goals/intentions


I turned 38 this morning, so I’m starting my 39th year. Here are my new goals and intentions:

Be as open-hearted as I can be in every interaction I have.

Rock my first year of grad school.

Continue to master being kind to myself.

Engage in my long distance relationship with Reanna in a way that is mutually supportive and minimally stressful.

Buy ingredients instead of prepared food 95% of the time.

Take opportunities for leadership when I see them.

Expect the best.

Make music with Abandon Ship and other collaborators.

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Inspired by my brother Damian and by the book My Year of Living Biblically, I’ve been taking a weekly sabbath this term. I am not religious but the idea of a day in which I was not allowed to work fascinated me. It seemed like a good way to take care of myself. It has been great. It is a radical lifestyle change for me, almost shocking. I have four rules for the day:

1. No school or business related work at all.

2. No fretting.

3. No counting, timing, or keeping track of anything.

4. No planning.

It’s a work in progress. Some grey areas I’m wondering about are reading and writing. So far I haven’t been doing them, except some brainstorming… which can verge on planning, now that I think of it… well, that’s why it’s a work in progress. The key elements are that it is restful and rejuvenating, and that I only do things for the pleasure of doing them, not for some future result.

I almost called this post “My Fledgeling, Faltering Sabbath,” because after three good weeks, I worked straight through last weekend, ten hour days, just like old times, and it’s looking like I’ll do the same this weekend. I have a draft of my thesis due on Tuesday (actually it was due tomorrow, but I renegotiated) and I will need at least every coherent hour until then to pull that off. I wonder if I can get back on track. Often I find that I only stick with things as long as I have a “no exceptions” rule. “Trying to do such and such a little more” is rarely effective. And I don’t have a religious community to keep me on the straight and narrow. Hmm. It seems like breaking my sabbath to worry about my breaking my sabbath.

I am a few weeks past halfway through my 38th year, conveniently marked by my brother Damian’s birthday, and the start of my spring term. Here’s an update on how my intentions for the year are coming along.

1. Add new knowledge to the field of social psychology: I have just finished (I hope) crunching numbers for my honors thesis, and I can say that I have helped produce some new evidence, at least. It is not as sexy as I had hoped, but I have learned a whole lot about the process of psychology research, and that is the main point, as my advisor keeps reminding me.

2. Break my habit of scratching and picking my skin, including biting my lip: I have made some progress here, using a technique Reanna told me about: snapping myself with a hair band around my wrist whenever I had the urge to touch myself. My success varies clearly with my stress level. It requires mindfulness. Another insight/confusion: picking and lip biting, I can tell, are pure stress responses, but the scratching I think is more than that. I seem to be an itchier than normal person. A dermatologist told me that it was the “notoriously harsh” hand-made soap I have been using. I accepted that explanation until I realized on my ride home that he had been wrong. I only use soap on a few key areas. By his reasoning my armpits should be itchier than most of me, and they are not. Any ideas?

3. Celibacy: This has been no problem. I have not been tested, however; no one that I am aware of has wanted to have sex with me. When I first told Grace about this one, she said, “You are going to learn a lot from doing that, but you know, now that you are committed, you will immediately meet someone who will make it very challenging.” Well, not yet.

4. Dance every day, working on 1) musicality 2) vocabulary 3) style: This is going pretty well, though some days my dancing is just a token, so I could say I did. I had a big breakthrough in musicality on my fast dancing at Seattle Balboa Festival in February. The choreography I have been working on with Karly has been helping my working vocabulary. And the main reason I decided to take ballet is to improve my poise and lines. It is easy for me to get into an I-could-be-doing-so-much-more/better state. There is a guy who started in the same beginning class that I did in Eugene who really dove in and is now a rock-star dancer in Portland, winning national competitions. But I still give myself a thumbs up on this one.

5. Finish bachelor’s degree: Yes. I am on track to graduate with honors on June 13, 2009.

6. Get accepted into a couples and family therapy graduate program: Yes. I start in the University of Oregon’s CFT masters program on September 29 (happy birthday to me!), 2009. I’m very excited.

7. Maintain this blog: I have a lot more ideas for posts than actual posts, but I am pretty happy with NME so far. It has been a consistent source of inspiration for me. I get about 20 clicks a day, on average, which seems pretty respectable. The lowest I go is three (two of which are my ever-hopeful-for-a-post Mom, I just discovered), and my peak was 62 on March 31, the day after I posted the guide to my sidebar. I wonder who you all are.

8. Meditate every day: Yes. Sometimes just a few minutes, but yes.

9. Produce a record with David Waingarten: This is not going to happen this year, which I’m sad about. I love this guy’s voice and songwriting. He also makes movies, though, and that’s what he did with his time and money this year. The movie looks good, though. Here’s a preview: This Is Now

10. Record an EP with my band, Abandon Ship: This project is not on schedule, partly because of #12, below, and partly because of how much work an honors thesis is, on top of an internship and classes. I am working on it , but it will almost certainly not be done by my birthday.

11. See healthcare provider each month until all my body concerns are resolved: Yes, I have been doing this. I’ve seen a dermatologist, an orthopedist, a urologist, and two chiropractors. I’m disappointed with the results, so far. I seem to be collecting concerns faster than I am resolving them. Hmm… That makes it seem like I am on my last legs. I am quite healthy, overall, actually.

12. Set up a slick system of musical collaboration over the internet and use it regularly: This has come together much slower than I anticipated, but I have every reason to believe I will be up and running by early May. I can hardly wait.

13. Shift my schedule three hours earlier for at least one term: In bed by 11 pm: I’m very happy with this one, so far. I have not pulled it off perfectly for a term straight—my dance schedule conflicts somewhat with it—but I’d say 90% of the time I’m in bed by 11:30, at least, and that means I’m waking up naturally before my alarm 90% of the time. I love it!

14. Sing out every day: I have not been doing this as I had hoped. I am still inspired to sing out like my friend Zen Zenith, but I have not been working on it with any regularity.

15. Take African dance classes: Yes, I have taken two classes from master dancer Alseny Yansane, and they were awesome. Unfortunately, I have been having this low back pain that has kept me from dancing with that extreme athleticism. When my back stops hurting, I will go back.

16. Write at least one song per month: Nope. I have not written even one complete song. Ouch.

17. Make at least one of each item in Maya’s cookbook: Yummm. I have made four of 19 recipes: Fluffy Whole Wheat Pancakes, Super Hero Granola, Corn Chowder, and Maya’s Tomato soup. They were all excellent except I burned the granola.

I watched a training video for recognizing post-traumatic stress disorder in psychopathology yesterday. Part of it was a Vietnam veteran describing his stress cues—he had to monitor and manage his stress level carefully so that he wouldn’t become scary or dangerous to those around him. He said something like “If I find myself scanning the bushes for gooks, or deciding which person in the room I would need to kill first, if it came down to it, I know that I need to lower my stress level.” The man’s story was moving and I cried quietly throughout it, but at that moment I was surprised to find myself a little jealous of him. My thought was “It must be nice to have such obvious stress cues.” It wouldn’t be nice at all, of course, but the sneakiness of my stress cues does make it difficult to manage my stress, which is a big part of my ongoing project to master being kind to myself. I was inspired to come up with a list of stress cues that I could try monitoring, to see if it’s helpful. Here it is so far:

I can feel tension in my solar plexus and between my shoulder blades

I am craving sweets

I am having trouble with focus or motivation

I am grinding my teeth, usually along with a drum beat in my head

I am biting my lip or picking at my skin

I am in the grip of an unpleasant emotion

I am experiencing intrusive thoughts

My writing or typing gets sloppy

I am easily frustrated

I am feeling jumpy

Sitting up straight seems out of the question

March 24, 2009

Dear Nathen Lester:

It is our pleasure to inform you that the Couples and Family Therapy admissions committee has recommended to the Graduate School that you be admitted to the Fall, 2009 class. Your credentials, letters of recommendation and response to our interview questions suggest to us that you can excel in the CFT program.

…..

Once again, congratulations on your acceptance into our program. I am happy to talk with you at any time prior to your enrollment next fall. We look forward to working with you!

Sincerely,

Jeff Todahl, Ph.D., LMFT (KY)

CFT Program Director

I am stuffed full of three giant, thick, crusty whole wheat and buttermilk pancakes, made from a recipe in the little zine, The House of Plenty Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Good Eating from Damian and Maya’s Joshua Tree Kitchen, by my sister in law, Maya, AKA Flavorgirl. They were, as promised, the best pancakes I have ever tasted, and I consider myself a pancake connoisseur.

Over New Years, I revisited my goals for the year and, deciding they were still pretty solid, made no changes. Here is my first addition: This year I will make at least one of each item in Maya’s cookbook. I’m excited to begin. I need a little food-shakeup. I love the food that I make, but I’ve been making it all for a long time. I can’t think of a better place to start. Maya is an excellent, creative cook. Funny, too: “As you may have noticed I almost never use regular sugar. But in this recipe, it works best. You can, of course, use sucanat if you are even more die-hard than me, but somehow I doubt that you are.” And she’s right, possibly unless you are, or are related to, Nicole Martin.

One of my intentions this year is to work on three elements of my dancing: musicality, vocabulary, and style. By vocabulary I mean working vocabulary, and by that I mean how much I can remember and use when I’m out on the dance floor. I’ve spent the last several years developing my lead, which in the partner-dancing world is like your accent. My dancing is a lot like my Spanish: My accent is great but my vocabulary is like a three-year-old’s. I don’t mean to denigrate myself by saying that; being able to lead well is really important. Maybe it’s more like being able to make specific sounds clearly and intentionally than like an accent. This may be taking the dancing-as-language metaphor too far, but I think learning to social dance is a lot like learning a language.

Anyway, I’ve just started learning some choreography with my friend and teacher, Karly, thinking it’s the best way to increase my working vocabulary. (This is her, upside-down, dancing with Russ, a guy from Portland.) Swing dancing is almost always improvised, so I’ve learned very little choreography and I’ve found it quite challenging when I have tried it, remembering what to do next, and it’s reminded me of how I feel on the dance floor, racking my brain for something interesting to do. I imagine that learning this choreography will help my musicality and style, as well. It’s a dance by two of my favorite swing dancers, Todd Yannacone and Naomi Uyama. They are improvising, not doing choreography, but what they do is so musical! The song (a great one, by Duke Ellington) is moderately fast but they look relaxed and they hit the quirky little rhythmic phrases in such an effortlessly cool way, like the hit at :45, and the bu-bu-bum-bum at :55. I also like how they flow between Lindy (the circular stuff), Charlseton (the kicky stuff), tandem Charleston (the back-to-front kicky stuff), jazz steps, and just screwing around. And I love how much fun they look like they are having. They obviously know and really like the song and like dancing with each other. Here it is:

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