Touchstones

 stones-323807__180 legalA touchstone is a smooth, dark stone but metaphorically, it is a point of reference, leading us along a path. When I get stuck or stalled, unsure of the next action, I wait for my next touchstone, that clear signal, the green light in the form of an idea, a success, the right person or opportunity that shows up to say This is next.  Now this. You’re on the right track. 

Lately, my touchstones have been showing up a lot and pushing me forward.  I’m not special. Everyone has touchstones.  In fact, maybe I’ve taken longer than most to follow mine. But they are appearing, solid and shining.

There were the questions, the curiosities. The desire for the next right action.

What if I tell the story that scares me? Follow it.

My story won! Follow that.

Get it published. Another touchstone. Keep going.

An invitation from another, bigger magazine to write for them. Keep going. 

What if send my story, an excerpt from my memoir, to the most respected person in the field related to my theme. The child advocate, the one whose work I admire more than any other because it is in an area near and dear to my heart, and to my own writing? The worst that can happen is he ignores it. Or his staff ignores it. But what if this story is about much more than just me? What if it helps others? 

My heart says go. Just do it.  

His response is more generous and encouraging than I could have imagined. And he puts my story on his blog the next day. I am honored, happy, grateful. Touchstone.

His colleague requests a Skype interview.  Keep going. I say yes.

Emails from others. An invitation to speak. Touchstones. They keep appearing. 

I am busy, I am breathless, scared, and absolutely certain I on the right path.

I think that touchstones shine more brightly with an uncluttered background. I think that I had to simplify, clear out the half hearted yeses and the fear in order to see what was waiting for me.

It all feels overwhelming but exactly right. It feels like of course this is it.  I knew it all along. I just had to remember, to find the clues and to follow them. 

What if…?
What’s next…?

Touchstones were once used for testing alloys of gold.  Is this real? Is this valuable?

I think that we recognize our touchstones when we see them. We just have to ask from the heart.  We have to ask like we mean it.

And when they appear, telling us yes this is real,  this is valuable, we cannot say no.

You’ve got mail

One day about ten years ago, a letter addressed to Sally Jenson arrived in our mailbox. This was a little odd since no one by that name lives here. It had our address on it, and we had no neighbor by that name, so the mix up was a mystery.

I put it back in the mailbox the next day so the mail carrier could deal with it. Perhaps there was a Sally Jenson at a similar address and it would be sorted out.

But a week later another letter appeared, also addressed to Sally Jenson. This time, I exclaimed aloud to my family, but to no one in particular, that we had gotten mail for a Miss Sally Jenson yet again. That announcement produced a chuckle from my daughters and then the youngest one confessed that she in fact was the mysterious Sally Jenson.

During a game in which she and her sisters made up new names for themselves, she had chosen the alias Sally Jenson.   She decided to bring the game to a new level by filling out a form she found, in a magazine perhaps, using the pseudonym. Initially, she explained, the name was Sally Sampson Jenson, but that didn’t flow, so she shortened it to just Sally Jenson.

The form she had filled out was a request for some information, of what she cannot recall. It brought Sally Jenson to life, so to speak, and she’s been receiving mail ever since.

Over the years, Sally has received advertisements for summer camp, Pre-SAT course applications, invitations to visit college campuses, and applications for credit cards. It has been nearly a decade since my daughter filled out that first form, and if anything, the influx of mail for Sally has increased. My husband and I have taken to handing our daughter this mail with a flippant, “This one’s for you, Sally”.

We cannot make Sally Jenson’s mail go away. The childhood game lives on in an alias whose life exists through the U.S. postal service.

How do you cancel an identity? Who do you tell that a person does not actually exist? I know there is identity theft, but how do you explain identity creation? Is there such a thing? Apparently there is, because there is Sally and she isn’t going away.

Since my daughter first printed “Sally Jenson” on that first form, the world of capitalism ran with it. America won’t let Sally go. It wants Sally to enroll, to buy, to sign up, to contribute, to attend, and to borrow. But Sally doesn’t exist!

Can we prove this? How do we cancel Sally Jenson?

Sally Jenson was a game gone just a wee bit awry at the hands of a curious child. What will happen if I fill in this pretend name in this form? Will mail come addressed to Sally?

Indeed it will.

Sally Jenson, a random name from a made up game, in some bizarre way, lives on forever.

A little joy goes a long way

I don’t know why it took me so long to add music to my cell phone, but now it has made the difference between going for a jog or not. Though I love yoga, I need something else too, some consistent cardio in my routine. I love the simplicity of a jog- put on sneakers, walk out the door, back in forty-five minutes. I only jog about half of my route, and walk the other half, but it’s enough. I like how I feel after the jog. But I just didn’t like doing it.

Problem was, my inner rebel (or is it my inner sloth?) would put her foot down at the mere thought of jogging.

It’s too hard.

It’s too hot out, cold out, wet out. (She has a point)

It’s boring.

I don’t even like running.

Turns out, I just had to add a little joy. A little joy goes a long way.

When my kids were little, they made a game out trying on the next season’s clothing to see what still fit (named the fashion game). Cleaning up or helping to prepare meals could be fun. Learning, when it’s organic and unforced, is full of joy. Brushing and flossing teeth before bed was often a sisterly ritual, one that sometimes had to be hurried along as their chitchat continued past bedtime. And to this day, my youngest daughter plays her favorite music when she has a lot of laundry to put away, to make it a pleasant task.

It’s easy to figure out kids are more cooperative when there is joy involved. But guess what? Adults aren’t much different. We need joy too, and lots of it.

Tasks that are often tedious really can be fun.   Joy can make all the difference.

It turns out music was the joyful, magic ingredient to my morning jogs.

Oh Spotify, how I love thee. I named my first playlist Jogging. How much more enjoyable it has become to put one foot in front of the other while the Dixie Chicks, Darius Rucker, Toby Keith and Tom Petty are belting out their tunes. Oh Joy! Now my brain associates lacing up my sneakers with hearing some of my favorite music. And as a bonus, I often return from these jog-walks with an idea for an article drafted in my head.

I like dessert. I really like dessert. Which brings me to more joy.

I’ve cut those addictive sweets out of my life, as told in this post: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/farewell-my-sweets/

Say what?! Nooooo.

Enter the joy of Dessert Substitutes. I am having fun finding dessert recipes that are sugar free and gluten free (the two ingredients that make me tired, unhealthy, creatively blocked and yet make me want more, more, more).

I have made delicious, flour-free cookies sweetened with stevia, and smoothies made with greek yogurt, frozen fruit and veggies. But there are so many more recipes for healthy desserts to try, I will never grow bored.

20150701_173611My latest joyful discovery is the very simple banana “ice cream”. I think I may be the last person to find this on the internet, but just in case you haven’t tried it yet and want to: Just slice and freeze bananas for a couple hours, put them through a blender (add peanut butter or cocoa if you desire, or both for a chocolate-peanut butter-banana flavor). Once you have a smooth texture, put into small bowls and freeze for several more hours or overnight. The high pectin content in bananas cause them to freeze into a creamy, rich dessert.20150701_174741

The joy of this discovery has eased the craving of the more traditional desserts that I miss.

So my point is, when faced with something we want to desire to do, but really don’t feel like doing, asking “What would add joy?” is sometimes hugely helpful. A dose of joy just might be the difference between the change we are looking for, or staying stuck.

But still, sometimes tasks are just going to be tedious, for children and adults alike, and we just have to do them anyway.   I doubt many people have found  joy in emptying the trash or taking the SATs.  The joy is simply in getting it done. But when we have the option of adding joy, why not?

Go Joy.