Category Archives: No Comfort Zone

The clock is ticking…

…only fourteen and a half hours left of 2012. Sorry, fourteen and a quarter.

All right, let’s try for realistic plans for 2013. One thing I’ve finally learned over the past year (and about time, too) is that there’s a limited number of minutes in a day to get things done, and a limited amount of mental and emotional and physical energy to use for doing them. So it seems like a good idea to tackle only one large new goal at a time.

The two things that have to continue are writing and providing support for my mom. I’ll certainly continue with the weekly 100-word challenges – they’re fun, they’re good practice, and I enjoy seeing what other people come up with based on the same prompts. I’ll go on blogging regularly. And, above all, I’ll keep chipping away at the boulder of book-length fiction, trying to sculpt it into finished work of my own.

What should I tuck into the corners of the day around that central core? Probably the thing I want to do least: clean the horrible house, because the inconvenience and irritation of living in this mess is getting to me. And what that needs to start with is getting rid of lots and lots and lots of stuff – we own too many things to organize them all.

Once the mess is under control, I can free up time for regular exercise, something I’ve neglected lately. And make sure I’m eating good food, not junk. Will I lose weight? Probably not, but I’ll be healthier.

And, since at least one New Year’s resolution should focus on something you want to do, I’m going to finally make time for knitting experiments – trying out odd stitches and construction methods that I’ve read about here and there. Blog posts, yes, there will be blog posts. With pictures.

(And also, I’ll go on looking forward to posts from the many varied bloggers I follow. Some of you have become online friends, and all of you brighten my day. Thank you so much!)

No comfort zone: A bigger house!

It’s true. In the past two weeks, I’ve started living in a larger house than I used to. And I don’t even have to bother dealing with movers or sending out change-of-address cards or deciding where to put the furniture in differently shaped rooms.

No contractors or exhausting, frustrating DIY projects, either – we’re not building an addition. But the upstairs hall is a foot wider than it was last week, and what used to be my older son’s bedroom looks enormous.

How did I work this magic? It’s all in the books. There used to be four large piles of homeless books lining one side of the hall; they’ve either found places on shelves, or they’re going to look for new homes at the town book sale next week. Same with the bedroom. I’m amazing myself by being willing to shift from thinking, “Well, I’ve never managed to get all the way through this one, and that means I have to keep it till I read it all” to “You know what? I’ve tried to read it four times and never got past page 50. I don’t care what the rest of the story might be! Get out of my life!”

Weirder yet, I’m rubbing my mental hands gleefully at the prospect of moving on from weeding out books to sorting through old scrambled papers and throwing most of them out. Who is this person, and how did she move into my life?

(Part of the answer to that question, of course, is that she was born from following the suggestions various people made when I asked for help with this problem several weeks ago. Thank you, all of you!!)

I’m starting to have visions of having the whole house reasonably organized by November. And I think it just might happen. Now, excuse me; there’s a table full of paper in the opposite corner of this room that’s begging to be cleared off.

So how am I doing, halfway through the year?

Recently Marge Katherine over at Inside Out Cafe (the home of No Comfort Zone) took stock to see how far she’s come toward meeting her beginning-of-2012 goals. How about me? Have I been bold enough to thrust my snout beyond the edge of my comfort zone and sniff the strange breezes out in the wide wild world?

Well, yes and no. Life caught up with me, as it so often does, and elbowed me into spending an unexpectedly large amount of time propping up my mother so that, for now, she can go on living (pseudo) independently. I remind her to take her daily pills; I nag her into keeping her doctor’s appointments; we (my husband and I) pick up her prescriptions, buy her groceries, pay her bills…it doesn’t end. And taking charge of her life certainly puts me far, far outside my comfort zone; but it hardly counts as one of the goals I wanted to achieve for this year.

Beyond that? I’m learning to be thrifty myself, and more usefully, I’m involved in a couple of projects at church to extend what help we can to people who don’t have enough. My house is as much of a mess as ever, but the outdoors is doing pretty well. And as usual, I’m fat.

Best of all, I’m learning to write. Daily blogging helps; so do the weekly writing projects at Friday Fictioneers and the 100 Word Challenge – both of them exercises in concise, vivid storytelling. And at last, after way too many false starts – I’m an expert on how not to finish a novel – I’m bulldozing my way through inventing a world with its history and politics and economics, and telling the stories of people who live there and have problems that I think are interesting.

Visiting a world I made up out of my own head? Now, that’s a worthwhile trip beyond my comfort zone.

Still Struggling to Prioritize Projects

Dance with spinning plates2(js)
And feeling pretty overwhelmed, too. So many things I want to do; so many things I have to do; so many things I’ve promised to do. The promises may have been too optimistic, but there are people trusting me to keep them. The “have-to-dos” may annoy and frustrate me, but neglecting them is, in various ways, self-punishing. (For example, if I don’t floss my teeth, at best my dentist will scold me again, and at worst I’ll have to face gum surgery.) The things I want to do – well, you could argue that they’re just self-indulgence. But what if they’re the things I am uniquely talented to do? What if they’re among the things I’m here to do?

That crashing noise you just heard was the spinning plates falling off their sticks and shattering. Again.

Time to reach beyond my comfort zone and try a new approach, and fortunately I stumbled across one recently. I was innocently reading CHo Meir’s blog Coffee, Cats, And Yarn when she started talking about much the same problem – though, having spent time as a paramedic, she formulates it in terms of triage. Now, I’ve heard of triage as a way of sorting out injured people to decide how best to use limited resources to treat them. Generally, it’s described as a three-way sort. There are the people who can’t be helped; at best, they get pain relief. There are the people who will recover if they get treated immediately, but will die or be permanently injured if they don’t; they get most of the time and medicines and treatment. Then there are the people who are suffering at the moment, but will recover whether they’re treated right away or not. It sounds grim, but simple.

As CHo Meir describes triage, it’s not quite so simple – but more useful. She says that you have to keep re-evaluating the situation. Yes, start by putting your resources to work on whatever needs immediate attention. But remember that other problems or projects might get more urgent after being neglected for a while. Take the time to recategorize everything regularly. Make sure nothing important gets ignored so long that it becomes a crisis.

“All things need your attention in the course of a day, just not at the same time,” CHo Meir sums it up. And this sounds like it may be exactly the kind of approach I need.

We’ll see.

Gimmicks R Us?

I am a klutz. I’m terrified when I have to climb a ladder. (I don’t even like the two-step stool that I need to reach the top shelves in my kitchen very much.) I’m an awful dancer. And I’ve struggled all my life to be just a tiny bit organized.

There’s a connection, really. My sense of balance is defective. I’m the sort of person who trips over her own feet walking down an empty hallway. Not as much as I used to – years of aikido classes have helped me keep track of my center and move from my hips rather than from, oh, my left shoulder blade or something similarly silly – but I still need to think about keeping my balance physically.

And keeping my balance metaphorically, allowing a reasonable amount of time for all the things I want to get done and switching to the next job on time? That’s just about impossible. I know other people can manage it – for that matter, I know there are people who can walk across tightropes or dance ballet. I can admire them, but I can’t be one of them.

Is this an answer?

For example. Back in March and February, I was finding time to write (fiction) regularly – and almost nothing else less urgent than brushing my teeth was getting done around here. Then I began making a point of getting some cleaning and tossing done, Flylady-style….and I’ve written almost nothing this month. I’m very good at lurching wildly from one side to the other; not so good at keeping an even keel. (If I were a boat, I’d have capsized long ago.)

How, oh how, can I find time to write? As it is, my main character from the fantasy-in-progress and his best friend and a mysterious frenemy have been lost in the forest for the past three weeks. I really need to get them out of the woods and back home so things can get worse for them. On the other hand, I’d just as soon not lose all the ground I’ve gained in cleaning up this place.

Well, I had an inspiration this morning, or maybe a very silly idea. One of Flylady’s favorite tricks is to set a timer for fifteen minutes and clean furiously just until it buzzes.

Maybe I can write Flylady-style, by the timer. I think I’d better give myself 30 minute chunks, since you lose a bit of time at the beginning thinking yourself back into the story. But even 15 minutes by the timer would be an improvement.

Wish me luck. It’s a gimmick, and if it works, who cares?

The uncomfortable comfort zone

A couple of months ago, margekatherine at Inside Out Cafe challenged all of us to try something new, to take a step outside our own comfort zone. I don’t know about other people, but I’m using the No Comfort challenge partly as a self improvement, “let’s fix Sharon”, project.

And that makes the whole idea of my comfort zone kind of interesting (in the “interesting” = “really really awful” sense). Parts of my life are like a very tiny, hard to find, pebble in my shoe that keeps slipping under my foot as I walk and digging into the arch or the heel or getting caught between two toes. You’d think it would be worth the trouble to stop and get rid of it, but I don’t do it. I don’t want to be embarrassed by getting caught balancing on one leg with my shoe off. I don’t want to take the time. I don’t really think I’ll be able to track it down – it’s such a ridiculously small pebble! – and get rid of it for good. And after all, I’ve been walking on it this long. I’m used to it, sort of. I think I can just keep going in spite of the pebble, can’t I?

We only need half the table for meals – so the other half gets full

One of my most annoying pebbles – the one with lots of sharp edges – is housework. Specifically, getting things organized. You may think you’re bad at organizing, but I bet I’m worse. (And even if I’m not, I feel like I am!) So, this week, I want to celebrate a very awkward-feeling stumble away from my uncomfortable comfort zone. Many thanks to beverleysmith at January to December, who put up a post a couple of weeks ago that reminded me about Flylady with her baby steps for getting organized!

Clear (mostly) at last! Now to keep it this way.

Well, I’m starting – I’m not following Flylady’s entire program by a long shot, but I am keeping my sink empty and making myself find fifteen minutes a day to pick things up. I have a very very long way to go, but things are a little better.

I’m very much an organizing toddler, though. And it’s frustrating. 😮

Out of anybody’s comfort zone

There are two (or more, but I’m sticking with binary here) reasons to go out of your comfort zone.

Mostly, we think of it in terms of growth, stretching your limits, expanding your horizons, overcoming obstacles. Things that are hard, but things that you choose so that you can end up where you want to go.

Then there’s the other way to leave your comfort zone – because you have no choice. Millions of people, right now, this minute, have been driven out of their comfort zones, by disease, by war, by poverty – my personal departure from comfort is a pretty minor one, really.

But it’s still unpleasant, even if it is a cliche: I’m becoming my mother’s mother, lost skill by lost skill. Her latest bit of slippage is especially unsettling because, in my family, it was always made very clear that my parents’ finances were Absolutely. None. Of. My. Business. And now I’m paying her bills and keeping her checking account balanced.

Monday, I’ll be getting her income tax done. Last year, I didn’t even have to think about her taxes. I don’t like it in this new world; she doesn’t like it here; we don’t have any way to go back.

(By the way: do you have grown children? Let them know where you keep your records and what your sources of income are. Now, while you remember. Don’t wait till it’s an emergency that you can’t help them with.)

It’s not that I object to helping her (though I finally realized that helping her is why I suddenly have so little free time). But it’s so painful to see a person who has always been responsible and independent become unable to cope.

Out of the comfort zone.

Getting back to my comfort zone

Sometimes we lose track of habits, even ones that make us happy. That’s been happening to me over the past six months while learning to cope with my mother’s declining health.

For years, I’ve been in the habit of walking a lot – actually, that started when I sprained my ankle badly a long time ago. (Falling down a couple of steps is disorienting enough. Falling down steps, coming to a stop lying on your side, and looking over at your left foot bent sideways at a 90 degree angle, with the sole flat on the floor, is not a good thing.) Even after the sprain healed, my ankle was weak and painful, until I started walking routinely. That seemed to strengthen the muscles so that they could stabilize my foot in a way that the damaged ligaments can’t manage any more.

So, for me, walking isn’t just one of those things you do because it’s recommended. Neglecting it makes me feel bad; my ankle aches, my gait gets a little wobbly, life is not good. And yet, from late September till early this year, I hardly walked at all. I didn’t have much time; I didn’t have enough focus to know how to best use the time I had.

Fairly recently, I’ve spent at least some time on our treadmill every week, and that’s a good thing. Outside walking, though? Not at all, even though it’s been one of the mildest winters I can remember. Even though I knew perfectly well I would feel better and cope better if I could get back to what used to be normal, something in me wanted to balk.

But this week, at last, at last, I made it outside, enticed by spring. Leaves are unfurling. Trees are covered with flowers. I headed outside with my little camera to celebrate. It wasn’t really a trip outside my comfort zone so much as a return to it.

With flowers.

Clarissa on the treadmill with a Kindle

Everybody has bookcases in the basement, right?

I really haven’t been exercising enough for the last few months. It’s almost become comfortable to be sedentary – it’s certainly become routine.

This week, I’m stretching my comfort zone to include an hour a day on our basement treadmill. (Like everything else in the house, of course it’s surrounded by books.) We bought the treadmill five or six years ago because the weather around here is just too variable to make walking outside something you can do every day. My husband uses it pretty much every day; I’m not that reliable.

One problem with the treadmill – even though I never have to deal with icy sidewalks or humid 98 degree afternoons or loose unfriendly dogs when I use it – is that it can be pretty boring. Reading is a good diversion, but near the beginning or end of a book (or anywhere at all, if the book is thick enough) it’s hard to prop it securely in the book holder without mangling the pages. Yay e-readers!

So I’m taking the Kindle on the treadmill to its ultimate level of absurdity. I’m reading Clarissa, also known as The Longest Novel In English, For The Love Of God Mr. Richardson Please Stop Writing.

And I’d say that reading Clarissa slowly while doing something else at the same time is working out well. I’m only up to the sixth letter (Clarissa is made up entirely of letters whizzing back and forth among a smallish group of rich English people in the first half of the eighteenth century, and how the characters managed to avoid being crippled with writer’s cramp I’ll never know) – anyhow, I’m not very far into the story, but I’m already noticing that Our Heroine Clarissa may be less than reliable.

It seems that her brother and sister are jealous because their grandfather left his whole fortune to Clarissa, the baby of the family. They shouldn’t resent it – he only did it because she is such a wonderful person; she tells us so. Okay. But as I read along and Clarissa scribbled away about irritable brother James and sulky sister Bella scheming to make sure they inherited all of their assorted uncles’ fortunes, I had to wonder just how much time Saint Clarissa spent deliberately sucking up to Grandfather before he wrote his will.

And we haven’t even come to the letters from Lovelace the Villain yet.

So, to return to the main point, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone by getting more exercise, and by solving a nagging problem of how to read while walking, and by tackling a notoriously huge novel.

At this rate, by the end of the year I’ll be so far beyond my usual comfort zone that I’ll either be utterly uncomfortable all the time, or I’ll be comfortable doing anything at all.

What IS a pack rat to do?

Add a table, chair, and shoe holders here? How?

Seriously.

One of my projects this year is to get rid of all the stuff in my house that we don’t use – sometimes because we can’t find it – and find ways that make sense to store the rest. And looking good would be nice, but let’s not boldly go too far from the household comfort zone.

Of course, one category of stuff I’ve bought far too often is books of advice on becoming organized. None of these books solved the problem; but is that the authors’ fault, or mine?

A reasonable guess would be that I’m more to blame than the people who write advice books. So I decided to take the first one I could find and spend a month doing everything it tells me to do. (FWIW, my source of decluttering wisdom turned out to be What’s a (dis)Organized Person to Do? by Stacey Platt. I’d call it a fairly typical specimen of this kind of book.)

The first chapter – “General Principles” – sounds promising. Alas, it’s only eight pages long, with lots of white space. Worse, Platt makes several good points but doesn’t seem to realize that some of us need advice on HOW to apply them. I especially like “Live within your space means”, but! I’ve been overspending my space (a Kindle’s nice, but I could still use a Tardis) for many years. I need someone to explain how to efficiently clear away the mountains of stuff – but I already know I can’t swallow the ruthless “just throw it out, you shouldn’t want it” approach that a friend tried to make me use.

(No, I’m not out of control enough to be entertainingly pilloried on one of those TV shows about hoarders. Just far enough out of control to make life way too complicated.)

Well, never mind. I’m going to follow the room by room advice if it kills me, and by the last page my home will be a showplace. Right?

Not so fast. Platt starts with the entryway, and wants us to organize that area with prettily matching hangers in the coat closet, a table or shelf to hold keys, cell phone, mail, and more, “containers for hats, scarves, and gloves; boot and shoe storage; a place to sit.” Suuure. I’ve got fifteen inches / thirty-eight centimeters of free space next to my front door. That’s not going to hold all that extra furniture.

And the four and a half feet (135 cm) wide floor space in my kitchen isn’t going to hold a butcher-block island and the kitchen table she suggests either. What was all that about living within your space budget?

I don’t mean to jump on Platt, or not very hard. Her book is typical of the genre. On the other hand, I’m not about to rush out and buy a bigger house so I can follow her advice.

I guess I’m on my own. 😦