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Birthday party planning in the new now

The other morning Sprout was hovering by my elbow while I got Button out of his nighttime pajamas and into his daytime pajamas (because, after all, pandemic fashion is all about cozy comfort) and she started planning his birthday party at the end of summer.

“We can invite all of his friends to video face chat!”

I reminded her that he’s not even one year old, so most of his friends are family members, but she was breezed past that.

“We’re going to have to order his presents early so they can get here. Because we can’t go to the store.”

She made all these logistical pronouncements in a matter-of-fact way. She’s not sounding anxious or disappointed at the idea that maybe we wouldn’t be able to have family members over to our house, or get together with people in person for Button’s birthday.

She’s just internalizing and trying out a new sense of normal based on how things are going currently.

She’s had weeks of only seeing cousins, grandparents, her teachers, and some of her friends from school on the other side of a screen. She’s barged in on some of my online classes (as my unofficial TA) and told knock-knock jokes.

She misses people. She misses school. When the sadness comes, it hits in waves: peaking fast, then subsiding.

But there’s a streak of resiliency coming through as she adjusts to new routines.

Can’t have school recess with all her friends? Then every day there needs to be backyard recess with Dad. After dinner must be Family Time, lunch needs to fit a routine, and so on. She has blocks of time that make up the schedule of her day, and she even wants to stick to it on weekends.

Because right now for her, what even are weekends?

It’s not always easy, but I’m glad to see those moments where she’s rolling with the punches and finding her footing.

And I hope, as I have to adapt to the changes still to come, that I can greet the logistics of it with the same straightforward, beginner’s mind that she’s started to use.

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What gets done first gets done.

Since the stay at home order started in my state, the first thing I do after my alarm goes off is come downstairs before everyone else is awake, pour myself a cup of coffee, and sit down to meditate.

It’s not starting out with the most urgent or overdue task on my list, setting me up to think about the pile of deadlines hanging over my shoulder. It’s not just faffing about, using the time to “just wake up.”

It’s a choice to remind myself that I can greet the day with intention.

I’ve noticed that since I’ve adjusted my mornings to start this way, I’m less likely to do those “just checks” on my phone first thing. Or second thing.

It’s not necessarily a concrete form of habit stacking, but it does set the tone for the rest of the day. I’m more likely to move from meditation to something else that feels important, instead of getting sucked in to an endless scroll on the internet.

It’s a choice to remind myself to greet what comes during the day on its terms instead of mine.

I don’t have complete control over how (or when) my kids wake up, or what mood they wake up in, but I can choose to accept it without feeling like they’re supposed to behave in some predetermined way that lets me keep powering through my to-do list.

That’s a feeling that I’ve had to fight with since being required to do all my work from home. They’re not my co-workers. They’re not in my office. I’m trying to do work in their home, and I need to respect that difference.

And it’s a choice that helps me feel confident in my priorities.

I’m choosing to start the day focused on what’s going on directly around me and inside me. Instead of steeping my brain in fresh memes or outrage fuel from the moment I wake up, I’m taking stock of what I have direct influence over at this moment.

And I can see results from this.

I can do more good in a day if I start focused on what I have influence over instead of reminding myself about all the things that feel overwhelming, or create a sense of powerlessness.

Because while those bigger picture things can’t be ignored, that doesn’t mean they need my full attention before I’ve put on real pants or finished a cup of coffee.

I don’t always know how much I can do in a day, but I know that if I wake up on time and get started on one thing, that one thing is 99.9% likely to get done.

Starting my day with meditation isn’t just empty navel gazing. It’s a way to try and get in touch with things as they are, separate from my thoughts or feelings about them. It’s a way to make sure that the first thing that gets done in the morning is something that helps me focus on what I value most and what I have influence over.

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Don’t burn your bagel

We have a finicky toaster oven. The done-ness indicators on the dial are basically meaningless. I have a suspicion it’s collecting data on our use and reactions for a psychological experiment.

So when I put a bagel in the other morning, I knew I had to keep an eye on it. It’s also the moment Sprout decided she needed a refill on her Rice Krispies. And more banana.

And we had the radio on, which I was semi-paying attention to, since they were doing a news update.

Then Button decided to drop his teething chew thingamajig. This displeased him.

With these competing demands and draws for my attention, it would be very easy to forget the need to watch my bagel. The more I paid attention to these other inputs, the more likely it was that I’d be spreading cream cheese on a charcoal-tinged disc.

I won’t belabor the metaphor: This is all about avoiding burnout.

The repeated mantra somebody sent me that I’m keeping close to heart right now is “You’re not working from home. You’re at home trying to work.”

My job teaching at a university is not one designed to be done from the corner of my house over a webcam. Even if it was, the added complications of schools being closed, needing to be socially distant from our primary child care providers (aka, Sprout & Button’s grandparents), and losing just about every pressure release valve getting out of the house can provide… It can be easy to take your eye off the bagel.

Honestly, it got to the point where I wasn’t even sure where the bagel was, or what the bagel was.

P.S. “The Trip” is one I’m rewatching as mental comfort food right now.

But in this case, the bagel is what sustains you. It keeps you going. It gives you energy and pleasure and a reason to get up in the morning.

And right now, that bagel is jammed in an unpredictable toaster oven of a world. There’s no telling from moment-to-moment what the day or the week will try to do to that bagel.

You’ll miss the signs that something is going wrong if you get distracted.

And right now, it is very easy to get distracted.

Maybe it can help to use a timer, like the one on the toaster oven. To tell yourself that for X amount of minutes, this next thing is your bagel, and it’s going to have your complete attention. It’s one step I’m trying.

For me, it feels like my focus is an important tool to sharpen right now. Maybe you feel it, too.

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Mindfulness, Meditation, and actually talking (a little) about Buddhism

“Wherever you are, make sure you’re there.”
— Dan Sullivan

“Wherever you go, there you are.”
— Buckaroo Banzai

One semester when I was in college and in need of electives to fill out my schedule, some friends mentioned they were looking into a class on Buddhism. I previously took a course on near eastern religion (Christianity, Judaism, & Islam), and figured this would be a good continuation of that deep dive.

Early on in the course, the professor used a metaphor to explain the idea that reincarnation had a lot of misconceptions around it.

As I remember it:

Imagine a film strip. Thousands of individual pictures. Thousands of moments. When you run the strip through a projector, it looks like you’re watching one continuous moving picture, but that’s just an illusion created by your mind.

You’re watching a series of moments that begin and end.

So instead of thinking of reincarnation as you are born, you live however many years you live, you die, and then you come back, think about how every single moment is like one frame of a movie.

The moment begins. You are there. Then it ends, and you are not. And it all happens so rapidly that it doesn’t even seem like they’re separate moments

You are born in that moment and you die in that moment, over and over.

Which would mean that there is very little difference between two frames that you believe are part of the same life, and two frames where you become a new self.

The film strip keeps moving, feeding each frame through, but each frame is only a single moment. You just believe that they’re showing continuous action because that’s how it appears to you.

If you wanted to pitch a film student on accepting the Buddhist worldview of non-being, that’s a damn good way to do it.

I don’t talk about this often, because despite all my reading and time spent meditating on my own, I’ve never sought out a community of other people walking this path. It’s been personal and mostly solitary, and in some ways that made me feel like I’m doing it wrong.

But even my limited glimpse of this larger world has helped me in ways I wish I could have seen earlier in my life.

I’m a person who survives with depression, and because of that, it can get easy to be pulled out of experiencing the moment and replay the past, or to see what’s happening in the present moment as part of an endless string of negative, connected events. It’s easy to construct a narrative tying together your worst feelings or lowest moments when you can’t separate out one moment from the others.

But the mindful awareness I try to tap into through meditation isn’t just about calming these impulses. It’s about working to focus my attention on what matters in the moment.

One quote I’ve recently grabbed onto about the effect of honing in on just one moment at a time:

“One day at a time. One. Day. And beyond this, one thought, one moment, one heartbeat. This, by the way, is why we practice meditation, which is not a life hack to become more awesome. Meditation is a path of fierce warriorship. It teaches you how to meet your experience on the spot, without embellishment, fully and courageously”

Susan Piver, Lion’s Roar

I’m writing this now, and opening up more about this part of me, because it feels like a time for fierce warriorship.


It’s easy to get bogged down in the endless refresh cycle, checking social media and news sites for updates on what we should fear and feel angry about.

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of a global threat, especially one that seems invisible and nigh-invulnerable to direct human intervention.

And there’s a massive gravitational pull from the fear of what might happen to those closest to us, and how our personal worlds could be made much more empty by a disease for which there is no vaccine, no scientifically-proven cure, and a paucity of resources to properly treat those afflicted if its spread is allowed to go unchecked.

It’s all so much, and it all seems to keep building and getting worse.

And yet, for those of us still fortunate enough to stay healthy, we are here in this moment.

So I ask you to consider, if you’re able, and if you’re willing, to try to confront this moment on its terms, as it exists, and not through the lens of fear or anger.

Because we can do nothing for ourselves or each other if we shut off. If we let the enormity of this all pin us down and hold us powerless, we can lose sight of our role and our strength.

And without a clear understanding of our strength, it can be hard to find hope.


I know the full Buddhist toolkit isn’t for everyone. I know because I haven’t taken it all on myself. But I have gotten some help from some of these texts:

Or if you just want to dip your toe in first before committing to a whole book, this blog post from Rebecca Toh I linked to on Twitter the other day is a good way to test the waters.


It’s something I hope you’ll consider right now, especially if you’re a person staying at home for the good of your community, or by necessity. It can be easy when sheltering in place for an extended time to feel like every day is part of one endless slog.

Maybe it will help you to feel less like the days are all repeating or merging together if you’re alone.

Maybe it could help you treat the people you are staying inside with with more patience and grace, and see their actions as existing in only this moment, instead of part of a narrative you’re stringing together during your extended time bottled up together.

Maybe it will help you feel like less of a passive observer of events and consider ways you can offer help to those in need.

Even if it’s only for the space of one breath, or the time it takes to wash your hands, maybe it will help you step outside of the narratives hanging over you and find some space to be the kind of fierce, compassionate warrior this world needs right now.

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Tomorrow could be better.

It’s not much, but that’s the idea that sustains me.

Developing coping mechanisms for depression (and actually seeking treatment) before the world went into a state of isolation and fear is something that’s helping me keep perspective.

No matter what today throws at me, or how disappointed and weary and angry I might feel at the end of the day, I made it to the end.

Tomorrow could be better. I don’t know yet. I have to get there to find out.

Because no matter how hard I think about the things I could’ve done differently in the past to make this a better day, that’s a fruitless exercise.

There’s a name for a mental habit connected to depression: rumination. It’s all about focusing on the past, mulling it over, trying to solve it like a problem.

There’s a passage in The Mindful Way through Depression about it:

When we ruminate, we become fruitlessly preoccupied with the fact that we are unhappy and with the causes, meanings, and consequences of our unhappiness. Research has repeatedly shown that if we have tended to react to our sad or depressed moods in these ways in the past, then we are likely to find the same strategy volunteering to “help” again and again when our mood starts to slide. And it will have the same effect: we’ll get stuck in the very mood from which we are trying to escape…

Rumination invariably backfires. It merely compounds our misery. It’s a heroic attempt to solve a problem that it is just not capable of solving.

Dissecting the day doesn’t make it any better. And analyzing how you would make different choices about today doesn’t necessarily apply to tomorrow, since every day might feel the same (especially now, when so many people are isolating themselves and their families away from the rest of their communities), but it won’t work. No two days are the exact same.

Today is already written. There’s no erasing it or tearing out that page. I can’t make tomorrow simply a more polished revision of today.

So I need to turn to the next blank sheet and start again. Start over.

Because tomorrow could be better.