Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

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The NEW New Year

Fireworks

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore; the cynicism that comes with age and an acceptance of my own lack of determination to follow through on any activity so foreign to my everyday life that I have to instigate it with a special occasion has pretty much put a stop to that nonsense.  But I remember the thrill of feeling like each new year was a clean slate, an opportunity to start over again and do it better this time.  I remember the clarity of purpose, the simplicity of the choice – to do, or not to do.  In those heady days just before and after that particular midnight I felt invincible, impregnable, immovable.  I would prevail.  I would change that part of my life for the better, whatever it was.  It was inevitable that someone as determined as I could easily alter any aspect of themselves they wanted.  No problem.

Yeah, well.

There’s only so much failure that a person can take before they say, “I’m done”.  I reached that point a few years ago.  I figured that since I wasn’t going to keep any of the resolutions I made anyway, then why make them?  They’ll only serve to make me feel guilty and worthless, and who wants to feel like that?  So I stopped.

I find, though, that I haven’t really given up on the idea.  For example, I would never belittle anyone else’s attempts to use the New Year as a catalyst for changes they want to make in their lives.  If you tell me you’ve made a resolution to read more books, or to lose weight, or to exercise more, or to spend more time with family, or whatever, I will be in your corner cheering you on – without judgment.  I still believe in the power of the idea of the fresh start.  There must be power in it because we keep trying, even in the face of constant failure.

So even though I don’t participate in the annual resolution ritual, it doesn’t mean I’m against trying to make good changes in your life.  Where would we be if we didn’t strive to improve ourselves?  I suppose my views about resolutions have changed because the way I think about change itself has changed.

For a long time, change is something I expected to happen in the blink of an eye.  Childhood fairy tales introduced me to the idea that a difficult, ordinary life could be transformed in an instant (as long as you had access to a fairy godmother or a handsome prince, which, in my little girl heart, I totally did).  I believed that there was a magic moment that would transform me from what I was into what I wanted to be.  And even though as I’ve grown up and realized that Prince Charming isn’t going to rescue me from my evil-stepmother-oppressed existence (that I never had anyway) and that I have to work hard to achieve the results I desire, I still have this underlying idea that the “change” happens in the space of a kiss.  Or that’s how I want it to happen.  The breaking of the spell became the magic of the New Year.  My commitment to a particular resolution was the moment when I woke up to a new life, a beautiful life, and I broke the chains that bound me to my past.  I was transformed, and my new self would behave in ways that reflected this new way of being.

Well, I tried that and it didn’t work, no matter how much I wanted it to or believed it would.  Every year I started out believing with all my heart that this new person I had become at the stroke of twelve would always do what I wanted her to do without any effort (or much effort anyway) on my part.  The new behavior would flow naturally, as an extension of my new self.

When you put it this way it sounds nuts, right?  It took me years to figure out that’s what I’d been doing, and the realization of the depth of my self-delusion was pretty disheartening.

There are some people who have had extreme experiences that have so shaken the foundations of their lives that they change their ways overnight.  In fiction, Ebenezer Scrooge is a fine example of what can happen to a person in a few hours of introspection (supposing you have access to several frightening but well-meaning ghosts).  In reality, we’ve all heard stories of people who have come through near death experiences which, having survived them, gave their lives new meaning and focus.  But for the rest of us plodding along through our (mostly) unremarkable lives, we haven’t had those life-changing moments of pure clarity.  We view our lives through increasingly smudged and dirty filters that keep us from seeing the truth about the changes we want to make.

For me, that truth is that that change is a verb, not a noun.  It is a series of actions, not a moment in time.

This was a very depressing thought for me at first.  I wanted my life to be different NOW, not at some distant point in the future when I had worked and worked for who knows how long.  The idea that result flowed from decision was a hard one to give up, and I still struggle with it.  Part of me is still Snow White, asleep in my glass coffin waiting for the Prince to show up and take me away from all this, waiting for the meaning of all my struggle to make sense, waiting to know, once and for all, my purpose in life.

This attitude beautifully illustrates a fundamental flaw in my personality.  For most of my life I’ve been addicted to achieving my goals and have viewed the journey as a necessary evil.  To be fair, this attitude has been useful in pushing me to reach out for the things in life I decided I wanted.  I got through three years of working full time and going to grad school because I never allowed myself to take my eyes off of the goal of getting my degree.  That’s not to say I didn’t derive any pleasure from going to school – I did.  I love learning.  I just never saw the process of learning as the point of the time I was spending.  I went to school to get my degree in order to get a better job to make more money, period.  And that is exactly what I did.  So, for me, the “change” did happen with the decision, even though the culmination of that decision came years later.  I decided on a goal, and then I achieved it, every time.  Every.  Time.  Until three years ago.

That’s when it all came crashing down, and I’ve had to find a new way to look at my life.  It has been very, very hard to see my life in terms other than “set goal; accomplish goal; set new goal.”  I’m still engaged in a wrestling match with myself over how to view what my life is now.  The “old” me still sees my lack of “success” (meaning financial security) as something to be ashamed of.  But my other self, the one that reads poetry and writes blog posts and dreams about a future devoid of business meetings and conference calls, is gaining strength.  She’s exciting, this new girl.  Well, I call her the new girl, but she’s been here all along, just waiting for the chance to break free.  She’s got a foothold now, and she will no longer be denied.

This is my change, and it isn’t happening all at once.  It’s a process, and, for the first time in my life, I’m trying to relax and let it happen.  Every time I read a poem, I change.  Every time I scribble something in my notebook, I change.  Every time I wake up thinking with happy anticipation about the day ahead, I change.  For the first time in my life I’m not fixated on a specific goal, and it’s both freeing and terrifying.  I’ve never been here before, and I don’t know where I’m going or how long it will take to get there.  All I know is that I am becoming someone new; I hope it is the person I was meant to be.

So, Happy New Year, everyone!  I’m excited to find out what this year holds for us all.  I hope that it is a year of possibility and discovery and courage.  And gradual, inexorable, joyful change.

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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: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via photopin cc

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A New Year Transformation

Fireworks 2015

Every year on this day I struggle with three questions: 1) what lessons have I learned this year, 2) what do I want to do differently next year, and 3) why do I seem to need to do this every December 31st?

Let’s start with #3. I’ve thought and written about the annual ritual we observe at the turn of each year (see last year’s blog post here), and I’ve admitted to being mystified by the burden of significance we pay to what is truly just another 24 hours. I mean, the Earth doesn’t stop spinning, the sun doesn’t stop shining, the stars don’t suddenly burst into song at midnight on what we determined a couple of thousand years ago is the 1st day of the new year. The day is only significant because we’ve decided that it is so. And we’ve given it deep spiritual meaning, and we use it as a springboard or a point of origin for the positive changes we want to make in our lives. And we celebrate its coming in a frenzy of manufactured cheer (ok, yes, I think New Year’s Eve is a humbug – I’ve never really been all that excited about it, though I’ve been to some good parties).

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about it all, and lately I’ve become deeply mistrusting about this annual rite of passage. I think the practice of making new year’s resolutions is mostly destructive, although I continue to hope that positive change is possible, for me and everyone else.

That’s it, isn’t it? Hope. It’s all about hope. That’s the reason for the fireworks and the streamers and the confetti and the kissing. We are all, ultimately, hopeful creatures. We hope that the new year will be better than the old one. We hope for better health, better jobs, better relationships. We hope that something magical will happen at the stroke of midnight – the slate will be wiped clean and we can start over. This is a good thing, I think. It is certainly better than having no hope for the future.

But something new has occurred to me as I’ve gone through my annual contemplation of the end of the year, and it is this: I think that the secret to changing the future is all in your head.

People tend to focus on what they need to do to have the life they want – exercise and eat right, go back to school, find a new job – but we don’t spend as much time focused on how we think about our lives as they are right now. Yes, I know, I seem to be veering off into new-agey stuff, but hear me out.

As an exercise, try this. Think of something in your life that is bothering you – it can be a person (spouse, kids, boss), a place (your house, your office), or a thing (your weight, your car, your unfulfilling job), and hold it in your mind. Let all of your anxiety or fear or anger associated with whatever this is flood you; don’t hold back. Feel it all.

Now, holding the image of the source of all these negative feelings in your mind, say “I love you” to it. Say it over and over again. I know you probably don’t mean it, but say it anyway. Entertain the idea that there is something loveable about it, and contemplate that aspect of whatever it is. I have an example of what I’m going to start saying about a “thing” that sometimes gets me down:

“I love my broken down, crappy old car, because it has a story to tell. I love it because it continues to get me where I want to go every day. I love it because even when it got stolen it came back to me.”

Saying “I love you” to my car won’t get me another car. What it will do is transform how I feel about the car I have, removing all the negative thoughts I have about it and freeing me from that particular source of unnecessary anxiety. The lightness I feel from doing this simple thing is amazing, and, knowing that, I have created a list of stuff (people, places and things) I’m going to hold up to the light and send thoughts of love towards.

You have to keep it up, though – it took time to create some of these attitudes, and it will take time to change them. I’m going to write down the things I want to change my mind about and keep the list where I can see it, so that when I start to fall into my customary negative thinking patterns I can stop myself and change the direction of my thoughts.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to the gym. I am suggesting that instead of focusing exclusively on changing the things outside of ourselves that we don’t like, that we also try to change how we think about them. That’s the change I want in the New Year. Yes, I’d love to be svelte and have loads of good-paying work and all that stuff. But I mostly want to be happy and at peace, and I know that no amount of exercise or new contracts will give me the kind of lasting joy that can be had by filling my mind and heart with love for everyone and everything in my life.

I wish the best for all of you. I hope 2015 is filled with joy and health and peace for us all.

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photo credit: paloetic 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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Christmas Future

better blurry christmas tree

Have you ever wondered why, in the classic tale “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, the Spirit of Christmases Yet to Come is portrayed as the Grim Reaper?

Christmas Past is a bright, beautiful fairy, dazzling in white light. In the movies she is dainty, with a soft voice and a kind manner. Christmas Present is a giant, laughing being, so full of joy and the milk of human kindness that he can’t help but spill it everywhere. And then in glides this terrifying apparition, pointing the way, silent as the grave – the spirit of the Future.

Is the future so terrifying that it must be represented by the very image of death? It’s an odd choice when you think about it. The future is unknown, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s dark, or something to be afraid of.

We know that death waits for us all – that’s part of being human. And Ebeneezer’s future was, at that exact moment in his life, not very bright at all. Which made me wonder – if there are such things as Spirits that embody the Past, Present, and Future Christmases that a person experiences in their lifetime, maybe they would be different  for each of us than the way they presented themselves to Mr. Scrooge.

Maybe for someone whose past was filled with violence and danger the spirit of the past wouldn’t be one of light and beauty. Maybe, for them, it would be a dark elf who delights in remembered misery.

For some, maybe the spirit of Christmas Present is a sad fellow, who in spite of all his good intentions not only can’t seem to alleviate the loneliness people feel, but actually makes them feel worse.

But then there’s this. Maybe the spirit of the future isn’t the shadow of death drawing nearer – maybe it’s more like a ball of light – not white, but made up of all colors, shifting and shimmering. It takes no permanent form, as it is always in motion, but sometimes in it you can catch glimpses of your hopes and dreams. This ball of light is always just ahead and slightly out of reach, and we can see its beauty even if we can’t guess its shape. That’s the kind of spirit of the future that I imagine most of us would conjure up – if the occasion were to ever arise, that is.

So maybe instead of losing ourselves completely in nostalgia this year, we could look ahead a little. Not with the resolution-making, goal-oriented, clean slate kind of purposefulness that comes with the beginning of the new year. But in stillness, with the past firmly behind us, hand-in-hand with the present, enjoying the lovely light of the future, twinkling and blurring like the lights of your Christmas tree if you squint your eyes.

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Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

 

 

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Need to Know

need to know meme

If you watch the news at all it’s easy to believe that the world we live in is a senselessly violent place where no one is safe. You aren’t safe walking down the street. You aren’t safe in your schools or your places of worship. You aren’t even safe sleeping in your bed. Danger is everywhere; the stories of death and destruction come at us non-stop on the television, in the newspaper, over the radio, down our Twitter feeds, through our friends’ Facebook posts. The unrelenting barrage of bad news often leaves me feeling hopeless and thinking that the world is spiraling out of control.

I hate feeling this way so I’ve thought a lot about how not to. I’ve tried finding my peace through faith and prayer, and while that helps, it doesn’t stop me from getting drawn back into the maelstrom of madness that is the “news”. So, as the above cartoon suggests, I’ve tried to limit my exposure to it. When I am successful I find that my mood improves significantly. But – and this is a big “but” – I often, so often, find myself seeking it out so I’ll know what’s happening, even though I know it will make me feel like crap.

So what is it that I think I NEED to know?

This is an extremely confronting question, and worth exploring. What, exactly, do I need to know about events in my own country and the wider world in order to live my life? What information is necessary for me to have to be a productive member of society?

Do I need to know about every natural disaster, devastating fire, missing person, or horrible murder that happens every day somewhere in the world? Do I NEED to know the details of these awful events, or is it enough to know that they happen every day?

Do I need to know every excruciating detail of every dumb ass thing our elected representatives say and do? Do I NEED to know all the latest scandals and outrages, or is it enough to know that these things will continue to happen as long as human beings are in charge?

Do I need to know every time some heinous act of terror is perpetrated somewhere on the planet? Do I NEED to know who these people are, where they came from, and why they did it, or is it enough to condemn all acts of violence carried out by people who want to hurt others and make all of us afraid?

When you put it that way, it’s pretty obvious that I don’t actually NEED to know any of this stuff. I’m not saying I shouldn’t be aware of world events, particularly if they will have a direct impact on my life, but maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to be quite so thoroughly consumed by it all.

Of course that’s easier said than done. Following current events as they happen is an addiction, and I don’t think I’m the only one hooked. I have tried to wean myself off of the minute-by-minute news cycle but in spite of my best intentions I keep going back to my dealer, the internet, for more of the drug I crave – and hating myself for it. Why can’t I go through life being blissfully uninformed? Would that be so bad?

I think back longingly on the years when we all got our information from a trusted anchorperson on the 30-minute nightly news. We all went about our daily lives, and then, after dinner, we’d sit down and have Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather tell us what we needed to know that day. And that was plenty. We knew what was going in the world, but we weren’t overwhelmed by it like we seem to be now. Sure, the coverage wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as it is today – thanks to the miracle of the internet, we can know what some despot on the other side of the world had for breakfast – but dear God, do we really NEED to know all that just because we CAN?

I know that unless I move to some remote island or mountaintop retreat it’s unlikely that I will cut myself off from everything and everyone I would have to in order to achieve that level of disconnectedness. So I have to find another way to stay sane.

Here’s a radical thought, so bear with me. I think that the key to keeping  in touch with the world around me while at the same time keeping my sanity is entirely dependent on my own perception. What I mean is, I can either see the latest catastrophe – whether man-made or not – as a reason to panic, or not. I think we’ve gotten so short-sighted that we confuse what’s happening now with what will happen tomorrow, and the next day. We have lost our ability to look at the long term, to see down the road. We’re so focused on the information coming at us from those little screens in our hands that we’ve forgotten how to look up and really see the world around us. Beloved, the stars in the sky could give a fuck who’s president. We need to keep that in mind. Focusing on what’s eternal is a huge help in processing what’s temporary. This too shall pass.

We also need to see our neighbors with compassionate eyes. We need to recognize that we all want the same basic things – to feel safe, to be warm and dry and fed. To be loved. We sometimes have extreme differences about how to achieve these goals (and what is preventing us from achieving them), and we have a hard time understanding how someone who disagrees with us could possibly believe the things they do. It’s hard, I know. But we have to try. We have to try, with all our might, to love the people we believe are actively trying to do us harm. I believe with all my heart that it’s the only way through this current crisis.

So, when I call my elected representatives to share my concerns about something of real importance to me and my family I will not do so in a state of fear and panic, but in a state of love. I will approach the conversation with an open mind and heart, and I will see the “other” as someone who is capable of compassion. I know this approach doesn’t fit in with the concept of “fighting” the good fight, but I’m hear to tell you, it is the most powerful thing you can do. Look at Gandhi. Look at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those men achieved real change, and they did it not meeting force with force, but by overwhelming the resistance with kindness, and gentleness, and with love. We have to do this differently, and it starts with you and me, right now.

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Looking for the Truth

truth

I called my mother on my way home from work the other day, as I do at least once a week. She’s my best friend, and talking with her usually lifts my spirits and helps me see through the fog that clouds my vision sometimes. But this conversation was different. I found myself unable to stop venting about my feelings about the recent election, even though I had promised myself I wouldn’t talk about it when I hit the speed dial for her number. As I ranted and raved I could tell that all I was doing was making my dear sweet mother more and more uncomfortable – and she and I agree on most things. I felt awful when I hung up, because I knew my outburst had caused her grief, and that’s the last thing I ever want to do. She was upset because I was upset, and because there was absolutely nothing she, or anyone, could do about it.

I have struggled to find the words to express how I feel about the insanity that seems to have gripped me and almost everyone I know since the election. In the past I’ve been able to shake off those people who feel that they have to stridently voice and defend their political beliefs pretty easily – I simply ignore them. Being able to block people on Facebook has been a real blessing, as I’ve been able to keep certain people in my life who constantly rail against the evils of the “other side” because I don’t have to fucking listen to them. And I’m talking about people on both sides of these issues.

A few weeks before the election I unfollowed one of my oldest and dearest friends whose relentless political posting was driving me nuts. After I did that I found that my thoughts about this person, which had been trending towards the negative, returned to normal. I have since resumed following that person, but I’ve started to regret it as the rhetoric hasn’t chilled. This person has said that there is a certain issue that is totally unacceptable to them, and if any of any their friends support this particular thing, well, that that’s the end. They can no longer be friends with anyone who is on the wrong side of this line they’ve drawn. The thing is, I’m so far over that line that I wouldn’t make that cut, and I’m pretty sure my friend knows it, which makes me wonder if it’s not the having of the belief that is so offensive, but the sharing of it. I guess the only reason we’re still connected is that I’ve kept my online mouth shut about my beliefs. This line in the sand mentality from someone I have always loved grieves me more than I can say, and I’ve found myself alternatively wanting to put the ultimatum to the test – would you really unfriend me? – and doing what I’ve always done, which is disagreeing in silence.

We’re all so convinced we’re right. We’re all so convinced we know the truth. We’re all so convinced the other side is wrong that we’re refusing to listen to anyone who disagrees with us. And it is this conviction, much more than the actual differences of opinion, that will tear us apart.

The day you stop wondering if you’ve really got it all figured out is the day you stop growing and learning. It is the day you stop being able to empathize with people who are unlike you.

It is the day you make yourself God.

Not questioning why you believe what you believe is the height of hubris. If you are a person of faith, God does not require you to stop questioning; quite the opposite. “Ask and the answer will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” If you think you’ve got all the answers, ask yourself this question: Where are the answers coming from? Did another person give you the answer? Or did you, with humility and a genuinely open heart and mind, go to your creator, or the universe, or whomever you turn to for guidance – and ask? Or have you already decided that you know what God, or the universe, or whomever, thinks?

I try to question the things I believe and the assumptions I make. When I find myself taking a strong stance on something, I hold it up and I ask these questions:

“Why do I believe this is true?”

“Is it possible that I’m wrong?”

“Does this belief promote love and compassion for others, even those who disagree with me?”

If you won’t ask yourself these questions and accept the answers, whatever they may be, then you have chosen to deceive yourself. And just to be clear, that is a choice. But instead of pretending that isn’t the case, you should own your choice. You should proudly stand up and say “I don’t actually care if what I believe is based on misleading or false information or if what I believe causes pain to others – I’ve decided to believe it.” I see people on both sides doing exactly this, and it’s more terrifying to me than anything else that has come out of this horrible election.

I’m not asking everyone to gather in a circle and sing a song. We’re light years away from that. What I do ask – what I beg – is that everybody step off and take a breath. Stop feeling so self-righteous, and so determined to bludgeon the disbelievers into submission. Just stop. It’s not helping. It’s hurting you and everyone around you. And for what? So you can be right?

Is being right more important to you than your family and your friends? Are you willing to destroy lifelong relationships because you believe with your whole heart that you’re right and they’re wrong? Why?

Look, I get what’s at stake here, and I get just as caught up in it as anyone else – I’m not immune, or above it, or better than anyone else when it comes to things that are important to me that I feel are being threatened. I promise you that I will live my convictions and stand up for the kind of world I want this world to be.

But I’m not going to fool myself into believing that I have all the answers. I don’t. I don’t even know where to start on some of this stuff. So I will continue to hold my beliefs up to the light, and if they don’t pass the test, I will, with an open mind, continue to look for the truth. Even if I don’t like what I find.

And my friends, the one thing I am sure of is that the only truth worth knowing is love. And loving someone means you accept them no matter what they do or say. It’s the hardest thing you can do sometimes, but it’s the only thing that matters. Or so I believe.

Peace be with you.

 

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Turn the Page

Turn the Page Large

I like to think of the story of my life in terms of chapters. There’s Childhood, which encompasses everything up to the start of 6th grade. Then there’s Junior High, then High School, then College, and then the Alliance Theatre (my one and only professional theatre job). Then came The Lost Years – that strange, meandering gap of time between 1990 and 1993, when I went to Paralegal school and did the only really serious partying of my life (and it wasn’t all that serious, not really). In the fall of 1993 began the IRT, Down Right, and Stage Door Players years when I was working full time during the day and doing theatre pretty much the rest of the time. Then in 1995 my husband-to-be entered the picture, and 1997 began the chapter I call The First Three Years of Marriage. 2000 – 2003 was Grad School, 2004 to mid-2005 was Recovering from Grad School and Looking for a Better Job, and in August of 2005 started the CoreNet chapter. There’s some good stuff in there, but in June of 2010 it came suddenly to a close. The next chapter was Trying Desperately to be Self-Employed, subchapters of which are called ATB Meeting Design, How We Work, and Moventus. You can’t say I didn’t try.

And now I’m here, at the end of one chapter and the beginning of yet another.  I don’t know what this chapter will be called, since I don’t know what’s going to happen or how it will end, but for now I’m thinking of it as the Going Back to a Regular Job. I’m hoping that early subchapters will be titled Getting Out of Debt and Going on Vacation for the First Time in Four Years. Certainly the themes of Remembering How to Get Up in the Morning, The Daily Commute, and Lunch – Bring or Go Out? are ones I’ve been exploring my first week at the new job. Also important has been Remembering What I Used to Know about Commercial Real Estate. It’s coming back to me, I’m happy to report. I figured it would, I just didn’t know how long it would take.

But before I turn the page on the last chapter of my life and start writing the new one, I wanted to look back at this incredible time and be grateful for what it has done for me. Yes, it’s been hard, and yes, ultimately it wasn’t sustainable, but I wouldn’t trade one moment of it. Not even the really bad ones. So, here, in a nutshell, is what I’ve learned:

I’m More Resilient than I Had Ever Imagined

I won’t say I’m “tough” – that implies that I’m not breakable. I’m not fragile, but I am breakable, and I did break, into a thousand sharp pieces that took a very long time to glue back together. In the process some of those pieces didn’t fit anymore, so when I came back together I was different. More able to withstand shocks. More comfortable with uncertainty. More secure in my own skin. Less needful of others’ approval. Much more patient. There were days when I thought I would never see the sun again, but I did, and I know now for a fact that no matter how dark it is today, no matter how overwhelming your grief is today, no matter how hopeless you feel today, that one day it will be better. You just have to hold on.

I am an Artist

I’ve written about this more than once, so please reference my published works for more detail if you wish, but for the first time in my life I have fully embraced the truth that in my core I am a Writer and a Theatre Person. Years ago I turned my back on the theatre to do other things. I will never do that again. I will also never not write. I am a writer. It’s who I am.

The Money Always Comes

My biggest fear in life is not having enough money to pay the bills, and I have stared into the gaping black hole of that fear over and over and over again these past years. But here I sit, in my house and not in a cardboard box under a bridge, and I think sometimes that it’s a miracle how that can be true. But it is, and I know that for reasons that have very little to do with the rational world, the money I’ve needed has always been there when I needed it. Can’t explain it, don’t want to.

If it doesn’t Make You Burn with Passion, Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I hung on to the dream of self-employment for as long as I did for a lot of reasons. Some of them were good reasons, some not so good. But the truth is I wasn’t trying to forge that career path out of a burning desire to do that kind of work. And it showed, in the end. I tried, but I know it showed. So, my loving advice to you is this: don’t try to go it alone for anything less than the pursuit of your life’s work. It’s too hard if you don’t love it with everything you’ve got.

I am Content

I’ve been a restless person my whole life. I still strive to be better at the things that are important to me – my work, my writing, the theatre, my friendships, my marriage. But for the first time since childhood I am completely content with my life as it is right now. I am overwhelmed with blessings. I have a wonderful husband who I love and who loves me. I still have both of my parents and I treasure my relationships with them. My sister is my best friend. I have a theatre family that is a constant source of joy and belonging. I have a snug home, affectionate cats, and a car that runs. And now I have a job working with some super nice people doing work I enjoy for a wage that won’t make me rich but will damn sure keep me from feeling anxious about my finances. I go to bed at night and wake up in the morning feeling grateful, and humble, and so very aware of just how good I’ve got it. I have more than enough.

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The title of this blog is “Every Day is Saturday: the Joy and Heartache of Working for Myself from Home”. Given that the title no longer reflects this chapter of my life, this will be my last regular post under this title. I may start a new one; I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see.

Thank you for taking this journey with me. I have been so moved by your support and encouragement over the years. You are one of the biggest reasons why I’ve been able to see myself as a writer. I am more grateful than I can ever say.

So, I wish all the best to all of you on your own journeys. I hope you find your passion, and your contentment.

Amanda Taylor Brooks

January 31, 2016

 

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On the Verge

Cliff Edge

Today is the day we prepare to launch ourselves head first into the “holiday season”, which, in my book, has always meant those weeks starting with Thanksgiving and ending on the first Monday in the New Year when I pretend I’m still working but I’m really not. Not much, anyway. As little as possible.

Oh I know, we’re all still “at work”, but what are we doing, really? Between the increasingly infrequent emails, the meetings that suddenly get cancelled, and the conference calls that no one shows up for, aren’t we really shopping online or arranging lunches/drinks/dinner/brunch with as many friends as possible before Christmas, organizing our family get-togethers (who’s bringing the green bean casserole?), and trolling YouTube for funny cat/dog videos? ANYTHING but actually working. Well, ok, we have to do something work-related, if only to justify our paychecks, but out of a regular 8 hour work day maybe 2 hours gets spent on actual work – the rest is just filling time. Am I right?

Of course, now that I’m self-employed and work from home you’d think I’d have gotten over this mentality, right? Wrong. For some reason, even if there isn’t really anything to do (or anything that needs doing right away) I still find myself at my computer, standing by just in case I get an email from a client or a new task from one of my colleagues.  And while I’m waiting, I start “goofing off”, just like I used to do when I went into an office. And actually feeling guilty about it, which is beyond crazy.

I’m a contract worker. Once the terms of the contract have been fulfilled, I’m done. I can do what I please with my time. I get paid for the work I do, not a certain number of hours in the day. And I am extremely close to being done with my contracted work this year. A few odds and ends, and that’s it! There’s some non-client-related stuff we need to do before the end of the year, and we will, but honestly, unless something changes, I’m looking at a very quiet December, work-wise.

So what will I do with my time? Hmmm . . .

  • I’ll bake a lot of cookies and give them as gifts. I did that last year and it was fun.
  • I’ll get my house in order. There are some cobwebs in places that have been there way too long.
  • I’ll read books.
  • I’ll work on stuff for my theatre company; we’ve got exciting plans for next year!
  • I’ll do things that make me happy, like listen to music and look up new recipes to try.
  • I’ll go to parties and concerts and movies and plays with my sweet hubby.
  • I’ll spend more time with my family.
  • I’ll do some writing (see, I’ve already started!)

Mostly, I’ll try to find the quiet in the middle of the holiday frenzy to be present, and to acknowledge how astonishingly blessed I am. I am loved, and I love. In this harsh world we live in, to love and be loved is an extravagance that millions of people can’t even imagine. When I think about that, my “problems” become very small indeed, and the simple joy of baking cookies or sitting down in the peace of my home to read a book seems luxurious.

So here, on the verge of the madness, stop and take a breath. Close your eyes. If you have love in your life, be thankful for it. It’s the only thing that matters, because it’s the only thing that will endure. Everything else can be taken away, even life itself, but the love you have given and the love you have received will always be there, waiting for you.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

photo credit: Cliff via photopin (license)
 

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A Writer Writes

Typewriter and coffee large

My life, whilst awesome, has been in overdrive for a number of months now, and even though I’ve been struck repeatedly by great ideas for blog posts I haven’t allocated the time to write any of them down. And after so much time, all the possibilities piled up and up and I had no idea where to start, so I didn’t. Until today.

What’s so special about today? Oh I don’t know. I just decided that I would re-shuffle my priority list and put this on top. Not that my priority list is all that long at the moment, which is a big change from where I’ve been for some time now. Let me explain – no, it’s too much. Let me sum up:

  • Since early June I’ve been either in rehearsal or production of a play (for those who don’t remember, I’m a stage manager and a board member for a local theatre company), which means that I was out of the house pretty much every night for months;
  • My wedding anniversary and birthday happened;
  • Work has been VERY busy with deadlines;
  • I took three work-related trips in August/September, in the middle of all of that rehearsing and performing;
  • I had the honor of stage managing a dear friend’s wedding;
  • Lalalalalaonandonandon . . . .

There’s been no time to quietly reflect on all the thoughts that have been running around in my head, and any downtime I got I spent on the couch watching television in a vegetative state. There really are just so many productive hours in the day, and once the power supply in my little brain got all used up, I was done. I couldn’t make myself wax eloquent after one of those marathon days, so, no writing for me.

I’m surprised how much I’ve missed it. I mean, I’ve been over-feeding my muse lately, right? All this theatre must have filled any possible artistic void in my soul, right? Apparently not. I’ve been itching to sit here and do this, and I’m really happy right now, clacking away.

Don’t misunderstand – I am a theatre person. It isn’t just what I do, it is incorporated into my cells, hammered onto my brain, burned deep within my heart. What a fool I was to think I could live and be happy without it. Idiot. Well, I know better now.

But writing has always been part of me, too. My father just sent me a photo album of pictures of me as a child, and he included a stack of papers that he’s held onto – some of my report cards, some pictures I drew, birthday cards I made. But the things that blew me away were the bits of writing. I was quite the poet from a very early age. There’s also one page from the play I wrote (and directed and starred in) that I made the neighborhood kids perform in our garage. I’m sorry to say that my handwriting hasn’t significantly improved. These things amazed me, not because they were any good (they weren’t), just the fact of them – I did that, I wrote those things. I had the impulse to do that.

I know I’ve said this many times, but I’ve never seen myself as a writer, which seems ridiculous given all the evidence to the contrary. I wrote as a child. My skill at writing has always been a safe haven for me in the business world. I’ve written articles for which I have been paid – the very definition of a professional writer. I’ve been working on a novel. I have a blog.

And this happened – my alma mater printed a blog post I wrote after a Homecoming weekend two years ago in their alumni magazine. So there it is, out there, with my name on it. More evidence that I should be able to call myself a writer.

But can you call yourself a writer if you don’t write? I think at the end of the day that’s my biggest hang up. I feel like a phony, calling myself a writer and not writing (creatively, that is) every day. I can’t say to people “Yes, I’m working on thus-and-so” because most of the time I’m not. I’m too busy doing everything else – or at least I think I’m too busy. Which is the same thing.

I daydream about taking a week off and locking myself in a cabin in the woods to finish my novel. I’d really like to get the damn thing done, to get it out of me so I can move on. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I can’t see it happening, though – always too much to do. I’m self-employed, so there’s no such thing as paid time off. No work, no pay (or at least that’s how it feels). So, again, no writing for me.

I think about the story of Stephen King, how he wrote Carrie on a typewriter he balanced on his lap sitting in the tiny laundry room in his tiny home. That’s commitment. That’s dedication. Compared to that, I’m a total hack, a journeyman, at dabbler at best.

I am convinced that to be successful at anything creative – painting, dancing, acting, writing – you have to do it, every day. I know this to be true. I’ve written about it myself. This is why sometimes very talented people don’t “make it”, and why lesser-talented people sometimes do. It is a basic human struggle between action and inaction, and success cannot be measured in dollars. Although we are promised that if you follow your passion, the money will follow. I’m not sure that’s true – I know several dedicated, talented artists who have completely committed themselves to their artistic pursuits who haven’t achieved this promised success. At least not yet. I admire these people. Their dedication inspires and intimidates me, but their financial struggles give me pause.

So what does all this mean for me? No idea. I will probably continue to want to call myself a writer but believe I’m a phony until I can find a way to write every day, which will always be a challenge. That won’t change.

I also know that writing occupies a separate, important part of myself that I wasn’t aware of until I took this extended break. There’s a void that only writing can fill. I can’t easily ignore it any longer.

All I can say for sure is that today is a new day, and I have a chance to start over. I’ve written a blog post today. That’s a good start.
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Of Fear, Love and Writing

WritingI have never considered myself to be a creative person.  I have been a singer, but not a musician.  I have acted, but never ever thought of myself as an actor.  I inherited none of my father’s ability to draw and paint.  I’m a good cook, a competent (but not brilliant) photographer, and at a very young age I knew I could have been a decent dancer if I had kept at it, but I did not.  Even with all of these pursuits I never thought of myself as an artist of any stripe.  In my mind, artists were the ones whose gift was obvious, their talent undeniable.  When I compared myself to people I thought of as artists, I believed I was not one of them.

In college I discovered stage management as a discipline, and the first time I heard the term “theatrical technician” I knew I’d found myself.  What a perfect description of me – the practical one who kept the creative types’ feet on the ground.  I could stay connected to the world I loved, but I never had to reveal myself.  I could hide in plain sight, no one the wiser – except for one professor who saw right through me, and who I knew I’d disappointed.  I managed to push the shame of that aside and soldier on, convinced I had finally found my calling.

I was always a good writer, but not of stories or poems.  I strongly believed that I had no gift for creative writing; any attempts I made to write stories in high school were, in my opinion (and that of my English teacher) unsuccessful.  And being the person that I have always been, if I couldn’t be great at something I just wasn’t interested in doing it at all.  I was used to things I wanted coming easily to me.  If I perceived my goal to be too far away I would abandon it in favor of something more easily achieved.   Struggling for my art was not something I wanted to do, which is why I ultimately abandoned all creative pursuits one by one.  Eventually I even stopped stage managing, and for years and years I’ve done nothing creative at all outside of the kitchen.  Which explains a lot.

Writing became a tool that I used to become successful at my non-creative pursuits.  It wasn’t a friend helping me find my way, it was a slave I bent to my will.  It was this way until my cozy life fell apart and writing became my counselor, my support and my confessor.  I wrote the words of my heart in the ink of my grief.  I wrote to catch hold of the pain and put it someplace outside of myself.  But the time came that I didn’t have to do that anymore to survive, so I stopped.

Now I find myself writing again, and for the first time in a very long time it is for the primary purpose of creating.  But even as I’ve taken the first few steps into this new world I find myself up to my old tricks – trying to find the easy way, allowing myself to be content with the early attempts, not stopping to dig too deeply.  Fortunately I’ve recognized this tendency before I’ve sabotaged myself, but the realization has forced the question: do I move ahead, knowing the difficulties that I will encounter, the time it will take, and the statistical probability that I will never make a comfortable living as a writer, or do I do what I’ve done so many times and give up before I even really get started?

I have been at this decision point before, and I have always chosen the path of least resistance.  Sometimes I was aware of the choice I was making, other times the opportunity to choose differently came and went so fast I didn’t see it until it was gone.  Most of the time I convinced myself I was making the “right” choice, even as I ignored that soft, gentle voice that said I was making a mistake.  This time, though, there don’t seem to be as many alternatives available.  It’s as if I’ve used up all of my excuses, and a stronger will is pulling me in, like being caught in a whirlpool or a tractor beam.

And I can feel myself changing.  Thoughts I haven’t had in years about who I am are appearing in my mind.  A sudden thirst for poetry has taken hold of me out of nowhere.  Ideas for stories I could write, ways of making the new memoir meaningful (not just entertaining), and fragments of poems I want to attempt are all jumping around inside my head, dying to get out.  I haven’t felt this energized in decades.  Not since I became afraid of making myself vulnerable, of showing the world who I am and who I was meant to be.  I’m falling in love again, with words and their beauty and mystery and power.  I’m still afraid; I’m not sure if that will ever change.  I’m just tired of letting it stop me.

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