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:)

On Gifts

I believe that there are certain gifts we’ve all been given.  Call them talents, strengths, whatever.  We’ve all got some.  (If you don’t think you have any, please contact me!  I’ll help you figure out what they are.  No one should go through life thinking they don’t have gifts.)

One of the things that makes life so interesting is that we don’t all have the same gifts.  It’s why we need other people.  I, for example, have no gift for fixing my car.  My uncle, however, was blessed with this gift.  This is great when he and I live in the same state, but when my car dies in North Carolina and he’s in New York, well, at least I can call him to vent (I also have a gift for communication).

In my last few weeks at the Folk School, God has laughed as I’ve tried to develop gifts I haven’t been given.  I can see him up there looking down at me trying to hammer a nail in straight, shaking his head as he giggles to himself.  One of my gifts is making God laugh:)

This is not to say that we are not meant to try new things.  In fact, trying new things is one way to discover new gifts you didn’t know you had.

But then there are those of us who – really, truly, deep-down – know there are certain gifts we have not been given nor are we ever meant to have.  Making things out of wood is one of those things for me.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had fun trying (and plenty of ups and downs) as these pictures show.

My first time using a circular saw! (For those of you saying, "What's a circular saw?" Well, that was my question, too.)

 

Hammering nails in straight is harder than it looks... (L to R: Louse, Jane, Matt, Tom, Francois)

Skydiving? Done that. Roller coasters? No problem. Standing on a scaffolding while hammering nails into tin? Nope. I got up on the scaffolding, realized how scared I felt just walking along it, and promptly decided this was an experience my classmates needed more than I did:) (L to R: Jane, Matt, Francois, Cecily, and Louise)

What I’ve also gained:

  • an appreciation for builders, roofers, woodturners, and anyone who works in construction or makes things out of wood
  • a reminder that it looks easy when the teacher does it because they’ve been doing it for twenty plus years
  • knowledge of how a shed gets built, how a wooden bowl gets made, and knowledge that I don’t want to be the one to do either

So thank you to my kind and patient instructors who never doubted for a moment that I couldn’t learn their craft.  I could. But thankfully God gave me other gifts, so I don’t have to.

 

Thank you, Liz

“I’d rather you give me memories than gifts,” I told my sister Liz.  I explained that experiences meant more to me than “stuff” – unless the “stuff” was homemade, of course.  Liz had taken a few pottery classes in high school and made some beautiful pieces.  I envisioned owning a whole set of plates, bowls, and mugs made by her.

One Christmas after this conversation, I opened a gift from Liz.  It was a tiny blue box.  Inside I found a dozen little white pieces of paper with the word “memories” printed on them.  She thought it funny.  But I was a little heartbroken that she’d totally missed the point. Or so I thought.

I don’t recall whether it was that same Christmas or a subsequent one that I opened another gift from Liz: handmade pottery mugs and bowls.  I was overjoyed.  But a week later, putting them into my kitchen cabinet in my Boston apartment, I dropped not one but a couple and they shattered.  I was devastated.  The next time I moved, I packed the precious gifts away carefully and never unpacked them, fearing the same thing would happen.

Years later, I finally trusted myself to not only have Liz’s pottery in my kitchen, but to actually use it.  In July, when I packed my car for my six months in North Carolina, one of Liz’s mugs was with me.

Now, I’m at a place where everyone appreciates handmade things.  I drink my morning tea out of Liz’s mug and numerous times people have asked if I made it.

“No, my sister did,” I say.  The other day I added, “And it’s the sister I never got along with – so it’s even more special!”  That morning I took this picture of Liz’s mug with my teabag in it, for all of you to admire:)

 

Today I’m thankful for all the gifts I’ve been given – and happy that both Liz and I have grown up and no longer make our gifts with popsicle sticks:)

A Tribute

It was a full page ad.  The woman wore funky glasses and an angled, blunt haircut.  Her posture, her smile, the sparkle in her eyes emanated a happiness, a confidence, and a freedom I wanted.  But none of that is what drew me in.  As I flipped through the catalog for the Boston Center for Adult Education that day, what caught my eye was the title of this woman’s course: Making a Living Without A Job.  Well, who wouldn’t want to know how to do that?

The course had the same title as her book.  A book?  You mean there was a whole book on how to make a living without being tied to a soul-sucking 9-5 job?  As it turns out, there are quite a few shelves of books on this very topic.  On my trip to the bookstore, however, I was on a mission.  I picked up Barbara Winter‘s first and, as I do with all books before I buy them, I opened to the first page and started reading.  I couldn’t stop.

I bought the book, signed up for her course, and wouldn’t be living the life I live today had I not seen that ad over ten years ago.  If you dread Monday mornings, don’t have time to do the things you love most, are forced to commute the same time everyone else does, or have to commute at all, I highly recommend checking out Barbara’s Joyfully Jobless web site and book.  As far as I can tell, we only get one life.  Might was well make it one you enjoy living.

A Day of Freebies

“You don’t happen to have any more change, do you?” I asked the guy filling his parking meter behind mine.  I had decided to lighten my load of change into a tip jar at a local coffee shop earlier, which didn’t bode well for my current situation: parking at a meter in DC to meet a friend for lunch.

“Actually…I think I might,” he said.  He opened his passengers side door, dug around and said, “I’ve got a dollar fifty.”

“Great,” I said as I tried to hand him two dollars.

“No – don’t worry about it,” he said.

“At least take one dollar,” I persisted.

He laughed and explained, “I work around here all the time – and work pays for my parking.  Don’t worry about it.”

I thanked him and we went our separate ways – him to work, and me to feed my meter, thanking God for (sm)all favors.

—-

While browsing in a consignment shop in Alexandria, a young man entered the store behind me and asked the owner if she’d like some free cases of Vitamin Water.  Seeing the puzzled look on her face, he went on to explain that the company sponsors a lot of fashion events in the city and they have neglected Virginia.  So they’re giving out free cases of Vitamin Water to the local businesses.  She asked what the catch was; he said none, so she accepted.  She then proceeded to offer me three bottles of it.  I graciously accepted one.

—-

Later that same day, in a mission to escape the ninety-two degree heat, I slipped into a hotel lobby.  I sat on a comfy couch in a corner, plopped my bags down beside me, and basked in the coolness of the air conditioning washing over me.  My 6:30 waking time caught up with me, and I just wanted to curl up on the couch and fall asleep.

I noticed some people with wine glasses and figured out that I had come in for the daily happy hour the hotel offers its guests.  The doorman came over to me, said he wanted to cheer me up a little (apparently “tired” is not a good look for me), and so offered me a glass of sangria.  I explained that in my current state, a glass of sangria would put me to sleep.  “A glass of wine, then?” he offered.  I politely declined again, but said I’d love some water.  So he left and came back with an icy cold bottle:)

Some of you may recall the 29 Gifts adventure I did a few months back.  One of the lessons it professes is that by consciously giving we become more open to receiving.  It was a good lesson for me to learn – and I am thankful for all the gifts I was offered yesterday.

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

Letting Go

“What’s the sob sorry you keep telling over and over – to yourself, to your friends.  You know, the one about why your life isn’t working out the way you want it….”  I don’t remember his exact words, but everyone in the room knew what he meant.  We all had that story – running on repeat in our heads.  Mine was about a failed relationship.  Except I had this idea that maybe it could be redeemed. And that’s the story I told again and again.  I was in my early 20’s.  All my friends knew the story.

“Write down that story – pour it all out.  Like you were telling it to a friend,” he said.  We wrote.  Silently.  For pages and pages.  We were given all the time we needed to get the whole thing down.  When you finished, you took your story and left the room.  Eventually everyone was out of the room.  Then we were invited back in.

And this was where the magic happened.  We were given the opportunity to read what we wrote to someone who’s only response was to listen actively, maybe with a nod of the head.  We read our story over and over and over again.  The listeners rotated, and I kept reading my story.  Until eventually I started skipping parts.  Because they didn’t matter anymore.  Then, I skipped larger parts.  Other people left the room – I was unsure why at first.  I kept reading.  Then, I realized.  I was done.  I didn’t feel I had to read the story anymore.  I couldn’t quite explain why, but I got up and left.  And just like that, I got over my story.

That was more than ten years ago.  I don’t recall the details of that story, but what sticks with me is how well it worked.  Last week, I sat in my bed and wrote another one of those stories.  Yes, about another relationship.  Then I read it out loud to myself over and over and over.  But I didn’t feel the same effect.  I thought it was because there was no one there to listen.

But this morning, I realized it DID work.  I hadn’t thought about him since I wrote it.  People had asked about him, and there wasn’t anything left to say.  I went back this morning and I read what I wrote, and it had no hold on me anymore.

This morning I wrote and read another one.  I have two more in my head that will go through the process in the coming weeks.  I spent the last six months getting rid of my physical “stuff” in order to live on the road for a year.  Now I’m working on all the other “stuff.”  And it’s working:)

A Place to Stay

I explained that I wouldn’t have a home of my own to return to as I’m letting my apartment go on July 15.

“So you won’t be back at all for a year?” she asked.

“Oh, I’ll be back.  For visits.  For Christmas.”

“And after the year is over?”

“Well, then I might come back.  And I guess then I’d have to find some place to stay,” I said.

“You could stay with me,” she offered.

“Really?” I asked. “Because I just might take you up on that.”

“Oh sure.  I have plenty of space,” she assured me.

That’s the third such offer in a month.  The first offer was for a place to stay over the winter, the second was a place to stay when I come back for visits, and now this one.  They were all genuine offers from fabulous single women I know.  All three are retired, living alone in multi-bedroom homes.  They have fascinating lives (are busier now than when they were working I’m sure – as are many retired folk!).  And all are gracious enough to share their homes with me should I be interested.

It’s flat out amazing what can happen when you put your ideas out to the world.  So thank you to these three women, and to all who have offered their friendship, support, and wisdom for my upcoming year (or more!).  I am blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.

On Listening to Your Body

After noticing her dog was keeping an eye on us, our host explained, “He knows he gets fed at 8, 12 and 5.  So if it’s near those times, he stays close to me – reminding me it’s time.  It’s amazing how their bodies just know.”

And I thought, “Our bodies know too….we just aren’t taught to listen to them.”  I’ve tried listening more lately.  I’ve learned that I don’t need to eat nearly as much as I do.  That if I listen to my body, she’ll tell me when I’ve had enough.  And she’s always right.  She’ll also tell me when I’m tired and when it’s time to get up.  She dutifully calls me to rise – sans alarm – at 6:55 each morning.  Sometimes I listen, sometimes I don’t.  She also lets me know when I’m doing too much.  And if I don’t listen, she brings some sort of sickness to me to remind me who’s in charge.  However, she’s also kind about bringing on this sickness.  She usually does it over a school break when she knows I can afford to stop without getting too far behind.

She softens my skin in the summertime, then dries it up in the winter.  I can feel when I’m getting sunburn, and in that way she reminds me to put on sunscreen.  She forces me into tears over seemingly nothing at least once a month.  On my morning walks, she shows me all the new life spring brings.  I try to remember to notice it the rest of the day.

“Self-knowledge can, and ought, to apply not only to the soul, but also to the body; the man without insight into the fabric of his body has no knowledge of himself.”

-John Moir, student of anatomy, notes from opening lecture, Anatomical Education in a Scottish University, 1620, as quoted by Bill Hayes in The Anatomist

Thank You

I was thinking I should attend a Memorial Day ceremony or parade today.  And, as usual, God gave me what I asked for.  Instead of taking my usual right turn toward the library on my morning walk, I went left towards the firehouse.  From the open second-floor windows, I could hear the local bagpipers practicing.  I figured they were preparing for the parade in the next town south at ten AM.  I walked over to the park and took a look at the war memorial lined with flags.  I was struck by how many times I saw a last name listed not twice, but three times.  I stopped counting after four instances of this.

“You sticking around?” a guy asked me.  “Yes,” I said and he handed me a program.  I had no idea, but our town’s Memorial Day Ceremony was taking place in five minutes.  The bagpipers accompanied our volunteer firefighters over to the memorial.  As I stood watching, a woman from my crochet group at the library said, “Do you know the story of the bagpipers?”  “No,” I said.  “Well, they practice in the firehouse every Thursday night and in exchange for getting to use the firehouse, they accompany our firefighters in parades.  ‘Cause it’s expensive to hire bagpipers, you know.  Especially for parades.”  I love small towns, I thought.

The pastor from the local Episcopal church opened the ceremony with a prayer.  Our veterans came forward to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d said those words.  We sang God Bless America and then one of our veterans gave a short but touching speech.  He explained that veterans write a blank check to their country, payable in duties and services up to and including their lives.  He teared up as he asked us to be thankful for all of those that had made good on that check.