January for the rest of us

I had one big goal for this month. One. My goal was to get supper on the table by 6:30 each night.

At the end of the month I can say I succeeded at this goal. I mentioned this in my last post, how using my freezer and the skills I learned in Whole Foods Freezer Cooking have been a game changer in this regard.

I don't think I could have done it, reached this goal, without taking that class.

That feels nice doesn't it? To start off a blog post with a success story. Yay me.

If my small triumph in this area of home management makes you feel less-than, not "enough" in the kitchen department, I assure you this is my one big "success" of the month. You've totally beaten me in other areas, I'm sure of it.

(I know. I know. This is not a competition, though everything conspires against us to make us believe it is.

This is an attempt at humor. I do not want you to feel bad about your supper making skills. But most of you are probably more mature than me, so when you read that someone has succeeded at something they set out to achieve you respond with kudos not insecurity. Yay you.)

Most days it feels like I can only be "good" and on the ball in just a few areas of life but certainly not all of them.

This month I was on the ball with cooking supper and getting it to the table on time. Which made for great evenings of cozy-ness and chill. I really loved that.

On the other end of the day, I meditated maybe three times this month, soaked in God's presence about the same, and completely stopped drawing. Totally dropped the ball. It wasn't intentional. I just really wanted to write. And I stole that morning time from myself to squeeze it in.

Evenings may be cozy as all get out, watching Gilmore Girls and reading in bed; knitting and listening to podcasts but I am also crawling out of my skin somedays about the state of my writing career. "Writing career?", you ask. Exactly.

I want to write. And this desire, and the words that keep coming, hijacked my carefully constructed early morning routine.

And here's the worst of it. All that stuff I've been feverishly writing in the morning, in lieu of the soul-care practices I worked hard to cultivate last fall, none of it is worth publishing (yet). I refuse to publish something that does not ring true and I'm having a hard time finding the resonance in that writing. It can't simply be that I want it to be true, it must be true.

As Anne Lamott would say it's the shitty first draft. The real kicker is that it's not the first draft.

I take issue with most January blog posts I read that focus on productivity, goal setting, and self-improvement projects in general.

I'm not trying to make myself into a better version of Renee. I'm trying to live in the head space and the heart beat of my true identity.

I'm wired for efficiency and productivity and so my areas of growth are to move away from being driven by those motivators, to venture into the messy and ambiguous terrain of learning how to accept situations I can't change, develop emotional resiliency, that kind of stuff.

But I don't find a lot of January blog posts about those topics. Honestly, I'm not looking. I don't want someone telling me what to do. I'm stubborn and prideful like that.

What works for me is stories. Well-written and humorous stories of people's failures and heartaches. And how they are learning to love themselves in that mess and how they love others. And then, then, if I read something that intrigues me and doesn't scare me too much or make me feel terribly insecure, I will go looking for the help I seek, and usually desperately need, from something I gleaned in those stories.

This isn't going to be one of those posts, a well-written and humorous story, but there is failure and heartache.

I recently fell back into the writings of Anne Lamott. For years she's been one of my favorite Christian-spirituality writers but I haven't adored all her books and I think I must have taken a break after a disappointing read a couple years ago. It happens.

Last week I found myself all out of reading material. I looked through my Goodreads to-read shelf while simultaneously scanning the available digital downloads at the library. Small Victories showed up on both.

The essays are new and "selected", which means old and previously published. I think I may have read some of them before in her previous books. I don't remember, which makes them new again to me. I devoured this collection of essays about grief and resiliency and love.

And then I googled "podcasts with Anne Lamott". I just needed more. And I found two author readings and Q&A sessions from former book tours.

I listened and I alternately laughed and then bawled my eyes out, one seamlessly transitioning into the other.

In one of those lectures she received the following question from an audience member. How do you foster resiliency?

Here's where I tell you that what I've been trying to write through this month is the truth of my own weakness in emotional resiliency and tolerance. And the pain and anxiety that has caused me and others.

Here's her answer to the question. Don't quote me, I scribbled these down while listening and some of these are my own paraphrases:

  • do all the things that make me alive and awake
  • stop hitting the snooze button (on life)
  • get outside
  • find emotionally healthy people (she said sober people since her past is alcoholism)
  • read the best books I can
  • read great spiritual masters
  • read more poetry
  • have impeccable friends
  • live the grace of not trying to fix other people
  • keep hiking
  • never stop trusting that I am loved ~ I am chosen ~ I am safe ~ and more will be revealed

Here's what I appreciate about this. Anne is over sixty years old. She's lived some hard knocks. She not a "look how I've turned my blog into a business" thirty-year old writer who dispenses self-help, without wisdom, for a living. I feel she's someone who's advice I can trust.

And I feel my cup filling once again; with love, a wee bit of wisdom, a wee bit of equanimity, itsy bitsy understandings that help assuage some of the frustration of failing and falling. Because listening to Anne, reading Anne, I know I'm not the only woman who feels needy and neurotic.

I just want to know that someone else's forward momentum, healing, spiritual growth, self-awareness journey, meditation practice, (fill in the blank with your own thing) is as herky-jerky as mine.

I got what I needed, and just like Anne says, help is always on the way.

In the most recent podcast I listened to, an old recording from the Free Library of Philadelphia, Anne said this,

The more you make yourself get less done every day the more glorious and sweet and expansive your life is going to be. I really recommend that every single day you figure out one thing you realized you’re not going to be able to do and in the morning you take it off the list. You say "it’s not going to happen. It’s going to be a good day. I’m going to get less done and I’m going to get it done less efficiently." And that is the secret of writing.

Ok. I'll take it.

I wanted to link to a couple of blog posts I really enjoyed reading this month. And some wisdom shared with me on Facebook. I thought I might weave them into the post but it didn't work out that way. So here they are:

And for those of you not jiving with the usual January groove, the one in which you must re-boot your life, yesterday, I thoroughly appreciate this idea shared with me on Facebook from Erin Curran:

I want to officially claim January as the "wrap-up/recover/renew order" month. I may use Candlemas/Imbolc (instead of New Year) as the day to commit to making an important change and then use the roughly 40 days until Spring Equinox to nurture and establish the change.

If January hasn't been the raging success you hoped it would be why not start with Candlemas/Imbolc, which this year is February 2nd, as your "fresh start". My preference is that January is for organizing my thoughts, ideas and plans for the New Year. It's not so much about making the radical changes, or even small changes. I totally jive with a wrap-up/recover/renew order protocol for the first part of winter. And when that feels kind of in place I like to start the intentions for the year. Just a thought.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on Jan. 29, 2016, 5:13 p.m.

    Anne definitely speaks to me as well. I've never read her fiction, but I've read all her non-fiction. One thing I like to quote is her title, "Help. Thanks. Wow." All the prayers we say are essentially saying one of these three things. The other advice I take from her is the phrase from her writing book, Bird by Bird, "Butt in chair". That's a favorite when I need a little self-talk telling me to get it done.

    Sarah M


  • Krista

    Krista on Jan. 29, 2016, 7:41 p.m.

    Story is powerful. Probably the majority of my growth - emotional, spiritual - has been promtped or facilitated by story. Even fiction. In the quietness of my room as I read I hit upon a nugget of truth that causes me to pause and reflect and consider the application to my life... and it change me. I also love people sharing their own stories (as you do) - not tidied up, glossy versions - but the reality of life and being stretched and making mistakes and overcoming. This is my desire; to tell stories in my own way in the hope of encouraging others. But it is healing, too, to tell my stories and just be real and lay it all out there. Scary but healing. xo


  • Sarah MacDonald

    Sarah MacDonald on Jan. 29, 2016, 9:09 p.m.

    Hi Renee, I really love this post. It has arrived with impeccably timing for me.  Lots of things for me to follow up from this one, including the links above and Anne Lamott's work. Funnily enough, she has been on my Goodreads list for many years, but for some reason I've never taken the plunge. I've spent my January reading time burning through seven crime novels by the same author (I do that sometimes!) and I'm ready for something new. Nothing I've picked up fiction-wise is speaking to me, but I think I need something more healing (I read crime fiction to calm the anxiety in my head with a gripping story). So Anne Lamott it is. I've also just downloaded a sample of Tara Brach's 'Radical Acceptance'. Have you read that? Finally, in another piece of serendipity, Brene Brown mentioned a poet Nayyirah Waheed on her facebook page today.  I wonder if you might like her poetry.

    Thanks for your thoughts and writing. Happy days!




  • Cari Stone

    Cari Stone on Jan. 29, 2016, 9:49 p.m.

    Renee. I simply love your voice. Your honesty - your willingness to not have it all figured out. I don't speak up here very often but I do want you to know that I drink in your candid posts. They challenge me and for that I have deep gratitude for the work you do both here and even more importantly the work that happens when nobody is watching. 



  • Erin

    Erin on Jan. 29, 2016, 10:37 p.m.

    Rene, I cannot tell you just how much I needed to read this post today. Thank you. I have a feeling that this will be one of your posts (and this often happens for me with your posts, though not with many other blogs) that I will return to read a few times so that I can savor and think on all you've written.  

    I am different from you in many ways, but trust me: I am a sister in neuroses who is trying to find a calmer center. And how did we come to a world where anyone can even have to write "I stole time from myself"??? It speaks to how everything around us has become way too busy, pressured, tense. I'm inspired by and rooting for you--and without feeling "less-than" (which I so often do).

    Anyway, sorry to go on so long... just...thanks.


  • Heather

    Heather on Jan. 30, 2016, 4:09 p.m.

    I love the start of a new year, there is something that is so refreshing about it.  However, I realized this year, that typically the majority of the month is trying to get us back into a rhythm.  We take off from Thanksgiving to New Years from homeschool, and it takes us a good bit of time to get back to that rhythm after so much time off from regular school.  My reflection on 2015 ended up coming the second week of January, and my goal setting has really just started, so the thought of starting fresh in February sounds wonderful to me!


  • Jen Knowing The Light

    Jen Knowing The Light on Feb. 1, 2016, 9:04 a.m.

    As usual Renee, you are full of wise words and wisdom. 

    I've had to stop reading a lot of blogs over January because of the whole focus of BE THE BEST, ACHIEVE MORE, STRIVE MORE, BE MORE!!!!!!!!!! 

    It's uttelry exhausting just reading it, as someone with a chronic illness and learning how to live a good life this makes things really tricky for me! 

    It's lovely to hear your reflections, we don't always get it right. I have to say I don't really do January as the big new start, I prefer to be aligned with the school years, despite no longer being, or working in educaiton! 


  • Beth

    Beth on Feb. 1, 2016, 3:31 p.m.

    Thank you for this heartfelt post.  I started the year full of goals and good intentions (not ridiculous SMART Goals, don't get me started....) and I've really been struggling the past few weeks.  Torn between wanting to go full force on the Very Large Life Project I assigned myself and wanting to spend the month laying on the couch under a blanket.  Past experience has shown fully giving in to either inclination leads to a bad mental state so I've been struggling to find the middle ground.  Such is life, right?

    Congratulations on your dinner goal, BTW!


    • renee

      renee on Feb. 1, 2016, 4:09 p.m.

      Beth, totally hear you. Expectations too high... disappointment. Expectations too low... couch potato depression. Either of which can lead to some pretty serious shame, I'm no good, I'm such a failure condemnation (at least for me). Somewhere in the middle must be "just right".


      • Beth

        Beth on Feb. 1, 2016, 5:03 p.m.

        Yes!  What's adding to my malaise right now is my Big Huge Project is kind of like a career version of your personal healing goals last year.  It's a long process, which I'm generally good about embraciing, but there aren't a lot of tangible goals/milestones along the way. It's hard to quantify and measure progress and growth.  So while I did make headway and get some great advice in January, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work ahead of me.  And somewhat like I'm stuck, even though I'm not.  Does that make sense? 


  • Angela

    Angela on Feb. 2, 2016, 2:04 a.m.

    I decided that January feels like a month in which I am set up to fail with all the get organized, get fit, get it right things out there. I seemed like all my favorite homeschool bloggers decided to write about organization. I finally had to stop reading them and cull their newsletters out of my email because I felt like I was failing every single time I opened my email box. It has been a rough winter so far. I know I am struggling with depression more than I have in a pretty long while. And who feels organized or even has to get organized when they would prefer hiding in bed? Not me. I am glad January is over.

    I too loved the "mediocre life" blog post.


  • treen

    treen on Feb. 4, 2016, 1:05 a.m.

    "She's not a "look how I've turned my blog into a business" thirty-year old writer who dispenses self-help, without wisdom, for a living."   This made me laugh. A lot.

    My January was not a raging success either - barely held on by my fingernails to my exercise regimen, did not establish better patterns of prayer AT ALL, and did not have the amazing blast-off to our next cycle of homeschooling like I was planning. (Still haven't finished my school blogging from December even.) Thanks for keeping it real, as always.


  • Alyssa Corley

    Alyssa Corley on Feb. 5, 2016, 6:40 p.m.

    I think life is all about having some things and not others. Some weeks I have healthy home cooked meals on the table...the next week is full of sandwhiches and fruit. Some months I paint...some months I can't step out of life to pick up my brush. I guess one mantra that I repeat over and over to myself is there is a season for everything ... 


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