Morning Pages

Have you ever done morning pages? A few summers ago, I worked my way through The Artist’s Way (a terrific book, by the way). I honestly can’t remember that much of what I learned, but one thing really stuck with me: morning pages.

Morning pages are meant to be written first thing in the morning, before your brain has gotten overwhelmed by the world and is overly analytical. They are three pages, stream of consciousness. You are not allowed to edit and you are not allowed to read back.

The point is to push your mind into a space it might not enter naturally. For me, the first 300 words come very easily. I write about where I am, my mood at that moment. But then there is always a period of push…what else is on my mind? What’s really going on? That’s where the morning pages provide a lot of their value. By pushing to three pages, you start to understand patterns of your mind. Are there things that come up again and again as parts of your life that you are unhappy with? Are there dreams and desires you mention frequently?

I have done morning pages on and off now for a number of years, and I always find the periods when I do them are some of my best, because I feel very aware of my state, myself, my desires.

More on Building Community

In Part I, I wrote about my experience with local community and how much value it has added to my life. In Part II, I wrote about my experience creating a lady web. In Part III, I want to dive into more of the practicalities of creating a drop-in community.

I have noticed, for myself, the hardest part of building community comes in the gray zone period. I label this period as after you have the initial honeymoon where you are like — wow, I just met someone great with fab friend potential — and the intimate we can hang out with no real plans phase.

My friendship sweet spot is definitely in the let’s hang out with no plans phase. Loose plans are fine – going to the beach, going for a walk – but what I most enjoy from friendship is intimacy. I love having long and juice conversations, I love gossiping, I love talking about my relationships, my life, asking for advice, giving advice, problem solving, etc. It’s the fine details that make me feel like my friends are full people who I completely appreciate.

Recently, I read some statistic that said the more number of hours you spend with someone, the closer you consider yourself to be to them. This makes a lot of intuitive sense, partly because you probably are not choosing to spend long hours with someone you don’t like or don’t want to get to know (outside of work). But when you are in the gray zone, spending these hours isn’t necessarily fun. Instead it feels like work. Because it is work. You are literally putting effort and emotional labor into building a new relationship.

So what are my tips for drop-in community:

  • Initiate the relationship. I have never had an issue being the friend who makes plans even if the “balance” is off. If you like someone, and want them to be your friend, but are waiting for them to invite you to one event for every time you invite them somewhere, you will never be friends. If you like someone, act like it and invite them someplace.
  • Spend the hours. Data driven per the reference above. Sometimes, you just need literal time to push through the gray zone. If you like someone and feel a spark, but sometimes the conversation is stilted, just look at it as an investment in your future friendship. Or get drunk for a fast-track to friendzone.
  • Don’t compare. Never, ever, ever compare someone you just met to a friend you have had since you were 13. It doesn’t compare, it won’t compare, and comparing it will ruin all of your potential friendships.
  • Find fun. A lot of people feel lonely and look to new friendships as an obligation. But if you aren’t finding fun things you can do with that person, and you aren’t having fun with that person, it probably won’t work out. Try a bunch of activities that you find fun and see if anything works well with the new relationship.

Book Review: Sour Heart

Book Review #15 –  Sour Heart (Jenny Zhang)  

*****

This is a brilliant book. A collection of short stories with some interwoven threads, it is a raw and honest look at immigrant life. The broad theme of the book is the first and second generation immigrant experience in NYC. It goes so deep into the challenges and the hopes of moving to a new country during an era where there wasn’t technology to keep connections with the old world and the new. Almost disgusting at points in terms of how explicit it was, it is unflinching and is the best encapsulation of the immigrant experience I have ever read.

The Ladyweb

Do you know what the ladyweb is? It’s a termed coined by the two wonderful women of Call Your Girlfriend (my favorite podcast). Essentially, you map out your relationships and start to understand how they look and who is connected outside of you. I did this recently because I have been struggling with some loneliness re having close and local friends. And then I realized I have a whopping 16 (sixteen!) friends who live in NYC or in the surrounding suburbs. It spurred me into realizing the potential of drop-in community is a fixable one, at least for me.

My groups of friends fell into the following buckets:

  • family
  • school friends (high school or college)
  • old work friends
  • local meet up friends
  • friends of friends
  • gym friends

It made me realize that in anything I consistently do, I have made friends. And the longer my friendships have existed, the deeper those friendships are. But, forcing myself to think back to freshman year of high school, for example, and I can remember how it felt to think that here was a group of people I didn’t know that well and maybe I would never become close to any of them and this bias is likely still playing out for newer friends today.

 

 

Monthly Review: March

Here is my monthly review for March. If you want to read February’s, check it out here.

1. What went well this month?

  • Deep Work. I got really into Deep Work in March and started to shift some of my habits towards that. Now when I want to get something done at work, I turn off my email, turn off my internet, and get to work. I set a time frame — typically 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and just focus on my work during that period. It makes me tremendously productive. I have a goal of two hours of deep work a day which, in combination with the number of hours I typically spend in a meeting, is enough to meet my work obligations. It also frees me from this sense of I should be working all the time. If I’m working (outside of a meeting), my internet is off and I’m focused until it’s done.
  • Nourishment. One of the lessons I learned in our MBSR class was how to intentionally nourish yourself. For a week, we were told to pay attention to any activity that we found nourishing. In a month too full of obligations (see below), it was nice to have this practice to come back to. I would schedule whole days asking myself what felt nourishing right now. And often it was something very simple and accessible — meditation, herbal team, a walk.
  • Giving up news. Very much in line with the above, I have started to give up instant news. Social media news (mainly twitter) and intensive checking of other news. Now, I have a few sources I check a few times a day, but it’s less obsessive than it used to be.

2. What didn’t go so well this month?

  • Obligations. I had standing commitments this month for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. And five weekends in a row were spent with my parents or my in-laws. I felt very much over scheduled. In April, I move back to my only standing obligation being twice a week workouts with my lifting buddy, so I’m looking forward to that.

3. What did I work on last month and how did it go?

  • Focus. With MBSR & Deep Work, this has gone pretty well.
  • Self-compassion. This has also gone well, though I have moved towards calling this nourishment. I feel more in tune with my mental state and more aware of what sort of care it needs at any given moment.

4. What am I working toward?

  • You know, I have been sitting here and thinking about this for a while, but I’m not really sure. So maybe I’ll take April off from proactive work and just let myself be a bit.

Movie Review: Francis Ha

Movie Review #3: Francis Ha

****

This was a nice movie for a rainy weekend. It covered a woman, Francis Ha, in her post-college years. Frances and her friends are total messes who don’t understand how to “grow up.” In many ways, the movie reminded me of what my post-college years were not like. I know many people who had post-college years like Francis Ha, all of whom were rich and resistant to getting a “real” job. It made me feel both nostalgic and like I hated everyone in the movie. There’s a lot of the true pain of growing up, but also the privilege of choosing to suffer.

Book Review – Constructive Living

Book Review #14 –  Constructive Living (David K. Reynolds) 

****

This is a book about Japanese psychology. Written by a white person who lives in Japan, it integrates Morita therapy and Naikan into an approach to live called constructive living. The basic premise of constructive living is simple — in any given moment, identify the best action you can take, and then take that action regardless of your state of mind.

So if you feel depressed — acknowledge and recognize the depression and think about the best and most constructive action to take in that moment. It likely is going for a walk, drinking a cup of tea, or calling a friend and not laying in bed crying.

Or, if you are feeling lazy at work and spending all of your time on the internet, acknowledge your mind state (lazy, unmotivated) but don’t let it prevent you from taking the action.

It some ways, the philosophy is entirely straight forward. Focus less on your feelings, and more on your actions. In many ways, we want to get the feelings “right” before we start the actions, but actions themselves can influence feelings.

Definitely worth a read for anyone interested in psychology and wanting to get a non-Western perspective, or anyone prone to rumination.