Discover more from My Sweet Dumb Brain
A handful of ideas, ready to germinate
Today’s newsletter is a real spring mix.
“Have you considered that you might be tired?”
This was the gist of the email that one Sweet Dumb Brain reader sent after I wrote about my tendency to spend each weeknight the same way—on the couch, in front of the TV, scrolling on my phone.
When I admitted this habit, I shared all the other things I could be doing: “Soak in a bubble bath or invite a friend over. Tidy up my closet or do some writing. Attend an online event or start a new DIY project.” This insightful reader pointed out that, with the exception of the bubble bath, most of these activities required work. (Some people might not find having a friend over requires much effort; I, on the other hand, will be sweeping, tidying, lighting candles, picking the right music—essentially fretting—up until the moment that friend arrives. I’m naturally chill like that.)
“Maybe your sweet brain wants more downtime after a busy day. Are there activities you could do that are much less engaging and more relaxing?” she wrote. “It's a busy season of life. Give your sweet self a break, my friend!”
She’s right. I’m less than a month into a new work schedule, in the throes of raising a toddler, still juggling this newsletter and other freelance jobs, and I don’t cut myself much slack when it comes to maintaining a clean and organized home. I am tired.
This weekend, I did something rare. I closed my laptop Thursday night and didn’t open it again until Sunday evening, when I spent some time preparing for the week ahead. I didn’t work on this newsletter, catch up on emails, or focus on any looming projects. Instead of staring into my laptop screen, I looked at the beauty of everything around me: the bright, blooming flowers on a visit to the botanical gardens; the faces of dear old friends during a game night; the sight of my daughter playing with other toddlers while us parents chatted; the swirling colors of DIY Easter eggs; the pages of a book in the middle of a quiet afternoon.
By the time the weekend was over, I was more relaxed than I’ve been in a while. My mind felt more expansive. And instead of one solid newsletter topic, I had a half-dozen seeds of ideas, ready to germinate.
It’s been a while since I’ve offered up a collection of smaller ideas in lieu of an essay. This week seems like a good opportunity to do just that.
A sampling of somethings good
The way we both laughed to the point of tears. The bird that’s returned to build a nest on our porch. The much-needed conversation with an old friend. Cass’ genuine surprise; her insistence on holding hands; the way her vocabulary is exploding by the minute. Mowing the lawn—yes, really. The glorious weather! The writing session that was pure flow. No, the music session that flowed. The way that book made me feel. Tonight’s delicious veggie burger. Cass again, always Cass.
(What’s a “something good,” you ask? Here you go.)
Every 18 months
Big life transitions are hard, especially when they feel forced upon us. Adjusting to a new schedule can be difficult. Making changes to your diet can leave you grumpy. Learning to live in a new place or make new friends? Impossible! Whenever we have to make a significant shift in our routine—whether it’s chosen or not—it often feels like an unwelcome disruption. We fight back against the change until, finally, it feels like our new normal. Before we know it, another change happens and the pattern repeats.
But what if, instead of being blindsided by change, we anticipated and welcomed it? Perhaps the most interesting idea I encountered in Arthur Brooks’ From Strength to Strength was that—at least according to one researcher who interviewed hundreds of people—significant changes in life occur, on average, every 18 months.
“If we understand transitions properly,” Brooks wrote, “We can curb our natural tendency to fight against them—a futile battle, given their inevitability. Indeed, with a shift in mindset, we can make transitions into a source of meaning and transcendence.”
The next time you're facing another big transition? Tell yourself that change is right on track. It’s proof of a life fully lived.
Learning to lean
A few weeks ago, I reflected on the concept of “leaning in” and how much my approach to work has changed over the past decade. In response, a former colleague emailed me with a memory of someone we used to work with.
“I once heard her challenge women to think of their careers as a sailboat, often leaning to one side or the other, moving with the wind and the sun, but always moving forward. It resonated so much with me at the time and still does today.”
I love that. The goal is not to lean in one particular direction. But learning to lean—in all directions—helps us to keep moving forward.
Six years, one month, two weeks, and five days ago
That’s how long it’s been since my husband, Jamie, died. (Thank you, Google, for that quick calculation.) Sometimes it feels like forever ago. And sometimes it feels like it’s been no time at all.
This weekend, I drove past the first house we owned together. It was an old duplex, painted bright pink at the time, and sat facing an abandoned building. Whenever we sat on our porch, exited our front door, or looked out our bedroom window, we’d see that building. For a while, we befriended an unhoused person who lived beside the graffiti-covered structure. We even made him cookies on his birthday one year. Needless to say, that building was a big topic for us. Who owns it? Will it ever get torn down? If so, what will take its place? Where would Junior go? What would that lot look like when the building is gone? How would it change the view from our window?
We never got the answers to those questions. After five years, we moved to another house in the neighborhood. After that, we moved to Florida. And not too long after that, Jamie died. When I returned back to Atlanta in 2021 with Billy and our baby, we’d pass my old house and that building every so often. Jamie was gone, but that abandoned building was still there.
Driving past my old house this weekend, I gasped. The building was gone! “Oh my God,” I said out loud, even though I was the only one in the car. “I need to tell Jamie about this!” The fact that I couldn’t stabbed me like a knife. The next day, I missed Jamie so much that I cried. They were big, fat cathartic tears. I felt better afterward.
Anyone who’s lost someone close to them has experienced many bittersweet moments like this one. In the first days, weeks, and months, there are countless times you want to talk to the person who’s gone, to give them an update only they would care about. And you feel shocked—all over again—that you can’t.
Sometimes, those moments happen six years, one month, two weeks, and five days later. There’s no timeline to grief. And that’s okay.
Treat yourself with tenderness
I recently listened to an interview with KC Davis, author of How to Keep House While Drowning. Davis is a licensed therapist and creator of Struggle Care, offering practical, non-judgemental advice on how to make care tasks, like doing laundry and making meals, easier to manage.
The interviewer asked her about a self-care routine or practice that brings her joy. “This is a hard question because I feel like I have a bazillion methods and practices and examples I could give,” Davis said. “But if I were to think about a piece that runs through all of them, it’s been learning to treat myself with tenderness.”
That resonated. Learning how to treat myself with tenderness is something I come back to time and time again. It’s part of the tagline of this newsletter! Sometimes, I wonder if it’s too basic of a concept to muse on.
But when I heard Davis share how self-compassion has made her life markedly better, I remembered how crucial it is (re)learn how to be kind to ourselves.
Treat yourselves with tenderness, friends. I’ll see you next week.