t I turned the light on.

Steven!!!! Something’s wrong with Bernice! 

I couldn’t sort through any of the questions.

What do we do? Who do we call? How do we get her downstairs? She’s not going to die, is she?

She didn’t, but we learned a lot about seizures into the wee hours of the morning.

We’re Both Strong and Vulnerable

As far as I know, Bernice has about one seizure a month. I probably see most of them since I work from home, and she’s my shadow. Seizures vary from violent (she might hurt herself or me) to limpish (stiff but no flailing or shaking). Sometimes she groans as if she’s in pain or afraid. Sometimes it’s as if she’s not even breathing.

As I hold Bernice through a seizure, I’m amazed that this strong creature is so helpless. Of our three dogs, she’s the strong, buff one. Through a seizure, I marvel at her heart, those delicate layers of tissue continue to pump blood, holding together even as her body seems to be imploding.

During a seizure, strong and vulnerable collide, spilling reminders: No guarantees. In a heartbeat. Life is precious.

I know the seizure is almost over when Bernice begins to pant and drool. Her joints slowly loosen up. She struggles to get up, but I hold her a few seconds more. It takes a few more for her legs to steady. I follow as she hazards a crooked path through the house to go outside. She’s going to be fine.

Yes, we’re also vulnerable. Sometimes, it’s in those moments that we find our strengths, like Bernice’s heart, fragile layers of tissue, solid as a rock as they give her the oxygen and strength to pull through the seizure.

I’m vulnerable, but I’m also strong.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Rest and the To-Do List

My to-do list was ridiculously long this weekend. I managed to cross out quite a bit of it. After I did a few things that weren’t on the list, I quickly jotted those down and just as quickly crossed through them, tilting the balance of done and still to-dos. I felt a little more accomplished.

Add Rest to the To-Dos

My to-do lists are always ambitious. I’m not alone, and like many who scratch out marathon to-do lists, for years I skimped on rest to tackle them. Recently, I began making it a point to sleep more than four hours a night. It’s hard on my joints, but even when I wake up after four hours, I make the effort to go back to sleep a little longer.

Sometimes as I drift off, work is heavy on my mind. I might have odd dreams of being physically trapped in excel spreadsheets or in div code. One night, when my honey came to bed and spooned me, I barely woke from dreams of HTML and CCS code. I quickly slipped back into dream to figure out the div and flex code for his body spooned next to mine.

To avoid dreams of excel prisons and html relations, I consciously fold ideas from creative endeavors —characters, plots, and personal projects— into that sleep liquid that bathes the brain.

I honestly don’t notice a great difference in the way I feel after two to four extra hours of sleep. I’ve never been a sound sleeper. But I do notice that I have more energy for those creative endeavors. More creative stamina.

I trust those sleeping brain juices. I trust the quiet.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Makers

Last weekend I visited the annual Mini Maker Faire at our local public library. Ten days ago, my mom and I perused the wares of hundreds of makers at the parish fair. At the beginning of this month, I set up a booth to sell my wares during the Plant Fest at the arboretum. Next weekend, we have the Artisans’ Bazaar at our church.

I’m drawn to making. I feel a deep reverence for makers. Not only for the crafty and artsy ones, but also for the ones who grow the vegetables I buy from the farmer’s market and CSA, for the handy ones who show up with planks of wood and a pocket of nails to build a deck or a shed, and for that guy who sells hand-crafted gelato at just about any event where makers gather in my town. I’m drawn to the old ones whose creations are infused with years of practice and knowledge. I’m drawn to the youthful ones who surprise with fearless imagination and ingenuity. I’m drawn to making and makers who add beauty and goodness to our experience.

Makers make a difference.

Makers boost our spirits every time we admire that print on the wall or fondle the clay bowl we bought at the fair. They make us more attractive every time we wear that ring or scarf we bought at the bazaar. They make our meals better with organic vegetables and cleverly blended seasonings we bought at the farmer’s market. They provide comfort every time we wrap ourselves in that hand-sewn quilt or bathe in hand-crafted salts we bought at the fest. I could go on and on about how makers improve our personal lives (take my jelly for example!), but there’s more than that more.

Makers at local venues reduce pollution. When we buy their wares, we avoid the transportation and paperwork shipping entails. Makers add integrity. We’re not wearing trinkets or clothing made in a sweat factory or decorating our home with pricy objects imported by a company who underpaid the artisan. Importantly, makers bring community together at events like the farmer’s market, the fair, and the bazaar. Even when we don’t purchase, makers provide eye candy, ideas, and a good dose of Ooooh, look at that!

Look for the makers at your local fest, market, bazaar, or fair. Admire their wares. Listen to their stories about what and how they make. Get inspired. Invest in your community and buy a trinket or some vegetables. Better yet, invest in yourself and make something!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

The Quiet Work

Recently, work became a frenzied flurry of files and folders as we made final tweaks to a project, trying to keep the files flying at a pace that would guarantee meeting the big deadline. My teammates and I received comments like:

Wow! You’re on fire!

That felt nice. But the feeling was a little iced when I realized:

This is normal for me. I always work this fast and furious.

Although this truth is annoying, it will never change the “visibility” of the quiet work I do during most of any project.

In Praise of Quiet Work

What is the quiet work? For “job” work, it’s excel spreadsheets, PhotoFixes, file sorting, data logging, or whatever drudgery your job includes. You might be on fire, getting it done at a sharp clip, catching and resolving the slipperiest of problems, but few see that fire. Not because it’s unworthy, but because it lacks the flashy that excites. You’ll miss out on the dopamine that comes with praise and a sense of accomplishment, but the quiet work is arguably the more important part of a project, and makes those Wow! You’re on fire! moments possible. The quiet work is the ground work.

For creators, the quiet work begins with staring at your screen, canvas, wheel, loom, or whatever tool you use to create. It includes organizing your workspace, sorting your beads or yarn, sitting alone with your words, tubes of paint, or tubs of clay. The quiet might be interrupted by flurries of discomfort and restlessness. Before I’m truly quiet, I get up to grab a handful of nuts or water the plants. I pace around the room, rearrange the furniture. I might even do a little housework (gads!). But then I sit down and I sink into the quiet work of creating. The attention (yes, we’re vain, but that makes for better creations) will come later.

Remuneration for work and the satisfaction of finishing will do most days, but, I won’t lie, that little dopaminic shot of appreciation (Wow! You’re on fire!) is delightful. It makes the quiet work less lonely.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Don’t Blame Me!

I left the house for the third time this week. If you have friends who work from home, you know most of us are loath to leave the house to meet up, run errands, or anything that might hazard bumping into other people. It’s a bother to go out. The shower (yep, we probably need one), the real clothes, the face, the hair, and (the horror!) shoes! Who could blame us for not wanting to meet up for a drink?

After going through this treacherous routine for a long overdue hair cut (it’s been seventeen months), I arrived to discover that my appointment was misscheduled. They had scheduled me for last Thursday, the week I was out of town, something I clearly explained when I asked for an appointment the next week. This week right here.

The receptionist probably unintentionally clicked on the wrong Thursday. These things happen to the best of us. I was almost over it, going through my list of consolations (fabulous weather, at least I don’t live far), when the manager came out. I assumed she was there to placate me.

You were scheduled for last Thursday. You even confirmed your appointment. 

Wait, what?

Yes, we have an automated system, and you confirmed.

That’s impossible. I was out of town.

They only had my landline, so she suggested maybe someone else confirmed it for me. Seemed unlikely, but I let her go with that, since I had no way of knowing until I was home to check caller ID. Rescheduled, so sorry, see you tomorrow, . . .  On the way home, I called my honey.

I don’t remember confirming a stylist appointment, but maybe . . . 

So he’s folded into this blame game too.

Why blame anyone?

When my children were young, if they started playing the blame game, sometimes I would diffuse it with It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It’s about responsibility. Pinning the blame on specific people is tricky and not necessarily useful. Approaching a mistake or mishap by engaging responsiblity and next steps is much more effective.

The salon had blamed me. At home, I checked my caller ID and found only one call from the salon, on the day of my appointment, fifteen minutes after the misscheduled appointment should have started. I won’t even flesh out all of the crimes against customer-is-right code that the salon manager committed. The need to blame is outside of that. My initial feeling was to call the salon and cancel tomorrow’s appointment because I had been falsely blamed. But that would be petty, and I truly need a hair cut!

More importantly, even if she broke the customer-is-right code, she may have honestly thought I had confirmed an appointment. I’m not sure how their system works and what she was seeing on her computer screen to make that determination. And who would lie about a phone call these days? We all have caller ID.

I did call the salon.

Hi, this is Pennie Nichols. I was just there. Yes. The misscheduled appointment. I checked my caller ID. I didn’t receive a confirmation call before the appointment. The only call I received from the salon was fifteen minutes after you had me scheduled. The message was that you were checking on me because I had an appointment. You should check your automated system. Apparently it’s not working.

What fabulous weather we had today. I’m happy I was able to get out for a bit.

Addendum: A fellow blogger shared this Brené Brown YouTube® with me in the comments. Don’t miss it! She pins down the blame point: Dr. Brené Brown on Blame.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Remembering Rainbows

This Swarovski glass crystal hangs in my kitchen window. For over twenty years, I’ve kept a crystal in that window. For over twenty years, many mornings start with rainbows.

Before some of my children could walk or say mama, the morning light would crash through the crystal and splash rainbows on the cabinets and floors. My children learned to follow the bursts of color through the air, capturing little rainbows with tiny hands.

I remember the rainbows.

The nest is long empty, but I keep the crystal in the window.

Crystals are fun. Science. Fractured light. Folklore. Memories. Magic. The simple joy of chasing rainbows in our tiny kitchen.

Mama! Rainbow! I got the rainbow!

But rainbows are impossible to hold. The sun floats up through the morning, indifferent, and the colors follow, fading from the kitchen.

Those tiny hands are long grown, their adventures and journeys like arcs. I stand in the wellspring of rainbows and look up. On some mornings, as the light shatters through crystal in the window, I dance among the tiny rainbows. And remember.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Congratulations! It’s a hernia!

I realized a few months ago that the chunk at the top of my belly seemed to be independent of my belly. For years I’ve made self-deprecating jokes about my “kitty litter belly,” shaped like a litter box, but maybe just a belly full of kitties.

The chunk grew a bit. I ignored it a long bit. Until I realized I was trivializing when I shouldn’t, and perhaps my cavalier disregard for this growth might even be disrespectful of friends who had dealt with the discovery of dangerous bodily growths.

When I finally mentioned it to people in my life, the response was mostly alarm and that tilted-head, raised-brow look.

OK!! I’ll go to the doctor.

And I did. The diagnosis took mere minutes.

A gigantic umbilical hernia!

Happy the Hernia

He didn’t actually say gigantic or use an exclamation point, but it is big, and . . . (exclamation point please) I am so happy!!!! It’s a hernia!! I’ll name it Happy. I don’t have a square belly! I don’t have a tumor! I have a Happy Hernia!

I didn’t think it would be any more serious than a lump of fat, but, what do I know? Sometimes the odd things that appear on our bodies are not only serious, they are life-snuffing. I’ve been on that journey with more than one friend.

This is not one of those journeys.

I’m grateful. I’m grateful for my health. My knees are wrecked, my back is a little crooked, and I have regular bouts of IBS. But, my heart rate is low, my blood pressure is impressive, I don’t take a single medication, and that lump on my belly is just a hernia!

I’m also grateful for my friends and family. They’re the ones who will make sure I sit still long enough to heal after the hernia extraction. If you’re the praying type, pray for them. Sitting still is not listed among the skill sets on my résumé.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Nanowrimo: Stop Thinking and Write

Next month I’ll participate in Nanowrimo for a second time. Last year was touch-and-go, especially since I was only home for eleven of the thirty days of November. My biggest challenge, however, was not the writing days I lost to the road, but rather shutting myself up. I’m an editor by trade, so it’s not surprising that I have trouble turning that off. Maybe the best way to shut up the editor is to stop thinking.

I’ll stop thinking . . . soon.

In nine more days, I’ll stop thinking for a few roaring writing minutes a day. In the meantime, I’ll obsess! What to write? A tortured love story?

Just before Terry and Pat forked paths to their cars, they turned to each other, as they had done for 935 days on their way to work: peck on the lips, Have a great day! / You, too! I love you. / Love you too! Today, Pat’s eyes lingered on Terry a little longer, realizing, I don’t, really. I don’t love you. That was the last kiss, the last time they would see each other.

Or maybe a child in a suspense/horror story?

Ophera sat quietly in the back, the mumble of her parents’ conversation indistinguishably mingled with the roar of the engine. Ophera wasn’t sure how she knew, but she knew. She didn’t feel sad. It was the textbook knowing. The first element on the periodic table is hydrogen. Hydrogen and oxygen are the two elements that make water. Her mother’s heart beat 113,889 times a day, but her dad’s 100,352 (on average). The car would veer as it entered the bridge. Moments after plunging into the icy water of the roaring river, her parents’ hearts would stop. Ophera knew hers wouldn’t.

Maybe I should go with SciFi?

Darian shut down thoughts as she pushed her ship to warp speed. No one ever said it, but they all understood. She wouldn’t be back. Even if she managed to find her way back, she wouldn’t find anything or anyone she knew at this station. She closed her eyes through the hum of the changing pressure. Darian knew it was an impossible mission. No one believed she could find the crew that shot through this hole twenty years ago. Darian’s proposal and plea were strong and compelling, finally convincing the commissioners to grant her this last-ditch mission.

Nine more days until Nanowrimo and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I’ll write about that!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

I know nothing.

The stories I want to tell are inevitably intermingled with other lives, lives I don’t truly understand. Honestly, I know nothing I need to know to tell the story well.

The more I know the more I know I know nothing.

I’ve been reading. I’ve been listening. But the more I know, the more I realize I know nothing. Nothing about black lives. Nothing about brown lives. And honestly, not enough about white lives economically, religiously, and politically removed from my experience. The little bit I almost had right is just enough off center to be misleading at best, but mostly, just wrong.

I want to be an advocate and an ally. I want to tell a story. But how to do it well? How do I do it in a way that honors my experience and their truth?

I felt dismay then just as quickly hope when I listened to Justina Ireland weigh in on the controversy surrounding the young adult novel American Heart

Dismay because at first her words seemed to convey that I could never tell a story that included color. But then that nugget of hope:

“If your good intentions fall short of the reality the first time and that just kind of puts you off the sauce, then why were you here in the first place? I mean, if I’m trying to run a marathon, I’m not going to stop because I had one bad run day. It’s a lifetime.”

I’m here in the first place because I want to stand up and use my privilege and voice to connect and encourage empathy. I’m here for the lifetime, for the marathon. I’ll listen harder, lean in deeper. I’ll see myself. I’ll see you. I want to tell our story well.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.