NaBloPoMo Theme Reveal, 2021

Okay, friends, it begins! 

National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) was an annual November thing back in 2015, when I started this blog.  Apparently the person who started it no longer claims it or formally facilitates, but many of us still practice.  This year a small cadre of women physician writers may join me in the challenge, woohoo!

The theme for this, my 7th year, emerged over the summer.  As some of you know, Son is a senior in high school, applying to college right now.  On a walk through the neighborhood one sunny evening in August, I ran into parents of two different classmates, kids he’s known since preschool.  We compared our respective parental experiences of contemporary college apps—fascinating!  In both conversations, I asked my counterparts what they wished most for their kids to learn at college, and then in life.  As usual, the question arose from outward curiosity, and before I could finish asking, I really wanted to answer for myself, too.

In short order, three primary ‘adulting skills’ came to mind: 

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Critical thinking

Over subsequent weeks the list grew quickly, as I sought additions from other friends and family. I noticed it was mostly nouns, which started to feel listless and uninspiring. Simon Sinek points out, in Start With Why, that posting static concepts such as ‘Honesty’ as organizational values is too abstract and unmotivating; it doesn’t tell people what to do. He recommends converting such nominal platitudes to verb statements instead: Isn’t ‘Always Tell the Truth’ a much clearer and more activating expression? And bonus: it also makes us accountable.

So this November, I intend to post one ‘action mantra’ each day, that I hope for my children to practice, to live a good life. I have chosen the theme title: Do Good, Kid. I like that play on words, too. 😉

This year’s theme is, perhaps, more personally meaningful and coherent for me than previous ones. I imagine it as the lifelong learning To Do list that could persist as my kids’ ethical earworms when I’m not around to remind them. It’s also a record of my own personal aspirations. How can I ask them to do anything I’m not willing to model myself? I have 30 days, and well over 30 practices to choose from. This could be fun.

So let’s see how it goes, eh?  Can’t wait can’t wait!

Meaning Indeed

Do you not just love when insights occur in rapid and acute succession?

I had ‘Rubik’s cubed’ the last post for a few weeks before finally sitting down to write and publish it last Tuesday. The smoke signal idea came to me while typing—it felt almost tingly, like the most pleasant and rewarding epiphanal effervescence. And here just now I’m only describing that sensation for the first time. How fascinating. Little did I know last week that my own smoke signals have long smoldered in the distance. Since musing about the physical sensations of meaning, I’m suddenly noticing my own, left and right.

I’ve had two prolonged absences from in person clinical work these two years. The first was 2.5 months externally mandated by pandemic lockdown in 2020. The second, ending as of 10 days ago, was a 5 month personal leave. In each case I did my homework prior to returning, reviewing charts and schedules, contacting colleagues for sign out (the verbal transfer of care between clinicians who share patients). Both times I felt ambivalent, missing the nearly 24/7 control over my own schedule (or the illusion of it, anyway), and also anticipating the gratifying interactions of in person clinic.

In June last year, the joy of return enveloped me like the warm, welcoming hand of a soft spring breeze. I had completed the interview part of my first face to face visit since March. We got to the exam room and I did my usual head and neck assessment. I put my stethoscope earpieces in and placed the diaphragm against the patient’s chest. That first heartbeat may have been the most soothing sound I had heard in years. The soft, rhythmic, unobtrusive yet vital thudding of the heart of a live person—a person in my care—wow. I can’t remember if I actually got goosebumps then. But I get them now just thinking of that moment. I had not realized how much I missed hearing it, or how much it meant to me. I lingered an extra second or two just listening, feeling a deep joy and relaxation, a settling of my soul even, maybe. It was profound and totally unexpected.

This time it was a conversation. It’s such a privilege to know people in the intimate space of their health, to appreciate them as whole people, body, mind, and often spirit. In executive health we get the bonus of relating our patients’ whole person health to their roles and responsibilities as designated leaders at work. This intersects also with relationships in their families and personal tribes, just as it does for all of us. Toward the end of an interview last week, once again I felt overwhelmed by a deeply grounding, relaxed and yet energizing sensation. My patient and I were talking, engaging, exchanging ideas and observations, relating, as fellow humans. It felt paradoxically expansive and distilled at the same time, like I had dropped right into, and was operating directly from, my core, best self. I was right where I was supposed to be, doing and saying exactly what I was meant to do and say, right in that moment. I could only marvel inwardly and briefly in real time, as the encounter moved on. It was not until later in the day that I was able to name the emotion as sheer joy. I was lighter on my feet, uplifted in my chest, feeling positively buzzed.

Wow, it’s already the end of October. NaBloPoMo is almost upon us (well, upon me, I guess, as there is no longer an official November event–but this will be my 7th consecutive attempt), and I feel ready! The theme this year is personally meaningful to me (stay tuned for the reveal), and I look forward to the challenge. So good to be back, friends. Onward.

Shoots in the Poop

hike flower

It’s December 4th… Time to look back?  Honestly, I’d rather just get this year over with and move on,  because I have already been looking back all this time.  Since January I have counted—weeks and months since the knee injury, months since starting the new job, since surgery, since a spring crisis, since the last this or the first that.  What was it all for?  I think I was just reminding myself that there’s been a lot going on, reassuring myself that I’m not just whining, not being weak for letting my personal health habits slip.

I’ve felt like a relative slug for the last 6 months, despite my best efforts.  I think I must have eaten a pint of ice cream every two days for most of the spring and early summer.  Looking back on the calendar, I stopped using smiley stickers to mark workouts around July—their intensity was only worth hand-drawn smileys.  By and since August they aren’t worth smileys at all—I just jot down what I did in shorthand.  Some weeks it was barely anything.   I judge myself every day—perhaps less harshly than I might have a few years ago, and also less compassionately than I might a few more years from now.  I still struggle with the fear of self-indulgence if I allow myself too much self-compassion.  I am still learning self-compassion.  I know it takes time to rewire our limbic brain patterns with knew learnings from our cognitive brains.  So I will keep trying, because I know it’s helping.  And I’m modeling for the kids.  We can do our best and still fail.  The key is to keep moving.  We can practice admitting we need help, seek it from the appropriate sources, lean on it heavily, and stand back up eventually.  And then we remember those who helped us, and prepare to be helpful in return.

I have leaned on so many this year, I feel almost speechless at the outpouring of support and love.  The only way I don’t collapse from this weight of gratitude is by storing it like a battery—ready to be discharged, full power, when someone needs to plug into me.  This may be my favorite thing about humanity—that we are wired to connect so tightly, to help one another in webs of mutual love and kindness that can extend ad infinitum.

moths on poop

So I’ll look back a little.  This week I feel a turning.  Did I say this already recently?  Oh yes, it was November 12.  I was making more room for books, trying to stay off of my phone, off of Facebook.  Being on the laptop every night to post to the blog stymied that last part, but it also bought awareness of how I find loopholes in the best plans for self-discipline.  And the daily writing practice also contributed loads to this internal revolution.  This was my fourth year doing NaBloPoMo.  It was by far the most fun, the smoothest, and the most rewarding attempt yet (I think I also said this last year?), and now I miss writing every day (definitely have not said this before).  Maybe it was the daily dopamine hit of views and likes.  But I think it’s more than that.  Through the daily discipline, I had a chance to process and synthesize so many ideas and connections that had been marinating for months, maybe even years.  I practiced prioritizing, selecting, and distilling those ideas into about 1000 words each day, more for my own benefit than anyone else’s.  That people read and related to them was definitely a happy bonus.

Besides NBPM, I attribute this turnaround to two books that Donna recommended to me earlier this fall:  Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace, both by The Arbinger Institute.  I have wanted to write about them for the last several weeks, but I haven’t yet figured out how to prioritize, select, and distill the lessons coherently.  The foundational ideas are not necessarily new, but they are profound.  The books are written as modern allegories, and there is just something about the metaphors and analogies that has unlocked and integrated everything I have learned about inner work, communication, relationships, and leadership to date.  And that is saying a lot.  Because of these books, the daily writing, and all the conversations I’m having (with myself and with others) as a result of both, the two most challenging relationships in my life right now have fundamentally improved—mostly because I have been able to shift my own attitude.  As with all things, this new ‘way of being’ will take practice.  I need to keep the training wheels on for a while yet.  But now that I have made this turn, the path looks straight, and I see light.

The manure has piled on all year.  So much fertilizer, oh my gosh.  It’s done its job, though, because I have definitely grown.  I feel strong, healthy shoots of green popping out through the thick, dark carpet of poop.