Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays – Comfort Zones

big cog


It’s been a long while since I’ve posted. I’ve been unable to really blog about forward progress with the building, mostly because there hasn’t been much. We’re still waiting on the committee to approve the new colors, and until that time, a lot of stuff is on hold. That hasn’t been a hardship–which, I know, is odd–but simultaneous to all of this, we ended up with work spread out from New Orleans to Texas, which means Carl is running like a crazy person, making sure we’re doing okay. He needs to be here for the building stuff, so the committee taking forever ironically worked for us instead of against. I think all of that is going to get resolved in this next month, though. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, last spring, I applied to The Arcanum, an online photography school that used the mentor/apprentice construct to teach. The idea being that each photographer would naturally have their own path and things they were passionate about. Instead of creating a “one-size-fits-all” type of curriculum, the guys starting the school opted for a flexible program where each master/mentor/instructor can help each student hone their skills and then aim at their specific goal.

One of the school’s initial leaders is Trey Ratcliff, the first photographer to have an HDR (high dynamic range) photo hanging in the Smithsonian. If you follow that link and see his stuff, you’ll be gobsmacked by how amazing it is. Really, he’s just mind-blowingly good.

Our teacher is A. D. Wheeler, in our particular group, and he’s pretty damned phenomenal as well. We have a great group of photographers, all with varying skill sets, which makes for a terrific learning experience. I love that the Arcanum is set up so that you get a lot of feedback at every step from fellow photographers. It sets us up to learn from each other, and then, in improving in an area, we have to figure out how to be more articulate about that skill when critiquing someone else… and having to be articulate helps us refine our knowledge, which improves the skill… and so on.

Last year, for example, I went to a party at a friend’s house where she has an old car just going to seed in her back yard. I tried to get some shots of it, but there’s a lot of shade there, no matter what time of day, and I could never get anything that I felt happy with. This was about the best I could get, then:

Old car



After a couple of months in the Arcanum, I was able to go back and, even though I was rushed, get this:

Barbara's old car

Continue reading

Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays — grrrr, and dammit

I’m going to have to put the organizational posts on hiatus. The complex where I live leased the ground floor below me (I’m on the third) to a client that was supposed to open up a restaurant. They are permitted by the city as a restaurant, and by the Vieux Carré as a restaurant, and by the property management as a restaurant, but instead, they have opened as a nightclub.

I’m two floors above them, and when they’re playing their music, I cannot even hear my own TV, even if I have it up on the highest volume. My dishes on the other side of the apartment rattle so loud, you can hear them clear across our space, and every piece of furniture bounces. The base drumbeat (which is mostly what we hear) is so strong, it feels like someone doing really bad CPR, and most of the people on the second floor have moved out, and our neighbors up here have moved out. The owner had stood in my apartment, heard the problem, and still made excuses about why he was doing what he was doing. Like his desire to make this club successful was far more important than our right to sleep. I hope this boy (who is maybe 30 but acts 20) reaps the kind of karma he’s putting out in the world.

The complex is suing them, trying to evict them, but the judge is sympathetic because they “spent so much money” to “try to bring business into the Quarter” and “improve the quality of life in the French Quarter.” I would not be surprised to find out bribes had been made.

We thought, when they first opened in March, that the problem would be solved by April, because the complex has a stellar reputation for taking care of its tenants. Really–these people have been fabulous. If you had a complaint, it was handled right then. And if it had to be handled a couple of hours later, they apologized. But April turned into May and continuances by the judge and that turned into June, then July, and this past weekend, from Thursday night to Sunday, I couldn’t sleep, hear myself think, or stand to be in the apartment.

Not to mention, and this is the breaking point for me, their deep base was chasing mice up the walls, into our apartment.

No. Not even if they paid me to stay here. After it became clear this weekend that this could continue to go on for months, we opted to find a new place to live in while we finish the building remodel. As much as we wanted to just hang on until it was ready, the color snafu set us back at least two or three months. (To put the HVAC units on the roof, we have to build a deck, but we can’t build a deck until the deck colors are approved, and we can’t do that until the whole building’s new color scheme and placement are approved, which, just, kill me now.)

Luckily, we found a place with parking closer to the building, one block from the grocery store on a pretty residential street with a great courtyard we’ll enjoy until we can get the damned building finished. So I’m going to be packing and moving and there will likely be a lot of cursing and grumping, because I had only wanted to do this once, dammit. On the other hand, I am grateful we have a choice and aren’t stuck, and really, things could be a million times worse.


Toni: Reconstruction Thursday – Organize This!

I’m heading out to see the kid and the g-kid, so I’ll be scarce a while. I was thinking that instead of me talking about organization today, maybe YOU could post something in the comments about the biggest tip so far, OR, post tips and/or tricks that you’ve seen somewhere else, like Pinterest. It can be anything — a better way to organize a closet, a kitchen, a small space, an office… anything. A better way to fold clothes. Run a business meeting. Anything goes.

Toni: Reconstruction Thursday – Solitude

Are you the kind of person who craves that alone time, or are you the kind who has to have the chaos around you to thrive?

Today’s lesson (see the bottom of this post for the book we’re following and the links to previous posts) is about solitude, and why we need it. I suspect this week the lesson is preaching to the choir, because creative people know this. The real task, in my opinion, is getting the rest of the world to recognize it and leave us a lone a little while.

In a lesson in the book (Manage Your Day-To-Day) much deeper into the book, another author talks about setting aside blocks of time and treating them as important as work. This time may be for actual creative tasks, or simply creative thinking, but we need to honor that time as absolutely necessary.

Here’s where I think guilt become insidious and creates little train wrecks in our day-to-day–we feel selfish taking that time, even when we know we need it to create something we’re getting paid for. For centuries, women weren’t thought to be creative because, duh, when the hell would they have had time to be creative? They were responsible for all the housekeeping and child-rearing and being an asset to their husband’s career that it wasn’t until the last century or so that they emerged en masse as creatives in their own right. But, even as that shift happened, the responsibilities didn’t shift to the middle to be shared–at least, not as a standard across the board. Too many times we hear of a woman working a full-time career who still has to oversee the majority of the kids’ needs, and the household needs, without the guy grasping why that isn’t a fair division of labor. I think this is changing (and it’s definitely shared in my household, because I’m stubborn enough to not put up with that crap, so I picked a guy who got it from the start), but for many people, a fair division of labor is a fantasy. And yet, even for those of us who have a relatively fair division, we feel guilt about taking time away from family, away from tasks that feel urgent, because if we don’t do them, who will? We let that guilt eat at us and we put what feels like “acceptable” tasks ahead of what we may need. It’s that “acceptable” designation that becomes the culprit, because what is acceptable after all? Acceptable to whom? Our partners? Our parents? Our children? Neighbors? Co-workers? Peers?

Are we shoving a bunch of tasks into our day in order to prove that we’re worthy, that we’re efficient enough with our time that we then “deserve” time out, time to think, to be, to have solitude? And if so, how do we stop this to see that we’re worthy, period. Not “if” we do X, Y, or Z, and then AA…. not “if” we volunteer for everything or finish every project other people deem important.

This is an unusual lesson for me to talk about because I don’t operate out of guilt. My own mother will tell you that I flat refuse to let people guilt me into doing something, and I had a friend once who tried, hard, to guilt me into volunteering for a project and I had to point out to her that her tactics were having the opposite effect: if you try to guilt me, I’m going to be pretty damned stubborn and go do what I want. It just doesn’t work, because my inner stubborn streak will think (and sometimes, I have been known to say), “fuck off if you want to run my life. You have one, go run yours.”

I recognize I’m not the norm, here, and I can’t be sure where I got this from. It was not from my family (parents or otherwise). And if I hadn’t already operated like this, I think I would have leaned more heavily this direction anyway after watching my brother suffer for so long, and then losing him a year-and-a-half ago. Because life is just too damned short. It is especially too damned short to be doing things we don’t want to do, things that are for others–in the sense that we care what others think of us and so are doing X, Y, or Z. [Edited to add–I’m happy to do things for others, but it’s from a desire to help, or an understanding of a need that I can fulfill, but not out of peer pressure, or a sense of guilt that I “should” do it because if I don’t, someone will think less of me.]

There are obligations I have day-to-day because I made commitments–to my husband, to my children–but they don’t supersede who I am and what I need to be sane and happy. When it’s all said and done and I’m lying on my deathbed, I’m not going to wonder if only, because I’m grabbing for the things I want. I may not succeed–no one is guaranteed success–but I’m going to give myself the room to try.

And that means solitude when I need it. Down time. Time to read, or time to think, or time to just ~be~ without expectations.

How about you? How are you doing as far as carving out time for solitude? Does guilt get to you? And if so, what is one step you can take this week to shed that guilt and do something for yourself?



We’re looking at how to organize our lives and create healthy routines; to do that, we’re using this book as our guide — a collection of short (very short) essays: MANAGE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creativity. 

This is Part 6.

Here’s Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4. Part 5.

(The comments are the best part of this series, so don’t skip those–you’ll be missing out.)


Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays – the Special Snowflake edition

Back to talking about organization, which is, essentially, solving problems.

That may not sound like a big difference in semantics there, but “organization” means having to react to chaos, whereas “solving problems” feels, to me, to be active, looking forward, seeing the obstacle and finding a solution.

I’m not always good at that. Things mount up, I get overwhelmed, and I will, without really paying attention, start explaining why I can’t do X. I’m not making excuses, of course. I’m just explaining. Because I have reasons. Good, solid, can’t-argue-with-them reasons.

(Can you tell I’m a writer? I can justify almost anything.)

I know we’re technically following along in the MANAGE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY book, but Seth Godin’s blog popped up in my inbox this morning, about how to handle your problem if it is, indeed, completely unique.

Continue reading

Toni: Reconstruction Thursday – Sometimes You’re The Bug*

Today, instead of continuing the organization series (which will continue next week), I thought I’d tell you a… fairytale. Something completely made up. Totally not related to anyone who may or may not be a member of this blog. Okay? Fiction. Totally.

Once upon a time, there was this woman named…er… Tonya. Tonya was married to a guy named… Cal, and they were very happy, young, hip, good-looking people who were just blessed with patience. (Hey, it’s fiction. Run with it.)

One day, Tonya and Cal, who’d purchased a building in a famed historic district, in a southern state somewhere… needed to paint said building. They had jumped through many many fiery hoops of the local historic committee in order to get a multitude of things approved, and they were pretty accustomed to the routines and personalities of said committee. First, they had to send in a request to the staff trolls for any changes to the exterior of the building. Any. Changes. Some of these changes, the trolls could approve without taking it to the full committee (which was comprised of the trolls and local evil architects sorcerers), and in those moments, Tonya and Cal rejoiced, drank a great deal of wine, and there was dancing. Probably. The trolls claimed that they had the power to approve the paint colors, and they would be very happy to do so. Tonya was suspicious, but so far, they had not been too evil, so there was hope. She was young and very very naive. Continue reading

Toni: Reconstruction Thursday – What is your capacity?

We’re looking at how to organize our lives and create healthy routines; to do that, we’re using this book as our guide — a collection of short (very short) essays: MANAGE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creativity. 

This is Part 5.

Here’s Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

(The comments are the best part of this series, so don’t skip those–you’ll be missing out.)


I have to confess something: I kinda wanted to skip this essay. This whole “building renewal into your day” thing, because holy freaking geez, I have enough to do, and now I’m supposed to also build renewal into my day? Could they pile on any more touchy feely crap to make me feel guilty for not being as organized as I ought to be.

Seriously. As it is, I’m already getting up as the asscrack of dawn so I can get the exercising in early (or else it just doesn’t happen), and I’m creating hard edges to get the writing (mostly research at this moment) done, and am practicing successful strategies, trying hard to weed out the self-sabotage, and making the critical things (like writing and exercise) something I attend to every day, for at least one hour, and now I’m supposed to shoehorn in renewal?

Yeah, right, my inner Sarcastic Bitch thought. Perfectly easy for someone who has minions to say (because they dump everything on the minions, so the poor minions are overwhelmed, stressed, and homicidal), but there’s just no way to do this stupid renewal crap and not feel overwhelmed. And the point of all of this is to stop feeling so damned overwhelmed.

But…. Continue reading