A Virtual Book Club - What are YOU reading?!

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Why DO I write here anyway?

“We need to talk.” It’s probably the last thing you ever want to hear from a close friend or family member, right? Sends shivers down anyone’s spine! But we do and don’t worry, it ends well!

About my last post, if you haven’t seen it, you can read it HERE, but all it really says is “Why do I write and post here?” I thought about it all weekend. I’ve thought about it before and I’ll probably think about it again (mostly because I have a cute little squirrel brain that doesn’t hold on to things for very long, but it makes things…interesting).

An existential crisis began on Saturday morning when, in an attempt to catch up on writing my “What In The World Is She Reading” newsletter, I opened a book that I had finished a couple weeks ago and recognized none of the text inside. I flipped through the pages reading here and there thinking, maybe that part wasn’t interesting? Maybe I was thinking of something else when I read that short story? I flipped to another page and started reading. Nope. It’s all gone, slipped out of my mind like those planetary systems Princess Leia said Darth Vadar was losing through his grip.

I slapped the book down, piled up my notebook and my laptop, and went to sit on the porch and stare at the desert. I was out there for an hour.

The rest of my Saturday spiraled slowly down into a mild depression. My heart hurt and I held back tears the whole day. My family began to worry. I watched a movie. I cleaned my closet of extra clothes. I laid on my bed and watched the ceiling.

If I can’t remember what I read, what’s the point of reading at all? And then what’s the point of writing about it? I spend a lot of my day reading, making notes, taking pictures, and posting about what I read. Am I just wasting my time? Is there something more important and lasting that could be done?

Maybe I should spend more time knitting. At least I’d have a product at the end of my time. I recently bought a cross-stitch kit thinking I’d like to make some presents, so I spent an hour trying to learn it. In my mental state of the moment, it didn’t go well, as you can imagine.

I continued to pout and get angry all day and well into the evening. My best friend was off busy all day, my youngest son left for work, my husband and oldest son were working on projects in the garage, and here I was…useless. I’m just killing time waiting to die…yep…I heard myself grumbling to myself. I’m a freakin’ bundle of fun sometimes.

At some point, we ended up on the couch watching a tv show and eating leftovers for dinner, when I laid my head in my husband’s lap and poured my heart out. He patted me and gave me some loves. My son gave me some advice that I grumbled about and then I went to bed.

After a good night’s sleep and a long Sunday morning of yard work, I took a hot shower and then sat down at my desk. Picking up the book, I flipped through it again. I still don’t remember much of those stories. I picked up another one and flipped through its pages. Hold on a minute. I remember a lot of that book! What happened? Why do I remember so little from this book?

All of a sudden something important occurred to me. There were a lot of notes in the book I remembered a lot of but the book that I didn’t remember had very few. I opened up Instagram and scrolled through my pictures to find only four quotes that I shared from the book I didn’t remember and ten from the book I did.

My son was right the night before. The advice I grumbled about…stupid kid…doesn’t know anything…you don’t know my feelings! Like I said, I can be really fun if you love sarcasm, dramatic exits, and self-pity parties. His advice was…Mom, you probably didn’t need any of those words, so your brain dumped them. Some day you’ll read that book again and that’s when you’ll remember because you’ll need it, or you’ll know someone else does so you’ll loan it to them. Kids these days!

He also reminded me, when I cried about wasting time, that no time is ever wasted if you’re doing something you enjoy doing. I don’t know where he gets this stuff.

Here’s the thing, my friends. I like reading books, all of them! Each book has its reason for being there. Some are packed full of information that I need. Some are guidance in troubled times. Some help me help someone else. Some make me smile, and some make me cry. Some are just damn fun. I don’t read because I have to and I don’t read things that I’m not enjoying, even if the information in them is important. I just love the experience!

Getting up before dawn, grabbing a cup of coffee and settling into the couch with my current lover…I mean book…is soul satisfying to me. It feeds me.

So why do I write and post about it here? There are two reasons really. The first is that writing about what I’m reading, while I’m reading it, helps me remember what I read. It helps me link other things I’ve read to what I’m currently reading. Organizing my thoughts on the page also helps me use what I’m reading to organize my life. I’m a better person because of what I read and write about and that cup overflows onto my family and friends. Happy reader…happy wife, mom, friend, PERSON!

The second reason is you. The book is already read. The page is already written. The photo is already taken. Why not post it all to the internet on the off chance someone out there might need it or at least enjoy it? It’s a little like sending a message in a bottle. I’m out here on my desert isle, writing out little messages, rolling them up and stuffing them inside my empty whiskey and tequila bottles, throwing them as far out into the sea as I can. Hopefully the tide will catch them and bring them to you…although, I know some do get washed back up onto my shores, but I just brush them off and throw them out again!

So here we are. I’m glad you’re here to listen to me rant about these things. I can tell you’re a great listener, so thanks. Let’s get back to books!

What are you reading?

Connection Through Words

“The personal essayist writes, I think, for himself and people – even though he has never met them – he assumes are potentially his friends.”

The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery by Joseph Epstein

That’s exactly why I write the things I do, in the hope that someone out there will connect with me through my experiences. I don’t even need to know you and we have moved humanity forward by sharing the things we love, the books we’ve read, and the events that have changed us.

Sharing the Excitement of Discovery

I’m going to admit right now that I know nothing about Henry Ford other than “Model T” and “assembly line.” I’m about 50 pages in right now and I’m learning a lot.

The turn of the century…wait, we can’t use that with any clarity anymore! Umm…circa 1900? Turn of the last century? Late 19th, early 20th century?

Anyway, you know what I mean by now! Well, that era in US history hasn’t pulled much of my interest. We didn’t learn it in school, did we? In my memory, high school history goes from the Civil War and then jumps to the Roaring 20’s and then dives a bit into the Depression. 1850’s to 1920’s is a big gap. Did nothing happen?

Turns out a lot of things happened, a lot of things that were a result of the changes in our government brought on by the actions during the Civil War, among other things. And guess what else? Things were happening all over the world too, not just in the United States! Shit. I just now, like as I typed this, realized the Russian Revolution was happening. Wow.

You see, that’s why I like writing these. If I just read and take notes, it all goes in one ear and out the other…or maybe in my eyes in this case, but then where does it come out? Never mind.

What I’m trying to say is that this blog probably helps me more than it entertains and amazes you. For the past six months or so, I was only posting the picture of the book I’m reading on Instagram and then using it as a background for any quotes I thought were interesting to share. Those were automatically being shared to my personal Facebook page, but it turns out that only about four of my friends (one is my Dad, another is my husband, so really two or three actual friends) give a flying crap about any books, let alone the non-fiction that I love to read.

And here’s the interesting thing I learned from that experiment: just because no one I know likes to read and talk about books, doesn’t mean no one in the world does. It doesn’t mean that I’m alone in this world. And it doesn’t mean my excitement about the things I find is invalid and that I should keep it to myself. I just need to find new readers!

So, I changed things up again and made myself a new blogger page on Facebook. I still post the book pictures and quotes to IG but now it’s also shared to Facebook and anyone in the world can follow me there. Since some people just like the pictures and some like to read more, I’m also sitting down to write a bit more thoughtfully about the pictures and quotes I post each day and then sharing it here on my blog.

This daily post, now that I’m getting the hang of it, makes me think in one direction for at least thirty minutes a day and it is beginning to be the next best thing to talking it out in an in-person group of readers (something I couldn’t find BC and is now…well…next to impossible). I guess I’ll just have to keep tapping away here. Like sending messages in a bottle, someone is bound to come along and find it eventually. Hopefully, I’ll still be alive when they do, and we can share a drink together and chat!

Why I Get Up in the Morning – Episode 4

I love my own Hobbit feet!

I didn’t write anything last week. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything to get up in the morning for, I just didn’t make time to sit and think about it.

I usually spend an hour each Sunday mapping out the coming week, not that I have so much to do that I need to plan. I draw up the weeks calendar in my journal and work out what things I want to get done and when. It’s fun for me and reminds me that I do accomplish things throughout the week, even if I rarely leave the house these days. Last Sunday, I did not make that plan and it showed.

I’ve been a housewife and Mom for 20 years. ALL my “work” is self-imposed. No one has asked me to do it. No one is watching to be sure I did. If I don’t do it…the only person that knows is me. When the kids were little, there was lots that HAD to do to keep up. Kids need clean clothes, food…attention! Those days have been over for awhile now. My sons are grown and, for reasons you all are probably struggling with as well, live here more like roommates right now, so my responsibilities have shrunk considerably but I still have things I want to get done.

I used to think that if I didn’t have to go to work all these hours, I’d have so much energy to do the projects I want to do. If I didn’t have kids to care for, I’d write a book, paint the house, or make a quilt. It turns out that even if you have all the time in the world, something gets in the way. My attitude and laziness is my nemesis. I’m like an eight-year-old child. “I’m bored and my friends can’t play!”

So last week, I dropped everything and chilled…or at least tried to…stupid summer. I watched tv shows, read, laid still on the floor with the dog, made cookies, and harassed my sons while they tried to play video games. It was a good week, but I got very little done. Productivity was out the window. That’s my story for not making time for this little exercise in gratitude and I’m sticking to it.

But you know what? I’m grateful that I can take the week off from most of my responsibilities when I want to. Why do I get up in the morning? Because I’m damn lucky to have nothing serious to worry about and that I can pretty much spend my days the way I want to. Because I have a husband that works hard at a job that he’s not always happy with so that I can. Because my kids are grown and self-sufficient and I’m not needed as much anymore. Because I’m retired!

Just as a side note, I came on here planning on telling you that I get up in the morning because tacos exist. They are wonderful and any day that I get my butt out of bed could be a perfect day for tacos, but my thoughts went in a different direction as I typed. Probably because I had plenty of tacos yesterday.

Why Do I Get Up in the Morning – Episode Three

Not following me on Instagram?
You’re missing out! @desertmichelle

This week’s “Why I get up” crept up on me a little at a time until…POUNCE…I was bowled over.

Last week I got three invitations to answer questions about how to homeschool. Three. I think I got three last year and here I am with three in one week. One email, one phone call, and one meet up. The meet up was the pounce!

I know…you didn’t ask me about homeschooling and I’m not going to tell you how you can or why you should or shouldn’t, don’t worry. Mentioning homeschooling in most circles has much the same response as a “Jesus Juke.” Yes, Jesus may have changed your life, but it doesn’t always apply to everyone in the same personal way.

When you feel something strongly, when you discover something life-changing and fantastic, it’s hard not to share it with the world…loudly. I did that for a long time.

These days I’ve matured (in some ways, shut up), calmed down a bit, and found that, like spiritual matters, parenting and education decisions have to come from inside a person. It’s personal. If someone asks where my kids went to school, I answer honestly. If they are curious and ask questions, I answer them. If they want to know how we did it, I’m happy to discuss it. It’s been a long lesson to learn, but I learned not to bring it up myself. Again, like religious experiences, seekers will find their answers.

The “Why I Get Up” though, that’s the thing I want to tell you and it’s related to those people that reached out to me about homeschooling.

This past week I got three chances to share the joy and love I have for homeschooling, specifically the private “radical unschooling” that we did with our children. There are few things in the world more wonderful than getting to share with others things that have changed your life, hoping that in some small way you are able to pay the universe back for bringing that change into your life.

How did they find me? Because on my blog there is a small page about it and I’m listed as a contact on some small homeschool sites. Finding my name or something I wrote is like finding a penny. It’s not hidden. It’s not all that rare. And it’s value is relative. If you found it and you want it for whatever reason, then it must have been something you were looking for.

I got to spend some of my time this week explaining the rules and encouraging a few people and I’m excited that I may get to do it again. I was also reminded that I should probably put some love into my homeschool page, especially right now with a lot of schools not opening back up in the Fall and a lot of parents looking into alternatives.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always been a positive feedback kind of person. I feel that I need to know that someone out there appreciates what I’m doing to feel good about continuing the work. I found out this week that I should learn to stop that practice if I’m going to have more of an impact in this world.

I should write and post because I have something to say, not because I want applause and kudos. I do enjoy putting my thoughts in order. It’s definitely good for me. I’d much rather talk out my process than write about it, but that’s not always feasible. So here I am tapping away. Lucky for you! I may not get “likes” or “follows.” My website may not reflect all of my actual readers. But my happiness with my work should not depend on that. It should depend only on my own satisfaction.

I love the thought that someone might read this and feel something. I’m thrilled at the thought that, maybe not today, but some time in the future, someone could read what I wrote and use the information or be encouraged to try something new. But that, my sweet, sweet reader, is an awesome side effect if it happens, not the reason why I write.

Writing is a reason I get up in the morning. And the hope that someone will read it, somewhere, someday, that’s just icing on the cake!

Speak. Because You Have Something to Add.

You guys!

It’s so important to live out loud and honestly.

Speak.

Tell your stories. Show your pictures.

Share your ideas, your thinking, and your passions.

You may never get positive feedback. You may never gain followers or an income. It may feel like no one is ever listening or learning from you.

But they are.

Someone is out there and they need to hear you, whether they know it or not.

Am I Productive? Or Am I Just Coasting Through Life?

The feeling is overwhelming for a housewife and stay-at-home mom. It feels as though everyone around you is doing something big. Everyone else is living productive and satisfying lives while you waste away, folding laundry, making beds, and chasing children in an attempt to keep them from running out into the street or generally making a nuisance of themselves.

As you all know, my active parenting days are coming to a close, and I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering what is to become of me. I feel like I’m being put out to pasture. The feeling of retirement is especially poignant for a homeschooling parent. My career is at an end people! What am I supposed to do now?

“Relax and enjoy it!” I hear people say. Please, people. I’m 47 years old. I can’t spend the next 30 to 40 years watching Netflix and reading books…or can I?

Today, I saw the following graphic on Mark Manson‘s Instagram feed and became exasperated. Live consciously doing WHAT, Mark!? Ugg.

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After a short grumpy session with my husband, and actually listening to his encouraging words for once, here’s what I came up with.

1. Do fewer things.

I got that. Over the years I have cut back and then built up and cut back again. It’s hard to find the sweet spot, that place where I’m doing only what is essential to me, not too much and not too little. In general, I only take care of and focus on, the things that make me who I am. Finding out what those things are has taken me most of my life.

2. Do those things deliberately.

Yep. I have a list that keeps me on track. I make sure to do those things regularly. When I ask myself, or others ask me, why I’m not doing more for…whatever it is…I can look at that list. My dance card is full. Each day is filled with my essentials.

3. Do them to completion.

Something I struggle with that from time to time. When I’m consistently not getting something done, I have to ask myself if it just doesn’t fit in my schedule or if it’s turning out not to be important to my bigger goals.

4. Share them with others.

Here is where I’ve run into a brick wall lately. Share what with who?! I mean, come on. I’ve been a housewife and stay at home mom for the last 19 years. What exactly is there to share? “Look I dusted and vacuumed the living room!” and “Nice laundry pile, right?” I don’t create. I don’t add to the GDP. I don’t produce anything.

But then it dawned on me. I have been creating something very important every day for the last twenty years, a happy, healthy, and organized home. My positive attitude about that work has waxed and waned over the years, the same way it did when I worked outside my home. That’s called being human and having emotions, but it doesn’t mean my work is pointless or not worth sharing.

So who do I share that product with?

First in line is my family, the people I support with my “work.” The house is clean, the laundry done, the yard in good repair, there’s food in the house and dinner is ready. Sure, that’s good, but what about my attitude? What if I am happy and at peace, proud of my work, and excited to be the support team for them? How awesome would that be if my husband came home to a happy wife when he was done working? Wouldn’t it be better for my sons to see a proud Mom when they were done with classes or home on vacation? It might make their lives a lot easier if I were more satisfied with my own work, instead of coming home to, “But all I did today was pull weeds and do the dishes!”

Second, my blog and social media feeds. This life we chose, housewife and mom? It’s pretty damn rewarding. It’s fun. It’s satisfying. And we can be proud of the work we do in the background. All kinds of businesses have background people, support crews. That was the kind of job I did before I had kids and I was damn good at it.

Home and family are no different. My husband works in the world and brings home money. My children are making a way of their own in the world. Me? I have always been the support for that, something they don’t even realize they need until it’s not there.

Attitude about your work can change everything. I have been productive. I have been and still am filling a need in this world. Now that I’m not so busy with little kids, finding ways to share it with others outside my home through this blog and my social media feeds has become my new outlet, a way to encourage other people in their journey. I’m hoping I can do more of that as the years go by. Who knows where it will take me!

Practice at Bringing Things Back into Focus

I think there three kinds of people in this world: reporters, people to report about, and those that haven’t learned to accept who they are. I’m one of the ones that haven’t yet learned.

I don’t want to be a reporter. I’m uncomfortable there, looking into things, finding out what’s going on, jumping into what everyone else is doing, but I’m also afraid to walk away from the crowd. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid that if I’m not out there watching and reporting, I’ll miss out on something important.

I believe that I want to be alone and creating, alone and thinking, alone and at peace with myself. What stops me? Why do I allow the other voices, the ones outside my own head, tell me what it is I SHOULD be doing, what it is I SHOULD be caring about?

I read the book “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown last year and it began to change my outlook in positive ways. I just added it to my “re-read in 2020” list. Through it, I learned that I can pare down, not just my stuff, but my thinking and my obligations so that I can focus and do my best on what is most important to me specifically.

Everyone is different. Some people need the community, the feeling of being busy, the camaraderie, to be happy. It has only brought me anxiety and confusion. I want to be more outgoing, but it doesn’t serve me. It drains me and leaves little energy for me to create with. From the outside, it may look like I have plenty of time to help you with your project, but I don’t, not without sacrificing my own.

I need more quiet, reflective time, away from outside obligations. I can start by curbing my social media habit. I can’t sit among three hundred conversations and have a clear thought of my own. I’m reacting 90% of my week. It doesn’t feel conducive to creativity.

Funny…I know I’ve complained about this before, very recently. I’m not complaining this time. I’m making observations and (hopefully) adjusting a course. To start, I took the social media buttons off my phone’s main screen. I had to go find the button to open it, remember that I was looking out of habit, and it gave me the space to stop myself. It didn’t last long though. I noticed they were still at the bottom of my “recently used” screen and my brain rerouted the habit through there.

Over the weekend, I took a complete social media fast. That worked well. I just did not look until Sunday evening when I wanted to share something cool. I put the phone away and focused on working in the yard all day on Saturday until I was exhausted. And then Sunday was spent going out to breakfast and then shopping at Costco with my husband. Yes, that is considered one of our favorite dates! We go up and down every aisle just looking at things, laughing, and wondering if we need that or if it’s a good deal. I think we were there for three hours. We’re easily entertained, and we came out with a month’s supply of our favorite foods, a new whiskey to try (they don’t give samples of alcohol, whatever), and some new sheets.

I was feeling overwhelmed and addicted but I willfully chose to do something else than my habit. I didn’t have to make an announcement. I didn’t have to find a way to stop the app from working on my phone. I didn’t have to call in reinforcements to make me stop. I simply chose not to open the apps. I gave myself a goal and I achieved it. One day without any social media turned into two. It was the start of a new habit.

On Monday, I kept the ball rolling by making the choice to only post my article and spend thirty minutes over lunch replying and checking in with friends. Then I put it away. By Wednesday, I was scrolling here and there to occupy myself while I waited and then it snowballed. My time total on Wednesday was over an hour and a half, far less than in the past but still too much. On Thursday, I started first thing in the morning and before noon I was grumpily tapping away responses to people (in my journal, not online) instead of writing anything productive.

It’s Monday now and I’ve refocused once again. I’m looking for a reminder, like a bell when I meditate, that pulls me out of my unconscious habit and brings me back to what I choose to focus on. Like learning to meditate longer and longer, instead of getting angry or frustrated that my mind has wandered, I notice it and bring it back to my peaceful focus. Each time I do, the focus is sustained longer and longer. It’s practice. And practice makes progress.

Why Consume So Much Information?

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Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

I get discouraged when I spend a lot of time reading, listening, and experiencing but rarely creating. I feel like I’m consuming life instead of adding to it when the scale tips more to the input than the output side of creativity.

And then I heard the analogy of “a block of clay.”

The artist is in all of us, born within us. What we spend most of our life doing is gathering a block of clay to sculpt in the future.

I gather clay by reading, watching, and experiencing life. I stay curious. I research and study. I travel and listen. And each experience adds to my block, making it bigger and bigger.

When I make time for myself to reflect, I look at the block of clay and start peeling away pieces, chiseling out parts and sculpting it into a piece of artwork that is unique from my hands, from my perspective. My story, my article, my social media post is the result of that creative time.

The time we spend consciously gathering input from any source added to the time we take to reflect and process it, equals our creative output. That output can be anything, from poetry, painting, music, and storytelling, to our children, our businesses, and our homes.

What are you gathering these days? Do you know what that creative output will be or are you still searching for it?

Reassurance IS Futile

resistance cactus

A cactus will grow with very little soil or water.

I heard Seth Godin say on a podcast recently, “Everyone has self-doubt” and “Reassurance is futile.” He also said that we don’t HAVE to hear criticism if we don’t want to and I’ve decided he’s completely right.

I have been crippled with self-doubt in the past. There are few things that I am truly confident about and writing is not one of them. I’m confident about my use of words and my grasp on English grammar and spelling but, expressing my opinion in public terrifies me. Do I really have anything to add to the conversation? Surely, it’s been said before. Am I sure I’m seeing clearly and have a right to say so?

My Dad and my husband are two of my loudest fans, but I’ve often thought that if I had just a few encouragers out there, a few less biased people with some positive feedback, some unsolicited reassurance, then I’d learn to put my self-doubt behind me. I’d be more confident. I know deep down that it’s just not true. I’ve had positive feedback and reassurance from several corners and the next day I’m just as doubtful about my message. He’s right. Reassurance is futile.

But you know what’s not futile, learning to stand on my own two feet. Accepting that I may make mistakes, I may not always be on top of things, and I have much to learn, but I still have my own perspective on this world and I have every right to tell it as I see it. I can put the self-doubt aside for a moment, write out what I want to say (even imperfectly or wrong), and post anyway.

For the critics? You may think I’m wrong. You may not like what I have to say. You may think I could say it in a better way or not bother to say it at all. And that’s ok. This message isn’t for you. You can move along and read something else.

For everyone else? Thanks for reading. I very much appreciate it.

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