Yesterday my profession made the New York Times Upshot section. Instructional designers help prepare faculty for teaching online. Well, all of a sudden, we are in demand and are being called out front and center. My phone was pinging non-stop yesterday with appeals for help from my teacher friends. Yes, we can help. For most of my career, I have been dragging reluctant people kicking and screaming into a world that they don’t want to inhabit. Forgive me if I enjoy being chased a little for awhile.
I got my Masters in Instructional Technology at Purdue in 2006. The class demographic was 50% corporate employees and 50% public educators. We all fought the tide all day long in our day jobs. And we lost more battles than we won. Corporate America had a business case driving the change but old habits die hard. Online learning and eLearning was considered a “cost savings” by most and accepted about as happily as email was 30 years ago. I remember being unable to figure out why I would email somebody when I could just walk over to their desk. Our education professionals fought an even more difficult battle in their work environments. But we knew that technology not only enabled more flexibility in learning, it could also increase its effectiveness. The key was designing it to fit the delivery method. And that’s why we were there.
“What is it that you do?” I’m often asked. Industrial what? You teach? Huh? I don’t get it. Designing online learning is a unique skillset and hidden behind the talent, the teacher or facilitator. It requires unique skills that traditional classroom teachers don’t have. But organizations don’t think that way. “Just do it,” they mandate to shocked educators – without providing the training to support them in the change. This gap drives a lot of bad online learning design which produces a bad experience which makes people think online learning is horrible. That has always been our fight.
Coronavirus turned the tide this week. I knew someday it would come. Unfortunately there will be a lot of bad online learning out there for awhile. But I think instructional designers will be having a heyday for the next few months. Hopefully the case will be built long-term for flexibility after we get out of this panic. We can help you. And, right now, we can stop fighting resistant people. We have your attention, America.
Let us make you shine!
It’s dark outside. The time has changed once again, and now the mornings will be a tad darker. The daylight takes its time getting here. We are still a month or more away from warmer days here in Michigan, but the sun is starting to shine more frequently, and the crocus are peeping through the dirt. “I see you,” I whispered to a little bouquet yesterday.
I lost my Buster kitty last week. Buster was a force. He talked incessantly, and he was cuddly and soft. I don’t think he was a rag doll breed, but he sure could have passed for one. There was nothing he feared. When Ashok entered our home for the first time Buster walked right up to her, sniffed her nose and made it clear who was boss.
It is quiet now. Ashok and Bella are adjusting. The dynamics of the pack will change. Bella is finding her voice. She has meowed more in the last week than I ever remember. There is a sense of sadness over all of us as we get through this transition to a new normal. We are cuddling a little more, spending more time together and navigating our new hierarchy. I am relieved that I don’t have to worry about him any more as the last year or so was a struggle. But the hole in my heart is big.
Much to my dismay I have discovered binge-watching on Netflix. I haven’t owned a television in decades, and this weekend I found myself glued to my computer watching The Ranch. I got out and hiked with a friend and make some homemade scones. I ran and practiced yoga, but, other than that, I clicked Next Episode until I was sick of it. I don’t feel the better for it but it got me through the weekend by distracting me from reality.
I set some goals this week on my Garmin for strength training, running and yoga. I need the balance, and I need to get back to a routine. I also need to get back to reading for fun. I had made some progress but then the doldrums of winter set in, and my attention scattered. I am drinking green tea which helps keep my energy level all day and trying to avoid the roller coaster ride of caffeine and sugar. It also helps lift my mood which is dangerously close to a low-level depression. Keep moving. Focus on good behaviors. Eat healthy. Avoid idiots.
I kicked off Monday with an energizing yoga practice and a 15-minute meditation which centered me on the experience I’m having at the moment. Enya croons from my Bose. A scented candle flickers. Ashok snores nearby. I’m craving a smoothie to accompany one of my home-made Brown Butter Rye Scones.
One more minute here, please…. one more sip of green chai… one more breath… one more moment in my comfort zone.
Monday is here. Let’s do this.
“Make Liberals Cry Again.” The intention was to bully me and those like me. But there was something else that it triggered inside of me. I’ve been sitting with it for weeks trying to get to the root of what that message truly means.
A friend of mine was on a rant about this younger generation being “soft”. “They’re soft,” he kept saying in a loud, fearful, disgusted tone. “This younger generation is soft!” I was reminded of the hard outer shell he has built upon himself, and I thought of the armor I have gradually been trying to melt over the years. That’s what has been bothering me about this message. It’s the insistence that there is something wrong with being soft.
Our culture has an issue with softness while, at the same time, it worships it. We learn we can’t be soft to survive, so we crave it outside ourselves. We buy cozy blankets and get massages to help us relax. We like soft edges on mugs to hold our morning caffeine hammers. We work out and compete and then do yoga to help us relax. We are so worked up and armored up that we can’t sleep, so we buy sleeping pills to bring us to the point of softness where we can actually let go.
My ex-husband mirrored my transformation from a soft, sweet, sleepy person into an armored, edgy professional when I drank my coffee. He said my personality completely changed. I suspect that the root of my on-again, off-again relationship with coffee is rooted in this dynamic. As I’ve evolved, I’ve wanted to embrace my softness. My fear of being soft encrusted me with a hard shell that wasn’t serving me. My morning joe was the signal that it was time to armor up. “The world cannot be trusted,” it lied. “Better get your game on.”
I no longer believe that strength comes from being hard. As we get older and wiser, we get softer. It’s the ones that don’t soften that became bitter, angry caricatures of themselves. Hardness separates us in relationship. Inflexibility destroys our joints and muscles making us weak. Rigid thinking destroys creativity. Creativity is born from fluidity. Emotions have to flow – yes, even tears – or we wall ourselves off from ourselves and others. Our strength comes directly from our softness.
I’m learning to be compassionate with myself. I’m drinking tea instead of coffee. I’m learning to question the inner critic that tells me I better “man up” to be successful. I’m listening to the voice that tells me when I need to rest. I’m embracing my feminine energy. All of my life I thought softer, feminine traits were a sign of weakness. But I’ve learned that crying and loving and being sensitive to others is my strength. That’s the muscle I’m flexing now. So, go ahead, make me cry. It only makes me stronger.
I am over it. My Louisiana blood tells me it’s Azalea time, and the dogwoods should be popping soon. I watch my Instagram feed as my friends don shorts and tank tops for Mardi Gras parades. Here in Michigan we are still in it. Winter won’t lose its grasp until early May. I won’t feel like wearing shorts til June.
The contrast in what my mind tells me and what my numb cold fingers say is unnerving. I’m in a running program now. I thought since we didn’t have snow and ice this year I’d brave the cold and get training early. But I gave in and rejoined the gym to have access to a treadmill. I have to face reality. I’m not eager to get out til it’s above 40 degrees.
But this morning I got up and made some wonderfully healthy and sweet apple-ricotta pancakes, pre-chopped all my veggies for the week, made some chia pudding and headed out to my favorite place, The Spa at Harbor Shores.
On this leap day Saturday I’m getting a massage and facial. As good as that is it’s the rest of the deal that warms my heart. My esthetician, Kelly, and I have uproarious conversations about dating, midlife and our magical spiritual journeys. I’m relaxing in front of the digital fire with a cup of peach green tea, and the sauna awaits.
Be gone, winter. I am warm, happy and well-fed. The sun is shining in my heart as well as on the crocus poking their heads above the soil. I will kindle my own Mardi Gras and azalea flames until the spring explosion of Southwest Michigan ignites. I truly don’t want for anything.
I saw a counselor during my second marriage to help me unwind some of the issues that we were having. It seemed that I could never make any headway in communicating my needs or in solving issues. I felt voiceless. For instance, I’d want to talk about the fact that we were running out of money every month, and we needed discipline around spending. I’d pick a time that was more relaxing and bring it up. All of a sudden, I was the problem. I was controlling. I was always bringing up “problems”. I spent more money than he did. The discussion would culminate in an argument where I was the issue..
I played back one of these pointless circular arguments to my counselor, and she introduced the “tar-baby” to me. The Tar-Baby is one of the Uncle Remus stories published in 1881. Br’er Fox constructed a doll made of tar to distract Br’er Rabbit. When Br’er Rabbit engaged with this tar-baby, he’d get stuck in the sticky tar. No matter what he did, the more he engaged, the worse off he was.
She said that people who don’t want to deal with problems will often fling forth a tar-baby. My ex was effectively distracting me from the real issue at hand by bringing up another unsolvable and more sticky issue. This would send me off on a battle with a tar-baby that would entrap me and, since there was no resolution, deflect the initial problem. The answer, she said, was to disengage with the tar-baby. Keep going back to the real issue.
I still remember the moment I spotted my first tar-baby. It was profound. I got really good at avoiding them in this relationship. In fact, the practice of ignoring the tar-baby was probably the root of the demise of that marriage. As I stayed focused on the real issues, it became obvious the problems were unsolvable because he would not engage, and he became more and more evasive and emotionally violent.
If you have someone that is evading issues because they throw up tar-babies, there are really some simple steps to follow.
During this work in deflecting tar-babies with him, I learned that in some ways I benefitted from the distraction, too. It kept me confused about what I really needed to do in this relationship. It was a toxic relationship with a lot of toxic patterns. It eventually became clear to me that my choices were to stay in this gridlock or start to work my way out of it. By deflecting the tar-babies, the true issues became clear, and I could make better decisions on the problems. Some were small problems that could be ignored. But they were blown into big problems due to the tar-baby discussions. Others were too big to ignore.
Is there a person in your life that uses tar-babies to keep you under control? What are the typical ones they use? How can you deflect them in the future?
Shania Twain is on the cover of AARP this month. Yes, I’m a member, and, yes, I read the magazine. I hadn’t known what happened to her, but I certainly remember her meteoric rise in country music and can sing several of her toe-tapping, female-empowering tunes. She truly did make me feel like a woman even if I was just mopping the floors in my domestic household.
She disappeared from the music scene. I didn’t notice. My life went on. After I picked up my magazine this morning on the front porch, I eagerly turned to the article to put the pieces together. She is making a comeback after a series of life blows including the loss of her instrument — her voice. The article is about comebacks of celebrities over 50, but it made me think about my own reinventions and the people I know who have made comebacks in their lives.
If we are lucky, we get the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Yeah, yeah. I know it’s devastating when something bad happens that ruins your life, but it’s the only time that we usually take the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and take a new look at where we are headed and where we might want to end up.
It’s the reinventing that makes life worth living. I have reinvented myself after divorce, after recovering from an addiction and in my career. I feel another reinvention coming on. Something inside is telling me that a new way of being is percolating. I can ignore it and wait for the wrecking ball of change to make way, or I can choose to make the change willingly. I’ve done it both ways and both have their gifts.
The AARP article provides some tips on making a comeback, but I’ll give you my version here. The first thing I do is accept where I am and grieve the loss of what once was. I literally spent two years after my second divorce in this spot. I spent that time evaluating who I was, identifying the issues I brought to that marriage and considering my choices for the future. I also spent time taking care of myself. I started running. I changed my diet. I got back to practicing yoga and meditation. I practiced healing my codependency issues. I had to lean in to the destruction and understand its anatomy before moving on to the next stage.
It’s this stage of grieving and evaluation that people want to skip. They want to get to the next step. Sometimes, you do have to get to the next step if you’ve suffered a job loss (that’s happened to me, too) as you have to eat. But if you move on too quickly, you just end up traveling down the same path and end up with the same pile of rubble somewhere else down the road. Besides, there’s always something you are bringing to it that needs to be corrected. If you don’t identify that, the broken cog keeps on tripping you up.
Exploring was the fun part!
The second step for me was the exploration. I made myself sit in exploration for awhile. I wouldn’t let myself date because I knew I’d just end up in another relationship. I explored my life as a single person. I took up camping. I got a dog. I made a list of things I thought I’d like to do and tried them. I learned to budget and take care of myself better. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I liked being single and that maybe, for me, that was a better way to be.
It’s a humbling process to look at your own shortcomings and start over. But when we are most humbled, we are much more open to the possibilities. The job that doesn’t pay as much is a necessity. The vacation that is not extravagant actually seems quite interesting. Keeping up with Joneses begins to look kind of frivolous. A different kind of life that never appealed to you all of a sudden has some attractive elements. Faith, which may have seemed weird before, may become the only hope you have.
When I am more open to change because I need something, I see more options. It’s my openness to change to that matters. Life provides. We either pass on the options or we grab one or two. And in grabbing the options and exploring them, we will find our way back. “Back” may look totally different than the successes of the past.
I have known so many people that have made comebacks. Every single one feels better about where they are now. As humans we are very resilient. We fear change, job loss, the loss of a partner, a debilitating illness and a myriad of other tragedies. We can choose to adapt. Or we can choose to wallow in the ruins and decry our bad luck. The irony is that what we feared most can become the most important story of our lives.
From my experience, the steps to being resilient in the face of tragedy are:
Take the journey to acceptance. Grieve the losses. Identify your part. Understand yourself and what truly happened. Try humility on for size. Sit in the rubble and pick through it.
Explore the options to move forward. Go wide. Resist hasty or desperate choices. Be open to the synchronicities that bring you to new realizations. Resist just rebuilding the same structure to ease your anxiety.
When a path begins to feel right, keep exploring it. Go deep. Meet people on the same path. Do what they did to get where they are. Take some classes or get a mentor. Learn and take some risks.
Enjoy your new life. Mentor others coming along the way. Appreciate the new landscape. Write or record your journey. Someone else needs the encouragement.
Did you make a comeback in your life? What are the steps you took?
I committed to my friend Alayne that I was going to complete my assigned drill workout this morning before work. My pledge was to get up and get ‘er done before I even drank my tea. I got out my clothes last night. I set my alarm 30 minutes early. I got my mind right.
About 3:15 AM, my elderly cat Buster started meowing. His meows are piercing and insistent. He does not care about anyone else’s sleep, and I have often been embarrassed when I have guests. He wakes up everybody in the house with his insistent communication. I knew what was wrong. I bought the wrong cat food this week, and he will eat some of it but not his full portion. He was hungry.
Buster and Ashok…
When he gets hungry, he throws up bile. While it won’t kill him, I do have to get up and clean it up before Ashok decides to eat it. He’s old. I don’t want him to be hungry. But I also wanted to sleep. If I was going to get up and run and then go to an all-day Monday work marathon, I needed to be rested. I pushed play on a guided meditation and tried to ignore the situation before me.
“Release any tension you feel in your shoulders.” Meeeeoooowww!!!
“Breathe in, breathe out.” What if he throws up again?
“Relax your neck.” Buster climbs up on my chest and commences staring at my face.
“On your exhale, let all of the tension flow into the surface underneath you.” Whiskers tickle my face. I will not win this standoff.
After taking care of pet feeding duties at the unruly hour of 4 AM, I warmed up enough inside to fulfill my commitment to myself and brave the cold. While Alayne really wouldn’t give a flip whether or not I checked the box, I did. I have a long Monday ahead of me, and I can’t start dodging workouts on Day 3 of my program.
Once I got outside and started walking, I felt fine. I was a little sleepy and sluggish at the beginning, but with the help of an interesting podcast and some pavement pounding, that subsided. I did drills today, so the distance and time required was short but fairly intense. It was fun. I made myself do the full 10-minute cool down even though I just wanted to get inside. The discipline to follow instructions has its own reward.
Buster is contentedly laying in my lap now. He’s full, and he’s asleep. While I can’t sleep I can meditate, and I’ll get to it in just a second. Thanks to his insistence, I actually get a little extra time this morning to drink tea and post a blog. It’s not so bad getting up this early, but I’ll feel it later. I feel accomplished and proud of myself that I accomplished my goal this morning. I feel kind of badass actually. 🙂
There is magic in yoga and meditation. Our bodies speak. As we consume life’s traumas and joys, our body takes those in. And as we move creaky joints and lazy muscles, those lessons and memories gently (and sometimes not so gently) stir to the surface. And in the quiet of a yoga or meditation practice, we can hear the whispers.
When I wrote A 2020 Commitment to Me at the end of last year, I committed to one goal for the new year. I knew that a 30-day practice of yoga would guide me into what I truly wanted and needed for this year. At first, the practices felt mechanical and I got nothing more than a check-the-box satisfaction.
I went to Tennessee for business trip. The first night I practiced my usual practice and then my yoga mat went unrolled for the rest of the week. Business dinners, too much coffee, not enough sleep, restaurant food and mental exhaustion got in the way. By the end of the week I was a wreck.
Saturday I got right back on it. I did my yoga, and I decided to also commit to doing 20 minutes of meditation following every yoga practice. I spent some time Sunday trying to figure out how to squeeze in exercise, yoga and meditation every day. My highest priorities are the yoga and meditation because they impact my sleep, my eating and my mental state the most. I decided they are my first priority. So, they come first thing after I have my morning tea.
Last week I felt so much better, and I slept well every night. I picked up where I left off on the 30-day yoga journey, and completed my 20-minute meditations like clockwork. I was calmer and less reactive. By the end of the workday I felt like running or working out after work. The workouts helped me feel energized and ready for sleep. I noticed that when I had too much caffeine in the morning, I had less energy. This weekend I shifted to green tea which provides a little lift, no crash and a lot of healthy benefits. I feel so much better this morning. And I know that I’m setting priorities on these things because I want and need them to be my best self. I didn’t reach for a goal because I should, or I’m trying to fit into a new lifestyle. I did it for me.
Last year I didn’t run. Ashok wasn’t into running, and I had to come to grips with the reality that she’s not up for it anymore. We worked through that emotionally and physically and our joint exercise became walking. I tried to run a few times, but I honestly didn’t like doing it without her. It was a year of grieving and acceptance that our running days together are over. We ran together for a decade.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the urge to run again. I miss it. I miss the outdoors. I miss the way I feel after a run. I’ve been thinking longingly about the social running that I did in Memphis before I adopted my dog. So, I signed up for a Jeff Galloway training program on my Garmin, joined a local running club and signed up for a target race. A few of my friends are going to run it, too. I ran the first two workouts of my training plan at the end of last week, and it feels so good to be running again.
So I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want for 2020 in this first 30 days of paying attention. I could have just set some goals on January 1, and they would likely be history. But I feel like my goals spoke to me while I was listening in the silence. This is what I heard.
These goals feel transformative even though they have all been part of me for a long time. I want to love being healthy. I know if I feel good, I will start to want other things. I may have more energy for writing. I may decide to find some new hobbies. I may make other positive changes in my life. The most important thing is they are doable, and they feel like me. I’m not forcing myself to change. I’m providing guidelines for me to show up as my best self.
How are your New Year’s goals progressing? Have you thought about setting some new ones after a few weeks of learning?
Saturday was a wash. It literally rained and rained and rained. I finally got stir-crazy and packed up the car in the hopes of finding a drier landscape with a trail. But as soon as I got on the road, the freezing rain started. I was a little hesitant about taking a long drive to an unknown destination. Sunday I was determined to get out.
The North Country Trail was calling me, so I pulled up the online map and pinpointed a destination about an hour and 15 minutes from me. Battle Creek is the home of all things cereal, but it is also a trail town for the NCT. With a high of a balmy 29, cloudy skies and little likelihood of precipitation, I packed up the car for a hiking trip.
The Historic Bridge Park is on the NCT, and I thought it looked like a lovely place to park my car. With wistful visions of the Bridges of Madison County in my head, we arrived about 1 PM. There was one other guy with a dog in the park, and it was truly lovely. The Kalamazoo River flows straight through and other small streams spoke off the main river to create several opportunities for bridges.
The park is the first of its kind in the United States and is basically an open air museum for historic truss bridges that have been replaced for more modern bridges in their original location. They originated in either Michigan or Indiana but now rest in this beautiful little park where their rivets, vintage steel and primary colors meld naturally with the forest and several mesmerizing water flows.
Initially my romantic heart longed to walk a covered bridge from the Bridges of Madison County, but I found myself transfixed by the vintage bridges made entirely of steel. I imagined noisy, cantankerous, smoke-blowing automobiles crossing over in another time. Flappers with ornate dresses held on to their hats as they enjoyed the local scenery with their man. Honk, honk …. These bridges were born in time where life was slower but probably no less complicated for different reasons. I wondered who made the decision to take them down and what precipitated their journey here. Thank you to the person who envisioned this place.
We walked up a rock staircase and headed down the NCT for a couple of miles before turning back. The park is in close proximity to a couple of nature preserves. With just a bit of snow on the ground, we enjoyed a lovely walk through a forest and into a brushy, dry wetland area. We saw several runners and chatted with a couple on the trail. Just before dark, we packed up, said good-bye to the park and the weekend and headed home.
In Louisiana children are served coffee-milk for breakfast. It was this milky, mildly coffee-flavored drink sweetened with lots of sugar that got me started on my most dysfunctional and impossible-to-sever relationship. No amount of negotiation, compromise, boundary-setting or re-navigation seems to make this relationship easier.
In 2003 I became a supervisor at Starbucks. My email address was email@example.com. All of my life I had pounded coffee all day long with seemingly no ill side effects. But my anxiety had become debilitating. No amount of medication could keep my depression at bay. An acupuncturist told me I had to stop coffee. She said it was contributing to my depression. It took a year to wean myself off and learn to love green tea. And she was right. Anytime I drank coffee, the surge of energy was followed quickly by depression. I learned to take the edge off by drinking a cup of green tea but the message was clearly received. Coffee was not good for me.
Unfortunately my on-again, off-again use of coffee was just beginning. I know it impacts my sleep. It ramps up my anxiety and fuels my depression. It is a drug that I should not take. It is also my teacher. If you google this blog page for coffee, you will see that I love it as much as I hate it. I’ve quit it, loved it, obsessed over it and tried over and over again to dance with this dark and lovely devil. I love coffee, coffee mugs, coffeehouses, half-and-half, cafe au lait, cappuccino and dark roast coffee. I own an expensive electric espresso machine, an Italian stovetop espresso maker, an electric drip machine, an aeropress, several french presses and a pour-over coffeemaker. It’s not a drink. It’s a lifestyle.
At the end of last year I threw out all of my coffee. For months I drank a lovely oolong chai or a green chai for breakfast. It was delicious. I made homemade almond milk and enjoyed a new ritual with a cast-iron Japanese teapot. With a sense of accomplishment, I took all of the bags of coffee that I had – decaf and full-strength – and threw them in the garbage. I started to read about tea in the hopes that a new lifestyle would attract me.
I signed up for a monthly tea club and stocked up on my favorite chais. I bought pounds of raw almonds for my home-made almond milk. For months I was satisfied. I allowed myself coffee but only if I went to a coffee shop to buy it as a treat. And I slept. Long nights of restful sleep and gratifying days with minimal anxiety piled up. My Chinese herbs sat unopened on the shelf. I had energy for exercise and hunger between meals abated. Life was good.
I ended up in a coffee shop in Grand Rapids between Christmas and New Year’s Day intending to buy a pound of decaf coffee “just to keep on hand”. Some part of my subconscious talked me into a pound of caffeinated coffee just to balance it out. For the last few weeks I’ve been having a cup of 1/4 full-strength in the morning. I have limited my coffee intake to the morning, and if I need more caffeine, I use tea. But I’ve lost the taste for my lovely chai and almond milk. And today I’m up to half-caf. What am I doing?
I’m back on my Chinese herbs because my anxiety has increased, and I’m having trouble sleeping. Airtight containers of oolong and green chai sit patiently on my countertop. The teapot has been stored for weeks. The last container of almond milk I made went bad before I drank it. Wake up and smell the coffee. What am I doing?