Taking a Gap Year or Two

gap yearAfter writing the post Timehole the other day, I went to bed feeling melancholy. Had I really wasted 2 years in Seattle? After journaling about it the next morning and taking a few days to reflect on it, I no longer think of that time as wasted.

Even though I didn’t write about it or process it at the time, those years were still very important. I learned so much during those “lost” years.

I had my then-longest relationship during that time. (Two years! My previous longest barely made 6 months.) Had I not been in that relationship, I wouldn’t have had any practical knowledge of what it was like to be in a serious relationship before meeting my now-fiance. I also probably wouldn’t have known what I was looking for (or that it had sat down right next to me at an orientation).

Another thing that came out of those years was the means to survive when I moved to Los Angeles. My girlfriend in Seattle was the one who sent me the link saying that Mad Science of Sno-King Counties was hiring and that it sounded like something right up my alley. And she was right. Not only did Mad Science give a chance to entertain kids, explore the areas around Seattle and scratch the performing itch that had surfaced after I’d left Japan, but once I moved to Los Angeles, it was the local Mad Science that got me through the “lean months” I mentioned yesterday. Plus, because my shows were all over LA County, I saw more of this area in 3 years than most Angelinos will see their entire lives.

During those “lost” years, I also worked at the bookstore and, thanks to their letting employees “check out” any new hardback book, I was more caught up on current books than at any other time in my life. I also learned a lot about the brick-and-mortar end of publishing (which is kind of like learning how to be a VHS Player Repairman but, I digress).

It was during that time that, when faced with the overwhelming amount of notes and stories and STUFF I brought back from Japan, that I discovered Getting Things Done by David Allen, a process I still use today (and plan on using a LOT more in the next year).

Lastly, it was during my time in Seattle that I discovered the Paleo Diet. Whether or not you agree with the science of it, this diet changed me for the better. It improved my health, my skin, my asthma, my life.

So many of the things that define who I presently am were discovered during those years. And just because I didn’t document them, didn’t mean they weren’t important.

No More Excuses

It hit me today while I was planning my work schedule for next week that… this is it. Because New Year’s Day falls on a Monday this year, “winter peak” at work ends tomorrow which means that, from Sunday, I’ll begin several months of consistent hours at work, on consistent days, with consistent days off.

It’s crazy because, since I first moved to Los Angeles, the period from the first week of January though the start of Spring Break was what my fiance and I called the “lean months”. During that time, we didn’t have any regular work so she’d have to temp, I’d be a Mad Scientist, and we’d both pick up odd jobs. Then, come April, we’d hope we’d get cast for some summer roles. If we were lucky, we’d work the summer. Summer would lead to the Halloween season which would lead to the Christmas season, and then the whole cycle would start all over again. Exhausting, and not at all conducive to writing or exercising or traveling or, hell, just planning in general.

But now, with all this consistency, I can now finally plan. Write. DO!

My biggest obstacles preventing me from doing all the stuff I’ve wanted to do is now gone. From Monday, I’ve got no more excuses.

Holy shit.

 

Achievement Unlocked

I had therapy today and, despite the holidays, and all the ups and downs with work, and my concerns over my friend “Trey”, and the new tax bill, and all my fears and worries about 2018, and everything else; for the first time since I started talking to a therapist in early 2017, I ran out of things to say.

Like, genuinely stumped over what else I could bring up.

I know I’m not completely “fixed”. Nor did I “win at therapy”. I still have so many areas I’d like to work on to make myself the best me I can be but, to be happy enough and feel grounded enough (especially in the middle of the busiest time of the year for me) to not talk until the clock ran out felt like a huge win.

Ignore Everybody

I haven’t been feeling too hot all day so I took it easy this morning and ended up reading Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod.

Despite the not-so-brilliant idea of reading a motivating book when I’m not feeling well enough to be motivated, I enjoyed it. It’s got a lot of great advice – one of the chapters is literally called “Start Blogging” – and a few sections really struck a chord with me.

You see, during this past year, the closer and closer I’ve gotten to being “established in Los Angeles”, the more I’ve had a “wee voice” in my head calling me back to my massive, been-working-on-it-for-waaaay-longer-than-I-care-to-admit Japan project.

MacLeod writes:

Your wee voice came back because your soul somehow depends upon it. There’s something you haven’t said, something you haven’t done, some light that needs to be switched on and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

And he’s right. These are stories I haven’t told that I feel should be shared. In regards to this “Mt. Everest” of a project, his reply is:

So it looks like you’re going to have to climb the frickin’ mountain. Deal with it.

Fortunately for me, he recommends to “Keep Your Day Job”:

Keeping one foot in the “real world” makes everything far more manageable for me. The fact that I have another income means I don’t feel pressured to do something market-friendly. Instead, I get to do whatever the hell I want. I get to do it for my own satisfaction.

My project (which I’d always pictured as a book) needing to be successful made sitting down to write so daunting. But now that I’ve got a steady source of income, doing something I enjoy, and am no longer concerned about the medium (because “choice of media is irrelevant”), I can carry on creatively…

…in a calm fashion, day-in-day-out, and not go crazy in insane creative bursts brought on by money worries.

So I’m hoping to do this project for me – to “sing in my own voice” – under the assumption that I won’t be rewarded for it. Under the assumption that:

…it will not receive the recognition it deserves, that it will not be worth the time and effort invested in it.

The obvious advantage to this angle is, of course, if anything good comes of it, then it’s an added bonus.

So I’m ready to get back to work.

Because, like director Tim Burton explained to the author:

If you have the creative bug, it isn’t ever going to go away. I’d just get used to the idea of dealing with it.

deal with it

Comfort and Joy

E5386F02-F6FF-4B9C-A2D6-CC824E529B4BMy amazing fiancé posted this on Facebook last night:

Xmas Eve 2010: I wait for 4 hours, on hold with the Suicide Prevention Hotline, and eventually fall asleep angry because their hold music is so boring. They never pick up, and I wake up the next morning holding razors in my hand. I am hurting and sad and lost but I use those feelings to push through because I have to dance on stilts for the next 8 hours.
Xmas Eve 2017: I am healthy and happy and whole and perfectly imperfect and excited for every “extra” day I get to pursue my dreams. I’m taking the day off from stilts tomorrow and I plan to wake up not holding, but being held by my Favorite Person because What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You What You Choose To Be. The holidays bring out the best and the worst of feelings. Just know that I got your back because it gets better. I promise. And if 1-800-273-8255 is busy, call me. I’ll pick up.

I don’t know if I could have said it any better. Merry Christmas, everyone. Be safe.

Timehole

So this showed up in my Timehop this morning:

image

Well, that answers the question raised in yesterday’s post: according to my old tweet, the last (and probably only other) time I got my Christmas Cards done early was 8 years ago.

So that got me thinking. I was curious if there were any similarities between December of 2009 and now that would explain why I managed to get them done that year. I knew I was living in Seattle at the time and was also working on my book so perhaps that had something to do with it? Maybe my momentum from writing carried over to my greeting card correspondence? I was also working at a bookstore at the time so could that have helped? Perhaps I’d had a set enough schedule (like I do now) that facilitated my being productive?

Fortunately I’ve been doing Morning Pages (a la “The Artists Way“) since I first went to Japan in 2003 so I have an entire shelf of notebooks detailing the last 14 years of my life. I figured I’d just go reread my entry from that time, figure out the parallels between then and now, and then do a cool blog post about it.

I first sensed something was up when I noticed the label on the spine of the notebook I was looking for read “1/29/2009 – 1/19/2012”. 3 years in one journal? I usually fill 2 or 3 notebooks a year! Maybe it was a typo?

But, when I flipped through the pages, I realized it wasn’t a typo. In 2009, I did a grand total of 9 entries, the last being in October. Then there was a 5-month gap (right over the date I was looking for) before the next entry. Then an 8-month gap. Only THREE entries in 2010. (Ouch!) 5 more entries around my birthday in April of 2011 and then a small gap before I started journaling regularly again from June 23rd, 2011, the day after I was hired in a job that would get me out of Seattle, also the day after a 2-year relationship ended.

I don’t know why I stopped doing my journals shortly after the start of 2009. I think that was around the time when I really started to focus on writing my book. I guess I thought that time spent writing in journals was not time spent working on my book so I just stopped doing them. In retrospect, a terrible idea. I didn’t know at the time how important self-care and self-reflection was. That could explain why I was always so depressed in Seattle. (Well, that and 10 months of rain.)

As far as I can tell, I pretty much put my whole life on hold for a year or two. Maybe that’s why I managed to get my Christmas Cards done on time.

While I’m sad for the time I lost, I’m grateful that I’m now in the much healthier position to be able to write and work and do Christmas cards… and still have a life.

 

Christmas Miracle

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever gotten all of my greeting cards sent/Christmas shopping done before December 25th pretty much my entire life. If I ever managed to get them completed at all (which was very rare), they wouldn’t arrive to the receiver until mid-to-late January, always with an excuse about how busy I’ve been. “That’s life [as a server/in a theme park/on a cruise ship]! Holidays are our busy time! But hey, better late that never!”

I never wanted my Christmas cards and presents to be late but I guess my intentions were always too good, my sights too high. Despite being legitimately busy during the holidays, I had grandiose plans of sending handwritten cards and specially crafted gifts to everyone on my ever-increasing, meticulously curated lists of friends and coworkers from all around the world. But, like so many things in my past, I’d unwittingly set myself up for failure and, once I did inevitably fail, I’d beat myself up over it because the reason was never that I’d set unrealistic goals but because I wasn’t focused enough, organized enough, disciplined enough.

So I worked on getting organized and narrowing my focus and finding some discipline yet, while it got me better at managing the process of being overwhelmed, it never helped me complete anything.

But this past year, my attitude changed. My plans evolved. It stopped being about completing a series of (much too) big projects, and instead picking a direction towards a goal and then just doing what I could that moved me towards that destination.

I’ve read somewhere that, in the desert, a place where everything can look the same, large metal barrels have been placed a certain distant apart so that, when one drives past a barrel, then next one is just visible on the horizon. To get across the desert, one doesn’t have to know the entire route, one only has to see as far as the next barrel. That’s how I’ve been treating things. And it seems to have been working.

As a result, despite all the crap that’s happened in the past 12 months, it’s been one of my most productive years yet: I advanced to the top at work, I’ve restarted a blog, I literally helped “Save the Cat” and, as of this afternoon, I got all my Christmas stuff done BEFORE Christmas.

Halle-freakin’-lujah!

The Gift of Gifts

It’s as easy to get caught up in consumerism around the holidays as it is to roll your eyes at those who do. The Christmas Season now starts days before Thanksgiving and, at some stores and theme parks, lasts until the end of the first week of January. People say that we’ve lost the true meaning of Christmas but I’d argue that there was probably never a “true” one to begin with. What began as a pagan winter holiday became co-opted by Christians only to be co-opted by companies trying to sell you something. And it’s all this commercialism that can turn people off. But, please don’t be mad at the gifts.

Gifts can be important. Gifts can show that you care, or that you’re cared about. Gifts don’t have to be extravagant or expensive to be special. And, even if you don’t like what you’ve been given, it shouldn’t negate the act of the giving. Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up“, believes that the giver’s joy happens the moment the gift is given. (Hence her also believing one shouldn’t feel guilty about throwing out or regifting items you don’t want. Considering she comes from Japan – a country with omiyage, or “obligational gifts” – this is probably not a bad idea!)

Anyways, gifts were a big part of making today special. I gave two small, simple gifts at work which helped ease some long-running tensions and, later, a coworker gave my fiancé and me the most incredible of hand-made gifts. And it turns out she got as much joy out of making those gifts as we did from receiving them. At a time when most people only seem to care about themselves, and being selfish is about to become law in this country, I’m grateful for days like today.