In the Darkness

Every several months I take a social media fast. Not that I think there’s anything inherently wrong with being on Facebook, Twitter and the like, but over time scrolling through the noise becomes deafening. So I stop. I let the urge to click, refresh, scroll down, refresh, express my emotion instantly, scroll, and get lost in the labyrinth of friends’ profiles pass me by, even as my fingers seek the keys instinctively. There are days that in my search bar I start typing “Face….” and stop myself just in time, although often I click enter before I can stop myself and come face to face with the tempting log in screen. It’s a daily battle with myself, which I hope will make me stronger in the long run.
The silence hits. Seconds, minutes, hours open up to a new possibility. Where once my eyes perused a 4-inch screen to discover its every last message, now I begin seeing the little details around me. My mind begins to flirt with thoughts that I’ve shut out for months or ignored vehemently by seeking an alternative train of thought at the touch of a button.
Am I enough? My mind searches desperately for a reason to escape giving an answer. Do I need to forgive? Maybe there are dishes that still need to be washed, laundry that needs to be folded, a room that still needs to be vacuumed. Do they really care? Reading is supposed to be good for you, maybe it’s time to pull an old classic from the bookshelf and lose myself in the prose of an author who actually had it all figured out. Am I where I should be? I bet there are still some unanswered emails in my inbox, and it would be rather rude not to respond to them right away, even though they’re from last week. What do I need to change?
It’s in the silence, deliberating with myself, that I start to hear the squeaks in what I once thought was a well-oiled instrument, accentuating areas that need tending to, especially in the painful-to-reach corners. The unnerving process of confronting each thought head on often gives me a headache. It’s not like I’m going to figure out the answers to all of my questions right now anyway. So why try?

These thoughts lead to somewhere in the darkness. Maybe the darkness is exactly where I need to be from time to time.

Day 12: Life’s not fair

Today was a tough day. With the holiday season and coworkers on vacation, there have a been a few extra responsibilities to look out for, but I can handle that. Today I spent most of my day immersed in the news articles about the Mandera Massacre in Kenya. It’s gruesome, so I’ll spare you the details (read them online if you want to). The whole story shook me to be honest. But one small little detail snuck almost unnoticed. The Adventist Church that meets in that town, approximately 15-20 people on a regular basis, had 4 armed guards the morning they were meeting, BEFORE news arrived of an attack. So meeting with at church for them comes with armed policemen outside to help keep them alive. 

Day 12: We often see how our life isn’t fair; some people in the world have worse than we can imagine. I’ve lived in unsafe places before, and know the reality of not living in the sheltered environment. But I have never lived somewhere that I needed an armed guard to meet somewhere with people who believe the same thing I do. 

My heart breaks for the lives that were lost, the families that were broken, the community that was changed forever. Those who remain face more than most of us will ever have to. Life’s not fair. But for just a moment I realize how much worse it could be. May we never forget.

Day 9: Chance it

I love my days off. I love when I stay at home in my pajamas doing absolutely nothing, except for a big adventurous trip to Subway to eat lunch. I also love when I go out into the real world and enjoy the day while others are busy working. One of our favorite things to do once a month is go to Creative Mornings in DC. Creative Mornings is a free breakfast lecture series for the creative community. Creative Mornings is held in 100 cities around the world and every month each chapter covers the same general topic. There’s time to network, enjoy a muffin or two (or every flavor) and then be inspired, awestruck, empowered, touched or set straight by a short (under an hour) presentation by various creative professionals.

Day 9: Live with a bit of spontaneity and randomness to allow chance a chance. 

Today’s presentation here in DC was on the topic of “Chance.” We heard from Lulu Miller who is an NPR Science Desk Reporter, and overall awesome. She spoke about the many ways that chance inspires creativity, and as a storyteller, she often finds the best parts of stories by accident. Or something along those lines. My take away was to allow as much “randomness” into your life to let it diversify and inform your creativity. Our minds may be interesting places, but very limiting. The more you people, things, concepts, etc impact you, the further you can take your ideas.

After leaving the talk, we wandered over to the National Gallery of Art, since, well, we’ve just never been in there before. It was fabulous, and precisely the practice we needed after hearing the theory. My job has nothing to do with fine art, but I felt myself inspired in many different ways. We lingered over pieces we had never seen before and stopped in awe in front of paintings we had only ever seen in books. We found a set of paintings by
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the namesake of Daniel’s college in Peru, and an artist who helped inspire modern advertising design (or something along those lines). It was wonderful to sit on the (super comfortable) couches ever few rooms to discuss art with my husband (and rest our tired feet). I felt like it led us to thoughts and discussions we would have never otherwise had. Consider Lulu Miller’s theory confirmed at least once by the Taipe adventurers. 

So if you’re feeling in a little bit of a creative rut, fear not. Do something completely random, stay open to finding something you weren’t expecting, let other’s experience become a part of yours. You may just find yourself on a whole new path by chance.

Day 8: Distract yourself

My inspirational outlet at work comes in the form of Banangram tiles. While working, I spend a fair amount of day looking for just the right word to express a given thought accurately. But what I love about these tiles is there is no “best” word (unless you’re playing strategically I guess). I get to sit back and search for a word that doesn’t need to express any particular meaning, but rather just happens to fit the letters I have in front of me. It’s freeing. For me it feels like the difference between baking for fun as opposed to out of hunger. 
Although I will admit, I’m always a little afraid that the words I find reveal something about my subconscious self. There are days when I find several negative words in a row, and I start to worry about my state of mind. But for the most part that theory sounds a bit too much like some sort of Facebook spam, “The first 3 words you find in this crossword reveal what you’re really like!” 
I realized something today on day 8: There is such thing as good distractions. I’ve never really thought of distractions in a positive light, and especially in a setting such as work. I was often called distracting growing up (though I’m sure it had nothing to do with my “look at me, look at me!” requests). By very definition a distraction is something that impedes concentration, and concentration is good, right? Right. But. We may find a few obvious “good distractions” such as distracting someone from physical pain like when getting a shot or keeping them from fixating on something negative. I always enjoyed distracting my nephews from their favorite noisy, obnoxious toy when they were little. But work isn’t necessarily negative, so why would you want to distract yourself from that? I see a lot of value from allowing your brain an opportunity to change gears, especially if you work in a creative field. But at the same time I think it’s important to control your own distraction. If others are always distracting you, you have little control over when you get back to a concentrated state. However if you take 5 minutes away for a specific task (such as Bananagrams), you are in charge of getting yourself back as well. Because distractions will come in one form or another, so why not be the one controlling the narrative?

Day 7: Care about Quality

My new self-proclaimed “looking away from the screen” project at work is to read through this small book called Health and Wellness: Secrets that will change your life to find sharable quotes for social media. I’m on chapter 6 entitled “You Are What You Think” and I’m sure my thoughts could be a lot more positive.

There is some great content in this book, really there is. The only problem is that on about the 3rd page, the pages started falling out. Now each time I turn a page, it falls out. And I promise you that I’m not just a violent reader. I treat all books with care and admiration, so there’s no need to turn me in for abuse. But there’s something about this book that has it falling apart. I thought maybe it was just my book, but when I went to see a friend’s copy the same thing happened.

Now to be fair to the publisher, this book was made to be as inexpensive as possible, so that people could buy many copies to share with their friends. They end up costing just under $2.50 a piece, which is a deal for over 100 pages of valuable information.

But as I watch each page fall silently from it’s place, I can’t help but wondering how much extra it would have cost to keep that from happening. And that’s a big deal coming from someone like me who grew up in a family of thrift store deal hunters. But my lesson for day 7: It’s important to care about quality. In my mind, it is now hard to separate the poor quality material from the great content. I may agree with everything and want to share the content with my friends, but I’d be embarrassed to give them a book I knew was going to dissolve in their hands. This is probably an attitude I need to adopt to many areas in my life. In what areas do you feel you need to increase the quality in your life?

The office is the new classroom

Did you ever read the book, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarden? I remember that being such a innovative piece for its time, though I never read it. However the concept was still clear, what are the basic life lessons that can be applied to adult life? It’s a brilliant philosophy but I think that I went a bit too far in my application of it. And yes, that’s probably what I get for not reading the book. I (mistakenly) found myself feeling that, apart from knowledge and such, when it comes to life lessons as they say, “there’s nothing new under the sun.”

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easy to live life with your head down. It’s easy to do and frequently it makes life easier as well. But like mom always used to tell me, “easier is not always better.” It may be easier to stay in one’s hometown, but many people find new knowledge and experiences by going away to college or around the world. But don’t be fooled, there is no way to live that guarantees a life without problems. So you may as well choose difficult paths that help mold you into a stronger, smarter and more equipped person.

With all this in mind, I’ve started opening up my eyes a bit more at work. If you’re going to spend 40+- hours in one place every week you may as well spend it in a determined way. I’ve been keeping track recently of the broader life lessons that I’ve learned at my office. Here are just a few, without getting too specific about the circumstances that brought me to these lessons.

  • Staying in the middle of an issue does not always shield you from criticism from either/both extremes.
  • As an “expert” it’s your job to be ready to learn and ready to teach at any given time. Never think you only have to do one or the other.
  • One of the most valuable things to know is what is important to those around you. Understand them, learn what makes them tick. 
  • Plan as you may, there will always be someone around you who forgot to plan at all. While there lack of planning doesn’t have to be your emergency, plan a little bit of flexibility into your time just in case.
  • The best benefit a job can have is someone in your line of sight that understands you. Nothing compares to looking up in a moment of panic or stress to have someone looking back with an understanding or comical look on their face.
  • Some of the most unexpected people can bring the greatest of inspiration. Learn from everyone. You never know what information from another field can be applied to your own. 
  • Make the extra effort to share with others how your field can improve their work life. People will care more about what you do when they see how it impacts them. 

Those are the lessons for a few days at least. What else have you learned about life from work?

    Disappearing Thoughts

    I just had one of those “writer’s worst nightmare” moments. I always act as if they will never happen to me, and yet they do (quite often as a matter of fact).

    I wrote out a brilliant blog post, brilliant I say. Humorous yet deep, well worded yet conversational, just brilliant. And what do I do? Yes, you guessed it, pressed close instead of save. There’s something about the comfort and ease of using a computer that encourages me to press the close button with far too great of a frequency. It must be that certain clicks comes so automatically.

    After this tragic mis-click I thought to myself, “I know what I wrote, I’m sure I can just do it again.” Three lines into it I realize that was just wishful thinking. Yes, the thoughts come from the same brain, but this time they don’t fit together as well as they did before. Isn’t that just the way it goes?

    I’m sure there’s a solution, and it’s likely not “blog about how I don’t have interesting to say any more,” though it doesn’t hurt to try. But I think my most helpful course of action will just be to go to bed, dream of my brilliant blog post and hopefully wake up in time to write it down.

    Has any of this ever happened to you?