I hope that one day you care enough about something to light yourself on fire.

I passed a student in the hallway today who had told me in class that she didn’t understand the point of protesting. Specifically, she didn’t understand why a person would light himself on fire to protest napalm.

And for the longest time (up until today), I was kind of upset. A little annoyed. A little sad.

As I passed her, I realized why. I thought that if I was around to see her graduate high school that would be my wish to her: I hope that one day you care enough about something to light yourself on fire.

This comes on the heels of a week where I was told that sometimes I will have to make sacrifices for my work.

I have never been so offended in my life. Obviously, this came from someone who does not know me or what I have been doing since I graduated from college. But either way, it is still a very inappropriate comment.

I hardly lit myself on fire.

But I did give the best of what I had. I gave energy when I knew I would have the most of it–my early twenties. I gave my education and intelligence when both were freshest–right after college and during graduate school. And I gave my devotion before I could become completely jaded.

Worst of all, I gave as I was taught to give. From the best of what I have. Not from the leftovers.

No, I never lit myself on fire. But I definitely hurt myself. I definitely sacrificed. And at the end of the day, I am quite pleased with what I have done. I am happy with the legacy I think I have created.

But mostly, I’m proud of myself for knowing what was important to me—what my “issue” in this world is—and for giving until I could quite literally give no more.

the other side

I made it.

It was supposed to be 6 months, but it turned to 8. I promised I wouldn’t push it past January, but the opportunity was much too great for a clean slate. I finished 40-hour a week contract work and moderating a high school yearbook all yesterday. Funny how both had the same deadline.

I finished at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning for my contract work deadline. (Day 97 in a row without a full day off—today is the first!) I looked out the window of my bedroom and stared at the dark street. I could see the bus stop ad where we stopped that one morning. I think it was around 4 a.m. And we broke into hysterical laughter about the ad for Dos Equis and that “guy.” I told you about the interview I heard where the actor said he was about to quit his dream of acting when he got that first commercial for Dos Equis.

And you couldn’t stop laughing because you said he held onto that dream until he was on the cusp of death.

So, we promised right there. This was the pinky swear night.

No giving up until we’re on the cusp of death.

In your absence I have found my bliss. It is part writing. But it’s mostly creating. It’s a little teaching. It’s freedom–like I guessed when you first asked me. I’ve worked hard days, long days, lots of them. But I work on my own terms–except for teaching 2 hours a day. And I love, love, love it.

I would do every moment of the past 97 days all over again.

I’m proud of myself–which is not common. And I can feel your energy. I know somewhere–you’ve found it, too.

love.

everything happens…

…as it should.

Think about the paths that have made it so the three of us are sitting here having to dinner tonight.

It’s so strange to think about sometimes, and you could have such a hard time if you thought of everything in life that way. I think of it often, but not always.

And I needed it last night.

Suddenly, it was silent. And I could see these two guys and the battle they were having across the table from me. Their glances across the table to see if I would agree with one or the other were the perfect source of amusement. I could see the laughter of the young girls across the table from me. Their teasing. Their hugs.

I love listening to people who love what they do–even if I don’t understand it all. And even though this dinner wrapped a 12-hour day, I was filled with energy. A shorter countdown. And a belief that there are more people who work like I do.

See, it’s not about logging painful amounts of hours. It’s about believing that what you do is a part who you are. There is no separation for me. So, sometimes the line blends between who I am and what I do, and I love that. There is no “outside” me. It’s just me.

And it is wonderful to think about the choices in life that lead you to a dinner table after a  work day, still smiling. Listening to the excited voices of those who love you in their own way because the light you convey in your work loves them.

advice I don’t usually give

I was a senior in college when I was told this:

If you don’t enjoy your job for more than 5 days in a row, quit.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. It seemed to make a lot of sense to me. Turns out it was, quite frankly, the best advice I ever received.

And it’s the best advice I never give.

I’m happy to say “you know how I feel about that”, but I never tell people to quit.

Today, someone asked me why a mutual friend doesn’t just quit her job because she’s miserable.

No one ever tells you can quit, I said.

Think about it. If you’re like me, your parents have had the same job for as long as you can remember. Quitting–the word alone–has negative connotations. It’s like you’ve given up and are not fulfilling responsibilities.

But really, if you think about it, the biggest responsibility we all have is for our own well-being, and that of our families (if that applies). I do admit (and this is a huge reason I don’t give the advice) that I have an extreme amount of freedom being single. I can do what I want, when I want ,mwithout consulting anyone or worrying about how it may affect them.

But I was thinking about it today because I know the look of misery at work. And I remember something someone said to me a few months ago…I’ve decided to follow your example and when I leave this job, I will never work anywhere for more than a year.

When he said that, I was mortified. It isn’t for everyone. And if you’re easily stressed, it’s definitely not an easy way to live. But when I thought about it today, I realized it actually is a great compliment.

It kind of meant to me that I have succeeded.

And truth be told, I know I have. There have been months that have been hard, but for the most part, it’s been a lot of fun.

So, when pressed next time, I just may give that advice.

You can quit.

okay, so I’m not really charmed

I just like the song.

And the word.

But last night as I crawled into bed (emphasis on the crawl) at an absurd hour (I can’t say what time. Hi, mom!) after coding math problems for four hours, I thought to myself two things: 1. If I have to be up at 6:30 to finish this, I’m going to cry. 2. This just might not be worth all of this.

But I got up, ground some coffee and set it to brew and went back to work with a deadline of 2 hours to finish work that was due today.

And as I was sitting here, I received an email. And it made it all worthwhile because the dream is no longer a dream…but a goal. And now it’s only a matter of time.

And news like that was exactly what I needed to face another round of meetings, a class, a short photo shoot, and prep work this evening with my students for a project tomorrow. Plus, I met my morning deadline, nearly finished my taxes, and am in a relatively awesome mood.

So, no I’m not really charmed. I’m just working my @$$ off to get what I want.

2 days, 2 contracts

At this exact moment, I am in possession of four jobs: 2 full-time, 1 part-time, 1 3/4 time. (They only all overlap for about 2 weeks. Then, the most that they add up to beyond that is 2 full time. Because, really it sounds so much better when I explain it that way.)

Oh, and as my mother astutely pointed out, I am also enrolled in a writing class until the end of April.

Oh, but just wait until you see the prize at the end of this!

“The War of Art”

I was given the Steven Pressfield book, The War of Art, as a gift. It was an amazingly inspiring, and yet quite easy read. I read it so fast after receiving it that it didn’t even have a chance to make it onto my “Currently Reading” list. I have found that as I go along with this plan–or lack of plan–I am greatly comforted by other people who have had the exact same experience.

Pressfield even describes this as he says that once you make the commitment to your destiny, you start to meet people who you would have never met before. I also think it has caused me to read things that I wouldn’t have considered reading. I was never really big on self-help books, but now I find that these self-help books for writers about writing are quite magical.

Each one of them describes THAT moment, where presumably rock bottom has been hit in some regard, and two things happen:

  • there is truly nothing else left to do but write or consider the possibility of a lifetime of unhappiness, and
  • you suddenly realize why and how so many things that have gone wrong in life went the way they did.

It absolutely feels like magic. It’s like in The Alchemist, when it’s declared that when you go after your dreams, the entire universe conspires to help you. Because it really does. Everything suddenly goes right in one fell swoop.

Another thing I really loved about Pressfield’s book is that it went back to a conversation I had about being a “pro.” And it’s not about the money. I remember having this conversation with a friend of a friend about the draft of my first novel. He just couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that I considered the victory to be finishing it. Even if it never sells a single copy. It was my catalyst. It wasn’t about anything other than me learning that I could and that I would be helped along the way if I did.

It’s the reverse of what we think it is. Amateur vs. Pro. The amateur writes because she thinks that one day she’s going to make money. She struggles and gets help to produce a product that she thinks the public will buy so she can live off of her words. And that was my concern with myself. It’s the same concern I had for myself about being a teacher. I got a master’s degree not to make more money, but to be better. To perfect my art. To be what my students needed.

I write because it’s such a part of me that if I don’t do it, I start to die a little. And I can see that happen in cycles over and over again in my life.

The Pro? The pro writes for this very reason. Because it is what she is meant to do. She writes what she is meant to write. Not what she thinks will make her money. It’s not the “key” or the “trick” or the “way out” of something else. And that explained it all to me. Why everything fell into place so smoothly. I didn’t wait until selling some work bailed me out. I bailed myself out by writing.

And so my war wages on…here with the reason that I got three hours of sleep on Monday night…

ever have one of those moments?

Where you feel like everything is absolutely perfect? It’s always (for me) just for a split second. And it always follows a really good day.

There’s this spot on the 101-N that it generally happens for me. It’s on my drive home from my parents’ house. There’s a curve and then the second the Los Angeles skyline comes into view where I get a chill. And I realize that I am insanely blessed and insanely happy. Like I couldn’t even really describe it to you. And it supersedes every bit of stress that exists in my life. All of the things that I should care about but I don’t really because they’re inconsequential to the happiness of my soul.

Yesterday, it came with an even better realization. One that doesn’t happen very often for me. But I had this distinct feeling of pride. For myself. That rarely happens. I don’t impress myself often because I always feel like there’s vast room for improvement.

This realization, though, made me feel one thing in specific: I’ve done good work. Really good work. For years. And I’m proud of myself for the work I’ve chosen and the way I’ve done it.

There’s a part of me that’s sorry that it’s over. But six years is a long time. And there’s probably some healing that needs to be done. I’m ready for that now. I wasn’t before, and I realize now that that’s okay. This and everything falling into place as it was only able to happen when the work was done.

Probably not forever. But for now.

passions vs. bliss

A couple of weeks ago, the question was “What is your passion?” My friend helped me answer it by saying that it was teaching. I was–for a reason I didn’t understand at that moment–hesitant to agree. I think I said something like, “I’m passionate about teaching, but it isn’t my passion.”

I spent the four years of undergrad working in a high school. I was a substitute teacher, and I moderated a yearbook staff. Three months before graduation, I remember telling my mom, “Whatever I do, please don’t let me be a teacher.”

Three months after graduation, I was hired as a math teacher. With no real experience and no training, my first boss said that I was a natural teacher and she could teach me everything else. I enjoyed it immensely.

After three years, I made my first attempt to “never work again.” That attempt devolved into panic as I realized that writing and photography would not pay my bills, at least not at that moment.

So, I took another job that involved both writing and photography that I thought would engage some of my other passions and allow me to cultivate a personal business. Both ideas failed. I wound up in a bigger mess than the one I had started in.

After four months of unemployment, I ended up teaching again. English this time. And I loved it for the exact same reason I did the first time. It doesn’t have much to do with the subject at all. It’s more about watching young people grow. I feel as though I learn so much from them. It’s almost not fair.

I have realized that I have many passions. There are many things that light up my soul and make me feel alive.

But for my bliss?

I’m not so sure. I don’t know that I know that “one” thing that will make me happy for the rest of my life. Then, I think is that the goal? Do I need it to be for the rest of my life? Or is it enough for it to be for today?

The one problem is that I realize that I have never fully explored some of my passions. Teaching was easy. It’s easy for me to do, and it’s easy for me to achieve. It comes with steady pay. And I think that frightens me.

My biggest fear has always been waking up at 50 and being in the exact same place I was at 22. And I hate to say that because some of the people who I love more than life itself have done that. And they have perfectly content lives. And then I wonder what is wrong with me?

I know a lot of people who are not content in what they do. I know a lot of people who dream of something else. But I don’t know a lot of people who try to find that something else.

Perhaps it is my personal arrogance. Or that damn invincibility complex that I have.

But I think that one of these days I’m going to find that Treasure. I also realize that when I find it, it’s going to be the sum total of all these experience and that without them, it wouldn’t be as beautiful or as rich.

So…my passions: writing, meditation, teaching, baseball, music, photography, sunshine, travel, the desert, reading, politics.

In that order.

My bliss: to be determined.

the f-ing paperclips

Okay, I can say it now.

So, I walk down to my mailbox at work to find that every teacher has received a box of paperclips. I know this sounds really stupid, but you kind of have to beg for supplies so it’s a big deal when you’ve been out of paperclips for a couple of weeks and refuse to buy your own.

I saw the first two rows of mailboxes first and noticed the paperclips. Then, my eyes went down to my box and amazingly there was a lack of paperclips in my mailbox. My friend stormed over to her box to find the same noticeable lack of paperclips.

I will cut out the middle of this story, but I will say that it was not a pretty scene. And I have dumped all my paperclips out of the box (that I procured somehow) and I fully intend to leave the duct-taped empty box of paperclips in my box from now until the end of the year.

This little incident genuinely sent me into a tailspin, and I’m actually quite embarrassed. At the same time, I took it as a sign that something seriously needs to change. Inside me. So, I’m working on that.

I am so grateful, though, to everyone who agreed with me that it was a big deal, everyone who laughed, and this bit of insight from last night: If you’re going to have a nervous breakdown, you want to have it over something like paperclips. You don’t want to have it over something where you’re genuinely in danger and really need to react. (I’m badly paraphrasing.)

And I realized two things—-

1. I’ve officially been pushed to the edge of where I’m comfortable existing.
2. I have some f-ing amazing people in my life.