Almost a birthday

Dave X Robb with tax formI KNOW I’M LATE. I was busy celebrating my semi-birthday. I’ve told you about all of these targets I’m putting on the calendar like the monthly writing retreat and the blog postings every 10 days, but I forgot about a fun one suggested by a friend: on the day of the month that corresponds to your birthday—for me, the 8th—do some new thing. It can be anything that you haven’t done before.

Fun, right? Do it for yourself! I had forgotten all about this monthly mini-celebration, but noticed it on the calendar a couple days beforehand (which just goes to show the beauty of putting things on the calendar). Luckily, I had just made plans to do something I had never done before: a tax sex date.

Yes, it’s what it sounds like. The idea came about spontaneously, as I happened to be chatting with someone I like to have sex with. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, and he also hadn’t done his taxes yet; next thing I knew, we had a tax sex date set! I don’t normally look forward to doing my taxes. Suddenly, I could hardly wait. I encourage those of you who are still procrastinating on tax-filing to give it a try.

As an interesting coincidence, I had been giving some thought lately to how sex fits into my life (or doesn’t), how it can be used as a distraction, and how chasing after that momentary (or hopefully a little longer) pleasure can cause a mighty amount of mental distress. As with all such important things in life, it comes down to motivation. I can approach sex from a needy, insecure place or choose to hold a serene, giving, loving perspective.

In this particular case, we seemed to agree: even sex as mere distraction (though one always aims higher) could be justified in the interest of getting our taxes done.

The beauty of this idea is the incentive system you can set up, rewarding yourselves for milestones reached—say, sending off the completed return or (for those with less will power) typing in all of your W2 information or (works for me) showing up at the door. Whatever it takes to get through the godforsaken process.

There is a down side: You might be tempted to rush through parts, making errors or missing some deductions. Your carefully sorted piles of receipts might get messed up. And, almost certainly, filing your taxes will take longer this way. In fact, I only got through federal and still need to do my state tax return. Who will I call?

Effort

flowers_sTEN DAYS ON, AND I am feeling good. It started with my decision to start writing on here again on a schedule; my blocking out on the calendar a full day a month to write—yes, a writing retreat; getting all my materials from last year’s online writing classes together; and recommitting to writing, at least some, daily.

I also have been going to yoga and meditating regularly again; and working in the yard, going to the movies, and playing again. I’m reading more. I’m doing nice things for myself. Even work is sort of better. Basically, I have gone back to applying some effort toward being mindful of how I spend my time. Life. It’s an unfinished project, but I am getting better at it.

Since my last post, I met with my biggest writer-cheerleader friend and was greatly encouraged. I got a facial. I met with my new writing group and was encouraged even more. I worked in the yard. I did fun things with friends. I had my writing retreat! I’ve kept busy (but not lazy busy) and haven’t been able to do everything I’d like to—that would be impossible—but it’s a nice feeling to know that my time is being well spent.

What works best for me when I feel like I can’t get a good grip on my time is to make a list. I write down those things I want to get done that day or that weekend or that week or that month (it can be good to have a few lists going for the different time frames). Then I prioritize the list, roughly.

There’s always more on it than can possibly be done, but that’s actually a good thing. Why? Because that gives me ideas of things to do—and permission to do them—if I don’t feel like doing the other thing on the list that I thought I should be doing. As I see it, as long as it’s on the list, I can do it and feel like I’m spending my time well. If it’s not on the list, I don’t do it; either that or I realize it should have been on the list and I just forgot or changed my mind.

Dave X Robb in Munich AirportFor me, there’s this delicate balance between structure and fluidity. I want to put some effort into life, using my time wisely; but I also want to be supple in the way I go about it, feeling free to change course, to have options, to follow my mood if it changes, as it inevitably does.

And I don’t want to do too much. I want to feel good about being productive, but I also want to feel good about everything, including those times when I’m needing a break from getting so much done. That happened to me last weekend after I got home from class late Sunday. I’d had two busy, productive, and immensely fulfilling (not to mention sunny) days in a row, with back-to-back trips to Oakland and lots of emotion (mostly happy, some sad) and crushing on guys and overlapping appointments and all whatnot, and when I finally landed at home on the couch, I crashed.

With ice cream. And backgammon. And it was good.

Happy new whatever

Big Fat DonutI’VE ALWAYS BEEN OF the mind that one can start over anytime. There is no point in waiting for a new year or new month or Lent or any such special occasion. If there happens to be a special occasion and you want to use it as a catalyst to make a life change, great. If it’s Tuesday, March 18, great.

This may sound funny coming from a guy who famously celebrates every New Year’s, anniversary, birthday, holiday, and season under the sun as though special times are, well, special. They are, but they aren’t, much in the same way that you and I are special but not.

In case you’re wondering where all this is coming from, it’s the result of my having a hard time getting my new year going. I started it January 1 along with everyone else, with plans and ideas more than resolutions, but still…things I wanted to do.

I have lots of good excuses, and have in fact been doing some good things now that I think back. I’m back doing yoga, I’ve been swimming and ironing shirts and gardening and otherwise meditating. I’ve dated, I’ve socialized, and I’ve traveled around some. But my writing has not been happening, not to the extent that I’d like, anyhow. The blog was stuck.

So what do I do? I create an artificial deadline, of course. I guess I could have started anew on the blog’s anniversary, but that came and went a few days ago without my noticing. Then I thought, “Aha, first day of spring!” Nothing like an equinox to get things moving. (I hear Mercury is out of retrograde as well, woo-hoo.) But, you know, every moment is a whole new world. Today is the day.

What I also needed, maybe even more, was an arbitrary guideline that would keep me posting on a regular basis. Weekly seemed too much—I don’t want to set myself up to fail, after all—so I decided every 10 days or so I’d post something. Let it hereby be known that I’ll post on here every day ending in an 8—that is, on the 8th, 18th, and 28th of every month. All righty then.

You is...I’m also setting up some little rules for myself around my other writing and Facebook addiction and some other things that would really bore you, so I won’t go into it all here. Suffice it to say, the experiments are done and the results are in: I require these little rules.

So, I’m afraid this particular blog post is not about much of anything more than saying publicly that I’ll be posting again soon. I realize that’s not very entertaining, but it makes me feel better. See you on the 28th!

Overwhelm

wheelbarrow in LumbiniWHERE DO I BEGIN? I haven’t written because I don’t know what to say. I keep waiting for 2014 to settle. Do you have this feeling too? So many people I know are feeling seriously off kilter these days. Others are hurting in more tangible ways. My heart goes out to them. The world feels even more crazy than usual. Mercury is in retrograde, they say, and I’m almost convinced it matters.

I spent most of January traveling through Nepal and northern India on a pilgrimage to the most sacred ancient Buddhist sites. It overwhelmed me in so many ways, and I’ll tell you all about it another time, once I figure out how. I’ve never had such a hard time adjusting to being back from a trip. The jet lag and lingering illness (and my cat’s illness) didn’t help, but they’re pretty much squared away by now. The biggest adjustment has been in my head.

I don’t want to overdramatize. I’m fine, really. But I feel spaced out. I find myself stretched thin emotionally. Or you might just look on the bright side and say I’m emotionally open. Things are getting to me in ways they usually don’t. It’s not all bad—a lot of it is good—but it’s all a little unsettling. And tiring. It’s too much.

I’d kind of like to have a normal, relaxing week. One way might be to start doing again those things I miss doing. Like this. Maybe I need to take myself on a nice date. Maybe I need a hug from you. Don’t freak out if I start to cry.

New Year’s meditation

Dave X Robb and MonaIT’S NOT LIKE ME, I’m sure my friends would say, to be welcoming the new year quietly at home, just me and the cats. (First he skips the Folsom Fair! And now this!!) But it’s been a full day and, as I just got through saying, tomorrow’s another one. Unlike me, I guess, because I’m usually so interested in marking these milestones. But for some reason, I’m content to let this one just wash over me.

Similarly, I’m taking a casual approach to resolutions this year. I just came from a wonderful talk at the Buddhist center I go to, where we were encouraged to go easy on ourselves. So often, the best-intentioned resolutions can leave us feeling bad, like there’s something wrong with us that needs changing.

That isn’t to say we should just give up trying, learning, improving. But it would be nice to approach it all from the perspective that we are pretty amazing to begin with. We all have pure goodness within us. Whatever you do, don’t take the view that you can’t be happy until you’ve changed. Be happy now. And change little things if you want to. Or don’t. I like you just fine.

I’m not content to stay the same. I’d like to make some small changes in my life in the new year. But I’ve always felt resolutions should be about making the changes you’d enjoy working toward, not about depriving or flagellating yourself (unless you’re into that kind of thing). I’m going to work in the yard more, I want to do more yoga, and I want to get back to swimming.

Mona and EmmaIt occurs to me those are all forms of meditation for me. The other day, I was at home ironing shirts—one of my favorite ways to meditate—and listening to Xmas music, and I was overcome with a sense of extreme calm and peace and gratitude. Hard to explain, but it felt pretty special. (When I posted about it on Facebook, nobody said anything. I guess you had to be there.)

Maybe my resolution should be to learn to recognize and cultivate meditation in all of its forms. Maybe that’s why I’m at home writing this at midnight. Happy New Year!

Dining at the buffet of life

Dave and Murai, SAD party 2012IT HAS BEEN AN unusual last couple of months, in mostly good ways having to do with travel and holidays and relaxation, but a little unsettling in that I’ve gotten away from some things that I love doing and know are good for me, not the least of which is writing…on here, for example.

I won’t bother you with the details, but mention it because it has been on my mind, especially as I’ve begun to reflect on the past year and think ahead to my hopes and dreams for 2014. How do I want to fill the 8,760 hours we all get in a year (give or take, depending on whether we end it alive and in the time zone we started in)?

This was another very good year despite the sadness of losing some good people, most notably Murai. She was a dear friend and a role model who knew how to live, full of creativity, adventure, love, and kindness. I dedicate this post to her memory. For years, Murai hosted salons where friends could sing, dance, read, or otherwise perform in a safe, supportive space. It’s a model my roommate and I loved so much, we have taken it up. This was the year I learned to love reading out loud.

On a happy note, a couple of people who had been out of my life—but not my heart—for years came back into it in 2013. I also made some wonderful new friends, including writing and Sangha and other buddies, and strengthened some existing bonds. I saw and fell in love with new places I want to go back to. I’ve read good books. And the world keeps on turning.

The big story this year was making space in my life for the things most important to me: creativity, health, love, and spirit. (It’s nice to be able to fit it all on such a short list, a list that doesn’t change much from year to year; but don’t be fooled—each of those 4 things has about 75 subheadings.) As I’ve written about recently, it all came together toward the last part of 2012, as I became more serious about both my writing and my spiritual practice and negotiated to reduce my formal work schedule in order to make time for it all.

Buddha_altarThings kicked into high gear come January 1, with The Artist’s Way setting the tone for a year dedicated to fostering creativity and treating myself well. It’s still a struggle to find the perfect balance between learning, growing, pushing myself, and producing on the one hand and, on the other, relaxing and feeling like I’m doing enough. I said the same thing a year ago and the same thing the year before that. Hmm. I think I’m getting better at it, but there’s some tinkering still to be done.

It has been a lifelong theme with me: hyperawareness of what a precious thing I’ve got here. I’m referring to the fact of my very existence as a human being in this time and place on what is a very nice planet. I don’t want to waste it.

I’m reminded that I was always taught not to waste food. “It’s a sin,” my mother told us kids, back when we still believed in such things. I have to agree. But it wasn’t until many years later that I realized if you’re full and you keep on eating, you’re wasting food. Better to take the leftovers home in a box.

That’s kind of how I feel about life. Life is like a giant all-you-can-eat buffet. Trying to do too much is like eating when you’re full. To beat the simile to death, I’m trying to scout things out before loading up my plate, make good choices, and go for balance. You can’t do it all, and who would want to? Tomorrow is another day.

The way you make me feel

Sylvester: Mighty RealAS I’M FOND OF pointing out, popular music pushes some crazy ideas into the minds of impressionable adolescents (and all the rest of us). The other day I was talking about how other people can’t make us feel bad or sad or guilty or mad…or glad, for that matter.

This is kind of basic, yet we forget: all of our feelings are self-generated. The good ones are. So are the bad ones. It’s no wonder we think otherwise, though. How many hit songs contain the words “you make me feel” in the title? I came up with these off the top of my head:

I’m sure there are others. I’m happy to see that these are all about being made to feel something positive, but it doesn’t change my point. Nobody can make you feel anything. They might be a catalyst, and we end up feeling something as a result of their actions, but that all happens in our own mind. We get to choose how we feel. Always.

Aretha Franklin: Natural WomanI like the expression “push my buttons,” as in, “That annoying co-worker really pushes my buttons,” because that kind of describes how it works: they initiate a chain of events that results in one’s reacting a certain way; but to say that person made you feel a certain way is like saying they made music come out of a radio speaker by switching it on. They didn’t do it. The radio did.

So, it would probably have been more accurate for Sylvester to have sung in his soaring falsetto, “You did something that caused me to generate a mighty real feeling.” But you can’t really dance to that, can you? This is a dilemma.