Morning Pages: Epic Failure

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So about a month ago, I posted about a new goal of mine: Morning Pages, inspired by the fact that I can’t remember anything about the fourth grade. The basic idea is that every morning, before you do anything else, you force yourself to sit and handwrite three pages full of whatever you want. Theoretically, this will make you more productive. To be honest, I don’t really understand what the science supposedly is. You’re more aware of your time, or you get your worries out at the beginning of the day, or something. In any case, I constantly wish I was better about keeping a journal so it seemed like a good idea.

I HATED THIS. Usually, when I abandon attempts at productivity, I feel some amount of guilt. This time, I felt like I was winning. I actively hated this practice. I dreaded getting up and having to think of three things to write, I hated having to sit and write when I just wanted to get going on the rest of my life, I hated that it always made me think of all the things that stressed me out about the day. I particularly took issue with having to find either a place to write or an explanation for why I was writing while I was living at home with my parents. Mornings just aren’t really conducive to sitting quietly and writing. I get that that’s the point, but I really, really hated it, and I didn’t feel like it made me more productive.

Sometimes I did feel like it helped me get all my angst about a source of stress out of the way early, but just as often I felt like it just reminded me of stuff I was worried about so I could get the worrying going early.

My biggest complaint was probably unfair, because it had to do with its failure to improve my journaling, which isn’t really the goal of the program. It was part of the appeal for me though. When I try to write at night, I feel the urge to write about my day and things that happened without having to force it. When I wake up in the morning, my mind is more clear, and I’ve already forgotten a lot of the previous day. I ended up with three pages per day of “I don’t have that much to say. I’m worried about having to fly on Saturday” and other scintillating thoughts. (My life is a real page-turner in the evenings, FYI. Sometimes I write about what I’ve had for dinner).

I love productivity tips, and I really want to start a long-lasting journaling habit, but this was not a good example of the former or helpful for the latter for me. 2/10.

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I’m a Loser: reviews of Fear of Flying apps and podcasts

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So I’m writing this from what I hope (dear God please) is 30,000 feet. I’ve flown a lot and I used to think fear of flying was for first time flyers, but in the past couple of years it’s been so terrifying, which is like the opposite of Renaissance man (woman) style. I saw somewhere that the average age to develop fear of flying is 27, apparently because by that age you’re old enough and connected with enough people that you gave a greater fear of loss. Typical of me to develop anxiety before my time.

Anyway, so on the way to see my parents, I listened to this fear of flying podcast over and over and over. On the way back, which is right now, I’m listening to a bunch of other ones that I found and reviewing them all to distract myself from my imminent death.

Hypnosis with DJ Frost, “Fear of Flying”: okay this dude’s name suggests that he is not a real person, I know, but I’m into this one. This guy is a commercial airline pilot (he goes through all of his qualifications at the beginning). [as I am writing this the plane turned sideways and I lost a year off my life]. Anyway, he’s also a hypnotist? Idk. I’m not super into hypnotism and was prepared to lol at this one, but it’s actually not really about hypnotism. Instead, the guy hosting the podcast just asks him a bunch of questions about things that scare people about flying, like what if you can’t see the runway, why are there weird smells, what kind of mechanical and medical tests do you do, how do you avoid other planes in the air? I’ve never been particularly concerned about hitting other planes, though I’m always open to developing a new fear. Anyway, the pilot goes through all the different systems they have on the plane that keep you from crashing and dying and it’s actually pretty calming/distracting. They also make the good point that the pilot usually wants everything to be okay too. It’s not the same as meditation, but the pilot sounds so bored with all of these fears that it kind of made me more bored with them too. 7/10.

Deborah Barron’s Fear of Flying: this one is only 5 minutes long which is a letdown already It starts with a story about falcons which is confusing me. Is it going to become about flying? Oh, the falcon doesn’t like flying. The woman next to me has her shoes off and is walking around in her hospital socks. Horrified that she might go to the bathroom in her socks. As you might guess, this podcast is going nowhere. It’s basically like, “do things you’re afraid of.” I don’t think it’s even supposed to be about real flying. This is a disappointment. 0/10, though presumably good for life-coaching.

Rick Steves Audio Europe, “Fear of Flying”: this one also has a pilot, which I’m into. Apparently, he runs a fear of flying clinic. He starts with all the things people worry about with flying and where the fear comes from. My fear definitely comes from being out of control and the horror that I assume accompanies knowing you’re dying. In a car crash, you have a split-second a lot of the time. Flying is more like terminal cancer, except you can’t tell your family goodbye. This is getting dark, what is my life.

This guy is rambling, so I will interject that this is actually a pretty distracting project, highly recommend distracting yourself by ignorantly critiquing people more accomplished and knowledgeable than yourself.

Unclear why this podcast is called Audio Europe since they’re both Americans.

This podcast and this app I’ll get into below suggest you ask to talk to the pilot before the flight. This isn’t really for me because I also can’t deal with human interaction, but I bet my grandmother would be all over that.

Gross, apparently if you hit a bird it smells like fried chicken in the plane? Is this a thing? This guy is so deadpan, it’s very unclear.

This guy is basically a less detailed, more deadpan version of DJ Frost (there’s a joke somewhere in his name), but he has the same calming boredom, and he’s 15 minutes long, so at worst he kills some time. His class sounds cool, it’s a non-profit, and he takes a practice flight with them at the end. I blame Rick Steves for not asking the hard-hitting questions, like WHY DO YOU TURN THE PLANE SIDEWAYS SO MUCH. 6/10.

The Anxiety Guru Show: “How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying”.

This guy starts with an announcement that this guy just got his Master’s in therapy or something. I have no sense of how difficult those programs are so I never know if I should be impressed.

He says 1 in 4 have some anxiety about flying. What I heard was 1 in 4 people have some anxiety about flying and at least 2 in 4 people are liars. He also sounds like such a bro. Bring back the grumpy fifty year old pilots.

I’m really not comforted by the “you’re more likely to die in a car” statistic because, like I said, I’m more worried about hurtling towards the earth frantically trying to text my parents and Anonymous Boyfriend. Dark again, whoops.

Okay so basically it seems like this guy is just telling you how to do life and not that much about flying. Apparently he will post a future podcast that talks you through the flight, but I didn’t see it and there’s no wifi on this plane. I think I’m biased because he sounds like my age, but he’s saying stuff like “it’s less stressful if you pack early.” However, he does point out my favorite airplane stress routine: look at the flight attendants and see if they look like they’re contemplating the contents of their last will and testament. 5/10.

Meditation for Health, “#39(a) Guided Meditation for Fear of Flying”: THIS PODCAST IS MY JAM.  I listened to it like twenty times on the way to my parents’ house. Basically, it’s just this guy saying over and over again (all paraphrased) that “you are flying through the air, you are safe,” and, my favorite, “you can listen to this as many times as you need to during the flight.” Thank you, I will. My only criticisms are 1) it’s only 10 minutes, and 2) at one point he says “allssss you have to do,” which grates on my nerves. Just say “all.” What geographic area does that come from? If he can say “alls,” I want people to stop teasing me about saying “y’all,” which is a very useful word. 8/10

BONUS: Soar

So this one’s an app but it’s amazing. First, it has all these little pages where you can read about how yes, it is actually normal for the plane to feel like it’s slowing down after you take off. The best/worst part is the “g-force meter,” which supposedly shows you that the plane is okay because it’s in a certain G-force range. But aren’t there other problems that can go wrong? Is low g-force what it feels like when you’re crashing? I have 0 idea whether this is a real thing, but I can confirm that when there was turbulence on my last flight it was jumping like crazy. That’s kind of terrible, but also it stayed well within the range that the app said was safe, so that was comforting. On this flight, I’ve been saving it for times that I feel really freaked out, but it’s also calming to watch it stay stable like in this pic:

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There’s also a paid version, which I think has a little fear of flying course you can take. I’m not that desperate yet. 9/10.

If you have somehow ended up here and are looking for recommendations, I would get Soar, the Meditation for Health podcast, and DJ Frost (how does he go by that??). DJ Frost was good during takeoff because he was telling me all the reasons the plane is safe, and Meditation for Health is good in the air when there’s turbulence because that guy is reminding you that “alls you have to do is breathe.”

If you’re reading this, I survived.

Mini Habits, by Stephen Guise: was this book written for me?

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So last week I read Mini HabitsSmaller Habits, Bigger Results, by Stephen Guise. This was, again, one of my Kindle Unlimited options. I waited to post about it because it’s definitely a Monday sort of book. On Mondays, I always get the urge to be a more worthwhile human. As evidence that I am not a worthwhile human, I submit that I thought it posted on Monday but it didn’t actually go through.

The premise of Guise’s system is that you can create all (actually 1-4 at a time) of the good habits you want in life by starting extremely small–his example is committing to doing one push-up every day, your mini habit, in order to ultimately create a full exercise habit. This is perfect for me, because my go-to system is to get super excited about my good habit, do the bare minimum, and then abandon it forever.

His argument, however, is that you won’t abandon your mini habit because it’s so painless. Further, he posits that you will expand on the habit a lot of the time because you don’t have to. For example, a lot of the dread associated with going to the gym is because your mind builds up the horror of 45 minutes on the treadmill. However, if your mini habit is just to drive to the gym, once you’re there you might think, “well, I can at least go inside,” then, “I might as well walk on the treadmill for a few minutes,” then, “I could probably run for thirty seconds,” and so on.

One of the aspects I had the most difficulty with was the balance between not just doing the bare minimum every day (though you are still supposed to consider that a success) and not building a secret, larger, “shadow” habit in your mind. For example, I might say my goal is to read two pages of a book per day, but after reading 15 pages every day for a month, I feel obligated not to break that streak. I think this is the weakest part of his book, because he’s basically like “the book will be wasted if you do this, but my advice is just to not let yourself forget that two pages is a success.”

On the other hand, this has totally worked for him (he published a book as a result, for example), so I can’t exactly knock it. I also know how annoyingly persistent habits can be: as a child I started reading books while I ate (we were a non-traditional family…). Today, I struggle to eat alone without having something to read. I have been known to resort to the back of cereal boxes.

I’ve struggled to come up with good habits, primarily because, as this blog shows, I want to be good at everything immediately. Also, because I’m morbid, I had to abandon some of my ideas, like texting my mother every day (what if she’s in a coma?!). To be fair though, it is sort of daunting to think of something you want your brain to urge you to do every day for the rest of your life.

Your mini habits are supposed to take you a maximum of 10 minutes to complete, and you’re supposed to limit yourself to four habits at a time. I settled on these things:

Drawing: I’m trying to get better at drawing. Because I love to read, I always thought of myself more as a writer, if the universe was handing out creative hobbies to amateurs. However, drawing is relaxing in a way that writing is not. With writing, I feel this enormous pressure to be good, and to apply everything I’ve learned from all the reading I’ve done. With drawing, I can accept my dismal contributions. I do want to improve, so my first habit is to draw for five minutes per day.

Exercise: Exercise is more difficult, because there are a lot of exercise things that you can’t do every day. Also, it’s hard to reduce running to a small enough habit that it doesn’t have a lot of associated resistance. Even getting all of my running stuff together is a pain–changing clothes, finding heart rate monitor, suffering through putting heart rate monitor on even though it’s freezing and has to go directly on your skin, etc. Guise talks about starting your habits as small as is necessary and then building on those habits. I’m really tempted to make my habit “pack a gym bag every day,” but then what if I just leave the same gym bag packed? I’m going to try put on workout clothes once per day OR do 1 push-up (there’s more on this in the book, but gym habits often have to be “hybrid habits,” because it’s not really beneficial to do a full work out every day). In a month, I’ll see how many days ended up being workout days and how many were push-up days, to see if I need to change this habit.

Health: I am forever trying to eat healthier and failing, because I only have two settings: on and off. Either I’m eating nothing and walking for hours every day, or I’m eating all the things and lounging. Either I’m micromanaging my food intake, measuring lettuce and garlic cloves, or I’m getting takeout for lunch and dinner. However, part of my problem is that I find healthy food boring and often bitter (am I a supertaster??). In hopes of branching out into better and more exciting health food, my mini habit is to eat one serving of fresh vegetables per day. I see a lot of mini carrots in my future.

Knowledge: As I said above, I have a thing about reading while eating that borders on compulsive (because I have many other less than ideal actual compulsive tendencies, I feel okay about making this comparison. Feel free to be offended though). However, I basically only read fiction and as a result am only educated about 19th century England, as described in various romance novels. So, my last mini habit is to read two pages of a non-fiction book (NOT an article) per day.

BONUS: Cleaning: I really tried to stick to 4 habits, but I just couldn’t. There are so many things I want to do, and not enough time! Also, because 2 of my previous 4 are totally painless (the drawing and the reading), I feel okay about adding one more, particularly because it will feel like a big accomplishment if I can pull it off. I am constantly bothered by how messy and cluttered my apartment feels. So, my last habit is to clean for one minute per day OR get rid of a possession.

As for Mini Habits itself, 8 out of 10, at least.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry, et seq.

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So last weekend, after I finished The Hangman’s Daughter, I went looking for other Kindle Unlimited books. I really am not into the selection. It feels like a lot of mom book club books from 5 years ago combined with a bunch of those books that kind of look like self-published novels? Like westerns, or whatever, printed by a smaller publishing company, or someone’s grandmother. However, I got my first Kindle in 2007 and it seems like there were only 100,000 books or so at the time, so I have high hopes for improvement.

Anyway. During this search I realized that The Giver was listed as part of the “Giver Quartet.” I read it as a kid, and I noticed that the movie was coming out, but I didn’t realize it had three sequels. I read the first one, Gathering Blue, but apparently I was slow on the uptake and didn’t realize. They’ve all been republished and are available on Kindle Unlimited, so I’m rereading them all and ranting about my thoughts on them. Today is The Giver.

First of all, the new edition starts with a foreword by Lois Lowry about how life-changing this book was for a whole bunch of people who have told Lois Lowry that it was life-changing for them. I found this kind of off-putting, even though I’m totally into this when a third party does it, like if they had gotten a publisher or educator to talk about the cultural importance of the book. Maybe I am just uncomfortable with other people’s success, as evidenced by this blog and my attempts to be better at life. In any case, it set my expectations too high, I think. I remember finding the book pretty mind-blowing as a child (this and A Wrinkle in Time).

This time around, I still found the imaginary “world” engrossing, and in some ways appealing. Today, we have so many choices and it feels like I constantly make the wrong ones. There’s something attractive about always knowing your place, and always having everything taken care of. However, obviously the whole point of the book is how messed up that is in actual practice. Parts of it were messed up, I guess, but I was into the part where the food seems to come to you every night. Eternal takeout.

I think it’s interesting that this book is such a controversial school book. What I remember most about this book from my childhood, and what I enjoyed most about it this time, was reading about this totally foreign universe. I’m not sure I learned any lessons about the importance of remembering our history, lest it repeat itself, or respecting individuality, or whatever it is that people are angry about (probably religion, somehow). Perhaps I am just too cynical to appreciate the deeper meaning. I also tend to agree with some woman quoted on the Wikipedia page that says that things turn out in The Giver the way they do because the author wants them to, not because it’s a logically coherent universe (age difference between Rosemary and The Giver, anyone?).

Speaking of cynical, I LOATHE the ending. Loathe it. It makes me want to read romance novels forever, because at least the ending is clear. People are so unbearable about “well, life doesn’t have clear endings.” That doesn’t mean that books can’t.  They don’t have to, but they can. And those are the books I liked. I would go on, but I don’t want to totally spoil it for the 4 people in the United States who have not read this book. I’m not sure I found it as “important” from a societal perspective as other people seem to, but it’s a pretty satisfying dystopian universe, if that’s your jam. 7 out of 10?

Gathering Blue next, because even though cliffhangers are for real blogs, it’s hard to keep up with real books when I’ve gotta fit in stuff like 19th century Mr. and Mrs. Smith (but seriously, why is this this book so similar to that movie?)

I Can’t Remember the 4th Grade and “Morning Pages”–these things are related.

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On Sunday mornings at my parents’ house, one attends church. Complaints may be lodged regarding the time of the services, the intelligence level of the other attendees, or the fact that, defying all decency, the sermon continued past 12:00. However, church attendance will not be contested.

Anyway, because I am not a glutton for punishment, I do not attend Sunday School with my parents before the sun has risen, so I end up having to kill a lot of time after they’ve left (and woken me with their “quiet voices”) and the time the service starts. This week I was driving around aimlessly and I ended up at the school where I went to elementary school. I was looking at the building and trying to remember how it was set up inside, where my classrooms were, etc. I realized that I could not remember FIVE MINUTES of fourth grade. Literally no memory. I can remember third and fifth, but fourth is like a black hole I’ve permanently blocked out. I remember my teacher’s name. That’s appalling! I’m only twenty-four! What is my life coming to that I’ve already lost an entire year?? Am I going to be senile by age 50?

As you might have gleaned from the subject matter of this blog, I am awesome at starting things with great intentions of improving myself and abandoning them almost immediately. See, for example, multiple journals with 4 or 5 entries. If I had an ounce of self-discipline, I would have a written record of the fourth grade and wouldn’t be so horrified right now.

So, I had this moment of horror on Sunday, and then I saw this post about “Morning Pages” on Lifehacker (my addiction, obviously, no one is surprised). This woman, Julia Cameron (plus all these random entrepreneurs here), claim that forcing yourself to write three pages of whatever you want each morning, your “Morning Pages,” will make you more productive the rest of the day. They have to be written, not typed, which is fine with me since I have all those blank journals waiting for all the profound thoughts I thought I was going to have.

This seems like a total placebo effect at best, but because I want to have some memory of my own existence, I’m going to try it for one month (till September 20th) and then will post about how it goes. I know, all the spambots are on the edge of their seats.

The one thing I noticed was that one of the “entrepreneurs” (not sure why this was their designation) in the second article commented that he found it easier to stop worrying about something once he wrote it down because it seemed silly to go through the loop again. This, at least, is SO TRUE. I did this at work this summer when I got overwhelmed, and it really is true that it just feels like a waste of time to put yourself through it again. The fact that I require this sort of coping mechanism in order to survive being awake for a 12 hour period is a separate concern.

The Hangman’s Daughter, Oliver Pötzsch

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On Friday, I read The Hangman’s Daughter.

It probably seems like a stretch to include the reading of this book in my never-ending quest for self-improvement. However, when your reading list is 99% historical romance novels, you learn to take what you can get. The Hangman’s Daughter is at least a mystery, and it’s not just some spy story masquerading as a plot in order to allow the hero and heroine to end up hiding in someone’s closet together.

Anyway, so this isn’t my usual sort of book. It’s sort of hard to explain the hangman connection, but basically it’s about a hangman trying to solve a mystery. Idk, read this. I just liked the creepy title/cover, and it was free with my Kindle Unlimited subscription, which it now occurs to me I have forgotten to cancel within 30 days, so I actually have paid $9.99 for the pleasure of reading about the various ways one might torture a person circa 1659 (also somehow relevant to the mystery). I found the mystery itself kind of…contrived? Like, to me the best mysteries are the ones where you a) never see the end coming, but b) totally believe it when it does. This one was believable, but I definitely saw the end coming, and I’m no brain surgeon.

By far the coolest part of the story was the hangman aspect–which, I know. Morbid. But, apparently hangmen did all kinds of other jobs in the 1600s, like picking up the trash and providing medical services equivalent to the sort you could buy out of someone’s van today: sketchy powders that might work but also you might have a stroke. Or whatever. Anyway, that part was really interesting, especially since apparently this guy knows all of this stuff because he’s the descendant of the fictionalized hangman in the book, who was the descendant of many other hangmen. It’s literally a dynasty of executioners. So fascinating, so not that appropriate for those days in elementary school when you have to talk about where your family came from.

In any case, the author, Oliver Pötzsch, whose name is just so appropriate, apparently has all these notes from a family member who was obsessed with genealogy. No doubt as a result, this book does historical atmosphere really well, which made up for the fact that the mystery was kind of anti-climactic to me and ended up just being a lot of running around. I totally eat the engrossing historical environment stuff up when it’s a 19th century romance novel, because I want to be a 19th century romance novel heroine, except I want to be allowed to read the newspaper and have original thoughts.

Anyway, accurate historical atmosphere in the 17th century, on the other hand, is so freaking rough. The difference between 1659 and 1759 is mind-blowing. At one point in the book, this guy knocks over his chamber pot on his foot AND THEN JUST CONTINUES WITH HIS LIFE. I’ve always learned in school, of course, about the “Dark Ages,” and although they had technically ended by the time the setting of this book came along, it’s striking how much slower things moved than they do today. At one point, one of the characters has “the feeling that humanity was running in place. So many centuries and they had not learned anything new.” Bleak. Perhaps a bit too much omnipotence there, but I do wonder if anyone really did feel that way at the time. It’s hard to imagine a world that isn’t constantly rushing forwards the way ours is.

The whole thing made me feel kind of ignorant because I had no idea the whole time if anything he was describing was actually representative of the time period. It did make me want to read more about the time period, but then the chamber pots thing. Maybe not.

6 out of 10.

Drawing, or, Things I Can’t Do on Display

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As I have alluded to, I find it difficult to be happy if I don’t feel like I’m making progress toward self-improvement.  Additionally, when I’m at my parents’ house, I have an uncontrollable need to start ambitious projects that I am ill-equipped to complete.  Generally, these are fitness-related, though occasionally I decide I will finally learn French–or, in my more worthless moments, I decide that I will finally have a perfectly designed and decorated house on the Sims 3. Yeah, I own it. And multiple expansion packs. YOLO.

Anyway, this visit, I went to Hobby Lobby looking for craft projects to waste money on. They were playing hymns the whole time, which increased my level of lived-in-the-northeast-too-long guilt about patronizing such a controversial business, but it smells amazing there, and they have so many colors of yarn.  I have no regrets. I considered needlepoint for just longer than half a second, briefly within reach of fulfilling all of my grandmother’s failed dreams for me.  However, I have learned from past failed craft attempts, and anything that involved keeping delicate pieces of thread intact throughout what would undoubtedly be countless mistakes seemed ill-advised.

So, inspired by Anonymous Boyfriend, who decided and then abandoned the plan to learn to draw recently, I bought this book:

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It’s like they wrote it for me.

It’s pretty awesome, because it really does make it possible to make drawings that actually look like recognizable animals or whatever.  This is coming from the person who, in elementary school, once drew a dog so un-doglike that when someone found it on the floor, I refused to admit that I had drawn it.

On the other hand, it doesn’t really feel that impressive, because you’re just drawing what they tell you to do.  As bad as I am at it, it seems achievable, whereas just sitting down and drawing my dog feels like it would remain incomplete for like 200 dog years. I’m not sure if I’m actually learning anything, except how to follow their instructions.  However, I’ve still got a long way to go before my pictures even look like the models, which I would post for comparison hilarity value, but it would probably be copyright infringement, and clearly the sale of my own masterpieces is not going to cover all the damages.

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