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Archive for the ‘31 Days’ Category

“May your coming year be filled with magic and reams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” Neil Gaiman

Every year, I write this quote on the first notes page of my new planner. When I read through my 2020 planner, it made me cry, not only because of some of the things I missed but also because of how much of this sweet wish actually came true. It wasn’t at all in the ways I expected, but I guess that’s part of the surprise.

In Joy the Baker’s “Let It Be Sunday” post last week, she talked about goal setting as making deposits on your dreams. I love that perspective. Each year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I reflect on the last twelve months and tweak the goals that need a little nudge to get me closer to who and where I want to be. As I mentioned yesterday, I reflect and adjust throughout the year, but this is the time that I always have some days off work to really dig in.

Here are my goals for 2021:

  1. Read 120 books. Third time’s the charm? I don’t know what will happen this year, but I know that I’m more myself when I’m reading regularly. As long as the focus to do so remain constant, ten books a month is a pretty reasonable pace for me, and when I have a little extra time off, I read even more (thus the 13 I read in November and the 15 in December). The theme for this year’s reading is community. I’m in three local book clubs that meet live every month, another one that discusses primarily through a Facebook group (Fantastic Strangelings), and a new one that Roxane Gay is leading. A friend at work is also organizing some of us to participate in the Pop Sugar challenge. I love talking about books with fellow lit lovers.
  2. My current career plans are to retire from UNT when I’m eligible in nine and a half years and then embark on my second (third? fourth? Who’s keeping track, really?) career as a full-time writer. To this end, I will need to have established a strong second income already, which I have already begun working on. I wrote 250,000 words in freelance articles in 2020, and for 2021, I want to push to finish 300,000 words. This means an average of 6,000 words a week, which is a lot but also reasonably doable.
  3. One thing I have become acutely aware of this past year is how the spaces in my home are technically functional but not really inviting. I want to fix that this year, and I have weekly goals for doing so mapped out. Even if I’m the only one who enjoys them, I am reason enough to make them as cozy as possible.
  4. You know what would also be great dream to realize? Becoming a better/more confident artist. I mean, I’ll perform anyway, but I would like it to take less intense and sudden practice, particularly when I’m performing with other artists who regularly put in the time to be prepared for such things. The first ten years I played piano, my mom made me practice an hour a day to justify the lessons she was paying for. It was not always convenient or easy, but it sure was handy to be able to sub in with little to no warning when someone needed me to. At the height of the time I was performing regularly, I danced 10-15 hours a week (and my legs were phenomenal). I also was more aware of how food affected my body and paid more attention to strength so that I didn’t get injured. I have so many writing projects started, and I want people to be able to read them in their entirety at some point. So I have a lot I want to accomplish. I don’t expect myself to carve out an extra 25 hours a week right now, but I can build toward more consistency. To this end, I am putting aside an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights as well as two hours each Saturday, to give myself time to make personal art practice a specific, regular part of my schedule. For January, I’m going to practice each of the three genres (writing, dance, piano) at least three times a week, and I’ll expand/adapt once I am consistently doing that. My hope is that by the end of the year, I’m closer to the 25-hour mark than the 5-hour one.
  5. Pursue joy. Joy is my word of the year, and as you may have been noticing in the 31 days series (which we’re just shamelessly going to continue until it’s done, ignoring the fact that the 31 original days for which it was intended have passed), I have a lot to say about it already. You can expect a few updates a month, and I’m going to be reading at least one book a month with joy in the title. The first one I started with the blog series was Surprised by Joy (which I expect to finish within the week). January has three selections by the same author – Jennifer McCartney’s The Joy of Being Online All the F*cking Time, The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place, and The Joy of Doing Just Enough. In a month where everything else is certain to be pretty intense, I expect these books will bring a little levity.

Do you make resolutions? If not, do you have goals you’re working toward? I’d love to hear about them!

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Day 12 – Anticipate

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

I recently wrote a blog piece for my copywriting/SEO job on finding joy, and a lot of the research I found when doing so indicates that having something to look forward to is a big part of joy. That makes sense. I’m all for being in the moment, but if you are already feeling low on joy or happiness, focusing on the here and now may not be super helpful.

I’m also re-reading Surprised by Joy (this month’s “book with ‘joy’ in the title” selection), and C.S. Lewis wrote about his experiences of joy as exhilarating, fleeting moments where he felt an intense longing for something. For example, just the idea of autumn or another favorite time of the year can spur you to hope. Even if the time is far away, the anticipation can jolt you into a temporary state of euphoria.

I don’t typically think of unfulfilled desires or unrealized experiences as things that produce pleasant feelings. Most of my loneliness, after all, stems from the absence of experiences that I really want to be a part of my everyday life. At the same time, however, with the help of whatever scraps of hope I am able to scrounge together in the moment, joy can still show up. When I think of the characteristics I particularly love in a partner – and especially when I meet someone new who embodies a lot of those characteristics – there is that jolt. The familiar memory of loving someone combined with the anticipation of the possibility of feeling that way again? That feeling is pure magic.

This is the sneaky good thing about joy that may just be my favorite part. It doesn’t just show up in the middle of a particular difficulty. It shows up, in part, specifically because of it. Joy will tailor itself to you.

I think that whenever I’m feeling particularly joyless, I’m going to focus on something I’m looking forward to or indulge my daydreams about how great it would be to have certain hopes come true. I want to learn to anticipate and thus invite joy to surprise me by sneaking up alongside the sorrows.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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Day 11 – Rest

“When we treat workaholics as heroes, we express a belief that labor rather than contemplation is the wellspring of great ideas and that the success of individuals and companies is a measure of their long hours.”
― Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

This year has been a test of what some call work-life balance. I have spent most of 2020 working from home, and I have become intimately acquainted with the home office. A room that used to be for books and writing (when I could find the desk) but mostly storage has become a workable space that I love. And it’s a good thing I do, because not only do I regularly spend my 40-hour full-time work week and my 15(ish)-hour part-time work week here, I also use the space for zoom meetings with church and friends and for binge-watching Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place.

When work and home are the same place, you have to draw clear boundaries around rest. I recently read Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book on the subject and found that the author’s findings match my experience pretty well. I can do about two or three days of doing almost nothing but then I start to get restless. During longer breaks (such as the one I’m on now), the things I find rejuvenating are more active:

  • Exercise
  • Free-form writing
  • Piano practice
  • Dance
  • Reading
  • Napping (okay, that’s not active, but it’s soooo good)
  • Deep cleaning

My days are more free-form. They start later and end later. But there is more to them than just lying around doing nothing, and that is what gives me true rest. Physical activity demands that I just do one thing at a time, and it makes me more alert. It also helps me sleep better than I do during the busy weeks when I claim to not have time to work out.

Working from home has made stronger boundaries necessary but it has also given me the luxury of less transition time between working hours and downtime, erasing the illusion that I don’t have time to do the things that I want to do. Simply not commuting hasn’t added many hours to my workday, but being at home allows me to take more frequent breaks during which I can sneak in a quick 75-second plank or a couple minutes of kickboxing throughout the day. Maintaining active rest breaks instead of just vegging out for five minutes a few times a day has made me so much more productive. I still stick to the 40 hours I’m paid to work at my full-time job, but I have cut my hours down from 20-25 a week to about 15 at my part-time job, and I wrote just as many words this year as I did last year.

Just reading that gives me a little jolt of joy.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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“The miracle is this – the more we share, the more we have.”
-Leonard Nimoy

So today was the last workday of the year for me. I have been counting down HOURLY. I have never been more excited about having a little time off. The week has been fairly busy but not too much, and that’s good because I’ve just been too excited to focus as well as I usually do/at all in any way. I spent the afternoon finalizing student withdrawals and making sure I had everything ready for when I come back on January 4. And now it’s officially done.

All this is to say that I haven’t really had the extra focus I needed to post about joy every day, so we get to prolong the magic of this series probably into the new year. I mean, I’m still hoping my elusive industrious self will resurface over the next couple of weeks (once I’m well-rested again) and thus that I can double up on some days and finish in time. But just like sending Christmas cards or some of my Advent calendar things that feel more like busy work than anything helpful this year, I’m going to actually take the advice I frequently give others and let some of the things that don’t have to happen slide. When you’re juggling 14 balls at a time, it’s ok if some of them drop (My INTJ/Enneagram 5 brain PASSIONATELY disagrees, but I plan on feeding it pasta pretty soon to appease it).

A practice that I started one year when I wanted to make sure I posted at least once a week (heh – remember those days, some of you? Good times.) was Friday Five. I would choose five things I saw on the internet that week that made me think, made me believe in humanity a little bit more, or just gave me joy, and I would share them with my readers. To my delight, what I found is that the act of sharing these things was itself a joy. In sharing them, I got to relive them, and I got to imagine the happiness they might bring to other people.

So here is today’s Friday Five – five things I saw on the internet this week/month that I hope can give you a fun start to your weekend. And yes, to share some joy.

  1. For fans of Schitt’s Creek (and if you aren’t yet, Netflix binge it and become one and you’re welcome) – a little Christmas treat.
  2. This Twitter thread – spoiler alert, a lonely little girl finds out fairies are real and gets to meet one.
  3. Just in case you’re wondering how to wrap a goat for Christmas (you could be…I don’t know your life)…in related news, I am open to accepting gift-wrapped goats for Christmas.
  4. Tabitha Brown is a treasure. When she posts her videos, I feel like she understands my sadness and wants me to know that it’s ok to feel sad but I also sort of feel like she knows how to fix it and I would trust her to do so. I want to support everything she ever does.
  5. Jen Hatmaker making risotto is the recipe-writing style to which I aspire. Best line? “Have you ever thought, ‘This has too much butter and cheese in it?’ No you haven’t. Don’t get weird.”

Enjoy these posts and your weekend!

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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Day 9 – Make Comfort Food

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf

I was resigned at the beginning of the week to scavenging the remnants of my pantry to piece together snackish meals until I can get to the store on Thursday, but then the cold snap persisted, and I really needed soup. So instead of peanut butter and pretzel crisps, I scavenged up the fixings for this chickpea concoction. Two cans of chickpeas (out of the 12 in my pantry. WHY do I have so many? I do not know. What were you planning, former self?), a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, the frozen onion/bell pepper blend I keep on hand for emergencies, cauliflower, and a healthy dash of garam masala later, and I had a warm stew that was just what I needed.

What constitutes comfort food is different for everyone. My criteria used to include gobs of cheese, but since dairy decided about 10 years ago that it wasn’t my biggest fan, I have had to adjust. I still eat cheese, and some of those recipes are still on the list, but it now also includes others, like hearty vegan stews.

I tried to list criteria by thinking about what I consider comfort food. Does it need to be warm? Savory? Sweet? Healthy? Buttery? I think I like too many things to narrow down what will be comforting at any given moment. To point, here are some of my standard comforts:

  • Popcorn
  • Soup
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches (really…any sandwich)
  • Ice cream
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Good bread and butter
  • Tator tots with an over-easy egg on top
  • Pasta with parmesan

Many people will suggest that, if you are in need of a particular boost, you make your meal an occasion. Even if it’s just you, use the good plates and napkins, sit at the table. Eat slowly, perhaps by candlelight and with good music playing. I do this occasionally, but really? This can feel like a lot of work. Which I guess is sort of the point. It is a lot of work, and you are worth the effort.

You know what else I’m worth? Not creating more, unnecessary work for myself and eating in the comfy chair covered in a warm blanket where I can have dinner with my favorite TV characters. That sounds amazing.

There is a reason that comfort and joy are often paired. Comfort gives you rest from the work you’re doing, and joy gives you the motivation to get back to it. Rest is essential. It’s important enough in and of itself, but it also ensures that you are refreshed and energized for what the next day holds. So much of the work that people do, particularly those who are laboring for change and trying to build a better world, is emotionally and mentally exhausting. Joy reminds you why you’re doing the work – to make lives better and increase joy overall.

Comfort is such a relief, particularly when days are hard, that it immediately creates joy. This is something I want to remember when I brush off my needs in order to get one more thing done. I’m missing an opportunity for joy.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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Day 8 – Seek and Find

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners…” – Isaiah 61:1-2

“Today is the Sunday of joy.”

This is the first thing the pastor said this morning in his sermon. I usually do my daily Advent activity at night, so I had forgotten that this is the week we focus specifically on joy in the liturgy. All throughout the service on Zoom, there seemed to be an emphasis on seeking it out that carried over from the annual meeting we held the hour before. This was a hard year to recap and put a tidy bow on, but it was easy to find joy in these people with whom I worship, who avoid neither hard truths nor practical, hopeful solutions, who have patiently and faithfully made all the adjustments we’ve asked of them this year and keep showing up online and responding with grace and exuberant generosity.

I know I talk about my church and mention faith in passing, but I don’t say I’m a Christian a lot because wow, the baggage. It’s a lot to unpack. Part of that baggage is the pull of the prosperity gospel that is popular in many circles, particularly in our culture. The name-it-and-claim-it, ask-and-you-shall-receive, vending machine Jesus where you put in a prayer and walk away #blessed. The “you just need to pray harder” message. And the inevitable flip side of the coin that quips if there is a God, then why is the vending machine so broken? Why is the world the way it is and why do bad things happen to good people (or for that matter, why do good things happen to bad people)? If you’ve been hammered with these messages, it can be hard to find joy even when it’s the theme of the day.

To be fair, this sentiment doesn’t come out of nowhere. “Ask and you shall receive” wasn’t lifted off a bumper sticker; it’s straight out of the gospels. And it’s got backup:
– If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, I will answer and heal their land.
– If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you can ask what you will and it will be done.
– My God shall supply all your needs according to the riches in Christ Jesus (riches which, of course, the Bible teaches are unfathomably abundant or even limitless).

There’s a whole lot of “If A then B” going on in the scriptures.

Fortunately, this isn’t the whole story. Good news for me, because if it were, I’d be firmly in the second camp, unable to believe in a god who chooses to withhold resources and dole them out stingily based on a whim or performance or prayerful hoop-jumping. I’m interested in the scandalously extravagant God who pours out the wealth without feeling the insecure need to micromanage what we do with it (overbearing, controlling father metaphors? No, thank you.). My faith means seeing other people as the very image of God. This, too, is risky, because sometimes we people act like garbage, and that does not reflect well on any deity who would have us believe they are love.

But when I look for it, I get a glimpse of joy in actions born of that unfathomable abundance that we often try to keep locked up as only something God can access in order to avoid our own responsibilities to each other – to set captives free, to right every wrong, to feed and clothe and house and heal. It’s in every person. We don’t always see it or act accordingly and thus *gestures broadly* But I believe it’s there.

I contain unfathomable abundance. You contain unfathomable abundance.

This has been a hard weekend that followed a hard week (month…year…decade?). Seeking and finding joy has been and remains a difficult task. But yesterday, there were hours spent online with friends, sometimes talking but mostly just hanging out in the ASMR of some of us baking, some of us making art, some of us writing. And there is a church that doesn’t require me to sit quietly or to stuff everything and everyone I love into a box but instead encourages me to keep speaking up. And there are local activists, artists, and business owners who bond together to ensure mutual thriving and to bring our little corner of the world closer to what it would look like if all were true and right. And there are baked goods and rosewater that show up at my front door. And cards that come in the mail. And coffee. And candlelight.

Hello, joy. There you are.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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Day 7 – Dance

“What we want from modern dance is courage and audacity.”
“If a thing moves, it lives.”
– Twyla Tharp

I may have written this post before, and I don’t want to do a strict rehash. It’s not always easy to articulate how dance relates to joy, because…it just does? It seems too obvious, maybe? We leap for joy. Joy seems to be inherent in spirited movement.

Except when it’s not. When you have so much anguish built up that you feel trapped in your body. You have to release it or burst. So dance can be angstful (full of angst? I like angstful better) and angry and all the things we may think of as the antithesis of joy.

Dance can be many things. It can be happiness. It can be frustration. It can be catharsis. It can be release. It’s both/and. It’s holding all the realities in the same hand.

It can start with muscle memory but it doesn’t stay there. Dance is always at least partially now.

I love the way that dance immediately pulls me not only into the present but also connects me to all that has come before. Into the body I have now but also into the memory of just how much my body has done before. How much it can do. How much it still has to discover.

Dance can be possibility. Dance forms dreams and gives shape to progress.

Dance can be joy.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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Day 6 – Find Color

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment” – Claude Monet

I bought myself this painting on my 34th birthday. It’s super simple, and I’m not sure how well you can tell here, but the colors are bold and bright, and the flowers that look like etching are actually embroidery that the artist painted over. I had been eyeing it at my favorite local coffee shop at the time (RIP, Art 6) for a while, and when I went in for my celebratory fluffy drink, on a whim, I looked at the price. I expected it to be out of my price range but it wasn’t. So instead of just picking up an And She Snickers with an extra shot of espresso, I picked up a painting, too.

I brought it home and hung it immediately.

I have never considered myself a particularly visual person, but being a bit more isolated than usual for most of this year, I have been noticing how much my mood is helped by little pops of color. The most colorful room in my apartment is my office/library, and it also seems to be the room where I am the happiest. One might assume this is because I am surrounded by books, and while it’s true that that is very much what I imagine Heaven must be like, the abundance of color also has something to do with it.

(ignore the mess – observe the cuteness)

When someone asks what my favorite color is, I never have a real answer. I will say something like, “Today, it’s red,” because I like the way the shirt they’re wearing gives their skin a warm glow. Or I’ll point to something multi-colored and say, “Probably one of those.” I like all the colors, and while I have distinct preferences about where I like some colors (e.g., no yellow near my face, please – it makes me look like I’m dying), there’s no color that I absolutely detest. I find bright and deep, bold colors especially invigorating.

Especially joyful.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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Day 5 – Make Something

“Beauty is whatever gives joy.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I have been a knitter for years, but it has taken on a life of its own during this pandemic. My knitting has become like my writing in that I have several projects started (at least one for each room of the apartment, because God forbid I actually move them with me when I change spaces). I am about a third of the way through a blanket for a friend and almost halfway through a box sweater that matches the cozy aesthetic I long to cultivate.

The glorious and hideous thing you see above is a patchwork blanket I’ve been making by knitting remnants of yarn and then piecing them together. It was just going to be a lap throw, but I significantly underestimated the sheer volume of yarn that I had that was too much to throw away but not enough to really make anything. So it just keeps growing. I wore it around my shoulders during my morning check-in with my supervisor who then insisted that it needed to make an appearance at the staff meeting later that day. It’s now the official home office blanket.

Creating something almost always brings me joy. Even if it doesn’t turn out as I planned, the creative process itself energizes me. While it’s not necessarily a cure-all for my frequent funks, it does seem to help me come up for air a bit. I guess that’s what joy is supposed to do. It’s a little light to see by.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” – Colette

I had a hard time narrowing down pictures for these posts. I have so many animal friends, and we loooooove each other. If they could read, I would give each one of them a shoutout. As they cannot, please just give your animals a pet from me and tell them that I love them.

One of the best joys of visiting the farm is seeing Lola and Jake.

Lola moved to the farm about a decade ago. She was living with friends in Denton, but she kept getting out and they were afraid they’d turn around to wrangle the toddler and she’d turn up missing (or worse). So this best girl came home with me one holiday and fell in love with the farm and Mom and Dad and never left (good thing this was the plan because she refused to get back in the car). Growing up, we were not allowed to bring pets inside. Today, Lola has her own bed indoors and gets her own personal egg cooked to her taste. She goes outside every time Mom does (which is often when the weather is warm), and I like knowing that Lola is watching out for her.

This fall, Jake joined the family. He showed up as a stray, but it’s clear that he’s been around people. Usually when this happens, Dad will call around to the neighbors to see if anyone is missing a dog. When I asked what the neighbors said when he called, his non-answer was “I named him Jake.” He then proceeded to laugh so hard he started wheezing as he told me that he chose the name because Jake from State Farm wears khakis…and the dog has khaki spots. (My dad is super cute) I did finally confirm that he had called the closest neighbors and found out that Jake had been to visit them, too, but they couldn’t find anyone who was missing him. So I’m only about 89% certain that my parents haven’t stolen someone else’s dog, but too late – he lives there now. He does not have frequent indoor privileges – Lola needs a break every once in a while – but he loves his backyard and his own special bed on top of (not inside it – the little weirdo) the dog house.

Spending time with animal friends is calming. I am allergic, and I just don’t care. I can take a Claritin. The mood boost and the joy they bring is worth a few sneezes.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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