Thursday, February 25, 2010

After All, Tomorrow Is Another Day

We fritter our lives away with detail. Simplify, simplify.”
~Henry David Thoreau

I’m a born procrastinator. Quite literally. In fact, I began procrastinating before I was born. I hung around the womb for an extra week or so in my unwillingness to get to the task at hand. I don’t recall being traumatized by or even stressed over the experience, I think it was just my (albeit fitting for the occasion) rather infantile and stubborn way of saying, “It’ll happen when I’m ready. Not before.” According to family lore, in baby-step measurements, I was a late walker and talker. Heck, I didn’t even bother growing hair until I was nearly done with my first year. I was the last kid on the block to learn to ride a bike without training wheels.

My whole life has been a series of events that, unless forced, have been led by my propensity toward, “I’m going to do it when I’m good and ready.” Even forced events are subject to that attitude. While I was one of those strange children who actually enjoyed doing homework, I still wouldn’t do it until the night before it was due. The result of all of it is that I tend to work best under pressure. Fortunately I have, in my adult life, learned to work without the pressure of a looming deadline.

It’s not that I spend the day in bed or being lazy. I’m never ever bored and I have loads of creative energy, but I waste a lot of time, quite simply, by delaying what I need to do - yes, even while I’ve been writing this post. I could have been done ages ago… but two sentences into it, I decided I could write better if I changed out of my bathrobe and into street clothes; wrote a little more and then I needed more coffee; wrote a little more in between playing a hand of solitare (okay, three hands before I actually won); wrote another sentence, but then I needed to make sure all my pens were pointing in the downward direction in my cup; stared at the screen daydreaming, got more coffee, thought about an art project that, naturally, I’ve been putting off, and finally, magically, arrived at the end of this paragraph.

I spend much of my day doing myriad things that don’t need my immediate attention. I fritter time standing on the porch and staring the clouds, gazing at the mountain, watching birds and children flit and play on the playground. Sure, I can justify that by saying I’m “getting inspired” by my surroundings. Truthfully, I’m just procrastinating. One of my mother’s favorite phrases, which she used on me far more than on any of my siblings, was, “Don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.” She should have narrowed the margin and said, “Don’t put off ‘til noon what you can do at 11:30 AM.”

As wonderful and full as my life is, I’ve often wondered, how much more there would be if I’d (oh, dreaded phrase) buckle down, focus, and get things done before there was any kind of (actual or perceived) deadline? What if I were to wake up and truly seize the day? Am I intimidated by the dynamic that would surely create? Perhaps. At 48 is it too late to change a lifetime of habit? Doubtful. Would my day and those who participate in it be better served were I to be more diligent with my time? Likely.

So, what am I waiting for?!

Well. I'll just think about that tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Call Me Crazy

George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

Over the course of as many days, three people have posed the question to me, "What holds you back?" I like to think I'm intrepid, but the fact is, I get timid about stuff. I worry that I make wrong decisions. I'm concerned that if I throw myself into something I'll end up finding out that I took the wrong direction. Most of all, I don't want to just find myself flitting around my passions and hoping for a better day... I want to be a Bohemian, but I want to be a Bohemian with purpose! Sigh. Am I a walkin', talkin' contradicion, or what?!

Funny how advice, suggestions and solutions come my way just when I'm pondering such things. But, I guess the very nature of ephiphany is that it shows up when you least expect it. I've recently stumbled across a few different websites/blogs that discuss much the same issue - the idea of being a renegade in a world that has solid expectations to the contrary. One such website is MildlyCreative, run by a guy named Ken. In a November post he wrote: "Some day you won’t be here, but you’re here today and that’s a gift. You ought to have something to say about it. When you’re being creative, when you’re making things, you’re really making meaning because you’re engaged in the process of discovering and expressing what it means to you to be alive."

Creativity comes in so many forms... some of us are artists, some are engineers, some are doctors, some are Mothers, some are atheletes, some are... you get the idea. Creativity is whatever you most desire to do, the thing that drives you (or should), that impassions your mind. It's the old saw, "If you could do anything, what would it be?" In his November article, Ken also said, "Fear says, 'Creativity is only for geniuses.' Fear says, 'Creativity is only for crazy people.' Fear is a damned fool."

No matter what other ruts there are along the path, the thing that stops most of us is some form of fear. By and large, we have been ingrained with the standard that we are obligated to work certain jobs, pay mortgages/rent and bills, stuff to accumulate, and call it a good life. I'm not saying that isn't a good life, but what would happen if we all persued what we really, really want to? What if we all lived an unconventional life? Such a thing is possible, but it's really difficult to get rid of all the preconcieved notions that hold us back, and the guilt that follows in trying to break those chains.

For the past year, I've been working to break those chains. For the past six months, I've been working even harder, disregarding my trepidation and just going for it. I refuse to be held back, I refuse to come to the end of my life wondering 'what if' and wishing I had at least tried. Part of working to break the chains is discovering and analyzing what's holding me back in the first place. It isn't an easy task. Self-surgery rarely comes with anesthetics.

What holds you back? What would you do if you could do anything? Why aren't you doing it? Let's go crazy together.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Energy Vampires

Ever have those people in your life who seem to suck all the life from a room the minute they walk in? I call them Energy Vampires. You know the ones I’m talking about… there’s always something wrong, something to complain about. The sun could be shining upon their winning lottery ticket and their focus would be that the pollen in the air is bothering them. Dad used to say it best, “You’d bitch if you were hung with a new rope.”

It’s not that all of us, at some point, don’t have some issue that we need to work out and bounce against friends. That’s what friendship is for. Shit happens. I’m talking about people who just can’t seem to find the positive in any given situation, and more, who don’t want to allow anyone else to find the positive in their own situation(s). While I’m all for loving the unlovable and rooting for the underdog, I have a difficult time dealing with those who won’t accept and use the help that’s sent their way. I find myself completely repulsed by those who actually seem to enjoy feeling lousy about life. I walk away.

And that somehow makes me feel disappointed in myself, as if I haven’t done enough or tried hard enough. It’s really difficult, painful even, for me to accept that some people just don’t want to love life and that I can’t do anything about it. I know that sounds a little ostentatious, but if I believe anything about myself, I believe that I’m here to make the world a little better for others. So, I get pissed off when folks want to wallow because I see it as a form of selfishness - a rude behavior that I can neither abide nor change.

I’m not above the occasional self-pity party, and in fact, have hosted not just a few. Then I realize how ridiculous and ungrateful I’m being and it’s done. Sometimes you just have to go there in order to get it back to good. I was schooled in “pick yourself up, brush yourself off, start all over again.” In reality failure, after all is said and done, IS an option, but only because it bestows a proving ground (ask the Wright brothers, ask DaVinci, ask Einstein). It’s using failure as a stop-all that’s the crime. It’s the constant expectation of failure that’s the sin. I should know…

Years ago I ignored my artistic instincts because I knew I’d never be an artist like Dad was. I kick myself daily for having had that attitude. Not only could I have learned heaps from the man, but I’d have lead a much more content life. So I’m not an artist like Dad… perhaps I’m a different artist… perhaps I have something other to say to the world. I ignored my musical abilities because I knew I’d never be a musician like Clapton is. I feared my writing skills because I’d never be able to scribe like Sandburg did, or like Amy Tan does. So what? So the fuck what?! I’m who I am and I have something to say. This has been my mantra for the past year.

A few weeks ago I shared some of my artwork with an online friend. She began by saying, “I’d love to be able to do art like you do, but… and the way you write, I could never…” I should have felt complimented. Instead I felt my jaw tighten and my teeth grind against each other. It’s a good thing she couldn’t hear my “AGGHHHhhhhh!!!” of disgust. Instead, I politely typed back, “Baby steps. Don’t shoot for greatness, just shoot for making it feel good.” Instead of replying, “Nice advice, thanks.” She said, thereby ending the discussion, “Oh, I can’t. I’m just not equipped.” I did the virtual reality version of walking away and just stopped communicating, then went outside to regain some of the air that, like a shop-vac from Hell, she‘d pulled from the room.

Baby steps, People. I’m stumbling right beside you. Baby steps.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feels Like Home To Me

I’ve always loved the Olympic Winter Games. Having grown up in Michigan snow, being outdoors in the Winter meant, and still means, fun. Although I’m not a skier, and there’s a mangled tree up at Boyne Highlands that provides testament to that fact, I do love to watch people ski. I have total admiration for someone who’s willing to risk life and limb and hurl themselves at warp speed down a snowy slope on nothing but a couple of thin boards, using only their own muscle and a couple of oversized toothpicks for control. While I could find the physical wherewithal to ski, the mental courage… hmmm... not so much. I need far more control over my situation than skiing affords. However, I grew up iceskating. Every year my big brothers would build an ice rink in the backyard and more often than not, Kathleen Black’s children could be found zipping and twirling around the ice. I wanted to be Peggy Flemming when I grew up - obviously as unmaterialized a dream as my wish to be the nun who gets found and resuced from a nunnery by a handsome sea captain. The possibilities of becoming an Olympic figure skater were closer by far!

I digress.

I love the Olympic Winter Games. It’s the one time, every four years, that I can be found jitterbugging in anticipation of sports being on tv. I call the competitors by name as if we’ve all recently had lunch together. There’s a familiarity there that was born, perhaps, from my own love of winter. I see comrades flying down those slopes, and gliding across the ice, all proving that Winter is just a different kind of playground. They might as well be family.

This year the Olympic Winter Games have been even more special to me. It’s sort of an I've-Come-Full-Circle feeling. I think part of that feeling stems from having so many athletes hail from the Evergreen State. They’re neighbors, the children of people I could be friends with, y’know? I’ve driven through their towns. Maybe I was at Starbucks the same day they were, or maybe we bumped into each other at Pike's Market. I feel close to them on some level. That being said, the bigger part of the particular and peculiar affinity I feel for the games this year comes from them practically being held in my backyard.

As a Washingtonian (hey, I’ve been here over a decade, I think I’ve earned the right to call myself that now), I’ve been to Vancouver (only a 2 ½ hour drive) at least a dozen times in as many years. I’ve walked the streets they show on TV. I’ve wandered through some of the shops that are seen in the background on some shots. I know that city; I’ve spent money there; I’ve eaten there; I‘ve talked with the locals; my favorite work of art that hangs in our living room was bought in Vancouver. While I’ve never skied Whistler or Blackcomb (see above-mentioned lack of skiing prowess), I know many people who have. It’s a weekend getaway for folks here. It’s not unusual to hear or say, “How was Whistler?” But, beyond that, I know these mountains, these knock-your-socks-off gorgeous Cascades. They’re home to me… just looking at them is home to me. When I was still living on the East coast, I would see pictures of this area and say, “That’s where I need to be. That’s where my life is waiting.” Little did I know how true that was. I thought it was just a… a thing… a thing I longed for.

So, these games are special. It's likely as close as I'll ever get to "being there." Even though I'm watching all of the events from the comfort of home, sitting on a cushy sofa, wrapped in my fleecy bathrobe, a cup o' strong bean in my hand, I feel like I'm there. It's not some far away place that makes me think, "Oh, now there's a pretty place to travel to." No, I could wake up, wash my face, and be there in time for breakfast on about a half a tank of gas. I won't be doing that - the border crossing alone is annoying enough and added to that, mingling with the crowds would likely strip me of the last vestiges of my sanity. But, knowing I could works well enough for me. Knowing that the world is focused on "my" mountains is enough. This is my home... my backyard... the kids are playing in my snow. Some dreams do come true.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Around the World in (less than) 80 Days

I recently joined an online group that sends postcards all over the world (Postcrossing). So far I've sent cards out to Russia, Finland, Germany, Alabama, Ireland, Utah, and Estonia. I love the idea of making connections all over the world. Love the idea that the postal system isn't entirely dead (as compared to the internet). Love the idea that something I do might make someone's day 7000 miles away.

My Saturday was made by someone 6996 miles away. I received my first postcard from Taiwan (see below). It feels tangible evidence of life on the other side of the globe, a personal, hand-written note from someone that isn't just so many electrons and computer bits. I fear that as easy as it is to communicate with the entire world these days, we're actually losing the ability to communicate. We don't know how to talk, how to write an actual letter, how to convey a real thought or feeling. Sad.

But, for the first time in probably 30 years, I once again can't wait to check the mailbox every day.
The URL for postcrossing is: I really encourage you to join.