Do you do your best thinking in the shower? I do. Sometimes I wonder if the puzzles of world peace or missing socks would best be solved if we all bathed together. On second thought…
This weekend I had another one of my water logged revelations. Or maybe they are epiphanies. It was about the theme of several of the books I’ve read lately.
Three of the books I’ve read over the past several months deal with the notion of being lost. I didn’t intentionally choose the books for this theme, but hindsight suggests that maybe I was (subconsciously) leaning toward books that might explain, commiserate, or even guide me through what I am seemingly experiencing right now, which is a sense of being lost. I think I’m feeling this way primarily about various forks along my vocational road, both the ones at my feet right now and the ones I sense ahead. The forks well behind me certainly come into all of this too, though for entirely different reasons.
I feel like I’m feeling my way in the dark so much of the time, aimlessly wandering down a path toward an unknown, uncharted destination.
The sensation of feeling a bit lost also seems to be tied to “where I see myself in the next ten years” (to use a job interview phrase) around the time when I will turn fifty and my daughter will be close to embarking out on her own. I am more of a planner by nature than a free-spirited wanderer, so the past three years in particular have really cut against the grain of who I am (though, surprisingly, in profoundly good ways). Still, I think about how the choices I make right now play into all that is yet to come. I’m constantly thinking about all of this, on some level, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got to make some choices soon. No more wasting time. I’ve got to “find” myself and get back on the map.
The books, you ask?
Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling,
Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and most recently,
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit.
There was even a poem that I found serendipitously last week in my copy of Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor: Lost by David Wagoner. How apt.
I’ve liked each book for very different reasons—indeed they each involve entirely different circumstances and writing styles. I found myself underlining passages quite frequently in Out of the Woods (which I reviewed briefly here) and A Field Guide to Getting Lost.
At minimum, they’ve shown me that I’m not unique in the experience of feeling or getting lost, even at this age. In fact, I venture to guess that, for many of us, more of us feel this way around the age of 40 than other ages, though no one seems to talk about it. Does this feeling ever subside down the road? I’m going to have to get back to you on that, but I can say that for myself, the feeling right now is more palpable than it has been since I was about 25 or so. It is unexpected, to say the least. Aren’t we supposed to be sure of ourselves four decades in? I’m not so sure anymore.
But there’s a passage in Solnit’s book that seems to help me think about it all with fresh eyes:
…the real difficulties, the real arts of survival, seem to lie in more subtle realms. There, what’s called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next. These captives lay out in a stark and dramatic way what goes on in every day life: the transitions whereby you cease to be who you were. Seldom is it as dramatic, but nevertheless, something of this journey between the near and the far goes on in every life. Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel far more than others.
She goes on for another few pages talking about butterflies and metamorphosis, with the chrysalis and instar stages, an example so completely perfect and written so compellingly that I highly recommend you seek it out sometime (it is just too long to put down here). But she gets to the nub, I think, of where I currently am, which is maybe not lost after all.
Do you seem to read books in clusters of a particular theme? Is it intentional or do you only realize it after the fact? Do you think it matters if you are choosing fiction or nonfiction as the source? Is one more of an escape and the other a how-to manual?
HOUSEKEEPING: For any non-Twitter, non-Bloglovin’ (or other similar kind of feed) folks out there, I want to let you know that I have created a Facebook Page where you can follow all of my writing, not just what appears on my blog. It’s called “Kristen Ploetz, Writer”. Hope to see you there.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I normally don’t read (much less review) books like Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently, by Caroline L. Arnold, but I really liked the premise of the notion that in order to see big changes (over the long term) all it takes is a micro change that you commit to and stick with. Knowing that there a few people in my life (personally and online) who lament about things they wish they could do differently or changes they wish they could make permanent, I thought perhaps I’d share a quick review of this book.
As the book jacket aptly points out,
[N]early 90 percent of personal improvement resolutions end in failure. These endless defeats may tempt you to take increasingly drastic steps to effect change, but in fact it’s the small but pivotal behavioral change—the microresolution—that is actually most likely to get you to your goal.
Arnold more succinctly puts it like this a few pages into the introduction:
The way to free ourselves from cynicism and reverse our expectation of failure is to learn how to make resolutions we can sustain.
A microresolution is easy to keep.
It makes sense, really, when you think about all those grand plans of initiating a major life(style) change and then finding yourself failing or flailing mere weeks or even days later. That’s the beauty of the microresolution. It’s small enough to keep but also big enough to eventually make a difference.
One of Arnold’s own examples related to losing weight. Sound familiar? Instead of a sweeping resolution to “get thin by summer” or “never snack again” or “never eat cookies again”, she did something very specific: she (micro)resolved to never eat the conference room cookies again. In other words, she “kept [her] resolution reasonable and limited“. By structuring it in this very precise way, it was not only easy to accomplish, but also easy to measure success. If there were cookies in the conference room and she didn’t eat any, she succeeded. It was but one way that she started the effort to reach her larger goal of thwarting her increasing weight gain.
I mean, it’s so refreshingly simple, isn’t it? I think so.
After an enlightening short chapter about why our typically larger resolutions fail, in Part One of the book Arnold gets into the seven “rules” for making microresolutions. In quick chapters, she uses examples from her own life as well as others’, pointing out what worked, what didn’t. She instructs us on the how and why of making microresolutions, with advice about how to give it a positive spin and structuring them in a way to offer almost immediate gratification when we achieve the goal on a daily (or otherwise regular) basis. She points out how to tell when a microresolution isn’t small enough, and when it can be expanded. Arnold educates us about the difference between our new behaviors and bona fide good habits (that will eventually form if we stick with our microresolutions for the long term).
She also tells us how many microresolutions we should have at any given time. Ready for this? TWO. That’s it.
Part Two of the book digs a little deeper into various realms that a reader might want to focus her microresolutions, with each chapter focusing on a different one: sleep, fitness, diet/nutrition, clutter, relationships, spending, punctuality, and organization. Obviously you can skip to the chapter(s) that might resonate with you most given what you are trying to accomplish.
For me, I basically focused on the diet/nutrition chapter the most, but I did also peek at the relationships and organization chapters as well, making mental notes for later.
Since I found this book at the library and read it right before vacation, I decided to wait until I returned to actually start my microresolutions, knowing that I couldn’t keep them in their first week while on a very indulgent time away from home. Why start with a failure, right?
So here are my two current microresolutions:
1. No eating after 10pm. A lot of the regrettable eating (and, let’s face it, occasionally some drinks too, especially in summer) happens in the half hour before I usually go to bed. I’m resolving to stop that. Only a few days in, it’s hard, but manageable, and that’s the point.
2. No wheat between wake-up and 4pm. I’m not sure if I’ve structured this one the right way yet. But the truth is I get really bloated when I eat wheat, end up feeling crabby if I eat too much of it, and most of it is snacking or “I’m too lazy to make something healthy”. Like the Goldfish lying around, or a couple of slices left over from last night’s loaf of crusty bread. But I love, LOVE bread and pizza and the like, so I am intentionally still allowing myself those things, but it might be for dinner, rather than all day long. I’m also not cutting out carbs altogether with this one–I can still have a baked potato for lunch or have popcorn as a snack. Maybe not much healthier than a hunk of bread and butter, but certainly some. Notably those also take more work to make than slicing a baguette, so I am not even sure there will end up being a tit for tat replacement because I’m lazy sometimes.
All in all, what Arnold points out is intuitive. But before this book I hadn’t really thought about it quite the same (or right) way, particularly all of the reasons why bigger resolutions often fall by the wayside, AND that it is OK to make the smallest of changes and still call it a success. I think too many of us feel like we have to go big or go home with everything, and that’s just not the case.
I’ll keep you posted periodically of how I do with these microresolutions.
What about you? Is there some small change that you could make? Let’s microresolve together!
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Sometimes, as a writer, you have to let go of certain pieces—that is, the ones that keep getting rejected. I wrote this about a year ago, in response to a call for submissions that focused on a particular theme. It got rejected. In fact, it got rejected a few more places after that. I need to let go of this piece, not because my confidence in it is faltering (though it is), but because the girl that I wrote about here, she’s different now. Braver and less risk averse. I want to honor that transformation. When I write about her, I want to be in the present. To do that, I need to let go of this tiny snapshot of the past.
What are you doing?” I asked her.
Her eyes were closed. Her empty hand was in a fist. Above it, she inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her sweet pink lips.
“Smelling my flower, and then blowing out my birthday candle to make a wish,” she replied, infused with that faint hint of “duh, Mama!” that five and a half year olds seem to suddenly pick up from the older kids at the playground.
My wrinkled eyebrow revealed that I didn’t understand.
“Miss Lara told me to do that when I was afraid of the dark clouds on the playground today,” she explained.
Ah, now I see. There must have been thunderstorms on the distant horizon during outdoor playtime. I can only imagine the look of fear that she must have had, likely clinging to the leg of the nearest adult. She had been in a stage where even the remotest of thunderstorm possibilities triggered palpable, visible fear. For the greater part of a year, this was but one thing that induced a perplexing state of anxiety for her, our sensitive worrier. These were covert breathing exercises aimed at getting her to relax.
But what threw me was the off-the-cuff brilliance of that twenty-something teacher’s aide. It far outshined the (very expensive) textbook advice that my anxious young daughter had received from her highly decorated post-doc therapist just nine months prior. It was so obvious and elegantly simple: if you want to reach a child, speak to them in their own magical language. Why do we adults so frequently forget this? Flowers and wishes? Yes, these she could understand. This she could use.
Our worrier was becoming a warrior. She was breathing again.
All it took was a pair of cheap plastic goggles. Not the supportive praise of her Dad offered from a poolside bench over sixteen humid Sundays at the Y. Not my kind words of encouragement before she left for her lessons, or the high fives for the small achievements when she returned. By all accounts she loved swimming in the pool. Yet despite our efforts, our young daughter was seemingly destined to remain a pike, with eel becoming increasingly elusive so long as she refused to immerse her head.
The reason? Wet eyes. She did not trust her breath if she had to keep her eyes closed too. Like me, she is someone who needs to see what is around her. Getting water in those bright blue eyes was the roadblock standing in the way of above and below.
Ultimately, it was not our measured reassurances and coaxing that gave her the confidence to go under. It was not our ability as loving, supportive parents. No, it was the bubblegum pink goggles found in the last aisle of a dusty bargain bin store, purchased in a last ditch effort to help her move forward. I hated them at first, overwhelming in their plastic stench and insulting in their $1.99 price tag. The likely conditions under which they were manufactured crawled under my skin. I thought about the environmental ramifications of my purchase as I reluctantly handed the clerk my five dollar bill.
But how could I ignore the instant transformation that this elegantly simple solution ultimately induced? This time, it seemed, her comfort and confidence were clearly Made in China.
Our little mermaid went deeper in the water and also within herself. She learned how to hold her breath.
The dichotomy of what my anxious little one learned in the span of just one year was nothing short of life saving, maybe for all of us. We are not living at the outer edge of raw exasperation. She can take in more of what life has to offer.
Breathe in, breathe out. Take a gulp of air, and hold it. To trust in these polar opposites is to reveal one’s own inner strength and bravery. She is freer now because she knows how to breathe, and when not to.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I’m not sure if it’s my earlier days of schooling in science, or my lifetime love of taking photographs—nothing tops the magic of developing your own film—but I’ve always loved the various instruments that we use to examine the world around us. Microscopes, telescopes, cameras and mirrors—they all focus, capture and reflect the wonder that is contained within our world. They each offer a different way to put things in context. They help us better understand our reality. They have stories to tell, though sometimes the endings are yet unknown.
Take the telescope, for example. It allows us to see things far beyond our reach (at least right now). It puts us, mere mortals, into some often needed perspective. We are so small. We are not all that there is. Today’s biggest problem may not be all that big after all.
Or the microscope. We can glimpse at the infinite moving parts that make up life. Only when we step away from the viewfinder do we appreciate the macro that is comprised of the micro. We are humbled that some life, just nanometers in diameter, can be the difference between life and death for others. We may be larger in relative size, but by no means are we always going to be the victor.
Cameras, too. They capture a moment in time, something we want to remember. We use our editorial license to frame it just so, and though there’s no way to capture the other senses that were ignited in that particular moment—the squeals of baby feet being tickled, the yeasty smell of a warm kitchen on Christmas, the cool breeze that kissed our cheek—we take pictures to catalog a life that was lived. We create a pictorial inventory that allows us to take stock at the end of our days and remind us that it all really happened, and it was as beautiful as we remember it to be.
Mirrors allow us to see what’s in front of us, right now, as well as what’s behind us already in our rear view, sometimes safely, sometimes sadly. Mirrors force us to acknowledge the gray hair and the latent effect of too much time at the shore. We can take one last glance before we put the car in drive and pull away.
This morning, while I was pulling my wet hair back to start my day, I stood in the bathroom before our large mirror and realized I wasn’t really looking at myself directly. Sure, I don’t really need the aid of reflection to tie a wet ponytail, but we have this huge 3’x4′ mirror and three bright lights and yet I don’t really look at myself with more than a glance anymore. Somehow I am able to put on makeup and brush my teeth every day without really looking at myself. Why am I avoiding my own reality, one that I’ve essentially earned? Or maybe it’s deserved. Do you do this too?
I don’t know when I started this avoidance technique, but it seems to have coincided with the gray hairs taking up residence atop my head and the wrinkles and sags that have settled in these past few years. Rather than staring myself down, I tend to daydream and let my wind wander while I have these few minutes of solitude in the morning. It seems like a more productive use of my time.
And this morning I was thinking about all of these various instruments we use to look at our physical world around us. I thought about how they are equally useful, in a metaphorical sense, to examine our own lives. It got me to thinking about how, when I was younger, particularly in my late teens, the mirror (literally) and telescope (figuratively) were my primary tools. I was only concerned about what I looked like right in that moment, and what my future might contain. I didn’t reflect so much about the past. There was nothing particularly noteworthy that required me to memorialize it with a camera, if you could even come by one then.
Then there was a shift in my twenties, especially in college. I wanted to remember it all because I was having so much fun. I especially wanted to retain evidence of my budding independence and existence as an entity outside of my family (which was going through a divorce) and then long-term boyfriend from high school (we broke up around my sophomore year in college). As a result, there were many pictures taken while I was living my life in Worcester. In fact, it was probably my only tool, other than a vague sense that I was supposed to be using a telescope to peer beyond the four years I would be at college.
From the time I graduated college until my mid-thirties, I think a microscope would best describe the means by which I deliberated my life. What parts were there? What, or perhaps whom, was I made of? How did I function optimally, exactly? These are the questions you ask as you parse out career paths, future husbands, and domiciles. It is a period of extreme, close-up examination. Slide after slide, your eyes can hurt under the strain and headaches develop with so much focusing, but the work must be done. It is the critical point to do so as your life apex appears on the horizon.
And now? Becoming a mother has required me to shift the tools in my arsenal once again. I find this to be a period of deep reflection—primarily about my own childhood and my parents’ (since ended) marriage—as I compare and contrast the life I had and the parents I had, with the life and guidance I now offer M as her mother. I feel like I am looking in a rearview mirror much of the time, maybe to be sure I am not veering off the good parts of the course that my parents led me down, at least while they were still married.
The camera is also once again in heavy rotation. It is seemingly permanently affixed to my eye, my finger trigger happy like no other time. I do not want forget any of it. Has time always been this fleeting? I don’t recall it so. I also want to create indelible memories for my daughter to look back upon someday, particularly when we, her parents, are no longer of this world. I now realize that both of these motivations to create lasting impressions come from some deep scars (both good and bad) that I have finally come to terms with, and now realize shape so much of how I have approached my years as a parent.
But why am I suddenly so afraid of the mirror before me? I wonder about this. Is it that I am afraid to acknowledge what is really there, or, more to the point, not there? Indeed, it is the one instrument that requires some confidence and comfort in oneself; the others are all outwardly facing so we don’t have to look as good. I need to think about this for a while. I also need to remind myself that the telescope does not have to be banished to the back of the closet just because I’ve turned forty. I’m allowed to look forward and outward and course correct as new discoveries are made. Maybe only then, after I have finished charting the constellations and nebulae that are within my dusky sky, will I be able to finally look in the mirror with the same confidence as that once upon a time teenage girl.
What instrument do you favor to view your life right in this moment? Which one are you most comfortable holding?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
The impetus for today’s post is this article here on Huffington Post. I get that it (and other articles like it) is supposed to be an uplifting, “we’re making forward strides” kind of piece, and to a large extent, it is. But, ultimately, articles like this gnaw at me on some level because they make me question whether we really are making progress when it comes to describing women, particularly in media. This open letter is my response.
An Open Letter to Everyone Who Continues to Use the Word “Plus” When Describing Women (or Their Clothing) of a Certain Size:
Stop. Please, please stop. The use of the word “plus” to qualify (and quantify!) the size of a woman or the clothes she wears—it has got to stop.
I write this letter because I’m almost 40 and if I’m honest with myself, I am effortlessly a size 14 and with more discipline (read: no ice cream) a size 12. There, I said it out loud. Maybe a size 10 during a good span of consistent healthy eating and exercising, like right now. But I am well aware that 12 and 14 continue to lurk in the shadows of my running shoes and reveal themselves often. But I’m old enough to now know, accept and appreciate that there is a vast range of body sizes and shapes amongst us. I don’t need you or your ad copy to go out of your way to make the point.
I also write this letter because my daughter is 5 and a half years old. She is not yet aware that there are such adjectives used to describe the size of the female body or clothing. And, if you listen to me here, maybe she will never have to. Though it’s going to be hard as she soon grows out of her size 5 clothes. This size 6x that rests on the racks between 6 and 7—what exactly is that? Never mind, don’t tell me. I think I already know.
Think about it. “Plus” size. Plus what? Why do we use this kind of descriptor only when it comes to clothing size?
Correction: Women’s clothing size.
I’m not trying to suggest that there are not folks (like me) who are bigger than others. Of course there are. And of course you need to give sizes to things so we can find, order or buy them. It’s a range, like everything else. But considering the average size of women, why do we not instead call our sisters wearing sizes 0 (!?) to, say size 10, “minus-size” or “inferior-size”? I’ll tell you why, it’s because those sound silly. Just like “plus”.
And, while we’re on the subject, how can anyone even be a size 0? Zero is nothing. Nada. Zilch. So if there is a tag that says size 0 (or, insanity at its best, 00), why is there a pair of pants attached? What’s next? Size infinity with an endless bolt of fabric just clipped to the hanger? Don’t even get me started on vanity sizing. Though it does beg the question of what we’re even talking about anymore when it comes to size.
How come we don’t ever hear about “plus-size” male models? No, they are merely big (which can be equally offensive, in my opinion) or tall. How nice for them.
Let me make my point another way. We also don’t ever hear about “plus-melanin” skin or “plus-age” individuals, just to use two easy examples. Indeed, to do so would be derogatory and discriminatory because it inherently sets an arbitrary, if not idealistic, benchmark of what society and the media supposedly finds minimally (or maximally, as it were) acceptable. Maybe this particular point is best highlighted by the pomp and circumstance that is generated when an average sized woman makes the cover of a major fashion magazine, like today’s article on Huffington Post about the new Elle Quebec cover featuring Justine LeGault. Don’t get me wrong. I love that she is on the cover. LOVE. How can anyone not?—she is stunning. But I don’t care for the singling out that often ensues because of her size.
Or what about the fact that plus size clothing is too often sold in different sections of a store, or a different store altogether, even though the women who wear all of these clothes collectively gather and mingle together as friends and family. Or how about the cutesy ads and reminders from retailers that they have the latest trends in “my size” too. The size of a woman or her shirt shouldn’t be newsworthy nor should it be exiled to the far corners of retail shopping with pejorative labels.
If these women are truly models, then, by definition, they are simply meant to display clothing to prospective buyers like me. Buyers of all sizes. Under that definition, we should be able to see, on a regular, uneventful basis, women with whom we might just as easily share clothes. Certainly not all of the time, but enough of the time so that it is mainstream. Prospective buyers want to know how those dresses and pants will look on them, not some unattainable, unrealistic ideal. But by rarely using anything other than smaller sized models, media and the fashion industry are turning these models into an ideal. An ideal that the rest of us cannot relate to. An ideal that ultimately causes the unnecessary media frenzy when a larger woman makes the front page.
Here’s a thought. Focus your energy on selling and showcasing beautiful clothes and models—in all sizes. Describe the fabrics and the handcrafted details of the dress on the cover. Tell me about where the model is from and what she loves to do on the weekends. I don’t need you to add in whether or not she is “plus” size, I can take note (if I choose) all by myself, thank you very much. But please, above all else, stop using the word “plus” and patting yourselves and each other on the back when an average-size (or ANY size) woman is featured on a cover. It makes a spectacle out of the models and the rest of us women like her, including, quite possibly, my daughter someday.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
Copyright (c) 2010-2014 Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved. Personal theme was created in WordPress by Obox Themes.