My Solution to “Too Much”

Just 15 minutes ago, I drove up to the farm stand and parked with the car facing the hayfield. In front of me, a tiny stalk of cornflowers was growing.  Their blue-gray beauty sang to me. “Look here, Andi.  Look here.”

My Solution for "Too Much"

© 2009 Rennett Stowe, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

My first response was to just jump out of the car and get moving.  I have to get the stand open, get a blog post done, and get to the farm coop to get the car inspected.  Too much to do to stop.

But then, I heard it – that whisper I so often miss, the one I named the farm after because I needed a constant reminder.  I heard it say, “Remember what you asked me this morning? The help for a day that felt overwhelming.  Here it is.”

So I let my head rest on the steering wheel, and I stared at those flowers.  “Rest, my child. Rest.”

**

I don’t know what you do when you feel overwhelmed, but my response is to go faster – so fast that my already less than nimble body function gets dangerous – walking into walls, slamming cabinets on fingers, tripping into goats.  When I have too much to do – almost only by my design – I try to go faster, much faster.

If you know me at all, you know that my natural way of being in the world is slow.  Again, I named my dogs for words that mean to “walk slowly” – Mosey, Meander – because I need a reminder of this, too.

I’ve learned – although I forget every time – that the best thing to do when there is “too much” to do is to slow down.  It’s totally counterintuitive, I know, and if you were with me most days and saw the list, I expect you’d find it frustrating when I stop, breathe deep, and decide to pare down the list rather than power through it. (I would find it frustrating, I’m sure, if I witnessed you doing it, but maybe that’s just me.)

But I’ve learned that when I have piled too much into my day, it’s because I’m either afraid (right now, that money fear is dancing like a monkey in my mind) or I’m avoiding something hard (like simply realizing that I can’t – and don’t want to – run this hard all the time.)  So the best thing I can do when I feel overwhelmed is “stop, wait a minute” and maybe even do a little of my farm-style Uptown FunkI need to rest. Wait. Listen. Trust

**

I probably only sat still for 30 seconds looking at those corn flowers.  But in that time, my heart rate slowed, my breath came more slowly, my jaw loosened.  I still have lots to do, but now, there’s a chance I’ll do most of what I can well.

Now, as I drive to the coop for the inspection, I’ll be looking for corn flowers all the way – a new reminder of my need to slow down and give over the “too much.”

Do you ever feel like the expectation society has for you and that you have for yourself is too big? That we think we can do far too much in 24-hours?  If so, how do you adjust to keep yourself healthy? 

Dying Denim: On the Giving & Taking of Advice

I was raised by two people who – by nature or active choice, I’ve never been sure – do not tend toward giving advice. They shared wisdom. They told stories. They gave my brother and I unconditional support, and they listened to us powerfully all the time.  But advice was not something they dispensed often.

Damaged Denim: On the Giving & Taking of Advice

For the record, the bunny would have to do a lot more damage before I’d recycle these.
© 2009 Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

So when they did, I listened. Hard. I still do when Dad says something like, “I’ve been thinking. . . you might consider. . . .”

Thus, I find it challenging sometimes to live in a world where people seem to dispense advice at every turn. When someone has a painful experience, we tend to suggestions rather than sympathy. When someone shares a joy, we offer ways to commemorate rather than joining in the celebration. It seems that somehow we have defaulted to “advice giving” as a way of showing we care.  I don’t love this.

**

I feel confident on giving advice on exactly three things:

  • writing. But only in that, “here’s what I try” kind of way.
  • the proper use of a hoe. Sharp edge. Damp ground. Work the weeds closest to you and then move away.  Dad taught me that just two summers ago.
  • how long one can wear a pair of disintegrating jeans before they become indecent. Note – when the seams give way.

Beyond that, I don’t have much advice.  I don’t know what YOU should do if you and your partner want to have children but can’t biologically. I don’t know what YOU should do if you struggle with the ruling about same-sex marriage. (I, for one, am dancing with glee.) I don’t know what YOU should do if you want to raise goats. I don’t know what YOU should do if you really want to make creme brulee but don’t have one of those torch things. (My husband does mechanics work, and we use his little butane torch.)

In short, I know very little about what is right for YOUR life.  I barely know what to do with mine. (Primary evidence – it took me two tries to put my shirt on frontwards today.)

So I offer these tidbits as only MY personal rules about advice giving, in case they are helpful to you. If they are not, feel free to write your own. (I would REALLY love to read those. Really.)

  • I give advice in only two circumstances: when someone asks or when there is a high probability that someone could get really hurt. Otherwise, I keep my trapper shut.
  • I think carefully about what I know about the person and tailor the advice to who I know them to be. On Facebook this means, I mostly keep my trapper shut because while all of those folks on there are AWESOME to be my friends, I haven’t seen most of them in many years, and some of them I’ve never met.
  • I offer my thoughts (when asked), and then I leave them. I don’t try to prove I’m right. I don’t belittle folks when they don’t take my advice. I only whisper “I told you so” quietly to myself; I never type it up or say it TO someone.

That’s pretty much it for me.  My basic tenets of advice-giving.  And to be honest, they save me a lot of time.  I don’t know how so many people have so many hours to provide insightful wisdom to so many . . . oh wait! :)

**

So with these things in mind, please know that I’m happy to answer questions about hoeing or the reuse of denim when the seams give. I’m also happy to chat with you about writing and offer up book suggestions (if you ask).

But beyond that, everything you will hear on this blog, on the Andilit or God’s Whisper Farm FB pages is just about experience. It’s storytelling. Philip and I will gladly share with you our experiences as new farmers, but please, inform yourselves more deeply than our 12 months of raising farm animals will allow.  I am happy to share with you my thoughts about racism and equality, but by all means, go to people – particularly people of color – who are MUCH more informed than I am.

And if I may offer one small tidbit of advice after all – do that for anything anyone tells you about any topic broader than what can be covered in one Pinterest pin.  Check your sources. Do your homework.

Or as my mom told me in one of the few pieces of advice she gave me – “You’ve got the ‘innocent as doves’ part down pretty well, Andi, but you also have to be ‘wise as serpents.'” So be wise, beautiful people.

Now, what subjects do you consider yourself expert enough to give advice in?  Take note – I’m looking for someone who has the magic solution to pet hair.

Later today, the God’s Whisper Farm newsletter – with exclusive content about the farm and our escapades here – will be going out later today.  Plus, exclusive pics from around the farm.  Sign up here – http://eepurl.com/bagtuTThis week, I’ll be sharing our garden experience thus far – what worked and what didn’t and what might work better next year. 

Letting the Heart Answer Your Writing Question

A few weeks ago, a dear friend asked me this question:

Money is no issue…what are you writing? How much time do you spend writing it?

Letting Your Heart Answer Your Writing Question

© 2011 Simon Cocks, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The question – asked by a writer I trust and a friend of years – took my breath right from my throat.  It doesn’t sound that profound, maybe, but to have someone ask – right into my heart – what I most had to say . . . that’s the gift of wisdom right there.

I carried his question around for a while, a golden nugget glowing somewhere behind and above my jaw.  I pulled it to the front of my mind from time to time and studied it, but mostly, I just let it sit there.  Germinating.

Then, one day, I made some time, and I sat down and did what I do when understanding is hard-won – I wrote. I wrote a page, two, pen slipping into language on the pages of my journal. I wrote through all the stuff that was whizzing by my teeth, all the weight sitting in my hips, and then I stopped.  I sat back. I lifted my chin and stretched out my legs.

And I listened.

**

For most writers, I think there’s a place that we sink into when we are writing from our trueness.  That place feels – for me – like a woodland path where I can wander and observe, where I’m cool and the whisper of wind soothes my spirit.  For you, that place might feel like you’re walking the place of your novel or sliding back into that day when you were 8. Each of these places speaks to us, shelters us, keeps us secreted while we get our words down.

But if you’re like me, it can be really hard to reach that place.  It usually takes some time to get there – a sort of clearing of the mind – and it takes a level of concentration that is hard to achieve with 25 tabs open on our laptops and phone calls and children knocking and that ever-present list of things.

I don’t always drop down into my forest; sometimes, I have to make do with imagining the forest from afar. But when I find it, oh, I write with a smoothness that reminds me of why I love this work, and when I’m done, I feel like I’ve just spent the day by the lake with a glass of sweet tea – all fluid and calm.

I’ve found that a little ritual – lighting a candle, reading a poem, etc. – helps set my spirit in the right place, but it takes even more than that for me to really fall into the words. Here’s what I do to help myself give into the words and find the glowing quiet place:

  • I close everything but my blank document on my computer, and I put my phone away. I shut down Firefox; I hide all the other projects I’m working on; I tuck the phone into a drawer across the room. I eliminate as many technological distractions as I can.
  • I ask for help in finding what I need to say. For me, that request is a prayer. For you, it might be a nod to the universe or a simple nudge to yourself.  I find that the best writing comes when I realize that I need to be tied into something beyond myself.
  • I write by hand first. I let the physical motion of journaling clear out the clutter. I write down what I have to do that day, what’s worrying me, the way that person hurt me in that email. I just get it all down.
  • I sit back, look up, and listen. I take several deep breaths.  I force my body to relax by dropping my shoulders and stretching my jaw.  Then, I just sit and wait.
  • I come to a question. Usually, the first thing that comes to mind for me is a question.  I see that question behind my forehead – near my third eye. This is the intellectual part of this process.  Sometimes, the question is one asked of me verbally, but sometimes, it’s just one that comes up because of something I’ve been pondering or have read. Sometimes, the question comes out of nowhere, placed into my palm like a tiny white pebble.
  • Then, I let that question slide down in my chest. Sometimes, I have to imagine this quite directly, almost pushing that pebble down past my brain, through my throat, to my heart.  Sometimes, it just drops there naturally, a stone into a well.
  • Once the question has settled into the orange glow of my heart, I write.  I don’t censor. I don’t think – or if I do, I force myself to stop. I just put down what comes to mind as fast as I can.  Usually, I do this work on a computer because I can type much faster than my hand can write, and this speed helps me keep the thought monsters at bay.
  • Finally, at some point in that writing, I hear the thing I’ve just written resonate, a brass bell sounding up beneath my tongue. Then, I know I’m there, and I just keep going until I have finished. I find – when I’m in this place – that the stopping point becomes quite clear – a tavern by the roadside on this long journey.

More and more, I find that taking the time to follow this process is well worth the minutes.  When I let myself settle in, I’m rewarded with understanding I did not find just by thinking, and the refreshment of good work makes all the other things after seem easier.

**

When I listened to the question my friend asked and let it sink into my heart, I was absolutely and completely surprised at what I heard.  I’m not ready to share it yet – I’m still treasuring it close right now – but the answer took me to a place where I felt my spirit tingle.  I’m so excited now.

Sometimes, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in the day of doing, to think only of the project that sits most heavy in our minds. But my writing life has taught me that the real stuff doesn’t happen in our heads, but in our hearts . . . and it takes some time to let our hearts speak.

So I ask you, if you could write whatever you wanted – time and money aside – what would you write?  I’d love to hear your answers, and if you try this process, I’d be thrilled to hear how it goes.

We have 9 spaces left for the Writers’ Retreat in late July.  We’d love to have you join us for a relaxing, restful, word-filled weekend. Get more information and register here – http://andilit.com/writers-retreat-at-gods-whisper-farm/.

When It Feels Like You Don’t Have Enough Time

I slept in this morning.  5:30am.  It was glorious. The sky was light, so chores were easier. The air was still cool-ish (with about 80% humidity.) And I was a bit more rested.

When You Feel There's Not Enough Time

© 2009 Alice Popkorn, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Still, on the farm, as the morning person, the chores fall to me. So I fed both sets of chickens, fed the goats and Great Pyrs, gave Mosey and Meander their food (FYI, Mosey ALWAYS eats like he’s never been fed, just in case you think we’re starving him), and harvested about 20 cucumbers, 10 yellow squash, and 3 zucchini.  Then, I washed the veggies, started the coffee, packed Philip’s lunch, and picked up the house.  All before 6am.

I say this not to brag or to complain. This simply is the reality for our home.  Your mornings may look much the same with children swapped for chickens and piles of laundry for the goats.  We are ALL busy.

Now, it’s just after 8am, and I’ve opened the farm stand and am tucking in for 8 hours of writing and editing work, and at the end of that time, we’ll feed everyone again before I make dinner and we work some on the barn interior.  About 8pm tonight, I’ll drop onto the couch, pick up some cross-stitch and hit bed at 10.  That’s my day.

You probably have to swap up 8 hours of writing and editing for another form of work.  Plus, you may have homework to supervise or an event or ball game to attend.

I’ll say it again, we are ALL busy.

It’s a struggle to make time to do the things that feed our souls when it seems like every minute is spent just keeping up and feeding our bodies.

**

Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 5 years of making my living as a writer: There is never enough time to do what we love unless we make the time.  Even though I spend many of my hours every day working with words, unless I choose to make time for my own work, I don’t write anything for myself.  (Lest you still harbor the beautiful delusion that writing books pays the bills, let me assure you that the $6.56 I made from The Slave Have Names this much is not getting us much but a trip to the Tastee Freeze.)

Here are a few things I do to make time for my own writing. (If you’re not a writer, substitute in reading or sewing or woodworking or hiking or whatever thing you do that you love with the most of who you are.)

  • I give myself permission to do what I enjoy every day.  I’m not sure how it happened — Protestant work ethic, devotion to the dollar, whatever — but Americans have a hard time believing that it’s okay to take pleasure in something every day, and if we take pleasure in our work, whew boy!, then we are really living on the edge.  But here’s what I’ve learned – I’m the only one who is going to say it’s okay for me to write every day, even if I don’t make a cent, even if no one else sees it. I enjoy it, and so I remind myself it’s okay to just do something for the sheer pleasure of it. Give yourself permission to do what you love, every day.

 

  • I work on a schedule. Whether it’s stopping to sew at 8pm or writing these blog posts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sunday or simply using my best energy (for me, that’s in the morning) to write my own work, I keep a schedule in mind. The rest of my life is scheduled, so if I don’t schedule in time to write, it just gets gobbled up by everything else.  Put time for your passion on your calendar – literally.  Write it in there.  Now! :)

 

  • I set measurable goals. If I have a project that I’m working on, then I plan to do a set amount of work each day – write 1,000 words (as Shawn Smucker suggested), query 3 agents, do an hour of research.  These goals allow me to feel that I’ve both put time toward a project AND completed something.  Craft a daily goal for your passion and hold yourself to it.

 

  • I give myself grace. Some days, I just don’t get it done.  We have company or the animals need more care than usual or I’m just too tired.  On those days, I breath deep, I remind myself that life is beautifully unpredictable sometimes, and I let it go.  Then, the next day, I start again with my permission, and my schedule, and my goals.  I expect that if you are like me you are carrying around some measure of guilt about not living into your dreams.  Today, let that go. Commit to start anew. Give yourself the grace to a new day as a new chance.

**

People write books even while they raise young children. People sculpt masterpieces even while they work full-time in a cubicle. People have amazing gardens even while they wait tables 40 hours a week.  People do beautiful, wonderful, incredible things even when they’re busy.

The secret to their accomplishments? They make the time to do them.

Here’s to hoping you make the time to do what you love for a few minutes every day.  Even when you’re busy.  You might just find that you feel the weight of ALL YOU HAVE TO DO lift a little when you’re taking joy each day. 

 

Broody Hens and Resting from the Fray

Broody Hens and Stepping Back from the Fray

In-Fern-o herself.

A chicken incubates an egg for 21 days.  This is a fact I did not know until two of our Cochins went broody this spring.

I also didn’t understand the term “brooding” as an emotion until I saw these girls go wan and ornery with the wait on motherhood.

Last night, our hen Fern – In-Fern-O – went broody.  She climbed into the outhouse clean-out, where she prefers to lay her eggs (No worries, that outhouse has not been used in a century.) and would not come out until Philip lifted her into the coop for the night.  This morning, before the dawn rose, she came out to greet me, talking away like nothing happened.

Sometimes, I want to shut myself away and brood, too.  21 days. 6 months. A year or two. Sometimes, the world feels “too much with us” as Wordsworth said.

Sometimes, we need to shut ourselves away.  Never permanently. Never for so long that we forget the people we loved on the other side of the door. Never so long that the can learn to forget us. Never so long that we disengage entire.

But sometimes – say for 21 days when we are growing something, or for 5 hours when we have fathers to celebrate, or for a weekend when the sadness and anger and pain of racism writ in tiny type on Facebook posts wounds us too deep – we have to step away.  And that is okay.  That is good.

**

Yesterday, Philip and I spent the day at Celebrate Louisa, a street fair in the beautiful Main Street community just two counties over from the farm.  We took our veggies and some crafts, and we put up our tent and tables and relaxed. We chatted with our fellow farmers, and we met a man who used to carry cucumbers in his pockets when he went over the mountains – “Good as a bottle of water,” he said.

We sold zucchini and foraged black raspberries, and we watched the young kids beeline for the bounce house.  I saw a friend from high school and caught up on her life and the lives of other people we once shared in our days. People admire by father-in-law’s bandsaw boxes and the amazing ceramic dolls that my mother-in-law paints. A teenager wielded Dad’s walking stiff, briefly, like a sword.

In the midst of that space, my mother-in-law and I talked about Charleston, about the profound strength it takes to forgive the person who has killed people you love, about the hope that their forgiveness is a call to action, not an easy out, for white people to take action to overcome racism.

Later that afternoon, I thought about all the people who are saying that Facebook conversations don’t change anything; I thought about all the people I’ve heard say that people don’t change.  Then, I thought about myself – the things I believed about other human beings when I was in high school.  I thought about Dad, who has told me time and time again, that our conversations have changed him, have helped him grow.

We have so much more to do than just talk, but on a hot Saturday afternoon in rural Virginia, sometimes talk is a true beginning.

**

Yet, even the talking can make a person weary.  Especially when so much of that conversation comes layered with racism and self-protection and profound levels of privilege.  I’m a bit tired, to be honest. (And I realize completely that my fatigue is nothing in comparison to that of my black and brown brothers and sisters who live this conversation in their bodies every day.)

So I’m taking today to care for myself and the people I love nearby. I’m letting the well refill a bit and celebrating the fact that I have three amazing men in my life on this Father’s Day. I’m caring for the people right nearby.

But tomorrow, I’ll be back to hard conversations and challenging questions.  Tomorrow, I’ll be listening to people of color and looking for ways I can do more.  Tomorrow, I”ll actively join the fight.

Today, I’m taking Fern’s lead and loving on those gifted to me in body and spirit.   Ever the ally, ever the advocate, just one who needs a bit of rest today.

What might you need to take a step away from for a bit? Where might you need to recharge and find renewed strength? What do you do when you need to refill your well? 

If you’re interested in more news from the farm, updates on events, stories about the animals, insights into what it’s like to run a hobby farm and work full-time, please sign-up to receive our weekly newsletter.  Thanks.