From Overstimulated to Activated

When you consider how much information is around us, and how our brain functions to filter and prioritize all these things, it’s a wonder that we can get anything done. It takes an incredible amount of energy and focus to do something or learn something with excellence, consideration, and passion, and then of course to follow through on what’s been done or learned in some meaningful, valuable way. So often, we (or, at least people like me) feel pulled in a myriad of directions, only half-attentive, distracted, giving only a surface level thought to what we’ve read or seen or heard. If anyone out there is like me, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the volume of information pouring in from every direction. Predictably, technology is at the center of this overabundance of stimuli, coupled with a fast-paced social structure propelled by competition, and the subsequent shifting of our brains, our consciousness, our unconsciousness, constantly sorting through it all.

I read an article, The Consequences of Living in an Overstimulated Society (collective-evolution dot com). Ironically, on this page, surrounding the article about over-stimulation, you will find 3 social media links in two different locations, 1 email link, 7 advertisements with links, 6 menu links, and an intro and link to 3 more related articles. The page looked so dreadfully busy, I almost didn’t read the article. But, we have gotten accustomed to that, haven’t we? It wouldn’t look right, wouldn’t look legitimate, without all the links and buttons and bling.

The evidence that my mind splatters into multiple directions could be proven by what I’ve deliberately watched or looked up on the computer so far today, within a few hours (minus email and all of its splatterings, which I limit). And the reasons I looked at all this seem quite responsible and reasonable on the surface. That’s just the thing; it’s all on the surface, unless another step is taken.

This morning I listened to a lecture about sentence structure; read news about the hurricane; read advice about how often to clean your bath or shower (which led to how often to clean a whole buttload of things–thank you, Martha Stewart, for trying to replace my writing time with chores); read an article about Eliud Kipchoge’s new marathon world record at the Berlin Marathon; looked up how often the American Heart Association recommends eating fish (twice a week); read an article about a new MRI technology that will predict outcomes after cardiac arrest; looked up how much it cost to pressure wash a house; and finally, looked at a cooking club for kids with gift ideas in mind for my youngest. And then the article about overstimulation. Ha!

The only way to transform information from surface-level to value-added level is to do something—change a behavior, share the information, or take action. So, with that, I need to write better sentences, clean more often (ugh), donate to hurricane relief, eat fish twice a week, share the MRI article with patients or coworkers, schedule a pressure wash on our house, and sign Carolyn up for the cooking club. With these steps, my newest brain connections won’t be left idle at the surface, but will extend and enrich and enhance at deeper levels than before. Now, I just need time and money.

What about you, readers? Are you overwhelmed with stimulation? What’s the last thing you read or looked up? What are you going to do about it?


What Really Happens on a 12-Mile Run


You start off the day drinking fluids and timing your breakfast at least an hour before you run, so you don’t taste vanilla yogurt and granola the whole time.

You convince yourself that two cups of coffee is almost as good as drinking water.

You laugh as you hit one mile because thinking “only eleven miles to go” sounds absurd.

You feel good through about mile six, then things get interesting.

Your feet cramp.

Your hamstrings don’t want to extend your legs very far.

Your calves feel like two inflexible blocks of wood.

You pass a catering restaurant and smell burgers, which makes your mouth water—even at 9 o’clock in the morning.

You pass other runners, lifting your hand in a half-wave and smiling, happy that you found another person who appreciates the level of commitment/insanity required to run in 75% humidity.

Your hands swell.

Your face feels like you’re holding it over a burning stove.

Your bulky GPS watch is sliding up and down from sweat.

Your shorts feel weird.

You momentary stop to stretch out your calves before they cramp up, and as you bend over, your back is so tight you feel like you are ninety years old.

Your train of thought is amazingly sporadic, a jumble of ideas and whims and observations.

You are too tired to change your playlist, so you are listening to the same songs over and over again.

You see a mean looking dog barking and running across an unfenced yard in your direction, but breathe a sigh of relief that it’s been trained not to attack runners on the jogging path.

A bug flies up underneath your visor, so you flap it out while trying to maintain your pace.

You catch your reflection in a glass door and wonder why you don’t look at all like the runners in Runner’s World.

You repeatedly check your distance on your watch on the last mile because God forbid you do even a tenth of a mile too long.

You stop your watch right at 12.00 miles and hobble the rest of the way to the car, crossing the parking lot diagonally so you don’t have to walk more than necessary.

In the car, you sit on a towel because you are soaked.

You have the unique ability to scrape white salt off your red face.

Your legs don’t really feel like driving and your glutes feel achy and your second toe on your right foot feels bruised, but you make it home.

You can’t move very quickly the rest of the day because your lower body is not cooperating.

And then you plan the next long distance run.

Because you are a runner.

And that makes you just a little mad.

Just In Case You’re Bored

I often set myself up for disappointment. How, you may ask, or perhaps you couldn’t care less and you are only reading this because you are completely bored, but if you are bored I need your advice. The reason I set myself up for disappointment is because I don’t know how to be bored. Honestly. This has become a serious matter.

Last Friday, I had an appointment for an oil change, tire rotation, and state inspection on my Jeep. I am one of those people who sits in the lobby of the dealership while the service department works on the vehicle. If you’ve never waited in a dealership lobby, it’s the confined room with a wicked-bright light and a table with a Keurig machine and a flat screen TV blaring CNN, so you have to listen to Robin Meade repeat stories about silly, senseless, sick or sad people, and every once in a while you hear someone else is the lobby go “tsh” when something really silly, senseless, sick or sad comes on. I estimated my appointment would take an hour or so, although it usually ends up longer than that which is why I pack a backpack of stuff to do. I packed no less than four writing books, a writing workbook, two Writer’s Digest magazines, one Runner’s World magazine, and a brand new notebook to take notes, or, heck, start writing a new story. Based on the sheer weight of my bag, you’d think I’d be staying for a week. In the hour and forty-five minutes of waiting, I ended up reading two writing articles, one which inspired me to look up a book’s plot line on my phone for a bit, and wrote some notes, which I didn’t finish.

This is only one example.

I do the same the days that I work (let’s just call them 13-14 hour shifts because I have no idea what a 12 hour shift looks like). I’ll bring a bag every day with items to read or a notebook or magazines in case I get bored (ha!), but really these things are just taking a nice trip back and forth to the hospital twice a week. It’s like a mini vacation for them, going places where they don’t have to do anything, don’t have to be opened, don’t have to instruct or enlighten or entertain me at all. How do they do that?

When I go to my kids’ schools for any program, and I think I might have to wait for a precious few minutes before it starts, I’ll bring a book or magazine and get frustrated when they have to turn the auditorium lights down and I’ve only read one page.

When I go to Dunkin Donuts with my family after church, I will carry in the Washington Post so I can peruse the headlines while we are all eating and talking and planning the week, and I never get to read an article all the way through.

When I go to a staff meeting and have to wait five minutes for stragglers to come in before it starts, I’ll bring a book and sometimes a notebook, but I usually end up talking to coworkers instead, but I’m still prepared, just in case.

So, if you ever see me doing nothing, looking bored, staring off into space, it’s because I’m planning what to bring to space if I’m stuck there, because you better believe I won’t be bored. And they’ll have to build another cargo hold in the space shuttle for all my reading materials, you know, just in case.

What about you, readers? Do you know how to be bored or do you always have something to do?

The Breakfast Buffet, Please.

The concept of a buffet make sense, but the sense doesn’t translate well to my stomach, which is why I probably shouldn’t order a buffet, but it’s so fun!

My family and I ordered the breakfast buffet at Big Boy’s in Brooklyn, Michigan yesterday. We had just enough time to go out for breakfast before 11 am mass, and as we passed through the restaurant to our table, marching by the buffet, seeing steaming breakfast options and chocolate-covered strawberries, we solidified the time-saving decision that everyone order the buffet.

Now, stomach, the concept is simple: we already decided to spend $13 on food, so you have to make it worthwhile. You were with me when I ran 9 miles this morning (awesome run, BTW), and now you are empty and can make this happen. Cue stomach growl—check. Now, grab a plate.

I figured loading up on fruit first was a calculated strategy. Fruit is expensive. Chopping fruit at home is annoying and time consuming and potentially dangerous. But after choosing one piece of cantaloupe, one honeydew, one pineapple, three strawberries, three grapes, a spoonful of mandarin oranges and a mini muffin—because they were cute, I had a full plate—a very cheap, yet beautifully colored, rainbowy plate. After eating this and getting made fun of by my husband who manages to overload his plate with hot food, I went up for my second plate.

Again, stomach, let’s make this worthwhile. Scrambled eggs, one biscuit, a little gravy,  and one sausage patty, no bigger than my palm. Eat. Repeat. I said repeat. Repeat, damn it! Alas, after the second plate and a spoonful of Sarah’s strawberry breakfast parfait, my stomach was done. I think I ate about $6 worth of food—that’s the cost for the buffet for children under ten.

I did a little better than Hannah, my oldest daughter, though. She was having an off-day. Usually, buffets are her favorite—her time to come up with strange combinations that tend to involve an extravagant amount of carbs. She was off her game. She had way too much plate showing on her two dinky trips, and mostly she ate fruit. My husband volunteered Hannah pay for her own since she wasted money. When she whined that she had no money, the waiter suggested she wash dishes in the back. I don’t think anyone was paying attention to my lame performance, so I just laughed along with everyone else at Hannah’s predicament.

Well? What else could I do? I couldn’t defend her; I was too full.


No Such Thing As Failure

Our annual summer visit to Dearborn, Michigan always includes a day spent at Greenfield Village, a special outdoor historical museum. I love this museum. My mom worked there for over twenty years, I worked there as a teen, and I’ve been taking my kids there since they were in strollers. Every time I go, I learn something new or experience something different, but we also make time for the traditional train ride and a spin on the carousel, still running since 1913. And frozen custard, because, hello, it’s frozen custard.

The visit this year was just as fascinating as previous years, but I also read a sign that I won’t forget. At Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, his historic laboratory, it claims that Thomas Edison set a goal to create one great invention every six months and one minor invention every ten days. After googling the notion, I also found out that by the time he died, he had 1,093 patents and 3,500 notebooks full of ingenuity and experiments. It took 9,000 experiments to arrive at the incandescent light bulb and 50,000 to reach the alkaline storage cell battery. It has been recorded that when asked about his lack of results with perfecting the light bulb, Thomas Edison replied, “Results? Why, man, I’ve gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward . . . ”

Edison believed that out of quantity will come quality, and he wasn’t afraid of failure. He didn’t even use the word failure; he labelled every failed attempt as education gained and a step forward instead of a step back.

I don’t know if Edison was naturally this optimistic about failed attempts or if he had to program his mind regularly to believe it, but that’s what I would need to do to develop this philosophy in my own world. But, maybe, every time I feel like I’ve taken a step back or failed at an attempt, I could turn on a light switch and remember Thomas Edison’s inexhaustible persistence and chalk up the letdown as a learning opportunity and try again. And again. And again.

That, and maybe I should write one novel every six months and one chapter every ten days and believe that this will pay off one day. Who’s with me?


Being the Cool Kid

I had the pleasure of going to the Fauquier County Fair in Virginia this week. My middle daughter has been raising chickens for two years and entered a few in the competition as well as some art work. My other daughters also entered handmade items in the fine arts exhibit. They all won a few place awards, and they are all perfectly happy bringing home ribbons and smiles and memories of fair fun.

Plus, they didn’t have to pay for squat, and they are perfectly happy about that, too. Mom and Dad are out three-hundred bucks.

Meanwhile, in Emily’s head is a mass confusion of mixed emotions. My brain is like the Freak Out ride, rising up, falling down, twisting and lingering on the edge of turning 360 degrees.

Up to the sky for a second . . .

I absolutely loved the bull-riding rodeo, the women’s barrel racing on horses, the freestyle motorcyclists, the ATV rodeo, the hypnotist show, and the escape artist show. It was such a wonderful time for people with talent to show off, to have people cheering, to take risks. The bull riders were awesome, I don’t care who your are, and the energizing music gave them instant superstar status, even if they were tossed to the ground right out of the bull pen. (The cowboy hats did it for me, too. I think my husband needs to be a cowboy next Halloween ;))

But, even the ATV rodeo, which was mostly young adults, but also a few middle aged adults who probably had day jobs, they got a chance to ride around, kick up some dirt, and have a blast in front of a crowd. The fair is a time for kids to dream of what they could do someday if they really wanted to. The announcer for the freestyle motorcycles said: This is what we wanted to do since we were kids—get paid to ride bikes, and that’s what we do. So motivational! These people are living the dream—doing what they want to do with their lives. And they all work hard at it because it’s what they love.

And now we are coming down (and twisting) . . .

I know people can swap dreams midlife, the sky’s the limit, you can teach an old dog new tricks, yada yada. But in so many ways, I worry that it’s too late for me to tap out and try something else, something bigger even though a tiny voice inside of me is screaming that I want something more. Growing up, I was also not a great dreamer—I would talk myself out of dreams before they could even ignite. I am pessimistic, rational, logical, right-brained, and safe. I was always that way, getting good grades to get in a decent college, get a secure job, save for retirement, now invest time and money into the kids so they can dream. I don’t even dress wild, even with a part of me wanting to take risks with hair color and biker boots. But, overall, it feels unfulfilling. I also learned that God’s in charge, and He designed us all to do things according to His will, not ours. But I often ask Him—why do I feel so small? When is my breakthrough? Who gets to have their dreams come true? And are my dreams just my human brain coming up with stuff or are my dreams from You, and You are waiting for me to make them happen?

And I don’t get answers. Or maybe I’m getting them, and I don’t want to see them.

I suppose the 19 agent rejections is an answer. I did get that.

I keep getting asked to be charge nurse, but I keep turning it down. I do get that. (Yuck)

And up again . . .

I see the people who have made their dreams happen, and, in my eyes, they are the cool kids. They are the ones we all aspired to be. They are the sweaty cowboys walking by after a bull ride, thinking about the next chance they get to do it again. Someday I just want to pour my heart into something I plain, fat love to do, and I don’t care if I end up sweaty or bleeding, I just want to know that I made my dream happen. And I wouldn’t mind a cheering crowd; that would be a great answer.

Dear God, please make me one someday–a cool kid, not a bull rider.


When the iPod Stops

I’ll confess vehemently that I do not like technology. Of course I’m lying; I actually love technology when it works quickly and flawlessly. What irks me is having to keep up with the changes and upgrades in order to keep things working nicely. Being a middle-aged person and a veritable cheapskate who has learned that money does not grow on trees, I find this requirement akin to getting teeth pulled without lidocaine and then having to shell out money for it.

I don’t spend a lot of money on tech. I never waited in line for the newest model of anything—except I do look forward to the latest Saucony Guide Running shoes, but I have yet to see a line outside a store for those beauties. I have an ASUS laptop from 2013 with no frills, a standard PC—from 2012 which is getting tired, a printer from 2006 that HP can’t run updates on because its too old, and a cheap AT&T smartphone that only has enough memory for the preloaded apps and takes terrible pictures. When I see little kids holding their sweet little iPhones that are bigger than their heads? Ah, the pain becomes real.

But it’s my iPod nano from 2006 that “they” don’t make anymore which is causing my current dilemma. It is a 2nd Generation which means it’s from the Industrial Age. Every year I seem to have been able to still keep it working with the upgrades, even having to manually move songs on it because it will no longer sync, and I learned how to reset it whenever it glitches. But, I’ve come to the point where the computer refuses to recognize it when I plug it in. It’s like the club doors have been shut, and the little iPod can’t knock loud enough for the big, bad updated bouncers to hear it. I’ve Googled fixes, but nothing has worked.

I need to acknowledge that it’s old and decrepit, and I might just need to replace it. But besides the cost, I feel bad for my iPod. She’s been with me for twelve years; she’s been the perfect size and weight—I don’t want something bigger. She’s been to all of my races—even the one where she glitched at the starting line and wouldn’t turn on, so I had to run with earbuds and no music. When she shuffles songs, she’ll sometimes play Christmas songs in July which makes me laugh. She’s lived in five different states. She’s been on airplanes. She’s been in hotels with me when I run on the treadmills at 5 am while the rest of the building is sleeping. She’s actually the only reason I can tolerate running on a treadmill in the first place.

Maybe by some miracle, the next music player I find will be even better, and I’ll make peace with the replacement. But, right now I’m truly grieving and mad at technology. Like a kid, I will stick my tongue out at it. Like a rotten teenager, I will flip it off. Like an adult, I will blog about it, then figure out how many hours I have to work to buy something brand new that will be old in five years.

Eh, at least it’ll keep me running.