Working the Boxes


“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.


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!

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“How You do Anything…”


My drawing class follows a familiar pattern each week. We learn something new about drawing – proportion, perspective, line variation – and then practice putting it all together for the rest of the three-hour class. We warm up with 5 to 10 one-minute drawings, and then move to 1 to 3 five-minute drawings, and finish with a “long draw” of up to an hour or more. The subject can be the same, as in a still life, or as it was last week, a live model who assumed a different position for each time block.

As I progressed through the exercises and remembered to think about shapes and depth, my hand got more sure and the drawings seems to have more life in them. The minute blocks went by so quickly that I felt my competitive spirit surface each time to capture more – or better – what I was seeing. The 5-minute drawings challenged me to draw lightly and then continue to refine the lines but still wasn’t enough time to delve into detail. There’s something particularly confirming to one’s sense of artistic talent to have just enough time to capture the “feel” of something, to let one’s arm, hand and pencil freely move over the page, but not quite enough time to prove that sense wrong!

When we switched to the long draw, I noticed something very interesting about myself: I didn’t want to move past shapes and broad pencil strokes to a level of greater detail. My resistance was palpable. I could spend twice the time – 10 minutes – on the drawing and come to a complete halt when I needed to go to another level of seeing and drawing. In that moment, I realized, I was at the threshold of the next level of my skills development, and I was anxious about proceeding lest my development not bear fruit.

I was also faced with the grand expanse of the work needed to bring my drawing to a greater level of completion, the drawing equivalent of the writer’s blank page. I was forgetting, of course, that lines and words are the building blocks of more complete drawings or essays, and nothing comes to the fore full born. Both insights felt right, both also felt rooted in fear and a sense that I did not – in that moment – bring enough, or the right sort of something, to the task at hand. I also believe that I may be resisting the presence, stillness and mindfulness required to go deep, to see where ‘next’ leads me.

What I have loved about taking this drawing class, and writing this blog, and other experiments of this year away from a ‘day job,’ has been the opportunity to try new things. I have relished moving past a worry about being ‘not good enough’ at whatever task, and have enjoyed reminding myself that experimentation and fun are the ends I have in mind. Often, there is a moment where I have to step away from the stop, and have a little chat with myself about what is going on. The insight from all of this: my real challenge is always right between my ears!

“How you do anything is how you do everything,” is a quote attributed to Martha Beck, a life coach and author (well known for her monthly article in Oprah’s magazine). I often think about those words, and wonder how my resistance to moving to the next step in my drawing is like my ‘everything.’ Certainly, I recognize the vestige of a pattern from my childhood: moving every 2-3 years to a new country, I got very good a swiftly adapting and making fast connections. But I also had to move on quickly when my family relocated again, and so I learned to be fast if not deep. That pattern showed up in my career: in spite of working for one employer for 28 years, I had innumerable jobs and assignments in that time, feeding a constructive restlessness that I believe was planted in my youth.

I also see how I have been intrepid at times in my life, like leaving a perfectly good ‘day job’ and career to see what might be next for me. That’s a different ‘anything is everything’ equation than the one that has me halting at the next phase of my development; it is the one that says I move forward into my next phase, blank page and all.

As I think about these two observations — a fearful, halting posture or a brave forward-looking approach — they seem like contradictions; I now recognize them as parts of the same “everything.” I may choose a path and yet still be challenged by various or even many moments on the way, needing to stop and consider and re-calibrate. For instance, noticing my resistance to the next phase of my drawing demonstrates awareness and mindfulness, even if it is my resistance or my fear that I am inclined to notice and judge.

We have this next week off from drawing class due to the Memorial Day holiday. I will challenge myself to draw a little every day, including a long draw or two between now and next Tuesday. I will see if my resistance returns, and how I move through it.  Either way, I’ll remind myself that it is only an experiment, and that moving forward, one way or another, is everything.


I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes on Fridays (and like this post, sometimes later on 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 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 Morning in the Park


I spent Wednesday morning at the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. Part of my prescription for enhancing my creativity (from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) is to have a weekly, solitary artist date. Most of the time these ‘dates’ are loose allocations of time to read, sketch or day dream; time to allow some white space in my day and my mind for whatever may present or strike my fancy. Wednesday’s outing was specifically to see a retrospective of the renowned fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.

I have to admit that I’m not always clear about the art in fashion. My skepticism comes in part from what I see and experience as difficult messaging and pictures in the media about the “ideal” of beauty for women. I’m also acutely aware of the money that is made on a culture that encourages women to strive to look and be a certain way, to be ‘not enough’ as she is.  So having exhibits about fashion is a little bit challenging for me from the start. And then there’s the fact that these exhibits have also been extraordinarily popular, and are therefore money making ventures for fine arts institutions. Not a bad thing inherently, as art needs to be funded and supported, but I wonder if their popularity may cloud out other exhibits of merit that don’t bring in the same revenue.

If art by its definition is unique, and reflects the singular vision and work of a person or team, no matter the inspiration or influences, fashion feels to me more often like paint by numbers art. This is inevitable, perhaps, since most of us aren’t buying one of a kind couture outfits. But when I viewed the workmanship (or workwomanship) in the dresses and outfits on display at the de la Renta retrospective, the question of “is it art?” mostly seemed to fade for me.

There were many dresses from a wide range of eras and styles, the timing and context of which were needed to underscore their importance in culture and impact. Yet there were easily ten or more dresses that were, in my opinion, breathtakingly beautiful and timeless. From the fabric choice, to the cut and drape, to the silhouette (such a lovely fashion word!), there were some pieces that really reflected transcendent beauty, grace, craftsmanship, and vision.

And they were fun: they sparked my imagination. Perhaps that’s part of my definition of art.

I had wanted to relish the morning at the museum, and take my time in the exhibit along with the audio guide. While the narrative was helpful, I found I wanted to linger more on those few pieces that called to me, not necessarily the ones provided with a broad background on the tapes. I also brought my sketch pad, thinking I might settle in somewhere and draw… but I forgot and took pictures instead.

And then came the first of two highlights of the day: I had rushed out of the house without breakfast to make my ticket time at the museum. After the show, I went to the café, ordered a chai latte and took up post at a table in the sun. I wrote my morning pages (three handwritten pages, stream of thought), enjoying the view and my latte. That’s when I started to feel the expansiveness of the day, the sense that I could do with my time and myself anything I wanted. I relish that feeling, and even if I don’t spend the expanse, I like to note its potential and possibilities when I can.

As I left the museum and walked back across the Music Concourse toward the Academy of Sciences, I thought about how much time I had spent in the park during my first three years in San Francisco, when I lived in the Haight.  I would ride my bike after work or take long runs to the beach through the cypress and eucalyptus trees, and enjoy meeting friends at festivals and concerts on the weekends. I thought about how long it had been since I had appreciated the beauty of the park and the notion of its remarkable value to the city and its citizens.

It was a beautiful day, the way I think only San Francisco can be beautiful: a clear blue sky with a touch of cold breeze fed by the ocean fog. I admired a bright cluster of orange California poppies growing at the base of a large tree log in a manicured garden. I watched a eucalyptus leaf twirl in the breeze along the sidewalk, slightly off center because of its paisley shape. And I looked up at the expanse of sky above the cypress trees, imagining a reflection that I am small and the world is larger and full of wonder.

My Wednesday in the park, along with art, a chai latte and my moleskine journal, was a salve in an otherwise very rough week. It reminded me how important it is to look up, get out, and fashion my own day.


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!

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“…if you believe in mistakes…”


I started my drawing class on Tuesday, at RootDivision. I have wanted to practice expressing myself visually for quite some time, and taking a ‘drawing 101’ course seemed like a good place to start. I had taken a drawing class several lifetimes ago in high school in Italy and discovered that drawing was possible for me. Form and movement could be transferred from the three dimensional world through my eye and pencil to the two-dimensional page. Moreover, it taught me how to look, to see, and sit in observation.  I wanted to refresh that sense of possibility, and sharpen my interest and attention to what was right in front of me. I also I realized my biggest desire for the class was to lose any embarrassment or inhibition at putting pen or pencil to paper, and to find joy in the process.

Drawing is all about seeing, paying attention, and practice. During class, we did five 1-minute exercises, progressed to two 5-minute drawings, a 10-minute and then finally, a 30-minute drawing, all with the same object in view. In my case, it was a paint roller handle. I was fascinated by the progression of the 1 minute drawings, each a better essence of the object and its dimensions. More time meant more detail, and a deeper level of observation and attention to the object.

I liked some of my drawings, and I learned a lot by looking again and again at the same object, suddenly seeing something new or in a new way, like the way the metal curves or the handle is shaped.  This process is an inherent inquiry: I set my eyes on something, intentionally ‘asking’ to see it fully, with fresh eyes. Then I’m asking to see more, what I might not have allowed for the first few times of looking.

Early in the class, the teacher said something in passing that caught my attention, and my breath.  He was talking about tools: pencils and erasers, and said, “if you believe in mistakes, then you can freely use your eraser.” The notion of making a choice about the existence of mistakes really struck me. He went on to explain that many artists simply incorporate whatever line or paint, or other unintended mark, into their work, instead of calling out or erasing a mistake. This is a remarkable and anti-perfectionist view, and I was struck by the idea of working with and moving past whatever we might otherwise call a mistake.

Of course, working with our mistakes and moving past them is part of what each of us must do as humans every day. It is our world view and the core beliefs we bring to those mistakes that allow us to move either with grace or with struggle. Our mistakes are inevitable: what will we do with them? And what of the mistakes of others, and their effect on us? How do we work with them?

I’ve had a couple of dark weeks. I didn’t want to post last week, and so I didn’t. But I felt bad about that too. My life, and the picture I had of it ‘post-British Columbia,’ have been upended by the construction zone that is our home, among other things. I have felt and thought about innumerable ills and complaints, some real and some imagined. Mostly I’ve felt down and not equal to the opportunity and task of, well, enjoying life without a job. I’ve tried to manage my upset while also trying to channel it to influence the progress that might be made on the repair project. I have felt pushed and angry and unsettled, and I have also tried to make peace with myself for the mess I feel I am.

After class on Tuesday, I asked myself what mistake(s) I was pushing against rather than incorporating into my composition, my line of sight. I had some interesting answers for myself! For example, my dysregulation was causing me to have a daily, repeating thought: I must get a job! In the face of my new, unsettled present, an old voice was offering me the old solution: get a job, any job, but above all, be in motion and be productive!

The hole in the floor (see my last post with the pictures of our 30 inch-wide and 5 foot deep hole in our bathroom floor) is ripe with possibility here. There are the mistakes I feel our condo association has made in managing this situation, which I am still angry about. There’s also the reality that the hole in the floor has given me an in depth view, literally and figuratively, into the things I have taken for granted in my life. The hole in our concrete slab is literally a look at the foundation of our lives here….

A friend astutely asked: isn’t this exactly what you asked for when you left your career of 28 years in January? I had, in fact, wanted to see my life with new eyes, to choose my next steps from a different point of view. I wanted to understand and revisit the parts of my life that were assumptions and foundational, and that I might have taken for granted for so long. I want to choose what my life is made of and built on.

I’m laughing as I write this: be careful what you wish for. When I asked the universe to help me see the foundations of my life, I didn’t really mean a 30”x 5ft hole in my floor, lasting WAY longer than reasonable.

Here’s what I know: we are always in the position of choosing how we respond, even though that choice often feels out of reach. I was cheerful, resourceful and optimistic while “working” my channels… until I wasn’t. Then I was feeling blue, lacking energy and doubting this gap year adventure from every angle, start to finish. Like most pendulums, I’ve swung back to a more moderate place in the last few days: I had a few tough weeks, I had a great first drawing class, and I’m back to blogging. Maybe next week I will feel better, or maybe not. And maybe we’ll soon even get the hole in our slab filled with fresh concrete.


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!

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