The Power

It takes a trigger. Or a cue. Something that starts it.

 

And when that triggered action becomes part of our routine, we are two thirds of the way there.

 

If we get a reward for taking that action, a payoff that we look forward to getting

 

…We have all the elements of a habit.

 

 

I’ve been reading The Power of Habit.

 

I’ve often worked to engineer habits. As a child, I sucked my thumb…far longer than I should have.

 

Of course people made fun of me, but my thumb was my own business.

 

Until one day when I was seven I decided I would stop. Me and Mom crafted a plan. We got this bad-tasting concoction meant to help nail biters and decided to put it on my thumb. Then, in case I forgot and accidentally put my thumb in my mouth and had that awful taste, I would carry a water bottle so that I could get rid of the awful taste.

 

So prepared, I went to school with determination. And never sucked my thumb again. I didn’t need that water bottle. I never tasted the nasty tasting liquid.

 

Habit kicked.

 

New habits can be tougher. How do I START doing something I want to do? I’m trying to sustain a habit of tracking everything I eat. I track all the healthy things no problem. But the dips into the chip bag? Just for 3 chips? I don’t track those. I am working on this habit.

 

Habits of stopping, habits of starting, these are all mine.

 

But there are societal habits, too.

 

How can we change what everyone else does? Turns out there are a lot of people who work on that problem.

 

Their efforts hit us every day in the form of advertising.

 

But my favorite story is the one about housewives in world war two.

 

In the 1940s, housewives had a lot more responsibility than they do now. The basics were harder to come by. I could have dinner ready in seconds. But a 1940s grocery store gave foods requiring a lot more preparation. If you wanted hamburger you had to grind it yourself.

 

And that’s before we bring rationing into it.

 

America had to ship food over to feed all the soldiers, and not just the ones from America. We supplied food to our allies.

 

Rationing was part of the solution, but then also they wanted to use all parts of the meat animal. Like all the organ meats.

 

We couldn’t afford to throw it away anymore. So the government had to come up with a way to get people to eat what they never had before.

 

So they put out recipes and suggestions for working these meats into dishes that were already familiar. Like, add some liver to meatloaf. We like meatloaf, right?

 

It turns out there is a principle at. People like what’s familiar, and automatically reject what is different, So this war campaign, suggesting small adjustments, was super successful.

 

30% growth in eating organ meats happened during the war. And since people had gotten used to it, by the 1950s, the number had grown 50%.

 

Wrapping the new habit in our favorite old habits can work.

 

This is a principle I call sneaking up on myself. I will wrap up something I’m REALLY dreading into something ordinary. I know I get so much work done when I ride public transportation to work. It takes all the pressure off.

 

Picking the right habits sets me up. This book is making me want to take a habit inventory and upgrade a few.

The Plot

As I have been working on becoming a better writer, I’ve been looking at the basics of plots.

A good story has to have a good plot, so what is a good plot?

A few minutes on the Internet gave me the basics

It starts with leaving. You have to leave the normal world and go on a journey.

A Quest.

Or a flight. If we are fleeing, we are not really questing.

But a journey.

And, at the most basic level in the plot, that journey will lead the hero to a place of transformation.

Which means there is a new normal world.

As you see, I find it very easy to imagine reasons and details about leaving the normal and going on a journey.

But the transformation is hard.

And really, that sounds like a personal problem.

But it’s not just me! Transformation is hard, or it wouldn’t be the big payoff in the plot.

I suppose I’m not the only one trying to find an upgrade on normal.

In these stories, normal has to kick you out to get the upgrade. Maybe that’s the way transformation happens.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the transformation happened as easily as changing your bath towel? It would be nice if life’s upgrades happened that way.

But it wouldn’t make a very good story.

Here, Cinderella. You’ve always had a closet full of shoes. Pick any of them to go to the ball and don’t worry about staying up late.

No story here.

It’s human nature to want the transformation. Pretty much all the stories have it.

And it’s human nature to curse the stone–the boulder in our path and the pebble in our shoe.

But that’s the trade-off. No trouble, no transformation. We’re not meant to sit around being normal. Normal is always changing.

That’s what our stories warn us about.

Not the last time

we went to Santa Monica last weekend. Veronica has a gold colored velour dress

 

we we’re walking back to the hotel, and a young man yelled out to her” I like your gold dress”

 

she said “ thank you”

 

i said to chris, that’s the first time a man has yelled to her that she looks nice from a car. It won’t be the last.”

she said,” he was just saying I look nice.”

 

yes. But it won’t be the last

The end of effort

Monday Wednesday Friday

That’s when I go to the gym. But sometimes i don’t. I miss a day. But that’s the plan.

And when I go, I start with running. Running is important to me.

I was reading about how I might run better and faster, and learning about the maximum heart rate.

there is a formula: 220 minus your age and then you are supposed to keep your heart rate lower than 85% of the maximum

That formula says that my maximum heart rate is 175

But when I run, sometimes I have run so that my heart rate goes above 170.

Looking over these numbers, I am wondering what this all means.

What happens if I hit my maximum heart rate? That sounds like some kind of scary zone.

My watch monitors my heart rate while I’m running or I wouldn’t even know about this. I keep looking at it to see where I am in my exertion level.

In my mind, I imagine that I can run like the god Mercury, I can stride across the ground, with 7 league strides. Each step pushes my body off the ground and I bound forward weightlessly.

In my mind.

When I actually run, reality is involved. I think about my strides, wondering if they should be longer or quicker or both. I know that I am not weightless. I tilt my watch face up to catch how fast my heart is going. Slow down.

Stay moderate. Stay moving. Let the distance fall behind.

Once, on my run, I was caught behind a fast walker on the left and a slow runner on the right. I was not that much faster than the fast walkers, but I had to duck around and inbetween then and the slow running to travel and my pace.

I saw it coming. Remember? I’m not that fast. I had several paces to decide what to do.

I knew I’d been wanted to keep a moderately fast pace, but I had to get through this bottleneck.

I push down the balls of my feet and sped through. Doubling my pace and swooped around the walkers and past the runner and back into my usual groove.

That right there? that was a push. That was a reach deep for a bit more.

In that instant, I had the more.

I think the maximum heart rate is to tell me that there is a limit to the more. I cannot always burn the candle on both ends. There are times when there is not more to give.

And if I want to have that push in reserve, I better not run at 100%. Both running and other parts of my life.

There will always be that circumstance that take an extra something. I want to keep the extra in reserve, and know when to let it go when I don’t have it. There is a limit and it’s good to know what it is.

Not all of life has the metronome like my heart. But my wisdom and intuition can give that information, if I stay aware that it’s there.

 

It’s okay not to win

“I need some time with my favorite cheerleader,” he said.

My friend had been having a discouraging patch at his high school teaching job in a disadvantaged area. These tough kids weren’t listening AT ALL.

“They keep asking to go to the bathroom. My class is only an hour and a half long. They can hold it! They start getting up without permission and I have to go over the rules again…”

I have been reading a book: Executive Presence.  The author talks about how important it is to present yourself properly, and how to command a room.

It is focussed on women. She gives a statistic that people are more confident in women who wear a lot of makeup.

I have to wear more makeup?

It can be challenging to keep your appearance right in a male-centric environment. One female orchestra conductor was describing how careful she is to wear the right clothing to cover her backside as she leads her orchestra through their music.

“It’s important to get it right” she says. They she sighs and adds, “I just don’t ‘know any women who do.”

Oh.

Is that how it is?

What game are we playing, in which we are supposed to meet a standard that no one can model proficiency in?

I was listening to my friend, a male teacher describe how he was re-iterating the rules for his unruly student. I heard his frustration and desperation.

“Wait, wait…” I said. “They know the rules. Every time you re-explain the rules  you are playing their game.”

“What?”

“Yeah! They know they rules! They know they aren’t supposed to get out of their seats and that they have to wait their turn.

But in their world it they have seen it demonstrated again and again that they have no power. Those teenagers don’t have any of the levers of power. Their parents don’t even have any power. These kids are sure that the best they can hope for is a fifteen dollar an hour job at Home Depot, and that’s if they are lucky.

So what can they do?

There is no point to making the effort to learn how to program a computer, That’s hard, AND a big risk for looking like a fool.  I can understand that they want to avoid that.

So they poke at you to make you dance. They don’t have much power, but they can drive you crazy. And when they make you repeat stuff they already know, every second you spend re-explaining the dumb rules they already know– they have power.  THEY changed their environment.”

I could hear him pausing on the phone line, seeing the picture I was painting.

I continued, “Spend the least possible amount of time re-telling they what they know. Yeah, they are not going to stop pulling the stupid stunts, but you don’t have to engage. Bring it back around to your game.

Talk about how coding makes their world better, and that they CAN do it.”

It’s really easy to fall into the mud hole that someone sets up. It even feels like you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes we are.

Life and learning is messy. People, relationships and the doing of things are all muddy and sloppy.

The mess comes with. .It’s a rare day that has none.

So the female conductor who is trying to find the right shoes and outfit to keep people from paying attention to her butt probably needs to come to terms with the reality that her butt will always be with her. People will always see it.

“It’s important to get it right. I just don’t know any women who do.”

I would suggest it’s important to try to get it right, while realizing that it’s the work of SIsyphus. You will not achieve the goal.

And the students will never stop poking and trying to make my teacher-friend dance to their tune.

You have to get it right.

And you never will.

And it’s important to keep trying.

 

Solitude

esoteric fraternity

Gene

Julliard composer

ALONE

spoke with him, and he was alone

In the hills  of california s met the last living member of a new-age society started after the Civil War. They had a patch of beautiful land and crumbling buildings. I understand that their beliefs included racists elements, and I never had a chance to explore what any of their faith pillars were.

I knew of it because the father in law from my doomed first marriage would hide out there when his wife would kick him out. She kicked him out because he was a drug addict. She loved him, and if his drugs could have behaved themselves, she probably would have let him stay. She would kick him out after he stole her car or other fence-able items to turn into drugs.

And he’d go to this hide-away. He would do repairs around their campus. He’d also brought his Vietnam buddy to the spot. That guy lived their permanently, because he’d divorced his wife and wanted the seclusion to compose music. He was a Julliard-trained pianist and was working on his next masterpiece.

We went to the community to look for Dad sometimes, and he wasn’t always there. Drug addicts can be hard to pin down. I met the one surviving member of what had once been a thriving community, who did not like to talk with others much.

And I met Mr. Julliard. He talked all day. It was a torrent of conversation. He was fascinating and told me all about his music, with it’s motifs. He talked about his family and his thoughts and said “I haven’t talked to anyone in weeks.”

Then went on to explain in detail about how seldom people actually talk with him.

I think of him every time I find myself realizing I’ve dominated a conversation

I takl to people. My last cell phone bill (which I use mostly for work) had 16 pages of phone call details. Yes, I talk a lot.

But yesterday I had the chance to talk about some stuff i never talk about at work. And there was some pent up energy for sure.

inarticulate

I worked very diligently to learn Russian when I was there.

When I returned to America, I studied Russian in college. But college had to take a backseat, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to.

So. It’s been more than 25 years since I had someone to speak Russian with.

But yesterday, I was swept into a party with Russian people. And they all spoke Russian. And I remembered that I could understand it, and I really wanted to be able to speak it again.

I did…Just enough for them to believe me that I knew a little bit. And my very fond dream came true:

A lovely woman said she would have tea and speak Russian with me.

One on one, that made it a lot more serious. I couldn’t just lurk. It was time to break out the declensions.

I was never good at the declensions.

But there we were, sipping tea from Lomonosov china, and I was stumbling around for words, verbs and prepositions to talk about my life.

My head felt like it was lifting something very heavy.

My tongue felt stiff and unwieldy.

That’s the word for “language” in Russian. Tongue. So I language and my tongue didn’t work.

I had put an obstacle in my way.

I’m very good with language. English.

I am very awkward with Russian.

I don’t even try with any other languages.

Russian is my language of choice to be bad at. And as I gave myself the hurdle of this language to try to talk about myself, I had to come to terms with the fact that i looked really stupid.

I couldn’t express a thought. Every single preposition was wrong.

Have you ever thought about prepositions? They are some of the hardest working words in any language. Where to, What for, beyond that and with whom are basic and necessary concepts I was grappling with.

Have I lost you already? i acknowledge, very few human being find grammar fun. Poets and linguists and not all of them.

That was not the point. After I said goodbye to my speaking partner, I was so happy to have achieved my long desire. I had found someone willing to speak Russian with me! And I was appallingly bad at it.

God bless her, she corrected all my endings. Not everyone has the patience to do that.

And as i walked the dog, I wondered what she thought of me. I stumbled through introducing myself and telling my story.

Did I sound like an idiot? Did my life make any sense?

These questions could have been appropriate even if I had used my native language.

But I realized as hard and humiliating as it was, it was worth it. All new endeavors require a willingness to be bad at what you are attempting.

This is the challenge I want to attempt. But any challenge I tried would have the same cost.

In order to get better at anything, I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m not as good as I’d like to be.

And I might even be a complete inept nincompoop.

It helps to come to terms with that on purpose. Because i stumble into ineptitude on accident all the time. Walking up to it intentionally is pretty badass.

I plan to make a point of being foolish in something for the rest of my life.

 

Know the Territory

I’ve spent a lot of time in my career, talking people through fixing technology that I can’t see.

I’ve had to work with people all over America and in other countries too. China, Japan, South Africa, Dubai.

I had to get all the stuff working together at the same exactly time. I was the one that had to answer the questions of WHY it didn’t do what we needed it to do so that it would all sync and connect.

How was *I* supposed to know what was wrong in all those corners of the world?

I had to know the territory.

Which is to say, I had an inventory of all the equipment in each of those places. And I knew what each of them were supposed to look like, which cables were plugged into what and what color lights were supposed to blink in what sequence.

I had to know that for each and every single system in all the different countries. And I did. And we could make the stuff work.

Because I knew exactly what each person was experiencing in their room across the world when I talked to them on the phone and asked about the colors of the blinking lights.

My husband had a reason to drive across the country last week–from long island back to California. It was a straight shot, meant to cover distance as fast as possible.

He made one stop. As a person interested in American history, he wanted to see the battleground for Shiloh.

“The battle was chaos. Now that I’ve seen the battlefield, I can understand why.”

It wasn’t meant to happen there. The two armies met on accident.

No one would have chosen that spot for a battle. But then it happened anyway.

Both generals did know the territory and wanted nothing to do with it.

When Chris told me about walking the battleground, and how there was nothing distinct–how there were no landmarks and it was very disorienting

When he said that seeing what it was like there, he could understand the histories so much better

I remembered my talks with people from other cities and their technology. How they had to completely trust me about the cables and the lights

And how I had to learn to trust them. How when then described the lights’ colors and what was happening in their room, as crazy as it sounded to me

I had to believe them.

I learned that they were the ones who could see and hear, and I had to learn to trust them as if they were my eyes.

If we worked together, we could always find the answer to get synched.

But if I didn’t believe them, we would waste a lot of time. I had to know their territory through their eyes and their voices.

Which is not the same as walking the ground myself. And seeing how the land lies.

 

 

 

the box for the gift

I’ve learned from improv that every bit of infomation is a gift.

And that the most valuable kind of inforamtion is basic.

Who what when where

AND

the relationship

because who, what when and where I am doesn’t matter unless I know how it matters to you

I am a wife and mother in 2019 in Claremont California

Or

I am a wife and a mother during the rainiest winter of my daughter’s life in Claremont California.

OR

I am a wife and mother in 2019 in the town with the last traditional-style liberal arts college.

Or

I am a wife and mother at the beginning of the twenty first century in America

…I am stretching out each part of the gift and I haven’t even gotten to the part about being a wife and mother

When I am writing, I guess the facts and the relationship are between the words and what they mean to the reader, how the reader starts making relationships between the facts

In improv, the relationship can be between two people.
But the writer is alone, or at least alone until someone comes along to keep the writing company by reading it.

So i guess I’d better be clear in my mind, what relationships i want to present to the reader

once the relationships are established, the rest can ride.

what I’ve read this year

It’s march. Two months into the year

 

I’ve read

  1. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
  2. Looking for Alaska by john Green
  3. Skyward
  4. The age of Miracles
  5. A Hat full of Sky
  6. Crazy Rich Asians
  7. An American Marriage
  8. The Sellout
  9. Not Finished Germinal
  10. Warbreaker
  11. Where the Crawdads Sing
  12. Less
  13. The Proud Tower
  14. A distant Mirror
  15. Two Years before the mast
  16. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt
  17. Executive Presence
  18. Armada
  19. The Republic
  20. Common Sense
  21. Snowflower and the Secret Fan
  22. Is everyone Hanging out without me?
  23. What do you care what  other people think Feynman
  24. Big Pototential
  25. Gentleman in Moscow
  26. The immortal life of henrietta Lacks
  27. A mind at home with itself by Byron Katie NF
  28. THe Voyage of the Beagle (NF
  29. The Rithmatist
  30. the power of habit
  31. the book thief
  32. bossy-pants
  33. the essential Martin Luther king jr nf
  34. warcross

 

  1. 30  books, not all of them finished (3/30)