Year’s End Failures

We spend too much time judging ourselves. I love all of the ways I have to measure what I do, but the measurements themselves make me feel inadequate.

My Fitbit has been sitting in a drawer for the past couple of months because I’ve been struggling with illness, and I can’t stand to look at the numbers day after day when I know I’m not winning.

In January of this year, I set my reading goal on Goodreads at 52 books. A couple of weeks ago, I changed the goal to 20 books when it became clear that I would not complete the reading challenge. Thanks to Goodreads, I know that in a typical year, I read about 80 books. I’ve hit between 80 and 85 more years than not. I’ve wanted to reach 100 because that sounds like more of an accomplishment, but I never do. I believe I will start hitting the 100 mark after I retire, but as long as I’m grading big stacks of essays, there will be weeks when I don’t read a book at all.

This year was not a typical year. I’ve spent the past two years in a cycle of chronic pain and illness, attempting to find the right combination of medications, dealing with the side effects of medications, dealing with the emotional ups and downs of chronic pain and illness. Last year was one of my toughest years ever in terms of just making it through the school year, and on the last day that I went to the office at the end of the school year, my dad fell and hit his head, and the summer months were taken up with coping and helping and struggling and surviving.

My head has been fragmented, my thinking chaotic. The more I push myself physically just to keep going, the more stress hormones I have in my system, and the more stress hormones I have in my system, the more my head spins with dozens of ideas at once. Try finishing a 500 page novel when you have 80 essays to grade and your mind refuses to land on one thought at a time. It wasn’t my year for novels.

That’s why I drifted toward fairy tales. They are therapy for me in more than one way. They are short enough that even a fragmented mind can focus on them. They are about so many things that all of those swirling thoughts can start to converge in one place. They are a place for not thinking about pain, struggle, loss, chaos, despair–at least not in terms of the self and the self alone.

I’ve probably read the first five chapters of a 100 books this year, but I will finish maybe 20 books and some of them very short. I read a lot of fairy tales and short stories, though. I’ve coped. I’ve survived. I’ve kept going. I’ve kept myself in a state of mind where I’m excited for the next semester rather than dreading the next round of struggle.

I have a chronic illness. I was born this way. Some years are pretty good, and some years are pretty hard. I went through several good years in a row, but then my friend got sick, and I went through the stress of helping him through his last few months and the grief of losing him, and my own illness flared up again under the weight of it all. There was no time to recover before more life stressors piled up on top of everything else.

I’ve survived. I’ve prevailed in many ways and merely coped in others. I’ve kept going. Coping in itself is an accomplishment.

But I look at my blank Fitbit app, and I look at my low numbers on Goodreads, and I compare myself to others and to myself in past years, and I think I have failed.

It’s true. I have failed, but not every failure is all it’s made out to be.

It’s unlikely that 2019 will be my year to finally reach 100 books on my Goodreads list or to consistently reach my Fitbit goals. That will just have to be okay. Instead, I will read a lot of fairy tales and short stories. I will read the first five chapters of some very good novels. I will finish some and abandon others. Life will throw me curves and struggles and grief, but somehow I will get through it all, and it will be okay that all I do is get through.

87-89

Cranes 87-89

90-92

Cranes 90-92

93-95

Cranes 93-95

I’ve spent a few days away from Internet access, and I’m just now making up my crane pictures. I could have figured something out about posting the pictures without missing a day if never missing a day had been all that important. I’ve decided to let myself skip and make up days in this particular year-long challenge, though. Life is too short to stress over Internet access, and spending time with family and friends is more important than driving to the public library just to prove a point to myself. And in this way I have both failed and succeeded in my quest. Such is the way of life and things and hopes and dreams.

Ch-ch-ch-choices

84-85

Cranes 84-85 of 1000 for 2016.

I folded these cranes at an Asian restaurant while waiting for my food to arrive. I had the choice to go to dinner or complete my origami/photo project for the day, so I decided to do both, of course. I am a person who enjoys a challenge, and one of life’s biggest frustrations has been that it is so dang difficult to complete more than one challenge at a time and to also do a job and have a life. If I succeed in an exercise challenge, my creative challenges usually suffer. If I succeed in a creative challenge, my exercise habits tend to take a nosedive. There’s only so much time in a day.

Right now I’m trying to do it all. Today, I went to work from 7:30-3:00. Went to the gym from 3:00-4:00. Came home, walked the dog, fed the cats, and went out again to have dinner with a friend. I took my photograph for the day at the restaurant. I have not done any of the photo challenges from the groups I’ve signed up for. I just took a photograph to count for my photo-a-day. Ultimately, that’s all I’ve promised to absolutely get done on a daily basis. I’m also still 500 steps short of my goal of 12,000 steps for the day, but I have totally knocked out the minimum requirement of 10,000 steps. Maybe I will attempt to walk around my apartment for a little while to get in those last 500, or maybe I will admit fatigue and go to bed. It’s good to have choices.

I know from past experience that I cannot do it all. I also know that I will always want to do it all. Today, I’ve basically managed to cover a variety of objectives, but that’s because I didn’t have to spend another five hours working on work after I came home. I will reach a point when I will have no other choice but to keep working on work after work. We will see what happens to all of my personal challenges then.

For now, some would say I’d be better off pacing myself, but I say you’re not really achieving until you are overachieving. Hence, my goal of 12,000 steps a day instead of 10,000. Hence, my feeling of failure in having taken only one photograph today for my photo-a-day project.

But you know what? I had a good day today. I enjoyed the whole day all day, and I got stuff done too.

Sure, I will crash and burn from pushing myself in too many directions before this is over, but burned is nowhere I’ve never been before. It will be okay.

And until then, it’s good to have choices, and it’s good to have those days when you enjoy life and meet every goal at the most minimal possible level.

Have fun, kids. Catch you later. I’m off to walk and sleep now.

All hail the power of peer pressure

Feeling Faded

Lucy Peanut is tuckered out, and I can’t say I blame her. She burrowed into a blanket on the couch to take a nap this evening, and I tried to get her up to play so that I could take a more active picture of her, but she just kept going right back to her cozy spot. It’s been that kind of day. Lucy Peanut and I don’t care much for the cold. Even Jack Cat elected to spend most of the day indoors. Winter is rough on the children of summer.

I wanted to be like Lucy Peanut today and burrow in for the day. I wanted to read and nap and basically just spend the day recharging for the coming week. I forced myself to venture out as far as the school gym this morning, however, because I was feeling the peer pressure. I accepted a weekend challenge on Fitbit, and since this was the first of these challenges I’ve ever participated in, I didn’t want to be that one person who only logged 200 steps for the whole weekend because I whiled away my days off on the couch. I ended up only staying on the couch half the day today, and I paid my dues on the treadmill first.

This is why I consider the Fitbit a necessity. I’m a whole lot lazier when I don’t feel judged.

Tomorrow will be a bigger challenge as the school gym will be closed, and it will likely still be too cold outside to make for enjoyable outdoor exercise. I have a challenge to live up to, though, so I have at least some chance of figuring this out.

I will let you know how it goes. Until then, here are my cranes for the day.

72-74 of 1000.

72-74

In which habit is who you are

Jack Cat says oh no you didn't.

Jack Cat says “oh no you didn’t” to Lucy Peanut. That’s his usual line for her.

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that I’ve fallen behind on Lucy Peanut pictures while I’ve posted more Alice and paper crane pictures lately. I decided to make up for that today. Here are a few of my dog challenge shots for this week.

For the prompt, “stepping out.”

Lucy Peanut is stepping out.

For the prompt, “Starts with W.” W is for “welcome, friend.”

W is for Welcome, Friend

For the prompt, “dramatic.” Lucy Peanut is a drama queen, especially when told it is time to go inside.

Drama Queen

I almost didn’t do a paper crane today. I’ve done a few extra along and along, so I’m ahead of schedule, and I didn’t have a chance to fold any at work today. I was busy typing most of the time I was in my office, and while I can do lots of things while I fold origami cranes, I haven’t yet built up the skill to type and fold at the same time.

I’ve had a busy day, and I’m tired. It didn’t seem to really matter whether I got in my cranes or not. While I have determined that I will have to rotate between taking pictures of Lucy Peanut and Alice and my other photo projects, though, the paper cranes are the one thing that I’ve tried to commit to on a daily basis. I have a specific goal in mind for completing 1000 within 1 year, and that can only be done by remaining diligent.

But what’s one day off, right?

I’m sure I will take a few days off this year. I might even take a few weeks off when push comes to shove. It is still only January, though, and I know I won’t finish if I start slacking this early. Besides, meeting a goal like this requires developing the habit of working on it. Just like becoming physically fit or finishing a dissertation requires developing the habit of working on it. That’s the principle of the Fitbit, and it’s why I love my Fitbit so much. It reminds me to make a habit of being more active. When it comes right down to it, your habits are who you are. You can change them and mold them and challenge yourself to become someone else, but while you are doing what you do, that’s who you are.

I want to be a person who finishes what she starts. I want to be a person who takes some time out of each and every day to meditate on peace and goodwill and hope and prayers for others. I want to be a person who makes paper cranes.

I’ve been trying to average three cranes per day. I did not meet that goal today, but I did sit down and make one crane after deciding I didn’t feel like it and then deciding that wasn’t much of an excuse. As always, once I just got started, I found my groove and got it done.

I present to you crane #63, a delicate and humble lady.

63

No matter where you go, there you are

No matter where

Did Confucius really say this? No matter where you go, there you are. The Internet says that he did, so it must be true.

The concept is certainly true regardless of whether the attribution is legit. I sure seem to drag myself around wherever I go.

My latest thing has been an obsession with the idea of desk cycles, those things that fit under a desk and allow a person to get in 8 full hours of exercise a day while holding down a full-time job. I’ve been getting very little exercise lately, so when I heard about these puppies, I knew I had to have one.

I read reviews and searched around. I narrowed my preferences down to two: Desk Cycle and Cubii. Of course, I really wanted the Cubii because it is the most expensive, but I was willing to settle for the Desk Cycle because it got good reviews and looked pretty slick as well.

I ended up purchasing a cheaper variety to test out the concept, the Mini Bike. It is very like me to remain obsessed with something until I make a potentially ill-advised purchase. It is not all that much like me to go the cheapest route, but this is January, and that’s a long month for teachers.

I used this for the first time today, and it wasn’t terrible, but I did learn that I’m too tall for this to really work as planned. I think these devices are designed for short people. I’m really only average height, but my legs are a little too long. I tried this out under my desk, and my knees bumped. I moved it out from under my desk, though, and it worked just fine. The disappointment, of course, is that this minor adjustment considerably reduces the amount of time I can spend using it during the day. I have to at least mostly face my desk to do the larger portion of my work. The eight-hour daily exercise marathon is out.

I did use it for 5-10 minutes at a time about 4 times today. I didn’t record exactly how much time I logged in, but even if it was only 20 minutes, that’s 20 minutes more than I would have exercised otherwise. I was also able to do other things while using it. I read a couple of articles on my phone while cycling, and I made a few notes for myself about a project.

Because I was wearing a Fitbit inside my shoe while I used the mini bike, I logged in a bunch of steps and met my step goal before I came home from work. This might be slightly cheating since the cycling didn’t take much effort, but I will take my step credits where I can get them. I don’t think this is a total cheat. I can feel that my leg muscles have been used today.

You can adjust the tension on the mini bike, but that feature doesn’t seem to work quite as smoothly as one might desire. I believe that would be one major difference in purchasing a higher end brand. Now that I’ve purchased this one, though, I’m going to make myself use it consistently for at least a whole semester before I allow myself to believe I have earned a higher end version.

If you want something that is gym quality, this cheapo option is not for you. If you just need something functional that will do the job and not completely suck, you should go for it. The ride is fairly smooth. The assembly is easy. It only weighs ten pounds, so when you bang your knees, all you have to do is pick it up and move it somewhere else.

I’d say this is a good option for using in front of the TV or in a home office. With a laptop stand holding a computer up higher than at normal desk level, a tall person might even be able to use it while working.

This will not be my only exercise. I also plan to jog in place, take extra trips up and down staircases at work, make extra trips back and forth to my office when I forget things I need, and jump to lots of conclusions. It’s possible that I might leave my house from time to time to go to an exercise class, but that would require more motivation than I’ve worked up to in one day of mini-biking. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Meanwhile, I’ll just show you my cranes for the day.

#62

62

#60-#61

60-61

My photo prompt today was “on the page.” The book shown here is Pride and Prejudice. The cranes are folded from a Pride and Prejudice calendar. I bought the calendar for the purpose of using it as origami paper, but I had a hard time peeling off the pages today. The calendar has the text of the entire book in it, and I felt like I was violating a sacred manuscript.

In which we all suffer for the art

Lucy Peanut is not impressed with her new outfit.

Today’s dog photo challenge was “all dressed up,” and Lucy Peanut had to endure grave insult because of it. She was not impressed with her new outfit. I had been saving this sweater for excessively cold weather, but after having to model it today, Lucy Peanut informs me that the weather will never be cold enough.

Chase

Jack Cat was also busy today keeping the yard clear of neighbor dogs. He may have been trying to protect Lucy Peanut, but it seems more likely that he was establishing a one dog limit for his territory.

My regular photo challenge today was “upside down.” I took that as an opportunity to play with office toys.

46-47

The yellow cranes were my second set for the day. My first batch were a bunch of clock watchers.

43-45

I have a lot of office time right now because I’m teaching a second eight week class that obviously hasn’t started yet. I’ve been doing most of my crane folding in the office because it is easier to complete them without help from Jack Cat, Stella Calico, and Lucy Peanut. It is also a good office activity. The repetitive process of crane folding sort of puts me into a meditative state, but that’s a good state to be in to work through mental puzzles. I’ve been planning lessons and reading stories I’ve assigned to my students and figuring out how things work while folding those cranes. It’s a good thing. If I didn’t have that little bit of activity to keep me focused on the moment, I would probably get bored and wander out of the office dozens of times during the day.

I’m really not meant to sit still all day. I need to get one of those bicycle work stations in my office. I have room. It would be a better investment than most of the things I purchase on impulse. I feel sure I could pedal and fold cranes and plan lessons at the same time. I could probably pedal and fold cranes and conference with students at the same time. I need to make this happen. Who wants to float me a little bit of cash?

A walk in the park

Lucy Peanut tucks her tail when she hears a peculiar sound.

Lucy Peanut and I went to the park today, and she heard another dog bark (one that was inside a fence and just saying hello) and made herself bigger by hopping up on the nearest available bench. Alice, the little mannequin, was already there, and I intended to photograph her. I had to move Alice to an alternate location to get Lucy P away from the big and scary dog. See how LP’s little tail is tucked in. She was pretty much convinced we were about to be attacked by a monster.

This is what Alice ended up with:

Alice is approached by a wiry guy at the park.

Alice has met a a guy named Adam. He’s a wiry sort.

I walked about two miles today in the interest of taking photographs and in the interest of giving Lucy Peanut a chance to play off leash in a safe place (safe except for big and scary barking dogs). Lucy P walked about 20 miles for my two, weaving back and forth in front of me and running circles around me. Guess which one of us was tired when we came home and which one of us begged to stay outside and keep playing? The dog is inexhaustible. The girl is highly exhaustible.

My photo prompt for today was warm. This is my shot for the prompt:

Pepper Man in Black and White

Pepper is warm, right? And if it isn’t warm enough, the sun flare behind the Pepper Man should count.

This little guy is hanging in my friend’s tree. There’s a whole folk art village in that tree, and I plan to photograph everything in it before this 365 project is over. I’m really thankful for the tree. January is always that time of year when nature doesn’t provide as much variety for photographic discovery as I prefer.

That’s not to say nature is completely stingy in winter.

Here is my crane shot for today:

31-33

These are cranes 31-33 out of a planned 1000 for the year 2016.

The red berries were a random find from my walk. These berries, and the possibility of finding something like them, are the reason I went outside today.

I keep asking myself why I’m doing this. It takes some time to come up with photographs to post every day, and I have to admit I’m not feeling particularly inspired right now. I’m not doing anything brilliant. I’m not pushing myself to learn new skills. I’m basically just using a nice camera to take snapshots. I’m not necessarily impressing myself.

But then I remember that I would miss seeing all of the small spaces of beauty that I see when I pick up my camera if I weren’t doing this, and I figure that’s reason enough.

Peace and love, my friends.

Grant me the confidence

I believe I can fly

I’ve often been amused by the quote that makes its way around social media from time to time: “Lord grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man.” Because yes. I’ve met those guys. And no. Not all white guys are like that, mediocre or otherwise, but it is a joke, so it’s okay to be amused.

Really, I think anyone, male or female, who has aspired to creative pursuits, has met with condescension from others who pursue the same interests, and it is always frustrating and unnerving, but people who are truly confident don’t have to prove their worth to others and don’t set out to belittle others, so the proper response to being the recipient of artistic condescension is to pity the fool. Confident people encourage others. Only people who are unhappy try to make other people lose confidence.

Lord help me to remember this. Help me to remember when I am doing my job of teaching people new skills that I need to take the time to give encouragement as well as critical feedback. Help me to remember the times people have treated me to condescension when I needed encouragement, and help me not to be that person.

But as for the kind of confidence I want, grant me the confidence of my little bitty puppy. Give her just a little room, and she will run like the wind. Grant me that spirit, please. Let me be all in whenever I’ve committed myself. Let me give everything I have to every moment. Grant me the confidence of that little baby dog.

For your pleasure, a few more shots of Lucy Peanut from today:

Cold Stare

Dog in Charge (1)

Dog in Charge (2)

Dog in Charge (3)

Dog in Charge (4)

I feel pretty

Just Start Somewhere

25-27

Cranes 25-27 of 1000 for 2016.

The coffee mug pictured is by Wyatt Waters, a Mississippi artist. The building depicted is a real building in Brookhaven, MS, and yes, it does have a giant coffee pot on top. That’s what I love about the South.

So it’s Day 8 now, and I’m still making cranes. I feel like I’ve accomplished something even though that’s only 8 of the 365 days needed to complete my project.

What I haven’t accomplished is to figure out how to fit exercise back into my post-holiday life. Today, however, I decided to go with the “just start somewhere” plan. My idea was that I would jog in place for five minutes at a time at least five times throughout the day today. I ended up jogging in place for three minutes at a time three times today. I’m counting it. That’s somewhere. That’s a start. Maybe tomorrow I will build up to four minutes at a time four times, or at least keep up the 3×3 attempt. Success is setting realistic expectations, after all.

Just start somewhere.

If that’s not enough for you, at least you get to look at my awesome coffee mug, so your trip to my blog is not entirely wasted.

Have a good one, my friends.