This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
This is a work of art. (And maybe also an idea, I don’t know… all these Good List additions are starting to blur together, you know?) Either way, I’m gonna share with you an idea on what to do with works of art that’s made my life sweeter, and then afterwards, I want to share with you a short chat I had not too long ago with my friend and fellow writer Sarah Bessey, where we talk about showing up for what’s ours to do — emphasis on ours; meaning, showing up, yes, but for only what’s ours..
Okay, so if you know me, you know how much I love music, and how much I love to have it on in the background almost all the time. I love having it on at home, quietly playing on our Sonos speaker as we go about our daily life doing work, school, chores, meals, etc. And I love having it on while I work, especially when I’m focused on deep work, like writing. It helps me concentrate, it keeps me from distraction, and it also sets the mood, whether I need slower, more contemplative energy or more a energetic, pick-me-up, creative mood. Music in the background is perfect for altering our moods, however we need them.
And as such, I’ve created a ton of Spotify playlists over the years. I’ve got playlists for dinner parties and other such gatherings, playlists for certain moods, like romance or mourning (I created one for when the news bums me out), for cleaning the house and getting the kids’ physical energy up so that they do their chores, and many of you know about our morning playlists for getting ready for school. Every year I create playlists for days of the week we need to head to school, where they start off slow and gentle, to wake up, and hopefully by the end we’re out the door in somewhat decent moods (though I’ll say by May, when the school year is over, everyone is sick to death of our playlists).
Well, here’s what I’m adding to the Good List with this episode: creating playlists for every season. Yes, winter, spring, summer, and fall, but I mean specifically each season. So, I’ve got a playlist from spring 2018 and one from summer 2016 and winter 2019 and fall 2012. And each one takes me back to that particular time period in my life, because music does that — it’s a sensory experience that taps into memory and relives moments like driving on certain roads through particular towns, living in a house we no longer live in, having a meal with a certain person we miss, stuff like that. There are seasons I’ve skipped due to forgetfulness, and certain songs overlap (meaning, I’ve got some duplicates on different playlists), but that’s okay, because I’m doing this for me and me only, so it doesn’t matter.
Now, I make this really easy on myself. I often like to organize a playlist just-so, with the perfect intro song that leads to the next and the next until it ends exactly how it should end. I don’t do that with these seasonal playlists. With these, I simply drag-and-dump songs that I seem to really like and play quite a bit on repeat during that season — it becomes a depository of songs from this era of my life. Sometimes I jump ahead and add a song to a new playlist for the upcoming season, because I want to enjoy that song in the near future (because I also believe that songs have seasons — most of Jack Johnson’s songs are summer, and Fleet Foxes are winter, for example). But otherwise, I don’t overthink this; I simply collect songs for my time periods like a musical scrapbook.
Sometimes these season all smush together — for example, I’ve only got one spring-summer 2020 playlist because hello, COVID pandemic quarantine; that barely felt like two seasons, so it’s all in one playlist. There’s also not a ton of songs on there because I just didn’t listen to as much music as I normally do, because I was in survival mode like just about everyone else on the planet. Yet I’ve already started my fall playlist because like I just mentioned, there’s a few songs I want to carry with me into fall 2020, and because I’m determined to add more music to my life for this second half of 2020 — I need more art in my life right now. And I bet you do, too. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the news, the survival mode details of school and work, and the general rigamarole of that which is 2020. So I’m encouraging you how I’m encouraging me right now — to be intentional about adding good music to your life, because you probably need it more than you think. I’m as big a fan of podcasts as the next gal, but we need to infuse art into our daily lives, and not just talking heads.
So that’s my addition to the Good List this week: seasonal playlists, made easy-peasy as you go about your day listening to music.
Not too long ago I chatted with Sarah Bessey about what’s on her Good List right now, and I think you’ll really resonate with what she’s thinking about right now; I know I do. Here’s that conversation. Hope you enjoy.
Tsh: Hello, Sarah, how are you doing?
Sarah: Hi, Tsh. I’m doing good. How are you?
Tsh: I’m doing great. I’m so glad to finally chat with you. I have to ask really fast because you’re up in like one of my favorite parts of the world. Is your weather glorious right now? Or are you already like roasty toasty hot?
Sarah: Listen, I could play it cool, but it is gorgeous, right now. I know that’s probably not super helpful for some people. We’re having like a really beautiful spring. The days are warm. The nights are cool. Everything is blooming up here. I’m just about an hour and a half outside of Vancouver and British Columbia. It’s been just a lovely spring, but after a long gray, rainy winter, I was very ready for some vitamin D and some flowers.
Tsh: I get it. We had a great spring. Our spring is like your summer and we tend to go to Oregon in the summer and the kids are already asking, okay, we are going to Oregon this year, right? And we’re like, guys, I don’t know. We’ve decided to take summer in two week increments. We do not know anything past two weeks in terms of our own family plans. It’s like giant question mark, but man summers here are brutal. We will have to come up with a plan if we stay here well.
Sarah: And even if we come up with plans, we have to hold them flexibly and just kind of contingency and if this, then that, and I don’t even know, at this point, I think your plan of just taking things in two week increments is the wisest course of action andI will be adopting it.
Tsh: Yeah. When my friend told me that a few weeks ago, I was like, that is brilliant. That’s just what I’m going to tell the kids too because if they ask, am I going to camp in August? I don’t know. Who knows anything really.
We talk about things that are on our good list here, as you know, so I would love to know what’s one thing on your good list right now, Sarah. What’s on your plate?
Sarah: Well, I think there’s a number of things that everybody’s kind of using or doing right now in order to keep things happening. But for me, I’ve got four kids that are all homeschooling right now. They go from age five to nearly 14, and then of course working full time and everything else. I think I’ve had started to feel very overwhelmed and there has been a phrase that has just been super helpful and very clarifying for me over these last number of months and I think probably will continue to be helpful and that is, show up for the work that’s mine to do. Show up for the work is one that I think has floated around a lot, certainly in writing circles, because a big part of writing is putting your bum in the chair and actually doing it. But one of the things that has been really helpful for me is to say what’s mine to actually do right now. I think especially in like in a moment and just to continue to show up for it, I think maybe that might be because engagement can be hard right now. It’s easier to numb out or comfort ourselves into some sort of oblivion of needing to just get through at certain moments. Which again, I mean, listen, we’re all there for that every now and again, but the sense of just showing up. Of continuing to show up for my kids, for the work that’s mine to do for, instead of just trying to white knuckle or hide or numb out from it right now. That’s probably been something that’s been really helpful for me on a more idea basis, I suppose.
Tsh: What I like about that phrase is it both is motivating for us to sit down, put our butt in the chair and do the work we’re called to do. And also the second part of that phrase, what’s mine to do, that it’s so easy to see other people’s what’s on there end to do and feel a little weird, like, should I be doing that or should I not be doing what I’m doing? And instead embracing what’s mine to do and not yours to do. I like both sides of that.
Sarah: I think it’s been helpful because again, sometimes, some of the narratives, I think when we very first were starting to fully enter into a quarantine and into lockdown mode, people were just really almost, the hustle and the pressure to do everything and to continue to do everything and act like we weren’t in some global pandemic where things were totally changed was really, almost tiring. So the permission of what’s actually mine to do right now and then I could show up for that.
Tsh: I feel like whenever it happened, it was mid-March around here when everything shut down. Of course it was worrisome. Of course there were some concerns about what we should and shouldn’t do, but there was also a tiny bit of a permission slip I feel like given to us to really and truly only do that which we could do. I don’t know about your spring, but I had a number of traveling gigs in April and May and all the way to July. I had to cancel the Literary London trip, and all these things on my calendar just suddenly vanished and went away. As much as I was sad about that, because these were things I legitimately love doing. There was also a tiny, weird bit of relief. Does that make sense?
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I think that that’s true. I think that, again, that it’s different I think probably for every family based on what they were kind of engaging with. But I think that there was this sense of clarifying, right? Of what actually remained then on the other side of that and what is it that still is here for me to have in this moment, as opposed to now the temptation is to fill it up. I joked to a girlfriend of mine that this is not the time for gains. This is the time for maintain. It’s all we’re doing right now. We’re just gonna keep the wheels on and we’re going to worry about all the other stuff later at another point.
Tsh: Yeah, that’s so true. I think weirdly I feel like life got smaller, which was, I think, it was a gift a lot of us didn’t even know we needed, but we did, because weren’t going out and about, and we were in our homes and there was something that felt really human and really right about that even though none of this that’s going out, this, whatever this is, is right, as it should be on a global scale, there’s something that just kept us in our little boroughs or in our shelters that felt as it should be in a small way. I was reading somebody on Twitter, I forget who it was, but she talked about how she realized that her biggest job was at the moment because of all, this was the ministry of countenance. I asked her what she meant. And she said, basically what it meant was literally my face is my ministry right now to my kids and to my spouse, my people, is to show up and look people fully in the eye and actually engage when my kid is talking to me instead of spacing out. It’s looking at my spouse and smiling instead of I’m just exhausted, all those kinds of things, everything just got really small in all the right ways I felt like.
Sarah: I think so. Even right from the beginning, I felt like it was a very interesting thing that the advice that we were hearing, the things that we were hearing from public health, avoiding crowds and staying connected and looking after your neighbors and making choices for the most vulnerable among us. And going outside and being in nature instead of in crowds. Part of me just kind of wondered, are we all going to become better humans? You could make the argument that that is not held up, but at the same time, there was this idea of space and of a breath. Even from a creation perspective or a world perspective, there’s been a slowing and a pausing, of maybe, I see even in my neighborhood, people talking to their neighbors more and going out for walks more and there’s been some restorations or some gifts, I guess, even in the midst of all of the suffering. Neither one negates the other, right. Being able to notice the gift, being able to appreciate it, being able to identify it and find some joy in it, I think matters even more when we are in a state of suffering and mourning, grief, even anger. Neither one of those things necessarily negates the other. I think being able to hold both of them are the ways that you’re able to find hope and keep going.
Tsh: I’m curious, Sarah, for people listening and hearing your wisdom as sound, what would you say right now are some examples of what is yours to do? Like concrete, boots on the ground, Sarah Bessey’s list of this is on your end to do, what are some of those things right now?
Sarah: I think probably being a really clarifying thing in the midst of all of this, I think for a lot of us, I think one of the biggest things that became really clear to me at the beginning was like our home and our family. Again, it’s a hard thing for kids, right? To lose their friends and their routines and basketball teams. You think about the ones that are graduating high school and whatever else and are trying to finish, our kids are in school until the end of June and so we still have a few more weeks of homeschool, but even things like making sure that they feel connected, that they are seeing some of those things that they’re finding ways and outlets, all that sort of thing. Our family has become very much a central, it always has been, but I think I see it a little bit more clearly now because we’re all here all the time. Even the ability to have like healthy and good routines and making wise choices and modeling some of those things and inviting them into some of those processes.
Then of course, just managing to keep the wheels on for work. I think I’ve realized at this point, like I said earlier, this isn’t a time to chase hard, but we’re trying to keep some room for writing and for work and for the community that I lead over at Evolving Faith and a number of other things that are going on, but keeping it very simple, keeping it very manageable and what is it that’s actually mine to do right now and then how do I do that well without making everybody around me crazy by trying to do everything at once. I think one of the biggest things that’s been helpful for me is to not try to do everything at once, but just almost have some margin and also have some room and be able to say, nope, just because I can work until midnight doesn’t mean I will. I’m going to go to bed. I’m going to have a free night. I’m going to do these other things that make me feel like a human in the midst of all of this as well.
Tsh: Yeah. That’s really good. A practice that I picked up back in March was instead of writing like a daily to do list, I write just a master to do list somewhere else in my journal just as a brain dump s I don’t forget. Then I will take three at a time and put them on my days to do list. I will look and just think, okay, if I can only get three things done today, which three should I do? And then I’ll just pick those. Then if I cross them off and I feel like I still have bandwidth, okay, I’ll add one more or maybe I’ll add three more, but if that was it and I’m done, then I’m done and it’s okay. I think sometimes if we create this 30 item to do list, and then we only quote get three things done and we feel like somehow we didn’t have a productive day or didn’t have a good day. That’s not the definition of a good day.
Sarah: No, you’re exactly right. In a lot of ways, I don’t know if you feel like this or not, but we have our kids really close together with the exception of our youngest. We had three babies in four years and that idea of three things was very real for me in those years of like just having three babies that were four and under, and then of course we added another one in a few years later, but just this idea of keeping your expectations, not low, but gentle.
Tsh: Gentle is a good word.
Sarah: Right? I think that this feels like a very similar time to me where it could be very overwhelming, there’s a lot happening. There’s a lot of big feelings sometimes all around us and in us all at the same time. I think that your idea of saying here’s three things. If these happen, great. I’ll feel like today was a success, but today is not the day to write the great Canadian novel. Someday, that’ll make the top three list.
Tsh: You actually just mentioned your conference, Evolving Faith, that’s usually in the fall. Correct? Do you even, how do you plan for something for the fall where we’re here in late spring and who knows what happens? Are you planning, are you just going to move to the following year?
Sarah: We are doing some planning and some research right now. I think that normally we put our tickets on sale for our gathering in March. We had the whole conference prepared and ready to go in Houston, that has obviously changed. Right now we’ve got a lot of people in the room helping us try to see what the path forward will look like. I think we’ll probably have an announcement on that in the next week or two, but I think that part of that too has been, I think what are ways that you can look for the common good and loving your neighbor, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Those are some of the things I think that we’re trying to hold, that we have learned I think through this whole process over these last few months, is that, what does it look like to care for the most vulnerable among you and to think more about the common good than just what you’re allowed to do. It goes back to the whole thing of just because it’s permissible doesn’t mean it’s beneficial right now.
Tsh: We’re in Texas. I literally, I walked my dog today and I went, so we live in a historic town and we can walk, I usually walk around to our courthouse. It’s a little historic square and we headed that way and I immediately detoured because there was a parade and all sorts of people and I did not see one mask. I was like, all right, I am going to choose to love you guys by going the other direction, because this is just Texas, man. I get it. It’s those daily choices.
Sarah: I think so, and I think that it’s how do you love each other well in the midst of all of that, and sometimes that can look very practical, right?
Tsh: It really is. This is really good. Sarah, I’m really glad you’re leading by example of doing the small things. I think it’s helpful whenever people know of other people and they see that your day looks largely like waking up and just doing your parenting thing and doing your word count thing. Having that ministry of countenance, choosing just a few things and then calling it good. I think these examples from people are what we need these days. Not big, huge, life-changing words that blow your mind. I mean, we don’t have any anyway right now, but even if we did, I like that you’re choosing the small things.
A big thanks to Sarah for the chat — you can find her work at sarahbessey.com, which I’ve also got linked in the show notes of this episode, #39. As a reminder, I’m on twitter @tsh and every now and then on IG @tshoxenreider, but if you’d really like to interact with me and stay in the know with what’s on my mind, your best bet is my free weekly email called 5 Quick Things. This is where I devote most of my energy to communicating with you, and I love doing it. I send it out most every Friday morning, and it can almost always be read in under a minute, pinky-swear. So to get it, go to fivequickthings.email, and sign up for free. I promise, no dumb, fluffy freebie for signing up — just simple connection with me.
Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you soon — thanks for listening to The Good List.