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.

Advertisements

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?

Continue reading

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 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 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.

Day 15: Me-time, with English subtitles.

Screen shot 2015-03-16 at 11.54.15 PMThe interesting thing about writing this blog a day for 30 days of me-time is that I can’t shut it off. While I was running today, I could hear my thoughts typed out with every pound of the pavement.

Is it the daily practice of writing, or the focused introspection or the Buddhist mindfulness I’ve been trying to teach myself?

As an advertising writer, it’s sometimes (but not always) the same. When I’m working on headlines. Billboard headlines. The kind where you have to be clever and on-brand and tell a story in five words or less–at least 50 times over so the client has options of clever, on-brand, storytelling in five words or less. It’s hard to find the “off” button. I jot down notes on my iPhone on the subway home. I’m writing oScreen shot 2015-03-16 at 11.53.17 PMn snippets of recycled paper I have clipped together on my kitchen table. I even scribble words here and there in bed while I wind down. You can’t just flip the switch. The words streaming like a news ticker in the lower third screen of my life. Until the deadline. Until the next project kick-off. Where it starts all over again. Continue reading

Day 8: I Need A Buddha Break

Screen shot 2015-03-08 at 11.49.24 PMI’ve just been reading my 3rd book by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, called Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. (Granted, I did have a glass of red wine and a coffee with Bailey’s and Frangelico beforehand.)

Why do I feel like I need martini after a lesson on how to meditate? I’m not kidding, this stuff is dense. I’m open to it. I’m trying to process the logic of leaning into pain and casting away pleasure. Of accepting the good with the bad and appreciating the now. All very elementary distillations of a bunch of maxims (59 in total, I think?) that I’m having a hard time digesting.

I grew up Catholic, for god’s sake. (Note: little “g”.) I have memorized many a prayer and creed which, I daresay, I actually understood as I recited out loud in seemingly blind unison. Just sayin’. I’m capable of parsing parable and practical application. Not to offend anyone on the Buddhist bench, but if you want to persuade the masses, could you make it like, 5th grade reading level?

I digress.

There are a lot of things I agree with in the Buddhist lessons Chodron writes about. I agree with idea that nothing in life is certain and the only way to live without struggle is to embrace that uncertainty and act as you would without fear of consequence. Put simply, “Just do it.” (That Nike is really onto something.) Continue reading

Day 7: Moving into Me-town.

Florence, Tanzania and Bermuda were on the short list. But I chose to take my sabbatical in a small coastal town only an hour and a half’s drive from home.

It felt right. It felt manageable and more soothing than running around with maps and tickets and crossing time zones. I wanted to be in a restful place without a lot of outside stimulus so that I could create my own–inside myself without any format or schedule except what comes naturally by my internal tempo.

2015-03-06 17.31.41My rental home is cozy and filled with light. A wall of windows overlooks a snow blanketed balcony which, in turn, overlooks a short snowshoeable yard and narrow wooden dock that juts out into the frozen river. I look out at the view and it beckons me. The ice locking in so much potential. It will eventually flow. It will eventually release its energy. It will come back to life, likely around the same time I pack up to leave. It’s my own built-in private metaphor.

Private because I’m here on my own. But also because no one else I know really gets it. This is not about lucky me and winter vacation. In fact, it is about unlucky me and my decision to move in a new direction. It’s a deliberate, pensive choice not a frivolous escape. And because of what it looks like on the outside, I realized, I can’t share this. Nor do I really want to. Soon enough, I’ll be back in a familiar place wishing I could hit pause again.

Week 1 was hard for me to fully untether. But I’m mostly out the door now. Let’s settle into Selfishville. Population 1.

I have come to believ that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.

Day 1: Shelved.

I put my life on a shelf for a month.

I have to check out to tune in. Similar to that 60’s psychedelic sentiment–without the drugs.

The house I’m renting is delightful. There’s a panoramic view of the river just over the sun deck, a lawn blanketed in at least a foot of snow and a short pier at the end jutting out into the icy, glassy water. It’s even snowing softly yet steadily, accentuating the already soothing scenery.

All I need is some wood for the wood burning stove. And to figure out how to hook up my Apple TV for my guilty pleasure of back-to-back episodes of House of Cards. My box of paints are waiting to be cracked open. My Kindle is loaded.

There’s so much bubbling over, I don’t even know if 30 days is enough. What does it take to live a life where you’re tuned in to yourself all the time? Why do we get lost? When does the questioning fall away so that I can just be?Screen shot 2016-08-21 at 10.32.31 PM

A shelf holds things. Displays them. Keeps them for later, periodic use. At some point, we dust the contents off. Shelves hold things we’re aware of. We know what’s sitting where and why. But we leave them there until the right moment–contented that they’re easily within reach when we’re ready.