Working the Boxes

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“It’s an act of courage to let go,” Mr. Simon said. “I am going to see what happens if I let go. Then I’m going to see, who am I? Or am I just this person that was defined by what I did? And if that’s gone, if you have to make up yourself, who are you?”
from a New York Times article by Jim Dwyer on singer-songwriter-musician Paul Simon

I’ve been thinking a lot about work lately. Last week, I worked the kayak charter here at God’s Pocket, doing housekeeping in the six guest rooms and supporting the cook and kitchen. Honorable work, certainly, as all honest work is.  I really enjoyed making up the rooms, and making sure the comforters were “just so” on the bed, ensuring the rooms looked fresh and inviting. I enjoyed the physicality of it, and the routine. I didn’t so much enjoy cleaning the bathrooms, but used the experience to systematize and refine my approach each day. (Well, of course I did! I know that doesn’t surprise any of you: that’s who I am; the same person who wants to process-improve TSA security checkpoint processing at the airport.)

When I think about work, resort housekeeping notwithstanding, I mean some sort of productive, contributive set of endeavors that I’ll undertake with enthusiasm and passion sometime after the end of this 2016 gap year. Naturally, the picture of my work that comes to mind is the work I decided to leave earlier this year: corporate, linear, intellect-driven. It was good work in a good organization, and even though I had a full 28-year career, I knew it was only part of my life’s work. And so the journey began to figure out what is next. I know that I want my pursuits to be of use to myself and others, to make a difference, and to honor the heart and spirit that moves in each of us.

I fully recognize the luxury of having this year to explore. We have worked hard AND we have been lucky, so we can afford (financially) to do so. I started planning more than five years ago to take this time; it was an imperative for me. Now that I’m in it, the clarity is a bit murky: what should my days look like so that I’m moving forward? In the past, my work has always been the primary source for my identity, and this gap year has been an interesting adventure in finding out who I am without work, even as I try to figure out who I next want to be at work.

I keep hoping for the big reveal, the epiphany that clarifies my purpose and the shape of my days and next career.  I know, instead, that it will more likely be a game of “hot and cold” (also known as “hunt the thimble”). I will need to pay close attention as I move forward with my thinking and doing, seeing if I feel that I am getting closer (hotter) to something important or meaningful, or not (colder).

The picture that comes when I try to imagine future work is the one I’ve already known, and that is a box I want to move beyond. Boxes are defining in both good and bad ways, with their boundaries and limits, but also by their spacious interiors, where depth and focus can be had. Whether I imagine a similar leadership role in an organization or not, I know that my doubts and fears about the future and about what I offer form another sort of box, a more limiting one if I heed my perceived boundaries. I need to “work the boxes” to find which limits are my intuition waving me off from a direction, and which are limits I am meant to see over and move past to find what is next.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about “not work.” We are care-taking the resort this week, which has a few daily chores and some advance work for the next charter, but is mostly about doing what we please. As is typical for me, doing what I please often presents a conundrum. Sometimes it’s because of the call to do, to be in motion, is strong with me; at other times, I am lost in the choices of what to do, what to begin next. I know that anything I start will need some time to unfold.  Then again, we’ve had warm and sunny weather of late, so I’ve spent the afternoons sitting in an Adirondack chair on the deck reading (or not reading), toggling back and forth between doing, being, and not thinking too hard.

The question of “not work” is important for me, on equal footing with the “work” question. For years, my life was shaped by the demands of my job: everything else was leftovers. I made some choices in that construct but often felt I’d be making different ones if my job were not so consuming energetically. Now, there is space and time enough to be intentional about the pace and content of my days, about the balances between work and not work. (I have never liked the use of the term “work-life balance” as if “work” and “life” are in separable spheres and at opposite ends of the teeter-totter. Still, I recognize that for many “work” is an inflexible construct that doesn’t allow for the needs of working families.  I also know that “not work” isn’t a great term either, and doesn’t do justice to the richness of life outside of the office or beyond work.) Specifically, I want my work to inform my relationships, my community, and my creativity, and for my work to be informed by love, and play, and art, and rest, and friendship.

I don’t know what those combinations will look like, but I do know it is time to experiment. With all this room to explore creatively, with the exception of writing, I have struggled to develop a consistent creative practice. On the other hand, even as I say I am not working this year, I am (pro bono) coaching a woman I know from a non-profit I support, and I am also consulting with a small business owner who wants to take his vision to the next level.  Much to my surprise last week, the resort’s co-owners asked me to help them have a discussion about a thorny topic they needed to talk about and work through together. I was honored by their trust.

I’m working from a place of ‘there are no coincidences,’ and trying to pay attention to the things that keep coming around. For example, I happened a few days ago to decide to join a free online webinar about using intuition and emotion, rather than intellect, for personal decision making. I remembered the saying, “the longest journey is from the head to the heart,” and that I have longed for work that was more heart-centered.  Meanwhile, coaching, facilitating, and advising opportunities keep coming up, as does my need to write, to create art, and to move my body. Time to pay attention to themes, ideas, colors and desires that I have noticed but haven’t yet sat with, and see where they lead.

Today I notice that what I’ve been thinking about and doing this summer at both work and not work are connected.  I may be getting warmer to what is next. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work the boxes.

Love,
Susan

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes on Fridays… Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.

 

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Driftwood

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It has been a quiet afternoon here at God’s Pocket. The sky is overcast and low, and we have the cozy feeling of being “socked in” by the fog and mist. Our hosts, Bill and Annie, who are the co-owners of this scuba and kayak resort, left mid-morning for what we have affectionately called “boat-a-palooza.” They are transporting a Grand Banks motor yacht belonging to friends who live in Bellingham, Washington from God’s Pocket to Bella Bella, BC, where their friends will pick up their boat. We are caretaking God’s Pocket until July 2nd.

It has been a bit of transition, with comings and goings, and now the quiet. I have had a sense of needing to relax and float a bit, and move with the tides like driftwood. We had a kayak charter for most of this week: 12 kayaking guests and two kayak guides. Bill, Annie, David and I shared the work in running God’s Pocket with help from the guides, both of whom had been here many times. The guests were all from Alberta, and relished their time in the area in spite of the frequent showers. They were a diverse and interesting group, and just very nice, warm people. We told them they fit perfectly into our general experience of Canadians (very nice); they asked if we were considering moving here given the political scene in the US…

I am enjoying being here in BC, and appreciated the daily routine of the charter and teamwork with Bill, Annie and David. Still the world news has (rightfully) intruded: I have been preoccupied with the Brexit vote. I did think the vote would be close but hoped that the “Remain” vote would prevail. As I have with the tone of the US presidential campaign, I have been stunned and dispirited by the xenophobic rhetoric that marked the British decision to leave the European Union. As much as I see and sympathize with the dislocations created by the global economy, and appreciate the terrible repercussions of income inequality, I can only think that facing inward and away from other nations and people will not result in the change that many are calling for. I fear that the same feelings are very much at play in the US.  Sigh…

So I am “low energy” this afternoon, not that there’s a call for my energy to be high! I’ll be washing the room sheets and remaking the beds over the next week (we can only run the drier when the generator is on, which puts laundry on a staggered scheduled).  A little bit of structure and focused activity works for me, enhancing the choices and experience of the downtime. While we have a few other chores to prepare the resort for the next kayak charter which starts on July 3rd, we are mostly at liberty to relax and explore.

We’ve had rich wildlife experiences lately. We have seen humpback whales out front in the pass most days, sometimes several times in a day. (I’ve attached below a link to my Instagram account post of a short video of a whale swimming past us as we sat in the skiff one evening). We’ve seen several individual otter, floating with their flippers out of the water, the telltale sign that they aren’t a log or driftwood. I saw two minks this morning, one ambling across the deck, and another a few minutes later, making her way from the water line at low tide with a crab in her mouth.

We headed into Port Hardy yesterday to get provisions for the week, leaving at low tide, and I said we should look for wolves who might be hunting at the shore during low tide. No sooner said, we saw a lone sea wolf on the rocky shore.  Stares were exchanged, deepening the thrill of the sighting, and then he turned and made his way up into the bushes and disappeared.

This afternoon as we stood on the lower dock, we heard a few short, high pitched wolf howls. On a lark, David howled back. The response was several longer, more pronounced howls, one which seemed to come from our island just across the cove, and one which seemed to come from across the pass from Balaklava Island. (The low cloud cover is excellent for transmitting sound.)  Wolf howls are magical: rare, haunting and beautiful.

I have been nurturing an idea for building shelves out of driftwood logs and planks for our condo, and want to explore the potential. As if on cue, the universe (and the ocean) delivered overnight to just under the deck an extraordinary, weather- and water-worn cedar log. It must be over 20 feet long and 20 inches in diameter. David tied it up to the dock and we’ll wait until high tide to pull it near the rocks on one side of the cove.  At low tide the log will settle, as if on rock sawhorses, for examination and some potential chainsaw activity.

Tomorrow we’ll take whatever the weather brings – a break in the rain might be nice – and head off in the skiff across the pass to Nigei Island. There’s an inlet there called Port Alexander, perfect for hiking and beach combing. It is a treasure trove of logs and driftwood, and the occasional wolf.

Love,
Susan

PS – Here is a link to my humpie (humpback whale) video (36 seconds long) on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BGvjriAqM6W/?taken-by=dancingonthewayhome

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes on Fridays, or like today, Saturdays… Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.

 

A Welcome Return

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Out of the corner of my eye, in the distance, I saw an enormous splash. Was it a wave hitting a barely submerged rock? Looking more closely and seeing the splash repeat, I realized it was a whale. A humpback whale was breaching and slapping the water with her pectoral fin. She did it again and again.

David and I were on the Hurst Isle, the boat that would return us to God’s Pocket Resort for another sojourn, this time for one month. Bill Weeks, co-owner of God’s Pocket and our boat captain, offered an explanation: “She’s waving to you, Susan, welcoming you back!”  Of course she is, I thought…

We have been here just a few days, caretaking the resort this week. The area has been receiving some much needed rain, coinciding with our arrival. So on that front, things don’t seem much different from when we here for two and a half months over the winter: it is cold and wet!  But other things are quite changed. The water, crystal clear to depth in January and February, is murky green due to the algae bloom that happens every year at this time. The large number of otter we saw on the back side of the island are now gone. There are no cormorants on the breakwater, let alone on Cormorant Rock at the mouth of the cove. My favorite great blue heron no longer comes to the cove daily.

But there are other new things. Visitors of the human variety are quite common. Normally, for a small fee, boats can tie up at the dock here, otherwise they can anchor for free between Cormorant Rock and the shore of Hurst Island. At the moment, there are three rather large boats affiliated with the resort tied up to the docks and so not much room for other vessels. We had a family of three Australians anchor their 36 foot sailboat just outside the breakwater who we invited for dinner. Within the next 24 hours we had a motor boat with a retired couple on their way up the BC coast, and another sailboat with four men on it anchor just outside the cove. Two kayakers also paddled up for a chat, hoping our “store” was open. With the resort closed this week and the limited dock space, it was easy to be friendly. But we couldn’t invite everyone ashore, let alone in for dinner!

Bald eagles are present in abundance. On our crab pot-setting adventure yesterday, we saw no fewer than four pair of eagles, some with their juveniles, hunting over the water for fish. David, too, was fishing, hoping to catch rockfish, while I watched the eagles swoop and dive and return to the trees. Sometimes there was a fish in their talons, sometimes not. We humans were lucky yesterday: David caught a 16 inch spiny rockfish and 28 inch lingcod, really the perfect size (any smaller wouldn’t be legal, and any bigger would mean prime breeding age and shouldn’t be taken). Dinner was delicious.

We’ve already had a few unexpected, exciting moments. I was doing dishes with my earbuds and music playing in my ears when we realized that there were schools of fish in the cove, jumping out of the water, to eat shrimp fry and crab larvae treats. We assumed they were herring since they are the only schooling fish we have seen up close. The herring we are familiar with come into the San Francisco Bay every December-March for their annual spawn, and often take over the water in front of our condo.

When we showed the short video of the fish jumping in the God’s Pocket cove to our hosts Bill and Annie, they wondered if the schools were not herring, but juvenile salmon… The herring had just had their spawn further north in the warmer water inlets close to shore, so it didn’t make sense to them that they would be schooling down here in the deeper, colder water. So we think: herring = one kind of cool. But juvenile salmon? = another exponential kind of cool!

Bill and Annie are staying at their cabin across the Christie Pass, slightly northward, on Balaklava Island, and they invited us for dinner tonight to share the Dungeness crab from the pots we set yesterday (that they picked up today). We had a lovely, wine-enriched time with them, and the crab was delicious. I shared with them the very short ditty I made up and have been singing to myself since my arrival:

Looking for a humpie, humpback whale,
Swimming in the ocean, fluking with her tail!

As luck would have it, on our way back across the pass, we saw two humpback whales head into the pass in our direction from the east. We cut the motor on the skiff and waited. While holding my breath in awe, I was able to use my iPhone to video one of the whales surfacing, blowing, and going back under (see my instagram post!).  One breath past us, the whale dove deep, ending our enraptured vigil, so we resumed our course towards home. We stopped two more times: we saw the blow of a whale in the distance to the north, and then again, behind us to the west in the pass as we neared God’s Pocket. Those sightings were exciting, but nothing like the close visit we had just enjoyed 25 feet off our bow.

The days are quite long here at this time of year, and we have noticed that we are exceptionally tired. We are shaking off the stresses from our last few months, and even as we arrived here, the grief-inducing terrible news of the last few days. I am grateful that it is very quiet here: it is good for reflection, for nurturing peace, and for doing very little.  I am glad to be able to retreat to nature, and to this remote island, even while knowing that doing very little is selfish and doesn’t contribute to the common good.

So, I will make my anger and grief heard. And I encourage my friends and blog followers to do as I will: please reach out to your representatives at all levels of government and let them know how you feel.

Love,
Susan

PS — Please allow me another shameless plug! My (maternal) aunt, Camilla Trinchieri, has just published her novel Seeking Alice, which I highly recommend. Here is the link to Amazon, where it can be readily procured and enjoyed:https://www.amazon.com/Seeking-Alice-Novel-Excelsior-Editions/dp/1438461283/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466138742&sr=8-1&keywords=seeking+alice. Buy it (from Amazon or your local book seller) and enjoy!

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes on Fridays. Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.

 

In The Meantime

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I skipped my bootcamp again this morning: I can’t seem to get enough sleep so a 6 am wake-up call comes too early, and lately the days exhaust me. I keep casting about for the ‘why,’ as if identifying some root cause would make it easier to feel this way, or maybe just make it okay by providing a reason… I’m curious about this need to have a logical basis for my experience, to give myself permission to feel as I do.

Naturally, I have a list of things that are tiring me out: getting myself packed and the house ready for us to be in Canada for five weeks; ongoing management and/or general worry about the work still being done on our first floor; the slow process of moving back into our second floor after tucking our lives into closets and storage spaces; concern about our cat Lucy who has lost a lot of weight and can’t seem to eat enough; and probably not least, short-cutting my self-care: not enough sleep, poor food choices, and lapsed yoga and meditation practices. Inventory may enlighten, but it doesn’t lift the mood.

I went with a friend to hear Paul Simon in conversation earlier in the week. He is an enduring artist who is still deeply engaged in exploring his musical craft, and I have loved his music since before I was a teenager. He spoke of knowing that his creative cycle is generally three years long (although he typically produces albums every 4-6 years) and still he doubts himself and what is next when he is in his “fallow” period. After he releases an album, he said he is exhausted and has no ideas. And this worries him for a while. In that moment, he doubts that he’ll ever have an idea again. After about a year, he notices that he has the sprout of an idea or two, and he plays with them. And then the momentum and creativity return steadily, although not without the occasional stuck place as he works a song or a lyric.  “It’s hard,” he said.

Okay, so I’m no Paul Simon, but I found it so instructive that he both “knows” how his creative cycle works, knows that the fallow time is necessary and passes into the next phase, and yet, he still perturbed by those periods. He doubts himself and his abilities in that time with no ideas. And even when he is deep in his creative periods, he experiences his work as hard. He knows intellectually that some things take more work than others, but he struggles with the hard part.  Paul Simon is nearly 75 years old, pursuing a career and talent he chose when he was 13: he has plenty of experience observing how he works, and still it’s new each time. He doubts what will come next and what his gifts will yield, even whether he has gifts at all.

That’s humbling, and oddly reassuring.

My last post was about restoration, and I think I sounded pretty comfortable with the notion of what it might take before I saw a clear, creative path forward. I’ve observed that sometimes the process of writing and examining a thing moves me to clarity. And then the clarity fades. Maybe like Paul Simon, I know (intellectually) but still can’t get comfortable with the experience of being tired, of not knowing what will come next, or with wondering if I will ever have an idea again.

In the meantime, what comes next is that we are off to Canada first thing in the morning, arriving at Port Hardy and then God’s Pocket on Sunday, June 12. We will be there close to five weeks, care-taking a bit and overseeing operations a bit. I know it will be very good for us to be away from the chaos we’ve experienced here at home since our return in March, and to be in a place that reminds us of the power and beauty of the natural world. I’m already imagining diving into the cove because even if the water is very cold, it is summer and that’s what we do!

Finally, please indulge me with a shameless plug: my sister, Anora Sutherland McGaha, is the publisher of a journal of poetry, prose and images by women, When Women Waken (www.whenwomenwaken.org). The latest issue – Water – is now available in print from https://www.createspace.com/5886819. (CreateSpace is Amazon’s publishing platform.) I was honored when my sister invited me to submit one of my blog posts from our winter in God’s Pocket – very fitting for a water-themed edition — and blown away by the work of the other women in the journal. Check it out!

Love,
Susan

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes as late as  Fridays or the weekend!  Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks so much for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.

Restoration

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The second floor of our home, where our kitchen, living and dining rooms are, has finally been restored. The new wood floors went in last week and the painters finished yesterday at 2pm. The dining room has a bold new indigo blue wall, just for the fun of it. I have spent the day cleaning the saw dust off the decks, and dusting the furniture. Two large art pieces have been moved out of the master bedroom but aren’t yet hung.

For months, every space that wasn’t being worked on had furniture, art and other things in it from the spaces being worked on. After spending most of the last two weeks locked with the cats in an overcrowded master bedroom on the third floor, I thought I’d feel more energetic about this transition. Certainly it means that we are at least half way through the recovery process from the floods, caused by a broken pipe in our concrete slab dating back to mid-February, leaving two of the three floors in our townhome a mess.

After focusing on moving back in to our second floor this morning, I napped this afternoon, exhausted by the heat and by how much more I still have to do. I am also daunted by the opportunity to limit what comes back into our space: I want to curate and declutter, and improve the look and feel of our home now that most of our surfaces are new and sparkly. Paying attention to what is beautiful and joyful, as opposed to what we have just because we have it, is not easy work. Therefore, many precious (and frankly, many not so precious) items are still neatly stacked in our master bedroom closet.

Our first floor restoration isn’t faring quite as well, and is still very much in repair mode. We’ve had “trenchers” in the hole in and under our concrete slab since early last week, pulling out the remaining gravel, shoring up the walls with 2 by 12 planks, and preparing to replace all the plumbing under our unit in one fell swoop this coming Monday. After the pipe ‘swap,’ holes still need to be drilled to replace the rebar across the hole in the concrete, and fresh cement needs to be poured. We had hoped all this would be complete by today, but it looks like we’ll be lucky if they complete the work by next Friday. For those keeping score at home, that brings the life of the hole in our slab as of today to 58 days. (It is a truly impressive hole, and I believe that’s an equally impressive life span!)

It takes a lot to be restored: to heal and recover, to renew and revive, and to return to “normal.” It all sounds fresh and crisp, but it is effortful to cast off the old and replace or find the new. It involves choice: to take action and to refrain from action, both, selectively and mindfully considered. I keep reminding myself that my own restoration from this mess, from dislocation through anger and cramped resignation, to peace and a renewed sense of home, has not been an easy trek. Feeling nappish is to be expected.

Next week will be six months since I left my job for this gap year. Being very mindful of the frame through which I am considering things today (meaning tired and a bit blue), I am amazed that so much time has gone by.  The gremlin in my head says “with so little to show for it” but I know that’s not what this time has been about. This first part of my year off, no matter how I thought I was shaping it, was always going to be about restoration, a combination of healing and recovery, and relaxed exploration after years of feeling driven and accountable. I also need to recognize how incredibly disruptive this whole repair/reconstruction of our home has been to my vision for this time, and that my own recovery and restoration is still in its early days. Much like the first floor of our home…

We have been invited to return to God’s Pocket (a dive/kayak resort on Hurst Island, off the Northern tip of Vancouver Island) for five weeks of a care-taking/management gig, including oversight for two kayak charters. We leave next Friday, with or without a completed cement pour. I worry, of course, about leaving the place somewhat undone, and about our cats who have suffered with first our absence and then the chaos of the place. We have a wonderful friend house-sitting and cat-caring for us, and I know he would laugh at my hand wringing.

So, needless to say, we are looking forward to being back in beautiful British Columbia, to seeing our friends Annie and Bill again, to resting a bit, and to trying our hands at holding things together for guests in the “hospitality industry.”

For my part, I hope for restoration, the kind that comes from relaxing into the rhythm of the day in a beautiful and special place.

Love,
Susan

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes as late as  Fridays or the weekend!  Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks so much for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.