Monday, March 31, 2008

Not on the Road Again

We spent a whirlwind week speeding through the Colonial highlights of Virginia, the patriotic sites of D.C. and Philadelphia and, yes, even visiting the giant Air Force Museum in Ohio. Of our family's Spring Break Adventure, I'll say this: The joys of travel are many, but the delight (and relief) in returning home is unparalleled.

And by admitting this--by so much as feeling such a sentiment--I realize (as those of you in the Blogsphere may not) that I have turned into my mother.

After a history of backpacking overseas for months or roadtripping through the U.S. and Canada... After an undisclosed number of decades fighting against my beloved mom's desire to spend vacations "relaxing at home" (How dull! I'd declared as a teen and throughout my 20s)... After a fierce dedication to mastering linguistic skills that allowed me to ask vital questions like "How much for a double-chocolate ice cream cone?" in Italian, French or Swedish; being able to decipher street signs to find a Turkish bazaar in Kusadasi; and navigating my driving hubby through the chaotic streets of Boston, Atlanta and Montreal... After honing all of these pro-travel skills, I seriously just want to stay home next Spring Break.

And should I forget this next March...would you all please remind me?

Monday, March 17, 2008

It's Habit Forming...

...all these things we do. Especially the ones we do without thinking.

Throughout the weekend and, now, into the week, I've been ruminating endlessly about this simple concept (and finding hidden depths in it, as only you can do when you're obsessing :-). You see, I have this desk calendar--one of those obnoxious ones "with quotes." Yesterday's snippet of wisdom was: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."

Problem is, as trite as the little blurb sounds, it's true.

Three weeks ago, in an attempt to try out a theory, I went on a 6-day health kick. No sugar (well, okay, not much sugar), very light on starches, low sodium, lots of good-for-you veggies and things like that. I epitomized the "Sensible Solution/Smart Choice" dieter. Aside from losing a couple of pounds, which is always a positive thing for me, the most obvious benefit was the way I genuinely felt better. The less obvious benefit was the tentative formation of a new set of habits when it came to looking at the food I had stocked in the refrigerator and pantry.

I swear, my brain synapses actually began to fire differently. After an initial day or two of having to really think through my meal options and weighing every ounce of sliced strawberries or skinless chicken breast, I instinctively started choosing more appropriate portions of healthier food items. And, even after my 6-day experiment was over, this habit carried on into subsequent days--first at 90%, then at 75%, then at 40%...until it all but drifted away.

This past week, I wasn't trying to be health conscious at all. And, wow, did I ever succeed at that. This morning, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I dumped probably a quarter cup of Irish Cream creamer into my coffee along with several packets of sweetener. (In my defense, it was a really big coffee mug...but still.) This is an old habit, one that managed to resurrect itself because of my inattention today, but a small part of me DID stop and DID think. A tiny part of me DID remember doing my coffee ritual differently last Monday and the Monday before that. And this was the part of me that caused my hand to pause for a split second before I poured in that creamer. I could have changed directions, reached for the skim milk instead, had I wanted to. (As it turned out, I didn't want to, but that's a different discussion.)

The good news is: there's almost always a choice...whether we want to stop procrastinating, run our errands more efficiently, think more optimistically, write 10 more manuscript pages per week, exercise daily. The better-for-us, wished-for habit is right there, just waiting for us to claim it as our own. The bad news is: we need to embrace this power by recognizing its existence, and it's far too easy to float through life's hours in a sucralose-drugged state of semi-consciousness.

Or maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fabulous True Stories

For anyone who loves reading humorous, honest and heartfelt stories about women, the professional obstacles they encounter and the moments that challenge and inspire them, take a look at this just-released book--WATER COOLER DIARIES: Women Across America Share Their Day At Work (http://www.thisdayinthelife.com/).

This new and exciting installment in the THIS DAY series is brought to us by editors Joni B. Cole and B.K. Rakhra, the brilliant minds who compiled (along with Rebecca Joffrey) two wonderful prior collections: THIS DAY: Diaries From American Women (2004) and THIS DAY IN THE LIFE: Diaries From Women Across America (2006). All three of the collections feature true-life entries selected from the journals of approximately 500 women, all of which were written on one "typical" day in their life.

Of course, I'll admit to a bias here: I was a proud participant in the second THIS DAY project (back on June 29, 2004) and have such fond memories of taking notes throughout that day and then, after much deft trimming by the editors, finally getting to read the insights of hundreds of other American women who were journaling on that same day. My contribution to the project was very small and my day not especially exciting, but reading about the intriguing experiences of other women reinforced the many similarities we share despite outward differences in situation. We are, after all, so very much alike, and it's a priceless gift when writers can remind readers of our shared humanity.

Publishers Weekly called WATER COOLER DIARIES an "entertaining collection" and said that the glimpse into the lives of these women is "both fascinating and eye-opening."

And Booklist explained it all: Take one day—in this case, March 27, 2007—and ask 515 women to chronicle their thoughts and activities. This "day in the life" (third in a series from Cole and Rakhra) features what could be called "average" occupations—including stay-at-home mom, librarian, teacher—as well as the more glamorous work, from fashion designer and Lake Wobegon actor to a boxing promoter and, yes, the World's Sexiest Magician. In all, 35 full-day accounts are included. Skimming through this collection is not a good idea. There are sentences that will make readers stop, laugh, tear up, nod, and otherwise savor common and out-of-the-ordinary experiences. Judging from these excerpts, who could resist uncovering the rest of the story? "She was a poster child for why you don't wear six-inch heels and get drunk at a post-St. Patrick's Day party." Or "I love the satisfaction of the home being our canvas." And "So can a person ever be a failure if they are doing what they love?" Worth rereading.

I couldn't agree more :-).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Not-Quite-Spring Cleaning

Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic to expect that now that we're in MARCH spring might actually come. Someday. Preferably by the 20th. Like, you know, it's supposed to. (As I stare out my window at the mountains of snow still outside, I have my doubts.)

Anyway, flipping the calendar away from the hibernating month of February to the renewing month of March, miraculously made me want to clean out my office closet and bookshelves this weekend, throw away paper clutter (of which I have a great deal) and even reorganize the precariously stacked boxes in the garage. And, yeah, some of this was pure writing procrastination but, mostly, it was because those little messes everywhere were interfering with my ability to concentrate. Get rid of the old to make way for the new, and all that.

Problems arose, however. I've found it kind of fascinating that in the four years we've lived in this house I've managed to squirrel away stacks of paper in every available cubby hole in my office. Paper with intriguing bits of information on them, yes, but sheets I've rarely if ever touched in the months/years since I put them there. How useful are they to me if I have them but never read them?

Not very, right?

But I'm still not sure what to do with them all. Do I throw away folders of scribbled notes I've compiled on such riveting topics as "Plot Development and Act Structure" (which really is an interesting subject, but the pages themselves are probably illegible to anyone but me) since I doubt I'll get around to reading them again? Or do I keep them on the chance that I just might need to refer to them later and that whatever important story element I'm seeking will magically be found among their pages? It's happened before...

Mom's voice in my head says, "Get rid of them all. They're a fire hazard." These words are typically accompanied by an irriated huff.

But I'm still unsure...so they're now out of their cubby holes and sitting in the middle of my office, taking up carpet space and staring up at me, rather annoyed by my well-intentioned but not very effective attempt at spring cleaning.

Any suggestions? (Or commiserations? :-)