My Sandpaper Year

Photo from  Emilian Robert Vicol via Flickr.

Photo from Emilian Robert Vicol via Flickr.

Reflecting on 2014, I imagine any number of the thoughts that have crossed my mind are likely the same ones that have occurred to other people about the last 12 months of life. I could have done a little more of this and a little less of that. I could have been a better friend/sister/daughter [fill in your superlative here]. Nostalgia always tends to abound this time of year.

As I reviewed the chronicle of my own experience, however, I realized something pretty profound. This was one of my sandpaper years.

My what now?

I know it’s an odd term, but let me explain. Everyone, whether they realize it or not, has years that shape them more than most. Years where some things about who you are as a person are buffed smooth, and other rougher spots you didn’t even realize existed, get exposed. It’s a year where not a lot seems easy, and you feel mostly like Sisyphus, continuously rolling a boulder uphill just to watch it slide down the other side and have to do it all over again. In short, a sandpaper year.

Photo from  Beth Scupham via Flickr.

Photo from Beth Scupham
via Flickr.

If I’m being honest, I’ve actually had a couple of back-to-back sandpaper years. Self-inflicted, unfortunately. Without getting too detailed, let’s just say I made an awful lot of big decisions that should have been better thought and prayed through, and I didn’t do much of either. I panicked when faced with my future and thought I knew what was best for myself, but lack of counsel proved otherwise, and, well, there you go.

And for the sake of continued honesty, I didn’t do a whole lot of living wide during that time either. Sure there were glimmers here and there, but mostly I defaulted. I cocooned in and braced myself for the hard knocks as much as I could, much like a boxer backed into a corner, just trying to survive the round.

But, here’s what’s important; I learned something.

I realized I am far stronger than I ever thought possible. More often than not, I was the only support system propping me up and that made me push forward. I also realized, being a strong individual isn’t nearly as strong as the supportive bond of connection and friendship. A person is never truly an island, and those that believe so are fooling themselves. And, I came to the conclusion that truly knowing what you want, in life, in your career, in love, in general, should never be denied. Why? Because you will always seek it. Conscious, unconscious, you will always seek it, and be dissatisfied and completely and utterly restless until you finally chase after it.

So here I am, crossing over the threshold of another new year and wondering what to do. One thing’s for sure, my priority list is much different than it ever has been, and that is going to make for an interesting 12-month adventure.

Happy 2015, everyone! After a few lost years, I have resolved to get back to living wide. How about you?

Flesh and Bone

I’m a bit late with today’s post because I was actually at a concert. Appropriate, right? So, here we are, day 3-ish of Living Wide’s Soundtrack for Successful Failure. How’s everyone feeling so far? I have to admit I am loving the challenge I’ve laid out for myself. Mostly because it has encouraged me to scour the thousands of songs that I personally own and the millions that I simply love to form the perfect playlist of encouragement.

As I said to friends, recently, music has really been speaking into my life of late. Not that it doesn’t always have a place, what I mean to say is I’ve been stumbling across some really great songs/albums/artists that are truly putting my life to beat and my heart to a melody.

One such band is The Killers, whose song “Flesh and Bone” kind of speaks for itself.

When I first heard The Killers many years ago, I thought they were good, but that was about it. Truthfully, I hadn’t given them much thought until I stumbled across them again a few weeks ago while building a playlist for my novel. Yes, I’m that nerdy. Anyway, I listened to their newest album “Battle Born” based on a recommendation, and I fell in love. Not just with a specific song—you’ll be introduced to three throughout the month—but with the whole album. It’s filled with songs of being challenged, tested, defeated and triumphant.

In the chorus, you’ll hear, “What are you afraid of, and what are you made of, flesh and bone.” A great reminder that we are all vulnerable AND strong, which can fortify us as much as it terrifies us. Gotta love the dichotomy.

Still looking for suggestions. Anyone have a Soundtrack suggestion? Make sure to leave a comment.

Youthful Thoughts

 In my most recent post, Aha!, you’ll remember, my 22-year-old self woke-up from a very long nap. Given the vibrant, driven young lady I was more than a decade ago, I wondered, what would she say to me now? Following is one side of an imagined conversation with this newly graduated woman who was once/still is me.

Dear 33-year-old Me,

First, thanks for finally waking me up. Not that I don’t appreciate the Rip VanWinkle-style snooze after 17 straight years of school, but it’s good to be back. So, what’s life like in… 2012? Gosh, that’s so weird to say! Are you an editor at some fancy magazine? Are you married with kids? Gotta admit, I’m kinda curious.

Wow, okay, advice for the future. Before I hit the hay, I remember fielding a lot of questions about what I was going to do, where I was going to go. Truthfully, I have, or had, no idea how to answer them. All I ever really wanted to do was write… well, and travel… and fall madly in love. But I digress.

Because you’re, well, me 11 years in the future, I’m going to shoot it to you straight. No frills, no fuss, no sugar coating. So, here goes.

Travel light – I love the fact that a majority of my possessions fit into the back of my Honda hatchback. There’s something to be said for not having a lot of baggage. So if you’re feeling at all weighed down, cast something off and make sure you only have what you need.

Travel – And for that matter, travel. We were bitten by the bug early, don’t ever let the excitement of being someplace new fade away. Whether you have the money or not, go!

Move towns/cities/states – Are you seeing a theme? Don’t stick. If you stick, you’re stuck. Changing your scene changes your whole attitude. It keeps you from getting set in your ways.

Laugh until you snort – If you’re laughing, laughing hard, then the trying stuff doesn’t seem all that bad. Find a way to laugh so uncontrollably that you actually embarrass yourself.

You’re strong and strong-willed, that’s a very good thing – There’s a reason your friends lean on you when times get tough. It may not look like it, but inside, you’re made of granite and you have a will of steel. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different.

When you don’t know how to say it for yourself, let someone else – You’re a natural-born student. You’re curious and love learning from those who’ve gone before you. If you ever find yourself speechless, let someone else who has lived it, articulated it and say it for you.

Stuff isn’t important, people are – Remember where to invest your time and resources. Friendships can last forever, clothes/jewelry/things won’t.

Honor a good story, no matter how it’s told – Everyone’s got their opinions about format, word choice, tense, you name it. But if it’s a good story, honor it, no matter how the author deems to present it.

Go with your gut – You know your gut has never steered you wrong. That little twinge or prickle that tells you something’s not right or take a leap, listen to it. Regardless of the outcome, it will be an adventure.

Change is a good thing – Many fear change. They don’t want to step out of their comfort zone, but that’s never been you. Change has been a part of your life since you can remember. Stepping out in faith is part of who you are. Rest assured that it will all work out in the end.

And remember, you’ve got this. If you don’t know what to do, you’ll figure it out. You’re resourceful, you always have been. Add stubborn to that and you’ve got a lethal combination.

The Genesis of Living Wide

About a year ago, in one of those rare moments where I truly was not thinking about anything in particular, I had a vision.  I had forgotten about this vision to an extent over the course of the past 12 months until this weekend when I attended the funeral of fantastic man who left us far too soon.  I seem to have said goodbye to several people gone too soon this year, much more so than in any in the past.  Each affected me in its own unique way, but this most recent death, which no one expected, affected me in a way that was, for a lack of a better word, profound.  It was surprising really, given that I was more of an acquaintance to this man.  We knew each other, we went to church together, I spoke with he and his wife on occasion.  I know it sounds crass, but I thought I would go to his funeral, shed a tear or two in remembrance, be a support for those who had a deeper connection with him, and that would be that.  But a recurring theme in my life reared its ugly head in that expectation was not matched by reality.

As I pulled yet another tissue from my now half-empty pack, I realized how much the world lost when this truly cool man passed.  Here was someone who had lived a wide life.  He experienced it out loud and completely unapologetically.  His family: close-knit, involved and completely in it together.  His career: doing something he loved, which was making music.  His faith: hard won and embraced with abandon.  His funeral was one final lesson to all who knew him, life is meant to be lived, not squandered.  That there is a distinct difference between experiencing and existing.  It was during this time of eulogy that my vision from a year ago came flooding back into my mind.

The Vision
The horizon transformed right in front of me.  Concrete and glass disappeared.  A range of some of the most beautiful, snow-capped mountains appeared several hundred miles in the distance.  The sky was clear, as was the road leading to the majestic peaks, with the exception of one roadblock.  A person standing directly in the center of the road.  I can’t really describe what the back of the person looked like because it wasn’t very distinct.  All I could say is they looked to be about my height.  As I drew closer to the figure, it turned around.  Standing directly in front of me was… me.  I was an arm’s length from myself as if I were standing before the mirror in my bedroom.  Blinking at the revelation, I stared at my own face for several moments, and then, just as quickly as the scene appeared, it was gone.

Now I know there are those out there who would argue that visions are any manner of things.  I think the one I’ve heard most often is that visions are merely latent desires transitioning from our unconscious to our conscious mind.  However, I immediately knew the author of this vision was not me, it was God.  God wanted me to make no mistake that what was currently “in my way,” in every sense, was me.  I was the obstacle to living the wide life he very much wanted for me.  That I, in essence, needed to get out of my own way.

All of this was reinforced to me as I sat among the family and friends of a wonderful man who seemed to do just that, get out of his own way and experience the life God gave him.  I realized, I live small.  I’m like a horse with blinders on, only cognizant of what is directly in front of me.  I only see the obstacles to those things I really want:

  • I need a steady paycheck, I can’t take a sabbatical and figure out what I really want to do with my life.
  • I can’t travel right now, that takes money I don’t have.
  • I have to save for my retirement now because that’s what all the experts say.
  • I’m so tired from work, I don’t have time to: write the rest of my book, learn to sing, learn to knit, learn to dance, learn to play chess, etc., etc.

I am the classic oldest child in that dreams come after responsibilities.  If I’m responsible, then maybe I can achieve one of my dreams… some day.  In her book “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert summed up my life in two sentences:

I’d been such a diligent soldier for years – working, producing, never missing a deadline, taking care of loved ones, my gums, and my credit record, voting, etc. Is this lifetime supposed to be only about duty?

In the lines that precede this statement, she talks about always wanting to learn Italian, but never quite getting around to it because she had no practical reason, no future application, with which she could justify the investment of time it would take to learn the language.  Dear Lord does that sound familiar!

So now what?  In light of all this, what do I do with all the realizations that have been ping ponging inside of my head for the past week?  How can I stop living small, and start living wide?  Wish me luck as I seek to find out.