Results of the Lifestyle Test Drive – Part 1

I am on day 6 of 9 of my summer vacation.  If my plans had gone as intended, I would be writing this happily from a location a few dozen yards from the Atlantic Ocean on a beach or a pier or a bench on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  But, plans being what they are, I am writing from my couch in my living room instead.

Lessons Learned:

#1: DO NOT go to the beach in North Carolina in the summer.  EVER. You will just get sweaty and sticky, your pores won’t be able to breathe through the 50+ sunscreen, your hair will get tangled  and always be sticking to your skin or blowing into your eyes, and you’ll be oxygen-deprived from the high humidity content of the air while you bake in the wind-whipped, outdoor sauna.  You will not feel sleek and sexy.  You will feel bloated and lumpy and grimy and will spend the majority of your time dreaming of standing under one of the cold water, outdoor showers just to feel a little relief.  Do not be fooled by weather reports that always promise it is five to ten degrees cooler at the beach than anywhere else in the Piedmont.  They are not taking into account the high humidity that will make your experience one of true misery.  Do not listen to the stories of fellow Carolinians who claim they go to the beach in the summer and love it–they are insane or flat out lying.  And, most importantly, do not forget that a summer Outer Banks beach experience is similar to childbirth: if you remembered it accurately, you would never do it again.  Tattoo it on your arm or your forehead or backwards across your six-pack abs so you can read it in the mirror: Do NOT go to the beach in North Carolina in the summer. EVER.

#2: DO NOT CAMP on Ocracoke Island! You will suffer all of the above, plus you will be under constant attack from the millions of mosquitoes who reside at the beach regardless of the high winds and the high heat.  I am not joking or exaggerating when I say you will kill two or three or more mosquitoes with every slap of your hand against your own skin between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 a.m.  Go ahead and cede the island to the mosquitoes now.  There is no need for further bloodshed.  The mosquitoes can have Ocracoke Island during tourist season.  Go to the mountains (where the weather report always promises the temperature is ten to fifteen degrees lower than in the Piedmont) or the North Woods and let the Ocracoke Island bloodsuckers feast on someone else.

#3: When you are test-driving the new lifestyle you want to create for yourself, test-drive the parts that will comprise the biggest percentage of your time–not just the parts that seem most fun. For example, the lifestyle I am working toward is one of writing, traveling combined with ecological/environmental (most likely volunteer) projects, some teaching, and a handful of clients of some kind–people I can help with writing or marketing or editing or social media & Internet skills or increasing their creativity or creative productivity.  Of course, the part that seems the most exciting–and that I can visualize most clearly–is the traveling part.  So for this vacation, I decided to camp for 3 nights on Ocracoke Island and do my own personal writing retreat–to see if I could keep my hand moving across the page, to get some new creative pieces started, to break me out of my routine, and to seriously test-drive the kind of writing and traveling combo I envision.  Since I am writing this from my couch instead of the beach, you probably have guessed that I spent 7.5 hours traveling to Ocracoke Campground where I spent 14.5 hours in almost constant and complete agony and then spent 7.5 hours traveling back home.  During the 29.5 hour “adventure,” I wrote only half a page in longhand in a college-ruled notebook while I was waiting to board the ferry that was going to get me the hell off that god-forsaken island.

My point: if writing is the goal (and it was the primary goal of this week, although the travel part was running a very close second), then write. If a lifestyle–and an income–is going to be built around writing, you better be willing and able to write anywhere, especially at (or very near) home.  Instead of test-driving the travel part of my dream lifestyle, I should have test-driven the “can I get up and write for 4 to 12 hours per day at home” part of the lifestyle because that is the biggest component of what I’m aiming for and it is also the most difficult.  The upshot: I will spend the last four days of my vacation testing this component.

[Side note: prior experience has shown that while I am able to write in my journal and start new projects while traveling, most of the writing I do for public consumption takes place after a trip is over, from home.]

#4: Plans don’t have to work out as expected to be of value. Even though I had to cut my camping trip short and I wasn’t able to write much while I was away, the adventure did serve several purposes.  It got me out of my every day routine and away from clocks and computers and cell phones.  I reminded myself I was on vacation and had no schedule, and just knowing this freed me of stress (while I was traveling, not while I was besieged by bugs) and allowed me to follow the rhythms of the day.  I met people I wouldn’t have otherwise; I faced my fear of bridges six times and was almost relaxed driving over the three I crossed on the way home; I introduced my dog Kaija to boats and got to see how happy she was to be running and playing on the beach; I got sunshine and blue sky into my eyes and saw two shooting stars; I got to say hello to the lighthouses I love so much; and I got to think thoughts my every day life probably wouldn’t have produced.  Plus, I got to test my fortitude (I can survive one night of anything, right?) and my flexibility.  Turning disappointment into something more positive (I can go home and write in air-conditioning all day and all night–alright!) and being able to “go with the flow” have not always come easily to me, so I am grateful for opportunities to practice those skills.

And now I’m home, unpacked, surrounded by temperature and humidity-controlled bliss and sitting happily on the couch next to the sweetest (and bravest!) little dog in the world. (Would you have wanted to spend the night in a tent (followed by the car) with a crazy person who turned on a flashlight every two minutes and slapped the walls and ceiling with great force?) Not to mention, my writing hand has been moving continuously for one hour and twenty-three minutes.  Life is good!

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What New Language Are You Learning?

Since finishing the triathlon–and receiving those super lovelyprofessional race photos in my inbox (I especially love the one, taken seconds after I hauled myself out of the pool, of me pulling my shorts up while simultaneously pulling my bra-tank down, all while running toward my bike–how’s that for transition efficiency?)–I have been counting Weight Watcher’s points and trying to be more conscious of what I eat, when I eat, and why I eat.  I have decided that if I’m going to eat “treats,” they need to be really good treats that are worth the calories, sugar, and fat.

The other day I was craving chocolate and decided to stop at Weaver Street Market, a cooperative grocery store that specializes in gourmet and specialty foods, to buy an organic brownie with walnuts from their bakery.  (We are talking about a seriously good brownie–good enough that I was able to stop after only two bites and save the rest for a later craving.  Totally worth the hit my “diet” took!) 

Before I found my way to the bakery section, however, my eyes landed on an endcap featuring progressive and alternative magazines.  The first one I saw was Yes! Magazine whose tagline is Supporting you in building a just and sustainable world.  This magazine focuses on positive stories surrounding some of the world’s most challenging issues–climate change, globalization, health, social and racial justice, peace–and I was psyched because I hadn’t seen a copy of it on a newsstand since I left Seattle six years ago.  The cover headline read, “The New Economy Starts Here: why this crisis might be our best chance.”  My hands grabbed the last copy of the magazine without waiting for my brain’s permission.  (You can get your own free, trial copy here!)

Before I could flip through the magazine’s pages, however, my eyes landed on another magazine I’d never seen before: EnlightenNext: the magazine for Evolutionaries.  The word Evolutionaries was in red.  I was intrigued.  What was an evolutionary? The cover text read, “Envisioning the Future: what today’s brightest minds have to say about the road ahead.”  Again, the magazine was immediately in my hands.  I scanned the bottom of the magazine cover, a green bar that listed the articles inside and their authors and recognized a few of the names, Ray Kurzweil, Jean Houston, Duane Elgin.  My left brain forced my eyes over to the right corner where the price was listed–a steep $7.50–before my right brain overrode it and decided both magazines were going home with me, despite the cost.

I started reading EnlightenNext first, but I haven’t read far.  I’ve been savoring it, determined to read it from cover to cover, even taking time to study the ads to get a feel for who this magazine’s readers are.  On the inside of the front cover I was already confronted with a phrase I hadn’t heard before, “integral theory.”  My brain began to tingle.  A few pages later, in the magazine’s mission statement printed on the masthead, I found mention of “the emerging field of integral and evolutionary spirituality.”  Now, my whole body was tingling!  I was holding a portal into an “emerging field” that used language I did not know.  How exciting!

It has been a long time since I felt the thrill of being slightly over my head in a piece of writing, when I felt that I was on the brink of a whole new way of thinking, when a whole new language was about to open up to me.  That’s why the desire to savor it, to let the words unfold slowly, to let the mystery linger as long as possible.  I love new things, but I especially love totally new things and I had clearly stumbled upon a treasure.

For most of my time in public school, I felt like I was simply relearning things I had already learned before.  The first time I really felt over my head was in a freshman honors seminar at the University of Michigan titled “Imagination.”  A handful of us sat around a big wooden table for an entire semester discussing how humans create the world in which we live using our imaginations, both individually and collectively, and the mechanisms by which we “change the world” through shifts in our collective thinking.  For most of the class, I felt I was running at full speed to catch up, unable on most occasions to put together a single coherent sentence to contribute to the discussion, trying desperately to create a nice, sane, neat understanding of what was a complex, unwieldy subject.   It was totally delicious!

The next such class occurred in my senior year, a class taught in the engineering department by a professor who had a knack for turning students away from engineering, Dr. Henryk Skolimowski.  It was called “Ecophilosophy.”  We discussed the nature of life on earth and the relationship between humans and nature.  We read Teilhard de Chardin’s  The Phenomenon of Man–a book that stood my world on its head–and I was asked to summarize it in two sentences for the class.  (Skolimowski pounded it into our heads that you only have two sentences to get your point across, people won’t listen longer than that, and he had us practice summarizing our ideas in this manner throughout the semester.)  I was fabulously immersed in a new world, a new way of thinking and being, and I was in love with the entire experience.

I have encountered few things so completely new to me since my years at Michigan; nothing that has forced me to change the language I use, and therefore my world view, to such an immense degree. 

And, even as I savor EnlightenNext, hoping it will upend my experience of the world in some dramatic way, I already have seen beacons in its pages pointing me back toward familiar terrain.  For example, on page 20, I found the name Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in bold type.  What 21st century magazine has the name of a Jesuit priest who’s been dead for more than fifty years printed in it?? (Well, apparently two: this one and a recent issue of the scientific magazine Discover.)  So, this magazine may not send me into completely new territory as I had hoped, but may instead deepen my exploration of spiritual and philosophical ideas I first joyfully encountered twenty years ago–and that’s an exciting prospect in itself.  There are new words to learn, new concepts to wrap my brain around, new voices with whom to acquaint myself.  New challenges to face as I ask myself if I am living up to my ideals and according to my moral compass.

When was the last time you immersed yourself in something completely new?  Are you learning new words and new ways of experiencing the world as frequently as you’d like?  Is your life, as mine all too frequently is, already so full of other busy-ness that you close yourself off to new possibilities?  What about old passions? When was the last time you abandoned your schedule and let yourself sink into something you absolutely love but don’t often indulge in?

The next time you get a craving for a bite of chocolate, follow it.  You never know what serendipitous portals it might lead you through!

The REAL Reason I Tri

I forgot to include in the last post the real reason I’m training for triathlons this summer.  It seems so intuitive that I often forget it–which is why it deserves its own blog post.

The real reason I tri is because I have finally (I really would like to believe this is the last time I will have to learn this, but my life seems to be a series of me learning and forgetting and relearning, so I can’t make any promises) realized that my health, and especially my fitness level, is the foundation of everything else.  It determines my energy level and, therefore, how well I perform my job, how much I have to give to the people I care about, and how much I have left to engage in projects that are important to me personally.  When I get out of bed tired in the morning and come home exhausted from work, you can be pretty damn sure I won’t be getting off the couch to write in my office or to play with the dog or to get outside for a walk.  And then the vicious cycle is underway – I’m tired, so I don’t work on anything of value to me, which makes me angry, sad, and depressed, which makes me feel even more tired and less energetic.  I have to break the cycle somewhere and it seems to make the most sense that I do that by engaging in physical activities that I enjoy and that challenge me.  The joy I feel at the end of a swim can carry me through to lunch when maybe I’ll carve out a few minutes to write a few pages of something new.  And the excitement of having written something new can carry me through to the evening and inspire me to get outside for that run.

I can carry this one step further.  Fitness is the foundation for me being able to maintain the lifestyle I have currently in an enjoyable, sustainable manner.  But if I want to change my lifestyle, which I do, then fitness becomes absolutely critical.  I considered taking a working vacation in Alaska this year, but when I realized that my duties would include more than leading visitors on nature hikes–things like unloading drinking water from boats and shoveling out composting toilets–on a remote island with no nearby medical facilities, I stopped pursuing the idea for fear that I wasn’t up to the physical challenges.  Not long after, my friend Zoi posted pictures on her Facebook page of her recent trip to Costa Rica and as I looked at the ziplines and the waterfalls, I realized I was probably too out of shape to have enjoyed a trip like the one she’d been on.  And if I wanted to undertake something even more strenuous, like replanting the rainforest, I had a long way to go to be fit enough to make that a fun, manageable prospect.

Hence, the commitment to train for a triathlon…which is really just a commitment to train for the best possible life I can design.