You can’t do that. What about X, Y, Z? Remember when you tried that and how badly it turned out? Stop being so selfish. Think about your family. Why should you get to do that when everyone else is blah, blah, blahhing? What will so-and-so think? WHAT IF…?
It’s been a year of transition for me. I am not a preternaturally happy person on the surface and the stress of making changes has made me a less-than-agreeable human to be around. But I’m having moments, glimpses of the lighthouse beacon of a nearing shore. I’m headed in the right direction.
Yesterday, I drove home from the post office after dropping off my packages for the holidays, and felt this odd sense of happiness. I’ve got the flu, I’m exhausted and truth be told, I’d rather run someone down with my car than have a conversation with them. But happy. What the hell?
Historically speaking, I’m the over-doer, the over-the-top gift-giving fool that alternately makes people loathe and love me. This year, I’m done with everything in record time. My list was shorter. I gave what I wanted and I’m spending my time more judiciously.
It was easy – why hadn’t I done it before? Well, I just hadn’t imagined it, this idea of just doing what I thought was important. The flu distilled things for me – I could only do what I deemed a priority, before collapsing into an unhappy pile of used tissue and Vicks Vapor Rub (I smell pretty!).
I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately. Change is hard. We are creatures of habit, of our own thought patterns, of our hardened paths of operation and survival. But we are also creatures of great imagination, the ability to choose, the ability to not live a rote life. It is our imagination that fuels change. If we can imagine a day in our own happiness, what would it look like?
When I was in my 20s, my imagination was that of a world traveler. I would travel and drink native booze and cavort with the locals. It was very nonspecific. Apparently I was a gun runner, since there was no source of income in my imagination. And no STDs, because I imagined being very well-traveled. In reality, I worked in a bunch of menial jobs, halfheartedly got a college degree, dated unlikely partners and spent a lot of time running in place.
In my 30s, my imagination seemed a murky stereotype. I got married and had a child. I lived, still live, in a suburb in a small ranch-style house that looks exactly like the other 20 houses on the street. It is a life I value and love, with a family that I’d never imagined I’d have. But occasionally, the Talking Heads will play in my mind…”how did I get here?”
And then the 40s came, as did a constant sense that where I was at, was not where I belonged. Things started going a little sideways for me. I left a full-time job to be a stay-at-home loon. While working from home, I did all kinds of uncomfortable things – learned a martial art at 43, became an intense parent volunteer, learned yoga badly, took up painting, wrote a novel, learned some rock climbing (and panicked falling), gardened haphazardly. An all-over-the place dilettante, with a failing grade of Incomplete.
My writing impulses got stronger and more insistent. Sometimes, I’d think, well, if I don’t accomplish anything else, I guess I can say I’m a writer. I think I just heard the wail of a thousand dedicated writers. But it was a daydream to me. I’d always written, but it was mutated and unrecognizable – work emails, flyers, newsletters, personal correspondence. It was easier to imagine being a writer than, you know, actually writing like one.
I began blogging nearly 3 years ago. The habit of writing, the interaction with other writers, the positive feedback (not always earned certainly, but encouraging) – it changed my imagination. I was writing regularly. I learned of NaNoWriMo, participated and wrote the first draft of a novel. My imagination expanded. Could I do more of this?
Vagueness, though, is hard to implement as a life choice. I could see the possibilities, but not how to get there. I began to think, “If I were a writer, what would my day be like? What are my priorities? How do I want to spend my time?”
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989)
I’m in the specifics and logistics phase now, trying to carve new habits into my time. Each new imagining of what life could be like fuels one more decision to make it today. It is, for me, a slow and sometimes grinding process. Because change requires not only imagining how you spend your day, but imagining yourself differently. You have to block out old messages and tune into your own voice.
It’s make-believe, a trip on the little red trolley. But it will, in the end, be the thing that gets you there. I am a writer. I value my family, my health, and learning. I spend my day living my values. Rinse and repeat.
This last week, for the first time ever in my life, I stuck to a daily writing schedule. It wasn’t like anything I had imagined. I was sick, coughing and sneezing and occasionally whining out loud to no one in particular. But there were moments when I was happier than I’ve been in years. Imagine that.