Writing

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud - Week 6

Daffodils William Wadsworth

Many of us live in a world of constant chaos. Noise surrounds us: both audible and visible. It’s no wonder by the end of the day we’re fried, hoping we can find solace in the comfort of a hot bath or warm cup of tea.

In his poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, which I share below thanks to The Poetry Foundation which has it on its website, Wordsworth welcomes the silence, calling it the bliss of solitude. He ends his poem with:

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

Silence and mindfulness are not something many of us, I’ve quickly realized, are comfortable with even though research has shown that silence helps to reduces stress. I’ll raise my hand and admit I was among those people. While I need complete silence to write and work, silence when I’m not working felt off to me. Like I needed to fill in the time and space with something, anything. But I pressed on, hoping I could get to a place where it wouldn’t feel odd.

This week I ran the first time without my ear buds playing music to help me. I forced myself to take in my surroundings, hear the birds chirping, the kids laughing at the playground during their recess, the hum and honks of the cars driving past me. What I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t just the new sounds I was hearing, but the new smells I was inhaling, too. Without the music to distract me, all of my senses were on alert - including my sense of smell. I took deeper breaths to take in the intoxicating scents of spring - little wisps of sweet hyacinths and the odor of manure mulch a landscaping service was unpacking from their trucks near a home.

I missed listening to my music and using the music to help me get through my run but then as I paused to think about it, why was I using the music to help me “get through” something? Is it possible I might enjoy running more if I was more attuned to how my body was reacting during the run? I don’t know but I plan to found out next time I run outdoors. Right now, I still plan to put those earbuds in when I run at the gym.

In the meantime, if you made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope you’ll enjoy a moment of silence today, as I did, and seek out some daffodils that are finally making an appearance in my part of the world.


I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud 

By William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

 

Why I'm Dating Again + A Surprising First Quarter

My daughter and I brought a new weeping pussy willow home this month and I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see it bloom. She named it Steven. Once the weather cooperates, we’re planting Steven in our backyard to replace the fruit tree that died a couple of years ago. She and I agreed we need more trees in our lives so Steven will be a nice addition to our backyard.

My daughter and I brought a new weeping pussy willow home this month and I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see it bloom. She named it Steven. Once the weather cooperates, we’re planting Steven in our backyard to replace the fruit tree that died a couple of years ago. She and I agreed we need more trees in our lives so Steven will be a nice addition to our backyard.

March, thankfully, brought in the first day of spring on March 20. Man, was I ready. I embraced the day with wide open arms as I was looking forward to finally shedding my winter slump.

With the first quarter of the year in the books, I took some time to reflect. I read and am now re-reading and putting into daily practice The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Early in the book, she writes:

“It is often said that what you give attention to grows in importance.”

Ain’t that the truth.

This can be said of the things and activities we plan but also the company we keep, right? In late 2017, I wrote about the importance of showing up. Having felt like I was neglecting some of my friendships, I had vowed to make more time to nurture those friends I hold dear. I cannot tell you how much it means to me that many of my friends have taken the time to meet with me this quarter. Friends I haven’t seen in both months and years.

All I had to do was reach out and ask and they made time for me. It felt so good to hear how they were doing, share in their struggles and celebrate their successes. I’m so grateful and I am committed to continuing to make time to see my friends. An unexpected benefit is I’ve also met several new friends simply by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and allowing those new relationships to slowly take root.

Why I’m Dating Again

New relationships and rekindling old ones are important to me but I’ve also begun something new in March: I’ve started dating again. Those dates are with myself.

One of the things Cameron recommends in her book is to schedule weekly artist dates. I used to do these regularly before I had kids and smartphones took over our lives and it reminded me how important they were to my psyche. I also read the piece by David Brooks in the New York Times last week: Longing for an Internet Cleanse. If you’ve been following my monthly updates, you know I’ve been trying to minimize the time I spend online needlessly. These weekly artist dates have been nothing short of amazing and necessary. If you’re interested in what I’ve been doing this month, here is where I went on Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4. I highly recommend scheduling your own artist date.

A Couple Of Recent Projects & A Tease

This month there are two projects I wanted to highlight because I’m so proud of how they turned out.

  • The Designers’ Designer: Shumaker Design + Build Associates. I had the pleasure of working with Suzanne and Garry Shumaker to write the bio for their architecture design + build firm based in Evanston, Illinois. It was such a fun writing project and it doesn’t hurt that Suzanne is a gifted photographer, too, and her images accompany my words on their site.

  • EatingWell magazine. Seeing your byline in print never gets old, at least for me. It was such a treat to write the Food With Purpose column for the April issue of EatingWell magazine (out on newsstands now!). My editor was great to work with and I loved interviewing Dave Miller, the CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, the subject of the profile.

  • Coming up…speaking of interviewing CEOs, I had the pleasure of interviewing a new CEO who recently took the helm of a 150-year-old company. That interview was so fun to do and I can’t wait to see the story publish (which should be sometime this week!).

Books I’m Reading Or Am Excited About

I have a talented group of friends and several have books that either recently come out or they have their pub date soon.

Coming Soon - but you can pre-order now!

That’s it for now from me. I’d love to hear from you. What’s going on in your life? In the spirit of keeping my calendar open, if you’re up for a coffee date or lunch or visit to a museum, let me know!

Here’s to an even more beautiful and rich April, friends.

Feeling Grateful and Ready for Spring 🌷

Headspace Tip.jpg

Photo above is a screenshot from my phone of the Headspace app tip. The photo in the background is a shot I took of a sculpture of natural stones Chloe and Alex created when we were on Washington Island in Wisconsin last summer. 
 
What a month it’s been. It’s been a rollercoaster on so many levels. February has always been my hardest month. It’s when Chicago’s winter really grips you and you feel like your heavy winter coat has become a part of your body. February truly depresses me and I’m always happy when I turn the calendar to March because we get to celebrate the first day of spring. Shout out to my awesome friends and family who made this past month bearable. Here’s to longer days and warmer nights and dress weather! 
 
For those who’ve been following my meditation progress, I’m happy to report I’m still practicing daily. Not breaking the chain has been motivating me and it’s crazy how being forced to sit still and just *be* changes my outlook and carries through my entire day. Friends and I have been sharing things or books that have been particularly helpful and one that keeps popping up is Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’ve talked about Cameron’s work before since she’s how I learned of the Morning Pages but many people were reminded of her body of work since she was featured in the New York Times earlier this month. I highly recommend reading it if you’ve not yet. 
 
Professionally I gave my very first webinar this month, which was a blast. I continue to write mostly about food as well as architecture, interior and landscape design this month. I have a piece coming out next month in a major national consumer print magazine that I’m excited about so I hope I can share it once it’s published. My clients continue to keep me excited about the work they’re doing around social justice, clean energy and sustainability. I’m so honored to be part of their teams. 
 
Personally, I’m excited to be plotting out my backyard garden and deciding with my family what we’re going to grow this summer. Tomatoes will always be a part of our plan but any recommendations for Zone 5 vegetables and fruits are welcome! I can’t wait to make our annual pilgrimage to Lurvey’s Garden Center and load up the back of our car with plants to add to our garden. Then we’ll hit up our local farmers market to fill in the rest of the gaps. Last year we had amazing results with zucchini but we learned we need to give them space. They crowded our raised bed and didn’t leave any space for our eggplants. We’ve been planting our tomatoes in containers and I think that didn’t give them enough space for their roots so this year we’ll plant them directly in the dirt. 
 
Three more weeks until spring. We got this, right? I’m so ready to put my boots away and get my hands dirty! 
 
What are your plans this spring? How are you holding up this season?

Focusing On Where We Are Right Now

43 days straight, just over 7 hours and 48 sessions. That’s how much I’ve been able to commit to daily meditation since I started in late December. This may not seem impressive to many people, especially those who practice meditation regularly. To me, though, this is HUGE. It’s the longest stretch I’ve been able to keep meditating and while there are days I just don’t want to set aside the 10 or 15 minutes, like any physical exercise, there is never a time I’ve not felt it’s been worth it. Never. In fact, most days I’m looking forward to the forced stillness.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke with an editor of mine who has become a dear friend (and if she’s reading this right now, she knows who she is!). I hadn’t meditated yet and I mentioned that sometimes I wonder if this meditation thing is working because I’m not sure how it should feel if it is (or isn’t).

Then, yesterday evening, when I finally did meditate, the dreamy accent of the person behind the Headspace app starts off by reminding us we need to be “focusing on where we are at this moment, rather than how well we’ll progressing.” It’s like he knew how I felt and overheard my conversation! Like when you read your horoscope on your birthday and think it’s been written just for you! He reminded us to stop judging our progress because that’s where we get into the zone of frustration and stress.

Trust The Process

Even if it doesn’t always feel like I can get this meditation thing right, even if it doesn’t always feel like I’m able to focus for one minute, let alone 10, I continue to meditate. Why? I knew I needed to make changes in my life after last year.

Perhaps you know the feeling? Have you ever felt like sometimes we’re on a hamster wheel? Going through the motions and checking off the boxes but not feeling like we’re actually going anywhere? I lost a client I had been working with for years. One I loved and long respected and admired. Until something happened within their organization and it all came crashing down. Out of my control, but still, it was a painful reminder that no matter how much of our heart and soul we put into something, it can be lost in snap. We were doing great work together, checking the boxes, going through the motions and then, poof. It all came to a screeching halt and it felt like I got whiplash. That’s how much if 2018 felt for me and why I wanted to put things in place early this year to make changes.

Meditating is helping, even if I can’t really see exactly how. I can feel the changes. I can feel that I’m calmer (yes, my word of the year!). I’m reaching out to organizations who align with my interests and values in the sustainability and social justice space because those are the places where I want to focus my energy and work. Have I secured new work with any of those organizations yet? Not yet. Do I think I will this year? Absolutely. Why? Because I trust the process. I know what I’m capable of doing and I know the decision to bring on a communication consultant is rarely done in a vacuum or without thought about how to budget for it.  But I know for sure that if I don’t continue to reach out to those organizations and let them know I’m available, the odds of me having the opportunity to work with them will be considerably lower. So I continue to put the time and energy because I know if I stay with it, something will happen.

That’s why I continue to meditate.

Consistency Matters

Much has been said about quality over quantity. If you want to produce good work, put the effort in and produce good work. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment, I also know this is a numbers game. You want to run a marathon? You have to log in the miles. You want to become a better writer? You have to write. You want to secure better clients? You have to let them know you’re available. Not just in December or January. But every month. Because you never know when that call will come that tells you thanks for the five or 10 years of working together, but this will be our last month.

Last night I was at the rock climbing gym where my kids practice as part of a team and I overheard their coach pushing one of their teammates to try to finish a challenging route. She was so close, just one step away from making it to the top, but she didn’t feel like she could finish it and was going to let herself fall off the wall. Her coach wouldn’t let her. “Try, just try,” he said. Buoyed by his encouragement, she tried. She didn’t make it and ended up falling off the wall.

“You’ll fall the same distance if you try and don’t make it,” he reminded her. “But you might make it, so why not try?”

Even if we don’t always hit those high notes or finish those routes or secure the clients we want or the stories we pitch, we have to keep getting out there. We have to keep trying. Consistency matters. And so does focusing.

What are you hoping to try this year? Have you taken any steps in January to inch closer to making it happen? Anything I can do to help? Let me know! Until then…stay warm, friends! 

Fall Reflection and Operation 2019

As I’m writing this post on a Sunday morning, the trees are doing a little dance outside since it’s so windy. The last of the leaves that haven’t fallen yet are barely holding on. Do we bother to rake today or wait one more week until all the trees are bare?

Fall in Chicago is my second favorite season (spring is my first love) because it represents hibernation and reflection for me. The frenetic pace of summer comes to a still. The colder weather invites warm blankets, hot tea and cuddling with a warm book. Or more intimate gatherings with friends around hot cocoa or going together to hear author readings.

It’s also a time for me to review what went well through the year, what kind of work I really enjoyed doing, what I didn’t, and what I need to do before the end of this fiscal year since I still have seven weeks. It’s also an opportunity to set up the kind of work I want to be doing in 2019.

Operation 2019

What I’ve realized through this introspection is that I really enjoy working in the environment, sustainability and social justice space. I also love all things food and culture, including everything from architecture, design and history to museums and cultural events. Finally, I also really enjoy teaching. As this latest course I’m teaching at Johns Hopkins University nears the end, I’m reminded at how much my students are really working their butts off to complete the material in the class in addition to working full time or raising families. Next month, I’ll be teaching a new class at University of Chicago’s Graham School on how to prepare and deliver strong visual presentations.

Now my goal is to find clients and editors in those spaces. Operation 2019 has begun! Got any ideas of who to reach? Let me know. Sometimes we forget the obvious.

Podcasts I’m Enjoying Right Now

I’m a bit of a podcast junkie. I edit my podcast library pretty regularly because I want to have a tight and curated list. In addition to #AmWriting, HowSound, and GrottoPod, three podcasts I’ve been listening to for over a year, I’ve added the following to my rotation these last couple of months:

·      Hurry Slowly: a podcast on the importance of thinking through what you’re doing rather than just reacting or doing something for the sake of doing it.

·      WTF Just Happened: thanks for the recommendation, Shannan! If you don’t want to be sucked into the black hole that is online news, this podcast is a nice and quick overview of what’s happening around the world.

·      On Background: similar to WTF Just Happened, this one is focused on the backstory of what’s making headline news in the Chicagoland area. I’d call it beyond the news behind the soundbite…

·      The City by USA Today: and similar to On Background, The City is an investigative podcast on what’s behind the six stories of rubble on Chicago’s west side. Although it’s not really about the rubble. The story is about corruption, environmental racism and incompetence when it comes to our so-called elected leaders. 

·      Last Scene: a riveting series talking about the most valuable and puzzling art heist in history: 13 artworks stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and 28 years later, the mystery of who stole the pieces has not been solved.

·      The Dream: have someone who is part of the multi-level marketing world? This podcast digs into the model and why it works for the top few at the expense of the thousands of others who almost always lose money. What’s the attraction and why do so many people fall prey, knowing the odds are stacked against them?

Mourning The Loss of Blockbuster Video Stores

When I picked up Gail Sheehy’s book, Passages, Predictable Crises of Adult Life, at my neighborhood’s Little Free Library, I didn’t know what to expect. Reading the synopsis on the back of the book, I was intrigued. It almost sounded like the adult version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. While the book was written in 1976, only once I finished it and did some research on Sheehy and the book did I learn it was named one of the 10 most influential books of our times by the Library of Congress. I feel like I was a bit late to this party but I’m so glad I stumbled upon the book and gave it a chance. If you’ve not already read it, I highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating look at what types of experiences, or passages, we all experience at some point during each decade of our lives. Keep in mind, Sheehy wrote this book in the mid-1970s so many of the examples focus on the mores of the time.

After I read it, I wondered: who put it in our Little Free Library? What’s this neighbor of mine like? Do I know this neighbor?

This whole experience reminded me of Blockbuster Video and why I miss it. I miss stumbling upon films I might never have considered had I not read their description. Sometimes I’d ask complete strangers hanging out in the aisles, looking for their own evening entertainment, if they’d seen whatever movie I was considering and if they’d recommend it. Sure, you can read descriptions flipping through Netflix and Amazon Prime or whatever your streaming service preference, but often these are curated for you based on past viewing decisions.

That’s not to say I didn’t choose some bad films, but the whole experience of going to the video shop, perusing the selections, talking with others in the store, choosing one and watching it was still fun. It’s like the experience of going to an independent bookstore and reading the backs of books you’ve not heard of because they’re not on any sort of bestseller list but they’re still outstanding books. Or asking the bookshop owner for a recommendation based on a book you enjoyed.

I’m all for advancements and technology and all that. But I feel as though we’re losing some real tangible opportunities to strengthen our communities when businesses close their brick and mortar businesses for the more efficient and cost-effective online presence.

I miss my local Blockbuster Video and the opportunities to choose a movie based on a random person’s recommendation. At least I have our Little Free Libraries and the opportunity to chat up with neighbors about the books they’re dropping off and recommending.

I'm Going On A Diet – Here’s Why You Should Join Me

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Happy Friday, everyone!

Before you think my diet involves limiting my food intake or increasing my workouts and I’m going to try and sell you something, it’s not that kind of diet. The diet I’ve been trying these past couple of months is a social media diet.

Which is ironic, perhaps, since the class I’m teaching this summer at Johns Hopkins University is on Using Social & Digital Media. But there is a method to the madness and I’m planning on discussing my challenge with my students.

Here’s the thing: I’m drowning in emails and I’m getting frustrated that I’m not as productive as I know I can be. What should be taking me 30 minutes, maybe an hour, is taking me hours. I created this problem by being accessible. Sources reach out to me via Facebook messenger, readers comment on articles I’ve written via Twitter, clients text me when they need to get in touch quickly…the madness needs to stop because I’m not getting any actual work done.

I Like To Be In Control So I Put Myself on a Social Media Diet

This constant being “on” is making me feel out of control. I need to re-gain my time. I took off Facebook from my phone. I only log onto Twitter a few times a day rather than have it open all day on my desktop. I check my email only once an hour unless I’m in pitching mode or working on breaking news, like I was late last week, and I needed to be on email all day on Friday.

I Vow To Go Out More

Because I’m an extrovert and I feed off other people’s energy, I need to be social. Working for yourself and not being in an office can seem isolating for some but I’ve worked it out where I see people all the time so that’s not a problem for me. The picture on this email is of a painting by French painter Jean-Siméon Chardin called The House of Cards that I took when I was in DC a couple of months. Nestled among Renoir, Monet and Degas paintings, I couldn’t take my eyes off this painting. How calm. How quiet. I needed to reclaim my time. I needed to remind myself to take more trips to the museums, walk or take my bike to run errands so I can enjoy the outdoors, block time to talk and see my friends rather than text them that I missed them.

Podcast & Book Love

Perhaps at the right time, my brother texted me about a new book recommendation: Deep Work by Cal Newport. Not 30 minutes later, I was listening to one of my favorite podcast, #AmWriting with Jess & KJ, and KJ mentions it on their episode! I texted my brother that I think it’s a sign I need to read it. He orders it from Amazon to have it delivered to my house and 48 hours later.

If you love podcasts as much as I do, listen to this great interview with Cal Lampert on NPR. You can also watch his TedTalk on why you should quit social media. I should note that I have no intention of quitting social media. Honestly, I can’t. As a marketer and writer, it’s part of my daily work. But I can control how much I consume it, and that’s where my diet is working, albeit slowly.

Speaking of slowly, another great podcast I’ve been enjoying is by Jocelyn K. Glei called Hurry Slowly. She’s also the author of Unsubscribe (which reminds me, I need to get a copy!).

I mentioned I’m teaching a class about using social and digital media and it might seem out of line to be teaching this class if I’m intentionally trying to limit my intake of social media. And, let’s be honest, sending an email like this one is using digital media. I’m not going off social media, I’m just taking control of how I access it and I don’t think I’m alone. As marketing and communication professionals, we need to understand how to best reach our audiences; how they consume social and digital media is crucial to developing effective marketing plans.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find a Twitter party. My students and I will be participating in Twitter chats all summer. Have any good ones for us to join? If so, email me and let me know. I may not respond until Monday, but I’ll definitely respond! ;-)

Until next month, my friends…

What To Include, What To Leave Out: An Exercise Of Focus

In Draft No. 4, author John McPhee writes, “what to include, what to leave out. Those thoughts are with you from the start.”

McPhee is a master on the writer’s craft. In his latest book, he lets us peek into his writing process. “Writing is selection, and the selection starts right at Square 1. When I am making notes, I throw in a lot of things indiscriminately, much more than I’ll ever use, but even so I am selecting. Later, in the writing itself, things get down to the narrowed choices. It’s an utterly objective situation.”

His approach is similar to mine, whether I’m tackling a writing assignment or client’s project. I gather everything I feel makes sense and treat the task at hand like a puzzle. What fits in where, does it make sense to include this or not, is this detail gratuitous or necessary? The gathering process isn’t hard. What’s hard is figuring out how to make sense of it all.

“The approach to structure in factual writing is like returning from the grocery store with materials you intend to cook for dinner,” he explains in his book. “You set them on the kitchen counter, and what’s there is what you deal with, and all you deal with. If something is red and globular, you don’t call it a tomato if it’s a bell pepper. To some extent, the structure of the composition dictates itself, and to some extent it does not.”

What I’ve learned over the years is the first draft is rarely good. Then again, it isn’t meant to be. The first draft is more about seeing what you brought home from the grocery store and figuring out what you can make of it.

It requires us to focus.

What are you focusing on this month? I have two long-term client projects that will require some attention this month to move forward, several writing assignments to file, and a few client prospects in the hopper.

Let’s do this, March!

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash