3 February 2019 by Lisa Melonçon

View from the Lake to Rainbow Bridge.

When I was growing up, my siblings and I went to my maternal grandparents every summer for several weeks. They lived in Bridge City, Texas. We were a bit too much for my grandmother to handle so the majority of days, we were handed over to my Grandad.

After he retired from the refinery, he went to work with his brother, my great uncle Rob, down at the fish camp. He would take us on down to the lake, and he pretty much let us run wild. There were hard and fast rules that we knew we couldn’t break, which all these years later were rules to making sure we didn’t hurt ourselves or each other. But otherwise we pretty much lived a dream of fishing and crabbing and playing in the water and “helping out.”

At least once, Granny would come down and we would go out in a boat to swim in the intercoastal waterway. I remember being scared one of those first times cause I couldn’t touch the bottom with my toes. Grandad said, of course, I could touch the bottom. But the perspective of the where the bottom had definitely changed.

I’ve been thinking about his take on perspective a lot lately. It’s perspectives that help us understand and empathize and sympathize with those around us. It’s perspective that helps us be kind and offer grace.  It’s perspective that also helps us to get through the day as we parse the things we need to do and want to do.

We are at varying parts of our terms: from just started to week four or so. But no matter where you fall in the range, we can always use a dose of perspective. Cause for those of us who started a few weeks ago, this point in is probably telling us that our perfectly laid plans for the term—no matter how hard we worked at it—have some problems. Or if you’re just starting, you’re trying to make peace with the fact that you didn’t get everything done you wanted to. If you’re somewhere in between, you’re probably vascillating between, “I am so on top of things,” to “how did this go wrong so fast?”

It’s good to remind ourselves that there is a bottom and you can feel it with your toes. But sometimes that reminder is hard. So here are a few tips to help:

Find someone to listen

Often times it’s so helpful to just talk through life. This is also good because your choices and decisions can be affirmed and discussed. The process of opening ourselves up and being vulnerable and transparent with someone often gives us a new perspective in return.

Quiet reflection

For me the next step after talking things through is making the time to really reflect on what it is that is bothering me or happening or needs to be done. Reflecting allows the opportunity to try to get at the heart at what may be wrong and how to shift our reaction—our perspective—to it.

Move things about

Either move yourself or physically move things about typically helps in seeing things differently. The physical, material movement of things can shift a perspective just enough for you to make progress or at the least to know how to make progress.

Focus on the things you can control

There’s way too much going on around us (in the world and in our immediate lives) to focus on everything at once. Sometimes it is useful to narrow the focus to those things that you can control. Shifting perspectives in this way helps us regain our power and move past things that can paralyze us into inaction.

Be easy on yourself

The takeaway of the blog post from last month is that you need to be easy on yourself. Removing this added stress often can open up space for you to think more freely about things you may need or want to change.

Whether it’s the snowball effect or just life, it’s not uncommon for us to go back and forth from feeling overwhelmed to needing to regain our balance. This job is hard. It has a number of competing demands and we consistently have to figure out how to balance this job with our lives and interests.

Anytime I start to panic, I try to remember Grandad’s advice that I could indeed touch the bottom. It’s all in shifting your perspective. Good luck, and know that you are never alone. (link to reach out)

Wishing you health, peace, and joy.

Wishing you…in 2019

1 January 2019 by Lisa Melonçon

On the top of my foot, I have a tattoo of what I call a medieval diagnostic device. Now, the old manuscripts and books (ca. 1375-1575) that I’ve studied and obsessed over for years would not call it that, but when the image is places in context and parsed, it is definitely a diagnostic tool. It also encapsulates the oddities of time from that era.

My tattoo has parts that symbolize the day of the week when I was born and the phase of the moon and of course, the zodiac, which helped to bring in another body of medical knowledge based on the time of the year of I was born. And during this era, it is also a fairly accepted idea that what folks called a moment was equivalent to about 90 seconds. Time has always been a key marker in our lives, and in modern times, we all live by the clock in various ways. Keep in mind that our Our modern conception of time with it’s minutes and second and hours and years and time zones didn’t get standardized until 1847.

But I want to unsettle that it a bit. While I have been working on a scholarly project about time for a while, I want to focus today—on this new start to a new year—on an increment of time that has always been in the consciousness of humans: the moment.

The moment has always been more flexible than other modes of time because it is often the increment that we think of our lived experiences. Go ahead: take a moment to think through 2018. What likely flashes through your memory are a series of moments, both good and bad, that marked you in some intentional way.

Even Facebook and instagram has the best nine pictures. Those “best 9” are the moments captured in film. But what happens to all the other moments, more mundane moments, that aren’t captured? Those that remain out of sight or more quiet or more personal are likely the ones that will remain in our consciousness, driving us and soothing us, for time to come.

Last year, I wished you joy. This topic was brought on in large part from my own attempts to find joy in a world and in a life that had ceased being joyful. The difficulties of 2017 just expanded into 2018 as I struggled in most every aspect of life. By the middle of fall, though, I felt, finally, as if I would no longer snap in two from my own physical frailty and grief was still present but not as hard to carry. And in the final days of 2018, I reflected that there were many instances of joy were joyful and instances where memories of joy carried me through. But the joy was quieter and smaller and much more personal.

They were moments.

Those moments were filled with the meaningfulness of the mundane and of simply, being and becoming. There are so many clichés about living in the moment and being thankful for the moments. I cannot deny the power of those and what those words can bring at different intervals in our lives.

So my wish for each of you for 2019 is to that you have the focus, patience, and courage to live the moments, to embrace the moments, to be intentional in the moments.

Wishing you peace, health, and joy!

Be easy

by Lisa Melonçon 16 December 2018 

Stop! Be easy. Just be easy.

This is a phrase—well, a version of a phrase as translated to English as I can get it—that my grandmother used to use all of the time. As she remains one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, I have returned to this phrase (and so many other) time and time again. The way this phrase is ported in American popular culture as “go easy on yourself.” As should be obvious, but worth saying out loud, the message in this phrase is that we are often too hard on ourselves. We set the bar for excellence or productivity or success way too high so that often we find ourselves disappointed in our own performance. 

The slight difference in the two versions are important. The use of “be easy” as opposed to “go easy” signifies the Cajun stance of becoming and as an act of becoming a better version of yourself. The more Americanized version focuses on an action that you do to yourself. The becoming part is vital because it suggests perpetual change and growth. That you are becoming more yourself when you are still. French (both Cajun French and French) is a nuanced language so “easy” has at least five different options in French. This particular phrase uses tranquille, which connotes two meanings simultaneously, still and easy. Again, this is an important distinction because it encourages a stillness that is necessary to think and to contemplate, which is the only way change can happen. 

This little Cajun French lesson has a point. We need to be easy on ourselves, to cut ourselves some slack and not be some critical of our lives and our activities (or perceived lack thereof). 

The winter break is one of the worst times of the year for this to happen. We often look to the break as a time when we can “caught up” (there is no such thing link) and can do the work “that matters” to us (it all should matter link to work). And when you add in the fact that many of us have family obligations during the holidays or that the holidays are an especially fraught and emotional times, you get a recipe for a break that is not a break at all. 

Don‘t misunderstand. I totally understand that this time between terms is a great time to do some writing and reading and to move projects along. The point is twofold:

  • Be realistic about what you can actually accomplish 
  • Ensure that you have some balance that is just about you and not the work

Setting realistic goals for the break is especially hard. We always overestimate our zeal for returning to a project we want to work on, and we underestimate the fact that our minds and bodies need this time to rest and recover from a long term. These two things are incompatible, and we end up setting the bar way to high, then we get disappointed and then we start the cycle of being way too hard on ourselves wondering why we can’t get anything done. 

My rule for summer planning is to make a list and then pick the top three things. My rule for winter break is make a list and pick one thing. Yup. Just one cause likely that’s all the time you’ll have. When I refer to one or three these are larger sorts of tasks such as finishing an article length manuscript or completing a big report for a committee. I recognize that the break is also filled with smaller tasks that can likely be accomplished in a couple of days. That is, you can set aside a day to do an IRB application or do those reviews that you agreed to do or start the prep for your spring courses (or fully complete an update of an existing course). All of these smaller tasks along with your big task need to be realistic within a schedule that allows time for balance.

The surest way to set realistic goals is to start with some balance that includes giving in to your need to rest and relax and do something that is not at all associated with work. This is part of being easy on yourself too, accepting that you can do other things outside of work and not feel guilty about it. (yeah, I recognize that the guilt thing is tricky to overcome. Practice helps.)

we need to do a better job of putting ourselves on our ow to do list.

I’ve probably written ad nauseum about balance, but it’s one of things that I find we need to be reminded of, to be reminded that we are more than our CV and we are more than work. These are habits that should have been built in grad school, but they are habits that can be built at any time. Please do not misunderstand. Ours is job that needs dedication and attention. My point is that it is a job that need boundaries  so the job doesn’t become all that you are. Doing things that balance work with the rest of life is one of the best ways to enact going easy on yourself.

On Tuesday of last week, our grades were due. The next day I sent a message to the grad students in our program. Here is part of that message:

With the end of the term officially here, this is a reminder that the time between now and when school starts is a time for you.

Please do not feel obligated to put everything you wish you would have gotten done over three months into the next four weeks. It is vital for your physical and mental health to be slow, to think, to rest, to find time to be joyful, and to do some of those things that you enjoy that are not work related.

So I leave with you the same words, and I hope that you can find a way to put part of them into action to yourself, to do those things (whatever they are) just for you during the break.

And please, when you’re about to make decisions, try to stop yourself thinking about the work you “need” to do. That’s the biggest aspect of learning to go easy on yourself, that is, not over thinking or thinking you should be working when you goofing off and napping and hanging out and being with your family and/or friends, or doing whatever it is you’re doing that isn’t work.  

Be easy on yourself

One more time for those in the back: Be easy on yourself. 

Wishing you health, peace, and joy during this holiday (winter break) season.