Reschooling Tools

Reschooling Tool #23: Vision Collage

As much as I’ve intended to blog regularly, life has gotten in the way since last November. One of the main obstacles is that I’ve been doing writing and other communications for a living, and I don’t have a lot of energy left for my own writing. Plus, when too much time passes between posts there seems to be too much to say, so I don’t say anything at all. C’est la vie. Here I am now.

The months since December have been so wild for me that I can best explain them in terms of my vision collage. This is an exercise that I like to do around New Year’s, to visualize what I want for my life in the coming 12 months, and to set my intentions accordingly. And guess what? It seems to work.

Here’s what I put in my collage, and how it’s showed up in my life since January.

1. Play. The photo in the upper left corner shows children puddle jumping, with the words “Youth is in your genes. Reactivate it.”

I’m lucky that Darren and I work from home and can be goofy with each other throughout the day. He loves five-year-old potty humor almost as much as I do, which helps.


Reschooling Tool #22: Stop Should-ing

Why, hello, stranger. Today I realized that it has been five weeks since I wrote a blog post. Five. Even though my intensive reschooling period ended in June, I have intended to keep blogging at least once per week. As usual, I have a lot of things I would like to write about on the topic of reschooling. But I haven’t been writing on the blog at all, and in my mind, this means I’m failing.


Reschooling Tool #21: Turn Breakdowns Into Breakthroughs

At the moment, I’m feeling truly annoyed at myself. I haven’t posted to the blog for over three weeks, so now that I’m sitting down to do so, I have a lot to say. It’s going to take a long time. It would have been better to break this long update into smaller ones along the way. I’m tempted to close my computer and avoid blogging at all. I’m experiencing a moment of breakdown.

I don’t mean “breakdown” in the hyperventilating, curled up in a fetal position sense. I mean that I’ve hit a snag, an obstacle that’s preventing me from being who I want to be. The opportunity here is to turn this moment into a breakthrough by reacting differently than I normally do, in a way that makes me happier. This takes willpower and practice.


Reschooling Tool #20: Ritual Bonfire

I’ve decided that there’s no better way to say goodbye to your past than to commit it to the flames. Ancient cultures like the Celts used bonfires for purification and consecration, and it turns out that knew what they were doing. Tonight I had my first ritual bonfire, and I feel an unexpectedly strong sense of closure.

My sister, Gill, and I are both visiting our parents this week and made a pact to clear the clutter from our childhood bedrooms. Items like clothing and even books weren’t so hard to sort through, but it was the paper clutter that was more challenging to deal with. We each had boxes or drawers full of handwritten notes, term papers, and report cards. Going through these one by one would be time consuming and would bring up old emotions, so we had put off doing it for years. Now was the time.

Late in the evening, Gill and I emerged from our bedrooms with armfuls of papers and stacked them on the living room floor. Gill took a pile of her folded-up junior high notes from friends, skimmed a couple of them, and placed them inside our long-neglected family fireplace. She then struck a match and dropped it on top of the carefully folded pieces of binder paper, watching the paper ignite. The orange flames licked the corners of the pages and curled up the edges. They began to crumble into black ash.

“Ahh, that felt good,” she said. “Your turn.”


Reschooling Tool #19: Touch the Past and Let it Go

I spent last evening sitting on the living room floor of my childhood home, letting go of hundreds of pages of old letters. This is something that I never thought I could do.

For most of my life, I have been exceptionally sentimental. I suppose it comes with the writer’s temperament, because you’re always collecting experiences to capture in words. And once you write about them, there they stay, preserved forever. Romanticizing and immortalizing the past makes it harder to let go.

Darren‘s mom, Jill, pointed out to me that Catholics may be especially likely to hang onto physical representations of the past. Much of the Catholic ritual centers on sacred objects: the Communion wafer, the priest’s vestments, or relics from the Holy Land. Unlike the Buddhists, whose monks may travel around with only a robe and rice bowl, Catholics bundle up much of their meaning in things. Do the math: Cradle Catholic + romantic writer = memory packrat.


Reschooling Tool #18: Personal Firsts As a Sign of Progress

“So how’s everything going?”

As you can imagine, I get this question a lot these days after making such big changes in my life over the last eight months. Last summer, I left my full-time job and moved home to Sonoma from San Francisco so I could return to my old classrooms. In January, I moved cross-country and into my boyfriend‘s already established bachelor pad. Now I’m developing a new career as a freelance writer, and I’m figuring out how to earn a living from it. I’m also learning to structure large blocks of time and figuring out how to design my desired lifestyle from scratch. In doing so, I’m rediscovering old hobbies and am trying out new ones, and attempting to lay to rest old habits of perfectionism, people-pleasing, and workaholism. Of course people are curious about how everything is going.


Reschooling Tool #17: Use Tips for a Better Life as Touchstones

Because I devote much of my energy to figuring out how to lead a happier and more fulfilling life, I love lists of advice for doing so. Like the Five Buddhist Precepts, I keep them in the back of my mind and revisit the lists when I feel I’m getting off track. Realistically, I know that I won’t follow all of the advice all of the time, but I can make my best effort.

Here are a couple of lists my radar lately:

1. Tips for a Better Life

Janine Julia Jankovitz, a new Jackson friend of mine and fellow writer, wrote a post listing Nithya Shanti’s 38 Tips for a Better Life. They include 10. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants and 29. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful, or joyful.

Janine takes issue with 17. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar, and I do, too. As a lifelong foodie, I refuse to eat any meals like a beggar. (Of course, I’m very grateful for the luxury.)


Reschooling Tool #16: Diffuse Stress with Silly Catch Phrases

As someone with perfectionist tendencies, I’ve often been bothered when things don’t go as I want them to. Whether there’s unexpected traffic slowing me down or I cut myself while chopping vegetables, it’s common for my heart to start beating faster as my irritation rises. If something goes awry, I tend to get flustered; if I make a mistake, I get exasperated with myself.

In the past few months, I’ve begun to take mishaps in stride, in large part because of a couple of silly, seemingly insignificant jokes between Darren and me. They’ve helped me laugh off any little annoyances before they escalate into frustration. I’d like to share them in case they’re helpful to you, too.

1. “Ohhh Noooo!”

Recently, things that used to upset me have become funny, because they give me the opportunity to use my favorite catch phrase. It’s from the Saturday Night Live parody of Dateline host Keith Morrison, who has a knack for dramatizing — and perhaps even taking pleasure in — the unpleasant events he is reporting. (See Bill Hader’s brilliant impression in the video above.)

Every time I realize that the house is a mess, or I stub my toe for the tenth time in a week, I smile ghoulishly with wide eyes and say, “Ohhh nooo….I’m horrrrified,” in the nasal voice of the impression. It started as a running joke between Darren and me, but I’ve realized how much it actually helps me diffuse tension. I’ve used it dozens of times, and it still makes me laugh.


Reschooling Tool #15: Make SMART Resolutions

Every January 1, I deliberate about whether to make official New Year’s Resolutions, since I’m the type of person who makes resolutions all 365 days of the year. Stop biting your fingernails, especially before your sister’s wedding. Go to bed earlier, play more guitar, read more blogs and books and magazines. I’m usually trying to keep so many resolutions on my radar that I constantly feel like a failure because I can’t possibly stick with them all. Honestly, I can’t even remember them all.

This year, I’m trying a new strategy for setting goals: I’m selecting three priority areas, rotating a specific goal under each, and sharing them with other people to make myself accountable.


Reschooling Tool #13: Break Down Projects into Next Actions

I’ve been blogging less frequently than usual lately, both because of the holidays, and because of the craziness that is my last two weeks in the Bay Area. I just about started hyperventilating today when I realized that next weekend is my last in town before leaving for the south. T-minus nine days. How is that possible?

I keep coming up with new metaphors to describe the chaotic state of affairs right now. I keep saying that I have a lot of “irons in the fire,” or “balls in the air,” or “crazy in my brain.” On Friday morning, as the euphoria from the lazy holidays wore off and the reality of holycrapihavesomuchtodo set in, I broke down in tears. Darren, with his characteristic calm and can-do attitude, offered to help. He suggested that I use the Getting Things Done approach, created by consultant David Allen, that both of us think is brilliant. Allen says that in order to have a peaceful “mind like water” that is ready to perceive any opportunity or challenge, you need to get everything off of your mind and into a specifically organized system. Getting Things Done is one of the most important books I’ve ever read and warrants its own post, so for now I’ll refer you to a summary of it on 43 Folders, a popular productivity blog.