September 2010


The other day I watched a morning news show which featured a singer/songwriter at the end of their programming (at 7:30 am).  Any musician’s favorite gig, I’m sure.  As she sang her second song, enumerating her many blessings and sending that blessing onto her listener, I noticed that the news headlines were still scrolling along the bottom of the screen.  “man beats girlfriend to death and hides her body in his car”  “16 year-old football players dies after tragic accident in his own home while using exercise equipment”  The juxtaposition surprised and distracted me, to the point that I was no longer doing  what I intended to do (listen to the song) or what they wanted me to do (be titillated by the headlines).  None of the words I was seeing or hearing added up to meaning.  It was just a mess of information.

Since switching away from the iPhone, I’ve struggled to let go of the convenience it offered.  Found myself frustrated that I don’t have immediate access to information or the ability to satisfy my curiosity through Wikipedia at a moment’s notice.  But mostly, I find myself bored out of my mind!  Every little gap in activity now comes with a feeling of antsy-ness.  The silence is deafening.  I realize now that I was occupying every moment of downtime with that handy gadget.  I fit perfectly into a society that projects a song, news headlines and network ads simultaneously on one screen.

 

Banjo with my stack of half-read books

 

I began to look around at my supposedly simplified life and notice a glaring pattern: many tasks in progress, few finished.  We live in a half-moved-into apartment, have a half-finished album with no band name, and I try to sleep at night next to an active volcano of half-read books.

One of my favorite recently-found blogs, Zen Habits, shared single-tasking as one of the most important ways to simplify your life.

“Instead of multi-tasking, do one thing at a time. Remove all distractions, resist any urge to check email or do some other habitual task like that while you’re doing the task at hand. Stick to that one task, until you’re done. It’ll make a huge difference in both your stress level and your productivity.”

I believe it, but oh, how difficult it is to even finish a short blog entry without choosing to change my train of thought rather than push through it.  Much has been made of the change in Americans’ attention spans, and I am most definitely a supportive piece of data for its shrinking.

Single-tasking.  It sounds challenging, but also a little bit like vacation.  It will be difficult to resist the temptation to feel guilty for moving a bit more slowly, but I expect that as I master the skill, my productivity will flourish.

I would love to hear your opinions on this issue, as well.  Am I being silly?  Is it actually a good thing to have something cooking on every burner?  Does it contribute to stagnation or is that in my imagination?  My gut says stagnation, but we’ll see.  So begins my experiment in single-tasking.  Brief updates to follow.

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I hesitate to write about this because I didn’t come up with it and haven’t the faintest idea where I first heard it.  Probably a book.  Or a movie.  Sometimes my memory mixes those two up.  But I’m 90% sure it was a book.  Or movie.  How’s that for citing sources?  Welcome to the internet.

Anyway, I was walking and mulling with Banjo at Shelby Bottoms this morning.  I remembered a statistic I’ve heard about the reasons most relationships end.  Sex, money, lies, there a million specifics that you could get into about the end of a relationship.  But in general, most long-term relationships end not because one person stops loving the other, but because one or both no longer believe that they are loved by the other.

The sense of confidence that comes from new love is exhilarating.  Finally there is something that makes us feel worthy, even heroic.  Someone we find attractive (and quite possibly had thought unattainable) thinks we are worthy of their attention!  Maybe this and all our other dreams really will come true!

But over time we lose faith in the love that once awakened us to the world.  Maybe we mutually move into the comfortable world of relationship routines that don’t call for performance or for vulnerability.  Maybe it’s as simple as the end of a hormone rush which allows all our old feelings (which were more about ourselves than another person) to take back their throne.  But whatever the catalyst, I experience this loss often.

Since we moved to Nashville we’ve had some incredible opportunities to meet people whose work I’ve admired for a long time.  My initial feeling in those moments is elation, but it’s been quickly followed by panic.  Quick, get out of this conversation before you annoy them!  Don’t force them to be gracious to you!  And then, before I know what I’ve done I’m excusing myself and Jaron (poor guy) and dragging him off with a quick comment to that person about letting them go. I did it just last night, in fact.  After an amazing show, the singer approached the folks we were in conversation with and I immediately took it as a signal to hightail it out of there.  Don’t bug her, I thought.  I’ve admired this woman, who is my own age, for the several years I’ve known about her work, and instead of telling her so I circumvented the potential for rejection and in so doing deprived her of heartfelt thanks and encouragement.

I don’t want to be that person.  I don’t want to be the person who preemptively destroys what could be a great moment, just because there is some level of risk involved in engaging with it.  Just because I don’t feel like a hero.  So, as I did this morning, I will spend more time being loved.  Which for me means allowing myself to seek the places it is available to me.  Unfortunately, these places are not on the path of least resistance.  I do not receive love from Angry Birds.  Or Facebook or Twitter, or Netflix or applying for jobs or stressing out over band names.  I receive it on nature walks with Banjo, in a clean kitchen with flour on my hands and the smell of yeast growing in the oven, in finally fixing the porch light.

I used to believe that if I had strong enough faith, I would outgrow my need for love or at least my need for the assurance of it.  When in fact, assurance of love is what makes my faith strong.  Assurance that is constantly available to me – if I listen with my hands, my feet, my eyes.  And it won’t be up to my husband or my favorite singers to convince me.

I applied for a job yesterday that I desperately hope to get, working at a local organic food store called The Turnip Truck. There are many reasons it would be awesome – it’s two blocks from our place, I’m there a lot of the time anyway, and there is no product I believe in more than fresh, local, organic food. Please, oh please, I want this job.

Slow food has changed our lives. When Jaron and I moved to Illinois we slowly began to cook more (not a lot of entertainment in that town) and to use the local produce as Mireille Guiliano was teaching us to do. Two years later we are different people. We rarely get sick, we’re confident in the kitchen, and we have a new understanding of the earth and of sustenance. We have gone from spending more money each month on Dayquil than on vegetables to feeling like healthy, able-bodied people (with about 50 lb. less baggage between the two of us).

As I was reveling in the idea of being able to help people make the kinds of purchases that are so beneficial to their families and their communities, I was struck by how far we’ve come. It’s been a drastic change, maybe the most drastic I’ve experienced in my life. And the easiest. It came not from hearing about cooking, or watching Food, Inc., or even watching the numbers on the bathroom scale rise and rise. Those things made me want change, for sure. But what made me follow through was actually tasting the difference.

Tasting the difference has removed the feeling of “rules” in being healthy. It’s made us desire what is good for its benefit rather than for its lack of “badness”. I like getting sick less, I like knowing my food is from the earth rather than a factory. But I love the way a plum tastes when it’s been ripened naturally, in season. And I love the sustenance and warmth of buttery Yukon potato and kale soup in the winter, a favorite meal with only four ingredients.

Eating this way has required sacrifices. It’s a bit more expensive and it’s less convenient. But our lives are sweeter this way. We invest a little more money and time and are rewarded with vitality, appreciation for our neighbors and for the earth, and the sheer pleasure of eating flavorful food with our loved ones.

This is a change I believe in – a change that makes me believe there is hope for other problems that previously seemed impossible to solve. Dreams that once seemed as far away as feeling at home in my skin used to seem.

If you are feeling a lack of warmth in your life, have a new friend over for a nourishing meal. In fact, try one out at our house. We’d love to have you.