Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Friday, December 04, 2009

Please visit me...

...At Harriet's Voice: Home Base for Writing Mothers. Lots of great links and quotes that will appeal to all writers (not just moms!). Sign up for updates, as contests, events, blog continue to evolve. Creative moms (not just writers), please take the survey.

I would love to add your quotes, tips, links to the site--please send suggestions via the contact link.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Right Choice

Welcome to Inching Toward Simplicity! I hope you find some words in the archives here that inspire or encourage you in your own journey toward simplicity.

The Right Choice is not always the easiest choice. But I need to put this blog aside so I have more time to pursue my writing career. I have a publisher interested in my book--a new take on writing and motherhood. I've my first poetry chapbook and a Web site on my book to put together.

Please stay in touch: If you'd like to be on the mailing list for Harriet's Voice: A Writing Mother's Journey, please send your contact information.

Many thanks,
Poets & Writers Directory listing
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In: A New Wednesday Tradition

I am appropriating (and altering) the original Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out “mantra” of the 60s counterculture to suit my own counterculture purposes.

Deep River Land Trust sent home a reminder via Gavin’s first grade assignment folder: this week is National TV Turnoff Week. We were reminded of the many local parks and other unplugged entertainments awaiting us. So our family is making inroads into tuning out from the seductive, sedating hum that is our TV and “dropping” back in to that somewhat foreign experience known as “real life”.

Our first foray ended up in a rewarding natural high. Gavin chose a CD (Abbey Road) to wake us from our opiate (of the masses) slumber. He doodled and played for a while. I found small things for Gavin to help with: he refilled our hand soaps, washed dishes very meticulously, fed the dog and enjoyed it. We made dinner together.

Later, we all sat down for what turned out to be a killer game of Monopoly. I discovered that Gavin has the makings of a railroad tycoon. I also discovered:

  • TV doesn’t necessarily relax me; it often just helps me avoid and escape the business (and even the pleasure) of life
  • The seduction of TV is the ease. It takes a bit of an effort to figure out what else to do, especially at the end of a long workday. But once you reawaken those dormant creative muscles, some good surprises await you
  • TV can limit your child's experience of contributing to the household. It may feel easier to have Gavin “entertained”, but it feels infinitely better to see him take ownership of some more mature tasks
  • There’s no substitute in a family for sitting around a table or taking a walk together, for the increasingly rare gifts of undivided attention and real conversation

Tom had Gavin watch a video last night while I went out. He didn’t feel well, and hadn’t the stamina to make the effort. But today we will be back to a TV-free house.

I know if we kept at this ad infinitum that not every night would be as joyful as that first one, which of course carried with it a sense of novelty and adventure. And I imagine it would be harder to pull off in the dark and chill of winter. But the experiment, which I highly recommend, is a wake up to experiences that offer more mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional bang per buck. Once we “survive” Turnoff week, we are instituting a No TV Wednesday policy. I have a feeling it may lead to even more TV-free days.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Habit Forming


• Patricia Wagner at Life writes about 21 days to a positive attitude. What better habit to form?
• There’s a balance to strike—have a routine, but avoid getting in rut. Here’s some advice from Shape magazine on breaking out of a routine that is threatening to suffocate.
• Here are 7 creative habits to acquire, from Creative Something.
• This could have been written for me - 7 (health-related) habits to break.


I wonder how it was determined that it takes 21 days to break a habit? And is it an equal amount of time if you want to acquire one?

I’m hoping a month will do it for acquisition. This month, National Poetry Month, I’m participating in a Poem a Day challenge at the Poetic Asides blog. Already I’ve missed a day (the first one--April sneaked in).

Thinking about the quest for keeping things simple, there is something to be said for routines. Good routines are a way to harness time, to set the clock for the day. Twenty minutes of straightening up prevents an overwhelm of chores on Saturday; the morning walk lends new perspective. Both of these simple tasks seem, at times, impossible for me to achieve with real regularity.

It may actually take a break in routine to get back into the routine you want. I’d been craving a breather from my heavy workload and took a few days off last week. Finally, I had time to think. I had time to realize that I’d been neglecting myself. Overeating, upping the caffeine, foregoing my treasured walks--neglecting the very habits that would have helped me cope with my crazy deadlines!

It’s hard to make the choice to adopt or maintain a good habit when you feel you’ve barely got time to breathe. But it is a choice, an investment in a better existence. One way that we are all surely creatures of habit—-we want to know what’s in it for us! Find a way to reward yourself for the good choices you make. In my case, a little dark chocolate goes a long way.

What are the habits that have helped you simplify your life? Please send me a comment.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Run Hard, Rest Hard



I heard a public radio piece about a couple who has done the Iditarod and many other dog sled races together. Asked about their strategy for long-haul races, they summed it up in four words: “Run hard, rest hard”. When they take breaks, they make sure to rest at least as many hours as they raced.

To adopt this motto for personal use, I’d convert it to read, “Run not-so-hard, rest hard.” But some harsh realities lately, including crises in my extended family and a daunting workload, have had me running much harder than I’d like. Last week, exhausted, I came down with an awful 48-hour bug. This was my body’s way of screaming that I needed rest. I took to bed and took care of myself for the first time in quite a long stretch.

This lifestyle of running hard is true for most of us, and one of the reasons the simplicity movement is so appealing. I know I’m not the only one to ask, "When does this crazy ride stop?” But I know that I have some control, at least some of the time, over slowing things down.

Most of us don’t rest as often or as long as we should. If we can’t get enough rest, we can at least make sure the rest we do get is of high quality. Dr. Frank Lipman’s recent book, Spent: End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again, is a sign of our times. I admire Dr. Lipman’s efforts, and want to buy the book, pronto! But I also know that, like the dog sledding couple that grabbed my attention, I need to make my own plan. Not an elaborate plan, but something simple to get me started on the right path.

“Resting hard” means incorporating those things that relax me, like walks, good books, and writing, into every day. It means clearing a space and time for rest, separating what really must get done today from those things that can wait. It means going beyond postponing stuff--how about crossing some things off the list entirely? Eventually, it may mean bigger changes, like reducing work hours.

One comfort of my personal dilemma is knowing that I am not alone in my “quest for rest”. Please add a comment—let me know what helps you “rest hard”!

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

What Lies Beneath


***See the January 2009 Oprah magazine issue for the article Back to Basics! It discusses Simple Living America, which published Get Satisfied and for which I wrote an essay and the House Party discussion guide! ***

  • -Take the glass half empty or full quiz.

  • -Speaking of positive thinking, my glass half full “lecture” also brought back a happy reminder of an influential childhood book focusing on “the glad game”. Peek into Pollyanna (Chapter 4 = The Game) here!

  • -Here’s Kohler’s 101 on kitchen clutter rehab.

  • -I could have used the kid’s version of these tips for cleaning your desk in elementary school. I spent way too much time rooting around for my ruler and eraser.

  • -For my writer and editor friends (or those who want a peek into the craft), here’s a piece on literary triage.

This morning Gavin and I played Scramble, a timed shape-sorting game where you fit pieces into their slots, as many as possible before the shape tray pops up and startles you. I had to laugh when Gavin said, “I didn’t get the last piece in,”, rather than focusing on the 17 of 18 that he had inserted!

I went to the kitchen and ran the tap into an empty glass, dismayed to find that he labeled it “half empty”! We talked about positive thinking, something I can use a talk on myself at regular intervals. I thought about the wholly human tendency to focus on what hasn’t been accomplished, as in the old story of authors focusing on their one negative book review (versus the 10 blurbs of glowing praise!).

As the New Year unfolds, both Tom and I seem programmed to want to sort, to purge our lives of clutter. We get the surfaces managed, at least periodically—-papers in the recycling bin, dishes in the dishwasher, dirty clothes in the hamper, blankets refolded and shelved. But lately I am plagued by “what lies beneath”. The cabinets in the bathroom and kitchen are cluttered jumbles of empties, duplicates, and "can’t identifies". The pajama drawer is overstuffed with what no longer fits. The list goes on (you can probably fill it in, based on your own experience).

I have a fantasy of efficiency, one where I sort one drawer a day until I strike perfection. Then, of course, it would be time to start over on each area! Tom’s fantasy is to “take a week off and get everything done.” As if that would be a one-time proposition.

Of course, we know that not everything will get done. Ever. So I get back to one task at a time, maybe one or two good “spring” cleanings a year, bags for the dump, boxes for garage sales, some decent nods to a more streamlined existence. It would be a full-time job to completely order things as I’d like them. Being that I already have a full-time job and a freelancing business, I must settle for triage on the battlefield of clutter and sometime chaos.

I used to be a triage nurse in an Emergency Room, and there was a good exercise in cutting through unnecessary anxiety, looking at the big picture, and making decisions based on real and in-the-moment priorities. I wish I was so efficient outside of the hospital!

Here’s wishing you a year of effective triage—may your priorities rise to the top, your most urgent needs be handled with calm. May your distractions sit patiently in the waiting room while you tend to the business of life.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Go Placidly Amid the Noise and Haste


  • -Online shopping can avoid the crush, and the online “shopping cart” buys time for contemplation before making the actual purchase. Here are some tips from Newsmax to help you purchase safely from legitimate and secure sources.

  • -A lot of us shop for the holidays in spurts, unaware of the cumulative bulk of what we’ve purchased until it’s time to wrap. Try spreading your gifts, especially those for the kids, out on your bed. An “aerial view” of your consumer habits might help avoid overspending.

  • -Trying to stick to a budget, and to have a reflective and joyful holiday? Consider gifts of time and talents. See this article, appropriately published by a credit counseling company!

  • -It sounds like Max Ehrmann was a simple man, but the history of his most famous poem, Desiderata, has been confusing. Here’s some information on the man and Desiderata’s origins.

  • Ehrmann never knew that the wishes he penned would come to fruition after he died: "I would like, if I could, to leave to my country a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods. My life is spent in a time and among a people of commercial interest, with its attending selfishness, cruelty and ostentation. "; “I would reclaim a little of the heart of man, infuse some gentleness into the stern ethics of trade, and make life the supreme art instead of acquisition.


My title today is also the start of Max Ehrmann’s timeless poem, Desiderata. It takes on enhanced meaning during the holiday season.

I started out going placidly--I really did--, scornful of the only-just-past-Halloween Christmas displays and shoppers in line at megastores before 4 AM on Black Friday. I wouldn’t be one of them. I was far above the madness.

It’s been a stressful week—one long day of commuting out of state for work, a round of layoffs way too close to home, lots of deadlines. So, despite the imminent approach of Christmas, I vowed to make this Saturday high on relaxation, low on expectations. I had to laugh at myself when my original list of three or four “to dos” morphed into more than 20, Christmas cards and gifts included, of course! I had to talk myself off the ledge of “must do it all today”.

We all know, at our core, what really matters. But the noise and haste of the season create a need to look for reminders of true importance. One such moment this week was Gavin’s delight in the first real snow of the season. He hastily pulled snow pants and boots over his pajamas, eager to taste the mini-drifts on the porch railing and falling backwards to make a string of snow angels. Days later, the melt created a temporary stream down the side of our yard, and Gavin ran to leap across it and look for places he could dam. I stepped to the porch that day and reveled in the mist fueled by melting snow and warming air.

Our gifts are already around us. Go placidly.