Step One

After some research, I’ve discovered the first step to living a better life is making life a more formal occasion through selectivity and ritual.

The idea is pretty simple, but also pretty radical. It takes reminding yourself that you are worth it, that you do deserve it.

What does it mean?

Using your best–plates, cloth napkins, putting food in serving dishes, wearing your nice clothes, looking presentable, etc. A couple of weeks ago, I made a roasted chicken, potatoes, and spinach. I set the table, I put the food on/in serving dishes. I kept a centerpiece leftover from a reception that I had for work. I was in a shit mood during the meal for other reasons, but it was nice. I was glad I went to the effort, even if it meant more dishes to clean. My family and I are worth it. Similarly, while yoga pants are quite comfortable, I don’t feel good about myself when I wear them for extended periods of time. I don’t take what I do as seriously either. So I’ve been trying to truly get dressed each day. I’m more productive then.

Dressing the part— This calls for self-reflection: what is your personal style? what do you feel best in? what do you feel most you in? Then you weed out your closet. Get rid of things that are no longer you, things that don’t fit, and even pull out things that aren’t in season because they cloud the landscape. I’ve seen articles about capsule wardrobes where you whittle your clothes down to 10 or 15 pieces. This doesn’t include layering pieces (cardigans, tanks, plain tees), accessories (scarves or jewelry), or occasion-wear (that fancy LBD). Then you rotate for the seasons. I don’t think I could do 10 or 15 items. But this past weekend I filled two trashbags of stuff to donate. I bought two underbed storage containers–one for out of season clothes and one for clothes that don’t fit, but that I sincerely hope might fit again. I pulled out t-shirts with images on them because I feel like I’m in my late teens or early 20s when I wear them and I am definitely not in my teens or early 20s any longer. I’m going to make a blanket with them so that it’s not a total loss. I would like to continue to hack away at my wardrobe and get rid of more things and maybe actually get down to 10 or 15 items. Or 20.

My closet seems happier now. It’s less crowded and more focused. The remaining pieces serve me instead of confusing and frustrating me because they don’t work with my life. The purge was much easier than expected, so I know I did the right thing. And I was able to shift around some of Steve’s clothes, so his closet space is less crowded as well. Everybody won.

Seeking out the best (within your means)–Everything from food to clothing. My cooking tastes better when I use better ingredients. After learning how to make stovetop popcorn for one, I won’t be going back to bag popcorn. This past weekend was Tax Free Weekend in Oklahoma, where there’s no sales tax on clothing priced under $100 and many stores have amazing deals. I am wanting a black skirt, but there aren’t any high-quality stores in town, so I didn’t even bother looking. I’d rather spend more for a skirt that will last a few years than buy one cheaply made that will last a season.

Creating rituals–Rituals help you slow down and enjoy things that are important to you. I love big band music. It’s great in the background and reminds me of some happy memories. Recently, Steve had to be at work on a Saturday and I just wasn’t ready to get up, but I wasn’t tired enough to fall back asleep. I remembered that there were music channels on our satellite dish. I found a big band music channel AND a classic jazz vocalist channel. Now I’ll drink my coffee and read or write in bed with the music on. Such a nice way to ease into the day! I can also turn on the music in the living room to listen while I cook and eat breakfast and write at our bar. I’m searching for ways to create other rituals for myself.

A big part of this kind of living is slowing down and deciding that you are worth the best. This doesn’t mean becoming a snob who looks down on others and their ways. It has little to nothing to do with other people at all, in my opinion. It’s about service to yourself and (if you live with other people for whom you cook) to those around you. It a kindness.

I’m still in the beginning stages of implementing these new ways, but I like what I’ve seen and experienced so far. It’s made me feel a bit better about things I’m not so happy about.

Bel far niente

The beauty of doing nothing.

The Europeans are much better at this than (I’ll venture to be general) Americans. We must always go, we must always do. And when we don’t, we feel guilty, we fidget.

I attempt this many a weekend morning. I wake up early, Steve sleeps in or otherwise chills in the back bedroom. I make coffee and sit at our bar. I’ll read, I’ll write, I’ll make breakfast, then I’ll read, then I’ll write. Reading and writing are doing something, to be sure, but for me they are more akin to blissfully doing nothing than laboring away at work. Occasionally, I’ll just be sitting there, staring slightly off into space, enjoying the quiet hum of the refrigerator, and I’ll feel compelled to pick up my silly phone and do…something–check email, get on Instagram. In fact, often as I click on email or Instagram, I know I don’t care what is going on. It’s not even a real fear of missing out because I know I won’t miss anything important. It’s an interruption to la bel far niente, plain and simple.

As I struggled with this dilemma yet again this Sunday morning, a shadow of these words came to me, except I couldn’t quite remember them, but I knew there was some phrase about the joy of doing nothing. I was casually reading Bonjour Tristesse when I couldn’t shake it. What were those words exactly?

I made my way to my non-fiction bookshelf, feeling it was Frances Mayes who uttered them. I flipped through the first couple of chapters of Under the Tuscan Sun. No. Not her. I saw Peter Mayle next to her. I knew it wasn’t him (I knew the words were Italian, not French), but remembered fondly his books about France. Ultimately it was Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love who introduced me to the concept.

The idea still remained–Europeans do a better job of living. I want to do a better job of living. I want to strip away the layers of excess and get to the most elemental and basic of living. I want to get rid of the extras, the duplicates, the slight alterations, and have one perfect thing that will more than make do.

I’m on a very tight budget right now. I’m attempting to get my business going, but I must draw a salary to pay for my necessary things, plus a little cushion so that I don’t use my dreaded credit card. I am trying to get my credit card paid completely off so I can cut it up and never use the damn thing again. I rue the day I let my mom convince me that it was a good idea to get one.

I digress.

I remember years ago, I was a nanny during the summer to three spoiled children. Their parents felt guilty about working full-time jobs, so they bought the children countless toys. They’d never clean up. Toys strewn carelessly, thoughtlessly about the play room and the rest of the house. The housekeeper made the comment that if the children had fewer toys, they’d appreciate the toys they did have more.

I let the notion slide into the back recesses of my mind until just now really.

If I had fewer toys, I’d appreciate them more.

If I had fewer clothes, fewer shoes, fewer bags…

If I had fewer kitchen gadgets, less food in the cabinets…

Maybe then I could relax, feel less restless, experience la bel far niente…

Champagne Thursday, 19 July 2018

Happy Champagne Thursday! 🥂

It’s a little tradition I began when I was younger, inspired by Failure to Launch.

On Champagne Thursday I like to take some time to celebrate. Anything, big or small, serious or ridiculous. It’s a party for myself to acknowledge and celebrate the little things in life, least of which is surviving most of the work week.

It’s been a hell of a week, so I really needed this.

Today I am celebrating:

Good new business contacts

Feeling a sense of direction

Feeling some passion

Developing a routine that serves me

Ceiling fans on low

NYRB Classics

New directions

Ripe peaches in the fruit bowl

Reading on the couch

The sound of (relative) silence

This tradition that has made me smile for nearly a decade

A well-organized notebook

Good pizza

Flirty texts with Steve mid-morning and mid-afternoon

A sense of adventure

Bigger wine glasses

Holly Golightly

Eve Babitz

Seriously, NYRB Classics

Having time

Making time

Party time

Jazzy classics

Jazzy classics with booze

Rituals that serve, not guilt

Red lipstick, pearls, and red nails

Happy Champagne Thursday, Everybody! Cheers!

Restless

I’ve been finding myself getting very restless lately. No matter what I am doing, I always wish to be doing something else. If I am working on my law practice, I want to be writing. If I decide to write on a particular morning, I somehow find something productive I could be doing with my law practice. If I am cooking, I would rather be sitting at a bar, drinking a martini. If I am getting ready to go out to eat, I think about how I could cook something better at home. If I get up and go to yoga, I would rather be in bed. If I am in bed, I would rather be doing yoga. Even my reading has taken a hit–no matter what I am reading, I feel like there is always something different, better I could be reading instead.

The “grass is always greener” syndrome has been a constant companion.

Even sitting down to write this, after calling it quits on a day full of computer frustrations of all shapes and sizes, my mind is racing from one thing to another. Slowing down and enjoying the moment has been a true scarcity of late.

I know I go through different seasons in life. Some seasons are full of reading (like this spring!). Others are full of great food. This recent one has been marked by an inability to be still.

For instance, I started going to a yoga class in June. Initially, I referred to it as a “little old lady” yoga class because the average age in this town is something like 200. I walked into that class a full on yoga bitch. For the next hour I struggled mightily. We began with a twelve minute reclined meditation. I am horrible at meditation. I cannot quiet my mind. You’d think I could relax a little while lying on my back. Nope. Then we did a series of poses. None were terribly challenging, no crow or headstands. Yet we held them all for 5-8 breaths instead of flowing from one to the other one breath at a time like I have been doing in yoga classes and videos for years. I walked out of there a truly humbled individual.

And I didn’t go back for two weeks.

I’ve been going twice a week. I’d like to say that I have improved at meditation, at holding the poses, at being still. But I’d be lying. I am so grateful that there is not a visible thought bubble above my head. (The classes have proved beneficial in another sense because I am more toned than I was previously)

I began this post somewhat in a panic. It’s hard going and going and not feeling like I’m actually getting anything done. But I’ve written myself into finding a way to embrace this restlessness.

I have approached anything I’ve done lately with more energy than I have in quite a while. I have an afternoon slump nearly every day. That’s now the cue to disengage and set the work in progress aside for the day, to pour a glass of wine, and read. Even if I haven’t been finishing many books, I have been reading some great paragraphs and pages. Soaking up language like a sponge.

That’s what I’ll be doing now.

Doing Better

Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply . . . Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which I will actually attend.Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different. — Maria Semple, Today Will Be Different

This is the refrain I subconsciously think every morning. The words might vary somewhat, but the essence is the same–today I will do better. Today I will do better at managing all of my perceived faults and shortcomings, especially those that were markedly pronounced yesterday.

Some days, I truly do. Some days I epically fail. Some days, I draw so inside myself that I am neither better nor worse.

Like my blog title says, my life is an untitled project. I don’t know where anything is going. I don’t really even have a plan. So much is up to the decisions of others. I can write and submit all the pieces I want, but it’s up to editors and publishers to do anything with them. I can advertise and network all I want, but it’s up to clients to retain me for legal services.

My last post was about my first day working at home, alone. I have survived thus far. Though what exactly does that mean? I don’t know. The process of setting up a home office and starting a business has involved massive amounts of running errands and making phone calls. I’ve done all of those things; now I wait for the phone to ring.

You’d think this surplus of time would be devoted to writing, that my blog would be a hoppin’ place. Somewhat. Last week wound up being a five-day weekend because of the 4th and then Steve had days off work from being on call the weekend before. I wrote those days. I began a short story that I am very happy with. I still need to finish. Yet some days it is hard for me to treat writing as a job too. I am getting paid a small amount from my law practice right now; I am not getting paid from my writing. Therefore, during the 9-5, I feel like my time should be spent on the job paying the bills. Then the eternal question of what there is to do rears its ugly head.

Am I doing better at all of this than I was two weeks ago? Perhaps. But each day involves a mental calculation of how I can do better than I did the day before, both personally and professionally.

Working from Home, Day 1

The alarm clock went off at 7:10 this morning, the first of an unknown number of 8-5 work weeks. We played Russian Roulette, laying there with our eyes closed for a few more minutes, no snooze alarm to rouse us if we dozed off. All too soon the time came for him to hit the showers and for me to make coffee.

Finally the inevitable arrived–he had to leave, I had to stay. Inwardly, I cried out like a preschooler that first day–“Don’t leave me here!” But this is what I chose for myself–working from home, splitting my time between practicing law and writing, the former to (Lord willing) sustain the latter.

I sipped my coffee while I checked my email. Nothing important. I consulted my to-do list. Lots of errands. But I can’t do anything until I go to the bank. My appointment is still more than two hours away. I look at my list again, wondering whether I’ve left off anything.

I go to a couple of trusted lawyer resources to look for articles on setting up a practice, marketing, website design. Too overwhelming. Too much raw information. No filter for quality or quantity of information. No clear “start here” page. Fully aware of how much I don’t know, I shut down the browser. Once I start to break down some of the pieces, I’ll wade through the information, but right now I’d just drown.

Maybe now is a good time for breakfast. I make an omelette.

Timidly, I reopen the browser while I’m eating, feeling like I should be doing something. I try to call my personal bank–all lines are busy. I look at another tech article, hoping it is basic enough, but I’m too distracted to try to make sense of the words in front of me.

I try to figure out a routine. First, I do this, then I do that, from 10-11 is this–a structure to my days, a way of making sure I am making progress. Having no clear deliverables or deadlines makes this difficult.

Further, the twin goals of growing my law practice to make money and writing to make myself happy both require time and dedication. A balance must be struck.

Finally, it’s time to go to the bank. That will kill an hour, I think.

Two hours later, more overwhelmed and exhausted, I leave the bank. Both accounts have been created. At last I can proceed!

A quick call to my lover–he’s ready for lunch. I’m ready to see him. We decide that I’ll pick him up.

I tell him I am too mentally tired to run the rest of my errands, but that my afternoon plans include making some calls and setting up my office. This seems less stressful somehow.

After I drop him back at work, I go to Starbucks. Caffeine and a cake pop to reinvigorate myself for the afternoon’s tasks. I opt to wait in the drive-thru as opposed to going inside. I have no book, no to-do list. Just myself and my favorite Sinatra CD. I take a few minutes to just relax.

Back at home, the full enormity of the task of setting up my office nearly undoes all of the time relaxing in the drive-thru. Tripping over the throw pillows strewn about and constantly messing with the mattress laid out for Steve’s daughter undo the rest of the relaxation.

I hate throw pillows. They serve no purpose. They are stupid.

Coffee just isn’t going to cut it. I need some gin. Coffee, you’re on the bench; Alcohol, suit up! I pour out the coffee I had purchased and took two sips of. I pour a gin and juice. This will help. I don’t need energy; I need focus.

I ignore the papers on the bookshelf that need to be cleared, deciding to wait until I can create more floor space by flipping the mattress up against the wall for a couple of days.

I do a quick organization of my desk space and make some phone calls.

As with nearly everything involving starting my law practice, today has been one step forward (setting up my bank accounts) and two steps back (learning that the trust account is set up wrong and miraculously discovering that there was a form I had to submit to my bar association). I will have to go back to the bank to redo the trust account. And I can’t set up my credit card processing service until the trust account is fixed. But I am eventually able to make some progress with the other calls.

With that it’s 5:00 and my lover is on his way home.

I’m simply not sure how this working from home thing is going to go. Hopefully it will surely get easier once I’m running fewer errands and get used to Steve being gone so much.

Like everything, it takes time to find a balance. I just hope time hurries the hell up.

I Suck at Yoga Challenges

I do. I just can’t stick with them. Goodness knows I’ve tried. Each January, the online yoga instructor I adore, Adriene, does a free month-long yoga journey, which includes a new video and inspirational email every single day. Yet I can never manage more than a few days before somehow being derailed.

An at-home yoga practice is rough for me, even when I have a dynamic instructor sending new videos every day. The rest of the year, Adriene sends new videos every Sunday (and posts even more content on her member site, of which I am a part) and I still rarely manage to roll out my mat.

But here’s the thing–I love yoga. I love how I feel in my own body when I do yoga. I love the lightness of spirit I feel after doing yoga. It’s a kind of balance between being in my own headspace and sheer physicality that I love.

The ancients made yoga their entire life–asana practice, meditation practice, and an entire state of being throughout the day. That will never be me. And I never made it my goal to be that person.

The best yoga that I ever found came toward the end of my time in Stillwater. I hated my job, I hated my body, and I hated my relationship. But the only yoga studio in town offered a Tuesday/Thursday lunchtime yoga class. It was shorter than a typical class–45 minutes, as opposed to 60 or 75–but it was perfect. It kept me going. Many days, it was the difference between making it through the day and not, filling the time between yoga classes with just enough for me to hold on.

No, that two days a week was all that I needed. Any more and it would have been too repetitive, I think. And that’s why I suck at any challenge–to do something every single day? I don’t even drink wine every single day! All mornings are different! Some mornings I want to sleep in, some I am so hooked on my current read that I just want to curl up, some are made for coffee, some are made for a Coke, and some, yes, some are made for yoga. But to mandate that all mornings are for yoga is to doom myself to failure.

For me, part of the beauty of a yoga class is the synchronization of movement, breathing with other people. It’s about community and support, how the whole community–consciously or unconsciously–cradles those in need. In a way it’s like group therapy, but without words. I don’t need to know the struggles of the person on the mat next to mine, but it’s enough to know that with the “namaste,” the light in me honors the light in them and vice versa.

I live in a small town with limited options for everything. I joined a gym. It offers a number of classes, but yoga is only offered in the mornings, four days per week. A class first thing in the morning is not my top choice, but perhaps like that noon class years ago, it’s what I need to get through the interim.