Meaning, mission, and our valuable time

Out of all of the things we do, which activities relate to our mission, and which operate silently in the background? A weekly visit to church, a diet or exercise plan, or a creative hobby could be one person’s lifestyle but another’s scaffold, holding space for other meaningful things. The question could be parsed: is our mission personal, communal, or professional? If these diverge, do they overlap, remain discrete, or enable each other?

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When people describe their ideal personal and professional lives, no matter how related, they often seek the intersection of meaning and happiness, and focus on a job for at least part of that, as jobs occupy so many hours. For some, employment is purposeful, while for others, it steals time from purpose.

Finding your balance point can be as challenging as seeking purpose itself. Meaning doesn’t arrive only in one big chunk, nor does it exist in direct proportion to time. It’s unsurprising that sweet, small moments, or quick challenges are as important to our sense of purpose as our 40-hour-a-week lives. And, as we routinize things (like food shopping, diet, exercise, even work or hobbies, depending on your life balance), they can come to support our sense of a meaningful life instead of operating as meaning themselves. Alternatively, we may find that we need to become experts at certain routines and expand their space in our lives, so strong is the sense of connection.

If you are reading this, you might ask: what routines bear personal meaning? What challenges do you hope to “turn routine”? And what larger impacts do you hope to have that, combined with the efforts of others, can be greater than yourself?

Magnifying our impacts through collaboration is one goal of the workplace. Honing expertise to maximize impact is one goal of work for those who work alone. In this vein, I separate work from hobby, which animates the personal space and engenders connection and community. Hobbies that transform spaces might be rightly described as work within a community. What lends meaning to you, and what lends happiness? How do you prioritize your work, communities, and hobbies?

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Ten Days of Repentance, The Days of Awe

We celebrated Jewish New Year last week, and we are now in the “Days of Awe,” the ten Days of Repentance in between Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). As a child, the days of repentance were an apology window. We recite every year that “Teschuvah [Repentance], Tefilah [Prayer], and Tzedakah [Charity] temper judgement’s severe decree,” and so I would rack my brain for people I had wronged. But why does repentance loom so large to me, when there are three actions that can help us be signed and sealed in the Book of Life?

Jewish friends on social media are posting their holiday reflections. Someone recommended the Stuff Jews Should Know podcast, and I listened to and loved their Rosh Hashanah and Days of Repentance episodes. They dug into the word Teschuvah. We most commonly translate it to Repentance, but perhaps it could more accurately be translated from the Hebrew as Return, as in return to self.

The cyclical nature of life is a frequent theme in Judaism. We have a holiday in which the congregation rolls the Torah scroll back to the beginning after reading the last parsha [section]. We fully unroll it first, as if to say, “see all we discussed this year. We return to the beginning to build another year layered on tradition. We are enriched by the perspectives of this lived year, and from the knowledge our history has brought to this year of our lives.” Challot are symbolically round during Rosh Hashanah. Per the podcast, in the orbit of our year, this is the time we are closest with G-d.

And so I love the interpretation of teschuvah as return. It implies that there is a good core on which to build. Teschuvah, according to the podcast, also invites us to consider not how we sinned but how we missed the mark; did we express our best selves during the year? If not, can we? We have ten days to clarify our goals and start building new patterns.

How can we translate Tefilah and Tzedakah? I don’t speak Hebrew. These interpretations are my own. This year, tefilah is intention. If the larger goal for the year is to course-correct and live as our best selves, we must regularly consider and articulate what that is, and then affirm it through practice. Awareness, articulation, and action are part of intention and tefilah for this year.

Tzedakah is easy in our modern world. Like many of you, I have automatic deductions set up to give monthly donations to different organizations. This is a start. But the translation to “charity” seems too simplistic, because the word reinforces the idea that we give to those who have nothing. In fact, we donate to those those who have something to give, but are hindered by lack. And when we give, we receive. Individually we receive the satisfaction of giving and often our wallets don’t hurt for the donation, so it is like we get something for nothing. Societally, we reap the benefits of what that person or institution is able to contribute, now that they are not in need. In the end, there is more than simply what was given. And so this year, I will think of tzedakah as amplification. Whose voices, whose missions, whose worthy practices do we amplify? What within ourselves is worthy of this support?

In these ten days, I look forward to my connection with my core self, return; my practice of my best self, the action that follows my guiding intention; and in seeing a world made better by voices that deserve to be heard, amplification. May you be signed and sealed in the Book of Life, and enjoy a sweet and good new year.

Doing less

It’s a new year, and with that comes heightened reflections on what I want to get done. It could be 8pm, and I’ll still have laundry to do, meals to prep, rugs to vacuum, hair to wash, personal emails to write, that craft project to start on,  and books to read for edification or leisure. There’s no way that fits with a bedtime before 11pm, or the even wiser 9 or 10.

So, how does one get things done? Being a night owl stopped working for me once I had an office that opened early; it works less now that I try for pre-work yoga. With waking up early unlikely (I had striven for this unsuccessfully for some time), my attempt will instead be to just do less. Yes, less.

‘Less’ is the only way that priorities emerge. So how do we prioritize with practicality? I use obvious time frames. For example: my current priorities are work, school, family, health and wellness, and a couple of personal projects and engagements (like the blog). I wrote them in the “January” box of the year-view section in my planner. How many interactions with those priorities, per week, would allow me to feel self-supporting? I noted those numbers on the ‘month view’ spread for January, and made boxes to check once I hit my weekly or monthly goals. On the weekly spreads with lots of space for each day, I can make tallies when I do a ‘priority’ task, and note daily expenditures. I can get specific with how I support health and wellness, i.e., making boxes to check for significant time spent outside or going to the gym. Being social isn’t a stated priority, but I do track social events, mostly to remind myself how frequently I indulge myself in attending them.

My hope is that managing my priorities monthly and weekly will help shape daily behaviors. For instance, when the late night urge to organize hits me (and it hits me hard pretty regularly) I can remind myself that health and wellness are on my list, but filing is not. So I read, help my brain decompress, and go to sleep. In addition to interfering with rest, staying up late to organize won’t help me work out the next day. Going to sleep is basically a two-fer.

All the things I want to do are theoretically good things, but you really can have too much of them. Pushing yourself too hard erodes your ability to be realistic, to stay on track, or to recharge. It’s a little sneaky, I suppose. My real reason for doing less is hoping that prioritizing will help me get more done in the end; I’m tired of having half-finished projects and not being consistently sure what I want to work on first. If nothing else, I imagine I’ll get a lot of sleep. Doing less: great already.

 

Humility files: free food for a month.

I started this post over the summer and never finished it. Day after Thanksgiving is a good a time as any to publish it.
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Late winter, I realized how often I was eating for free. On the phone with my (free) health coach Lindsay, I whined about being over-offered sweets, complaining, “I can’t go a day without someone offering me something.” How terrible…of me, for my annoyed entitlement. I started a list of the free goods on a legal pad, but I’m never going to retype it and got lazy with my recording. Having had a rather grand amount of free food in the intervening time (birthday drinks! dinner dates! more than one multi-course dinner I didn’t cook :P!) I’m recording all of the totally gratis foods I get for a month here, published at the end of said time. Context: I have two jobs, one in an office, and one at a restaurant.

Sunday, May 18, 2014
Everyone is going away. I go to a party and contribute hummus and a veggie tray (both of which I got for free via a work meeting) and a six pack of Modelo cans, which I bought a month ago but haven’t drunk. While there, I eat a portobello burger with pineapple and kale salad, a bunless hotdog, chips and every dip ever invented (red salsa, green salsa, guacamole, bean salad), an alcoholic spritzer, and one of Kael’s Victory summer ales. I drive to Caryn’s for her going away, too, and have cheese and crackers and also a homemade chocolate cupcake that Caryn makes me pause eating so that she can add homemade peanut butter frosting.
Monday, May 19, 2014
I run out of the coffee I bought when brewing it this morning, but then find a bag of ground beans that Dan left behind in the move. I add it to the filter and drink it all day at work.
Chris is moving to Montana so we meet up for lunch. He buys my breakfast stir fry bowl from Heirloom and shares his bizache chocolate-hazelnut torte.
At second work, Zach makes Family Meal: palm-sized crostinis with chicken, veggies, gouda cheese, and balsamic onions. Everyone eats 2 to 3.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Tasting Notes rehearsal! One of the kitchen partners has cooked brioche buns and the a capella group rehearsal is going on, so we get to try them. Later, for second work family meal, it’s more brioche buns, casserole mac n cheese, and chopped vegetables.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Coca-cola can and three slices of Yellow Brick pizza for a staff party that I helped organize.
Monday, May 23, 2014
I bought an Italian coffee maker, so Marla and I share a cup made from Dan’s leftover coffee.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Mary brings in Buckeye Donuts to work! I have half a chocolate glazed and a jelly filled. Before shift, Lauren pawns off a ripe clementine. Stacy makes berry galettes for the afternoon and I have one of those, too. I eat a free banana at some point during the shift.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
I bring coffee to work–Dan’s. Cup of Butter Rhum tea from tea Tracie brought me back from St. John. Also family meal at second work–half a brioche bun with two meatballs and sauce.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Two cups of Butter Rhum tea at my desk. My bank branch re-opens and they’ve upgraded with lollipops, which I take and eat even though it tastes like a cough drop. At second work we have salad (!) and tortilla soup with chips for family meal. Norm makes so much food!
Thursday, May 29, 2014
At the gym, I have four tootsie rolls.
Friday, May 30, 2014
It’s Liz’s last day at the office because she’s moving to New York. Bummer but good for her! Tracie brings in pastries and I have half of some almond-creme-ganache concoction and a bit of strawberry tart. Later when I make a cup of butter rhum tea, Chris tells me to try a piece of his homemade carrot bread with imported French butter. I love both fancy things and Chris, so of course I say yes. It’s delicious, no surprise.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Cookies! I have a huge peanut butter cookie that a partner brought in to work in the morning, along with a coffee, which we can make for free at work. It is delicious. Family meal is a corn casserole, also wonderful. When I meet up at the bars after work, I have a tiny bit of Lisa’s drink, and her friend’s, Brooke, because they are ready to head home. I am definitely not. When I run into the cookie partner out, she buys us each a jello shot and a Bud Light. We keep partying back at her apartment and her boyfriend opens up a Victory Headwaters for me and pours a heavy glass of Bulleit. I’m driving, so basically just sip each.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
I eat the rest of the blueberry tart that I took home from work on Friday.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Lisa comes over for drinks in the backyard. My new favorite wine is a vihno verde–so fresh for summer! She brings cheese and we share that, too.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Jean brings in a huge flat of strawberries! I have … probably too many.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I drink black chai tea that I found at work. Family meal is SO good at second word. Chicken fajitas with brown rice, black beans, smoked gouda cheese. I have peppermint tea at second work, and bonus! a partner brings in cafe flatbreads and I have a slice of those, too.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
I have organic chai tea from my desk; I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the one who bought it. At my other office, there’s a keurig and I have a coffee. I go to a friend’s for backyard happy hour and he’s pulled out all the stops: baked chicken and broccoli as we start the night, then we share a couple of witt biers and have whiskey on the rocks. We’re all very hungry by the end of the night, so he makes a scramble: bacon, eggs, kale, cumin, curry, salt, pepper, goat cheese, and something else I’m forgetting. It’s so good.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Ballpark date! Dude buys me a huge ballpark beer, and his friends share their funnel cake fries (!). I share deluxe nachos. Is it bad that I’m not listing the things I get for other people in this? I swear that happens, too. It’s not really the point, though.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
At restaurant work, I have a banana and share a french press coffee with Rey. I’ve also asked to do a wine tasting to refresh my knowledge, so taste one white and six reds. At 1 AM, I meet friends out, and at 2:30 AM, we decide on after hours at Ben’s. Ben shares beer (Victory bottled) and we make a drunk meal: texas toast with roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes, and onions, fried eggs, and sprouts. Also cereal, while we’re waiting on all the food to cook.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
I’m sunbathing out back and my neighbor, James, brings me a glass of lemonade. He also says ‘take an orange,’ referring to a huge box of them on his back porch, several times, so…I take one. It’s father’s day, so Nora and I go to the grocery store and shop and cook for my parents (c/o Mom’s wallet). We have wine, guacamole, green salad, grilled chicken, corn, and asparagus, tomatoes, and grilled peaches over ice cream for dessert.
Monday, June 16, 2014
I have arugula salad with my egg in the morning–the greens are from my parents’ house.
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I know this list wasn’t complete even for the days I covered, because I used to have scraps of paper floating around with ‘free food’ notes to add to this post. This list makes me feel rich. Rich and ridiculous. Happy Thanksgiving.

5-year plan or whatever

I’m not sure that I’m really living the life[style] that I want, but I sure am good at imagining and talking about it.

Life is a study in interrelatedness, right? Full of moments when you run into your high school friend at the dive bar you never frequented even though it was by your house but when you get there he’s on a date with a girl you introduced him to when you and your friends gathered up for an elections-results party at a bar, and you just know the girl from one shift in food service but you ran into each other at a dance party at 1 AM on a Saturday and traded numbers because you were looking for a roommate and maybe she knew someone and then you reconnected and now here you are, a couple years later, all together again. That kind of stuff, on so many levels.

Social overlaps are one tangled ball of twine; another is how the habits you hold in one part of your life influence the way you conduct another. One of many reasons that I picked up a second job was rooted in my ever-growing list of small projects, and the fact that I wasn’t following through on working on any of them. I was afraid of a significant amount of time passing with nothing to show for it. The income and skills from job two would be the worst case scenario back-up plan. I was sure of guaranteeing myself momentum; this added responsibility would turn my other gears, too. It’s been ten months since I had that thought, nine since things came together with job #2, and I’ve barely worked on any of my projects. I imagined being busy as an inertia that sweeps up everything in your life–nothing escapes! It’s more like climbing a wall back-to-back: great, but one person moving guarantees nothing.

WallClimb

You get the idea.

If I find the quote, I’ll insert it here, but around the time I was job 2-planning, I saw something online that encouraged people to ‘be a star’ by reflecting light. Maybe it was Henry Miller–who is great!–but this quote bothered. My astronomy class was discussing star birth, and they don’t become stars just because they choose to be reflective and beautiful, like the quote implied, but because there’s a bunch of dust floating around and eventually enough dust is in the same place for it to pull together then add pressure then boom -!- star. (More than any hard facts, the main takeaway from that class was, “wow, existentialism and science really go hand in hand.”) So I thought to myself, “I’m not doing enough. There’s not enough dust. There isn’t enough pressure on my time to force me to come out the other side shining. I’ve gotta add work.” This is the problem with overextending metaphors.

Often, when I think about that amorphous thing that is “the life I want,” I get a feeling, and it’s young and sort of silly: freewheeling, healthy, awake, laughing, accomplished. I rarely imagine the process of achieving those things, which is, of course, the important part. Maybe, maybe there is an image of myself, but the headshot version: proud stance, cared-for appearance, good lighting. There’s a contented, post-bubbly feeling to it. This must mean that advertising has really gotten to me: all image, no substance. “Down with fluff,” as I once said, referring to something entirely separate from this. Down, also, with the idea that you can just work hard generally and get where you want without tailoring your focus. Hard work is hard work, but hard work at one job doesn’t transfer to ground covered on a project you’ve dedicated almost nothing to. It’s obvious, I know. Thank you, I’m a savant. Time just passes so quickly, and before you know it, six months or a year or five years are gone and the only things you managed to get better at were the tasks you kept at hand on a small, manageable basis, things you made into goals for your week. (With all this work ethic business I feel like a Puritan. Fine, but add 10x the amount of vacation time and nix all the church-going.)

The second job brought me some things I wanted and thought it would, even if it didn’t make me work harder during my free time. At least for this past year I haven’t felt like I wasted it. And despite the perspective, I can’t quit yet: they’re starting an a capella group! And I kind of like it. What can I say?

Stitch Urgent

There is something manic in the way that I craft. First comes the idea, markered, generally, onto scraps of paper and post-its in many hyper-similar variations. Part of this repetition is revision, and part of it is a pesky tendency for repetition as processing, not just about of the form of the idea, but that I’m having it at all. Next comes the announcement that I will be making something, via blog, via gchat, or verbally to near coworkers or friends. Shopping for supplies always happens, because of that warm, happy, immediate gratification–pinging in the brain and the false feeling of accomplishment that purchasing gives. Should I be somewhere that’s it’s possible and appropriate for me to start crafting immediately—say, my living room, with several free hours ahead—the bell rings and it begins. Balls of yarn and circular needles, yardage, pinking shears, bobbins and thread and spools and my powder-green 1960s Singer 337, purchased for eighteen dollars and eighteen cents at the thrift, they all come out, and there’s some type of focus and drive but it feels too much like tunnel vision. That task must be finished right away lest it not get done at all.

All of my unfinished projects shout at me from their bins and boxes. In or out of sight, they wedge themselves into my mental space sipping tea and posing simple questions as though they’re riddles. “Diana,” they ask, “any plans to finish, dear?” Except that they don’t speak in a unified chorus, but a lineup. There’s no interrupting, just the slightest overlap as one picks where the other left off, a circle of dominoes righting themselves just moments after they fall, ready to go for another round. Each of them asks for a response and I tell them individually in turn, “the idea of you is important,” occupying myself not with the completion of any one project but with the mental shepherding of a flock.

Even though I wonder why there are seemingly infinite endorphins for starting a project and so few for the middle part, or why the same project taken at a pace slower than a sprint turns into a slog, I have a new feeling rising up and it’s not a craft idea. It’s more of a primly agitated lack of amusement about not finishing things, a good feeling to be awake to. You shouldn’t fire a shot if you won’t go pick up the game, and perhaps a dress simply shouldn’t be hemmed if I won’t take the time to carefully measure, cut, fold, pin, iron, and then sew (though someone with a serger might gleefully disagree). Since the time passes the same whether you’re buzzing about something you aren’t doing at all or if you’ve closed your computer to steadily work at a project, I think I’d like to spend more of my time doing the latter. I’ve got no place in my apartment or head to store a new project anyways.