T minus 3 days.
Shortly after my last post (which I kept private for a while) my grandfather died, and man, grief is a weird beast. I wasn’t close to him, but his passing dredged up a number of other emotions that took some time to process, and I’m only now pulling out of that fog. The good news is, I’m feeling more like myself, so I can get back to my normal self things.
The rough news is, only three days remain until my massive 31-day-21-challenge challenge begins! Gah! How did this happen?
One purpose of documenting this process is to be held accountable, so it’s time to share what my goals are for October. Incidentally, none of my challenges are 21 days long, unlike the challenge which inspired this whole thing. I’m still sorting out a few details, but here are the challenges I’ve selected for myself, and an explanation of why for each one:
Since this month is about breaking old patterns and establishing new habits, there are a number of small things for which my goal is simply to do them every day. Most of them I estimate will take 15 minutes or less, so my hope is to build small windows into my day for these things:
- Postcard Poems – Recently I went through a box of classwork from the latter half of my undergraduate years, and I ran across my set of postcards from Sharon Cumberland’s poetry class. Our assignment for the duration of the quarter was to write one poem each day on a postcard (she gave each of us a big stack) and give them to a classmate partner. At the end of the quarter, we returned them to our partners with a letter reflecting on their poetry. I’ve decided to redo this exercise, but with a twist: I’m going to do a two-in-one challenge by mailing each postcard poem to someone I know, because art should be shared. Plus, having a recipient in mind might give my poem somewhere to focus.
- Reading (Poetry) – Just as conversation requires you to listen as much as speak, being a writer requires me to read as much as I write. My simple goal is to read at least one new (to me) poem each day; I may write a brief reflection of what I read, but I don’t want to lock myself into that. I have already started this practice by following the Academy of American Poets on Facebook, where they post several poems each day. However, I want to spend less time on social media (something that I think all my challenges will demand) so I’ll either read something from a book that I own (but haven’t read yet) or sign up for their daily email, or maybe both?
- Reading (Fiction) – Years ago, my parents took away my nightlight because I used it to stay awake and read rather than go to bed like my developing brain needed. Around the time that I started grad school and had to start reading for my job, I fell into the habit of reading at the end of the day, so I would only read a few pages before falling asleep, and I am nothing if not a creature of habit. Like any word hound, I have a growing stack and longer list of books that I intend to read, and haven’t approached. One goal is to read two pages (or more!) of one of the many books I own, during a time I don’t feel sleepy, each day. I’ll be starting with Maid by Stephanie Land.
- Reading (Nonfiction) – I read a lot of news pieces and editorials, but I would like to spend more time learning about things that aren’t covered on NPR. For my November challenge, NaNoWriMo, I have an idea for a piece of science fiction, but it requires more emphasis than I currently have on science. During the month of October, I’ll be reading at least one scholarly or otherwise informative article each day to learn, and not be entertained.
- Playing Music – Full disclosure: I do not play music every day. In fact, I don’t even play music every week. As with the fact that I do not write or read as vigorously as I would like, my lack of musical expression brings me a bit of shame. Can I really be a musician if I’m not creating music? So, let’s do something to ease my conscience and provide defense against my imposter syndrome: play music every day. Moreover, I want to play each of my instruments (cello, ukulele, electric bass) at least three times during the month.
- 1SE – 1SE stands for One Second Everyday (they mean Every Day, but I can only do so much with people and their grammar.) This is a quickie challenge that I hope will help document this process for posterity, as well as be entertaining. The idea is to take a photo or video each day, add it to the app, and then at the end of the month the app will mash them together into a cute little highlights reel. I’ve been messing around with it for the month of September to get a feel for it, and I’ve missed some days, so hopefully I can get on track for October!
- Cooking – This may sound silly to people who don’t live in the city or who can’t afford to eat takeout regularly, or just to those who make smarter fiscal decisions, but we pay people to make our food (and frequently to deliver it) almost as often as we make our own meals. I am personally not a very good cook, and Guy enjoys cooking but doesn’t have all the time he’d like to do it. Our challenge is to make all of our meals, with the exceptions of pizza on Monday night (a tradition after my weekly dance class) and weekend brunch (although our brunch place closed, and we haven’t found a new one yet, so “brunch” is a very loose term for “another meal during the week.”)
- Light Warmup / Stretching – When I teach the very young babies in the parent-tot water classes, I start class with a gentle body massage. This serves multiple purposes, including waking up the sleepy babes and getting their bodies ready for movement. I can’t figure out how to get a massage every day on our current budget, so my goal is to begin every day with 10-15 minutes of gentle movement. This will probably look like the beginning of my dance class warmup, plus a handful of stretches to limber up my trouble spots.
- Trash Pickup – Acts of service do not have to be grand. We live in the city, and we live in a somewhat college party/touristy area (I call it a “destination neighborhood”) so there is usually at least a little bit of trash on the street. We also own a dog who demands walks, so we are out and about several times a day. It seems an easy thing to me, and something I should have done sooner, to pick up trash when I walk the dog.
- Intimate Time – Let’s just say, the goal is to spice up the love life alongside everything else. Each day, I plan to spend quality intimate time with Guy, and no, I’m not going to blog about it!
It turned out that two of the challenges I selected added up to the same number of days and both involve movement, but they are otherwise completely different:
- Core Strengthening – This is the only challenge I intend to do that you might find on a Pinterest board: a 14-day “abs” challenge. I put the abs in quotes because I haven’t decided yet whether to do crunches, planks, or something different each day, but the part of my body I’m most self conscious about is my middle, so I’ll focus on my core in some fashion. I don’t want to spend a ton of time on this, though, so we’ll limit it to two weeks.
- Dancing – I already go to dance class at least once a week unless I am sick or out of town, but the dance studio is my happy place, so I want to spend more time there. Plus, now that I’m not in the water multiple days a week, I need to do more “exercise” and I hate exercising, so dance class it is! My goal for October is to attend 3 times per week, which works out to be 14 times during the month. This challenge I will not do if I am ill, because a) it’s not good for me, and b) I don’t want to infect anyone else.
Like my 14-day challenges, one of these will be executed in seven consecutive days, and the other will be done on seven separate occasions:
- Baking – Guy and I have been watching a ton of the Great British Baking Show/Bake-Off and we find it quite inspiring. I’ve always loved to bake, and there are a few bakes that come up regularly on the show that I’ve never done, so here’s my chance! I’ll be tackling puff pastry (croissants), génoise sponge (layer cake), hot water crust (chicken pot pie), Victoria sponge (Victoria sandwich), brioche buns, something with marshmallow fondant, and either Swiss rolls or choux buns (Guy wants to do crème pâtissière), or maybe both, with marshmallow fondant on the Swiss rolls.
- Songwriting – I have always wanted to write a song, so I am challenging myself to write and record both lyrics and music for a song in one week. I’ve made a deal with myself that it doesn’t have to be “good,” it just has to exist in the world. That’s not bananas, right?
Some things can happen on the daily, but I find it more sustainable to space my life out reasonably. To that end, I have some goals I will tackle one day each week, for a total of 4 or 5 days, depending on which day I do them:
- Flash Fiction – In addition to my poetry postcards, I found an entire quarter’s set of exercises from an undergraduate fiction course in my box of college papers. Once a week, I’m going to select one of those exercises (I’m still working out which ones exactly) and spend an hour writing. That’s it!
- Name-Dropping Nonfiction – This project was partly inspired by artists that I know (particularly women) who bust their asses making their art, and whose determination and drive I humbly admire. To exercise my creative nonfiction chops, I’m going to spend time reflecting on these artists by writing a feature post I’m going to call Humans of Interest. It’s sort of a two-in-one challenge for me, because not only will I be doing the work of writing, I’ll be thinking about what makes art, what I like about art, what inspires me, and what kind of art I want to make, and all of these are questions I want to ponder.
- NaNoWriMo Prep – In November, I’m going to continue the fun of 31 days of challenges by doing a 30-day-long challenge. The goal is to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the 30 short days of one month. I have started this in earnest twice, but never completed it. This year, so that I might be readier for it than I was in previous years, I’ll spend an hour or so each week plotting my ideas and making notes to help me get started. (This will be amplified by my daily nonfiction reading.)
- Acts of Service – I have a lot more time on my hands than I use wisely, and lately I have started feeling like I need to take a more active approach toward the things I believe in, like social justice and humane treatment of houseless or impermanently housed people. One way I will achieve this is by volunteering my time at the Ballard Food Bank, which is just down the way from our house. My orientation is on Monday, and my intent as of now is to volunteer there once a week going forward.
- Alter Ego Photo Shoot – I’ve already booked and started planning for a photo shoot on October 20 with a phenomenal photographer with whom I’ve worked before. The challenge part of this is to capture another side of my personality, my “alter ego” so to speak. Given that it’s so close to Halloween, my look will double as my costume, though it’s arguably just a different style from my usual, and not really “costume,” but whatever! This is a fun thing that I am looking forward to as a treat to myself, as much as anything else!
- Adam & Odd Debut – Guy and I have talked about starting a band (Adam & Odd) together for a long time, and I think we’re reaching a point in both our skill levels (okay, his skill level) and our lives where it’s time to find out if that’s feasible. So, because it’s totally like real life (if we were members of Fleetwood Mac), we’re going to *try* to play (and record!) a song together in one day. I wanted to write the song as well, but he talked me out of that. The playing and recording will be challenging enough! (Clearly, I will have to use some of my music playing time each day to practice.)
If you’re counting, you’ll notice that I’ve only listed 20 challenges. This is because I haven’t decided yet whether to add another 21st challenge, or to count my daily blog post about this project as my 21st challenge. Writing a diary of events will help keep me accountable, even if I’m only imagining that someone is reading. Plus, it’s more writing, and I think there’s great value in reflecting on this whole thing each day. So….that might be the final challenge, or there might be another one TBA.
We’ll all know for sure by Tuesday.