Category Archives: Simple Living

Cancel Out the Noise

January 31, 2017

Simple Living

Art by Gordon Roqué

I recently bought a new pair of headphones.  Not the in-ear cell phone variety, mind you, but those seemingly clunky-looking over-the-ear kinds of headphones that look more like leathery earmuffs. (I love the pair I bought after lots of research and getting a good deal on them. Clarity and base-response are particularly impressive.) So now, I look like one of those dorks who walk around with large headphones wrapped around my head. In addition to using them for listening to music, playing on my keyboard in private, and online viewing, I got them for one other specific reason:

Noise-cancellation.

Whether it is a song or podcast, it really is better to isolate the specific sounds you desire. This makes for a much more pleasurable listening experience, but I love noise cancellation for one other purpose:

Silence.

Yes, silence. As a college student, I have come to find out that libraries on college campuses, or any other location on campuses for that matter, do not tend to be quiet. When I want to study and need to deeply concentrate, I unplug my headphones from any device and put them on. It looks like I am listening to something, but I am actually trying to distill my thoughts into a private bottle of silence.

I have been doing a lot of this kind of stuff lately, the practice of cancelling out those things that are distracting and create unnecessary sensory baggage. For example, I have recently put myself on a facebook diet. It is not that I hate facebook. On the contrary, I use it to check in on friends who live far away from me and to promote my shows and posts from this blog. It’s fairly useful as a way to share my creative work.  Otherwise, the blistering negativity on my facebook feed has been a real downer lately, and there is too much stuff on there that tends to be mindless and unimportant.

My facebook diet has consisted of two main actions. Primarily, I have removed the app (and its accompanying “messenger” app) from my cell phone. Secondly, I only check my account once every day for a maximum of a half hour on my laptop.  This is enough time to respond to any messages I may have received and to make sure loved ones are alive and well.

With these dietary restrictions, I have cancelled out a little bit more noise from  life. The urge to check my facebook account is minimal, if not non-existent these days. The time limitation helps me to do only what I need to do and then to actually log out when I am done. This creates much more time for big daily priorities.

On a broader scale, it is a good practice to analyse the parts of your life that either create noise or give you something truly substantive, meaningful, and worthy of your limited time. Here is a small list of potential things that could always use some cancelling out.

1. Sources of feedback

If you have a lot of people in your life who give you advice, maybe it is worthwhile to ask yourself who, of all those people, gives the most constructive and thoughtful feedback that never feels condescending, controlling, or hurtful. Maybe those are the people truly worth listening to.

2. Recreational Activities

Maybe you only play frisbee golf on the weekends because you were pressured by friends to join in, even though you hate it. Maybe you’ve been thinking of baling out of your book club because it’s kind of boring. What if all you want to do is knit or bake pies all day even if all of your friends or family members don’t care about it? Isn’t life more fun when you are doing something you really enjoy? Take some moments to look closely at what you do on your free time. Make sure that you are doing something that is fun or somehow gratifying for you. It’s YOUR time. Own it.

3. Those things you covet.

These days, every item I am considering to purchase goes through three layers of scrutiny before I actually buy it. First, I ask myself whether it will add value to my life or just be more clutter. If it passes that layer, I see if I can afford it by obsessively comparison shopping online. I look for the best deals and sales anywhere.  Lastly, If I manage to find a reasonable or great deal, then I look at numerous customer reviews about that specific product. If all is favorable, then I finally make a purchase. This intense scrutiny cuts out any impulse buying and helps me spend my hard-earned money wisely. Incidentally, this is EXACTLY the process I carried out before buying my now beloved and new noise-cancelling/over-the-ear/hyphen-loving headphones. Even though I might covet several different things, I only actually buy one or two items that are truly useful to me and are available at the best price I can afford. Anything that doesn’t pass these tests does not take up space in my life. I am very cool with that.

I hope these examples give you some idea of how you can cancel some noise out of your life. Living with a purity of purpose is a precious practice to pursue every day. This means that all unnecessary distraction is deemed mute and powerless.

Isn’t this as it should be?

Five Life Hacks I Live By

January 24, 2017

Creativity / Simple Living

The word “hack” has become ubiquitous in our modern tongue.  I used to know the word as the way by which some genius techie could break into a computer system, but these days, its informal definition generally applies, that being “a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing something” (according to dictionary.com). In the last couple of years, I’ve seen the word used in this manner and have grown to like it. In fact, since I am somewhat of a simplicity and productivity geek, I make use of the word every day through my actions. I hack away at tasks and situations that should be much easier than they are, and after various trials and research, I have figured out ways to make them more manageable.

This week, I wanted to share five simple hacks that I carry out every day that basically make my life a little easier.  Feel free to try them out yourself.  Maybe they can help you too. 

  1. Make my bed every morning.

Seriously?  Yes, seriously. It takes a little extra effort to make your bed after the ordeal of getting up from a restorative sleep, but this simple act pays dividends.  When you think about the size of a normal room, a bed that might be a full or queen size in most cases takes up at least one-third of the space. More often than not, a bed is also the focal point in the room, the one element that grounds and centers the whole arrangement. If all you did to clean your room was to make your bed, not only would a significant percentage of your room be done already, but you would not have to clean much of anything else. Your room would look pretty good with just the bed made up.

For myself, I am a bit of a neat freak, and so, my bedroom stays tidy almost all of the time, but on the occasional instant when I am rushing out or too exhausted to care about the state of my room, I fix my bed, and I have already won half the battle. Besides, coming back home to a bed that is tidy and made up feels pretty darn good.

 2. Use a wardrobe capsule.

I did not know that a “wardrobe capsule” was actually a thing, but as it turns out, it is. What in tarnation is a wardrobe capsule? Basically, it is a small collection of clothes that you can mix and match to wear every day. Why would you or anyone do this? It overcomes two real challenges.  First, it eliminates the decision fatigue that comes with deciding what to wear.  You can quickly grab any combination of clothes, and they will instantly work together. Secondly, a capsule still allows you to have some variation in what you wear, as opposed to wearing a boring suit or the same thing every day.

For myself, I use a wardrobe capsule for school, and I have gone monochromatic with the color blue. I have a couple of blue slacks, a pair of grey ones (because it is a great neutral that works well with blue), navy blue genes, and various button-down shirts that have the color blue in them in some shape or pattern.  All of these items can be mixed and matched in any combination and still look great. Sometimes I throw in a red jacket or green sweater, but otherwise, I have no decision fatigue and do not look like a clone of myself from the day before.  This works for me.

3.  Drink a lot of water.

I try to drink a ton of water every day. There is the general rule that the average person should drink 8 glasses a day.  My only problem with this is that I tend to lose count. I have decided instead to just make sure I drink a lot of water throughout the day. I drink a glass in the morning after I wake up, and then make sure I do so again every couple of hours and with every meal.  I also drink a glass before I go to sleep. Why do I do this?  First of all, it keeps my energy level up, and I feel less fatigued throughout the day. Secondly, and to be blunt, it helps with regularity.  Constipation is no fun for anyone, and drinking enough water keeps everything flowing quite nicely.  Lastly, I do not mind that this makes me have to urinate more frequently.  I take that time to take a deep breath and a quick mental break. I could always use plenty of those.

4. Do all things gently.

This is a new habit I have been toying with lately. I’ve taken a cue from my piano playing. For the most part, the action of my hands as they press down on each key works best when I stay relaxed and nimble. This gentleness not only produces a consistent and even tone, but it also reduces strain on my fingers and joints. I got to thinking what if I applied this to everything I do?

Whenever I lift anything, be it a spoon or a small box, do it gently. When I push a door open or hold something up, do it gently. When I grip something with my hand, like a steering wheel or glass of water, do it gently. Walk gently. Run gently. Eat gently. This sounds easy, but for me, it requires a good bit of mindfulness to overcome a lifetime of needless overexertion.

Of course, there are times when you should exert yourself more like in the gym or in an emergency, but otherwise, why should we? I am hoping that the decrease in the amount of pressure I apply in all things will alleviate joint and muscle pains. I need to do more research on this, but I am certainly enjoying the more relaxed flow that this invites. Besides, mindfulness is a good practice to pursue, and this happens to be a great way to do it.

5. Consciously be thankful for something every day.

In 2015, I embarked on a year of thankfulness on social media. Every day, I posted a statement about something I was thankful for. As the year progressed, I noticed a very simple change in my life. I started to feel happier. I found myself having a pleasant mood and much less stress. Little things that used to bother me stopped being so annoying. I began to feel better about myself and my life.

One thing I realized about being thankful is that it is essentially an affirmation, a very positive, life-enriching one. Energetically, the conscious outpouring of thankfulness into your life and surroundings will ultimately create more personal satisfaction in all you do.

My gratitude taught me to embrace all that I have and to trust the talents and gifts I have been given. When you cherish everything, you take nothing for granted. When you value your life, you value yourself. These days, I carry a small weekly calendar in my school bag and write something for which I am grateful every day.

From the time I started to be consistently and outwardly thankful two years ago to today, my life has changed dramatically and for the best. I am happier. I have more love in my life, and I am doing more of what I love to do.

If I could recommend one life hack above all others, it is thankfulness. Do it every day. Make it known or document it somehow. Thank me later.

So, go ahead. Hack away. Make your life easier. These are among my favorite life hacks.  What are yours?

 

Generosity in 2016 and Color in 2017

January 1, 2017

Creativity / Generosity / Inspiration / Simple Living

Happy New Year!!!

Since it is officially 2017, I now declare it to be my Year of Color!  I’ll be posting colorful artwork and photography on social media (namely Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) all year-long.  I am feeling very creative with my visual work, and I just want to challenge myself to create and share more of it!

At the beginning of 2016, I set my sights on making 2016 my year of generosity with acts of kindness for 52 weeks.  I did in fact carry out many acts of generosity throughout the year, and for this post, I wanted to highlight the organizations that benefited from my giving.

Nashville Rescue Mission (https://nashvillerescuemission.org/)
This is a  local non-profit that provides shelter, food, and clothing for homeless men, women, and children in Music City.  I donated lots of bottled water and canned goods.

Pet Community Center of Nashville (http://petcommunitycenter.org/)
As an animal-care non-profit , Pet Community Center provides affordable immunization and other services.  You should check out their monthly mobile unit that goes out to different neighborhoods across Nashville. I took Steinway there for his shots.  They were very sweet to him.

National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (http://nathpo.org/)
This is a national organization of Native American tribal leaders who work to preserve tribal lands across the United States.  Giving to them is a small gesture I can make towards supporting the indigenous people of the US. This organization helps maintain schools, hospitals, and infrastructure on tribal lands as well as protection and emergency preparedness on sacred sites.

Habit Zen App by Leo Babauta
(https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/532372598/habit-zen)
I am a huge proponent of mindfulness, simplicity, and meditation.  Leo Babauta is a native of Guam who currently lives in the San Fransisco area.  He is the author of the blog zen-habits.net (which is read by millions of people around the world), and I really love his writing and his ideas about simple living.  He’s assembled a small team to build an app that helps people create and maintain healthier habits based on his own work and research.  I am proud to support any thing he does.

Time Out Youth (http://www.timeoutyouth.org)
There will always be a place in my heart Time Out Youth.  TOY is a non-profit organization in Charlotte, NC that carries out support and advocacy for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning youth ages 11-20.  Not only did I seek out their services when I was a 19-year-old living in Charlotte, I also worked as their Youth Programs Director. I made some of the most meaningful friendships of my life, and being a part of the TOY community was the  most affirming experience of my young adult existence.  I needed the love, validation, and support everyone gave to me more than I realized.  This place still exists today, and they are as strong as ever.

Wildlife Conservation Network and the Elephant Crisis Fund  (https://wildnet.org/)
Elephant Crisis Fund
Who doesn’t love elephants? Well, a better question would be why are elephants getting killed by the dozens? The answer to this question is not a simple one. At the center of this issue is a longstanding and illegal ivory trade that has been profitable for anyone involved in it.  There are cultural and economic implications to this terrible crisis, and the only ones paying the real price are these beautiful and sweet creatures whose bodies are slaughtered and left to rot after their tusks are cut and ripped off of their bodies.  This is horrendous, and I hope it ends someday soon.

Rocky Mountain Institute (http://www.rmi.org/)
In spite of those who beg to differ, climate change is real, and it is actually happening. I am trying to do my part by recycling everything I possibly can every week, and by living in a remote and rural home, I have decreased my ecological footprint. (This continues to be a work in progress.)  We as human beings have thus far failed as stewards and caretakers of the Earth’s natural resources, but I believe we have the capacity to be better.  The Rocky Mountain Institute is doing some incredible work through its multi-level approach at tackling climate change both in the United States and internationally.  Their biggest mission is to work with corporations, businesses, and communities across the world to shift their enterprises towards efficiency and renewable energy/resources.  In my mind, global enterprise needs to be led by global sustainability.  I fully support any initiative that advocates for this.

This year represents the most that I have given to charity pretty much ever.  I plan on doing monthly giving to these and other worthwhile organizations in 2017.  From now on, generous giving to others will be a strong and integral part of my life.

 

So there you go!  Bring on the color in 2017!!  Bring on the giving!!

I am looking forward to the year to come! Let’s make every day of 2017 extra special!

One of the Best Decisions of my Life

October 10, 2016

Simple Living

Art by Gordon Roqué

As previously announced, I am currently a college student, and along with this new venture, I have had a growing desire to express my thoughts and share what I have been learning.

I have decided to start posting regularly on my blog again.  Not only will you receive updates on forthcoming shows and creative projects, you will also be reading about many thoughts and viewpoints about the world at large that I hold dear or sincerely grapple with.  Some of these perspectives will come from the college education I am enjoying, and many others will stem from my personal life experiences.

For this first installment, I discuss a decision I made for myself that has exponentially improved the quality of my life.

A few years ago, I decided to stop watching television.

In my case, I stopped paying for cable, and more recently, unsubscribed from Netflix.  This means that watching television on a regular basis in any forum does not happen in my life AT ALL.  (I also get to save money. Cable is not cheap.)

When I visit my sister, I might do a Netflix binge just for the fun of it, but this is a rare exception, not a rule.  I mainly watch television in social settings, like the Superbowl Half-time show, a Presidential Debate, or an Oscar party, but that is it.

There are three reasons why I stopped watching tv.

Reason #1:  Time is extremely valuable.

Television is designed to be addictive.  There are incredibly talented writers on tv shows who create compelling stories with endearing characters.  They know how to reel you in. After one episode, you are hooked.  You care about the good guy, rally against the villains, gasp at the cliffhangers, and sit at the edge of your seat enamored of it all for however many seasons (at 22 or more episodes per season). Yes, there’s some excellent and engrossing television out there, but at some point, I had to ask myself .  .  .

Do I really want to spend countless hours of my own life  watching other people actually do something with theirs?

Television is so addictive that it is far easier to have more of it than less.   So, I decided to have none of it.  I want to look back on my life and know that I did more than just stare at a glass screen.  That may be fine for some people, but that is not a life for me.

Reason #2:  Advertising clutters my mind with unnecessary demands.

People in the advertising industry are a shrewd bunch.  Large corporations hire talented teams of people to figure out how to get your money, and they are wildly successful.  The slick ads on tv selling delicious food at a restaurant, a ravishing piece of jewelry, a cool pair of shoes, and any number of items you do not need are virtually inescapable and are designed to be enticing.  The ads also play over and over again so that they can get in your head.    To me, it has always felt more like a form of brainwashing.  There are all these voices telling you what you need and what looks good.

When it comes to my sensibilities, the only voice that truly matters is my own.

When you let advertising dictate your tastes and influence what your desires should be, you give them power over you.  Advertising controls television.  I refuse to let it control me.

Reason #3: Watching television is a one-way conversation.

Have you ever had an argument with someone who would not even listen to your side of a story?  Was it like talking to a brick wall?  Was it maddening and frustrating when you did not get a response?  What did it feel like to be disempowered and disenfranchised in that way?

Back when I watched TV, I was passively letting everything I saw into my head.  Sure, I could change a channel, but every channel created its own programming.  Every show had its own propaganda and cultural agenda whether I agreed with it or not.

Television has never answered any of my questions .  .  .

In the most ethnically diverse country in the world, why do white people portray the VAST MAJORITY of roles in American television? Are they the most deserving of that privilege?

How the heck does everyone have perfect hair ALL OF THE TIME?

Why does MTV exist when music is now the least of its concerns?

How in the world is FOX News considered a legitimate news source?

Why are the Kardashians important?

Do we really have to have HUNDREDS of TV shows and channels to choose from?

I am not a fan of one-sided conversations.   My thoughts and concerns have value, and I would rather explore and exchange them in ways that are substantive and worthwhile.

For the record, I am not trying to convince anyone of the evils of television. These are all just the reasons why it is intentionally not a part of my life.

If I am not watching television, I have time for a more active existence .  .  .

Conversations with friends and loved ones.

Reading books.

Playing LOTS of music on my piano.

Writing for school and on this blog.

Art and photography.

Baking delicious quiches.

Cuddling with my cat.

Exercising.

Napping.

Studying for school.

Taking meaningful actions to better myself.

In the end, my worldview and my well being are my own to mold.  Television, with all of its tantalizing treasures, has no say in these matters, and this is fine by me.

GR_Initials_Green

Life Changes

September 17, 2016

Simple Living

With fewer posts on social media over the last month, I have been very quiet lately.  Some big changes have transpired in my life during this time, and my days have been full.

For starters, I vacated my apartment in Nashville.  It was a cozy little home that was affordable by Nashville’s exorbitant standards and conveniently located close to four major highways, as well as a Dunkin Donuts down the hill where I would get hazelnut coffee on the weekends.  I also left a fulfilling day job and incredibly sweet coworkers who tearfully sent me off on my way.

Why did I leave all of this?

Where have I gone then?

Well, here .  .  .

sassafras_view

My cat Steinway and I have moved to a rural home southeast of Nashville to live with my boyfriend MaxZine.  I have set up shop in a house that rests deep in a holler, sufficiently far enough from where civilization makes all of its fussy demands.  Here in this place, we enjoy fresh vegetables and aromatic blooms from a well-tended garden, a creek where dogs like to wade and splash water with their tales, winding beaten paths, and panoramic views of Tennessee’s short, but pretty, mountains.

It is so quiet here too.

Crickets, frogs, summer breezes, and wild unknowns sing their songs in these parts, adorning a gentle silence that maintains dominion over everything.

I’ve lived far too long at the mercy of modernization.  My new home takes me back to my childhood roots when I grew up in a tropical rain forest surrounded by a massive blue ocean.  Only now, without the ocean and far less rain, there is endless greenery high above and deep below.  Nature abounds as it did in my life so long ago.  I’m loving every minute of it.

Oh yeah, there is one other thing.  I have enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University.  As a sophomore, I’m currently engaged in a full load of classes that include a humanities course, a survey of US history, and audio production, among others.  This is a chapter in my life that is still writing itself.  I’ll share more about this later.

Until I am done with school, my main focus every day will be my studies and my music.  I will be working on lots of new songs and hope to play a smattering of shows over the next year.

All of these changes are intended to focus my life towards what I hold dear.  I value loving relationships, learning, music, creativity, simple living, and mindfulness.  I truly want to live in ways that center around these needs.

So then, this is where I am.

Thank you for following along.  There will be so much more to come.