End: Day 100

Here I am, at the end of my 100 Day Challenge. Am I a changed person? Yes, but I doubt the change was driven as much by myself as by the external forces that have changed everyone the spring of 2017. I have wrestled with distraction and come away reaffirmed in my sense that I am a person of the 20th Century. I was born towards the end of the 3rd Quarter of that century and spent my childhood and young adulthood in a 20th Century world. Writers I am reading suggest that people of my generation will become more valuable precisely because we remember so clearly a world before the non-stop electronic exaggeration. I don’t know many young people in the USA who spent part of their childhood without electricity, let alone without YouTube. Continue reading “End: Day 100”

Shallow: Day 90

I confess, 100 Days is a very, very long challenge. I can see why people relish the 30 or 40 Day Challenges. I chose a longer time because I wanted to create my own narrative about this particular season in my life.

I am about to begin my very first Academic Sabbatical. I am 4 years late taking my sabbatical. How can I be late in a Sabbatical you might ask? When the concept of Sabbath was created, it was set to occur every 7th Day. The idea of a day of rest was extended to land, which was given every 7th year to lay fallow and restore its fertility. Plowing a field year after year depletes it of vitality and slowly, but surely, reduces the yield from the land. The addition of chemical fertilizers or rotating crops might delay or forestall the effects of continuous farming, but eventually, only a rest will prevent the land from drying up and blowing away. This concern is one of the reasons that to this day, farmers are paid to allow parts of their land to lay fallow each year. The Dust Bowl was the largest human created environmental disaster and it was created by plowing up fields that had lost their fertility.

Preparing for a period of rest? Doesn’t that just involve putting a message on the answerphone and turning out the lights? Not in my case. I am not resting from reading and writing, I am resting from the continual distraction from reading and writing. This distraction is first and foremost created by EMAIL! Yes, I have named the beast in my life. Despite the junk and spam filters, and partially because of my own habits of responsiveness and curiosity, I have close to an hour of work each day just to manage my email. This is a huge increase over the situation when I began my career at Texas State. Yes, some of this increase is because of my changing roles and visibility but some of it is because of the changes that our entire society is experiencing when it comes to the internet.

I can only dimly remember buying my first smartphone. I purchased a Galaxy Nexus because it would run “pure” Android and was recommended by my brother. I picked it up on “sale” when the Nexus 4 was released in late 2012. This is only 5 years ago. But what  5 years it has been! I, like everyone else, have been battling the distraction created by this device ever since. Because I live with a person who has steadfastly refused to use a smartphone, I can see, each day, how my life is different that it would have been. Being available to email and “news” all the time is not good, not good at all if you are a person who is paid and promoted to think deeply about things.  I have to change my relationship with these devices.

I began this 100 Day Challenge so that I could experiment with what I needed to feel happy, productive and comfortable. I have been asking myself about all of the various distractions in the world and how I can reduce them to become a better version of myself. I have discovered several things.

  • I look great in black. My scarves look great on black.
  • I don’t need Facebook.
  • I have an addition to reading.
  • If I am not careful, I will spend my time reading shallow, poorly written “news” instead of deeper, more meaningful material that will benefit my thinking.
  • I don’t need a smartphone but I like having one.
  • I enjoy writing but I don’t need the audience of a blog to motivate myself to write.
  • I overwork, overcompensate and overexplain because I am anxious.
  • It only takes 3 deep breaths and the memory of standing on
    Lāʻie Point while thinking “I don’t care what they think” to stop feeling anxious.

Holy: Day 80

The 80th day of my 100 Day Challenge happens to fall on Palm Sunday. By this point, my friends have noticed that I am no longer strictly observing my “diet” of black. I explain to them that my scarves are beautiful and that my intention in beginning the capsule challenge was not to state that wearing black was superior, although many people who wear all black (e.g. fashion mavens) adopt a superior air. My intention was to become comfortable in black, a color I had banish, to use a capsule wardrobe for longer than 10 days and to make getting dressed a simple act, instead of a complex act. I have just unpacked my chest of “spring” clothes, unfolding and hanging all sorts of pastel and lightweight tops and sweaters. I folded up the colorful but heavy weight clothes I not wearing at the moment anyway and packed them away until Halloween, when I can have the fun of “shopping” my own clothes out of the chest again. But Holy Week is a chance to wear the all black wardrobe another time with the serious intent that Holy Week provides.

My name, Gwendolyn, is a made up Victorian name for Merlin’s supposed abandoned wife. It has a Welsh flair and some dictionaries connect the meaning of Gwynne (white) to holiness. My favorite meaning of my name is “white forehead” or “holy intellect”.  The word Holy creates some problems. Are the people wearing all black saying “holier than thou”? Why do people who are trying to incorporate holiness into their life often end up seeming so irritating and self-involved. Is holiness an attribute that people can have or generate or is it an attribute that is endowed on nature and that we share by sharing in nature? If a creator looks at their created works and says “It is good”, is that the moment when the holiness is sparked? Is my desire to pull away from the sordid, fast and shallow parts of our current lifestyle as Americans, which I have characterized as a quest for the “real”, actually a search for those parts of life that could, in some moments, be considered holy? This is the time of year to consider this, isn’t it?

Worldview: Day 70

Coming back from 7 days in the European Union, I feel reoriented in my world view. This is a well known benefit of travel. It doesn’t hurt that my work in Ireland was to attend, as a new member of the Executive Council, a meeting of the International Federation for Home Economics. This organization is the only international body for my discipline, is a recognized Non-Govermental Organization and is responsible for consulting to the United Nations about Home Economics. This means that the sort of colleagues joining me at the meeting are all seriously focused on the larger role of our profession in the lives of individuals and families in nations around the world. 
It is always a good thing to learn of the struggles, concerns and fears of people whose lives are so different and yet so essentially similar to mine. I left the meeting and this island on the edge of another continent deeply affirmed in my desire for the record of my life, in the book of history, to be on the pages listing people who were brave and risked everything they have to defend values they hold as essential. 

My ancestors, from Mennonites who carved a clearing in the 17th century Pennsylvania woods to 20th century widows shepherding their young children towards stern new fathers in dusty prairie towns, have been brave and possessed of the desire to live their Faith in freedom. Soaring across the sky in a mere fraction of their journey, from the height of this worldview, I can feel their strength in my spine and their faith flash in my eyes. 

Trek: Day 60

Travel can be an excellent way to reset my point of view. I am in Ireland for a Leadership meeting of the International Federation for Home Economics (IFHE), where I serve on the Executive Council. You can read about my travels over on my studio blog, where I will post daily during the trip. For example, I have posted photos of the trip across Ireland to our host city on the Atlantic Coast. Enjoy a taste of green. 


Strategy: Day 53

I haven’t posted for 9 days but I have been busy working on the 100 Day Challenge all the same. In any plan, it is helpful to stop and evaluate progress compared with an original vision. My original vision was to reduce my anxiety about feeling disconnected from real life. I stated in the beginning that I knew that talking about my concerns about the Internet, on the Internet, was paradoxical. I had hoped, correctly as it turns out, that spending time blogging about my use of the Internet would help me wean myself from the activities that were of concern. Here’s how I have changed things up. Continue reading “Strategy: Day 53”

Fika: Day 28

I’ll admit it. I first learned about Fika reading the back of a table stand in the cafe at IKEA in RoundRock. But, I liked what I read and wanted to read more. Fika is a slippery word that the Swedes would prefer we not translate. It can mean both the act of gathering for a coffee break and the gathering itself, as well as the treats consumed at the coffee break, often cinnamon rolls.

Continue reading “Fika: Day 28”