1⃣ Photography: Birds & Nature
True story: I once spent a year devoting free-time to digesting the Bible. That was back when the Internet was so new, brown boxes marked “Internet in a Box” lined the shelves of local CompuServe stores Netscape, hot dang! Among the questions then in focus: does God have a sense of humor? Electronic searches failed to reveal passages with “Jesus” and “smile” derivatives hanging out in the same ‘hood.
Years later, the answer materialized in the form of a critter scampering across my front lawn: the ubiquitous squirrel. I defy anyone to closely observe a squirrel and walk away without a smiling heart. Can’t be done. Birds offer this same gift, and imma prove it.
✧︎︎︎ Despair Gives Way to Delight
Our family moved to North Carolina to tend to hubby’s mom. The man is the quintessential momma’s boy, in the best sense of the phrase. Those early years found us in the emergency room of numerous hospitals, not to mention the rehab area of follow-up care facilities. Moans, groans—the places overflowed with palpable despair. To give myself a much needed respite, I’d tiptoe outside the building to chill with Nature. Surrounded by lush greenery, I’d lose myself in the infinite hues of who-cares-if-it’s-summer autumn hues.
One evening, my left peripheral vision caught a fleeting sight of blue. Peering in that direction sparked an umbrella bird! confirmation. The difference: this time, I paid close attention. I memorized certain parts of my new feathered friend, determined to make a formal identification. Yet I always seemed to hone in on body parts ignored in “identifying traits” listings. Grrrr!
One identification book soon multiplied. Still at a loss, I purchased what was to become the first in a long line of cameras. Resolved: “take pics from every friggin’ angle, BrainGirl!” This, from a gal who bought all of one camera — from the hanging display of a drug store. Mission accomplished (blue grosbeak!), I mentally strutted, courtesy of my growing bird-naming prowess.
We always knew we were destined to lose our battle against Nature. We lost my darlin’ mother-in-law 4 years later, on an early April morning. Bird photography proved my Xanax, a way to tame the grief. That Thanksgiving, as usual, I drove to Philly to pick up my mom. Hey, a queen deserves door-to-door service! Mom loved hotels, explaining my habitual conversion of a 7 hour road trip into a two day fiesta, stopping just outside of Richmond for a hotel check-in. We had scheduled her return trip for a few days after the New Year’s holiday. Another road trip because the lady loathed planes. Plans. Ha!
Maneuvering in the bathroom during the wee hours of January 2nd, mom fell, smashing her rib cage against the porcelain toilet. Shards pierced vital organs. I spent the next two weeks pacing the hallways of the intensive critical care ward, praying/ bargaining/ pleading with my Main Dude. Spared, Mom made it through. But I soon realized: mild dementia had jumped into 5th gear. A year later, I drove to Philly alone, disposing of her furniture and shutting down her home. Mom would be with us, until…
Assuming the role of 24/7 caregiver ain’t for the faint of heart, folks. The brutal emotional rollercoaster threatens the stability of all in its path. But, as they say, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. All indications strongly suggested I was destined to morph into a Suma wrestler.
Throughout the following years of ongoing torment, my camera saved me. Dementia/ Alzheimer’s yields its own special brand of heartache, punishing loved ones unrecognized by the “patient.”
Another war with Nature. And then, another excruciating loss— in late April. No matter how many decades you’ve breathed, losing your lifelong cheerleader unleashes the two-year old tantrum-throwing child within. In my case, tears were few, I’m guessing because some pain runs deeper than tear ducts can reach.
✧︎︎︎ Incorporating my Photography Passion
I’m not the same woman today as before the North Carolina relocation. But that’s ok. Nature photography, now engrained deep within my very soul, continues to salve my spirit. Small wonder then that bird photography is my go-to response when trouble erupts.
Wanna increase fidelity to performing evening routines at my home office desk? Coffee mug shaped like a camera lens; mini coffee brewer stationed to the immediate right of that desk.
KnickKnacks, in the form of assorted local birds, sit atop the bookcase adjacent to the desk. When desired words to polish a written thought elude me, one glance in the direction of my porcelain feathered buddies turns the corners of my lips upward. I guzzle the gas provided, returning to a now-friendly screen, and let her rip.
Stuck again, staring at a hostile screen, courtesy of a complete writer’s block? Grab a camera, sit in the backyard, take a few snaps → creativity returns! My spirit tamed, my brain cells react; I return to my desk, and write as if on fire.
Midori bird clips marry some pages of my bullet journal, while a BookJig showing a smiling pelican provides the desired third book ribbon marker. Little things add up, tickling the inner kid. Delight relaxes; relaxation births creativity.
Bird photography: the thrill of the chase; the challenge of getting a worthy shot; and, the joy of success. Unlike law, where finality eludes you for years, photography tells its final tale as soon as you see the snapped picture. Blew it? Fine. Tomorrows yield additional photo shoot opportunities.
What do I adore most about this hobby? Birds vary as much as people. I’ll never meet each species, but man oh man, what a kick trying! And, the lingering dividends massage my spirit. Who knew a nature photography hobby could and would grease the creaky troublespots encountered during a typical work day?!
2⃣ All Things Paper and Writing
✧︎︎︎ The Birth of an Addiction
I blame it on a grade school nun. With ruler in hand poised to strike tender fingers, she’d patrol classroom aisles searching for the woeful soul grasping a pencil “the wrong way.” Pretty penmanship demanded holding the writing instrument with its top pointing at a definitive angle over one’s shoulder. Petrified of her ruler, I’d keep a firm eye on my pencil while writing. Conclusion: pencils are boring as heck!
That oft-repeated scenario gave birth to delirious Septembers. While my buddies mourned a return to the classroom, I maintained a “Here’s Johnny” Jack Nicholson style maniacal grin, knowing Mom would transport me to the office supplies aisle of Woolworth’s (← ask your folks 😆). Pens and copybooks and erasers, oh my! Who-cares splotchy-writing Bic pens gave way to pens with wider barrels and reliable ink; white erasers replaced the usual pink; black and white marbled copybooks stepped aside in favor of rock-yoe-retinas eye-candy notebooks. I’d 🎵 found my thrill 🎵 on stationery hill.
As a young widow, Mom couldn’t afford every pen kidnapping this then-kid’s eye. But when that kid eased into adulthood, oooo baby, the financial gloves slipped off—with a vengeance. Assorted academic scholarships and multiple jobs financed my college and law school tuitions, with JUST enough extra for snazzy pens, pencils, and paper items.
Among the things law school taught me: the wonders of color-coded notes! Speed forward to true jobs, and y’all know dang well what happened to a substantial portion of that enhanced disposable income. 🤣😂
✧︎︎︎ Coaxing Consistent Bullet Journaling, My Premier Life Management Tool
By the time year 2015 eased up my chronological road, my home office cried out for relief. Decades of hoarding studied writing paraphernalia purchases created clutter zones throughout the house. I learned: a cluttered home office yields a cluttered brain, death to those of us who write for a living. But I tamed the clutter monster1, revamping until this writer’s hallowed ground sang with comforting allure.
Reaching for a favorite mechanical pencil (Kuru Toga), pen (Pilot Juice 0.38mm), or fountain pen (Platinum Preppy 0.3mm, Pilot Prera Italic nib, Pilot Vanishing Point fine nib) encourages braindumping into my bullet journal. Knowing the paper comprising my selected journal/planner respects any ink hitting its pages eliminates technical distractions. In short, because my writing paraphernalia addiction encourages my reach for a particular writing instrument, as well as the container targeted, I’m a faithful bullet journaler. Fidelity to a life management tool, combined with regular review sessions, keeps me on top of my goals-focused activities.
So laugh at my stationery nerdiness if you’re so inclined. This little momma enjoys her daily groove, respecting my preDawn & Evening Routine review segment as I travel my goal achievement path. Incorporating my all-things-writing obsession fuels consistency and hence, my steps up the I-WILL-do-it mountain.
3⃣ Music: Old School Motown-Era & Smooth Jazz
✧︎︎︎ The How: Music in the Morning Mutes Mourning
Someone asked me, “GirlFriend, every day… at 4:a.m.?? WithOUT an alarm clock? How? Why? What in the world makes you a consistent early riser?” I wanted to say “self-discipline!” Honey, puhleeeeeease! When sheets nestle this body and only darkness greets a partially cracked retina, ain’t that much self-discipline in da woooorllllld. Self-lectures, mental vows—yeah right. In my very best Foghorn Leghorn Looney Tunes voice: Ah say, Ah say the one and onlyest thing guaRUNteed to get me up and outta bed every dang morning, Ah say → Motown funk!
I confess: it’s downright weird. The woman propelled into a room for a certain purpose, who dissolves into mental Jeopardy upon arrival (Alex, I’ll take “why the heck did I come here????” for the win), is the same woman requiring a mere 3-4 notes of a decades-old tune to start singing the full lyrics. Go figure.
Here’s the Cliff Notes explanation: when the toes get ta tappin’, don’t want more nappin’. As my peepers pop, my first words utter: “Alexa, play my Motown playlist.” Her confirmation, “Playing the Motown playlist”, ushers in my little version of a hallelujah choir. The opening rifts snatch my ears and race down through my body, causing my tootsies to commence their beeboopin’:
🎵 It was the third of September
That day I’ll always remember … 🎵
G’on! Try! I double-D dare ya to remain still in your bed, hugging the covers, as this badboy diddy wafts through your bedroom.
I wind down my wanna-be Soul Train moves as song #2 pushes me toward the shower: Paul Hardcastle’s Rain Forest.
As I exit, the tempo slows, the music now reminding me of core priorities.
✧︎︎︎ That’s the “how” of faithful early rising. The why?
- No. Distractions.
- No. Excuses.
- A defanged inner critic
- A unique sense of calm, with its BFF companion, Lady Creativity, smiling in my direction
Family? In various snore states, if not at work.
Political irritations? Confined to an off-state t.v. and ignored apps.
Early rising gifts a silent inner critic. That sucker never berates me when I’m up & at ’em pre-dawn. But oh Lawwwd, the days I instead pull the covers over my head and remain in bed past my appointed hour? It’s like someone pumped the fool with verbal Wheaties! 😡
The blanket darkness stills this soul, converting everything into Pam’s World. As I exit the shower, I ask Alexa to “turn on the office coffee.” By the time I arrive at my home office desk, the mini coffee maker (2 mugs worth of coffee) situated atop a nearby bookcase has brewed. After pouring my cup, while rolling back the ultra-comfy high-back chair to situate myself, I tell Alexa to “play my morning routine playlist.” Instrumental-only smooth jazz tunes massage my spirit, providing a musical chill pill.
I perform my standard a.m. review, then check in with Twitter’s #5amWritersClub, joining others worldwide for a one hour 5a writing session.
Additional desk-bound endeavors bury me for several hours. By noon, I’ve accomplished a comparable 9–10 hours of work. The “why” comes down to this: enhanced focus sustains intense productivity.
Baby steps, marching up the mountain to my goals. I’m not as far away from achieving each as I was yesterday, and tomorrow’s Agenda will push me still closer. Music. My ace in the hole!
You’ve already met Alexa, the invisible lady playing maestro to my workdays. … And Spotify, Exxon to this woman’s spiritual daily driving machine. … Time to meet a few more soldiers in my get it togetha! army.
✧︎︎︎ iOS Apps
With this guy loaded on my iPad, most web ventures yield productivity. Reason: when I see a page, or segment of a page, useful for work, social media, etc, I can tap to grab the page title with url. If I’ve selected text, that too will be captured. All lands in a plain text Dropbox file, per my configuration of this app’s settings. I’m not limited to one file. I can create new files on the fly, even using the page title captured. Or, I can append the data to a pre-existing file.
- 2Twitter: info I can schedule for tweets
- 2FBp: ditto, but for the Facebook Page
- Client XYZ: issues pertinent to a specific client
- Investigate this
I use CalenGoo as my window to both iOS and Google Calendars. It gives new meaning to “feature rich.” Templates are my favorite– tap the screen twice in quick succession, and up pops a selection screen. I choose the desired template, which fills in all data except the fields I want left empty for immediate input. Searching all cals, or selected cals, is crazy easy and quick. I can accept the color assigned at the calendar’s home base, or override it. The list goes on.
Self-employment, from a home office, thrills with perks. But the downside is an inner critic inspiring procrastination and other ills. Because accountability forms the key to locking the procrastination clown in a soundproof room, I track myself in multiple ways throughout the workday.
The bullet journal is my best friend in terms of productivity. But technology has its place. My motif: exploit the best of both the analog and electronic worlds, to effect a better me.
Each of my four joyful obsessions plays a critical role throughout my workday.
Bird photography, in the form of bird knickknacks and a camera-lens coffee mug, sit nearby as I toil, silent friends shouting encouragement. And, if a writer’s block stymies me, I know it’s time for a change in locale. I may grab a camera and plop into a backyard chair. Or, I may grab my car keys, and slip my Out & About EDC work bag over my shoulder (EveryDay Carry), knowing it holds my pocket size Sony HV90v camera. A good day, weather wise, pushes me to a local park. Dicey weather instead propels me to a local mom & pop coffee shop, surrounded by trees… with birds. Regardless of location, the result is the same: block unleashed!
Writing paraphernalia keeps me faithful to bullet journaling, the one life management tool guaranteed to satisfy per its biggest claim to fame: flexibility. I love reaching for certain writing instruments throughout the day, and I appreciate the fine paper quality comprising each of my chosen note receptacles. The high influx of such notations naturally induces scheduled review sessions. I don’t want the overflow resulting from missed review dates. Read: I’m faithful.
Motown music pumps me out of bed each morning, while soothing smooth jazz instrumentals keep me at my home office desk or in the nearby lounge chair. Despite periodic breaks, I always return to this hallowed ground, these days without “should” lectures. Because I took the time to conjure my dream work area, I gravitate toward, and remain at, that space until the day’s Agenda is satisfied.
Technology, in the form of Alexa and assorted Mac/iOS apps, performs the precise tasks needed, when desired—no more, no less. My previous digital lunacy—involving upward of 18 apps on a DAILY basis—cured, I now rely upon only a handful of apps. That puts me in a much better position to harmonize digital with analog tools. Simplicity compromises nothing, while enhancing everything.
- April 24th through the 30th = National Stationery Week. Come on back next Thursday when the walk-through will greet you: How To Embrace a Stationery Obsession with Organization. ↩