I’m gonna make my 2016 about exploring and experimentation. Last year I focused on writing: finding my voice, finding my confidence, finding a rhythm to write by. Now that we’re at the end of 2015, I find that I like my voice. I think I write from interesting angles and I like to explore.
This coming year, 2016, will be my time to figure out where the people are who might want to read what I’ve written. My tribe. I need to learn where I can make my writing a profession. Need is an interesting word to use, though. I guess I don’t really need to, but I want to contribute my share doing what I love to do. That’s my goal; by year’s end, but by July 1st would be even better!
I’ll write a blog about exploring, whatever strikes my fancy to explore on any given day. I’ll write blog posts freelance. I’ll tweet and text and email and post when I’ve written something. I’ll learn how to promote myself without feeling like an asshole.
My question is, who wants advice from a 50 year-old woman who admittedly doesn’t have it all together? Although my intent is not to advise, actually. It’s to demonstrate how I go about experimenting my way through life. It’s how I like to frame things.
So how will I measure? I guess the biggest difference in the way I do it is that I measure quality of life first. If I’m not happy with the way I’m spending my time, I’m just wasting it, and there’s nothing I hate worse than to waste stuff.
I find it interesting that in the English language we don’t have masculine or feminine words, like other languages do; French and Spanish come immediately to mind. Yet we assign, as a culture, masculine and feminine traits to words. Powerhouse, for example.
As Americans, we attribute maleness to any word related to power. We see it as manly to be powerful. Even 45+ years after Gloria Steinem first took to New York Magazine to chronicle and highlight the growing Women’s Liberation Movement, power is still, in a subconscious and deeply ingrained way, a man’s game. That fact is unfortunate for so many reasons, but let me dive into just this one.
I am, at my very depth, thoughtful. I put more time and effort into consideration of my daily words and actions than some people put into doing their yearly taxes, which is to say, a lot. I am a ruminator, a cow chewing her cud. I think things through thoroughly and honestly and wholeheartedly, so much so that my decision-making is usually a tediously slow process. The upside is that once I’ve made a decision I stand very firmly on it. You could say I’m stubborn, and you would be right, but my stubbornness comes from a position of power. My powerhouse is thoughtfulness.
Another definition of powerhouse is a generating station. In common terms this means the generation of electricity, but I’m going to expand that and say it should mean to generate and distribute whatever individual, unique powers we have. And by power I mean our innate intention, our most powerful and resilient and individually characteristic human quality. Your power is likely how you are described by the people who know you best. Most people have more than one, for sure, but some, like Mother Theresa have one that seems to fill their entire soul.
Here’s why I like this word, powerhouse: it’s a “place” where power is both created and distributed. You make your power and you also send it out into the world. I can’t think of any better way to live, creating and giving away the deepest and most valuable part of who we are. It’s enriching for us, as individuals: When we’re focusing attention on our deepest and most authentic selves we can’t help but grow deeply satisfying lives. But there’s a community component here, too: We’re all a single piece of a giant, Earth-sized puzzle. And if you’re not filling your spot, who is?
We’re all born with certain strengths, certain powers. I am convinced that we are meant to use our powers to support and grow our community, our world really, into its best version, while we grow ourselves. It’s not such a leap to suppose that if we’re all busy growing these rich inner lives that the community would also be gaining the benefit of that wealth, too, is it? And if for no other reason than that, we should take back our power, in aid of our communities. But isn’t it an even better idea to take it back for ourselves?
So tell me, what’s your powerhouse?
Have you ever blown a really important conversational moment? I have. I did it just the other day, as a matter of fact. I always feel terrible when that happens; probably worse than is actually warranted, but I carry that shit with me.
The other day, the conversation was me attempting to convey my condolences. I told an acquaintance how sorry I was that her Gran had passed away. Then I told her, “It gets easier.”
And that was my mistake.
No, it’s not a giant mistake and it wasn’t offensive, but it was trite and conveyed my intention in the smallest possible way that I’m embarrassed those words came out of my mouth. Because here’s the thing: It really doesn’t get easier. It’s never easy, any moment you remember that you’ll never get a chance to talk to or bump shoulders with or smell the particular scent of someone you love, those moments are always filled with sadness.
What I should have said, and would still if I could have a do-over, is that it gets less raw. That’s the real truth of it. Loss isn’t easy and it really shouldn’t ever be an easy thing to miss someone we love dearly. But it should become less raw, and thankfully it usually does.
Less raw? Yes. When you first lose someone, whether it’s from a death or from a divorce or a simple act of relocation, it leaves a ragged hole. It’s sore and throbbing and probably even bleeds a little bit, sort of like when you lose a tooth as a kid. But then a day comes, down the line, when you forget about the loss, so you poke your tongue into the empty space left there. And you forget because it’s not raw anymore. And maybe you can breathe a small sigh of relief.
So, here’s what I wish I would have said, in that conversation: I’m so sorry your gran passed away. I know you miss her and you always will, but I promise it won’t always feel so raw. One day it’ll feel good again to remember those times you shared together, whether they’re great times or completely ordinary ones. Until then just be gentle with yourself, your gran would have wanted it that way. And that part, luckily, will never change.
I had an epiphany today and made a significant decision in the course of my life because of it. In a nutshell, I was questioning whether there is a difference between spending time and spending attention in life. Confused? No worries, it took me a while to wade through my own thoughts. If I try to clear it up for you, maybe it’ll help me further clarify my own thinking and ingrain the idea more fully in my psyche or soul or whatever that part is that gives us life and consciousness.
Here’s my the train of thought: time is a mathematical construct that humans have superimposed over life to help give it form. For all its helpfulness, the concept of time is artificial and it has an inherently external quality. It exists outside of us.
Attention, on the other hand, is internal. There’s a direct link between me and my attention that I can’t make between me and time. Time is not under my control. Time can’t change me. My attention is, and can. It’s my choice whether my attention, or what I focus it on, will contribute to how I desire to live and who I want to become. Or not.
What it boils down to is I’m adjusting my internal vocabulary, self-talk if you like, so that how I live becomes an internal prompt to constantly become who I intend to be. Here’s an example. What if I’m scheduled to have dinner with someone I would prefer to avoid? It doesn’t really matter why, but let me go ahead and give you a backstory. This person used to be my boss and I left the company because she was claiming my work as her own. She happens to be a friend of a friend and now we’re all scheduled to have dinner together to celebrate our mutual friend’s engagement. (This is a totally fictitious scenario, by the way.)
It makes sense, though, that I would prefer not to have social contact with this person, right? If I focus on spending my time with her, over which I have no control, I automatically feel negative about the whole affair. However, if I decide to spend my attention that automatically prompts me to choose how to focus it. Time is not mine to manipulate, whereas my attention is. So, since I want my attention to grow me in the direction of the person I intend to become, I am more likely to choose a positive way to spend it. Perhaps this person is a dog lover. Well, hey, so am I! Maybe she likes the same NPR program that I do. Nice! I will choose to focus on like qualities and the parts of this person that I can appreciate.
We all have good and bad qualities and by focusing on the good I’ve given myself the chance to connect with someone I otherwise would not have bothered with. Why is that important? Connecting with people and appreciating their goodness is a part of me that I want to encourage in myself. There’s so much negative discourse in the world and cutting ourselves off from others because of a single trait, or even a few, we don’t like does nothing to reverse the negativity. We are all more similar than we are different. If we begin to focus on our similarities I believe we can eliminate some bits of the ugly global tensions that seem to multiply daily.
Food for thought: “Pay attention” is a great little phrase, isn’t it? What it says is that our attention is so valuable it costs us dearly to use.
How about we get a little more existential, just for a moment? All that I have, at the most basic level, is my life. If I weren’t here to experience it, none of the material things, the shirt on my back, the phone beside me, the coffee table I’m resting my feet on, none of it would exist, not for me anyway. It doesn’t matter except that I am here. So why concern myself more with the “things” that make up my life instead of my life, itself? Which leads me to another existential conundrum: how to define the meaning of life. If what we focus our attention on and target it at becomes the person we are, then, in essence our attention is ourselves.
Who am I? That’s the mystery of life that is continuously answered in bits and pieces as each moment passes into the next. If every moment builds me into the person I am, and I am always becoming a slightly new person, then it is important that I spend my attention, use my attention, focus my attention in ways that nourish the woman I desire to become. As long as I use that idea to guide what I do with each moment, how can I possibly reach my last moment on earth and not be satisfied with the life I lived?
So how should I choose to spend my attention? That’s the challenge, isn’t it? A broad and somewhat esoteric answer to that question might be, choose to spend it in ways that help you become the person you are meant to be. I can appreciate that, but it’s not directly instructive. I’d like something more concrete.
What about this? I choose to spend my attention challenging myself. That’s better, but still it’s only a pla and I’m looking for a plan. Here’s something: the things that interest me: nature, geology, relationships, photography, writing, hiking, family… those are already a part of who I am. If I choose to spend my attention on those things then I am choosing to become more and more of the person I want to become. Which doesn’t mean I’m leaving no room for growth. Just because all of those things interest me today isn’t to say that I won’t become interested in say contortionism some day and decide to spend some attention on body mechanics and flexibility.
The point is, only I can be me. Only I can choose who I become. If I don’t spend my life in pursuit of that becoming, then my greatest fear, the potential that I will live an unimportant life, may well come true. I refuse to let that happen. So I will spend my days spending my attention. Will I do anything groundbreaking? There’s always that possibility, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that I am interested in who I am and what every day of my life brings. I can’t think of any more satisfying way to live all of my days until the last.
And maybe it’s just me, but maybe I’ve been running around wasting my time when if I’d only chosen to pay attention before now maybe I would already have become the person I now endeavor to be and that person would already have set her sights even higher. But it’s really never too late , and I’m perfectly happy to start right now.
I may as well start from the beginning.
I just turned 49, so I’m living out my 50th year on earth, starting today. Right now. And that seems momentous to me. I’ve always wanted to be a “wise woman,” and 50 seems like the perfect age to claim that title, doesn’t it? The problem is, I don’t think it’s one of those titles you’re allowed to self-proclaim. Like, I’ve heard people call themselves a “thought leader” and my first reaction when that happens is, NOPE. No you’re not. That title is earned and it’s not true unless it’s attributed to you by others. Same with wise woman.
So, my goal, my intention, over the course of this next year, and for all my years afterward, really, is to earn that title.What will follow this first post is your guess as good as mine. Like life and a good sour dough starter, these pages will evolve and become what they’re meant to become over time. I’m aiming for wisdom, but I can’t say for certain whether I’ll reach that goal. I’ll try really damn hard, though, and hopefully I’ll strike a cord every now and then.
If letting things evolve naturally, untethered by concrete plans or expectations, makes you uncomfortable, you might not be my target audience. Or maybe you are and you’ve never let yourself think so boldly before? I’ll leave that up to you. Either way, I hope you’ll read me every once in a while. Even more than that, I hope I can entertain you, provoke thought or a hearty guffaw, inspire kindness or a slightly off-kilter way of thinking. If I’m able to do any of those things, even once, then I’ll feel as though the goal I set myself is worthy of my attention. And I hate to waste anything, especially my attention.