Tag Archive | stress

Life Stress

Stress is a funny word. We load it with all kinds of negative connotations, talk about relieving it, coping with it, or even having an idea of a “stress-free” life.

Really? Think about that for a moment; would you really want a “stress-free” life? Where you never had the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal, overcoming an obstacle, achieving a level of mastery through effort and work…is that really what you want out of life?

If so, you’re looking at the wrong blog.

No, the idea that stress is bad is short-sighted; there is bad stress (distress) and good stress (eustress, I swear it’s a real word, I didn’t make it up). It’s also important to remember that “stress” is a reaction, not an action. Life happens, and the same forces and pressures can cause vastly different kinds of stress depending on your mood.

Force and pressure happen naturally; they’re just part of life. Often they are things that are either out of our control (an illness, for example) or necessary (accomplishing a goal you’ve set for yourself). Those things are going to cause stress of one sort or another, regardless. We can’t control that.

What we can…well, control would be a big word to apply to feelings like stress. A lot of that is a result of neurochemistry, and when the ol’ amygdala’s firing “control” isn’t exactly a feature. Influence, though, that’s fair.

And actions? We can completely control our actions.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

In case you’re wondering, like most posts I write this is less a suggestion for you than a reminder to myself. Simply put, in slightly more than a week I will be attending an event I’ve been planning and directing for the last nine months.

We’re in good shape. Things are getting done, and we’re in the happy place where we are just polishing up the last few things before the event.

But it’s still a big event. There’s a lot of moving parts. And my subconscious knows this, and it’s been affecting my sleep, my dreams, and occasionally my temper.

So what can I do to influence that?

  1. I can avoid self criticism. Jeez, Gray, you write about this stuff, why can’t you do better? Yeah. That’s not going to help. Part of this is also being honest with those I’m in contact with. Hey, I’m on edge because of this thing coming up. I’ll try not to snap, but I wanted to let you know. That can go a long way towards non-destructive releases, because often you can later say something like Hey, can I just vent for a moment?
  2. I can choose my actions. The strategies for dealing with this are usually one of two things: distract or attack.
    Distraction is the easy one, given the ease of losing oneself in social media or television, but those are surface-level. Social media often stresses you out more, and while TV might occupy the mind, your body is still sitting there with all those stressful neurochemicals going through it. A better distraction is something that will take my mind and my body away from the problem and preferably cause some changes in the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in my blood. Walking outside, lifting weights, immersive music or theatrical experiences all work well for me.
    Attack is a tricky thing. It takes the thing that is bothering you and presents it as a target to be vanquished, an obstacle to overcome. That can give some satisfaction, and unlike the Distraction technique, when you’re done that particular thing that is bothering you will be gone.
    Just remember this is like the hydra: cut off one head, two more take its place. When you take care of that one worry, there’s every chance that your subconscious will just come up with a new one. That’s just how brains work.
  3. I can reinforce my base. There’s a whole genre of games that’s all about building a strong base, with resources you manage and acquire, and then defending it from outside attacks (aka, stresses). I look at my morning rituals much like that; if I do my yoga, meditation, and journaling I have reinforced myself to better handle the stresses the day may bring. For me, at least, the times of the most stress are the most important times to keep to these rituals of self-care and maintenance.

None of these techniques are perfect. Stress is going to happen, and it’s going to affect us all in various ways. How do you manage your feelings when things are getting hectic for you?

Whatever the answer, remember that handling stress is a skill. It can be developed, it needs to be practiced, and everyone does it differently.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Finding Time for the Things You Love

Notice the title of this post is not “Making Time for the Things You Love”.

You can’t make time. Nobody can; it’s the one truly egalitarian resource, where everyone gets the same amount and uses it in the same way.

Which means, when I say to myself I don’t have the time to do… and I insert any of my neglected hobbies/skillsets in there, it’s true, but not in the sense that I have any less time than the people who do practice those hobbies.

No, I don’t have the time because I’ve misplaced it.

And what I need to do is find it.

The Simplest Hardest Things

There are a lot of strategies people use for finding time that they’ve lost. You could “just” get up earlier — which works great for some people, and for others (such as the parents of infants) seems like the most ridiculous idea ever in an existence where even a five minute nap (or an uninterrupted trip to the bathroom) seems like a luxury.

Another is scheduling. Personally I’ve found this pretty effective in the short term; I put together a “zero-based calendar” which simply means I schedule every hour of the day, including blocks for “read” or “exercise”. I don’t have to find time, I know exactly where it is! The only problem is that a zero-based calendar doesn’t really have any slack, so when you have the unexpected errand or delay it tends to throw everything off.

One of the big truisms of personal development is: If you need more time, stop watching TV. Of all the ways to find time, that should be the one that’s easiest, right? Just don’t turn it on. That’s too hard? Hide the remote. That’s too hard? Hide the power cord. Or hey, get rid of your TV!

Wait a moment. That seems…draconian for something as simple as “stop watching TV.” Yet many people have done it, or advocate it. Why would it take such a drastic step to reclaim your time (thank you, Rep. Waters)?

The answer is simple to state and hard to solve: it’s not just time that you need.

The Energy Trap

Many times I get to the end of my day — when I normally end up watching TV — and I realize that now is the time. Now is the time to fire up Duolingo and learn Spanish, or open my sketchbook and grab my pencils, or fire up xCode and build that iPhone app, or finally learn to play the blues on my guitar.

There’s only one problem: I’m tired.

Sure, all those things are things I’d like to do…but by the end of the day, the thought of doing them after all the other tasks and problems I’ve dealt with is exhausting. And that makes sense; an active life is tiring.

It’s easier to scroll through Facebook than play with Duolingo. It’s easier to binge on a TV series than it is to practice guitar. It’s easier to play a video game than to — no, actually I take that back. I find video games at the end of the day very tiring as well.

As it turns out, finding where I’ve misplaced my time is easy. What’s hard is finding my energy there as well. We’ll talk about strategies and tactics for doing that in another post, but meanwhile this post (like pretty much all of them I write) is simply a reminder to my overachieving workaholic self:

It’s not that you don’t love those things. You’re not letting them down. It’s ok to be tired, and it’s ok to not do the things. Rest.

Learning Enough to Break

The very generous folks over at Freedom Mastery have given me a gorgeous “Law of Attraction” planner to try out and review for them.

This is not that review. But it is gorgeous.

It’s also really hard.

Specifically, before you get into the fun of daily schedules and priorities and such, there’s these…exercises. A series of things at the beginning that ask you questions and then help you create your own mission and vision statement.

I am really good at dealing with emergent challenges. I can react to things in front of me with both grace and aplomb, and I’m proud of that skill. However, that often leaves me lacking in the “big picture” planning. To put it another way, I’m a great tactician, but a lousy strategist.

The responsibility of fully reviewing this planner, though, meant that I wasn’t able to just shrug it off and go to my daily plans. So I grumbled and opened up the first few pages and did the 90-second answers to the questions.

It wasn’t that bad, really. But after I was done, one stayed with me.

The Hardest Question

Here’s the question:

If I achieved all of my life’s goals, how would I feel? How can I feel that along the way?

Now, I’ve long said that I would never finish all of my goals — my backburners have backburners, after all — so the first part of the question made me laugh.

But the answer to the second part — how would I feel?— made me a little sad. Because words like “triumphant” and “accomplished” did not come to mind. Instead, there was a simple thought: I could rest. I would be able to take a break, and know that I had earned it.

That’s messed up. You can see that, right? The idea that I would have to do everything just to give myself the right to a respite? I mean, I know where it comes from — start with Judeo-Christian Puritan “work ethic” and sprinkle in a liberal dose of John Wayne’s “We’re wastin’ daylight!” and then the good old entrepreneurial spirit (Yep, I make my own hours — I can work any twenty-three a day I want) and what you end up with is a truly unsustainable workload.

Thing is, it’s not hypothetical. In my early twenties, struggling to work two jobs to feed my family, I tried working four shifts (between the two jobs) in a row, and I had a breakdown (Thanks, Dad, for helping me with that). Thing is, deep down, below the I can do this and this is what’s necessary was a tiny part of me that knew I couldn’t do this — no one could — but if it broke me, well, then I could take a break, and no one could blame me for not trying hard enough.

Yep. That’s some messed-up internal mechanisms, there.

The Second Part Gets Harder

How can I feel that along the way?

Great. So first you ask me how I would feel if I did something impossible, and now you’re asking me how to feel that way even if I didn’t? What are you trying to do to me, Freedom Mastery?!?

Of course, it’s only hard because I’m talking about me. If I were counseling someone else (and I have) I would simply point out that this is what Brene Brown is talking about when she suggests that we need to learn to be ok with “enough”.

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

”Cultivating.” That means it’s not an easy fix. It’s a process, involving planting seeds and nourishing their growth and managing the environment so that they flourish (at least, that’s what a certain greenhouse manager I’m fond of tells me).

It’s not (just) a pill, or an organizer, or an app, though all of those things may be part of the cultivation of your own place of worthiness.

How can I feel like I’ve done enough to deserve a break, even when there are things left to do?

That’s a really challenging question, for me. How about you?

Watching for the Signals

I’ve only got 20 minutes to write this post.

That’s a signal.

Yesterday I went to pick up Natasha from her work, and we got all the way home when she realized she’d left her purse there.

That’s a signal.

I’ve been having dreams about being at events that weren’t well organized. About missing appointments. About having the wrong equipment in the wrong places at the wrong times. They wake me up several times every night.

Each of those are signals.

Life Isn’t Subtle

What’s going on is that one of the biggest events of the year is happening for us in about a month. We’re juggling presenters, schedules, menus, publicity, budgets, equipment…and it’s literally our full-time job.

Except it’s leaking. It’s coming out in small arguments that we both know are silly, in forgetfulness, in the desire to spend money on New Improved Organizational Stuff, in so many ways…and each of those are signals, telling us:

Slow the %$#@ down.

Hearing the signals is important. Doing something about them is essential. Because at a certain point, if you do not choose to slow down, your life will choose to slow down for you. That can take many forms (one that sticks out in my memory was getting a severe ankle sprain while facilitating an event that forced me to sit for most of the day) but none of them are as pleasant as just choosing to slow down yourself.

What Slowing Down Looks Like

Here’s a hint: different.

Slowing down is different than taking a break. Slowing down means that you need to actually change things. For example, Natasha and I had a goal of going to juggling practice tomorrow night…but that’s also the only night we don’t have other things going on.

So juggling practice has to go. Not “do this other work instead of juggling. Not “go and juggle slowly. No, we simply choose to stay home. To leave some unplanned time.

And it sucks, because I really want to get better at juggling, and I really want to be more of a part of the juggling community here.

But something’s gotta give, and I’d rather that something come out of my schedule than out of me.

Another “slow down” is that this post, which should be researched and annotated and linked and properly publicized has been hurriedly jotted off just so I can cross it off my to-do list.

Pay attention to the signals, my friend. They aren’t subtle, but they will – literally – save your life.

Three Physical Ways to Reduce Stress In Your Life

This is a freelance contribution by Jane Sandalwood. It’s a nice little encapsulation of the kinds of things we talk about more in depth here on Love Life Practice.

Stress is a trigger for so many issues – especially in terms of the toll it takes on living your best life, while trying to practice patience, and peace. Did you ever realize that stress also takes a huge physical toll on your body? Research by Healthline shows that stress can lead to many physical health issues, like headaches, a pounding heart, rapid breathing and tense muscles, which can all contribute to a pathway that leads you astray from your best life practices.

Getting a handle on stress is the only way to break through the barriers in your life that are keeping you from being the best version of yourself. When you are trying to break your bad habits and forge a new pathway to personal development, it’s crucial to find new routines that benefit your physical well-being. Focusing on this area of your life will lead to great improvements and ultimately help you to feel more in control. Here are 3 ways you can physically reduce stress in your life:

Breathe Properly

Stress causes your breathing to become much faster, stemming from the “fight or flight” reflex we all feel when under pressure. But when you breathe rapidly and your heart pounds extremely quickly, your body does not have enough time to convert the oxygen that you are inhaling into the carbon dioxide you should be exhaling. Thus, you need to calm yourself down by taking a deep breath, holding it in and exhaling slowly. Breathing properly and in a more natural, sensible manner will do great things for your body—and your sanity.

Get Active

A second way to get physical and reduce your stress levels is to exercise. On average, a healthy adult should exercise 30 minutes per day, and this can include a range of activities, like yoga, walking, dancing, cycling or strength training. It is a well-known fact that physical activity and being active is essential to an individual’s mental, physical and emotional health. This is because exercising produces certain chemical changes in the brain that stimulate a release of endorphins—or feel-good hormones.

Set Challenges

If you want to develop a new habit or routine that complements your physical wellness, you should set yourself challenges that are both measurable and achievable. Setting goals and attaining them will boost your self-esteem in the long term, which is constructive for the way you see yourself physically. Try to create challenges that inspire you to get a handle on your physicality and reduce stress levels at the same time. One example is to do 15 minutes of deep breathing and yoga each night before bed for one week. If you meet this goal, you can create a new ritual for next week.

By understanding the ways that you can rid yourself of stress, you can embrace your physical well-being in a manner that feeds into your total health and personal development.

Jane Sandwood has been a freelance writer and editor for over 10 years. She has written for both digital and print across a wide variety of fields. Her main interest is exploring how people can improve their health and well being in their everyday life. And when she isn’t writing, Jane can often be found with her nose in a good book, at the gym or just spending quality time with her family.

When You Want to Walkaway, Walkaround

I’m enjoying reading Cory Doctorow’s new book, Walkaway. It’s a near-future thriller that starts out seeming dystopian but is really utopian; ultimately optimistic about the future in which 3-D printing and centuries of industrialism have left a world where people choose to “walk away” from the hustle-and-bustle of consumerism and just kind of live in a mixture of libertarian and socialist moods: If I have everything I need, and you have everything you need, why wouldn’t we work together to do cool things?

It’s a seductive idea.

Doctorow’s world is one where most people live in “Default” — as in the default reality of cities, bills, jobs, whatever. But in between these spirit-crushing bastions of old thought and old rules are a million miles of everything else. Fields. Wildflowers. Entire abandoned cities left to rot. And in Doctorow’s fantasy, it is into these spaces that all the world’s smart people and capable people and pissed-off people have gone. – NPR

Doctorow is certainly not the first person to put up this kind of idea; he did, however, market it far more effectively than most, even more than “The Happiness of Pursuit” by travel guru Chris Guillebeau – the story of many people who walked away from the “typical” life and chose to find their own path.

Smashing into Reality

If you are sitting here and saying “Well, that’s great for them, but it probably won’t work for me,” you’re probably right. Doctorow is writing fiction, after all, and Guillebeau’s work suffers from the same malady as many self-help and productivity books, namely survivorship bias. Along with any story of “This person did it, and you can, too!” has to come the unspoken additional truth: “Most people failed at this, and you probably will, too.

I know. Harsh words. But only if you attach a lot of significance to the word failure. In fact, you could add on another truth to that last sentence: …and they’re doing just fine. One of the problems with the whole idea of “walking away” is the feeling that you have somehow failed at what you were supposed to do, or that changing your mind will somehow invalidate the work you put into getting as far as you did.

None of that is true. But that’s hard to accept, so instead of trying to convince you of that, let me try to convince you of something else:

You can take a detour.

Now, I’m certain there are some people in some careers that can’t just choose to take a hiatus. The heart surgeon in the midst of a triple bypass. The airline pilot halfway across the Atlantic. The trapeze artist in mid-somersault thirty feet in the air.

If you fall into a category like that, then maybe ignore this next part.

It’s Ok to Pause

Here’s a scary thought: turn off your phone. And your computer. And your iPad. Commit to watching a movie from start to finish without stopping. Or, even better, pick up a book and decide you’re going to read six chapters before you put it down. Look at a map of your city, pick out a point, and decide to walk to it – however long it takes. And leave your phone at home.

You’re not giving up. You’re not rejecting the path that you’ve committed to, you’re not giving up on the goal.

But you’re taking the scenic route. You’re taking a moment to remember there is a lot of world out there.

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons you can come up with that would make you think this is impossible. Things like:

  • People are depending on me. Well, you’d better figure out how they can get along without you, because monomaniacal work without rest is bringing you to an early end. No one knows the hour of their passing, as they say; if people can’t do without you for an hour today, then you have some serious planning to work on because someday they will have to do without you.
  • I have kids, I can’t take a break. This one I get – you can’t just walk away from your kids (tempting though I know that can be sometimes). There are likely several ways you can get someone to care for them – but even if you can’t, then you can make it a family detour. They may complain about a lack of TV, or internet, or some such; just remember that adversity builds character and explain why you need to take the detour. It’s setting a good example.
  • This seems silly! I have better things to do. Maybe true. But I’ll put this to you: if you’re not willing to try, how do you actually know? There’s an awful lot of research out there that says that peak productivity is dependent on regular breaks.

There will come times, when you’re passionate, that you’ll want to walk away. That may even be the best idea. But perhaps try a walk around, first.

And let me know what you find!

Your Non-Stressed Secret Identity

Here’s the thing about stress: it sometimes helps people accomplish amazing things. I’m not just talking about the proverbial mother lifting a truck off their child; I’m talking about the parent who stumbles down the basement stairs to put the sheets in the laundry at 3am after their sick child has finally gone to sleep; the lover who holds their dear ones hand during a funeral; the delicious meal created out of an almost-bare pantry by an elder sibling while the parents work late.

These are skills that people aren’t born with, and usually aren’t even trained into; instead, they are called upon to do them in times of stress and scarcity, and they rise to the challenge out of necessity.

If you’re lucky, the stress eases, and it becomes a treasured story, like my memories of seeing my twins’ faces by moonlight as I held their bottles at night. Sleep was not really something I did back then, like many parents.

The Stress-Filled Life

But not everyone is lucky enough to have a choice. Some people are stuck in their superhero mode by constant stress, and I’m not just talking about refugees. We can inadvertently let our environments turn into stress-filled states, whether that’s from the responsibilities we take on or (these days) just watching too much news.

And make no mistake: the things that relate to stress – poor diet, sleep deprivation, elevated blood pressure – are actually killing you in slow motion:

Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. – Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes.

Need more convincing? Here’s a whole video on the subject from ASAPScience.

Ha! You thought you were stressed before? Now you can be stressed about stress! Luckily, there’s a lot most people can do to alleviate their stress, starting with evaluating where their stress factors are and what they can change about them.

Problem is that most people, short of some big warning like a stroke or a divorce, don’t bother.

Why is that?

I have a theory.

Your Secret Identity

We forget what it’s like to not be stressed, and the state of being stressed feels normal. It’s as if you were a superhero who normally only puts on their costume and uses their powers when there’s an emergency – but the emergencies happen so much that you forget that you have a secret identity, that you can wear normal clothes instead of the costume.

Of course, there can be a lot of reasons for stress in your life, some of which you can control, some of which you can’t. However, there is one thing that sometimes keeps people from acting to alleviate the stress in their life: fear of dulling their edge.

If you have a lot of those stories to tell about how you overcame adversity, then it can become part of your core identity. I do it with finances; I’ve been near-broke or worse so many times, and always managed to pull through somehow. “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul” is just the tip of the iceberg – I am a veritable Odysseus of creative money generation and distribution.

Problem is, I never really got the skill of fiscal preservation. Or planning. And as a result I stumbled from financial disaster to disaster, each time congratulating myself on narrow escapes and clever money hacks. Even worse, when I finally started figuring out how to create some financial slack, it felt wrong; I wasn’t used to money in my bank account, and that led to a tendency of self-sabotage.

Here’s the secret: You can always put your costume back on. Especially if your super-power was developed out of necessity, you don’t lose that skill. It will be there for you when you need it. And meanwhile, you can try enjoying life in your secret identity, well-rested and with abundant resources, knowing that when you need to don that cape and spandex it will be waiting for you.

Why I Love Genius Packs

OK, we're going to change pace here a bit from the sturm und drang prepper stuff to to a good old-fashioned product review. After all, the tag line of this blog is "practical tools for making hard times happier", right? Well, here are some practical tools I've been using for the past year or so that have made my travel – and even my everyday work – happier.

I have not been paid or received any form of compensation for this review, nor will I get any kind of benefit if you choose to purchase from this company.

I just love their stuff.

The Genius Pack Hype

I'm a sucker for a good story. The press behind Genius Packs describes a scrappy little crowd-sourced startup trying to apply New Economy ideas to the ancient craft of the suitcase. If you think about it, the "box to carry things in when you travel" is one of those technologies that pre-dates almost everything (which do you think was invented first: the suitcase or the chair). So you'd think that we'd have it right by now.

As a frequent traveler for the past decade, I'm here to tell you: we haven't. When I read about how Genius Pack wanted to revolutionize my packing and travel experience…I resisted. I like to think I am a savvy consumer, and after all, continuing to buy a $2 used suitcase every trip was more frugal, right?

Perhaps it was, money-wise, but there are other costs. Stress, for example, when you're lugging just-under-50-lbs through an airport and a wheel breaks off, or the handle jams. Watching your luggage come down the conveyor belt with the TSA tape wrapped around it because the zipper broke. Things like that. I tried buying "new" luggage from department stores, thinking the lower price tag would give me something along the lines of what Genius Pack promised – only to have them break within one or two trips, if not sooner.

Since I bought my first Genius Pack suitcase – the 21" Hardside Spinner – those stresses have gone away. It fits easily in the overhead, it packs enough clothes and equipment for me for a weekend or more easily, and it just works. From the lock to the wheels to the handle, it is solid construction, but with a high-tech twist, kind of like an iPhone. It just feels well put together.

I did have one disappointment – I had thought the model I bought would have their patented "Laundry Compression Technology" – a way to easily manage clothes when on the road. The spinner didn't, but it worked amazingly well. Side benefit: the finish on the case easily holds stickers of various kinds, which makes it even easier to manage.

Genius Strikes Again

The brilliance of the company's marketing plan is that they have regular sales. Even though my initial look at the G3 22" Carry On Spinner put it out of my price range, at one point it seemed just a no-brainer to me and my wallet – so I shelled out the cash.

Best travel decision I have ever made.

You'd be surprised at the killer features. It's not the "separated pockets" (to be honest, they weren't big enough for me, and I ended up using them for other things). No, it's things you wouldn't expect, like the zip-out water bottle holder, or the umbrella pocket (I don't actually use it for an umbrella, but it's a handy storage space).

And it does have Laundry Compression Technology, which basically functions as an integrated laundry hamper that comes out as a laundry bag, keeping clothes (and, I'll be honest, more importantly, odors) separate. This is one of those things that is better than you'd ever expect, trust me.

I tend to overpack, and the rock-solid zippers and expansion capacity are lifesavers. I also tend to travel with a weird assortment of equipment, and the size and structure of the case work well for everything from gymnastic rings to pancake platters (both of which I had on my most recent trip).

It's not perfect, mind you – the edge of the case is starting to fray from the travel I've been doing, but we're talking multiple trips a month, and if a little fray is all I get from an elegantly functional case, I'll take it. I've never had any functional problems with either of these suitcases in over a year of pretty heavy travel – and that's not something I could have said about any other luggage I've purchased.

The Daily Genius

After a year of using these two products, I was pretty much a Genius Pack evangelist (as you may have noticed). Now, I wasn't totally buying in – I like my own power pack battery and speaker, for example, and besides, I like to disguise my poverty as frugality. But I found myself eyeing the High Altitude Flight Bag more and more, especially as those long flights on coach added up.

Aside from the general features that you'd expect from any tech satchel, it had one very innovative idea: integrated straps that would attach the bag to the underside of the tray table in front of you on the plane, leaving the space under the seat free for your legs. It may seem like a minor thing – but as an owner of broad shoulders and long legs and big feet, it sounded like heaven.

But I was skeptical. Would it work? More to the point, my partners will tell you that I am infamous for finding, buying, and then discarding tech bags because they don't work with my particular equipment needs when I'm on the road or doing a Daily Carry. There was the not-insignificant danger that I would buy this and find that the pockets were too small, or the Velcro too loose, or something else. In fact, I waited until I could actually try it out on a plane before writing this review.

Guess what? Genius Pack is three for three.

Strapping the bag to the tray table was easy. Folding it up meant that I had all my gear – notebooks, pens, headphones, battery packs, cords – within easy reach while still being out of the way. I could still fold down the tray and use it, no problem. And the pack is small enough that even when I did put it under the seat in front of me, it still took up less space.

There are other unexpected benefits. One of the techniques Genius Pack likes to use is labeled pockets – so there's a "headphone" pocket, a "battery" pocket, etc. Even if you don't use the pockets for what they're labeled for, the advantage is that you have a system for telling other people how to use your bag. I can be facilitating and tell my assistant "Here, I don't need my watch right now – put it in the device pocket" and not only do they know exactly where to put it, I also know exactly where to find it.

Again, it's not perfect – my preferred battery, for example, doesn't quite fit the labeled pocket – but that's minor. About the only serious flaw is in the shoulder strap, which is a little too short for my body and, more annoyingly, has a nylon shoulder strap that consistently slips off my shoulder. There is also a carry handle that, while durable, is not as ergonomic to the hand as their other products. I purchased a different strap, though, and plan on weaving a little paracord handle to make it better.

Meanwhile, the bag has become a daily companion, not just for air travel. It fits my two notebooks, portable keyboard, iPad, battery, phone, cords, headphones, and assorted other things that I like to have at hand. It means that I have a self-contained and portable office, and has more than justified the already-reasonable purchase price.

The Principle Behind the Genius

Here's the thing: I don't get anything from writing this review (though, Genius Pack, if you're listening, those compression packing cubes are mighty sexy…). But I have come to love these integral parts of my travel and daily life, and more to the point, by taking the time and money to purchase them I feel more loved by my past self, who took the time to research and purchase them. The benefits of relieving stress are manifold, and this particular brand has improved my travel experience by a significant amount. Whether you buy one for yourself or not is irrelevant; I do hope, though, that when you find yourself irritated or stressed, you might take a moment and think about what kind of investment – monetary or otherwise – might take that stress away, and leave a little more room for love in your life.

The Unromance of Maturity

A while back I wrote a short story for an editor for an anthology. She liked the story, but she had one complaint: the anthology was supposed to be focused on romance, and there wasn’t enough of that between my main characters.

It puzzled me, because I thought I had put in romance. Or, at least, romance as I understood it. I decided that it needed more research, so I went out looking for the most “romantic” movies and stories I could find. The Prince of Tides. Dangerous Liaisons. Romeo & Juliet. Terminator 2. OK, that last one was maybe just for me. But after watching these movies, I realized what three ingredients you needed to add to any story to have it qualify for romance:

  • Long, smoldering looks where nothing is said.
  • Miscommunication.
  • Over-reaction to miscommunication.

That’s it. I added those three things – quite literally and deliberately (He looked at her, intently, saying nothing for a long while. Then he turned and walked away. “What does that mean?!?” she thought desperately…) and re-submitted it to the anthology. The editor loved it.

You Know You’re Old When…

It’s amazing how much “mature wisdom” resembles “too tired.”

– Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

Recently while enjoying a vampire soap-opera guilty pleasure TV show one of the characters, newly twitterpated with another, burst out with a warning. “You need to stay away from me!” she sobbed. “I’m nothing but trouble! We can’t ever see each other again, nothing good will ever come of it!”

Of course the object of her affections objected (as objects are wont to do). He swore he would never let her go, that he would protect her from whatever came their way, that he wasn’t going anywhere.

And that’s when I felt the weight of maturity settle on my shoulders, because I realized that at the age I am, my response to her tirade would have been: “Oh. Ok, then. Nice to meet you!” and then to leave.

hte12I mean, come on – first of all, there’s the issue of consent. “You need to stay away from me” is pretty direct. Shouldn’t he respect her wishes? And if he does respect her and her judgement, then “nothing but trouble” and “nothing good” should be pretty clear warning signs. Personally, I would take her at her word and let us both be on our merry way.

It’s not very romantic, I know. Romance dictates that she means the opposite, or that there is some magic to love that makes it worth the trouble. To be fair, I’ve been on that side of things more than once. There is definitely a bond that comes from working through trouble together – but I believe that comes from external troubles – for example, when a girlfriend and I kept having our cars serially break down. We had to stay together because we were each other’s ride to work…and working with Natasha as she begins to win her battle with depression has proven to be immensely worthwhile.

I haven’t always been this way. I recall very clearly a moment when a young woman walked into a room at a party I was at, and when our eyes met, I thought She’s going to make my life complicated. And you know what? I was right. She’s a lovely individual, and we had some good times – but in the long run, we caused each other a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, a lot of practical problems (it was a long-distance relationship) and in hindsight I can say that most likely we didn’t really gain much from our experiences with each other.

There are some who use the term “drama” as a negative in terms of partners: She’s got too much drama. I’ve never been a fan of that term, because guess what? Drama is what life is. It’s got ups and downs and tragedy and triumph and a lack of “drama” is called “stagnation.” It’s not fun, it’s not interesting. But like movies, there’s gratuitous and there’s plot-driven drama. I’d like to think that the latter is what makes life more worthwhile.

Maybe that’s mature romance. It’s not about fighting each other’s natures, but rather it’s about complementing each other to create something bigger, better, something more capable of dealing with “drama” than you can alone. That may be the true meaning of Love conquers all.

Of course, it’s all much easier said than done. When anyone of any age is smitten, it’s less about logic and all about neurochemistry, and we all do dumb things. That’s part of the journey, and it gives us those stories to tell our kids as we watch them do the same damn thing. Go, lemmings, go!