Making Life Changes: Some Imagination Required

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…?canstockphoto8669552

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?

Wcanstockphoto2148080hen 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.

canstockphoto21767863In 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?”

canstockphoto21047372And 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.

canstockphoto18826089I 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.

canstockphoto6423560It’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.

24 Comments on “Making Life Changes: Some Imagination Required

  1. As a writer, and a person actually, our most valuable resource is time. We can invest it, save it, spend it, and yes, even waste it. Its value remains constant. One of my finals was an essay about change, overcoming obstacles, and the aspects of leadership; building relationships, listening, and creating a constructive environment.
    I think what you are doing for yourself at this moment, and as previously described, is exhibiting enormous courage to live your life to the fullest on your own terms. That’s leadership in action. More power to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Now that is one helluva Christmas present. I am very happy for you. And it’s going to keep getting better, I just know it!

    Like

  3. A timely post as I contemplate making two more types of cookies so there is a variety in the ones I had out to people as gifts. I am officially insane.

    Like

  4. I don’t know ANY more powerful, more intense kind of joy than the kind you get when you come to the end of a significant phase in a writing project (I mean real writing – creative, done because you choose to write it and not because some client has asked for it). It’s a YES! moment like no other. So why, why, WHY is it so dang hard to carve out time for it every day?

    Like

    • Ironically, for having been a goal-oriented person most of my life, I’m finding most of my pleasure in the act of writing. Whether or not I’ll end up with something I like or can sell to other people is an entirely different question. I am using the idea of islands – my islands of time are used doing what I value most. Everything else has to fill in around them.

      It’s amazing how much more efficient I was last week. I worked to get all my chores done before my scheduled time. And while I’ve not spent as much time on cooking or housework, the house didn’t fall down and my family didn’t leave me. It’s been an “aha” moment for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Congrats on making the change, and most importantly, that you’re a happier you. It takes courage and discipline to make life changes. You deserve to live the life you need. Good for you, Michelle.

    Like

  6. I love the statement you made “Vagueness, though, is hard to implement as a life choice.” It’s elegant, but it’s also true. Change is hard, at least until we can envision what’s there, on the other side. Once we see “it” and believe we can get there, the priorities become more obvious and it’s easier to focus on them…I’ve learned. Like if I want to be a writer, I have to write. Make it part of my day, every day. I’m sure you’ll get where you want to be.

    Like

  7. May I just say, a whole lot of familiar emotions and experiences here! Life seems to live *me,* rather than the reverse, sometimes. But it keeps happening, and every once in a while I get up the nerve to touch the brakes, the gas pedal, or even the steering wheel, so there may be hope yet. Cheers to you for the continued and attentive forward movement, flu-ridden or not, inspired or not. That’s gutsy and promising.
    xo,
    Kath

    Like

%d bloggers like this: