Day 29: Don’t underestimate the middle.

Everything is in the middle.

The first week I spent slowly withdrawing. This last week I spent scrambling to stay. When I look at it that way, that makes the time in between sadly emptier or less full–to put a wee more positive spin on it.

We spend a lot of our lives in the middle, don’t we? The in-between. That space before a decision. The time looking. The time adjusting. The time getting to and fro or just circling. Like Pema Chodron said, “we are always in process.”

Though we move from moment to moment, I find it hard not to bookend time. To mark the beginnings and endings. To snag momentos and mental snapshots of what will never be again. I feel a little somber wrapping up my time here. Maybe because this me time was really about putting on training wheels. The middle ground before the change I seek that’s altogether new.

The middle is where momentum builds. Where the pendulum dips before the next rise. The valley between peaks where all points of view hold promise. Where potential pools… Who knows where I’m going next. I’m happy to be in motion. Re-fueled and in a higher gear.

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Day 28: Until we me time again…

It’s going to be a strange re-integration into my old hood. I might start a 30 days of retox blog next. I joke, but there’s a part of me that knows my re-entry might have a bumpy landing. Because I don’t want to be there. I want to stay here or pick up and move on all together. Someplace else where I can move forward, not settle back in.

If anything, my time away has taught me to shake the anxiety of not knowing what’s next. I’ve been here hanging in limbo space without a plan, without anything pushing or pulling me in any direction. I’m exploring possibilities–with learned patience. The kind you cultivate in a place with few people, little traffic and nothing that would qualify as noise.

How do I preserve my me-time mojo back in the hustle and bustle of the life I left on a shelf? I had a taste of that vibe the other day driving back to show my place to potential sublettors. I got riled by the mess my last tenant left, by the faucet that stopped functioning, by the lunch with the Negative Nelly. I didn’t want to be there.

The good news is, I shrugged it off fairly quickly. It came as those those feelings do. I felt them as I should. And then released them into the atmosphere like unwanted imaginary balloons.

All I can tell you is this works. If you have any hesitation about taking a retreat, a sabbatical, whatever you call it–don’t wait. I wish I could keep it going. I’d be thrilled to stay in the quiet Farmcoast another month. That’s probably all the stillness that’s left in it before the summer-house crowd returns. I could stay if the universe met my wishes, but it’s looking like I won’t get my way this time. It’s really disappointing. But I tell myself, it’s time to get ready for the next unknown chapter.

I hate the word ready. It doesn’t exist. It’s one of those fleeting concepts that people feel too much pressure to achieve–like happiness. It’s real then it’s not. It’s present, then it vanishes. It exists in momentary flashes and by the time you jump on it, it’s gone. Until it isn’t. That’s what I think about readiness.

You take it as it comes in life. The waves, the swells, the trickles, the nothings. The hellos, goodbyes, see you soons and want to see you soon but likely never wills. Those are particularly poignant.

It snowed last night and coated my view with same (yet thinner) blanket of white that sat outside my window sill when I first arrived. I took it in–like on day one–only my ahh was one of familiar comfort, not the breath of freshness it was then. Still, it’s awesome. And I want to bottle it up and put it on my shelf at home so I can take a whiff when the wind isn’t blowing my way.

But I can’t. And this time will fade just like time always does. And when the memory falls too far behind. It’ll be time to come back again. Not to Westport or the Farmcoast, necessarily. But to this thinking-doing-feeling-learning-letting go gray space…the place where possibilities dwell.

Day 26: The hot pink balloon theory. A.k.a random act of weirdness.

Who’s that woman running down the beach dressed all in black and carrying hot pink balloons? And…um, why?

(Insert awkward, pregnant pause here.)

Okay, it was me.

I went on a run the other day during a gloomy post-rain afternoon. The ocean churning just enough for a lone surfer waiting to pick his battle. The clouds layered in all kinds of moodiness before me. It was the best I’d felt all day…functioning on four hours of sleep.2015-03-27 13.41.09

So I’m plodding along in wet sand. Feet sinking and lifting with the same attitude as the testy sky. And there in the sea foam, a bouquet of hot pink balloons bobs in and out. I’m fixated on its screaming loud spots of color so rudely dotting my perfect stormy scene.

I run past it.2015-03-27 14.12.30

I look back. (Why are there a bunch of hot pink balloons floating to and from the shore?)

Two seconds of its story start to unfold in my head and I turn on my heels to go get them.2015-03-27 14.12.29

I started to think about their journey. And the ocean all littered with plastic and rubber underneath all the tonnage of water. I remembered the documentary I once watched showing all the trash that ends up in the mouths of sea birds or on specks of faraway islands that should be pristine in their remoteness but instead become dumps for orphan trash. I can’t leave them there. It’s not their fault they landed here without a purpose. Without a party. Without a little girl’s hand.

I pick up the bouquet of eight under-inflated balloons and finish my run searching the waves for the lone surfer I passed earlier and the tangle of lobster trap wire that marks where I should exit the beach to find my car.

2015-03-27 13.45.17I’m feeling like I did my good deed. I picked up random hot pink litter. I carried it like the complete antithesis of the Olympic torch. I don’t live here. I don’t know anyone. For all they know, I’m launching my balloon delivery business on a literal shoestring…  Because lonely surfer boys need a little cheering up.

I stop to think where to toss the balloons. Where to end their sad journey. Why I’m still clumsily carrying them half-inflated like this. I kneel down to pop each one with the edge of a broken clam shell. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop… They shrivel. And I wonder, why didn’t I do this the second I picked them up? Instead of prancing down the beach (because hot pink balloons conjure prancing) in the final stretch of my heroic (in a cartoon way) last mile.

2015-03-27 14.20.04 Back at the parking lot, the lone surfer is sitting in the flatbed of his truck. I jog into frame, pitiful wilted rubber bouquet in hand. Yep, there’s no way in hell this turns into a boy meets girl scene. I walk with a purpose to my car, toss in the limp hot pink latex and drive off into the fog. Mist–let’s say mist–it sounds more romantic.

It’s a random act of weirdness, I know. But I do have a point to the story. What if we all follow such a random flight? Land nowhere near what we think is the place of our purpose? Like lost or let-go balloons, what if we sail on a feisty or fickle wind only to deposit our destiny in the hands of a passerby?

I say to myself today, weeks into my me-time experiment, I am at the mercy of the moment. The one I cannot plan. The one I cannot hold. I’m in it and then it leaves me. And then the next one follows. And again, I move only as much as it lets me. I have my will and my power. Mighty enough to require two separate, independent words. But I’m learning, and I’m trusting, that I can’t sway which way the wind blows. All I can do is thrust myself into the atmosphere and hope to get caught up in a swell… of goodness or, at minimum, cartoon heroism.

Those balloons washed up like an accidental Photoshop error. Cut and pasted at the wrong place at the wrong time. Out of their element. But haven’t we all been there?

And in those instances, don’t we rely on the randomness of the world to nudge us back to a place where we belong? That’s the best we can hope for, right? The strangest encounters, the absurdity of life, working out its own kinks like a hot pink alert that beckons some Joe/Jane Schmoe to upright the wrong. Can’t we trust that when things go awry, our failings stick out just like bright sore thumbs alerting the universe to auto-correct the scenery? I think so. I think pink–and hot pink, at that–is a little hard to ignore.

Day 25: Lucky me time.

When I tell people about what I’ve been up to in my 30 days of me time, I get things like, “Wow, aren’t you lucky.” If this all happened by chance, my luck is remarkably predictable as this is my third career break in ten years. I went to Paris in 2005, to Argentina in 2010 and, now, the faraway and most exotic Wesport, Massachusetts. (Apparently my luck arrives on a renewable five year plan.)

lucky pennyAm I lucky? To step outside of your world where the only consequence is positive is lucky, I suppose. It’s easy to judge as some selfish luxury, but really, there’s a lot of practicality to sabbaticals. And to some folks, breaks are the things that move them forward.

Stefan Sagmeister, a world renowned designer, gives a great TED talk on the Power of Time Off. It’s about how he rejuvenates by taking year-long sabbaticals every seven years. His rationale? Here’s an excerpt from his talk:

Right now we spend about the first 25 years of our lives learning, then there is another 40 years that’s really reserved for working. And then tacked on at the end of it are about 15 years for retirement. And I thought it might be helpful to basically cut off five of those retirement years and intersperse them in between those working years. (Applause) That’s clearly enjoyable for myself. But probably even more important is that the work that comes out of these years flows back into the company and into society at large, rather than just benefiting a grandchild or two.

Sagmeister goes on to talk about how time off re-ignites his work. He owns a wildly successful New York design firm with clients like the Rolling Stones, HBO and the Guggenheim. So it’s easy to see how someone with his clout can shut down for a year and pick right back up again. What about the rest of us?

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Day 24: Same as I ever was.

The “un-plan” for my 30 days of me time was to carve out space to do the things I’ve neglected for too long. Turns out I filled my time with the familiar, only with more freedom. Isn’t that interesting? Finding your lost love and discovering it’s the same as it always was. Only you were different.

Screen shot 2015-03-26 at 12.54.27 PMI’ve been writing professionally (in advertising and promotions) for umpteen years (maybe even 20 but at some point you have to stop counting.) Though I still get a charge out of the process, like everything, it can get rote.  So I took this break to teach myself that I could take what I loved, but grown weary of, and pivot. I wanted to see if a time-out could help me refresh and re-direct new energy into something more fulfilling. I’ve been thinking about ways to take my passion and skills to different outlets–and writing this silly blog has been a tiny part of my test.

The result? Same as it ever was. It’s a love-hate relationship. This, always-on-thought-to-paper process. But I’m lollygagging in the love section. What’s different is I’m not doing this on the clock, for a commercial brand or for my résumé. I like the craft. I like the performance without the spotlight. I like the kneading and rolling and shaping. Continue reading

Day 22: The biggest luxury of me-time? Nothing.

Go ahead, try it. Take a day to do nothing.

What does that even mean to you? Sleeping in? Vegging on the couch? Watching junk TV? Because doing nothing is widely interpretable. You ever ask a friend, “what did you do today?” And they answer, “Nothing much. Just went to the mall, walked around and took my dog to the park.” Or, “Nothing, I went too the grocery store, cleaned up, ran a few errands…” Doing nothing has this funny nuance of being a selection of random everyday chores or things we do that we’re not super excited about.

What's your idea of doing nothing?
What’s your idea of doing nothing?

Shouldn’t we be? The act of doing nothing in a supercharged, 24-7 “always on” world should be right up on the list next to your all-time favorite things to do on the weekend, vacation or your birthday. Newsflash. Nothing is the ultimate luxury. Make. It. Count.

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Day 19: Morsels of Me-time

My blog-a-day plan has been lagging lately. My sister was in town visiting so I carved out a little play time the last few days. We can be opposites in many ways so it’s good to talk to her about some of the things I’ve been thinking about work, relationships and life, in general.

Three weeks into me-time and what’ve I learned?

Screen shot 2015-03-22 at 9.48.22 PM1. Give yourself all the freedom to explore and in the end you can only work with what’s in front of you–what you know about, what you expose yourself to, what you learn. So open up the toy box or, better yet, go outside and play. You can’t make things happen with out connecting with others and the world around you.

2. Checking out of your Normal doesn’t mean you forget everyone else’s. My friends are still changing diapers, dropping off kids, fighting traffic and having bad days at work. Sometimes me-time should be keep-it-to-yourself time.

Screen shot 2015-03-22 at 10.25.23 PM3. Go with the flow. When doors open, walk through. When the road gets bumpy, walk slowly. When you hit too many road blocks, walk away.

4. Writing helps you work out the kinks. Putting thoughts to paper commits you to them somehow. The mic is on and you’re up. Writing also gives form to feelings. You realize your fears are manageable, your goal is moveable and that backspace, delete and undo are within easy reach for good reason.

Screen shot 2015-03-22 at 10.19.57 PM5. Rest is just as important as running full steam. This is true in so many areas of life: exercise, creativity, business…red wine. The saying should go, “Work hard. Play hard. Rest easy.”

Day 18: Home is where the ahhh is.

Every place I’ve ever lived in as an adult I took to instantly. Which is not to say that I didn’t look at a dozen places before each lease. But that feeling when you walk into a room and light up? That’s home. I know what home feels like. Ironic, coming from a military latchkey kid who never had a permanent address.

Farmcoast
Farmcoast

I have that here on the Farmcoast. I had it in Chicago. I have it every time in Paris. Not so much in Buenos Aires. Nor Seattle, Pisa, Barcelona or San Diego. (And I was born there.) Not in any other neighborhood in metro Boston besides where I live in Brookline. Nosara, nope. New York, hell no. Anse Marcel in Saint Martin… well, it’s French and tropical, what do you think?

Is it instinct or expectation? For instance, I came here feeling a little anxiety about moving out to the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter. Low expectations yielded a pleasant surprise.

Conversely, before my five-week trip to Argentina, I was giddy with the idea of living in the “Paris of the South,” but I actually found Buenos Aires leaving much to be desired. High expectations resulted in let down. Paris, France, however, breaks the mold. I loved it in 1994. I love it in 2015. My three-month sabbatical there in 2005 began as desperately romantic and ended heartbreakingly bittersweet. But it’s Paris. She in a category of of her own. Continue reading

Day 17: The Dating Dilemma–Meeting a Boy in the Boonies

I absolutely love it out here. I’m considering staying another month longer if I can. The trouble is, as a single gal, the nightlife in Farmcoast consists of cotton tail deer crossings and wind chatting up evergreens by my windows. Lovely to see and hear but nothing to write WordPress about.

So. What’s a girl to do. I would trade me-time for us-time if I could find the right match, but it’s becoming an impossible chore. Where I live year round, though the square is teeming with restaurants and bars, though I’m at the rock gym surrounded by testosterone, though I’m traveling by subway and inadvertently shoved up against random strangers–it is just too damn hard to meet someone. Not to sound pessimistic, because I am the biggest believer in possibilities. But the dating game is a little like going to the mall with a fresh paycheck, finding the cutest this and that, standing in line for the dressing room, trying on/taking off, trying on/taking-off–and then walking out empty-handed because none of it fit. Maybe that’s a bad analogy because I hate shopping. Or maybe it’s the right one. Because I hate shopping. Continue reading

Day 16: Are we having fun yet?

Am I? Why, yes, I am.Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 7.48.53 PM

In fact, I’ve expanded my definition of fun.

For example, (I can’t believe I’m going to admit this) talking to myself while I’m running makes me laugh. There’s no one around me–no need to be self-conscious. So I can be the crazy lady alone in the country who has conversations with her invisible blog audience, out loud while running in the middle of the road against non-existent traffic.

I stay up late, get up early(-ish), burn the candle at both ends but rarely feel tired. It’s my time. I like the idea of staying up just to play back-to-back word games on my iPhone. There is nothing pressing about tomorrow. But claiming the highest score in Scramble? Very urgent.

Seeing the sky in all of her moods–changing in color, light, cloud formations–is pretty darn enjoyable. Sure, I notice it in the city but out here, I have front row, center seats all the time. And I don’t have to sneak in my snacks. I get wowed by the window sill with dinner and a glass of wine. The repertoire is always worth it. And the encores keep comin’.

What else amuses me? Seeing how long I can make random meals out of one trip to the grocery store. You know what they say about a country mile. Since it’s a chore to go to the market, I’ve been maximizing my ingredients. I am the Iron Chef of eggs and English muffins. Pasta three ways? No problem. Melted cheese, sprinkled cheese, sliced or grated… (Hey, how you serve it makes the difference between Italian or Mexican.) Pot roast for dinner can be hashed for breakfast. Liquid lunch? Why not.

Matter of fact, I’ve discovered me-time Happy Hour, Monday night wine and cheese and post-run pear cider. There’s never a line at the door and the tab is always open.

No, no, no. Get that she’s-drinking-alone-in-the-middle-of-nowhere image out of your head. I am under a way different kind of influence. (But it is Saint Patrick’s Day today, so it’s possible that might change.)

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 7.46.43 PMI think 30 days of me-time does call for a toast. To taking time off–except it’s not even really time “off”. I’ve been more “on” the last two weeks, actually. How ’bout I raise a glass to the headstrong girl inside me who said, F-it. The one who quietly stood up in the middle of a 5:00 meeting on a Wednesday and decided there was someplace more fun she should be.

Cheers to that.