The magical little things

Things haven’t really settled down since my last post, which if you missed, you should go read because, nestled in all my usual profundity, I drew my mom in a grass skirt and me in chaps, and that’s not something you see every day (sadly, because we both look amazing).

In fact, I’ve been waiting for things to “get back to normal,” and only today did it occur to me that we’re not likely getting back to anything. I’ve got a feeling this is one of those times when life is shifting, mightily, tectonically. When it settles, it won’t look like it did before, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it is scary and stress-inducing in that way that the unknown so often is.

It’s also a breeding ground for inner gremlins and mine have been running rampant, spewing irrational, hyperbolic bullshit like there’s no tomorrow (which, they assure me, there isn’t). So I’ve developed a coping strategy, or more accurately, I’ve been living it. It’s called “Squeezing In The (Magical) Little Things So As Not To Go Completely Crazy,” and the great thing about it is that I think this strategy will work all the time, in the midst of big life changes, or in the quiet chaos of ordinary life.

It works like this: you grab hold of every pause in your day, and you fill it with the stuff that feeds (expands, nurtures, calms) you. You do it consciously, with everything you’ve got, even if it’s only five minutes, even if all you do is just breathe. In and out. In and out. With everything you’ve got.

Here’s a list of the seven little things I’ve been filling my pauses with…

      1. Connection.
        I text. I call. I comment on Facebook updates. I reply to people who comment on mine. I write love letters thinly disguised as innocuous emails. I lean on people who love me and lose myself in gratitude when they (always and unwaveringly) hold me up. It’s so easy to withdraw when life gets crazy and sad. Connection takes effort and time, but it’s worth it just for the chance to discover, over and over again, how much love surrounds us. All. The. Time.
      2. Meditation.
        I still can’t quite believe I wrote that. If you’d have told me a year ago that I would find strength and solace in a regular meditation practice, I’d have tried to sell you a bridge (or however that expression goes). Last year, I tried one of Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditation practices, and I’ve been hooked ever since. For me, it’s all about getting quiet for 20 or 30 minutes, but it doesn’t have to work like that. Recently a friend posted on Facebook that she was about to meditate, and her meditation consisted of lighting candles in her kitchen… and cooking. I love that. For her, cooking is meditative. For me, cooking is a little too dangerous to be meditative, but I get what she means. Cooking for her is like doodling for me. However you do it, I’m a big believer in taking a few minutes each day to check in with yourself.
      3. Savasana.
        Savasana is Corpse Pose in yoga, and honestly, I’ve never liked it until now. Every class I’ve ever taken ends with Savasana, but when I work out on my own, I’ve always skipped corpse pose because it’s always stressed me out, lying there, thinking about all the things I could be doing if I weren’t so busy being dead (so to speak). Then, a couple of weeks ago, on a really bad day, I assumed the position, and I didn’t freak out. I listened to the music, and I laid on the mat for a few minutes, and I didn’t care what else I could be doing. It makes me smile just typing that.
      4. Savoring.
        This one isn’t coming as easily as it should, but I’m working on it. I’m trying to savor the ordinary moments: working on a jigsaw puzzle with my mom, trading jokes with my dad, being humbled by the sheer, unadulterated joy my dog exhibits each day when I come home. Far more than the extraordinary and wrenching ones, these are the moments that make up a life, and I don’t want to miss mine.
      5. Vulnerability.
        Not long ago, I woke up for the 16th straight morning in a room that, at different times, had belonged to each of my brothers when we were growing up. It took me a few seconds to get my bearings, and then I ached with the familiar strangeness of it. I missed my own house, my bed, my husband, my dog. I worried about what the future held. I wrestled with the past. Eventually I got up and I wrote about the experience in a Facebook update, hesitating before I hit the publish button; I’m not usually sad on Facebook. But my friends were right there, like I trusted they would be, propping me up, understanding me completely, reminding me (again, again, again) that love surrounds me. All. The. Time.
      6. Gratitude.
        For my family, my friends, my health, my body that still, for the most part, does everything I ask it to… Remembering all I have = instant perspective.
      7. Humor.
        There’s always something to laugh at. It may be a gallows kind of humor, but I think sometimes you just have to laugh, without guilt, without reservation, without worrying about whether or not it’s appropriate. It probably isn’t. Laugh anyway.

So, tell me (I’m taking notes), what are you filling your pauses with?



  1. Eileen Lebowitz on May 16, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Don’t forget humor. You can feed Negative Nellies or Nurturing Nellies whichever gets more attention wins!

    • j on May 16, 2014 at 7:44 am

      “Nurturing Nellies” made me smile. (There’s probably a doodle there.)

  2. leah77 on May 16, 2014 at 5:34 am

    J, I really related to this post, particularly since my life is no longer recognizable. The great shift happened nearly three years ago and has since continued to quake and crack…no I didn’t say quack, but it is driving me a bit crazy at times, and maybe quacking would make me feel better. LOL! Anyway, I like the newness of my life, that fresh layer of soil, ready for planting. And your list of seven magical little things are just the seeds I needed. Love to you, sweet J. I bet your mom is glad she had a girl;)

    • j on May 16, 2014 at 7:46 am

      Oh, Leah, if only you lived close enough for us to talk over coffee (or tea, or wine, or cheesecake). Last night, unable to sleep, I told myself that there was no reason to assume the future will be worse than the present. A fresh layer of soil. I like that. It’s just new terrain, doesn’t mean I can’t still bloom as planned, right?

      • leah77 on May 16, 2014 at 8:07 am

        Oh my, those “middle of the night” thoughts can be worse than having an actual boogieman under you bed. When that happens to me I tell myself that the future is none of my business. The present is magical (as your post just said), and your precious heart and creativity are irrepressible. Nothing can stop the blooming of sweet you. Nothing.

        Coffee and cheesecake please;)

        • j on May 16, 2014 at 9:58 am

          Aw. Thank you. <3. *adds "head south for coffee and cheesecake with Leah" to list of things to do*

  3. Karin on May 16, 2014 at 6:25 am

    Aw no doodles? 😉

    Everyone has their own way of coping with everythingcavinginatonce (I believe that’s a technical term). For me it’s writing or connecting with others, even though I’m often afraid they’re much too busy to listen. Or maybe I worry that I’m worrying about nothing (ha!) when so many other people probably have it so much worse.
    It’s the magical little things that make us grateful to be who we are and where we are. We’ve had a bit of a transition in my family since my mom had (surprise!) a new baby boy. I’m sure the years as he grows up will be full of interesting magical moments and will continue to bring unexpected changes in my family’s lives.


    • j on May 16, 2014 at 7:52 am

      Ha, Karin, I actually considered not posting until I had time to doodle each of the 7 things on the list, but I got nervous that I’d never get the post up! I haven’t quite figured out how to manage my time is this new place, spread between two households. I figured I better get this baby posted before yet another week went by.

      And yes, Nothing changes the day-to-day landscape like a new baby. Lots of quakes in store, no doubt, and an avalanche of magic moments. xo

      • Karin on May 16, 2014 at 8:53 am

        I *have* missed your posts, so I’ll take what I can get 😉
        Hope you find your “happy balance” in between your two houses!

  4. Joy on May 16, 2014 at 8:35 am

    I love the way you are filling your pauses. I just began this practice of ‘puttering’ in my pauses – I hadn’t ‘puttered’ in years. What that looks like in my daily life is I find I have 15 minutes between ‘here and there’ so if I am home I look around and move something somewhere different or I sketch for a bit or I read for a bit or I look around the room and feel gratitude. If I am out somewhere, I might pop into an art store or creative space near wherever it is I need to be. I am so energetically focused that it is refreshing to putter.

    • j on May 16, 2014 at 10:04 am

      I love the word puttering, especially as you define it. I don’t putter enough when I’m out and about – ducking into an art or book store, for instance. I tend to wait in my car for fifteen minutes… but no more! “Putter more” is my new motto. Thanks for that!

  5. Nicci on May 16, 2014 at 9:49 am

    J, I heart this post. I’m sorry for what you are going through but I want you to know that your words are always so comforting at always the right time. Thank you for that.

    For me, it’s my BFF. She had a head injury ~5 years ago that completely transformed her into someone unrecognizable, which now the MRI shows brain stem deterioration. I guess I was just waiting for her to return. She’s the keeper of my secrets.

    It got dark a few weeks back, & it will get get darker still, very soon. Feeling vulnerable & helpless but I am trying hard not to get caught up in my own sadness & try to be there for her, even though I’m not quite sure how. Wading through demons, the heaviness of it; they are a natural part of life, or an essential part, aren’t they? Sometimes I can feel them coming from miles away.

    The pauses at first were filled with anger, tears, & distraction. Eventually I started working my way through your list. At first, each independently of the other, and then the interconnectedness of each coping method started to form. I don’t feel as utterly helpless anymore. I think now I just want to be present for her, even if I am a complete mess in front of her and even if she doesn’t recognize/remember me, it’s still very important to be present.

    I find that I am trying very hard to be present for all my loved ones now too…have a conversation, or play a board game, or look them in the eye, or share a secret. I’m working on getting them to retaliate in return, but not sure if that’s as important just yet.

    • j on May 16, 2014 at 10:08 am

      Oh, Nicci, I’m so sorry about your friend. What a heartbreaking, frustrating situation. Yes, yes, yes, in the midst of being there for your friend and your family, don’t forget to be there for you. (See Joy’s “puttering” advice above.) I’m glad you reached out here to connect. Sending you lots of love and encouragement, my friend. #holdingyourvirtualhand

      • Nicci on May 16, 2014 at 10:31 am

        Thank you, J.

  6. Susan Champlin on May 16, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    I love this, J—and I truly and deeply admire the fact that you came up with seven! I considered suggesting “endless games of Free Cell”…but the truth is that doesn’t actually calm me; it just adds to the despair I feel about not doing anything useful. (Although the little fft-fft-fft of the flying cards when you win is kind of pleasing.)

    For me, going to the water—preferably the ocean, but I’ll take the river in a pinch—is usually the solution. It’s the thing that makes me realize there is something that came before my little problems, and will go on long afterwards. And it’s lovely to look at, too. xo

    • j on May 16, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      Yes, yes, yes!There isn’t a body of water very close to my parents’ house, or I’d have definitely worked it into the daily routine. (And I use the word “routine” lightly.)

      I so agree with you on water. One of our favorite things to do is camp at Lake Shasta. We go out on the lake first thing in the morning, and we come back to the camp site when it’s too dark to see wake boarders anymore. My favorite times are when we turn off the engine and just float. In those moments out on the lake, I feel like everything is right in the world.

      Trying to convince Chad we should take up sailing.

    • Pam on May 17, 2014 at 9:29 am

      Yes to the power of gazing at water. Big magic.

  7. Alarna Rose Gray on May 16, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    “…lying there, thinking about all the things I could be doing if I weren’t so busy being dead”! Lol. Perfectly sums up the inner struggle with yoga. But I always feel so good after it. You’d think we’d remember the buzz from it a little more strongly, to encourage those repeat performances! And cooking for me is either pure meditation, or irritation, depending on my attitude. Hmm, noticing a pattern here… 🙂

    • j on May 16, 2014 at 7:37 pm

      I can’t quite say that cooking is ever meditative for me, but sometimes it’s not as stressful… it even approaches fun. Sometimes. Not often.

      Yes, attitude is everything. During one of my recent meditations, Deepak said, “You are responsible for the energy you bring into a room.” I am realizing how very true that is… I suppose it’s true even with cooking. (Do you hear my reluctance in admitting that?)

  8. Pam on May 16, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    When my mom was having what felt like a cascade of health problems last year, I imagined my future life into all sorts of dire and dreadful shapes (in those wee-hour moments especially.) None of those imaginings were prescient in the least degree. And YAY for that. I bet that your dire thoughts will be as non-psychic as mine.

    Your list of 7 things is great. I use many of them when I feel pulled out of shape by stress. I’m so glad you posted! xo

    • j on May 18, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      Already my dire thoughts are proving untrue. I was afraid that my dad wasn’t going to be able to drive anymore (his eyes) but it appears his vision is good enough to pass the DMV test. So, yes. Angsting over possible scary futures is silly… even in the wee hours. (But, seriously, what is it about those wee hours?)

      I’m so glad you commented. I feel a walk/paint/dance session in our near future. xo

  9. Nancy on May 18, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Dearest….I am filling a pause by reading you. Mama and I got back from AZ on Friday evening, and Saturday morning I got a call informing me mama had been taken to ER. She’s in the hospital, where I’ve been keeping a vigil, just trying to be there and waiting for results. Today I read (State of Wonder, Ann Patchett) in between moments of watching my mom, sometimes knowing everything will be fine and sometimes knowing that whatever happens may not feel ok. I’m exhausted and off to bed, but wanted to let you know that you and I (and everyone else) will adjust to our new normals, no matter how much we doubt we can.

    Love you.

    • j on May 18, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Love you back, my dear friend. Sending healing vibes to you and your mom, and bottomless gratitude for your presence in my life. xoxo

  10. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on May 19, 2014 at 6:25 am

    What an incredibly inspiring post. I’m in a tough place right now too (though in a different way), so this is wonderful timing for me. Things I fill my pauses with: kitty snuggles/brushing/petting, staring dreamily into my backyard (office window), acknowledging my emotions without trying to change them (even fear and the negative ones), and going to the gym; I’ve recently joined one and am trying out various classes, etc. I think for me a big part of it is simply letting myself really experience everything, even the hard times, rather than looking forward to them being over. Like you said, things rarely go “back” to normal, and I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that waiting is pretty much the same as wasting. So I’m trying to live and experience rather than wait, though it’s hard.

  11. j on May 19, 2014 at 7:49 am

    I agree, and not just the experience(s) causing the fear and anxiousness, but the rest of my life too. It’s been harder and harder to carve out art time, but over the past week, I’ve been making sure it happens every day. Not enough right now, but some.

    Hugs to you, Annie. I’ll think of you when I work out. Together apart. ; )

  12. juliafehrenbacher on May 20, 2014 at 8:44 am

    “It works like this: you grab hold of every pause in your day, and you fill it with the stuff that feeds (expands, nurtures, calms) you. You do it consciously, with everything you’ve got, even if it’s only five minutes, even if all you do is just breathe. In and out. In and out. With everything you’ve got.”

    A thousand yes-es to YOU and your pauses. As usual, I’m spilling with love for you…

    • j on May 20, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      As I am for you (always). xo

  13. Nina Badzin on May 21, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    That idea of “pauses” and filling them mindfully is so appealing to me and makes so much sense. Often in a pause I am checking email, cleaning off a counter, etc. I am rarely just still as many of your pause fillers help you achieve. You’re a smart cookie!

    • j on May 22, 2014 at 8:09 am

      It’s interesting that you say that, Nina. I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but you’re right. I’ve gravitated toward activities that help me get quiet. Normally, I, like you, tend to fill my pauses with action – one more thing off the to-do list (or, yes, checking in virtually because now I, too, have a smart phone), but during the past 6 weeks, my busy-ness has been so emotional, I’ve felt a need to just sort of stop periodically, remember what’s real and now and important.

      You’re making me realize that if I keep the habit I’ve formed out of necessity, during the easier times (they will come again!), I’ll probably have fewer sleepless nights and inexplicable tears at traffic lights. (Yeah, it’s been like that.)

  14. Estrella Azul on July 8, 2014 at 3:24 am

    I read this when you first posted, j, and now, I see it still holds up for my needing some time to myself. Well, this week, I have it, although not at all the way i imagined I would. It’ll be filled with packing up the house for starting renovations next week, with sorting through what needs to go and what we’ll keep, with attending a funeral and taking care of loose ends.
    But I will be adding in moments for magical little things to keep my soul happy – like today for example, stepping into the smallest antique book store and buying myself a book.

    • j on July 8, 2014 at 11:55 am

      And writing to me. ; )

      House renovations sound exhausting and exciting. And while I don’t always love it when I’m in the middle of it, sorting through what to give up and what to keep is always soul-filling in the long run. You’re creating space… for more magic.

  15. […] upcoming months is, creating space for more magic, like my friend j mentioned to me in a reply to one of her blog posts. (So I’m ending this post with her words, before I slowly sink into depression over having to […]

Leave a Comment