Be All In – Or The Story of 2015

Sunset on January 14th

Oh Todd Henry, this prompt for Quest2015 really froze me in my tracks. My whole body understood that this one isn’t hypothetical, this question is for real. If you knew that your life’s story will be written based upon your choices and actions in 2015, how will you live?

I am currently reading The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling  by Stephen Cope…. thank you Cindy Henson, it’s awesome. Cope is writing about embracing your dharma, the thing that you are uniquely suited to do in the world. One of his examples is the poet Robert Frost. Robert Frost made decisions to support his poetry with his life. He jumped all in. First with the farm, later with moving to England. I’m still reading it, but I think that part of what is holding me back is that I won’t jump all in. A few years ago, I jumped and committed to earning my MFA, and then I half-committed by not taking a full-time teaching gig here in Homer so that I could keep writing. But frankly, now I am stacking the deck against myself, spreading myself too thin, diluting my attention.

I have gotten lost again in the scarcity mindset. I have forgotten that the work is all. The Work, not the outcome. When I manage to remember that, and manage to do the work, everything lines up with no rigging. When I get lost in the oh my god, I’m almost fifty and I need to get the publishing thing and the teaching thing and this and that, I lose my way (i.e. my dharma in Stephen Cope vernacular).

My dharma = connecting to other people through words.
My dharma = writing poetry.
My dharma = sharing poetry.

So how shall I live in 2015 so that my dharma is in the center of my life, not relegated to scraps of time at the margins? Wait! The answer is right there – put my writing at the center of my life, not a half hour in the morning and whatever energy I have left after dinner. Otherwise the story of my life for 2015 will be the story of my life for 2014: wow, she had really great opportunities which she pissed away by running around like a deranged starving chicken. Otherwise, that manuscript which is sooooo close to be finished will never see completion. Those poems will never be submitted for publication. The incredible richness of the world, sea urchins and clouds and puppies and glaciers and rocking chairs, the beauty and sorrow, will pass me by and never reach the page which is altar and memory box and compost heap.

Resist the urge to hedge my bets – well, what if that poetry thing doesn’t work out, maybe you should try this *New Thing* which might be the answer to how you will earn money or fame or safety. Resist the suitcase by the door. Resist the urge for new over nuance. Commit. Be all in. So that the story of 2015 is the story of my life – she wrote poetry, she gave it to the world the best she could, she lived with her heart (and senses) open and shared what came in.

The Question of Sacred Priorities

Another turn of the map in Quest2015, in which I go off road a bit. Sunni Brown asks: How could you make moments of joy a sacred priority in 2015? What forms will such moments take? Doodle, draw, photograph, or write your way into these questions and share your responses. 

Because I’m a doodler with words and camera, the picture that I took of sunrise on the 12th and my words below will have to suffice.

….

Talk to me about joy. Tell me what that looks like to you.

This idea that I should make joy a sacred priority gives me pause. Perhaps because this past year has been so very difficult, I balk at the idea that joy should be prioritized over any other emotion. What about love? What about sorrow?

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.”
~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Not the joy that is delivered to you by the world, but the attitude with which you greet the world. Joy as a state of being wide open to whatever kindles. Joy as a practice of acceptance rather than rejection and shutting out. The unbolted heart. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening and yet I must be willing to pay attention in order to gather them. Sometimes that harvest will be bitter herbs and dark clouds, sometimes that harvest will be honey and fire-pinked alpenglow. But I must try to meet them both the same, with acceptance and attention. Let this sacred attention be my priority.

Because (I’ve thought) I could not stop for Death

“Pursue knowledge, daily gain. Pursue Tao (wisdom), daily loss.” – Tao Te Ching 

We often think too much about adding new things, when the source of a lot of our growth is eliminating old things. What do you need to STOP doing in 2015? And what do you need to do to make that STOPPING more than an intention?

I need to stop acting like I will live forever.

In general, I’m a “chucker.” For decades, I was a nomad, moving once or twice every twelve months. If you have to schlep stuff, you tend to be a “chucker,” discarding whatever isn’t immediately useful or important. I still do this – sort through beloved books, cull clothing, ditch stuff that I’m not using and don’t think I’ll use in the next few years. True, now that I am not moving as often, I have started to accrue things like art supplies and poetry books. But I take to periodic de-cluttering with a zest that most folks probably don’t have.

What I do collect are half-completed projects. Good ideas that never get fully explored. The first three chapters of five unfinished novels. Poem drafts that never get revised. Ideas for my blog that never materialize because I don’t have time, or I let my inner critic tell me that there are enough !@#$@ “life-coaching” websites with pretty pictures out there already. Sketchbooks with seven pages full and twenty-eight pages empty.

What I do collect are part-time jobs. Jobs that pay in dribs and drabs. Each job taking ten to twenty hours each week in actual time, and thirty to forty hours a week in mental energy. Multiply by three or four…. and there isn’t ever a time when I’m not working. One job during the day, one job sporadically throughout the week, one job in the evening. All of them added together barely pay my bills but give me the flexibility to attend writing conferences or artist residencies. I never seem to be able to say no to work because I can’t risk offending someone, or I am afraid that I won’t be able to pay my bills. Or I am almost fifty years old and how do I not have a career?

I need to stop acting like I will live forever. I need to focus and finish. I need to ascertain how I can build one profession that feeds my creativity, my art, and helps my community (which community is something else I need to decide). I need to stop spending my energy on other people’s dreams.

Focus. Attention. Set big goals, but create attainable small steps each day. And finish them. Reach the mountain by walking towards it every day.*

Those of you who have been reading my blog for the last few years are probably shaking your head in amazement.  Again? She’s telling herself this again? When will she actually put this into action? Please help me remember this year of loss so that I will remember what is too precious to lose.

*See Neil Gaiman’s AMAZING commencement address to understand this last sentence in its full implication.