“In a way Winter is the real Spring – the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.”
– Edna O’Brien
“If I do not do it now, when else can I do it?”?
–Dogen Zenjiin quoted in Women, Writing, and Soul-Making
I’ve been remarking for a while now that I feel like I’m in a time of “fall cleaning,” so I really identify with the first quote above. Then, the second quote dances in with its companion reminder: do not go back to sleep. Do not let inspiration wither! Ride zee wild donkeys, as Leonie Dawson would say! For the most part, these both feel great. I feel full of promise and inspiration and the itch to declutter my closets. In some ways, it feels painful—I’ve been letting go of some things and saying no more often. I am trying to figure out how to say no to tasks without feeling like I’m saying no to people. And, once again, other women’s (and one man’s) blog posts have come to the rescue. First, some good reminders from the irrepressible Leonie:
I don’t say yes to every interview request I get, or JV request. I don’t say yes to every work opportunity that comes my way (i.e. to sign with a book licensing agent, or speak at a conference.)
I don’t say yes because I know that everything has an opportunity cost. If I say yes, it takes away time and energy and brainspace to work on other things – things that could be more lucrative or more on soul purpose.
And if opportunities aren’t being presented to me that I want, I actively go after the ones I do want and make them happen instead.
Leonie was the one who introduced me to the concept of what I now think of as the $50 idea or the $100 idea. She wrote a blog post about how to have a million dollar idea, in which she concluded she actually only needed $100,000 idea (which is what she wanted to have available for her household to live on) and she figured out how to do it:
And as I held my newborn daughter in my arms, and felt the mammoth task of mamahood in front of me, I knew I just didn’t have that kind of energy and time. I needed a better idea. A simpler idea. One that was happier and more joyful and full of ease. And as I’ve shared before, the idea came in a dream, in the haze of milky hours between nightime newborn feeds.
My dreamtime elders said to me:
Give it all away. Give everyone everything you’ve ever created and will create for $99 for the whole year. You only need a thousand goddesses to say yes. You will offer them all you have to help them and support them on their journey. And they will be happy to support you on yours.
And I woke up in a blaze of happy tears, and I wrote down on a piece of paper:
1000 x $99=my $100 000 idea
give them everything!!!!!!!!
I found this concept transformational and since then, my husband and I have often referenced that we actually only need a $50 idea ($50 x 1000 people = $50,000, which is more than enough for us!). It is certifiably amazing what kind of good stuff you can come up when you’re thinking in terms of a $50 idea. I totally love it! Feel free to use it too 🙂
Oh, but enough with the adding, here is a man’s voice on the necessary art of subtraction:
Subtraction is beautiful: it creates space, time, clarity.
Subtraction is necessary: otherwise we are overburdened.
Subtraction can be painful: it means letting go of a child.
Subtraction is an art that improves with practice. Subtraction can be practiced on your schedule, task list, commitments list, possessions, reading list, writing, product line, distractions.
What can you subtract right now?
And, some thoughts on “sorry” from the author of the new book Maxed Out that I’m currently reading to review:
I’m sorry I was so slow to respond to your email. Sorry I can’t be there. Sorry I was late to pick up. Sorry to reschedule; sorry to ask for more time; sorry to miss the conference, the coffee, the call.
Most mothers who work outside the home, writes Katrina Alcorn in her book, “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink,” are perpetually sorry for all the ways they perceive themselves as failing their employers, their families and themselves. Hers is the story of her own “maxing out” after the birth of her youngest child: while working five days a week as a web design executive and shuttling three children through their busy lives, she pulled off the road one day and, as a crushing panic attack settled over her, called her husband to declare that she couldn’t “do this anymore.”
It is also the story of our collective “maxing out” in a society that she calls “uniquely hostile to working parents.” Her pediatrician casually tells her that most children get “8 to 10 colds and fevers a year”; she has six sick days a year (and must count herself fortunate) while her husband, a freelance designer, has none. School and preschool hours don’t cover a full day’s work for either of them, leaving them creating an elaborate spreadsheet every week to cover everything and add in doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping and chores. Preschool and day care eat into their budget, and every decision about part-time work or freelance scheduling means redoing the math. At every turn, Ms. Alcorn feels alone — but later realizes (as many reading this will recognize) that her problems are far from unique.
A couple of weeks ago, I staggered down to my woods crying about something I’ve now forgotten, but that was probably related to not having time to do something I’d expected to get to do that day and that I had been saying “sorry” over, and it came to me very clearly: Don’t apologize.
And I realized very strongly, I’m done apologizing. I really am done. I wrote about this more in my Rainbow Way blog carnival contribution:
I feel as if I have a long and creative dance as well as a long and creative struggle to balance mothering with my other work. I recently decided that I’m done apologizing—to myself, to others, or in writing—about my twin desires to care for my children and to pursue my own work. I’ve been parenting for ten years. Though I’ve tried for what feels like forever to “surrender” to motherhood during these ten years, I just cannot stop creating other projects, birthing other ideas, and participating in other work while at the same time engaged in the deep carework, motherwork required by children. I do both and I’m done apologizing. My life includes my children and my AND. That’s okay with me.
I thought about how often I use the words, “I’m sorry,” and I realized it is way too much. I’m done with it. To clarify, I’m not done with apologizing if I actually need to apologize, what I’m done with is apologizing for things I’m not actually sorry about (I can’t find the link right now, but there was a spoken word piece going around on Facebook recently in which the young woman says something to the effect of, “in my college chemistry class today I asked three questions and every one started with the words, ‘I’m sorry…'” [edited to add: Found it.]). So, far this is working out well and it is making me more mindful of the words I choose and excuses I make. My other realization that I keep having is: Maybe this is okay. Maybe I’m okay. (This is about things like having a bunch of unfolded laundry sitting around, or kids that stay up late and wake up “late,” or about having painting shirts on the table and dinner at 8:00…)
However, I also want to be mindful of the shadow comfort of distraction and one of my favorite authors, Jen Louden, had some juicy thoughts on this for me:
We all do it, I told her. Have mercy. Watch me answer an email supporting someone else rather than writing my new project – how did I get to the email program? It’s like a moment of time disappears and we have given up on our selves. The ways we distract ourselves take all sorts of inventive forms – micro-managing your children’s college application process, researching every last possible option for your vacation /car purchase/new duvet cover… or perhaps you prefer buying domain names and starting new businesses or – this is a truly delicious one – completely decluttering your entire house before you can begin that long held dream.
I’m not suggesting for one moment you try to stop distracting yourself – focus on doing that and you’ll end up with squeaky clean counters and that’s it. (Clean counters are great but probably not the deepest purpose of your life).
Instead, orient your life by desire.
Not because that’s a fool proof strategy or because you will “effortlessly manifest” (insert gagging) exactly what you want but because listening to what you truly desire will keep what you want up in your face while infusing you with energy – tons of wiggling wonderful energy. This makes it a whole lot harder to deny you are choosing someone else’s desire over your own.
You see what you are doing – “I want this but I’m doing this…. hmmm… interesting.”
See this choice point enough times in living breathing painful detail without adding one iota of self-cruelty and you will, slowly but surely, start to choose in favor of your dream. In favor of what calls you. To stop thinking, to stop planning, to stop distracting, and instead, to take blessed simple action.
With a little practice, the worn neural pathways of “But they will be mad at me!” or “It’s selfish to paint instead of visit mom” or “I know helping my friend is valuable, I don’t know if writing my novel is,” begin to atrophy and new ones are born. New pathways that sound something like “There is room for me in my life” and “What I want matters.” You understand it is by taking action on your desires and learning from those actions that the path of your truer life is revealed, one crooked step at a time.
Follow the aliveness, pay attention, orient by your desires.
Orient your life by desire. Yes. This sounds promising. I was recently talking to Mark about how I often can’t separate my “want tos” from my “have tos.” It is hard for me to figure out what I really want to do most of the time, because I’m so darn good at being a harsh self-task-master and I can turn almost anything into a “job” that must be done, regardless of whether I really want to do it any longer. Speaking of Jen Louden, she has a fresh new paperback version (plus app and free support tools!) of her book The Life Organizer. I’m planning to re-work through this book beginning in January (I did it in 2008). I highly recommend it!
And, then, another quick little reminder about being present and about the distraction from “real life,” represented by needing to write a blog post about it!
There are a thousand things I could write about. Four months of adventure and wholehearted journeying has lots of stories. But the stories are where they were when they happened. And writing about them now takes away from Being with them then, and Being with now in this moment.
This post is what I’ve got time for today. Now, it is time for shower—maybe it is okay that I haven’t had one yet?! ;-D