cynthyb


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Untangled

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This is me, when I had those pesky snarls and tangles to deal with.

Blog Post #47

I have curly hair. When I was young, it was even curlier, and prone to tangles. My mother would comb and brush the snarls out, but the process was sometimes painful, and I didn’t like it!

Now that I’m older, my hair no longer snarls. As with many laws of science, such as laws of displacement, or the migratory habits of birds, when a snarl is combed out of one’s hair, it has to go somewhere else.  My migrating snarls have displaced vacant spaces in my brain and heart, which have resulted from a year of dramatic change, leaving some gaping holes and empty places—perfect for snarls to settle into.

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A tangled brain is not a good beginning to the New Year.

Let me explain what I mean by a tangled brain. A tangled brain is when a variety of commitments, desires, plans, thoughts, and scheduled parts of life seem to all land on the freeway of my mind at precisely the same moment causing a bottleneck-traffic jam of major proportions in my neural networking. Anyone who has experienced a bottleneck on the highway knows that traffic reduces to a crawl, or even a dead standstill, until a lane opens up ahead or there’s a reduction in the number of cars.

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Bottleneck  traffic jam

It’s the same with a tangled brain. An onslaught of stress or confusion results from too much input coming together at once, and too little capacity to deal with it efficiently.

Like combing out snarls, it may be a painful process trying to sort out the effects of major changes while also dealing with unexpected responsibilities mixed with everyday routines.

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It’s an interesting fact that, just when I see the approach of a free-flying chunk of “time” making its way toward me like a fly ball I’m straining to catch, some all-absorbed outfielder named Opportunity comes at me from one side, a focused short stop named Commitment comes at me from the other, and both slam into me with such force, the ball pops out of my groping mitt, and falls out of play with a thud. It’s happened to me so many times, I can’t even begin to count.

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It’s my own doing; I have the freedom to choose. Yes or no. Accept, or reject. I can decide. Mostly, I choose to accept. Accept is, perhaps, too passive a word.  Invite is more appropriate. I invite these kinds of fly ball responsibilities because I believe in the principle of service. The kind of service I’m speaking of doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “convenient.” I suspect that most true acts of service—the kinds that cause you to put someone or something else ahead of your own selfish desires—are rarely, if ever, convenient. I seriously doubt the Samaritan found it convenient to care for the man he found on the road during his travels.

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The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

I wish I could say that I always invite, or accept these opportunities with a willing and cheerful attitude, but that would be a lie. I have kicked against some of the opportunities I’ve had to serve, I’ve whined and I’ve complained. The result has always been the same. In the end, I have felt so grateful that I didn’t say no, even though I wanted to.  And not only did I feel grateful, I benefited. I benefited – and in every case, I probably benefited more than the person or organization I was serving. I stretched, I grew, I learned, I became more aware, I became more skilled. I found balm for my soul—my soul. I benefited. So in the end, who was really served? And was the sacrifice I thought I was making at the time really a sacrifice? The unequivocal answer is NO! It was not a sacrifice because of what I gained. Even though I used a portion of my time to do something I had not planned on doing, it really was not a sacrifice, because I was one of the beneficiaries.

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Dr. Seuss’s Grinch 

The best benefit of all is a changed heart. Like the Grinch, when I choose service over the selfish hording of my time, my hard and shriveled little heart softens and grows. I become a little bit better in my heart, a little less selfish, a little more generous.

Many years ago, I heard Camilla Kimball quoted as saying, “Never suppress a generous thought.”  That thought surfaces every time I contemplate any act of kindness, large or small. It has encouraged me in making the choice to serve over indulging in selfish desires. 4dcbbd7950dada094bcc65f827bbd178

So, here it is, the New Year. My brain is tangled up with a conglomeration of anticipated, as well as unexpected events, responsibilities, needs, desires, and opportunities for service that all seem to be converging on the same bottleneck portion of the calendar without regard for the fact that I also have regular, routine things to attend to during that same time slot. The (not so) strange thing (when you consider the explanation about the free-flying chunk of “time” I thought I saw heading my way) is that I had, at least for a moment, anticipated a nicely ironed out length in the fabric of time to do some of the things I have been setting aside for just such a vacant space. That sudden jam-up in my space-time continuum is threatening to create stress that I, frankly, don’t need or want.

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The thing is, I have something to say about that, too.

Looking at my history, a pattern is revealed, which is this.

  • I think I have a chunk of time.
  • It gets filled.
  • It clogs.
  • I stress.
  • It all gets done, (and usually with enough time to spare for a lot of other things).
  • I look back and wonder why I got so stressed.
  • Repeat from the beginning

That’s the pattern.

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(1)Think I have time                              (2) It fills and clogs 

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(3) I stress                                  (4) It all gets done

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(5) I look back and wonder why I was so stressed

Here’s an example of that pattern from my own experience. I’m lying awake in bed at night fretting over a checklist of responsibilities I will face during the course of the next busy day. The list is long. It is demanding. Each item on the list requires a chunk of time. Because the list has so many items, my brain, immediately, becomes tangled. That cluttered, tangled brain reacts with “It’s too much! I don’t have enough time! I’ll never get it all done!” Then that same brain begins to dwell on the first item on the list until it appears to have a dark cloud looming over it in a threatening way, causing it to take on unrealistic proportions. A small puffy cloud grows into a roiling thunderstorm. The more I think about it, the more it grows in my mind into a task requiring super-human effort and hours of time (which is usually a falsehood my brain imagines—not based on reality—like unloading the dishwasher when I was a kid. I thought it would take an hour of my precious playtime, when in reality, it only took about eight minutes.)

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The next day, I get up, and with anxiety, I begin my list. Right away, if I don’t dawdle about beginning because of the stress I’m feeling, I attack the first item, and discover that it only took fifteen minutes, not two hours. I recalculate the remainder of the day’s list based on this new discovery, and my stress level goes down a notch. Because my motivation increased with the time I gained, I complete the second item in a fraction of the time I imagined. My stress level drops another notch. And this continues with the rest of the list, until noon arrives, and my list is completed. I eat a leisurely lunch, while marveling at the weight lifted from my shoulders, the brightness of my mood, and the lightness of my heart as I contemplate how quickly that dark cloud dissipated.

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I know this pattern. I’ve lived it time and again. So for my current brain-tangle, I have made a decision. I am going to work backwards. I am going to look ahead, knowing the outcome, and forewarn myself that there will be time to do ALL of what is required with enough extra time to do many of the other things I have been saving up for, and want to do. I will paint a bright, light vision for my brain to focus on, so I will approach upcoming events and challenges with a bright and cheerful forbearance. I will weigh real-time, instead of tipping the scales with dark presentiments and false anticipation. I will cheerfully, willingly accept and invite these converging opportunities with the absolute understanding that I will be a beneficiary. But more importantly, I will be motivated and inspired by the hope and desire that someone else will benefit at least as much, and hopefully, even more than I do.

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The truth is, and it’s been proven conclusively, that when my heart is right, and I’ve placed my trust in He who is the Author of all Goodness and Service, I am strengthened, guided, and blessed. I can manage and untangle any snarls that come my way, while maintaining a proper perspective about time and my use of it.

Suddenly, my bottleneck is opening up! The snarls in my brain are beginning to untangle because in a very real way I can envision chunks of space in time, and chunks of time in my space.

I will enjoy the moment I’m in and the privilege I have of being alive to live it.

End Piece

© January 10, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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Slow Asleep, OR The Lion Sleeps Tonight (but will I?)

Blog Post # 42 

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“Sleeping Nymph” by Richard Franklin

For me, bedtime has become a carefully choreographed series of contortionist moves and mind shutdown techniques (none of which work), attempting to find a brain- and body-calming remedy that will allow me to drift into that profound state of unconscious bliss called sleep.

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“The Gettysburg Address” – Abraham Lincoln

Repetitious “mind static” is a huge factor dictating if I sleep or lie awake. No matter how I tune the dial in my head, I invariably pick up brash, white noise that won’t leave me alone. It might be the same three lines from the theme song to “All in the Family,” a problem without a solution, or a repetitive rendition of the first paragraph of The Gettysburg Address, but whatever it is, I can’t seem to find a station in my brain that is able to either complete a thought, or tone down the volume. Sometimes, my mind is in such a hurricane of inventive, creative excitement, it’s impossible to find an eye of calm. The worst is the (fortunately infrequent) fretting that is easily pacified during daylight, but haunts like a host of demons the moment the moon smiles, mockingly, through the window.

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Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac  (1911)

Another factor, and lately, the more troublesome, is comfort. There’s nothing worse than a Mexican Standoff with your bed. In this regard, it’s fairly certain I am a very near relation to the royal with the hyper-sensitivity to a tiny legume. No matter how high her mattresses were stacked, she could feel that tiny irritating pea lurking beneath. And so it seems that no matter how many egg crates and memory foam mattress toppers my husband, Brad, stacks on our bed, I can still feel the tiny seam on my nightwear, or a slight wrinkle in the sheets digging into my side.

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To insure no outside noise disturbs our slumber, we have three separate fans going at once, none of which point directly at us. The white noise and wind tunnel effect breezing through our room at gale force readily allows paper airplanes to dart about, but for us, presents a unique set of problems. For one, when they were passing out eyelids, sadly for Brad, he got a set one size too small, preventing him from ever, fully closing his eyes. Like a plastic bag left slightly open, a blowing fan has the same effect on Brad’s poor eyes as air on a sandwich—they dry out. On the other hand, my sheets don’t know if they’re coming or going. One minute I’m roasting, and the next, I’m cold. My feet and shoulders like to feel cool air, but my middle likes warmth. Hence, the bedding goes up and down like a Roman blind all night long.  

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Recently, as my aging father’s needs changed, we found it necessary to check on him periodically during the night. We settled on a schedule that would allow each of us a chunk of sleep in between each check time, but that meant setting separate alarms to awaken us at our own scheduled times. I knew my old alarm clock’s irritating buzzing would awaken both of us, so I decided it best to experiment with several alarm tones on my phone, adjusting the volume, then tucking my phone into an open drawer next to my bed where I could hear it, but hopefully, Brad could not.

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I needed a tune that would both wake me up, and motivate me to get out of bed at an insane hour, without disturbing Brad. I thought a cello piece from “Master and Commander” would be both energetic and soothing, but the first few notes doused Brad awake, as if with seawater in the face. The theme song from “Pirates of the Caribbean” cast me over-bed, but was also too lively for Brad. It didn’t help matters that I invariably fell into a profound sleep moments before the alarm went off, blowing like a foghorn next to my ear. Groggily stumbling from bed, I’d heave-ho to the bathroom with the gait of a drunken sailor, before checking on my father.

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Rousing though they were, the nautically themed alarms walked the plank. Brad asked me to find something less alarming, and I was all for it, as well. It was only natural, then, that the next alarm I chose was Brahms’ Lullaby. Brad wasn’t disturbed in the least by this alarm, and sadly, neither was I—sleeping through its quiet lulling more than once. Obviously, it was living up to its reputation.

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Pavlov and dog

 

 

I was determined to find an alarm tone that would awaken me, but not Brad, while not making me sick of a tune I had once enjoyed, nor making me blunder about as if on sea legs. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I was developing a strong aversion to all of the aforementioned tunes because of the unpleasant association of rising from Davy Jones’ Locker each time the alarm sounded. Finally, I found a generic, nondescript, quiet tune that, even after having heard it dozens of times, has awaken me without lingering like the California Raisins jingle.

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The alarm tone finally settled, a much weightier problem still existed—that of pain. Certain bodily trials (nothing serious, just the nagging sort) have created a love/hate relationship with bed and bedtime. Aside from the problem with “the pea,” my body creates its own set of issues. The first, and lesser, evil that arises at times is hunger pangs. No, it isn’t a question of starvation, but we do like to eat dinner very early in the evening (usually between four and five), you might even say we’re eating “dunch” (or, if you prefer, “linner”)—a combination not unlike “brunch” but combining lunch and dinner. By the time 2 AM rolls around, if I’m awake, I’m hungry enough for breakfast. I’ve never been one to raid the fridge in the middle of the night, and I’m not about to start now, but if pain hadn’t awakened me, I wouldn’t have thought about hunger until a more reasonable hour of the morning.

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Climbing back into bed after only a minute or two of being up, pain begins, literally, rapping me on the shoulder, ordering me to, “Move over, roll over, put your leg here, stretch your neck there, put your arm on that side, lie on your tummy, lie on your back, sit up…oh, forget it—get up!” To alleviate the problems pain presents, I find myself trying a series of yoga-esque poses, all performed with great difficulty in a horizontal position, further complicated by nightgown and bed sheets wrapping around me in a mighty tangle, creating the illusion of a stalled tornado. During the twisting and turning, the tornado picks up two additional pillows in an attempt for skeletal alignment. This always results in a repetitive rotation through which said pillows are flung about by the tornado, first between knees, then under an arm, then under tummy, then under leg, and so on and on until at least one of the extra pillows is cast aside as debris. After unsuccessfully attempting to find comfort in every possible pose, the whole rigmarole begins anew, until, at last, I find my generic alarm tone startling me awake, and I must presume that, at least for a few moments, I really did manage to fall asleep.

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Sleep itself is always an adventure, of sorts, because, since expecting my first child forty years ago, I’ve had extraordinarily kooky dreams.  Here is a sampling:

  • Bicycle handles coming out of my stomach (which tummy, by the way, was completely transparent)
  • Standing positively still in a box-shaped room full of floating peas
  • Alligators hanging off the ends of my fingers
  • A tornado held up by little cartoonish feet, dancing around trying to balance the spinning cyclone they’re holding aloft
  • An insignificant (now forgotten) dream interrupted by a commercial break featuring an animated skunk named *Sally Rushkin rowing a leaf or nut-shaped boat (*I was so certain that Sally Rushkin was an actual cartoon character from 1950s TV, I did an internet search, which resulted with no hits. Such is the workings of the mind when dreaming.)
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Sketch made of “Sally Rushkin” just after waking from the dream

The list of kooky scenarios is unending. Nightmares also have a sense of kookiness, but not wishing to remember them, I don’t record them as I do many of my good cuckoo dreams. One son-in-law acts as my dream analyst, claiming he can read my dreams like a book, because they’re so symbolic. Symbolic or not, it’s a hoot to hear his interpretations of the eccentricities that fill my dreaming hours. It makes me feel that, Plato-like, I’m creatively philosophizing, working out real-life issues throughout the night—and doing it all in my stride, or more accurately, in my sleep.

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Plato

 

Our nighttime schedule has undergone many changes these past weeks, as we’ve experimented with different strategies for sleeping and rising throughout the night. Lately, we are sleeping more, and waking less, which is agreeable enough, if it all works out that way. Brad’s alarm has only roused me once, and I think he, at last, is numb to mine, as well. However, the standoff with the bed, my body, and my mind may never be resolved. I often feel sentimental about the words of the poet Robert Frost:

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“…And miles to go before I sleep,  

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Only a better rendering for me might be:

…And trials to go before I sleep,

And trials to go before I sleep.

And when sleep doesn’t come, I may be found following Henry David Thoreau’s practice:

“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.”

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 Which is precisely how this post came to be.

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© July 7, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


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“The Day Off”

Blog Post # 5

(Otherwise referred to as “The Most Stressful Day of the Month”)

Having acquainted you with a sample of one of our family’s typical days of home schooling in my last post “Home School Daze,” I thought you might be ready for a leisurely stroll through one of my days off.
Yes, it’s true! Once a month, I got a day off from the 24/7/365 of home schooling, thanks to my equally desperate—(Whoops! Faux pas! I meant to say extremely generous)—sister, Karen. (The one with the six kids.)


We struck on the scathingly brilliant idea of giving each other a day off so we could enjoy a relaxing day pursuing long-deferred activities and interests. After experimenting with a twelve-hour day, we decided that wasn’t enough, and extended the time to a full twenty-four hours. (This included a sleepover with cousins at the home of the sister who was babysitting. O Joy! O Rapture!)
Living about 40 minutes apart, we settled on a half-way point for the exchange of valuables. As close as possible to daybreak, I piled my sleepy-eyed children in the car with a light heart and growing anticipation. For days, and with high hopes, I had been planning and listing the multitude of activities I hoped to accomplish during the next twenty-four hours. Shoving and stuffing the last of the backpacks, pillows, and dangling arms and legs protruding from doors and windows into the car like cramming an over-packed suitcase, we set off with merry hearts aflutter.

At the half-way point,–a shopping center at the corner of Haven and Baseline–I sat eagerly waiting for my sister to arrive.  My children, also eager for the fun they inevitably would have with their cousins, watched with an all-searching eye for the big blue 1980s Dodge Ram Van (AKA “Big Uggs”) to roll into the lot. We were always right on time,—if not super early. Karen was usually a few minutes behind my schedule. (I can’t blame her. It was my day off. Hers had either already passed, or was still in stages of careful planning and anticipation.)
Once the children were settled into her car, like a crowd of octopuses with arms and legs aplenty suctioning sticky fingerprints onto windows and upholstery, I waved and blew kisses to that precious busload as they drove off…a surge of emptiness briefly wrenching my heart as they moved away through the traffic.

Then, an internal gun sounded, and like a rearing and skittish horse, I was off! The race to complete every item on my list had begun!
The Day Off” was, for me, a little slice of freedom. A sliver of quiet “alone” time carefully carved out of a packed and chaotic daily schedule. Each day off was an amalgam of opposing forces: productivity verses relaxation—culminating in a feverish cram of anxiety and bliss.

My initial list looked something like this:


In case the image (above) is too small for the reading-glasses set, 
(of which I am a full-fledged member), a less aesthetic list is included below:

Errands:
Fabric store
Book store
Stationary/Art Supply store
Grocery store
Library
To Do:
Put away groceries
Tidy up the house
Throw in a load of laundry
Make a batch of bread
Cut out and sew two new shirts and a dress
Make drawings and sketches
Play the piano and harp
Work on upcoming school curriculum
Create a work of art for our home
Write letters
Make a batch of jam
Greet my husband with an attitude of serenity
Leisurely lounge in the living room reading a good book
Wear one of the new articles of clothing made to Church meeting


I fully expected to accomplish everything on my list every single time I had a day off. I imagined myself gliding through these activities with flawless perfection. Not one hair out of place. Not one glitch in my plans. Perfect and complete execution. Checking items off a list was its own reward. I thrived on getting things done. I thrived on the feeling of accomplishment. 
When reality set in, my list looked more like this:

(Again, text provided beneath the image)

Errands:
  • Spent hour of indecision in fabric store pouring over patterns. Spent second hour looking over every bolt of fabric before deciding on less expensive (and less appealing) piece (of fabric)
  • Spent hour wandering aisles of Barnes & Noble, finally got small journal from discount area
  • Never made it to stationery or art supply store –not enough time
  • Spent hour shopping in grocery store, and 1/2 hour standing in “wrong” line
  • Decided to put library books in drop box—will browse shelves next day off

To Do:
  • Put away groceries
  • Tidied up the house
  • Threw in a load of laundry
  • Made a batch of homemade wheat bread from scratch
  • Cut out and began sewing one shirt. Cut fist-sized hole in fabric with serger. Spent 45 minutes picking out threads, cutting new piece of fabric and fixing mistake. Two hours later, shirt done
  • Made sketch on scratch paper of project to save for next day off. Put it in new journal (where it was forgotten, since next entry made two months later)
  • Found broken string on harp. Spent 1/2 hour replacing & tuning. Piano idle ‘til kids got home
  • Worked 2 hours on school curriculum.
  • Made & hung new pictures on school bulletin board in dining room  
  • Spent 2 hours thinking about writing letter while running errands forgot to do earlier (Never wrote letter)
  • Greeted Brad [husband] with hot bread. Frazzled expression—hoping fresh bread will compensate for lack of serenity
  • Devoured 1/2 a loaf of fresh bread for dinner (used last year’s jam)
  • Gazed longingly at book sitting forlornly on bedside table…quickly put on old dress for church meeting
  • Fell into bed, an exhausted heap of partial satisfaction and semi-disappointed accomplishment 
The Box Karen Gave Me (I still have it!)
At the beginning of another of my days off, Karen surprised me with a beautifully decorated box. Inside the box were accoutrements suggestive of ultimate relaxation, such as bath salts, and a cassette tape of calming music (yes, a cassette tape–this was during the Stone Age). She urged me to spend at least part of my day with a good book, and a soothing bath accompanied by the music. A wonderful gift! I was so grateful and touched by her thoughtfulness. 

(Looking back, this was strangely ironic since Karen’s passion and drive far exceed my own. Her “day off” lists were equal to, if not exceeding mine in frenzy. In principle, she was devoted to the ideal of “Living a Beautiful Life,” and took measures to do that, always seeing things–as I often do–through idyllic eyes.)
The box, which remained in plain sight every day off from that time on, was a sweet and gentle reminder of the ultimate goal: rejuvenation of mind, body and spirit. The music was beautiful and relaxing. I know, because I played it while I dizzily worked to accomplish my list…the bath salts a lovely reminder of what I intended to do…on my next Day Off.


© Copyright May 3, 2014