Meta Data – Weeknotes 4/7/2023

It’s always a balance – I make a portion of my income from my writing, including the weekly newsletter and this blog, and so I try to treat them like a business.

Confession: I suck at treating things like a business. I’m just not very motivated by money, as much as I recognize the need for it in the world we currently have in place.

So, it’s always a balance between nerding out and spending hours trying to figure something out, and doing the “least viable” thing, so that I can get back to actually writing. That was this week in a nutshell.

As someone with ADHD, I hate having to assign a category to a blog post, so, I generally don’t. But the theme I use (and most themes by default) will display one anyway in the metadata (the place on the post page where it shows things like the date, often under the title of the post – see picture above). So, I spent about an hour this week trying to figure out how to remove the “category” link in this theme’s meta block.

I’ve been using WordPress from almost the beginning, and it used to be fast and elegant – so elegant and clean that it was easy to tinker with. None of that is true anymore – it’s bulky and bloated and every “improvement” they make to make it more “user-friendly” just makes it more and more complex and harder to make it your own. It’s far more powerful than I need at this point, and I wish I had the time to learn something flat and simpler like Jekyl.

I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out how to remove the categories link on the wordpress theme I use – TwentySixteen. In 2008, this would have been ridiculously simple to do. It is no longer simple. In the old days, you would just comment out (or delete) the PHP that creates the link. Now, you generally have to make it invisible with CSS, which means you have to find the CSS that displays it, which will vary from theme to theme.

Because of “improvements”, it’s recommended you make a child theme to make changes like this to your blog, so I followed instructions on how to make a child theme – this killed most of another hour.

One reason I use the Twentysixteen theme (other than it’s damn hard to find a traditional blog theme, with a main column and one sidebar anymore) is it has a ton of documentation online. Eventually, Google led me to the instructions on how to make the “Category” link disappear. At this point, we are 2.5 hours in. And what’s perhaps most frustrating is that nothing I learned today is really transferable, other than very generally. Every theme handles these things a different way. #sigh

This week I also made the beginnings of a colophon page (the link is in the footer), where I will link to the tools I use to make this blog.

It’s not ready to share yet, but I’m laying out the basics for a NOW page, like all the other cool kids.

And because I was super-swamped at work the first half of this week, my Monday newsletter went out on Wednesday. Normally if I can’t publish, I just don’t (this happens 3-4 times a year) but I always hate that, so I’m figuring late is better than nothing. I also don’t publish when Monday is a holiday, and Monday the 10th is a holiday (Easter) here in the US, so that would mean two weeks without publishing had I skipped it.


It begins with the best of intentions. You see something – say, a hand-turned wooden bowl, and think how amazing it would be to be able to do that. Or maybe you want to make a coffee table for your living room, a toy truck for your kid, or a ukulele.

Anytime you start a new endeavor, there is a period when you are acquiring the tools – the saws, the chisels, the workbench. This can be a rabbit hole.

As an aside, it’s best to just buy the tools you need for the specific project you want to make, and then buy the tools you don’t have for the next project, and so on. Partly because good tools are expensive, but also because when you just start, you don’t know what you don’t know.

It’s been almost 20 years and I still haven’t used that 3/8-inch mortise chisel.

But the other rabbit hole is infrastructure. The almost irresistible urge to work on projects to make your shop better, rather than to work on the projects you wanted to build in the first place.

You want to make bowls from firewood, so you need a lathe and turning tools and, depending on your skill, a faceplate or a chuck. But then you will be tempted to build a stand for the lathe, and a place to hang your face shield, and a spotlight mount so you can see better, and then a rack to hold the firewood as it dries, and a case for your turning tools, and before you know it you have a year’s worth of projects behind you, but you still haven’t turned a single bowl yet.

This is not just a thing that happens in the workshop. It happens with my writing, too. I want to write, which means I need a computer and a word processor. But then I can tinker with my routine, and of course, I need a good chair to sit in, and a quiet place, so I need an office. In the office, I need to hang up the right art to inspire me, and find a good playlist, and then do I have good enough speakers to make the music sound right?

It’s often hard to know where the balance is, especially for people with brains like mine. I want to do a good job, and I only have so much time, and oh yes, I’m a chaos muppet with ADHD, so things that make it easier for me to focus (like a good chair and art and music) are things worth spending time on. But eventually, you have to write. It’s easy to slip into hyperfocus as you research the “best” text editor to write on, so you have minimal distractions, and three hours later you have written nothing but downloaded 3 free trials of writing software and looked at pictures of meerkats for the last 20 minutes after following an errant link.

All of that to say that right now, I’m spending a lot of time on infrastructure to support my writing. Outfitting the office. Installing speakers and trying out playlists. Building routines. Trying out schedules. Designing workflows.

And then there is the infrastructure to promote and publish my writing. Social media. Email service providers. Website design and hosting and email templates. WordPress updates and figuring out block editing (a WordPress feature from hell) and so on. It’s fun, and it’s necessary. But none of it is writing. It’s easy to work at this gig all day and still not have written an original thought down.

Go Pantsers.

It was a muggy afternoon in Midtown Memphis almost 17 years ago, and I had agreed to meet my ex-girlfriend in the Starbucks on Union Avenue. The ghost of Elvis was nowhere in sight. If he had any sense, he was hiding somewhere there was air conditioning.

We had been broken up at that point for many months, but we were still friendly. But tomorrow, I was leaving to move to Raleigh, NC, and when I told her, it made sense to see each other one last time to say goodbye. I was pretty sure I wasn’t coming back.

We sat at a table by the door.

“So, what is your plan for when you get there?” she asked.

“I found a room in a rooming house on Craigslist and sent them the money for the first month to hold it. I’ll find a make-do job, and then work on my freelance writing to make a living.”

She stared at me.

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing. I’m just remembering why we broke up. You do realize that isn’t a plan, right?”

She was right. It wasn’t a plan. But then again, she was a planner. I am a pantser.

There is an old joke to the effect that there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don’t. I’m one of the ones who do. And I think most people are either planners or pantsers.

We took her kids to Dollywood once.

She had prepared a three-ring binder. With tabs, one for each day we were to be there. Each day had a written agenda. There was a map of the park she had downloaded from the web, with the optimal route highlighted. There was a daily anticipated budget.

My plan had been, “Show up at Dollywood.” But then again, I’m a pantser.

I like the term pantser, and am actively lobbying for its inclusion in the broader cultural lexicon. It’s someone who does not plan but prefers instead to fly by the seat of their pants (pants. Pantser. Get it?).

I first heard it when taking a course on writing fiction, and the teacher contrasted the two styles of plot development. Some actively plan, usually with detailed outlines and charts, the direction of their story. Joyce Carol Oats advocates this view by saying, “The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”

Others (like me) try to write one true sentence and then another, and the current sentence tells you what the next one should say. All I know for sure is the sentence I’m writing right now. “Outlines,” says Stephen King, “are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.”

Ouch. But yeah. #TeamPantser

This past Monday, my wife and I celebrated 13 years of marriage. And like the pantsers we are, we did it by taking a whirlwind weekend trip to New Orleans – some three hours down the road. We had a few solid blocks in place before we got there. The purpose of the trip was to see the Van Gogh Interactive Exhibit before it left town. Beyond that, our goals consisted of things like “Eat good food” and “Have a good time.”

The night before we left to go down, I went on Priceline and got us a decent hotel room. When we got to the hotel and checked in, I went on Yelp, searched by “distance” for restaurants that were $$$ and under, and we sat in the hotel and discussed the merits of our options. We ended up eating amazing tacos from a local taqueria. The next morning we grabbed hotel breakfast, then the Van Gogh Exhibit, and then we went on Yelp again, looking for a nearby restaurant for lunch.

The highly praised gumbo restaurant around the corner was a pandemic victim and sat empty and silent. The burger joint with patio dining was a cramped convenience store with a broken picnic table under a tree. Then we tried finding a place that promised “New Orleans Soul Food,” and we never did find it after driving slowly up and down the street three times. Finally, in frustration, we stopped at a barbecue joint just because it looked open. After an hour of driving around looking for food, anything would have tasted good.

But it was delightful. The food was good, if not amazing. The atmosphere of the place was legit, and the people were fun. We talked about the exhibit and marveled at what we had seen, and talked about the 13 years we had spent getting there. It was, in every way, a good meal.

Would the meal have been better if I had made reservations at a fancy place in the Quarter two weeks before? Were we missing out by not having planned the weekend? Had we built an agenda and scheduled more “fun” into the 24 hours we were in the city, would it have been a better trip?

Maybe, but I doubt it. But then again, I’m a pantser.

The Bird Project

Mr. Doc died when I was 10, and it was way before that. I was probably six or so when I first learned about birdwatching.

Mr. Doc was my elderly neighbor, the retired farmer who, along with his wife Monty, acted as my surrogate grandparents when I was growing up, and who often kept me after school. She was, without question, the best cook in the world – or at least, in my world, but he was the lord of all other domains.

When the clock on the table in the living room hit three, he and I would go outside to sit in the shade on the north side of the house, where it was far cooler than it was in their un-airconditioned small farmhouse. He wore a battered straw hat when we would go outside, to keep the sun out of his watery eyes, and he and I would sit in metal yard chairs that were old then, and the cool kids would powder coat and sell them on eBay as “retro” now.

The fencerow on that side of the house – the one that separated their lot from the 3 acre field that was always strawberries in the spring and then black eyed peas in the late summer – had a hedge made of wild plums, from which Monty made jelly each summer, and overhead, a power line that ran along it to the yard light that illuminated their backyard. And nearly every day of my life, on that power line, sat mockingbirds.

We would sit out there in the shade of the late afternoon, him and I, and watch the mockingbirds and listen to their songs. Sometimes the blackbirds or the blue jays would come and try to chase them off, but the mockingbirds would not have it – no sir.

When I told my Aunt Louise about the mockingbirds, she told me there were people called birdwatchers, who went to faraway places to look at birds through binoculars and write it down in their notebooks. Wasn’t I lucky, she said, that I didn’t have to go anywhere at all but the north side of Mr. Doc’s house.

We didn’t have any binoculars, but she did have an old pair of opera glasses she let me borrow, and I would take them to Doc and Monty’s and sit in that yard chair and look at the different birds, giving them names and making up stories about them. Mr. Doc would show me how to bust up dried corn on a flat rock with a claw hammer, and then I would make piles of it on the ground, far enough away for the birds to feel safe from me, and they would fly down, skittish and fearful, and eat.

We were rich as lords.

I haven’t done any birdwatching in at least 40 years. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love birds, and I plant my yard heavily in their favor. Sometimes we will sit on the yard swing and watch the cardinals in the magnolia tree, and the deck I built in 2020 is always a haven for grackles and cedar waxwings, and we get hummingbirds in the salvia I planted just for them. But I don’t go looking for them. They are something like happy accidents I sorta planned for.

But last week I came across a German woman who lives in Michigan and who takes pictures of the birds that show up at her birdfeeder. It’s pretty stunning. And faster than you can say hyperfocus, I have spent literally every spare hour researching how to do this.

I mean, it ties in with a lot of my existing projects, like building a yard that supports wildlife, and I figure I can share the pictures on my sadly neglected Instagram account, which I think a subset of you would also appreciate, and then maybe periodically give updates on the project itself, which gives me things to talk about on my blog, and plus, I know the names of like six different kinds of birds. It would be a chance to learn new things.

I like learning new things.

So, stand by for bird updates. This is how ADHD works, y’all. Despite the fact that 7 days ago I had zero interest in birds in any specific way, I spent the afternoon today researching feeding setups and action cameras. I don’t make the rules – it’s just how my brain works. You can fight it, but 49 years of owning this brain have taught me to hang on and see where it shakes out.

Shame Spirals

This past weekend, we went out of town. We went to the mountains of North Carolina, one of my happy places. But we almost didn’t make it.

The plan was to rent a car for the trip. Our car is fine, but it was going to be more than 1,000 miles round trip, and our Escape is great for short trips but not extremely comfortable for long ones, so getting something more comfortable and new sounded good. I went on Priceline and found a full-sized car with unlimited miles for $45 a day, and jumped at it.

We were heading out Friday morning, so at 6:30 AM I was at the end of our driveway, waiting for Tony the Lyft driver to take me to the airport. Tony was a big man, with lots of jokes and way too happy for it to be that early in the morning, but he got me there safe and sound.

When I walked in the door of the airport, there was a moderate line, but it moved quickly, and then it was my turn.

“I’m here to pick up a car. My last name is Hollowell,” I said.

She clicked lots of keys on her computer and made a face.

“Can you spell that?”

I did.

That was when she told me that I did indeed have a car reserved, but for next Friday, not this one. I had booked the car for the wrong date. And my rental was non-refundable because it was such a good deal. And they had no cars now.

We had friends meeting us there that afternoon. We had a room reserved. We were supposed to be leaving any minute now. I had screwed all of this up. And wasted $200 on top of everything else. I swear I almost burst into tears, right there at the counter.

It must have shown on my face.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” the kindly Black woman working the counter told me. “But you have to step aside now.”


I was in shock. I had screwed this up. I didn’t know how I did it. I was at the airport, with no way home, no rental car, and I had to call my wife and tell her we had no rental car, had wasted $200, and also, I needed her to come and get me.

While I waited for her, a nice man named Reggie with Priceline informed me that I had chosen the cheaper, non-refundable rental, and had not paid for travel insurance, so while I couldn’t get a refund, I could certainly come back next Friday and get the car then.

Thanks, Reggie.

We ended up taking our car after all. And it was fine. I mean, more or less.

We were three hours later than we had planned, and out $200, and most of all, I felt crushing shame, for not the first time in my life, that I sometimes can’t manage to do something so simple that it seems everyone else on the planet does OK.

This sort of shame is a common thing that those of us with ADHD deal with. I wish I could explain the shame I felt in that line on Friday. Shame that I had cost us money, shame that we would be late, shame that I looked foolish to the lady at the rental agency, shame I had to admit to my wife what I had done.

The worst is when my failures to executive function affects others. I go into a shame spiral.

On the way home from the airport, Renee, who read my mood perfectly, told me that everyone makes mistakes.

This is true. But most people don’t make them all the damn time.

No matter how often you repeat to yourself, “It was an honest mistake, it could have happened to anyone”, you never believe it. I have been living like this for nearly 50 years. And while it doesn’t happen as much as it once did, it will still keep happening. It’s safe to assume I won’t get better. It is what it is.

And what it is is exasperating.

The Happiness of Lower Standards

A gift that ADHD brings is that, if it interests you (and granted, that is a huge precondition), you can bring near super-human powers of research to the table. And if it interests you, you can fall deep into a hole where you want to know everything about a subject.


I currently own at least 200 books on gardening and horticulture. More than 150 on woodcraft. Perhaps 800 theology texts. Yes, I have read all of them. Many of them multiple times. Because it’s hard for me to explain to you how much more I want to know when I’m really interested in something.

It doesn’t always look like books – that’s just my particular poison. I know kids who will watch literally every TikTok on a given subject. A niece went through a Japanese phase and watched Japanese movies, ate sushi, learned to eat with chopsticks, and even ordered Japanese socks and pencils off eBay. I will say that socks take up much less space than books do.

But my point is that there is the desire – an overwhelming desire, to know literally everything you can on a subject in which you are interested. The list of subjects I can have an intelligent conversation with an enthusiast is large and unwieldy: Knights, dinosaurs, electricity, carpentry, horticulture, permaculture, aquaculture, southern culture, native plants. Asian plants, the military, pacifism, religious cults, religious orthodoxy, brick making, bricklaying, martial arts, and climate change have all grabbed my attention at various times, and that was a list generated by not even trying.

If you ever eat a piece of wagyu beef, it will forever ruin your beef eating experience, because what you previously thought was an excellent piece of meat is now just ordinary. Your standard for “good beef ” is now much higher because you know better. And if you compare every piece of beef to the wagyu beef, you will forever be unhappy.

Likewise, when you spend a deep dive into, say, karate, and you learn that much of modern karate is less than 110 years old and owes its origins to a man named Gichin Funakoshi who founded and systematized Shotokan Karate, but he was actually trained in Shorin-Ryu karate, which is much older but less formatted, and thus less easily teachable, and that much of what passes for karate today is really just people ripping off Funakoshi, then you don’t want to go take karate at the Y, or in the storefront school. You want to take Shorin-Ryu karate, where the modern karate movement started.

But if you didn’t know any of that, you would most likely be happy at Uncle George’s Karate Dojo and Storm Door Company. Which you might as well be because nobody in your state teaches Shorin-Ryu anyway. Instead, 19-year-old Hugh searches for the real true karate instead of, actually, you know, studying any karate at all.

Or in my 20’s when I was weightlifting, I didn’t just want to lift weights – I wanted to do it the “best” way. I read at least 100 books. Got countless magazines. Tried literally hundreds of workout routines. Totally wrecked my shoulders along the way.

So, those are examples of how ADHD makes you unhappy. Because you know too much. And because you do, your standards are impossibly high. The inverse is also true, of course – there are huge sections of human endeavors about which you know nothing because they did not interest you at all. But that’s another story, for another time.

One thing I’m trying to do these days is to lower my standards as a source of happiness. Or try to care less about doing it the “right” way or the “pure” way, and just do it at all. Like when I began walking regularly last year, I literally bought books on walking – a thing I have been doing most of my life, quite well. But I only began to get real enjoyment out of it when I gave up trying to do it well and just focused on doing it.

And recently, my back and shoulders seem a bit stiff, and I have considered going to Yoga classes. Of course, I read a lot of books, watched a lot of YouTube videos, and learned about the various lineages, but this time I just bit the bullet and went to the free “yoga” class my gym has on Monday during lunch.

Other than the teacher, I was the youngest person there by a good 10 years. The moves were slow and graceful, and only one pose was recognizable. I think there is a 50/50 chance that the soft background music was Kenny G. Really, it was more of a stretching class than anything else. It would have met no purity test at all. And I had a blast.

The little old ladies ooohed and ahhed over my being there. An older gentleman advised me to take an aspirin before I went to bed tonight. The lady to my right said she hopes I come back because they need “younger people” (I’ll be 50 in about six weeks). But still. It was great.

And most important is that I did it. I stretched. And Thursday, I’ll do it again. Not because it’s pure, or because it’s the best, or because from it I can learn to be the best. But when the choice was to do nothing or to do something, I did something.


Transition Rituals

A while back I wrote a post that was almost entirely a list of things you could do to take better care of yourself, especially if you were in a helping profession. Two of the items on that list involved transition rituals.

A transition ritual is when you change state or context – like, going from work to not work – and you have some way to mark the occasion, to tell your brain that the transition has happened. I would argue these are always important, but if you are neuro-atypical – such as you, like me, have ADHD – they are vital.

Because while neurotypical people may be able to zip in and out of states and contexts, multi-tasking to beat the band, those of us who are neuro-atypical assuredly cannot.

For example – if you stop by your local every day on the way home and grab a beer – that’s a transition ritual. There are healthier ones, for sure, but it’s a ritual all the same. When I used to work in an office, I would pull up in the driveway of my house and walk around my yard, checking out the flowers and looking to see what was in bloom before I went into the house after getting home from work. It was a way to tell my brain I was home.

These days I work a lot from home (I mean, don’t we all?), and so it’s harder to demarcate what’s home and what’s work. So a thing I will often do is go for a walk around my block when I’m done for the day, as a way to tell myself I’m “walking home.”

But there are other transitions that have rituals, too. In the morning, I make myself coffee with a reverence that approaches that of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. When I go into my workshop to work, I always spend the first 10 minutes or so straightening up and sharpening the tools I will use that day. At night, I turn my phone to do not disturb before I put it on the charger.

When I sit at my desk in the morning, I open my upper right-hand desk drawer, take out the Mead 80 Page Composition Notebook that lives there, uncap my Pilot Metropolitan rollerball pen, turn off the monitor on my computer so I won’t be distracted, and set my cup of coffee on the upper right-hand side of my blotter. Then I’m ready to write my Daily Pages.

Lots of transition rituals. I’m not alone in this. David Sedaris once said something to the effect that he always goes swimming while on the road for his speaking engagements, not because he likes to swim, but because he likes the rituals involved in getting ready to swim and after he has swum.

These sorts of rituals may sound fussy, but especially for those of us who are not neurotypical, they can be lifesaving. Because for folks like us, transitions can be hard. A disadvantage of hyperfocus we ADHD folks have is that pulling us out of that zone can be incredibly disorienting and can feel almost violent at times. So, I have found that having distinct rituals to mark the transitions can be helpful in changing states or contexts.

The two solutions I have developed in my own life to deal with this are A) transition rituals and B) to state your needs. It often feels super-fussy to prioritize what you need to be your best self. But telling people what you need is a way to love them.

It also helps people love me better, because when I tell them what I need (like, a soft landing when I walk into the office, instead of being hit with a list of decisions I need to make when I walk into the door) they will absolutely get a better interaction with me, and whatever I bring to the table will be better thought out and more useful.

The Pursuit of Beauty

On February 20th of 2015, I was exhausted.

My wife was struggling to survive, and there was no guarantee she would end up on the list to get the transplant she desperately needed. I was struggling with the burnout that would eventually kick my ass, and a person I had worked hard to help get sober had died of an overdose.

When I was starting out in that work, a mentor told me that if I knew I was going to walk across the desert tomorrow, I should be gorging myself with water tonight. Likewise, he said, if I know that tomorrow I will be surrounded by ugliness, I should strive to gorge myself with beauty to prepare for it. Over time, he insisted I hang out at museums, read good books, watch good films, read poetry, and play in my garden. All in the relentless pursuit of beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness I would encounter along the way.

But somewhere along that path, I had gotten busy, and those words seemed far away. I needed to be reminded of what was lovely, what was good, and that even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy and pain, there was beauty that could lift us above our mean circumstances and guide us home.

My particular form of ADHD, as I have said before, needs structure, but has trouble creating it, so latching onto existing structures is always helpful. And here we were, in February of 2015, just a few days before Lent.

I sent an email to 35 people who I loved and admired. The subject line was, Hugh’s Newsletter Situation, and the email said, in part:

Here is the deal: I am going to send you an email every Monday during Lent (roughly the next six weeks). I will link to five beautiful things I liked that week – perhaps a picture I liked, perhaps a funny story, perhaps something of profound wisdom. In addition, if I read a book that blew me away, I will mention that, and provide a link to it, too. And if it is a week when something is happening I think you should know about, I will let you know in the email.

And that’s it. No lengthy prose, no huge commitments. Just five things that struck me as beautiful, books I read that were wonderful, and things I think you should know.

If this works (meaning I keep my commitment to you) then I might keep it up – or I might not. I get bored easily.

It was simple: For six weeks, I needed to look for five beautiful things every week – not just random things, but things worth sharing. I figured that committing to share them with others would keep me honest. I’m far more afraid of letting you down than I am of letting me down.

Here we are now, seven years later, and I’m still sending them out every Monday morning. (You can sign up here). Now it goes out to several thousand people, and it’s a bit more polished and I’m older and have more aches and less hair. But my wife got her heart transplant and I came back from burnout and now live an entirely different life in another state entirely.

But what hasn’t changed is my belief in beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness of the world, and searching for it like my life depends on it. Because I am more and more convinced that it does.

Love and Attention

I recently came across a description of a scene from a movie I have not seen – Ladybird.

The scene description goes like this:

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.

“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.

“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.

The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.

I really want to like this. I do. I even want to believe it – that the things we pay attention to are the things we love. And it may even be true – if you happen to be neurotypical. But I’m not.

And because I’m not, my attention is not rationed out in proportion to my love for things, but in a haphazard spray of chaos, driven by random neurons in my brain that follow their own path. As a result, there are people I passionately care for and would die for that I routinely neglect to call or text, and instead find myself reading articles or watching YouTube videos from someone whose ideas I abhor.

No, ideas like this – that love is attention – just make room for more shame in my already shame-filled mind, one that makes me convinced that my brain sabotages all that is good in my life, that is secretly convinced the teacher in 8th grade that said my diagnosis wasn’t real and was just an excuse to not pay attention in math class was right, that my absolute inability to focus on things that do not interest me is just my own inherent laziness and that, if I wanted to, I could keep my checkbook balanced, my tires rotated on schedule, and never miss a deadline, no matter how arbitrary.

Of course, my rational mind knows that none of these things are true.

My ADHD means I work harder and more than most folks to do seemingly ordinary tasks, not less. What’s more, my ADHD brings gifts that make some things in my life possible that neurotypical people struggle with. If you are neurotypical, I guarantee you I can out imagine you, I can come up with more out-of-the-box ideas than you, I can learn in ways you cannot, and I see things that are invisible to you.

I have super-powers of which you can only dream.

What I probably can’t do, at least in ways you recognize, is pay attention to you. At least, not without some help.

So I set notifications on my calendar so I remember to text people that matter to me.

Other attention=love hacks:

  • I have a list of people on Facebook, so theoretically I see the things those people post more often, and these are people I just default “like” everything they post. If my friend J, with whom I was in love with in elementary school, posted her favorite recipe for a bowl of Cheerios, I am going to *like* that thing. Because in our social media driven world, things like that show we are paying attention, and she is one of the people in this world I love, even if I have not seen her in years. (Actually, there are two women whose name starts with J who fit in this category, and I love them both dearly, so if you are reading this, J, yes, I mean you).
  • Set up a Google alert for their name or company.
  • Find out their birthday and put a reminder in your calendar app.
  • Set an appointment time in your calendar, and during that hour, text or message everyone you can think of you love.
  • Set standing dates: For 8 years I had a weekly lunch date with a friend. I miss that a lot.
  • Have a “drop everything” rule: When someone you love pops in your mind, give yourself permission to drop whatever you are working on and text or call them.

There are more, but you get the point – if you have a brain like mine, you have to remind yourself to pay attention to the people you love.

Not because you need it, but because they do.

Giving it 80%

In 2012, I spent a week at Mepkin Abbey, in South Carolina. Mepkin Abby is a Trappist monastery, and they invite folks to come and stay with them as a form of retreat. A friend I really respected did it on the regular, and encouraged me to do it as well.

I really enjoyed my week there. It was lovely, and the campus is beautiful, and it’s right on the Cooper River, where you can sit on the bluff and watch the boats roll by. The campus is filled with Live Oaks that literally drip Spanish Moss, and the silence there is magical, punctuated by the chanting of the monks seven times a day.

You are also invited to eat with the monks, and they have a simple, vegetarian diet. Again, one of the struggles those of us with ADHD have is the inability to create structure, so a simple diet with simple rules appealed to me, and I think there is definitely an ethical argument that can be made for not eating animal flesh. So, when I came back to the “real world”, I decided I would be vegetarian.

I lasted strictly about six weeks, and gave up trying completely within three months. Because it was easy to fail at being vegetarian, and when you have the sort of life I do, where lots of people want to feed you, and a huge part of how you expressed your spirituality involved eating with others, it became super complicated, super-fast. In the end, it just wasn’t sustainable for me at all.

My last few days have been chaotic. I went from having a week in front of me with virtually no outside meetings planned to having my entire week scheduled almost instantly. Which is fine – in the work I do these days organizing Faith Leaders, it is like that sometimes – you are forced to react to something someone else does and then your whole schedule changes.

But what that does mean is that my whole routine is thrown off, and instead of cooking dinner for my family like I do most nights, this week I am eating a lot of sandwiches and take out, and because I am living on the phone when I’m not in front of a Zoom camera or at City Hall, I had to miss going for a swim today.

Most of my career has been filled with reactive crises like this, and in the past, I have often used that as a reason to not prioritize my health, and to not eat well. But these days, as I prioritize my health and try to avoid returning to the burnout that almost took me out, I am seeing things differently.

I want you to pay attention to what I did there – it literally is about seeing things differently – I am looking at things through a different lens, and it has made all the difference in how I view the world in general and my health in particular.

If you get ill and, as a result, don’t take a shower on a given day, you didn’t fail – you just didn’t do something you normally do. You don’t decide that because you failed at cleanliness you will henceforth renounce soap. You don’t decide you will now sleep in a mudhole. The next day, you take a shower again and you are back on track.

And tomorrow, I will be back at the gym. I didn’t fail at being healthy. I didn’t fail at anything. I just didn’t do what I normally do. But tomorrow, I will. Because this way of life is sustainable, and I don’t fail if I don’t do something just one day.

It’s easy to fail at “Being Vegetarian”. Hell, it’s easy to fail at “dieting”. But it’s almost impossible to fail at “focusing on my health”. Saying I am focusing on my health recognizes that it’s about what I do most of the time, not what I do one time, that will make a long term difference to my health and my life.

I tend towards extremism – again, my brain loves simplicity – but I am trying to remind myself these days that even though I can’t give it all I have, if I can give it my 80%, then that’s enough.