I know I’ve either had a mentally lazy or exhausting week when it’s Friday and I’ve written nothing. This week I think it’s laziness. For that, I apologize. I’ve had back to back long nights, early mornings, and I’ve watched entirely too much television this week. It’s a deadly combination. This is precisely how people become stupid. I will do better next week. Scout’s honor.
As someone with a history of chronic overcommitment disorder, I happen to know a thing or two about saying yes. I am very good at it. If they made trophies for people who say yes most often I would win several. However, according to the most recent available data they do not yet make these trophies, and lining your shelves with empty bottles of Valium doesn’t quite say, “I am awesome” with the same cheery confidence.
At this point in my life I no longer have a free pass when it comes to overcommitment. People get very fed up with grown ups who can’t get their sh*t together, or so it seems. The older I get and the more responsibilities I am trusted with, the higher the stakes rise and the number of people who would be disappointed in my failure keeps getting bigger. I sometimes have the urge to lock myself in a closet and demand that the rest of the world, “JUST HANG ON A MINUTE!” so I can cry it out and drink my wine in private, thank you very much. But this seldom accomplishes more than giving me a headache and making me late. There is something very female about expecting oneself to maintain one’s household, finances, social life, church obligations, leadership roles, job, and relationships with optimum attention to detail and utterly without flaw. I’m calling BS. Throw in all of the things we say we’ll do for friends, family members, bosses, and that lady from accounting who keeps asking you to write down the recipe for your chocolate chip cookies even though you’ve told her forty seven times that it’s on the bag, and it’s no wonder we’re one of the most pill popping countries in the world.
Alas, it turns out much of this is- dare I say it?- self inflicted pain. Maybe if oneself would say “No” once in a while, oneself would be far less likely to overextend and there would be fewer Mary Winklers in the world. This oneself is learning the art of separating good opportunities from right opportunities in hopes of doing a better job at life and having more time for bubble baths.
Instead of having, “Yeah, that sounds great! Let’s do it!” loaded in my mouth cannon, I’m going to work on, “I need to check my calendar and get back to you.” I plan on working my way up to, “That sounds like something I’d only do if the world ran out of glass for me to eat.” I have got to stop agreeing to 95% of the things that “sound great,” and pay more attention to the realities of my life. Realities such as: Some things cost more money than I have to spare. Some really great opportunities conflict with immovable objects on my calendar. Gas is getting very expensive and will eventually limit the amount of driving I can afford. My job right now demands 55 hours of my week, and that doesn’t leave many spare waking hours until the weekend. Sometimes knowing the difference between good and right means having to say “No” to some really, really great opportunities. I’m not gonna lie, that part sucks.
In addition to the “good v. right” lesson, it’s important to identify “important v. urgent.” Some things need to be done. Some things need to be done right now. Prioritizing these items eliminates much anguish when one is unable to pay one’s cable bill, but has some fantastic new sneakers. For the record, I have not yet missed a bill in order to buy shoes. (A flight, maybe. But not shoes.)
I plan to say “No” a lot in the next few weeks. I’m steering my life towards some major changes and that’s going to demand more time, attention, money, and sleep than I’ve made a priority lately. It seems that the bigger my goals get, the more specific my commitments must be. I will not want to say no. I promise. If any of my cherished readers get a no from me, it’s not personal. Well, actually, it’s very personal. It’s just contained wholly within my person, not directed at yours.
Let us go forward, our mouth cannons dutifully loaded with No, and conquer our destinies! …Or at least make time for a bubble bath.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of making a living lately, especially now that I’m doing it for the first time. I remember, when I first started looking for work, asking my dad for job hunting advice. “I don’t really know what to tell you. I’ve always just made my own.” That hasn’t left me. I doubt it ever will. The days of honing a skill, finding an employer, and doing what he/she says for however many years are dying, if they have any life left to begin with. To be honest, that kind of work never really interested me in the first place. I grew up watching my dad and his buddies build businesses and create their own sources of income. Money always came in from somewhere because they worked to have multiple projects generating income at the same time. That life demands flexibility, adaptability, outside the lines thinking, and taking lots of calculated risks. It demands that you be teachable and always willing and wanting to learn new things. And I’m pretty sure it’s the only way to survive going forward.
Times, they are a changin’ as they say. The old ways of work are gone. That’s a fact. As a historian, I’m hard wired to look back and consider trends, events, movements, and ideas within a larger context. I always want to define and support any claims with hard evidence from the past. This kind of thinking is, I think (I hope), generally a healthy way to begin to examine the world. But it’s not enough on it’s own. It can lead to tunnel vision. It produces very specific, rigid ways of doing life. Without a careful, intentional eye on what’s happening NOW and on what direction we seem to be headed we’ll get stuck. I’ll get stuck.
As this relates to the idea of making a living for myself, I’m beginning to learn how to stop looking back at how things have been done, because that isn’t going to cut it anymore. Check out Seth Godin’s blog today. His thoughts on work and business really pounded on my front door today. He says, “The sooner we realize that the world has changed, the sooner we can accept it and make something of what we’ve got. Whining isn’t a scalable solution.” I love this. Everything is changing. Our institutions, our expectations, our beliefs, our diets are changing for heaven’s sake. Nothing is exempt from the fundamental overhaul of the way Americans in the 21st century see the world. Nothing. So why try to do business the way we’ve always done it? Why stick to a formula that is rapidly becoming obsolete? I’ve always been a firm believer in the very American mission of ‘go to college, get a degree, find work in that field and live happily ever after’ but it’s not happening that way anymore. I have a history degree that I had a great time earning, but have no concrete plans to do anything with it that might make me any money anytime soon (Sorry, Mom and Dad). I’m far more interested in turning the things that I’m learning about nutrition and holistic healthfulness into a sustainable source of income. I’m interested in starting things. I want, like my dad has always done, to create my own work out of what inspires me.
I recommend Rework by the guys over at 37 signals to anyone interested in creating multiple sources of income for themselves. Speaking of overhaul, here is a book that will turn conventional ideas about business and management on their heads and spin them around just for good measure. This book got me started on this path on which I see starting my own thing as a realistic possibility, not something great for MBAs but out of reach for me. Work is changing. As unemployment rates continue to soar, those who don’t have the cajones to create something for themselves will continue to be frustrated and broke. There is a new normal, folks. We’re not going back. The past is dead and done. Trust me, the history student in me is as bummed about it as you are. However, we’re starting something new here, and the Generation Y lover of change in me is positively titillated. That’s right. Titillated.
It’s happening right now. Create your own bandwagon. Everybody’s doing it.
For the first year of my working life, my primary source of income has been W-2. I was 1099 for years and always owed huge chunks of money to the IRS come April. This year, I was certain, would be my year for a refund. I have about $450 of extra bills to pay this month, so I was literally banking on a refund. No such luck. I actually owed about $600. I wrote the check for money that does not yet exist and sent it off. It was postmarked yesterday. Today, I checked the mail and found what looked to be a bill from Chase Home Mortgage. I resentfully tore into it and found this printed at the top of the letter, “Your Escrow Analysis Statement indicates a surplus in your escrow account. Enclosed in the check representing the total escrow surplus.” Sure enough, it was a check. For how much, you say? $644.30.
I am no saint. I curse when I’m agitated (and sometimes when I’m not), I have moments of sheer laziness, and have been known to give in to the “desires of the flesh”, if you will. My financial plan is cute, but not fail safe. My God’s plan, however, is solid. He provides for His people. Period. Even the ones like me who screw it up fairly regularly. Pay your tithe, folks. In all my failures, that is one thing I don’t mess around with. Sometimes I forget my checkbook and don’t pay one week, but I find a way to give that money to someone who needs it. Be generous with God and with the people around you. He notices. He knows what you need and when you need it and He WILL show up for you. If He’s still showing up for me, there’s plenty of room for you, too.
I have sprouts! I came home from Seattle to signs of new life in my garden. I think the key to growing anything from scratch must be staying out of the way. Remove clutter (in the case of my garden that meant digging up a foot – or several hundred pounds- of gravel), replace with healthy soil, add the only things the seeds really need, and stay out of the way. Aisles and aisles of fertilizers, pesticides, and the endless additives really aren’t necessary. The oldies- dirt, sunlight, and water- really are enough. The seeds know what to do. Let the metaphors flow.
I promise to post pictures of Seattle and regale you with thrilling stories of the wild Pacific Northwest- well, half of that statement is true- as soon as I have them in my possession. I ate such incredible food and drank so many Washington wines. At best, I indulged. At worst, I flirted with gluttony. Either way, my taste buds partied for 3 days solid and my hips were none the worse for it, considering the miles and miles and miles of hilly Seattle streets I climbed. My first lunch was Beecher’s macaroni and cheese, the one meal that I could not leave Seattle without eating. That was immediately followed by wine tasting at a little joint I always visit when I’m there, The Tasting Room. These guys only carry Washington wines, and only from 7 of the several hundred vineyards in the state. Seriously tasty vino. Always a treat to visit with the folks there. I’ll post pictures from the Museum of Glass, my first experience with octopus, Macrina Bakery, and other adventures soon. It was a wonderful trip, and I think I’ve had my fill of Seattle for a while. At least until it stops raining.
Maybe it’s because I spent several days in the misty rain and came home to sunshine, maybe it’s because of the baby veggie sprouts, but I sense a real chapter changing in my life. This year is already full of firsts and beginnings, and coming home from this trip really felt like the start of something new. I can’t put my finger on it just yet, but something’s afoot. I’ll keep you guys posted on that one.
Also, I started reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants yesterday and you should, too.
My maternal grandfather’s mother, known to the grand kids as mamaw, was a fiesty, independent, take no prisoners kind of lady. She took trips around the world by herself when women weren’t supposed to leave the house without a man. She and her friends did as they saw fit, thank you very much, and too bad for you if you couldn’t keep up. I wish I had known this women better, but she passed when I was very young. The stories that my Gammy tells me of Mamaw are some of my absolute favorite. I remember one phone call with Gammy last year filled with Mamaw stories that brought me to tears. I hung up the phone crying when our conversation was over because I felt this incredibly deep, spiritual connection to this woman that I never really got to know. It was as if someone suspended time so that Mamaw and I could reach through space to look at each other and say, “Hey, I know you.” I know that her blood, her life, her spirit are part of me. Sometimes, it completely overwhelms me.
My favorite Mamaw stories are when she was traveling. I need to write them all down, so I never forget all the Mamaw adventures that have been passed down. I get why she loved to travel so much. There is this compelling, insatiable urge that is too strong to ignore and too heavy to shake off, and feels as natural as the need to breathe or eat. It’s the undeniable urge to GO. To be on the road. To see the world. To sit down with new people and hear their stories. To taste new flavors. To smell unfamiliar cities. To go where the wind blows. We call it the Mamaw Gene, and boy do I have it.
Between Mamaw and my father, there was no way I was ever going to be a homebody. For as long as I can remember, my dad has traveled for work and, as often as he could, he’s taken us with him. Until the past couple of years, I’d almost always been on the road in some capacity. For now, with full-time work in Nashville, I’m only able to satisfy the call of the Mamaw Gene with occasional weekend trips. This weekend, I’m headed to Seattle to eat crab legs, study blown glass, taste the best mac n’ cheese in the world (and I really mean that this time), ride a ferry across the bay, look out at the mountains and back across the ocean, and soak up as much jazz, wine, and good company as I can stand. Mamaw would love this trip. I have this sneaky feeling that she’ll probably be with me.
I am a chronic dabbler. My friends and family know this. They take select few of my often grand pronouncements and newly found passions seriously unless proven by a least a month’s time. This is fine with me. I know I’m a little flaky and that I often abuse superlatives. And hyperbole. “This is the best workout I’ve ever done.” “That macaroni and cheese has no equal on this earth, anywhere.” “I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life.” You see? It doesn’t take long for the novelty to wear off and I’m off to something new. Like I said; I know this. This attitude means, despite it’s flaws, that I’m regularly incredibly excited and inspired. (Blame Sagittarius. I come by it honest.) And that’s quite alright with me, too.
This week, I’m excited about my garden. Now, I’ve never planted my own garden before but I’m all about the local, homegrown, sustainable movement. One of the things that has me excited this month is the documentary film medium, and I’ve watched a handful of movies about the food industry in the last few weeks. One of the things I tell folks about these movies is that you shouldn’t watch them unless you’re prepared to make some decisions. After watching Food, Inc., Deconstructing Supper, and Killer at Large, and researching more about companies like Monsanto and the local farmers in my area, I decided to redirect my grocery allowance to local farmer’s markets and my own backyard.
Because I live in a townhome I’m working with very limited space, but I managed to get three varieties of lettuce, peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, garlic, and soon tomatoes into the dirt. I’ve also got several pots of herbs (basil, rosemary, oregano) and transplanted 3 plants (mint, cilantro, thyme) to the far end of the garden. I’m pretty skeptical about the peas, carrots, spinach, and garlic, because I’m generally apprehensive to be hopeful about the survival rate of anything I grow from scratch. Either way, I think I’m doing my tiny little part to take money from the coffers of the likes of Monsanto and support local farmers. Anything I need that I can’t grow, I’ll get from the Nashville Farmer’s Market. It’s a nice field trip for the girls and I each week, and when I’m there I can’t help but think, “Now, THIS is how people ought to shop.”
Do me a favor, and look into the farmer’s markets in your area. You’d be surprised how many local farms you can find, and the variety of produce and meat you can buy from them. Meats are more expensive when you buy local, but it’s because they’re not raised in bulk and shot up with hormones that make them produce more than they are meant to. It’s worth it. The meats taste unlike anything you get from the store. Paying a little more also encourages eating a more reasonable amount than we tend to in this red meat loving country. You’ll eat less, enjoy it more, and contribute to sustaining your community. You will be very current and likable.