Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Essential Parts: Systems Thinking

Blog post in the early hours of the morning today. This is not my habit. My habit is to write in a journal and think onto the page with a pen in my hand at this hour. Sort my thoughts. Question myself. Call myself to task and ask myself the harder questions. But I cannot do this today because I left my journal - together with a pair of reading glasses and a pen - at the library last night, after teaching a Teens Write Here class. (Only those classes aren't so much "teaching" as experiments in pyromania. More on that in a moment.) First thought: maybe a blog post should be a morning habit, even if it comes after all the pen-to-paper work.

Second thought: what needs to come out of my head on this morning is Systems Thinking. Every one of my current systems is arranged in my brain this morning. They look like the various choirs from the olden days of "Musicale," when all the area's little Christian high schools would gather near one of them each year, and the adjudicators would come, and we'd take our turns impressing them, and then there'd be the night of the big performance, when all the choirs would sing a few pieces together. We'd have each been practicing them back at home for the whole school year. At Musicale, we'd sing them together. Hundreds of teenagers, each concentrating on their individual participation in the art. One year we'd learned a piece that had eight parts - two bass lines, two tenor lines, two alto lines, and two soprano lines. The choirs were split for the performance, so that four parts were one one side of that gymnasium and four on the other side, and we sang that piece back and forth across the space. It was incredible. Glorious. It was, perhaps, the most unified compound complex systems I've ever participated in, and almost forty years later I do not remember the title of the piece, but I remember that moment of glory.

This morning, I wonder if I remember it not only for its glorious art, or its focusing of all of that young energy into one laser sharp edge (was it that sharp? would a recording back up my memory of that?) ... not only for the choir-ness of it, but also for the system of it. This morning I realize how much the system matters to me. The systems. Plural. Lots of them.

There's the generally useful CAPER system I've been experimenting with.
  • Collect everything you need for the coming task
  • Arrange it in a useful, logical, and/or experimental way
  • Perform the task
  • Evaluate what happened
  • Rest
This is the system for shelving books at the library, cooking dinner in the kitchen, studying for a class, or going for a walk. Mostly, people tend to blitz through the C and the A, and revisit those steps in the midst of P, and never do the E or the R in any kind of conscious way. Mostly, in our era at least, people spell their days C A P A C A P A PPPPPP (now P is for Panic) C P - and life sounds like a sputter. I got tired of the sputter and started watching people who have articulated what they're doing or who are very good at what they're doing, and I saw that they CAPER. (And I do like a word that can be a food or a story.)

Then there's the Health and Well-being system. I'm working on that one right now. Trying to locate the pieces for the C part of it, and to Arrange what I do have and experiment with it to see if it hangs together in a sustainable way. For this system, so far, I've got:
  • Foundation Training to underlie a bit of Pilates and a lot of walking (which I don't Perform nearly as often or as consistently as I need to be). Foundation Training unifies what I've learned about "core" and aging and physicality and embodiment. 
  • Real Food Fermentation, and The Art of Fermentation - the beginnings of a library of reference material about getting the right systems of interactions restored in the gut. Plus, fermented foods taste good and if I can figure this out, I think I'll be able to get a healthful and delicious genuine honest to goodness local to my very house and home sourdough starter going and make some bread.
  • Practical Paleo, Mark Sisson's work and books, and the other "paleo," "primal," and whole foods resources which minimize carbs in the diet. This is not because the current craze is a bandwagon and I just loooooove me a bandwagon ride (she said sarcastically, being a habitual bandwagon avoider), but because ever since I first got solid health help, back when I saw my first natural medicine sort of doctor in the seventh grade (I was in the seventh grade - the doctor was a grown up), I've been told and I've known from experience that too many carbs cause illness for me. And too little protein is always my first preference and major obstacle. Pregnancies, arthritis style illnesses, mono, stress . . . all of the health problems or challenges I've ever had say the same thing to me: fewer carbs, more whole foods, more protein. This is the way I need to eat, and these recent comers to the party are being very helpful at the moment. 
  • And the newest addition to this choir, Michael Mosley and company. Fasting (restricting calories to 500 in women and 600 in men) two days a week (we're only doing one here so far) has a lot of current scientific backing, and it also has my favorite systems analysis already done on it. There have been millennia of people who fast, for a variety of reasons. The data's in. Longevity and health are enhanced by a body's not being too heavy and overloaded, and fasting is a way to give the body a break and a change to repair, and it's also good for the soul.
My whole life is made of systems like the Health and Well-being System. I try to remember to put all of the letters into my CAPER in the practice of any of my systems, and writing in the morning is one way to do the Evaluation for all the systems. Figure out which parts were only thought to be essential. Ask myself about my habits of thought, of words, of deeds. First thing in the morning, when it's still dark outside and my unconscious, dreaming brain is ready to synthesize its work of the night season, I get up and write. (Sun's up! Husband's up! Gotta go now.)

This bit of writing brought to you by Jazzed by the Kids: the state of mind that follows a good fire. Last night's Teens Write Here session for the Imagined Ink contest at the library was ... WOW. If there's one thing I love, it's a good blaze that fills the fireplace, and last night, on the second session of TWH, there were four girls, aged 12-14. Three had been at the first session, one was new to the group. We've got a poet, a sci-fi writer, a creative nonfiction writer, and a graphic novelist! By the end of our 90 minutes, all four of those kids were completely wrapped up in enthusiasm for each other's projects, and I was barely able to keep from doing a happy dance all over the library. That's why I forgot to bring home my notebook. It took about a session and a half for the thing to catch, but when it did ... what a blaze! Go, teen writers, go!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September, 2013

Other years, in some other times, I've heard a snap. She has a handbag, and the closure clicks. She has some glasses that she keeps at the ready, and they're in a case that makes a sudden, sharp thwack when she closes it. Or, the door closes with a particular click. Usually there's something. Some little sound, done in just her way, and we know the autumn is about to begin this year's course. It's almost time.

Usually, she gets into our room ahead of the scheduled season, and she makes herself comfortable and waits for the heat of the summer to subside. She doesn't interrupt the heyday. She has composure, this woman. Dignity. Calm. She knows how to wait in readiness.

But this year? This year I've been listening just like I always do. I'm the student at one of the corners, with a view of the room, and probably not in a conversation. People don't talk to me when I'm waiting. Not usually, anyway. Sometimes I say something engaging. Inviting. It's okay. You can talk to me. I sympathize with your nervousness or your lethargy. (Only I don't -- not with lethargy.) Anyway, I'm already here when she comes in. I love that moment, when the small sound happens and a flash of electricity goes through the room and gets forgotten in the next moment. I love the anticipation of the beginning of another term. I hold my breath. I wait. Autumn signals her arrival sometime near the end of August - or even earlier - and I love the delicious intake of breath when I hear her.

But not this year. The heat has come back on for the next little while, and all my wooly clothes are too warm to wear in full sun, and my sweaters and I must wait a little longer ... but ... wait a tick. Is that her? There's a teacher sitting down, right in the middle of the room, in an ordinary place, just like everyone else. She's ready to start. But I did not hear her come in.

This could be a very interesting year.

Friday, September 6, 2013

September Morning

Her window was open - that's why she caught it. The scraps of summer had begun to blow away, but she had not closed the windows yet. On this morning she sat at her desk in her little office, half listening to the familiar sounds of her husband's morning kitchen routine below, and found a slow smile relaxing her face and releasing something - something that had been waiting, unknown, unseen. The scent of wood smoke wafted through her window. The pellet stove was on. He must have turned up the thermostat. Salt of beach air on summer nights past. Comfort of the cotton sweatshirts slightly gritty with the sand, scratching against sun-tendered skin. But also the promise of early evenings and of candles lit in the dusky winter. Both the summer and the winter rode into her office, carried on that smell. She knew that there would be another sputtering blast of summer heat before she could settle into the damp and cool of her home in the rain forest - before the pellets would heat the house every day - but on that September morning, she woke again. The air carried the scent of her heart.