There’s a story I tell about our dog, Scotty, who was a rescue and a hero kind of dog. Em calls him “the best dog ever.” He had bullets still inside of him when we got him, shrapnel. He was kind and chill and super loving, protective when he had to be, but consistently a great lover of other dogs and strange people even though someone had once shot him.
One time, Scotty, Sparty, and I were walking in Glen Mary Woods (a tiny patch of woods in our town) when a golden retriever barreled over and tried to take out Sparty, teeth snapping, haunches raised.
Sparty dropped, submissive and shaking.
Scotty, instantly whipped into action. He pulled the other dog’s attention to him, got him off Sparty and then stood there sideways, body always between me and Sparty and this dog as the dog lunged and growled and feinted and lunged, hitting Scotty multiple times.
Scotty did the minimum he had to do aggressively to keep this dog away from us. We all survived with minimal physical damage. Psychological damage though? That was a bit different.
After that, Scotty always looked at approaching dogs that he didn’t know sideways, no longer just expecting them to be awesome and kind and ready to romp. He lost that bit of his happy go lucky.
I always tell that story because Scotty is so heroic in it. But lately I’ve realized that though Sparty didn’t have the doggy krav maga skills to fight off that other dog, he did something else heroic. He does it every day.
Sparty chooses not to be afraid. When we go out on walks, I never worry about Sparty being mean to humans or dogs. He’s not reactive. He’s the master of the chill.
So, while Scotty learned to be suspicious and a little wary of strange dogs, Sparty? He has chosen not to be. You can literally see him get excited (think full body wiggle) when he sees dogs, not as strangers, but potentially friends.
This happens even though he was the one who was attacked.
Our puppy Pogie is the opposite and we’re trying to work her through that, but I just keep thinking about Sparty and how he chooses not to judge, not to be afraid, until he has to.
That’s a pretty powerful way to be.
So, here’s to all the Spartys in this world who focus on seeing good.
And here’s to all the Scottys who sacrifice and take the hits so that the Spartys don’t have to.
And here’s to you if you’re a Scotty or a Sparty (photos below) or somewhere in between.
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It is always a little terrifying for me to put myself out there. I met a local man last night and he shook his head and said, “I like to fly under the radar, you know?” His suit coat was off. His tie was still on. He made a motion for an airplane with his hand. “Whoosh, right under it.”
I do, too.
And earlier this week, I talked to a woman who was telling me things they were going through at her company as they tried to do kind things.
“No good deed goes unpunished, right?” she said this with a half-frown and a half-smile.
Another woman said to me, “I know you are close to this man, but he is a snake. A snake!”
Full disclosure: I’m not close to this man, not in the way she meant. I’ve never even been to his house. He has never been to mine. We’ve never been in a hotel room together. Cough. But he has hugged me. A lot of people have hugged me. I’m good with that. I like hugs.
“Everyone in town,” she said, “knows this man is a snake.”
Another full disclosure: Once after a Rotary meeting, I held the door open for the governor who had just spoken. He engulfed me in a hug. We’re not close either. At all.
There are a lot of songs about small towns in country and rockabilly music, about life within them, about trying to breathe in them, about the goodness in community and everyone knowing your business, and about the bad apples that make you feel during politically divisive times that talking to someone might not hold your political views is a crime. That having a Facebook friend who holds alternative views on something like short-term rentals or cruise ship visitation is a crime. That when someone hugs you or fist-bumps you after a meeting, it means you are besties
It’s not. Not yet anyway.
Another day this week, a woman I know said, “I love this place, but sometimes I wish—I wish that I could just pull up my hood, put on some dark glasses, and be anonymous. But these people, they do. They find you.”
And another day this week, I talked to a woman who said almost the same exact thing, a lovely, amazing cool woman full of humor and goodness.
All these people who want to hide? They are good people. I don’t know everything about them. I don’t know what makes their hearts hurt, what keeps them up at night, what they’re proud of or ashamed of or what they yearn for, but I love them. I hardly know them. I love them anyway. Someone this week teased me and said, “Carrie, you pretty much love everyone.”
That’s true, I told them, until it isn’t.
Yesterday, a woman came up to me and told me that an event I’d just held was horrible. That’s how she started the conversation. “It was horrible.” I said I was sorry to hear that and asked her why and how I could have made it better. She gave me reasons that were the same exact reasons that other people had told me it was a great event.
What a cool lesson, right?
She offered me insight right there and showed me how different her take was. It hurt even though it was the opposite of so many other people’s views, but it was good to know who she was and how she felt. Here’s the thing I always have to make myself remember: People are always going to have their own likes and their own takes. People are always going to have their own logic and their own feelings. Even when you want to hide, go whoosh under the radar, huddle in your sweatshirt and sunglasses, some people are going to find you and tell you what they think and sometimes they will think awful things that are fiction about you or others or even themselves.
That’s especially true when I think of the three shiny people I mentioned before, the people who want to hide. The more you are out there, the more feedback you get: good and bad.
The other thing is that you can reach out when these things happen, talk it through, and remember you aren’t alone. Some really brilliant and kind people helped me with that last night. I was brave enough to reach out to them (something I have a hard time doing because I’m used to being the one who helps) and they were brave enough to reach right back and help me in mama bear and papa bear ways. How cool is that? It’s so cool! And that wouldn’t have happened without that lady. And for that? I am so grateful.
This painting might look vaguely familiar. I posted it last week I think, but I didn’t like it. There was something wrong. So, I started working on it some more–reframing it just like I’m reframing my experience last night. It’s rough and color is trying to break through and there is chaos and there is hope. And that’s what I’m working toward, too.
That’s all I have this Be Brave Friday. Maybe be brave with each other. Maybe be kind to each other. Maybe be kind to yourself, too.
And if you choose to fly under the radar or right through the turbulence? It doesn’t matter. Just freaking fly. Don’t let anyone stop you. Just fly.
Sometimes you know that your life is a prison, but you can’t figure out why. Maybe something has made you trapped — responsibility, bad health, a pandemic, bad weather, anxiety.
That’s how I felt on Thursday when Shaun told me that the housing inspector was coming to our home that we live in, which also has a vacation rental permit for the years where I don’t make enough to make me feel safe enough to not rush off and live in a camper to rent our house to strangers.
That’s not happening this year. It hasn’t happened for a couple of years, but it lurks over me. A threat. A possibility I could return to only now there are two dogs, four cats, a snake, a kid, a husband.
So, when he said the inspector was coming to check on things — a totally nice guy — I panicked. And I felt trapped. There was no escape. I had a bunch of deadlines and a house that wasn’t perfect.
“The house is a sty,” I yelled.
“Baby girl, the house is not a sty.”
“A pig pen!”
“Baby girl — ”
“There is dust on the stairs. There is a paper towel on the counter. There is a ripped blanket on the sofa! I need to clean the toilets!”
“He is not going to look in the toil — ”
“Oh my banana bread! The kitty litter boxes!” Full disclosure: I did not yell “banana bread.” I yelled something else.
I frantically cleaned, mumbling, “It’s a mess. It’s a sty. It’s a mess.”
And Shaun said, “Baby, nobody would think this house is a sty but you.”
“I am slovenly!”
“No. No, you aren’t slovenly.” He stressed the word like he thought it was funny and then saw my glare apparently and paused. “Is that what matters? That you feel slovenly?”
Yes. Yes, it was. I felt like a slob and I needed to escape that feeling. I felt like I’d been too busy working and living and going biking with Em who was home for the week to notice the dust on the stairs. To be fair, it wasn’t dust. It was dog and cat fur that decides every day to collect like tumble weed and sit in wait on the stairs.
I grew up in a family where we cleaned as a family every Saturday and put away laundry and dishes and clutter every single day. Beds were made. Pillows fluffed. Clothes did not wait like Shaun’s shorts do, folded on top of the dresser. They were in the drawer. I am a relic of this past, of making sure that even though we weren’t rich, we weren’t filth. Those moments of control over our house’s cleanliness were sometimes the only bits of control we had.
My house would not have met my family’s inspection. I had a tea mug on my desk, for banana bread’s sake. The shed in the back has some sort of green stuff growing on it. Pollen maybe? Dirtying the sides.
The inspector came over. He did not lift up the toilet seats. And when he was gone, Shaun said, “He said we had a really nice house four times.”
“He did not.”
“You’re lying to make me feel better.”
“I swear. Four times.”
Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate what we have, you know? Sometimes, it’s really easy to slip into a space where you worry about being judged even by super nice people. Sometimes, it’s hard to move past the things that cut so quick and so deep — like being pretty poor in a town full of pretty rich.
My town is like that now, too. On my way back from a chamber event, I stopped and talked to a couple people who were running for office. There were funny and kind. They worked hard. One talked about all her jobs, about hoping to find a new room to live in, about hoping that soon seasonal workers wouldn’t have to crash in their cars and that more year round workers could find year round places, too. I fell instantly in love with both of them.
Today, I took a break in work to scrub at the pollen (or whatever) that was on the fence, on the shed in my backyard. I have pretty wimpy hands, so they ache about this sort of thing pretty quickly.
But I realized just then just how lucky I was to have a house, about how excited both of those cool women could potentially be to have a shed to wash, to have a place to call their own, to have that housing stability where you didn’t have to worry about a landlord. But also, how grateful I am that they have someplace at least. But damn, I want them to have somewhere better. I want them to be able to freak out about their house being too something or other. I want them to be able to paint walls, to make plans and improvements if they want — to have that stability if they want. Housing insecurity is big and it’s real and as property taxes increase, it’s happening to people on fixed incomes, too, or people like me who don’t have a set salary, who wonder if they’ll have to take off to a campground or a boat or a tent or something in the summer to make ends meet.
My house is not a prison. My house is a gift and a blessing that I worked really hard for and that I have to appreciate while I have it. What was a prison was my way of looking at it. I made that prison. Me. And I’m feeling that way about the painting below (that negative way), but I’m trying to push past that and post this anyway.
So, here’s to finding security when it comes to shelter and it comes to our own brains, and to breaking free from those prisons we construct for ourselves.
Marsie: You’re afraid of failing, of being vulnerable, of exposing yourself to the world, am I right? Or worse — What if nobody even notices you? Or worse — What if there is suddenly no catnip in the house?
Me: How do you know so much?
Marsie: I am a cat. Therefore, I know all things. Plus, I know about fear. But I don’t care. I live my life. Look at this photo. I am on the dog bed and right there — it is the evidence that the dogs destroy things! That was a perfectly good owl toy and it is dead now. That dog has jaws of steel and could eat me in a second for daring to be on her bed. But do I care? No! I still claim the dog bed. You, human, need to claim the dog bed.
Marsie doesn’t understand that sometimes it’s hard to claim the dog bed. I wrote about this on Instagram awhile ago because I was thinking about one of my grandmothers.
She wrote so many poems and made so many paintings that she never let anyone see.
She couldn’t handle the scorn. But she couldn’t NOT create things.
She was afraid of the ocean, thought it was this massive, beautiful deadly force.
Men can be like that too sometimes, she told me. I don’t know why we are expected to be so strong. Why must we be so strong and vulnerable?
I was like ten when she asked me that so I didn’t have an answer.
This painting is inspired by one of her paintings that she left unfinished. I don’t know if she had copied the original or if it was her own, but the woman walking across a realistic earth, approaching the sea all huddled and afraid and then reaching out for the unreal sky makes me think of her. Afraid but reaching out.
I am not an artist. I have absolutely no training at all except for a high school art class, but all I want to do is paint.
I am not a great philosopher, but still I’m compelled to share what I think.
I sound like a Muppet and slur my s’s, but still I’m making podcasts and I’m in charge of a really intensive online writing class that forces me to talk on video to 12 people every month. And the whole time I think — I am so afraid to do this. People will hear my voice and laugh (not in a good way).
All these things scare me so much.
And every time I write a book, I think:
What if nobody reads it?
What if nobody likes it?
But life and creating is all about vulnerability. It’s about saying yes to experiences even though it’s so scary. Yes, just writing a blog post is scary to me because it’s vulnerable. You can do that, too.
Really. I’m not very exceptional at all, but I try to become better. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I have to make my cat talk to have a blog post, but that’s okay. Because it’s something.
You are something, too.
So, maybe think for a second:
What is it that makes you vulnerable?
What is it that makes you scared to say ‘yes’ to things?
Because here’s the thing (cue meditative Stuart Smalley music from that ancient SNL skit): You are enough. You are good enough and real enough and authentic. Your story matters.
And if other people don’t see it? Their loss. What matters is that YOU see it.
Marsie is right about that. Not so right about the cat nip.
Seriously, this is what happens when you have too much cat nip.
injustice often came from not taking care of the earth and then not taking care of each other.
This year, I’ve been talking to a lot of people that I used to be a little afraid of.
And it’s been?
It’s actually been lovely.
People that I was intimidated by, I now message on Facebook.
People that I would stress about seeing because they had no problem telling me uncomfortable truths? We talk on the phone.
People that were so beautiful and confident that I would sort of gawp at and run the other way? We smile and talk now. We make eye contact during meetings when other people are being dorks.
And this? It’s kind of a beautiful thing and a lucky thing. It’s all just because I stopped being a wimp and started just going into everything I’m afraid of with the goal of being nice no matter what.
Tomorrow is the tenth year anniversary of Richie Havens’ death. This man was a talent, an enhancing talent, but also someone who spent a lot of his life making the kind of music that preached love and kindness for each other and the environment.
Next week it will be the tenth anniversary of my little hobbit dad’s death. He was no Richie Havens, but he, too, dedicated so much of his time in love and kindness for other people, for the environment, breaking into song or whistling because the music of the world meant a lot to him and was a part of him.
And both of them seemed as if they could be skeptics; they were comfortable and familiar with unease.
And I think both of them believed (at least at some point in their lives) that injustice often came from not taking care of the earth and then not taking care of each other.
Today, I decided (again) that I need to rededicate myself to humanhood – to the hope that I can find a way to see everyone as part of a great, big human system that we are all in together.
There is magic in the earth. But it has to be tended to.
There is magic in humanity. But it has to be tended to, too.
I am tired of enemies. I am tired of thinking in a way that makes other people enemies or the earth, an enemy. I want a world that doesn’t have that, yet I still think that way sometimes. Recently, someone who has some issues and has been kind of mean to me, asked me, “How can you still be nice to me? I don’t understand how you can still be nice.”
It’s the only way I want to be. And, I TOTALLY fail at it sometimes, but that doesn’t mean I am going to stop trying. I want a world of nice, or magic, or tending to, a world where we celebrate each other being brave even when the result is sort of a mess (like my sketch below).
I can’t control anyone else, but I can at least partially control myself, so I’m going to try.
I’ll call it the Nice Experiment. It’s starting now. Fingers crossed that I’ll do okay with it. Fingers double crossed that people like Havens and my dad are still here, paying homage, creating music with words and thoughts and guitar riffs and hobbit voices (my dad, not Havens) that matter.
Because of my big Sunday breakdown at the beginning of the month, I’ve been looking into resilience a lot, and it brought me down a bit of a wormhole about stoicism.
Backstory: Basically, one negative comment on that day about my news blog (and me) knocked me down pretty hard. Usually I’m pretty resilient, but apparently life or circumstances or something is making me not bounce back quite as well this month as I usually do. I also had a bit of a setback because someone said my voice sounded like Marcel the Shell. They didn’t mean it in an evil way, but I had a middle school teacher who told me that I’d never succeed in life because no one would take me seriously because my voice was “so ridiculous.”
Those two things tweaked me (one a lot more than the other), thus the wormhole of resilience and stoicism and the connections between them that has been happening.
It appears I am not alone or groundbreaking in that connection. At all. Which is cool because it’s less work for me.
According to the modern stoicism society, stoicism is,
“Stoicism is a philosophy that originated in ancient Greece and was later popular in Rome. It was first developed by Zeno of Citium, c. 300 BC, who taught at a colonnade (Stoa) in the centre of Athens. In Rome, Stoic ideas were taken up by the statesman and writer Seneca, an ex-slave turned teacher, Epictetus, and the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
“Originally a complex system of ideas encompassing formal logic, grammar, physics, meteorology, and more, the three Roman Stoics Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius wrote mainly about how to live as a Stoic, embracing Stoic ethical ideas as a guide to a good life.”
Some of those major ideas and principles according to the website are:
Living with nature is good and to try to live in harmony with it.
External factors (objects, circumstances) are not necessarily good. What is good is when your own character and mind are virtuous.
Selfishness isn’t cool.
Things that are external (including good times and bad) change so you want to keep your mind chill and calm and rational even through that chaos. There are a lot more and I’m only summarizing here.
Psychologist Donald J. Robertson writes,
“Emotional or psychological resilience basically refers to our ability to endure stressful events, without being overwhelmed by them. Through cognitive and behaviour skills training we can improve resilience and prepare ourselves to cope better with future adversity.
“In a sense, Stoicism has long been virtually synonymous with resilience. Indeed, one modern expert, Michael Neenan, refers to the Stoic teacher Epictetus as the patron saint of the resilient.”
What he talks about is how stoicism aligns with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which thinks that a lot of how we have emotions is created by how we believe certain things. Robertson quotes Epictetus who says,
“It’s not events that upset us but rather our opinions about them.”
Whoa, right? And you see this. You see one person who finds a rainy day beautiful and another who thinks it’s the end of the world. You see one culture that finds death to be glorious and another who definitely does not. You see one person who thinks a lady bug is good luck and another who thinks it’s an omen of destruction.
This happened in our family last year when someone tried to kill themselves and failed beautifully. They didn’t even get sick from the pills they took. We took this moment as a devastating moment that they felt so badly in that instant that they tried it, but we also took it as a blessing because they failed and now they could get the help they needed from the state agencies that weren’t helping them before.
It is a weird way to think in our culture, but we know how lucky we were and how lucky they were, and how much better they are doing now because they finally got the diagnosis and help that they needed.
PREVENTION VS REACTION
CBT is a therapy that deals with a diagnosis and stoicism isn’t. People usually undergo CBT because they are suffering like our family member was.
But as Robertson says,
“However, the Holy Grail of mental health is prevention — prevention, as everyone knows, is better than cure. Psychologists try to reduce their risk of individuals experiencing future mental health problems through emotional resilience training. However, so far that’s had mixed results because although resilience training is beneficial, it tends to wear off over time, and people need refresher courses every few years.
“People who get into Stoicism, though, tend to stick with it for the long term because rather than a set of techniques it actually provides them with a whole philosophy of life. We like to phrase this by saying that “Stoicism is sticky”, in fact it’s often permanent. We need to carry out psychological research to actually test that hypothesis, though.”
And that’s really interesting to me because of his underlying belief that a philosophy can be so helpful in a long-term way. Stoicism isn’t one and done. It’s a way of living that involves the mind and actions and a way of seeing.
Robertson actually created something called the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training Course, which is a four-week long event on the internet as a pilot study. It’s fascinating. He created a Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours Scale to see how much people illustrated behaviors considered to be stoic and mood.
I’ve screenshot his findings below. The link is at the end of the article.
But it’s how that held pretty solid after three months that matters. There was a continued “20% reduction in negative emotions.”
That’s a lot of continued benefit.
I think almost all of us could use that.
BE BRAVE FRIDAY
This one, I hope, is shorter than last week’s. And so many thanks to all of you on Facebook, who wrote comments. I wasn’t feeling brave enough because it was about my cousin Lisa and grief and sometimes it’s hard for me when people are nice about that. To be fair, it’s harder for me when people aren’t though.
This week a lot of people suffered a lot of grief on our island as loved ones died or were harmed or witnessed great injury. And I think that made it a bit harder for me to accept all of your kindness, which is silly, I know. Thank you for being kind.
Anyway, I’ve been looking at resilience and, as we now know, that led me down the path to stoicism, which brings me to this quote that I thought I’d share with you.
Epictetus said, “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”
So, I’m going to be brave and thank people for their kindness; I’m going to take every opportunity I can to be kind too, I’m going to show you this little baby sketch I made; and I’m going to try to be okay with the fact that someone this week said that my voice was like Marcel the Shell, but in a good way.
Braver. Kinder. Embodying who you want to be and your values. It doesn’t sound that hard, but sometimes it is.
I haven’t had a BE BRAVE FRIDAY for a bit, but it’s something I used to do all the time to try to push myself out of my comfort zone, especially about sharing my art.
There’s this old Simon Sinek quote that goes, “A star wants to see herself rise to the top. A leader wants to see those around her become stars.”
I like this quote a lot, but I think that there doesn’t have to be a dichotomy. I think we can all rise together; we can all make ourselves better; make our communities better.
That’s a choice that we make, every single day, a choice to make our selves or our communities better.
My dad was basically ancient. He was born in late October 1929, the youngest child of three. His mom’s grandmother was Jewish, but he didn’t even know if his mother knew that. His dad was about as protestant as a man can be before a man turns into an atheist. Before he became an atheist, he was a stock broker. He was a stock broker in October 1929, working in a ground floor office in Manhattan. One day something thudded. Screams echoed down the street.
One day he looked out his window and saw that another stock broker, a man he knew, a man that he was friends with, had jumped out of a window to his death. Another man followed him down to his death, jumping on purpose because life had become too much. It had no hope for them anymore.
When the U.S. stock market crashed in October, 1929, it wasn’t just numbers that crashed; it was people too.
It was a time of death, and fear. It was a time that began a ten-year depression that crashed even more American families. That was when my dad was born. He was born not into an atmosphere of joy and the American Dream and prosperity, but into a time of fear.
My grandmother was a tiny woman – maybe 4 feet 10 inches tall. Her favorite thing in the world? A beautiful ripe tomato. Her other favorite thing? Butchering her own meat. She was a poet who never submitted a poem. She was an artist who never showed a painting. She was a mother who brought three children into the world and the last of those was my dad. But most of her favorite things had to do with food.
She could weep over the perfection of a tomato.
She could do a happy dance over a good cut of meat.
She knew how hard it was to survive after you were used to surviving. She knew how hard it was to eat when there was no food.
So, my dad grew up a pessimist. The first ten years of his life were grim. He expected bad things to happen. He expected the government to fail you, for life to be scraping and angry and tough. His father went from stockbroker to ideologue. Disheartened by a system that could allow such things to happen, he made my father stand on street corners, passing out political leaflets that my grandfather wrote, but that my father was too young to read or understand. Those leaflets talked about people working together for the common good, about people taking care of one another, about the role of government. Some people would take the leaflets and throw them at my dad’s sweet three-year-old and then nine-year-old face, screaming at him that he was a socialist or an idiot or worse. Some took pity on him and just pretended he didn’t exist. Some spat. Some pushed him in a puddle. But my dad would get up again. He’d wipe his face. He’d stand there.
My grandfather ran for state senate and U.S. Representative for New York. He always lost. By a lot.
My dad ran for nothing, but he always lost, too.
My grandmother watched them struggle and dreamt of food to feed her family. My grandfather dreamt of changing the world. My dad probably dreamt about sweets and girls or something like that. He hadn’t told me. It would be kind of embarrassing, since I’m his daughter, but when his life was ending, he was still an 84-year-old player, so I’m guessing it’s likely.
This story of my dad’s has no pretty end. The economy got better. My grandmother was able to buy meat and grow tomatoes and cry. My dad grew up to be a truck driver who always felt stupid even though he was smart, into a man who always was grateful when people were kind to him instead of mean, a man who always longed for sweetness—sweetness in his food and in his people.
The true stories don’t always have pretty ends, I don’t think. They are hard to make sense of. How do you explain to your wife about a friend who was joyous a mere six months before, and then plummeting to his death in front of you? How do you explain to your infant son that the world is full of cycles of joy and pain and want and have and some people only get to see one part of the cycle? How do you make sense of people being cruel to a three-year-old boy holding political papers on a street corner in New York City?
Because true stories sometimes can’t be explained easily. Just like the world now, like the news now, like the stories now, true tales have to be picked at, layer by layer. They are the lived-out poems of people, and the truths aren’t always easy to see, but the meanings rest underneath the laid-out facts.
My father was a man who expected the worst and gave his best. His father expected the best and often gave the worst. My dad’s mother found miracles in everything and nothing. And they survived. My father survived to have three children of his own. I am the last and the youngest by a lot, sort of an afterthought. My grandfather fled the country to Mexico and Canada, reading books and getting irate and dying in a bathtub when he was in his 90s. I don’t remember him. My grandmother lived until she was 104, scribbling out poems, admiring tomatoes, rejoicing in protein. And my dad kept living too, until he didn’t, plagued by worries about the country and the world, plagued by people’s apathy or conversely their inability to investigate deeper than reposted Facebook statuses and twisted truths, plagued by a quick moving cancer in the area around his lungs. It was a cancer that volunteer firefighters like him often get.
“What will become of us, Carrie?” he always asked me. “What will become of people?”
And I told him, “We will survive if we want to survive, Dad. We will find tiny moments of hope and truth if we want them. We will make our lives and our friends’ lives into stories that we tell each other again and again.”
And then he would tell me a story about how his dad and uncle (after the Crash) ran a tug boat business in the Hudson River, hauling trash across the water on barges. My grandfather would be on the barge and his brother-in-law would drive the boat. Once, the barge began to sink. Neither of them could swim. All they could do was try to hurry across the open water to get to the shore before it was too late. The whole time, my grandfather expected to drown in the garbage other people didn’t want any more. He clung to the tow rope as his brother-in-law tried to get the tug boat to speed. He survived.
“Can you believe that, Carrie?” my dad would ask me for the 1,000th time. “He survived.”
And I’d think, “Yes. Yes, I can.”
People are still enslaved. Now. People are still killed for no reason. Now. People still starve. Now. People struggle and excel and fall to hate and thrive in love. Now.
So this Be Brave Friday, here is my hope. My hope is that you do things. Go change the world. Change it with your stories. Change it with your money. Change it with your hope. Change it by running for office. Change it by helping others. Change it by just surviving. Change it by being informed. Change it by being brave. Change it by making yourself and others stars.
“To be an artist is to believe in life.” – Henry Moore
That Moore quote blew my mind today.
That’s because for me, I always thought that I was afraid to paint or even try to paint because my sweet, well meaning mom told me when I was little that nobody in our family had an artistic bone in our bodies.
I was meant to make story with words, she said. She was right. But I really wanted to make story with image, too. We never had fancy markers. We never had fancy paint. So, I’d work the crayons all the way to the nubs. I’d completely demolish the eraser on the end of my number 2 pencil.
I only took one art class in high school because I was so focused on making sure that I looked “academically rigorous” enough to get into colleges, which worked.
But there was always this urge to paint.
I’ve always though that the reason that I couldn’t share my images was because I was too afraid of ridicule because “nobody in our family has an artistic bone in their body.”
Now, that I’ve seen that Moore quote I think there might be another layer in there that adds to that fear.
“To be an artist is to believe in life.” – Henry Moore
One of the major criticisms that I get of my writing (news, blogs, books, poems, social media posts) is that I’m schmaltzy, that I have hope. I usually can brush that aside when it comes to writing because I believe in hope for communities and individuals. I believe that the drive to want to make things better is partially rooted in the hope that each of us can make a difference.
So, why can’t I allow my art to be hopeful too? To be seen? It’s decidedly bright. It’s decidedly full of aspiration. It’s hope.
Hope hasn’t been that cool since Obama, and even then not everyone was into it.
But here’s the thing: hope doesn’t mean an absence of understanding.
Hope doesn’t mean that you don’t acknowledge evil.
Hope doesn’t mean that you don’t see the need for change. It actually implies the need for change.
To believe in life. That’s a giant step of hope. To believe that we can make a difference, can understand, work together and alone to make brighter futures for us and everyone else despite everything?
That’s pretty damn powerful.
We have to believe in our hope, in life, in our own power to do good, don’t we? Because if we don’t? We shutter ourselves, our community. If we don’t, we choose hopelessness, the downward spiral.
I regret how cowardly I’ve been about so many aspects of my life. But I’m really hoping to fill myself with brightness and hope.
Keith Haring said, “Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.”
I want to go further. I hope you do, too.
So, here’s my painting for BE BRAVE FRIDAY
Totally not finished.
Totally still trying.
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!
There’s a book by Chet Holmes called The Ultimate Sales Machine, that I used on my post Saturday to springboard into a discussion about time management and productivity.
I’m going to be continuing that thread a bit today for our round-up. This sort of information (about my life and about trying to make it better) doesn’t usually show up here on my blog. It’s usually on my substack, LIVING HAPPY. It’d be awesome if you go check it out. There’s usually not really any overlap.
MAKE A TOP SIX LIST
Holmes’ second tip on time management is to make lists. And the key, he says, is that you want to keep your list to the top six things you want to get down that day — maybe list them out every day on a sheet of paper. I do this the day before because I get anxious if I don’t have a clear idea of my next day.
Over on the Muse, Lily Herman suggests,
“If you’re new to making a to-do list, start small (only four or five action items per day) and use a simple tool or app to write down your tasks (like MacBook’s reminders app or just a traditional paper list). For everything else, I like to keep a separate tab on my MacBook reminders app for tasks that need to be done at a later date (aptly called “Later To-Do”), so that I am only focusing on what’s most important on any given day or week. I would highly recommend doing something similar, regardless of whether you have a paper list or a digital one.”
Full disclosure: I currently have a really long workday because Shaun can’t work full time right now because Xane’s type of autism requires them to be at home and dial in for about 90-minutes worth of classes. It also means they have a lot of needs. This means that I have to make up a majority of the income. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever had a six item or a four item to-do list in the past few years. So, if you’re into big to-do lists and don’t think they are intimidating, go for it. I do.
The next thing that Holmes suggests is something else I’ve started doing this year, which is figuring out how much time each task will take.
So, you just go through those six items and put how much time you’ll spend on it.
Here’s my Saturday example:
Work on Brooklyn’s story 60 pages– 2 hours
Work on Ross’ story 50 pages — 1 hour
Get Loving the Strange Up — 30 minutes
Write Living Happy Extra — 1 hour?
Emails — 30 minutes
Marc notes to him — 1 hour
Write Iceland revise 1 chapter plus 500 words — 1 hour
Revise Magic — 30 minutes
Write On the Agenda — 30 minutes
Write Round Up — 30 minutes
I tend to try to overestimate my time and then if something takes 20 minutes instead of 30, I have a happy, little party inside my head. It’s always good to have a happy, little party in your head.
Sometimes, you can’t control the amount of time things take. Like if I’m reporting on a Town Council meeting and it ends up running from 6 to 11 instead of 6 to 9 like I was hoping. That’s okay. Life is like that.
Planning out your time is super helpful to get your goals done. I mean, if you look at my list, a lot of those items aren’t going to be completed on Saturday because they are working on big novels (my own and other people’s). But because I dedicate time to it each day, it happens.
Holmes says you should you should keep your productive tasks to six hours. I fail at this. However, the science is starting to agree.
A Forbes article by Julia Chang writes,
“Past research has also made the case that productivity isn’t harmed by working fewer hours. A 2016 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development of its member countries found that productivity actually went up when people worked fewer hours. And a 2014 study out of Stanford University found little correlation between the number of hours worked and productivity, even finding that results start slipping after people worked 50 hours.”
And an article by Steve Glaveski for the Harvard Business Review writes,
“Many of today’s organizations sabotage flow by setting counter-productive expectations on availability, responsiveness, and meeting attendance, with research by Adobe finding that employees spend an average of six hours per day on email. Another study found that the average employee checks email 74 times a day, while people touch their smartphones 2,617 times a day. Employees are in a constant state of distraction and hyper-responsiveness.
Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp and author of It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, said on my podcast, Future Squared, that for creative jobs such as programming and writing, people need time to truly think about the work that they’re doing. “If you asked them when the last time they had a chance to really think at work was, most people would tell you they haven’t had a chance to think in quite a long time, which is really unfortunate.”
“The typical employee day is characterized by:
Hour-long meetings, by default, to discuss matters that can usually be handled virtually in one’s own time
Unplanned interruptions, helped in no small part by open-plan offices, instant messaging platforms, and the “ding” of desktop and smartphone notifications
Unnecessary consensus-seeking for reversible, non-consequential decisions
The relentless pursuit of “inbox zero,” a badge of honor in most workplaces, but a symbol of proficiency at putting other people’s goals ahead of one’s own
Traveling, often long-distance, to meet people face-to-face, when a phone call would suffice
Switching between tasks constantly, and suffering the dreaded cognitive switching penalty as a result, leaving one feeling exhausted with little to show for it
Wasting time on a specific task long after most of the value has been delivered
Rudimentary and administrative tasks
“People waste a lot of time at work,” according to Grant. “I’d be willing to bet that in most jobs, people would get more done in six focused hours than eight unfocused hours.”
Okay, back to time management.
PLAN YOUR DAY
There are a ton of templates on the internet where you can plan your day out either digitally or via a piece of paper. I’m a scrap paper sort of person usually.
It helps me not feel overwhelmed if I can see that I have the time to do the tasks that I need to do.
Since I started the Bar Harbor Story, I’ve been getting up at 5 working on my own novels (5-7) and then doing paying work and the news blog throughout the day and sometimes into the night because town meetings are at night (7 to 5 or 7 or 11 if the town council goes long).
What does this mean?
It means I fall asleep really well at night. But it also means that I’ve been neglecting painting a bit and painting? It’s really fun. And it makes me feel good inside even when it’s terrible.
So this week, I’m making two commitments to myself to try to get a better balance (You can tell my birthday is coming, right?).
I’m trying to:
1. Paint for five minutes a day (even if it’s a little bit).
2. I started the Couch to 5K program again (much to Shaun‘s horror). I really love running. My overly flexible joints, however, hate me doing it.
And also, most importantly, I’m trying to remind myself to be a bit more brave thanks to a post of her great painting that Amy recently tagged me in. Thanks for that push, Amy.
This one I’ve been tweaking and tweaking and rethinking. But here is what it looks like today. Here is what I look like today, too: a person made up of a lot of disjointed strokes trying to create something cohesive.
I hope you all have a great Friday and weekend and stay safe and warm and well and get to choose brave rather than have it forced on you.
My art shop is here and if you want to check out the news blog, it’s here, and if you want to check out my other blog (it’s a bit more personal as I try to figure out life and living with purpose and has week daily animal thoughts, that’s here). No pressure!
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!