Those are just a few things that are/were accomplished by taking very small steps toward big goals. Baby steps.
I am a giant-leap type of person. I tend to give myself more credit for big ideas than the small (difficult) steps it takes to get there. One day, I’ll do THIS. And THAT. And it will be great and feel so amazing! I’m going to finish this stack of library books before they are due! Accomplishment!
I take baby steps, but I don’t give myself any credit for them. That would be dumb, right? Because who gets anywhere by taking baby steps?
Well, just about everyone who has ever done anything, come to find out.
I’ve spoken before* of my flawed thinking when it comes to reading a book: you can’t finish books unless you dedicate large chunks of time to the activity. This explains why I was shocked when I finished a book (in pretty good time, I might add) by simply reading about fifteen minutes each day on my Metro ride to work. This also explains why it is so easy to make excuses like, “I only have twenty minutes, which isn’t enough time to read, so I’ll just watch TV and feel worse about myself for doing so”.
Of course, I know deep down inside that baby steps will take you places. That is one reason I love walking so much. Five miles sounds like a lot in your mind, but a succession of small steps WILL get you there eventually. It’s science.
But you know what isn’t science? Excuses. Excuses are just easy.
I think the difficulty I struggle with is not the logic of getting places, but that it is simply easier to say, “well, you see, I have this giant road block and not a lot of time right now”. But even on busy days, I have a few fifteen-minute increments. And if I read a book or worked on a project or did jumping jacks in those fifteen minutes instead of scroll through my iphone, chances are I would finish a book, a project, or getting amazingly toned, eventually. Mostly I would just feel better about myself.
I know my own tendencies, and I am focusing on taking baby steps to counteract my flawed reasoning. See? Baby step. Do you want to take baby steps with me this today? I hope to take lots of baby steps from this moment on. BUT! I am not going to make big promises (leaping), I am simply going to do the work (baby stepping).
Are you a better baby stepper than I? Or do you struggle with this, too? Do tell.
*I wrote that post almost three years ago. But I am not going to let that discourage me… oh boy.
Since we have moved to Oklahoma, I have found it very difficult to feel inspired to blog. Settling-in is very mentally taxing, I have found. And if you recall the size of the trailer we left Virginia with, you may be able to put it together that we don’t have a fully-furnished home right now. We are grateful for our home, but feeling a little unorganized and discombobulated. I am currently typing this post on a small cards table on loan from my sister. I am sitting in a chair borrowed from a friend. It takes a village to create a home for two adults.
Here are a few things that have/haven’t happened since we moved:
1) I have seen my family more in the past month than I typically do in a year.
2) We have not once been frustrated by traffic. (!!!!)
3) We have seen gas prices under $3.00.
4) Eric has pointed out something I never really noticed before: there are a lot more cars with tinted windows here than in DC.
6) Everything is less expensive here!! That is technically not something that falls under this list, but it is worth mentioning.
7) We have discovered not one, but two, really cool libraries. The kind that make me say, “Way to go, Oklahoma.” And the kind that inspire me to put books on hold at my every whim. Books on hold is the best thing ever!
8) Speaking of, I read Anne Frank’s diary. Yes, for the first time at the age of 27. It was like the fictional Dear America Diary series I was obsessed with as a child, but true, and way better.
9) I have discovered a renewed love for making chicken stock and storing it up for winter. Not unlike a squirrel.
10) In searching for a couch on Craigslist, I contacted this person. Rather than simply ignoring it, I almost replied with my own picture of my elbow in front of a chair, but then decided responding in German is always the best thing to do.
11) An orange cat has adopted our front porch as its favorite lounging spot. I like dogs better, but this little guy has won my heart with his cute sleeping positions. And because I feel special for having been chosen.
Add to that list two trips to the ER for a recurring injury in Eric’s neck, Eric finding a job, me trying to figure out what I am going to do, a lot of thrift-store hunting, and discovering that we have a Half Price Books just down the road, and you have the perfect concoction of (waning) stress, happiness and confusion.
But I am tired of feeling creatively uninspired–of spending all my mental energy on trying to feel more permanent. I came across this quote, which motivated me to start a new post with only the mere hope of inspiration following:
“Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” -Madeleine L’Engle
But, just for fun, tell me: what has you feeling inspired lately?
Five years ago, I did something I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember: go to Europe. I had just graduated college, didn’t have a real job, was single, and most importantly, had time. I knew I had to jump on the chance or it might never happen again. I think I will always look back on my trip as one of the best decisions of my life.
When my friend and former roommate, Amy, emailed me a few weeks ago telling me she had something I might like for my blog, I was thrilled! I was thrilled to hear from Amy, yes, but also thrilled to read what she sent me: a travel manifesto written by two of her friends before they went on the trip of a life time together.
When I backpacked Europe for three weeks with my friend, Jennifer, we did not have a written code of conduct. We talked about what was most important for each of us to do on our trip, but mostly we relied on the fact that we were good friends and had the exact same taste in food. It is not always that easy, however. It worked out for Jennifer and me (we didn’t fight or get annoyed with each other), but things did come up that we didn’t predict.
For instance, a travel courtesy document would have been nice to help us address the issue of one of us twisting our ankle in Budapest and the other encouraging her to carry on (hint: I did not twist my ankle). Traveling with friends or family, no matter how much you love them, can cause tension, and a lack of communication about what everyone wants to do can result in everybody doing what they didn’t want to do.
If you have ever traveled, I am sure you know this to be true.
Don’t you think a “travel courtesies” document is a great idea? This one is thorough, and covers just about everything that needs to be covered to have a good trip that doesn’t suffer from a lack of communication. Lucky for us, we get to use the document composed by Alexis and her friend Larissa in all of our future travels. If you are planning any fall trips, you may want to print out a copy of this, and perhaps coerce your traveling buddies to sign it in blood (for bonding purposes). Or at least give it a thorough going-over as a group.
Aside from keeping you from killing each other, it might also help you to just have a better trip in general. And isn’t that all we want?
A note from Alexis about what inspired them to take this trip, and write this manifetso:
“Larissa and I have known each other since we were two years old and were next door neighbors. For years we talked about going to Africa before we got married and started families. Our excuse was that we didn’t have the time and we didn’t have the money. One day Larissa, in her brilliance said, “We’ll never have the time and we’ll never have the money. We have to make the time and make the money.” And that’s what we did. We went to Tanzania in Sept of 2006. The trip of a lifetime. It was fantastic. And now we’re both married and have children so doing that trip when we did was good timing.”
– a guide to how to not lose your friend or loved one on safari or other long adventure
ASPIRATIONS – Before you plan your trip, spend some time asking your travel mate what she is most looking forward to doing. Make a note of it and plan around that. Similarly, while on the trip itself, take some time each day to check in as to what you enjoyed about that day so as to be able to learn from each other. What one person loved and assumed the other did as well may not be the case. Knowing this may help in gauging what your next day should look like. If you both really enjoyed the same thing, bonus!
WHO’S THE BOSS? –There may be days and times when it makes sense for someone to take the lead. This should be done with agreement about who that will be, beforehand if possible, and with the day’s leader checking in to see if decisions are being handled in a way that is satisfactory to the other.
SCHEDULES, SCHEDULES – Schedules are important but it’s also good to plan and schedule for spontaneity. Some people like everything planned out; some like to freewheel. Compromise and talk about each day either the morning of or the night before. Speak openly so the other person doesn’t have to guess that i.e., you need to shop for 4 hours on the last day of the trip because you forgot to buy any gifts along the way. Don’t assume the way you planned out your day is the same as your mate’s.
PERONAL HABITS – Discuss beforehand what is tolerable for you in terms of neatness/messiness while traveling especially if sharing a bathroom or a tent. While on vacation, some people like to let go a bit. This may annoy your travel mate. You may feel the need to unpack and hang up all your clothes, while your companion prefers to live out of her suitcase. Decide what your threshold is. Folks might not mind it being messy for a spell as long as it is agreed to be cleaned up by bedtime (like leaving dishes in the sink, fine to do so as long as they are washed and put away before bedtime).
PROBLEMS – Be willing to help out your travel mate in a bind. i.e.a credit card gets eaten by a foreign ATM, her luggage or wallet is lost or stolen, she falls off a boat and needs dry clothes, she gets food poisoning or she forgot to bring reading material and is twiddling her thumbs for something to do. Remember: Bad luck can and will happen to you; wouldn’t you appreciate someone there to lean on when it does?
CHOICES – If given a choice between a side-trip, alternate destination or some other unplanned opportunity, ask your travel mate what she prefers. Accept that she may prefer to stick to the plan or even not make a choice.
MONEY – Take a moment to gauge your own and your travel mate’s budget for how much you both want and are able to spend for a meal, a special trip, or some other presented unplanned-for opportunity. Don’t assume your views on money is the same as the other person’s.
GUILT – Sometimes a friend will offer to pay for their travel mate’s share of an unplanned opportunity in order to take advantage of an experience that the other cannot afford. If this happens, certain courtesies should apply: 1) The other can accept graciously and should not feel guilty or in debt for doing so; 2) the person offering should not and will not hold that offer in the “debit ledger” to be used to balance out other costs at a later date; 3) If one person declines the offer for whatever reason, the person offering will accept that graciously.
REST – Look for fun things to do together, but be willing to let your mate have “alone time” if that’s what she needs. If you need “alone time” don’t assume your mate knows that by your giving her the cold shoulder; taking a two hour shower or saying “mmm” in response to her questions or suggestions on things to do next. Tell her what you need. Everyone will be happier and no one should take it personally.
SLEEP – Not everyone goes to bed or wakes up at the same time. Figure out how much sleep your travel mate needs and let her have it. If you like to read in bed with the light on, agree on a time when lights should go off each night and on every morning. Not all days will people feel the same need for sleep so consider asking about this daily or at least often. If your trip calls for early morning meet-times with a group, discuss with your travel mate your general habits regarding being on time. (see section on DEADLINES)
DEADLINES – Sometimes a travel itinerary will have built-in timelines for meeting a bus or plane arriving at a certain destination. Some people like to be 5-15 minutes early for these types of deadlines; others scramble to be the last one on the bus while still shoving their wet laundry in the outside pocket of her open suitcase. Decide which one you are. Let your travel mate know that she is free to be either with no judgment and let her know which category you fall into. There should be no guilt when the bus leaves without your companion and you didn’t do anything about it. If the bus has to wait and delays everyone due to your (or your companion’s) tardiness, be gracious the first time about it. If it keeps happening, have a chat about it.
OTHER PEOPLE* – If you meet new people along the trip, be thoughtful about inviting them to share your meal and travel by checking with your mate first. She may not share your enthusiasm for your new friend/s. If you want to hang with said new friend/s, communicate that and look for ways to double back or loop in with your travel mate for previously planned shared meals or events.
*If this new friend you have met is your potential soul mate and you think you want to spend the rest of your life with him/her, inform your travel companion immediately. This rare and unforeseen occasion is universally understood to automatically grant a “pass” for any anti-social travel behavior. If your traveling companion is single and in her 30s, she will understand this and make arrangements accordingly to find a new travel partner and happily give you all the space you need.
Would you use these traveling courtesies on your next trip? What is your favorite trip you have taken? Do you travel with friends?
As Rachael mentions later, we met through an interview on a favorite blog of mine (yesandyes). I stumbled upon an interview there where Rachael was talking about her job as a Personal Historian–a career I had never heard of, but immediately grabbed my attention. Since I came across the interview, Rachael has become a mentor of sorts to me, as I think about starting my own business.
In addition to family history, Rachael and I also love books, and particularly memoirs. Below, Rachael talks about three memoirs that influenced her as a person, and in her career. I think my favorite story is the last one about her own grandfather. I love knowing what books and stories have shaped people, and hope you find her perspective as interesting as I did.
Inspired by the Lives of Anne Frank, Lauren Bacall and Sidney Goldstein
My love affair with books started at an early age, so even with some less passionate years (I’m talking about you, year I was forced to read The Scarlet Letter and Heart of Darkness in English class) I’ve still loved a long list of books. I could easily write a prolific, interesting-only-to-me dissertation on them and their influence on my life, but there’s only a couple books that left a significant mark on my life path and sense of self.
The Diary of Anne Frank
I read The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time when I was 11, and would return to it again and again over the years. With each repeat reading, I’d get something new out of it.
At first, it was about identifying with someone around my age. I can still remember how ridiculously relieved I was to discover that someone else understood what I was going through (i.e., pre-teen angst).
Then it was about so many things. Storytelling, the writer’s process, inner world vs. outer personality. It was about being Jewish (something I also had in common with Anne), prejudice and hate, the Holocaust, war, finding normalcy amidst chaos. It was also about believing in the good in people and planning for life after the war, becoming a journalist and Dutch citizen.
Because of Anne, I studied abroad in the Netherlands, visited the Secret Annex, and discovered why she’d loved the Netherlands/Dutch (it’s beautiful, the people are generally open-minded and accepting—pot and gay marriage has been legal for well over a decade—morning toast comes with sprinkles, etc.). Through Anne, I began to form my thoughts on injustice, war, and writing. My love for autobiographies, memoirs and diaries began with her.
For years I would pause on August 4, the day she and the other members of the Secret Annex were arrested. As of this August 4, it’s been 70 years since their capture.
Lauren Bacall: By Myself
I was kind of pissed off when Lauren Bacall died. Not because she died—though I definitely wasn’t happy about that—but because she passed away a day after Robin Williams. A celebrity death has not been this overshadowed since Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died the same day.
If anyone deserved more time in the tribute spotlight, it was Lauren Bacall (aka Betty Joan Perske, her pre-stage and preferred name). Her career lasted nearly 70 years, she was a part of the original Rat Pack and the Golden Era of Hollywood, was married to Humphrey Bogart, stood up to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (though she and Bogie eventually backed down), campaigned for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, and preferred to take studio suspensions over bad roles.
I’ve been somewhat assuaged by the trickle of articles that continued to come out even a week after her death (see here, here, and here), but if I had my way there would be Lauren Bacall movie marathons and memorial parades.
Just like with Anne Frank and my other favorite non-fiction writers, my love for Lauren Bacall initially stemmed from the things we had in common. The big similarity was that we both fell in love at 19 and married at 20 (my husband and I just celebrated our 12th anniversary!). This left quite an impression on me because I didn’t know anyone else who’d gotten married as quickly and young as I did. As an added bonus, reading her autobiography took me back to the giggly headiness of my own romance. I also identified with her anxiety (“the look” wasn’t just a sexy pose, it was the only way she could get herself to stop shaking while on the set of her first movie), and the way she compensated for her insecurities with humor.
At the same time, she knew who she was and refused to put up with bullshit. She famously said, “I think your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that,” and corrected reporters when they called Nicole Kidman a legend. (“What is this legend? She can’t be a legend, you have to be older.”) She was strong and smart, and she showed me what self-acceptance looked like. Because of her I am a classic movie fan and history aficionado, both important precursors for the next influential book in my life.
My grandfather’s Korean War memoir
My grandfather, Sidney Goldstein, spent 20 years turning the letters he wrote to my grandmother during the Korean War into a memoir. When he was done, he sent out some query letters but never got very far. I had heard he’d written a memoir, but by the time I found it in my grandparents’ garage a couple years after he died, I’d almost forgotten about its existence.
My grandfather circa 1951 was 27, married just three years and still in that lovey-dovey stage. His prose revealed an enthusiastic young intern with a detailed eye and good sense of humor. He wrote about his boredom, loneliness, hopes, and longing for my grandmother. He was articulate and silly, grumpy and passionate.
This Sidney Goldstein wasn’t just my grandfather, he was a peer in the same stretch of life. It was easy to identify with his enthusiasm, curiosity and impatience. But I was surprised just how much of myself I saw in him. How alike our observations, opinions, worries, and writing voices were—all things that I thought were singularly unique to me.
It was this mini epiphany that started me on my current trajectory. I fell in love with people’s personal stories and family histories. I became a personal historian (i.e., I help people write their life stories and turn them into books) so I could help other people save their life stories. Before that I was a journalist and liked what I did, but it never felt quite right. Now I absolutely love what I do.
To learn more about personal historians, visit www.personalhistorians.org or here for an interview I did about personal historians. (Jenny and I met through the interview!) To read some of my grandfather’s memoir, check out my blog.
Thank you so much for being here today, Rachael! I have a really embarrassing confession to make: I have never read The Diary of Anne Frank. It has been on my list for quite some time, and after reading how it influenced you, it has moved to the top of my list (again). As a child, I did read Corrie ten Boon’s, The Hiding Place, another well-known Holocaust story, which made a big impact on me.
The most recent biography I have read is Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. While I love fiction, there is something about reading the true stories of inspiring humans that can be so powerful and truly instrumental in shaping a life. Just a small peak into the sufferings and triumphs of another can be life-changing. It can change your perspective on the world in an instant. Reading makes the world so much bigger.
What books have shaped your life? Do you read memoirs and biographies? What have you read lately?