Bookends: August 2014

The first day of each month, I’m posting a summary of what I read the previous month and what I plan to read in the coming month. I would love if this could become a conversation in the comments about what’s on your reading list, too!

Reading took a backseat to other endeavors this month, so my books-completed list is a bit lighter than I’d intended.

Here’s the recap of what I read in August:

Continue reading

Habit Experiment: August Recap, September Kickoff

August Recap

I kind of derailed myself this month. My habit for August was exercise, and to jog your memory, here are my goals:

1) Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.

2) Do 30 minutes of resistance training each day.

3) Keep a log of my exercise and internet use.

The first week I did great. I didn’t keep a log of my internet use, but I kept track of my steps and my other exercise, and I walked at least 10,000 steps every day but one. In fact, I found 10,000 steps so easy, I decided to increase the goal to 20,000 steps a day for the following week (keeping the 30 minutes of daily resistance training), and then just to make it even more fun, I started writing every morning for 30 minutes before my first walk (January’s habit).

And then…I hit the wall.

The third weekend in August I attended a silent meditation retreat (I’ll post about that eventually). The week preceding the retreat I only broke 10,000 steps one day, and I didn’t do resistance training even once. In the week since the retreat, I’m meditating every morning (November’s habit), but I’ve not gone for my morning walk even once. In my defense, my cat got sick the day I got back from the retreat, and between emergency vet visits, clean-up of feline bodily fluids, and endless loads of laundry, my mornings have been rather hectic.

With my cat essentially in home hospice care, I know what the ultimate result will be, but I don’t know how long it will be until then, nor do I know exactly what kind of care the intervening days/weeks/months will involve. But I’ll do my best to fall back into my exercise routine and be gentle with myself in the process.

On to September

In the meantime, September’s habit is:

Drive Less

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Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life
Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After you read my review, read my friend Lori’s take on the book in her post, “A woman’s life (and what history will make of it)”.

Although I’ve found the name Margaret Fuller familiar probably since my women’s studies classes in college, I didn’t really learn about her until our minister gave a sermon about her this spring. After the sermon I asked the minister for suggestions for further reading, and she recommended The Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson. I bought the book because I like our minister and trust her opinion, but I procrastinated starting it. I wanted a book about Margaret Fuller that was written by a woman. I was pretty sure there was one because I’d heard a radio interview with a woman on the subject of Margaret Fuller, and when I went to investigate, I found Megan Marshall’s Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, which had just won a Pulitzer.

A Pulitzer and a woman author? Clearly this was the biography I wanted to read first. Continue reading

Mom Overboard! (Habit Experiment mid-month check-in)

Two weeks into Exercise month of my Habit Experiment, and I’ve already learned a lot about myself.

For one, I hate keeping emotion journals. To be fair, I already knew this, but for some reason I keep trying them and every time I do, I have to learn again that I hate them. I gave up on my habit journal after three days.

Another thing I already knew about myself but was surprised to learn again is that I dislike half measures. I set up this very reasonable Habit Experiment, adding one habit a month so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed and so I would increase my chances of success. But “reasonable” is so boring and, because I don’t like boredom, reasonable things are unsustainable. So, I made some changes. Continue reading

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What began as Mason Currey’s blog, which began as a way to procrastinate writing projects, Daily Rituals is a compilation of the rituals and routines that creatives in various fields follow (or followed) to get their work done. The contents of the book are gleaned from the reports of biographers, friends and family, or from the reports of the authors, composers, artists, and scientists themselves.  It would be easy to read this an entry or two at a time, but I gleefully went from entry to entry and read the book straight through.

This book has been a comfort to me on so many levels. The biggest help it’s offered is to show me that there are really a ton of different routines productive creatives follow. Continue reading

Bookends: July 2014

The first day of each month, I’m posting a summary of what I read the previous month and what I plan to read in the coming month. I would love if this could become a conversation in the comments about what’s on your reading list, too!

Today marks a record for our family:

As of this day, my spouse and I have lived in our house for three years, the longest period of time we’ve lived in one dwelling for our adult lives. And although my spouse lived in the same house from first grade through high school, three years is the longest I’ve ever lived in the same dwelling (so far). I understand this probably doesn’t seem like much of a milestone to most people, but to us, it’s kind of big.

It’s funny to watch how we react to the knowledge that we’ve been here longer than we’ve lived anywhere. Although we have no particular plans to move, we’re both sort of looking around, expecting that something will make us move, and because of this we’re hesitant to make any long-term plans (long-term meaning longer than about three months out. I scheduled an orthodontist appointment for my daughter for November and then wondered if maybe I shouldn’t schedule so far out).

It will be interesting to see how we feel as this fourth year progresses. Will we start to feel a sense of security…and will it be a false sense of security?

At any rate, no matter how long we stay in one place, there are always books, and as long as there are books, I’ll be reading them.

Here’s the recap of what I read in July:

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The Habit Experiment: July Wrap-up and August Kick-Off

One month of my nine-month Habit Experiment is done as of today. Yippee!

July’s Habit: Mindful Internet Use

To refresh your memory, my goals for this month were…

(cue Wayne’s World dissolve)

1. Restricting my internet usage to morning hours and evening hours for the completion of specific tasks.

2. Keeping a log of the times during the day when I feel a pull towards the computer for a non-planned usage of the internet noting what’s going on at the time and what I’m feeling at the moment.

Goal #1 was moderately successful (I only had one week in which I fell off the wagon entirely), and Goal #2 was successful only in the sense that I still want to keep a log and have a plan for how to implement it more effectively.

I’ve lost about one pound and my crossword puzzle times have remained about the same, but I don’t think either of these has anything to do with my internet use.

Inspired by Charles Duhigg’s How to Break Bad Habits (also in the appendix of his book, The Power of Habit), I have settled on a couple of tweeks for changing my internet habit during August (listed below).

August’s Habit: Exercise Daily

In addition to continuing to reduce my mindless internet use, I will devote August to developing an exercise habit.

I’m not 100% new to this. I’ve been taking a 30-minute walk every morning since April 2013, but I want to add a bit more while remaining realistic (I’m not getting any younger, after all). My motivation is to feel healthier, happier, and more energetic, as well as give me some wiggle room to eat high-calorie foods without gaining weight. In developing my goals for my exercise habit, I realized I could combine them with my mindful internet use habit and perhaps hit the proverbial two birds with one stone.

My goals for August:

1. Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day, as measured by the FitBit David Sedaris inspired me to buy. I’ll get this with my morning walk combined with regular daily activity, and perhaps a walk around the neighborhood with the kids. I wanted to go for 15,000 steps per day, but I prefer to under-promise and (hopefully) over-deliver.

2. Do 30 minutes of resistance training each day. Because I have trouble finding a chunk of time to exercise, I’m going to try out exercising in lieu of mindless internet use. Every time I feel a desire to check my e-mail, I’ll do one set of some form of resistance training (push ups, squats, lunges, triceps dips, etc). I’ll keep a list of exercises handy so I don’t have to spend time choosing one, and I’ll alternate upper body and lower body each day. At the end of the day, I’ll finish up whatever exercises I’ve not gotten to. Or so goes the plan

3. Keep a log of my exercise and internet use, à la Charles Duhigg (see the “How to Break Bad Habits” link above for more information about this).

So, I’ve got my measurements on board and my paper day planner at the ready for me to log stuff.

Let’s go, August!

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my Classics Spin #6 book, and I was supposed to have it done by July 7. Well, I missed that deadline by a little bit, but I eventually finished it, and it still counts towards my Cavalcade of Classics challenge. So there.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed. In the latter chapters, the action picked up and Dickens did a great job of keeping the intensity up and leading the reader along, something I imagine would be especially important for a book published in episodes.

I also liked how innocent Oliver was, always trying to do the right thing despite the circumstances. He seemed a little too good to be true, but I liked him so much, I didn’t mind that he was a bit unbelievable. He just had so much spirit.

One thing I don’t quite understand in a lot of these 19th-century books is how easily people fall ill. Emotional strain or just a walk in the cold can put them into fits or lay them low with a life-threatening fever. Were people back then really that delicate, or were the pathogens present in 19th-century London just so dangerous and ready to pounce that people were always a head cold away from death? What were these mysterious fevers people were always getting? Continue reading

Breaking All the Rules

As I drove away from the open field where I left my progeny for day camp, I wondered what I should do with my two and half hours sans enfants. I found myself near a small lake I knew that had a wooded walking path around it, and I decided to chuck my usual need for over-planning and just take a walk in the woods. I had my sun hat and sunglasses with me, and I was wearing my good walking shoes. What other preparations did I need?

In the parking area, I opened my door and a voice in my head piped up with one of the Safety Rules for Being a Woman: “Always tell someone where you’re going!”

I hadn’t told anyone where I was going.

I looked at my phone and decided it was too much like checking in with a parent to call my spouse and tell him I was going for a two-mile walk. I’m a grown woman. I can take a walk without notifying my spouse. (But before I put my purse in the trunk, I tucked my phone in my pocket, just in case.)

With my sun hat shading my face, I started for the trail head. I glanced back at my car and eyed the white van parked next to my driver’s side door.

Another rule popped into my head: “Never park next to a full-size van!”

I envisioned the abduction scene from The Silence of the Lambs.

I shook off the image and headed for the trail head again. I was trying to think of a reason not to worry about the van when I walked by a Jeep Wrangler in which a middle-aged man sat alone, listening to “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”

“Morning,” he said in his Massachusetts accent and raised his hand from the wheel in greeting. I smiled and nodded a greeting, and the voice in my head recited: “Buddy up for safety! Never walk alone!”

I’d been on this walk many times with only my kids and had felt only mild annoyance at their pokey walking pace, but now without my diminutive guards I suddenly felt afraid.

I noted the man’s appearance and took a quick look at his license plate and walked on, with what I hoped looked like purpose and confidence. On the trail, I met woman after woman walking alone. After about the sixth solo woman, I began to feel more comfortable. If they were alone and okay, chances are I would be, too.

CIMG5303

Sure enough, the biggest dangers I encountered on the path that morning were the piles of horse poo I had to dodge and the gnats that swarmed my mucous membranes. I was safe despite breaking the rules.

When I was a kid, I imagined that when I reached adulthood, I would eat peanut butter directly from the jar, and I would be confident and courageous. The first dream has come true, but I’m far from confident and courageous.

Here I was feeling nervous about walking around a suburban lake by myself in the middle of the morning. And why was I nervous? Was it because of some real danger at this particular lake?

No.

It was because I was remembering lots of rules that had been drilled into my head and the heads of other women of my generation over the years. Don’t develop habits, don’t go running while listening to music on headphones, don’t go walking alone after dark.

The women I talk to say that they choose to follow the rules (or not) on a case-by-case basis.

“When I run, I guess I should technically have someone with me, but I almost always run alone,” says my marathoner sister. “But the place I usually run is made for bikers and runners, and I know bikers and runners, and I don’t know…I just feel comfortable there.” It’s a group she knows and trusts, if not personally then at least in the abstract, and that leaves her feeling safe enough not to follow all of the rules.

“Of course,” she adds, “if I’m in a rough part of town or I have to walk to my car in the dark, I park out in the open, under a street light and either get a ride to my car or have someone walk me to my car.”

These rules are supposed to keep us safe, but do they really? By following all the rules, do we really reduce our risk of becoming victims of violence? I can’t find any numbers to support that notion. The stats I have found are those that say that violence—both sexual violence and violence in general—is more likely to come from within our homes and trusted relationships than from strangers. Is it possible that keeping all of these rules in mind and being on the lookout for danger everywhere just keeps us feeling anxious without actually keeping us safer?

If these rules aren’t evidence-based, why do people keep telling us to follow them? Is it really to keep women safe, or is it just another way to preemptively blame the victim—or to make women feel like victims before we ever have a reason to?

In my high school gym class, we were doing a section on baseball. The teacher took all of the boys up to the real practice fields with the real, wooden bats and the real baseballs, while he sent all of us girls to the muddy lower field with aluminum bats and rubbery balls that bounced unpredictably when hit. When I met with the principal and told him that the girls were being denied access to decent-quality sports equipment and well-drained playing surfaces, he said, “Did it ever occur to you that the teacher was just trying to keep you safe?”

I was fifteen years old and had taxed my introverted, non-confrontational self pretty heavily by meeting with the principal in the first place, so although I couldn’t quite figure out why wooden bats were dangerous for girls but not for boys, I just said, “No. I hadn’t thought of that.”

When I told my father about the conversation that night, he said, “What about the boys? Don’t they need to be kept safe?” The fact that the reason wasn’t applied to both groups, he explained, was what made it sexist.

My spouse has never been told not to jog by himself. My father was never told to get a ride to his car after dark. If these rules really do keep women safe, wouldn’t they also keep men safe? And if they do, why are we only telling them to women?

Teaching these rules only to girls and women and not to boys and men makes the rules suspect in my mind. Why are girls and women encouraged to feel like we need to be protected both by and from men?

If these rules only apply to women, this implies that women are targeted for violence simply because they are women. If we’re being targeted for who we are rather than for what we do, then it seems there’s a deeper issue that isn’t being addressed, deeper than the need for women to be constantly aware of their surroundings in a way that men need not be.

What does our culture gain by keeping us scared?


 

Find more Weekly Writing Challenge entries here.

How is wifi like an epidural? (Habit Experiment Check-In, Week 3)

When I was pregnant with my daughter I would think about my desire to birth without pain medication and couldn’t figure out why so many women had trouble refusing it. The way I envisioned it, the hospital staff would say, “Do you want an epidural?” and I would say, “No, thank you.”

In retrospect, I was a bit naive. I figured this out myself during eight hours confined to a hospital bed with an ever-increasing pitocin drip.

It was way easier to avoid pain meds when I birthed my second child at home where there wasn’t an anaesthesiologist on call. (Replacing the pitocin with a big birth tub also helped.)

Sure, avoiding the internet isn’t really in the same ballpark as avoiding an epidural, but there are similarities. Just as it was easier to avoid pain meds when they weren’t available, it was much easier to avoid the internet when we were spending each day in Boston and didn’t have access to it. (Replacing grammar lessons with carousel rides also helped.)

At home, I lose all resolve. The laptop sits there, beckoning me. “Come on over, Charity,” it says. “You can just look for a few minutes while the kids are occupied. See what your West Coast friends are up to. Click on a link or two. You can totally read that incendiary post and ignore the comments.”

Really, it’s not the laptop’s fault. People tell me that all I need is a little self-control, and I admit, they are totally right (and also kind of jerks). I actually have a fair amount of self-control, it’s just not limitless. I can’t have a bag of potato chips in the house without consuming the whole damned thing, and maybe I can’t have an internet connection without losing myself in it.

I either need to unplug the wifi, or I need to find the secret to ignoring my yen for looking at pictures of the babies of people I’ve never met and finding out what my “old person” name should be (it’s Gladys, in case you were wondering).

Maybe the secret is replacing the habit with something else. Maybe a lap around the house or a glass of water or ten jumping jacks. Maybe I should get myself a birth tub and take a dip every time I feel like refreshing my e-mail unnecessarily.

I’ll figure something out. Maybe next week.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends.