Monthly Archives: March 2012

On Being David Crosby’s Higher Power

“If you’re into spiritual practice, you make a space where every day you can make contact with your higher self, whatever you call it – God, dog. I call it Marnie.” David Crosby


It makes me like him even more, of course,

That in addition to donating sperm

To help make a lesbian rocker baby dream

Come true (and all his sweet harmonies of course),

He also calls his higher power by my name.

If my name were plainer, I might not even care.

But I once claimed a psychic link with William Hurt–

Marlee sounds like Marnie and we had the same

basic region of problem–she’s deaf, I’ve got hearing aids….

The Quaker in me, the Transcendentalist,

The yin-yang Zen Baptist me that flushed

Original sin clean off my “Here’s What I Believe” list,

I think we all could be each other’s higher power.

But once a Woodstock legend says you’re his,

I think you had better start to act like it.

Clitter Clatter Clutter Time

Here’s the thing–I just don’t deal very well with reality. The whole 24 hours in a day concept? Sure, I’ll tell you with a straight face that I get it, but then you should ask me what I anticipate getting done in the next 24 hours. Or, I might have that covered, but if you multiply it at all, say, times two (as in a weekend), and ask me what I think is going to happen, if I’m honest at all about the list in my head (or the one on paper, or in my laptop), we’ll stand there realizing I’m in cloud cuckoo land.

In some ways, my husband helps me notice reality (in other ways not so much). He did me the hugest favor when we were first living together. I have what is officially diagnosed as “mild to moderate hearing loss,” and although I’ve known about it since I was five, I was never told I needed hearing aids. I missed a lot, and in conversation, people would often say, “Did you hear what I just said?” and I would always, ALWAYS say yes, because it’s embarrassing to miss what people are saying, and it’s exhausting to attend carefully to what people are saying when you have even mild to moderate hearing loss, and I wasn’t raised to show my weaknesses. (In general, I think I was raised to be honest, but nevermind about that.) Nath was the first person in my life, ever, who added a second question to “Did you hear what I just said?” If you know nath, this won’t surprise you. He said, “All right, so what did I just say?” At that point, I might be honest and say “no, I didn’t hear you,” but I was just as likely to take one last stab at it and say, “You said, ‘the broccoli is on the air conditioner?'” It was hilarious in one way, because he wouldn’t have said anything about broccoli or an air conditioner, but embarrassing and frustrating (for both of us) in every other way. So I got hearing aids.

So what I need, and nath can’t be this person for me, is someone who can help me with the math and ask me the second question when it comes to scheduling my time–not just, “What’s on your to do list?” but also “is your to do list in any way realistic given that you have neither clones nor droids nor parallel universes that might help you in the next 24 hours?” Obviously, it would be best if I could ask myself that question, and I try, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t always deal with reality well.

I like to say that my life goal is “sustainable chaos,” which I imagine as just enough stuff going on and lying around that life feels vibrant and alive but not overwhelming. It’s a skinny-minny line between “sustainable” and “horrific,” however. At least in my experience. I want my house to look like a professorial version of Mary Engelbreit-land, but it’s really easy to go from that over into my own private episode of Hoarders.

As I mentioned in a previous “inner weasel” post, I tend to try to do too much. It’s sort of a 21st century virus, I think, though it certainly was catching in the late 20th century. It’s what we say to each other all the time, right? “I’m behind at work,” “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t know how some people manage to get enough sleep.”

And as I’ve mentioned so far in several posts (sensing a theme here, or a chronic, nagging complaint I really should see someone about), I tend to suffer from burnout.

So this post from Nadia Bolz-Weber, one of my spiritual heroes, came at the perfect time. “The Spiritual Practice of Saying No” is pretty mind-boggling to me. She has a terrific list of good reasons to say no, and concludes with the following:

“Women especially get the message that they are not allowed to say no and if they do say no they should feel really bad about it. This is a lie.

My friend Sara told me that when I write an email or letter telling someone no, to write it, walk away for 20 minutes, then come back and take out all the apologies because they make me “sound like a girl”.

Now I try and say no graciously and with some humility but without apology.

Certainly we should all say yes to some things that are inconvenient or not on the top of our list of how we’d like to spend our time. I’m not talking about trying to pawn off narcissism as a virtue. I’m just suggesting that sometimes we say yes for really stupid reasons and then spend our time or energy on things that rob us from being able to say yes to things that are actually ours to do and care about.

Lastly, if you need to say no, you do NOT need to try and borrow the authority to do so from the person you are saying no to. Would it be ok if I need to say no? Oh I’m so sorry. I hope that’s ok. Are you ok with that?

Yikes. Stop it. (note to self)”

This really resonated with me. The following phrase occurred to me at work a few weeks ago, which I haven’t used yet in seriousness, but am holding in my head as a kind of talisman for when someone asks me to do something and doesn’t take no for an answer: “Please use this as an example of how budget cuts are beginning to affect quality.” It’s not a bad point, really, and in some cases it’s true, but why do I feel the need to have a sentence like that in my head? (I mean, other than amusing myself and a few others.) Because somewhere deep inside me I believe that no matter how hard I work, no matter how much I do, I’m not doing enough to justify my existence on the planet.

That’s pretty wacked out.

I actually read “The Spiritual Practice of Saying No” after I’d read “The Spiritual Practice of Saying Yes.”

Here’s what resonated with me in that post:

“Any Pastor or leader of an organization that requires a great deal of volunteerism to function can attest to how frustrating our culture of selfishness can be. The people who are inclined to say yes to everything do all the work and then burn out and become resentful about the people who are inclined to say no to everything. It’s as though the world is divided into martyrs and slackers.”

I can see my life as plotted out on a roller-coaster graph careening between martyr and slacker. I don’t seem to get moderation, though I have long pointed out that “moderation in all things” is not a very moderate statement, and that “moderation in most things” makes more sense as a moderate motto.

Honestly, this is a big part of why organized religion and I are spending some time apart at the moment. I don’t seem to know how to be a part of a faith community without volunteering too much, too soon, and burning out. The last faith community I was part of got some good stuff from me, and I got some good stuff too, but at the end, I was so burned out that I ended up responding to some social missteps by pretty much cutting all ties. I felt as though I were Jonah, vomited out by the whale. Headed in the right direction, sure, but YUCK.

Bolz-Weber concludes, “Some of us need to know how to say no to what is not really ours to do. And some of us need to know how to say yes to what might be ours to do, we just don’t feel like doing it. And most of us are both of these people.”

I am both those people, all the time pretty much. So. How do I figure out what is mine to do? And what is not? Until such time as I can answer those questions, I think I will continue to have problems over-packing to the point of not being able to zip the second-hand kid’s backpack on rollers I bought to use for my classes since my shoulder is so messed up I can’t carry bags any more. I would worry even more about looking utterly uncool and middle aged if I hadn’t recently seen this video of George Clooney in which he uses the roller to pull his backpack. Just one more reason to love the man.

(And yes, I do realize that by adding George Clooney to this post, I’ve cluttered it up, but THAT’S what I mean by sustainable chaos–I did, in fact, say no to including every single thing I thought of while writing this, but I said yes to George Clooney. In that sense, I know one thing that is mine to do. When it comes to Clooney, I will always, always say yes.)

UPDATE: It has occurred to me that I injured my shoulder by trying to do too much in the pool, exacerbated the injuring by doing a weight-lifting routine I wasn’t really ready for, and made everything worse by carrying really, really heavy bags on the same side as the injured shoulder. Lovely as a metaphor, really a drag as reality. So I’m just going to meditate on that pain for a few years.

Honoring My Inner Weasel, Part III

As failures go, this one’s not catastrophic. Not so much crash and burn as bump and simmer. No cause for flailing and wailing–but maybe a little hand flutter and throat clearing would be in order.

I just posted an Excel spreadsheet for all my students to see, showing how promptly I’m returning student work this semester. After three semesters of being right around or below an average of a week, I’m currently returning student written work, on average, 9.7 days after they’ve turned it in. For my ENG 102 (Advanced Composition) classes, the longer essays are taking me 10.25 days.

There are seven full weeks of the semester to go, and then finals, so if I’m on top of things, the numbers should be below 7 by the end of the semester.

But I’m disappointed.

And not giving up! This failure to meet my goals (I wanted to be under 7) comes along with some other failures (subject for future blog posts, thank you very much, but I don’t want to depress myself by listing all my failures here).

There are some basic reasons the numbers are worse this semester. I have a lot more students, for one thing, and I decided to start using D2L rubrics (D2L is our “course delivery platform” for the UW Colleges–online resources for me & my students) for ENG 102 papers. I also decided to start doing reading quizzes regularly for the first time in ENG 102, and I’m doing those as D2L Quizzes. I’m also doing D2L quizzes for my literature class (did I mention I’ve used D2L quizzes only a little previously, and never where students were required to use them?) and I’m asking my creative writing students to turn in portfolios online so I can grade them digitally, which in turn motivated me to turn my regular rubric into an Excel spreadsheet so the math gets done automatically and I can post it on D2L with the commented-on digital copy of their portfolio….

As always, there was some procrastination involved. But not as much as there would have been in the past. For example, being able to post feedback for each student online means that I was motivated to finish grading assignments in all three classes at the beginning of spring break, rather than waiting until the end. If I’d been grading paper copies, and couldn’t return them until March 26, I would probably be grading this weekend instead of last weekend. (Not that students were checking their campus email during spring break, but they might have–they could have, in any case.)

But I’m realizing that one of my biggest problems is not so much procrastination as trying to do too many things. Here’s what I’d like to do each and every semester:

  • Teach well.
  • Revise my courses (heavily) in terms of reading and assignments.
  • Do a decent amount of committee work (my share or perhaps slightly more or less, depending on a number of factors).
  • Write a lot of poetry.
  • Send a lot of poems out to magazines.
  • Reassemble my poems into chapbooks and full-length manuscripts and submit to multiple publishers.
  • Write fiction. Submit to publishers.
  • Write plays. Ask for feedback.
  • Revise what I’ve written.
  • Do scholarly work on creativity.
  • Work on a chapter for a scholarly book on creativity.
  • Raise funds for a sabbatical (well, that’s not EVERY semester).
  • Spend as much time as possible with my son.
  • Spend as much time as possible with my husband.
  • Spend as much time as possible with my parents.
  • Maintain friendships.
  • Volunteer in my community.
  • (Insert 75 things I’m sure I’ve forgotten to list, HERE).
  • Be a mellow, laid-back person.
  • Get a good night’s sleep regularly.
  • Work an average of 40 hours a week during my contract period.

What’s crazy is how much of that I try to do. What’s amazing is how much I end up getting done.  But here’s the thing–I’m pretty tired of feeling like no matter how much I work, I’m always behind and there’s always more to do.

So.  The math is pretty easy in this case. Doesn’t even need a spreadsheet. There are 24 hours in every day. There are nine months in my work contract. The work contract thing has been true for me for 20+ years. The 24 hour thing has been true a very long time.

So, the answer is simple, right? I need to set my priorities and be firm about them and not apologize. Unfortunately, there’s not a spreadsheet that can show me how to do that.