Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Getting Over the Rainbow

Rainbow in the Clouds

Last week I read Paulo Coelho’s book “The Alchemist”. It’s one of those books you hear about; people post quotes from it on Facebook, it’s on lists of “important books”, that sort of thing. I got it for my Kindle in a one-day sale on Amazon because I wanted to know what the fuss was about. Turns out, it’s an allegory about a shepherd boy who finds the courage to live his dream. He takes a winding path, and sometimes gets sidetracked and almost gives up more than once, but in the end he lives his “personal legend”. I can see why it’s popular; it talks about following your heart, which is of course what we all know we should be doing. It talks about how when you do follow your dreams the universe conspires to assist you. This is a theme that I’ve thought about and written about before, and I still find it attractive. It’s a lovely idea, that if we finally decide to do what we know deep in our hearts we are supposed to do with our lives and our gifts, that the way will open up in front of us. I’ve been testing this theory for a while now, and I’ve learned a few things about this promise of cosmic help.

The help is out there all right, but make sure you want it ‘cause it doesn’t come cheap. There are things I know now that the great ones don’t tell you up front about following your dreams. It isn’t just a matter of following the yellow brick road. The flying monkeys are real, and you should understand what you’re getting into.

These guides to a better life don’t always tell you what it means to turn your back on everything you used to hold dear. They don’t tell you that you will most likely have to suffer heartbreaking hardship and loss. They don’t tell you that following your dream means that you have to be ruthless in your desire to leave the past behind. Sometimes they mention that the people you are closest to will, in a misguided attempt to help you, try to get you to give up and take the well-worn path instead. What they fail to mention is the terrible anxiety that not taking your loved ones’ advice causes them – in effect, following your dream often means causing pain to the people you love the most. Getting over the rainbow is at times a harsh, uncompromising way to go.

In the story the shepherd boy encounters hardships, and there are times when he must show great courage in the face of real danger. I doubt the pursuit of most peoples’ dreams would find them in the middle of the desert facing down warring tribes of Bedouin, but make no mistake – there will always be trouble. There will be people who actively root for your failure. There will be people who, out of jealousy or just plain evil, will find ways to sabotage your journey.

The biggest challenge, though, happens between your own ears. It’s a constant struggle between doing what you know you’re supposed to do, and doing what is easy. It is a fight, every day, to either work on your dream or to spend one more hour watching television. It’s hard. That’s the price for getting what you want – you have to pay for it with your whole heart.

I suppose that’s why I’m so agitated. Every day I see my old life becoming less and less important to me, but I want my new life to spring forth from my head fully formed, like Athena from Zeus. That’s not going to happen. The work has to come first. The achingly slow, emotionally charged, demanding, confronting, terrifying work. I am astonished at my audacity, to think I deserve to be who I want to be. But I’ll only be that person if I earn it by giving myself to it without reservation. If I love my vision of what my life could be, the person I know I can be, and I pursue it without restraint or hesitation, I must believe that it will happen. I want to be fearless. I’m not there yet, but I’ve come a long way – and I think I can see it from here.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

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Do you want the Good News or the Bad News first?

Disney World

Recently someone said to me “Bad news hits you in the gut right away, but sometimes it takes good news a while to sink in.” It’s true – I seem to accept bad news immediately, even to the point of acting on it before I have the whole story, but I’m reluctant to believe good news when I get it. Why is that?

I’m pretty sure I didn’t come here this way; I seem to remember believing it when my parents gave me good news, like when they told me that we were going to Disney World. I don’t recall my seven-year-old self looking at my father skeptically and saying “Are you sure? Disney World? Really?” I just jumped up and down screaming with delight.

So I must have lost it somewhere along the way, the willingness to immediately believe it when something good happens. As I’ve aged I have not only become reluctant to believe that something good has happened, but I have also learned to readily believe it when I hear that  a bad thing has happened or is about to happen to me. Of course, as an adult I know how to sift through the facts before jumping to conclusions; I am famous for not believing much of what I’m told and practically nothing I read, so I might not fully accept the bad news right away, but what I will do is have an emotional reaction to it. Depending on how secure I’m feeling at the moment the bad news hits, I will either immediately freak out or calmly accept it as fact. Rarely can I hear bad news and not have a visceral reaction, especially when I’m feeling vulnerable to the whims of forces beyond my control.

Why is it so much easier to believe that things are going wrong than to believe that things are going right? I’m not a pessimist, but I do think I dwell on the disappointments in my life more than the joys. It’s something I’m working on, but I know I’m not alone; according to some reading I’ve done we humans are much more likely to obsess about what we’ve lost or what we might lose than we are to focus on what we have gained or stand to gain. It’s our nature. We hate to lose, and even when we win we don’t really enjoy it, because, you know, eventually it’s all going to go away anyway, right?

I don’t walk around waiting for the other shoe to drop, though I did for a long time. My financial situation has become less precarious, which makes it easier for me to focus more attention on the good stuff in my life. But I do still expect to be disappointed. I think it’s how I insulate myself; if I’m prepared to be let down, then the actual event should be less traumatic. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s how I’ve approached most situations in my life – jobs, clients, relationships. I have just recently become aware of the extent to which I do it, and to realize it’s not the best way to live my life.

I’m sure I will continue to get bad news; that’s life. What I’m trying to do now is to stop anticipating it. Bad things happen to everyone. Good things happen, too. I’m trying to keep focused on the good things. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be disappointed now and then, but if I consciously dwell on the good things I figure I’ll be happier in the meantime.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc

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A Slice of Heaven

Augusta National Sunrise

Last week my husband and I attended the Friday round of The Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Those of you who don’t like golf will probably be tempted to quit reading now, but I want you to know that this little piece isn’t about golf at all. I don’t play golf myself – I have mediocre hand-eye coordination – but my husband loves it.  I started watching tournaments on television with him when we were dating (because that’s what you do in a new relationship), and I found to my surprise that it captured my attention. Specifically, it was the 1996 Masters that got me hooked; the famous meltdown by Greg Norman that gave Nick Faldo his third and final green jacket was as epic a story as any I had ever seen on stage or in the movies. I fell in love with Augusta National and with The Masters then, and I have remained in love all these years.

Which is why it’s such a big deal that for the past five years (because of a friend’s generosity) we’ve have the chance to go to The Masters for one of the four tournament days. I have come to anticipate our annual trip as much as I ever looked forward to Christmas morning as a child. It has become my second favorite day of the year.

There are many reasons why I feel this way. First, the course itself is stunningly beautiful. It is astonishing how perfect it all is – the fairways look like lush carpeting, and the greens look like pool tables. The flowering shrubs and trees all over the course fill your sight with bright colors and your nose with sweet scents. You can hear the birds singing in the tall pine trees when the crowds go silent to allow a player to putt. Some people might be put off by the engineering feat it takes to achieve this level of perfection, but to them I say, “Pppttthhh.” It’s gorgeous. It feels like a holy place, and all of us who are fortunate enough to experience it in person are truly blessed.

But even more than the impact of the sheer physical beauty of this outdoor temple, there is a sense that as soon as you walk through the gates you’re somewhere else. Somewhere slightly apart from the “normal” world. Somewhere better. It starts when you find out that you are not allowed to bring a phone of any kind onto the course. Think about what it would be like if you got 40,000* people together in the same place and didn’t allow them to check their email, or post anything to Facebook, or Tweet, or make work calls, for an entire day. Just let that soak in for a minute. What would happen?

Well, I’ll tell you. What happens is that people start noticing what’s around them. They suddenly have the time and the interest to strike up conversations with complete strangers about a variety of topics. Instant friendships explode and fade like fireworks all day, everywhere.

And then there’s what for lack of a better term I’ll call the “culture” of The Masters; the respect for the golf course and the other attendees that is so pervasive it’s shocking. An example: if you bring folding chairs into the course and you place them in a particular spot somewhere on, say, the 15th green, you can leave them there confident that no one will take them away or even move them. Most likely no one will sit in them, either, until you stop wandering around the course and settle yourself down to watch the action in the spot you have claimed. The first time this process was explained to me I was amazed – how is it possible that no one would come along and, finding your chairs unoccupied, not move them so as to make room for themselves? They don’t? Really? No, really???

Yes. Really. It’s almost unthinkable, but it’s true. The same people who, on the “outside”, would most likely cut you off in traffic, or jump the line ahead of you at the grocery store, or whatever – these same people leave your stuff alone.

Not only that, they clean up after themselves and other people (which doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens). Augusta National has an army of workers whose job it is to pick up trash on the ground, but I’m telling you I’ve seen as many patrons picking up litter and putting it into trash cans as the people who have been hired to do it. There is a sense of community and shared responsibility under those pine trees the like of which I have never experienced as an adult. The closest thing I can equate to it is how my friends and I took care of our college theatre; it nurtured us, and we loved it and looked after it. But that was a small group of friends in a small college. This is a massive crowd of complete strangers, but even so, everyone seems to instinctively know how to behave. Of course, Augusta National does things to encourage this sense of loyalty.

Like most sporting events in restricted access arenas or stadiums, you are not allowed to bring food in to Augusta National Golf Club. But instead of gouging people by charging outrageous prices for the food there, they do the opposite. The most expensive sandwich on the menu at Augusta National is $3.00. You can get a pimento cheese sandwich and beer for less than five bucks. And you get to keep the plastic cup it comes in, if you want. Also, if you need to make a phone call, Augusta National has banks of phones you can use – for free. Since they won’t let you bring your phone in, it’s like they say, hey, here you go, we got you covered. How fair is that? And don’t get me started on how nice the restrooms are kept. As a patron, you feel more like an honored guest in someone’s home than a spectator at a sporting event.

So, yes, I think heaven must be at least a little bit like Augusta National during Master’s week. A beautiful place where you are free to roam around, drinking in the awesomeness of nature. A place where everyone is kind, and patient, and generous, and friendly. A place where you feel welcome and safe, where the pace of life is slower and there’s nothing more important to do than to strike up a conversation about what a beautiful day it is with the person sitting next to you.

Yes, this must be heaven.

*this is an estimate – Augusta National doesn’t tell

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: lisapeck224 via photopin cc

 

 

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Finding My Voice

GACS Chorus 1985

A few weeks ago a guy in my writer’s group told me my novel was coming along well – the story was flowing smoothly, the characters were developing nicely – and he thought I should interject more of my “voice” into the writing. I was so pleased and flattered by his comments; it’s the kind of feedback any aspiring writer wants to hear. I also agreed with him. I’ve been feeling the novel is going well (as far as it has gone anyway, which really isn’t that far), and I shouldn’t be afraid to interject more “me” into it. However, having embraced the idea of putting more of my voice into my writing, I’ve been struggling ever since about not only how to do it, but also with figuring out what my “voice” sounds like.

Which struggle, if you know me, sounds crazy.

Am I wrong about that?  I mean, I’ve always been the kind of person who is pretty clear about who she is and what she thinks, right? My personality isn’t some great big mystery, is it? I hardly go around hiding who I am. I may try to soften the impact because I’m afraid of steamrolling people I don’t know, but that’s a losing battle – my “voice” is a loud one, no matter what I try to do to tone it down.

So why am I having so much trouble finding my voice in my writing?

Part of me thinks that my voice is already there – I mean, it’s my writing, isn’t it? My perspective, my sense of humor, my wants and desires, hopes and dreams – it’s all in there. This blog has also helped me to find my voice. It’s about being authentic, and truthful. So what’s the secret sauce that’s missing in the novel?

In an attempt to discover the answer, I decided to read other people’s writing to see if I could discover what gives them their distinctive voices. I’ve been working through Earnest Hemingway’s short stories, I picked up Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, and Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane and American Gods. I’m not sure I’m any closer to an answer than I was when I started, but at least I’ve been entertained.

Hemingway isn’t without poetry, he’s just concise. Every word he uses is on purpose, direct, meaningful. Maupin is charming, and owes his success to his deft handling of his characters – they jump off the page and immediately offer you a coffee, a cocktail, or a joint, depending on who they are. Gaiman has an amazing ability to take you into alternate realities – realities that could be just under your nose – in a way that you willingly hop on his carousel without a backwards glance. I am now sufficiently familiar with these writers that I could probably identify their writing from a paragraph or two – a literary line-up.

Is that what a writer’s voice is? That thing (whatever it is) that makes them immediately recognizable to their readers? Do I have that? I don’t know. I suppose I’m not in a position to judge – that would be up to the people who read my work.

As much as the idea of finding my voice intrigues me, I am also wary of the trap I could fall into so easily. A trap that says I have to put on a persona to make my writing interesting. It is true that I often feel as if the regular me and the writer me are two different people, which is apparently quite common. Margaret Atwood, in her wonderfully insightful book “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing” says this:

“What is the relationship between the two entities we lump under one name, that of “the writer”? The particular writer. By two, I mean the person who exists when no writing is going forward – the one who walks the dog, eats bran for regularity, takes the car in to be washed, and so forth – and that other, more shadowy and altogether more equivocal personage who shares the same body, and who, when no one is looking, takes it over and uses it to commit the actual writing.”

The trap is the belief that the “writer” in me is someone entirely different from myself, like a character I made up instead of the person I become automatically when I sit down to write. The writer in me is a different version of me – more thoughtful, more particular, more willing to entertain wild ideas – but it’s still me.

Here’s another thought. Of course every artist goes through the process of finding their “voice”, but I’ve recently had the epiphany that even singers must go through it as well. I used to think that the singers you hear on the radio just sang the way they did effortlessly; they obviously work with vocal coaches and are generally more knowledgeable about singing than the average person, but their voice was their voice and that was that. Now I think that’s wrong – singers must go through the same process as writers or painters or actors – the process of uncovering their authentic voices. This thought made me realize that I never gave myself a chance to be good singer (I was a decent one, once, but that was all) because I never loved my own voice. I wanted to sound like what I thought I should sound like, not like what I really sounded like. So when I failed to sound like what I thought I should sound like I gave it up. I’m sorry I did that now; I could have enjoyed that part of my life so much more if I had accepted who I was and not tried to be something I wasn’t. I thought my authentic singing voice was inferior to my ideal. Maybe it was, but because of this belief I never gave my own voice a chance to truly be heard.

All of this has led be back to where I started, which is that I can’t get hung up on trying to be something I’m not. I have to trust that I will discover what I need to know about myself as a writer through the act of writing.  Trying to define and interject my “voice” into my work is, I have decided, a potentially dangerous waste of time. I now believe that instead of chasing my voice, if I keep working at it and being patient, like all things worth having, it will come to me.

P.S. I’m the one in the top right corner.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

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What Do I Want?

Happiness_Joey

What Do I Want?

What a question. What a provocative, dangerous, hopeful, angst-ridden question. A question that I don’t ask myself very often. Even as I have gone about the business of figuring out my life and my work over the last few years I still hesitate. What if the answer comes back “Not this”? What if the answer would require me to stop what I’m doing and to put all of my energy into something totally different? What would I do then?

Lately I’ve been experiencing some difficulties in my working life. These difficulties are not unexpected – or they shouldn’t be, anyway. There will always be bumps in the road, no matter what it is that you do. When it all calmed down I decided to ask myself the question: given this present turmoil, and the guarantee of future turmoil in my current line of work, “What do I want?” This is what I came up with:

I want to work with people I like and trust.

I want to write about things that are important to me.

I want to spend time with my family and friends.

I want to make enough money to not worry about paying the bills.

I want to enjoy my life.

I want to be a positive force in the world.

After I made this list I realized that I either already have everything I want or I am actively working to achieve it, and no amount of temporary insanity will change the path I’m on now. I know I can always do more – I can find new ways to spend time with the people I love, I can explore what it means to enjoy my life (which is not as easy as it may sound), and I can constantly pursue new ways of being a positive force, both big and small – but for the most part, I have everything on this list. I was surprised that it seemed so easily achievable, but then I remembered what I’ve been through to get here.

First, I had to lose a lot of what I thought I wanted in order to get to where I am now. Second, what I want has changed. I recently found a list of what I wanted that I had made not long after I was laid off. It was a list of professional goals, not personal ones, and the emphasis it placed on things outside of myself took me by surprise.

Is that what happens? If we don’t get what we think we want do we just change what we want to fit our circumstances? Is that a bad thing or a really smart thing?

I used to mark my happiness by the relative coolness of my job.  When I thought I didn’t have that anymore I had to reassess what made me happy. That’s when I realized (although I “knew” it) that you can’t get your happiness from temporary things. And jobs are temporary. People can be as well, so you have to be careful there. And money, while it undeniably makes life easier, does not make you happy.

When I look at what I used to want out of life – a high-status job, lots of money, exotic travel, and public recognition – I am struck by how differently I see my life now. Sure, I still get a little jealous when I hear about someone who seems to have some of the things I used to have (I will always want to travel), but I’ve learned not to compare my life to another person’s. There will always be someone who you look at and think “Wow, they’ve got it all!”, and there will always be someone who looks at you the same way. Nobody has it all. There is no such thing. We’re all on the same trip – we take different paths, but eventually we’re all going to wind up the same way, so there’s no sense in being envious of someone else. Nobody gets out alive, as they say.

Some people think that asking the question is selfish, that this life isn’t about what you want. I think it depends on how you look at it. Does “living right” require the sacrifice of my personal happiness? What’s wrong with wanting to be happy? If I’m happy, doesn’t it mean that I’m free to be a better person?

Someone told me once that happiness in this life isn’t a guarantee. Well, I think that’s a load of crap. What isn’t guaranteed is that you’ll have an easy life. There is no pass on tragedy or misfortune or loss. But if you can figure out how to be happy in spite of it, basically happy, then you’ve achieved something. I think it boils down to what you want. If you want permanent things, real things, then you have a much better chance of getting what you want, and therefore, being happy.

But be careful. Asking yourself what you want can lead you places you never thought you would go. If you ask, be prepared for the answer. If you don’t ask, you probably already know the answer is “Not this”. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Once you ask the question, the answer will haunt you until you do something about it. Believe me, I know.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks

 

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