Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Women's Ego

UPDATE 4/8/13- I just read this blog post from Jen Lancaster, one of my favorite memoirists. It's a good counterpoint to the seriousness of the issues of women's ego and compensation in the workplace. I promise, you will laugh: Jen Lancaster on Channing Tatum


I recently signed up for Elance, a website that finds jobs for freelancers. I want to try to make some money writing while I start the process of selling my novel. During the signup process, I had to make a list of my skills and qualifications. I haven't had to make a resume in years, and I don't work in the type of field where I have to market myself, so I'm unfamiliar with the sensation of "talking myself up." It makes me uncomfortable. Yet I consider myself a person with a decently healthy ego who generally feels pretty good about herself. So why am I having such trouble verbalizing that feeling?

Answer: Because I'm an American WOMAN.

Even in 2013, American women aren't supposed to have egos. They're not supposed to brag about themselves. Hell, even if they brag about their spouses or kids, other women secretly think nasty thoughts about them.

If you tell a woman you think she looks great, most of the time, her response will be, "I still have ten more pounds to lose," or "Oh, thanks, but I'm having a bad hair day." Not, "Thanks, I feel great!"

If you tell a woman you like her scarf/sweater/shoes, most of the time, her response will be, "I got it on sale," or "Oh, I've had this for ages." Not, "Thanks, I like it too!"

And these are woman-to-woman interactions! No men involved!

It's no wonder women are under-earning men in the workplace. It's not because of job performance or family values. It's because it's much harder for a woman to walk into her boss's office and say, "I did great work on this project, so I deserve a raise." It's still not part of our collective American female consciousness.

So today I'm encouraging my female readers to do the following:

1. If you're given a compliment, just accept it. Say thank you. And then repeat the compliment to yourself and believe it!

2. Think about your accomplishments often. Write them down and put them in a place you can see them. Be proud of yourself!

3. Try reading about and channeling powerful women. I haven't yet read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, but I'm going to.

For my part, I'm going to attack that Elance profile with gusto, knowing that giving into my ego and pride in this case will get me more attention. And hopefully, more jobs!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

3 Tips for Starting a Journal

Often in conversation with people, I mention that I keep a journal. Invariably, the response is, "I should do that."

I've been keeping a journal since I was about fourteen (with a brief hiatus in my early twenties) and I can't tell you all the great things it's done for me. It's helped me clarify my thoughts. It's helped me understand myself better. It keeps a record of what I've done and felt over time. It's what started me on the road to writing.

I strongly recommend journal-writing to everyone, but especially people who struggle with knowing their own mind; people who aren't always connected to their feelings; and anyone who wants to write.

Here are some tips for starting and keeping a journal:

1. Find your medium.
I write and think much faster through a keyboard than a pen, so I keep my journal as a file on my laptop. I know now that's what works best for me. But before that, I used nice pens and those expensive spiral-bound notebooks with vivid pictures and inspirational quotes. And before that, I used big pads of drawing paper, and I wrote in colorful markers. (This was inspired by the book Inspiration Sandwich by Sark.) Figure out how you think and write best. You should be able to get thoughts to page in the most direct way possible.

2. Maintain consistency. 
I suggest writing for a few minutes every day. Sometimes those few minutes will be all you need, and sometimes they'll grow. Put it on your to-do list, but don't beat yourself up if you don't get to it. Guilt is the first step to not doing it at all.

3. Start with the easy stuff. 
I always start by writing about what I've done over the past day. It's a quick way to get going, and often spirals into deeper thoughts and feelings based on the events I'm writing about. As an additional perk, you'll have a record of major (and minor) events in your life if you ever need to settle a dispute with your spouse over when something happened.

Please comment below if you have any further questions about journal-writing, or my personal journal habits. I would love to help/encourage others with this valuable routine!

PS- I've had to re-enable the code type-in on comment posting because I was getting spammed. It takes less than a second to type in the code. Remember that it is case sensitive.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

5 Things To Do When Making a Big Decision

When it comes to making a big decision, I take my time. I always want to go where my gut points me, but since my gut doesn't always communicate clearly (no Mexican food jokes, please) I can't decide right away. I have to take days, even weeks to think it out, talk it out, and sometimes put it aside. And then the moment will arrive: my gut instinct will kick in, and the decision will just come to me. This happened to me when I decided to break up with my college boyfriend (the one before my husband, if you happen to know we met in college). It was in the back of my mind for weeks, and then one day I was closing my flute locker (yes, I had a flute locker) and I just knew I was going to break up with him. And I did. And because I was so certain, I didn't even feel bad about it. (He was definitely not the right guy for me, though I'm sure he is/will be for someone else.) It's been 13 years and I still remember that exact moment of truth.

Here are some tips for things to do when making a big decision:

1. Talk about it a lot, with many different people. 
Talk about it with people affected by the decision and people who aren't. Have long discussions about it, even if much of what you discuss has been said before. Sometimes it takes several times hearing the same thing for it to truly sink in. And it's often at the end of a roundabout conversation that the gut feeling kicks in.

2. Write it down.
Depending on the type of decision to be made, some or all of these may work: journaling; making a list of pros and cons; mind-mapping (or "bubbling"); free association; stream-of-consciousness.

3. Do something physical.
It doesn't have to be exercise, though that works for me. It just has to be something repetitive and mind-clearing. You need to be able to get into a "zone" where your mind separates from your body. Then your thoughts will start to re-arrange themselves, and you'll find clarity.
Do something artistic.
Play an instrument; draw; do needlepoint. These serve the same purpose as doing something physical: getting you in a zone.

4. Take care of yourself.
Eat healthily. Take your vitamins. Get lots of rest. If you get sick, you're going to be focused on how you can't breathe out of your nose, not the decision to be made.

5. Occasionally, forget about it. 
Take a day off from thinking about it! This is probably the hardest thing to do, but it's worth it. Just like the "shower principle," it's when you stop thinking about something that clarity comes.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Babies Boost Creativity!

Yesterday I was paging through (a useful and fun website that generates web pages you might like based on your interests) and found a BBC article on Five Ways to be More Creative. The first recommendation in the article is to change your routines. They suggested changing the way you do little things, such as make a sandwich or drive to work. But it made a connection for me to something much bigger.

Ever since Edwin was born (well, ever since I started getting past the complete exhaustion and felt human again) I've found myself with an abundance of creative energy. I get new ideas all the time. I feel inspired and excited about writing. I have "lightbulb" moments constantly, about everything from a character in my novel to Edwin's eating habits. I've been attributing this mostly to two things:

1. I'm not working full-time and dealing with the intense stresses and anxieties of school, which leaves me more mental space. (Though being a stay-at-home mom has its own stresses and anxieties, and I recently added up the hours I spend on writing projects and teaching private lessons, and I'm working at least 20 hours a week, the equivalent to a part-time job. And I hate that I just felt the need to justify myself here. That's another post for another day.)

2. Mothering, especially first-time mothering, requires living very intuitively. You can get advice from books and family members, but most of what you do is based on what you feel is right. Living in a state of intuition generates creativity.

The BBC article gave me another explanation, though. Changing your routine can lead to increased creativity. What's the biggest routine-changer of all? Having a baby, of course! Suddenly, your time for work, house-care and personal tasks is cut drastically, and because of the unpredictable nature of babies, you don't even know when that time is going to open up. So your routine is shaken up daily, even hourly. You live minute-to-minute, feeding to feeding, nap to nap, diaper change to diaper change. What could be more of a routine-changer than that?

It's not something I ever expected from motherhood, but I owe Edwin a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you, sweetheart, for not only being such an adorable and amazing little boy, but for re-wiring my synapses for the better. Thank you for boosting my brain while you grow your own every day. Parenting really is the best job on earth!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Laughable Schedule

As I mentioned in my last post, Time is Not Created Equal, I did a time log for a few days recently to see if I was spending enough time on my priorities. It was very enlightening. I was pleased to see that I'd spent plenty of time with family, taking care of the house, and playing with Edwin. I'd also used Edwin's nap times wisely, editing my novel or writing blog posts, except for one day when I did online shopping instead (a total waste of time, since I have little money to spare). I did find that I was watching too much TV, not planning enough evening activities, and not spending nursing time wisely.

After logging for a few days, I thought I saw some patterns in Edwin's schedule that might help me to set a slightly stricter schedule for both of us. I've been practicing "baby-led" scheduling, meaning I watch for Edwin's cues and daily patterns, and try to enforce them so they become more routine. I'd particularly like to get his naps on a schedule, and possibly consolidate the usual two longer and one shorter nap into just two long naps. So I created a rough timetable, one for the days I teach lessons in the afternoons (Mondays and Thursdays) and one for my non-lesson days (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, though I often plan longer outings with my parents on Fridays).

I have to laugh, now, thinking of that schedule. It worked for one day. Then Edwin got thrown off course- I've forgotten why, but he probably woke up unusually early or late the next day- and his first nap was at the completely wrong time. Which meant lunch was at the wrong time, and his next nap, and his playtime, etc. And thus all of the things I had scheduled for myself while he was napping and playing were also at the wrong times. It became pretty clear to me that Edwin isn't ready for a strict schedule, so I went back to what I had been doing before, which is more of an ordered routine than a by-the-clock schedule.

There were a few tweaks I was able to manage, however, and I think they've made my days more full and productive, and helped me re-focus on my priorities. These tips might help others who'd like to re-evaluate their schedules, with or without babies in tow:

1. Set nighttime hours. 
Experts say that it's best to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, including weekends.  One thing I have managed to keep fairly timely is Edwin's bedtime, so I just needed to enforce my own. I try to be in bed by 10:00 and read with my Kindle for a short time before going to sleep. I've also started getting up at 7:00. Even if Edwin wakes up earlier, as he often does, he's tolerant of letting me rest a little longer while he babbles in the co-sleeper. The rest is usually needed, as Edwin still wakes up  and nurses several times a night.

Amazingly, daylight savings had no effect on Edwin's bedtime at all! He got tired around 7:00 and went to bed just after 7:30 as usual.

2. Be prepared.
I saw in my log that I spent a lot of nursing time playing on my iPhone. Sometimes I like just sitting and watching Edwin, but other times he's less active and I like to keep myself occupied. I waste a lot of time on my iPhone, especially on Facebook. I'd rather spend that time reading, but the Kindle was often still in the bedroom when I sat down to nurse in the living room. So now I just make sure the Kindle is out on the coffee table in the morning.

I also wanted to spend more time reading to Edwin, because we don't always get much book time before bed if he's tired. So I'm keeping a stack of books out on the coffee table as well, to grab and read one or two at a time when he's in the mood.

3. Re-prioritize technology. 
I'm trying to promote my writing and create a bigger platform, so upping my Twitter presence is important. I resolved that if I am using my iPhone, I will go to Twitter before Facebook. This was made much easier when my Facebook app stopped sorting stories properly.

4. Add music.
I wanted Edwin to listen to music more, not because I believe it makes him smarter, but because my husband and I are both musicians and I want him to have exposure. I wasn't sure where to put this in the day until the nursery-rhyme music component of his favorite play mat broke. Now when he plays, I put the TV on one of the music channels, and that satisfies all of us.

5. Create learning opportunities.
I've been very interested in Baby Signs, a program that teaches babies sign language so that they can communicate before they can talk. Though Edwin's still a bit too young to pick up on it, I want to start using it so I'm in the habit when he's of the right age. I was trying to figure out when I had his attention best to teach him a few signs, and I realized it's when I change his diaper. He loves having his diaper changed (the sweet little weirdo!) and watches me intently the entire time he's on the changing table. So I'm going to keep him there a few minutes longer each time to teach him signs.

6. Plan downtimes. 
I've started watching Sesame Street with Edwin for a little while in the afternoons. We snuggle on the couch and watch for awhile, and usually fall asleep. It's peaceful, and has become my favorite time of day.

I never realized how incredibly smart Sesame Street is. It has plenty of inside jokes for parents while being fun and educational for kids. Hooray for PBS!

7. Plan evenings. 
Now that Edwin's going to bed earlier, I have a big time block in the evening that's free. I've been using this for a variety of things: spending time with my husband on the nights he's home; baking granola bars without interruption; writing blog posts; calling my friends; and sometimes just relaxing with Netflix and a glass of wine. I'm more aware of this free time now, and so have been using it more wisely.

I strongly recommend doing a time log for a few days to see where you're really spending those hours and minutes. It gives you a chance to re-think your priorities and see if your daily life is going in the direction you want.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Time is Not Created Equal

As you all know, I'm very interested in the subject of time and how best to utilize it for a fulfilling life. From experts like Laura Vanderkam and Tim Ferriss, I have learned how to balance work and family priorities, how to find small pockets of time and make them productive, and how to interact with the world more efficiently. I've learned to see time as a limited quantity with which we can do limitless things.

Something I don't feel gets discussed enough is the concept of time quality. All time is not created equal. On the most basic level, for most people, a free hour at 3AM doesn't equal a free hour at 3PM. At different times of day, we may be tired, cranky, or in need of emotional support, and our ability to be productive, whether at work or home, declines.

Here's an example of reduced quality of time due to the need to multitask. I did a time log last week to see if I was spending enough time on my priorities. One thing I noticed right away was that I do have significant pockets of time while Edwin is awake but doesn't need me, mostly when he's playing in his playpen (which he loves doing multiple times per day). I thought to myself, "Great! I've found more time to spend on my writing projects." But in practice, I found that those hours aren't as productive as the time I spend writing while Edwin is asleep. This is because I find writing so absorbing that I have a hard time splitting my focus while he's awake, even just to keep an ear out or occasionally look up from the screen. I have a hard time getting lost in the words when I know those babbles could turn to fussing any moment. On the other hand, when he's asleep, I'm not worrying about him, and I work better. Yes, I know he'll wake up eventually, but that's such an obvious cue that it pulls me out of my writing trance instantly.

Time quality can also be reduced by emotional state. For example, if you just learned that your beloved grandparent needs major surgery, or that your friend's house was robbed last night, your emotional state may not be conducive to productivity. When I'm anxious or disturbed about something, the way I manage my time changes completely. First I work frantically, hoping to lose myself in my efforts, and then I crash and need to do something to distract myself, such call a friend or watch mindless television. If a major emotional crisis disrupts your life, such as a death or a divorce, it can take weeks, months or even years to get back the same quality of time you once had. (This is why we have therapists, The Office, and cookie dough.)

Understanding time quality can also help us to find the best time to do things. If you recognize that your working time quality is decreased after 6PM due to mental exhaustion, perhaps that's a good time to schedule a mindless but still productive evening walk. Conversely, if you're intensely energetic between the morning hours of 9-11, that's the best time to schedule your highest-priority work, whether it's a writing project, an interview, or time with family.

Do you manage your time based on its quality? How do you think you could use the concept of time quality to help you meet your life goals and priorities? If you are experiencing an emotionally difficult time, what can you plan that will help you get through it?

There may be hope for multitasking. I wrote this post in between three separate attempts to get my son to take a nap. In between, I sat him on my lap as I typed, set up a DVD for him to watch, and returned the pacifier to his mouth multiple times. As for the hour I wasted attempting to get him to sleep? I guess we'll just file that as quality time with baby.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

CI 3

Current Influences, third edition!

What I'm reading/recently read....

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. I think the guy is a little nuts, but obviously smart, and I like his style. The concept is to outsource and compress your work until your company (or the equivalent, if you're not the boss) virtually runs itself, and then you can use nearly all your time to pursue your dreams. It's a great idea, and it obviously works for some people, but I'd personally rather do work that I love than try to avoid working.

What I'm taking away from the book is the inspiration to pursue dreams; the exercises on how to be fearless in the workplace; and the tip about "batching" time-consuming tasks, like checking emails.

Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino. I haven't gotten very far in this book yet, but it's making me want to increase my blog traffic and Twitter followers. I am getting there, little by little, but I still have a long way to go before I'm playing with the big gals. I'm relieved to learn that while nonfiction authors are almost required to have a platform before being published, it's not a prerequisite for fiction authors, though it certainly helps.

The Pollyanna Plan by Talli Roland. I bought this for a light, cheerful read, and it delivered. It was also set in London, which I love. A quick, cute read, though not quite as optimistic as the title would lead you to believe.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. I haven't finished this yet, and don't know if I can. It has the classic Picoult trademarks of multiple perspectives and moral gray areas, but this time it's more historically based. One of the characters is a ninety-year-old former SS officer, and another is an Auschwitz survivor. Reading about the Holocaust causes me physical pain. (See former posts Sing You Home, my last Picoult read, and The Difficult Read, my last attempt at Holocaust literature.)

Bossypants by Tina Fey (re-read- it was actually my very first book review back in September 2011). It's been kind of a sad/tired week, and nothing beats it back better than some great comedy writing.

What I'm watching...

Freakonomics: The Movie. I LOVE Freakonomics, the book/website by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner: Freakonomics website. The movie is a very small taste of the book, but well done. There are segments on how to motivate kids to do better in school (it involves cash prizes and limo rides) and why/how Sumo wrestlers cheat.

Sesame Street (season 37). I'm just starting to introduce Edwin to Elmo, Cookie Monster and all the rest, so naturally I'm enjoying it more than he is. I love that even though the cast of characters and the social messages have changed quite a bit, it's still the same show, packed with learning and fun.

I Love Lucy. For the same reasons as Bossypants.

What I'm checking out online...

PinterestStumbleUponChloe Travels (my sister-in-law's new food/travel blog)

Tomorrow I'll be finishing the third- and most altered- draft of my book. Time to call in the editors!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Feel-Good Diet

Over in England, the book topping the Amazon bestseller list is called The Fast Diet. The crux of the diet is that you can eat what you like for five days, as long as you "fast" for two days. On the "fast" days, you consume two 250-300 calorie meals, and that's it. It's gluttony meets detox, week after week.

While I won't argue that some people may get results from a diet like this, I already know it's not for me. For one thing, I would totally abuse the "eat what you like" credo, which would likely negate the "fast" days. I also know I'd be miserable during the fast days. Hunger makes me cranky and whiny. I might even pass out (friends and family know I occasionally do this anyway, just for dramatic effect- say, at a favorite vacation restaurant, or while 13 weeks pregnant).

But the main reason I would never do a diet like this one? It would make me unhappy. And why do people diet in the first place? Apart from health reasons, it's usually because they think being thinner will make them happier. And maybe it will. But is it worth being miserable on the road to thin?

Personally, I'd like to shed those last 10-12 pounds to be back at my pre-pregnancy weight. I'd like to lose another two pant sizes. And I'd like to do both of those things before summer. But I'm not willing to take drastic measures. I'm not willing to sacrifice my happiness for my waistline. (Or my hip line, or my butt line.)

Instead, I'm going on a diet I just made up. It's called the Feel-Good Diet. Here's what it involves:

1. Exercise, at least half an hour, five days a week. Exercise gives me tons of energy and endorphins, and helps with the baby-carrying muscles.

2. Eat meals/snacks that make me feel good, not just in the moment, but in the hours afterward. For me, this means cutting out sugary desserts and fat-laden meals, and eating more veggies, fruits and lean protein. It also means eating smaller meals more frequently, something I like to do anyway.

3. Drink a little wine and/or have a little dark chocolate every night.

4. Get as much sleep as possible, considering my six month old boy still wakes up 3-4 times a night at best.

5. If I screw up the diet, I won't stress about it.

I know this is going to work for me, because the only way I lose weight is by not obsessing over it. I've done food journals and counting Points. I've weighed myself every day, and weighed myself once a month. I've gone to personal trainers and nutritionists. And none of those things have worked as well as just relaxing about it and eating well in moderation. (Except the personal trainer. I credit her ass-kicking and circuit-designing for at least a five-pound loss in 2011.)

So that's my Feel-Good Diet. (Patent pending.) Anyone want to go on it with me?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Resolution Check-In

It's finally March! That means spring is around the corner. Hooray!

It also means we've been through two months of 2013 so far. How is everyone doing on their New Year's resolutions? Were you able to make ones that fit your wants, needs and lifestyle? Were you successful at keeping them?

Here are my original resolution tips: Resolution Aid 

For accountability's sake, I'll let you in on how I'm doing with mine. For each one, I'll give myself a letter grade and an assessment based on two months of working on the resolution.

1. Go through several drafts of my novel by editing/writing while my son is nursing or sleeping; show it to peer editors; sign up for mentorship program at GWW; start process to publication.

How I'm doing: B+
Why: Editing is going very well, and I'm starting to get that feeling of anticipation that means I'm getting close. I'm starting to show it to people, and I'm planning to call GWW this week. I'm only giving myself a B+ because I think I could have edited more in January.

2. Experiment with magazine writing by composing 5 query letters per month of varying topics and sending each to 4-5 periodicals with varying circulations.

How I'm doing: D
Why: I haven't done any of this! Though it's still possible that I might do it before year's end, I keep stalling on it, and I've started to think that magazine writing might not be my thing. And I replaced this project with another writing experiment: writing a children's book series with my friend Cristen. That is going much better and I feel happier working on it than I did composing magazine queries.

3. Maintain current schedule of exercising (4-5 times per week) and blogging (about 7 times per month).

How I'm doing: A+
Why: I've exceeded both of those goals with nearly 200 minutes of exercise per week and blogging 9 times in February and 10 in January. Yay!

4. Help my husband and me eat healthier by cutting up salad vegetables every Sunday for easy salad making, mixing and packaging trail mix, and baking healthy breakfast bars.

How I'm doing: A
Why: Every Sunday I wash and chop a bunch of salad veggies and we make fresh salads several times per week. I find that keeping the lettuce in the salad spinner makes it stay fresh and crisp longer. I also mix the trail mix and package it for my husband to take with him to work every day, and we bake the breakfast bars together every couple of weeks. Here's the recipe we use (found on Pinterest): Homemade Alaskan Energy Bars

5. Learn how to make 10-12 cheap, easy healthy dinners that we both enjoy.

How I'm doing: A
Why: Pinterest is fantastic for recipes. Every one I've tried so far has been a winner. I now have 7-8 dinner recipes that fit the bill. Not bad for only 2 months, especially since my husband is still cooking at least as much as I am. (He's the far superior cook, and I'm the better baker. But since I'm home more, I have to take more responsibility for cooking.)

6. Take better care of my teeth by flossing and using fluoride rinse every night. (This will be the hardest to accomplish, as I hate anything to do with teeth!)

How I'm doing: A+!
Why: Every single night, no matter how tired I am! I even do a series of stretches during the 60 seconds of fluoride rinse. I'm giving myself the "+" because I hated this so much at first, and now it's no big deal. It's also really important, since my union benefits have lapsed for the duration of my leave and I can't afford to see the dentist. (Which I am not complaining about. I am not kidding you when I say I'd rather give birth again than go to the dentist.)

I'm pretty pleased with how I'm doing so far. How about you?