Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Go fish!

This evening, I caught up on a bit of fishkeeping. I have a 20-gallon freshwater aquarium downstairs, with some very hardy little fish: A Chinese Algae Eater named Algernon; an albino Corydora; and four Black-Skirt Tetras. Although I've had the tank since Yule 2002, I still consider Myself a beginner.

One thing that I've noticed is the dearth of replacement parts for some of the tank accessories. I lost My second lighting hood a few months ago, and haven't yet replaced it because it seems rather silly to replace an entire $50 canopy when all I really need is a new lighting unit. The fish could also use a new heater, a 200 watt unit rather than the 100W unit that came with the tank.

That said, I'm doing rather well with the gear that I do have. I've got water changes and tank cleaning down to an art... It takes Me approximately an hour to strip out the accessories, clean the gravel, clean the glass, clean the bubble hose and heater and power filter, put everything back together, and complete the water change. All I use is a bottle brush, a fresh pot-scrubbing pad, a siphon hose, and a five-gallon pail to catch the old water and gunk.

I used to spend a lot of time filtering and testing water before adding it to the tank, but have simplified that as well. My fish are compatible with local tap water that's been dechlorinated, so I don't spend any time running water tests and adding fancy pH-altering chemicals. All it takes is a few drops of a combination water conditioner and stress coat, added to every pitcher of water I pour back into the tank.

The fish have also done much better since I decided to be less zealous in siphon-vacuuming the schmutz out of the gravel. It may be because they don't have to constantly race back and forth to keep out of the way of the Cleaning Lady... They just saunter casually down to the other end of the tank. It might also be that I'm inadvertently leaving some Beneficial Biological Stuff in the tank.

And it's so worth it when the tank settles and the water clears. I sometimes just sit in a nearby chair and watch the community go about its business in an inscrutable, seemingly random fashion.

I wonder if the inventor of the Lava Lamp was a fishkeeper...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Getting serious about My writing

I don't know if two days' work counts as momentum, but considering that it's January 26 and not sometime in November...

Yesterday I drafted a query letter for my 2007 NaNoWriMo novel The Misuse of Things, and also started to change the manuscript into standard format. I decided to start with TMoT because it's the most polished of My three completed works.

Today I actually sent out an e-mail query to an individual from a local theatre, asking for advice... What needs to be done to transform The History of My Disbelief from a stack of paper to an actual production? What kind of training do I need to undertake to support that goal?

And then I transcribed another section of The Passion of Marty-Sue, which has lain fallow for some months now. (At least Tiamat's out of the karaoke bar now, and on Her way back to Crisis Central.)

If I do one thing a day for the rest of the year, that'll be well over 300 steps towards My goals.

On the other hand, if I do two things a day...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter tires for the mind!

I'm starting to accumulate a rather useful collection of tools and behaviours, things that are making life more engaging and a lot less cluttered.

Today's experiences take place on the boundary between mind and body, right where awareness touches sensations. (tosses peacock-blue koosh ball from one hand to the other, paying special attention to where the myriad plastic points make contact with the skin) I've already determined that multi-tasking is a self-defeating behaviour, and have started to move away from that kind of thing with alacrity.

But just seconds ago, I just figured out why multi-tasking doesn't work.

(holds koosh ball between palms and rolls it back and forth as She searches for the right words)

You see... In this world, we exist both in ourselves and in relationships to other entities. That's 'relationships', plural.

But we can only truly engage one other entity at a time. When our minds flit instantaneously among 10,000 different ideas and physical objects, it's difficult to consciously engage any of them. They exist as ephemera in our field of vision, and in our unconscious minds. A vast amount of cerebral CPU time gets wasted just on task-switching, and we're aware of just a tiny fraction of the possible sensory input provided by any one of the external objects.

On the other hand, if we get some traction on the road of thought, and slow down enough to gawk at one specific item...

...It's fascinating stuff. We get to see the bright blue of the koosh ball. Or hear the steady ticking of the clock on the wall. Or feel that a piece of clothing is soft; that a metal ornament is hard and cold; that a piece of paper does have thickness and texture.

Have a nice trip, and drive carefully.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mind that hip!

Good *ouch* evening, all...

(limps up to computer and sits down very, very carefully) Okay, I've figured out the first part of mindfulness vis-à-vis the physical body.

The revelation happened this evening, at karate class, somewhere in the middle of Heian Godan. I went to execute the crescent-kick-to-the-hand that occurs midway through the kata, and realized that I could do a much better kick just by keeping My attention on My outstretched hand.

And it worked rather well.

Until about half an hour later, as Red and I left the changing room and headed out to the car. By paying attention to the minuscule details of a suddenly very sore hip, I was able to mentally retrace My steps back through class and see which technique had affected those particular muscles. That, in itself, is fascinating.

But it gets better, inasomuch as awareness of sore body parts can be considered 'better'. As I made My way upstairs after supper, I realized that I have a remarkable option:

I can feel pain without embellishing it with any particular emotion. In other words, I can feel sad or angry or worried, but I don't have to attach those emotions to the event and I certainly don't have to keep attaching those emotions over and over again.

And just wait till what I tell you what I discovered during the *chomp* Mindful Potato Chip Eating Exercise...

Monday, January 19, 2009

The third leg on the tripod

Introducing... At least the basic concept of another phase in the Lakshmi Project.

For Phase I, the goal was to tidy up My physical environment. It's taken a while to stick, but new habits are replacing old and My desk is gradually becoming less cluttered and more useful. Further to this post, I've now ripped the CD of opera arias and put the original up on a shelf; gone through that huge stack of bills and receipts, and dealt with all of them; and stapled the SuperGrover patch up on My bulletin board, where it can be a decoration until I actually find something to sew it on.

Phase II is both old and new. I'm starting to get a handle on mindfulness meditation... In practice, rather than in theory. I haven't yet scared up the magazine which I talked about here, but I've found something even more valuable: The book The Mindful Way Through Depression (Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn). I'm still in the early chapters, but at this point I can say that this book has immense potential for improving overall quality of life. No, it isn't just about depression; it can be applied to any situation where emotions and old behavioural patterns conspire to make life less than ideal. In My case, it seems to be digging out the roots of My tendency to procrastinate, and connecting Me more intimately with Right Now.

Which is critically important, because Right Now is where I keep all my stuff.

But anyway.

The next phase of this project is both necessary and terrifying. I want to do some serious, focused, mindful, and above all, effective body work. Improve aerobic capacity. Improve quality of sleep. Posture, body weight, speed, kinesthetic awareness, flexibility, stamina, health, the whole nine yards.

But how?

Aah, I'll figure it out. Stay tuned for Lakshmi III. At best, it'll work. At worst...

(has vision of a novice fitness instructor meeting Ginsberg's "Howl" in a dark alley)

*meep*

Friday, January 16, 2009

I can see My desk from here!

I'm finally starting to warm up to the idea of a clean and orderly environment, and taking appropriate action to make it happen. After procrastinating on sundry projects including manuscript editing, bookkeeping, and a handful of essays, I started attacking...

...The Desk.

Yes, that desk. The one that... After the most recent cleaning... Still has some rather unusual residents.

  • Malfunctioning digital camera (to be repaired or sent for service)
  • Pocket watch
  • CD of opera arias (further to a suggestion from My clarinet teacher)
  • Squishy brown rubber bison
  • SuperGrover embrodered patch (to be sewn on knapsack)
  • Sundry small pieces of paper with handwritten notes (make mental note to transcribe or trash these)
  • Metronome (I actually do use this, so it gets to stay)
  • Remarkably, only one pen and one pencil
  • Anti-static grounding strap, attached to static mat under My monitor and keyboard
  • Lakshmi's shrine, currently consisting of Lakshmi Herself plus a lapis lazuli egg, $6.02 CDN in shiny coins, two elephants, a stone with the Ingwaz rune, and a small brass owl named Zeno (q.v. My 2008 NaNoWriMo project, Ice Cream for Lakshmi)
  • A stack of bills and receipts to be sorted or shredded (all fairly current, thank the Accounting Gods)
  • A large crystal bowl containing about ten pounds of crystal whatnot, plus a staple remover; a USB memory key; a cigarette lighter; a box of matches; a paint swatch, a snake carved out of African bubinga; a bright blue koosh; a job lead scribbled on a Post-It™ Note; a digital voice recorder; and a glow-in-the-dark Happy Face ball.
And, I reiterate, this is after I cleaned the desk.

Really.

(rolls up sleeves, puts fresh bag in trashcan, gets back to work)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Springy Mindfulness 101

Today, while on My day gig as a Typer of Terrifyingly Long Medical Words, I chanced upon the November-December 2008 issue of Psychology Today. Therein I found a particularly good article called The Art of Now, subtitled "Six Steps to Living in the Present".

I haven't had time to go through the article in great detail yet, but even a cursory glance over afternoon coffee has paid off handsomely.

For one thing, a lot of wordy concepts are starting to crystallize into things that actually make sense. It's a relief to know that I actually have been practicing 'mindfulness', in the sense of 'Pay attention to what's going on Right Now, dammit!' I assure you that yes, doing this actually does work in the real world. There is no magic about it. It is simply a matter of taking the time to pay attention, close attention, intent and committed attention to... Well, anything at all.

The mystery of breathing exercises to calm the mind is also explained. Why use the breath, and not something else? Because breathing happens in realtime, and it's something we carry with us everywhere we go. No magic there, either.

I was delighted to see an old friend, the 'Flow' concept of Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, also referenced in the article. I'm generally happiest when working on an intense project; that's the place where intention and action dovetail into a seamless and satisfying whole.

There's more in there, all very practical and useful stuff. I'm hoping to score a dead-tree copy of the magazine at the mall tomorrow; it'll make an excellent supplement and glossary for the horde of meditation and psychology books that already haunt My bookcases.

And I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the Lakshmi Project, Phase II: Cleaning up the mind as well as the desk. (puts away a few stray pens and pencils and pets cat in mindful, engaged manner)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Anti-Apotheosis

At peace
With a universe of eternal change
The gods believe in their own mortality
While the mortals wage war
For eternity unchanging

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Matters?

For the first post of 2009, I've decided to catch up on a bit of homework. I have been assigned the task of answering the question of what's important in My life, and in this post I'm going to try to answer it.

Or at least dance around waving My arms, trying to lure the answer out into the open.

First of all, I like being busy... But it's a very specific kind of busy. If I'm working merrily away at something, the last thing I want is for someone to come along, interrupt the work at hand, and divert my attention onto a completely different task. I find it stressful in the extreme.

And yet, I have no problems sitting here typing out this blog post while holding a skein of yarn and two knitting needles. (pauses to knit a few stitches) I find that attention tends to follow sight, or at very least, follow whatever sense is dominant at any particular moment. As to why My particular attention likes to jump from one thing to another so frequently, I don't know.

I like to be there for friends, to help them work on projects, and I like it when they reciprocate. At the same time, I've been known to spend hours at this desk, alone with My own stuff.

I really, really like to start projects. But I have a tendency to let them trail away behind Me like a string of half-painted beads. (Getting better with this one, but it's a constant struggle to stay on top of things and not jump off into something new.)

I like to learn new things (and again, I've started to learn quite a few things but taken only a few to the next level).

I like to twist memes and paradigms and clichés until they break, then glue them together into something weird. I love the absurd. I enjoy making people laugh.

I love rock 'n' roll (insert Joan Jett impersonation here). Once I jumped down from a stepladder and raced down a flight of stairs to hear a live performance of "The Story In Your Eyes" by the Moody Blues. It was so worth it.

Then again, once I raced down a flight of stairs in search of a dictionary, and ended up at the bottom of the stairwell with a badly sprained ankle. On the bright side, I can now say definitively that the word 'stomach' does not have an 'e' on the end.

Never met a cat I didn't like. Or penguin. Or dragon. Or solar eclipse. (Or lunar eclipse, for that matter.)

But I have had some rather nasty chocolate, and a few bad experiences at the mall.

And smoked oysters are Right Out.

I like to collect the "You Are Here" emblems of society -- The certifications, the diplomas, the by-lines and photo credits in the company newsletters. Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat on the fourth try.

Yes, I like to keep trying when I know I can win. It's hard to stop trying when I've put a lot of effort into a failing cause, but sometimes the only way to stop failing is to stop going round the same damn circle.

Because life isn't a circle.

It's a spiral. Going up, or down, or sideways into another dimension.

And as long as the road ahead is strange yet eerily familiar, I know I'm alive.