Tag Archives: stress

creative tension

There is pressure that is deadly. There is stress that kills. We all know that.

There is, on the other hand, pressure that is, well, sheer music.

A piano has 88 keys. A piano has 228 strings (give or take). Those strings are under tension. They are built that way. That’s how the noise becomes music.

When a pianist presses a key, a felt-covered hammer hits the one, two, or three strings that are tuned to the same pitch, and there is a note.

There is pressure on the strings. There is pressure on the tuner to get the pitches precisely right. There is pressure on the pianist to get the notes right.

The result is music for the rest of us to delight in.

  • Sometimes we have to bring the tension down. Tim Walker talks about throwing away times from your to-do list.
  • Sometimes we have to bring the tension up.
  • Sometimes we have to find an outlet for the pressure before the strings break.
  • Sometimes we have to ask for help. (What becomes clear to everyone but us is when the strings or the tuning or the notes aren’t working.)
  • Sometimes we have to talk to the Piano Maker about why there needs to be so much pressure.
  • Sometimes we need to relax into the music. Nancy Swanson talks about letting go.

I’m not sure what the answer is for your piano right now. But between now and the end of the year, I pray that you’ll have time for tuning and practice and delight.


the power of spaces

I know lots of people who have changed their geography of work this year.

That’s an odd way to say that people are working in different offices, different buildings. Sometimes whole offices of people have moved. Sometimes people have changed companies and careers and clienteles.

Even I have changed spaces. I changed both desks and desk locations at home. I changed where I work, who I work with, what direction I travel when I go to work. I even drive a different one of our vehicles to work, changing to the one that has better mileage because I now travel further. The photo is from my new drive home. I used to see factories and houses and big buildings. Now I see barns and buggies.

Nancy, on the other hand, travels closer. She kept the same people to work with but they moved to her third office in four years. They share space with other organizations.

Connie changed houses, Chris changed offices. Some of you have exchanged an office for a briefcase and hotel room and endless coffee house/wifi hotspots.

For all of us who have changed geographies, may I make a suggestion?

Sometime soon, very soon, slide your chair back and look around the space. As you look at the geography, how have you inflicted yourself on it? Perhaps more importantly, how has it inflicted itself on you?

Have you changed how far you walk from the parking lot to your desk? How has that changed your exercise? Have you changed how much desk space you have? How does that change how you lay out your thoughts (I put up a bigger whiteboard)? Have you changed how much time you spend close to people or away from people? How does that change how loudly you can play your music (I shut the door) or how loudly you can talk on the phone or how much white noise you need to shut out other noises (I downloaded a white noise loop)?

All of us know that there is a measure of stress associated with changing living and working spaces. Some of it is good stress, other is less good. We feel it and may blame the people, the pressure, the job. But too often, I think, we don’t pay attention to how much of the stress comes simply from the way habits change as the patterns of space change.


Subscribe to this blog for free through a reader by clicking here.

Click here to sign up for this blog as an email through mailchimp.

the weight of what i could do with stuff

I spent part of Saturday afternoon working in the garage. I almost said cleaning the garage, but that would be too optimistic…and inaccurate. Clearing out my heart might be more accurate.

If you have been coming to this site for long, you have discovered that I tell stories. For me, almost anything can lead to a story, a parable, an object lesson. It is the risk of a peculiar convergence of teacher and artist and some other vague something.

That story-seeing, application-finding is a wonderful skill for which I am grateful. It is a horrible skill as well.

You see, when I look at objects, I see their stories. I see what might have been. I see what could be. I see possibilities and odd applications. As a result, I find it difficult to throw any of those things away.

For example, in the picture are three pieces of wood.

  • The one on the left is wainscotting. I used it in our kitchen. I used more in our bathroom. I had some pieces left, taking up space in the garage and in my head. After all, I might need a patch, we may want to do another project with it.
  • The one in the middle is rough-sawn wood from a water-powered sawmill in northern lower Michigan. We went there with friends and bought two pieces of the lumber, each about a foot long. I made a remembrance for Nancy’s friend and for Nancy. Or tried to. They were really odd: one was never given and the other never used.
  • The one on the left is maple flooring, the kind used for gymnasium floors. I rescued a few pieces from a dumpster. The floor had been laid and before it was finished, it flooded. All the pieces were tossed, all with nails every 12 inches.

All of these pieces have been with us for at least a decade, cluttering the garage and cluttering my mind. I know that I could make something with them. I know that I ought to make something with them. I know that they are worth salvaging, somehow.

And yet. Every time I look at the garage, the piles of ought to and someday loom large. Even though I haven’t done much woodworking for the past few years, and am likely to not do any for the next few years, I hang on to all of these scraps, partial projects that exist only because I have a “could be” story in my head. This wood will sit for another few years, will keep a car out of the garage, will make me feel guilty, all because I believe that because I picked it up, I cannot put it down.

Until today.

Today I used the saw and cut them into lengths that will fit in the fireplace. I used a hatchet to split them into pieces that will burn quickly.

Halfway through the project I sat at the computer to check email. I found that my chest was a bit tight. The emotional work of clearing space was having showing up with physical stress. I convinced me that I had to keep working.

There is now one box of kindling in the family room, ready to start fires that will warm the room. There is more space in the garage. And there are non-burnable scraps in the dumpster.

Someday I’ll pick up more scraps. For now, I’ll breath more freely.

What I learned from stress


I’m supposed to write a post for Robert Hruzek’s group writing project. And the theme is “What I learned from stress.”

And I just know that he wants something about how stress helps us find out what we really believe rather than what we say we believe.

Or that stress in life is like the accent in a word…it changes the meaning and helps us understand. (content and content, for example).

Or that stress is a refining process.

But I’m not sure I’ve learned those things from stress.

Here’s what I have discovered, however about stress. I would say learned, but I haven’t learned these because I all too frequently act as if they are brand new:

  1. Stress fractures. I am more cranky then usual when stretched. And there is greater likelihood of thoughtless comments, of raised (or lowered) voices, of (more than usual) stupid words uttered. (In fact, I’m feeling cranky now. hmm.)
  2. Stress causes (adrenaline) addictions. I have this odd belief that I write better under pressure. It goes way back. As a result, I think I might almost intentionally put things off so I can get the rush.
  3. Stress, relieved, leads to migraines. You’ve read about my migraines before if you have been reading this blog. After unusually busy times with poor sleep and poor rest and poor silence and poor balance, my head explodes. Often not in the middle of the chaos, but when there is a moment of stopping. (They used to come on my day off. So I tried not taking one. But that wasn’t particularly helpful.)
  4. Stress, good or bad, wears.
  5. Stress causes candy corn. Or maybe it just leads to candy corn. Or coffee. Or donuts. Or whatever is around. (Oddly, it hardly ever leads to carrots.)
  6. Stress is. Can’t avoid it, it’s not life without it. And it’s existence can’t be denied.
  7. Stress is often a result of choices. When I decided to finish this post in a little window of time which suddenly took longer than I planned and means that I am now almost late to the next event, my choice increased the tension in my chest and the sense of needing to rush and the beginning of the excuse-generating mechanism and….i gotta go. I’ll be back later.

    [3.5 hours later, after discovering that the event was at 7:00am not 7:30am]

  8. Stress acknowledged and reflected on and managed and released teaches. Stress unexamined or examined trains. Training builds habits. Teaching builds understanding. (I know, oversimplified, optimistic. Deal with it.) We may learn nothing from the stress in our lives and our reactions to it and to other people. However, stress can train us…to avoid certain people, to pursue certain activities, to live in fear.

Now, go read the rest of the posts that Robert will link to. They will tell you all the good stuff that people have learned from stress. I’ll just sit here and relax. And eat candy corn.

I scared myself this morning

I had a meeting this morning. I was running early (not the scary part), so rather than meeting at the mall, I suggested that we meet across the street. At the mall I would have had to wait for an hour for the coffee chain to open (not the scary part). Across the street, I was able to order immediately.

I wrote for awhile, in a very scattered way, unable to make one coherent list (not the scary part). My friend showed up. We talked.

I headed for the hospital (not the scary part).

I called our office to find out the name of the wife of the man I was supposed to be visiting. We talked about lunch for the whole staff. We often eat together on Thursdays (not the scary part). I agreed to pick it up.

At the registration desk, I discovered that the man I was going to visit had been released yesterday. So I headed across town to another hospital, another person or two to visit. I arrived and discovered that someone that was supposed to be released yesterday was still in (not the scary part). I also discovered that my cell phone battery was dead (not the scary part).

I spent some time with one man, and didn’t interrupt the therapy session of the other man. I called back to the office to find out where to pick up the food. They sent me to Chick-fil-a at the mall (not the scary part).

While I was driving away from the hospital, I noticed an odd feeling in my chest (the scary part).

It’s not what you think. It’s not anything wrong with my heart, at least not my physical heart. What I noticed, however, is that I began to feel some stress, which, upon reflection, was due completely to being away from a phone and a computer for a whole morning.

And that is terrifying, that feeling is the scary part.

  • I was afraid that I would miss a call from my family. There is no crisis, but we stay in touch and there is a little stress at work for Nancy right now.
  • I was afraid that I would miss arrangements about lunch, that someone would need to change something.
  • I was afraid that I would miss email or comments or some contact from friends.

What scares me is that these aren’t things to be afraid of. These responses are symptoms of a break in the  constant connectedness I and many people I know and love have. This isn’t about just being online. Notice that some of the connectedness is to the people I kissed goodbye this morning and would hug at the end of the day. Some of the connectedness is to the people I would see in 60 minutes and the fear is about lunch.

What scares me is that I talk about wanting time to think, time to be quiet…and when I was given it, it made me twitchy rather than together.

I know. I was working in a very unstructured way, talking to people in the middle of serious issues. There ought to be stress from that, you say. But I do that all the time. It was the disconnect that is disconcerting.

The simple answer is, of course, to make the most of family time this holiday weekend. And I will as we drive 12 hours into northern Wisconsin and back again. The simple answer is to take tech sabbath. The simple answer is to examine my need to please which is amplified by the ability to connect.

But I’m not sure this is a simple answer thing. And I’m not sure that’s it’s just me.

So what do you think? (Not about me, that’s too scary). But what about you? How twitchy do you get when the phone goes dead, when the wifi isn’t available?

How hooked are you on the connect?

8 ways to increase your own stress.

I asked for some help with this one. I decided that I was willing to risk decreasing my stress.

1. Set impossibly strict rules for your kids, then 1) question your own parenting skills and/or 2) push them harder when they fail @div_conspiracy

2.  Think you have to say yes to everything people ask you to do. conniereece

3. Ignore need for rest & feel virtuous for working so hard. conniereece

4. Believe that it’s all up to you @alenardson

5. Overpromise. Underexecute.

6. Forget that it takes much longer to say “yes” that it takes to completely rework a powerpoint deck, rebuild a carborator,  follow twitter, or almost any other task. (However, it takes much less time to say no.)

7.  Say that you are leaving and then wait five more minutes.

8. Try to be Chris Brogan if you are built to be Jon Swanson.

Others in the 8 ways series:
To lose your faith
To make yourself angry

To make yourself jealous
To make yourself depressed
To ruin your marriage

Subscribe to this blog for free by clicking here.