Category Archives: Writing and Life

Live Small, Stand Tall: Tai Chi for Free at the Li-brar-y

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One of the things I’ve tried to do on this blog is encourage those living on a seriously skinny budget.

The big emphasis these days on “downsizing” and “simple living” is great…but I’m really talking to those who aren’t doing it as a matter of choice, but because there is no other choice.

Now, that’s not to say that I won’t throw in a plug for some crazy robot hipster device you can buy on Amazon, for my more financially fortunate readers, if they’re into that kind of thing, and have the means to streamline with technology. (Remember; since I’m an Amazon affiliate, you help to finance my rockstar lifestyle when you use my links to purchase. Just don’t blame me when Alexa becomes self aware and supercharges your smart-home-controlled bidet because you made a SkyNet joke at her expense.)

For the most part, however, I’m going to point people towards things that may help if you’re trying to get the most out of life on less than a stellar salary. If you’re in the Oklahoma City metro area, some of the suggestions may be actual pursuits you can try out, like Yoga Lab in Midtown, or they may just be stories that you can commiserate with, like the one about how sometimes financially strapped folks are the best supporters of the “Shop Local” wave…because we have no other choice.

That’s what today’s post is; a celebration of the fact that there are good things that you can take advantage of in our fair city for free. Specifically, things brought to you through grants at your local library.

Yes…remember the library? I actually had someone guffaw when I mentioned taking something back to the library in the semi-recent past, and ask me, “Who still goes to the library?”

Um, people who can’t afford to buy every book they want to read. (Also, people who realize that you can read books for free, even if you can afford them. I don’t get how EVERYONE isn’t going to the library.)

More than that, people go to the library to take free classes. To learn how to knit, to share their writing with groups, to talk about movies…there’s a lot going on at the library.

And specifically, at the Pioneer Library System‘s South branch, there’s a Tai Chi class. I can’t tell you how excited I was to find out about it, and stoked I am about Chock, the awesome instructor pictured above who has been helping the handful of us who have gathered on Monday evenings to get our Tai Chi on.

Chock learned Tai Chi in his P.E. class as a kid in Thailand (and all we got here in the U.S. was kickball). He returned to the practice after injuring his knee running marathons, and is now sharing his knowledge with those of us who are lucky enough to be taking advantage of his class, free to library patrons through a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

Why Tai Chi? Some of you may remember that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And run. I also like to paddleboard. In short…I like a lot of frenetic activity.

Now, I also enjoy yoga, and that’s what opened my eyes to the need to occasionally slow down. Tai Chi is another step in that direction; further movement down the path of deliberateness. I’d been curious about it for a while, and the class came along at a time when I was also on a forced break from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (stitches on my face), so it seemed like a perfect opportunity. I’m glad it was there, and I’m glad I took it.

It’s funny to think that anyone would need to tell me to slow down, considering what kind of kid I was. I was always being berated for being too slow. And maybe that’s why I sped up, I don’t know. It’s a fact of life that adulthood speeds you up, and perhaps it was just that; I grew up.

I have a lot I have to do. I have a lot I want to do. And there are only 24 hours in the day, and I’m no spring chicken. There’s more and more of a feeling of the Icy Claw of Time on your shoulder as you age.

Which is another good reason to look at things like yoga and Tai Chi.

Chock talks about how we move away from what we knew as children. (Chock talks a lot, in fact. It’s not unusual for us to hold a pose as he digresses for a minute or two and then says, “Where was I?”, but that’s part of the charm of it. It also helps with the whole slowing down thing, when you’re frozen mid-White-Crane-Spreads-Its-Wings, waiting for your teacher to finish telling you a story about his time as a temple boy in Thailand.)

It seems counter intuitive to slow down when you feel pressure to achieve, to not waste time, but more and more what I learn is that slowing down is exactly what I need to do when I feel that way. I get amped up during Tai Chi, occasionally, envisioning myself as the next Iron Fist, and then Chock blinks at me and says, “Sloooooow…”, and I remember why I’m there. Not to be better, faster, stronger, but to be calmer, saner, quieter.

Yoga gave me an introduction to the mindset that your physical activity can ground you in the present moment. Tai Chi is broadening that idea, and opening my eyes even more to how much we need to include deliberateness and focus in our physical lives.

Slow is as important as fast.

Deliberate is as important as powerful.

And more than that…beauty is necessary, too, even in our exercise. Tai Chi is, in addition to all the rest of the things it contains, beautiful.

Chock has come to me during a movement, pointedly rearranged one of my hands by a millimeter, and then smiled and said…”Is prettier.”

We all need beauty, and people who can’t afford it probably need it even more.

Support public libraries, and education, and museums. Encourage funding for grants that provide free classes. Food and shelter are important, but to be more than just survival, life needs things like Tai Chi, too.

“Is prettier.”

 

 

 

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 7

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Day 7, the final day of my Burning Man alternative, Wakened Woman Week, is going to focus on Creativity.

The art at Burning Man is one of the things that I think is so fascinating about it. I’m not a big concert goer, so I’m not tempted by music festivals, but one centered on art…that’s something that captivates me.

Art plays a huge role in my little family’s life.

I believe art appreciation changed my life (I’m writing a book about it), and I’ve given birth to a brood of artists; my oldest son (who designed the above) is studying graphic design, my oldest daughter is a poet, and all three of my younger children draw, constantly.

It’s kind of a big deal.

I know not everyone has the fine art focused creative gene, but I believe that we all have something creative that moves us.

It’s renewing, it’s necessary, and it makes life better.

I’m still camping (hopefully) when you read this–thank you, Robots, for making it possible to schedule blog posts; maybe you should run the world, after all–and I can promise you that while we’ve been gone, we’ve been drawing, reading, and writing. It’s just what happens.

When those activities get pushed out of my life–especially creative writing–it seems like everything else suffers. I don’t know how to balance that perfectly, but I know I need to try. And I need to make more of an effort, even if the results aren’t what I want them to be.

Take this blog series, for example…I don’t feel like it’s the creative explosion it could have been. But, again…more-than-full-time work, kids, other hassles…it feels like the only things I write anymore are thrown together, rushed, not at all my best work, or even close to what I’m capable of.

But it’s better than nothing.

This is kind of an anti-climactic ending to my big Who-Needs-Burning-Man? week, but it’s a fitting one, I think.

This week has made me think about principles that my life seems to be organized around, and it’s made me conscious of wanting to be purposeful in how I live them out. Not just in one week that I set apart to do that, but every week of my life.

Again, don’t take this as a “F*ck you!” to anyone who GETS to go to Burning Man. I’m happy for you.

But if you don’t get to, and you feel like your life would be better if you could, I’m here to tell you that it’s good the way it is. And you can be happy for those who get to have experiences you don’t, who have more money, and more things…and still appreciate what you have, too.

I feel a little more awake, I think, since I decided to have my little alternative one-woman-fest, and that’s never a bad thing. I also feel like I’m genuinely appreciative, when I focus on being that way, and that was due for some maintenance, if I’m being honest.

So, if it was helpful to you, too, I’m glad.

Keep on celebrating what you believe, and keep on living it out, every day.

Wake up…and be happy.

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 6

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Welcome to Day 6 of my Wakened Woman Week, my make-myself-feel-better-about-not-being-able-to-afford-Burning-Man project, in which I examine the principles I hold dear, and try to live them out to the fullest. (Without getting to take ecstasy or go around topless. So…it’s not just exactly like Burning Man, I guess. But it’s pretty fulfilling anyway.)

By the time you read this entry–which was typed out and saved, and set to publish at an established time–I will hopefully be setting up camp with my younger kids in a state park about an hour away from our apartment. (Someone’s there, though. Just in case anyone is thinking of ripping me off. Trust me…there are better people to rob.)

Self reliance is a principle promoted by the Burning Man folks, and also by me.

People camp at Burning Man, which always helps to bond you to those you’re roughing it with. (If you’re Susan Sarandon or some other crazy-wealthy individual I don’t know if you’re still, strictly speaking, “roughing it”, but you get my point.) Living primitive is a great way to access primitive bonds, and that’s one reason I think camping is so awesome.

And it does bring that “self reliance” bit home.

True confession; this will be the first year the kids and I have camped alone.

In years past, we’ve camped with friends, and while the other moms and dads usually had small tents they set up, there was usually a big tent for all the kids, and I’ve always just slept there.

And this big tent was usually put up by…someone other than me. (Even though my kids’ dad never camped with us while we were together, there were always other dads there. They generally handled the Tent Set Up. And I was happy to let them.)

I mean, the kids and I have put up our tent, but it’s just never been necessary under pressure. (Meaning, when it’s going to be our shelter. For the duration of the stay.) So, this should be interesting.

But I’m glad it’s happening, because I know it’s high time that I embraced the full experience of being The Only Adult on a Camping Trip.

So, not only Self Reliance…but having three pairs of eyes looking at you for answers. (Just like they do for every other area of life. This will just have a primitive flavor. And a very immediate pressure. Should be interesting.)

Yet more true confessions…I’ve never started the fire when we’ve camped, either. (I know, you’re thinking, “Sh*t, Jill…how can you even call it camping when you’re just looking at the stars and enjoying yourself, and not putting up a tent or doing the hard stuff?!”)

So, I say “When you read this, I’ll be toasting marshmallows and singing songs, or walking on the slackline, or hiking…”, but it could just as easily mean, “When you read this, I’ll be alternating between crying over a heap of nylon that is supposed to be our shelter and howling at the sky, wondering why I thought this was a good idea.”

That’s the great thing about camping! There’s so much possibility!

In all seriousness, I’m thrilled that my kids like camping. That they love getting away, outdoors, and that we can all curl up in a tent and sleep outside, without walls, without screens, without money problems and other troubles staring us in the face. For at least a couple of days.

I love that they can experience gathering wood for a fire, setting up shelter, and doing other difficult things that are actually fun. Things that people have done for millennia.

That primal aspect of camping is grounding. It connects us to the human experience in a way few things can.

Even if you don’t like camping, just getting outdoors can do the same thing, I think. Nature is great rehabilitation. For almost anything. Touching the ground, trees, clear water…watching a fire and the stars, and just talking, or being quiet.

It may not be idyllic, but it is restorative. And it is a great opportunity to embrace self reliance on a grander scale. So, whatever I’m doing when you read this–cursing at a tent, watching birds, or swinging in a hammock–I’ll be practicing self reliance in a new and bigger way. My kids will get to see an example of it that might not be the best, but it’s an example, nonetheless.

And as long as we’re together, and we’re outside, I think it’ll be okay.

In fact…more than okay.

Wakened Woman Week, Day 5

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Welcome to Day 5 of Wakened Woman Week.

We’ve talked over the last five days about the principles that make up my walking one woman festival–Self Acceptance, Building Strength (spiritual as well as physical), Giving, and Hard Work…and now I’d like to talk about…

Goofing Off.

I know it might seem like a no-brainer, but some of us do have to be reminded of the Power of Goofing Off.

Now, Goofing Off is different from Doing Nothing, and a completely different animal than Recreation, in my mind. Doing Nothing is sometimes not a deliberate choice–you can be exhausted and just sit, or become paralyzed from anxiety or overwhelming amounts of activity and responsibility–and Recreation, to me, implies intention. You know it will be productive, and restful, but it’s something that takes a little focus. And it’s built into your life. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a recreational activity to me, something I enjoy that takes a little bit of planning and purpose, that occupies regular space in my life–it’s got a slot set aside for it in my schedule.

But Goofing Off…well, that means something different. It has a connotation of being in the moment. It’s a present-focused activity with a purpose; not being serious.

It might be being open to trying new things, or just determining that you’re going to have fun, and it usually involves other people, although it doesn’t have to.

It’s accepting a spur of the moment invitation to go try disc golf (see above) just because it sounds like a good idea at the moment. Even if it becomes apparent after a few tries that it is not likely your thing.

It’s being willing to look silly.

It could be hanging out an extra half hour, even though you didn’t plan to. Blowing off an important Adult Thing to take your kid on some crazy adventure they suggest.

It’s taken me a while to learn the difference between Doing Nothing, Recreation, and Goofing Off–and I’m just now becoming aware of the fact that I need all of them in my life. I need to plan regular activities that I know balance me. I need to give in and just rest more, and sit and stare at the wall when I get overwhelmed, but I also need to Goof Off on the regular. Actively have an attitude of playfulness that’s rooted in doing something immediate and fun.

One of the most difficult spiritual lessons I’ve learned over the past year has been the one that involves operating in innocence. Without a conclusion. My mind wants to leap ahead, it wants answers, and sometimes….there just aren’t any. Of all the reading I’ve done that encourages mindfulness and being focused on the present, one phrase that I’ve come across has stayed glued to my consciousness…

Living in moment-to-moment openness to pleasant surprise.

(From Hearts in Harmony)

For me, nothing brings that idea to life like the act of Goofing Off.

Do you have an awareness of the different types of activity in your life and how they impact your ability to appreciate the present moment? Do you just go straight from Work to Chores-at-Home to Vegetating, or do you have regular amounts of planned Recreation and an openness to Goofing Off? For me, when my Doing Nothing takes the form of staring at a screen, and I confuse it with Recreation or Goofing Off, it just drains me. My energy, my creativity…Doing Nothing has its place, but it’s not meant to restore you or build energy reserves, the way that other activity can.

But don’t take my word for it (I may be full of sh*t)…examine your routine, and see if it needs some Goofing Off added in.

You may be surprised at what it can do.

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 4

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“Without labor nothing prospers.” – Sophocles

“Work, work, work…working on my sh*t…” – Iggy Azalea

For Day 4 of my One Woman Festival That Is A Perfectly Suitable Alternative to Burning Man, I’m going to focus on a dearly held principle that is also not an easy one…Hard Work.

When I left my twenty-two year marriage, I was relying on freelancing as a copywriter/journalist to support myself and the three younger kids. I’d spent the last five or so of that marriage doing it part time (in addition to homeschooling the kids), and I simply amped up my business in order to make a full living.

Usually, however, when someone makes a career out of freelance writing, they have a savings cushion, for those lean times when a client is lost, or work dries up for a month or two. (Or six.)

I didn’t. I had zero savings. Zero cushion. We lived month to month, but I never missed paying rent, and we kept the electricity on. (By the skin of our teeth at times, but it was never cut off.)

When I lost my biggest client, though, I didn’t have it in me to skate on such thin ice continually anymore…I got an office job.

At first it was just part time, to fill in the gaps, but eventually it became necessary to just do it full time. I got a promotion, I got a raise, and we gained the stability of a steady check, every two weeks.

I make considerably less per hour than I could as a freelancer, but I still write, for GORGO, and for other various magazines and blogs. I both have to, financially, and I have to, in order to keep that part of me that is best expressed in writing.

But it’s suffered. My writing.

There’s very little creativity left in me now. I wrote some time ago about how an office job doesn’t have to mean that you’ve given up, as a freelance writer, and I meant it. I still do.

But it takes a lot out of me. In many ways.

I’m usually too rushed in the mornings to write, and too tired in the evenings. Freelance gigs are welcome, in that we need the money, but it becomes more and more like a gun in my back instead of a song in my heart, and that sucks. It sucks to have the one thing that you’re really, truly good at taken and turned into just another thing you have to do. To never have enough time to rest enough to let your imagination go, and focus on the things you’d love to write about, the things that make you smile and think, “Sh*t, I’m a f&^%ing genius!” when they’re done.

To not have enough time to do your best on things that people are paying you for, or depending on you to write for them.

Because I haven’t had enough energy in a long time, to be able to do what I’m actually capable of.

But I still do my best.

And mostly, that’s enough.

I’ve also gotten to have another experience; working with a fantastic group of people.

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For the first time, this past year, I’ve had the experience of hiring people.

And…I’ve fired someone.

I’ve learned things, both about myself, and companies. Some good, some bad. I’m very grateful that I get to work where I do, and that this job was available when I needed it, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that the contrast of working for yourself vs. working for a company has made me vehement in certain beliefs that I was only moderate about before. It’s made me understand things that I didn’t get the last time I worked for a company, which was twenty plus years ago.

But let’s get back to the people I work with.

I get to laugh every day. Hard.

I’ve went to work and cried (literally) on co-workers’ shoulders.

The two people in my little team make my job so much easier, by being stellar employees, that it’s ridiculous. Between their hustle and their good senses of humor, what could be a headache is instead a winning situation, all around.

We’re together for the biggest part of most of the days of the week, and in our case, we’re facing each other, and sitting just a few feet away.

It could be really, really challenging, if someone was a turd in that situation.

Blessedly, for me…no one is. (I don’t know if the feeling is mutual. But ignorance is bliss, right? At least if I’m the turd…I don’t know!)

I guess my point is that there are always challenges.

The best world is one where the work that pays your bills is the kind that fills your soul, and you’re able to do it in amounts that leave you time to enjoy the rest of your life…while earning enough to allow for that, as well.

I don’t live in that world, at the moment.

But the people who populate the work world where I am, currently, make it the best one possible.

And for that, I am so, so grateful.

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 3

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For the first two days of my I-Can’t-Go-To-Burning-Man-So-I’m-Going-To-Celebrate-Where-I’m-At one woman festival, I focused on the principles of loving what is (self acceptance), and building your inward strength, as well as your outer.

All of those things are important to me. Just like Burning Man has principles that its community is organized around, I have principles that I hold dear…self acceptance and inward and outer strength building (spiritual and physical fitness) are two of them.

One of the Burning Man ideals that I love is the one centered on giving (I’m sorry, I refuse to use “gifting” as a verb–I just don’t…can’t say it).

I’ve talked about this past year being one of the worst and best I’ve ever had. One of the things that has made it so incredible is that I have been given many gifts…material and otherwise.

Materially, I mean I’ve actually had people give me money. I make no secret of the fact that when I left my marriage of over 20 years, I basically had to start life over, at about college student level. My three younger kids and I live in an apartment that’s about 800 sq feet, and although I’ve gotten two raises since taking on an office job (I started out freelancing), things are still tight.

It’s humbling, to have someone provide you with the funds to give your kids the ability to make Christmas cookies, and decorate your domicile. To help you get a lawyer. To give you a blanket when they know you hate the cold, and to provide you with the means to do something recreational.

The last one–giving someone the gift of recreation–is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of addressing poverty.

Someone limited in income needs food and shelter, yes, but we all need to be able to just have some fun, or do something that makes us feel good once in a while.

If you have a business centered on recreation…have you considered a “Pay It Forward” program? A process that allows those who can easily afford the pursuit you provide to give the gift of participation to someone who might not otherwise be able to take part?

I know people who do this–either formally or informally–and I’m telling you…it can be a game changer. Both for the business owner, for the people who are willing to share what they enjoy, and most radically of all, for the individual who will get to experience something that will make them forget for a moment that we live in a world that usually divides us into classes. Haves, and Have Nots.

One such place here in Oklahoma City is YogaLAB.

Yoga has become a bigger part of my life this past year, and it’s helped with so much of my physical and spiritual growth. I’ve been fortunate–blessed–to be able to not only have access to instruction on the Internet, but also through incredible teachers who have invested in me, and opened my eyes to a new aspect of living in the moment.

Some of it I’ve been able to pay for, and some of it has been given to me. Freely. With love.

While yoga has something of a reputation as a pursuit for white, upper class folks, there are many who are on a quest to change that, and bring yoga’s healing properties to the masses, and YogaLAB is on the frontline of that fight.

Located in the Plaza District, the studio is accessible to a wide range of people, and co-founder Martha McQuaid says that this is exactly what they wanted when they chose the spot.

“We love this area,” McQuaid says. “It’s a good area, but also lower income. We get people of all ages.  There are a lot of people who are typically “classed out” of yoga, and we wanted to make it to where money was not an issue.”

“If it’s a question of eating or doing yoga, we want people to eat.”

And do yoga.

Hence YogaLAB’s “Pay it Forward” process.

Even though their classes are eye-poppingly cheap ($6/class), YogaLAB encourages those who can’t afford even that to come in…and enjoy a class on someone who has paid their way, through the means of a system that allows patrons to pay for someone else’s class.

If you want to provide a class for someone else, you simply add it on to your own bill. If you would like to take part and don’t have the money, you can take one of the sticky notes off the board that get put up when someone pays for another student’s way, and plop it down as payment.

It’s all good. Sticky notes, money, credit card…everyone sits side by side, and everyone gets to enjoy the peaceful strength of yoga.

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(My sister in law, Doll Face, at a YogaLAB class. Her first time doing yoga. Isn’t she adorable?)

If you haven’t got a program like this in place for your business, please consider it. I think it’s great for businesses–especially those that cater to pastimes that are generally only the province of the better-off–to provide sponsorships, or programs that allow the less-financially-fortunate to participate, but making it something that other patrons can help with not only lessens the burden on business owners, it builds community. (In my mind, anyway.)

And if you take part in something you think is awesome, and it doesn’t have something like this built in…you can always just do it, yourself.

Ralph Waldo Emerson talked about there being not just length of life, but depth of life. As important as it is to help others in need stay alive, it’s equally important to try and share the depth of life that fun and recreation can bring.

We all matter. We all love to play. We all need activities that help us feel connected, and/or give us a thrill and make us remember what it means to be alive.

For my 3rd Day of Wakened Woman Week, I’m grateful that I have people in my life who have not only given me material gifts, but those of fun and recreation, as well.

You’ve helped keep my heart alive, as well as my body.

 

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 2

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Welcome to Day 2 of Wakened Woman Week, the celebration of consciousness for those who need a reminder of how good life is. (And who can’t afford to go to Burning Man.)

The picture above is one of me choking my good buddy A., at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class. (It’s only one of several that we have like this. In fact, we could have an album of pictures of us armbar-ing and choking one another, if that were a thing people wanted to have laying around their houses.)

If you’ve known me for any length of time over the past several years, you know that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a big thing for me. I came to martial arts/fighting systems rather late in life–I was 40 when I started Krav Maga–but it was like I’d found what I was missing all along when I discovered it. There’s evidence that martial arts has a direct effect on ADHD–that might be one reason I cling to it like I do, and feel so amazing afterwards–and there’s no doubt in my mind that you bond with friends that you play fight with on a whole new level.

The only other thing that keeps me feeling so centered is running.

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Maybe you’ve noticed that both of these things–the things that keep me so centered, and feeling good–involve using your ankles.

Well, funny story.

A few months ago I decided that since I enjoy Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so much, and since I’m now a–drumroll–blue belt–maybe I should take it to the next level.

So I signed up for a competition.

And not just any competition…a submission only competition. You tap, you snap, or you nap.

Did you get what I just said? At 45 years old, I signed up for my first competition.

Guess what? I got hurt. (I know, you’re shocked. And no, I didn’t win.)

Now, for the past month, due to an injured ankle, I’ve been unable to grapple or run. Those two things that center me so much. And make me feel so good mentally and physically.

It’s been rough.

You might be thinking, “Hey, maybe that was a stupid idea, jumping onto a mat with younger folks who don’t have a bazillion kids, and a tight schedule. And…such an old body.”

And you might be right. (I’ve thought something similar, myself. Several times.)

But even if it was stupid, I don’t regret it.

First of all…I don’t believe in regret. I think that everything we do is an opportunity to learn and grow.

I also don’t think that you can live your life taking the safe road.

I wondered what would happen if I competed…and I found out. :-) I don’t have to wonder anymore! Now I know! You can get seriously F*&^%ED UP!

I’ve also had the chance this past month to realize something else…you have to have your inner sh*t together. Period.

Running calms me. Jiu Jitsu calms me. But when those things aren’t available (and when the Valium runs out), I really need to be in possession of a peace–or at least the tools that can help me limp towards it–that’s not dependent on outside methods.

The rubber has met the road this past month, in terms of my stress management in the absence of running and jiu jitsu, and quite honestly, the rubber has been found wanting.

It’s not bad to have things that calm you down, but…ideally, I want to be able to calm me down.

Deep spiritual ideas are more easily accessible when you’re reading them in the comfort of a coffee shop, with everything going well. When you can’t do anything that makes you feel good, however, and you have to go inward, it can be difficult to remember those things and put them to work.

I haven’t been putting them to work.

I’ve been grasping for other things to replace my usual things, and sometimes finding them, but mostly bewailing the lack of my two favorite pressure-management tools.

That’s not good.

I mean, it’s natural to miss them. I like them. But I need to remember that the world doesn’t hinge on them. First of all…there are other activities that can expend energy. (I can hear my jiu jitsu buddies collectively gasping, but it’s the truth.) Secondly… I needed to be reminded of the mental side of my spiritual life again. Being slowed down physically has done that. (Finally. It only took a month of feeling sorry for myself.)

It’s sappy to say that you appreciate things when you realize they’re not guaranteed, but it’s true.

So…for my second day of Wakened Woman Week, I’m going to be thankful for having my two favorite pastimes sidelined for a while. It’s made me appreciate them, and it’s reminded me to go inward and access peace, too, in addition to finding it through exhaustion. (Book recommendation: Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives. Yes, it’s an Amazon link. All of the revenue earned during Wakened Woman Week is going to go to The Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City. But on a regular week, your click-throughs help finance this rockstar lifestyle I lead.)

Do you have a plan to keep yourself centered? And…do you have a back up? Not a bad idea, but the ultimate idea is to have a source. Inside. To dwell fully in the moment, and love it for what it is.

“Fully available to the present moment, we discover that we already have enough conditions to be happy–more than enough, in fact.” -Thich Nhat Hahn, Peace Is Every Breath

 

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 1

cheese

Why, hello.

You might be wondering what would compel me, after no blogging for…what, 3 months?…to suddenly post a picture of myself in a bathing suit.

Well, I’ll tell you.

About two years ago, someone told me about Burning Man. (Just…follow the link. Or Google. I’m not going to go into it here. Go ahead. I’ll wait, if you don’t know what it is.)

I listened, I read about it, and I thought…”Oh my God…I didn’t know there were people out there who believed in these–seemingly disparate, at times–things I believe in! That looks wonderful!”

And I bet it probably is.

To add another layer to what I’m about to go into, I’ll just let you in on another piece of the puzzle; the person who told me about it was someone I had fallen in love with. Someone who also represented the same surprise that my introduction to Burning Man did, at the time…I didn’t know someone like that even existed, someone who was this odd, beautiful combination of qualities that I would have never have thought would ever come together, in one human being.

And just like Burning Man was something I was amazed by, and couldn’t take part in, this person who struck a chord in my soul, was someone that I couldn’t be with.

At first, my happiness that there was something like Burning Man was just that; joy that it was even a thing, this event where people tried to embody radical inclusion, self reliance, and the celebration of art. And also, at first, my love for the person who told me about it was just that…love. No expectations, just appreciation.

But by the time the next Burning Man festival had rolled around, life had walloped me a little. I’d been trying to get divorced for a while, and I’d been run through a financial and emotional wringer. And I realized something about myself that probably isn’t unusual; when you’re hurting, when you’ve had some basic comforts stripped away…you can get a little desperate.

Sadness and struggle, when they’re heaped on you, tend to make you grasp for things that make you feel good. And when those are in short supply, you can get a little, well…morose.

I wasn’t content with just knowing that this person I thought was so incredible existed, I wanted to be around that person, because they made me feel good. And I couldn’t.

It wasn’t giving me warm fuzzies to know that a festival took place out in the desert where people congregated in freedom among amazing works of art and lived out these principles that I felt so deeply connected with…I wanted to be there, too. And I couldn’t.

I’m still struggling, a year later. I still love the idea of Burning Man, but I have to tell you, when I saw the pictures online today, and realized it was time again, for Those Who Can Afford It to roll out to Black Rock City and live out the version of their lives that can really only take place there…I had a pang.

I barely make rent and groceries for myself and three kids right now. I don’t plan for this to be a place where we end up, forever, but I’m so far away from being able to do something like Burning Man, it might as well be a trip to the moon. Hell, I’m “Moon Trip” distance from being able to do something that requires driving a car that can be trusted for more than an hour on the road.

I have pangs quite a bit, actually. Pangs when people talk about the stuff they can do for their kids (I can do very little, materially, right now) pangs when people post pictures on social media of the restaurants they’re visiting, or the vacations they’re taking…I have pangs when I imagine the person I love finding the person he’ll love and settle down with.

Loss and struggle made me something I never, ever thought I was…a jealous person.

But I had another feeling today, after the pangs (I also had a couple when I saw this photo shoot of Emily Ratajkowski–both because I don’t have an ass like that, and because I’m not in Santorini)…I remembered something.

Almost a year ago, a while after the last Burning Man (when I cried after seeing photos online like this one), I was in my little living room, doing yoga, and a thought popped into my head like I’d been shot with a little BB of positivity…

“I have everything I need.”

I’m not sure when it happens, when that inner peace that I get built up, spiritually, gets toppled by desire and longing (and the daily grind), but I know I need to find a way to keep it up. To get back to remembering, daily, that I have everything I need, and I’m rich in every way that matters.

When events seem to spiral, when one thing after another happens, or I begin to feel stuck, I have to remember to open up, and let in, as well as let go. (I wish I could remember the yoga teacher who said that, but I don’t. But if I know yoga teachers–and I do, fortunately, a lot of them–I know that whoever said it won’t mind if I share.)

I can love the person I love for who he is. And I can wish him the best. (And if I really love him, I’ll mean it.)

I can love that something like Burning Man exists, and I can be happy for those who get to take part in it.

I can also remind myself that my life is an ongoing festival. Every day.

In this last year, I’ve had some of the roughest times I’ve ever had. And I really thought I knew about hard times. I had a horrible marriage, and I’ve gone through not just the death of loved ones, but horrible deaths of loved ones. I’ve seen things that I thought I’d never get out of my head.

But if having your heart broken is bad, having what feels like a soul break can feel almost unbearable.

And it can wear your happiness down, even when you get to the point where you can stand (literally and figuratively) again.

Here’s the thing, though; this has been one of the best years I’ve ever had, too.

Why? Because every time I’ve been broken down, something has happened to build me up. And I honestly think it’s made me stronger.

Friends have rallied around me like nothing I could have imagined. My children have not only survived, they’ve shown me that they’re tough little bastards, and although I didn’t think it was possible, I admire them more now than I did before.

And I share this because even though I do want to be sure that I stay aware, always, that I have everything I need, and I’m rich in every way that matters, I think it might be a good idea for me this year to mark off a week to make especially sure.

The same week that Burning Man is happening, I’m going to have my own festival, and I’m going to call it the Wakened Woman Week.

I’m going to make a post, with a pic, every day this week. (Except Sunday. I’ll explain later.) It’s going to highlight some aspect of what I have in my life that embodies the principles I hold dear, and it’s going to serve as a reminder to me–and hopefully, an encouragement to others–that ideally, you should live your life every day as an embodiment of your principles.

And you should have fun while you’re doing it.

I created the Live Small, Stand Tall category of this blog because I wanted to encourage people who don’t have a lot of money to keep dreaming. Yes, it’s important to help those who are in such desperate poverty that they don’t have homes, or access to things like the Internet and blogs for encouragement and support. (And if you’re in Oklahoma, I’d encourage you to support The Homeless Alliance to that end.) But it’s also important to remember that there’s a spectrum of need, and those who have the basics like food and shelter covered might be suffering because of what they perceive is an insurmountable gap between them, and the people who get to do things like Burning Man.

I want to (eventually) offer practical tips that can help people in that position find ways to enjoy the better things in life, but I also want to remind everyone that you probably have a good life, already.

So, the first pics of the week are my version of frolicking in the sun in a bathing suit.

mylegs

No, I don’t have Emily Ratajkowski’s ass. My legs aren’t the smooth, unlined gams of a twenty-year-old.

But these are pretty damn good. They get me where I need to go. My body isn’t pristine, but I have five beautiful human beings to show for it. Emily’s a gorgeous girl, and I’m sure that body and face get her a lot of attention, and I don’t want to begrudge any other woman any happiness she can get. I want to be happy for everyone, for every gift they have.

Because as a woman, I believe that just like her flawlessness is a gift, my flaws are gifts, too.

Being single at 45, with five kids, might seem like a nightmare to some women, but I don’t believe it has to be. I believe what seem like hurdles to some are actually pretty good filters; I’m not going to end up with anyone who is dazzled by my physical state, I’m going to have a soul mate, that loves me for my inner beauty. I’m not going to be saddled with someone who gets queasy when faced with a challenge, because before we even get involved, he’s going to have to first look at my life, with its circus train of baggage, count the cost, and say, “Yep, you’re not only worth it, I think this herd of children is awesome, too. Bring the chaos.”

Weaklings need not apply. ;-)

So, here I am, in a bathing suit. Not against a Santorini backdrop, but on the bright blue cushions of my apartment complex’s pool furniture. Pretty swanky, if you ask me. (Although, full disclosure; the pool was so gross I didn’t get in. But we’re celebrating the good, aren’t we?)

Get ready. I’m remembering what I have this week, and I’m shaking off the soporific negativity that’s hurt my heart in the past, and reawakening the knowledge that keeps me mindful.

So…Wakened Woman Week. You can take part or not…but I think you should. (Don’t let the name fool you–men can participate, too, just like women can take part in a festival called “Burning Man”. See what I did there?)

Time to wake up.

 

Shop Local! Because You Have No Choice…

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This is the first in a blog post series titled, “Live Small, Stand Tall: You Don’t Have to Be Flush to Live Free”.

The idea is to share ideas–not tips for those looking to “live small”, in that cute Real Simple magazine way, where you buy two or three pricey doodads to “simplify” your life, but practical suggestions for those who are living small because they have no choice…but would still would like to get some of the good out of life.

Don’t get me wrong; I applaud any and all efforts to downsize and refocus, and I totally get the “Mo Money Mo Problems” angst that the upper middle class faces about consumerism and getting caught in the material stuff trap. I think that expensive gadgets that streamline household tasks are great! Taking time to smell the heritage roses you’ve composted with the used straw from your artisan chicken coop is important!

But here’s the thing…folks who can afford things to help them simplify have a sh*t ton of resources at their fingertips. Those who are already…downsized…due to forces beyond their control might not be able to download back issues of Real Simple (I promise, I’m not picking on them, their name just lends itself to this dialogue in a seriously poetic way) or hire a professional organizer to tell them to get rid of everything that doesn’t speak to them when they hold it in their hand.

These are the ideas for you, my humble friends. (My not-so-humble friends and readers are welcome to take whatever bits of encouragement from these posts that they can, as well.)

Here’s the first bit of “encouragement” (I hope you all realize that this is going to be somewhat practical, but also farcical. There’s only so much I can do for you if you’re poor, you know that, right?)

You’re Helping the Immediate Economy When You Shop Local. Even If You Have No Choice.

Laundry 5
I would LOVE to not be pouring quarters into the “Local Economy” on a Saturday night, at a laundromat on the picturesque Southside of Oklahoma City.

There are a plethora of other things I would rather be doing. Say…well, really, anything.

I’d love to be out eating dinner at a lovely restaurant, paddleboarding around Lake Hefner (or in the Pacific Ocean, if we’re dreaming big), or even just sitting on my apartment floor watching back episodes of The Good Wife on my laptop. (I swore I was done with them when they killed off Will, but…they brought in Matthew Goode. It’s almost like they hired a consultant, to see what on earth would get me to watch it again. Because I know that was heavy on their hearts.)

But laundry needs doing, and the washer and dryer in my complex is reliably unreliable. So, more often that I’d like, the kids and I load up and head over to the local laundry. It’s just across a couple of streets, we could walk if we had to, and it’s reasonably priced. (I had a…misunderstanding…with the elderly Vietnamese owner once upon a time, over drying prices, but it’s worked out now. What a great feeling, to resolve issues with your neighbors!)

Celebrating diversity is one of the blessings of having a relationship with your community. (If…your community is diverse, that is. It’s nice to celebrate your neighbors even if you all look the same, too, though, I guess. Let’s celebrate everyone!)

For instance…

Laundry 1
Someday, I’m going to work up the courage to ask the proprietor’s son what this means. (Someday).

Also, you build bonds with community merchants, when you shop local. Unless…

Laundry Collage
Need change? Too damn bad! Have to pee pee? F*ck you! Go to Carl’s Jr.!

But if you don’t need change or to use the restroom, you can just sit, relax, and listen to the birds.

laundry 6What, your laundry room doesn’t have five live birds and a fake one? I feel sorry for you.

It’s probably all sterile and organized, too. Poor you. (I want you to notice the sign that says, “Free Clothes”. You sure as hell better get your sh*t out of these machines when your time is up, or you’re going to see that old Foghat t-shirt you love so much on the lady who works at the car wash one of these days.)

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Also, no chips or candy. But there is a vending machine with a reel to reel tape deck, if you’re hungry for one of those.
Laundry 8

Yes, I’m being a little wry. No, it wasn’t my first choice to spend my Saturday night doing laundry (not to mention transporting that laundry back and forth, in Wuthering Heights level wind), but something happened as I watched my clothes get agitated.

I got less so.

In fact, watching clothes wash through a window is pretty zen. So is looking at the place you’re forced to be as the place you get to be.

Wendell Berry says that without prosperous local economies, the people have no voice. I would love to have a washer and dryer. And, very soon, I will. (From my mouth to God’s ears.) And I won’t take it for granted again.

But for people in this area who don’t have that luxury, or the folks who find themselves temporarily in need of a dryer when theirs takes a hit, this place provides a valuable service. And a calming atmosphere. (Talking about the birds. The clutter makes me blink, but it can double as immersion therapy for my OCD, so…win win.)

They may not be excited about serving us. We may not be thrilled to be there.

But we can find the beauty in it, because it’s definitely there.

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And we need each other.

So, if you find yourself shopping local because you have no choice, take heart…you’re still doing a good thing, and you’re engaged in a paradigm that keeps us all going. Just savor the moment you’re in, and appreciate what is.
Laundry 2

“If we spend all our time just thinking about our future successes, we completely miss out on life, because life can only be found in the present moment.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, “Peace Is Every Breath

Did You Fail? When Freelancers Take On a 9 to 5

image: pixabay

image: pixabay

Yes, it’s been a while since my last post.

A short update; almost a year ago, I left my marriage of over twenty years. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, but rather one that had been put off for years, and finally became too big to ignore.

I’d freelanced for some time before leaving–for extra money to supplement my husband’s income, mostly magazine articles and some copywriting jobs–but in the months before going out on my own I was able to rustle up enough of a clientele to support myself and the kids on a monthly basis. I didn’t want to count on a divorce settlement to bankroll us, but I did expect that eventually, something would be decided and I would have at least some access to the savings that had accumulated over twenty years of marriage.

That, as they say, is what I get for thinking.

Fast forward several months.

After a brutal lesson in just how difficult (and expensive) it can be to try and get divorced, I was not only still living without the cushion of any savings, but also in debt up to my ears from throwing money I didn’t have to begin with at a lawyer. (Who still needs more money).

I lost a client.

Things happen that didn’t have a spot in the carefully constructed budget. Someone gets sick. The car breaks down. I have to pay my accountant to do my taxes. One, then two pay cycles on the credit card go by without me being able to make a payment.

A client stalls payment.

Another one’s business dwindles to the point of evaporation.

The stress of coming up with more business to cover the losses is one thing, but the ongoing struggle of kids who need things, against a backdrop of no cushion whatsover became a little too much to bear.

I took on a part time office job, just to be sure that we’d make rent, at least, if I didn’t find a client to replace the big one I lost.

But dividing up the day, running one kid to school, overseeing the homeschooling of two others, trying to get one to her beloved job at a horse ranch in between…it became too much to balance.

I made the decision to drop the majority of my freelancing, and just go back into the standard job market. (Thankfully, the office where I was working had a way for me to go full time there, so I was able to stay in the place that had given me my initial leg up.)

Now, I still have a couple of freelance clients, both because I NEED the extra income (working full time at an office job with no college degree is netting me much less than what I could make freelancing for the same amount of hours), and because I want to keep my foot in the industry.

There’s a sadness about leaving behind this chapter of my life–the flexibility, the ability to be present in a way for my kids that few working parents get to experience–but I’m also a little…relieved.

The pay cut is depressing, sure, but the stability was needed. I’ve had a few thoughts about the transition, and I thought I’d share, for the benefit of those who read that are also pursuing a freelance life, and also for anyone who wonders if their work choices are really the best, given all the factors that need considering, when you’re talking about balancing life and work.

Here they are…

Feeding Kids (and/or Yourself) Is Never Failure

Yes, writing for a living fed my soul. But my physical body needed nourishment, too, and so did my children. I was making enough to do that, but without a cushion–something everyone making the jump to freelance life needs in order to plot a secure course*–it was a gamble, and in the end, the stress wasn’t worth it to me. The struggle, as the kids say, is indeed real, but there comes a tipping point where it’s simply not worth it, and only you know where it is. If you’ve felt for some time that something needs to give, it probably does.

You’re Still Free

Job decisions aren’t written in blood or stone (if your potential employer utilizes either of those, I’d consider it a red flag), and if you head into a situation that warrants signing a contract, remember, you can always negotiate. Yes, you may need to set aside a year to work in order to get a good job, even though you may only want to take a six month break from freelancing, but there’s also the option to offer something else. One company I looked at wanted a year commitment from me, in order to establish a department, and I offered the idea of a task-based contract instead. (I didn’t end up working there, but it was something they would have considered. Of course, if you’re desperate, you’re desperate. Do what you have to do.)

Art Can Just Be Art

This may be anathema to the freelancer who has tasted the nectar of making a living through their art, but sometimes…it can be nice to let it just be art again.

My Favorite Ex-Husband (yes, there is more than one…this is the first one, who told me amiably, when I announced he was now officially my favorite, “Well, you’ve always been my favorite ex-wife!”) is a graphic designer.

He told me recently that he considers his “day job”–at a successful agency–just what he does to pay his bills. When he “freelances”, he actually freelances…often doing it for no  or very little pay.

Why? So that it can be done his way. Since the client is getting a bargain, Favorite Ex-Husband calls the shots, Don Draper-style, and gets to truly let loose, creatively.

The clients I’m keeping are going to help me live above the poverty line, but I also carefully chose the ones I kept (aside from the lucrative ones I lost, of course). Everything I’m doing now, I’m doing because I like doing it. No more gritting my teeth and editing copy so boring it would make a statue cry, no more searching the thesaurus for inventive ways to say the same inane thing a million times…just jobs that tickle my fancy and/or my brain.

Changing Pace Can Pique Creativity

Although you’ll be tired, have less time, and be stretched a little more thin, if you’re fortunate, there’s another benefit to taking on a “real” job; the social aspect.

I’m not kidding when I say that going to work quickly became a bright spot in my life.

As a journalist, I got to interact with people on a regular basis while freelancing, even though the bulk of my work was always done at home, alone. But it was fleeting, and furtive, and even though I loved it, and it broadened my horizons (and fit well with my introverted nature), I think this time in my life is one where I need more people. On a regular basis.

And I need them to be funny. And smart. And kind. (Blessedly, my new co-workers are all of that, and more.)

It may be that your job is just a necessary evil, and if it is, well…I’m sorry. At its best, an outside gig can be a boon for a frustrated freelancer because of the social interaction. Water cooler chit chat can be more than office gossip; politics, religion, sharing life events, these are things that can open our minds if we let them, and interaction can be a foil to the exhaustion of adding more responsibility to your life. Making the time to write when you have fewer hours in the day will be challenging, but your creativity may be amped up, if you let your co-workers take up the task.

In fact, you’ll notice that this is the first blog post I’ve written in a few months. I’m in month four of my new job, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence; writing for work had taken over my life, and the writing related things I simply enjoy–trying to spin a novel, writing blog entries–weren’t happening anymore. A stable source of employment and good company have given me the psychological space and energy to bring those things back, a little at a time.

I guess I’m saying, if you’ve had to forgo fulltime freelancing for now, don’t sweat it. Artists throughout time have either taken on temporary other-than-art employment, or worked at it alongside their craft with great results. (Take a peek at an interesting list here put together by Mental Floss of artists who didn’t immediately quit their day jobs).

It’s not the end of the world. It might be the opening of one, actually.

“Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to do.” ~Cicero the slave, from the movie Gladiator

“Art is not my life; my life is my life.” painter R.B. Kitaj

Need some inspiration? Use my Amazon links (which finance my rock star lifestyle) to get some through a couple of my favorite books on writing, and creating…

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

*Take a look at Kelly James-Enger’s Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money as a resource for plotting a course for a freelance writing life if you’re thinking of making a transition. Even if you have to take a side step in the beginning, or if you have to start life basically over, like I did, her advice is sound and will give you a good foundation to build on, or come back to, if you have to take a break.