The Writing Life

Happy Birthday, Eastside Writing Room

It’s Our Birthday!

The Beginning

On Feb 19, 2013 the Eastside Writing Room launched. Since moving to Tucson in 2009 I wanted to recreate the writing “space” I experienced in New Jersey  for over 10 years with Scriveners Writers. A place to gather for the energy that I always found came from gatherings of people with common goals.

Our goal- to write- without interruption, without distractions. For busy people, we found it helps to get away from the distractions of home and home responsibilities. Committing to meet with someone else is an extra insurance that I’ll do what I promise. Scriveners helped me accomplished my goal of completing, publishing and marketing my first book, Thinking of Miller Place.

On that February 19, I met with one other writer. We shared our intention for that day and wrote for two hours. I felt so accomplished! We met again in March and April and then went to once a week every Tuesday. Gradually our membership grew. Each Tuesday writers show up- enough to fit around the dining room table.

Why an Eastside Writing Room?

After calculating the time I was taking to drive to and from various writing groups in Tucson, I realized I could be using that time to write. Yet I wanted the company of writers. A wise person told me, “If you don’t find the book you want to read, write it yourself.” Why not with a meeting? If you don’t find the meeting that fits for you, start one of your own. The Eastside Writing Room attracts folks who live on the Eastside of Tucson and can get to the host house in 15 minutes or less. We have no geographical limits but most live pretty close to the host homes. Penelope Starr commuted for quite a few months before she said, “I’m going to start a downtown Tucson group.” And she did

We’ve been virtual since April 2020 and will continue weekly Zooming until the pandemic safety level is reached.

What We’re About

Gradually our group has grown – our mailing list is about 30 and attendees are regulars, returnees and occasional drop-ins. There’s an ebb and flow of members. There’s also no fee, no critiques, no interruptions, no cell phones. Just a quick share of writing news, kudos, suggestions, and then writing.

Results

Meeting and writing each Tuesday often inspired writing all that day and the next day, and knowing I have a weekly commitment to write. Seedings, Stories of Relationships was one of the results of this weekly writing. Inclusions in anthologies. writing speeches for public speaking, stories for Odyssey Storytelling and tellers of Tales, some weeks doing the paperwork “business of writing” were others.  Eastside members can list their accomplishments too.

Celebration

So now we are 8! At our Tuesday, Feb. 23 Zoom, we’ll celebrate our birthday, share accomplishments, light a candle, state writing intentions, and go off to write. All adult writers are welcome at our virtual Eastside Writing Room. Contact Ethel.

Happy birthday, Eastside Writing Room!

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

COVID Vaccine #1-Yes!

 

Got our shot-Vaccine #1

We’re strong, confident, and infused with Moderna. First shot was yesterday morning (02/10/21) with my sister and husband at the Tucson Convention Center. 

HERE WE GO

It was very organized, with volunteers along the walk-in lines guiding us to each check-in station, extra masks given out (although we had our own), and a quick shot in the arm. 

Our appointments were for 8:30 AM. We got there early, easy parking next to the Center, and on line around 8:20. We were done and out by 8:50. By the time we were in the car on the way home, we had received emails that we had an appointment for shot #2 ready to be scheduled.

Hank and I made a point of thanking each person who helped- the outside line check-ins and desk people, check-in at the individual booths for instructions about the record card (“take a photo of it – this is your only record”), guides who gestured which way to go with a courtesy I’ve seen from hosts at up-scale restaurants. And the vaccine giver and his partner. 

“Thank you for being here and helping.” 

“Well, thank you for coming in,” was a frequent reply. 

A shot in the arm, time notation on my registration sheet and move on. 

POST-VACCINE STOP

Last stop before we could leave. One of the huge convention halls was set as the post-vaccine waiting area. Our task – sit for 15 minutes making sure there were no negative effects. There was an array of equipment up front which looked reassuringly like medical aids. A huge digital clock kept the time uniform. 

It was the largest group I’d been among in eleven months. I felt like a tourist gawking at all the fascinating sights. So many people. Tall, short, old and older, manicured, natural, all sizes, shapes, colors. It was a vaccine Gathering- short, socially distanced, and sanctioned.

I sat within earshot of the exit door. The exit interview consisted of  “How are you feeling, sir (or ma’am)?”  Each person got the doorkeeper’s considered care as he looked at them and checked the exit time written on their sheet. He also deserves a diplomacy award for calmly directing one hurried person who wanted to leave without waiting back to his seat. It required several repetitions with consistently calm instructions and the arm slowly extended with the courteous back- to-your-seat gesture. Very cool.  

As I exited, this kind person asked, “How are you feeling?” looking right into my eyes. 

“Good. How about you?… I have a question. How many times will you ask this question today?” 

“Probably 300 on my shift.” Muffled laughter from both of us with a thumbs-up from me.

I’m sure he was smiling behind his mask because he had those smiley crinkly lines  around his eyes. With a glance at my info sheet and time, he said, “You’re good to go.” 

And I was. 

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Expect the Unexpected

When my husband and I spent the Christmas holidays in New York City it was a homecoming for me. In 1969 I had gone straight from graduating Wagner College to a third floor walk-up in a renovated brownstone and then over to West End Ave. a few years later. The upper westside of New York City was my turf from 1969 through 1975. 

On our Christmas trip we stayed at a very upscale hotel on Central Park South, close to places that held wonderful memories for me –  Central Park, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Guggenheim, Time Warner.

In many ways it was just as we expected. We were where we wanted to be. Store windows were a-glitter with holiday themes, Rockefeller Center was beautiful. We had the good fortune to see  “The Nutcracker,”  yet again.

So how about those unexpected things? The weather went from cold to freezing with snow for our Central Park walk. The next day at the 9/11 Memorial and walking the Highline we had sunshine and a high of 68°. The bill for our first breakfast at the hotel was… big. I ordered oatmeal orange juice coffee and a banana. Hank had bacon and eggs and toast and coffee. The breakfast bill was an amazing $97! Now that was unexpected.

What makes something unexpected? Well, it’s usually a surprise, or  “I sure didn’t plan on this”. (How often have you said that in the last eleven months?) Unexpected: accidental, astonishing, out of the blue, startling, sudden. My physical and emotional reactions are very different from reactions to a planned event. My physical reactions are instantaneous, followed by thoughts connected to what I’m thinking, what’s been in the front of my mind, what meta-cognition I have about the unexpected thing.

Big Bird in Central Park NYC

The most astonishing of our holiday unexpected events happened during a beautiful walk in Central Park. Recent snowfall covered the ground, icicles hung in uniform rows from park benches. As we rounded a bend up by the Fountain who should we see sitting on a park bench but Big Bird. No lie. A life-sized Big Bird from Sesame Street. My jaw dropped. There was a duffle bag at his feet which I’m sure held his ice skates. I had no words. Even now as I think about it I’m smiling; it was such a wonderful unexpected event. Central Park and Big Bird.

Unexpected can be an event, a remark, a feeling, a noise, a taste-unanticipated, unforeseen, unlooked-for, unpredictable. Seeing a friend at a book event who geographically lives 3000 miles away. The gulping tears that came with my first view of the Grand Canyon.

When I was teaching young kids, they had no guile to cover up reactions to unexpected things. As I walked into the local Shoprite one of my second graders and his mom were coming out. Bobby stopped and stared. No talking, no moving. Was he mentally recording this? Was his kid-size brain thinking, “Where do I know this person from who is in the wrong place? She should be in the classroom at Washing ton School.” He was gawking, his parent smiling broadly. The kid was transfixed. It was that Big Bird in Central Park moment.

The more experiences I have in life, the less I’m “thrown” by unplanned happenings. “Oh that’s just like when…”  or  “Hmm, I’ve met you before. Different face, same person.” It’s more of a response than reaction. 

But what about those unexpected things that bring about a more negative reaction? Mixing baking powder instead of baking soda for mouth rinse and taking a swig? For those who don’t ascribe to expiration dates, that first taste of milk gone sour. What about an “unexpected” that brings a heavy emotional burden? Notification that someone has died or getting bad news about an illness.

Or the pandemic. Month 1, month 2, month 3, months 4-11. Never expected a worldwide virus. Never expected we’d be using words like quarantine, shelter at home, abundance of caution, tracing, tracking, virus to epidemic to pandemic. Never expected conversations would begin with  “Are you OK?” or  “Did you get the vaccine yet?”

The unexpectedness of COVID opened up the need for me to look at staying home in a different way. I could only whine so much with escalating anxiety. I weighed the consequences. Home vs. out. What are some different ways to enjoy being at home? What can I do at home to help people?

Experiencing the unexpected was the calm and quiet of being at home. I discovered my comfortability with slowing down, creating new paths of intimacy with my partner, reconnecting with people in different ways- by Zoom, sending photos, emails, and hand-written cards and letters. I’m expanding my “self”: Buddhism, exploring Science of Mind, mindfulness, daily yoga.

I’ve had transfixed reactions like little Bobby had at the supermarket. When I explore the inner reactions, I find something interesting. Physical reactions in my body- stomach flips, lurches, butterflies, heart racing, face flushed, mind goes blank, or racing, or fuzzy-are very similar, almost identical, whether it’s from the stimulus check or the phone call about my mother’s death. My body doesn’t know the difference. So I rely on my self talk.  Slow down, you are ok. Breathe. You are ready for anything.You are not alone. 

I can’t control everything that happens in my world, the world, but if a belief consistently results in negative stuff or fear or anxiety, I can change the belief about it. I’ve done it. Going from seeing myself as a smoker, then non-smoker didn’t happen overnight. Same with believing I was not equipped to travel by myself (don’t even ask where that came from), but I did change that belief. The pandemic has put a hold on travel but not on the belief I have about doing things by myself.

When I get overly analytical abut this unexpectedness concept, I look at the post-it on my desk:  “Doesn’t expecting the unexpected make the unexpected expected?” ~ Bob Dylan

Still…

Expect the unexpected- with ease.

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

The Love Month

Are you ready? The Love Month is here. Celebrate love. 💕

Hallmark sales spikes, chocolate overloads, scented candles, perfume and flowers top the credit card sales, and people tapping into their sometimes under-utilized romance files. 

I do love lots of things and people. All kinds of love. Friendship love. Loyalty love. Compassion, fondness, affection.

All Kinds of Love

I’m also a romantic–big time. My heart is on my sleeve. A part of my heart holds deep abiding love. My emotions run the gamut when it comes to caring/affection/love. One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the opening credits in Love Actually.  Families, couples, friends, people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and colors greeting each other at Heathrow Airport with hugs, kisses, laughing, crying. Makes me tear up and smile at the same time.  I can also sob at one of the last scenes in  Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff carries Cathy to the window so she can see the moors and smell the heather-one last time. (Multiple tissue rating if it’s the Laurence Oliver and Merle Oberon 1939 movie.)

When we flipped the calendar page to February, I felt a little flip in my heart too. Even more so, this year.

Suggestions to Share Love

Some quotes that get me going about love:

Everybody loves something, even if it’s just tortillas. ~ Trungpa Rinpoche

Two-minute free write: I love … pizza, sitting on the beach, cherries, smelling the ocean, seeing the sun rise from my patio, watching my husband make coffee because he is totally immersed and at ease in that one morning activity, naps, my friend JoAn’s carrot cake, walking a labyrinth, books, my office which is also my sanctuary and my creative writing site.

Suggestion: Do a two-minute free write about people, places, things you love. Can you stop at two minutes?

I love this scene- it’s peaceful and cool. It holds the memory of my parents’ retirement home in N. Carolina. They have since died, and maybe the bench is gone too, but I have this photo and memory.

 

Ya gotta learn to laugh. It’s the way to true love.  ~ John Travolta in  Michael

I love to laugh. Of course it doesn’t mean I ”fall in love” with my laugh buddies. But laughing relaxes me, and I’m more apt to see love when it’s offered. Laughing helps me forget the “shoulds,” worries, and small dark clouds that can drift across my emotional radar screen. Can you be mad or sad when you’re laughing? Can you be worried when you’re laughing so hard that you actually snort?  

My morning meditation group is usually bookended with laughter as well as prayer. Laughing at ourselves, at the funny way the cat sashays across my friend’s computer, preening for the zoom screen.

Suggestion: Who/what makes you laugh? Tell folks. Write about them.

I was at a party feeling very shy because there were a lot of celebrities around, and I was sitting in a corner alone and a beautiful young man came up to me and offered me some salted peanuts and he said,   “I wish they were emeralds”,  as he handed me the peanuts and that was the end of my heart. I never got it back.   ~ Helen Hayes

This has got to be one of the most loving, romantic  “scenes”  I’ve ever read. I can see it. I can hear the background noise at this party–music, laughing, the range of voices in conversations. And the beautiful woman sitting, waiting, although at that moment she didn’t know she was waiting. 

When I first heard my Hank’s voice, I felt a jolt in my heart. What the heck is this? Heartburn? But it was followed by a kind of excited feeling in my stomach and heart. I looked around to see where that measured voice with the easy listening tone was coming from. Then I saw him, but by then my heart had moved towards his. Lucky me to have followed that jolt. 

Suggestion: Write about love. 

My personal favorite, for fun and for love:

A man should kiss his wife’s navel every day. ~ Nell Kimball

May you find love every day, not just in the love month.

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Beautiful White Silence

 

Magic of Snow in the Desert

East Coast Snow

 

Central Park NYC Snowfall

For most of my life I lived on the East Coast in the New York City metropolitan area. Winters consisted of freezing cold and snow, ice, blizzards, bare trees silhouetted against grey skies from November to mid-March. It was cold, dreary, long, changeable, yet magical. It always took my breath away to watch silent snow falling from my window and then to go outside and hear the exact same thing-silence. I experienced breath-taking moments watching seven deer tiptoe delicately across our backyard in the suburbs of New Jersey. It seemed inappropriate to laugh out loud on a late night walk in the middle of West 89 Street to Central Park in Manhattan. No taxis, no cars, only snowflakes joining their companions, blanketing everything in silence.

Southwest Snow

Snow on the Catalinas

When we moved to Tucson, Arizona, I thought I would give up silent snowfall. Not so. Tucson is surrounded by mountain ranges- the Catalinas on the north, Rincons to the east, Santa Ritas to the south, and the Tucson Mountains to the west. When it rains here in the valley in January and February there’s snow on the mountains at about a 7,000-foot elevation. It’s not uncommon to drive up the mountain to walk in the snow, make snowballs, and witness folks with pickups pile snow in the back of their truck to drive home for a snow-covered yard for a short-lived winter vibe.

In 2014 it snowed on New Year’s Eve. Driving home from my sister’s, my Hank said, “I have to remember how to drive in snow.” Large snowflakes blanketed the windshield. The swish swish of the wipers and scrunch of tires were the only sounds.

Snow at Sabino Springs

New Year’s Day we woke up to snow on the ground, on the street, on the sidewalk, on the fairway of the golf course outside our back patio. It was magical.

“Let’s go out for a walk.“ Put on a long-sleeve shirt, jeans, a light jacket, scarf and gloves, and boots. It’s cold, but not freezing. Walking in the snow at 7:30 AM. No other people around. Snow rests along tree limbs, snow puffs are tucked in the folds of prickly pear cactus. Expecting silence I’m startled by a click, click, click as we walk up the hill. Snow is melting and dripping down from lower branches, making a slow landing on frosty grass. We stop. Just look and listen. The melting snow makes tiny depressions in the snow still covering the grassy area along the fairway. The magic of snow in the desert.

Snow on the Rincons

Postscript: Last week (Jan. 26) “winter” arrived. Here on the Eastside of Tucson we had rain, hail, sleet, and SNOW. Snow that stuck on the ground. Not much of a breeze but inhaling was an intake of crisp, fresh and clean air. A week later, snow is still visible up on the tops of mountains. Melting snow works its way down to Sabino Canyon and the dam is overflowing again. Nature has her way.

 

 

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

All You Need is Love

Starting my day like this:

four women laughing outside with arms linkedYa gotta learn to laugh. It’s the way to true love. ~ John Travolta- in the film Michael

Love is an excess of friendship. ~ Aristotle

 

 

If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then the world would be a gasser.  ~ Louis Armstrong

Too much of a good thing is wonderful.  ~ Mae West

There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved. It is God’s finger on man’s shoulder.     ~ C. Morgan

 

 

If we make our goal to live a life of compassion and unconditional love, then the world will indeed become a garden where all kinds of flowers can bloom and grow. ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

 

 

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling Tucson Tellers of Tales, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

It’s a New Year-2021

In my house we’re closing the door on 2020 and opening the door — wide — for 2021!

The welcome mat is out! Come in, New Year! Welcome! Sit down. Have an extended stay- like 365 days!

Bring your suitcases filled with success, good health, kindness, peace, and laughter. Make the way clear for our friends, family, neighbors, and friends we haven’t met yet to actually cross our threshold and hug. 

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Lighten Up

Who Turned Out the Lights?

“We need more light around here” surely has deeper meaning these days. A dim room benefits from a lamp turned on. During the months when it gets dark before 6:00 PM we hit the light switch and Voila! —  Lights. During the Christmas holidays, there are lights in every room —  from our tree, lights outside on the cactus, lights along the back fence, lights wound ‘round the patio chair, chili lights on our tall artificial plant. When my husband turns out his bedside light at night and I’m still on my umpteenth game of laptop Mahjong, I put on my nightwalker hat for “just a few minutes to finish up here.”

Lighten Up

“Lighten up” are two small words which have carried a big message for me during the past 9 ½ months. I’m getting in the habit of turning on inner lights as well as electrical lights. The light of optimism, the light of laughing instead of pouting, a light of compassion, and bursts of lights of cheerfulness. 

 

So light a candle, be the light, watch, read, write humorous words to lighten the mood when tension starts to ruffle your feathers. Instead of reaching for a matching cloak of irritation because someone else “seems” to be irritated, I smile, or hum, or play a CD. 

Some days during this pandemic just about anything can be a trigger — of irritation, boredom, wanting to shut down — anything can tempt me to dim or darker thoughts. But the light of a smile or a few comforting words, to someone else or to myself, “It’s ok, I understand, no biggie” can turn the light on again and bring back the warmth.

Qarrtsiluni

A very useful word found its way to me recently. Qarrtsiluni. It’s an Inuit word that describes waiting together in the darkness … waiting for the light. It got me thinking how this pandemic both darkened our world as we waited for information, reassurance, safety. In a weird way, the pandemic also lit our little world that we inhabit-our home, family, neighborhood.

My husband and I hunkered down in March – stayed inside not knowing, then knowing that this virus was deadly and some of us were more vulnerable than others. First responders were like the first lights to go on-bringing help, bringing hope. Then science, research, corporations, environmentalists built on that hope. People who speak out, write, sing about hope are brave lights that lighten my heart. They inspire me to create, find, believe in that light at the end of this viral tunnel. 

Zoom has been a tool of light for me-connecting with other people while waiting for the light. I do lighten up with my writing colleagues, spiritual teammates, family and friends, New Jersey book club, entertainment with Odyssey storytellers and Unscrewed improv, online and Youtube yoga, mindfulness, and virtual traveling to the Christmas markets of Europe. I know we will experience all this in person again in the future.

Millions of people have been experiencing Qarrtsiluni – not physically together, but we are joined and sharing positive ways and actions of  waiting.

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

More Bumper Sticker Philosphy-2020

If ever there was a need for optimism, this is sure the time. Here’s some more words that boost my spirits and remind me of the infinite amount of things and actions that are possible, blocked only by any thoughts I have that limit the possibilities. I can change perspective, shift my outlook, reframe the “picture’s” deadline, ask for help. Today is a YES time.

My ELM brand of what I call Bumper Sticker Philosophy. Short stuff. Quick reads. Kind of like those bumper stickers on cars that you only see a flash of while driving and they get stuck in your mind. Some of these may too.

YES, WE CAN!

CHANGE

The ideal day never comes. Today is ideal for him/(her) who makes it so. – Horatio Dresser

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. – Will Rogers                                                                  

If you always do, what you always did… You’ll always get, what you always got! – A friend

…throw off the bowlines. Sail away for the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover.  – Mark Twain

I realize that if I wait until I am no longer afraid to act, write, speak, or be, I’ll be sending messages on a ouija board, cryptic complaints from the other side. – Audre Lorde

Just do it! – Nike

TAKE THAT FIRST STEP

Living in the past is a dull and lonely business; looking back strains the neck muscles, causes you to bump into people not going your way. – Edna Ferber 

The first step in solving a problem is to recognize you might have a problem, then tell a trusted person about it. – ELM  

A.D.A.C.- Awareness (that wonderful or painful “aha” moment), Decision (something’s gotta give/be different), Action (actually do something about “it”), (yields) Change – Ethel Lee-Miller                  

The difficult must become habit;  The habit must become easy And the easy will become beautiful.  – Prince Sergei Volkonski

Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs. – Henry Ford. Corollary: Chunk it down. – ELM

Move a muscle, change a thought. – Heard often from friends

Fears are educated into us and can, if we wish, be educated out.- Karl Menninger. Corollary: F.E.A.R. False Events Appearing Real- AA

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure—try to please everybody.  – Herbert Bayard Swope

Smiling behind my mask

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First

It will be a while until I get on a plane, but thanks go to a perky flight attendant on the Tucson-Chicago flight for this simple idea. It happened years ago; yet the whole idea is particularly timely right now. So with a bit of tweaking to update my priorities, here we go. 

The Story

On that particular flight the attendant was quite attractive. I usually listen to the safety instructions; sometimes I even twist around to scope out the nearest exit. Perky FA was very engaging as she  went through the seat belt and exit instructions; I just sat back and watched her. Then she moved on to “Should the air flow to the cabin be reduced, an oxygen mask will drop down from overhead. Pull the elastic over your head, place the mask over your mouth, and breathe. If you are traveling with a young child or someone who needs help, put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” 

At this the woman next to me sighed, “If only I could do that every day.”

Well, hold on now, why not? I readily acknowledged there are things that made me feel like there was no time for me. I was a classic “people pleaser.” My To Do list tended to be endless. “I don’t have enough time” was sadly overused. The  “I have to’s”  and “shoulds” often edged out any chance of doing meditation, or just sitting and staring from my patio and doing … nothing. 

Let Go of Old Ideas

Research shows that 4 minutes of meditation can change brain waves, a nap does refresh you, and going to sleep if you are tired has its benefits. Huh? This went against much of what I had been taught and that still is enculturated in the “success” mode of Western societies. Work first, then play. Finish the job. Push though. Suck it up. Yes, these enabled me to get the job done. The compliments of being organized, efficient, or competent sometimes actually sabotaged my health. The recovery from the resulting stress often made for a very unbalanced equation. Situations like IBS, neck “issues,” insomnia, and impatience became all too “normal.” Competent, but not self-caring.

Things That Call for a Virtual “O2 Mask”

Bad vibes, dis-ease, negative news, too much news, can make me want to escape. Even new situations sometimes call for a break. New job, new house, new food plan. Same with losses through death or divorce. Even a change in habit, although for the better, calls for practicing letting go, a kind of “death” of the old idea. Life can be difficult. Stress isn’t always negative. Positive stress like the excitement of a book launch, an upcoming holiday, requires time to relax before, during, and after the event. 

When I pushed aside/ignored uneasy feelings, they built up like a soda can that was rolling around in a hot trunk. If the feelings weren’t lessened, it had to blow. The tension that built up around the feelings, thoughts, expectations of these situations = STRESS! If situations got repeated, it became chronic stress. Stress—when your mind says NO and your vocal cords form a squeaky yes. If I followed the dots of stress there was always a connection to accepting and dealing with an illness, pain, difficult person, etc.

A Looming Stressor: COVID 19

Today the layer over every action is the reminder we live in a pandemic, battling  a virus that strikes all ages and claims 15 million cases in the U.S. Each occasion of grocery shopping, medical appts, work, deliveries includes the new “don’t leave home without it”: mask, the wipes, sanitizers, wash your hands so much you feel like Lady Macbeth,  preparedness to “don’t touch,” and be ready to ask people to move back-small actions with big emotions attached. Add in more stress if you are a caregiver, first responder, and concern of relatives for their family and friends.

Changing Habits
Life also calls for being friendly to myself. Practicing detaching from a “storyline” and only looking at the action helps me be more objective and less apt to cling to fear or former “people pleasing” thoughts. 

Write Your Own Permission Slip

Taking care of myself might be just the thing someone else needs to see to inspire them to “take care.”  With lots (and lots) of practice I am able to put on that “O2 mask” first! If I have my 2020 “Don’t leave home without it” kit always prepped and in its now assigned spot on the shelf by the door, it saves flustered time when I’m on my way out. If I step onto my yoga mat each morning I move into a space of reliability and assurance. 

“O2 masks” That Work for Me

  • Yoga, dance- (forget the line “dance like nobody is watching.” Nobody is watching!), read, walk, hike, bike, a plain old bath-light a candle for soothing light. 
  • Start/end the day with time to: walk, read, meditation, exercise, sleep, eat healthy pleasant tasting foods, cut out sugar. Ex.: Pema Chodron, Shakti Gawain, 365 Days of Richer Living or listen to Deva Premal, iRest Yoga Nidra, Pandora’s relaxing channels.
  • Daily: Listen to music, write affirmations, put a Do Not Disturb sign on your office doorknob or desk, breathe. Parents: Put Yourself in Time Out. (Remember those 4 min.)
  • Make a Comfort List. Take respite time and actually do one or four/five/six of the things on the list. 
  • Practice saying in an even tone, “I’m really sorry but I have to say no.” “I can see this is really important to you, let me think about it and get back to you.”  “I’ll pass on this until it’s safer for me to be in a group.” It’s like having a mental cue card.
  • Spend time with treasured folks, those who also value self-care time. Self-care is not selfish. 

What is your O2 mask?

© 2000 Ethel Lee-Miller Enhanced Life Management, rev 2013, 2020

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.