In 1988, when I told people I had joined AI, they did not think of Artificial Intelligence. Instead, they probably knew I had joined the international human rights organization, Amnesty International. Like many of people, I became aware of the organization (it had begun in 1961) because of the musicians who headlined the Human Rights Now tour in 1988, especially Peter Gabriel.
I wa part of a local group that met at a Quaker Church and wrote lots of letters for Amnesty International over the years as part of their Write for Rights program. I haven’t been involved in recent years beyond making a donation. So, when I stumbled on this year’s membership card, I wondered if, in this day of AI and online forms, letter writing was still part of the mission.
Amnesty continues the tradition with a focused event related to Human Rights Day on December 10. They haven’t posted anything about this year’s event but you can learn more about the power of letter writing at the website. They continue to encourage us to handwrite our letters along with personalizing the recommended language. In this day of AI and copy/paste, a handwritten letter makes a personal connection between writer, reader, and, in this case, the person who is the subject of the appeal.
I don’t make specific resolutions anymore. I set some general intentions and goals for the year related to what I would like to accomplish in various areas of my life from reading to gardening to creating. None of them require the kinds of immediate and sometimes radical changes associated with resolutions.
I do like the idea of choosing a word for the year. I think the last time I did it publicly was in 2016 and I even blogged about it! It’s interesting that the title implied finding a balance between intention and intentional drift and included a couple Twitter conversations. I don’t remember having those kinds of dialogs on Twitter and it is nice to be reminded of the space when it was at least a little more civil.
That’s my goal: balance. I sorted through the Woodland Wardens Oracle Cards by Jessica Roux and found that Balance was represented by a dragonfly, a personal favorite of mine, and pansies, those lovely flowers that bloom in the winter. The dragonfly pendant in the picture was a gift from my mother and sister. The card and pendant sit on a filmy scarf that belonged to my fraternal grandmother. I use it for an altar cloth.
So, what do I mean by balance? I shared a meme from Tiny Buddha Official on Instagram that helps a bit:
Extremes, whether too many cupcakes or too many minutes on the treadmill, are no good for us. Reasonable goals with attainable goals are more likely to lead to success, and an attitude of balance may keep us from beating ourselves up. This goes along with my idea of daily-ish practices borrowed from Dan Harris.
Speaking of Dan Harris and Ten Percent Happier: they are sponsoring a free challenge starting on Monday, January 9, that will feature the Dalai Lama and focus on happiness. I encourage you to sign up and participate in some way. I was fortunate to hear the Dalai Lama speak and just being in the same auditorium with him instilled a sense of peace and joy.
I have been writing a lot of words in the past week although they are mostly not ready for prime time. I discovered Jeff Warren‘s meditation designed to help with creative block and have been using it for the past few mornings. Warren’s approach is similar to Julia Cameron’s morning pages applied to whatever you create: just write or draw or sing or sculpt without thinking or judging. Warren even suggests that it should be terrible. Making bad art is something Austin Kleon has written about as well.
Warren uses a timer–I’ve been doing 20 minutes–and rather than writing long hand the way I have for decades of morning pages, I am using my Freewrite keyboard. I want to start producing publishable text and the morning pages don’t lend themselves to formal writing. For now, the goal is getting the habit in place.
I haven’t given up the long hand morning pages, however, and am experimenting with approaching them as letters to an old friend. Still mostly stream of consciousness but with a bit of organization and thoughtfulness.
Letter writing has been on my mind, perhaps as part of a general nostalgia I’ve been feeling as I continue my transition into semi-retirement. In the olden days, I loved nothing better than spending an afternoon writing long letters to friends and family, settled into a comfortable chair with favorite pens and paper, a beverage alongside, maybe some music playing. I had a few good correspondents over the years, including the friend I visited in Pennsylvania this summer, but time and life and technology eventually saw our letters dwindle to a few lines on birthday and holiday cards, and now have largely been replaced by email, text messages and social media messages.
I am going to make time this week to write a newsy letter to my old friend. I did send a short thank you note, one of those cards with a few scribbled lines, when I returned home, but life has happened since we sat beside her pool. I will tell her about all the tomato sauce I am making from my San Marzano tomatoes, the cool, rainy weather that seems to herald fall’s arrival, what I am reading and watching, plans for the fall. It will be, at least for a little while, as though we are together again.
I have a daily routine, and it has been nice to be able to make it the focus of the morning rather than sometimes hurrying along before starting work. I have settled into semi-retirement enough that the work I am doing–facilitating a course on curriculum writing for Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit focused on domestic violence–has its place but doesn’t need daily oversight.
I usually get some part of the routine done every day. I generally draw a tarot card or two and write two or three pages, ala Julia Cameron’s morning pages. I try to do it first thing in the morning but am not always successful. Some mornings I just want to pick up the book I fell asleep over the night before. Other mornings, like yesterday, I head outside to the garden in order to get the work done before the heat of the day settles in. On those days, I may do some or none of the routine. *
Yesterday, I broke a 40-day meditation streak. I am disappointed, but it’s really ok. I try to think of the practices as “daily-ish,” a term I picked up from Dan Harris, creator of 10% Happier, the meditation app I use. The app tracks daily and weekly progress. When they do a focused challenge, you have to complete 90% in order to earn the gold medal. It seems a humane approach to me.
I am a little disappointed that I broke the streak. Today, I began again with the app. But, I am pretty sure I *did* meditate yesterday even if the app wasn’t tracking it**: while I was weeding vegetables, cooking dinner, walking dogs. I practiced focusing on just that one thing, open awareness of the world around me, not following random thoughts, coming back to the task when I did get lost in story. So, I am putting the lessons learned from the app into practice and that’s more important than any streak in an app.
*The ONLY part of the routine I always do is my four-shot latte. It is non-negotiable to the point that, if I can, I take my small espresso machine with me when I travel.
**The existential question for our time: if the app wasn’t tracking it, did it really happen?
The number one question I was asked when I told people I was retiring was, “What are you going to do?” I wish I had had a more satisfying answer for the questioners and, honestly, for myself. I named my hobbies including gardening, music, reading, crafting. A desire to travel. I mentioned potentially writing a book. But, ultimately, I didn’t know what I was going to do other than not continue doing the work I had been doing. It was work I loved, which made it hard to leave behind. But, the love had made it all consuming, and I knew it was time to take the next step even without being completely sure of the path.
Because of the holiday weekend, today seems like my first real day of retirement. So, what did I do? The usual morning routine of reading and journaling then feeding and walking the dogs. Rode my bike to the post office. Watched Wimbledon. Puttered around the house and garden. Ticked a few items off the to do list.
Now, as the afternoon wanes, I am getting around to doing the one thing I did want to accomplish on this first day of retirement: writing a blog post. And, in writing, I have come to a short time answer to the question: I have blogged on and off almost since blogs existed. But I never got into a regular practice. Now, I have the time, and I want to use at least some of it to establish that practice.
Not sure what I’m going to write about: technology, education, gardening, cooking, and pretty much whatever else takes my fancy.