Category Archives: Coping

Sunday Self-Care: Unplug

I promised myself I’d unplug from social media after the election, because the campaign had me so tense, it literally made my face hurt, and there’s a limit to how much valerian tea I’m willing to drink in the name of sanity.

Then the election turned out to be such a trainwreck that I couldn’t stop looking at it, and I spent several days bouncing insensitive jerks from my life and commiserating with like-minded people who are as concerned about their black, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQ, and other non-cishet-male-WASP friends as I am.

On Friday, I unplugged for several hours while we spent the afternoon and evening in Southern Illinois, listening to Leonard Cohen on the car stereo, wandering through the Rainmaker garden in Makanda, sampling hyperlocal food and drinks at Scratch, driving along the Strip in Carbondale, and hanging out in my parents’ living room, where Dad offered some consolation in the form of references to long-ago presidents who’d risen above their questionable personal histories to become competent leaders.

On Saturday, I slept in late, spent time with the dogs, did a little housecleaning, and composed a handwritten note to Hillary Clinton, who I am fairly sure feels quite a bit worse than I do this week. I prefabbed a couple of blog entries. I played “Imagine” on the piano. I tuned my guitars and played folk-revival covers until my fingers were numb. I had a bowl of green-chile cheese grits for dinner. And then I lit a piece of charcoal, laid a pinon chip on top, and spent the balance of the evening with Miss Shirley in Coldwater, where she poured me a strong cup of Irish coffee, shook her head at my stress, and set me to work transcribing her story to take my mind off things as the wind wailed across Sangre Mesa.

I may not bother logging into social media again for a good long while. It’s peaceful here at the Tumbleweed, and I’d much rather sit here at Miss Shirley’s kitchen table, gazing into her otherworldly eyes and listening to her spellbinding stories, than waste my time fussing over a world I can’t control at all.

Emily

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No recipe today.

I don’t have a Vegetarian Friday recipe for you this week, because frankly, I’ve felt like crap since Tuesday and didn’t eat much for a couple of days. Remember a few weeks ago, when my Eco-Saturday entry was about making your own TV dinners? Weeks like this are why I do it. I fed Ron one of those prefabbed meals on Wednesday because my stomach was touchy from staying up too late and my head was congested from too many tears and I just didn’t feel like cooking anything, much less eating it. I was grateful to have that tray of capellini ready to go; it kept Ron from having to go out for lunch, which would have cost us a day of our debt-retirement effort. (Related: We are now $809 from paying off that dead Subaru so we can get it out of our driveway and move on with our lives.)

We had toasted ravioli yesterday, which came out of a bag in the freezer. The ravioli wasn’t vegetarian, but the convenience of having it on hand reminded me that I haven’t done an entry on stocking the pantry and freezer for tough days. If I don’t come up with a good new recipe between now and next Friday, I might work up a list and some instructions for you. When I was vegging full-time, the hardest part was planning far enough ahead to keep from falling off the wagon when my schedule got hectic. Now that I’ve been cooking most of my meals at home for a year and a half, I could probably make the transition without a major effort. Maybe I will one day.

I need to write something about the loss of Leonard Cohen — which was a sucker-punch I didn’t need after leaning on “Anthem” and “Hallelujah” for two days while I tried to digest Tuesday’s election results and figure out the best way forward — and I’m working up a piece about Hillary Clinton and her influence on my life, but first I’m going to treat myself to an afternoon in Makanda, because I need it.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: On procrastination

I will never understand why I procrastinate. Putting off a difficult task makes sense. Dreading a challenge makes sense. But altogether too often, I put off projects I really want to do, jobs that will make a big impact when they’re completed, or simple tasks that are likely to take half an hour or less.

Sometimes it’s inadvertent: I make a to-do list for my day off, prioritize it, and then get tired or run out of time and carry the lower-priority jobs over to the next week. If they don’t have deadlines, they end up at the bottom of the next week’s list, too, and the cycle starts all over.

After a few weeks of seeing the same unfinished job on my to-do list, I start to feel overwhelmed. The longer it’s on the list, the more Herculean it starts to look.

If there is an up side to this phenomenon, it’s the exquisite sense of relief I feel when I finally finish the project I’ve been delaying.

I had that feeling this weekend.

About 15 years ago, Ron commissioned a replica of one of the neon swallows that hang above the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel. When we moved here, I had to keep it in storage, because I didn’t have a good way to keep Walter from knocking it down.

Several months ago, I found a vinyl channel that would mount to the wall and keep the cord from dangling and turning my beautiful swallow into a cat toy. All I needed to do was paint it, install it, and hang up the sign.

As usual, one thing led to another, and the neon installation drifted to the bottom of the to-do list until Friday, when I finally got a hand free and forced myself to do the job.

Hello, old friend. I've missed you terribly.
Hello, old friend. I’ve missed you terribly.

It took longer to unpack the swallow than it did to install it.

This piece was the literal light of my life in Belleville, where I’d turn it on and look at its soft argon glow whenever I was depressed and needed a break but couldn’t quite manage a 14-hour road trip to Tucumcari. I denied myself access to that soothing blue light for three months longer than necessary, and I have no idea why.

Lighting the darkness.
Lighting the darkness.

If you’re feeling out of sorts, try turning your to-do list upside-down just long enough to complete that task you’ve been deferring for weeks. I suspect you’ll find the sense of relief and accomplishment that follows will lighten your mood as surely as a neon sign lights up a dark wall.

Emily

Loss

The world lost a good man this week.

I met Darian several years ago, when he was a round-faced sophomore serving as a quiet beacon of sanity in a class full of outrageous cutups. He was a sweet kid, unfailingly polite, and so quiet and unassuming that when I went through my archive of classroom photos in search of a photo of him doing something ridiculous to post on Facebook, I came up empty, because Darian wasn’t the kind of kid who craved attention. The only photos I have of him show a young man with a sort of bemused smile on his face, enjoying the antics of some of his more gonzo classmates during a group project at the conclusion of a unit on Hamlet.

Somehow those images, shot by one of his fourth-hour classmates, capture the essence of Darian as I knew him better than anything I could write about him. He was one of those kids every teacher looks forward to working with because he was so good-natured and reliable.

Sometime during Darian’s junior or senior year, he was diagnosed with cancer. He battled it — seemingly successfully for a while — graduated in spite of the distractions it dealt him, and last year, married another of my former students, a funny, confident young woman every bit as sweet and bright as he was. They seemed a perfect match, and smiling at their wedding pictures on Facebook, I fervently hoped they’d get their happily ever after.

Cancer doesn’t care what anybody hopes, and this week, it assigned Chelsey a title nobody her age should have to carry: widow.

The word sounds wrong when I think of her laughing in my classroom or beaming, radiant and beautiful, in her wedding pictures. It feels wrong. It weighs too much. It tastes strange in my mouth when I try to say it, remembering Darian grinning at whatever outrageous thing the class cutups were pulling this time.

Chelsey is a strong, compassionate woman. She’ll need that strength, and I pray that compassion will be returned to her — amplified exponentially — in the coming weeks and months and years. I suspect it will. I know Webster, and I know southwest Tulsa, and if there’s one thing kids who grew up together on the west side of the Arkansas River know how to do, it’s love and support each other through rough times. They’ve had to do it before — far too often — and I wish with all my heart I could stand between them and the world and absorb the blows so they’d never have to do it again.

If you can spare a prayer, a thought, or a good vibe for my kids — and especially Chelsey — I’d appreciate it.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Take a load off

I try to be productive on my days off: Clean the house, do a home-improvement project or two, prep a few meals for the coming week, maybe go for a run.

Sometimes, though, it’s good just to spend a couple of hours wandering down various rabbit-holes to see where they lead.

A Twitter conversation yesterday got me thinking about musicals, which led to an Evita earworm, which sent me to YouTube to dislodge it by listening to Patti LuPone sing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” Somehow LuPone led to Nicole Scherzinger, who led to Lea Salonga, who led to Bernadette Peters, who led to Joni Mitchell (I didn’t really follow what the algorithm was doing there, but when Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass show up in the sidebar, you don’t ask questions; you just say, “Thank you” and click on over), and Joni Mitchell led to The Band — and this incredible version of “The Weight,” featuring the Staples Singers.

Mavis is sublime here. I wouldn’t have minded if the guys all just piped down and let her handle the whole song.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I’d hoped. I installed a new composter, made a batch of soap, and got a fritatta ready to bake for this morning’s breakfast, but I didn’t do the paint touchups I’d planned, and I haven’t banked as many upcoming blog entries as I might have liked.

That’s OK. I didn’t have “sing along with songs I haven’t thought about in ages” on my to-do list, but it was something I needed to do; I just didn’t know it when I was making the list.

Sometimes it works like that. Sometimes you have to set your to-do list aside and give yourself permission to waste time. You can’t do that every day, of course, or you’d never accomplish anything. But now and then, it’s good to blow off a few non-essential projects and settle in for a little me time — and more often than not, I find that when I do, I end up working more efficiently and getting more done when I return.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: It’s a beautiful day

I never liked Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was little. I think it’s because I learned to read so early that by the time I was old enough to watch the show, I’d already outgrown it.

In fact, while most people my age talk about how soothing he was, how good he made them feel about themselves, or how much he helped assuage their fears about this or that, my earliest and most persistent memory of Fred Rogers involves a roughly 4-year-old me becoming irrationally angry about the fact I could make a much better construction-paper fish than the weird, angular shape he cut out and tried to pass off as a fish for some project he was doing on the show. I have vivid memories of shouting to my mom with barely suppressed rage: “I can do a better job than that, and I’M ONLY FOUR! He’s a grown man, getting paid for this, and that’s the best he can do?”

Mom gently explained that other little kids weren’t as coordinated as I was, and Mr. Rogers was screwing up his paper fish on purpose to make them feel better about their own work.

I was apoplectic.

“He’s a grownup, and he’s wasting paper ON PURPOSE?!!!?”

Preschoolers, as you may have surmised, possess neither a particularly nuanced worldview nor a great appreciation for the value of differentiated instruction.

I didn’t have much respect for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1979, but 37 years later, I think I’m ready to move there.

Nobody in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood is afraid of immigrants. Nobody in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood is making fun of people with disabilities. Nobody in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood is fat-shaming anybody or gossiping about anybody else’s sex life. And there jolly well isn’t any wall keeping anybody out of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, because everybody there understands that other people are SPECIAL JUST THE WAY THEY ARE.

A couple of weeks ago, a Twitter conversation prompted me to wonder: How much better off would we all be if we spent more time listening to Mr. Rogers and less time listening to people who prey on our insecurities and encourage our worst instincts? I decided an experiment was in order, so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching old episodes of the show on YouTube and paying attention to the message.

I was too old for Mr. Rogers when I was little. But in my 40s, I’ve come to the conclusion that a daily trip to that peaceful, accepting neighborhood might be just what I need as I search for an antidote to the anger, frustration, and disappointment I battle every time someone tries to defend a sexist dogwhistle, a xenophobic policy proposal, or any of the other myriad forms of bigotry that have shown themselves during this election cycle.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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“Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
— Richard Bach

As longtime readers of this blog know, the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull has had a profound impact on my life — so I was pretty excited a few weeks ago when I became aware that Richard Bach had released a revised, expanded edition.

Bach claims he wrote the novel in four parts but initially published only three. If this is true, this fourth part — published in 2013, more than 40 years after the first three were released — is downright prophetic.

Without giving away too many details, I’ll say that Bach delves into the tendency of worshipers to become so focused on dogma, tradition, and remaining firmly ensconced in their own comfort zone that they miss the underlying message of their chosen faith.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the Christian Establishment in recent years, for this very reason. Too many faith leaders seem to conflate spiritual truths with cultural traditions — or worse yet, political expediency.

In 2012, after watching error in the form of politics infiltrate the absolute last place I expected to find such nonsense, I walked away from organized religion altogether and tried, with varying degrees of success, to maintain my faith and my connection to God on my own.

Absent the structure and accountability a church provides, I found it slow going, though perhaps not as slow as it might have been had I been hampered by increasingly uncomfortable conflicts with people who seemed less interested in facilitating my spiritual growth than policing it.

Throughout my life, Jonathan Livingston Seagull has been my touchstone. The first edition of the book feels like an allegory for my own spiritual journey, and I tend to reread it whenever I find myself at a crossroads. It’s never disappointed me.

I suspect it’s not a coincidence, then, that I learned of the expanded edition around the same time I began visiting a local church that seems more inclusive and open-minded than some of the congregations to which I’ve belonged in the past.

My broken wings finally seem to be healing — and just as I’m attempting another flight, lo and behold, here’s Jonathan, as relevant now as he was the first time I encountered him 30-odd years ago, offering a new chapter that mirrors my experiences as well as the first three always have.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll join this church I’ve been test-driving. I’m still carrying baggage from the last go-’round, and I don’t trust as easily or commit as quickly as I did a decade ago. But even if I don’t, it’s reassuring to know, after all these years, that I’m still not flying alone.

Emily