Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pizza and Procrastination

Gellinger via Pixabay

Marita here. I know I was supposed to tell you all about my dream today, but it's been one of those days. With your kind indulgence, I'm kicking back in my sweats and sharing a pizza with Charli and some adult beverages with Bets. Bets says I'm just avoiding telling you about my dream, and maybe I am.

Tomorrow. I promise.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Maneuvers

redwheelsocial via Pixabay
Today was a gray day. My students were sleepy and lethargic and I wasn't far behind. 
It was a Monday all around. 
To top it all off, no blog topic was materializing, no matter how many times I thought about it. But even better (at least from my perspective), a wonderful message from my daughter did materialize, along with a phone call. A chatty, silly phone call where we talked about...stuff. Nothing supremely important, no checklist of topics to cover. Just a conversation.
Suddenly, Monday seemed brighter. 
But here it is, closing in on 7 pm, and no blog has magically materialized. I'd blame the phone call, but that would imply that I regretted the time spent talking to my daughter, which I definitely did not.
So, I went in search of a vintage post, checking out the WITF site where I was a community blogger a few years back. The remainder of this post is a reprint from that blog, one that seemed very appropriate given the turn my day took, quite unexpectedly.
Wishing you a Monday that takes only happy detours.
StockSnap via Pixabay
Ever since my daughter was little, I have loved the sound of her laughter. The sound of a baby’s giggle inspires an infectious joy, especially when the laughter is accompanied by a toothless, “who, me?” grin. And making a baby laugh is incredibly easy. Find the trick once and it works over and over again.
My daughter is sixteen now, and no longer thinks I’m the funniest mom ever. In fact, she’s more likely to give me a sidelong glance meant to silence me when I try to be funny in public than she is to laugh at my jokes. But recently, she discovered an online comedy channel that she loves to watch on her iPad and often, when I’m in earshot, I hear her laughing at the comedy routines. Sometimes it’s a chuckle, other times a guffaw and occasionally, a full on belly laugh. As when she was smaller, her laughter never fails to make me smile. 
Why does our children’s laughter bring us such joy? Aside from its obvious melodic qualities, genuine laughter possesses an innocence and a complete lack of affectation or self-consciousness.  These qualities are often hard to find in a teenager who feels constantly under the microscope of peers, parents and the world at large. Often, it’s only when we catch them off-guard, whether by a joke or some absurdity, that we are treated to that beautiful sound.
And despite the fact that adversity builds character, we parents love it when our kids are happy. Unsolicited laughter is evidence of this sometimes elusive emotion, if only for a moment. As our kids grow older, they become more aware of the realities of the world around them, realities that can quash happiness and its expressions, leaving us helpless to offer an antidote.
And so I will continue to revel in my daughter’s revelry. I have no choice; her laughter is contagious. But I don’t mind. Happiness is an emotion that’s worth catching.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Happy National Thank You Day!

Today is National Thank You Day, so I'd like to open by thanking you, my friends and readers, for your support of this blog and my work. Thanks to your kind attention, this blog is closing in on 200,000 page views!

Writing is a largely solitary pursuit, and it's easy for self-doubt to creep in on a regular basis. Every time you like a post on my Facebook page, comment here or even just read a post, you remind me that this creative pursuit is not quite as solitary as it seems, and that building a relationship with readers is one of the lovely benefits of writing books and articles.

Writers aren't the only ones who need to be noticed, though. As it turns out, appreciation matters in all workplaces. Some would argue that a paycheck is all the appreciation that should be necessary but, as human beings, we're wired to also crave something a little warmer and fuzzier. According to this article by Tony Schwartz, appreciation is a distinguishing characteristic of high performing teams in the workplace. Appreciation makes us feel safe and valued, freeing us to use our concentration and creativity to make our work even better.

So, go forth and appreciate! Maybe even start with yourself. In the meantime, I appreciate your
stopping by, today and every day!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dreaming with my Characters

Last Saturday morning, just before I woke up, I had the strangest dream. Populated with a mix of real life people (some of whom I haven't seen in over a decade), actors making guest appearances as mystery characters (Bradley Whitford, in a testimony to my late night sessions with The West Wing) and a senator I find thoroughly abhorrent, its foundation in the previous 24 - 48 hours of my life was readily apparent. The dream itself -- one of only a few I could remember in its entirety -- was also fairly uncomplicated, its threads weaving together into a wonderful validation of things I didn't quite realize I was questioning.

The dream (and my interest in it) got me wondering what my characters dream about, so I thought I would check in with Marita and company to see what they've dreamt about lately.

Bets: "Ooh, fun! I'll start."

Marita (laughs): "Of course you will."

Bets (makes a big deal of clearing her throat): "Actually, I had one the other night with all of my favorite things in life in it. I'd been tapped by Lin-Manuel Miranda to play Eliza in a touring company of Hamilton and I was killing it -- of course! After the show, this tiny blonde came backstage, introduced herself as an agent and gave me her card. She raved over my performance, and told me she wanted to represent me, but only if I dumped Trevor. I asked her how she knew anything about my personal life. Then, Trevor came into the dressing room with a huge bouquet of roses and just as I jumped up to hug him, I woke up."

Charli: "Did you get to hug him?"

Marita: "Or tell off the agent?"

Bets (shakes her head): "Nope."

Marita: "Poor Trevor."

Bets: "Whaddaya mean, 'poor Trevor?'"

Charli: "Well, I must be spending too much time with you, Bets, because I dreamed I was on stage, too. I was in a dance competition."

Marita: "A what?"

Charli (nods): "I know, weird, right? Well, not surprisingly, I totally bombed. And of course, Todd was in the audience, and so were Jessica and Laurie and Brianna from youth group."

Marita: "Was Lukas there?"

Charli (shakes her head): "Nope. This is my dream, Mom, not yours. Anyway, they were laughing at me --"

Marita: "Todd?"

Charli: "Well, he was trying not to, and so was Laurie. But Brianna and Jessica thought it was hysterical and not only that, they were flirting with Todd like crazy. I was so embarrassed, and so hurt."

Bets: "Because they were laughing at you or because they were flirting with Todd?"

Charli (hesitates): "Both."

Bets: "What'd you do?"

Charli: "Before I had a chance to do anything, Anna went over and told them off. Laurie apologized, and Todd looked embarrassed, but Brianna and Jessica just walked away from her. Todd kind of gave me this look --"

Bets: "Like he was sorry and he wanted to be your boyfriend for life?"

Marita: "Bets!"

Charli (giggles then looks thoughtful): "I don't know how to describe it. He did look sorry, and there was something else, too. But I woke up too soon to figure it out. How about you, Mom?"

Marita: "Nope. No dreams about Todd. Or being on stage."

Charli: "Funny, Mom."

Bets: "Any good dreams about the man in your life?"

(to be continued....)

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance

motivationforgood via Pixabay
Fifteen years ago, on this day, I was at work. At every break in the day, I was either watching the events unfold or in a meeting. We were hundreds of miles away from all the places so irrevocably changed by the events of just a few hours, but the impact was, nevertheless, undeniable.

The day before, I had disembarked from an airplane, my husband, preschool-aged daughter and I returning home from a trip to Orlando.

I have not been on an airplane since.

This morning in the shower, the usual barrage of ideas rained down on me along with the water. Topics for a blog post for this day, which will never be just any other day. A momentous day that everyone will be writing about -- has written about -- but a day that is, nonetheless, someone's birthday. There were five birthday notifications on my Facebook page this morning. Five people daring to celebrate on a day so many have decreed as solemn.

Like so many other days, today is both a day of celebration and a day of mourning. Hurricanes and storm surges are ravaging parts of the country, raining floods of tears and washing in waves of loss that seem sadly appropriate today. We grieve, we mourn, we wait for news.

We search for glimmers of gratitude.

Gratitude sustains us. Hope pulls us through the sludge, offering a tiny bit of sparkle in the darkness.

This day will pass and there will be other days, better days.

So we wrap ourselves in a cloak of gratitude, trying not to notice the places where the fabric is worn away, threadbare. Instead, we focus on its substance, its warmth.

Its promise.

And we celebrate.
StockSnap via Pixabay

America. Strength. Freedom.


Happy Birthday to all the September 11 babies, born before or after 2001. Thank you for reminding us that every day is a day to celebrate, to be grateful, to dare to be happy even in darkness.

To get on an airplane.

Now make a wish.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday Feature: Coming at it From Another Angle

What's the best way to solve a problem? According to this piece in the Harvard Business Review, it all begins with asking the right question.

While some problems are straightforward, their solutions clear at first glance, other problems call for creative solutions. Creativity has three elements: originality (a unique perspective), fluency (the ability to generate a lot of ideas) and flexibility (the ability to shift from one perspective, idea or solution to another). When we're trying to solve complex problems and/or seek novel solutions (such as building a better vacuum cleaner, as described in the article), reframing the question can help us tap into our originality and flexibility. Generating solutions is a complex process, and asking the question a different way can help us tap into memories relevant to the problem at hand. In this way, memory cues serve as the passwords that unlock creative solutions.

So, the next time you want to move away from the same old same old, try shifting your perspective. Whether you're organizing a closet or building a better vacuum cleaner, asking new questions might just hold the key to a new approach.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Committed Time

Photo by on Unsplash
Today, I am talking to the students in my first year seminar about time management. The reading they did for today's class focused on three categories of items to be scheduled: committed time, maintenance time and discretionary time. Their book had a whole list of items that fit into each category, but I'm more interested in how they would categorize each of the important things in their lives.

How we classify what matters to us is often the first step in determining what makes it onto the schedule and what doesn't. What makes it onto the schedule determines not only what we accomplish, but also whether we're reaching toward our goals or someone else's.

No matter how busy I am, blogging always makes it onto the schedule. I'm still not sure why this is, but I know my blogs matter to me because I consistently place them above other things on my priority list. From time to time, I re-evaluate the schedule: two blogs a week here (plus a Friday Feature), two blogs at Organizing by STYLE and one at, often a reprint of something that already appeared on my OBS blog. When I look at the schedule, I often wonder if I should scale back, but I never do.

I started blogging as something I was supposed to do -- a plank in my writing platform -- one small thing that fits into the self-promotion category. Over time, however, it began to provide a consistent writing experience and a connection to readers more immediate than the one I find when I finally finish a novel or have an article appear in print. I'm willing to yield discretionary time to this activity because it contributes to not just an important overall goal (writing), but a piece of who I am.

Photo: Felix Russell-Saw via Unsplash
I am a writer. And on the days when the muse has been crushed by other activities in the committed time category, blogging wriggles free and allows me to express myself. I don't have to advance a story or be true to any character except myself. I merely need to write.

From the perspective of someone working to finish two novels and as many non-fiction projects, I must admit that blogging doesn't always seem like the most efficient use of my time. But, over time, I've discovered that it feeds not only my writer identity, but my writing skills and process as well.

Today, when I split my students up into groups and ask them to define the activities that fit into each time management category, I might just need to do a little introspection myself. After all, what better way could there be to stay on track, and make sure I'm reaching for my own goals, and not someone else's?