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?


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?

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.