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The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. – Socrates

When you want something you have never had, you have to do something you have never done. – W S Bloom

I have been thinking about my future. Not next week, not a few months from now, not even next year. I’ve been trying to think about my longer term future, and what I would like to see, and what concrete steps I can take to work towards that vision.

I haven’t been thinking much about my future the last few years. I’ve been thinking about now, and I’ve been thinking about a few months from now, and I haven’t been seeing more than a year out from where I am at any given time. It’s been good to practice flexibility, and it’s been good to take the time to figure out what I want. Not based on convention or what anyone else I know is doing or what other people think I should do or be, but based on actual me. What I want and what I think is important.

I find having a vision to really help with my focus. Having spent the last few months honing my vision, I’ve begun to see that many of the details are extraneous. They don’t matter. It feels like they matter; it feels, in fact, like they are huge life-altering decisions. But sometimes all the big flashy external stuff is merely a blind for what’s going on inside. And being able to focus on the inside stuff brings a lot of clarity along with it.

It’s not always the specifics of a vision that matter. You have the vision, and then you figure out some specifics to get you there. But you could figure out a whole different set of specifics that may very well get you to the same place. What’s important, then, is figuring out where you’re generally trying to go. In order to pick specifics, in order to confidently make changes, it helps to know what you want.

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Details are a bridge, but you can always build another bridge further down.

I feel like this is easier for some people to achieve than others. I ask a lot of questions, and that can mean it’s more complicated to figure out what I want. I kind of tried to follow a common middle-class American life road map, but I was never completely on board with it, and then it turned out to not be what I wanted at all.

And then there’s the blindness that can come with experience. You don’t have something in your vision not because it’s necessarily not possible, but because it’s outside what has happened to you personally. Sometimes our expectations for what is possible can end up being set too low, and it doesn’t even occur to us to shoot for something more. And sometimes we don’t add something to our vision because it doesn’t occur to us that it is even an option.

I have discovered that Socrates was a wise guy (not that this should be news!) I have spent a lot of time in my life fighting the old. I have this weird idea that if I simply try hard enough, I can fix anything. I say it’s weird because it is patently false.

But when I focus on building something new instead of fixing or trying to prop something up, that’s when I tend to make actual progress. That’s when my vision begins to clear, and I think, “Oh yeah. I do know what I want. Huh. How about that.”

And that’s when things really begin to change.  

 

(P.S. I’m going to be traveling, so there’s going to be a short break in our regularly scheduled programming. See you in a bit!)

 

Change hurts

Change hurts.

Sometimes change hurts a lot.

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I find that change hurts a lot when it cuts close to the bone, when it touches on something deep from the past, when it challenges some long-held belief or defense mechanism that you desperately do not want to let go of, because to hold onto it equates to survival in your own mind. Even if that is no longer the case. You might be reliving a reality that is long gone.

Change hurts.

You may be sitting there, and you notice that you’re breathing. You take a breath in, and then you take a breath out. And you’re surprised, not even surprised, shocked. Not because you were trying to hold your breath, but because it seems inconceivable that you are still breathing at all. It seems unbelievable that the entire world hasn’t frozen in place.

You may be afraid to move because there is a knife lodged somewhere deep inside of you, and any movement could shift it, and any shift could drive it deeper still, or cause it to cut some critical artery that means you bleed out. You are afraid to move physically, you are afraid to move emotionally. The pain is balanced so precariously, and your main focus is keeping it there instead of letting it slip.

Change hurts, and sometimes the pain makes it feel like the change might not be the right thing to do. Because if this change was so good, why would it hurt so much?

This is a lie. Sometimes positive change hurts a hell of a lot. It hurts for a reason. It hurts because it is hard for you to do something different. Or maybe it hurts because you are afraid. Or maybe it hurts because you just jammed a surgical instrument into an old wound and ripped it back open again so it could finally heal cleanly.

That is not to say it’s a good idea to seek pain simply for pain’s sake. It’s okay for things to be easy sometimes. It’s okay for things to be good. It’s okay to let yourself be happy.

The truth is, the pain is just the pain. It doesn’t tell you what to do. It simply tells you something is going on, and whatever it is, you might need to pay some attention to it. You might want to think about how you are going to respond to it. Maybe there is something active you want to do, or maybe you just want to sit there with the pain for a while. Maybe both.

Nowadays, when I have the time and space, I try not to hide from the pain. I don’t confront it either. I exist with it. I let it be with me. I bring my mind back from all of its distraction techniques and circular games. I want so badly to castigate myself, because this distracts me more effectively than almost anything else, but every time I start, I simply stop and redirect. No, I’m going to be kind. No, I’m going to be kind. Over and over, for however long it takes until it settles.

And then there is the pain I was trying so desperately to avoid. And it is terrible. It is the knife in my gut, it is the air in my lungs, it is naked and wretched and it is a part of me.

Change hurts.

And then it dissipates, and it is sad but also clean, and it is hard but also okay. Sometimes another wave of grief comes later, and another, and another, but once you’ve allowed one to wash through you, the worst of the terror is gone. It simply hurts. And then it hurts less. And then it hurts more. And then it hurts less again.

Change hurts. And then you come out on the other side.

Here are a few of my favorite songs right now.

 

 

I’m also super into Portishead’s cover of SOS. It can be tricky to find but is so worth the effort. I want to listen to it over and over. Actually, I have listened to it over and over, but I need to listen to it EVEN MORE.

I’m also learning to cover Ruth B’s Lost Boy, which has been fun. I haven’t had much time (read: pretty much none) to practice the last few months, so I’m really happy to be singing and playing the piano again.

 

Yes, I know this isn’t the most in-depth blog post, but I spent the day visiting my mom’s ashes, so that was an important thing to do. It’s interesting how familiar Marin County still feels to me. I hardly ever go there (I think the last time was at least a year and a half ago, and the time before that was probably at least another year), but I learned it so well I guess in a way it will always feel like home.

It’s a comforting thought.

I am interested in depth.

I was talking to a friend who was sad because she had wanted to spend all day with a close friend of hers, and then that friend booked herself so they’d only have a few hours instead. My friend was sad because this would mean they wouldn’t have a chance to go deep. “We’ll only just have gotten warmed up, and then she’ll have to go,” she said.

I had this conversation as I was planning my LA trip, and as a result I didn’t make as many social plans as I might otherwise have done. I wanted to allow time to relax, get comfortable, and potentially go deep. What I found bore this strategy out: the longer I spent with someone, the deeper we were able to go.

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One reason I like Rainforest is because it encourages depth.

Perhaps this is particularly true of people who you don’t get to see in person all the time, but I found the first couple of hours was usually spent with general catching up, some small talk, and just kind of remembering what it was like to be together. Then the conversation would gradually deepen, circle around, come back again, deepen some more, repeat a few times. The longer the amount of time, the deeper we could go.

What do I mean by deep here? Just by seeing each other in the first place, my friends and I were strengthening our connection to each other. But depth is when you move beyond small talk, beyond what you’d say to more or less anybody. Depth is when there are no more pat answers. Depth is where surprises happen, and reveals. Depth is when we say things that are scary. Depth is when we really learn who the other person is, beyond their basic preferences and interests and obvious personality traits.

Depth is the experience of sharing what it is to be human, and what it is to be this specific human right now.

Just as depth takes a bunch of time to foster in any given interaction, it also takes time to develop in any given friendship. Perhaps if you meet someone in a particularly intense circumstance (Clarion, anybody?), you can move into depth more quickly than normal. But more often you’re acting on a mere feeling that depth might be possible here if you invest enough of yourself. Sometimes that feeling pays off, and sometimes it never does. To find out, you have to take time.

The people with whom I am closest all have this quality of depth. I never grow tired of hearing about their lives and what they’re thinking and feeling. When I’m in their presence, I feel something inside of me relax. Thank goodness we can be real together, I’m thinking. Thank goodness I don’t have to put on an act to make them comfortable.

Thank goodness we can love each other for who we are.

“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I have been re-reading bits of Letters to a Young Poet and then I found this cool site called zenpencils.com that illustrates quotations and poems in a comic-like style, and they recently did this Rilke quotation, and it seemed timely. So here we are. (The latest one they did is a Lang Leav one, which I also highly recommend, especially because I love Lang Leav’s poetry.)

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It’s nice to think about living into an answer, but I think we are always living our questions. And the answers simply lead to more questions. Sometimes life seems to me to be one giant experiment. You can follow blueprints left by other people, some of which are more detailed than others. Or you can strike off on your own and see what happens. But it’s all about questions, starting with the simple “What will happen next?”

I ran into a friend at a party some time ago, and he said he reads the blog from time to time, and he told me how idyllic it seemed, that I got to sit around and ponder the big questions. And I do. That’s exactly what I do. I spend a lot of time sitting around and thinking. So here’s another question for you: Why? Why do I sit around and ponder the big questions? And why do I get to do this? And does it have any outward effect whatsoever?

I’m reading a book about playwriting, and I have learned that the “action” of the play is what the characters want. This idea will be familiar to anyone who has studied any kind of storytelling for more than a few months. (Weeks? I don’t remember, I just remember it is foundational.) So then some of the other questions we live are “What do we want?” and “Are we going to get it?” and “Are we going to keep it?” and “Is it going to change?”

I spent several hours on the phone this past weekend with a friend who is going through a break-up after spending more than twenty years not being single. “Friends aren’t the same,” this person told me. “I feel so alone.” And I felt a jolt of surprise that this was a revelation, even though after twenty years, of course it was. Yes, being single means being alone in a different way. How do we become okay with this? How did I come to this almost benign acceptance of yes, that is really how it is? And then another question: who am I when I’m alone? Who am I when I’m not fulfilling a role that is at least partially defined by my relationship to someone else?

These are questions that have been occupying my spare moments lately. Who am I when I strip everything away? When I put aside relationships to friends, family, a lover? When I subtract job and career and calling? When I suspend my hobbies, my interests? When I forget about my past? When I am no longer concerned with status, power, wealth, influence, and ego? Who am I then?

Who am I then? I am living that question. Maybe nothing, maybe everything. I am present. I am living into answers that will give me more questions, and my curiosity will be my fuel.

I’ve had some people giving me a hard time for taking my recent vacation in LOS ANGELES, of all places. This is kind of like kicking a puppy dog when she’s really excited to see you, but besides that, they are also wrong.

Los Angeles is a really fun place to take a vacation, you all. Even if you DON’T go to Disneyland with its happiest place on earth tagline, which is closer to the truth than makes me comfortable given that it’s a cheesy corporate slogan. I know that Northern Californians in particular love to hate on Los Angeles, and I certainly haven’t been exempt from this over the years.

But, surprise, surprise, Los Angeles is a big diverse city, and there is a lot of fun stuff to do there. Sure, if you don’t like urban vacations, it won’t be your thing, but since I’m assuming you all already know how I feel about going to London whenever remotely possible, obviously this isn’t an issue for me personally. And yes, the air quality isn’t good, although it didn’t send me into a full-on, I-need-to-stay-in-the-hotel-as-much-as-possible asthma attack like Tel Aviv did, so it’s all about degree. The traffic is also not good, but the traffic in the Bay Area is abysmal as well, so it didn’t feel very different.

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The Getty Museum

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has world-class museums, constant theater and music, lots of amusement parks, and the beach and good weather and all activities those things entail. I thought, maybe I’d like to go to a garden, and so I looked on the internet and there are a whole bunch of amazing gardens (I didn’t end up going to any of them, alas). There is hiking. My friend told me it’s pretty easy to go and see a show being taped (I didn’t do this either). You can see pretty much any movie you want. There is the best French toast I have ever had, and I DO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY.

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I tragically have no photos of the French toast, but I do have a photo of these amazing bazookies.

Of course, I spent a lot of my time with local friends, which made my vacation even better.

The friends I saw in LA can be loosely categorized into two groups. There were my writer friends, and there were my college friends who have known me for a really, really long time. (I also didn’t get to see everyone I would have liked to have seen. Not enough time, but a good reason to go back.)

First the writer friends. There is something so invigorating about being around, I was going to call them creatives, but people get so finicky about the word creative, have you noticed? So instead perhaps I will say storytellers. By storyteller, I mean not only writers of novels and short stories, but also people involved with movies and TV, with dance and theater, with music and the visual arts. I suppose we could also just call them artists and be done with it.

Anyway, I love artists. Most of the artists I have known are so passionate about what they are doing. And writers in particular (although perhaps not as an exception) tend to be introspective, and as introspective individuals they’ve learned how to listen. (Also some of them have learned how to ask really interesting questions, which is so very enjoyable.) And because they listen, one gets the feeling they might actually understand something about you, and there is something so relaxing about being in the presence of someone who sees you. Even if it’s just a part of you. Also they don’t expect you to perform miracles like find a new agent in two weeks or have no feelings whatsoever about your current work-in-progress or make ten million dollars on self-published ebooks. And if you sound like an idiot talking about your work-in-progress, they tend to not hold it against you since they’ve had the same thing happen to them. 

I was a little more nervous about seeing my college friends. Because, well, it had been a while, and I’ve changed. Which led me to suspect they might also have changed. And what if we changed in different directions?

But my nerves were completely unnecessary because seeing my college friends was great too. As it turned out, there’s a reason we’ve kept in touch all these years, and that reason is that we like each other. Yup, not rocket science, I know. And sure, we’ve all changed, and our lives are different than they once were, but what hadn’t changed is how much I care about these people. Honestly, I felt like perhaps I appreciate them now even more than I did in the past.

They reminded me of where I’ve come from, and they showed me how I’ve stayed the same. Yes, I know I’m talking about change all the time and how important it is, in spite of how difficult it is. But not everything has to change, and there is something very sweet about stopping to notice what hasn’t.

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In conclusion, LA is a great place to take a vacation. Hate on it all you like, but I had a wonderful time.

PS: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is also in LA. Just saying.

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I Love Vacation

I am tired. Am I allowed to write a blog post about how I’m tired?

Haha, it’s my blog, so of course I am!

Here is a photo of me at 4am on Wednesday morning. I couldn’t sleep because I was too tired and my head was too full. It’s strange how after you’ve spent the last two and a half hours waiting to fall asleep, taking a selfie with your dog seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing.

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Anyway, luckily for me I’m about to go on vacation. I want to be on vacation SO BADLY, and it is about to happen, and this all seems extremely fortuitous.

Now, there are a lot of different kinds of vacation. There is, for example, the relaxing chill out vacation, which is basically me lounging on a chair somewhere beautiful and reading a lot of books. On this type of vacation I also tend to eat a lot and take slow, meandering walks and maybe go swimming.

This is not the type of vacation I’m about to go on. I did think about it, but then everywhere I wanted to go had a Zika warning, and I haven’t had enough time to read enough about Zika to know how worried about it I actually am, so I scratched those destinations off the list. Plus I’ve been working so hard the last two months that I’m not entirely certain what would happen to me if I suddenly came to an abrupt halt and did nothing much. It might be a real shock to the system. It might be like my insomnia, where in the sudden stillness I’d be unable to make my brain shut up. So that’s not what I’m doing.

Instead I’m going to see a bunch of people and I’m going to do a bunch of things, and hopefully I can see and do in a relatively leisurely manner. And I will refuse to go through stuff, lift boxes, or make any decisions about what to keep versus what to throw away. I won’t have to look at my ever-growing array of lists, and I won’t have to write unless I feel like it, and I won’t have to juggle complicated logistics, and if I don’t feel like dealing with feeding myself, there is an IHOP right across from my motel so I can basically live on breakfast food for the next week.

It is going to be the best vacation ever.

I haven’t always taken this type of social vacation, but they tend to be very satisfying. It’s like going to a con except you’re not working the entire time, and you get to see people one-on-one and maybe even in a place that doesn’t require you to shout to be heard, and splitting the check is a lot easier. Basically I get to spend time with people I like a lot and rarely get to see. Nowadays the internet is very helpful for keeping in touch, but nothing beats the occasional face-to-face interaction for maintaining connections, if you can manage it.

I sound so practical about this, but really I am very excited. I’ve been looking forward to this so much! Anyway, next week there will be no blog posts, just me being excited and enjoying my vacation.