Correcting course after over-committing

I didn’t plan my first three months of 2020 well. At all. My tendency to put myself last, coupled with people asking me to do stuff, has filled my calendar with more activities than I’d like. Time to course-correct.

On the community theatre front, I was lucky enough to find someone to split props duties with. I meet her tonight, and if she’s willing, I plan to hand off a lot of the remaining work to her. She has more experience than me anyway, so this might work out for the best. After this season, I’m letting my membership lapse and going back to being solely an enthusiastic patron.

On the political volunteering front, I can’t do much about events I’ve already committed to. Momentary anxiety triggered a lot of the commitments in the first place (note to self: always ask for at least 48 hours before committing to anything), but after the Michigan primary, I’ll do only Postcards to Voters and some GOTV texting with Open Progress. I can do both of those on my own time without joining a group, which are huge plusses in my book. Any more commitment than that and I get resentful, and a resentful volunteer isn’t an effective one.

I’m already looking forward to the end of March, when the only firm commitments I’ll have will be the bit of time I volunteer at the library. Yes, the world is in quite a state right now, but I can do only so much. I’ve fallen into the bad habit of neglecting my writing (and a lot of areas in my life) again, thinking that what other people want from me is more important than what I want from me.

Lesson: learn to say “no” a hell of a lot more. And delegate.

It doesn’t feel like a new year/new decade

Today feels like any other day to me. I don’t have any year-in-review lists and I can’t think of any. I know I made some big life changes in 2019, including overhauling my diet and quitting drinking (and losing 15 pounds in the process), but the thing with new habits that stick is they eventually feel normal. This is a good thing, but when something feels normal you stop thinking about it as an achievement. I’m not sure how to feel about that.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say in my first post of the new year. Perhaps it’s good that I’m just swimming through time, not thinking too much about how we slice and dice it into boxes that exist only on a calendar.

The casual, reluctant volunteer

I’m a casual volunteer, and I’m finally becoming okay with that.

It’s hard to admit because I have a tendency to want to HELP ALL THE THINGS, but my desire to help often slams into my honest preferences on how I’d rather spend my energy. I’ve volunteered too much in the past with Toastmasters and community theatre, and over time, I’ve pinpointed the exact feeling in my throat and my gut when I start to get resentful. When that happens, it’s time to back off.

With the 2020 election season already in full swing, it’s even more imperative that I respect my limits and not give in to the impulse to overcommit. I went to a campaign volunteer training a few days ago and my brain came up with all kinds of ideas, like hosting events or having a house party. Then I remembered how much I hate organizing events. I also don’t like having to be at a certain place at a certain time, which is why I rarely attend other people’s events. I also don’t like having people over at my home. Introverts, I suspect you’re nodding along.

Here’s the kicker: political volunteering is not something I particularly want to do. I do it because I’m afraid not to. Postcards to Voters is my main activity because I can write them any time, and as many or as few as I want.

I also recently joined the Open Progress Text Troop, and I have the Reach app on my phone to record voter data if someone else brings up politics in a conversation (it certainly won’t be me).

I’m sure some volunteers would scoff at how little I do, but they have to remember that 97% of Democratic voters don’t volunteer on campaigns at all. I don’t follow the news (guess what, I still find out about the big stuff) and I tune out political chit-chat. Many, many people are like me and yet still want to help. I’m glad technology has made it possible for introverted, casual volunteers like me to contribute. Lowering the barrier to activism means many more people can get involved, and isn’t that what we want in a democracy?

My Spotify horoscope

I’m not a horoscope person, but I have to admit my horoscope on Spotify is a much-needed kick in the pants:

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“[B]ecome incredibly specific about what you dedicate yourself to….Make sure they are worth the work you are bound to put in.” That’s something I haven’t been great about for…years? Forever? I need to be better about consistently putting my creative work on my own to-do list.

Oh, the playlist itself is great too.

Five good things, including Broadway dolls and Postcards to Voters

1. I’ve been a Postcards to Voters volunteer for over two years and I can’t say enough good things about this group.  The founder Tony the Democrat goes out of his way not to waste volunteers’ time and postage by carefully vetting candidates and setting up a well-organized machine so we can write postcards anytime, anywhere, all year round. The experience I’ve had with Postcards to Voters has made me a savvier, pickier volunteer in other areas too. If you want to help our democracy but don’t have the time, energy, funds, whatever, for conventional activism like canvassing or protesting, check out Postcards to Voters. Even 5 postcards a month make a difference!

2. I’m constantly blown away by the crafting skill and attention to detail in Broadway Dolls and Guys. You can feel the huge amount of love poured into each doll.

3. Maybe it’s because I’m reaching a milestone birthday soon, but I’m glad I read Range by David Epstein and Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard back-to-back. Both books push back on our society’s obsession with early specialization and prodigies. As someone who was forced on a narrow career path very early in my life (and who pushed back by quitting very early as well), I’ve always sensed that having wide-ranging interests actually helped my career and my life. It’s good to have that confirmed.

4. The Decoder Ring podcast had an episode on con artist Brett Johnson. If you’re like me and fascinated by the psychological quirks that make conning possible, you’ll enjoy this (and gain some insight on why you enjoy it).

5. Apple season has been in full swing for a while now, and I love exploring new apple varieties. This chart shows I haven’t even scratched the surface. Although Honeycrisp gets all the love (deservedly so), Envy is my current favorite apple, although their “Bite and Believe” tagline sounds like it belongs on a vampire book.

Unlearning work, relearning play

Publishing my writing vs. writing to be published. This difference explains how my view toward writing shifted from something I enjoyed to something I avoided. My earliest published pieces were written for me first and I found outlets for them afterward. Later on, as I learned more about writing markets, advice, forums, social media, branding, platform-building, and other things “real” writers viewed as important, the joy I once felt writing trickled away. I started writing to please other people instead of myself. I became more cautious, more worried about “Will it sell?” than “Do I like it?” Or worse yet, “Should I even write this? What will people think?” which killed countless ideas before they ever saw a page.

I spent most of this year trying to hear myself again. I’m getting there, slowly. I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts years ago with no regrets, but this year I stopped lurking on writing discussion threads completely. I got rid of all of my writing advice books and stopped reading writing blogs. More recently, I revisited two activities I’d set aside decades ago–doodling and collage–to relearn how to embrace making things without knowing, or caring, how they will turn out.

So much writing advice is about injecting certainty into what’s inherently an uncertain venture. Creative work is, by definition, creating something new. By focusing so much on the outcome, I’d forgotten that I make things primarily to feel alive. Everything else is gravy.

Here’s a doodle I made with words cut out from a Trader Joe’s newsletter. I had fun making it, and it’s a good reminder not to take anything, especially my own work, too seriously.

 

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Five good things, including crafts and grocery store music

1. If Food Network and HGTV are getting stale for you, check out Li Ziqi’s YouTube channel. She shows how to make food and other items using traditional Chinese techniques. This video of her making a writing brush, ink stick, ink slab, and paper (yes, she made paper) blew me away. She also has gorgeous videos of her building bamboo furniture and cooking meals over a wood-fired stove, all set to relaxing music. You’ll be thankful for modern technology after watching a few of these.

2. It’s a glorious time to be a crafter! Years ago, Knitty and Ravelry were game changers for me in my knitting thanks to beautiful, modern patterns. I decided to get back into cross-stitching this week and WOW, the patterns are way better than they were 30 years ago! I’ve known about Subversive Cross Stitch for a while, but the sheer number of funny, snarky, edgy, and modern patterns on Etsy made me so happy. Cross stitch isn’t just for cutesy samplers anymore, and it’s about damn time.

3. I’m obsessed with the music played at grocery stores. Few things make you feel older than hearing the music you grew up with as sonic wallpaper. That said, the places I shop can have interesting mixes. One grocery store always surprises me: one week it’ll be an entire ELO album, the next might be an Andrea Bocelli/Sarah Brightman duet followed by Ariana Grande. Here’s my Spotify playlist if you want a taste.

4.  I read How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell last month and can’t stop thinking about it. I need to re-read it soon. It’s a good companion to Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport–the first book is from an artist’s perspective, the second is from a computer scientist’s perspective.

5. Annie Lennox rehearsing “Under Pressure” with David Bowie. Enough said.