40 ways to appreciate a kidney stone

At the er for a migraine

I wake up a little before seven with a sharp pain in my lower back. Just that old pulled muscle acting up again—but man, this time it really hurts. I gobble a bunch of Advil and hobble back to bed.

A few hours later, I’m up again. While the pain has abated, it’s still there, and I briefly wonder if I should mosey over to the Emergency Room. But no, I’m being a wimp. I pop a couple more Advil, pack up my computer, and head off to a café. It’s Monday—Memorial Day—but I didn’t make any plans, in part because I really need to motor through a bunch of work.

I’m eating my croissant and sipping coffee when the pain washes over me again. I look up from my laptop screen. This really doesn’t feel right. And yes, it seems silly to go to the ER because of back pain, but you know what? I don’t care.

Well, as you’ve likely figured out by now, this wasn’t just my ancient sports injury giving me grief. It was a kidney stone. I’m still not sure exactly what this is—something about a calcified something trying to find its way out—but I do have one salient piece of advice:  Refrain from getting one.

“It’s really good you came in,” said the medical technician, who started the IV drip to administer pain meds and fluids.

I hadn’t brought anything to read, but I did have my iPhone. “Holiday greetings from the Cooley Dick emergency room! Working hypothesis: kidney stones. #tmi,” I typed into Facebook.

Thanks to social media, I had instant company.

“I read a great essay a few days ago about how you can make difficult experiences better by crafting the story that you’ll later tell about them. Or something like that,” my writer friend Megan quipped.  She was talking about this, and in fact, I already was.

At the time the pain struck, I was finishing up a column for SecondAct about doing a Plan B Nation-style Happiness Project. The idea, of course, grew out of lawyer-turned-writer Gretchen Rubin’s #1 New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. I’ve sometimes jokingly call Plan B Nation  “a Happiness Project for the rest of us”—for those who don’t already have Rubin’s picture perfect life—and I wanted to write about that.

But lying in the ER, my mind wandered to two of Rubin’s previous books—Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK.  And then: Forty Ways to Appreciate a Kidney Stone. The title just popped into my head, and I decided to make a list. (If you’re interested, you can read it below. In fact, I only came up with 25, but in deference to whimsicality, I left the title unchanged.)

Two days later, I was telling my writer friend Lisa about my misadventure. “I was so convinced it was that sports injury that I blocked out any other option.”

As it happened, Lisa had her own such story. Walking down a dark Brooklyn street a number of years back, she caught sight of three suspicious-looking characters ambling towards her. If you see something suspicious, always look at your watch. A friend had described having done just that after seeing a plane fly low over Manhattan’s Twin Towers. Now Lisa did it herself. In an instant, she saw herself on the witness stand, Law and Order style. She alone would have the facts! And then, she was mugged.

“Oh! I’m not a witness! I’m the victim!” was her first astonished thought.

You might say our minds have minds of their own. They assume “facts,” create stories, and often won’t shut up until they get us to act accordingly.  At times, this is a great thing. Our lives depend on it. But helpful as our minds may try to be, they sometimes lead us astray. Their first impulse isn’t always the right one. That’s why we need to keep them open.

Forty Ways to Appreciate a Kidney Stone

1. It wasn’t something worse

2. I got to meet the super nice super kind people in the Cooley Dick emergency room

3. I wasn’t out of town

4. I didn’t have the disappointment of cancelling holiday plans (had been feeling a little glum about not having any. Now I was glad.)

5.  It didn’t happen right before a work deadline

6. I wasn’t screwing up anyone else’s holiday plans

7. It gave me an opportunity to test my story-creating tool—and find it worked again

8. It led me to appreciate health in a way I hadn’t the day before

9. It gave me another way to reflect on the quality of openness that I’ve been mulling; the ability to see outside expectations. In brief, my initial tendency was to attribute this to a flaring of a sports injury. In fact, it was something different.

10. I told a nurse about Greenie pill pockets for her aging cat

11. I appreciated living in a place with easy access to medical care

12. I now know what these symptoms mean in the event they strike again

13. I know I should be drinking more water.

14. Another way to connect with friends

15. It gave me a chance to see that, at least sometimes, I’m getting better than I used to be about life not going according to my plans.

16. It gave me a sense that I’m not as much of a pain wimp as I’ve always thought of myself as being.

17. I didn’t have to take the heavy duty painkillers.

18. I had the heavy duty painkillers in reserve, which was reassuring.

19. Appreciate FB—didn’t have to call any one person but had community support, felt not alone + knew I had someone to call on if it turned out I did need help

20. Friends who offered to help

21. Made me appreciate insurance

22. Made me appreciate Mass, where health insurance is affordable

23. Made me appreciate my apartment—quiet, restful, safe space to recuperate.

24. Appreciate my car—that I was able to drive myself to the ER

25. Writing about this gives me a chance to connect with others—and maybe help someone else who ends up in this place in the future. (Research suggests that helping others makes us happier than doing things for ourselves.)

Everything’s a (funny) story

Standoff with bad dog and cheese

Well, not everything. But this is: Back in Cambridge for a quick overnight visit, I’m heading down Mass Ave towards Harvard Square. As it happens, my trip coincided with Harvard graduation, and throngs of well-dressed celebrants are heading off to parties and dinners. But I have a different agenda: I’m on my way to a toney little grocery in hopes that some Boar’s Head turkey and Swiss will entice my friend Betsy’s bad dog to let me back in the house.

Wubby growls when I return. I toss her a slice of (fancy, expensive) cheese. She growls again. I back off. She gobbles up the cheese. We repeat this futile exercise another two times. Well futile for me, not for her. I beat a hasty retreat to my car to contemplate next steps.

Betsy’s at a meeting at a Boston law firm and won’t be home for another few hours. Her husband is out of town. I need to get back home to western Mass, but first I need to collect my stuff from the third-floor guest room.

I call our friend Jan, whose Eddie is the dog behind Cambridge Canine.

“Betsy’s dog won’t let me in the house,” I say. I explain the situation.

“I’d be scared too,” she says. “I wouldn’t try again.”

Not the answer I was hoping to hear. I try to look on the bright side. “Maybe I can get a blog post out of it,” I say reflectively. “Though I can’t really get any writing done. My computer is in the house.”

“That’s good for the blog post,” observes pragmatic Jan. She’s a blogger too.

So here’s the thing, the point behind this story: Even as I schlepped down Mass Ave, even as I brandished cold cuts to an inexplicably hostile dog—usually Wubby loves me!—I found myself framing the events as an amusing story. First as a Facebook status update, then as a little essay. And, as I see it, this is a very good thing.

In the pre-social media world, this would not have been my default mode. I would have been seething and stressing, not taking mental notes with an eye to writing a blog post. I would have been focused on the fact that I needed to get home and this shouldn’t be happening. There would have been no upside. There would have been lots of down.

In the wake of Facebook’s IPO, the debate over life online—pro and con—shows no sign of abating. The cover story in this month’s AtlanticIs Facebook Making Us Lonely?—has 18,000 Facebook recommends as of this writing. I, however, just don’t buy it. Take my trip to Cambridge: I was able to meet my California-based friend Marcia for coffee only because I knew—through Facebook!—that our visits would coincide.That Jan and I enjoyed a fantastic southern feast at Tupelo can be traced to the fact that my friend Jen’s husband is the chef there. I first met Jen (I know, it’s confusing Jan and Jen: two different people) on Twitter and often connect with her now via Facebook. And come to think of it, I actually first “met” Jan online as well—the strength of our real-life friendship is such that I can easily forget that.

As I once wrote on Huffington Post, there is no monolithic Facebook. Facebook is what we make it. One of the major critiques often levied at the social media giant is that it encourages a focus on self-presentation at the expense of authenticity. But I see it very differently. Is the funny story about me attempting to placate Wubby less real, less true to my experience than a narrative that would have had me frustrated, anxious, and on-edge? Absolutely not—because as I created the funny story, it became my experience. And, I would add, I am far the happier for that.

As for my story’s coda, I did finally get into the house. Betsy raced home to corral Wubby. I grabbed my stuff and got on the road. The whole episode delayed my travels for maybe 90 minutes. And now I have written this. And you are reading it.

Why birthdays matter (& why they don’t)

Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last winter, I was asked to talk about Plan B Nation on New England NPR. I’d just launched the blog the month before. I was pretty thrilled.

As I prepared for the interview, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to say and how to say it. What aspects of my Plan B Nation journey should I focus on? What would listeners find interesting? What would they find helpful?

One thing I wasn’t too worried about was being caught off guard. I’d already written about unemployment for the mega website Salon. The facts of my story were already out there. Or so I thought.

“How old are you?” The question came at the end of the interview, almost an afterthought.

I didn’t answer right away. I realized that I didn’t want to say.

“Is my age really important?” I finally asked (or something equally lame).

At the time, I couldn’t have told you why I balked at this question. I just knew that I felt strangely committed to holding back The Number. And if I was unclear myself, my interviewer was baffled. “You talk publicly about unemployment and AA, but you don’t want to give your age?”

I had to admit she had a point, but that didn’t seem to sway me.

It took some time for me to piece together what was going on here. The fact is, age has consequences. These are less apparent when our lives are settled, with the big questions of love and work at least temporarily resolved. But if you’ve been on a dating website, or applied for a job lately, you’ll know what I’m talking about. After a certain point, numbers rule us out far more often than they rule us in.

But even more significant—at least for me—is the issue of how age defines us as normal, or, well not. Our cultural assumptions around age are deep and pervasive. The “stage theory” pioneered by Erik H. Erikson and popularized by Gail Sheehy in her blockbuster 1974 bestseller Passages is premised on the notion that our lives move through predictable stages that correlate with our ages. “The Trying Twenties,” “The Deadline Decade” (that’s your thirties, y’all!), “The Flourishing Forties,” “The Flaming Fifties”—Sheehy neatly labeled what are increasingly, for many of us, messy realities.

The more I think about it, perhaps the biggest reason I resist being defined by age is that the train of associations feels so powerfully misleading. For those of us whose lives have followed unconventional patterns—for me that means not getting married, not having kids, and pursuing a career path more meandering than directed—age can tend to put the focus on what we haven’t done rather than what we have (which for me includes, among other things, designing and co-founding the Mississippi Teacher Corps, writing and publishing two novels, practicing law, living in places ranging from the Mississippi Delta to Manhattan, and now thinking long and deeply about the issues I’m exploring in this blog.)

And yet, despite everything I’ve just said, I do pay attention to birthdays—though for very different reasons than I did when I was younger.

For me, birthdays have become a point of reckoning, a marker in the steady progression of days that helps me take stock. As I’ve written before, I’m someone who tends to have a hard time appreciating how far I’ve traveled and what I’ve done. I tend to focus on “what next?” rather than “what then?” Birthdays help counter that. Like the New Year or any other regular marker—and the more, the better, I say—they offer an opportunity both to appreciate progress and to look ahead. (For me, this always involves a rambling foray through my trusty desk diaries.)

This past year: So much! Starting this blog, for one big thing. Writing for Salon, the Chicago Tribune, SecondAct (where I have a new bi-monthly column), and now, Psychology Today. Optioning my second novel for film. Designing and leading a writing workshop for foster kids. Picking blueberries. Making pesto. Hiking the Seven Sisters. Training for a 5K. Making some really good friends and strengthening ties with old ones.

Oh, and for the record, I’m about to turn 52. I really don’t mind giving my age: I just don’t want to lead with it.

Poultry vs. Prada

As perhaps you’ve heard—because, really, I won’t shut up about it—I have a new purse.  It’s made of rubber and looks pretty much exactly like a chicken. It cost $34.99 on Amazon.com.

The last time I was this excited about a purse was more than a decade ago. I was living in Manhattan, and the purse was Prada. It cost something in the range of $500, and I did not buy it on Amazon.com.

This realization got me thinking once again about the ways my life has evolved since moving back to western Massachusetts a year and a half ago. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on the key role of “reference groups” in shaping consumption patterns.

I first came across this term in sociologist Juliet B. Schor’s The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need while researching an essay for SecondAct on The Secret to Living Well on Less. As Schor explains it, we tend to compare our own lifestyles and possessions “to those of a select group of people we respect and want to be like, people whose sense of what’s important in life seems close to our own.” This is our reference group, and it’s malleable. It shifts over time and depending on life circumstances.

Not surprisingly, my Manhattan reference group was way different from my reference group in a college town smack in the heart of what’s often dryly referred to as The Happy Valley.  And if that’s not a clear enough explanation, consider this socio-cultural map of Massachusetts. (N.B. We are the bright pink sector.)

Image credit: The AwesomeBoston.com

As I wrote in my living-well-on-less essay, the fact that I’m spending far less money these days isn’t because I’m now a “better” or less materialistic person. What’s changed isn’t the core of who I am. What’s changed is who I hang out with.

But while I may not be a better person, I do have a better life. And by “better” I mean more in sync with things that really matter—the things that really make me happy.  By way of illustration, I offer the following comparison:

What I Got out of My Prada Handbag

I do not love shopping, and for this reason, it was great to have a single item that, by dint of simply carrying it, would take me pretty much anywhere. In 1990s New York, the uniform of black Prada purse, black dress, black boots saved me countless hours of boredom in our finer retail establishments and, despite the hefty price tag The Purse carried, it likely ended up saving me money given the alternatives.

Plus, it was, in some strange way, like being part of a club—or at least putting in an application.  As I recall—and it’s getting a bit hazy now—such accessories were popular at the time in the NYC publishing world, and while I was still practicing law, I wanted to be writer. I can’t say that the purse helped me write, but it symbolized the intention, and in this way, it may have helped just a bit in keeping the dream alive.

What I Get out of My (Non-Prada) Henbag

I make people smile. And laugh! They stop me on the street and say: I LOVE YOUR PURSE! WHERE DID YOU GET IT? Then we chat for a bit. They tell me why they love the purse—about their friend who has chickens or their own chickens or how much better fresh eggs are than the ones you buy at the supermarket (true), and then we smile and move on, but it’s sort of like I have a new friend somewhere.

When I meet someone who loves the chicken purse, I also know I’ve met someone with whom I’ll likely share other common ground. Carrying the chicken purse is like walking a puppy. Like it or not (and I do), I’m going to end up more connected than I was when I left my house that morning.

As go my purses, so goes my life.

The other day I bumped into a friend on Main Street, and after showing off the new henbag, I launched into a disquisition on my Poultry vs. Prada musings. I could tell he couldn’t fathom the notion of spending hundreds of dollars on a pocketbook. But rather than saying so, he simply observed, “I think you’re heading in the right direction.”

The neighbors

 

Travels in Plan B Nation: 3 years, 5 lessons

[Bint.3♥♪♫]

Last month—April 10, to be exact—marked the third anniversary of my exit from the salaried workforce and my entry into what I’ve taken to calling Plan B Nation. After four-plus years at Harvard Law School, where I’d handled speeches and other behind-the-scenes writing for then-Dean (now U.S. Supreme Court Justice) Elena Kagan, she decamped for Washington, D.C., and I decamped for parts unknown at the peak of the Great Recession.

It was, to put it diplomatically, not an easy time. The economy was in free fall, plus I had no idea what to do next. Which maybe wasn’t such a bad thing because, had I known what I wanted to do, I likely couldn’t have done it. (Did I mention the Great Recession?) Floundering in spring 2009 put me in excellent company. Yes, I was freaked out and unemployed, but I certainly wasn’t alone.

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the road I’ve traveled since those anxiety-ridden days and feeling a lot of compassion for the me who so stolidly trudged through them. I’ve also been thinking about what I’ve learned and what might be worth sharing. Here are five of the biggest lessons that I still carry with me.

1.  Transitions take a long time.  

I’ve written about this before, and it’s a really important point.  In New Pas­sages, best­selling author Gail Sheehy ball­parks two years as the min­i­mum time needed to sta­bi­lize fol­low­ing a lay­off or other “life accident.”  Five to seven years is common.  A related point: Transitions tend to meander—to be less like ladders and more like the classic labyrinth, where you wind your way slowly towards the center, almost arrive, and then suddenly find yourself on the outer rim, and then, just as unpredictably, back at the center again. I often find it helpful to remind myself that this is just the nature of the beast.     

2.  Sometimes the grass is greener because it’s greener.  

I put off leaving the Boston area for more than a year on the theory that wherever you go, there you are. Could moving to another place really make me happier? I’m happy to say that the answer is an unequivocal Yes. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that moving to an area that I love is probably the single most important step I’ve taken to move my life forward.  In particular, moving to a place where I have a strong network of friends has made everything far easier—as well as a lot more fun.

3.  If you don’t know what to do for sure, start moving anyway.

Transitions, by their nature, generally involve a temporary loss of clear inner direction.  That was certainly the case for me: I was searching without really knowing what I was looking for (which, not surprisingly, made it really hard to find).

Looking back, one of the most useful things I did during this time was to take action even if nothing felt quite right—to experiment, try things out. That’s how I came (lackadaisically, glumly) to write my very first personal essay—which led to a blog on Huffington Post, which led to writing for Salon, which led to this blog, which led to writing for SecondAct (including Notes from Plan B Nation, my new monthly column), Psychology Today, and a bunch of other stuff, which, remarkably enough, actually does feel right and for which I feel really grateful.

And you don’t need to take my word for it: I’ve since come across similar advice in books by career guru Barbara Sher and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. “You won’t encounter accidental good fortune—you won’t stumble on opportunities that rocket your career forward—if you’re lying in bed,” Hoffman writes in The Start-Up of You. “When you do something you stir the pot and introduce the possibility that seemingly random ideas, people, and places will collide and form new combinations and opportunities.” I couldn’t agree more.

4.  Be kind to yourself.

We’ve all heard a lot about mindfulness by now, but this quality doesn’t really get you very far unless it’s paired with self-compassion. Psychology professor Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher on this topic, and her book Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind is geared to a popular audience and provides an excellent roadmap for further exploration.

5.  Let yourself be surprised.

The biggest difference between lucky and unlucky people may be that lucky people are open to seeing the unexpected. (For more on this, check out this reported research.)  Expanding your peripheral vision can do a lot to expand your opportunities.  I’ve found it to be useful—as well as fun—to consciously expect the unexpected. (Most recent example: I’m about to go off to look at a potential new home that I discovered last night on Facebook.)

Strangely enough, my Plan B Nation life has turned out to suit me far better than the life I had before. I’m finally doing work that feels both meaningful and creative. I have a great community in a place where I love living. The road I’ve traveled to get here was pretty remarkably hard, but that doesn’t tell me I did something wrong. It simply tells me that I’m human.

You can’t find the answer if you don’t know the question

3D Character and Question Mark

“Live the questions now,” the poet Rainier Maria Rilke famously exhorted in Letters to a Young Poet, a message that has since found its way onto countless inspirational greeting cards and posters. “Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Great advice so far as it goes but also incomplete: For the Question-Driven Life to work, we have to choose our questions wisely.

What is wrong with me?

Why is this taking so long?

What is his problem?

I’m pretty sure these are not the sort of questions Rilke had in mind, and yet all too often they’re the ones I find myself living.

In Reality Therapy, a book I skimmed some months back while unpacking boxes from storage, psychiatrist William Glasser stresses the importance of staying focused on our basic needs in the here and now. (In Glasser’s view, we have two core psychological needs: the need to love and be loved and the need to feel that we are worthwhile to ourselves and others.)  In this spirit, I’ve found that asking the question “What do I need right now?” can be a big help in cutting through circular brooding tape loops.

The Fluent Self’s Havi Brooks offers another take on this question that I really like, one that incorporates her own quirky lexicon: “What can I do right now so I can feel safe, supported, and sovereign?”  (As a side note, when I first played with this question a couple months back, one of my scribbled responses was to try joining Click Workspace in hopes of making my writing day feel a bit less isolated. Guess where I’m writing this post right now? And quite happily, I might add.)

A few more questions that have served me well recent months:

What is useful in this?

Is this necessary?

What do I need to take time to appreciate?

Such questions have the advantage of being both distracting and empowering. It’s far easier to stop dwelling on a topic when I swap it out for another. (Baby, meet pacifier. Dog, meet chew toy.) Plus questions tend to put me in a problem solving mode. They’re a way to take control of a problem that seemed to have control of me.

Theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg determined that the mere act of observation affects the behavior of quantum particles. While the science of this is far beyond me, I see an analogy here: The interpretive frames through which we view our thoughts transform the thoughts themselves. Viewing a problem through the right question may in time turn it into an answer.

What does “live the questions” mean to you? Please share your thoughts below.

Another reason regrets are dumb

Chicken-regrets illustration

You’ve doubtless heard the maxim that “You don’t regret the things you do. You regret the things you don’t do.” I’ve never understood why so few are bothered by the major logical flaw here: You can’t do two things at once. Choose X? You can’t choose Y. Regardless of which path you choose, there’s something else you won’t be doing.

I think about this a lot when I’m questioning past choices or starting to second-guess decisions made months or years ago. More and more, I’m convinced that regrets aren’t signs of bad decision-making but rather reflections of temperament and cognitive style. Regrets don’t reflect objective truth. They’re simply interpretations.

A couple years back, I dipped a toe into the critical maelstrom surrounding the book Marry Him, writer Lori Gottlieb’s exhortation to younger women to marry that nice if slightly dull boyfriend instead of holding out for true love and risk ending up (like Gottlieb—and me) single at midlife.

Along the spectrum of Marry Him commentaries—which ranged from the virulently pro to the virulently anti—the review I wrote for the Chicago Tribune fell somewhere in the middle. While I certainly got where Gottlieb was coming from, I couldn’t buy her solution—and not because of its dubious politics but because I couldn’t see it working. (Indeed, with some dark humor, I couldn’t stop picturing a sea of future middle-aged women, cursing that stupid book that convinced them to marry the guy they’re divorcing.)

The fact is, life is risky. There are no guarantees, no fail-proof roadmaps to a fairy tale ending. The answer isn’t to blame ourselves or to look for ways to game the human condition but rather to do the best we can and accept our essential limitations.

I recently interviewed psychology professor Kristin Neff, a leading expert on self-compassion and author of a book by that name, and was struck by what she had to say on this topic: “We love to have an illusion of control because it makes us feel safe. In an ironic way, I think what happens when we criticize ourselves is that we’re saying ‘Oh, I should have had control.  If it was something I did, then I did have control, I just made the wrong move.’ When in fact, the reality is that I didn’t have a lot of control. I did my best, but I couldn’t make things turn out the way I wanted them to. In a weird way, sometimes it’s less scary to people to blame themselves than it is to admit that we human beings often don’t have a lot of say over our lives. It’s hard being human!”

My thoughts exactly.

The notion that our biggest regrets tend to stem from things we failed to do bears a striking resemblance to the maxim that “the grass is always greener on the other side”—the salient difference being that the two are invoked to make opposite points. Here again, I’m reminded of the 28 conflicting legal rules famously set forth in a 1950 law review piece. When judges go about inter­pret­ing laws, there are “cor­rect, unchal­lenge­able rules of ‘how to read’ which lead in hap­pily vari­ant direc­tions,” the author dryly concluded.

For her part, along with urging readers to make haste and marry, Gottlieb set out to do the same herself, albeit belatedly.  Her primary strategy: Be less picky. She expounds on academic research that places people in two relevant groups: “maximizers,” who demand the very best, and “satisficers,” who do fine with good enough. As Gottlieb sees it, the solution is clear. She just needs to switch teams.

It wasn’t until after my review was published that this thought occurred to me: Gottlieb has a beautiful child, a successful writing career. Wouldn’t a true satisficer start by focusing there?

Life Experiment #5: Do Less

mornig green tea

I’d pretty much made up my mind to call off my 2012 Life Experiments experiment starting this month. I’d already aborted Life Experiment #3 (taking a photo a day during March) after less than a week, and more and more, I’d been feeling that I needed to prune my to-do list, rather than adding to it.

And then, it hit me: That could be the focus of this month’s Life Experiment. And so it will be. For me, this month is going to be all about doing less.

But first, I want to take a moment to appreciate how hugely much I accomplished during the month that just ended. All too often, I tend to ask myself: What have you done for me lately? I also have a default answer: Not nearly enough.

In fact, that’s rarely if ever true, and it certainly wasn’t true in April. And because things tend to feel more real if I write them down, that’s what I’m going to do. So here it is, my personal selective account of What Got Done in April:

  • Researched and wrote a 3,000-word feature story for Psychology Today (now slated for the magazine’s October issue)
  • Wrote and delivered a 30-minute talk—“Inside the Downturn: Thoughts on the Psychological Costs of Longterm Unemployment”—to our Regional Employment Board.
  • Signed on to write a monthly column—”Notes from Plan B Nation”—for Entrepreneur Media’s SecondAct.com (first installation forthcoming this month)
  • Completed 2011 taxes (thanks Turbotax!), sorted out health insurance issues, and wrangled a sick cat (thanks Wendy and Susan!)
  • Applied for jobs and conferred with editors about future freelance projects, including an upcoming book review assignment for the Chicago Tribune.
  • Guest posted on The 52 Weeks
  • Finished up co-facilitating Seeing Their Voices, a workshop for foster kids that will culminate in a photo and writing exhibit at the statehouse this June.

I also did purely fun stuff: A South Face Farm Sugarhouse outing with the Baskinettes. Lots of coffee dates. Movies. Two lovely seders and an Easter hike with friends.

Does that seem like a lot to you? It seems like a lot to me—especially since I’m not naturally inclined to multi-tasking. When left to my own devices, I’ll always go deep rather than wide. But there are times—this past month, for example—when that’s simply not possible.

And here, I have to give a shout-out to breadcrumbs and basket weaving, aka Life Experiment #4, which helped me more than I could ever have imagined it would. Metaphors have tremendous, if often unrecognized, power. I could say a lot more on this subject, and at some point I will. But for now, I’m going to stop. Or rather: I’m going to start doing less.