If I ever set out to write a memoir, one of the things that will be abundantly clear is that I have spent an inordinate amount of my time trying to reconcile seeming opposites and contradictions in my life and my personality. They say that geography is destiny, so I blame it on growing up in Dubuque, Iowa, a town that (at least in the 60’s) was rife with dichotomies. North End/South End; Flats/Bluffs; Irish/German; Catholics/Everyone else.
One of the ways this tension of opposites is playing out in my life right now is my aversion to inspirational and “life hacking” websites, twitter feeds, memes on Facebook, etc. And, conversely, my attraction to the very same.
The aversion stems from a couple of things. Even if they’re too treacly to bear or potently not true, they proliferate. Also, they suggest (in 25 words or less) that you can fix your life by applying one easy concept. Life is not that simple. Right now, I am in the “struggling to create a life” phase of major life change. Every day for me is both easy and incredibly hard. It is complicated. My emotions are up and down more frequently and with more dizzying speed than any roller coaster. I alternate between complete silence and frenzied interaction. When we are living through times like this in our lives, we see over-simplifications and light-airy platitudes as the bullpucky they are. On Twitter, I am following @AdamsLisa, a woman living with metastatic breast cancer. She rails against the use of breast cancer pink awareness by many businesses as a marketing campaign. They’re all about survivors of the disease, not about people living with it. When she calls them on it, they basically say they’re focusing on uplifting messages. So much for the realities.
The attraction to inspirational messages stems from the desire to manage my emotions, marshall my positive energy and motivation to keep moving forward – as opposed to standing still when that appears to be my only option. I know that how I think about my life, my time, my days makes all the difference to whether I sleep at night, satisfied that I’ve been doing the “work” of my life – or whether I am in my arm chair at 3 a.m. panicked and crying.
I’ve waded through a lot of online stuff, and I’ve found a few things that are good go-to sources for self-management. And by trial-and-error, I’ve discovered a few life hacks of my own that give me some direction when I start to feel directionless.
- Every morning, nestled in my email, is the daily post from “Marc and Angel Hack Life”. I never go a day without reading it. Most of their posts are lists. They can be repetitive, but there are a couple of things that set them apart from similar sites, in my mind. First, many of their lists are questions, and good ones, to ask yourself. Second, they have a way of addressing the complexity of life choices while also suggesting we make things too complicated. An occasional swift kick to the booty doesn’t hurt either.
- Once a week, I get “The Great Discontent”, an on-line magazine that interviews one artist, designer, photographer, etc. each week. The interviews are not short sound bytes. They cover both the difficulties/failures and successes these creatives have faced. Invariably, I read something that either energizes me or makes me rethink an attitude that has been holding me back.
- On Facebook, I follow SRF Creative Studio, to see artist Stephanie Failmetzger’s posts chronicling the progress of her art, one piece at a time. Her work is beautiful, demanding, and squeezed into her life amidst raising a family and a job. Talk about reminding others that we can probably fit more into our days! I also follow some local cycling organizations, which keeps me abreast of local happenings for an activity that I love and ways I can participate in keeping the momentum going as the city works on being bicycle and walking friendly. Finally, I follow Active.com even though they post a lot that doesn’t apply to me. Their posts on cycling, general fitness, and nutrition are short, interesting, and a reminder I need.
- On Twitter, I have learned to follow lots of people – and to unfollow them if their tweets are mainly repetitive chatter. Recently, due to recommendations from several sources (most notably my cousin, the artist Stephanie Failmetzger) I have been following Maria Popova @brainpicker. Brainpicker describes itself as “A discovery engine for meaningful knowledge, fueled by cross-disciplinary curiosity” and is curated by Popova. There is quite a bit of repetition in tweets, but the information is interesting and, yes, inspiring. Another person I follow is Ian Lawton @ilawton, whose site “soul seeds: seed the change” has had some truly insightful posts. Be warned, though, he tweets incessantly and continually feeds to the same articles. I have wavered at to whether I would keep following, but every time I actually click on the link, I find a post or reflection that triggers a thoughtful response. I’ve kept one or two higher education folks on my twitter feed, the best of which for my money is Eric Stoller @EricStoller. His tweets are a blend of personal and professional, and when he shares content I almost always find it valuable.
My personal “life hacks”:
- First, I don’t know if these really qualify as “life hacks” so much as activities I’ve discovered that help me feel like I’m working on my life, even though I am not actually employed yet. In order to make myself get out of the apartment and interact with the world, I instituted an Instagram project in which I take a daily picture of something I see here in Minneapolis. This accomplishes two things: gets me out and learning my way around the city AND forces me to pay attention to my surroundings while I’m out. I created some rules for the project in order to provide a sense of discipline for myself. I must take the photo with my phone (so no staying home because I don’t feel like packing up the camera equipment) and the photo I post must, unless humanly impossible, be taken the same day it is posted. If you want to find me on Instagram I’m jhnsn728.
- As my friend, Sue, puts it, I now “speak to people I don’t have to”. This particular life-hack I picked up from my friend Mike, who has always done it. I’ve discovered that you learn so many things this way! To illustrate, the other day I was walking through a nearby neighborhood and stopped at an inviting little grocery store just to check it out. I struck up a conversation with the young man behind the counter, Maxwell Singletary, because the store t-shirt design was very distinctive. Turns out, Maxwell had drawn the illustration, and also had for sale ($1 each) xeroxed copies of two comic books he drew, both versions of “The Metamorphosis”. Well worth my $2, and worth the effort of speaking to someone I didn’t have to!
- Volunteering for events, also a life hack I picked up from Mike, has been an awesome way to get to know more about both my new city and the people living here. In the case of the Basilica Block Party, I gained access to an event I could never have afforded to attend. But perhaps the best of these experiences has been the Open Streets Minneapolis events, where I volunteered to be a roving photographer. Having a camera, and the job of documenting the events, opens so many people up and gives me the opportunity to practice photography, a creative outlet that I love. The fact that Mike has loaned me a better camera than I can afford to own, with multiple lenses, has been amazing. These events bring out hundreds of people and businesses into their neighborhoods to have fun and interact. I have met some truly interesting folks – activists, nonprofit reps, local artists.
- Learning how to cook nutritious, fresh, and local on a budget. Partly from necessity, partly because I love the challenge of making delicious yet healthy food. I have a few recipes I will be sharing in the next weeks on my recipes page here on jenion (which I have been ignoring shamefully). Some recipes have come verbatim from another source, which will of course be cited. But I’ve ventured into creating a few of my own, as well. Hopefully, you’ll try some of them yourselves!
- Finally, one of the things I’ve always said I wanted to do was write more. Well, the only way to do this is to write. So I have two hacks for this one. The first is that I have several notebooks of varying sizes and one goes with me on every outing about the city or to a local coffee shop. I jot down ideas, thoughts, fragments of stories. Second, I’ve begun using a device to focus my regular writing practice. I use a random word generator online, then write something – a reflection, a memory, a story – triggered by that word. I got this idea from two sources. The first was a journal I created a few years ago in which I did basically this same thing, though it was used more as a tool for uncovering personal issues than as a creative outlet. The second source is a great site on WordPress called WordBowl. I haven’t started publishing/posting any of these random word stories, but if/when I do, I’ll let you know. Also, if you have a word you’d like to suggest to me, I’ll take those in the comments section! If I actually write a piece based on your word, I will share it with you even if I’m not publishing to the blog or my Tumblr site (so include your email if I don’t have it!)
And there you have it, my inspirational go-tos and life hacks. As I said at the beginning of this post, I am always attempting to reconcile opposites within my personality and my thinking. I’m guessing that my quest for a unified self will be a life-long endeavor. I’d be very interested in knowing if you have recommendations for sites or hacks that work for you – please feel free to share in the comments!