Ditching the electronic calendar

1-IMG_1077Sunday morning began in the usual way. Turn off the fan. Turn on the lights. Turn on the lightbox. Move the cat. Check email.

Check email.

Where the f*** were my emails?

I rebooted my phone. My Gmail account was still empty, so I ran to my desk to check the account on my laptop. Nothing.

This was a disaster.

Google wasn’t much help. The best they could do was restore the mail from my promotional tab so I could relive every website deal from Thanksgiving until Christmas. All of my business correspondence? Forget it. The holiday best wishes from friends and family? They would have to live in my memory. Anyone who asked me to do something or be somewhere, good luck with that.

Then again, I had an empty mailbox, which felt pretty cool.

How much of what was lost did I really need, and how much was I hanging on to because I could? I knew who I needed to ping to get critical information back. As disasters went, I’d survive.

I had a similar situation last month when my computer died. My advice for today–do not drink near your computer–especially if you gesture a lot when you’re on the phone. That sizzling noise the laptop makes as water seeps into the motherboard is your files saying goodbye.

Luckily I had a backup of my files on the server. Luckily I have a server, thanks to my husband to whom I apologize for rolling my eyes behind his back when he talks about security and recovery because like most people, I assume these inconveniences won’t happen to me.

I had a shit-ton of stuff in my archives; Multiple versions of the novel-that-will-never-see-the-light-of-day, Four year old orchestra press releases, Every iteration of the Dude’s college essays.When I thought about the files I really needed access to, it was a small fraction of what I had in storage. Did I really want my new laptop to inherit all of the clutter and chaos of the last one?

I decided to manage it like moving boxes. I’ll bring a file over to the new computer when and if I needed to. Otherwise, it could stay where it is.

Having the Dude leave the nest has had a similar effect on my life. For eighteen years, his schedule dictated mine. I loved being an at-home mother, but I was definitely in orbit, held by the gravitational pull of the Dude. Now that he’s on his own, the slate is wiped clean.

I have always kept a detailed electronic calendar, a throwback to my consulting days. It’s color coded by type of activity, participants and purpose. That calendar was the extra set of hands that kept me from dropping the ball, but the Dude took the ball with him when he left for school, and my calendar still looks exactly the same.

My father-in-law gave me an engagement calendar as a Christmas gift. When I opened it, I thought, “how quaint,” but I’m starting to reconsider.

The beginning of a new year serves as a reboot for me, a time to consider what to take from one year into the next. if how I live my day is how I live my life, how does my electronic calendar measure up? Like my email account and my computer files, maybe my schedule could do with a little electronic obliteration.

The booklet that my father-in-law gave me is beautiful, but not complex. It shows a week at a time, without demarcations for hours and minutes. It doesn’t call itself a calendar, or a planner, but an engagement book. Perhaps the term isn’t one of pretentiousness, but one of intention. An engagement can be a commitment, but engagement is also a state of being. This calendar requires a pen, and writing, and some consideration. I have these 24 hours. What will they mean?

Of course, I have appointments to keep, for which I’ll maintain my Gmail calendar, but focusing on life at the granular level is like bad musical theater, where time becomes no more than filler between songs.  Instead of focusing on what I need to do each day, I can decide what I want each day to be.

So I’ll add my engagement book to my morning routine, right after moving the cat. My email can wait, assuming there’s anything there.



Live Tweeting the Debate

Watching the debate?

I’ll be live-tweeting my thoughts

But in haiku form


The fun starts at eight

I’m skipping the kid’s table

Unless I’m real bored


I’m also playing

The Rolling Stone drinking game

To up the ante


If it gets dull we’ll

Discuss Donald’s combover

Live or Memorex?


Join me on Twitter

(I’m @jnbeverett)

For some wonk-haiku

In my next life, please don’t make me come back as a stinkbug

I attended an outdoor yoga gathering over the weekend to kick off Virginia yoga week. (Yes, there is such a thing. Namaste, y’all.)  The downtown pavilion was a patchwork of mats. I saw every color in the rainbow–red, blue, purple, green, and that was only the tattoo of the dude sitting next to me. He had an eye (among other things) tattoed on his bicep, and it watched over me like a horror-house portrait, following me as I moved from pose to pose.

The crowd covered the gamut of yogista types, from om-mani-padme-hum to Ath-leta-Lu-lu-lemon. The temps topped ninety, and the crowd had prepped for seven hours of unintentionally hot yoga by mixing a little iced chai with their chi. Reusable cups, natch. The air was full of love and peace and organic SPF 50 sunscreen.

Once we began, I was grateful for the warmth as we moved through various asanas. I stretched farther and bent deeper. I felt rooted to the earth, yet supple and willowy, which at my age doesn’t happen too often.

Looking around me, I actually teared up a little. There’s something powerful about seeing so many humans moving in unison. We can coexist in harmony, as long as money isn’t involved and we don’t think about it too much.

So there I was, blissed out, feeling all connected and spiritual, and I looked down to see a stink bug on my mat.

For me, stink bugs rank somewhere between incorrect apostrophe use and people who stop at the top of escalators. If I’d been home, I would have grabbed some toilet paper and flushed the intruder (assuming the cats hadn’t gotten to it first) and been done with it. But I wasn’t home. I was at a gathering of folks whose primary principle is ahimsa. Do no harm.

“Time to move on, buddy.” I nudged the beast with my finger. He didn’t even wave an antennae at me.

“Look you,” I cooed in a voice reserved for toddlers and puppies. “I’m letting you off easy. I need this space, so please move.” The stink bug dug its little stink bug feet into my mat. It wasn’t going anywhere.

“Fine. Have it your way.” I gave him a gentle flick with my finger. Really gentle. Just enough to move him to the side. Or so I thought.

The stink bug caught major air and flew about five feet directly under the behind of the woman in front of me as she lowered into child’s pose, trapping the stink bug under her yoga-pant covered asana.  I checked the guy next to me. The tattoo eye had seen it all.

Surely Karma would take it easy on me. I didn’t mean for the stink bug to meet his untimely end under someone’s booty. I was a victim of unintended consequences.

About this time the woman stood up to pack up her things, I looked for the critter in both possible locations while trying to avoid looking creepy. Nothing. Maybe I hadn’t killed the stink bug. Perhaps I just enabled it to experience the joy of effortless high-speed flight.

Just as I contemplated the cosmos forgiving me for my transgressions, the woman saw the stink bug clinging to the side of her yoga pants. She squealed, flicked the bug to the ground and crushed it under her sandal.

She looked at me and turned bright red.

I put up a reassuring hand. “I probably would have done the same thing.”

We both looked at the tattooed watchman, who shrugged us off. “Man, I hate those fuckers,”

The woman picked up her mat and walked away. I looked at the stink bug, on its back, legs up, reminding me that I was the beginning of the chain of events that led to his demise.

And then it flipped over and flew away. Only a stink bug could be annoying enough to be reincarnated as a stink bug.

“I guess her conscience is clear.” All I could do is laugh.

As we both moved back into the flow of the class, swear I saw his tattoo wink.

The exponential complexity of teenage dating

puzzleboxWatching the Dude negotiate his teen years, I’m reminded of some fundamental truths of  high school life.

1) You are not as dorky as you think you are. It all balances out over time.

2) Similarly, you are not as awesome as you think you are. It all balances out over time.

3) There is some subject you hate because you think it’s confusing and useless, and you’ll end up needing it some day. For me, it was logarithmic functions. I was fifteen years into my research career, and I was like, really? Now? This is why I became a writer.

4) Combination locks were invented by a sadist. So were logarithmic functions.

5) Dating sucks. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend is very nice. The road to there, however, is convoluted, confusing and no matter what you do, it’s the wrong thing. Sort of like logarithmic functions.

Social life at my son’s high school works like a puzzle box. He must move the pieces in precise order and placement for the top to open, and just when he thinks he’s got it right, someone adds another layer of complexity. You can only use one hand. Touch the wrong piece and and the box resets. The box holds another puzzle box.

I remember the teen caste system as pretty unforgiving. The Dude is in a good place. He has nice friends and seems to move across social strata without much trouble, yet like many teens still feels on the outside looking in a lot of the time. Come to think of it, many adults feel that way too.

He’s counting on college to be different. After all, he’ll have no parental supervision. I reminded him that we sent him to a four week Spanish language program over the summer where it appeared he had very little supervision, and by the looks of the Facebook pictures from the week, plenty of girls to pick from. In fact, given the No English policy, if he’d dated a girl from the French camp, he wouldn’t even have had to talk to her.

“Mom, no one hooks up at camp.”

Generations of band camp attendees beg to differ.

I told him that it gets better. After all, his father and I found each other at a big group event where the Venn diagram of our social circles had an intersection of one person. That’s all it takes. I look for hope and understanding in his face and all I see is you had choices and ended up with each other? I’m not sure if I should be offended or not.

It could also be worse. Malia Obama went to her first prom. Her secret service agents wore ties that matched her dress. Dating is hard enough without having to introduce a young man to your father, the Commander-in-Chief. Your parents are only Prius-driving dorks that use the term “Venn diagram” in regular conversation.

The thing about a puzzle box, is that you just have to try until you find the combination that works. It will open in its own time, when you least expect. It only feels like it goes on and on without end. Sort of like a logarithmic functions. On second thought, maybe you ought to talk to your father.

Photograph : “A Mystery Box” by RBerteig © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

Making a map to badassland

directionLast night I went to a party with a group of incredible women–intelligent, funny, warm and lovely all wrapped up with a big bow. After sharing books and cookies and numerous glasses of champagne, and before we said goodnight, our hostess asked us to share one word to set our intentions for the upcoming year.

There was a lot of calm and peace and joy and embracing life. Simplify, excite, adventure, exceed. All great words.

First thoughts are often our truest expressions. Inarticulate, perhaps, but unfiltered and unburdened by our concerns about expectations or perception or appropriateness.

My first thought was badass.

The book that I took home from the exchange was about facing our personal Goliath. I’m not a religious person, but I do think from time to time the universe gives us messages when we most need to hear them. This past year, I’ve been sort of an anti-badass, letting the giants stand in my way.

Some of them might have moved, had I asked them to. Some of them probably aren’t as big or as strong as I assume they are. Some of them are enormous and mean-tempered and eat writers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If I hope to be the David of my own life, I’m just going to have to get over it, pick up a rock and let it fly.

There is no map from here to badass. There are no concrete goals, or steps or landmarks. I can only ask myself “what would a badass do?” and take it from there. It is a journey that I’ll have to make one action at a time, to decide not to cower, or avoid, or defer, but to stand up and tell the world to bring it on, because dammit, I’m a badass.

You might want to duck.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Our Direction” by Brian Talbot © 2006 Creative Commons