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Lead an interesting life

This is long (more than 16 minutes, which is 2 years in internet time) but worth it.

Scott Lew is a screenwriter, a dad, a poet and he’s been living with ALS for more than a decade. He’s got a good life and you can watch the documentary below for some inspiration and encouragement. His wife is pretty cool, too.

(Plus there’s bonus Dawn and Oz slash, if you’re into that. No judgment!)

Step One: Make the Leap

jumpingfish-insideWhen I was eighteen I dropped out of  Ohio State and spent the next few years working and trying to get my head on straight. While I was in school I skipped a lot of classes, skipped a lot of homework and generally wasted my money by sleeping through my 9am classes. When I went back to school at Portland State University I was super committed and ratcheted my GPA up by actually showing up to class and doing my homework.

I was very proud of myself.

Towards the end of my junior year I saw a notice in the school paper that the new University Studies program was looking for Peer Mentors, which was a scholarship position for juniors and seniors. Portland State was radically changing their curriculum to be more integrated and cross-discipline and the Peer Mentors would work one-on-one with professors to help incoming students in the Freshman Inquiry classes. To qualify, we had to have a certain GPA, get references from professors and offer a writing sample.

I wanted to apply but I was nervous. Even though my grades were much improved I still felt like the college slacker I’d once been and I was sure they’d see right through me. But what the heck, I thought, it won’t cost me anything but time to apply. I took a leap of faith and I got the position.

Twenty-one of us (plus an alternate) met that first day at orientation and I was positively gleeful. I’d finally proved that I had what it took to be a successful college student! I’d overcome my lackluster college (and high school) career where my bad attitude was more important to me than turning papers in on time to arrive here, in a scholarship position that would look great on my curriculum vitae. I felt like a big shot.

It was only later that I found out that exactly 22 people applied to be Peer Mentors, which meant that every single person who bothered to fill out the application got the job.

At first I was grouchy about this. I wanted to know I was a Peer Mentor because I’d beat out a bunch of other over-achievers. I wanted to believe that I’d been the best woman for the job and not just the default applicant.

But then I got to thinking. I wondered how many people were more qualified but talked themselves out of applying. Maybe the gauntlet we had to run was applying anyway — in spite of the fear and insecurity.

That made me think about how many other opportunities I’d probably missed out on by thinking there were surely a bunch of other people who had a better shot than I did. How many other things could I have done just by being brave enough to show up?

With this in mind, I started sending my writing work out. I got rejections, sure,  but I also got a few acceptances. (My first published piece was a poem that showed up in an obscure literary magazine published by Eastern Washington University. I was thrilled. So was my mom.) Then a few more and then a few more. And so on and so on.

This is my message to you: If there’s something that you want to accomplish but you’re scared to try, recognize that the fear is your biggest hurdle. That fear will stop a whole bunch of other people and narrow your playing field but you shouldn’t let it stop you. In fact, that fear is your friend because it’s going to winnow down the competition and make more room for you to do the thing you dream of doing.

What the heck, right? Just show up. Who knows what might happen?

Nature desktops to improve your mood

lookuptree-insideNone of my offices have a view. My writing office is in our (unfinished) basement and my window is blocked by one of those plastic bubbles you set over window wells. My office at the community mental health clinic is an interior one so it doesn’t have a window. And my private practice office is also on the lower level so the windows look out at a containing wall.

Researchers have found that we work and live better when we have time to commune with nature and that even looking at pictures of trees can lower blood pressure. This is why I take my desktop pictures very very seriously. If it weren’t for the images I download to my computer I’d hardly ever get to gaze out at something pretty during my workday.

Periodically I hide all the open apps on my desktop and stop everything to stare at a mountain stream or a rocky beach. It’s a quick way to remind myself to take a breath and think about the world outside. I imagine the sound of the wind winding its way through the tall grass on a meadow path. I picture myself leaning down to pick the flowers next to that river.

It takes me out of my work day for just long enough to dive back in. When I only have a few minutes between clients it can make a big difference in my focus.

I also change my pictures for the seasons. This year I brought spring to my desktop early since it was taking so long to get here in real life. Oh and if you have a Mac you can set the images to change themselves at regular intervals and mine switch every 30 minutes. I like this because when I’m closing applications I get to be surprised. Which view will be mine this time?

It’s a little thing but I find that it’s those little things that make all the difference most days.

Here are some of my favorite places to go to keep my desktop pretty:

  • National Geographic has a picture a day especially for you to download to your desktop. There are travel pictures here, too, if you need a more far-flung virtual vacation.
  • Hamad Darwis is a photographer who took some of the pictures that come with Windows Vista but most of his gorgeous images didn’t make the cut. He’s kindly made them available to download and install on your own and these are really spectacular (especially if you have a penchant for stunning beach scenery).
  • This is my most-used site for browsing when I’m wanting a desktop picture fix. InterfaceLIFT has a huge collection of images. If you’re a photographer you might especially like this site since the photographers who submit share the camera settings they used to get the pictures.
  • I don’t love the Desktop Nexus interface but there are a lot of pictures here so if you can stand an ugly web site to create more beauty in your life then you might want to check it out.

If you need instructions to install the pictures to your desktop, you can find them here. Note: For best effect make sure you know your monitor size. You don’t want to have to overstretch a small picture on your wide desktop — it’ll distort the image.


Give yourself a break with the Awareness App

The Awareness App (works for Mac and Windows) sits quietly in your menu bar and then “bongs”awareness-bowl like a Tibetan prayer bowl at regular intervals to remind you to get up from the computer and stretch.

I use a standing computer upstairs where I dip in and out periodically (checking email, grabbing a recipe, changing the household iTunes playlist) but I do focused work sitting down at my office computer and it’s easy to lose myself in a project. I’ve found that getting up regularly helps me physically — keeping away neck pain and carpal tunnel troubles — and mentally. I have my app set to bong every twenty minutes and when it alerts me I get up and do something else for five minutes. I might switch the laundry, make a work-related phone call or even hop on the elliptical trainer for five quick minutes. Anything to get my blood moving and reset my thinking. If you’re not sure what to do on your break you can click to the Awareness break page for some of their good ideas.

If I’m not ready to take a break, that’s fine. Awareness, unlike other apps, doesn’t shut down my computer or make any kind of fuss. If I keep working and another twenty minutes go by it’ll bong two times to let me know I’ve gone twice as long as usual without a break. And if I get up after, say, twenty-five or thirty minutes, it still only needs the usual five minutes to reset.

You can set the intervals and the break time however you like so if you’re happier with a longer break time or a shorter work time, you can make Awareness do that.

I found the app incredibly useful a few months ago when I had a huge writing project that was really bogging down my thinking. At first I thought forcing myself to walk away from the keyboard would make me less productive but I found that researching and writing in twenty minute spurts actually made it easier to keep going. Instead of writing myself into corners, I walked away while I was still feeling fresh and excited, which made it fun to come back. I burned through the project much more quickly than I normally would.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Truth vs. truth

conversation-insideOne reason we have so many disagreements with each other is that there is Big Truth and little truth and we get mixed up over which is which.

There is the Truth (I walked towards you) and the truth (I lunged at you aggressively, I simpered as I tiptoed to you, I drunkenly veered your way). We both may agree on the Truth (I did indeed move from one end of the room to the other end of the room where you were standing) but we may violently disagree on the truth. You might say I deliberately tracked mud onto your just shampooed carpet. I might say that I was in a hurry because the phone was ringing. We might both be right. We might both be wrong.

Clearly, truth telling can create a lot of conflict.

So much of our struggling in our relationships has to do with telling our truths and denying your truths. We get hung up on specifics and never get to what’s really wrong. We are so busy defending our truth (You did call. You did not call. You never call. Well, you’re never home.) and so we argue argue argue but we never make any resolution.

A long time ago there was a woman at the shelter where I worked who was a liar. She had a very complex, very disturbing story about abuse and it was clearly not true (nor was she delusional). One of the case managers got a little obsessed with trying to get this woman to admit that the story wasn’t true but the rest of us felt (and told the case manager this at the weekly staff meeting) that what was True was that this woman felt victimized and harmed and wanted/needed attention around that. Now mind you, we were an emergency shelter so it was not our job (or our expertise) to counsel but we felt that what was more important than forcing this woman to shed her truth was to figure out how to help her within that truth so that she could get to the next place — secure housing, real therapy, etc. This haggling over details wasn’t getting anyone anywhere.

So the truth is not always True and the Truth doesn’t always matter.

Sometimes counseling is mucking around in truth and listening hard and honestly? To me it can feel a lot like writing an essay. If you’ve done any writing then likely you know how you write into what you know that you didn’t know you knew. (My favorite quote about this is: “How will I know what I think until I see what I say?” That’s E. M. Forster.) That’s how counseling can be, too. Just as we write to understand ourselves and the editor helps the writer (myself or others) in the process, so in counseling there is that storytelling structure.

So you can show up at a counseling office without any idea of what you’re thinking because part of finding out what you think is seeing what comes out of your mouth.

The counselor is a lot like an editor helping you make sense of your story. You don’t have to understand your story when you come to the counselor because she’s not listening for The Truth, she’s listening for your truth and seeing the big structure so she can ask the questions that will help you understand your experience.

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