Pattern Interrupts: Oh, Ida

What are pattern interrupts?

Pattern interrupts come in many shapes and sizes.

  • Vacation / War
  • Newborn / Newly deceased
  • House in flames / House under construction
  • Debilitating / Empowering
  • Fresh spring breeze / Fierce hurricane winds

Pattern interrupts heal or batter our emotional, physical, and financial well-being. They can be the cure or the hard stop. Or both. They can feel good, bad, or in between, but they’re almost always uncomfortable.

An intentional well-timed pattern interrupt is great for untethering from a habit or dull pattern. I’ve used them for overcoming writer’s block, developing healthier routines, and exploring new things.

Hurricane Ida

My current pattern interrupt is Ida. I never love a hurricane, but I don’t always hate them because a pattern interrupt can be interesting, if uncomfortable.

This time I wasn’t in the mood.

Collectively, we have not yet emerged from the giant pattern interrupt of 2020, the pandemic. My family is in a pattern interrupt as my mom is slowly swallowed by Alzheimer’s. I’m in a personal pattern interrupt as I seek balance in the author vs. editor routines.

I wasn’t in the mood because I’m tired from all the interruptions, imposed and intentional.

Lucky

I’m tired but I’m one of the lucky ones.

The big limbs fell next to my house, not on it. The rains bathed my home, they didn’t fill it. We have a generator and gas for it and we have a gas stove and water heater.

We are the lucky ones.

What is interrupted then? Some of same things we experienced in 2020. Empty shelves or closed groceries. Lines for gas and food. Inconvenience. The hurricane brings extra. Extra inconvenience, extra discomfort. Hot uncomfortable homes with damp surfaces and thick air. Spotty or broken phone and internet services. The morning breeze offers a little peace, but that peace is tempered by the 100dB hum of the 100 generators in earshot.

We’re lucky, but we’re tired.

Things we carry

For hurricane interruptions, most of the things we cling to require a generator.

Here, one cord leads from the generator to the kitchen, where I power the refrigerator and coffeemaker. I have coffee in the morning, salads for lunch, and a cool glass of wine when the sun goes down.

Another cord leads to our office, where I power the computers, a lamp, and my phone charger. I write and work, look up synonyms and post to social media. I wanted to stay connected and I am, because the generator powers our devices, and my phone sits full time on the charger to keep up with hot spot duties.

Things we create

Sometimes we develop a new routine to blast the interruption. During Covid, I devised my own pattern interrupt against the pattern interrupt, a new daily routine to prioritize my writer. This routine was my 2020 takeaway: morning pages, morning readings, and soul before soup, that is, creative writing before clocking in for work.

One week before Ida hit, I embarked on a new weekly routine designed to interrupt some blasé patterns and a daily exercise routine to interrupt… well, the spread of thighs. I worried Ida would smash it, but here I am today, blogging because its B-day. Yesterday I queried. It was Q-day. And I’ve biked or walked every day.

Pattern interrupts —intentional or imposed— can teach us a lot about ourselves. Harnessed they can be empowering. When I look back on some of my interruptions —new house, marriage, graduations, children, divorce, moves, vacations, illness, deaths—, I didn’t always go through them with my mind wide open. I wasn’t mindful about what I carried through them and mostly I didn’t create a intentional pattern interrupts of my own in answer to the situation.

I’d like to believe we come out on the other side with something we carried through, something we created, whether we are aware or not.

I’m better at mindful choices now.

  • What do I pack in that little bag to carry through the pattern interrupt?
  • What will I take away, learn or change about myself?

I wasn’t in the mood for Ida, but I paid attention.

  • What did I carry through Ida? Coffee, empowering routines, and connections.
  • What did I take away? I’m not sure yet, but as I pull on my biking shorts, I think the takeaway might be “I can do anything I set my mind to.”
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021

The moon does not fight.

The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.
Deng Ming-DaoEveryday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony

“The moon does not fight.”

Condemn and correct? Or observe and allow? Call out and judge? Or model and shine?

The process is slow, sometimes blistering as I squirm in place, swallowing the dismay: “But, but… you’re wrong!”

“It attacks no one.”

But, if I let the words loose, if I point the finger, I’m no longer observing and allowing. I’m no longer a model for the change I crave.

Some of you reading will judge me, you might even call me out with a “But you MUST call them out!”

Defensive blisters may form on my tongue, protective tears might well, but I see you too. Without judgment.

“It does not try to crush others.”

“But you must…!”

“Must I?”

I need the sun, but the moon heals me.

I’m grateful for those who turn over the tables in the temple, who stand up in public places against aggressors and institutions. While your light sets the dirty pages aflame, there is also a place for the quiet ones who reflect that light, who softly reach out to stand up as an ally, who work diligently in a corner to gently influence those who aren’t.

Both paths have their challenges. The sun must work tirelessly, and even as you rest, set for a few hours, your work is never done. The moon waxes and wanes. Sometimes I turn away, go within, to examine an aggression or injustice. “Is that also in me? How do I fix that in me?”

“It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences.”

This is hard to write about because my words —the place I’m claiming for myself— might be dismissed as virtue signaling. So, I’ll be clear. I’m not virtuous. I screw up this moon journey on a regular basis, perhaps every day. Walking the tight rope between controlling the things around me and allowing them is treacherous, and I’ve lost my footing, spun off the tight rope many times.

This is not an apology. I feel called to write about this because I’m not the only one whose eyes sting when my quiet path is misunderstood as complicity, when I’m accused of not showing up properly because I’m not turning over the tables in the temple.

“What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore?”

Sometimes the protest looks like the tide, hard to notice. Not a pointing finger and a sign waving above the angry crowd, but the hushed hand that reaches out to help the fallen.

Sometimes the call to justice looks like me. Not a take down across the Thanksgiving table, but the question that moves the aggressor to look within and question himself.

“The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.”

Sometimes change is a gentle shift, not violent slip of tectonic plates.

I’m imperfect at my mission, but I will stand faithfully as a model. I intend see all of you, really see you, and look for that part of you within me. I will reach within for the light we all need.

The moon does not fight, it does not attack, but it moves oceans. Quietly. I love the moon, I chase her through the fields. The moon is my model, my authenticity. I will quietly keep this course.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Collapse the Box

She put me in a box.

She posted a message on social media about “those people.” My people. Me! I considered canceling. I’m not going.

Before her post, I thought we were in the same box. She’s in that box?

I shouldn’t go. What if the boxes come up? Damned boxes.

But are they damned?

Boxes help us.

They sort and organize our lives and belongings. They safe keep keepsakes, store the out-of-seasons.

Boxes are essential.

Those virtual boxes in our heads, in our textbooks, on spreadsheets, on reports —categories, classes, types, styles…— this is how we sort our world and each other, for a better understanding.

  • They’re paramedics. They save lives.
  • Those are invertebrates. They have no backbone.
  • He’s a math teacher. He explains numbers to students.
  • We’re professional soccer players. We have strong legs.
  • This is a dangerous narcotic. Keep it out reach of the children.
  • She’s Hindu. She believes in reincarnation.

But boxes can blind us.

  • She’s a Republican.
  • She’s a Democrat.

I saw her political box. It wasn’t mine. Should I go?

What I know

It’s not like I don’t know people in that box, the other box. I have family in that box.

  • I love them.
  • I spend time with them.
  • I sit at their table.
  • We talk.
  • I know them.

And there it is. I know them. I know that box is only part of their story, I know they are more than the box we use to understand their politic. I know they are much better than any box of politic.

The Golden Rule

I was bothered when I saw how her meme boxed us, made assumptions about me. I considered canceling. But I want to go! I don’t want to cancel.

I turned the boxes over with the Golden Rule. I don’t want to be confined to a box, only understood within that box. Why would I do that to her?

I went. We met, we spent time together, we sat together. We didn’t talk about those boxes, but we talked deeply. She is much more than her box of politic, and I am more for having gone. I gained a friend.

Boxes can be good, but we shouldn’t allow boxes to limit our love and understanding.

Stepping outside the box

These are difficult times. We can stir the difficult pot or step outside the box to be the change, to make a difference. We can’t control others. We can, however, choose how we interact with others.

I choose love over the boxes. I want to be heard, but first I must listen. I want to be seen, but first I must collapse all the boxes.

The process is slow and sometimes painful. Listening and seeing to make a difference, to be the change, requires faith and love, but the magic of that slow alchemy is worth it.

I’m glad I went. We saw each other. We heard each other. We didn’t kick around our boxes of politic this time, but I think we’re in a better position to hear each other when we come round to that.

©Pennie Nichols All Rights Reserved 2020

A good story

We all like a good story.

The power came back on one hour after we cranked up the new generator, just as we were falling asleep, just before midnight.

“Oh no!” Steven groaned next to me.

“What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy the power’s back on.”

“But we just bought the generator.”

Steven and I had just “buttoned down the house” for a night without power, floating on the sounds of generators and the refreshment of the gusts of post-hurricane winds. Steven is a self-professed AC addict, but his response was “Oh no!” when our salt lamp lit up.

Sometimes it’s not about the good fortune but rather what we’ve prepared ourselves for. If we prepared ourselves for a storm, we expect a storm. We’re not upset about averting damage. And yet, the relief that the storm missed us or was a dud arrives with a vague, irrational sense of disappointment.

It’s human nature. We don’t want the devastation. “Oh no!” We just want a good story to tell. You can fight me if you think you’re above that, but I’ll win.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

Don’t apologize for your upbeat online persona

This is not an invitation to defraud your Facebook friends or your swelling social-media “public.” Certainly not an invitation to post more selfies (the internet is already flooded with selfies!).

But we shouldn’t apologize for showing the best of ourselves. Not even when that online persona is a little exaggerated.

If you’re even the tiniest bit familiar with The Secret and any of the law of attraction coaches, you know that, along with gratitude, one of the strongest tools to reaching our goals is to project and feel the joy of what we want to be.

With our social media profiles, we are literally projecting images of and stories about ourselves. If the projection, even if exaggerated on a positive note, is true to who you strive to be, that’s not fake. It’s great. You’re modeling for your future self and for others. I would even argue that it’s a form of gratitude for who you are right now and where that is taking you.

Surely we can celebrate the value of pouring positive energy into the river of timelines.

I’m grateful for those who share the good things we are and can be. Thank you!

And please don’t apologize.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

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 Parish Fair

parish fairI took a few hours this morning to go with my parents to the Washington Parish Fair, purportedly the largest free county/parish fair in the country and the second-oldest fair in the state.

A Creek Runs Through It

My dad is proud of this fair. When my kids were young, we spent the bulk of our time on the carnival rides. Today, however, my folks and I spent the morning winding through the craft booths, the blue ribbon displays, the 4-H barn, and the Mile Branch Settlement, a pioneer village, with authentic cabins and structures, and “pioneers” in period dress.

One of the best decisions the organizers ever made was to put the carnival rides on the other side of the creek.parish fair

Dad’s not opposed to carnival rides, but he’s proud that, at this fair, they are secondary to the “main” part of the fair. The creek that separates the two parts, he believes, has helped keep the emphasis on the slice of Americana displays and competitions.

I had forgotten that most fairs were primarily capstones for those who worked the land and livestock. These days, “Let’s go to the fair” is more likely to excite images of ferris wheels and ball and bucket toss, not historical displays, the steer a teenager raised, or jars of canned goods draped in blue, red, and white ribbons.parish fair

This fair is primarily organized, operated, and imagined by people from the parish and nearby communities, not by “outside,” disconnected businesses that drop in to make a buck.  That is special.

parish fair

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

Giving: Did I Do the Right Thing? A Revisit and a Scrutiny

“I don’t want your money, but . . . “  That’s how our brief encounter began. I wrote about it (and giving) two and a half years ago.

When is giving good?

A few months ago, a friend posted about the same woman. She had seen her at several stores, hustling for groceries. It was a scam, a hustle for pricey items that she probably resold. Don’t give to her!

I had already given. Chicken, potatoes, bananas . . . What I gave was the opposite of high-ticket, but after my friend’s post I spent the next few months tumbling questions:

  • Did I make a mistake?
  • Was giving to her a bright spot in my human interaction or was it a bad (foolish!) decision?
  • Knowing what I know now, would I have still do the same?
No. Not sure. And absolutely yes.

Here’s the thing. She wanted chicken. The cheaper potatoes. Bananas. Bread. And (maybe I’m imagining this) validation.

She’s a human being making her way through a life. It doesn’t match mine and probably not any else who is reading my post, but she’s doing what she can with the circumstances she was given.

Who am I to judge?

I don’t and wouldn’t judge you for walking past her or blatantly turning her down. I get it. I often don’t feel comfortable giving. But I won’t judge her for asking for the chicken and sides.

If we’re all subjects in a massive human experiment, a test to deteremine what “humanity” is, I’d rather err on the side of a little foolish and warm-hearted than cold and clinging to my dollar bills.

I stand by my initial decision and expenditure. But mostly I stand by my initial biological feedback. It felt good.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Choked

I haven’t written much since the 2017 election. I don’t have writer’s block, really. I just feel choked.

I miss writing, because writing is where I figure things out. Writing is introspection, meditation, screaming therapy, and prayer in one painful and joyful process. My self-inflicted October one-blog-a day challenge is my effort to loosen the strangle hold from my pen. The late nights are exhausting. Loosening the restraints is a struggle. Yet I’m grateful to be writing again.

From Choked to Conversation

So, what’s choking you?

If you’re guessing political climate, you’re getting warm.

Why is that choking you?

If you’re guessing I’m a chicken for not raising my voice or a snowflake because I’m an aghast liberal, you’re getting colder now.

This obstruction in my esophagus has nothing to do with chickens and snowflakes. This stricture is about my anxiousness to find the path to conversation and common ground, in spite of and because of the political climate.

After nearly a year of searching for it, I realize that if I’m not writing, I’ll never find that path.

This is me, coming unchoked, looking for the path to conversation and common ground.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Circles Are Better

Circles are better than echo chambers.

Yet we increasingly isolate ourselves in chambers where everyone nods at the words we utter. We nod at their ideas in return. Same. Yes. Same.

We poke our heads out just long enough to point an accusing finger across the increasingly deep and wide divide, screaming shame and blame at the other side. The other side shouts back, and we declare ourselves informed.

The algorithms of social media compound the isolationism. Our beliefs and ideas bounce around without scrutiny, and we dance around the chamber drinking our favorite flavor of Kool-Aid.

Circles are better.

More bridges. More conversations. Bigger circles.

At my church, the poem “Outwitted,” by Edward Markham, is often recited in services.

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!Circles art better

Why should we draw a circle to take in those who would shut us out, the ones who dance in the echo chamber on the other side?

The reasons are many, but dragging others into our own echo chamber is not one of them. The circle is for inclusion, not isolation. For conversation, not accusation. For listening, not pedantry.

The circle is not a ring for idealogical arm-wrestling, where the winner takes the converts. We don’t have to convert each other. The center of the circle is about empathy, not agreement.

Listening is hard, but worthy work. Empathy may take practice, but it is the path, the bridge.

Let’s sit in more circles. Let’s be better listeners.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017