Showing posts with label Living Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Living Life. Show all posts

What I Did On My Summer Vacation...[Insert Laugh Here]

This summer has been great.  I started a doctoral program and finished my first two courses.  I got in some good running (even after recovering from an injury).  I got to finally go on my honeymoon.  I got a lot of different projects off the ground.  But my most exciting experience thus far has been the stand-up comedy class that I took at North Shore Community College's community education program.  This six-week course has been not just a great opportunity to start to think about and write stand up routines but also an opportunity to meet some great (and really funny) people.  

I took the class because I figured I could always spruce up my teaching with a bit of side-humor or just make my material potentially more engaging, but I've found the experience to be something more.  It's definitely unleashed a lot of creative writing around humorous content and it's been fun to develop a singular bit while getting a lot of content and writing for other potential future bits.  

The class format was simple but effective and run by the fantastic Amy Tee.  Class 1:  Introductions, discuss ideas about what you want to do, start to think about your script.  Several days before Class 2, send Amy the script or what you have thus far for feedback and tweaking.  Class 2: start practicing in front of classmates for experience and feedback and repeat.  Along the way, Amy introduces different pieces such as callbacks, persona, and getting used to the stage dynamic.  By the second half of the 6 week course, we're recording our bits to get of a sense of how we sound and look.  And like any good creative endeavor, this process proves effective when I look at my original script and where I have it now.  

Beyond the class, we will be doing a live performance on Thursday, September 17 at Timothy's on Route 1 in Danvers, MA.  Tickets are $20 and include both dinner and 10 soon-to-be-minted comedians going for their first performances.

Comedy Show in Danvers MA Flyer

Of course, the question I first get is if I'm nervous about performing in front of an audience of potentially 100+ people.  There is some nervousness in me somewhere, but it feels more like first-day-of-class nervous.  It's there, I acknowledge it, but it's not something that will prevent me from doing it.  If nothing else, it feels exciting to get the first experience out of the way because I think I'd like to actually do more performances in the future.  

It's always fascinating how random things (like taking a comedy class) can open up new ideas and generate something in one's self that wasn't necessarily there before (or has been very quickly coaxed into being).  If nothing else, this reminds to always to try new things.  

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tales of Running: Battle Won and on the Path to Victory, or My Amazing 30K

I'm still awed by my performance that the 30K run I did on Sunday, September 29, 2013.  Maybe that sounds a bit conceited.  I don't mean it to be.  My mind is still reeling from the accomplishment.  That I could do a 30K still shocks me even though I did it last year.  But that I did the run today in a personal record time that I didn't think I could do, just leaves me awestruck.

Image: Lance holding finishing medal.
I should mention that I cried twice during this run.  I couldn't help it and truth be told, I didn't want to stop it.  I've talked about crying while running before.  It's just something I do.  Somewhere between the physical exhaustion and the mental realization that I am doing something that for much of my life I thought was not only crazy to do but beyond my ability, I'm overwhelmed with the fact that I am not only doing it, but actually enjoying it.  And so the tears of joys and the heavy sobs are signs of pride.  

I have much to be proud about in my running of late.  The last few races that I've actually done, I've had great success.  I had to skip the Wicked Half Marathon from last week because of other obligations, but I did manage to have a hard run this week.  I ran 6.5 miles at a 9-minute mile pace.  I know that will never break any levels of success.  But much of the summer, my runs of 45 minutes or longer were somewhere between 9:30-10:00 minute miles.  I sometimes would do better if it was a road race, but my own runs, never really dipped below that.  However, this past week, I destroyed that record.  

Great as this was, it was a shadow of the 30K accomplishment.  Last year, I suffered through this run. I did it but it was harsh and I walked significant chunks of it.  I also opted for the Sunrise start, concerned that I would be so far behind that the race would end before I did.  I came in at 3 hours 39 minutes.  I was and am proud of completing it.  After doing it, it opened up the consideration to do a marathon and has led me down the path to where I am today.  

But today was glorious for me.  I nailed this race beyond what I thought possible.  On Facebook, I said that I'd aim for 3 hours 20 minutes, but I had hoped for 3 hours 10 minutes.  I came in at 3 hours and 55 seconds.  I carved 39 minutes off my run in the last year.  In fact, at the 13.1 mile point in the race, I was around 2:06, which means I even shaved 3 minutes off my best half-marathon time.  The significance there is that I have shaved off 35 minutes from my half-marathon time.  This is important because I think one of my own goals in the next year or two is to get under the 2 hour mark for the half marathon and it's clear that it is definitely an achievable goal.

Digital watch time:  3:00:56 hours; 18.99 miles
30K = about 18.6 miles
GPS watch isn't entirely acurate
I had contemplated doing the Sunrise start again, but decided I would start with the other runners and aim for under 11 minute miles (which was the cut off point between the regular start time and the sunrise runners).  It was clearly the right decision.

There are many thoughts and experiences surrounding this run for me.  Some of which are clear such as watching the lead pack of runners past by at several points in the race (there were several places where doubling back occurred).  They glided by me at a pace I will never know but every time they did past by me I did find my step pick up and found the strength to push a bit more through the race.  I'm not envious of them for their skills--I'm often in awe of them.  And though I will never know their speed, I do get the distanced and determined look in their eyes as they move their bodies.  There's the herd of people I regularly jockeyed with throughout the race.  Many who pushed me and many whom I pushed, getting ahead, falling behind, going step for step, none of whom I know, but all of whom I'm thankful for.

I did the right things for this race again.  I spent a lot of the week leading up to it, visualizing and running hard in my mind.  I rest up and fueled up well in the morning.  I stretched and gave my mind the inner peace to prepare for the trek.

But one tactic that I haven't talked much about but have taken advantage of is receiving reiki the day before my runs.  In fact, I've had regular sessions of reiki from Mindful Reiki Healing and it has had a wonderful calming and centering effect that has worked wonders with the mind-game that makes up much of running.  Receiving reiki in itself is a rewarding and peaceful experience.  However, in conjunction with such physical challenges, I have found it gives me something else to call upon and center me as the running continues and my mental capacity diminishes.

In all, the run was a great accomplishment that I'm still smiling about.  It gives me a lot of hope for the marathon (in 3 weeks) and is quite rewarding to see the work paying off.  I have one more half marathon before the big race which I'm looking forward to (again, sentences like that still make me laugh and think "Who are you?").

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Travel Updated #13: Coming Home & Reflections

So I came back to the US on May 31, 2013 in the evening but have been quite busy since I came home.  I finally had a few minutes to reflect on my travels and bring this video journal to a close.  I appreciate everyone that's been reading it and enjoying the videos.  They were fun to make and experiment with and I hope they weren't too painful to watch!

Today's random images from the photo archive:

A scrumptious English breakfast!
The Eye of London
Camden Town Marketplace

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Travel Updated #12: Getting Lost in Paris with Kate Bornstein

So I decided to get lost in Paris while listening to Kate Bornstein's A Queer and Pleasant Danger.  It was a great time had by all!

Today's random images from the photo archive:

Just what the doctor ordered!

In the Garden of Luxembourg...who knew?

Hey!  She shrank...and moved to Luxembourg?

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Travel Updated #11: Enjoying Paris to its Fullest!

Paris has been fantastic!  Here is my update of my excellent day yesterday, but for more details about my wanderings, check out my journal as you'll find out about my crepe adventure and soaking in all the sights--as well as my FAVORITE part of the Louvre!

Today's random images from the photo archive:

Now entering the Louvre.
A sculpture that grabbed my attention

Lance make's crepes....not really!

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Travel Updated #10: Arrival in Paris

So I have left the Netherlands and even Berlin and am now in Pars!  Fun times await!

Today's random images from the photo archive:

Inside the Berliner Dom
Notre Dame

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What Social Media Has Taught Me About Sensitivity and Respect

Following up on my post about the Boston Marathon bombing and even other posts where I discuss my positive experience with social media, I have been thinking about the fact that social media has made me more sensitive and reflective.  So often I hear people discuss social media as a dehumanizing and vampiric tool on human sensitivity and respect.  The anonymity and distance from one another allows us to be mean without consideration of the impact.  Just do a quick Google search on the latest obnoxious, racist, sexist, and mean things flowing out of the internet and this justifies as proof-positive that the internet is a cesspool of despicable peoples.    At least that's how the argument goes.

But I find it's quite different for me.  I'm increasingly sensitive to what I'm saying, posting, commenting upon, and interacting with online.  That's not to say I'm censoring what I say or refraining from speaking, but I'm more deliberate in what I have to say and I'm likely to vet it more before posting.  Even on Twitter, I think more critically about my use of 140 characters.  I'm still critical and challenge things that I find problematic or dubious, but the ways in which I challenge them are increasingly more restrained.

I find myself doing this for a few reasons.  The first is the fact that because of digital technology, anything can be captured and recapitulated into the larger world in mere moments and I will largely have little say of whether that something of mine is deep and respectful or obnoxious and insulting.  Also, at the end of the day, I want my digital identity to correspond with and reflect my physical identity (or at least my conception of it).   Another reason is that I find much richer and rewarding conversations and dialogue when I post with respect than when I don't.  I make more friends and connections.  I learn more about myself and others.  I get a slice of that human need for dialogue.

I've also realized that aggressive arguing, attacking, and insulting doesn't suit me.  I would rather not be up half the night in such debates like the meme below.  I can easily get an awful sense of indignation and righteousness--that's not hard at all for many of us given the right topic and the wrong comment.  But I find little or no value in dispensing my wrath through social media.  Largely, because it doesn't dispense itself but just sits there waiting to collide into someone else and begin nothing productive but a virtual yelling match between two people.  That is, anger just festers.
We often do this; and yet never feel better.

But the internet and social media feel less and less like an nebulous, anonymous, and potentially hostile environment to me and more and more like a very large room with the capacity for people to hear everything that you may say.  This enormous, ongoing, cross-cultural, trans-generational conversation puts me in contact with many other people in many different places (geographically, politically, spiritually, sexually, etc).  Slowly but surely, the conversations that I've hopped into with more callousness or sense of right have only reminded me of the multiplicity of understanding and process in the world.  In plain, it's shown me time and again that I'm wrong in many different, humbling, and wonderful ways.  Thus in moving forward, I increasingly try to step back before stepping forward.

So where is all of this coming from?  Last week, I heard about the major explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas as it was being reported; it is another tragedy in the unfolding like the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that week.  Upon first hearing it, a host of quips came to mind--none of which were appropriate, but did capitalize on the intersection of fertilizer and explosion.  I have no doubt Twitter and the like are inundated with such quips and off remarks.  I could have easily tossed out a bunch of them, but I realized I didn't want to.  Sure, someone might laugh but it would be at the expense of real people.  People that I'm likely to find out in some way, shape, or form, I am connected to--and who even if I'm not connected to, I'm likely to read about their stories, lives, and experiences from a variety of writers and creators on the internet.  This is what I mean by the large room.  We become much more aware of how closely we are connected and that means we're more connected to events even when they are afar.  We see the human element of the event more and more because it's a quick check of our various social networks to get a sense of who it has reached.  We're increasingly in those networks of connection.  

Thus, more and more, when I prepare to hit the send, tweet, publish, or post button, I'm more likely to think much more about who will read this and how will impact them.  How can I communicate my thoughts and ideas in a way that will effect them without insulting or aggravating them.  I think it has made me a better communicator in many ways and have seen direct and indirect indicators of this.  It's also made my life richer and more enjoyable.

To be clear--I'm no saint in this regard.  I still slip into a more antagonistic role in social media at times.  Though I find it interesting that I'm likely to do that with people that I've known 10 years or longer--slipping into previously established scripts and roles--but for most people whom I know from adulthood and may have never met face to face, I find that I try to maintain a mutual respect, regardless of differences.  It's not an all or nothing and I think there is a learning curve involved.

I think it's also that social media brings to our attention the ways that we are in our day to day lives that we miss or don't necessarily see--but can actually follow in through looking at a week's or month's worth of posts and comments on a social media site we favor.  This opportunity to capture how we interact and be able to examine and study it is something I don't think we really have done well in our day to day lives.  Our conversations, interactions, and gestures are fleeting and thus deny the opportunity to fully study and understand.  Yet, social media has helped me understand what it is that I do and how it is when I interact with people (for good and for bad).  And that is a fascinating opportunity to get a more defined sense of who I am.

I write this, like I write so many other things, because I believe there are many more like me and who have yet to put pen to pad (or fingers to keys) but still find what I have to say resonating with their own experience.  If that is the case, please speak up in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter (@leaton) or elsewhere on social media.  I would love to know that I'm not the only one out there finding that social media is informing and improving our sensitivity.

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Bending & Folding Time and Space In a Non-Physics Sort of Way Part 2

So in my last post, I explored some ways to save time that address the daily routines of life.  In this post, I'm going to look at other facets of life where I have re-oriented time to work for me.

I've talked about them before, but it needs to be reiterated.  Audiobooks are singularly an excellent means of reclaiming time.  This works on two levels.  The first is clearly that one is getting to read books, he or she wouldn't have otherwise been able to while engaged in sometime (e.g. chores).  Second, it exposes one to a potential wealth of knowledge that a person can use to inform one's life.  Many of the changes I have made to save time have been gleaned from the learning I experienced while listening to audiobooks and doing other things (commuting, chores, running errands).  While it can take some time to figure out what kind of listener you are (that is what genres, types of narrators, and what environments work best for you), it can open up much more opportunity to learn and explore things while otherwise engaged.

Coordinating Tasks

Many people make their "to-do" lists before leaving the house.  A key to any to-do list is to rank them according to distance.  If I'm going out on 4-5 errands, I spend the extra two minutes figuring out which one is closest to each next task so that I spend the least amount of time driving/walking/bicycling.  Without a doubt, I can save a half hour or more in strategically moving from place to place.


However, it's more than that.  Aggressively integrating audiobooks into my life also represents one of the core features I've worked hard to instill in my life.  Synergy.  When I was in undergrad at Salem State, the history department chair was Dr. Dane Morrison.  I had known this word before him but would always associate this word with him after college.  Over the course of several years, I witnessed him give this speech to incoming history majors about making their life synergistic.  I had heard this before from my father--though he never used that word.  But ultimately, both him and Dr. Morrison advocated for finding ways to make life overlap.  This was a lesson I took to heart and still look to do today at ever vantage point.  Audiobooks best represent my attempt to apply continued learning and experience even when doing things that don't necessarily demand serious cognitive demand.  It's a means of reclaiming time.

Synergy for me has meant blending interests in ways that maximize outcomes and frees up other time.  A good example of this was when I was a lifeguard.  For my high school senior year and all through college, I was a lifeguard.  But I worked largely at pools that were 5 feet deep in the deep end that either were adults only (health clubs) or required adults to be present with each child (apartment complexes).  There were a great many hours when the pool was either unoccupied or minimally occupied.  This afforded me lots of hours to do reading, writing, and homework.  Even if I worked thirty hours a week, at least half of it was free time in which I got my school work finished.  This meant  with my free time, I didn't have to worry about my homework or getting caught up.  I was often ahead.  This followed suit in grad school where I began working overnight at residential programs.  I was being paid to stay up all night and to check on the residents regularly.  One way to keep me engaged or busy through the night was to always have homework to do for grad school--which there always was--and to get grading done for the classes I taught.  Again, while working overnights messed with my schedule, I also had more free time to readjust because my "work time" also coupled as my school time.
"Time is an illusion; lunchtime, doubly so."  Douglas Adams.
Choosing Time
My friends knock me for being notoriously early, especially if it requires commuting to places that are far away or require driving during busy traffic.  There's been a handful of conferences south of Boston (I live North of Boston) that I have attended in the last year.  Each would start around 8am or 9am.  This pretty much meant that I would get caught in slow moving, almost torturous (were it not for audiobooks in the car) stop-and-go traffic.  This sounds supremely wasteful of my time.  Instead, I usually opt to get up and out of the house by 5:30AM.  This puts me well on the other side of Boston before the first hint of traffic.  I may arrive early but this gives me the opportunity to find a coffee shop and do some work or read.  I sometimes even just go for a walk and enjoy the morning.  I'm able to relax, knowing I've made it to my destination and can reclaim time that I would have otherwise spent in driving.  That's the bigger lesson here is to look for opportunities wherein you can do the same thing in less time.          

Coupled with this is to always make sure wherever you go, you something to occupy free time.  I'm rarely without a book  or something to read (especially now with a smartphone and the Amazon Kindle app).  I usually have pen and pad (or just a note-taking app).  That is, I always prepared to entertain myself if there is foreseen (sitting in the doctor's office) or unforeseen gaps in the regularly scheduled program.

Time vs. Cost
For about a year and a half, I paid for cleaning services (from a great company, Green Clean Salem) in my apartment.  I did this because time was at a premium and it was cheaper for me to purchase these services than it would have been to do the cleaning myself.  Weighing time and cost isn't just about considering what you should pay someone to do something--it's about realizing how much time it would take you to do the same thing and the cost to you weighed against the cost and speed with which a professional could do the same thing.  In this instance, I chose the professional.

Time and cost are a tricky formula that often become an ongoing assessment.  I look at the different services I pay for (and those that I do myself) and am regularly asking "do I pay for that or do I do that?"  A good example is my usage of Netflix.  I've gone from high usage with three or more discs to only one disc--I supplement this with use of my library, requesting films from my Netflix DVD list (the ones you can't watch instantly).  Doing so has reduced my spending on Netflix and helped support my library system.  Equally useful is that I work next to my school's library, so the time is largely just the time it takes to request the DVD.

Saying Yes, Saying No
Time is the ultimate commodity that we trade.  That "time" comes in different forms--being physically present (say for a hug) or emotional present (to listen to someone--online, on the phone, or face to face) or doing something (for ourselves or others).  The biggest way to save time and give yourself more of it is to genuinely reflect about what you enjoy and what you don't, what you need to do and what you don't.  Don't waste time agreeing to things you don't want or need to do.  Learn to know yourself well enough to do those things that are of reasonable importance to you and shed the rest.  I'm not a sports fan and thus, do much to avoid going to sporting events, watching sports on TV, and engaging in sports talk with friends and colleagues.  Sure, it puts me out of conversations at times, but on the whole, it has given me more time to do the things I really write on this blog.

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Bending & Folding Time and Space In a Non-Physics Sort of Way Part 1

In conversations regularly, I get asked a lot about how I manage to do all that I do.  Within an hour of one friend asking me about how I do this, another friend posted a great blog entry about how she's renegotiating time with her child.  Thus, I figured I would also add my own experience to the mix.  For instance on my docket right now is the following:
And as I wrote the above list, it did feel like a lot (and I would imagine I am missing some things).  I do this largely while still being able to regularly get at least 7 hours of sleep on most nights.  A colleague of mine at my first major job out of college said it quite well:  "You take all those snippets of time-10 minutes here, 15 minutes there--that no one thinks about and put them to work."'t_stop_time.JPG
But you can fold & bend it.
But it does seem a lot and largely, it's not in the name of the Puritan ethic of productivity--though it does end up making me a very productive person.  I do it all in the name of pleasure.  These are all things that I really enjoy and find rewarding.  That luck and effort have colluded in a way to make my life so blessed, I can't pretend is entirely of my own making--but being persistent in my pursuits to various has certainly paid dividends.  That is, I recognize that a good deal of my being able to do this has much to do with luck and the circumstances of my surroundings.  That being said,  I think there are some things that I do that help contribute to this in some capacity that I want to touch upon here.

Automating Life
I look for things that I don't really need to think about so much as I need to be reminded to do.  Apartment tasks such as cleaning, changing out the litterbox, or taking out the trash regularly need to be done but are rarely in the forefront of my mind.  I also would rather not take up mental space or time recalling or figuring them out.  In this vein, I find Google Reminders a boon!  I load my calendar up with a variety of reminders and have reminders sent the day before or on the day of (depending on the task and it's time quantity).

In recent years, I've also taken to ordering food in bulk off of Amazon.  One friend jokes that it's my fallout shelter but it's really just a fully stocked food pantry.  There are several benefits to buying bulk on Amazon.  First, Amazon provides reasonable discounts for buying in bulk and if over $25, shipping is free. Amazon also allows for a subscription to foods and toiletries to be delivered on a regular basis (from one month to 6 or so months).  So there's a lot of staple food (rice, quinoa, tea, coffee, dried beans) and toiletries (paper towels, toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant, etc) that I have subscribed to for delivery.  This has freed up a lot of time in terms of grocery trips and errands.  If I need to adjust because I need more or less of something, I can always go onto Amazon and adjust the frequency.

With my email, one of the best time-savers has been to actively use filters to only allow relevant emails to show up in my inbox (emails from actual people or things I need to see).  I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and am part of many listservs.  These emails are sent into various folders in my mailbox system for perusal at times when I can clearly and consciously dedicate attention to them.  This avoids me getting lost in a bunch of emails that aren't necessarily relevant or needs my attention.

Along these lines, I also often cook in bulk.  Some of which I will put in the freezer and the rest I will have for lunch and/or dinner for the rest of the week.  I usually try to make two large meals in a given week so that I can have some variation and also freeze some of it to supplement some other week later on.  This cuts down dramatically on cooking time.

Finally, I have automated payments whenever possible.  Be it phone bills, school loans, or any other regular bill, I just have it automatically debited or charged.  Again, this saves me time and energy of receiving the bills, filling out checks, finding stamps and putting it in the mail.

Cumulatively, these collection of tool decrease the need for me to have to remember to do things or digitalize things that are part and parcel of daily life.

In recent years, I've also realize the power of routines in one's life.  For me, the three routines that I find to be most useful are:

Going to Bed Routine.  I start this routine most nights about 1.5 to 2 hours before I'm ready to actually lie down for sleep.  It starts with making tea (some version of what's referred to as sleepy tea) but also includes showering, putting out clothes for the next day, prepping my lunch for the next day, putting out what I need for breakfast, packing my bag(s) for the next day, drinking said tea, and sitting down in bed to read for anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour.  Right before I turn out the light, I'll do some light stretching.  I'm amazed at how this routine helps to center me and prepares me for bed.  Most nights, I'm out within minutes of turning out the light.  It makes my sleep more potent as I'm fully relaxed and makes getting up easier because I know I've had a good night's sleep as that the morning is already set up; there's no need to scramble.

I find this routine rewarding also because it's a quiet and reflective time to myself.  I'm putting together my things for the next day--maybe listening to an audiobook or music--and just enjoying the motions and the solitude (ok, not entire solitude, the kittens love to trample underfoot).

Morning Routine:  The night routine gives way to the awakening routine which usually starts with me awakening (or being slightly nudged by Bear, one of the kittens) just a few minutes before my alarm clock.  My first and foremost goal is to get out of bed and stay out of bed.  A warm bed with two cuddling kitties can be extremely hard to escape from.  So my first goal is to get up, walk to the bathroom (turn on the audiobook), and wash my face with cold water.  This serves two purposes:  1.  It wakes me up much more than just getting up. 2. It's great for allergy season to wipe off the nightly build up of pollen.  From there, I'm putting on clothes, getting breakfast, and checking email (briefly), and taking care of any other last minute items.  It's overall less hectic because a lot of the issues needed to be taken care of already were--when I was in a more alert and prepared mindset the night before.

Rebooting the Mental Computer:  A large portion of my job consists of staring at a computer screen.  It's fun but it's also a lot of mental concentration and thought as I peer into a 2-dimensional viewbox, discerning information directly and indirectly.  Therefore, in order to focus or continue to be engaged throughout the day, I find it's useful to reboot my own computer at least once a day, if not more by going for a walk.  Sometimes, the walks are short--too the end of the hall and back and sometimes, they entail a lap around the campus for the air and eye relaxation.  Regardless, though they take time away from work, they also help me be more sustained and engaged in the work and less likely to lose concentration or maintain a low threshold of concentration.

Owning the Environment
A major component of this is that I've changed my physical environment significantly.  My "living room" is not the center of relaxation it is in many other rooms.  It's productivity central.  Sitting down to watch television has to be a conscious and determined act.  I've create spaces for certain things.  My bedroom is not so much a sanctuary but it's devoid of electronic entertainment.  I've got books a plenty, my bed, and a space to meditate, relax, stretch.  My kitchen and dining area is generally my chorse area (e.g. ironing, folding laundry, etc) and where I prep and eat.  My living room is for entertaining, working on the computer, and exercising.  This clear sense of space allows for me to know where things go, never really needing to do much organizing/cleaning up (besides sweeping/mopping).  This may seem like an irrelevant component, but it is useful as it cuts down on questions and confusion about where to put things or where to look for things.

If you've made it this far, you've probably NOT found things that help you save time per se, but to some degree add time to your life, even if it's adding time that will allow you to reclaim time later.  However, they are essential parts in the whole process in that they give attention to a great deal of the smaller facets of life that do drain or chip away at our time.  In the next part, I will explore specific ways that I either play with time or reorganize life to reclaim time.

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Obnoxious Tones in the Childfree Debate

This article in the Daily Beast on childfree living that was brought to my attention definitely irked me...a lot.  It had enough condescension and judgment about the nature of childfree living that I got a bit twitchy and proceeded to write.  Many of you know that I have opted for the childfree life and regularly engage in the conversation about the conscious decision not to procreate.  I've read and discussed it here on this blog and most of my friends know--it's one of my soapboxes for sure.  I understand and appreciate why people procreate, I just don't care for it and I get annoyed about the ways in which people decide they know what's best for me and other people making the conscious decision. I get further annoyed when writers attempt to talk about people opting for childfree living deliver articles that still echo of judgment.  Of course, some child-filled folks aren't likely to see the strong bias or underlying misdirects that the authors point out since the childfree lifestyle is often foreign to them (note--it's foreign but not incomprehensible--no more than the child-filled life is incomprehensible to childfree folks.  Too many on both sides of the discussion argue that the other can't "truly" understand what the other's life is like.  I find that an extremely misleading assumption.  Our entire lives and interactions with one another are extraction of personal experiences to understand the other person and that has the potential to extend to all aspects of life).  

So here are some of the faults I find with the article. 

Let's start with the first paragraph:  "First, for many younger Americans and especially those in cities, having children is no longer an obvious or inevitable choice."  The problem here is the last bit:  "no longer an obvious or inevitable choice."  Since when is an "inevitable choice" considered an actual choice?  It's not.  If you can have any choice of color of a Model T Ford so long as that color is black--it's not a choice.  So the authors' frame to imply "choice" when historically there wasn't any speaks to a bias of that's what "should" be done.  This bias is made crystal clear by the second sentence:  "Second, many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision."  

So not only do adults have actual choice, but they may have actual "legitimate" reasons to not have children.  However, one should be weary because those legitimate reasons are "selfish."  Wow.  First, the assumption that the decision to not have children is "selfish" while whelping out a pup is considered unselfish is problematic.  In many ways, procreating can be argued as an ultimate act of selfishness--particularly in a modern world where each child puts further demand on a ecosystem that humans are already overtaxing and in conjunction with the massive number of children who have no homes or families.  Choosing to procreate in that light would be seen as much more selfish and self-centered. 

But why do my reasons for not procreating need to be legitimized?  I've consciously and purposely chosen not to have children whereas nearly half the pregnancies out there are  "unexpected."  That suggests to me that our lack of legitimate reasons and conscious decisions for procreating in all likely still contribute significantly to the gender gap, since procreation invariably impacts females substantially more than males (both directly and indirectly).  That many can't legitimize their need to breed beyond "because" isn't entirely reassuring and again, given the aforementioned environmental and social issues above, are much more suspect and problematic.  After all, my decision to not procreate puts no further potential burden on the larger social system than that which I already represent.  But those who procreate increase the direct (in terms of resources consumed) and potential (should the parents rid themselves or lose the right to have said child) burden upon society.  But my decision needs legitimacy?  To be clear, it's not the act of procreation that I take fault with.  It's that my decision to not procreate needs to be legitimize and is regularly framed as "selfish" when there's clear reasons why we would want to legitimize the selfish decision to procreate.  

The next problem I see in this article is the term "Postfamilial America."  That somehow not procreating means you are beyond the traditional family?  Again, it hints at this idea of being non-family oriented.  However, many of the people I know that don't procreate are very-family oriented.  Connected and close with their families in ways.  And if by post-familial refers to the idea that we extend ourselves beyond our traditional family bonds; that too is inaccurate.  The 1900s gave us the nuclear family, but "family" has had a much larger meaning throughout history and extended to a variety of people that weren't necessarily family or superficially family.
History of Human Population--we have little
 to fear about a population decline

The article flailing cries that "Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920."  This statement is a bit confusing since first, by fertility do the authors mean women who are potentially fertile or women who have become pregnant?  But I think it's the nationalistic vibe that permeates the article that we see start to rise.  Population decline may be happening in pockets, but the global picture continues to be one of substantial growth.  We're 7.1 billion and counting.  In the course of visiting the Population Institute website for about 10-15 minutes, it was reported that the population had grown by 1000 net births.  

The authors continue to fixate on the concerns and challenges that are supposedly created by those selfish non-procreators.  Whose going to replace the workforce?  What about all those elderly entitlements?  (Of course, he seems oblivious to the fact that adults without children--particularly DINKs--are likely to have more resources to work with and be less of a social burden).  The authors are not concerned about the overall continued population growth in the world, but about the United States.  So much of the challenges that he points to--only exist because of a self-interested and one might say selfish approach to looking at human population.  These are artificial threats created by an artificial barrier called nation.  Here, the authors are playing upon a xenophobic bias (his own and the readers) to ignore the larger picture and just frame the US in a state of crisis (making note that we could go the way of Europe or Japan who also face population declines) that is in part, caused by the childfree selfish people.   

The overall assumption that the population growth of the 1900s was a positive thing seems ridiculous at best given when we know not only about the environmental impact but that in this country millions of children go undernourished and uncared for.  In the end, the idea that childfree living is somehow connected to a potential decline in our culture negates that the practices of the 1900s have created a variety of problems that childfree living actually addresses much more than negatively impacted.  Yes, we have benefited greatly from that growth--I won't argue that.  But the idea that it is sustainable and childfree people are compromising America's future by having legitimate yet selfish reasons for not procreating is ludicrous.  

Ok, there was a lot more that I wanted to write, but I think I'll save that for a book.  This article probably doesn't deserve any more attention.

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Defaults and Cues for Improving Life

Humans are creatures of habit; blame it on our need to feed (refuel) or need to sleep (recharge), but we regularly find ourselves set in our ways of how we go about things, how we see things, and how we resolve things.  This can be good when we establish habits that are good and beneficial to our health, relationships  and work.  However, it can also be detrimental when we form habits that negatively impact our health, relationships, and work.  A part of my life has been trying to improve upon the more problematic or unhealthy habits I've accumulated along the way through circumstance, accident, or overindulgence.

There are two great strategies that I've found to help me make reasonable changes that direct me towards more healthy habits without a lot of internal struggle or relapse into bad habits.  They work well with redirecting my energies and thoughts, enabling me to make the better choices more often than the bad choices (which is what it's all about, no?). 

Strategy #1:  Defaults

Dan Arielly has me thinking lots about default settings.  In the chart below, he examines the difference in organ donor rates among different European countries. As can be seen by the chart, countries are either extremely high or extremely low in their capacity to donate organs.  The reasoning for this is that the countries with low organ donor rates sets the default as "not a donor" whereas the countries with a high organ donor rate sets the default as "donor".  Because it is a default--not necessarily because people are more ethically dedicated to their fellow humans in those countries.

That's not entirely surprising for some.  After all, companies all the time create the a service the default (e.g. automatic renewal, monthly subscriptions, etc) and make opting out a required conscious (and often tedious) act.  However, it can be used to help one reorganize and refocus one's efforts.  Thus I have spent a good deal (and continue to do so) creating beneficial defaults for my life that produce healthier and more rewarding results.
No passivity while watching TV

In hindsight, creating and using a standing desk at both home and work was one such default.  I changed the default of sitting around to standing around.  In my life, this idea continued to grow until I fundamentally changed my living room into an activity room.  Between standing desk, treadmill, and spin bike, if I'm inclined to watch TV, I'm inclined to be active.  If I want to sit down and watch TV, then I have to consciously move a chair around to do so.   This has significantly changed my level of activity and screen time.  I still enjoy watching films or TV shows but rarely do I just sit in front of the TV And to be clear, I understand the reason for wanting to just do that (sit and watch TV), but many of us create that as the default and probably do way more of it than we want--many is the time that people share with me how much time they waste watching TV or ask me how I do so much.  Some of it is just that I don't let the time-suck that can be sitting in front of the TV consume my hours.  

Notice with both chairs, to use
them for TV, requires
a conscious act.
Similarly to this, I have purposely made my bedroom a TV-free room.  I have plenty of books in my bedroom and ample lighting, but no TV.  Electronics are for other rooms, my bedroom is for sleeping and reading.  In that way, it gives me a distraction-free zone to enjoy and get lost in a good book.

There are many other defaults that I set.  The book Mindless Eating pushed me to reset certain defaults in my kitchen, including getting smaller dishes for my meals.  They recommend smaller cups as well, but since all I ever have in refrigerator for drink is coffee, tea (home-brewed), and water, I'm less inclined to follow that recommendation.  However, if you are someone drinking other types of calorie-heavy beverages, it might also be a consideration.

I still want my treats;
but the giant back is too inviting
The "snack-size" version now popular in many grocery stores is a great idea for setting a size default, but I had trouble with the environmental side effect of wasting all that extra packaging so regularly.  My solution to this was to buy the large bin worth, open it up, and break it into small reusable plastic contains.  (and depending on the snack, rewashing after every use isn't always necessary.  This way I can have my sweets or less healthy snacks but not necessarily overindulge as a large contain would lend me to do.
Morning routines can sometimes be hard to get into and I find that if my default is to set my clothes out the night before along with my meal for work and my breakfast (by set out, I mean prepare enough so that the bare minimum is needed, e.g. add liquid, microwave, or just open), it makes getting up much smoother.  The major blockades have been dealt with and it's just about acclimating to the new day.  This can work particularly well if you want to try to go to gym or work out in the morning; pack the back the night before and there's less to argue against in the morning.

Strategy 2:  Cues

Cues are a great mechanism to get remind you to do something.  We use cues all the time.  Traffic signs are cues.  The classic string around the finger is a cue.  I've collected a handful of useful cues that help me better keep focus and organize my life.

The most promising cue that has worked for me is being vegetarian.  I became vegetarian for health, environmental, and ethical reasons, but at the end of the day, it's mostly about the health impact.  Being vegetarian means that I do have to make conscious decisions about what to eat.  Given that we are a meat-centric society (want proof--go into a restaurant--what's the ratio of meat to meatless meals?), by saying that I won't eat meat means I have to consciously think about what I am eating.  In doing so, this acts as a cue to pay attention to what I'm eating.  That in turn makes me do better (more often than not, at least) in making sure I eat a reasonable amount of food and not necessarily overeat or mindlessly eat when I'm not actually hungry.

Other cues that work well for me is where I place my work bag at night.  Different days determine different things to throw in the bag and sometimes some of those things are still linked/charging on my computer or may be what I'm reading before going to bed.  Regardless, at night, I place my bag either at my desk or by the door.  If I place it by the door, that cue tells me it is ready to go.  If the bag is by the desk, it tells me I still need to put stuff in it.  My water canteen cues me to regularly drink water.  I always try to carry it on me and when I do, I'm prone to drink and refill it twice a day or more (upwards of 80-120 oz).

Finally, I use (ok, abuse) my Google Calendar to help generate cues for different things to do around the apartment.  I can fill up my calendar with regular reminders about the different things that need regular doing (e.g. changing the litter box, washing the sheets, etc)--habitual things that I will forget at times (that is, forget exactly when I did them last) and can use some consistent cues to keep me on track.  These calendar events will be sent as reminders to me in my email or cellphone, making it much easier for me to stay on top of life and the regular needed chores.

Recommended Reading

The following books have proved helpful in getting me to come up with these ideas.
  • The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely
  • Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults & Swallow Citizens Whole by Benjamin R. Barber 
  • Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
  • Mindfulness by Ellen Langer
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
  • Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  • Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  • Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell
  • Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink

What kind of defaults and cues do you use to help organize your life and keep sane (or partially sane)?

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