Sigh…sit…breathe…

A list of things that are reliably lowering my stress levels, helping me breathe, and generally making me feel less angry at *gestures wildly* all of this.

  1. My Christmas tree, lit in the dark.
  2. The LED lights I purchased to frame my nativity set and dining table decorations.
  3. The See’s box of Scotchmallows I splurged on.
  4. Reading my newspaper staff’s reviews of their top albums of 2020.
  5. Just going to my Pop Culture Studies class.
  6. Music. All of the music.
  7. My thousandth rewatch of Parks and Recreation.
  8. My new paper planner.
  9. Having Stueve back in the classroom.
  10. A very bright light at the end of the first semester tunnel.

This list didn’t come entirely easily–it took a few minutes to get to ten items–but it was good for me to sit down for a second and think about what I have right now at my disposal that is actually bringing me a little happiness, coziness, satisfaction. It’s not necessarily a gratitude list, though I am probably grateful for everything on this list. I wanted a list of things that really and truly, when I thought about it, was making me much calmer. More at peace. Because there is plenty going around that is not making me calm or giving me peace.

That’s probably just life. Like what Kate Bowler says: “Life is a chronic condition.”

If you’re feeling a bit scattered and flustered and angry and irritated (and I felt *plenty* of that today, FWIW), might I suggest a similar exercise? Slow down a second. What made you genuinely smile today? What slowed your breath? What did you do that allowed you to just sit and be?

Advent 2020

Now that I’m done with NaNoWriMo (50,002 words, thankyouverymuch), I can write a little more over here.

This week, I spent a lot of time decluttering and organizing my apartment. One of the long-overdue areas that needed attention was my music. Over the years, I have collected a lot of sheet music, and a lot of it is Christmas music, mostly accompaniments I played for church Christmas programs and for school choir concerts.

December used to be an incredibly stressful time for me when it came to music. I remember one year, sobbing in a church foyer to a choir director because I couldn’t possibly learn one more set of music, all to be performed prior to December 20. Honestly, I resented my piano skills and I resented—RESENTED—the entire holiday season for what it did to my brain, hands, arms, back, and schedule.

Last Christmas I played nary a note of music in public, and I don’t recall attending any Christmas programs. I was so sick on Christmas Eve that I had to skip attending services that night, so it’s been two years now since I attended any Christmas religious services.

As I organized all this accumulated Christmas music, I was wistful. Not for the stress of being overcommitted, but for being part of something offered to others. I’ve never been able to articulate how performing as part of a group makes me feel, but it is restorative, inspiring, healing, and joyous.

Today is the first day of Advent, and I joined a short service on Instagram, listened to a beautiful sermon about hope. I started a daily Advent book that two of my friends are also reading; we will meet over Zoom this month and discuss our insights. And as I write this, I am munching on cinnamon toast while listening to one of my favorite Christmas CDs—a collection of choral arrangements from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I looked all over Spotify and Amazon and Apple Music for digital version so I could share it, and cannot find it. It’s not even illegally uploaded to YouTube! How very on brand for 2020, no?

But I did find the CD cover in case you want to see if your local library has it.

Anyway. I actually decorated for Christmas this year, and my place feels cozy and I am looking forward to a December with zero social expectations. One where I can give Advent the attention it deserves without feeling like it’s just one more thing to check off my holiday to-do list.

Whatever you need to do this holiday season to feel restored, inspired, healed, or joyful, I hope you are able to find it. And if you just can’t begin to think that any of those emotions are possible, even for a moment, please let me know. I’m happy to virtually sit with you wherever your emotions happen to be.

A November request.

Nine years ago, Stueve convinced me that the best way to heal a broken heart would be to write. And the best way to get it all out was to just get to 50,000 words in 30 days. As I write that now, I think of the quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

I was a little surprised at some of what fell out of my brain during that initial draft, and even more surprised when Stueve thought it was worth publishing.

It took another four years of hard work, but with the help of good editors, we polished that initial draft into something that I still am pretty proud of.

I don’t know if other writers experience this, but there’s a vibe, an indescribable push in my brain when I know I’m ready to write. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo every year since that first book, hoping I would get lucky to end the month with a polishable draft. And every year I have failed.

I think it’s because that vibe just wasn’t there.

About a month ago, I started to feel that push. My brain would start composing while I was driving, doing my hair, or taking walks. So I opened a new note on my phone and started writing down titles, themes.

NaNoWriMo starts in two days, and I have a list of 22 personal essay topics. I might not write all 22, but the ideas are there. I hope as I write them, connective tissue forms, and in a couple of years, I have something to publish.

All this is to say:

I’m doing NaNoWriMo 2020, so if you see me on Twitter, ask me what my word count is. If you notice I’m recently active on Instagram, ask me if I’ve met my daily goal.

And if you are so inclined, feel free to send encouraging messages throughout the month—I know I’ll need them.

But if I text or email back and you think I’m stalling, ask me to share the best sentence I wrote that day. And if I don’t have an answer, tell me to stop stalling and start writing.

Thanks, pals.

Content. No, really.

It is 7:45 on Sunday night and it hits me: I am content.

I don’t feel the hopelessness and uncertainty I’ve felt since March. I take a moment to think about what has happened in the past three days to make me feel more relaxed.

I read a book from start to finish.
I finished an audio book I’ve been working through for a few weeks.
I practiced the piano.
I slept late, then had breakfast in bed three days in a row while watching episodes of Sports Night.
I watched football.
I chatted with friends over text and—gasp—the phone.
I took naps.
I cleaned, albeit reluctantly.
I worked on a vision board of sorts—started building a list of all the new furniture I will buy in June, whether I have a new place to live.
I watched cooking shows on Netflix and Sling.
I listened to podcasts.
I made a list of the things I can start doing now so that if I actually move in June, the move itself is less stressful.
I recorded, edited, and published a podcast.

I was lucky enough to have to stay at school late on Thursday so yearbook editors could work on pages, and somehow mustered the motivation to get all my work done before walking out of the building. It freed up a three-day weekend, and I am amazed at how…normal I feel right at this moment.

So I wanted to document this moment, this weekend, because if you listen to doctors (and I do), the pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. The election is in 9 days, which brings a completely different slew of possible hellscapes, and I’m facing down a five-day work week with two sports broadcasts to produce. My future is still uncertain.

But at this moment, I am content.

Restlessness.

It starts with just a generally unsettled feeling. I’m restless all the time. My brain is whirring like a maxed out hard drive running too many programs. I can’t pinpoint the restlessness at first, but it’s familiar. I know I’ve felt this way many times before. And after several weeks, the hard drive slows down, and I can name what I’m feeling.

Though at this point in my life I call Nebraska home, for many years, I claimed no hometown. Such is the life of a military dependent—my first two moves as a human aren’t even registered in my memory, I was so young. The third move, I remember stepping out of a hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico to the sight of hundreds of hot air balloons, but even that memory is fuzzy—do I remember it, or do I remember my mom telling the story of it?

All other moves are etched in my memories though. Listening to my first Amy Grant cassette on the road to Alabama. Staring out the car window trying not to cry on the road back to Nebraska—we’d only been in Alabama 10 months, how could I possibly be sad to leave? Sulking in my dad’s truck on the way to Montana a month before my 16th birthday.

The moves in my adulthood weren’t quite as fraught, as they were my choices, but there was always a mix of excitement, fear of the unknown, and sorrow at what I’d left behind.

Even though the family put down stakes in Nebraska in 1994, I bounced out of the county three times in 12 years. In 2008, I came back, and I’ve been in the same apartment for 10 years.

For someone who spent 35 years moving every 2-4 years, 10 years in one space is a long time.

And that’s the restlessness, I am sure.

I love my job—it really is my dream job, a job that sometimes I can’t believe I was able to carve out. I’m teaching everything I’ve ever wanted to teach. And I’m close to having 20 years of service in this district. Who leaves a dream job so close to having 20 years with an organization, a benchmark that typically brings with it financial benefits?

Yet the restlessness.

Maybe all I need is a cross-town move, a new space, new furniture, new surroundings.

Maybe I need a new city, new state, new country.

Maybe I just need a new hair color and new clothes.

But of this I am sure: my bones and my soul need a change.

Anyone have any ideas?