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Sunday, May 25, 2008

You Have to Buy a Ticket

Shades of the old joke: yesterday the Best Bass Player in Town was heard to mutter as he sorted through the day’s junk mail, “Please tell me I won the lottery.” To which I replied (sweetly, mind you), “Did you buy a ticket?”

Readers of these pages know I’m a proponent of the art of creative intention. Knowing what you want is a helpful first step to getting it. But all the creative intention in the world won’t get you far if you never move your desire out of your head and into the place where things can actually happen.

You have to buy your ticket.

When I left Los Angeles 15 years ago it was to make a simpler life somewhere else. It didn’t so much matter where, so long as I could live less expensively and more creatively. So I bought my ticket: I packed up and headed east. I eventually landed in the Midwest, much to my surprise, in a small town somewhat like the one I grew up in, but with better weather. My L.A. friends think I’ve fallen off the face of the Earth, but I got what I wanted: a simpler, more creative life.

I think many of us sense the shifting of our cultural tectonic plates. Things are changing. People are worried. Four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline makes us all a little nervous. As we navigate our way through what may well be a maelstrom of upheaval in the years ahead, it will serve us to invest some time figuring out what it is we want to bring about in the aftermath. What sort of culture do we want to create? Can we see it, can we feel it? Can we make it real in our own lives, right now, as a demonstration of our intention?

It’s not necessary to change the hearts and minds of everyone around us. It’s not important to get a majority to agree with us before we begin to shift ourselves. We don’t have to have all the answers. We just need to know what we really, really want.

And then we have to buy a ticket.

Here's something I really, really want: a peaceful economy, creative and cooperative and locally-based, that serves the needs of the whole community -- including the nonhuman community with which we share space.

How do I get to such a place? I don't know, exactly, but I suspect I can start by being more peaceful, more creative, more cooperative right now, and see where that takes me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Living As If (the Aftermath)

I'm having dreams of missing my train. I can't get my bag packed, or I can't get to the depot, or I disembark to wander in a gypsy bazaar and return to find my train long gone.

The other evening I was at a barn concert -- a house concert held in a barn -- and an acquaintance asked me what I've been up to. "I'm writing a book," I said. Reader, I said it out loud.

See what a week of writing Morning Pages "as if" will do?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Living As If...

While combing through the archives at Christine Kane's blog over the weekend I came upon a gem from August, 2006 and decided to implement one of its suggestions. (If you go to the August link, scroll down to "Your Assignment".) In short, the idea is to write your Morning Pages for one week "As If..." As if you had attained your goal, as if you were living your dream, as if you had accomplished something you set out to do.

Morning Pages are the brainchild of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way. I've been doing them for ten years. Typically they're just a brain-dump of whatever is cluttering up my mind on any given morning. Three pages of longhand twaddle, in other words, which for some reason I find remarkably satisfying to write.

Anyway, I'm midway through my week of these "As If..." pages, and today I looked out across the back yard at my Virginia-creeper-covered garage and thought: that's my studio. Not "that will be my studio when we clear out all the crap and re-do the wiring." Not even "won't it look great when it's painted that perfect shade of green, with an arched-top cottage door and pretty flowers in all those pots." Just: there it is.

Reader, can you see it, too?

Thoughts are powerful things. As Mike Dooley at Notes from the Universe reminds me every Monday through Friday (one more reason I look forward to Mondays!), thoughts become things. So I'm spending the week on some really good ones. How about you?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Pink Unraveled

Thrift shop sweater reclamation: I'm listening to Rip Torn read Kurt Vonnegut while pulling apart a pink sweater Dragonstar found at the thrift store, hoping to turn at least some of the yarn into a bad-hair-day beanie once I've learned to crochet.

My friend Shawn has been coming over for guitar lessons. "We need to keep learning new things," she told me. She is learning A, D and E chords. I am learning single and double crochet, chain stitches and slip stitches, while getting a refresher course (via Vonnegut) in the bombing of Dresden during WWII.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Small Change

I used to be a daily coffee drinker. Now I start my day with a big mug of tea. I haven't given up coffee. I still love coffee. I just like tea a little more, first thing in the morning.

I didn't switch for health reasons or political reasons. I switched because I realized one morning a few months back that I was out of coffee and needed another source of caffeine to start my day. I rooted around through my tea stash until I found something suitable and brewed it up.

The immediate bonus was not having to deal with the very noisy rattle and whine of the electric bean grinder. I liked that. The next-most-immediate bonus was the lovely flavor of my chosen tea. I liked that, too.

The following morning there was still no coffee, because I still hadn't gone out to get any, so I had tea again. And so it went.

The "change your life" gurus say it takes at least 30 days to embed a new habit. By now -- some 90 days or more later -- tea has become my default.

The switch has given me unexpected payoffs, like not having to buy coffee beans every week at $12 a pound, and no caffeine headaches on those mornings when I sleep a little later than usual. But I didn't intend those when I took up tea. I wasn't trying to give up coffee. I didn't weigh the benefits of one versus the other, make a commitment and set my mind to the task. I didn't make coffee my nemesis. Not at all. I just tried something different, because that was easier than running to the store for more coffee beans. The added benefits became apparent only after I'd been drinking tea for awhile and realized I liked my new ritual more than my old one.

Sometimes change is that simple. Sometimes it comes to pass not by resolution or act of will, but as the result of a gentle nudge that says, "Why don't you try this?"

If you struggle with change, consider this: in order for things to be different, you have to do things differently. The lesson here is not about the tea. It's about the change. It's about becoming comfortable with change in general: how it happens, how it feels. It's about trying an alternative, and watching how it ripples out into unexpected areas. Your one small shift could bring benefits you didn't even know you wanted.

I used to be a bear before my coffee. Now I'm just me, starting my day. The old way wasn't terrible; it was what I was used to. This way is better. It's what I'm getting used to, now.