After my death meditation last month, the biggest regret I’m taking with me into 2019 are the writing goals I have yet to achieve. Because some of these goals, like being traditionally published, require circumstances beyond my control, I recognize there is only so much I can do.
That’s where discipline as a way to freedom comes in.
I want to be free of the nagging thoughts, the procrastination, the fear that what I’m doing is not enough. So I’m taking the time now to develop a disciplined plan for my writing that, at least on my end, means that by the time we’re celebrating 2020 I will feel more at peace with the work I’ve done.
Since this is a year-long process, I’m devoting January to the planning stage. I’m deciding on my specific goals, then working backwards from December 2019 to figure out what I have to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to reach these goals.
For example, one of my goals is to write and submit 12 guest blog posts in 2019, like this one that got published in 2017. I only submitted two last year (one didn’t get published and the other is to be determined). I enjoy writing about minimalism, joy, dogs, libraries, traveling, etc., and I’d like to share my thoughts with a wider audience. This is easier writing for me, then say a novel, so I feel a nice sense of accomplishment when I crank out a blog post in a relatively short amount of time.
How this goal translates into activity, is that I can easily break it down into writing one a month, which means I need to schedule guest blog writing on my calendar for six hours each month, in two three-hour increments.
I was going to keep it at one three-hour increment, but then I recognized that I often underestimate how long it will take me to do something, and I made a change accordingly.
This one act of self-awareness made me feel pretty dang good, as if I really am more serious this time around about achieving my goals, and it’s not something I’m doing on a whim.
YAY for small wins!
I’m also feeling pretty good about my role in this process thanks to a comment made by one of my extended family members over the holidays as we were eating homemade cookies – “I’m awful at self-regulation,” this family member said.
Yes, me too! Although I’d never described my problem as being awful at “self-regulation,” before.
I’ve shared this story before, but I think it’s the best one I have to describe my limits at self-regulation. I was sitting in my therapist’s office, lamenting that I couldn’t keep my room neat and organized. “My clothes never make it into the hamper,” I complained.
My therapist started laughing. She said she was picturing my clothes marching around on the floor. Then she said something along the lines of “Kelly, who is the subject of that sentence?”
“My clothes.” I said this matter of fact, as if it was obvious.
My therapist gave me a look.
“Oh my God, MY CLOTHES.” My whole life came crashing to a halt as I realized I was the one not putting my clothes in my hamper.
I approach 2019 with a renewed sense of what I can do to reach my goals and how the choices I make either take me closer to reaching them or keep me from getting where I want to be.
My life is, and always will be, God and Kelly willing. I have complete confidence in God’s role in my life. Now, it’s time to act like I have confidence in my own.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I don’t mean Christmas. Although, let’s be honest. I do enjoy some good Christmas spirit, ginger snap cookies, and pictures of dogs with Santa Claus.
Dodger with Santa Claus
What I’m talking about is my annual reflection on what I would do in 2019 if I knew it was my last year on Earth as Kelly Kandra Hughes. Yes, I know. At face value a death meditation is a morbid topic, particularly during a season that is known for its joy and wonder.
But that’s exactly the purpose of a death meditation – to make you mindful of your limited time on Earth so that you make better decisions in how you choose spend your time.
You don’t have to take my word for it. As I’ve written about before, thinking about death is essential for living in joy, as written about by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, as well as happiness and productivity expert Dr. Christine Carter, PhD, in TheSweet Spot, and lay people such as Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.
During my most recent death meditation as I thought about what if 2019 is my last year alive, two thoughts bubbled to the front of my mind:
I am so blessed;
I still haven’t sold any books.
These thoughts make my 2019 relatively easy. For thought #1, I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing. This includes:
Loving Heath as much as possible
At Athabsaca Falls, Jasper
Petting as many dogs as I can
Kelly and Phyllos
Wandering around in the woods, ideally with a dog
We never did learn who this yellow lab is!
Spending time with my family, especially my niece
Saying Goodbye at the Harrisburg Bus Station
Absent from my list is seeing bears in the wild and visiting as many national parks as I can. It’s not so much that I’m experiencing a been there and done that feeling, as these two goals came about from recent death meditations, and they majorly contributed to how I spent my time in 2018.
It’s more that in the past year I’ve learned that wonder is so much more wonderful when it’s not planned.
Instead, I will (ideally) remain open to the world around me, (try to) have zero expectations for what an experience should be like, and instead (hopefully) stay present in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.
Which brings me to thought #2: I still haven’t sold any books.
Being the optimist that I am, I am already generating BIG PLANS for all the writing I’m going to do in 2019. I’m not going to go into detail in this blog post because I’m still plotting (haha) and planning the stories that I want to write, finish, or revise next year. But I can assure you that 2019 is the year where I do my absolute best to sell one (or more) of my manuscripts to a publisher.
Let me be clear: I have made a lot of progress towards this goal. In 2018, I wrote three picture books (around 500 words each), one chapter book (16,000 words), one middle grade novel (48,000 words), one New Adult novel (57,000 words), and one adult novel that is hand-written on small yellow note pads and still needs to be typed so your guess is as good as mine for how many words it actually is. For the record, my guess is 50,000 words.
Also, for the record: I do not advise anyone to write a novel by hand. Having to type my story into Word is quickly becoming one of my least favorite writing activities of all time.
If you’re wondering why I don’t consider ALL THIS WRITING I’ve done in 2018 my absolute best is terms of getting published, it comes down to one reason.
I write books and then I don’t submit them to agents with any sort of tenacity typically required of an unpublished author. I like to tell myself it’s because God is figuring out the details and I don’t have to worry about that part of the process. That’s just a cop-out excuse.
It’s not my job to manage the universe; but it is my job to give the universe something to work with.
This time I spend on Earth is God and Kelly willing and because of my fear, Divine Providence can only do so much. If I don’t share my work with people who are in a position to publish it, then I am making it so much harder for that right-place-right-time moment to occur that God has so graciously granted me in the past.
As I thought about my death, what I realized is that I have been afraid of failing as a writer.
What if I write an amazing story and it still doesn’t get published?
What if I write a dozen amazing stories and none of them get published?
So instead I’ll watch one more YouTube video of a dog trying to sneak a tater tot or check out Instagram for pictures of polar bears or mindlessly scroll through Facebook seeing what friends/family are posting instead of researching agents or submitting my work or writing.
If I don’t do my absolute best, then I always have a reason for why I haven’t achieved my goal of being a traditionally published writer. It keeps me in my comfort zone. Giving up the fantasy that the book I’m writing is going to be my debut book and a best-seller and become beloved by millions throughout the world (all publishing goals of mine) terrifies me.
But now what terrifies me more is taking my last breath in 2019 and wishing I had done more to become a traditionally published author.
Thanks to my death meditation, I’ve now realized it’s necessary to give up my clung-to fantasies in order to make them actually come true. The only way for me to get traditionally published is to put my work out there. Agents and publishers may so no. And, if they say no, then that particular fantasy for that particular book is dead (for the time being).
That’s a scary thought and it’s one that has kept me from doing my absolute best with my writing. I have spent countless hours this past year allowing myself to procrastinate and waste time and generally do things which are counter-productive to my publishing goals.
I think I’m *finally* done with that, and I have my death meditation to thank. I am living out all my other goals and dreams and I don’t want to waste any more time on the one that I’ve wanted the longest.
So, what does my absolute best include? Not letting the fear of failure get in my way (i.e. NO MORE PROCRASTINATING), improving my writing craft, writing as many new stories as possible, submitting my work to agents, and then keep on celebrating the blessings in my life – Heath, family, and dogs.
Heath with Smudge
I look forward to the opportunity to share this journey with you in 2019. Thank you for your love and support.
A few months ago, my friend and I came up with what we thought is a brilliant title for a children’s book: I Did My Best – I Made A Friend.
In hindsight, maybe it’s not as brilliant as I originally thought. But, this idea does perfectly sum up my experience at HippoCamp 18, the creative nonfiction writing conference I attended last week in Lancaster, PA.
HippoCamp started four years ago as the first writing conference devoted solely to the craft and publishing of creative nonfiction. For those outside the publishing world, sometimes people think creative nonfiction means taking liberties with true stories to create more drama and suspense.
Creative nonfiction simply means the use of literary techniques to tell a nonfiction story. Remember how I read five books on happiness last year?
All of the above are examples of creative nonfiction, as are memoirs, essays, and blogs. So, right up my alley!
I was also hoping to learn a few more writing skills to improve my craft and let me tell you – HippoCamp 18 delivered.
Joey Garcia wowed me with her Pitch Yourself as a Guest on TV News or Radio Shows presentation. She also had us practice coming up with a pitch. Here’s what I came up with:
Not sure you’re ready to take the next step with your significant other? Meet our next guest who eloped with her husband three weeks after they met and hear what she has to say about the importance of values in relationships.
Of course, being the Hermione Granger that I am, I volunteered to read mine first.
It turns out I misunderstood the concept of pitching, and what I wrote above would be something a news anchor would say. Joey encouraged me to break it down to the actual pitch, which would be one sentence.
Here’s my second try:
I eloped with a stranger three weeks after we met.
This time, I got it right and it felt doubly good because I always enjoy talking about my incredibly handsome husband.
Our Wedding, February 12th, 2016, Nashville Courthouse
As a fun twist, the woman who went after me, B. Lynn Goodwin, pitched her story as, “it’s never too late,” which referred to meeting her husband. If you’re interested, you can read more about her story Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 here.
As I’ve been putting a Writers Digest humor course in my virtual shopping cart every time I get an email advertising it, then ultimately deciding no because of the price tag, I was thoroughly delighted by their offering. I hope they offer a workshop next year.
I also learned some useful presentation skills during Amy Eaton’sGetting Your Words Into the Air session. What I liked most about Amy’s presentation is that she had us stand up and go through a bunch of vocal and space exercises.
“Take up space. You belong here,” she said at one point. I straightened my back by at least two inches after that.
Her presentation ended up being rather timely for me, as I was scheduled to present the next day at the conference. I joined four other writers for the Flash Sessions and we each had 8-9 minutes to give a lightning round talk.
Unfortunately, Margaret Montet couldn’t attend because of a family emergency.
I’ve presented at conferences before, but they were always as an academic,and usually about tobacco prevention or teaching in the social sciences. This presentation was my first time as a writer speaking about my writing process.
My inner Hermione had me practicing well in advance and multiple times, too. I think I practiced at least 10 times on my own, and Heath listened three times. He also helped me get the timing of my slides just right since every slide featured an animated GIF like this one and I wanted people to laugh, but not be distracted.
I still felt nervous, despite all my practicing, and Sunday morning I found myself getting up in the middle of two different presentations to ….
Well, I’ll just leave it to your imagination what I was doing because I’m pretty sure my mom is reading this and she is of the old school mentality to “suffer in silence.”
The whole reason I ended up presenting at HippoCamp 18 in the first place is back when they had their call for submissions, I had been devouring self-help material while procrastinating (one of the talking points in my presentation). I came across the idea to, “do one brave thing every day,” and so submitting a proposal as a presenter fell into the brave category for me.
So there I was standing in front of a room of fellow writers on Sunday morning. The big conference room. I had imagined one of the tinier spaces. I gave myself a pep talk — I could do this.
And I did!
I responded to Dave later that getting positive feedback through animal GIFs is my new metric for achievement.
My favorite part of the weekend, however, was not the chance to present. It was meeting so many new writers and hearing where they are in their writing journeys.
I connected with one woman, in particular, the first night of the conference. It was during the mashed potato martini hour.
This woman shared something personal with me. I was so moved by what she said that when I was walking around Lancaster’s Central Market the next morning and felt strangely compelled to buy a single sunflower, I realized in my walk back to the conference center that she was the reason. I found her in the breakfast room and gave the flower to her.
We then sat together for breakfast, both Saturday and Sunday, as well as lunch on Sunday. We also ended the conference together sitting next to each other during the closing remarks and door prizes. This time turned out to be one of my favorite conference moments of all-time.
The first door prize was awarded to the person who registered first for the conference. The registration site went live at 12:00am on February 1st and the first registration came in at 12:08am. My new friend leaned over and whispered, “I think it was me.” Sure enough, it was!
This conference was everything I could have hoped for and more. I did my best and I made a friend. How lucky am I?
I’m already looking forward to HippoCamp 19, which will be August 23rd – 25th, again in downtown Lancaster. In the meantime, thank you to Donna Talarico, conference organizer and Founder of Hippocampus Magazine and Books, all the volunteers, attendees, and presenters.
Also, thank you to the Marriott for your delicious food and excellent service. The treats were so scrumptious, I snuck out two whoopie pies to bring home to Heath.
I’ve never been one of those people obsessed with supermodels. Until I found out that there’s such a thing as wildlife supermodels. Meet Bruno!
And, yes, he really is this good looking in person, plus he oozes charm. I mean, what bear doesn’t?
In all seriousness, I really didn’t understand the concept of a wildlife photography model until my husband and I took part in my Christmas 2017/Valentine’s Day 2018/Anniversary 2018/Birthdays 2018/Christmas 2018 present to ourselves.
All the way back in December 2017, I was watching episode 309 of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild. In this episode, Jack and his wife visited a ranch in Montana to photograph bears. Hmm, I thought. That would be the perfect present for my husband for Christmas, et al., since he’s a photographer and I’ve wanted to visit Montana for many years now.
I immediately Googled Triple D Game Farm and discovered that they offer photography workshops for the public. There were a whole host of options to choose from, such as horses or birds of prey.
The choice was tough. I, however, couldn’t resist a workshop featuring baby wildlife. With this option, there’d be a little something for both of us: adorable animals for me to dote over and new photography skills for my husband to master.
I was determined NOT to make the same mistake I made last year in surprising my husband with his birthday present.
One of the things I love most about my husband is his curiosity and drive to learn as much as he can about anything that interests him (which is a lot). A few years ago, he made a goal to be fluent in Spanish by December 2017. I wanted to support him, so when a Norfolk friend told us about a Spanish immersion school in which she and her daughter attended in Antigua, Guatemala, I surprised my husband with a week-long program for his birthday last year (May 2017).
Unfortunately, because I wanted the trip to be before December 2017, the only time that worked for him to travel to Guatemala was at a time when I couldn’t go with him. In hindsight, I should have said to heck with the goal date, because I missed out on my husband’s first international trip. We could have hiked a volcano together!
Lesson learned! So, hello, baby wildlife!
The workshop was lead by an incredibly talented and knowledgeable photographer, KathleenReeder. After observing Kathleen during the workshop, I felt a renewed sense of certainty that I made the right decision to quit my teaching job two years ago. Kathleen is a natural teacher, who thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing and enthusiastically shared her gifts with others. In other words, a model teacher who embodied many of the qualities I lost (or never had) after choosing a profession by default rather than true interest and passion.
Every day the photographers would assemble at the crack of dawn to work with different animals, which included baby foxes, wolves, coyotes, otters, pine martens, Canada Lynxes, and a juvenile mountain lion.
Perhaps I’m just naïve, or, maybe the animal lover in me is too attached to the possibility that I could be wandering around the woods and happen across Canadian lynx kittens posing in a log and get to witness the adorableness of it, but I had no idea a lot of wildlife photos are staged.
Watching the animals land on their marks during photo shoots in between romping and playing is something I will marvel over for the rest of my life.
Then, I met Bruno.
You may be thinking that Bruno is not a baby animal, and you’d be right. I think Bruno is maybe 6 years old.
As part of the workshop, participants were offered the opportunity to photograph additional species for a fee. Talk amongst the participants who had previously attended Triple D workshops was that Bruno the Bear is a ham. He’ll pose during his photo sessions and look at the photographers to make sure they’re watching. He loves laughter and applause and applesauce and wants everyone to love him loving those things.
Of course, I suggested we participate in a Bruno the Bear photoshoot. No brainer, really. Just look at him!
Since I was only attending the workshop as a “sidekick,” I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs of the animals myself, lest I be charged the full cost of attending. So, the photos in this post are some of my husband’s cast-off photos. He said he’s saving his best ones for his own social media purposes, unless I wanted to pay him. HAHA, he’s such a funny guy. He and Bruno could be BFFs, if Bruno wasn’t, you know, a wild bear who just happened to also be a supermodel.
Today is the third morning in a row I’ve woken up exhausted from narcolepsy. This occurrence is nothing new.
What’s different this time is that it’s the third morning in a row I’ve woken up from a dream about teaching. It’s always the same dream, though the details are different: I’m unprepared for class and make a fool of myself in front of the students.
In the dream, I feel myself losing control of the situation, the classroom, the students. My humiliation becomes deeper and deeper. I don’t know what to do. Then I wake up.
These types of dreams are not unique to narcolepsy. Though because of narcolepsy, my dreams will last significantly longer and be in much more vivid detail and color than a typical person’s.
I also just happen to be house-sitting in the Chicago suburbs right now, an area where I lived for 9 years as a psychology professor, except for the year I took a sabbatical. Coincidence? I’d bet not.
After my sabbatical, I handed in my resignation for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list was because I didn’t want to teach anymore. I often did not feel comfortable as a college professor and that’s something I’m still feeling the effects of today.
Part of my discomfort was because I lacked confidence. My entire time in graduate school I had undiagnosed narcolepsy. While I could handle the exhaustion and sleepiness in undergrad, I fell further and further behind in graduate school.
Yet, somehow, through the Grace of God, and perseverance on my part, I graduated with a doctoral degree. And yes, I also have dreams where I am back in graduate school and I still have to defend my dissertation.
I wake up from those dreams, too. Thank God.
A good friend of mine, who is a social worker, recently suggested to me that part of the problem was that it’s hard to take seriously the concerns of someone in a top-tier doctoral program who believes they are failing in life. By the sheer fact I had excelled enough in college to be on a full-ride in grad school, including tuition remission, stipend, and health insurance, I couldn’t be too much of a failure.
Another part of my discomfort with teaching is that being a psychology professor was never my life’s dream. It became the next best option after I listened to someone who said to me, “you can’t be a high school English teacher. Those kids will walk all over you.”
High school English teacher also had not been my life’s dream, either. It became the second-best next-best option after I listened to several people say, “you can’t get a job as an English major. You’ll never make any money and you’ll end up working at a department store.”
So, psychology professor became the goal. And I achieved it. I’m really glad I did because I met some wonderful students along the way. You know who you are. Thank you for being amazing and awesome and I hope you are doing well.
I also met some not-so-wonderful students. I didn’t get to know them in any situation other than the classroom, and that is how I judged them. That was my mistake. And, again, something I am still feeling the effects of today.
Unfortunately, these students also know who they are. How I treated them is one of my biggest regrets with teaching.
I let these students down. They are the ones I now suspect were most like me during my time in graduate school, struggling and uncertain and maybe even feeling like they were not supposed to be in school in the first place. I was often rude to these students, allowed myself to become offended by my assumptions about them, and treated them with arrogance and condescension.
To these students: I am so sorry. I wish I had been a better teacher for you, the type of person that I needed when I was in school. I didn’t see myself in you and your struggles and for that, I am sorry.
Another of my regrets is those students I met at the end of my teaching career. After 21 years of pursuing a life that never really felt like mine, I was on the verge of making my dreams come true after handing in my resignation.
I tried not to check out, but in the end I did.
To those students: I am so sorry. I never wanted to give you a bad classroom experience or an educational experience that was less than you wanted or needed. That wasn’t fair to you and the time and effort you were putting into your studies, and for that I am sorry.
To any student who may recognize themselves in this post, please know that I think about you often and hope you are living a good life. Thank you for teaching me such valuable lessons, and I am so sorry if they came at your expense.
If there are any students out there reading this who are struggling, please know you are not alone. You have my heart and prayers. I have been one of you and in some ways I still am. Please reach out to me if you need help.
Finally, to any student who has ever been told they couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue a goal, go for it anyway. No one can predict the future.
BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: I actually achieved my goal of creating a cardio exercise habit!
As someone who spent fifteen years mistakenly believing I was lazy when, in fact, I had undiagnosed narcolepsy, I carry around a lot of baggage about setting goals and whether I achieve them.
Reaching my cardio goal is exciting, although I understand this news may not be as exciting as being offered a book contract (although this is a possibility that could happen any day now), planning a trip to Glacier National Park (if you have any recommendations, send them my way), or meeting a bulldog puppy at the Iron National Bank (I nicknamed her Potato, but I think the bank tellers are more spot-on that her name should be Meatball).
If you remember, I read a book over the summer that I now consider the best book I’ve ever read on mindfulness, time management, and productivity: The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter.
Truthfully, I haven’t read that many books on time management and productivity. However, I have bought a quite a few over the years and checked some out from the library. Funnily enough, I could never find the time to read them.
Not only did I read The Sweet Spot in its entirety, I then followed through on Dr. Carter’s advice. This accomplishment is the highest possible recommendation I could ever give a self-help book.
Here’s how my cardio goal went down:
Week of September 15th, 2017 – formulate a 20-week plan to build an exercise habit which would result in 20 minutes of cardio every day except Sunday using the advice Dr. Christine Carter lays out in, The Sweet Spot.
Follow through on plan.
27 weeks later write a blog post celebrating my success!
Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, which is why I highly encourage anyone who is serious about changing how they manage their time or even just thinking about it to read Dr. Carter’s book.
I would have written about my success sooner, but, you know. Life. And now I can further celebrate my success with an additional seven weeks of cardio.
Yes, I’m still jumping around for 20 minutes every day (for the most part). It feels good!
I credit Dr. Carter with a big chunk of my success, because her advice really went a long way towards my self-defeating tendencies such as procrastination and excuse making. I also need to give myself some of the credit, too, because I’m the one who actually had to show up every day and exercise. If I didn’t want my health to be a top priority in my life, it would have been easy to scrap the whole cardio plan since I already had established a daily 20-minute strength training regime that is working out nicely for me.
What really helped was being mindful of the process and that’s something Dr. Carter encourages throughout her book.
I already knew what would happen on days when I just couldn’t motivate myself to exercise because of a poor night’s sleep, or a feeling of inertia that comes from winter, or lack of time because I had to be somewhere by 9:00am. For four minutes, I would do something related to cardio, such as plank and squats, jumping jacks, or dancing around. That’s what Dr. Carter refers to as a Better Than Nothing plan.
I also did everything possible ahead of time to ensure my success. This process involved thinking about why I wanted to establish a cardio routine and what would be the best way for me to exercise.
There were several whys, such as not getting out of breath while playing with dogs and losing even more of the weight that I gained in my first year of marriage, but the biggest reason is because I really believe consistent cardio is the best way for me to get a good night’s sleep.
For someone with narcolepsy, good sleep is the brass ring on the carousel of life we’re all hoping to grab. One of the most common misconceptions about narcolepsy is that you can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, such as into a bowl of soup when you’re at dinner. While in extreme cases that could happen, it’s not likely for the average narcoleptic.
What’s more likely with narcolepsy is one of the disease’s defining features– we can’t sleep at night, and when we do, we don’t get as much deep sleep as we need and we spend more time in REM having incredibly vivid, often disturbing or even terrifying dreams. So, we wake up exhausted and then have a tendency to fall asleep in a situation where we’d rather be awake.
You’d think I would have wanted to make cardio a habit in my life sooner. It’s not like I hadn’t tried. In retrospect, I believe I was missing one key piece of the cardio habit puzzle – I never considered how my choice of cardio relates to my core life values. Again, thank you to Dr. Carter for helping me realize this point.
At the top of my life values list are freedom and joy. When going down a cardio path in the past, I’ve enjoyed ice skating, hula hooping, Bikram Yoga, Daily Method, Pure Barre, and dance fitness classes. Throughout my life, I have committed to several months of these activities, sometimes even years. But these options do not promote freedom. They all require you to spend time driving to somewhere, then you have to spend time in the actual class, and then drive home again. Also, a lot of these activities require equipment and/or special clothing.
As someone who now values my time more than anything else and who also has a goal of getting all my belongings down to a single backpack, I just can’t make those types of commitments anymore.
I also have no desire to make a commitment to anything that does not bring me joy. There have been times in my life when I committed to going to a gym for 30 minutes a day to use boring (in my opinion) cardio machines such as treadmills or elliptical trainers. I hated exercising on those machines, and it’s hard to sustain a relationship rooted in hate.
Also, cardio machines cannot fit in a backpack and unless you have them in your home, you have to go somewhere else to use them. So again, that takes up more time that I don’t want to give up.
When I thought about my past failed attempts and what I wanted to achieve, it became obvious I needed to do something that I could literally do anywhere and that also would require no special equipment, including sneakers. I don’t own a pair anymore (I wore through my last pair in May, 2017) and I sure as heck am not going to buy a pair just so I can exercise. That would then make exercise dependent on an external circumstance and that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid.
I also realized I needed a form of exercise that I could do in my jammies.
Okay, yes, this one is weird. But, when you have narcolepsy sometimes even the act of changing your clothes in the morning can seem like a lot of work. I also knew from past experiences that if I didn’t exercise first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t do it all. Add to that a drafty house in Connecticut, and you’ll understand why this became an acceptable form of exercise attire:
Taken all these insights together, here were my cardio requirements:
Can be done anywhere
Requires no special equipment or clothing
Brings me joy
Works if you’re wearing jammies
Ready to know what it is?
Drumroll, please … DANCING!
Not only does dancing meet all my requirements, but you can get pretty wild with jumping around, or if you’re having a less motivated day, you can bop around, or if you’re having a narcolepsy day, you can simply sway to the music.
You can also alternate the amount of effort you put into your dance moves, thus creating a nice interval flow to the workout. And if you don’t believe me, check out the Norfolk Library’s Corner Club kids breaking it down for Black History Month last month when the library brought in a hip hop dancer.
Twenty-seven weeks ago I wasn’t doing any cardio. And now I am. Even better, that’s 20 minutes nearly every day that brings me joy – both in the process and in the sense of accomplishment. That time would have gone by no matter. I am so grateful to have found a way that works for me, and I am even more grateful to Dr. Christine Carter for sharing her wisdom.
Happy New Year! Oh, wait…I said that last week. New Year’s is still fresh on my mind because of the conversations I’ve been having lately online. As a member of several communities that promote minimalism, spirituality, and a simpler way of living, there’s been a lot of discussion over how to approach the New Year.
Specifically, do we make resolutions, do we select a single word or theme for the year, or do we not do either and instead let go of expectations and be at peace with whatever happens.
Although I am a believer of letting go of expectations, I also believe there’s something to knowing what you want. How you get there is another matter entirely.
In the past, I’ve started off my New Year’s with resolutions. My enthusiasm and optimism usually resulted in grandiose ideas that I had no hope of following through with, such as: Get up early every day (this was a pre-Narcolepsy diagnosis perennial favorite), exercise for an hour every day (destined for failure because I would always default to the elliptical trainer which I find as boring as reading a chemistry textbook), or eat less junk food (hopelessly impossible when you believed as I did for many years that fat is the problem and strive for a low/nonfat diet; I was hungry for almost a decade).
In January, 2016, however, I had the privilege of attending a white stone ceremony. The underlying idea is that you set an intention for the coming year by holding a white stone in your hand, typically from Jerusalem, and allowing a word to come to you. You then write it on your white stone. The word that came to me in 2016 was unstoppable.
I carried my unstoppable white stone with me throughout that year; oftentimes literally, as I kept it in my pocket until the weather became too warm for a coat. Since we were living in the Chicago suburbs and then Johnsonville, NY, too warm ended up being in July.
In 2016, I ended what many would consider a dream job (i.e., a tenured position as an associate professor of psychology at a mid-level university) to pursue a life of writing, adventures, and house/pet-sitting. That stone was with me on campus every day, encouraging me when some of my colleagues thought I was nuts and guiding me when I wasn’t sure where I was going.
2016 was also the year I met and married the love of my life. And, yes, I had my white stone in my pocket on the night we met, as well as on our first date, and just three weeks later when we eloped in Nashville.
In 2017, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a white stone ceremony. But I did just happen to find myself somewhere on New Year’s Day that offered a basket of stones, with a single word engraved on each of them. I reached into the basket and pulled out one that read luck.
Coincidentally, I also just happened to receive a good luck dragon from my best friend in the mail in early January, 2017.
I added the dragon to my luck stone, and for good measure threw in two of my business cards which identify me not just as a writer, but a writer of kidlit. I then carried them around in my coat pocket until it became too warm (this time June – progress!). They lived in either my backpack or my purse after that.
I’d certainly say I had luck in 2017. I’m going with the very old school definition brought to you by Seneca: Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.
One of my greatest writing successes in 2017 was winning the top fiction prize in KidLit College’s annual picture book contest. As part of the prize package, I enrolled in a nonfiction picture book writing course. The class typically started according to Central Time, but one day the instructor and I both logged on accidentally at Eastern Time.
We ended up chatting for nearly an hour, where we discussed many different topics, including several of the manuscripts on which I was currently working. That Friday I received an email from the instructor, who also just happens to be an editorial assistant of a literary agency. “Jill [the president of the company] and I are more than interested in representing your body of work,” she said in the email.
SQUEEEEEEEEE! That was the sound heard round Norfolk as I celebrated this offer.
So here we are in 2018. I feel joyful, healthy, and confident that I’m on the right path for my writing. About two weeks ago, I wasn’t even thinking of resolutions or intentions when the word prosperity popped into my head at the end of my morning meditation practice.
A feeling of excitement came over me as I realized prosperity would be my word for 2018! Of course, I then tried to sabotage myself with thoughts such as, is prosperity specific enough no, and it should be abundance, that’s more inclusive! Funny how we do these sorts of things to ourselves.
I managed to let the doubts go and embrace prosperity for what it is – a gift from God and my inner wisdom to help me thrive in 2018. As always, everything I do is God and Kelly willing, and I am grateful to blessed with such a wonderful intention for the year.
The word prosperity has now been added to my white stone.
I thought of ordering a new stone, but, you know, minimalist. And, just because I’m going to be prosperous doesn’t mean I should be wasteful.
With my white stone, I’m going to keep a poem that my best friend sent me for Christmas. Here it is:
Walking in the Flow
Walking in the flow
Nose over toes
Endless – no destination in sight
One of the herd
But this herd has no leader
Unless it is somewhere, somehow
Deep inside –
The thing I call myself
When I say my name – Kelly
I am Kelly-in-God
No matter where I go
And who I see
I am Myself
In the midst
Of all that is –
Walking in the flow
Nose over toes –
And I am loved.
The stone, poem, and my business cards are now in my pocket, where I will carry them with me.
My heart and mind are open to the miracles of prosperity in my life, great and small. 2018 – I am ready for you! Thank you in advance for everything you have in store for me.
With Christmas fast approaching and only nine days left in 2017, it’s time for my yearly reflection entitled, “Even Though It’s Christmas, People Still Die.” And yes, I totally stole this idea from the late 1990’s sitcom Friends.
Because I know many of my friends and family who read my blog sometimes worry about me based on what I write, let me clarify that thinking about death during the holidays does not mean I’m depressed. Quite the opposite.
This has been one of the happiest, most joyful years of my life. 2017 also happened to be the year I read five different books on happiness (two of them I re-read for the second time):
I recently told someone about all these books and she joked, “shouldn’t you be happy by now?” Her point is excellent, except I read these types of books as someone who has a professional interest in psychology, science, and research, more than as an I need these books to improve my life mentality.
Although, I would be lying if I said these books haven’t improved how I live. Each one of them has contributed positively to some aspect of my life, most notably The Sweet Spot because I’m now exercising on a regular basis and it’s become an actual habit.
What I find most interesting about these books is that every single one of them included a chapter on death. They all claimed that to truly experience sustained and long-term joy, you have to keep your own death a central part of your life.
Last Christmas, death ended up being forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we were caring for had been diagnosed with a mass on his spleen. He didn’t have much longer in this world and sure enough, he died within a month.
I also wrote last Christmas about my 43-year-old cousin Becky, who was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2013, and succumbed to the disease in April, 2014.
Those losses are still heavy in my heart today, just like all the other people and animals I’ve lost throughout my life. But like these books suggest, I don’t allow the losses to weigh me down.
Instead, I use their heaviness as reminders which ground me to my own life; they’ve become a rock on which I can stand and look around at our wonderful and marvelous world. These losses lift me up into the here and now because all of us could be one hour, one minute, or even one second away from death and I know it.
Our time is so precious and because I still have so much of it right now (God and Kelly willing), I don’t want to waste it. This reason is why death meditations can be so useful. If I knew 2018 would be my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?
Based on what I wrote last year – spend more time with family and friends, travel with my husband and/or niece to national parks, pet as many dogs along the way as we could, finish my first novel, publish my picture books, and see a bear in the wild – I’m tearing up with happiness right now because I’ve either done what I set out to do or I took major steps towards making these dreams a reality.
In addition to spending time with my parents in Pennsylvania,
and my husband’s parents in Tennessee,
we visited with various extended family members in North Carolina,
and my husband got to meet my oldest brother who lives in San Antonio, Texas, when we all met up at my parents’ house in Harrisburg.
We brought my niece to visit us in Connecticut for a week in May,
This past August, my husband and I visited the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio on one of our house-sitting road trips,
and this coming June we’ll be in Glacier National Park as part 2 of our super secret summer plans (SURPRISE! This is how my husband is finding out about our trip to Glacier. He still doesn’t know part 1).
Anyone who reads this blog, knows I’ve wholeheartedly met my goal of petting as many dogs as I could along the way, and I even managed to befriend some cats, llamas, chickens, turkeys, a goat, and a pig.
And, although I have not yet seen a bear in the wild, this past July I applied to be a volunteer at the Churchill Northern Studies Center in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, for bear season (October and November). I had an interview a few months ago for fall 2018 and my prospects look good for being selected as a volunteer.
As for writing, not only did I finish my first novel, but I wrote another book, started two more, and outlined several more. Those don’t count the picture books I finished. I also submitted two stories to Highlights magazine (no word yet on their submission status) and I submitted a blog post to a major minimalism blog that featured the post in their weekly newsletter sent out to over 24,000 readers. Combined with getting an agent to represent my work, this has been a benchmark year for my writing.
So when I think about my life this past year, I can boil it down to one sentiment. I’m about to break a cardinal rule of writing right now (i.e., avoid clichés), but here goes: WOW! My cup runneth over.
I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way, most notably God who gives me the courage to live life this way and my husband who is also my best friend.
The question still remains, though: if 2018 were my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?
My answer? Nothing. It is with delight and joy that I can say this and feel nothing but enthusiasm and hope for the coming year. I’m going to keep on keepin’ on! And maybe, just maybe, I’m finally going to see a bear in the wild.
Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car. This photo is from November 12th, 2015:
And here’s today’s photos:
I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down! Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude. I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.
There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?). It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners. She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation. I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.
I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication. Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again. So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.
In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece. I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.
I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal. Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime. For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.
Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling. I dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.
Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly. I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.
Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine. Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.
Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.
With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.
One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.
I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart. Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted. If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner. Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.
This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed. I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy. So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed. I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby. That way I can also meditate before getting up.
Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.
I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed. But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.
If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can. Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point. Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.
I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch. Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.
But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future. It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best. That’s all I can ask.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week! I am so grateful for your love and support.
After writing last week about how frustrated and angry I felt with having narcolepsy, a funny thing happened. I began to feel better about the situation.
Initially, I debated even writing that post. Narcolepsy is a part of my life, but I didn’t want my struggles with it to define me. I wondered if I shared my feelings, would I suddenly be “that person who can’t cope.”
Why that would bother me is a post for another day, but in retrospect, I realized it was silly to think a one-time post would become the essence of who I am as presented to the world, more so than my dozens of posts about writing, playing with dogs, procrastinating, and dreaming about seeing bears in the wild.
Instead, I felt free from the hold that my poor-quality sleep had on me. Once I got out all my feelings, the anger and resentment stayed on the screen and allowed me head space to start moving on. I thought to myself, well, if this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life, does that change anything? I realized, no, it did not. I still have goals and dreams I’m working towards and I’m not going to stop. I may be more tired along the way, but I didn’t come this far to quit now.
My gratitude habit also kicked in about 24 hours after I wrote that post. For years now, I have either written prayers of gratitude for the blessings in my life or I have practiced gratitude in a meditative form. I honestly could not help but think of all the ways narcolepsy has improved my life. The biggest way is that I realized if I only have so much energy to expend, then it’s going to go towards things I value the most:
prioritizing my health
being an animal enthusiast
serving others with the best of my talents
connecting to nature
traveling to new places (preferably with my husband and/or family)
growing my spirituality
and now that I’m married, loving my husband as much as I possibly can (super easy; he’s such a good person and so cute!)
Not on the list of things I valued was being an associate professor of psychology, and so my narcolepsy was one of the biggest motivating factors to give me the courage to quit my job, and give up tenure, amazing benefits, and a matching retirement account. Thank you, narcolepsy.
I also didn’t expect the amount of love and support I received from friends and family who read my post. My phone blew up with blog comments, Facebook comments, IMs, emails, and pictures of polar bears, all from people who wanted me to know they heard what I had to say. I received validation, empathy, and sympathy, and let me tell you it felt really good.
These responses were especially meaningful to me because there was a time when I lived a rather isolated experience. At that time, my closest friend at work had moved on, my office had changed locations to accommodate my narcolepsy so I could have a space with natural sunlight from a window and my new suitemates didn’t have the same level of socialization as my previous ones, I wasn’t on social media, and most of my friends (the few that I made since moving to Illinois) lived more than 30 minutes away (on a good day), and the ones who lived close by were married with families. I felt lonely for many days and then a doctor told me, “you need to spend time with people.”
It took me several months to really buy in to what the doctor said, but once I did I began to realize just how important community is. Especially when you are dealing with chronic illness.
So, thank you to everyone for showing your love and support. Two days after I wrote my blog post last week, I got a decent night’s sleep. And the night after that, and another night after that. For three days in a row, I felt like I had won the sleep lottery. I believe it can happen. I plan on using a natural sun light for when the Connecticut mornings are dark and dreary. I’m going to utilize my health insurance for therapy to help me cope on sleepy days. I’m also going to investigate acupuncture as an option.
There are so many wonderful things going on in my life. It looks like narcolepsy just may be one of them.