The Joy in Doing Things


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There’s a line from the film Return to Me (Hunt, 2000) that goes, “I am blessed with work.”

I’ve been thinking on these words a lot this new year, as I make attempts to both do and be more. More cooking, more reading, more cleaning, more writing. I’d been looking at my habits, and saw a life shaped around inactivity, rest, and dreams. The best parts of the day were doing-nothing and going-to-bed.

Surprise, surprise: this cultivation of sloth led to exhaustion, boredom, and an unhealthy amount of time playing Minecraft. I had to ask myself whether or not I wanted anything more out of life than potato chips, video games, and naps when I wasn’t at either job. I looked around my home – my real home, not my Minecraft home (which is adorable, by the way) – and there was so much to do. Dirty dishes piled in the sink. Baskets and baskets of laundry that hadn’t been folded in weeks. A fridge full of ingredients that needed to be cooked into meals before they went bad. Stacks of books waiting to be read. Empty pages that needed filling.

All these things, and I didn’t want to do any of them. This total lack of interest struck me as peculiar. I mean, household chores aren’t exactly a rollicking good time, but they’re not torture. And reading and writing has always been an important part of my life. But, looking back at the past winter – at the habits I’d built, at what I’d taught my brain to expect and enjoy – it seemed obvious that I’d not want to do anything. I’d spent months taking pleasure in time off, in staying home, in avoiding errands and effort and anything that even vaguely resembled work.

But there is joy in work. If I had trained my brain out of enjoying things it used to take pleasure in, maybe I could train it back into better habits. (Always harder, but possible, I think.)

I folded my laundry. I like the smell of clean clothes. I like looking in the closet and seeing my good shirts hanging up so they don’t wrinkle, neatly sorted by season and color.

I did the dishes. I like that I am the only dishwasher in the kitchen. I like that there’s a big window above the sink, looking out into the neighborhood. I like that when I take care of the dishes before the Husband gets to them, I won’t have to wonder where he put my pots and pans and favorite utensils.

I cleaned out my fridge, and I made delicious food. I love delicious food. Potato soup and chicken pot pie and baked macaroni and cheese and shepherd’s pie and tacos-in-pasta shells. I love looking at something I made and then getting to eat it.

I chose a book to read and read it, and it made me smile. I like books. I like starting a new book. I like rereading an old book. I like underlining ideas and turns of phrase and scribbling responses in the margins. I like coming across old thoughts of years-ago-me, and seeing if me-now still agrees.

I scrubbed the shower and drove to the grocery store and got my hair cut. I looked for new recipes to learn. I cleaned up my messy study. I went to the library. I went for a walk. I finished another chapter of rough draft, even though I didn’t feel like it.

I did things. I made things. I like doing and making. I like having done and having made. I like having something to write about, in the journal my mother gave me for Christmas.

The joy in work is different than the joy in rest. And I do love rest. But maybe I can find joy in work more often, now?

A week ago, while eating breakfast and drinking coffee in morning sunshine, I came across this ad in a magazine:



I found that last bit (“A Clean, Easy garden With No Work!”) puzzling. I don’t do much gardening, but I have fond memories of helping my mother (kind of) in her garden:


This gorgeous thing, with apple trees and farmland beyond.

Of course the point of a garden is the fruit and the vegetables and getting to cook and eat and can and such. But some of my enjoyment of gardening stemmed from the work itself. The feel of crumbly, sun-warmed earth between your toes as you plant corn. The smell of the tomato plants when you pick Sweet 100s. The dirty, sweaty satisfaction of uprooting weeds with your bare hands.

Something about the idea of a clean, easy garden with no work makes me sad. But it helps propel me. It makes me ask, “What can I do? What do I want to do? What do I need to do? How can I want to do what I need to do?”

It helps me remember that I am blessed with work. My home. My household. My jobs. My books.

And hey! This blog. =]

May you find blessing in your work today.

Farewell, Old “Friend”


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Recently, I’ve acquired a new cell phone. It’s nice. But I’ll miss the old one, which I bought for $68 shortly after graduating college:

Cell phone

Small. A bit chunky. Always felt like I could throw it at someone’s head if I needed a weapon.

Our relationship was . . . complicated. I don’t like cell phones, as a rule, mostly because they track you, and they pester you with noise, and they make people think you’re available. To talk. To look something up. To check emails. To come to work. But I needed something simple and inexpensive to make/receive calls and texts, so I set up an account with Ting, ordered something refurbished from their website, and that’s been my phone for . . . almost five years now.

We’ve had some good times. Like when I put it in my purse and wouldn’t check it for two days. Or when I dropped it and it popped apart – phone, battery, back casing – but I just put it together again and it worked fine, screen barely scratched. Or when it was ringing and I didn’t want to answer so I threw it across the room so hard it broke apart just like when I’d drop it in parking lots. Or when the Random Boy (now turned Husband) put music on it for me, so I could listen on the bus at 6 AM, on the way to Steak ‘n Shake. Or the way it ran out of battery the one time I needed it, so I had to borrow the landline at a campus help desk. Or the time it conspired with my right earlobe to hang up on a friend eight times during our conversation. Or the way it started putting sun-spots on all my pictures. And refused to talk to the internet. And wouldn’t process photos if they were sent by someone else.

New Phone is twice the size of Old Phone. The Husband picked it out for me and when it arrived I asked him why it was so big.

Husband: “That’s small for a phone, dear.”

Me: “It’s the size of a electronic keyboard! It could double as a coffee table if we gave it legs! It will never fit in my pockets!”

Husband: “Nothing fits in your pockets.”

New Phone is young and fresh and has not been dropped multiple times on several varieties of pavement or thrown across the room or forgotten in my purse for days at a time. It’s happy to connect to the internet and processes pictures sent to me from other people and it’s communicated a seemingly genuine desire to learn about me, so all the articles it offers will actually be relevant to my interests.

Um, thanks? I guess?

I don’t like phones, but Old Phone was cranky and terrible so I feel like we understood each other, by never understanding each other and not really caring to bother. New Phone is almost certainly going to be a bother.

Oh, well. I’ll get used to it. Yay progress.

Quote from a Current Read



“This is related to the phenomenon of the Professional Smile, a national pandemic in the service industry; and noplace in my experience have I been on the receiving end of as many Professional Smiles as I am on the Nadir: maitre d’s, Chief Stewards, Hotel Managers’ minions, Cruise Director – their P.S’s all come on like switches at my approach. But also back on land at banks, restaurants, airline ticket counters, on and on. You know this smile – the strenuous contraction of circumoral fascia w/ incomplete zygomatic involvement – the smile that doesn’t quite reach the smiler’s eyes and that signifies nothing more than a calculated attempt to advance the smiler’s own interests by pretending to like the smilee. Why do employers and supervisors force professional service people to broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only consumer in whom high doses of such a smile produce despair?”

~ David Foster Wallace, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Footnote 40

Picture for Blog

If you can’t get the Professional Smile into your eyes, smile with your eyes closed.

I don’t read David Foster Wallace very often, but when I do, I reread this bit about the Professional Smile, because, as a waitress, I find this perspective on being smiled at fascinating. I do a lot of smiling at work. It is, frankly, an important part of the atmosphere. And it’s weird to think that smiling at some people causes them to feel despair.

I think of this footnote while I’m waiting tables. And, thinking of this footnote, I try to smile a real smile. Not the Professional Smile – the one that clicks on and off like a light switch, the one that never reaches the eyes – but a smile that’s really-and-truly connected to joy.

That kind of smile is unrelated to circumstance. It doesn’t depend on the way people behave, or what they say, or how they say it, and it doesn’t depend on how much they tip at the end of their meal. That smile comes from the joy-down-in-my-heart – the active choice to be of good cheer.

That smile is the one in Nat King Cole’s old song (“Smile,” in case you were wondering): the one that “lights up your face with gladness.” It’s the happy thought that launches you into the sky. It’s the Patronus Charm that lets you walk among Dementors: chin-up, fearless.

A Professional Smile pretends to like the smilee. A real smile doesn’t pretend. A real smile actually likes the smilee. A real smile finds something, anything, the tiniest little thing (even if it’s simply the fact that the smilee will have to leave at some point) to like.

Real smiles have power. Real smiles are like the dawn of the fifth day at Helm’s Deep, when the sun breaks over the hilltop, and Gandalf and Shadowfax and the Riders of Rohan rush into the valley and send the Uruk-hai packing.

Don’t smile a Professional Smile.

Use your power.

Make it real.

Writing Advice (For Me, Not You)



Things will distract you.

Write anyway.

But to make it easier on yourself, try and avoid these distractions, if you possibly can.

This week, apparently, I need to avoid watching anything – and I mean anything – that has a remote possibility of starring, co-starring, or cameo-ing any actor with a certain kind of irresistible face. Some television serves as inspiration. Other television just makes me lie face-down on the sofa, giggling helplessly into a pillow.

*hides remote*

*focuses on next chapter of rough draft*




That is all.


Mistakes You Make While Trying to Read Yourself to Sleep


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You’re in bed, reading, and . . . 

you’re only going to read a few more pages because you really have to go to sleep. You have work in the morning. Or classes. Or  children. Or exercise. Or something. You shouldn’t be up past 2 AM because you need to be rested and ready-to-go tomorrow. But you’re reading, and suddenly things start happening. Like, Huge Book Things start happening – in the book – and your desire to go to sleep is consumed by wide-eyed wonder. Suddenly, there’s so much awesome going on all at once that you can’t stop turning pages.

In the morning, you are bleary and sad and confused and coffee doesn’t help. But it was worth it.

You’re in bed, reading, and . . . 

you’ll stop as soon as you get to a chapter break. It doesn’t matter how cliffhangery, or creative, or cruel the end of the chapter is – it’s a stopping place and you can pick up where you left off the next day.

But then there are no chapter breaks. And the book is put together so magnificently you didn’t even notice and now you’ll just have to read the whole thing tonight.

You’re in bed, reading, but . . . 

it’s a short story, so no big deal. You can read the whole thing in one go and afterwards, you shall have peace.

Afterwards, you lie awake, staring at the ceiling, so overwhelmed by rage or misery or both – sleep is impossible. You get up to write something to “fix” it: essentially, a story of your own that says, “I’m sorry, Author; you were obviously trying to accomplish something here, but it’s time to step aside and let someone else handle this. Someone who’s not a – ”

*chokes down a string of words that will need to be edited out later*

You think of your story as fanfiction, except the kind that comes from hot, bubbling fury instead of squealing, “I loved it!” joy.

It makes you feel better, but now it’s time to get up.

You’re in bed, reading, and . . . 

you’re almost done with the second book in a trilogy and you’re so close to the end you can’t stop now – it’s so good and you can’t wait to see how the author is going to resolve everything because seriously, everything is on fire and it’s going to take something really cool and miraculous to make it all come out okay by the end of –

You finish a chapter and realize there aren’t any more chapters. You flip pages, dumbfounded – growing desperate – looking for some kind of surprise continuation hidden in the back of the book, but there isn’t any – the book is over. No resolution, everything is still on fire, and oh, well, too bad. You’ll just have to read the next book.

You wonder if there are any local bookstores open at 3 AM.

There aren’t.

You’re in bed, reading, but . . . 

it’s not a story, it’s non-fiction! You’re expanding your horizons! Gaining knowledge! Experiencing new perspectives and learning about new points of view!

You hate it.

More awake than you were after your morning coffee, you stay up to write an essay detailing why Certain People are so Wrong-Headed they force you to Explain Things.

In short sentences. In simple, clear terms. You’re so calm. So Obviously Right.

“Will you just – could you just – just -” 

*angry scribbles*

*writing so fast you can’t keep up with what you’re trying to say*

*sentences devolve into angry stick-figure illustrations of your ideas*

It all Makes Sense.

So. Much. Sense.

You’re in bed, reading, and . . .

there’s food, in the book. Breakfast, or a picnic, or a feast – some excuse for the author to lavishly describe meals. You close the book and turn off the light, but now all you can think about is how empty your stomach is. You tell your stomach to stop growling. It already had supper. You’re really very tired. You’ll eat again tomorrow.

Five minutes later, you drag your exhausted self downstairs to whip up a simple three-course dinner.

You’re in bed, reading, and . . . 

it’s delightful. Every bit. You feel like you’ve made a life-long friend, like someone finally gets you, like you found that thing you were looking for, or remembered something you didn’t know you’d forgotten.

You get up to write something like it – to write something one-tenth as good. It’s all you can ever hope to be as a writer.

You call your family, even though it’s after midnight, to tell them to read what you just read. They’re upset because it’s after midnight and they thought it was an emergency.

You don’t care. You start reading aloud to them, over the phone, while they yell at you.

It’s just as good the second time.


The Going-to-End-Up-Slain-by-The-Evil Overlord-Club


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The high school parking lot was mostly empty as Ann, free from detention, walked across it, out to Mrs. Martin’s garden, where a rickety old picnic table sat on the grass. She plunked her backpack on the bench, pulled out her book, and settled down to wait for her grandfather, but she only enjoyed one new paragraph before Marcus sat down beside her and began to spread a slew of notebook paper out on the table’s weather-beaten surface.

“I’ve been working on these the whole time,” he said, shuffling things around as if the scribbled notes, maps, and diagrams would make more sense that way. “Everything about Josh that might be relevant. Our next step is research, right? Someone will have to distract him, while someone else goes through his stuff and interviews Mr. and Mrs. Larson. I’m also thinking we’ll have to run some experiments. The problem is figuring out how to set them up so they don’t actually endanger—”

Both of Grace’s hands slapped down atop his papers as she leaned over the table, glaring. “Leave her alone, Marcus.”


Grace shoved the papers away from Ann. “No means no, Idiot.”

“Yes,” Ann said, also glaring.

“I, on the other hand,” Grace said, sitting across from them, “am willing to listen to you.” She tugged a piece of paper away from his pile and inspected it, eyebrows raised. “Is that supposed to be a car or a donkey?”

“It’s—gimme that.”

She held it out of his reach. “You think Josh is an Evil Overlord?”

“A Chosen One,” Marcus said, while Ann skootched over, nose back in her book.

She resisted the temptation to say, “The Chosen One.”

“A what?”

“A Chosen One. You know—the orphan kid with special powers who grows up on a farm and has to save the world from an Evil Overlord.”

The Evil Overlord,” Ann said crankily, nose still in her book. “You’re making it sound like there’s a host of Overlords and Chosen Ones running wild through the world. That’s not how it works.”

Grace tossed the drawing aside and swatted through the rest of Marcus’s paper. “Josh doesn’t have special powers.”

Marcus pointed to a particular page. “Ann says they might have to be triggered, somehow. I’m trying to work out an experiment.”

Grace frowned. “Are you bad at drawing, or are you really going to run him over with a tractor?”

Ann groaned, face-down in her book. “That’s a terrible idea, Marcus. Anything that does The Evil Overlord’s job for him is—”

“Didn’t Todd almost back over Josh with a tractor, years ago? You don’t think Todd’s an Evil Overlord, do you?”

Ann could hear Marcus looking at her, and sighed, lifting her head. “It’s extremely unlikely that The Evil Overlord is someone from Waterdale. On rare occasions, The Evil Overlord is secretly a relative, but it’s far more common for him to be an outside force—some kind of rising tyrant seeking world domination.”

“What’s this guy got against Josh?” Grace said, obviously skeptical. “Josh’s the nicest kid in town.”

“The Evil Overlord doesn’t care how nice The Chosen One is. It doesn’t matter; it’s not anything personal. It’s that The Chosen One is the one person who can, for whatever reason, stop The Evil Overlord from . . Evil Overlording.”

Grace rolled her eyes. “What’s Josh going to do? And how’s he going to do it if Marcus runs him over?”

“I’m not going to run him over,” Marcus growled, bent over the pages with a pencil, scribbling. “I’ll think of something else.”

Grace propped her chin in her hand, watching Marcus write. “Have you two ever fought?”

Marcus frowned. “He’s not super-strong, if that’s what you’re asking. Although it’s been a while since we—”

“Not physically fighting—like, arguing. I mean, have you ever observed him when he’s upset?”

Emotionally?” Marcus said. He gave a little sideways glance in Ann’s direction. “Well, to be honest, these past couple weeks haven’t been great. But they haven’t turned him into a superhero.”

“Hmmm . . .” Grace shifted to look at Ann, eyes narrowed. “How are you doing?”

“Me?” Ann shrugged. “I’m fine. It’s fine.”

“Hey—whatever. But breaking up’s rough. You two were adorable together.”

“I want to stay out of it.”

Marcus rapped the table with his pencil. “But how are we supposed to do this without you? You’re the one that knows everything.”

“Once the First Love dies, everyone muddles through somehow. All I’m asking you to do is muddle through before that. And I don’t know everything. It’s all guesswork until The Evil Overlord or his minions show up.”

“When will that be?”

I don’t know.” Ann stood, swiping her book up as her grandfather’s truck turned into the parking lot. “You two can have your club, but I’m not a member, okay?”

Marcus scrambled to his feet. “What if you consulted? Once in a great while? With Grace instead of me, since I’m doomed.”

“You’re doomed?” Grace said, intrigued. “Why are you doomed?”

Ann hefted her backpack and marched away.

“Is that no or yes?

Ann spun, walking backwards toward the running truck. “Once in a great while?”

“Practically never!”


“So, yes?”



Note: no actual farms have been or will be harmed in the making of this story.


*This has been Part Six of Ann versus The Evil Overlord

Quote from a Current Read



“Why do you think I live in an old 1870s farmhouse now? Or drive a 1956 Chevy or play guitar and write songs and stories about small-town life? It’s all part of getting back there. Finding my way back to that place in my head when everything was good, everything was right. And if it’s true that we can’t ever really go back, we find a way to bring the past into our future.”

~ Rory Feek, This Life I Live

I think I recognize that feeling.

Tricking Your Brain into Producing While Procrastinating



Step One

Realize that your compulsion to put things off isn’t going to magically go away.

Step Two

Put off doing anything about your procrastinating ways until tomorrow, when you’ll be able to tackle the problem with a clear head.

Step Three

Several weeks later, try to come to grips with the fact that your procrastinating ways, much like your health and your time and your money and the cleanliness of your bathroom, will have to be managed, but that this same tendency will continually interfere with your attempts to do something about it.

Step Four

Take a moment to admire this strange will inside you, which is so dedicated to not doing some things it does all kinds of other things instead.

Step Five

Understand that a dedication to not doing some things can, worst case scenario, lead to an untimely death.

Step Six

Allow that to frighten you, a little.


No, it’s fine. Everything is exactly where I want it.

Step Seven

Understand that in order to put off some things, you have to busy yourself with other things. Your brain is willing to do something, as long as that something isn’t that one particular thing you can’t possibly do right now because reasons. For example, you can’t possibly do any writing, because you have to call the dentist and make cookies and wash dishes and fold all your laundry and research other words to use instead of “just.”

Step Eight

Understand that the compulsion to put things off just (dang it – see, this research is important) wants to put things off – it’s not quite as concerned with what it’s putting off. So with a little mental switcheroosing, suddenly you’re not putting off writing, you’re putting off making cookies. And calling the dentist. And folding your laundry.

Step Nine

Your brain will be suspicious of this trickery, but your procrastinating ways are so quick to kick in, you end up writing while also feeling that light, airy, “Not today!” high that comes from deciding to not get something done.

Step Ten

Repeat as needed, with all kinds of different things, for the rest of your life.