back to zero

scribeI recently started journaling. Again. I have always been a faithful journalista. In fact, I’ve filled literally dozens of journals, and every once in a while I actually go back and review them. I’ve even created some of my best work by throwing words at my journal. Somewhere along the way, journaling morphed into my writing process. I created the structure of my short stories through my journal. Strange, right?

I once had a mentor who said: “Just write. Don’t expect it to make sense consciously. Your subconscious knows what it’s doing.”  Though I didn’t fully understand what she was saying, she was my mentor, so I did what she advised. And guess what? It worked and I created some amazing fiction as a faithful journalista.

Then I stopped journaling. I know! I took a hiatus, a rest, a break from the ritual of creation. I gave myself permission to not write, and guess what? The world didn’t come to an end. I did however, stop creating amazing stories. It was okay for a while, but now I’m back to journaling. Not everyday, mind you, but often. It’s like going back to yoga. I’m getting more agile, more flexy. I can feel a story starting to form, and it’s the most delicious feeling a writer can have.

So, I’m back to zero, which is exactly the right place to be.

me write pretty

writing-sample2Once, I belonged to an amazing clutch of writers who met every week to explore writing through timed exercises. It was one of the best writing experiences I ever had, and it did more to develop my skills as a writer than almost anything I’ve done since. Twenty years later, I still miss meeting with that group of women. We shared a very important time, you might even say a sacred time, two hours each week, supporting one another and learning to develop our writing voices. Few things were allowed to interfere with our commitment to meet. We gathered faithfully each Friday at an outdoor table at the Bear Street Cafe in Orange County, California, and parked our individual cares at the door in order to be fully present and nakedly honest during our joumaling session. We wrote furiously, read aloud with quaking voices, listened respectfully, and grew as writers.

Now that I live in Northern California, I maintain virtual relationships with several of these fabulous women, and we see each other when we can. But the thing that remains one of the greatest gifts of my life is that even though whatwe mainly have in common is our passion for writing –no matter what, we support each other. We celebrate each others’ successes, and provide insightful comments to help make each other’s work the best it can be. Writing groups are an excellent way to develop as a writer -you can find or form a group by taking classes, getting to know other writers, and then meeting outside of the classroom setting to give yourself more honest writing time.

Back in the day when we met at Bear Street, we maintained a strict routine that went something like this:

  • write nouns or phrases on a slip of paper
  • drop the paper slips in a cup
  • draw a word and write like the devil

One by one, the words were selected from the cup, and we wrote timed exercises based on them. After the time was up, we went around the table and read our work. This wasn’t easy at first, but our group was a safe place to put it out there. One unbreakable rule was that under no circumstances, could we comment on what we wrote -neither the writer not the listeners were allowed to comment. But let me tell you something: our writing got stronger and better and more deeply creative by just listening to each other. I think we secretly tried to out-compose each other, but the result was that we pushed each other to spiraling heights of creativity without so much as one well-intended criticism. It was amazing and illuminating, and a huge lesson in the art of paying attention.

So, dear writer, waht are you paying precious attention to? Where lies your genius? Leave a comment with a single word. What is it you find to write about — in a completly original way? Ooh. Do tell.

 

The Sedentaries

                     standing desk

Get On Up

Something’s been happening and I couldn’t figure out whether it was systemic or localized until now. I call it weight creep, as if putting a label on it makes it easier to deal with, even when I know that ’s not the case. Rather, by putting a label on it, I’ve made an enemy, and the enemy is known as “desk butt”.

First it was baby fat, as in “she still hasn’t lost her baby fat.” Of course, chubby legs at 10-years old can no longer be considered baby fat, but I played along. When I joined the swim team, exercising hard three hours a days, that “baby fat” dropped away, replaced by smooth, supple muscles. Then came college and since I was no longer on the swim team, the “Freshman 15” was my reward. Nothing spurs on a midnight chip and dip run like attending a frat party with lots of beer and no food. It’s a perfect storm of bad carbs, and if the beer doesn’t give you a hangover, the double dose of fat from the chips and dip will. But I knew how to exercise this time around, knew the merits of an elevated heart rate, so I started running and playing squash and by Sophomore year, I self-corrected.

Fast forward to my first desk job. I lived in Philadelphia so I walked to work. I was a paralegal in a law office and I sat practically all day, but I walked the office a lot, too — the file room, the break room, the bathroom, various offices of lawyers with whom I needed to speak. Plus I swam a mile before I got to work and usually rode my bike for an hour after work unless it was too cold. Nothing but exercise at every available opportunity which meant no weight creep in my twenties. Sweet right?

Fast forward to marriage. I moved to Central PA in my thirties, but still worked in Philadelphia, a two-hour commute. Now I’m training it into work every day rather than training at the gym and struggling to get a work out in. Those were the hard times, but after a year, my workplace started a flexiplace program that allowed me to work at home a day a week and suddenly exercise was back on the menu. Then the baby came and the baby weight, but since I was exercising and nursing, it came off again. Ah, the miracle of the human body.

Except for now. Thirteen years later, I am still exercising, eating plenty of salads and walking from the train to work (a shorter walk, but still a walk), and guess what? The magic is gone. The weight doesn’t leave with an extra bike ride or a missed meal. It stays and stays, socking itself in for a perpetual winter, as if in preparation for the apocalypse. Rations will be low…. Not everyone will survive….

I’m part of a growing epidemic of office workers who are simply “Sedentaries” (not a noun or even a word, but it should be!) which is what I’ve taken to calling people who sit all day long and who are experiencing the same weight creep or desk butt that I am. We humans spend more time sitting these days than we do sleeping. I typically sleep 6 to 8 hours a night. My work day starts at 6:45 a.m. with a 10-minute drive to the train followed by a 1.5-hour train ride. I walk 15 minutes from the train to work, and sit for up to 8 or 9 hours once I get there with a 30-minute walk at lunch if I’m lucky. Most of the time at work is spent in front of a computer, about 7 hours in the sitting column minus the walk at lunch and the walking around the office. When I get home, I sit in front of the computer working on the project de jure for a couple hours, maybe watching a little T.V., and voila! I’m sitting way more than I’m walking, standing and sleeping combined. While most days I get an hour of cardio at the gym, experts say it’s not enough to right the wrongs of sustained sitting.

Here’s why. You’re sitting, you’re sitting, you’re sitting, and your glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) and hamstrings are being stretched like a rubber band while your hip flexors are shortened. Think of how a rubber band looses elasticity if it’s under a constant stretch and how inflexible your muscles become when you don’t stretch them. Your breathing becomes shallow, and overall, your muscles become weaker, softer, lesser. Health problems could include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, loss of flexibility, heart disease, etc. and as a result, you begin a slow, at first unnoticeable creep toward the next pants size while in a show of solidarity, the rest of your body takes on a jello-like appearance.

Do you want to avoid your muscles’ slow death march into uselessness? If your answer is “heck, yeah,” then moving around, rather than a trip to the gym is the key not only to a normal weight, but to a longer life, and obesity expert, Dr. James Levine has the research to prove it. Studies show that lean people move around more. They find and utilize walking opportunities; they stretch; they fidget. (Yes, fidgeting will keep your weight down!). So, like James Brown, you gotta Get On Up — from your chair, the couch, your desk, the car, whatever — and move around, get your heart rate going, and start the electrical conductivity that pulses through your body when you do. I’m not even advocating high-end exercise to beat this condition, although it certainly will help. Just to be clear, I am in no way advising you to ditch your gym membership. (I go almost every day.) I am simply iterating that the gym alone is not enough and advocating against sedentariness as a way of life.

Here are 10 ideas to get you moving that won’t require a radical life-style change:

1.  Make or build a standing desk or create some version of it. My father-in-law built me one. It’s fantastic. It has a little shelf to put paper and pens in, and another one below where I can stack my files. I put the desk in front of the window so I could look outside. Sometimes I do squats while I’m standing there. Or leg raises. Or yoga stretches. It’s awesome.

2.  Take the stairs whenever possible — at home, at work, at the mall. There’s a reason the Stair Master was so popular. So get climbing.

3.  Walk the floors every hour. Maybe practice the Ministry of the Silly Walk (you Monty Python fans know what I’m talking about). Use your phone or computer and set an alarm to get up regularly from your desk and do a loop around the office. Working from home? Even better. Loop the yard, go pick up the mail, take the dog out and circumnavigate the driveway.

4.  Get up and stretch. After too much time, your butt conforms to the shape of your chair, and no matter how high end or ergonomically correct, it’s still a chair and your butt should not look like it. Go to yoga after work or practice in your home before you leave for work.

5.  Get an ergonomically correct chair and adjust it to lean back slightly rather than forward. The forward hunch shortens all the muscles in your stomach and hip flexors while the backward lean works the abs, so work it baby!

6.  Start a salsa (or whatever) club and meet during lunch. Where I work in Philadelphia, there is a dance party every day at noon in LOVE Park. They have a little stage, and an area dedicated to dancing, and a microphone and speakers, a little canopy area where the DJ or band stands, the whole shebang. A whole crowd of people get out there and line dance. It’s awesome, dozens of people, shaking their booty at lunch.

7.  Chair dance. When I was a baby lawyer, I worked in an overcrowded, out-dated office with a view of Billy Penn at the top of City Hall in Philadelphia. Because we had more lawyers than offices, we had to double up, which means I had an office mate, and every afternoon, before the 3 o’clock slump set in, we stopped what we were doing, stood on our chairs and danced for a few minutes. Because the chairs had wheels, and rocked somewhat, it took a good deal of balance to stay up. Plus the bonus ab work we got from laughing so hard made it a win-win.

8.  Flap. Want to know what the profession is with the longest shelf-life? Music conductors. Yep. The guys who stand in front of an orchestra. There’s something about all that arm-flapping that’s good for your heart. So even if you don’t have a 20-piece band in front of you, start flapping.

9.  Drop and give me twenty. When was the last time you did 20 pushups? Not only is it good for your heart, abs and arm strength, you’re moving again.

10.  Take a walk after dinner. Probably my all-time fav, the after dinner walk is like a digestif. Not only does it aid digestion, it puts closure on the meal and the day, allows you an opportunity to take in the sights and smells of the natural world, and gives you some extra time to talk to your family or friends. So grab your spouse, your kid, a friend, the dog, whoever, and take a walk!

Pam Lazos  7.28.14

Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies…

Unknown

 Real Freedom is Never Free

With the penning of the Declaration of Independence on this date in 1776, and the ratification of the United States Constitution beginning in 1787, the Founding Fathers and their political and intellectual progeny set in motion one of the greatest social experiments ever undertaken by a society:  a democracy of, by and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln recalled in his now famous Gettysburg Address.  It has never been easy, this little love affair we have with individual vs. societal rights, and if events of the last few years are any indication, it’s not going to lighten up anytime soon.  As we continue our forward roll into the 21st century where conventional definitions of all we have known and held dear seem to be rapidly falling by the wayside, we’d be wise to remember that the Founding Fathers didn’t have all the answers either.  What they did have was the courage, the vision, and the tenacity of spirit to ask the right questions, and to strive for answers that would benefit the many, not just the few.  United We Stand.  It’s always been the best and brightest version of us.  Happy 4th of July, America!

Best. Graduation Speech. Ever

UnknownGraduation Day

     It’s a rite of passage, a period of great change and enormous possibilities.  One where you hope someone will be there, preferably holding a road map with a big fat X marking the next spot and detailed instructions on how to get there.  Well, here it is.  Your graduation “go-to” info from one of the funniest, and now wisest people . . . Jim Carrey.

 

 

 

 

Bee Serious

And Then There Were None

A recent text conversation between my husband and I went something like this:

bee text

First of all, ignore the typos. I blame the smartphone. It gets a little too involved. Second, there were not enough of those little crying emoticon thingees to portray the appropriate degree of sadness, despair, and outright terror I felt about the bee situation. The honey bees, our fuzzy four-winged friends responsible for pollination of about 70% of the foods we eat are dying by degrees and we, seemingly, are powerless to stop it. The story with the wild honeybees is this:  READ MORE HERE…

earth day (h)

Unknown-1

WINTER [notes from montana]

        “It was early September and I was driving, literally, to the last road in the United States, a gravel-and-dirt road that paralleled the Canadian border, up in Montana’s Purcell Mountains. It was like going into battle, or falling in love, or walking from a wonderful dream, or falling into one: wading into cold water on a fall day.” –                    Rick Bass, Winter

      Can Rick Bass help it if his Soul’s been on a nature walkabout for all of his life? In Winter [notes from montana], Bass’s wandering spirit is alive and well and living in the Yaak Valley in Montana without electricity, without heat, other than the wood-fired variety, and without much contact with civilization… To read more of this post, go here