I had lost my beloved career as a dedicated teacher. I had left the subsequent job I'd fallen into in my shock, the lowest-paying job I'd ever had, because I was unable to make enough money to cover my childcare costs. I'd never before in my adult life been without paid work. It was Spring 2008 and my spirits had never been lower.
I had two young children, no job, a Masters Degree in English, and no prospects on the horizon. Finally, I got sick of the whole situation. One day, I just made a decision that something was going to have to change. Things were going to get better because they simply had to.
From that day on, I vowed to hunt until I found work that made my life better. I wrote up a variety of resumes, emphasizing different skills and aspects of my background. I got up each morning, determined to put pure positive energy into the day. I got dressed in a suit, did my hair and make-up, grabbed my work papers and set out.
Each day I drove around and approached any employer I could think of. I applied as a waitress, as a coffee clerk. I applied in Human Resources, at a daily newspaper, as a tutor, and as a college associate professor. I went to retail shops and diners, anywhere I thought I might make enough money per hour to have something left over after I paid a babysitter.
And I went to Barnes and Noble. I did really well there. My love for books and my teaching background wowed them. I sailed through a group interview, even when I had to commit the major sin of leaving early to pick up my girls. I aced two more interviews. They loved my references and they loved me. Even though it was only a clerk position, I was confident that I could get into a management track once they saw me work with the public.
But I didn't get that job. A minimum wage clerkship, and they passed me over. I was crushed.
I shrugged it off with a wry laugh and kept applying everywhere. My determination to change my life through pure effort and expectation didn't flag.
A few weeks later I got a call out of the blue. The nonprofit I had worked for wanted to know if I would write some grants for them on a freelance basis. From that one unexpected moment, my business was born.
Dumb luck? Fate? A result of what I projected for myself?
All I know is that I've gotten work that same way ever since, and I've never looked back. I love being a business owner and I love my daily work.
Today, I'm sitting at Barnes and Noble. Turns out I wound up working here after all. Just not in the way that I would have anticipated. No clocks, no schedules but my own. More money per hour than I made as a teacher. It's fabulous!!
I wish the same successes for you in your own life.
So doing nothing about a situation is one of the hardest responses for me.
I like to be active; I like to respond; I like to make things happen.
But more and more over the last few years, when I am faced with an uncomfortable situation, I don't rush in and try to solve it right away. Instead I back up and I breathe. And then I consider. And consider some more. And give myself the space of non-reaction to find out how I really feel.
Sitting with this discomfort, this lack of solution, this nagging conflict or issue is not at all easy. It feels bad. But then I take the time to just embrace those feelings. I see what they might have to say to me. I ask if the situation is here to teach me something.
I ask myself what the most kind and gentle thing to do would be. And often, I wind up sending good thoughts and doing nothing else.
Because doing almost always strengthens the negative energy, while waiting gives it space to dissipate in its way.
I've been blessed with some truly uncomfortable situations in my life -- I like to think that I have learned to face them while still keeping a certain core of peace, stillness and equanimity.
I've always remembered a story that a friend recounted to me a few years ago:
He was feeling anxious, sitting in a waiting room. Without even paying attention, he was jiggling his leg around and shifting in his seat. An older woman passed by him and noticed it,
"Honey," she said, "just tell that leg no!"
I've often thought of this story as a perfect metaphor for how we approach an anxious or compelling situation. Without even noticing it, we may begin to react in a strongly patterned way.
But we don't have to do that.
The first step is to even tune in to ourselves, to find the almost-automatic reactions that arise without our conscious awareness. Muscle tensions, fidgeting, sharp retorts, recurring conflicts - these are just patterns.
The second step is to realize that we have the ability to take control of our response to any situation. We don't have to go down the same paths we've walked before; we can choose a different response; we can just tell our own legs NO!
I've used this so frequently when I feel tension overwhelming me. I look for my automatic response and then I tell it to go away. And then I choose to do something different.
Even if doing something different means doing nothing at all.
Magic takes us in because we have an innate longing to believe. With a simple deck of cards, a good friend was able to dazzle a group of us. Only later did my husband point out to me that the deck was clearly specialized.
Once he said that, I knew the truth of it. I had seen it with my own eyes. But in my mind's desire to be amazed, I had not processed the simple fact of what I was actually seeing. In other words, my expectation overrode my actual perception.
How often do we do the same in our daily lives? How often do we interact with others or deal with a situation only to see exactly what we expected to see before we began? Why is it so hard for us to strip away the expectation and see only what is actually there in front of us?
I have a friend right now who is suffering greatly in love. She has one relationship with a man who could be, might be, hopes to be a great guy. And she has the possibility of something with a man who actually IS a great guy. And, listening to her, hearing her sincere confusion and pain, I wonder why it is so hard for her to see that her hopes for guy A are nothing but fantasies. Projections. Smoke and mirrors clouding her ability to clearly see that if the relationship hasn't progressed in three years, it's unlikely to suddenly begin to do so.
While guy B is just what he seems to be - a really nice guy, ready to commit now, and with lots of potential based on what he is currently actually doing.
It seems like the illusions and projections we bring along with us into our most intimate relationships are the hardest ones of all to detach from.
The soothing voice of Jon Kabat-Zinn flows through my car lately in the transition times from one place to the next.
His wisdom as read aloud from this text brings a calm deepening to my days. I actually whisked the CD out of my car and thrust it into a friend's hands this week- my best response to the crisis in her life.
To my left, a fountain blurbles merrily. All around plants grow in their garden boxes - lavender, tomateos, strawberries, chives - reaching into the sun. Bright glass candleholders hang from branches and sway in the breeze and the flies buzz lazily. It is exactly late summer.
Apples appeared at the Farmers Market today, and pears, the first autumn fruits. I found myself thinking that we needed to make time to hunt for wild blackberries in the next week or two, while they are still hanging plump on the vines.
I am all alone, and I love it. Tucked into one of my secret work spots, ending the week as I began it, with projects and paragraphs. Good food, hot coffee, and a contented attitude.
I read an article this week about the discipline needed to become a writer. Most of us know that the difference between writers and non-writers essentially comes down to practice and devotion. This teacher suggested that writing be considered a habit. He pointed out that we humans tend to do the tasks that are habit to us, the newspaper-reading, email-checking, toothbrushing kinds of daily events.
That clicked with me right away. This blog is my writing habit. I come to it first, when I begin to work, or I come to it when I get stuck or distracted, when I need a bit of a break. It's an invaluable tool for me. Sorry if it doesn't provide a high level of reader service value, but it does serve a purpose for my worklife.
Willful determination with Nonconcern for results is my main writing philosophy. It's a pure pleasure for me to write, and I return to it for that joy and contentment.
Next I'll expand that habit out to my fiction. I realized that I put fiction last because I have so many other paid projects each day. But there's no reason at all that I can't keep my current story open, and go to it first, each time I sit at my computer. If I write even a paragraph or two each time I work, stories will get written and revised in no time. Plus I'm in no hurry.
"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible."
... is the main feeling I have today. I am steadily working my way through a list of life errands and work-related tasks -- and feeling quite pleased with myself about it.
I like Monday. The whole week is still in front of me, and I am always curious to see how it will start to fill up and what things I will wind up doing.
I have a proposal I'd like to wrap up by tonight and maybe get another page or so in on my story. Plus balance the checkbook, make dinner, finish the laundry...
... and, of course, end the day by watching The Waltons. We are ending Season 2 and I love it! The integral narrative voice of John Boy, the literary references, the family pulling together in hard economic times - it is just so soothing to watch.
I'm back at one of my cafe work spots. My aim in the next few weeks is to get around and renew my acquaintance with them all. This one's fun cause it's right downtown so there's a bit of hustle and bustle. A wide variety of people come through the doors and pass by the windows. No one crazy and interactive so far, so that's always helpful to work concentration.
Plus I realized that I can stand next to the booth, pop my computer up on the ledge, plug it in, and use the free-and-easy wifi. That's all I need right there! I'm trying to stand more while I work. Keep reading how healthy it is, what with allowing for better circulation, using more muscles, burning more calories and all.
My goal is to stand five hours each day. Plus I fidget when I stand so it definitely makes me more active.
I started today with a two hour brunch with a friend. Now I'm here working away. Not too bad, really.
Not only am I super busy right now, juggling the needs and desires of my family at this transition to work/school/rush time, but my social life has spiked the last few weeks.
Among my circle, there are so many birthdays in August that we are attending a party every single weekend of this month -- plus some during the week! We've hosted at least three... four?... big gatherings of our own lately. They are all starting to blur together quite honestly.
Plus some friends from my past have been re-emerging. Like right now, my oldest friend just texted to say that she and her son will be flying in in November and can't wait to visit. Awesome!
Not so awesome is that several old friends have suddenly reappeared from the mists of time because they are having intense personal crises. Gulp. I really don't know what to do for these people. Of course, I'm sympathetic. And I care and wish them well.
But I really do have my own, very busy, very focused life going on. I can't just drop everything and rush off to aid someone else.
A few weeks ago it was an old friend, calling nonstop. The calls this week are from a mother-daughter pair who are locked in conflict, maybe with some traumatic influences that I really don't even want to find out about. They want me to stop at once and come see them so I can mediate their conflict in person. Frankly, I don't know how that is supposed to help; I'm not magic. They seem to have more faith in my intervention than I do.
This troubles me deeply. It makes me so sad when people I care about are struggling. It makes me feel even worse when I have no idea how I'm supposed to help them. Just powerless and drained by their problems.
Plus there's the whole notion of reciprocity. I have learned to highly value the friends who are actually there for me when I need them. To me, it's a key definer of a good relationship. All of these "friends" certainly haven't been present in my life the last few years when I was smoothing things out and getting my act together. They were off being busy with their own affairs. But now that they have a need, they want that to take precedence. But it doesn't quite work that way.
My true friends, the ones I'm making the effort to get to all the parties for, have indeed been there through their tough times and my own. If one of them had a crisis, I would drop everything and go to help, even if it meant drastic reshuffling or missing work deadlines. But for people who haven't shown much interest in me lately, I think it's fair to wish them well from a distance and -- in the meantime -- keep typing on my grants.
The older my children get, the more lovely my days become.
They are at an age now where they have some independence and self-sufficiency. It leaves a bit more space for me, and I'm truly enjoying interacting with them.
It has been a simply lovely summer. Probably the best one I've ever had. It seems like every summer the last few years has been better than the one before. We had a couple of really rough summers during some rocky times, so in comparison we have redeemed our summer experiences completely. With that baseline, it is so easy to enjoy these floating, harmonious, fun hours that blend together under the haze of heat and sunshine.
When I was a child, summers were okay, but often boring. I liked school so being out of it wasn't a big plus for me. Swimming was nice, and ice cream, the occasional dinners at a friend's house, and playing for hours but overall, summer was just okay. I always sensed that there could be so much more to it!
Then as a teacher, I'd have to say that I wasted my summers. Back before my own kids came along, I hated the end of school. I love to work, and I love having routines, and I love structure and challenge. I love being around lots of people. School had that, and summer didn't. I almost always volunteered to teach summer school, and I even ran free writing workshops for talented youth just so that I would have something to keep me occupied.
Now, I look back and I don't get it. We were two free adults with income! We could have been traveling; I could have been writing!! But we weren't so into those things back then, and I for sure was more stuck in the little box of not really knowing who I could be. Oh well.
But, now... Now... summer is FABULOUS. I adore the break from school schedules and homework and lunches and laundry. I adore that our family can choose whatever we want to do with our days. I adore that we have the luxury of time, so much time to spend together, really the most precious commodity of them all, and one that never loses its luster.
I'm starting to look forward now to Autumn, by far my favorite season. I know that after this break, I'll actually enjoy the uptick in daily tasks, the hustle and bustle of books and backpacks and lunches. The seasonal changes - blackberries, then pears, apples, then persimmons. Pumpkins and cornstalks and autumn leaves drifting in a gray sky.
Sometimes I worry that I'll be lonely. After so much time constantly surrounded by others, I worry what I'll do with myself. And then I laugh at such silliness. For one thing, I am constantly busy and if I find myself with an hour to feel lonely and unmoored, I should treasure it. Second, I am constantly surrounded by friends. Almost too much so. It's much more my experience that my writing or work gets interrupted by a phone call or visit then that I have no one to talk to. I'll see good friends every morning and every afternoon at school pickups and more days than not, kids and adults will come to visit and play at our house. More days than not I'll have coffee or lunch with someone. So, third, when I worry about lonely, I remember all that. And I remember something else.
I like Lonely. I love being alone. Free to think my thoughts, free to get things done, following my own schedule only. Aahhh, heaven. And most of all, free to sit uninterrupted with myself and write.
Oh, yes, summer is most excellent, and I am happy to anticipate Autumn as well. Just as it should be.
I searched this morning for a poem... to start my day and to express the mixture of emotions that mingle within me. Something by Merwin, I thought. But none that I found seemed right. There was a nice one by Neruda, translated by Merwin, but it seemed a bit too much. All those lines, all that going on and on about love - it just wasn't what I was looking for.
I read a sad article in the newspaper this morning. Another injustice. Another brutal misunderstanding. A man killed simply for being the wrong person with the wrong actions in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simply for being what he couldn't help being. That kind of thing makes me sad... sad for all of us that as much as we can love each other, as much as we are all joined together... still we have these horrible instants of miscomprehension. Sigh.
So I guess I wanted a poem that somehow said that. Somehow said that I am sorry that there is suffering in the world. And that no one should be hurt simply for being who they are.
Do you know which poem says that, and reminds us that there are still reasons for hope even so?
Over the last few years, I've made something of a study of happiness. You see, I wanted to be happy. So I paid attention to myself - really spent a lot of time getting to know who I am and what I care about. I paid attention to others, to my friends and their experiences, to how I saw their lives unfolding. And I did a bit of reading here and there, kept up with new studies, that kind of thing.
And to some extent, happiness can be created for oneself. At least, I have had good luck in creating my own happiness.
I started by taking a good look at things as they are. Then I focused on appreciating whatever I could. Whatever would give me a bit of hope. A tiny lift. A smile across my face.
Hope is a wonderful thing. And whatever gives you hope, you should nurture. You need to think that life may indeed get better in the future, no matter what your experiences have been up to this point. And Hope provides that.
Look at what is, what is around you right now. Then know that the more you can make peace with things as they are, the more Hope and Time can lift you into something better. Something more peaceful, more loving. More contented. Something like Happiness.
Everybody deserves a chance to experience that change for themselves.
A new month starts today, and I open my inbox to find new work assignments in it. Hurray!! I worked like a dog last week to finish everything I had committed to, and while I was happy to have a bit of a pause, I really don't need a gap where I have no work.
Then I would have to become more pro-active, either by writing and sending out a letter to targeted nonprofits advertising my grant writing services, or by writing and submitting these fiction pieces that are sort of bubbling around in the background.
But, whew, as long as I have assigned work, I get to give that priority and that gives a nice shape to my days.
I'm having a fabulous day anyway. My gorgeous -- truly gorgeous! and also brilliant -- older daughter is hanging out with me in the cafe. She's getting a taste of my "work life." So far we've shared a pizza and read aloud to each other from books designed to make math approachable to middle school girls. She likes math anyway as do I, but the books are still awesome fun. They are very narrative, use fun real life examples, and even have magazine-style quizzes! We just finished finding out our respective learning styles. Mine is visual, no surprise there, but hers is auditory. Good to know. Now she can talk out her studying as it becomes more advanced.
I already purchased multiple copies of the first book in this math series. It looks like I'll be tutoring at least two teen girls this year, in addition to keeping my own up to speed. I don't really like tutoring now. It's time intensive and doesn't pay nearly as well per hour as I can earn writing, but... BUT these are the daughters of friends and I want to see them do well. So it's mostly favor and some pay.
Plus my yoga subbing career is going very well. I am getting near universal acclaim from my students. I taught twice yesterday, and the first class was especially good. The students didn't even want to leave the studio -- they were so relaxed they hung around chatting with each other. My dad called last night to tell me that the sub they had in their slow, senior yoga class last week didn't do well at all. Even though he's a more experienced teacher with his own weekly classes, apparently he didn't understand the needs of challenged students. He didn't do adaptations. Before class ended, the elders were almost in revolt and were requesting me by name.
So, if that kind of feedback gets back to the studio owners, I hope they'll consider offering me my own weekly class someday. Before I was hesitant, but I think I'm ready to make that commitment now whenever the opportunity opens up. It really is fun to teach.
I guess what stuns my students most is my ability to learn and use up to 20 names of people I've never met before. That's just a lingering teacher skill -- when you're in a room of 35 restless adolescents an instant recall of names and a good rapport are essential!!
Oh, and before I forget-- those new fiction pieces: Blue Pineapple, set in and around downtown and featuring the creepy underground room of a popular cafe. Then, The Red-Headed Woodpecker (working idea) draws on the first hunting experience of a friend, set in a box narrative that shows it as a metaphor for struggles in adulthood. Or something like that. It's only idea energy right now, and there are lots of ways it could take shape, but writing it here will remind me of it. Cause I'm a visual learner. :)