I’m sitting here looking out at the millions of diamonds floating on the harbour and I’m filled with contentedness. I don’t know what that has to do with this post, but it seemed like a good way to start it. We’ve just finished our weekly brunch of frittata – this time with purple kale, asparagus and tomato and accompanied by couple of slices of nitrate-free bacon. I don’t know what that has to do with this post either, but it certainly reflects my rather limited perspective of the last month and a half. Cooking, was, I suppose, my way of coping; it felt productive and healthy and financially responsible. Back when I was a single mother going to university, I could stretch a grocery budget like nobody’s business.
One would think that when one is suddenly laid off from her job, she’d find all kinds of time to go to the gym, write a first draft of a novel, while away hours creating dolls and collaging and all the other things that stimulate her creative self. Most certainly she’d find time to blog. What really happened was she went into some sort of shock.
Not that it was a surprise. Most of my office had been laid off in the months before I was. My company’s industry had gone into a holding pattern and one by one, engineers began to go and then supporting staff. And then the business development group was dismantled too. One by one, ending with, I’ve heard, my boss, its director. I guess things are pretty bad when business development isn’t seen as useful anymore. It’s a giant company – our industry was a small part of it and they’d focus their pursuits in more profitable areas. Fortunately for me, my career isn’t centred on any one industry; I can write proposals for any kind of company and I have done so in a number of realms.
So the shock that wasn’t really a shock sent me into finding employment mode. I didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to find another job. And I did. Lucky me – proposal writers are needed everywhere these days. I started with a new company last week and the fit seems great.
But for five weeks my alarm clock was retired and I wore yoga pants every day and I revised my resume. And I tried new recipes. Food was comfort and my creative output. Likely it was a way to divert from the shock of the sudden retreat from the work world. North of that harbour I see from the vantage point of my sofa, the work world went on without me. Suits hopped off streetcars, blank faces filled the subway cars, couriers delivered packages and crews tore apart roads. I made soup.
Food might also have something to do with the other big change in the wind. After I was laid off, Ceri and I talked and it seemed like a good time to go forward with us and move in together. It occurred to me that I haven’t shared a home with a man in more than twenty years. But that’s not entirely true. Ceri and I have lived together, either at my place or his, every weekend for almost a year and a half. We have dinner together every Wednesday. It’s time. There is no need to be paying for two residences. Or be apart. Before Ceri I never knew a relationship could be so consistently pleasant and uncomplicated. Cooking for us and our family is an extension of our relationship.
I haven’t moved over to his place yet, that comes next month. We’re really excited about the challenge of merging stuff and making a home together. The Co-Habitation Project has given me new ideas about my blog space too, and I expect its documentation will be part of some needed change here.
In the meantime I am adjusting to the big changes. I love change – in many ways I have always lived for it. But as I discovered during the last time of major change in my life - when I sold my home and quit my job and took a big trip then relocated to another part of the province – big change causes system shock. But today as I look out at the diamonds floating on the lake and contemplate a different beautiful view out a different window, I feel grateful that the shock is giving way to living back in the world. And knowing that I have the capacity to keep putting one foot in front of the other, having trust in that the road that unfolds beneath them is the right one.
A lot of people see the onset of autumn as a yearly crossroads. We feel energized for change and renewal; it’s as if the ripening leaves and drunken migratory birds lure us off tired old paths. My unanticipated absence from this space probably has something to do with all that.
It’s not good blog form, they say, taking a break without offering some sort of substitution posts. Or at least some advance notice. But then again this space has always been more about being true to me than retaining you. That’s not to say I don’t think the world of you for stopping by and offering support and conversation and encouragement. I’ve met some really wonderful friends here and for that I’m genuinely grateful.
After a couple of weeks of not being able to face that Typepad dashboard, I reassessed the future of my blog and what, if anything, I want of it. It turns out my longstanding goal of writing with more candour and openness has not changed, so I wondered if I was resisting that honesty. Especially as the desire to spend some time just living, without telling the world about how I was going about doing that, was forceful. With more certainty I know the photo project gave me license to resist the writing part. That wasn’t entirely unintentional, but now it was time to stand back and decide if this was what I really wanted.
I’ve not abandoned the photo a day project, though I will admit the “a day” part has gone amiss. Well before the blog break I’d been giving this whole “living out loud” some serious reconsideration. Blame it on Facebook.
Lest you think I’m entirely Facebook-Jaded, I still love social media. I love that people can express their passions and tell their stories on their blogs. I love that Facebook has put me and my extended family and my old friends in back touch with each other’s lives.
But I have, as should everybody, reconsidered how I want to use these things. Just as I feel it is an absurd waste of time reading that a Facebook “friend” – someone I barely knew even when I last saw them thirty years ago – has a headache or is making roast beef for supper, I also feel that my daily journal belongs in a bedside book, not on your computer screen. Some bloggers journal engagingly and with great success. I, however, am not comfortable merging the public and private. And because of that, the blog has become as insipid as an average Facebook status update.
Maybe it’s because I’m happy. Reluctant Blogger wrote once that she has no desire or need to write when she’s happy. It’s been a wonderful year and I will cherish this record of it. But it occurs to me, I don’t want to share every aspect of my personal life with the world – rather I want to share my perspective on that world.
I remain committed to the photo project for the rest of the year, and I will back-post the pictures I’ve been taking while “away.” Maybe a fresh approach on the project will reinvigorate it and, let’s hope, my writing.
It’s thunder storming now. I’m glad my windows are sheltered because I’ve got them open wide to let in the smell and sounds of the rain hitting the street.
The thunder storm seems an appropriate accompaniment to what I’m thinking: that my life is continuing to shift around, shaken out of several years of a schedule, daily habits, complacency at the office. Yeah, me and my life are still adjusting to the new job and the new schedule; but we’re happy.
I couldn’t have imagined just how much the chopping out of two hours of daily travel would change that life, but the sense of relief as I put on my walking shoes every morning and afternoon – where less than two weeks ago I was moving amongst underground crowds and squishing onto trains and streetcars and buses – is palpable. And relief is the right word. Now going to and from work, it’s head up and smiling, taking my time getting home, walking different routes each day because that extra two hours seems like all the time in the world. Then, getting home and making dinner, deliberately and with pleasure, framed around an “I feel like eating this” instead of “I’m tired and starving and need something fast.”
Me and life are shifting around the job itself, too. New people, new ways of doing things, new ‘tools’ with which to do them; if starting a new job is less daunting than it was when I was younger, it’s no less consuming. I’m learning an industry I knew nothing about; reading and trying to grasp a lay person’s understanding of it at the same time I’m getting assignments to write about it. Well I guess is still rather daunting. But it’s all good. I feel supported and welcomed in my new gig, and I look forward to making my new job my own.
And then there’s summer. She’s a shy visitor this year – sticking her nose in the door a few times only to creep back out again. Mostly the last few weeks have been lovely, as summer came in, relaxed and kicked her shoes off. Especially over the weekend.
As did I. I’m finding it really hard to stay in.
And so I continue to be preoccupied by the shifting around of me and my life. But I’m starting to get my mind wrapped around all the change and new learning; thanks, I think, to the warm days and evenings calling me outside, telling me as only warm days and evenings do, to slow down and breathe.
At night I walk; when the changing air throws the smell of the lake across the road and into my windows. That same smell welcomes me home as I walk down into my street and it gives me comfort amidst the ruckus of the streetcars sailing by. Streetcars that I don’t have to worry about catching.
The smell of water, whether falling out of the sky or wafting off a lake – beautiful thing number forty-five.
I really dig some of the philosophies explored by the literary sets of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly transcendentalism and romanticism. I absolutely subscribe to the notion that the individual locates any true spiritual experience within the self and experience, and that doctrines borne in religious or political establishments were not intended for the benefit of someone like me. I don't see how that has to be so far off from the general message promoted by every one of those doctrines, but then again, everything can be twisted around to say something else.
No doubt my arrival in the 20th century – starting in the sixties and coming of age in the seventies – has something to do with that questioning of establishments in general. But it's more than being anti-establishiment. It's about transformation; about finding those things that elevate my experience from its earthly hangout.
Sometime in the nineties, one of my more esteemed English professors, Eugene McNamara, was lecturing about one of the harbingers of transcendentalism and preeminent orators of his time, Ralph Waldo Emerson. He suggested that ol’ R.W. would not much appreciate finding his essays chopped up into quotes on fridge magnets and stationery on drug store shelves. I recall reaching into my bag and pulling out a small datebook and showing my friend Dale in the next seat the Emerson quote providing insight for the month of March.
I suppose Emerson didn’t anticipate the reduced attention spans of those who would inhabit the twenty-twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I'm afraid we like our ideas succinct.
But I sure would have loved to hear him express this [not succinct] idea aloud in a talk about living a successful life:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson might hate it, but let's call him and his really big ideas beautiful thing number 44.
One can become complacent about things. Just going about the task of getting to work every day and doing all of the things otherwise required to take care of one’s life, including those labelled fun and enriching, is busy.
There are a few reasons why I stayed in what was, for the most part, the wrong job for three and a half years. Mostly, it was because I was appreciated. I work in business development, and I’m pretty good at creating a good “face” for the company I’m representing. I created a fresh “brand” for our proposals and other documentation, and I was considered an integral part of the proposal development teams.
A good part of the success of any proposal writer is the ability to persevere under pressure, and spiking hours. I must say, I dig the pace of proposal writing; the constant turnover of projects appeals to me. I work better under pressure, and I love the feeling of producing something of a high standard under difficult conditions.
But I had no true understanding of our product (software solutions), nor the desire to, really. I don’t have a brain wired to understand this kind of technology. I didn’t really need to – it was the specialists that had to write up the solutions – they were the ones inventing them and had to be the ones describing them. It was cool to watch the process of a team designing a custom solution for a client – a creative process working in a highly technical environment. But I always felt outside of that, and thus not satisfied with my role in it.
They appreciated me, and they paid me to stay. My financial situation was substantially improved in my tenure there, but in the end, I don’t live for money. Job satisfaction is more important to me.
There were a number of times over the past three and a half years that I started to look for a new job, but complacency took over and I just carried on. I was “comfortable;” doing work that, while not satisfying on a personal level, gained me the respect of the company. Recently though, as recruiters started calling, it seemed the time for change was right.
The long commute had started to wear me down. My loyal blogland friends will know that the commute was often a source of inspiration for this space, and that lately it has become less so. The crowds of rush hour, and the inherent (?) rudeness, anonymity, unseeing, cattle-like behaviour just plain depressed me. I found it harder and harder to live the rule, “be the change you want to see” and I don’t want to be cattle.
So I’ve been entertaining opportunities presented to me by these recruiters that seem to have come calling all at once. There was an almost-hiring at Christmas. I was excited because the office was near to my home. But really, the work sounded much like what I do now – lots of coordinating, not much challenge. There were lots of opportunities opening up in the area where I work now, but what’s the point? Fresh job/same commute is only addressing half my problem.
But then, another recruiter called with another address that caught my attention. And then an enjoyable (yes, enjoyable) initial phone interview with my would-be manager, who described a job that sounded challenging and exciting – more writing, less coordinating. There was another in-person interview over lunch, just as enjoyable as the first. I was being presented with the opportunity to develop my own job (not previously held by anyone), and to help another company grow in an area where they want to expand. There is opportunity for travel, to develop my skills, better benefits and yes, a little more money.
And I can walk to work. I live in the heart of the city because I love the vibrancy, the diversity, colour, sights, oddities, action and surprises. You can't know how gratified I am for the opportunity to move out of the underground tunnels and up to the sidewalks.
The best part of all: two hours a day, formerly spent travelling to and from work, mostly underground, will be mine again. Two hours a day. That's ten hours a week, forty hours a month…
All the riches in the world can’t replace that.
There are big changes in the wind. Good ones. They’ll be more bloggable tomorrow than they are today; but I will say that I have, finally, taken giant steps in improving my quality of life quotient.
And even in advance of those changes I’m already feeling like I’m drifting up, out of an extended period of restlessness; the one you may or may not have caught me moaning about in this space in the past while. No doubt it’s the thing that’s behind this rather unfocused state and lack of bloggerly ambition.
I’m a sucker for change, I’ve always been. I am not a person who takes comfort in sameness. If I’m not growing or evolving or changing course, I end up feeling like I’m turning around in circles. I find it hard to look beyond into the road. Sometimes it’s a feeling of panic; like there’s nothing to write because I’m not even two feet from where I was yesterday.
Today I’m two feet beyond yesterday. Tomorrow it’ll be ten feet.
I’m not meaning for this to be a “teaser,” the cliff-hanger to bring you back next season. (Though for those of you I was losing because of my inactivity here, I hope you’ll come back next season.)
Most people, and certainly most bloggers, understand those reasons why a thing isn’t bloggable. Until it is, enjoy one of my daughter Carly’s favourite songs. I always loved it when she played this song.
“…so I want to write my words on the face of today, before they paint me”
(Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon and "Change" – beautiful thing 39)
Saturday morning I had a hard time waking up – it was like my dream state had taken over, and wasn't about to let me achieve wakefulness until the dreaming had carried out its course. I dreamed that I had a new home – a cavernous place with long winding hallways and secret rooms, some yet undiscovered. When I was first looking around this place I didn't seem to be aware, or had forgotten it was mine – until I noticed a few of my things (from real life) on the shelves in in the kitchen. Those who had helped me get there were now gone and I was alone.
"Oh ya! This is my home!" and I danced like a fool around the hallways, finding forgotten corners and undiscovered rooms.
It was one of those emotionally satisfying dreams, that kind that makes you reluctant to wake up. When I finally did and was moving about to make coffee and get dressed, I hung on to the vividness of the images and emotions for awhile.
It didn't occur to me until yesterday to look up the symbolism of "home" or "house" in a dream. It most often represents "the self."
This was really good news in my mind; I'm thinking that some efforts I've been making to make some internal changes – not those traditional "New Years" resolution type changes – but those related to self perception, and self expression, and relating, and welcoming. Having this dream doesn't necessarily mean I've accomplished these things – but it indicates to me that my subconsciousness is ready for it – is, perhaps, already there and setting up a new house.
The other day my friend Lynn posed the question to her facebook people: “what one word describes your 2010?” My experience in expressive arts tells me that the only way to answer such a question is to answer it quickly. If you respond quickly and think about it later, you can open the door to some unexpected personal insight.
I answered with “New.”
I think it was a good word. In 2010 I changed strategies in a number of realms. Early in the year I re-vamped my blog and moved it to a platform that I think better reflects the spirit behind the writing. In turn, I started photographing more and began to pull together some shots that have further captured the theme I’m going for. I spent a good part of last winter documenting my ideas of “beauty” and the sources of it around me in my daily travels. I was rewarded, again, to find how one step leads to another – and these steps led me straight out of a funk – personal as well as creative.
Later in the year it occurred to me to stop looking for “home” and just to live in a fun spot and let home come to me. I get all over my writing students for resorting to clichés, but it’s a lesson I seem to learn over and over again: get out of the past and the future and get living in the moment. THAT’s when the change happens – not when I'm thinking about it, mourning it, planning it, hoping for it, wishing for it.
Still later in the year, pretty recently, I decided to revamp me. I vowed I would try more, trust more, BE more and stay devoted to reflecting the authentic me. I carried that focus on authenticity around with me as I shopped, in the books I chose, friends I found, and in the ways I approached my jobs and free time endeavours. I knew that the most important part of this personal revamp was to drop some walls – particularly because it also included the return to the pursuit of romantic love. I explored the opening of some chakras and worked at smiling at strangers more often and (sorry another cliché) being the change I want to see. Again with the small steps leading me in directions I never imagined.
So the end of the year arrived, and some wonderful surprises have presented themselves. For different reasons, I’m not writing about them yet. But I can say that I have more than one reason to step forward into 2011 anticipating much more NEW. And I’m filled with optimism and hope that some kind of ball is rolling and that you’ll join me in its path.
It’s day one of a new year. I don't know what the word will be for 2011 – but it doesn't matter. I'm sticking in the now and rolling with the rhythms. I do know that I'm really glad you're here to discover it all along with me.
I had a hell of a week last week. It's one of those periods that just comes with my job – it's nothing new but it's starting to get old. As I consider how much longer I want to have weeks like last week, I'm gearing up for another one.
If I'm questioning how much longer I want to entertain stress and long days in those five middle days in a week, I'm not questioning my ability to counter those kinds of days with what I need. I told a friend this morning: "that drizzly day is calling me." I went out there and walked. I smelled the layers of leaves fallen in a park. I admired the mist hanging about the lake and the city. I bought food, and I cooked meals for the looming week. I listened to CBC radio. My home smells of roasted squash and cinnamon and tomatoes and sage. I did laundry and cleaned my kitchen.
Mostly I breathed today. I thought my neighbourhood, which is burgeoning with busyness all summer long, seemed a little lonely in late October. In a good way. Maybe a place is like a person – and a break from everyone and everything does it good once in awhile.