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I quit listening to podcasts for a week and this is what happened

I turned off the background noise of other people’s thoughts for a week because it was making me nuts, and hoo-boy did it make a difference.

A black and white photo of a pair of broken earbud headphones

CONFESSION: I listen to 4-6 hours of podcasts per day. And given that I’m both a freelance writer and have a toddler at home with me, that’s a significant portion of my day.

Like, too much of it.

So I decided to quit for a week. Just to see if maybe, just maybe, all those other voices and all that extra noise in my head was causing me more stress than the stuff I was trying to distract myself from in the first place.

I’ve actually done this before but always as part of church-wide prayer and fasting. This time I’m doing it solo, which provides way more opportunity for cheating and quitting, so I created accountability for myself with a daily journal, shared below for your voyeuristic enjoyment.

Read along, then slide in the comments to commiserate about all the ways you distract yourself that are probably not helpful!

If you want to skip the daily notes and jump right to the takeaways section, you can click right here and do that thing.


Monday

This was a work day, when I don’t podcast much anyway, and I missed the gym because tired, so I didn’t encounter many obstacles. Spending a good chunk of my time writing about why I’m abstaining and then sharing it helped, too. Don’t underestimate the power of putting your intentions in writing and/or telling someone. Even if you never mention it again, it signals to your brain that you’re serious. So helpful.

That said, there was momentary resistance at two points, both of which were expected: kitchen time and ablutions. Those are my time, the time when Mama gets to tune out and do her thing, and I always have something on. It gives my brain something to do while my hands are busy. Not having that entertainment caused a glitch in my flow, but it only caught me for a moment. Then I put on some actual music instead. I’d forgotten how much I like that.

Day 1, a rousing success!

Tuesday

I decided at 5am when my alarm went off that I’m not going to the gym this week. Between the hella-early start time and the lack of podcasts to disappear into, I don’t think I can face it. I’ll go back next week and hide all the cookies until then.

While I was supposed to work this day, I ended up running a mishmash of errands, which meant lots of time in the car—my second-biggest podcasting time. Fortunately, I’d prepared by putting music on my phone for the first time in approximately a hundred years. Jamming to old favourites like Marvelous 3 and Squeeze really lifted my mood, even when a great-grandmother nearly T-boned me at the grocery store.

Several wins today! But I admit to being a bit disappointed. The stress-related jaw clenching is still there, and my singing parts gave out so quickly that they’re either massively out of shape or I’m even more chronically sick than I thought. It’s only day two, though. Holding it lightly.

Another expected-yet-frustrating hurdle: showering. I always have something on. Music is okay for this experiment (and starting one’s day with worship is never a bad idea), but something deeper needed silence. I left my phone in the kitchen. I didn’t have any grand revelations in the shower, but I did notice I was thinking. That sounds stupid and obvious, but the fact that they were my own thoughts and not someone else’s is meaningful.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully (at least as far as this is concerned—every day is eventful with a three-year old). Driving my husband to the start point for this year’s ruck wasn’t bad since we kept each other occupied, but I think I cheated on the way back. I downloaded SJ Tucker’s story albums specifically for Mack, and we listened to that on the way home. I’m not sure if that breaks the rules, but it didn’t feel like it? So I won’t count it against myself. Besides, I could barely listen anyway because I was so focused on the rain on my windshield.

Another good day! I’m feeling much more at ease in the silence. We will see what more driving days bring, though.

I did notice I was thinking. That sounds stupid and obvious, but the fact that they were my own thoughts and not someone else’s is meaningful.

Thursday

Mack was supposed to have a playdate, but she claimed a bellyache, so they stayed in downstairs. This shouldn’t have changed my day, but gastrointestinal symptoms shoot me into orbit, so instead of writing, I deep-cleaned the house. Ordinarily, this is when I’d podcast it up hard; long stretches of time doing mindless tasks is primo listening time. But instead, I fired up my “Nostalgia” playlist and rocked out to late-90s hits and Ayumi Hamasaki. I used to do this all the time when I’d clean the whole house once a week (what was I even doing with my life back then), and it was refreshing to have a beat to work to.

I am struggling a bit with expectations, though. Because I’m intentionally making mental space, and God is talking all the time, I expected to get a big revelation/word right away, especially given the season we’re in. But the closest thing I’ve had is when I was vacuuming and directly asked what He wanted to say to me, all I heard was, “You’re drinking too much caffeine.” And honestly, I’m 50/50 on whether or not that was actually Satan.

maybe, just maybe, all those other voices and all that extra noise in my head was causing me more stress than the stuff I was trying to distract myself from

Friday

There was a lot going on this day, so I honestly didn’t notice the lack of background podcasts. Visiting all morning with a friend, working during naptime, and trying to clean the office/playroom with Mack made the day full of sound in its own right.

I will say that I did notice a correlation between drinking mostly decaf coffee and my jaw being less tense at the end of the day. Now, I’m not making any wild statements like I actually did hear from the Lord yesterday and not the enemy who comes to steal, kill, and destroy my caffeine intake, but the odds are skewing that way.

Saturday

This day was a trashfire. Mackenzie was in fine form beginning at breakfast and didn’t let up until she passed out (at night, because hahaha joke’s on you if you thought she’d nap). I almost broke down in tears twice.

This matters because the tenor of the day revealed just how severely circumstances impact my craving to put on a podcast and check the eff out. All I wanted was to not be where I was, doing what I was doing; podcasts let me do that when I physically can’t.

BUT. Because my head is clearer, I could see how not doing that made everything better. When I’m in that mode, I obsessively turn the podcast on and off trying to focus on it to get relief, but it competes with other audio signals (Mackenzie, running water, the TV) for attention, and that ramps up my frustration faster than if I addressed what’s upsetting me in the first place. In that situation, podcasts are lighter fluid on a grass fire. Not having access to them during this particularly stressful day highlighted their futility (and actual harm) in moments I think I need them most.

*stroking her beard* Interesting….

the tenor of the day revealed just how severely circumstances impact my craving to put on a podcast and check the eff out

Sunday

I woke up to discover the annoyance I’ve felt every morning is almost totally gone. Each day, I’ve had this nagging tug of ughdontwanna about morning ablutions; for some reason, I want someone talking to me first thing. But today, I was perfectly happy to put on chill instrumental music like I’ve been doing for dishes and bedtime. A win!

Sundays don’t usually get a lot of listening between church and family time, so I didn’t miss much here. Instead of podcasts on the drive to pick up Lino from the long walk, I shared my favorite Urge album with Mackenzie (she liked it). The drive, the chores, the ablutions—all of it passed peacefully, with barely a blip of sound-struggle.

A successful last day!


TAKEAWAYS

It cleared and focused my mind, enabled me to be more present with my kid, released anxiety and tension from my body, and made space for me to hear both my own voice and the voice of God.

I didn’t want to do this fast. Who wants to deprive themselves of a creature comfort, especially one that’s free and doesn’t do lasting damage to your body, even it’s only a measly week?

But re-reading these daily notes, it’s obvious that it needed to be done. You can sense the tension dropping as the days went on and the chaos in my mind stilled.

By the end, what I noticed most wasn’t what was there but what wasn’t: the lack of needing to put something on the second there was a pause. That almost subconscious impulse to fill all available space with voices now fades away as fast as it pops up.

I am a bit sad that I didn’t have any major revelations, but that isn’t actually the point. (Although that thing about drinking too much caffeine turned out to be legit.)

Much like a crash diet won’t change your life forever, a break from podcasting is a short-term confrontation of a larger issue. I needed to get real about the nature of my listening addiction, and I did precisely that.

Going forward

While podcasts will be coming back into my daily life, I’ve unsubscribed from half my list and deleted episodes stored up “just in case.” Heaven forbid I be without something to jam in my earholes!

I’m also declaring the start of my day a no-podcast-zone. Those precious couple of hours before the toddler spools up is when I meet with God, and I can’t really do that in a genuine way when I’m hopped up on someone else’s thoughts.


Final thoughts

Overall, this fast did exactly what I needed it to do. It cleared and focused my mind, enabled me to be more present with my kid, released anxiety and tension from my body, and made space for me to hear both my own voice and the voice of God.

I just hope I can remember all this the next time I find myself teetering on the edge of a breakdown with someone else’s voice shouting in my ears.


YOUR TURN!

I’d love to hear from you! Especially if you read all this.

Do you have fill up every empty moment to distract yourself from the stresses of adulting, too? What’s your vice? Have you been able to address it?

Share your story in the comments and lets support each other in our first-world, digital-age struggles!

It’s just furniture, but also more than just furniture

Yesterday, we sold our first piece of real furniture as part of our Florida adventure. And I’m shook.

It’s just a cabinet.

That’s what I keep telling myself. Just furniture. Just wood and glass and tiny pieces of metal.

It’s just stuff.

But no matter how many times I say it, it still stings.

Yesterday, we sold our first piece of real furniture. We’ve been paring down and selling/donating/trashing our (surprisingly numerous) possessions for months as we get ready to move to Florida, but it’s all been inconspicuous stuff. Papers and glassware and endtables. That kind of thing.

But this cabinet? I love(d) it.

It was one of those little winks from God that says, “I know you.” I’m one of those people who likes to see their stuff, but I also need things arranged neatly. I’ve always wanted glass-front cabinets. Yet I never bought any because—I don’t know if you know this, but—antiques are expensive. So when my friend gave us this beautiful piece that fit perfectly into our home (and lives—I used it as a standing desk for six months), it was truly a thoughtful gift from my heavenly dad.

And if we weren’t getting ready to pack up everything we own in the smallest possible U-Haul and move two thousand miles south, we would have kept it forever.

But we are.

So we can’t.

It’s just not practical. It’s fragile. It’s heavy. It doesn’t actually hold that much stuff. And there are other much more important things that need its spot in the truck. My ten boxes of books, for example.

So away it went. Off to a sweet hipster couple who will probably paint it chalk white and put books in it that they’ll never read.

The reason this is even worth writing about is that it makes the whole “sell everything you own and move to Florida to start a church” thing a hell of a lot more real.

All the stuff we’ve purged up until now is stuff we should have gotten rid of anyway. Random things hidden in closets or mementos of past lives long outgrown.

Letting go of this piece that nestled so sweetly in my heart, this piece that would have become a family heirloom, reminded me that the sacrifices we’re called to make on this grand adventure aren’t superficial. This was just the sale of some boards hammered together—we’re leaving behind a community of family and friends, the fabric of our daughter’s universe, and a history of transformation and salvation.

This cabinet is just furniture. There will be more, even if it’s milk crates for a while (again—ah, college).

But it’s also a reminder that, the old has to go in order to make room for the new; that God promises double restoration to those who suffer in pursuit of his kingdom. It’s a reminder not to be too attached to the things of this world, for they’re passing away. That there’s more to this life and the next than what I think I need to be happy.

It’s just stuff. But it’s more than that, too.

Short, dark wood glass-front china cabinet with glassware and bar.

Why this introvert is going podcast-free for a week

What used to be my lifeline to sanity is now a coping mechanism that silences not just my inner voice, but the voice of the muse and of God, too. And that’s got to stop.

Skull and Headphones by hiddenmoves via DeviantArt

Black and white digital drawing of a skeleton in a hoodie with headphones on the skull

Quick poll. Raise your hand if you:

  • are an introvert
  • listen to podcasts constantly

*counts hands*

Okay, everyone else, you’re excused. What I’m about to say is super niche and won’t make any sense if you don’t hit one or both of those. (Or stick around and watch me unravel. Also fun.)


I don’t remember exactly when I switched from music to podcasts as the soundtrack to my life, but I suspect it was in that “fourth trimester” window when I was walking roughly five miles a day to soothe a screaming newborn and needed something, anything to keep me entertained (and awake) as I trawled the same neighborhood streets day after day. Before that, I had a car visor full of CDs and one talk radio show I streamed from St. Louis; my husband could tell if I was up or down depending on whether or not I was singing.

But when I first became a parent, I needed more than music. I needed company. There’s a peculiar quality to the silence of the newborn season—of never being alone but also being alone all the time—that produces tension unlike any I’ve ever felt. It’s a yawning chasm of disturbing, isolated quiet that can be shattered in an instant for no reason, one that’s never satisfying or restorative.

Even (especially) as a life-long, verified introvert I couldn’t take that silence. And so I filled it with friendly voices.

Podcasts became more than entertainment for me: they were a lifeline. When I felt like I was drowning in crying and milk and sleep-deprivation and that never-ending silence, I clung to the stories, people, and ideas coming through my headphones as desperately as I would a life preserver on the high seas.

Over time, though, the silence has lessened. It’s filled up with movement and questions, friends and adventures. Eventually, I found that I could touch bottom again, no longer flailing in the deep, dark water of that unbearable quiet. Three years post-newborn, most days are so loud that I can’t hear the podcasts I’m playing while doing dishes, driving around, walking to school, taking a shower, making dinner, or the hundred other things I do in every day.

I didn’t realize how fierce the competition had gotten for my aural attention until last week when I snapped at Mackenzie when all she’d done was ask me a question in the middle of One Stage at a Time. But because my brain is so well-trained to focus on a single input (mostly from an auditory processing problem, but also from spending hours and hours and hours listening while walking her tiny butt around the ‘hood so she’d go to sleep) it’s now treating podcasts as conversations. Like I’m talking to real people and therefore any interruption is cause for irritation.

This is quite possibly the worst thing I could do as an introvert. Because when podcasts become people and you always have a podcast on, it equates to always being around people. I’m never alone. Which means I never truly get a chance to recharge my batteries. Which means I’m constantly running on fumes and at the edge of my temper.

So that’s not great.

What’s also not great is the corollary realization that, because my every waking moment (and some sleeping) is filled with sound designed to grab and keep my attention, I have zero mental white space. There’s no breathing room, no blank canvas, no stillness. By maintaining a constant stream of information and entertainment in my earholes, I’ve made it impossible to hear anything except what comes from out the outside.

No wonder I can’t seem to write new fiction. No wonder I feel so disconnected from God. No wonder I feel so claustrophobic in my own mind—it’s too full of other people’s thoughts to have any of my own.


I am taking a week off. (In fact, I started yesterday.) Seven whole days with nothing to listen to except music and the low hum of electricity in the silence.

From the outside, I’m sure this sounds ridiculously easy. How hard can it be to just no listen to podcasts?

But for me, losing 4-8 hours of sound input is painful to me in the same way as switching to decaf or starting keto. With the comforting distraction from the daily toddler grind removed, I’m forced to face what I’ve missed out on from being too lazy to wean myself off an old coping mechanism that’s clearly reached the point of hurting more than it helps.

I’m not sure how it’ll go. Maybe I’ll be curled up in a ball singing to myself by next week. Maybe I’ll have outlined a whole new novel. We shall see.

All I know for sure is that it needs to happen; I need to hear those still, small voices from within. I need to make room for the Spirit, for the muse, and for my self.

The State of the Ellie: September 2019

Delays, immigration, getting swole, the next novel, and 10kg of flour.

Gonna try something a little different, folks. I usually approach these as a comprehensive walkthrough of the previous month, but to be honest, it’s exhausting trying to remember all the tiny details.

So this time, we’re going off the top of the ol’ noggin. If you and me sat down over coffee and said, “So, how are you?” this is what I’d say.


Florida keeps changing and it’s making me insane.

The second part is a slight exaggeration, but the first part is 100% true.

We signed up for this adventure in January, aimed to leave for August 1, listened to wisdom and bumped to November 1, then Lino’s visa paperwork got accepted last week (way faster than we thought—woo!) and now, because of the way we filed, we’re here until question marks. Could be before Thanksgiving; could be after New Year’s. We just. don’t. know. *retching sounds of a control freak trying to get a hold of herself*

And while we’re happy that we’re not rushing around in a panic to sell/pack/move stuff and that we do get to say our goodbyes (unlike some of our fellow adventurers), it’s hard being left behind. Every delay, every change of plans, there’s another twinge of doubt about whether or not we’re actually supposed to go. I don’t want to live in the meantime.

But it’s not up to me. I meant it when I said that even if we are driving away in the moving van and that’s when God says to stop, we’re not going, then I’m okay with it. I might be angry and broken down for a while, but in the end, I know that I’ll be grateful for the process once I get to the other side of disappointment. I always am.

I am not grateful, however, to be staring down the barrel of another Canadian winter. Why, Lord?

American immigration is complicated.

Having gone through the Canadian system for myself and the citizenship-claiming process for Mack this year, I can confidently say that the US process is the most arcane of the three. There are so many grey areas and straight-up contradictory statements in the documentation that’s supposed to help you. I’ve shed more tears over this application than I have over Artax in the Swamp of Sadness.

There’s a reason for it, though. Every single family that’s going to the States has ended up taking a different route to residency—that’s not a coincidence. Neither is the fact that literally every adult on the team is now an immigrant, whether US–>CA or vice versa (or both). It’s become evident that God is using this process to tenderize our hearts with compassion for the people we’ll meet in Florida. While our exact situations may not be the same, we’ll get it in a way that a lot of other folks won’t.

Legal and political stances aside, I just keep thinking about someone’s 80-year-old abuela who needs cancer treatment trying to figure out all this crap. No wonder people sneak in. Desperation is a powerful motivator.

I signed back up at the gym!

I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER, YOU GUYS. There’s still a little stiffness and physical crabbiness going on, but like 90% less. I’m so glad I listened to my body telling me to move and didn’t get (too) caught up in guilt for spending money when things are so tight.

I also discovered that despite not working out for four months and being super not attentive to my eating, I barely gained any weight AND after only three weeks back at it, I’m nearly back to my previous lifts. *flexes mightily*

I confess that I’m in a bit of a transition phase, though. When I originally signed on, my goal was to shed extra weight. That’s almost taboo to say that these days, but it’s true. I felt sluggish and uncomfortable in my body, and between working out and changing how I ate, the weight came off. But then my surgery happened. Going back now, I have to change my goals—trying to lose weight would be dipping back into the pool of dysfunction. So for now, I’m gently shifting my focus to endurance (run a mile without stopping) and strength (move from machines to deadlifts). It sounds small, but it’s huge for me as someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia, anorexia, and bulemia for the better part of twenty years.

Gonna get swole.

Is that still what we say? Swole?

Provision.

I already knew this but had forgotten, and now God is using this lean financial time to remind me: Need expands to your resources. While we’re living on 30% of what we had this time last year (or four months ago), somehow, there’s always enough. I do our books, and I do not understand how we’re not defaulting, bouncing, and overdrafting constantly. We just…aren’t. There’s always enough. It truly is miraculous. It’s also made us pissed at ourselves that we’re still drowning in debt after living so high for so many years and somehow barely making it. Shameful.

Even if we don’t end up in Florida and the only thing God is doing with this whole thing is teaching us to steward our finances better, then so be it.

Freelance work is stretching me, and I want more.

That being said, I am still looking for new, cool people to work with. My best work is done when I’m helping other writers accomplish their book-creating goals, and I’m dying to grow this wing of my business.

If you (or anyone you know) wants a battle buddy for a creative project, please do drop me a line, m’kay?

I’ve also been working with Rebilly as a Real Copywriter, which is so far out of my comfort zone that it seems to have looped all the way around to become doable. I’m deeply grateful my handler/boss gave me a chance despite my utter newbieness and for all their grace, patience, and teaching. It’s giving me new skills with which to build both the Kingdom and my family’s foundation for the future. Bless.

Forgotten Relics is on my mind.

(If you have no idea what Forgotten Relics is, don't feel bad. Short version: I used to write urban fantasy novels, and I quit just before getting pregnant and haven't been able to finish the last book of the series since. I promise to write about this someday.)

I re-read Mirror of Ashes last month, and you know, guys, that book is actually pretty good. I know writers aren’t supposed to say that about their own work, but it just IS. When it came out, a reader told me it’s the best book I’ve ever written—I didn’t believe them until last week. I wrote it at the height of my career, when I was the most engaged and fluid with my work than ever before, but I was also totally burnt out from the sheer pace I’d been operating at for three years. I didn’t want to quit; I had to quit. It was eating my soul alive. I shudder to think how wretched I’d be now if I hadn’t stopped when I did, especially given how much internal work I had to do to prepare for parenthood shortly after.

But Cora and Jack and Sofi and Manny are still with me. Even Wex and Samir and Eris. The world lives on. And I’ve carried this burden of needing to tell the rest of the story and finally closing that door with honor for the past four years.

And yet, something’s in the way besides the obvious barriers of time, energy, and braincycles natural to the SAHM with a toddler. A staticky heaviness that materializes any time I open the Apple of Chaos notebook or scratch out a paragraph in the file. Anxiety of some kind. I don’t know if it’s a warning (“it’s not time yet”) or a challenge (“rise above”), but I’m still pushing, still testing, still wanting. We shall see.

Miscellaneous: Not everything is a neat sentence.

  • I am feeling Fall this year. Usually, it makes me sad—my heart is a heart of spring—but there’s a loveliness in the air this go-round that’s got me smiling and thinking all things are possible. You, too?
  • Did you see the massive bag of flour I bought? I’ve been baking all our bread, plus being the dessert person for any dinners we have/go to, and I was going through those normal-human-sized bags every other week. This was quadruple the amount for half the price. I think this officially makes me a Real Baker? Anyone need a cake?
  • I can’t with this Murakami book. I heard “The Second Bakery Attack” a while back, then got the collection as a gift, but for whatever reason, his “wild, imaginative genius” is not clicking for me. What am I missing?!
  • I do not PSL. Just in case you were wondering.

That’s it for me! Now it’s your turn.

Take a nice, long sip of that beverage and tell me how you are doing lately. What’s been going on in your world these last few weeks?

In the meantime

Life is what you do while you’re waiting.

When the Day Comes by vladstudio via DeviantArt

A fairy girl in a red dress holds a giant umbrella over a field of sunflowers standing in the daylight, while all around her is field of sleeping flowers in the night.

In between where you are and where you’re going is the meantime.

That indefinite span in which anything can happen
—or nothing at all.
The time you spend waiting to be on the other side
—and how you spend it.

In between buying the guitar and playing the solo is hours of skin-splitting practice.
In between first kiss and Golden Anniversary is days of tears, silence, and change.

In between the call and the answer is the waiting.

The meantime is waking up early and going to bed late, shopping and cooking and eating and doing the dishes, going to work and going to school, balancing the bank account and wondering where the money will come from, returning library books and buying birthday presents, doubting that you heard the call at all because the meantime is

going

on

so

long.

And you tell yourself to hang on just a little longer. That one day the meantime will be over,

but it won’t.

Because the meantime is always now.

Because once you pass through this meantime you begin another one. Because you’re always in between—a series of overlapping meantimes, always ending, always starting, always hoping, always moving, even when you think you’re standing still.

In between your first breath and your last is your life,
each moment a meantime.