Thursday, March 22, 2012

Heat Wave

This has been a record setting month for high temperatures in Grand Rapids.  Outdoor enthusiasts of all types have put away their scarves and winter boots and pulled out their warm-weather adventure gear.  Tennis players volley, basketball stars fill the urban courts and kids are lining sidewalks with chalked art and lemonade stands.  And motorcyclists have bypassed their heated gear and gone straight to vented jackets.

Today, mid-March, it’s 85 degrees out.  I am planning yet another local tour of West Michigan on two-wheels.  And by planning, I mean I’m getting on the bike to follow the roads, not a map.  I seem to like these adventures the most.  As soon as I start to consider which destination will offer the best views or ice cream stop or meal, I become stuck, as though I’ve gotten turned around and can’t find my way.  This signals that my destination is not the important thing, but that simply getting out for the ride is.

I’ve been taking the bike out every day since my last day of work.  It’s the best treatment for “what-do-I-do-now” fever.  My mind keeps urging me toward the job search while my heart keeps guiding me back to the tasks of the day- walking, doing dishes, paying bills.  Even as my mind wanders to what I “should do,” I work to remember that there is enough on the “to-do list” already and I silently grant myself permission to hang out with friends, visit with my sister, take a nap. 

I am falling out of the habit of a work-laden life.  As Sunday afternoon approached, I shoved aside the normal routine- making lunch for work on Monday, washing my uniforms, tidying up the house.  I dismissed myself from these normal chores of the day only to be confronted with seasonal chores- cleaning out the garage or tackling yard work.  These chores, too, I pushed aside.   I will do them when I want to.  I finally itched the “should” scratch by paying bills and scheduling some appointments.  There’s so much I can do yet I am making a new practice of doing what I want to do. 

I’ve decided that on my Sabbatical (as my down-sized job release is now fondly being called) I will do things I want to do more often than things I have to do.  I will resist repainting the house, repairing plaster and landscaping my yard.  Instead, I plan to do some form of physical activity and write every day.  These are my new daily habits.  This is the new life I am committed to.

I ran into a former supervisor while out on a walk yesterday.  She is a free-spirit herself who was given the gift of some time off a few years back between jobs.  She asked me if I was getting restless yet with all my free time as she recalled feeling unsettled and purposeless while unemployed.  Because I’ve been off less than a week, I haven’t yet started to feel that.  And I am determined that I won’t.  I don’t mean to say that I won’t be nervous or a little afraid of how I will support myself financially, but I also realize that I am perfectly equipped to commit to my writing life and see where those efforts lead me.

In the last few weeks at work I was asked to fill out a self-evaluation that listed tasks I had completed in the previous year.  My list was over 2 pages long and I even impressed myself with what I’d been able to accomplish in that one year.  I helped reorganize the physical space for better use, transitioned the clinical staff to electronic medical records, updated policies and procedures for greater safety and efficiency, for example.

Reviewing this last year of my employment helped me realize that I have all the skills I need to make my writing the center of my life instead of something I try to make time for.  There is much I don’t yet know about how to publish my writing but I have the resources to find those things out.  Just as I learned which person to call for IT issues, or OSHA related questions in my former position, I also have a list of “specialists” in the writing world that I can call on for support.  In addition, I have friends who are already helping.  Aaron told me about a contact of his with Rider Magazine and Amanda introduced me to her mom who is also a freelance writer. 

I keep hearing myself generate all kinds of ideas of making money- through repurposing furniture, making cards and jewelry, working for friends- and then I gently remind myself that I can do any of those things I want to do but I will not resort to them because I feel like I have to.  There is a balance, of course, and I will have to see how the finances work out.  But I know that I have to stay focused on what I can do rather than acting out of fear about money. 

Today I started brainstorming ideas for articles and projects and sorting out journals who may be interested in my work.  I’m in my “gathering ideas” phase of this new role where I’m investigating all the possible routes of travel before determining what to focus on.  It’s an exciting time for me.  During dinner the other night with Aaron, he remarked, “I didn’t realize you were going through all that!  You don’t look like you’re stressed.”  I continue to hear those words echo in my mind because they reflect a clear truth of the experience of losing my job:  I am not as stressed out by it as I am excited to have this time for myself. 

I will be settling in here at home to see what writing comes forth.  It’s easy to get on the bike and ride to a destination writing spot, with fancy ideas of what I can produce while surrounded by books, magazines and cups of liquid inspiration.   But all my writing thus far has come while camped out on my couch or propped up in bed. And I’ve got a hunch that the next year in those same places will bring as much life to my writing as writing to my life.  In the meantime, it’s time to get out on the bike and see the city on two wheels- that view continues to be my best inspiration of all.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Unexpected Trip

I’m feeling restless these days.  We keep getting teased with warmer temperatures only to wake up with blustery winds and a dusting of snow.  The icy roads tell the truth: that Winter is still upon us.  Weather reports have taunted us this season- and with typical accuracy for West Michigan, have often been wrong. 

Sundays are my favorite day to write because it’s the day that feels like both the last and the first day of the week.  It’s the day I reflect on the previous week and plan for the week to come.  This past week I got word that my position at work was eliminated.  Because of this, I will be taking a severance package.  Once again, I am faced with the decision to continue on my current career path or take another direction altogether.  This time I have the benefit of many months of paid time off to decide.

I spent yesterday afternoon with Anita- we had lunch and drinks.  She summarized my current situation like this: “you’re on sabbatical for the next few months.”  I love that way of looking at it so much that I am deciding from this point forward I will refer to this situation not as “being downsized” but as “going on sabbatical.”  She’s heard me talk about writing and offering workshops for long enough that she knows I can use this time to put those dreams into action.  My friends certainly help me keep a healthy perspective. 

My bike is sturffed in the corner of my garage, the seat off, with the battery on a trickle charge in the basement.  Yesterday I daydreamed about putting her back together and riding her down to Lifecycle in Kalamazoo to get some brake work done.  When I pictured myself riding down, there was no snow on the ground and I wasn’t wearing long johns and my heated gear.  There was no helmet or sunglasses and there was plenty of money in my bank account to cover whatever repairs and upgrades were needed.  In other words, it was an absolute fantasy my imagination had concocted because I have been feeling hemmed in, constricted and limited.  At this time of the season, I’m no longer comforted by sleeping in while the snow piles up- I feel frustrated that I can’t just throw on some shoes and go for a walk without first layering and donning and bundling.  I want to roll in the grass and jump in puddles, not shovel snow and slip on ice. 

During the Spring and Summer, when I use only my bike to get around, I rarely speak about the weather.  With rain, I put on rain gear; cool, I put on the heated gear; hot, I put on the ventilated gear.  Unlike some of my riding friends, I’m not a fair weather rider and I don’t check weather reports all day long to see if I’ll be able to head out for a ride after work.   I check the weather the old fashion way- by stepping outside.  While I pull the bike out of the garage, I’m looking at the sky and taking in the feel and smell of the air.   Nevertheless, riding daily is a commitment.  It takes planning and, as you may have noted, lots of gear or at least proper gear to cover the variety of riding conditions we encounter here in West Michigan.

In my daydream, there were no preparations, no consideration of the weather, no gear at all, even- just me and the bike and the promise of future riding.   When I contrast this with how I live each day- factoring in so many different things: the temperature, the destination, finances, food – I am always, at some level attempting to prepare myself for whatever lies ahead.  The irony is, that after all these years, I still can’t predict what’s coming. 

Nearly three years ago, I was working for the Grand Rapids Dominicans and struggling with the job.  Just as in my current position, I was being asked to take on more duties – the scope of my practice was so large and had become so stressful, the things I enjoyed the most were “not a priority” to the organization.  Back then, I  daydreamed regularly of losing my job so I could write.  Fast forward to today and I am finally getting the chance.  I wasn’t planning to leave my present employer and it never occurred to me that my current position would dissolve.  That said, my frustration and disappointment are mitigated by the fact that I have several months of paid time off to explore the things I was daydreaming about just a few years ago.

Patrick called last night with an extra ticket to the Grand Rapids Symphony- his wife is a violinist and suggested he invite me to watch the performance with him.  He picked me up 30 minutes later and off we went to the “Soul” themed evening.   The event opened with a piece that sounded like a movie score- its energy and tension peaking and receding throughout.  Other pieces followed including a jazz singer who pulled out a Bobby McFerrin song backed by a choir.  The evening ended with several performances by Dianne Reeves, in tribute to Sarah Vaughan.   I felt like I was taken on both a musical and emotional journey.  Her voice is so rich and full, and comes from deep within that I was willing to follow wherever she led.  Short stories she shared like vignettes before each song had the audience laughing or rejoicing with her.  Then she would pause and as the first few bars of music began, the audience caught the story that continued through the feeling and lyrics of the song.    The musicians pulled the audience into the performance so completely, that the subject/object relationship between them and the audience dissolved.  In listening to her, I felt part of her show and she in turn, expressed the same when she said, “I’m leaving home with many gifts tonight.”

Life takes so many twists and turns, and I’m as grateful for the fork in the road that led me to last night’s performance  as I am for the writing sabbatical.  I know the daydream of riding unencumbered by weather or gear choices is not just a desire to for Summer riding but is born of a deeper desire to let myself be led by the road in front of me, and not just by the path I have marked on the map.