Guarding Your Time

The last week of April 2016 was one of the worst weeks of my life. I was taking two difficult and intense graduate courses, and it was finals week-The Reckoning, if you will-for both those courses. I’d been a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding the Saturday prior, it was allergy season, and my mind and body were both struggling as the week began. By the time the week ended, I’d failed a large assignment and earned the first (and thus far only, knock on wood) B of my grad school career. I had massive chunks of time that I couldn’t remember, and while I’d done all of my work, I was a wreck both physically and emotionally.

In retrospect, I hadn’t done a good job of guarding my time. My time is one of the most valuable things that I have, and I hadn’t guarded mine. Heading into finals week, I’d allowed myself to be distracted by numerous things, and on top of that, I hadn’t taken good care of my health. It’s no wonder that I was run-down and became ill. I hadn’t practiced good self-care.

I’m heading into a seven week period during which I need to write my master’s thesis while working full-time and taking a three-week online professional development course. Looking at the requirements of my final project for my degree, I know that this is going to require an enormous amount of time and energy. So this time, I’m not taking any chances. I’m allowing myself to two “social” events in the entire seven week period. I’m going to a friend’s bridal shower, and I’ll celebrate Father’s Day with my dad. My own birthday can go fly a kite. Grad school ends the next day; birthdays are allowed to be celebrated belatedly if need be.

Speaking from years of wisdom, someone recently told me that if you don’t take care of yourself when you’re young, no one will take care of you when you’re old. This is a season in my life in which I need to take active action to take care of myself. It’s not that I don’t love my friends and family. It’s that I cannot allow my health or my mental well-being to fall by the wayside. I’m no good to my students or friends or family if I’m not practicing good self-care.

So I’m choosing to guard my time as a way of practicing self-care. I have ways of de-stressing. I can bake. I can watch Netflix. I can annoy my roommate. But I need to take care of myself. And I need to be able to put on my own oxygen mask before I worry about anyone else. I’ve read far too many articles about how women struggle with self-care and/or the results of poor self-care. I’m going to be proactive in this season of my life. I’m going to take good care of myself so that I can be a good friend/daughter/coworker/teacher/minion to others.

It’s all about balance.

A Lesson from Fasting

As I’ve discussed before, I “go vegan” during Lent and Advent. I eliminate all animal products from my diet. The biggest change is the absence of meat although for someone who loves to bake the eggs are noticeable too. Now, eliminating animal products is not intended as a penance but rather as a way of simplifying my life so that I can better focus on Christ.

Well, Lent has ended. It is the Paschal season. Meat is permitted again. And I’ll eat it if it’s an option. But I’m not as eager to dive back into eat it as one might have thought. Sure, it’s nice to know that I’m able to eat meat again, but it’s not always what I actually want. I’m starting to find that I like eating meatless meals. Yes, there are meals with meat that I like and that I want to prepare/eat. But with the passing of each meatless season, I find that I’m not as eager to dive back into eating meat as I was forty days earlier.

I’ve come to realize that simplifying my life does not have to be solely the provenance of fasting seasons. In general, my life ought to be lived in simplicity and with a focus on Christ. Now, you can eat meat and live simply. As a single woman who cooks only for myself, I tend to do “large batch cooks” and eat whatever I’ve prepared until I run out. I’m currently working through a Mediterranean chicken salad-lettuce, cucumber, tomato, chicken, avocado, olives, and dressing. It’s nothing fancy. But that’s kind of the point. Live simply. Yes, I’m eating chicken, but I’m doing in it in a simple fashion. The fanciest part of that salad is the olives. The idea is to think less about what I’m eating (while eating good and healthy food) and focus more on what life is really about.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy good food. I’ll be the first to tell you that I love sitting down with a well-cooked meal. I don’t object to eating good food or going out for dinner or drinks with friends. I enjoy going out to eat with friends to celebrate a special occasion or having a well-cooked meal with friends. But the most important part of those meals is not the quality of the food but the quality of the company. Case in point: Last summer, I went out for dinner with a few friends after seeing a play together. I can’t tell you exactly what I ate or drank (but I can guess based on the venue), but I can tell you about the experience of friendship. I may not remember exactly what I drank or ate when I grabbed cocktails with friends at one of my favorite bars, but I remember the experience.

For me, experiences and relationships are more important than food. Now, I’m Italian-American. I love to cook, and I love good food. But life isn’t just about the food. Life is about the people with whom we spend time and the relationships we build. Fasting has shown me that my meals don’t need to be extravagant to be good. Simple food can be good food. I don’t need to eat meat every day. Some of life’s best moments are found in simplicity.

Thursdays

It was the late, great Douglas Adams who wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

Thursdays and I don’t get along. The other day, one of my close friends and I were trying to figure out when we could get together, and she innocently proposed a Thursday. My response was that I’m horrible to be around on Thursdays. And it’s true; I find Thursdays to be really difficult. They’re not as hard as Mondays, but they are hard for me. See…Thursday is not Friday, but it’s really close to Friday. At the end of the day, I’m really tired, but I still have to get up at 5:15 the next morning. And after a long, hard week, I often just want to curl up with a lovely beverage and binge-watch Parks and Rec or The Great British Bake-Off. I don’t want to think deep thoughts or have conversations about anything more serious than whether or not Tom Haverford would be a good friend.

But if I actually had to spend time with Tom Haverford on a Thursday? Oh, God help us all; that’d be awful. I already have no energy on a Thursday. And in the course of one evening, I have to somehow muster all of my nonexistent energy to make it through Friday. But if I had to do all of that while spending time with Tom Haverford? Oh man…like I said, God help us all.

Thursdays are hard. Many people find Mondays hard, and I completely agree. Wednesday during the day can be hard because it is the hump of the weekly camel. But for me, Thursday nights are the worst. I’m just so tired by that point. I need to do my best to guard my Thursday nights so that I can be my best self on Friday.

Am I nuts?

Maybe, but that’s nothing new. What day(s)/time(s) of the week do you find to be the hardest?

Who Do You Trust?

I decided that since I instituted March Ado About Nothing I ought to write some Much Ado related blog posts. To that end, I’ve been reflecting on some of the major themes of the story.

One major theme of Much Ado is trust. Thinking over the play, it seems that Shakespeare is asking us to consider who we trust and why. The primary drama of the play revolves around mistaken identity and misplaced trust. In order to create frustration and unhappiness, Don John sets up a scenario in which his half-brother and the engaged Claudio believe that they are seeing Claudio’s fiancee kissing another man in her bedroom window the night before her wedding. Now, Hero has a reputation as a virtuous woman, and Don John has only been brought back into his father’s (and brother’s) good graces recently.

Instead of choosing to trust what they know of Hero’s character, Claudio and Don Pedro choose to believe the unreliable Don John’s assertion of Hero’s fallen virtue. They see something, and they choose to believe the construction placed upon it by Don John-despite the fact that Don John is known to be of unreliable character.

Only Benedick is suspicious of the situation. Admittedly, he has not seen what his friends saw, but he mistrusts their claims that Hero is other than she says she is. Benedick says “And if their wisdoms be misled in this, The practice of it lives in John the bastard, Whose spirits toil in frame of villanies.” (IV, 1, 187-89) Benedick knows what Don John is, and he doesn’t trust him. It isn’t easy for him to challenge his friends on their belief, but he chooses to believe that they have been misled.

“A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts.” -Act V Scene 4 Line 95

This is the main situation out of a few that bring the idea of trust into play. The means by which Hero is wooed for Claudio are a bit unorthodox and put Claudio’s trust of Don Pedro to the test. The circumstances by which Benedick and Beatrice are brought together are more than a little suspect. Shakespeare plays with his characters’ trust both of self and of those around them throughout the story. The moral of the story? Be careful who you trust. It may be your ruination or your redemption.

March Ado About Nothing

It’s that time of year again…where I invent new holidays and festivals. It’s March, kids. That means that we’re going to start an entire month devoted to celebrating my favorite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing.

From Encyclopedia Brittanica.

From Encyclopedia Brittanica.

So, how does one devote 31 days to one play? Well, read on…

  1. Greet your friends warmly with “Sigh no more!”
  2. Respond to everyone with “I cannot endure my lady tongue.”
  3. It’s Friday. Tell everyone “God help the noble Benedick.”
  4. It’s Saturday. Greet everyone with “hey, nonnny, nonny.” And then tell them to March forth.
  5. Ask people what they are to a lord.
  6. Tell everyone that you were born to speak all mirth and no matter.
  7. Greet everyone with “Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of Your Grace.”
  8. Ask randomly “Shall I never see a bachelor of three-score again?”
  9. Feeling grumpy today? Repeatedly tell people “You are an ass! You are an ASS!”
  10. Ask people “For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?”
  11. Encouragingly tell people “Man is a giddy thing.”
  12. Daylight Savings Time is back. Tell people “Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.”
  13. Cryptically greet others with “You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.”
  14. Tell people that you must eat when you have stomach. Then eat pie for Pi Day.
  15. Beg everyone to kill Claudio-or Julius Caesar. Someone’s got to do it.
  16. Greet others with “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”
  17. Randomly tell people “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap and be buried in thy eyes, and moreover I will go with thee to thy uncle’s.”
  18. It’s Saturday. Enjoy the Kenneth Branagh MAAN film.
  19. Tell others that a star danced and under that were you born.
  20. Cryptically respond to others “There’s a double meaning in that” to others.
  21. Randomly tell others “He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man. And he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man – I am not for him.”
  22. Tell people that Silence is the perfectest herald of joy.
  23. Listen to “Sigh No More” by Mumford and Sons. It was inspired by MAAN.
  24. Gallop around with coconuts. Act like Michael Keaton while doing so.
  25. It’s Saturday. Enjoy the Joss Whedon MAAN film.
  26. Tell others “Some Cupid kills with arrows; some with traps.”
  27. Remind others that “Friendship is constant in all other things save in the office and affairs of love.”
  28. Remark “I love in this world so well as you.”
  29. Tell your friends that their significant others are “too low for a high praise, too
    brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise. Only this commendation I can afford her, that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome, and being no other but as she is, I do not like her.”
  30. Tell someone that you love them with so much of your heart that none is left to protest.
  31. Greet others with “Prince, methinks thou art sad. Get thee a wife! Get. Thee. A. Wife!”

Finding Your Spot

A while back (I don’t exactly remember when), a friend of mine recommended that we meet up at a local bar she likes. I agreed, plugged the address into my GPS, and went on my merry way. I parked my car in the nearest parking lot and started walking towards where (my darling) Google Maps told me to go.

And there was a dark wall. It was your standard dark exterior wall, just another wall of another building in my city. In the middle of this wall was a doorway, but at first glance I thought it was a service entrance to another establishment. Then I realized that it wasn’t; this more or less unmarked  door was in fact the door that I was looking for. (There’s a small, unobtrusive sign near the door, but I didn’t notice that until at least my tenth visit.) This isn’t the kind of place that you stumble upon. This is like a speakeasy; you have to be looking for it to find it. And you go looking for it because someone (probably someone you really like and respect) told you about it.

I tentatively went through this door, and the bouncer directed me to my friend. The bar is dimly lit and pleasantly decorated. (The speakeasy vibe created by the door continues inside the bar.) The menus are designed to look like book covers. The drinks menu is divided into “chapters.” I loved it, and I’ve grown to love it more each subsequent time that I visit it. The service is excellent. The seats are comfortable. The food is delightful. (Please let me tell you about the lamb sliders.) And the drinks…oh man…the drinks, they are amazing.

This bar (The Last Word) is one of my favorite spots. The ambiance suits my personality. It can be loud on the weekend, but it can also be a quiet place to read a book or have a serious conversation on a weeknight. For me, that’s a delightful option. I like having a place where I can go and read with a cocktail. Yes, I can do that at home, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of scenery and do that somewhere other than my house.

In this particular bar, I’ve found a “spot” for myself. I’ve found a place that suits me, and I like to think that I suit it too. I think it’s important to find “spots” for oneself in life. It’s good to find places where you feel safe, comfortable, and wanted. There’s a bookstore in my city that I find to be utterly magical, and part of that is because it’s a place where I feel safe and wanted. I once had a great conversation with one of the owners of the store about books that we were supposed to read in high school but didn’t. Another visit found a salesperson telling me about the time she met Julia Child. These conversations have helped me to feel connected to the people in the store. They promote my feeling of comfort and ease in the store.

I recommend seeking out these sorts of places. Find places where you feel wanted and comfortable, places where you feel free to be yourself. Find places where you can curl up with a good book or a have a random brilliant conversation with a stranger. Find places where the barista or bartender or waiter can give you beverage recommendations that might take you out of your comfort zone-and you trust those recommendations.

Your spot might not look like mine. The speakeasy thing might not be your style. Maybe you don’t want to go curl up in a coffeeshop and read with a mug of tea. That’s fine. Maybe the places that you like will be places that I wouldn’t like. That’s great. You find your place, and I’ll find mine. The important thing is that you find your spot(s). We all need our little refuges from the craziness of life. Find yours and enjoy it.

Saying Thank You

When it’s cold or raining outside, I help with dismissal at work. I go outside and help make sure that kids get safely and quickly to their cars. I might get cold or wet-or both. My hair might get messed up. But really, it’s not a big deal; it’s part of my job. One recent morning, my boss gave me a bag of caramel corn as a thank-you for helping with dismissal.

It’s not a big deal. I don’t mind going outside for a short amount of time to help the kiddos. Yes, my fingers or toes might get cold. My hair might get messed up. But I don’t really mind it. Who cares what my hair looks like after 3pm? I can put it in a ponytail or messy bun.

The thing that struck me is the act of thanking me. This is a situation where it really is the thought that counts. A bag of caramel corn is a simple way of saying “Hey, I noticed that thing that you did.” It’s important to acknowledge people when you notice them doing something.

This is something that I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s important to acknowledge people. Thanking people who help you, acknowledging people who work in stores-these things are important. At some point in my early twenties, I started making a point of saying “You too” to every person who said “Have a nice day” to me. Next, I started meaning it. And then, I started saying it to people who hadn’t said it to me. I’m no better or worse than the people who stock shelves at Target. People who make drinks at Starbucks are doing something for you. Yes, they’re getting paid for it, but they’re doing a service for you.

It’s important to treat people with respect and dignity. We need to make a habit of noticing other people. One of the things that I’ve really learned in the past few months is how easy it is to get focused in our own worlds and ignore the world around us. It’s easy to ignore or shut out people who disagree with us. It’s easy to overlook people.

But if we want to make the world a better place, we need to treat people better. We need to be more respectful of other people. Sometimes, that just means asking someone how they’re doing or wishing them a good day. If we treat others with intentional kindness, we will contribute to making the world a better place. And that’s what will really change the world-small acts stemming from genuine kindness.

Let’s do that. Let’s live with genuine kindness. Let’s make the world a better place.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

-St. Teresa of Calcutta