Supporting the USPS

Oh, thank God! My coffee’s here!

Lately the USPS has been messing with my lifeblood—coffee and ink. Both are vital fluids for my morning routine. Without them, I can’t function.

A recent ink order was shipped immediately but apparently holed up in motels along the way as the tracking stalled several times. After a couple of weeks, the package inexplicably boomeranged back to its place of origin, then reversed course and was finally delivered 21 days after it was shipped. Over the course of those three long weeks, I often found myself yelling at my computer screen, irrationally pleading with the tracking to update and the package to pick up the pace and finish strong. It was like cheering on a fading marathon runner. “You’ve got this! You’re almost there!”

My coffee started its journey a couple of hours from here but similarly stalled once shipped (“Acceptance pending” for DAYS). My coffee stash was running precariously low so I tried to limit my daily intake to make it last. No one needs coffee stress during a pandemic. Or ever, really. Six days later, the postal worker handed over my two precious bags of Irving Farm coffee while exclaiming that they made her truck smell fantastic. That coffee made us both happy!

Such are the recent USPS shenanigans. Who knows what the real details are but it’s clear that something is amiss. I feel for the postal workers who are just trying to do their jobs as much as I feel for the customers waiting for their goods. Ink and coffee are one thing. Vital medications are another.

I love the USPS and hate to see it flailing. I’m one of those oddballs who ponder which stamp to put on which card or letter. Does it match the washi tape? Which one fits the recipient best? I love leafing though the USPS’s Philatelic catalog picking out stamps and gifts, but I rarely actually order anything that way.

Until now.

There’s not much I can do to fix federal bureaucracy run amuck but I can shop in a way that shows my love for this agency. Ironically, my USPS order was also slow to arrive, but eventually it did, and, boy do I love this stuff.

Did I need another backpack? Nope. But I love this one and have been carrying it to and from work every day. Making the swap also prompted me to pare down my daily carry which bordered on the ridiculous. I’m feeling much lighter—both physically and mentally.

The toy mail truck and its miniscule mailbox are for my desk at work. They’re a good reminder to send cards and notes to friends and family, even in these rushed days. (I work at a college, so….)

The coin purse is made from a mail bag and was half-price so I could not resist.

Mr. Zip! We need you!

This t-shirt with its vintage image is my absolute favorite purchase. I wish the mail was moving as fast as Mr. Zip appears to be, but maybe it will again someday.

Of course I added some sheets of stamps to my order. Newly released stamps give me a little thrill that probably only dedicated letter writers understand—a tiny piece of art attached to that carefully addressed envelope.

I hope the USPS weathers this current storm and that it’s able to pick up the pace of our letters, cards, and packages once again. In the meantime, I’ll try to have patience, leave thank you notes for my mail carriers, and proudly wear that Mr. Zip t-shirt.

Stay strong, USPS! You’ve got this!

Note: Many of the items mentioned here appear to be sold out on the USPS website. This is a common problem, as supplies seem to be quite low, unfortunately. I wish local POs offered goods for immediate purchase. They make cool gifts.

My Personal Time Capsule

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2020 as a waffle

I’ve heard 2020 described as a “Coronacoaster” and that absolutely captures my own experience. I’m fine and dandy one day, then in a mental trough another. 2020—the year of emotional whiplash.

It’s easy to get stuck in those down times, but finding little joys in your days and weeks can help your emotions chug up from the abyss to the summit once again. Last Saturday I was handed one of those joys.

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Whatever could this be?

The mail carrier dropped off this curious package—an overstuffed bubble mailer. The return address revealed that it was from one of my college roommates. We stay in touch via social media but aren’t in the habit of sending each other things so I had a swirl of question marks floating over my head, just like in a comic strip.

Tearing into the mailer revealed this…

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More question marks.

A note from her quickly solved the mystery.

“Hi, Mary! I just spent 4 days cleaning out cases of memorabilia from the upstairs bedroom to pass some time in these boring Covid days. I happened upon loads of letters from the 80’s and thought you would get a kick out of reading some of yours!”

My own nearly forty-year-old letters were being handed back to me. What a surprise gift! What a cool chance to look back at twentysomething Mary—my handwriting, my joys, challenges, and anxieties. Here they are—pages and pages of the day-to-day details of my post-college life as I made my way in a new state and in a new job. They document a fresh start that was as exciting as it was terrifying.

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I was surprised to see that a few letters were written with a fountain pen because I have no memory of owning one back then. My handwriting is better than I remember and is the seed of how I write today. I’ve definitely made some progress in that regard over these forty-ish years.

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It’s embarrassing to misspell “embarrassing.”

I do remember having a “fancy” electronic typewriter—my pride and joy—that displayed a few lines of text before printing. That sleek machine felt like the pinnacle of modern technology in the early 80’s—at least to me.

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Bonnie Raitt performed at the college where I now work. How’s that for the circle of life?

The Bonnie Raitt concert mentioned in this letter cost me a mere $5.00 because my cousin was a student at the college and got me in with his ID. What a steal, even then. Thanks to this letter, the memories of her performance are as fresh as if I were standing in that crowded gym at this very moment. Such is the power of the written word.

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I had no idea I’d written enough letters to overstuff a bubble mailer, but what else was there to do back then without computers, phones, internet, or cable TV? My stereo system (another pride and joy) was constantly blasting Pat Benatar, Heart, Sinead O’Connor, and the Eurythmics—those powerful 80’s women. That era will always represent my favorite music because it was a huge part of my quiet little life.

I look forward to arranging these letters by date and reading about Mary. That Mary. Surely there will be some surprises, some cringes, and some laughs.

I’ll always treasure this personal time capsule. What a surprise. What a joy.

EDCC: My Everyday Covid-19 Carry

I’m not really a hardcore EDC type of person. Except for the mini Leatherman tool and Write Notepads Pocket Flip Book that are always with me, what else I carry varies with my mood. Pocket pens have become a big thing with me lately so there’s usually one of those tucked away, but that’s a topic for another post.

That said, because of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, I’m now religiously carrying my own little Covid-19 kit. Starting on March 26—once I came out of my initial pandemic paralysis—I started recording county, state, country, and world case and death counts in a pocket notebook. I use the first few pages in each log to jot down noteworthy “news”—mostly personal things like when my dad’s nursing home closed to visitors (March 13th) and when my workplace went to “minimal operating status” (March 21st). The pandemic continues as one big blur of days, months, and even seasons, so I find it helpful to mark down meaningful dates in the ongoing saga.

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Cases in our county (pop. 230,000) continue to increase—usually by 20 or so a day—as do the deaths, which, though relatively low, still make my heart sink every time I record the numbers. It’s interesting to see how the statistics change with time, and though things are generally looking a little more optimistic, I suspect I’ll be filling up pages and notebooks for months to come.

I write down these statistics—remembering that each number represents a person—not only to track the data, but to remind myself of the lives altered and the lives lost. It’s a very, very simple remembrance of the Covid-19 patients, victims, and their families, as well as all of the healthcare workers on the front lines. I’ll keep recording the numbers as long as there are cases. Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel less helpless by doing something, as insignificant as this is.

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I recently added another pocket notebook to the same Nock Co. case—a homemade Covid-19 Location Log. Ever since the cases in New York State started ratcheting up, I made it a practice to jot down where we went and when we went there. But my jotting was pretty haphazard. Sometimes it was in my to-do list notebook, sometimes it was in my Hobonichi, and sometimes it was in my Write Notepads Weekly Planner. Sometimes I just forgot.

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A couple of weeks ago, I took the free Contact Tracing course offered by Johns Hopkins. Though I may never work as a contact tracer, the information presented was eye-opening and made me realize that I needed to revamp my casual and disorganized documentation. If I ever contract the virus, I want to be able to tell the contract tracer where I’ve been, when I was there, and who I was with with complete certainty. Though I might have been able to piece some of that information together prior to starting this log, carrying this notebook all the time—so that I can make entries in one place, on the fly—has made all the difference. I’m also able to check our whereabouts when those “local exposures” lists pop up on the news. All of this to say that—NEWSFLASH!—my memory is unreliable and needs constant assistance. A pocket notebook and a $1.50 Muji pen was all I needed to fix this problem.

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The 70% copper Careful Key

Do you now eye all doors and surfaces with suspicion? Do you try to open doors by touching the part of the door handle that your nervous brain judges to be the least handled part? (As if there is a least-handled part.) Do you pull your hand up into your sleeve and use that as a barrier between a handle and your hand? Me? Yes, yes, and yes.

I recently found a better solution to the door handle dilemma in the Careful Key which is made from 260 brass (70% copper). Using this tool, I can now hook door handles and pull them open, or push open the lid on a trash container—two things that I did several times today. I can also use this tool to type in my passcode on an ATM or punch an elevator button—things that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to before the pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 virus remains viable on copper for only about four hours versus days on other surfaces, so the Careful key disinfects itself naturally. I have one tucked into a back pocket at all times, but it’s quite slim and could easily slip into the Nock Case holding my notebooks.

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What about masks? Gotta have those, too. I have masks stashed all over the place, but my favorite is the one pictured above—made by a friend and fellow scientist—for obvious reasons. It makes me smile and think of her whenever I wear it.

Smiles and friendship. Maybe they’re the most important things to carry with us every day.

Note: There are no affiliate links in this post. All items shown and mentioned were purchased with my own funds.

Working From Home: Gaining Traction

 

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I took a walk one day last summer and stumbled upon a house sale where I found and purchased this desk. A lucky find, it turns out. (My motto: You can never have too many desks.)

I’ve been home from work since February 26th, when I had my shoulder surgery. At the time, I expected to be out on medical leave for about six weeks, then head back to campus. Then things went kablooey. The college sent students home before Spring Break in March, then went to essential staffing only. And that’s where we sit two months later.

As of April 22nd, I was released from medical leave and headed “back to work.” Well, back to work at home. I know I’m lucky. The husband is at work, the dogs sleep like cats, and the cats are…well…cats. I have a good computer and multiple desks. And, you know, a few pens, and enough notebooks to scrape by (hahahaha!). Working from home is kind of nice (very few distractions…ah, peace) but also weird (very few distractions…maybe it’s a little TOO quiet).

No wait. I’m wrong. There are distractions at home. They’re just different. Because of the medical leave, I got used to having very unstructured time at home. I fell back into the “stay up late/take my time getting up” habits of old. Gone was my well-honed early morning routine—coffee, journal, stretch, shower, dress, breakfast, drink 20 ounces of water, drive to work. I did most of those things but in a very loose lackadaisical way. When the mood hit, and my shoulder cooperated, I tackled some much-needed decluttering and dusting—chores that are never really done. The “craft room”—which honestly could use a match tossed into it—is still a disaster that needs fixing. I took Flapjack, our youngest dog, for long walks in the afternoon. The pantry and refrigerator became a perpetual draw for both procrastination and reward.

So I must admit that when the back-to-work switch flipped on, I floundered. I was still at home, but now I needed to get back on track. I needed to shift into work mode without leaving the house and all of those ever-present personal projects and snack options. I needed to—well, wanted to—regain the ground I’d lost with my morning routine and well-structured work habits. There is no shortage of work. Our department brainstormed a laundry list of back-burnered projects that we could finally tackle remotely. But it’s so strange to not do what you’ve done for 40+ years—drive to work, do your work, drive home from work. Suddenly work and home are in the same place, the lines are all blurred, and I’m having trouble remembering what day it is. Time is both long and short. Plus there’s that Covid-19 anxiety always lurking in the background—mostly for my dad, who’s in a nursing home.

What’s a formerly well-organized and diligent worker to do? How do I regain my footing?

One answer came from a recent William Hannah Instagram post that I blatantly stole. (Pretty sure that I admitted this to them when I commented on their post.)

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I took their lead and charted out a very basic blueprint for my work days. Have I followed it to the letter? Well…no. But I like that I have this as a “north star”—something to glance at when I start drifting off course. The colors make me go “ahhhhhh” and the basic outline helps me regain my focus at a glance. (And isn’t that Levenger Vivacious Cross Dot paper the best? I’ll never understand why they discontinued it but I’m happy I had the foresight to load up on Circa refills and freeleaf notepads when they were on clearance.)

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A tabbed junior Circa notebook (Levenger) continues to serve as the place where I collect my action, waiting, and maybe/someday lists for the main categories of my life—work, personal, parents, pens, Newsline (a professional publication that I edit). This notebook sits at hand as I process email and is a faithful companion for capturing anything that pops into my head. Sometimes I get lax about WRITING THINGS DOWN and this is always a mistake. This notebook continues to help me parse out the tasks and ideas that constantly run through my head.

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Write Notepad’s Weekly Planner has been a lifesaver again. I was using it at work, then fell out of the habit. Who knows why. Working from home made me revive and appreciate this notebook all the more. The wide format gives me a great overview of the whole week. I use it this way:

  • Work tasks at the top
  • Personal tasks in the middle
  • Appointments at the bottom (in a section that I created with a pencil and a ruler)
  • In the official “Actions” section, I list my responsibilities and priorities, then make a check mark when I do something/anything related to that category. It’s a quick way to check in with myself to make sure that I’m spending time on the things that are important to me.

The tasks for the week are chosen from the master lists in the Circa notebook and scheduled in the Weekly Planner. I also pencil in my own checkboxes as that’s my MO. Nothing more satisfying then coloring in that tiny box. (I even write out my grocery lists this way.)

I do wish that the subtle dot grid in the “Actions” section extended throughout the whole spread, but that’s not a big deal. I’m managing fine as is.

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My Hobonichi Techo has been a steady companion for the past four years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I list my appointments here. Redundant, I know, but the Techo is the book I carry with me to appointments. The Weekly Planner isn’t handy in that way.

I also record quotes that resonant with me in my Hobonichi, and make a habit of recording a few good things from the day. These are little gems to reread and cherish when I need a mood-lifter. (I have to smile at that third bulleted item on this page from early February where I was so happy about “An actual whole evening at home.” Now we have nothing but.) Capturing things to be grateful for has always been important to me, but now these super short reflections save me. Even in this time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty there are blessings and joys. Jotting them down both for now and for later helps me to remember that—helps to calm the mental turbulence when my mind starts to flail.

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Our long-neglected TV trays have become the perfect surface to stack work files, reference material, and notebooks. I work throughout the house, but make a concerted effort to clear counters and desks and tables at the end of the work day so that I can start fresh the next day. Clearing a space clears my mind.

I’m getting some good and focused work done here at home, thanks to my lists and notebooks and workday blueprint. Zoom meetings keep us connected, but boy, could I use some casual conversation, lunch with a friend, and some non-virtual hugs.

We will get there. Until then, stay healthy and at least somewhat productive. And have a little fun, too.

Note: There are no affiliate links in this post, and all items were purchased with my own funds.

The Green Ink Quest: Akkerman #28

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Following up last week’s post, I spent time poking around online looking for just the right shade of green, and soon realized that ordering a handful of samples was the way to go. (Captain Obvious here.) Those samples arrived from Vanness Pens yesterday. I chose:

Private Reserve Spearmint
Diamine Woodland Evergreen
Robert Oster Green Green
Robert Oster Ryde Green
Akkerman #28/Hofkwartier Groen

There are a few more candidates that weren’t available as samples, but this group should  help me hone in on exactly which shade of green I’m looking for. I partially filled my medium-nibbed TWSBI ECO with the Akkerman #28, then wrote a letter and a journal entry.

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Definitely promising. I like the freshness and subtle shading. It’s light but legible. I think I’m looking for just a bit more “pop,” but we shall see. Thanks to those who offered their recommendations, a few of which are among this first batch of samples.

My shoulder has been a bit more sore and achy lately thanks to some new exercises along with ramped up writing and computer work so I’m not journaling as much as I’d like. Despite the discomfort, my two-month, post-surgery followup went well this morning as my doctor feels I’m ahead of schedule with mobility and strength. I’m addicted (in the best way possible) to my pens, inks, notebooks, and paper, so this is a fun little, but not too tiring, project—exploring the freshness of spring with a variety of green inks.

Green leaves — you may believe this or not —
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers

somewhere
deep in the woods
in the reckless seizure of spring.

—from Mary Oliver’s “Reckless Poem”

Not that I need more ink, but…

I’m looking for a particular green ink. There’s a glen on campus where I go—sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone—to clear my head. I can walk into those woods with my mind racing and my muscles clenched, and walk out feeling calm and loose. It feels like a sacred place.

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It is a sacred place.

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In the spring and summer, the greens are spectacular. Right now, the trees are just beginning to show signs of life, so the color palette is predominantly dormant browns and grays, with occasional pops of hopeful green, like in this moss…

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That’s the color of ink I’m looking for—that energetic, euphoric, almost fluorescent green. I don’t own a lot of green ink, but the ones I do have slant towards the darker offerings (Sailor Epinard, Platinum Citrus Black), or the muted sagey greens (Mont Blanc’s Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe). Blackstone’s Lemur Lime is in the ballpark, but I’d like something a little more legible with a medium nib.

I’ve done some poking around and jotted down a few candidates—Diamine Kelly Green, Diamine Meadow, Robert Oster Green Green, Robert Oster Ryde Green, Akkerman #28 Hofkwartier Groen—but it’s so hard to tell from online swatches.

With that color in a pen, I’ll feel like I’m in those woods even when I’m not, which is why I’m on a quest for that mood-lifting green. Any and all suggestions welcome.

Thank you, and happy spring!!

Postcards From the Edge

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I do this thing when I travel—or even when I visit a local museum’s gift shop—where I buy a handful of postcards BUT THEN NEVER WRITE AND MAIL THEM. I find that if I don’t send them within the first day or two of a trip, my motivation to do so plummets. I end up carting them home then tucking them away in my basket-o’-stationery where they gather dust. I know this about myself yet I still cannot resist the come hither look of that revolving rack of postcards.

Now here we are. We can’t travel. We can’t visit friends or extended family. We can’t shake hands or hug. We can’t catch up over lunch or coffee. We are glued to Zoom meetings where we’re connected yet disconnected (the current reality that was so well put in this article). We miss our 3D people. I miss my 3D, in-real-life people.

Because of this prudent and necessary isolation, my craving to connect with others is even stronger than my pandemic-induced craving for freshly baked cookies. That’s where my stash of postcards comes in. It’s time for me to grab that stack, a pen (gee…let me see if I can find one), and a sheet of postcard stampsthen write a few every day. The time investment is so small compared to the rewards.

“I’m thinking of you.”

“I wish you were here.”

How important it is to say these words. How important it is to read these words.

“I miss you.”

I do. I really do.

Current Mood(s)

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Yeah…that 1962 photo about sums it up.

Like all of us, I’m a jumble of thoughts, feelings, and emotions these days. My mood is directly proportional to how much news I watch, so I’m careful about that. I want to stay informed but not whipped into a mental frenzy. Some nights I sleep great. Other nights I’m the one in this Roz Chast postcard…

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Just substitute “Covid-19” for “Ebola”

My shoulder is healing well—despite the fact that I have to be my own physical therapist for the time being. I’m out of the sling and once again able to type and write and lift light things. Thank God. If ever there was a time that I need to be journaling, writing letters, sending cards and blogging, it’s now.

Here we are in this strange new world. We’re ticking along as best we can, tamping down fear, practicing hygiene on steroids, trying to act normal in a very unnormal time. (“Unnormal” is not a word—there’s a red dashed line underneath it—but I’m sticking with it.) We’re finding ways to cope and even to have fun. Remember fun?!

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The Mincing Mockingbird folks are my people

Even after the sling came off, I didn’t write a word. I fixated on the news and my plummeting retirement account, paced around the house, and mainlined cookies. I felt so paralyzed. But as the weeks go on, even though the news is not improving, I’m finding ways to feel better. I hope you are, too. My beloved analog tools are saving me.

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I’m getting back to using my Theme System Journal with its 2020 theme—Stoicism. (Hoo, boy—was that a prophetic pick, or what?!) The actions I chose and began practicing in January are exactly what I need to be focusing on right now. January and February were mere warm-up sprints for this pandemic marathon. I’m so grateful that I’ve been developing my Stoicism muscles so that I can come back to these familiar and calming practices.

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I’m writing morning pages again, too. Because my shoulder is still healing, I typically write one page rather than four, but that’s fine for now. At least I’m getting up early and letting the thoughts and words flow. No matter what they are—fearful, hopeful, funny, or jumbled—I’m getting them out, getting them down. (Since I’m my own physical therapist, I might as well be my own mental therapist, too. Look at the co-pays I’m saving!)

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Man, these colors help. The Ellsworth Kelly stamps and this Gene Davis Retro 51 brighten even the gloomy days. Now is not the time for taupe and subtlety. I’m digging into my stationery hoard to write and send letters, notes, and postcards. If we can’t hug in person, let’s hug via the mail. To make sure I have a healthy supply of colorful stamps, I ordered these and these via the USPS website. Home delivery—it’s a beautiful thing.

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Turns out I had WAY too many pens inked, so one of my decluttering projects is correcting that. Every day, I flush out and sonicate a few pens to thin the inked pen herd. What a perfect time for a fountain pen reboot. I also picked up another pen case from Pen Chalet and plan to organize my pens by brand. Restoring order—even in a small way—makes me feel less helpless.

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On a more somber note, I started keeping a “pandemic journal” the other day because, after all, we’re living through a historic event. I’m keeping track of case counts, death counts, and the associated percentages as a way of tracking the progress of this thing. I can’t wait until I see those numbers stabilizing, then declining. I’m also jotting down a few lines about how I’m feeling, what I’m doing, and how I’m coping. I do fear that I’ll be filling up more than one pocket notebook.

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The perfect springtime escape

And of course I’m reading. Plowing through books, actually. This is when I feel best—when I’m settled down for the night with a good book. My own worries, and the troubles of the world, melt away and I’m off on a virtual vacation—to Amherst, MA, in this case. I’ll get there one day, when we are once again free to roam about the country.

So even though, right now, the world feels very much like this…

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and this…

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this is also true…

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Much-needed encouragement courtesy of Baux Pen Co.

WE got this.

And, hey, let me know how you’re doing.

A Slice of Pie

I’ve joined a small writing group, and this came from last week’s assignment—to use the word “judge” in a piece. In the process, I think stumbled onto my origin story.

“She has that Sedgwick nose!” my grandmother exclaimed at a jarring “EUREKA!” volume. Aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and grandparents, all plowing through Thanksgiving dinner, lost interest in their turkey, and craned their necks to focus on my face. “That bump! That’s the Sedgwick nose!” she proclaimed as excited as if she’d discovered a nugget of gold in her mashed potatoes. Isn’t that what every 13-year old wants to hear? That their nose carries the bump seen in the heavy-framed portraits of long-dead relatives? My face burned at her pronouncement and their undivided attention. I melted miserably into my butternut squash. This was my legacy, they decided. Like this nose was a fine and desirable thing. To me, this legacy seemed like a gyp.

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Those dead relatives hail from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and I visited them—well…their graves—when I was a little older. To someone used to the plumb straight lines of a typical cemetery, the arrangement of their private burial ground—tucked just out of sight of Main St.—looked oddly random. No straight lines. No obvious order. But if you were a bird, you’d see that there was a plan. The patriarch, Theodore Sedgwick, rests in the bulls-eye position of this curious layout. Nicknamed “The Judge” because of his tenure on the Massachusetts Supreme Court from 1802 until his death in 1813, Theodore’s obelisk serves as the epicenter for concentric circles of graves. This unique cemetery, this so-called “Sedgwick Pie,” holds the ten dead children of Theodore and Pamela, his second wife. And their children, and their children’s children. One hundred and forty-four descendants of these two parents lie in neatly arranged, ever-widening circles, all facing that obelisk. Family lore believes that when Jesus says so, the Sedgwick dead will rise to face “The Judge” and their own judgment.

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One grave captured my attention, even as a young adult. Catherine Maria Sedgwick (1789-1867) lies beneath an ivied cross in the innermost circle of “The Pie.” Theodore’s fifth child and third daughter, Catherine wrote and published pamphlets, novels, and an autobiography at a time when it was very unusual for a woman to do so. I like to think that my love of words, my desire to write—to worry over the puzzle of an essay—comes from her. That maybe she’s the reason I’m a stickler about the proper use of apostrophes. That she’s the reason I prefer dim lighting and pens filled from ink bottles when I journal before dawn. That she’s the reason for this need to write about everything and nothing. I imagine the jumble of genes that led from her to me, carrying this love of books and paper and pens straight into my marrow. Did my sense of humor arise from her DNA? Did she even have a sense of humor in that time of smallpox and harsh winters? I like to think that she did. And that what was hers is now mine.

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A portrait of Catherine reveals that I wear her nose. I realize now, this is a fine and desirable thing.

Just Right: The Theme System Journal

“Mary dislikes regimentation,” Mrs. Gold, my teacher, noted on one of my first-grade report cards (in perfect Palmer Method cursive, I recall). She was right. I do. I tend to rebel when too much structure is imposed on me, but I also flounder when there’s not enough. It’s all very “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The amount of structure needs to be “JUST RIGHT.”

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That’s why the Theme System Journal appealed to me. There’s just enough framework, balanced by just enough freedom. Nothing is set in stone. I don’t feel hemmed in by an overly prescribed system, but I’m also not flailing around in a blank notebook.

Truth be told, I bought my Theme System Journal the first time it was offered—quite some time ago—then stored it in a box, still wrapped in its protective plastic. You could accuse me of procrastinating—heck, I’ve repeatedly accused myself of that over the past few months—but I think I just wasn’t ready to do the work necessary to use the Theme System Journal in a meaningful way. I didn’t want to go into it all willy-nilly, but I also knew that a journal wrapped in plastic wasn’t doing me any good.

There’s nothing like a new year to jumpstart your self-reflection. 2020, I decided, was to be the year of the Theme System Journal. Which meant that I needed A THEME.

I mulled over all kinds of words and wishes and goals and emotions, but nothing felt quite right. I frequently take lunchtime walks with a good friend where we have these meandering and wonderful conversations about nothing and everything. I was jabbering on about my need for a theme and how I was grinding trying to come up with one. She quietly and wisely said, “Maybe your theme will find you.”

As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

One of the “Take Note” podcast hosts noted, on Twitter, how reading The Daily Stoic has helped him immensely. This tweet reminded me that I bought the book last January but didn’t read it for more than a few days. Then I stumbled onto SBREBrown’s YouTube series on Stoicism, and I fell right down that rabbit hole. A switch flipped in my brain and I knew that I’d found my theme.

2020: The Year of Stoicism

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It was finally time to take the plastic off of that Theme System Journal. I unwrapped it and then my perfectionism kicked in. I needed to do a little more work. What were my ideal outcomes? What goals would I track on a daily basis? I grabbed a pen and a pad and wrote and rewrote all of the possibilities until I distilled everything down to eight desired outcomes and ten daily actions/goals. Time to actually write in the book.

I recorded my theme and my desired outcomes.

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I recorded the specific actions I’d be tracking on a daily basis.

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I began the practice of evening reflection.

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Though I’m only five days in, I already feel mentally lighter because of the Stoicism practices and because of this journal. I’ve had themes in the past, but didn’t record them anywhere so they were abstract and out-of-reach most of the time, especially when I was under duress and needed them the most. Because I’m looking at, and writing about, my theme and goals and actions every day, I’m able to call on them in times of stress, duress, and overwhelm. The positive practices are right at my fingertips. This feels, honestly, like a miracle.

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Nothing is perfect, of course, so I have just a couple of suggestions for future iterations of the Theme System Journal. I’d love to have at least a few lined pages simply for notes. I’ve been using the Index pages at the back of the book for this, but that means that I can’t use them for their intended purpose. I’d also like a way to find each section without flipping through the pages. I’ve been using book darts to mark my current pages, and those work fine, but integrated bookmarks would be really handy. Those are two very minor wishes for something that is overwhelming well thought out and solidly constructed.

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My second Theme System Journal arrived yesterday and is waiting in the wings. I’m in this for the long haul.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Myke and Grey.