Facing 2013: the Daily Checklist Project

I tend to shy away from major resolutions at the beginning of a new year. But I do like the opportunity for reflection, and the idea of a fresh start, the prompt to decide how I want to live the next few months of my life.

This time around, I’ve started my New Year’s plan early. I decided to make a daily checklist of things that are important to me, with the goal of accomplishing most of the items on most days. Here it is:

1. Exercise
2. Studies/classwork
3. Creative writing
4. Something to improve the house/keep the household running
5. An act of love for someone else
6. An expression of gratitude

Some of these can overlap. Buying groceries can fall under headings 4 and 5, for instance, especially if I make an effort to find one special item for each member of the family. I have a few more specific thoughts about each goal I listed.

1. Exercise. This is pretty obvious. I need to take care of myself. I walk to work, which helps me meet this goal. However, it’s only on five-minute walk, if I take no detours. Then again, some days I work split shifts, so I make the round trip twice. On those days, that’s 20 minutes of walking. If I can manage to leave the house a few minutes early on workdays, I can add a loop around the park and end up with a fair number of steps. Days I don’t work pose more of a challenge, as unintuitive as that seems. But I find I’m trying to run all of my errands and catch up on other things, so the opportunity for exercise isn’t automatically scheduled in. I’ll have to remind myself to make the effort on those days.

2. Studies/classwork. I’ll write about this in more detail in a future post, but I’m pursuing a course of study that has me taking one on-line class right now. I might bump it up to two at a time after I finish this one, depending on how my schedule is feeling. Nevertheless, it requires the discipline to make myself show up and do the work.

3. Creative writing. I have a theme in mind for poetry for the coming year. I’m thinking in terms of a chapbook, so I don’t want to divulge too much detail at this time. I’m also about 30,000 words into writing a novel.

4. Something to improve the house/keep the household running. There is no end to the number of home improvement projects that need done around here. A couple I plan to tackle that will probably require the use of vacation time. We have a new accessibility ramp, and we can’t put any finish on it yet. Around March or April, though, it’s happening. We also had a new back door put in, and I need to paint the door frame. Same project more or less. My husband and I tentatively plan to repair and repaint the walls in our entry room as well. Beyond that, I need to get a better handle on housework. If I can even just clean a sink on days I’m super busy, that will be better than nothing.

5. An act of love for someone else. The older I get the more I think love is defined by how you act, rather than how you feel. I hope I don’t disappoint myself on this one. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Listening with genuine interest to one of my kids talk about something that excites them, or taking some supplies to my mom, or getting a cup of coffee for my husband. I just want to make sure I’m remembering to be part of the world around me.

6. An expression of gratitude. Another one that can be accomplished in mere seconds, yet I can forget it some days. It can be as brief as noticing that – yay! – our water heater still works. Or  a sincere thanks to a store clerk.

That’s it. Nothing huge. But daily attention to the basics feels about right.

Duotrope to Begin Charging Fee

Starting Jan. 1, 2013, Duotrope will make most of its information available to paid subscribers only. I understand why they need to do this, but I’m bummed. I’ve found the site to be a valuable source of practical market information – the average response time feature, especially. The search filters have been pretty awesome for me, too. I’ve sent a donation or two to help keep them running, but not much, to be honest.

It’s the age-old quandary for the spare-time writer who would like to get somewhere with the art, but is inching along. How do you justify to yourself and your family the time you devote to this activity, if you’re spending a lot more money than you’re bringing in? Duotrope’s fees look reasonable. $5/month. But honestly, I’ve never made more than $120 in a single year with my writing. I want to support them, but can I afford to?

I can’t remember the number of times I’ve read articles telling me I have to attend conferences if I want to get my writing noticed. Or enroll in an expensive writing program. Or…do something that costs a lot of money. Who can afford that? I also see a lot of people for whom writing is an expensive hobby. If they’re happy, that’s fine. If my writing time turns out not to be much more than a hobby, that’s fine, too. I have a day job. But an expensive hobby is out of the question. I’m not poor, by any means. I have everything I need and more. But I’m also not in that small percentage of the population who don’t have to budget so much. And I’m frugal by nature.

I completely support this move by Duotrope. I believe it’s a good value. It still doesn’t mean I can pull the money from my budget at this time. Ah well, I will thank them for the years they’ve given me and be grateful for that. And maybe, if things change slightly for me, maybe I’ll be able to subscribe eventually.

Come Healing – the Power of Music and Poetry

Like everyone else, I’m processing the school shooting that happened in Newtown, CT last Friday. Like everyone else, I can’t fathom the pain experienced by the parents of the slain children. I felt devastated more than 1,100 miles away, with no connection to the families, other than being a parent who knows what it is to love a child.

At work today, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I surreptitiously checked it, only to see a text alert from the local public school district, the one where my son is enrolled. All schools were on modified lock-down. Students safe. Wha-? ALL schools? Were they being threatened? What was going on? I had a hard time maintaining my composure as I waited on library patrons, because all I wanted to do was check the web for local news to try to find out what was going on. Thank goodness for the “students safe” part of the text. Turns out there was a wide-ranging car chase going on, and the driver had been identified as having an ex-wife who was employed by the district. Before too long, a second text arrived stating the lockdown was ended.

And that was when I had to excuse myself to go wipe my eyes in the bathroom. Because I’d had the tiniest of tiny tastes of what the Newtown parents had experienced. And it brought the tragedy to the forefront of my mind again.

Many people, myself no exception, have taken to social networking with opinions and activism of one sort or another in the wake of the tragedy. One thing I’ve noticed in between impassioned debates about gun control and mental health care, is that folks have been posting many links to music and poetry.

Only last week, I discovered the Leonard Cohen song, “Come Healing.” Somehow it seems perfect for the time. I can’t stop listening to it. I can’t even explain why it helps, but it helps. That’s the magic of music. It doesn’t make the grief go away, but it gets us through.

Many of my facebook friends have posted the link to the children’s choir singing “Silent Night” on Saturday Night Live. For the couple of minutes the song lasts, you’re given the feeling that somehow the world might be worth living in again some day. A few more friends have posted this Kahlil Gibran poem.

Now I see. Music and poetry are more than arts. They’re human instincts.

What songs and poems get you through?