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54. Life = One Big Constant Change

March 16, 2012

Guest post today by the fabulous Ann Lam:

spilled paint, spilled paint, change  change changeLet’s say you make the big life change that you’ve always wanted. You’ve quit the job you hated. You’re ready to commit and decide to tie the knot. You’ve traded in your knitting needles for paint brushes. But now what? The excitement of the new beginning is wearing off and what you envisioned as the path to happiness is bumpier than you expected. Uncomfortable thoughts start to peck their way into your stream of consciousness. Is this better than what I had before? What in the world have I done?! Almost two years ago, I decided to start my life over again in San Francisco. I quit my job, sold or gave away all the furniture in my apartment in New York, and started driving west. My family and friends back east couldn’t understand why I would leave a steady job and a full network of contacts (that could eventually lead to higher-paying, even steadier jobs). But I wanted a new environment in which I could shape a new identity. And so I got to work teaching yoga, writing articles, freelancing as a violinist—doing all the things I wanted to do but didn’t before. I kept a busy schedule. There was never enough time in the day…or energy to give equally to all my projects. Depending on the circumstance (i.e., where the money was coming in from), I would choose my priorities. After a while I began to stress over the many hats I was wearing. In one day I might teach a vinyasa flow class, play a wedding gig, and then edit an article for a print deadline. I was tiring of my multiple identities—literally. “Uh-oh. What now? What does this mean?” I thought. And so began a period of doubt. Of limbo, when I kept doing what I was doing (i.e. everything) because I didn’t know what else to do. Except I really did know. I knew I needed to change yet again. I had forgotten that humans are always in motion, growing, changing—the only constant acknowledged in Buddhism. I doubted my gut, because in my mind I had just recently undergone a drastic career and identity change. To change paths yet again or cut back on my projects seemed irresponsible, fickle, flaky. Unluckily or luckily for me, my body decided to change on its own, without asking my permission. An imbalance of hormones caused me to become very sick. I had to stop everything—it was a struggle to walk or sit up for long periods of time. And when I started on the path to recovery, I could not have guessed how long it would take to return to normal. That time needed to heal ended up being a blessing. My illness forced me into considering alternatives to the stressful lifestyle I had been leading, something that I might not have been brave or wise enough to have done otherwise. I am learning that big changes take time and once in motion don’t quickly settle into stability. Revolutions are followed by an adjustment period naturally full of trial and error. For every Constitution there is an Articles of Confederation. And so I’ve had to rewrite my “life” game plan. But that’s OK. In fact, it’s NORMAL. Change is constant. Revision is normalizing. Sometimes this is easy to forget. And we all need reminders, especially when lost in the thick of it.

Ann is a writer and editor for Untapped Cities. Follow Ann (@annylam81) on Twitter and Instagram for daily updates and inspiration.

adjustment revision reflecting vision change change change

53. Wordless Wednesday

March 14, 2012

Spring forward…spring forward, spring, poppy, city view

52. O brave new world

March 12, 2012

Alright, the Write Transition, I am a laggard. Or clueless. Or, actually, both. Once Hollywood has released a mainstream movie about a new hot thing, it’s probably not the new hot thing anymore. Last year, Meryl Streep was nominated for, (but didn’t win) her third Oscar in a movie about blogging. Devastated, I didn’t start blogging until September. I blame the Academy. What does Margaret Thatcher have over Julia Child? I could have been blogging a whole six months earlier. Then maybe I could have at least ridden the Meryl-blogging aftershocky bump. Yes. There is probably a better way to say that, but I don’t know what it is. Instead, I will insist that “Meryl-blogging aftershocky bump” become a new meme. Tweet that, buddy.

All of which is to say: I thought I was writing about writing today. But I’m clearly feeling a little giddy and not at all sure that’s actually where I’m going. Did I also just use the word “meme” in a sentence? What the hell is a “meme?” Since I entered the blogosphere (there’s another one) – and for that matter the whole social media-o-sphere, I’ve felt like I’m operating in a foreign country. I want desperately to learn the language, but it feels hard. While it can be exhilarating, I frankly don’t think I’m very good at it. I mean, I’m the one who wouldn’t go near the microwave back in 1976. Granted, I was 7 years old, but it signified things to come. This business of trying new things doesn’t come easily to me.

After college, I moved to China to teach English. Talk about having your world turned upside down. When I left the U.S., I didn’t speak a word of Mandarin (or any other Chinese dialect). One afternoon, just a few months after my arrival, a Chinese teacher invited me to her in-laws’ home for Sunday lunch. In most respects, it was just like Sunday dinner here in the U.S. Kids underfoot, yummy food, polite (translated) chit-chat with the only stranger in the room. Who was me. I smiled a lot. After lunch, they invited me to xioxi, Mandarin for siesta (Spanish for nap). With more smiles and gestures, they indicated I should lie down on a straw mat laid across the concrete floor. Um. Ok. So I did. And I must have fallen asleep.  Next thing I knew, the room was warm and still and striped with late afternoon sun.  You know that feeling when you wake up and don’t know where you are? I have never felt it so profoundly. Because that’s how I felt for two years. Where am I? I’m just not sure. Not a bad feeling most of the time, actually. But occasionally disconcerting.

Which leads me to think about a conversation I had yesterday with Oscar, the janitor at my daughter’s former preschool. Calling it a “conversation,” might be something of a stretch, as he doesn’t speak English and my Spanish doesn’t extend much further past siesta. Still, it was a nice encounter, and in it, I was struck, again, and always, by the courage of the immigrant. Especially immigrants like this very real Oscar, who not only don’t have the language, but also aren’t accorded the honors I received in China as a welcomed guest. Thinking about this kind of voyage humbles me, and gives me such hope.

O Wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is!

O brave new world

That has such people in’t.

— The Tempest

I’m going to keep blogging.

The tempest, peter greenaway, Prospero's Books, miranda, brave new world

Isabelle Pasco as Miranda in Prospero's Books (1991)

51. Falling together

March 9, 2012

Got a gift today. At school drop off, another mom was having one of those mom* moments. You know the ones, where suddenly everything adds up to too much. I asked her how she was, and she began to cry. So I hustled her into the empty cafeteria. We sat on the stage and she cried some, talked some, and then cried just a little bit more. Then we both left for work. About 10 minutes taken out of my day, all told.

What struck me was how she kept apologizing for falling apart. I get that. When I have my mom moments (or mom-dog moments?),  if they are public I get embarrassed. I feel like I’m impinging on others. Like I’m taking up too much space. And I feel ashamed that I’m not perfectly holding it together like everyone else seems to be.

But being on the other side of it today – what I want to tell her—and to tell the future-me, that is the one who will be falling apart again some time soon – is how much her falling apart helps me. When someone else falls apart, it gives me permission to not  be perfect. Next time, maybe I’ll be much more forgiving of myself. More, when someone is emotionally honest with me, it makes it much easier for me to drop down into that place where my own emotional honesty lives. And that’s a place I want to be. That’s a place I want to live. Finally, I take her willingness to be vulnerable with me as an indication that she trusts me. That means that I am trustable. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It makes me feel loved. So thank you falling-apart-at-school Mom. Thanks for helping me become present to my day.

*Yes. Dad’s have them too. But Dad moments just doesn’t have the same M-M alliteration.

**Ok and yes. Actually we all have our falling apart moments. And bless us for ’em.

***Except maybe David Bowie. I think maybe David Bowie always holds it together.David Bowie, falling apart, perfectionism, mom moments

50. Wordless Wednesday

March 7, 2012

(yes. this is my lunch.)Ramen ramen ramen ramen food food food

49. Spring cleaning

March 4, 2012

vacuum cleaner breathe spring cleaning spring cleaning anxiety anxiety anxiety

I cleaned my room last night. Laundry into the hamper. Sweaters uncrumpled, shaken, evaluated, and hung up in the closet. Piles of books redistributed throughout the house. Layer of dust removed – check. Furntiture pushed around — check. Eliminated dust bunnies the size of my dog – um… uncheck. Not that I wasn’t trying, but after a few minutes of vacuuming AT them, I realized that the vaccum was actually just redistributing them across the room. I wish I could say that I stopped right away. Instead I tried to convince myself that those huge nests of hair + goose down + and unidentified bits of organic matter getting chased across the floor were actually diminishing. Then it was like they moved into my head and set up a giant whirling of anxiety: vaccum cleaner bags, and repair shops and empty bank accounts and my children will never go to college! I should JUST QUIT RIGHT NOW! Breath. Breathe. And then  I went downstairs and ate pepperoni pizza. Then – and this is the triumph – I went back upstairs. I took the vaccumm cleaner apart, and removed the giant chunk of gunkiness stuck right in the middle of the hose. Then I quietly, or noisily rather, made all of those dust bunnies disappear. Quite satisfying really. Still don’t know if my children will go to college – but I can live in the unknowing for a little while longer.

48. Life practice

March 2, 2012

Tibetan Sand Mandala blog blog tina fey tina fey roller coast roller coaster life is change life is change improv improv improv

In Tibet, monks spend weeks creating elaborate mandalas of colored sand. Upon completion, they systematically take the sculptures apart, and wash the sand away in a river. Or at least, that’s what I learned from Wikipedia, my source for all information that could be, possibly, true. In a similar vein, there’s a story that Picasso drew pictures on the beach –with the specific intention that they be washed away with a wave. Neither Wikipedia or a quick Google search could verify this story—so lets also put it in the category of “who knows?”. Reflecting on these narratives, the recovering academic in me might say “ahhhh…. here we see demonstrations of the power of liveness to resist commodification. This form of always already lost art, alone among ideological productions, eludes the clutches of capital.”

But today I’m wearing a different hat and I’m thinking instead about my improv class. Let me be clear: I’m not heading to Second City anytime soon. I signed up because the writing workshops weren’t going anywhere (this is only Wikipedia true). I loved the workshops I took and left inspired. Awash in creative juices, I was ready to write the magnum opus—or at least finish a short story. But each time, the inspiration quickly faded – and I still haven’t completed a story. Maybe, I decided, I was focusing too much on product, and not enough on process. Improv seemed the perfect solution. It’s fun, it’s fast, it disappears as soon as you create it. Scenes with narrative, character and setting coalesce briefly and then—pop!—like a soap bubble, they leave nothing behind. Life as practice with no consequences.

Deborah Lee Luskin on Live to Write – Write to Live advocates “jack-rabbiting, stalling, and crawling forward…” She writes about the process she has developed for starting a new project: “First, I play computer Solitaire until I see spades in my dreams. Then I clean cupboards. Sometimes, I snap at my love ones, and other times I dissolve into tears. Eventually, I start walking. A hundred or so miles later, I overcome my resistance enough to sit down at my desk.” This might sound a little bit like procrastination. But as she explained it in a response to my comment, it’s more about daydreaming. Letting the mind wander, get lost, be unproductive for a little while.

For me, improv class provided structured unstructured time. Led by the fabulous Laura Derry, we played catch (yes, the kind with a ball) and spoke in tongue twisters, and jumped our status up and down and all around until our brains froze rock solid. And when your brain freezes, in theory at least, everything else opens up. Why, actually, it turns out I am a 19th-century archeologist excavating ancient Egypt. And now, I’m eight and exploring the attic of a haunted house. And now this roller coaster seems to have flown off its track and now….I star at Second City, and is that Lorne Michels on the phone? Why yes, I’d love to collaborate with Tina….

Yeah. It’s a daydream right? That’s what a daydream is. No holds barred.

Often, class was fantastically, blazingly, mind-numbingly fun.

I laughed so hard milk would have come out of my nose (if I had been drinking milk).

So what’s the point here? I’m having trouble concluding this post. Tibetan sand mandalas, daydreaming to write, improv class, and a little academic theory thrown in for show: I want to tie these all together in a tidy package. Where’s the enlightened revelation? What’s my kitchen-magnet one-liner? And—aha!— that may be the point right there. There is no one-liner. There is no product here. This may be the greatest gift blogging has given me (I can’t resist bringing in a new topic here). I started blogging right about when I took the improv class, and it has, to some degree, provided me with the same kind of spaciousness. Don’t get me wrong—I am a neurotic crafter of blog posts, and like so many of us, check my stats obsessively. Still, unlike so many of the other areas of my life, I have no distinct goals with this blog. I’m not trying to make money with it (though, if you would like to make a donation, contact me right away at notwh000@gmail.com). I’m not trying to get it  “published” in any kind of traditional sense (ditto last parenthetical statement). As you may have noticed, I don’t even really have a hook. It’s a place I get to meander, publicly. It’s fun. Life as practice, though this time with some consequences.

(And she keeps on writing)

Again, I don’t know how to end this post. And again, that really is the point. I actually know where the end is. I know where I get off, if not precisely how or when. I’m talking about the big end here. The Finale. The one from which there are no reprises, no encores. The one that, aside from taxes, is the only thing we can count on in life. But that’s not precisely true. Because the other thing we can count on is that we can’t count on anything. Life is change, baby.  Dream through it, stumble through it,  hike through it, dance through it, but  ride  it, baby, ride. Ride that roller coaster until that last day when you don’t anymore. Work hard. Build it up. Make it pretty.  And when the wave comes, let it wash you clean.

Yours truly,

This Change Artist