One of my favorite movies growing up was the comedy Airplane!, a silly take on 70’s disaster movies that may hold the record for in-your-face jokes per minute.
One of the famous recurring bits in the movie is when Lloyd Bridges’ air traffic control character responds to the increasing problems thrown his way by lamenting giving up an increasingly harmful group of addictions.
While I thankfully don’t share this character’s addictions, I can empathize with him after what the first week of January has thrown at us.
First, we watched as my wife’s home country of Kazakhstan experienced unrest like never before, with protests against corruption that have been a long time coming, apparent infiltration of peaceful protestors by violent actors of unknown origin, the firing and arrest of top levels of the Kazakh government, shootings and bombs and burning of government buildings, days of internet outages preventing us from contacting friends and family, and capped off by the president of Kazakhstan making the unprecedented move of inviting foreign soldiers to come help restore order.
Second, our son came home from school on Thursday and by Thursday night he had a fever in the 100’s and then a rough night of sleep. The next morning I tried in vain to secure an appointment to get him tested for COVID, and so we ended up sitting in a local urgent care for a few hours. And just liked we hoped wouldn’t happen, the results came back that he’d tested positive. So, after successfully dodging the virus since it first went wild in China back in January 2020, it finally caught us two years later. What a big surprise, considering how so many people in the U.S. seem to have thrown in the towel and accepted that it’ll just burn through the population. So now we have our eight-year-old isolated in our bedroom upstairs and we’re doing our best to not catch it ourselves.
And the icing on the cake? Since I’ve now been directly exposed to the virus, I won’t be able to start my new job on Monday teaching English to immigrants and refugees at our local community college. This really bums me out, because I’ve really been looking forward to starting that new role.
Of course we’re thankful that Noah’s experience with COVID has been mild so far, but that plus our concerns for Kazakhstan make me think…
But I’m pressing on, and I’ve done better with some of the challenges than I have with others. If you’re interested, you can read on as I unpack both.
As a reminder, during the month of January I chose to observe Dry January for my health, a thirty day challenge for finances, expressing my creativity by drawing a new creature each day during Creatuanary, and observing 31 Days of Mindfulness for my spirit.
Things I Did Better
The best success I’ve had so far is the thing that I thought would be the hardest, and that’s Dry January. I’d developed a nightly nightcap habit prior to the start of the challenge, and it’s a whole lot easier to not do something for a month than to try and do something new for a month.
So, while I’ve had a couple of times where my stress level has insisted that a drink would help, Dry January has been a good encouragement to opt for a cup of herbal tea instead. Also, it’s been nice to wake up feeling awful because I’m getting older and not because I had a glass too many of something the night before.
I’ve also had some success in re-examining my finances. Mostly realizing that I needed to be more intentional in planning for the not-as-far-away-as-I’d-like-it-to-be retirement years. I’ve also looked into some good high interest online savings accounts for our emergency fund as well as a good Roth IRA for retirement. I would encourage anyone who doesn’t have a good grip on their finances to go through a financial challenge like the one I’m doing.
Things I Can Do Better
I originally wrote that I’d had successes and failures with these challenges, but as I started to write about my “failures” I realized that I was approaching these challenges the wrong way. After all, these are all things I’m doing to better myself or to be a better version of myself. If I do one consistently and another with less frequency, it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means that I’m doing the best that I can and it’s an encouragement to re-examine how I’m approaching the challenge. I’m cool with that.
The other two challenges have been more challenging to me, even if I have had a degree of success with them.
First, I’ve had trouble consistently carving out time for the mindfulness challenge even though I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve done it. The point of the mindfulness, which I appreciate, is to learn how to slow down and live in the moment, and that is something that is worth my continuing to try and do.
Second, the Creatuanary drawing challenge has been surprisingly difficult. I think it is because I started searching for other people’s work, and most of the people posting their work with this challenge seem to be professional artists, or at least they could be. Me? I am – at best – a novice cartoonist, and my drawings reflect that level of artistry. And so the dreaded beast of comparison breaks down the door, growls at me, and then gobbles down my enthusiasm to continue. I’m working to convince myself that I’m approaching it the wrong way – that it doesn’t matter how great my drawings are, the point is to just draw.
An important point is starting to emerge with regards to this and future creative challenges, and that is to remember that I’m not doing this for professional pride or with hopes of starting a new career. I’m doing it so that I have an avenue of self-expression that I ordinarily wouldn’t have. I’m being creative in a medium that I haven’t been creative in since I was a kid, back when I didn’t care if I drew as well as a professional artist in another city. Back then I drew for the joy of drawing, and that’s what I need to bring back to this drawing challenge and any other creative challenge that I might tackle during the next 51 weeks.
I’ve enjoyed hearing from folks this week, here on the blog, on my social media, and on Reddit where I’ve been posting about Dry January and Creatuanary in the subreddits there. That’s a big thing that I’m learning – the importance of going through challenges with other people. It’s great to do something like this in community!
So don’t forget about me as you go through your own challenges! And to remind you, I leave you with a new favorite cover of an old favorite song, a bluegrass version of Simple Minds “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Supper Break. Enjoy a little taste of the music of western North Carolina.