Monday, November 29, 2010

Out of My Time? A Love of Old Things

I've heard the phrase "born a generation too late" and sometimes I wonder if it applies to me.

You see, I love old things. We collect old books. We love letterpress printing (and own a printing press). We have older artwork on our walls and mostly older furniture or replicas of them. I love quilts and depression glass and, well, lots of material things about the past. I love the looks of pre-1930s cars and wish modern cars looked as classy. I'm into steampunk, historical fiction, and victorian/western reenacting.

Of course, any time I start wishing I could hop into a time machine and go back to the past to live, I remind myself of several things:

1. I love computers. I live on my laptop and am addicted to the internet. I'd never survive in the past.

2. I'm a woman. Let's face it. The past is better if you are a white male. Privilege and all that.

3. It's a dirty, dangerous place. Medical advances. Toiletry advances. This time frame has a lot to offer.

I guess I'm lucky that I can support the music, art, books, and printing techniques of the past and still enjoy all the pleasures of the present.

Friday, November 26, 2010

November: My Monthly Progress Report

This weekend marks the start of the 9th month of my blog. I'm not sure I've kept proper count in past progress reports since I think I already said something like this. Regardless, I started my blog on March 28 (on the occasion of my 41st birthday) and have been writing it ever since.

The goal of this blog is to have a place for me to write about my concerns and thoughts on self-improvement--because at 41 I realized that I was unhappy with the way my life had been going lately and I wanted to make it better but wasn't sure how.

If you've been reading my past posts, which a few people have been doing to my surprise, you'll know that I have been examining my difficulty with getting and staying organized, my issues with procrastination (particularly with various projects I have been working on, including my novel), and trying to determine what career choices to make.

I've had some ups and downs. I finished a major event which was a lot of work but afterwards I was so burned out that I spent months being depressed and getting nothing else done. I've just started getting out from under this but the holidays always mess up my schedule and add new stresses.

I've been unemployed since the first week of my blog, unfortunately (although I did hate my job so there are some feelings of happiness about this), and my husband has also been out of work for that same time period, having been laid off from his work a few months before me. This obviously has led to financial issues and stresses, which has not made my quest easier, although it certainly has led to more time being available for pursuing what interests us.

I made a list of things I wanted to do this year which would expose me to new experiences and force me to stretch myself more (break out of shyness, fight my fears, and try new things) but I've not been following through on this list for the past few months and would like to get started on it again. I enjoyed it when I was doing it. I tried a new hairstyle, wore a costume, tried some new recipes, etc. I don't know if I will finish all of them before my 42nd birthday but we'll see. I can, at least, try.

I was participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this month but it will come as no surprise that I've not been following through and probably won't meet my goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. I'm not sure why I've been holding back. Even on days when I had time, I've made excuses and not written that much. I did make some progress with my novel, more than some months, but I wish I had been more consistent on writing every day. I will have to work on that for the next month.

The end of the year approaches and I know that this is a time of the year when many people, myself included, often spend some time reevaluating our lives. For those of you on the journey of self-discovery and improvement like myself, I hope you will share your insights with me in the comments. There is no reason why we need to be alone while we strive to have better, happier lives.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Accept/Expect: Finding the Balance for a Happy and Fulfilled Life

"I want to accept myself, yet also expect more of myself."

Gretchen Rubin, of the Happiness Project, often talks about self-improvement in ways that get me thinking about my own project to find myself (my own version of a happiness project, I suppose, although I've not defined it that way).

Recently she wrote about the balance between accepting and expecting. This was a thought which has surfaced for me a few months ago but not stated as clearly: if self-acceptance is important for happiness, where does the need to improve, strive, and change fit with the need to realize that we are good as we are?

It can be easy to beat oneself up while seeking to improve oneself. I can remember clearly the self-loathing and anger I'd feel while trying to lose weight. One time I was actually borderline for a eating disorder, my first year in college, and I would look at other young women and hate myself. I starved myself and did other dangerous things because I wanted to change and my need to change was driven by a deep hatred of who I was right then. Naturally, this was a terrible motivator and I eventually woke up to the dangers I was putting myself through. I managed to talk myself out of a very dark mindset, but my eating habits stayed negative for a long time and affected my health.

In a similar way, I am currently driven by a deep sense of dissatisfaction in my life which came up around my 41st birthday. I was in a job I hated (which, ironically, I lost within a week of starting this blog thanks to layoffs), having recently finished my Ph.D. but unable to find work in my field (still looking for work, 6 months after being laid off). I am childless, originally by choice since we delayed this for my schooling and then because it just didn't seem to happen, and every birthday reminds me of the increasing likelihood that we will never have kids. I want to write a novel but have done little to make progress on it (better but still a ways to go). I want to be organized but my house was a mess (this is improving). I had a long list of projects to accomplish but never seemed to finish any of them (also improving).

I know the dangers of change driven by an anger or hatred of one's self. It can cloud the judgment and also mask who we really are. My goal is to find out what will make me truly happy, to push myself to go for the life which will satisfy me, to improve myself but to also see myself for who I really am and find ways to make that work for me. It would be ridiculous to change myself into some other person because that person seems more successful. I'd never be happy that way. Sure, I envy some of my friends with their successes, but I'm a different person and there are different measures of success.

I'm seeking to make myself a better person--to accept who I am and make that person the best she can be, not to change myself into something I am not. It's the parts of me that don't work well, which hold me back and make me unhappy (the fear of failure which keeps me from finishing projects, the shyness which keeps me from making contacts, the depression which makes me become more disorganized) which I am trying to improve. That is where the expectations and striving come in.

The Real Me I hope to know better before I am 42 is not a different me--it's just a me who has worked past the obstacles holding her back from a happier life. Hopefully this Real Me will have figured out a way to make a living (finding a job which is more than just a paycheck--but hopefully one that pays!) and accomplish the goals she has set herself. I'm spending this year trying to get organized, accomplish goals, stretch myself a bit (with my 41 Things to Do Before I'm 42 list), and think a lot about what I want in life.

Part of what I want in life is the ability to accept who I am, including the fact that I'll be 42, childless, and maybe still unemployed--but very lucky to have a great husband, family, and potential. I can have a great life, striving to maintain the balance of self-acceptance and expectation, so that I can improve myself without hating who I am now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Inflexible or Follower of Traditions: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

If I find a way to drive somewhere, I tend to stick with it, even if I think another way might be more efficient. My parents used to live at the end of a deadend street but years ago the street was continued and now leads out of their neighborhood to the main street, just as much as the way in and out I've always taken. Even though the new way is probably more direct, I have used the old one the same way I did when they first moved there because I'm used to it.

In the same way, I used to go to college by one route and home by another (because I believed that the traffic was best that way, found it worked the first week I started college, and never varied unless I heard there was a terrible accident along the route and I had to make emergency plans).

I have certain ways I like to do laundry or other chores. I have routines I want to follow for some activities. I find it upsetting when these ways are unsettled. It feels like there is a right way (the way I've always done it) and a wrong way (any other way).

Many of us, myself included, plan Thanksgiving dinner around what we've always done. It's tradition to have yams (or for some people it is tradition to have potatoes). Is there stuffing? Is it cooked inside the turkey? Pumpkin pie, mincemeat, or something else? People have traditions. The question is: when is it tradition and when is it being inflexible?

I think that it might be merely a matter of when the tradition becomes a problem to yourself or others. When it is a problem, then it becomes inflexibility. This can be when someone wants to change things, when a problem arises that necessitates a change, or when something isn't working but it is still followed in the old way because that "is the way it has always been done." I find some groups get like that with older members; some tasks or events are done not because anyone has a good reason for it anymore but because years ago there was a good reason and since then it has just continued, outliving its purpose or being handled in a non-efficient manner, all for the reason for tradition.

I've been trying to learn to be a bit more flexible. I think traditions are a good thing--but not if the traditions are held too rigidly and are causing problems for one or more people. Also when people get together there may be conflicting traditions, and when possible the traditions need to be a bit flexible to honor all the people involved.

I think this is particularly important during the holidays when stresses are sometimes higher and people are getting together with their families.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Little Things: How Disorganization Affects the Details Which Make a Difference

I've been rather disorganized the past few months. I was in the middle of a reorganizing session, hit a bad patch with depression (I guess that is the best way to describe it but basically I got done with an enormous project and was burned out, exhausted, and unhappy), and let things get out of hand. I'm just now getting back out from under the mess.

Here's one lesson I've learned from this disorganization--it leads to lots of small mistakes and problems which make things much worse in the long term.

In the past few weeks I've discovered that:
1. My calendar had a note on a particular evening that I had a "6:30 mtg" but no further information. I noticed this the day before the notation and spent the next 30 hours trying to figure out what meeting I was supposed to go to and never discovering it. I have no idea what thing I was supposed to do that night.

2. I put some wrong info on a flyer for one of my groups. I didn't catch an error in a telephone number until it had already gone out to many people (of course, neither did the three other people in my group who approved the flyer before it went out, but it is ultimately my responsibility). I got the info wrong because I copied it from an old flyer they gave me which had the number wrong--but I was too disorganized to bother to track down the other info they had given me to verify my facts.

3. I couldn't find some supplies when I needed them for a project, which kept me from being able to do something I wanted.

4. I misplaced a bill and didn't find it till the day it was due. I don't want to have late bills!

5. I filled out an EDD form incorrectly and now have to wait for a replacement unemployment check after I caught the error and notified them. This delays money I need to cover my bills.

These are 5 ways that being disorganized made my life more difficult. Luckily things are looking better around here. I still have some stacks of papers to go through and a few areas to clear off, but it is much better.

Each of these problems was small--no life shattering errors--but these little things all caused me problems with extra work, time wasted looking for things, and possibly affecting my credit and reputation. These are not small effects. I've heard the phrase "The Devil is in the details" and "God is in the details." Either way, disorganization often causes these details to be messed up, and then there is hell to pay.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beware of Ides: Why Fake Deadlines Didn't Work For Me

Procrastination. It affects most of us to some extent. I know I'm not the only one who has put off important projects or had trouble completing a big project on time. I'm certainly not the only Ph.D. candidate who had trouble writing my dissertation. One friend even talked about "ironing shoelaces" as what typically happens to people writing their dissertation: they'll do any trivial and unnecessary task to get out of doing more writing on their big project.

There is also lots of advice out there for fixing procrastination. One of the techniques frequently recommended is to set personal deadlines for a project or steps within a project.

I've tried that a number of times. I tried setting deadlines for my dissertation but I was always giving myself excuses. The same thing happened with my novel. I thought I had the perfect solution--to make myself work on my novel more often, I would set a deadline every month where I had to share my progress with my husband, and he'd do the same with his writing project. Since we'd have to be able to show progress every month, I thought this would keep us from slacking off too much on our writing.

I chose the Ides (the 15th of the month, made famous as the Ides of March when Julius Caesar was killed--"Beware the Ides of March!"). It was easy to remember, had a slightly ominous sound to it (thanks to the play) and was in the middle of the month so not too close to a lot of major holidays, so it seemed perfect.

The problem is that we haven't actually kept it even once since I started this program. That's right, in the 8 months since I planned to show progress on the Ides, my husband and I have not actually shown each other any writing.

The reason? Personal deadlines like this are fake. There is no bite behind their bark. I know there are no consequences for waiting a few days (which then turns into weeks). There is nobody holding me responsible for missing the deadline. I'm used to feeling guilty over not getting something done so this doesn't add enough guilt to make a difference.

During my dissertation, the only reason I finished was that my Chair announced that I was taking too long and set me a series of deadlines. If I missed even one deadline, she said, I would be asked to leave the program. Needless to say, I worked day and night to make each deadline (sometimes barely getting the chapter in to her on time, but never, ever missing the deadline). Those deadlines were serious deadlines and I didn't think about cheating.

I don't have the same pressure on me for any deadline I set myself. My husband would never hold me to a deadline in the same serious way and I know it. The pressure isn't coming from outside and is too easy to push off.

I suspect that this idea of setting personal deadlines only works for a small percentage of the people who have problems with procrastination. For some, it works because they don't have that serious of a problem with procrastination and the little extra personal competition (feeling like you should try to beat a deadline you set) or the discipline necessary to hold to a deadline was already there. Others may have a family member or friend who will hold them to a personal deadline with the same rigidity that my dissertation Chair did with me.

Unless one of these is true, a fake deadline may not work to stop procrastination. I'm still finding the perfect tools to help with my problems. People ar different in the ways they procrastinate, so the tools which are available need to be adapted a bit for the person having the problem. I seem to respond to hard deadlines, clear to do lists, strong motivation (reminding myself why I want to do something), appointments with myself, and timers. Sometimes these things work better than others.

I'm just coming out of one of my procrastination periods where I had a harder time getting things done. Things go in cycles – with my ability to get things done improving and then getting worse again. I'm now in the upswing so it is time to get caught up. Maybe I'll eventually figure out a way to keep me from crashing down into the nonproductive time periods, but I don't think it will have anything to do with the Ides of the month.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Accomplishing a Lot – but Never Enough?

Have you ever felt like you got a lot done but still felt like you should have done better because you have so much you still need to do? I've been feeling that way a lot lately. I have been working hard on an event and getting caught up on a number of projects. I've gotten a lot done. Still, I look around at all that still needs to be done and I'm not satisfied.

I'm sure this is a common problem. It seems that many of us find it difficult to be happy with our accomplishments. There is always a way we could have been better, tried harder, done more, or whatever it is that comes to our mind. Sometimes it is true, but even if it is, we often gloss over our accomplishments to focus on what could have been.

This may be the bias our mind has for remembering the negative. There are studies that show that people tend to remember the negative more. If you give someone 5 compliments and one criticism, the criticism is the one that will stick in the mind more. In the same way, bad experiences can linger, overwhelming good ones. I know that one trip I took with my husband is like this. Although I know I had a lot of good times, there were some rough patches (our airline caused a lot of hassle and stress and my husband didn't handle it very well, which stressed me). When looking back though, I mostly remember the overall negative feeling about that vacation, which is a shame because I'd been looking forward to that trip for 10 years.

In the same way, I have been feeling like I'm not getting anything done--while accomplishing lots of stuff. While it is important for people to see that there are still things to be done (and ways to improve), it shouldn't be done at the expense of recognizing the victories as well. We need to be careful that the negative doesn't begin to overshadow our perceptions and make things seem worse than they are.

For that reason, I'm trying to pay attention to all the things I do right this week--the goals I accomplish, the projects I finish, the progress I make. I can acknowledge all the things that still need to be done or the ways I could be better, but I am working on also celebrating all that is right too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Holidays, Remembrances, Celebrations, and Traditions

Thursday was Veterans' Day here in the U.S. and Remembrance Day (or Armistice Day) elsewhere.

There were ceremonies, parades, parachuters, flags, and patriotic Facebook posts. Some people visited graves of veterans or helped the living vets with visits to VA hospitals or other groups.

Like so many holidays, I wish we could all be like this year-round. When Valentine's Day comes, we are reminded to make sure our loved ones know our feelings. When Thanksgiving comes later this month, we will be told to show our thankfulness for what we have. When Memorial Day comes around, we honor our dead.

These are all good things, but do we, as a society, need one day a year to be reminded to do these things? Why does it feel like so many people only do these things once a year, and not all year long? Why are the charities overwhelmed with gifts, toys, and money in December but lacking in help the rest of the year?

I think these holidays are good things. I see nothing wrong with all of us taking the time to be part of a larger celebration; I just wish that it seemed like more of these good deeds and thoughts were going around on the non-holidays.

It shouldn't take a holiday designed by Hallmark to treat your loved one to a good night out and a reminder that you love her. Do we only love our parents on the respective holiday assigned them? Do you celebrate Grandparent's day--yes, there is one--or do you try to express your love for your grandma all year?

When a holiday takes hold, people feel good about participating and then excuse themselves from doing similar actions later. That's a problem. Our society needs to encourage these actions all year round and reward it--not just on an annual basis.

As we near the end of the year and more holidays come upon us, ask yourself, isn't this something we should do more often than just once a year? Would our society be better off if we didn't wait for the one holiday but gave to charity or expressed our feelings or volunteered our time, or whatever it is which you do on these holidays, more often? If the answer is yes, do it more often. Don't wait.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green and Pink Labelling: Making Us Feel Good But Little Else?

I've been reading a lot lately about "greenwashing" and the pink labels for the Breast cancer awareness campaigns.

For instance, did you know that there are now Carbon Footprint labels in Australia and the UK--and spreading across the globe--to tell you about the environmental impact of manufacturing and distributing the product? I'm sure you are aware of the growing range of products you can buy which are pink, carry pink ribbons, or otherwise are supposed to help raise money or awareness for breast cancer research. It's been everywhere lately.

First, let me say, I'm all for finding a cure for cancer--of the breasts or otherwise--but I'm sick and tired of the pink and the cutesy sayings ("Save Second Base!" "Boobies!"). I'm also less than fond of the idea of raising "awareness" for something that people are already aware of--can you imagine someone actually saying, "you mean, people can get cancer in their boobs? impossible!"

I want to raise money to find a cure--not to raise awareness. Too often the organizations behind these campaigns spend way too much money on marketing and administration and too little money on the research for the cure. That doesn't do anyone any good except the people in the organization who get paid for it.

Then there is the fact that we need to make people aware that heart attacks are a far more serious threat for most women than breast cancer--and is getting far too little money and research. And there are plenty of other illnesses which take people's lives which need the attention and research too. I think that the Breast Cancer people have been a bit too successful--making other causes suffer because people feel good donating to this cause--or worse, they feel good buying the yogurt and don't feel like they need to do more, even though buying the yogurt does little for anyone but the yogurt company.

I worry about this pinkwashing, and also the greenwashing, that is starting up in stores. I think it is great that we can find out more info about products--like whether they are local, organic (although let's get a bit more exact in our definitions, please), and environmentally sound. No reason why we can't get more info to make an informed decision. However, I worry about two things: how much we can trust these labels and will people simply feel like they are doing a good thing--while having little to no impact?

There are studies that show that we will sometimes do something "bad" after we've done something else "good" because we think the one excuses the other. Someone may not pick up their litter, excusing themselves as generally environmentally conscious--after all, didn't they buy that "green product" the other day. People may not give money to cancer research because they did their part--in buying yogurt, pink-themed products, and "Boobies" bracelets. That doesn't seem like the outcome we would want.

I think we need to examine products with Eco-Labeling or pink ribbon status and see what good it really does for the cause we care about. If we really want our products to be green, trusting the label isn't enough. We have to really examine the label's claims and who is claiming it--and know our definitions. If we want to raise money to fight cancer, we need to see how much of our money actually goes to the cause, how much to the product's manufacturer, and how much the cancer organization actually does to help fight cancer and how much it does for "awareness."

We can't get so lazy that the labeling companies do all the work for us. Then we are simply consumers driven by marketing, and not people making a difference. I'd rather make a difference!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Love of Animals and the Pain of Loss

Today I was reading a story about a dog who, long after its owner had died, was still waiting for the car to come home at its normal time. I think we've all heard of Greyfriar's Bobby (I've visited the statue in Edinburgh and the replica of it in San Diego) who waited at his owner's grave for years. Animals are amazing in their capacity to give love.

I have two cats, whom I love very much. One of them is dying. Last January I was told she had between 3 months to 2 years, but probably closer to the lower side of that estimate. Obviously, she has made it 10 months now, which we are grateful for, even though it means daily medication. Although she has cancer, you'd never know it by looking at her. She has been active, happy, and affectionate. She is not suffering in any way, although she really dislikes getting her medicine so that is a bit of a trial every night. Otherwise, everything is normal with her.

It saddens me when I think about losing her. Right now she is sitting next to me as I write this, curled up in a little orange and black ball. I also don't think our other cat will handle being alone very well, something that worries me. Our ill girl is the more self-sufficient one while the boy is the needy and neurotic cat, more likely to miss her than for her to miss him.

It isn't fair that we will have to lose her, probably within the next year. Then again, life isn't fair. Cancer certainly isn't. It takes many people and animals, including the young and the otherwise strong.

I can only give my cat the best care possible, lots of attention and love, and enjoy what time I have with her. That was true before I knew she was dying, just as it remains true today. In turn, she continues to give me the love and affection she has given us since we brought her home from the shelter.

Every time we've lost a beloved pet, it has been hard. I have several cats and dogs from my childhood whom I still miss. So does my husband. Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't have pets because it is so hard to lose them. However, when we've had no pet in our home, we've found our lives so empty and lonely that we had to go to the shelter and adopt. That's how we ended up with these two furry companions. Our previous cat had died, suddenly, and we had no pet for almost four months because we were so devastated by his death. Finally, though, we decided to get some cats. The day after we brought them home, I realized we had waited too long. We had been miserable without a cat in the house.

Pets bring so much to our lives, and ask for so little in return. I'm glad we have these cats in our lives. Although I will be heartbroken when we lose them, I can't say I wish I never had them. The world would be a darker place without their love.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Long Slog: Sticking With It Can Be Hard

I'm on my fifth day of NaNoWriMo and I'm already finding it hard to keep up with my word count. Like many projects, I went into it with enthusiasm and hope, certain this time would be easier. Then reality slips in when my back was turned and I see how much work I will have to put into my project, day in and day out, to succeed. That's when the real work begins.

It can be hard to do a project when things seem overwhelming. Despite being unemployed, I have enough volunteer work commitments that I already write a great deal every day. Then there is my internet addiction. Between the two I spend 16 hours at the computer already. Now add the novel I've been wanting to write for several years but somehow never got very far. NaNoWriMo is supposed to help me stay motivated, and so far I'm not that far off track (mostly because I worked ahead the first two days when I was still in that first flush of excitement).

I just worry that this will become like so much else--one of those things which I leave half finished or delayed because I became overwhelmed. Writing isn't that hard; it's writing every day and sticking to it that is hard.

Like so many projects, just DOING it is half the battle.

Here's what I propose to get past the problem:
1. I will work ahead in my count whenever I get the motivation so that on tough days when I don't get as much writing done, I won't be as far behind and get discouraged.
2. I will write everyday, at least somewhat, no matter what.
3. I will set up reminders to myself.
4. I will read inspirational pieces, but not spend too much time on reading when I should be writing.
5. I will remind myself about my goals and what I will gain from finishing this first draft of my novel.

I hope this will help. When projects pass that first flush of motivation and start showing the difficulty or complexity of the project, it can be hard to stick to it. I just need to remind myself that I am in it for the long haul. After all, this is my life and something I wanted to do. I should stick with it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ranting, Venting, and Progress

When my husband gets on a rant about politics, I get very frustrated. First, while we have a lot in common, we belong to different political parties (something he finds difficult to accept). Second, I don't see the point in covering this ground with me (his only audience). I don't plan on changing my mind about these issues, I've heard the rants before, and he knows it makes me angry. It seems pointless.

Then again, I understand the need to vent frustration. I'm just not sure where the line is drawn between venting frustration and ranting for no reason. It is hard to tell the difference.

The question is--does either venting or ranting lead to any real progress? Does it do anyone any good?

I'm not sure it does. He argues that he shouldn't have to censor himself, that it is unfair of me to ask him to stop doing this. I argue that it is unfair to me to have to listen to these all the time when it doesn't do any good to anyone. The only purpose is to allow him to vent--but I'm not sure venting actually helps. In fact, it seems to build rage rather than release it. This is especially true since if the rant goes on long enough, I will probably say something which will make it worse. It is hard not to when subjected to this diatribe.

There have been studies about happiness that says that writing about or talking about negative feelings only reinforces the unhappiness--rather than releasing it or making someone feel better. I often wonder if this is true in the case of frustration and anger over politics.

This is a nasty cycle that comes up which we haven't yet learned to escape. He is hurt that I want him to change something which he feels is a major part of him. I feel that he doesn't respect my feelings if he can't stop bringing it up, almost like he hopes that I'll change my mind. Worse, even on issues we agree about, he'll rant about the topic when he hears news relating to it. I already agree; I don't need to hear all the reasons why it is a good idea and should be put in place by the politicians.

I don't like conflict, at all. I commonly burst into tears over any raising of voices or disagreements. This has been a truth in my life since childhood. Naturally, this means that these politic harangues are some of the low points in my life.

I don't think these rants help anyone. If he wants to make progress, he'd need to take action--to write someone who can actually cause change or join a campaign or write a political blog. All they do is make me unhappy and, if the study I read was true, increase his unhappiness. That sounds like a lose/lose situation to me.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Planner or Panster? Thinking Ahead

In the lead up to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month--which starts today--Nov 1), I've been reading some tips on writing. One term that seems to be gaining popularity is to ask if you are a "planner" or a "panster." A planner is, obviously, one who plans her writing in advance. A panster is one who flies by the seat of her pants and does not plan ahead.

If you can't tell from reading my blog for all of these months, I'm a planner. In fact, I'm more of a planner than a doer, which is why I'm trying to change myself this year (thinking that this is the major thing holding me back from the life I want).

I've never been a "panster" or very spontaneous. I've envied people that ability to just go off and do things without planning. I have a friend who bought a house in early 2008, moving halfway across the country. 1.5 years later, he is selling that house to buy a different place 10 minutes from his first place. Why? Because he likes it better. I can't imagine just walking past a place for sale and deciding to chuck in all the plans for a place you just bought to buy a new home. It was so sudden and spontaneous. I've never been like that.

I have literally had to plan spontaneity into our lives. I'll be like, "next Saturday let's be spontaneous and go out to the park and see what we find." "Planned spontaneity" has become the phrase for let's go out and do something fun without too much prep or planning.

It's not like other people's spontaneity where they simply wake up one day and say "Let's go to the park now." In fact, when my husband has suddenly announced, "Let's go to the movies today" I've often resented it. I had plans for today. I had a list of things to do. Couldn't we plan to do the movie tomorrow so that I have time to adjust my thinking and figure out what I'll do before and after the movie? I know that I should be able to just roll with it and see these unplanned spontaneous moments as fun but I find them stressful instead.

In the same way, I plan my writing. In fact I have several stories in the planning stages. The problem is that, like my life, the stories continue to be in the future, not the present. I PLAN to write a novel, but am I ACTUALLY WRITING a novel? Not really.

That's why I decided to join in on NaNoWriMo. That's also why I decided to start this quest for my identity and life before my 42nd birthday. My planning hasn't gotten me to where I want to go. This either means that I don't really know where I want to go (a possibility) or that planning alone isn't enough. I need to figure out how to put the plans into action. Writing my novel is just one step to putting my plans into action.