Focused Living, One Month at a Time

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Challenge #15, September 2012: RISING & SHINING


I will get up every day and get outside to mindfully watch the sunrise.

“Each time dawn appears, the mystery is there in its entirety.
-Rene Daumal

What up with this “Challenge”?
How hard can it be, seriously - set the alarm and get up EVERY single day before sunrise in order to throw on some sweats, splash water on my face, make coffee, and walk down the street to catch the show streaming live from the east?  Not so hard if you’re used to it, but that wasn’t me.  My work (and workout, and travel) schedule varies, and I have been known to sleep in past 8-ish on occasion… 
So getting in the habit of rising early and outdoors was indeed a challenge for my scheduling consistency, which is a topic I wanted to improve on.  Happy to report it worked - eventually. I did actually miss 3 days out of the first 15 due to inexplicable forces, but after a few weeks it got a lot easier – and totally worth it. My brain plans to stick to the early rising; I hope my body will concur.

Dawn Patrol
Transforming into (yes, it did happen!) a “Morning Person
Tai Chi Class
involved being out there - my usual routine was to walk out the pier and sit or stand and watch the sky, the ocean, the beach for the changes taking place as the sun showed up to claim the day.  One of the first things I noticed was A LOT of members of the dawn patrol out there, every single day. A few folks seemed to be doing something along the lines of what I did, but most of them had their own routines and whether they walked, ran, cycled, swam, surfed, SUP'd, boot-camped, tai-chied - the dawn was just a temporal backdrop.   Some of the days I was one of these active types too, ocean swimming and watching the sun rise over the hillside as I breathed to the right, or running on the strand, grateful for the morning’s coolness during this scorching month. A few other regular cast of morning characters included metal-detector guy, recyclables-collector guy, and the pair of elderly ladies who sat on the same bench every morning, chatting and probably solving the worlds most pressing problems, or at least those of their kids and grandkids.

Surf PE - lucky groms
These morning people seemed friendlier too, maybe because they were not yet engrossed in their busy day or face down in their smart phones.  I truly appreciated the simple interaction of exchanging an eye-to-eye “Good Morning” with neighbors, friends and random strangers I encountered along my walking route.  And I especially enjoyed the time appreciating all of it with my partner, who is already by nature a morning person.  Several times we walked together, and when I would marvel at something I hadn’t noticed before like the subtle lighting changes across the sky, or the pelican peloton gliding just inches over the glassy swell, he simply sighed and exclaimed, “Welcome to my world.” 

 Worms Caught
A few of my favorite early bird moments, in no particular order:
  • Walking all the way down to the Hermosa Pier way before the official Coastal Cleanup Day  started 9AM, just doing my own personal cleanup along the way – any bottles, papers or whatever in my view shed was picked up and put in a nearby trash can.  I think the pelican at the end of the Hermosa pier whispered thank you to me, but I can’t be 100% sure.
  • On that same walk, along the way I stopped to take part in the Wishing Box – a wooden mailbox with a notebook and pen attached, and a sign encouraging us passersby to drop a wish in the box.  I did, and it has partially come true already.  Just something unexpected I wouldn’t have likely noticed otherwise, just a cool random idea.
Wispy-ness and Puffy-ness
  • The clouds, all wispy and puffy and shape-shifty – they were awesome!  Most days (except for a few foggy un-rises) they changed color from rosy-peach to cantaloupe to lavender and finally to their paper-white standard, against solid blue.
  • The one Sunday I ran at dawn then ocean swam just after – when the sky was so clear and the ocean visibility was equally amazing.  We saw so many bat rays, and silvery sardines flickering around us, it was simply an awesome morning to be outside for so many reasons.
  • The lighting change as the month progressed.  On September first, sunrise here was 6:27AM, by the end of the month it was at 6:47AM.  My alarm settings therefore changed periodically, from 5:50 AM the first day to 6:10AM on the last day.  The worms got to sleep in a bit more by the end of the month, and so did I. 

  • And today, the last day of the month, I watched the full moon set behind the pier at just about the same time as the sun rose over the hill from the other direction - simply magical.

How about you – any early bird observations?  Are you a card-carrying member of the dawn patrol?  And I hope you enjoy the additional pictures this month, just too many great moments captured to pick just one!  As always, comments are most welcome.  And thanks for your time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Challenge #14, August 2012: COUNTING CONTENT

I will write 10,000 words total -  all new writing for current and future endeavors

“Writing is learning to say nothing, more cleverly each day.” – William Allingham

Why "10,000" Words?
As I mentioned in the intro, one of the reasons I started this blog was to do more writing, and producing a new post (even if only once a month at this point) is a way to be accountable to this goal – even if I am a bit tardy for August, whoops!  Along with everything else going on (who isn’t busy these days?), I discovered that I really needed to sit down and explore and learn some new focusing methods in order to really get it all done – the writing here, the writing I do for work, and all the writing to come for future projects I have in mind.  These posts are usually about 600-900 words so doing 11-15 of that length over a month (an average of exactly 322.6 words a day) words of new content should be manageable, right?  write?  Hmmm.

How It Went
This isn’t the first time I’ve written as a challenge, but a word count goal is much different than a time goal like the previous version - where I could count all those minutes of massaging and thesaurusizing and rearranging and editing and re-editing.  Nope, this was getting it all out there, no matter how long it takes.
The first 3 days no problem – met (went over actually) my daily goal of 323 words a day.  Then I started slipping and missing days and reconfiguring the new word per day average needed and would catch up by busting out a few 12-1300 hundred word sessions and then I got busy with work and was too mentally exhausted to try and generate new creative stuff also and then I got over, and then, etc.  Let’s just say that by the last three days of the month I had to average more than 1000 words a day to get it all done, which I did.  While on vacation.  In Kauai, Hawaii.  Distraction much?
The hardest part wasn’t sitting down and starting (although that was daunting on a few days), but rather staying focused while writing.  Fortunately I tried a new method that really helped with this – the pomodoro technique. For me, twenty-five minutes is just about the right amount of time to solidly focus on one task before needing a little break.  I will keep using this technique in the future.

What I Actually Wrote
The majority of the actual content will be shared at a another venue in the future, after a bunch of much needed editing…But here’s a brief sample of one piece, from a contest I entered (never heard back):  tell a travel-related story in exactly 50 words.
I plunge into the blue at Ni’ihau.  Eighty feet down the scene unfolds; a curious monk seal plays with our stray bubbles, dozens of colorful fish flutter and nibble on a swirling eel carcass, a sandbar shark circles casually nearby.  Splendor in action, awesome to behold.  Breathe in, breathe out.
The rest of the 9550+ words were a combination of a few other travel essays and planning for my next blog – stay tuned by email or RSS for details early next year…all 5 of you out there.  :)

Unexpected Results and Findings
·      Over 6,000 of the 10,000 words comprised one piece – a story I had a lot of fun writing, actually a rewrite of a famous fairy tale for modern (and slightly wackier) times.  When I started I had no idea it would be that long, but it all seemed to want to spill out of the keyboard, so I went with it.  Did I mention how fun it was to write?  And getting it DONE (I had been meaning to do this for a while) was the most satisfying accomplishment for the month.
·      I really can write anywhere – the couch, the dining room table, the bed.  It really didn’t matter where, it was just keeping my butt down there and focused for a while (and occasionally turning off the wireless connection helped too)
·      That feeling of being in “flow” that creative types describe, I got there a few times, and it was indeed glorious – lost in making something new, with disregard for how it really ends up, but just loving the process itself, gotta go for more of this, it’s better than even a great martini or two or three.
·      Writing a significant volume of creative, high quality content isn’t easy for me, must keep at it regularly to get better and more efficient (duh!).

So who’s the Rooster?
Ahaaaa, I thought you might ask!  Bruce is his given (by me) name – he was the subject of the final piece I was writing, the very last night at 9PM Hawaii time on the 31st - thank goodness I had those extra three hours there instead of being on the west coast!  It was late, and we had paddled and hiked and swam and mai-tai’d and seen more than a few wild roosters and chickens along the way throughout our stay so far in Kauai.  I started thinking about the island from his point of view, Bruce the Rooster, and my last few hundred words composed the beginning of that story.  It needs work, but the subject matter kept me awake and still clicking away drowsily on the keyboard until I got to 10,000 and exclaimed COCK-A-DOODLE DOOOOOOONE! 

And you, any word count or writing stories?  Deadline pressures?  Thanks for sharing, all 5 of you...