I began this Mindful Musing in the Tom Bradly International Terminal on my way to Bali for a long awaited book-research trip. Since then I’ve enjoyed a thirteen hour flight on EVA Airlines, during which time I stretched much, slept little, watched movies, and ate jook for breakfast—a rice porridge also known as congee made with minced pork, and in this case, sprinkled with dried bits of fish. The jook was a particularly auspicious treat since it’s comfort food for the heroine of my ninja vigilante thriller. All in all, a good beginning to my real life adventure that now, apparently, includes a typhoon in Taipei!
But hey, if I have to spend a day in an airport and a night in a hotel, at least I’m doing it in a country where I can get steamed cabbage and ground pork to my heart’s content and where even the mundane fascinates.
Taipei Taoyuan International delights the senses with lovely calligraphy galleries, orchid gardens, the history of anime, and duty-free shops selling gorgeous glass and porcelain vases, designer clothing, expensive liquors, and everything possible to do with tea.
Even the waiting areas have their own flavors, including this food themed gate complete with a steamer bench and dumpling cushions. Yet another auspicious sign for my novel, CALL ME DUMPLING. And like my heroine, I pay attention to signs.
So what do signs have to do with staying calm and getting things done? Well, I could weave some creatively deep connection, but after thirty-four hours of traveling I’d rather just give it to you straight—signs have absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this blog.
And while you could also reasonably expect me to wax on about traveling and how to make the best of challenging situations, I’m not going to do that, either. I already shared my pearls of wisdom on that topic during my Planes, Trains, and Peace of Mind blog when it took twenty-two hours to get from Los Angeles to New York for Thrillerfest and visiting the set of my hubby’s movie, THE EQUALIZER.
No, the topic for this month’s Mindful Musing hit me when I realized just how insanely crazy these last four months have been and how much I managed to accomplish before getting on this plane to Bali and find myself temporarily stranded in Taipei!
You see, I’ve been yearning to take this trip for the last four years, ever since I began researching Bali for one of my novels. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m fascinated by cultures, world religions, and the history of exotic countries—not surprising considering my own cultural diversity.) Anyway, I devoured books and articles on Bali’s unique type of Hinduism, its astoundingly complex culture, and its notorious history involving the 1966 anti-Communist massacres. Out of this research came one heck of a story, which I outlined, drafted, and began writing a few years ago. All I lacked was the first hand visceral experience, and the money to get it.
Bear with me, I’m actually creeping up on my topic.
You see, I finally had the opportunity to buy the tickets and make the arrangements for this trip. What I didn’t have was a crystal ball telling me that my mother would pass away, my father would want to downsize and move to another city, that 13Thirty Books would invite me to contribute a story to their NEVER FEAR: THE TAROT anthology, that I’d have a chance to visit our son in Portland, or that I’d have to finish and mail a new novel to my literary agent—all in the four months prior to getting on this plane!
And THIS brings me to my topic of how to Stay Calm and Get It Done.
As I mentioned earlier, the last four months have been nuts: peanuts, Brazils, macadamias, you name it. So I felt damned relieved to be sitting on the floor of the Tom Bradley Terminal, with my ticket in my pocket, hammering out this blog. Damned relieved! But I also felt a renewed appreciation for strategies that have and continue to keep my stress levels low and my productivity high.
Incidentally, I lump stress-reduction with time/task management because if you fail at one it pulls down the other. Conversely, if you succeed at one, it facilitates the other.
At this point, you can jump down to the FIVE STRATEGIES listed below or you can stick with me as I capsulate the last four months.
As I’ve mentioned, my mother passed away. You can read about my mindful journey through grief in Love, Death, and BLossoms. We all knew her frail body and muddled mind were failing, and that she wanted desperately to move on from this life, but even so, her departure still hit me deeply. It took a month before I felt emotionally stable.
During her decline and later after her passing, I handled endless logistics, edited my novel, wrote and submitted my short story, crafted twenty-five heartfelt thank you cards, and began this blog that I’m hoping to post before I touch down in Bali. I also took nine trips in four months: Once to Las Vegas for the Stokercon writers conference, seven times to San Diego for my folks, once to Portland to visit our eldest son, and once to Hawaii where we celebrated Ma’s life with her friends and family and scattered her ashes over the Hana mountains.
Crazy activity. Wild range of emotions. And through it all, I somehow maintained my health, productivity, and for the most part, my cheery positive demeanor.
Finally! We have arrived at the crux of this blog. So without further adieu, I give you five strategies that kept me productive without blowing an emotional gasket:
Stay in the moment no matter how scary, emotional, or frantic it might be, and remember to breathe In and out in a consistently calm manner. It’s easy to forget. When the excrement hits the fan, most folks tend to gasp, pant, or give up on breathing entirely until our oxygen-deprived lungs force us back to gasping and panting.
We can only do one task at a time. Even when multi-tasking, we’re still not performing a variety of acts simultaneously; we’re alternating between individual tasks and bringing them to conclusion at roughly the same time. For this reason, it’s vitally important to establish what must be done versus what should be done versus what we wish could be done.
During times overloaded with work and/or crisis, we can find ourselves with numerous projects of varying lengths and overlapping deadlines. This means each project needs its own schedule. It also means that our days, weeks, months need to be portioned out accordingly so that each deadline is met.
This steps merits repeating! Stay calm. Keep breathing. Focus on one moment at a time. And remind yourself that everything will be okay. And you know what? It will.
Embrace what? The ungodly mess you’ll create by not attending to all of those non-priorities you shoved to the side! In my case this meant boxes stacked in my living room, cobwebs and dust bunnies in every corner and along every wall, unmade beds, unwashed dishes, clutter everywhere, and greasy hair.
For many people, this is the most challenging step of all, especially if they are capable, efficient, and organized humans. The more orderly we maintain our lives, the harder it is to let it all go to hell. But remember, we’re not letting everything go to hell; just the tasks with the lowest priority. So what if the excess piles into a trash heap? Let it. Embrace it. And laugh. Seriously. Laugh! It’s good for the soul, it relieves stress, and it keeps us humble. No one’s perfect. No one.
And on that note, I bid you good night from my neat hotel room in Taipei, with the typhoon tapping against the window, a water kettle for boiling tea, a cozy bed, and a loving husband with whom to share it. What more could I want? While this unexpected layover caused a bit of inconvenience for us, it offered far more in adventure. Bali will still be there tomorrow, and after the forty-minute drive to the hotel, I can actually say I’ve seen some of Taipei!