Friday, September 30, 2011

The Experiment - Day 19

It's Day 19 of The Experiment where I must complete the tasks that my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns to me.

Yesterday's complex "The Four Elements" task went very well, and as I mentioned yesterday, Rebecca gave me kudos for a job well done. For Air, I meditated, focusing on my breath, and restricting my thoughts to all things air. I turned on the ceiling fan overhead so I could feel the air moving against my skin. I recalled my decade of hang gliding, windy days, air hiding in all the cracks and crevasses of trees. As if on cue, the wind picked up and the wind chimes sang and leaves rustled as I meditated.

For Fire, I created this page of affirmations with a fiery background. I printed it, crumpled it up, and burned it in our backyard firepit. Even though the ink was dry, it burned very slowly, sending wisps of smoke skyward. I imagined my affirmations and intentions being released into the all-connected universe and knew they would all come back to me. I watched as the paper went from dark gray to medium gray to light gray to white ash. It reminded me that transformation comes in stages, and that I shouldn't get impatient.

For Earth, I remembered that Beth had planted some snow peas, but only a few had germinated and she had been meaning to replant. I found the seeds, and replanted. I worked barefoot so I could feel the earth under my feet while I planted.

For Water, I started out by watering all the new cold crops in our garden (they were due for a drink). I thought about all the iterations of water I could - remembering days when I swam and body surfed in the ocean, floated down rivers, made cannon balls diving into swimming pools. Rebecca asked me if I had thought of waterfalls, and even though I had lived in Yosemite Valley for a year when I was younger, waterfalls somehow did not cross my mind! Hmmm.

Since I had to water the plants anyway, that wasn't really a task I went out of my way to accomplish. I felt like I needed to do something more. I considered heading to the French Broad River to sit on the banks and watch the water course by, but I didn't really have enough time for that. So I did something that I rarely (if ever), let myself do: I took a shower, but after I finished scrubbing and shaving, I sat cross-legged in the tub for an extra 5 minutes and let the warm water cascade over me. It felt luxurious, and I enjoyed every second of it. I kept thinking about the water cleansing and healing me. It felt fantastic!

I'm a little concerned about having enough time for today's tasks. Yesterday's task took a big hunk of the day to complete, so I need to play catch-up with work, plus leave for a 3pm meeting, and then I'll need to leave early to play a dance at Rebecca's school. Ah, the typical pre-task whining.
  1. Light a candle (with a match, not a lighter), and sit at the dining room table watching it for 15 minutes. After that, leave the candle to burn out on its own.
  2. Make a cool, funky craft. Have fun and be creative! I have something in mind, but it'll take a little time to do. I could figure out a simpler project, but I don't want to rush through something easy just to get it done. My schedule being what it is, though, I may have to keep it quick and simple anyway.
  3. Extra: Play fiddle for 30 consecutive minutes. Hopefully, playing for the dance will suffice for that one.
I'll let you know how I did tomorrow!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Experiment - Day 18

Day 18 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter assigns me tasks I must complete was a good day!

Yesterday was pretty good, too. I know I minimized the egocentric talk in the conversations I had, but we had a dinner guest, so his visit really was comprised of several conversations. I know I did a much better job listening than I usually do. But my recollection is a bit blurry, so I don't think I can quantify my performance. I think I did pretty well.

Today, I continued a bit with this task, and when speaking with one of Rebecca's classmate's mothers, I put in the extra effort to listen much and speak less.

Beth and I went down to the church's garden as instructed. The yield is waning, as would be expected at this time of year. There is a sign near the garden stating that the food is for the neighborhood and to feel free to harvest something - still, I felt sheepish when Beth took a few eggplants - why is that? Permission was explicitly granted and yet I wanted to hesitate. We will put those eggplants to good use - Beth has already made an amazing eggplant casserole, which I know she will repeat. But if it weren't for Beth, I would not have taken them - I'm glad she's bolder than I! Maybe I need to work on feeling more deserving?

I doodled, too (dle). But it was more of a cartooning endeavor - and some ideas came to my head for some satirical graphics, so I jotted them down, too. I felt impatient and didn't want to labor over any one drawing, choosing instead to hash them out quickly. But I completed the task!

I felt like adding some color to the page, so I have posted another photo of a flower in our yard that I shot yesterday morning - this time, a Mexican Cigar Plant. I think I want to give myself the task of taking a photo of our Hickory tree every morning at the same time, starting on Saturday, October first. I want to document its daily changing of color and shedding of leaves until it's bare. Hope it's vibrant this year!

OK, onto today's task (Rebecca gave me just one, because it's a hum-dinger!):
  1. THE ELEMENT TASK. Throughout the day, try to discern all four elements (earth, air, water, fire). Really connect with each element; take your time; no quick afterthoughts are allowed.
Since I'm posting this late in the day, I can tell you that I have already completed this task and Rebecca has informed me that I went "above and beyond".  I felt a swell of pride when she told me that. I know she works hard thinking of these tasks, so it's gratifying to know that I nailed one!

So what did I do? You'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Experiment - Day 17

Day 17 of The Experiment where I must complete the tasks that my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns to me.

I noticed one big shift already today: when Rebecca came to me to deliver the day's tasks, I greeted her and the tasks with positivity and enthusiasm, (as opposed to the usual half-asleep grumbly reception). I was already up and about when she brought the tasks (allergies got me up early this morning). But for some reason, even though I was groggy and stuffy, I had a completely different attitude. And I got a big hug from Rebecca in return. I want to repeat this for many mornings to come!

The sun revealed a royal blue clear sky, so while Beth took Rebecca to school, I went out and took some photos of the remaining plant blossoms in the early, golden light. Cool weather comes in a few days, so I thought I should take advantage of the last vestiges of Summer. Here's a photo of our Cardinal Climbers greeting the first rays of sunlight.

Yesterday's tasks went incredibly well, which is a great improvement on the previous day. I sent query letters to a few more literary agents. I don't know why I procrastinate so on this task - wait, yes I do. It's scary to put myself out there; doubts creep in about my children's story. Is it good enough? Or am I just another hack who thinks he's better than he is? It's time to be brave and find out. With each query, the process gets a little easier. I quell my doubts by fantasizing about some day in the future, when my agent calls me with a stunned sound in her voice to inform me that the book has sold a million copies, and that never in her wildest dreams had she expected I would be her most successful author.

I did play a game - and I confess, I did the minimum on this one task: I played a game of Yahtzee by myself. Scored 251 (not bad considering I never rolled a Yahtzee). Rebecca's response was something to the effect of "I guess that counts." I told her if it wasn't enough, that we could play a game together later, but the household tasks of the evening took over and we never got around to it.

I wrote in my gratitude journal about how much I appreciate Beth. But better than that, I expressed my appreciation in person a few times during the day.

I doodled a little bit, too. My doodle turned into a semi-abstract dandelion. If you look at Rebecca's task sheet for the day, you'll see how her doodle of a triangle turned into a portrait of a girl wearing a hat. So I think that is tacit permission to let my doodles transmogrify into tangible things.

Today's tasks are:
  1. Try and have 3 conversations where you don't talk about yourself unless someone asks a direct question about yourself.
  2. Go down to the neighborhood church and walk around their garden. I may even take my camera, since the light is so good today.
  3. Doodle for 15 consecutive minutes.
I'll tell you how I did tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Experiment - Day 16

Sorry I'm so late with this one - it's Day 16 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete.

I missed one yesterday - dang! I completely forgot to play a game. But as you'll see when you read today's tasks, I get a do-over.

Yesterday I waited until pretty late to read my humorous novel for 30 minutes - and I was mostly outside. I started around 6:30. And I pushed my luck, reading it on the front porch. I could still hear birds and crickets and smell the evening air. But Rebecca called me on it because I had so pushed the envelope. I should have at least gone to the Adirondack chairs in the backyard to read. I was mostly concerned with getting the task completed, not how well I completed the task.

That's a little embarrassing. That makes me want to strengthen my commitment to this Experiment, and approach the tasks with more enthusiasm and resolve. So that's what I will do today.

Today's is what Rebecca calls "Catch-Up Day", a day to reassign some of the tasks that I didn't complete.
  1. Do some more things with "Rebecca The Dream Flipper" (the children's story I wrote). Write more letters to literary agents, etc. I don't know what the "etc." will be. Really, the plan right now is to keep sending query letters to literary agents. I guess I could create an actual dream flipper spatula. That might be kinda fun, though it's nothing I need to do.
  2. Play another game - same deal as yesterday. Except today I'd better do it.
  3. Write in your gratitude journal. I actually have been making entries in my gratitude journal, even when it's not an assigned task! 
  4. Extra: Doodle. Always with the doodling!
I'll tell you tomorrow how I did today - and I'll post my blog entry much earlier!!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Experiment - Day 15

It's hump day for The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks (for the next 30 days), I must complete.

Hard to believe we're at the halfway point already. All yesterday's tasks were completed.

I walked a mile around the neighborhood with Rebecca. I noted that we were holding hands during our walk and that was a tactile sensation. She expressed that that sensation wasn't what she had in mind - she was looking for more external things. I maintained that our holding hands was an integral part of our walk and that it should count, but she was happier when I noted the acorns crunching under my feet when walking under an oak tree. I watched puffy clouds trace past a royal blue sky, tasted the salt on my lips (it was a warm, humid day), smelled that boggy earth smell near the house where all the bamboo grows, I heard the wind rustling through the trees and the trucks on nearby I-40. I did not see dead people, so I guess I don't have that sixth sense like in the movie.

I had high ambitions for doing something I hadn't done before - or hadn't done in a long time. I wanted to build a screech owl roost or make a candle with fall leaves embedded in it. But the little chores around the house conspired to keep me busy, and next thing I knew, it was almost dinnertime. I defaulted  to Rebecca's suggestion and  picked a few burgundy chrysanthemums and some flame cosmos and put them in a little vase on the dinner table. She had suggested something like that, saying "It can be something easy." Thank goodness Rebecca gave me an easy way to successfully complete this task!

Today's tasks:
  1. Read my current novel "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages" for 30 minutes. Read it outside (front porch counts).
  2. Play a game - either with somebody or by yourself. It cannot be a computer game. The day is already late, so I don't think Monopoly is in order. Maybe Yahtzee?
I'll let you know how I did tomorrow.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Experiment - Day 14

It's Day 14 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete.

I have been staying away from all my usual news sources. However, I confess I did make a short comment to someone's facebook post about the Wall Street Protests. I suppose that constitutes a violation - hopefully, just a minor infraction. I will endeavor to do better this morning and stay away from all news sources until 12:30pm.

I created a little happiness mini-journal and have added two entries so far:

The first was about getting our new little bantam hen, "Boots". She wasn't welcomed initially by our hens, so she is in a little cage just outside their run. Last night, we put her on the roosting pole with the rest of the birds. This morning, it was quiet at first when they exited the coop, but before long, they were pecking at Boots and chasing her around the run. We'll move the cage inside the run so they can interact, but Boots will be protected. And again tonight, we'll have her roost with the other hens. Hopefully, it'll only take a couple days before they all settle down and Boots finds her place in the pecking order.

My second entry was about pulling out the Fall candles and setting them up (on the little rustic shelf I built a few years ago), amidst all the ornamental gourds that we grew. Usually, I have all that stuff out before the official first day of Autumn, but it's still warm and a bit humid, so it didn't feel like Fall yet - we can't light candles while the ceiling fans are running, anyway. (The dry, crisp weather is supposed to arrive on October first.) I was a bit disconcerted that I waited so long to pull out the candles because the childlike part of me usually gets impatient and, weather or not, I install the candles before the first official day of Fall.

However, last night and the night before, I did light up like a kid on Christmas when I heard a nearby Screech Owl make its haunting call. I dashed outside to hear the Screech. I want to build a roost and put it up in the hickory tree to encourage them to come to our yard more often.

Here's today's tasks:
  1. Go for a regular loop (about a mile+) walk. While walking, try to use all your senses and be aware of them. You might want to jot down in a notebook what you smell, see, hear, touch, taste.
  2. Do something that you've never done before or haven't done in a long time. Be creative and do something different than you did last time. Again, I already have a couple ideas about what I want to create! That takes the pressure off.
I'll let you know tomorrow how today's tasks went!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Experiment - Day 13

Lucky day 13 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter assigns me tasks I must complete!

Yesterday's tasks were mercifully easy. It was another hectic day, so I was glad to have tasks I could complete.

I read my humorous fiction book for 15 minutes - and got another hour or so into it today while waiting for Rebecca to have her tennis lesson.

I also wrote a creative poem about nature, titled "Ode To Poultry". It sure ain't e.e. cummings, but it rhymed. And I'm proud to say, it does not contain the word "cluck". The temptation for bawdy rhyming words would have been too strong.

Speaking of poultry, we have been tending a neighbor's chickens. He is ready to find a new home for them, but I became enamored with a feisty little Red Barred Booted d'Uccle hen. Even before I knew the breed, I had named her "Boots" We adopted little Boots, and are in the process of easing her into our flock. I hope the transition is successful, because there's something about her quirky little squawks that makes me happy! And it's a good thing she's quick and feisty when she needs to be, because she'll have 6 big Rhode Island Red sisters to contend with!

It's already 6pm, and I was up late last night playing for a dance, and then got up obscenely early today to play fiddle for an autism run fundraiser. My eyelids are definitely at half mast, so I'll keep it short.

Here's today's tasks:
  1. Stay away from all news sources other than the weather for 24 hours. This includes web media, TV media, radio media. It's OK to scroll around on facebook, but if I detect a news item, I am to avert my eyes! I didn't get the memo until 12:30pm today, so my news fast will last until 12:30pm tomorrow.
  2. For the next 3 days, whenever you feel overjoyed, or a surge of happiness, write in your new notebook. (See format on graphic of Rebecca's task sheet.) I have a perfect little pocket-sized mini composition book that I can slip in my pocket so if bliss cascades upon me, I'll be ready. I need to find a little mini pen to go with it!
As usually, I'll let you know how I do tomorrow!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Experiment - Day 12

It's Day 12 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter assigns me tasks I must complete!

Yesterday was interesting. Since Rebecca did not get around to assigning me tasks yesterday, I assigned myself some, choosing tasks I hadn't accomplished previously.

I was having a detox day, and Rebecca would have known better than to assign me a task I wouldn't be able to complete - like go for a long walk. So I didn't complete that task. Dang.

I did manage to doodle some yesterday evening. Beth asked me how it was going and I mentioned that abstract doodling wasn't exactly knocking my hat in the creek, so she urged me to draw something tangible if I was so compelled. So the end of my doodle featured actual cartooning. That's more fun for me!

And I did not manage to send any more letters to literary agents. I will try to catch up on that this weekend. And I didn't meditate. I don't know how I thought I was going to accomplish all those things yesterday. My sense of hope was stronger than reality. I should have realized what a busy day it would be - and that I have limitations. I had lots of work to complete, a midday appointment, an afternoon band rehearsal followed by a new client meeting, which took me right into dinnertime. Today has been about the same.

I have to admit, though, being busier for a few days feels good. Between yesterday evening and this morning, I got two new graphic design clients, which is great news. Maybe the action of trying new things and putting out feelers toward new endeavors is communicating to the world that I am ready for more productive pursuits - and the world is responding?

Rebecca and I also had a long chat last night about The Experiment. She does want to continue, but is concerned she is running out of ideas. We helped her find ways to think of new tasks. (When Beth suggested weeding the garden, I immediately shot her the stink-eye. I'm sure it's zen-ish to get down in the loam yanking weeds, but it's also sniffly when you have allergies. Nice try, Beth.) Rebecca might start compiling a list of ideas for tasks that she can add to when she's inspired. That way, she won't be so pressed to think of tasks on the fly each morning.

Rebecca is sleeping over a friends' house tonight, but I have been informed to expect tomorrow's tasks via email. I'll keep my eyes peeled.

Here's today's list of tasks:
  1. Read your fiction book for 15 minutes - on the couch in a comfortable position. If you only do one task today, make sure it's this one!
  2. Write a creative poem about nature that is funny but sweet.
It's already 5pm and Beth and I are playing a dance tonight at 7pm, so I'd better get cracking! As always, I'll let you know tomorrow how today's tasks went.

And by the way, Happy Autumnal Equinox, everybody!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Experiment - Day 11

It's day 11 of The Experiment where my daughter Rebecca assigns tasks I must complete.

Today, I feel like a kid who wants to go to school, but can't due to severe weather. Rebecca did not make me a task list today.

I want to be disappointed, but I know that's unreasonable. It's a lot to ask for a 10-year-old girl to come up with a list of tasks for me to do each and every day - for 30 days! Rebecca chooses to make the lists in the morning, when she only has 45 minutes to prepare herself for school - that's pretty challenging for her. I'm hoping to convince her to start preparing her list the night before.

If this ceases to be fun for her and becomes an element of stress in her life, I don't want to press Rebecca to continue. Still, I hope she will. I need this, and today I miss her guidance and her whimsical illustrations.

In the absence of a new task list, I have decided to revisit the first 10 days' tasks and reassign myself the two tasks I failed to complete, and continue one of yesterday's tasks:

  1. Take a mile-long walk. I hope I can do this. It seems like every other day on this crazy diet is a detox day, and today is that day. Yeesh.
  2. Doodle. OK, I know I can do this, so long as I do it earlier than later.
  3. Send more queries to literary agents. The first one's been sent; each one will get easier.

Yesterday's tasks went well. I sent out my first query letter to a literary agent. The way I look at it, the agent who will say "yes" is at the end of a long road paved with "no"s. I must travel down that "no"-filled road to arrive at my destination. It's simply part of the process, and I hope not to take the rejections personally.

I just found an inspirational and fun illustration on the blog "The Art of Non-Conformity" regarding "Fear and the Art of Creation". At the bottom, it says, "There is no creativity without risk." If my quest for a literary agent ever gets me down, I'll remind myself to look at this illustration.

I played my fiddle for well over 30 consecutive minutes. I even used a metronome, which helps solidify my rhythm on some of the more crooked tunes I play. It felt like a concerted effort.

And I meditated for 25 minutes. I'll do that again today, too. And I've already written in my gratitude journal. If I complete everything, it will be a 5-task day, the most so far! However, I'm having a hard time seeing that as a sense of accomplishment right now.

Yesterday was a very difficult day for our entire family. Though I completed my tasks and some paying work, I felt like I had to force myself through all of it while wishing I could find some escape.

Meanwhile, Beth had a very busy day, and while preparing an elaborate meal for us, two bowls fell out of the cabinet above her work surface. The bowls shattered, contaminating part of the meal she had worked so hard to create. She became very upset, Rebecca reacted poorly, and I was upset that everybody else was upset. Dinner was tense.

Beth is working tirelessly in the kitchen to encourage me to stick to this GAPS Diet and heal my innards. The diet requires lots of cooking from scratch and being inventive with the short list of foods it allows. On the diet, I deal with lots of detoxing days when I don't feel my best, so Beth is handling most - if not all - of the cooking. I appreciate her immensely, but don't always remember to express it. Last night, Beth felt overburdened and unsupported. The kitchen catastrophe was the last straw for her.

As I was washing dishes after dinner, Beth's frustration ebbed. But I had become very depressed, chiding myself for being too weak, needy and burdensome to those around me. I am working so hard to crawl out of the physical and emotional morass that inhibits my progress - The Experiment is one of the ways I am trying to improve myself - but today, it feels like one more stressful burden.

I feel like I'm not up to the task of being a good mate, a good father, a better person. I yearn to escape to a world where nobody expects anything of me. Given an Experiment of this sort, I suppose downhearted days like this are inevitable. I'm stirring stuff up, that's for sure.

Right now, the thought that keeps me going is that somewhere in my future there will be a happier day, and if I don't persevere, I might miss it. So here's hoping for a happier tomorrow - or even better, maybe a happier afternoon?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Experiment - Day 10

It's day 10 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete.

I did complete a project that had been laying fallow: I finished my "query letter", which is an introductory letter that I will send to prospective literary agents. I wrote a children's book some time ago titled "Rebecca The Dream Flipper", and I have been procrastinating on finding a publisher. A friend of mine, Bruce Mulkey, has experience on writing query letters, so I got his feedback and edited accordingly. It's now ready to send to literary agents!

I'm a little embarrassed that I completely forgot to doodle yesterday. I put it off, thinking I would doodle in the evening, but after dinner I completely spaced out. Ooops. Maybe I need to set an alarm on my computer in the early evening to remind me to complete my tasks?

I did sit on the futon and remember some of the positive experiences I've had in this house. Christmases, watching the hickory tree in the front yard turn golden yellow, watching the snow fly out the windows, laughter with Beth and Rebecca. After I was done, I sat and meditated - something I haven't done for awhile. I got a little dozey in the middle, but managed to sit for 25 minutes.

The Autumnal Equinox is in 2 days. I can hardly wait, since Fall is my favorite season! I'm already reveling in the cooler weather. There was a small branch on one of our oak trees whose leaves were already changing. I plucked off the leaves and scanned them.

The feeling is still very strong that I need a place where I can be creative and not worry about being interrupted. There are times when Beth and Rebecca want to speak with me, and I get grumpy if I'm in the middle of a thought or task. But there have also been times when I have interrupted Beth in the same way. I must make it a goal that I carve out a private space for myself. There must be a way! I think it will make things easier for all of us.

Today's tasks:
  1. Work on your book process. This is good - I will send out my first query letters to agents today! Once momentum is gained, it will be easy to send letters to agents each day for awhile.
  2. Play fiddle for 30 consecutive minutes. I'm playing for a dance on Friday night, so a little practice would be good anyway. And I can mix in some crooked tunes that I can't play for the dancers.
  3. Meditate - I guess it's time to get back in the habit!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Experiment - Day 9

It's day 9 of The Experiment! Only 30 minutes until I can log on to Facebook again!

Yesterday started out with an appointment with a career counselor at the local technical college. I got some good leads on where to look for work - and after walking around campus, I didn't relish the idea of going back to school with a bunch of kids who will probably call me "gramps". Afterward, a colleague called me to discuss collaborating on a few possible books. I may not be surrounded by cash these days, but I'm starting to feel surrounded by unbridled creativity.

I completed all of yesterday's tasks. The first was a non-task, which didn't exactly thrill me - a 24-hour Facebook fast. I was fine with it until around 6pm, when I really wanted to check in and see what was up with my digital community. I had a few things I wanted to say on the social network - and I missed my megaphone! I didn't feel like staying away from facebook freed up all that much time. I guess I half expected to find myself with 3-4 hours of luxurious spare time, but that wasn't the case. In a way, it's good to know that I'm probably not spending that much time each day on the social network!

Yesterday, I wasn't stuck about what kind of new craft project to make. I had an old night light that had curved panel in front of the light with an illustration of deer against a purple sky. It was like one of those old lampshades you might find in a touristy vacation cabin, but I never liked the color of it. So I removed the original image, cut a piece of plastic to fit the wire frame, got some collage paper, and layered it for a background on top of the plastic. I then printed an image of fall leaves I had scanned a few years ago, cut them out, and put them on the background. Not bad for a quickie little arts and crafts project!

Rebecca and I did have a little bit of a falling out during this one, though. She wanted to help with the project. I originally wanted to punch small holes around the periphery of the frame and wrap thin leather lacing around the edges like the original night light, but I couldn't find a small home punch. Rebecca had a fancy hole punch in the shape of a horse that she was pushing me to use, but it didn't fit the look I was going for. She was so insistent that I had to remind her that this was my project and I was going to complete it as I saw fit - which, of course, she took as rejection. I didn't mind her helping me, but I bristled as she tried to foist her decisions on me. I guess it's too much to ask a 10-year-old to create assignments and then let go of the outcome?

I had a very strong feeling during the course of the day yesterday: I really need a place to call my own where I can do my thing without interruption. It's something I've always had before I moved in with Beth and Rebecca, and I really miss it. I currently work in the sunroom off the front parlor - and there are no boundaries. Beth and Rebecca seldom know when I am working or just at the computer doing something inconsequential. I get interrupted a lot. Sometimes, I am patient about it, and other times, I am grouchy and curt - and they feel rejected when I demand some space. We have a small outbuilding on the property that has been earmarked to be my studio, but we simply don't have the funds to rehab the it - nor the storage we need to clear it out to begin the rehab. I could curtain off the sunroom and close the curtains when I need privacy - but I think that would be even more awkward. I don't have the extra money to rent a small office, either. I really need my own independent creative space, but I'm at an impasse. What to do?

Today's tasks:
  1. Finish a project that I started a long time ago. On my task sheet, Rebecca drew a chair that I have been meaning to recane for a couple years now. I have the book on caning, the caning material and the chair. I've approached the project a few times, but it's one of those projects I really need help getting started with. And, the chair maker who made the chair told me it takes him about 4 hours to cane a chair - and he knows what he is doing. There must be another project I've left undone! Rebecca didn't specify, so I guess it doesn't need to be a creative project per se.
  2. Doodle. Rebecca said it's OK if my doodles lead to drawing something tangible. That's good news - I much prefer drawing tangible things. I think that Rebecca wants my drawings to be spontaneous - and often, my tangible sketchbook drawings are just that, even if I don't start them as doodles. Ah well, I need to follow the program!
  3. Sit on the futon and look around the house. Instead of seeing the lack, or shortcomings, think about all the wonderful experiences I've had in the dwelling.
I'll let you know tomorrow how I did!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Experiment - Day 8

It's the start of week 2 of The Experiment where I have to do the assignments that my 10-year-old-daughter Rebecca gives me.

Yesterday's tasks went well, though I didn't get the doodling done until about 9pm. I have to admit, I watched the clock throughout the process, so the minutes dragged. I really wanted to draw something tangible. I came really close to creating a few recognizable things, but I kept it abstract. I don't know why I have such an aversion to doodling. I think I want it to be a more productive endeavor, not just a bunch of lazy lines and forms. So yes, I'm fighting this task - and wouldn't you know it? It's the extra bonus task for today.

And we all ate lunch together outside. But somehow, that wasn't what Rebecca had in mind. I think she pictured me in solitude, taking time to soak in the sky and trees and birds and critters, instead of conversing with her and Beth. After lunch, Rebecca went back into the house, looking a little dejected. I had already planned to stay outside and watch the sky and trees and critters. After sitting and watching for awhile, I got my camera and took a few macro photos. Here's one of them.

I think Rebecca and I are going to have to resolve the issue of expectations regarding the way I interpret and complete her tasks. There have been a few times when I may not have taken the approach she was envisioning. I think that's natural, but Rebecca seems to want to guide me a little more closely.

Rebecca also has expressed the desire to add tasks on the fly, in addition to giving me written tasks in the morning. I have to admit I'm a little wary of this request. I am concerned she might ask me to do something at an inopportune moment and expect me to drop everything and do it because it's part of The Experiment. But I'm willing to give her a little leeway and see how it goes. I've got to remember to trust that Rebecca is not the kind of person who would take advantage of the situation.

Back to yesterday's tasks - I spent a lot of time outside - well, mostly cleaning up the inside of the shed, putting away all the camping gear from Summer music festivals. It felt good to clear out space so I can access tools - now I can work on a project or two! I took frequent breaks, gazing out of the double doors of the workshop and watching the trees sway in the cool pre-Fall breeze. I love the play of light in the shed, especially in the afternoon at this time of year. I also took a few breaks up in the loft of the outbuilding, laying against a pile of sleeping bags and coming close to dozing. To me, there is something so comfortable and secure about being in a loft or up in an attic, close to the ceiling and the raw wood beams. I almost didn't want to come down!

The best part of yesterday was firing up the backyard firepit and sitting in the Adirondack chairs by the glow. Beth and I tippled some single-malt scotch (just a little), and enjoyed Beth's homemade baked apple-walnut dessert by the fireside. I love how gazing into the fire can make me forget that I'm in an urban backyard and transport me into another world!

Here's today's tasks:
  1. Stay off Facebook for 24 hours.'s Talk Like A Pirate Day! And I had just set my Facebook language preferences to display "English-Pirate". (You should try it today - it's a hoot.) So no FB until tomorrow morning - I already miss it, but I think I can handle going without.
  2. Do another craft project. OK, this isn't as brain-wracking as the last time I got this task, because I already know what I want to make! It's a good thing I cleared off those workbenches yesterday!
I'll tell you tomorrow how today went!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Experiment - Day 7

It's day 7 of The Experiment, a 7-day stretch when my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks that I must complete.

It's the final day of the experiment    OR.....IS IT???

The prospect of completing yesterday's tasks seemed tenuous at first. It was Saturday, and I'd started the day feeling pretty lackluster, so I didn't get moving until well after noon. I had also wanted to complete some chores around the house, so I was procrastinating heavily on Rebecca's tasks. By late afternoon, I hadn't done a one of them.

When Rebecca and Beth returned home around 5pm, I had no progress to report. But I was feeling better, so I was ready to at least tackle Task #2, the walk around the block. Rebecca joined me, and we even included a side jaunt to admire the vegetable garden behind the neighborhood church. The church welcomes neighbors to take produce if they wish. We didn't take any, but we were eyeing some of the eggplants, since ours didn't do so well this season.

I had decided on origami for Task #1 (create a cool craft project). Rebecca pulled out some origami books for me, but looking at all the diagrams of folds on folds on folds made me cross-eyed. I felt pretty stuck, but luckily, Rebecca offered to show me how to make an origami basket, and assured me that her helping me still satisfied the task. She whipped through the folds as I struggled to keep up! But before long, I had created a nifty little orange basket. That wasn't so difficult after all!

Rebecca asked a few times if I had completed the third task. "Did you doodle?" she inquired, "No-dle", I dejectedly replied. So out of 6 days of tasks, I missed two - not too shabby. If this redeems me a little for yesterday's missed task, I did complete an extra credit assignment I gave myself: I added a new entry to my Gratitude Journal.

Today's Tasks:
  1. Eat a lovely lunch outside while enjoying the delicacies of life. Rebecca asked what my favorite task of the week was, and I told her it was this one. She further recommended that communing more with the outdoors will benefit my health - and she's probably right! Today may remain cool and cloudy - if so, I can employ our backyard fire pit and enjoy my lunch by a crackly fire!
  2. Doodle! I'd better do it today - before I get caught up in the household chores I have yet to complete.
I've really enjoyed this week, and it has ended all too quickly. It feels like we're just getting started. So I have asked Rebecca if she is willing to extend The Experiment to a full month.

She asked, "Do you think The Experiment is helping you?", to which I replied, "You are probably in a better position than I to tell whether it is helping me or not." Beth interjected, "It does seem to keep you from focusing on your usual piles of shit." (Whoa. Blunt but accurate.) Rebecca replied that she is sensing very subtle changes in my behavior. I added that I thought the changes may become more pronounced if we continue.

Rebecca said she is willing to extend The Experiment, but was concerned she'll run out of ideas for tasks. I let her know that just as she is helping me, she is also allowed to ask for help in conjuring up new ideas for tasks. I said, "Maybe someone will give you an idea for a task, and you may not exactly like their idea, but it might spark an idea for another task you want to try." Rebecca nodded "OK!"

So onward we go - Morgan Spurlock style - committing to 30 days of this Experiment.

I'll let you know tomorrow how day 7 went!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Experiment - Day 6

This is Day 6 of the Experiment (where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca gives me tasks I must complete.

Yesterday was the first day that I didn't complete one of the tasks. The first task was to take a mile-long walk, one that I've taken many times. I was doubled over in pain most of the day, and could not manage to break away from the house to do it. Today, I've also been assigned a walk, albeit a shorter one. I'm still not feeling great, but I hope to be able to accomplish this one today. If it doesn't stop raining, I suppose I will have to put on my rain coat and go. (Yes, you sense mild resistance - I'm still not feeling very well physically, and would rather curl up in a ball.)

I am proud to say I did learn something new yesterday - a few things, actually. I found a website called Learn Something Every Day, where I learned that we burn more calories sleeping than we do watching TV and that ostriches don't ever stick their heads in the sand. But my favorite factoid was that most toilets flush in the key of E. That of course spurred investigation on my part. I took my trusty electronic tuner into the bathroom and discovered that our toilet actually flushes in B flat and refills in C#. I told a friend who is a plumber, and he envisioned showing up for a job with a tuning fork, and saying, "Well, Ma'am, here's the problem. Your toilet should be flushing in E, but it's flushing slightly higher, in F. Retuning your bowl will be a major job - I'm afraid this is gonna cost you!" This task offered more amusement than I had expected!

Since I didn't complete Task 1, I made sure I completed yesterday's extra task of sketching in my sketchbook. However, I have been sketching the way I always used to, by creating a cartoon-style journal of my life - how I feel, train of thought, whims and such. I guess that approach was less whimsical and more empirical than Rebecca had in mind, so she has clarified the parameters of this task (see today's Task 3).

Here's the list of today's tasks:
  1. Create a cool craft project. Have fun and be creative. Do something you didn't think you could do. It's a rainy Saturday, and as I said, I don't feel well. Do I have time for this? Do I have the energy for this? I also have to do some accounting and design work to catch up on. Look out - here comes the Excuse Express. Whooo-whooooooo! Maybe the problem is that when I hear the word "project", I envision something that will take days to do. I need to scale back and make this achievable. But what can I do that I currently don't think I can do? Careful - don't fall back into excuses!
  2. Walk the small loop around our house (a much shorter route than was delegated yesterday). I can do this.
  3. Doodle. Don't draw real things. Start with a line, and then another add a circle, etc. Keep it abstract.
I'll let you know tomorrow how I did!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Experiment - Day 5

This is Day 5 of my Experiment (where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca gives me tasks I must complete).

Yesterday was busy, but I did get my two main tasks completed (I did not complete the bonus task of sketching).

Task 1 was to do something I've never done before or haven't done for a long time. I really wanted to challenge myself and not take the easy way out.

After discarding a few mundane ideas, I thought about how I have been working (on and off), on paying more attention to others. So I gave myself this task: Have a conversation without talking about myself (unless someone asks a direct question about me, in which case I need to keep my response brief and to the point).

This is no easy task, since I naturally tend toward narcissism (those of you who know me well may consider this to be the understatement of the year).

Yesterday, I got my chance: I walked into my fiancee Beth's office, where one of her friends (let's call her "A"), was in the middle of demonstrating some very interesting Trauma Release Exercises (TREs). The first thing I did was wish "A" a Happy Birthday. They then included me in the conversation as "A" demonstrated some of the exercises. I did well at the beginning, and asked lots of questions about the process. More than a few times, I caught myself eager to interject, and had to cut myself off as I said "I...". One remark was directed at me, and I responded briefly, allowing the spotlight to shift right back to "A".

I had not mentioned to Beth that I would aspire to behave differently in this conversation. However, after I told her what I was up to, Beth remarked that she had already noticed something different about how I interacted with the two of them!  I noticed that during the discussion, I felt a stronger connection to "A", and that she seemed to come alive as I listened attentively. I want to make this a regular practice until it comes naturally!

Yesterday's Task 2 was fairly simple - make an entry in my Gratitude Journal. Last Thanksgiving, Beth gifted Rebecca and I with Gratitude Journals. I used mine for a day or two before shelving it. To her credit, young Rebecca has since kept her journal religiously, writing in it each night before bed. It only takes a few seconds to write an entry - why am I not doing this on a daily basis?? (My entry is here on the right.)

Here are today's tasks:

  1. Go for a morning walk on our usual loop, which is a little more than a mile. I would have gone already, but this special diet is still messing with me a fair amount, so I'm going to have to wait until my innards settle down - but given this wonderful, cool Fall weather, any time of the day will be perfect for walking.
  2. Learn something today. It could be a new word in Spanish, or something about science or outerspace - just nothing about the economy or government (in essence, stay away from depressing current events). This task is so easy that I will endeavor to learn a couple new things today - in fact, I already have!
  3. Extra - Sketch in your sketchbook. (I didn't get the chance to do that yesterday - I WILL make time today!)
As usual, I'll let you know about today's progress in tomorrow's post.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Experiment - Day 4

Despite my initial overwhelmed feelings, Day 3 of my Experiment (where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca gives me tasks I must complete), went swimmingly well, even though I felt poorly most of the day. My guts have been in a scramble - probably detoxing due to the special diet I'm on, so it was a little difficult at first to spread out a picnic blanket and eat lunch under the butterfly bush - but once I was there, it was very relaxing!

There wasn't a cloud in the sky, so I couldn't look at those. But there were little butterflies - or were they moths? - chasing each other around as they sapped the last bit of nectar from the remaining blossoms on the butterfly bush. I felt the urge to determine what these insects were - but I remembered that the spirit of Rebecca's directive was to avoid hyper-analyzing the things I noticed, and just enjoy them. So I stopped wondering about genus and species and simply watched the winged creatures flit about. Ahhhhh.

I ate my lunch slowly and savored the wonderful flavors. I listened to all the late Summer crickets - one of my favorite sounds - and savored them, too. Fall weather will arrive all too soon and the crickets will be silent until next year.

Sketching went well, too. Many decades ago, I kept a daily cartoon sketchbook, but fell out of the practice. I mostly focused on my aching guts, but that's not a bad thing - keeping a sketchbook is a great way to pour frustrations onto the page so I can release them internally. And it's also a good place to record notions, inspirations and ideas for later use. Rebecca is recommending I keep up this practice - daily, if I can. After all these decades of relying on the computer mouse, I'm encouraged that I can still draw a little bit!

The "extra credit" assignment was to play my fiddle for 30 minutes - and lucky for me, Rebecca confirmed that my band rehearsal did count as fulfilling that task! 

Rebecca was a little concerned that I had to work an hour later yesterday evening. She incorrectly assumed her tasks were the culprit, but really, it was due to the band rehearsal that cut into my work day. She has also expressed trepidation about how I may react to her suggested tasks - she wants me to be delighted throughout the process.

We had a chat, and I think I was able to convince her that the tasks she creates are great - and that it's natural for me to feel some initial resistance to a few of them. Mostly, my resistance percolates during the period leading up to the moment I finally get off my hind end to address the task. Once I get started, however, I end up thoroughly enjoying the experience. Rebecca said it's like her resistance to showering. She drags her heels beforehand, but once she's under the warm spray of water, she feels great. That analogy helped her understand my process regarding her tasks, and that any resistance I exhibit is no reflection on her amazing, insightful assistance.

Speaking of initial resistance, here's my directives for Day 4:
  1. Do something I've never done before or haven't done in a long time. Whoa! The open-endedness of this task gives me pause. I caught myself thinking that whatever I do will feel uncomfortable because it's new or something I'm unaccustomed to doing. Unfamiliarity! So what do I choose? Rebecca is suggesting I dance, but I'm still feeling a bit touchy internally, so dancing might be problematic. I could pull out my harmonicas and play them - I haven't done that in decades. But that's something I used to do regularly - it won't really take me outside myself. Hmmm. I'm still ruminating... but the fact that it's a challenge means it's gonna be a good one!
  2. Write in your gratitude journal. Another thing I used to do frequently that I no longer keep up. Hey, could that count as fulfilling #1? Something tells me Rebecca would see that as cheating a bit.
  3. Extra - sketch some more! 
As usual, I'll let you know tomorrow how today's tasks go.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Experiment - Day 3

It's experiment day 3, and I think I did OK yesterday.

I played my fiddle for 30 minutes, but I did so in spurts, not contiguously. It appears that Rebecca already knows the meaning of the word "contiguously" and is now adding the word "consecutive" to today's tasks. And she's correct to do so - dedicating an uninterrupted slot of time for a task will allow for focus and relaxation, rather approaching tasks in fits and starts.

Yesterday, I also completed the task of finding the image of a flower and treating it like a meditation mandala. I found a couple good flowers, actually. The first was a closeup of a coneflower, and I let myself get lost in its fibonacci spirals. I also found an amazing closeup of a rose by illustrator Eibo-Jeddah  - the center seemed like a velvety, welcoming cave, and I imagined myself Lilliputian-sized, climbing into the cool, dark, sweetness of it and being sheltered from all my worries and cares.

And, I was correct in assuming that the "Believe In Yourself" message was also one of the tasks I need to complete. I think that one will require ongoing dedication.

Onto today!
  1. Eat your lunch outside on a blanket on the grass. Relax. Watch the sky. Eat lunch SLOWLY - no scarfing (dang, that young lady pays closer attention to what I do than I realize!)
  2. Sketch for 20 consecutive minutes. (These days, I use pens and pencils so seldom that when I do, it looks like I'm writing with my non-dominant hand. This will be interesting!)
  3. EXTRA - Play fiddle for 30 consecutive minutes!

I have to admit, I already feel overwhelmed. I have a fair amount of paying work to accomplish today (I am grateful for the work, but it must get done). I also have a band rehearsal mid-afternoon. I'm on a special diet (the GAPS diet), which is most beneficial most days, but this is one of those rough-and-tumble detox days, which is taking a lot out of me. I know, I'm not allowed to whine about the tasks Rebecca gives me. And I know this is an iffy hedge by instead complaining about all the other stuff I must do today.

And I know that the tasks Rebecca has given me will make the day feel more magical and fulfilling - and will relieve some of my stress. Why do I always fret at the anticipation of a to-do list? If Rebecca weren't in school, she would tell me, "Just breathe and get started. It will all work out."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Experiment - Day 2

Today is day 2 of a week when my daughter Rebecca provides me with daily tasks that I must perform (see yesterday's post). I'm happy to report that I completed yesterday's tasks:

I spent about a half hour at the fish pond. The first 10 minutes were spent clearing away the cover of these little micro water plants so I could see the fish. At first, they were excited to get some sunlight. They sucked away at the edge of the pond, happy to have some nutrients stirred up. They then settled down and idly swam about, disappearing under the water plants and reappearing again. I decided to go get my camera to document their activity. Once the lens was pointed at them, they got more timid. It must have looked like a giant owl's eye to them, so they kept their distance.

Being out there with the fish helped me slow down, and I also enjoyed watching the butterflies and bees working the sedum blooms next to the pond. It's amazing that a few minutes outdoors with nature can be so therapeutic!

I went to the used book store and swapped some of my older books for new ones. I scoured the Literature section, but most of the books I was drawn to weren't thematically "dreadful", (as Rebecca cautioned against), but they weren't the antithesis of dreadful, either.

I picked up a Larry McMurtry novel about Billy the Kid, which doesn't end well. Then Mark Twain's "Roughing It", which isn't exactly fiction. So I went to the best-seller section and found a book that I think meets the spirit of Rebecca's intention: Tom Holt's "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages". The chuckles started with the title, continued with the synopsis on the back and the first few pages of the book!

I decided for myself that I should also consider all my online reading, so for the next week, I will try to avoid dreadful articles on the internet. I've already succumbed to a few, but I will at least make the effort to read less of them - and forget about the dreadful behavior of Rick Perry, Serena Williams, et al.

Now for today's tasks:

I woke up at 5am with bad allergies today, so Rebecca was accordingly merciful with her list. I shouldn't have any trouble playing my fiddle for 30 minutes. And while I play, I'll remind myself that I'm pretty good at it, rather than focus on the flaws in my playing.

Task #2 should be fun, too. I'll imagine myself being swirled into the Fibonacci vortex of a rose, or cascading into the folds of a Georgia O'Keefe painting. I'll bet it smells good deep down in there!

And Rebecca probably didn't intend for this to be a task, but I think I'll take to heart the pre-printed text at the top of the paper that says "Believe In Yourself". Perhaps I'll meditate on that concept a bit!

And I'll read more of my new novel for a few more yuks.

I'll tell you tomorrow how today's tasks went!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Experiment

Admittedly, I have not been doing a very good job at embracing the elements and practices in my life that will help me feel prosperous and surrounded by abundance. Instead, I have been focusing on lack and desperation which has left me feeling withdrawn, morose, and stressed as all get-out.

I've been edgy and withdrawn, and my daughter especially senses how unapproachable I am. I know enough about kids to realize that when a parent is having trouble, kids naturally assume it's their fault. The last thing I want is for Rebecca to think that my ill temper and withdrawal has anything to do with some shortcoming on her part.

So to recap:
  1. I'm not doing a very good job of taking care of my emotional health.
  2. More often than not, I've been emotionally unavailable - and grumpy - towards my daughter.
  3. I want to remedy both of these situations.

Yesterday, I thought of an experiment that might help me personally as well as bring Rebecca and I closer together:

I have asked Rebecca if, for the next 7 days, she would be willing to provide me with daily suggestions and tasks that I must perform - starting today. She is an amazing being - sentient, intuitive, and sharp beyond her years. I have full confidence that she will create thoughtful tasks and not take advantage of the situation. She has agreed to help.

We've left the nuts and bolts of the experiment fairly open. So far, there are only a couple ground rules: I'm not allowed to whine or complain about whatever task she gives me, unless she concocts something completely unreasonable (and as I said, I don't think this will be an issue). I will report back to her each day and let her know how it went. Rebecca has agreed that I can report back on this blog, as well.

I've posted today's tasks as they have been provided to me.

  1. Go to the fish pond and watch how the fish live their lives in peace and quiet. Observe the simple things they do. (Rebecca did not stipulate a time limit on this one, but I figure I should give it at least 15 minutes. I'll have to thin out some of the plants covering the surface so I can actually see the fish, but we've been meaning to do that anyway.)
  2. Over this week, try to read a fiction book that doesn't have to do with something dreadful. (I guess that means I need to temporarily put aside "A Good Year To Die", which is an amazingly thorough recount of the US campaign to massacre the Sioux people. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that book sounds like it fits Rebecca's definition of "dreadful".)
  3. Give Rebecca a hug before and after school. (I do this most of the time, but I will make sure I do this ALL of the time.)

Tomorrow, I will post my progress on these tasks, as well as include Rebecca's new task list for the day.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Has A Year Gone By Already?

Wow - it's been 51 weeks since I've posted anything on this blog. And it's been a tough 51 weeks.

A year ago, I had downsized dramatically from the life I once had. I thought all that was left to do would be to adjust to my new, diminished standard of living. Forget about the expensive toys, and savor the simple things. A year ago, I thought "I can do that."

If only it were that easy. Another of my clients has gone out of business, and my incredibly shrinking finances have continued shambling down Destitution Lane, to the point where I don't know if I will be able to continue to pay my bills.

The worst part about my situation is the physical stress. It lodges like a knot in my stomach and affects me physically. It adds to my confusion. I know I need to do something different, but what? Put on an orange vest and go work at a big box hardware store? Go play my fiddle on the street for coins? Go back to school - and if so, to do what?

I chose graphic design 30 years ago. I studied it, built a career doing it. Poof! It's all but gone. One of the guys I went to school with had a prosperous design business with his wife - they're gluten-free bakers now. Another colleague is barely meeting business expenses, and is trying to get a non-profit off the ground.

The most productive thing in my life these days are our half dozen chickens, who lay 5-6 eggs per day. But a couple dozen eggs per week doesn't pay the bills.

People tell me to be grateful, to dream big, to find hope, to seek solutions that will help me climb out of this morass. Easy to say.

When I started this blog, I swore I would keep it upbeat, focus on solutions, help others in the same predicament. Not today. Today I give in to despair. Maybe tomorrow I can do all that enlightened stuff?