2016 revolutions: Writing

Over the past year, I’ve been experiencing some brain fogginess. I don’t know whether to chalk it up to even less time spent exercising (because of longer hours at work), perimenopause knocking at the door, or to new depression meds I started at the beginning of 2015, but the result has been a decided decline in the amount of writing I do, both for work and outside of work. In the fall, I did publish a piece on mentoring in Friends Journal and submitted an extensively updated 8,000-word encyclopedia article to update one I wrote several years ago. That felt good, that writing.

I’ve spent the last week visiting family. I don’t know if it’s the sunshine, a ton of walking, or just vacation time in general, but over the past few days I’ve begun to feel some of my old energy, the kind I can keep in reserve and use on all kinds of side projects.

That’s super exciting for me.

Maybe I’ll return to Idaho and the cold and gloomy weather will pull me back down into lethargy. I hope not, and I’m going to try to elevate my mood and my energy with better eating and more walking. I love the energy I’m experiencing right now.

2015 in hindsight: difference

As I look forward to 2016, I also want to recall how, in 2015, Marci gave me the STAR word “difference.” I printed the word on a paper star and posted it above my desk at work.

Lots of things were different this year.

  • I turned 40, a cultural milestone, especially for women. Already I can feel the hot breath of perimenopause on my skin.
  • We bought a house this summer, our first. It’s lovely, if already kind of scruffy around the edges in the ways our residences tend to become. (220 pounds of dog generate, it ends up, a lot of dog hair, and the garden is huge.)
  • I sprained my ankle really badly in late September falling down the stairs of our new house, and I used crutches and a knee scooter for the first time in my life. Learning to use crutches at 40 is pretty miserable, especially when, like me, one is more than a little out of shape.
  • I took a new job and have made it my own. I adore the people with whom I work, and I am eager to go to the office every single day because the kind of work we do is really interesting and important. Alas, I also have learned more about human resources than I ever cared to know. (Next up: learning more about delegating.)
  • Because of the new job, I’m home later in the afternoon or evening than I used to be. I’m so grateful Fang long ago committed to being the work-from-home, PTA-type parent.
  • My son turned 10, another milestone. He also earned his second-degree black belt and is turning out to be a bright, balanced, and intrinsically motivated kid. I’m one proud mama.
  • I lost an aunt who I thought might outlive me. She had always been my healthiest relative, and her illness and passing has grounded me further in the here and now and made me reconsider my own health and fitness, especially since I had to show up to her memorial service on crutches.
  • I experienced a major attack on social media that made me experience the world differently, at least for a while, and reinforced some ideas I have about whiteness and masculinity in Idaho.
  • I flirted again with Quakerism, attending a couple meetings for the first time in years and writing an article on teaching and mentoring for Friends Journal. I deepened my belief in the primacy of nonviolence, especially with regards to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.

Even though much was different this year, I wasn’t sure how I was embracing difference or making a difference until recently, when my efforts began to pay off in ways large and small.

  • I’m not necessarily at liberty to say exactly how my efforts at work are making a difference–and doing so might make it seem as if I’m tooting my own bureaucratic horn–but I will say I’ve been working hard to get administrators and faculty thinking about priorities in undergraduate education, with a particular emphasis on the accessibility (in every sense of the term, including disability and affordability) of course materials and where the university invests in its technological resources. I’ve been speaking up and pushing back in an attempt to move undergraduate education forward. A lot of this work has involved, appropriately enough, talking about difference among students.
  • In the last couple months of this year, I’ve been trying to emphasize work-life balance, which seemed out of whack when I was primarily a faculty member. I’m fortunate to rarely have to take work home with me–much of what I do can wait until the next day–but I have often mulled over work challenges in my head when I’m at home rather than attending 100% to my family life. I hope to maintain the little momentum I’ve built up there with Fang, the boy, the dogs, and domestic life.

2016 revolutions: Eating

This is another post about small steps adding up.

A few years back, I spent several weeks eating vegan and sugar-free. The experiment worked wonderfully–I felt better physically than I had for a very long time, I looked great, and my thinking clarified.

At this moment, I’m not ready to commit to that kind of dietary rigor. However, I am looking to be more mindful about what I eat. This might take the form of:

  • Eating as little dairy and sugar as possible, with occasional indulgences.
  • Packing my lunches the night before, so I don’t succumb to laziness in the morning and decide to buy my lunch.
  • Making meal plans for the week so that I know exactly what I need at the grocery store, instead of forgetting key ingredients or, worse, falling into a rut in which I buy and eat (or, let’s be honest, toss out) the same fruits and veggies week after week.
  • Being more aware of how much food costs. Food is a major category in our household budget, and I feel a good deal of guilt around that spending.

2016 revolutions: Walking

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, educator and author Parker Palmer has committed to five revolutions. I share his social justice concerns and am working for these causes in my own small ways. However, I have also overcommitted myself in my professional and personal lives, and so for 2016, I’m not just resolving to refocus and regroup, but to completely change the way I approach each day–but by taking very small steps.

In some cases, these steps are literal.

For years–including when I was an undergraduate at Grinnell College–I walked many miles every day, no matter the weather. In Grinnell, I’d walk from one end of town to the other, from soy to corn to alfalfa and back again. Walking was a little bit of exercise, yes, but its solitude, rhythm, and wordlessness also served as a form of meditation.

In hindsight, walking also kept me sane. By the time I arrived at Grinnell as a sophomore, I had been wrestling with depression for at least a decade, but I didn’t start taking antidepressants until almost four years after graduation. Instead, I walked. And walked and walked and walked. One summer I ran, but I found little joy in it other than being able to enjoy more ice cream treats at Dari Barn.

Somehow, though, I got out of the habit, other than taking the dogs for largely perfunctory jaunts around my immediate neighborhood.

I’ve been running through antidepressants more quickly in recent years. Each new pill becomes ineffective after a year or two, and each one feels less effective than its predecessor.

Accordingly, I’m recommitting to walking a lot.

That’s my only fitness-related resolution for 2016–to seek better mental health through movement. Anything else I happen to do fitness-wise is frosting on that cake.

Small steps. They add up.