Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis. Her career started in web and software development, and after a seven year frolic and detour through law school and private legal practice, her passion for the outdoors lead her into the outdoor industry and into the profession of social media and content marketing. Sara is the Director of Social Media at Portent, Inc, an internet marketing company based in Seattle, WA. Sara is a beginner skier, newly-recreational climber, low-key backpacking convert after a brief stint as an alpine mountaineer, urban picnic connaisseur, backyard gardener, film photography student and aspiring locavore. Formerly @theclimbergirl on Twitter, she now goes by @saralingafelter and is Sara Lingafelter on Google+.
This morning, he complimented me — he said I looked really nice today.
My hair undone, wet from the shower. My untouched makeup bag in my purse, for later, when I got to the office. Glasses on. Jeans dug out of the bottom of a climbing bag. Sloppy chunky sweater typically relegated to robe duty (which previous boyfriends have disliked even in that limited use).
And I looked really nice, he said.
He brought me a rose late last week… the roses he brings home seem to have unusual staying power. Because I’m spending so much time at work and travel and back and forth from place to place I decided to bring it into work today.
There’s a whole lot of good, and learning, in my world right now.
In the last few years I’ve had a new yearning to travel alone. Specifically, I’ve been daydreaming (for years) about taking a yoga / meditation / writing retreat up at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island. Every time they host a retreat or a conference that would be right up my alley, I eye it, and decide not to indulge myself; balking sometimes at the price, sometimes for no reason whatsoever. Until very recently, I’ve hesitated to schedule solo travel because of the hope or expectation of a partner; sitting here, writing that today, I don’t actually even really recognize the me who has thought that way since somehow she seems to have exited stage right in the last couple of years. Now, I have the opposite: a hard time scheduling dates because I have so many solo commitments to myself that I’m not willing to negotiate away.
The most recent of which I’m freshly back from… a little long weekend up at Orcas. There was no organized retreat, and my time was far too short: a day of travel, one day of retreat, one day of travel and suddenly I’m back in the city which seems, again, too noisy and fast-paced. But man. That one day of retreat. So good. So worth it. So when can I do that again please?
I didn’t really have to plan anything, since Orcas is so familiar. My first trip there (I think) was riding my bike there when I was in high school for a camping trip, so in some ways that island is more familiar to me than places I’ve lived much longer. I usually stay at Doe Bay but they were booked up so I found a funky little Airbnb and mailed in a check for the deposit. I figured I’d take Gibson for a good long hike (so I wouldn’t feel guilty abandoning her to) soak in the tubs at Doe Bay, do a yoga class then treat myself to a decadent dinner at the Doe Bay Cafe. In between, I had plenty of reading and dharma talks to listen to, my meditation cushion, my paper journal, a bag of film and my analog cameras. Since there’s little cell signal on the island, it was also a chance to unplug, which was glorious.
The last few weeks I’ve been really enjoying a mindfulness class at Seattle Insight Meditation Society and as I moved through the weekend the attention I’ve been paying to … well … attention … were noticeable. On my hike with Gibson I noticed my busy brain. Sometimes planning. Sometimes judging. Sometimes ruminating on the recent past. At other times, though, I found myself stopping to take in the forest floor, nearly covered with thick, quilt-batting-like spider webs. Stopping to gaze at the sun streaming through the trees and mist, since the morning’s marine layer hadn’t yet lifted. Enjoying watching Gibson sniff at new smells, since the hike we chose made its way through about four different microclimates and ecosystems. Feeling the heat of my body making my way uphill, and feeling the cool of the island air on the way back down. And the hike did its job, tiring Gibson out enough that I didn’t feel guilty tucking her in while I spent a little time on myself the rest of the day.
After a little nap with her (the second time this weekend I fell asleep listening to one of the carefully-chosen dharma talks I’d packed), followed by a splendid yoga class (my intention: renewal), a soak in the pre-evening-rush hot tubs and an incredible dinner at the cafe, I stepped outside into the cold, fresh night air.
The sparkle of the night sky above literally took my breath. The stars were SO bright in a moon-less sky — it was like that one time I walked by a pet store in Portland and saw kittens in the window and was shocked that I had actually forgotten about the fact of kittens. It has been so long since I took in the night sky without the city’s contribution to ambient light that I’d forgotten about the fact of the night sky, covered in pinpricks of light, limitless, in perfect contrast.
I found the moon later, on my drive home, orange and huge and waxing crescent — it had been tucked behind the trees from Doe Bay. And it too stopped me in my tracks.
After a second solid night’s sleep, this morning was one of the highlights of the trip. Gibson curled up on the bed after our morning walk, facing the windows. She didn’t go back to sleep like she usually does. She just gazed out the window toward the water watching, apparently, nothing in particular. Her eyes were relaxed, her ears alert, and she looked completely content. She’s one of my favorite teachers. I took a break from the busy-ness of packing, and sat down on the bed with her and shared the view for a few minutes. It had just started to rain. The muffled sound of the water lapping on the rocky beach wafted through the walls of the cabin. And it was a perfect start to the day.
I headed back to the Doe Bay Cafe for breakfast and it was perfection. Sitting at the heavy wood table, watching the rain come down outside the windows, the mist of the marine layer heavy over the water, the coffee strong and the food fresh-picked and lovingly prepared, my journal entry for the day only just started, it seemed inconceivable that I’d be back in the city by dinnertime. In less than a day I’d gotten so comfortable with being unplugged that I not only didn’t know where my phone was: I couldn’t have cared less. Not having my phone on my person, it turns out, may become a new normal.
And that’s life. Only part of meditation practice takes place sitting on a cushion, the rest happens while we’re grocery shopping or answering emails from work or stuck in traffic. And only part of my self-care and renewal takes place on retreat; the rest is bringing my attention and awareness to the city part of my life as well.
So tonight I’m craving risotto and an untimed sitting and a sleepy puppy (which is hard to achieve since her dislike of the rain is indirectly proportional to my love of the rain) so two out of three isn’t bad. And then this week I’ll navigate more change as I near the end of one job and gear up and set my intentions to start the next one and, as my meditation teacher would ask: “Is that okay?” Yes. It’s okay. It’s all okay.
It’s been a few days past a month since everything came to a head and changed. To be totally honest, everything changed long before that — I just was in denial, hadn’t accepted, refused to believe — it took me a long time to get to the place of tearfully trying to get through my last sleep in his house, to packing bags, to looking at the (grim) Seattle rental market and to closing the door behind me and starting over. And since that moment, the universe in the form of my friends and family and colleagues has provided. Not just a safety net, but a trampoline.
Yesterday I worked from home in the afternoon with the plan to take care of a few thinking things and spend a little extra time with Gibs before my evening plans. We stopped off at a park for a walk before getting back to work. We walked happily along the path, both of us smiling at the other mid-day walkers, all of us lucky to be out in the sun and fresh air at 1pm on a Friday. I thought about the last month, and about how when I was a senior in high school we had a segment of our social studies class where religious leaders came in to speak to us (I did grow up in Port Townsend — we do things a little differently out there). One of the speakers was a Lutheran or Methodist or some kind of Protestant pastor. I don’t remember anything he said that day, except for the message that faith in God is an absolute must because the people in our lives are weak, and will let us down, and when that happens we need to have some form of divine support to get through. Being the teenager I was, my hand shot into the air, incensed. “My family won’t let me down,” I said. “My mom won’t let me down,” I replied, incredulously, feeling a mix of confusion and sadness that anyone would have so little faith in the human beings around them.
He stuck to his guns, assertively. People will let you down. They will do wrong by you. They will hurt you. And when they do, you need somewhere to turn.
While that conversation put a damper on my teenage flirtations with reformed Protestant churches, it’s also been one of those teachings that has stuck with me ever since, but not in the way it was intended. All these years later, I do think that he was partly right. It is possible for people to let you down, to do wrong by you, to hurt you. Where we diverge is on the relationship that we need to foster, as insurance for when that happens.
Gibson and I passed the wading pool where I’d been last weekend with Megan and her babies, and my little dog perked up. She’s not so sure about kids, but she’s a freak for babies, and there were a few toddlers making toddler sounds that caught her radar ears. She wanted to go visit, but dogs aren’t allowed in the wading pool. I delighted in the comedy of my little dog, who’s not so sure about water, issuing body language of complaint because I wouldn’t let her jump in a wading pool to sniff a toddler.
We turned around on the path, me needing to get back to the work of the day. Gibson sniffed a tree root in the shade, and I watched her happy animalness, blissed. And the words
Thank you for setting me free
echoed in my head. They repeated
Thank you for setting me free
They caught me a little off guard in their clarity. This was no chatter from my monkey brain, listing off its wants and needs and impulses. The words were clear. Ringing like a bell. Unmistakable.
Thank you for setting me free
My first instinct was to pull out my phone and text them to Ryan. I hesitated, always the fact-checker, once a journalist always a journalist. That’s not exactly how it went down, I corrected myself. While he contributed to the conditions that lead to that tearful night and that difficult morning, he didn’t set me free.
So I paused in the park, and let that sink in, and let waves of gratitude move through me. Some gratitude and compassion for him, and some for myself and my circumstances, and some for the friends and family who’ve moved through the last month with me with so much love and abundance. And I soaked up the freedom of the fresh air in a park surrounded by trees with a little dog who is my little sidekick and teacher and breathed it all in.
People will disappoint me, but the worst pain comes from the times when I disappoint myself. When I abandon myself. When I don’t put my own oxygen mask first, or don’t listen to my instincts, or don’t honor and insist on what I know to be true.
When people — including myself — fail me, I have my trampoline of friends and family and self. And perhaps to that pastor, that is God at work. For me, God or the spirit or the beloved or whatever name is least offending is in the tree canopy providing shade and the beauty of the dappled shapes that leaves bring to that shade, and in the smile and snuggle of my little dog and in the so very many teachers in my life who seem to bring each lesson precisely when I need it as if according to some kind of (divine?) plan. And for all of that, I am truly, truly grateful.
One night last week I got off work and picked up Gibson and had the thought that I’d take her to the dog park, but because I was running late for a long-awaited girls’ night with friends I haven’t seen in ages, I skipped the dog park and headed straight to my friend’s house. After approximately two and a half minutes of Gibson demand-barking I ran plumb out of my ability to deal because I am imperfect and she is imperfect and we are navigating some substantial life and living-situation changes so my ability to deal isn’t what it usually is.
In retrospect, of course, I realize that I am a perfectly imperfectly human, and she is a perfectly perfect dog, who has needs, that I did not meet that evening — had I just met them, instead of hurrying both of us to our destination, I’m sure everything would have been just fine. And perhaps, I am a perfectly imperfect human who has needs, but I so struggle to know them and identify and communicate them that perhaps I did not meet my own that evening, either. I don’t even know.
Instead of taking a deep breath and cutting myself and Gibson some slack, I burst into tears and worked my way gracelessly to my car, passing through a series of much-needed and appreciated hugs and tears and words of love and comfort from some of the women who provide me my “happy animal” place… the friends who, when I visit their homes with a group of girls I’ve actually been known to nod off during the evening’s girl-talk part because I feel so comfortable and relaxed that my inner little happy animal instincts kick in and the feeling of absolute safety takes over and lulls me to sleep.
So I flunked that particular girls’ night.
And while I selectively apply the wisdom of “you’ve got to get back on the horse,” I do think that wisdom most definitely applies to nights out with friends.
So tonight, I met a(n incredibly talented) dear friend in from out of town and a generous table full of people I hadn’t met before plus one friend from an old job and was treated to a few of the best hugs I’ve received from “strangers” in perhaps forever and we talked about photography and health and aging and haircuts and work and crafting and commutes and geography and aging parents and dogs and kids and divorces and break-ups and moving and the weather. And someone ordered food for the table and then Heidi, the co-owner, asked us a favor: could we please taste test this cobbler that she’d just pulled out of the oven, because, you know, she needed it taste-tested — but she knew there was someone gluten-free at the table so she also brought a side of chocolate-covered honeycomb for the gluten-free in our party. And there were more hugs and sage words and compliments and I’d give my companions an A+ and myself a solid B+ for the night.
The next few weeks will hold ups and downs, good days and bad days (because that’s how these things go), and more change and decision-making, and I’m very much looking forward to another chance at a little happy animal time tomorrow night. For tonight, I’m feeling grateful both for friends who will hold me and cry with me with I can’t keep my shit together, and for those who high-five me when I can.
When I pulled into the line-up outside the hotel parking garage, there was a white SUV already parked by the keycard reader, the access gate lowered. A button-down-shirt-sleeved arm stretched out the window, inserting and removing the keycard into and out of the reader. Insert, remove, pause, red and yellow lights mix to orange, indicating no admittance. Again. Into, out of, orange. Again. Into, out of, orange.
The attempts weren’t quite that rhythmic — periodically, the hand attached to the arm would rotate the card, or flip it over, trying a slightly different orientation that would cause a delay in the into, out of, orange, again routine. But still, the result was the same. Over, and over.
I set my parking brake. I pulled out a camera. I took two photos of the SUV, the outstretched hand, attached to a person who seemed determined that if only he tried one more time then bingo. The next into, out of, would be followed by something other than an orange light. I admired his tenacity and optimism while growing frustrated with it as well. After twenty or more tries, isn’t it time to admit defeat? To gracelessly execute a fifty-point-turn to get out of the now lengthy line of cars stacked up behind his and mine to retreat to the front desk for a new keycard?
But, I reminded myself, he’s likely a lawyer. This is, after all, a convention center hotel, hosting a single event — the one I’m here for — a three-day legal convention. So all bets on human behavior when faced with this particular situation are off, I thought, reflecting on the one and only time I had a lawyer for a client during my days of legal practice and let’s just say the case involved allegations involving my client’s neighbor’s property and a dangerous weapon.
Into. Out of.
Me. In the other Vancouver, for three days, surrounded by lawyers.
The universe is a coyote. A trickster.
My amusement shifted to annoyance and I struggled to find my way back to amusement, tired from a couple of hours of driving and from the time spent in the car by myself, alone after a number of days of near-constant distraction and company. Feeling a mix of impatience to get into my quiet temporary home with its simplicity and lack of uncertainty and questions; and fear.
Into, out of. Orange. Over and over. Same result.
My annoyance shifted to incredulity. In part, because of the scene in front of me; in part, because the line-up of vehicles containing likely-lawyers behind me hadn’t yet made a peep of a horn.
I lost count.
I thought to myself as the hand reached the key card toward the reader again. “Good God. What does he think is going to happen?”
Into, out of.
When I arrived at my room a few minutes later after losing track of the SUV in the parking garage, I pulled out my keycard and inserted it into the reader.
Into, out of. Orange.
I smiled, and thought about all of the many orange lights in my life, only one of them having anything to do with a card reader. I thought of the hand attached to the shirtsleeved arm reaching out of the SUV, attached to a man who believed that if he just kept trying, eventually the challenge he was facing would yield. I reminded myself that the challenges I am facing will — eventually — yield. And I placed the card into the reader again.
I am in my happy place, this morning. The sun rose in sherbet colors this morning, the loveliest of pastels reflecting off the dunes and the grey-blue of the Pacific Ocean not two blocks from my windows. It’s still early, so half the world is backlit (which I love) and the other half illuminated by dappled sun streaming through the trees behind the house, the sky a gradient of bluebird while the city’s socked in fog. It’s rarely a mistake to plan a day off: today’s shaping up to have been an especially good idea.
I spent years going to the mountains with all of my free time. Mostly because of the irresistible lure of climbing, but also when I wasn’t climbing … the pull of jagged peaks and alpine air and simple nights spent sitting around a campfire eating out of a camp stove was like gravity. I didn’t really question it, I just went. And now, I don’t really question the gravity having shifted ocean-ward. I really love it out here. And while the campfire has been replaced with a fireplace and the camp stove with a fully equipped kitchen, my boyfriend’s wonderful family as company instead of climbing partners, there’s a similar feeling here. Of having what I need, and being surrounded by beautiful views.
Days at the ocean involve watching Gibson play — on the beach, and around the house, since she has a little friend here for company. Nights are usually home-cooked meals, delayed until way past dinnertime by good conversation, or board games, or other distractions. I haven’t done much writing out here, but I have done a lot of picture-taking, and I rarely come to visit without a couple skeins of yarn and a knitting project. Ryan’s mom is a phenomenal quilter, and the women in his family are crafty — something our two families have in common.
I’m still getting conditioned to knitting again — when I was a kid, I once knit five or six sweaters in a year … but as I was a kid, I didn’t understand the quality vs. quantity distinction. As my joint pain got worse in high school and beyond, knitting was one of those things I just couldn’t make progress at any more, so at some point I just stopped doing it. I’d still make a pair of Christmas socks or gloves here or there, but the projects had to be small, so that I’d be able to complete them without growing bored if I could only knit a row or two at a time.
Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, after changing to a new med awhile back, two things have happened. One: my formerly naturally-wavy hair, turned curly by the last ineffective treatment I was on for a couple of years has turned stick straight… a sign that that toxic prescription has finally left my system for good. While I miss my curls, I do not miss that med. And two: my arthritis is under control, and I’ve been able to ease back in to some of the things on the “off limits” list.
Before Christmas I went shopping for sweaters and found myself examining the yarns, and the patterns and construction and thinking, I could do better. I came home empty handed, with plans for a date with the local yarn shop. That date was fruitful — Ryan found a couple of irresistible pattern books and when I saw a heathered green cotton with flecks of darker green that happened to be the yarn one of the cutest patterns was written for … let’s just say my return to knitting had begun. Never mind that it’s a relatively fine gague yarn knit on needles so small I’d only used them to make socks before… never mind that I didn’t know if my hands would hold up… the familiar rhythm of cast on, knit purl, just two more rows, okay, just two more rows, okay, I’m really going to stop now, after this row… kicked in. And thanks to a couple of relatively unscheduled weekends at the ocean I finished the sweater back yesterday (and I love it) and have the ribbing done on the sweater front. It’ll be done in time for spring, at this rate.
As I knit I watch my fingers and just marvel at their capacity for making. I don’t take them for granted. As a part of my photo-a-day project, I’ve seen lots of people working on a self-portrait exercise, and I’ve had no inspiration for it myself except for a desire to shoot photos of my hands, doing what they do. Holding a camera. Braiding hair. Knitting.
They turn yarn into textile, with only the occasional interruption from my brain to accommodate a change in the rhythmic repetition of the pattern. And this morning, with the sun streaming in through the windows to the east, my yarn moving rhythmically through my fingers, my thoughts turned to my mom. I learned to knit by watching her and a friend, and I taught myself a kind of backwards way that manages to work but isn’t what you’d see in any “learn how to knit” book. But it works. I hadn’t thought about it until this morning, but my mom taught herself how to knit twice. Once, when I was little. Again, recently, after losing her left index finger a couple of years ago to an infection that could have taken so much more from all of us. When my sister got pregnant my mom picked up her knitting needles again, and I didn’t give it a second thought. Sitting here this morning, watching my own hands move without thought across the needles and yarn, and now — typing on my laptop keyboard — I’m a little in awe of my mom’s recovery and how much she’s had to retrain herself to do. It’s a nice thing to sit down and take a minute to be just profoundly grateful for exactly where we all are, right now, today.
She doesn’t know this, but during one of my parents’ visits last year I snuck a portrait of their hands. They were sitting on the white sofa in our living room that has such beautiful light, and mom and dad were casually holding hands and I had the guise of a school assignment as cover for my picture-taking, and I took a few portraits of them, and then got in close on their hands. I’ve looked at the negative and I love the picture; I haven’t yet scanned it, so I don’t have it here to share. And that picture stands out in my memory because I was focusing on what’s changed, on what’s “missing.” And as I flip through my photo album I realize that I’ve taken who knows how many pictures of my mom’s changed hand without even noticing it — because what my eye is drawn to is the smile on her entire face as she holds my nephew, giggling in his reindeer onesie from his first Christmas morning. There are so many ways to heal, I’m reminded. So many different ways to see things.
Time for me to start a new skein of yarn, then stock a little Vitamin D in the bright sunlight out here before we head back to the city this afternoon. I’m curious to hear from you… what are YOU choosing to see differently this new year?
I don’t really make New Year Resolutions. Resolutions – or rather, things I’d like to try to do – come to me all year long, and I take a stab at them, and some stick and some don’t. Most don’t. I always aspire to write every day. I aspire to make room in my schedule for a regular yoga and meditation practice. Exercise goes in waves of on the wagon and off the wagon. Sleep rarely gets the prioritization it needs or deserves. But even so, I think we can’t help but think about a new year as a chance to start, in one way or another. To start new. To start fresh. To make change. I mean, each year we have to get used to writing the new year instead of the old year. If we can adapt in that way, why not others?
Personally, my themes haven’t changed since last year. They’re pretty simple.
Create space in my life and schedule for creative pursuits.
Continue my photography practice.
Write (every day, most days, some days) (and if not, at least write one sentence a day in a gratitude journal).
Be present. Focus on the joy in the now, instead of being saddened by the past or possible future.
That last one looms larger this year than in years prior. In some ways, I’ve spent the last couple of years in a sort of recovery phase, both physically and emotionally. As 2014 dawned, I’m more aware than ever that much of the pain I feel now is self-inflicted and comes largely from my wantings or longings for my future, not from any present condition. If I sit down and take stock of the here and now, there is absolutely zero basis for pain. My arthritis is well controlled. My work is challenging and engaging. My personal life is full of love. My home is full of light and music and laughter. And – to make a photography analogy – I tend to see the world with a shallow depth of field. If I focus on infinity, then I miss focusing on what’s right in front of me. Why not shift my focus to the beauty and joy that’s right here, up close, and let what’s beyond blur to glorious bokeh?
So as conventional resolutions go, I do have one: I’m participating in #365infocus, shooting and sharing one photo a day for the entire year. So far, I’m 13 for 13, and am really enjoying the challenge. It sounds like a little thing – to snap a photo of one moment a day and share it – but it’s incredible to me how challenging it can be to make room in a life for even that few moments of mindfulness. And I’ve always remembered my life through my journals – my memory is faulty. I’m enjoying having a photo album of the days of the month to keep my rememberings more fresh. If you’d like to keep tabs on the #365infocus project, my username is TwoEggBreakfast on there.
I had the epiphany on the bus to work the other day that I do what I do now because at some point in my past I started DOING it. Sounds ridiculously simple, but it’s true. So why not start making time and energy for the other things in my life that I’d like to be doing and … well … start doing them?
I’m also getting SaraGraceTakesPictures.com up and running so that I have a place to share my favorite photos outside of social media channels. It’s funny to me that I keep finding myself in this spot, where people in my life have feedback on whether and how I “split” my personalities: photographer, writer, professional, used-to-be-climber, when I’m the sum of all of those things and would rather just be a whole person in these channels where I share stories and information. That said, this blog platform didn’t allow for me to easily setup the type of photography site I had hoped to, and another platform did, so while my photos will naturally make appearances here, I didn’t want to make this a “photography blog” since this is my “life blog.” Starting another site just made sense.
Back to the point, and, time to go to work. Sending wishes for your new year to get off to a nice, fresh, productive start.
We’re having a lovely holiday season… Ryan and I started down the slippery slope of Christmas decorating in earnest this year, by picking up a few big cedar garlands and a swag. That lead to ribbon, and ornaments, and digging out some lights I’d bought on clearance for a summer backyard party we never had, all arranged on our plant stand in lieu of a Christmas tree. And then, suspended from the ceiling is the most beautiful glittery star… I was Vanna to Ryan’s Pat Sajak this time around, and I’ve spent the last few days just sitting back admiring his handiwork (and taking lots of photos). We’ve enjoyed good time with family, and I’m looking forward to two days off next week to clean up from all of our holiday mess-making and get a little bit of writing done, then a couple of days working from home to start off the new year right.
In the meantime, I had some reading to share.
“Acting professionally and being a professional are different things.”
Thanks go to Jonathon Colman for this jem of a share about living life “with an audience,” and taking our humanity as seriously as we take our professions (and creative pursuits). I remember swapping war stories with my dear friend Steph early on in my days as a climbing blogger about internet trolls… it’s been a long time since I did anything with a large enough audience to attract nasty comments, and that’s been nice.
My other amazingly talented friend Brendan Leonard (who, by the way, just published a fantastic new book about his life on the road) posted a lovely little post yesterday titled Do Things and Make Things Next Year. Perhaps I loved it a little more than I otherwise would have since we’ve spent the last number of days pickling everything in sight to give to our family for Christmas; and, because I read the post while standing on the bus, my arm wrapped around a pole, taking a quick break in between rows of the knitting in my hand. In favor of more time with family and friends (and my niece and nephew) we’ve done less this last year than in years past; but in a way, especially looking at the last few months, I’ve made more… and I anticipate plans in both regards for the coming year.
Gibson graduated out of her crate a couple weekends ago – we worked up to leaving her alone for a few hours in the living room, tucked happily on the sofa, instead of in her puppy crate while we were out of the house. Everything was going well – happy dog, happy people – until Monday, when we tucked her in as usual, and the mid-day received the text message you never want to get from your dogwalker: “Hi, Sara – it looks like Gibs chewed up one of your couch pillows.”
Downside: it was one of the sofa pillows.
Upside: it was not the sofa, itself.
She’s been destructive before: she likes to shred things. That behavior, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily separation anxiety … she tries it when we’re around, and we correct her; she’s also taken to destructive behavior when we leave her in the car, which wasn’t definitive: boredom? Separation anxiety? Some kind of poor conditioning timing on our part? Did she, one day, finally decide to be mischievous and dig in to tearing up a paper bag right before Ryan arrived back to the car, forever clinching in her mind the power of tearing up a paper bag to make her Ryan reappear? Who knows.
So on Tuesday, she went back into her crate, and mid-day my phone did its buzz-buzz with another note from the dogwalker. “Sad to report that Gibs has chewed up her crate bedding.”
So no mistake. It wasn’t a fluke. It looks like we’ve got a case of separation anxiety to learn how to manage, and hopefully counter condition. Thank goodness I’ve got a little bit of time off here and there during the holidays, to try to make some progress on rebuilding her confidence and trust. And thank goodness I’m scheduled to work from home on Friday, and was able to this morning, to help break the pattern of up in the morning, shower and get dressed, put on my jacket, pick up my keys and her moping because she knows from that routine that it’s another day she’s going to be left at home.
It’s strange… working from home used to be a requirement for me. I nearly quit a job when my boss told me that my schedule would be changing from two or three days a week in the office to five days a week in the office (and ultimately, did quit that job). I loved working from home full time when I was contracting – there’s the inevitable challenges with staying connected to colleagues, and fewer external pressures to maintain one’s personal hygiene, and the challenges that come with being not physically present in an organization that relies on drop-bys and water cooler conversation to keep the system operating. But with an organization that’s built for remote staff, many of those challenges are mitigated (except the personal hygiene one, which is solely my personal responsibility after all). And personally, I really thrive in those types of environments, where I have more control over my schedule, to be able to match my activity to my energy level rather than have my schedule dictated by the needs of a nine to five office and colleagues.
So it was a strange decision for me to go back to work in an office, with an organization where aside from a few long-term long-distance telework staffers, telework is not part of our culture. The decision was easy – the dominant culture in the office was relatively quiet and introverted; even at my desk in the open floor plan, I could put my “I’m sprinting” flag up, put my headphones on, and really, truly get work done. I love the building we’re located in (despite its no-dog policy); I love my bus ride to and from work, which gives me the time to knit, or read, or write (like now – I typed out this blog post on the bus). From the beginning, here, I enjoyed being able to arrive in the morning, crank my way through my work, then leave it at my desk when I left in the evening (at least, relative to other work I’ve done). And in my first half year with this job, I could count on less than one hand the number of work from home days I’ve taken, and haven’t really missed them at all until this week, when Gibson’s separation anxiety flared up.
I guess it’s a reminder that we have to make the best of where we are. Our work culture has changed – the office is noisier, the dominant culture shifting to a more even balance between extroversion and introversion, and it’s harder for me to get work done there, even with a door to close now. And that is what it is, and I’ll adapt. And I can only work from home on occasion, so we’ll make the most of our holiday time to help rebuild Gibson’s confidence about being home alone, and then dole out my work from home days judiciously, both so that she has a little extra company and a shaking up of her routine, and so that I can have the bursts of getting-stuff-crossed-off-the-list that happen when I work from home, that help me stay motivated and dig out of my buried-ness a tiny bit. On an average Wednesday morning, I’d probably have crossed nothing off my list by 11am, and instead only added numerous items to what needed doing; this morning, I crossed several items off the list and only added one or two things to the list. Net positive. I need to figure out how to make my in-office days net positive, more often than not.
So wish us all luck. Leaving Gibs and my hella productive zone to come in to the office for an afternoon full of meetings was not easy, but I made it. Cross your paws that Gibs does okay today and tomorrow, and that we can make some progress on her separation anxiety over the holiday. Any tips in that regard, we’re all ears.
A few days ago I did my semi-annual search for the words “make my smartphone a dumb phone” and found the samefew links as the last time I did that search.
A friend of mine discovered AppCertain, an “app nanny” that allows parents to turn off app access for their children (or, if you’re like me, allows my outer grown-up to turn off app access for my inner child). It lets me put my phone into “curfew mode,” disabling access to all of the phone’s apps, leaving only the SMS text capability and the actual phone itself intact. Upside: unplugged. Downside: no camera and Google Maps. So after a little poking around and thinking about the behavior of mine that I was trying to get a better handle on, I took a pared down approach.
Goodbye, Facebook. Sayonara email. See you later, Twitter. After awhile, web browser.
I still have access to my camera and Instagram, and to Google Maps and my diary app and such, and I still have Flipboard and Feedly. So technically I might see some Facebook and Twitter content when flipping through my news readers. But there’s still a big difference between flipping through Facebook and flipping through Flipboard: because of the design of Flipboard, the Internet, at some not too distant point in my flipping, comes to an end. When that happens, I stow my phone back in my pocket and look out the bus window instead of scrolling through Facebook mindlessly, ad infinitum, my entire way to work.
This little change has freed up enough time for me to notice that I’m neither writing nor exercising anymore. And once you notice a thing like that, and you don’t have a magical infinitely time-sucking device in your pocket anymore, that leads to thinking about the thing you’ve noticed, and then your thoughts turn to wonderings about what your favorite yoga teacher’s schedule is, and you make a mental note to check later on during a quick bit of computer time at home.
And then, instead of looking right then and there at the yoga schedule and getting sucked into your deviceworld habits, you think about how little time there is for writing. Alarm clock. Dog walk. Shower. Breakfast. Work. Dinner. Exhaustion. Sleep. A few of those things are mildly negotiable, but somehow it never feels like enough time. So you think about your friend Brendan who just published a book based on scribbled notes on scraps of paper that he scrawled out WHILE DRIVING his car (or van) up and down and around the western United States. And the book made you laugh, and made your eyes well over with tears, and not just because it was written by one of your people.
So this morning, inspired by a writer whose blog was shared with me this week by another writing friend, I packed my off-the-grid iPad so that I could sit on the bus and write a journal entry. Why not? I might not write the next great American novel this way, but I will exercise my writing muscles, at the very least. And this is more words than I would have written scrolling evermore downward through the Facebook app.
So I’ll miss a few baby pictures and cat memes. I’ll still catch most of what’s really important (at least the parts delivered via Facebook) through a daily peek at my “Close Friends” list and during the times I have to get on there for work. I do, after all, still work in social media. But what I gain is more time–that precious resource that, when working a 9 to 5, I never seem to have enough of. Somewhere along the line, I seem to have traded mindless hours in front of the television for only slightly more mindful hours in front of other types of screens, so like many years ago when I left my TV behind, the white space that’s come with being less connected has felt really nice.
How do you keep yourself mindful of your device time?