Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

A Week of Friendship

Friendship

This is one of those times when I’m struggling to find something to write about. As I’ve turned this past week over in my mind it’s tempting to say that nothing important happened; I can’t think of a single insight, or deep thought, or new idea I’ve had since my last post, and no major life-changing events have occurred to give me fodder for my weekly post. But that doesn’t mean that the events of this past week are any less important than when I have big news to share, or some emotional breakthrough to tell you about.

This week was all about enduring friendships.

On Wednesday afternoon I joined over 100 alumni from my high school chorus to sing at the funeral of our school’s founder. This man was one of the most genuinely humble people I have ever known. The school he started and nurtured since the 1960’s is his legacy, and it is an impressive one. To be able to show my gratitude to him for the incredible gift those years at that school have been to me was truly an honor. It was also an opportunity to share, once again, the pride and joy I feel as a part of the great choral tradition at that school. I was a member of the A Capella Chorus my Junior and Senior years of high school, and the bond of shared experience between all of us who moved in and out of that group over the years is indescribable. I wish I had the words to explain what it’s like to stand there, looking at our 82-year-old director (whose passion and commitment to us and the music is undiminished), seeing the love and pride on his face as our voices rose and blended, but there are no words for it. It is pure emotion, and it was all I could do to keep the tears at bay. I am so grateful to have this in my life, past and present, and I embrace every opportunity I get to sing with this group, because I am so aware that each time may be the last. And I know that everyone who stood up there with me felt exactly the same way, so as we sang the final few measures of the Hallelujah Chorus we weren’t just singing to honor the dead, we sang to celebrate each other and to acknowledge what a privilege it is to know the power of that bond we feel.

After the service was over I went to meet a group of former work colleagues. These friends are the core of the team that I worked with at my last job, and I have incredible memories of the struggle we went through, the hard work we did, and the fun we had. It was wonderful to be together again, and to talk about old times. For me, it’s always good to be reminded that even though my time there came to an abrupt and unpleasant ending, these colleagues became my friends and I cherish them to this day. That is a great gift, and the joy of it obscures all of the negative feelings I once had about that period of my life. I’m so far removed from it now that I mostly just remember the good things, and being with that group made me grateful again for those years.

On Memorial Day yesterday my husband and I got together with a group of friends that haven’t all been in one place in a very long time. We’re connected to each other in different ways, and many years ago we would gather for game nights and other random reasons. Then children came to some of us which put an end to the adults-only evenings, and it’s been years since everyone has been together. Yesterday it finally happened, and it was fun to see the next generation playing and enjoying each other’s company as much as their parents do.

So, yes, nothing “important” happened this week. I just spent a lot of time with people I love, being grateful all over again for the abundance of friendship I have in my life.  It’s overwhelming and humbling. It may not seem all that important, but for me, there is nothing I value more than the love I get from, and give to, my friends and family. Thank you all.

photo credit: godutchbaby via photopin cc

 

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The Disappointment Trap

Disappointment

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned too well over the last few years it’s how to avoid disappointment.

The journey of self-employment is a near constant cycle of hope and rejection. I can’t tell you how many times over these past four years I’ve been encouraged about something that has happened – an exciting conversation with a potential client, positive feedback from mentors about the direction and scope of what I was trying to achieve, actual interviews that I walked out of totally convinced I was going to get the gig – only to be disappointed when it didn’t come through. I learned, like so many people learn, to stop wanting whatever it is that I’m pursing so that if it doesn’t happen I won’t feel so devastated.

This seems like good advice, and you hear it a lot. I’ve reduced or eliminated a lot of pain over the years by teaching myself to not want things. That piece of business? Yes, it would be great, but you know, it’s probably not going to work out, so I’m not going to think about it. That trip? Yes, I’d love to go to that place on business, but I’m not holding my breath. These are the kinds of things I’ve said to myself to spare my feelings, and they work. I’ve gotten really good at not getting my hopes up.

There’s something else here to think about.  The advice about not getting your hopes up is usually accompanied by the assurance that if you don’t, when something good does come through, it’ll be a wonderful surprise. That has certainly happened – some things I wrote off did actually come together. You think I’d be more excited about it when it happens, but it’s anti-climactic: “Oh, wow, ok. I got it. Great! Now, what’s wrong with it?” I have so trained myself to be disappointed that when something good does happen I can’t allow myself to enjoy it.

I’ve decided that this is a big problem and I don’t want to live this way anymore.

This decision is, of course, loaded with emotional risk. If I start wanting things again I’m sure to be hurt and disappointed. It’s inevitable. But I think I know now the price I’ve paid for emotionally detaching myself from the pursuit of what I want – I’ve lost  a lot of my former passion. I’m having to work hard to muster the enthusiasm required to build a business, which is a recipe for disaster.

Now, understand, I’m not totally disengaged – anyone who knows me knows that. I’m just not inhabiting my life as fully as I am capable of doing, and by holding back I’m cheating myself and everyone around me. So I’ve decided to risk my heart again, to want things, knowing I will be hurt. Instead of trying to avoid disappointment, I’ve decided I’m going to go all in, all the time, and if I get disappointed I”ll just get better at accepting it and moving on.

Living is risk. Loving is risk. But if you don’t take the risk you most definitely won’t reap the reward. And the reward isn’t necessarily achieving the thing you want – it’s the joy that comes from knowing you’ve given everything you have pursing your desires. You leave it all on the field, on the stage, in the meeting, on the canvas, on the page. That’s what’s real. That’s where the love is. That’s where you’ll find me.

photo credit: Scott Ableman via photopin cc
 

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Give it a Rest

Joey Sleeping

When I worked as a stage manager one of the things I did was to help actors memorize their lines. Mostly I threatened them with bodily harm if they weren’t off book by tech week, and that usually did the trick (I’m only half kidding). But through working with actors I learned a lot about how people learn, and absorb information, and make connections with words and ideas. I discovered that there was one surefire way to help someone struggling to come up with the right words at the right time: put down the script and walk away. Go to a movie. Read a book. Go to dinner with your best friend. Sleep on it. Do anything to take your mind completely off of the words you’re desperately trying to memorize. Give your brain a rest. If you do that, it’s amazing what happens – in a few hours and with no strain the lines will appear in your mind (well, usually anyway).

This working from home thing is a constant struggle for me in some ways. Mostly I get paralyzed when I don’t have a grip on what needs to be done in what order, because working for myself gives me more choices about what I do and when than I’ve ever had before. This is a good thing when I need to go to the grocery store, or do some laundry, or help my husband with his computer in the middle of the day. It’s bad when I’m trying to do things that aren’t necessarily connected to a deadline; I tend to put things off if I don’t feel that they are pressing. So those things start to pile up, and I begin the downward spiral of inactivity breeding guilt, which results in more procrastination, until all forward motion comes to a screeching halt.

That’s when I need to get the hell out of Dodge.

I know that walking away from my laptop is sometimes the most effective thing I can do to get me going again. Sometimes I get to actually go out of town. Sometimes I can find other ways to distract myself, but it’s hard to do when I know the thing is just sitting here, making me feel guilty for not checking my email every five minutes. It’s a vicious cycle.

But I did get a break this weekend (my sister and I went to visit my mother for Mother’s Day), and I’ve come back re-focused and ready to go. I’ve gotten more done in the last two days than I managed to accomplish all of last week (at least that’s what it feels like). And the marketing initiative for the event planning business that I’ve been toying with finally became clear, and I’ve actually written some things down.

Other stuff happened, too. I got a message last week from a long-lost connection, a friend really, looking to touch base. We had an amazing conversation, and when I got off the phone I felt like I could leap tall buildings again. When I get un-stuck it seems as if the energy I lost all comes back to me bearing gifts.

Y’all don’t know this, but this is my 50th blog post. I am very proud to have hit this milestone; when I started the blog I thought it would be a miracle if I managed to post anything at all after the first few. But here we are. I might post 50 more. I just need to make sure I walk away every now and then.

 

 

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Looking Back, Looking Ahead

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For some reason this week I became determined to rescue the pictures I had saved on my old iPod. I say “rescue” because I had tried in the past to figure out how to get them off of it, but was unsuccessful. These are pictures that are saved nowhere else; when I loaded them onto my iPod originally I suppose I moved them instead of copying them, and they’ve been there ever since. I don’t know why I became so determined to get to them, but I was, and eventually I did it. These pictures are extremely important to me – the one at the beginning of this blog post is the only picture I have of me on the Great Wall of China, so you can see why I’d want to make sure I had it somewhere I could get to it.

I have been privileged in my life to have traveled to some amazing places. As you can see I’ve been to China; my husband and I spent ten days sightseeing before I my work thing in Beijing started, and the experience of being on that wall is something I’ll never forget. I’ve been to Hong Kong and Macau as well, which are technically in China, but are so very different from the mainland. I’ve been to Singapore and to Mumbai, India. I’ve been to Australia, where I discovered a heretofore unknown talent as a rock wallaby spotter. There’s nothing like standing in the dark silence of the desert outback, 300 miles from the light pollution of any city, looking up at the incredible field of stars and finding the Southern Cross waiting there, just like in the song.

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Rock Wallaby – do you see him?

I’ve been to Europe and to Great Britain (England and Scotland anyway). London is possibly the best city in the world. I haven’t been to all of them of course so I can’t really know for sure, but I’ll bet it’s on up there. Berlin sizzles with energy. Rome is the Eternal City – ancient and new at the same time. Venice is the most romantic place on Earth. And Jerusalem is the center of the world; if you don’t believe me, go see for yourself.

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The Old City, Jerusalem

The United States is chock-a-block with the amazing and wonderful. I adore Chicago – it’s a big city that still thinks about itself as a small town, or that’s how it felt to me. New Orleans is a treasure – totally unique and intoxicating, it seduces me every time I go. We have it all in this country – mountains, beaches, swamp, prairie, desert. The Grand Canyon is everything they say it is. Mt. Rainier looms over Seattle like an ancient god. The sound of the loons across the lake in Maine will stay with me forever.

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The Grand Canyon

For a long time after I stopped traveling I didn’t allow myself to think about my trips, for fear it would make me sad. I don’t feel that way anymore. In fact, for the past week or so I’ve been consciously conjuring up not just images, but sense memories – sound, smell, touch, taste – from the places I’ve been. I can feel the cobblestone streets of Rome under my feet. I can smell that very distinct odor that is nowhere but Mumbai – spice and sweat and poverty and new money. I can hear the afternoon call to prayer in Jerusalem. I can taste the freshest fish I’ve ever had in Hong Kong. Instead of making me think about what I’m missing, these sense memories are giving me the gift of not just remembering my trips, but reliving them.

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The Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

We get told a lot that we shouldn’t look back, that we shouldn’t live in the past. I think that that’s generally true – if we look back too much we can’t see where we’re going and we tend to stop moving forward. But we shouldn’t be afraid to think back on the things in our lives that brought us pleasure, or made us happy. I am grateful for the wonderful experiences I’ve had, and thinking about them has added to my sense of gratitude. And, for the first time in a long time, I’m conjuring up these sense memories as a way of visualizing myself again in these places. I can see myself, not my past self, but my present self, on the escalator in the Piccadilly Circus tube station in London, headed down to the train platform. I can see myself standing in front of the Coliseum in Rome. I can see myself in a vaporetto on the Grand Canal in Venice, on my way to Murano to see the glass blowers. I can see myself in the crowd at Uluru in Australia, waiting for the setting sun to change the color of stone and sky from bright orange and blue to violet, gold, and purple.

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Uluru at sunset

I want to go back to these places and to visit so many I haven’t seen yet. I’ve never seen the emerald green of Ireland or the whitewashed houses in Greece. I’ve never seen the Pyramids of Giza or the Sphinx. But I will see them one day. I know I will. And then I’ll have those new memories of sights and sounds and smells to take me back whenever I want to go.

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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.

All photos by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014 .

 

 

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