Another successful dreamer….

I was dragging.  The clean laundry laid on my unmade bed.  The red suitcase on the floor  waited for me to unpack it.  I had Pandora playing on my computer and was trudging through organizing Christmas bags, boxes, and bows when my phone rang.  I was delighted to see it was my friend Carolyn, with whom I’d been playing phone tag for weeks.

Carolyn left her job in NYC in October to follow her dream of becoming a comedy screen writer in LA.  But following your dream can be hard.  Carolyn’s moved from friend’s house to friend’s house.  Last we talked, we laughed over our shared experiences of living out of our cars, spending too much time trying to figure out where the supermarket was in the town we were in, and where we’d stay when we moved on from this friend’s house.

But in between all that, Carolyn’s performed in a couple Mortified shows and made connections.  It’s amazing who knows someone who can help you once you put a dream out there.  Like the lawyer at the cubicle job you hated in NYC who has a friend who’s in the business out in LA.  It seems every time I talk to Carolyn, she’s made three more connections.

Today, though, she wondered about her writing.  All this “free time” wasn’t really that free when you, in essence, have no place to call home nor any consistency in your life. We brainstormed ideas for alternative living arrangements so that the worry of where to live could be taken off her plate and therefore give her some writing time.   “I e-mailed the director of a writing residency program I did ten years ago to see if they have a spot,” she told me, but she wasn’t too optimistic.

I gave her as much encouragement as I could, having been in her shoes many times before.  She generously thanked me, as she always does.  I told her that the words I’m often speaking to her are the ones I need to be reminded of myself, so it goes both ways.

A short while later, my phone rang.  It was Carolyn again.  “You’re not going to believe this,” she said.  That writing residency program in New Mexico?  They just had a cancellation.  The director had been thinking about her – they’d found a picture from the last time she was there and had it up on their table for the last few months.  The open spot would give her a cottage in which to live for twelve weeks, and they would welcome her to come take it.  Coincidence?  Nope.  That’s just Carolyn – putting a dream out there.  Instead of waiting for life to fall into her lap, she chases all her leads.  And then something works.

Congratulations, Carolyn.  Happy writing:)

A Stop Along the Way

As we fiddled with the buckle across the toes on a pair of sandals, I said to the saleswoman “Well, once we get it right, I hope I never have to change them again.”

“If you do, you could just come back,” she responded.

“Well, I’m actually moving to North Carolina,” I said.

“Oh really?  Where?” she asked.

“Brasstown, to a place called the John Campbell Folk School,” I said.

Her eyes grew big.  “My daughter has dreamed about going there!  And she wants to take her grandfather, too.”

“Oh – she must get there.  She’ll love it, I’m sure.  And he will, too.”  I said this without knowing anything about her daughter…because anyone who has “dreamed” of going to JCCFS will surely love it.

The woman went on to explain that her daughter went to college in western North Carolina and wanted to get to JCCFS before she left, but for whatever reason was unable to get there.  The more we talked, the more I was convinced that it was destiny that I spotted this consignment shop in a small town in New Jersey on my drive from Galloway to Lancaster, PA.

In just a few minutes, we were agreeing that God (or the universe or whatever you want to call it) sends us what we need when we need it.  For her daughter, it was the perfect job – one that gives her two months off and an apartment.  This is a young woman who did mission work in Cambodia and went to DC to represent her local high school’s Save Darfur campaign.  So that two month break will be well-used I’m sure.

“Just a little – that’s all they need,” the woman said.  A little what?  A little belief that whatever they want to do can be done – even if they have no idea how.  Because once you put it out there, the universe has a habit of sending you what you need, we agreed.

I gave the woman my blog address to pass on to her daughter.  “I can’t wait to tell her!” she said as she rang up my purchases.  She gave me her card.  “Let me put my name on it,” she said as she crossed out the name of the current owner and wrote her own.  She explained that she was in the process of buying the store.  She had worked there for a year, and was given first offer when the owner decided to sell.  She talked it over with her husband, and in just a few days time they decided to do it.

“Have you ever been a business owner before?” I asked.

“Never!” she said.

“Oh, how exciting!” I responded.

And this is what I love about traveling.  I didn’t see any sites today.  Didn’t drive any multi-lane highways.  I stopped in a little town at a consignment shop and had a conversation.  That one conversation reassured me that I’m on the right path – and maybe I assured someone else that she, too, is on the right pathJ

On My Way!

I had a purely joyful day cleaning out a closet yesterday.  I know this is not normal.  But neither am I.

As many of you know, I love to declutter.  What do I love more than decluttering my own life?  Helping other people declutter theirs.  But yesterday it was on my home turf.

It all started with a mistake: buying my Christmas tree from Home Depot instead of cutting it down myself.  That poor tree drank hardly any water from the day I brought it home.  So though I usually leave the tree up until the Epiphany, this one was so brittle it just had to come down.  My sister was up the road having breakfast with a friend, and when she offered that I should meet this new guy I said, “Sure – you guys can come over and help me get my tree out of my apartment.”  Men like showing off their manliness.  I like giving them opportunities to do so.  This guy was no exception.  And they’re still in the early dating stages, so of course he would say yes.

The tree was gone, but now I was left with a large pile of needles where the tree once stood and a trail of them out the door and down the stairs.  I lived with the needles for a couple days – cleaning is not my favorite thing.  But yesterday I finally lugged my vacuum out of the closet – only to find it had hardly any suction.  It picked up the needles when I moved it forward, but when I pulled it back it dropped them all down again.  It was one of those temperamental days of mine so this nearly put me over the edge.  Here I was, ready to clean, and my vacuum was useless.  Ugh.  I wished I had a husband or boyfriend who could fix it or run out and buy a new one, but I’m on my own.  I allowed myself a few tears over my inability to attract a mate and then got down to business: I called Grandma.  (Mom and Dad weren’t home – they’re usually my first call for help.)

I got dressed and went to Gram’s to borrow her vacuum.  Then, I came back home and pulled most everything out of the living room so I could vacuum.  And it was then that I decided to deal with the pile of crap I had hidden in the corner behind my recliner chair.  It was crap that had seeped out of the corner closet, so I decided to deal with that too.

This closet is not one I frequent and in helping people declutter I often recommend we start in a place where they don’t have a lot of things they use often as those are easier to recognize as no longer needed and therefore easier to get rid of.

What was in this closet of mine?  Mostly yarn, candles, gift bags, and tissue paper.  I dealt with the yarn first. It was overflowing out of its cardboard box so my first thought was: it needs a bigger box.  Then I thought better of it.  If I’m going to sell or get rid of all my stuff by 7/7/11, I need to get hopping.  How many times had I moved all this yarn from place to place?  Was I really ever going to use it?

So I sorted.  I was easily able to part with most of it – with the exception of a small shopping bag of expensive yarn that I just felt I needed to hang onto for a little longer.   But what to do with it all?  My knitting and crochet group at the library had loved my idea of a yarn swap in January, but now I realized I didn’t want to swap.  I wanted to be rid of this stuff!  So I bundled most of it up and called my schoolteacher friend.  “Oh, the teachers would love it!” she said.  I have found that schools will take a lot of things.  Not just books and arts and crafts supplies, but bookshelves, small furniture, remnant carpets.  Got something you no longer use but not sure where it should go?  Call a local school.

My front hall had become my staging area for items ready to leave my apartment.  Usually it was just a can or bottle to deposit in the recycling bin downstairs.  But today you could hardly get through the space.  When I undecorated, I had also managed to get my Christmas decorations down from five boxes to just two, so I had a couple empty plastic bins to return to Mom and Dad’s.  I won’t get into all the other outgoing stuff.  But let’s just say I wanted that yarn out of there! So I decided to drive the half hour to my schoolteacher friend’s house to give her the yarn.   I also put all my tissue paper and gift bags together and decided I don’t need most of that either. I was going to bring the tissue paper to the new consignment shop – they said they would use it to wrap breakables.  But I told my schoolteacher friend about it and she said the art teachers would love that too.  And the gift bags.

So I’m well on my way to minimizing my belongings.  Appropriately enough, I was listening to Nina Yau’s free e-book Minimalist Freedom while doing some of this work.  Very apropos and inspirational.

Next?  Well, I loved my living room when it had hardly any furniture in it.  So though I’m still six months away from moving out, I think it might be time to get rid of most of it.  Most of it belongs to my mother, so that shouldn’t be so difficult.  Didn’t sell my couch yet – posted it on craigslist, but no real takers.  But am ready to put my favorite recliner chair on there next!

A Writing Retreat

I love that we can learn new things at any age.  In my first writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School two years ago, not one of us had ever before attempted writing our own life stories.  And we were a group with participants in their 20’s up into their 70’s.

My experience there has led to all kinds of wonderful things.  Not only did I recognize a talent for and a love of writing stories, but I got the motivation to keep it up: a group of us stayed in touch and started an on-line writing group.  The first of every month we send pieces out to each other for critique. This past March four of us from the group reunited at the Folk School for another writing class.  And now we’re planning our own yearly writing retreat!

I would love to again have that feeling of being so excited about life that I can’t wait to start each day.  But in the meantime, what keeps me going are  trips.  A while back I came across a website for a place specifically dedicated to hosting writers for a week to months.  I sent it out to our group saying it seemed possibly “too quiet.”  That’s when I was thinking of going alone.  But to host our group it is perfect.  Five simple but beautifully furnished rooms, large front porches, all overlooking the James River in Virginia.

One of the many fabulous things about my on-line writing group is that when someone throws out an idea, the responses are usually nothing but the enthusiastic let’s-do-it type.  The plans are coming together.  I volunteered to supervise the food schedule.  Each of us will have one night we’re responsible for the meal (there’s a communal kitchen).  Each of us will also serve one night as the sous-chef.  And yesterday I called and e-mailed The Porches to inquire about our dates.  We’re planning for next summer, but a few of us will probably go this summer to “check it out” as Lois says.  (Really, of course, we just can’t wait a year to see each other again, to get away, and do some writing!)

So you know all those things I say about how good it is to do things alone once in a while?  Here’s another reason: you may make some fabulous friends and years later find yourself in a beautiful old home with them overlooking a river, laughing, cooking, and writing.

What You Think You See Is What You Get

There are messages that pop up over and over in my life.  God realizes I don’t always get them the first time, so he keeps on sending them.  And even when I do get the message, invariably sometimes I forget.  And then he sends another reminder.  We work well in that way, me and God.

The lesson I was reminded of yesterday was the one that says that you perpetuate that which you think you see. If you think your life is miserable, you notice all the things that make it miserable.  You use those to support your theory that life is miserable.  If, on the other hand, you acknowledge your miserable life but instead of looking for evidence to support it you start to notice places where it’s not miserable, things very well may turn around.  They may not, but it’s a lot easier to get through tough times when you’re recognizing, and giving thanks for, the good things.

I’ve been pretty good lately at acknowledging and giving thanks for what I have.  Mainly because I have committed to putting it to paper each night before bed: five things for which I’m thankful.  But on occasion, I’ll wonder what on earth I’m doing.  I’ll think I my life is miserable.  I have no regular job, no steady paycheck, no knowledge of where I want to settle.  I think I should just cash it all in; get a full-time job, a steady paycheck, buy a house – all those things you’re “supposed” to do.  Then I remember my friend Lois who wants to start a blog called “Who says?”  I can hear her in my head.  “Who says?” she asks.  “And by the way – since when do you like doing what everyone else is doing?”  Lois is not the only one who tells me this.  My friend Tara talks me off the ledge on occasion.  “Rebecca, you’ve done this successfully for ten years now,” she’ll remind me.  “You will find something to do next – you always do.”

Then I start to look around and recognize all that I have: a home I love going home to, a family I love to spend time with, a lifestyle that allows me to take a walk to the library at 10AM, a lifestyle that gives me the opportunity to take 6 weeks of vacation every year, a lifestyle that gives me new challenges, friends that love hearing what my next adventure is.

So here’s a thought.   If you think life is crappy, do me a favor.  Try thinking it’s not.  Then see all the wonderful things that come your way.  They were there all along, of course.  You just didn’t notice them before:)

You Get What You Ask For

For years I have wanted to become a professional organizer.  Friends and family have heard me talk with great excitement about helping people declutter their houses to the point that one, each time I bring it up, says, “Do you hear how excited you are talking about this?  Get out there and do it!”  For a girl who usually just “gets out and does” a lot more things in a year than most do in a lifetime, it was a mystery to me why this one was so hard to tackle.  I knew it was fear, on some level.  But fear of what?  And then a couple years ago a spiritual director I was seeing got it out of me.  It was a fear of failure.

I don’t mind “failing” in general.  In fact, I see it as part of life.  To the point where, when people ask about my failures, I struggle to think of any as I view them all as what was meant to happen.  I view them from an angle at which I can see that, without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.  Failure has such a negative connotation, so I don’t use it that much.  Things others would consider “failures” I don’t see very negatively at all.

But when it came to starting an organizing business, the idea of failure paralyzed me.  Here’s why:  I had been dreaming of doing this for years.  If I failed at it, what would I do then? I would have no more “What I really want to do….” because I would have tried it and failed.  This idea had always been on the horizon.  If I failed at it, what would be on my horizon now?  This is really a poor argument from a girl who finds new things to do nearly every month, if not every day.  My spiritual director then wondered if I fill my life with all this variety in order to avoid doing that which I’d really love to do.  Hmm.  It’s a thought, but honestly I think the variety is just who I am.  And this organizing idea could fit right into it.

The idea for this business didn’t just come out of the blue.  I’ve moved ten times in ten years and my favorite part is getting rid of all the stuff I don’t need anymore before I move.  I also absolutely love helping other people pack and unpack, figuring out what they need to take with them to the new place and, once they get there, where to put it all so they can find it again.  My closest friends call me with their move date knowing what joy it brings me to help them.  But it’s not just friends and family I like helping.  I can walk into a strangers house and if they happen to mention in conversation something about a spare room that’s unusable because it’s a collection spot for who knows what, my first reaction is to go in there and help them clean it out.

There’s always more to learn.  I’ve read about the psychology behind why we keep what we keep, the processes by which one is able (or not) to part with things.  I’ve watched the organizing shows on the home channels and I want to be the one going in there to help those folks!

So I’ve been in a limbo state with this idea for quite some time.  The entire plan sits in my head.  And if someone asks me about it – how much would you charge, how would you find customers, could this idea really work – I’ve got all the answers.

I’ve said before that some of my ideas I act on immediately, and some percolate for a while.  This one percolated and sometimes the idea would bubble to the surface and I would take some sort of action.  Well, those actions finally got somewhere.  And that’s what I’ll be writing about over the next couple of posts.

(For those of you wanting to know the rest of the “How I Got Here” story, I’ll get back to it sometime!)

Signs

A few weeks ago, I wrote about buying some of the first supplies for my Camino trip.  I still have not picked dates or solidified anything, but have had a few signs that my timing is perfect.

In yesterday’s mail I received the quarterly newsletter from the Congregation of Notre Dame.  My first experience with the CND’s was when I did a Spring Break Service Trip in 1996 in Vicksburg, MS.  A week working at the Good Shepherd Community Center with Sr. Cathy Molloy made me a lifelong supporter of these women and the work they do.  Sr. Cathy now lives in Cameroon and does amazing work on things like the OK Clean Water Project.   But prior to her leaving, she introduced me to other CND’s who have enriched my life.  I now participate in a yearly retreat run by the CND’s each June in Quononchataug, RI and had the pleasure two summers ago of being a volunteer cook at their retreat house for ten days.

Each season, I look forward to the CND newsletter.  I met many CND’s while cooking at the retreat house and have been invited to Golden Jubiliees where I met more of these incredible women.  So now when I open up the newsletter, I can see what inspiring things they are now doing.  Well, in this Spring’s edition there was a story about the Camino!  It turns out Sr. Ona walked the Camino last year.  And the best part?  She wrote a blog about it!  I spent this evening reading every post, and then sent the link on to my mother who, upon reading my blog, wondered recently what other kinds of blogs are out there.

Then, today, I was driving home listening to my Sirius satellite radio.  I’m no hard-core Catholic, but there’s a show on the Catholic Channel called Busted Halo that I’ve heard is quite good.  However, I’m rarely in the car when it’s on the air (7pm).  But tonight, I caught the introduction.  And guess what?  One of their guests this evening was someone just back from walking the Camino!  And not only did this guest write about it, but the group he was with even has some videos on their web site.  I have yet to watch these  because as I write this post it is nearing my self-set “turn off the computer” time (10pm).  But I will watch in the coming days I’m sure:)

I get lots of “signs” about things.  Call them whatever you want.  Some say coincidence.  But I’d rather like to think the universe lets me know when I’m on the right path.  It’s so much easier than feeling like I’m on my own:)