Shit I Did While Unemployed

long-term-unemployedI am no stranger to being unemployed. I’ve been fired, downsized, asked to leave, quit, resigned, and every other euphemism you can think of. When I’ve been asked to leave, it was never because I stole money or had poor performance. In fact last time I sat through a five minute speech about what a great employee I am but…

It’s always because I rock the boat. I don’t like being treated unfairly, and I won’t sit still when I see it happening. To me or anyone else. In San Francisco I was fired for standing up for a coworker. She was canned for “looking unbecoming” at work. Her mother had just died. I was HAPPY to speak up on her behalf, and I couldn’t believe that nobody else had the balls to say anything. People keep their mouths shut and fall in line in order to keep their silly job. But why? There are plenty of jobs out there. Why work for assholes? For instance: My last job paid me $12.60 and hour. That’s not a living wage here in Seattle. And that was after two years and three raises. When asked to work from home on projects I was told there wouldn’t be compensation. I was mocked asking, and for refusing to work for free. By my boss. Good riddance. 

I’ve never found anything wrong with being unemployed. Even when living overseas I was able to find work rather quickly. But this time was different. It took me a little over four months to find a job. Four months of looking at Craigslist and Four months of filling out online applications and four months of first interviews. Four months of no income and the same amount of bills. Four months of wondering if I’d ever find a job. Four months of rice and noodles. It’s hard not to get bogged down in the negativity of the situation, but you can’t stop trying.

And now all of that is officially over. I found a nice job that pays way better than my last job and doesn’t ask me to work nights and weekends. But I am going to miss some parts of being unemployed. (And please, please don’t call it Fun-employment. I can’t fucking stand when people make up new words to make themselves feel superior. I mean…what an asshole! You’re out of a job. Just call it what it is. Unemployment. What you do with your time might be SUPER fun, but let’s not overstate things.) I’ll miss being able to luxuriate over my book and coffee in the morning. And I’ll miss taking walks to pet the bookstore cats. Here’s what I did on my … unemployment. Aside from looking for work everyday. There is a lot of time to fill.

  • I read about twenty four books. 
  • I learned three new songs on my ukulele. And I started a YouTube channel where folks can hear said songs. Here!  
  • I auditioned for The Voice, in L.A. You can read all about that, HERE!
  • I attended over ten interviews, and WorkSource Orientation, and over twenty phone/face-time interviews.
  • I discovered Snap Chat. It’s weird. I like it.
  • I met friends for drinks, karaoke, movies and encouragement.
  • I attended ComiCon for the first time. It was enjoyable except for all of the people.
  • I wrote three short stories, and began writing part of my um… what’s a less pretentious word for memoirs?
  • I colored in my coloring books.
  • I visited used bookstore weekly. Just for the cats.
  • I wrote letters to my pen pal in Pasadena. He wrote back.
  • I watched a shit ton of Law & Order episodes. imageI had a whole system going. One 20 sided die for which season. Then, add a 6 side – 1 to determine which episode. I was determined to prove that the entire cast of Grey’s Anatomy got their start on Law & Order. I know I could have gone straight to IMDB, but that takes the joy of discovery out of it. Anyway, I didn’t make it through all of the episodes, and I was only watching Law & Order Classic. I hadn’t even delved into Law & Order SVU. Which comes with extra rape, murder and bad child actors. Oh, and Ellen Pompeo was on L&O at least twice and both times went down for murder. I’ll write up my findings later.
  • I got lost both on foot and on the bus. A lot. It’s a good way to see the city!
  • My BFF visited for a week. I hadn’t seen him in over two years and it was overdo. He’s the one friend who is allowed to kick my ass. He got me motivated. And I had fun showing him the sights and letting him buy yummy food for me!
  • I cleaned, cooked and did a lot of chores. I look forward to splitting those duties once again.
  • I went to many parks and museums. Yay art!
  • I played games and relaxed with my boyfriend. I look forward to having a job which allows that to continue.

So, that was it. I got a little despondent there at the end, but it helped to remember that I am not my last job. Or any job. Identifying with your work is just another way for Ego to exert itself. Luckily I have never had a job where that was really an issue. I mean what kind of an asshole gets a big head over being an Admin Assistant or Program Director? Or worse yet, a Bookseller who makes under minimum wage? If I made those roles part of “who I am” then I would have taken a long run off a short cliff years ago. Even if you have a job you LOVE and you are GOOD at it… that isn’t WHO YOU ARE. Above all, you are a human being. What you like or do… or don’t do… is beside the point.

Essay: Becoming Seattle

SN859177I awoke today with a mission: Retrieve a package from the Fed Ex office up on Broadway, and go to a drug store for assorted stuff and things. Before walking out the door I looked in the mirror and was shocked. I looked like a Seattle native. There she was, staring at me in her worn out black pea coat, dirty old sneakers and skinny jeans. Her knit yellow hat that didn’t match her green scarf, the size of which could have fit her and ten of her closest friends. But this was not native looking back at me. It was me! The California girl! (The girl who didn’t walk anywhere because that song is right, nobody walks in L.A.) Seeing that dingy yellow hat reminded me. I’m not a native. Not really. That hat saw Texas, The Grand Canyon, and The California Redwoods long before it saw Seattle. And now it gave me the look of any local who comes in the store looking for Infinite Jest. When did this happen?

I set out on my mission walking fast. I developed my City Walk in the winding streets of San Francisco and I’m as good as any native New Yorker at dodging, avoiding, ignoring and moving in general. I’m like Jason Bourne meets James Bond. But my City Walk is a liability here in Seattle. A city who collectively meanders. A city who will wait their turn when no one else is around. A city who is so polite it causes traffic and incurs rage in an L.A. native like myself. (L.A.: A city where wait your turn means go)

I adjusted my speed, but kept my pace fast enough not to be bothered by, or knocked over by anyone. I passed slow-moving people heavily engaged with the palms of their hands, not watching where they are going. A young woman was so engaged in her own hand that she tripped over a dog. That made me smile. I quite enjoy running errands. I felt the same way in Prague and San Francisco. Places where just stepping out your front door could result in a hilarious story for later.

For me a twenty-minute walk to the post is a journey across the world and a tango down memory lane. I walk by Annapurna (here in Seattle) and the rich, vibrant smells of chicken tiki masala and warm naan remind me of the delicious meals I’ve shared with friends in Berkeley and London. I’m suddenly transported to Brick Lane, eating warm spicy curry in a crowded restaurant then getting fresh-baked doughnuts from the bakery next door. I’m sitting in a restaurant in Berkeley with my friends and their one year old happily eating spicy food, proving once and for all that babies can handle their spice. Each step I take is a new memory. A new place to revisit.

I keep moving. I pass a bar with a familiar neon sign. “The Alley”, it says. I smile and think about Oakland and how much I loved living there. How much I love singing at The Alley. Rod Dibble on piano. Song books available, just ask. Blue Moon you saw me standing alone. Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man. Cigarette stained business cards tacked to the walls. Stapled. Pined. Taped. Decades worth of ghosts listening to the drunk and out of tune sing the songs of yesteryear. Over and over. Night after night. The Alley. Oakland. The first city to steal my heart. But not the last.

I passed a tiny dog barking at a pigeon the size of a small house cat. I passed small groups of students in front of the City College. One group in a heated debate about how many selfies constitute “too many” on FB. Another group laughing about a girl named Jenny and whether she should be pursuing a career as a metal drummer if she’s never even heard of Metalica. I thought of my years at PCC and the similar debates I had with friends. Who’s better Barbara or Liza? Fosse or Sondheim? I know I don’t need anymore literature classes, but do you think I should just take one for fun? Discovering poetry and learning to write it. Learning to write. Buster’s Coffee shop and Vroman’s Bookstore. PCC Flea Market and MTW. The good old days in Pasadena, not my home town but damn well close. Literally.

I know some folks look at the way I’ve lived my life and say I’ve wasted it. I know this because folks tell me. The internet is great for that. Strangers actually write to me just to tell me that I have wasted my life. I have nothing to show for my forty-one years on the planet. And maybe they are right. I don’t have any THING to show for it. I’ve had cars but I sold them. I don’t own property and I don’t have kids. I don’t have a fancy job or fancy clothes. If the accumulation of things is the sign of a life well lived, then you’d be correct in saying I’ve totally wasted my life.

But I don’t feel that way. I feel lucky. I’m lucky because for me, a trip to the post office is trip around the world. It’s fun, not a chore. I pass a Phò place and think about the little place near JZP in Prague, and the twenty amazing places in London. I smile. If I had never left southern California I wouldn’t have a cache of memories that are with me wherever I go. Even if it’s just to the post office.  

And now every day is an adventure. I looked out over the water today and thought about The Charles Bridge in Prague, but also how much I love the scenery here in Seattle just as much now. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Hell, I wouldn’t even trade Austin. I met some fine people there and now have a deeper understanding as to why the rest of the world thinks Texas is full of crazy people. (Hint: Because Texas is full of crazy people)

By the time I returned home to my little studio here in Capitol Hill I had been through London, Oakland, Prague, Mexico, L.A. and Texas. I was exhausted but oddly happy. And isn’t that the greatest measure of a life well lived? Happiness? If I can return home from the Fed Ex office, three drug stores and the QFC, all while carrying a package and bundled up like a tick about to pop, I’d say I’m doing something right. My travels have made me adaptable to my surroundings.

As long as my surroundings are not in Texas.

Life Without a Smartphone

6a00d8341e497553ef0120a50d1a46970bI don’t have a smartphone. Actually, I don’t have a phone at all. I used to have an old mobil phone in Prague, but it finally gave up the ghost about the time I decided to move back to America. I guess I could be embarrassed, but I’m not. I don’t mind not having a smartphone. I actually kind of like it.

I’ve never been a fan of the cell phone. A few lifetimes ago I had a job working for Nextel Communications. Remember them? No? Anyway, I was forced to have a Nextel phone when I worked for them. They called it a perk.  I called it a nuisance. I did not like the idea of my job being able to get ahold of me whenever they wanted. The boundaries between my actual life and my job seemed to blur with a cell phone. I took the thing. I only turned it on while I was at work, getting paid. I never gave the number to my friends or family. God forbid my mother should be able to contact me at any time of day or night. It just seemed like a huge intrusion.

When I moved to the Bay Area I had a mobile phone instead of a land line. That worked fine for me. When I decided to move overseas I didn’t even think about a phone. I figured it would work itself out. And it did. I got another clunker and subsisted as most expats did in Prague – by sending SMS’s instead of calling. Cheap and easy. Just the way I like things.

So now I’m in Seattle and I don’t have a smartphone. Or a phone at all. It’s not that I’m trying to make a statement about the digital world and how disconnected we all are (because we totally are) but I just don’t need a smartphone. It seems like a lot of money just to be able to look at Facebook while waiting for the bus. I’m not out of touch with life – I am fairly active on social media, I have this blog, and I read news on the Internets when I have a moment. I’m in touch. A good friend of mine said I was “in the world, just not of the world”. Could be.

I went through a time where I had smartphone envy. It is similar to the ipod envy I felt living in San Francisco circa 2005. Everywhere I looked folks had one. Today it is the same with the smartphone. I look around me and all I see are people: heads down, thumbs and fingers dancing across the tiny screen, ear buds plugging up yet one more vital sense, barely noticing me or anyone else they might be walking into. And it isn’t just in America. When I was leaving Prague about two years ago, Smartphones were the item de jour for not only the Czechs, but the expats as well. Necessary or not, the smartphone is something people want. People make fun of you if you don’t have a smartphone.

People are shocked when they hear that I don’t have a smartphone. Much less a phone at all. I always hear the same thing, “Oh, I wish I didn’t need one… but my job…my kids… my life…” I heard the same ridiculous reasoning from people when I moved to Europe. “Oh, I wish I could do that but I have a family and a job.” So? I promise you that you don’t need a smartphone to do your job. Unless your job is putting together smartphones. If you have a regular phone you can still call people if there is an emergency. If you have a home computer or laptop you can still be a part of the world via FB, Twitter, and email. You can even work from home. The smartphone just helps you take all of that into your bedroom, holidays, your kid’s latest school performance, or even god forbid the weekend.

There is nothing so important that I need to stop in the middle of the street to see to it. There is no email, text, or post that needs to interrupt my life. I am here to tell you that you are not that busy. You are not that important. You just like feeling like you are.

Smartphones make life a little more convenient. A little. But all of the convenience may be making you kind of stupid. For instance, a co-worker of mine couldn’t drive in the city they’d spent almost a year living in without the navigational help of her smartphone. That’s sad. And I have absolutely no sense of direction. I get lost walking to the bathroom. But I am able to get around town just fine because I took the time to learn where I am. Street names. The city grid. I don’t feel helpless or naked without a phone. I figure out where I am going ahead of time, and if I get lost I ask for directions. Easy. I’m pretty resourceful.

18s013fzv6a72jpgI have a billion slips of paper: book titles, ideas for novels, things to get at the store, and even sketches. The act of writing actually helps to improve your memory. Unlike the act of Google-ing. When someone wants to know who sings a song, or what film Nic Cage did with Kevin Bacon (the answer of course is: They have never been in a movie together. I am going to start a petition to get this rectified as soon as possible) I don’t need to Google anything via my phone. I just delve into the deep Rolodex that is my mind and I remember. And if I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m cool with that, and it gives me something new to learn. And RETAIN.

I also find that not owning a smartphone helps me focus on what I am actually doing. For instance, if I am watching an episode of Mad Men, that’s what I am doing. I am not listening to the episode while I look at my Facebook, email, work email, Amazon,  Local Indie Bookstore, and 34 other sites. I am paying attention to what I am doing. I am mindful. I know that multitasking doesn’t work. (Look it up. I’m correct about this one.) People who multitask are usually scattered thinkers and seem more hurried and frazzled than need be. And that is simply their own doing. If you put down your smartphone and use your own brain, you’ll get your shit done in a timely manner. Be mindful of what you are doing and get ‘er done before moving on to the next task. This will also fend off boredom.

I don’t believe in boredom. I don’t have a television, or phone, but I’m never bored. I have cards, games, books, paints, pencils, Angry Birds, and a dozen other activities to keep my mind active. When I wait for the bus I do so with a book in hand. In line at the store I simply observe what is going on around me. I have developed patience that seems huge in capacity compared to what I see around me. A three-minute video is “too long” for some people to “sit through”. You can’t wait three minutes for a joke? You kinda suck. When you expect instant results, instant entertainment, or instant replies from people, your expectations are not just too high. They are unreasonable.

I’m not saying that smartphones are the devil and all those who use them are morons with short attention spans. That would be short sided of me. But I will say that folks depend on them far more than necessary. Having a smartphone gives you the option of checking out of any event or conversation that you don’t like. And it gives you the option of not listening or paying attention. It has become almost a reflex. The moment people have down time they reach for the smartphone. They disengage.

I will put forth a challenge to all of you smartphone users out there. Whatever you are doing this weekend, don’t bring it with you. If that scares you or sends you into an instant panic, you’ve got a problem. You should be able to go out to dinner, or for a hike without need of your phone. You should be able to go to the market or to the park without it. Try packing a book instead and see how your day goes. You’ll get past the panic and eventually feel that warm feeling called relaxation settle over you as you realize you don’t have to check anything.

Zen Habits: Life In-Between

roads-divergingNo matter what stage of life you are in, there are questions. You might be wondering, “What’s next?” or “What do I do now?” or even, “Is this it?” Maybe you just finished a big home project, or maybe, like me, you are in-between everything. I am so often in transition that it has become almost comfortable. Almost. I’ve been on the road since December 29, 2013 – that’s well over a month. I have a plan in place, but it’s a slow-moving, low-income, loose plan. It’s tough to be in-between a home and a job at the same time. Figuring out how to live in the “In-between” is difficult when you have money. It’s almost impossible when you don’t.

I’m in a unique position. I’m kind of stalled. My plan got derailed (as plans often do) and now I am left twisting in the wind. My fella and I had planned on heading to Seattle in June when we were finished at Buddhist Camp. I hadn’t planned on leaving early, but I did leave early. That means a new plan. I have feelers out in Seattle and folks willing to give us a place to flop, but jumping into the unknown with no money isn’t easy. It’s not impossible, just not easy. I have to look at this as an opportunity for us to be fighters; to look within ourselves and find that strength that we always knew was there. But after months of digging deep, who knows how much is left.

Transitions give us strength and builds real character. We discover who we are and what we want from life. We let go of our preconceptions and see clearly, maybe for the first time.

Each time I have found myself in a time of transition I try to seize the opportunities that life throws at me. I’m trying to enjoy the surprises that each day brings and accept all that life throws my way. Life is just one big experiment and there are no correct answers. There is only what you do, and what you choose not to do. All I can do is be fully present in the life I have chosen and take advantage of each stage, even the in-between ones. I have patience and I won’t let doubt get the better of me. I’m on a journey and I plan on enjoying every moment of it.

Hopefully one day in the not to distant future, my sweetheart and I will be able to look back on this In-Between time fondly and say, “Hell yeah! We nailed it!” I don’t know what’s next, but I do know I’m ready, willing, and able to kick its ass.

My Life as the Hero’s Journey

myth_quest_model_heroes_journeyMost narratives, stories, books and films are based around the monomyth, or Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”. A young, naive, nobody from an ordinary, boring world (think… Luke Skywalker) is called to an unknown world on a quest. He must slay a “dragon”, resist temptation, and eventually triumph over evil. He will then return home to bestow his wisdom on his buddies. It’s like Frodo or Harry Potter or Buffy or Batman. They are all the same myth. Every religion has its own version of it from Jesus to Buddha to Osiris to Moses, this myth is the basis for every story ever told. Even mine. Even yours.

I was watching the last Joel Fleischman episode of the best show ever, Northern Exposure. It’s called “The Quest”. As his final fling in the Alaskan Wilderness Joel (with Maggie) sets off to find the Jeweled City, somewhere beyond the Aleutian Islands. The episode is one part “Good-bye Dr. Fleishman” and one part “Hero Quest”. There are riddles to be solved, gatekeepers to be appeased and dragons (albeit metaphorically) to be battled on the journey. Joel’s life as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and Joel is self-aware, and smart enough to know it. He comments throughout the journey about the stages, calling Adam “gate-keeper”, for example. It got me thinking about my own life as the Hero’s Journey, and where I am in it.

epicThere are 17 stages in the monomyth. I am pretty sure that stage one was when I left America and moved to Prague. “The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.” Yep. That pretty much describes my life just before I made the decision to move. I had to move out of my home in Oakland. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. I didn’t want to move back to L.A. because… it’s L.A. I didn’t want to stay in the Bay Area because I hated my job and I wanted to be far away from pretty much everyone I knew. I saw an ad for a TEFL program, and the rest is history. In fact, looking back it is VERY clear that this was “The call”.

In one of my very early blog posts I wrote about what led me to move to Prague. I had read my horoscope and it was eerily accurate. It told me the choices I make will shape my future. It said it I was beginning a new phase in my life that would have consequences for years to come. At the time, I thought it was weird, or at least that’s what I wrote. But I know me, and inside I was sure this was a sign. I was supposed to do this. I had that feeling in my belly telling me “This is it. Either you go now or you will stay here forever. Don’t be one of those assholes who looks back at their life in regret. You are better than that“. I knew it then. My friend Heather knew it, she told me I was on a Yoda mission. I was to do great things. I had a quest. I was the hero and this was The Departure. (Which BTW was the last movie I saw in America before I moved overseas. Just sayin’)

My mission was clear – to unlearn what I had learned. I wrote that in July of 2006. And sitting here in my living-room in Texas, in 2013, I can see each stage of my journey very clearly. My quest is almost over.

My “departure” was my flight to Europe, alone. I landed in London and met my “Supernatural aid”, or in my case, a friend named Zach who gave me tools to help me on my journey. He gave me shelter, a map, and confidence. He let me know it would be ok. From there I crossed “the first threshold guardian” (Czech Customs Officers/Passport control) at midnight in October, 2006. I was thrust into “the belly of the whale”, or in my case a tiny, cramped room with a single window. I sat there alone, staring at the drain on the floor wondering how I had gotten there in the first place. I broke down and cried. I wept. But I didn’t let it break me. I got my head straight and took control of my situation. Who else was going to do it? I’m the hero.

That was the beginning. Looking back it is easy to see the temptress and the dragon. It is easy to solve the riddles with the power of hindsight. My “Road of Trials” was long and arduous. I mean, if you think Frodo had a difficult journey, then you have never ridden a bus into Mexico in the middle of the night. In a thunderstorm. But I can’t go into that right now. Those are stories for a different day.

In my heart I feel that this journey, my quest to unlearn what I had learned, is coming to a close. I will have come full circle when we roll into the Bay Area and I begin my six month stay as a volunteer at Ratna Ling. (Hopefully! Fingers still crossed!) Maybe it’s the final step in this journey. Or maybe not.

I can’t figure it all out today.

My Other Life

cubiclesMy life feels like it was lived by two different people in two totally different worlds – before Prague, and after. Some of you knew me in my other life. I was small then, not like I am now. I was afraid of the world around me, I was afraid of taking chances, and I was afraid of failure. Funny thing about failure – the more you fear it, the more you fail. But I didn’t know that in my other life. I was trapped.

My other life was lived very quietly. I was docile, housebroken. I had a car. I had a job. I even had a husband. My other life wasn’t designed by me or for me. My other life was a culmination of decisions I made because I felt pressure to conform. I did things I didn’t want to do. I held down jobs that made me miserable. I worked 9-5 jobs in windowless rooms alongside people I had no interest in and nothing in common with. I woke up every morning feeling heavy. I didn’t know it then, but my spirit was dying. My spirit was screaming out for rescue.

I was never interested in the things I was supposed to be interested in – things like earning lot’s of money, having a big house full of fancy things, a husband, a job or kids. I never wanted a car (I didn’t get my licence until I was 20 years old) and I never cared what kind of car other people drove. My interests were books, philosophy, nature, art and adventure. But, these were not acceptable aspirations in my other life. I was made to feel stupid or silly for wanting to explore these things. People told me to “get serious” and find a way to make “real money”. A phrase which still makes me wonder… How much money does it take to become “real money”?

Guaymas, Mexico - I lived here, too

Guaymas, Mexico – I lived here, too

When I moved to The Czech Republic I left my other life behind. I left the attitudes that belittled me behind and I left the lifestyle of excess behind. But a funny thing happened when I did that. The people from my old life became defensive. They called me “flakey” and told me to “grow up”. In my mind it was pretty mature, pretty grown up, to move to a non english speaking country ALONE. I didn’t know a soul in Prague when I got there and I didn’t know any Czech, but I managed. Something I wouldn’t have done in my old life. But after about a year in Prague I realized I wasn’t that person anymore. I wasn’t that person anymore because I had left behind all of the people who told me I was.

Those people who met me in Prague (or in Mexico) met a different person. They met an outgoing girl who wanted to see the world and have fun doing it. I turned into the person I had always known I could be. I was that person who hopped a bus to Mexico in the middle of the night… all by herself. I was that person who was brave in the face of fear. I walked strange streets and met strange people. I went to the movies, took flights and trains and busses, I went out to eat, and I landed jobs. By myself. I realized that not only were the people in my old life wrong about me, they never really took the time to get to know me. I didn’t fit the mold and it threatened them.

Good old Zizkov

Good old Zizkov

I am still facing this, but I am getting better at handeling it. There are plenty of people from my old life who do support me, and who are excited for my journey. Because that is the way I see my life – A journey. My life isn’t about accumulating things or having a career. My life is not about attaining social status – reflected in where I live, what kind of car I drive, or how many rooms my house has. That’s cool for other people, but for me it’s all about the journey. And the journey doesn’t have to end.

I don’t need much, not really. I need a place to rest my head, someone who cares about me in a real way, creativity, passion, and love. My happiness doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks about my life. My values do not need to reflect yours or anyone else’s.

I am pretty sure that the secret to life is knowing that.

Minimalist Living: Walking the Walk, Not Just Talking the Talk

ratnalingEarlier this week my honey and I emailed our applications to Ratna Ling, “a non-profit retreat and conference center in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is a community dedicated to serving the welfare of others and cultivating work as a means to self-knowledge through a wide variety of projects both local and global.” We will live and work onsite for a minimum of six months. We will practice yoga and meditation morning & evening, work 9-5 jobs, (kitchen staff, book bindery, publishing, or even grounds keeping) and live with a community of like minded people.

The center is located in Northern California near Sonoma, about 4 miles form the ocean. We will live in cabins and walk to “work” every day. We will get a small monthly stipend (about $100 each) to buy shampoo, get haircuts, or spend on hamburgers in town. To say that I am excited is an understatement. I can’t wait! The application is just the first step. If they like our applications we will have a phone interview. If that goes well we will be packing up and heading to California in September, leaving Austin in our dust.

The program combines work/study with meditation/yoga classes. The schedule is from 8-7, Monday – Thursday. (With optional yoga/meditation at 6 a.m.) It’s just like a regular work day except the work is done where you live. And you live with the people at work. It’s a real community and it seems pretty badass to me. Waking up at 6am for yoga, working hard all day, meditation, dinner, and then a peaceful evening sounds like bliss. So does walking to work past bunnies, deer and nature.

prayers1For some of you, the thought of working “for free” everyday sounds crazy. But I bet most of you are doing that right now without even realizing it. I have co-workers who work on the weekends without pay, “just to get extra stuff done”. Some people get home from work, sit down at their computers and start working – even though they are off the clock or “salaried”. (Salary is for suckers. What an easy way for employers to take advantage of you and your time. If I am going to work for free, I would rather it be for a greater good than company pockets.)

I am most excited for the yoga, meditation, vegetarian cooking, and Buddhism classes. My sweetie and I have been working our way towards a healthier lifestyle since we got back to the states. And that ain’t easy to do in Texas! It started with cutting the booze. I had more than my fair share of beers, hangovers, and nights that end at 7am when I lived in Prague. That’s part of the reason I left. I know what some of you are thinking – Is this the same girl who eats gummy bears instead of fruit? Is this the same girl who can drink 5 shots of whiskey without puking? Is this the same girl who hates veggies? Is this the same girl who smokes cigarretts and hates exercise?

ratna-ling-meditation-hallThe short answer is: No. I’m not that girl anymore. If that’s how you remember me then you haven’t been keeping in touch. People change. And awesome people change a lot and often. I practice yoga in my living room. I eat peaches and apples for snacks. I don’t smoke. I hardly drink anymore. I’m at a healthy weight. I look good and I feel good due to hard work and sacrifice. My motto has always been – If you don’t like your life, then change it. I don’t accept excuses and I don’t use them. I don’t blame other people or outside forces for things that happen. It’s easy – We are not happy in Austin, so we are leaving. We are in search of simplicity, happiness, and community. I don’t need money or new things to be happy. I don’t define who I am by my job, and I don’t stay put where I am not happy.

So… onwards and upwards! Bay Area friends, get ready ’cause I’ll be calling.
Wish us luck! I’ll post updates about our journey here on this blog (tag: Ratna Ling)

Simple Living with Kids

zerowastecupboardsLiving a simple life is not easy. There is no easy solution or road map to follow. It’s not for everyone, but it can make you happier. Last time we talked about editing your life in order to make room for the things you love. For me that meant cutting back on work hours so I could spend more time with my fella. If that sounds crazy to you, then you aren’t ready yet. For me, it is crazy to spend the time I have at a job rather than with someone I love. What could be more important than that?

Now that you have identified what is important to you (time, family, painting, exercise…) you can begin to make room in your life for them. This needs to happen in a tangible way and in an emotional way. First, the tangible. Go room by room, drawer by drawer and get rid of shit. Really purge! I went through my already sparse closet and still found a few things I never used. It made me feel good. I went through my pantry and took out all of those cardboard boxes and plastic bags and replaced them with jars. We bring the jars (or other containers) to the market and buy things like flour, cornmeal, quinoa or sugar in bulk so we don’t have paper/ plastic waste and we are making use of lovely sauce jars. Easy right? Just don’t let your emotions play a part in your purging. You can do without a lot of the “things” you have decided have value.

Clutter is very stressful and distracting. Walking into a messy room, or a cluttered kitchen just feels funny and uncomfortable. Every item in your home demands attention, and If you have kids, you might have a lot of “things”. If you have gone overboard on the buying, don’t worry. You can still fix it. The first step is: Stop Buying. Just stop. Little Bobby doesn’t NEED that Angry Birds plush toy. Little Stacy doesn’t NEED that coloring book, or that Princess video. Want and need are not the same. The sooner kids learn the difference the easier it will be. If your kids think Target is a fun place to spend a Saturday morning then you need to check yourself. Most of the kids at my school constantly tell me about things they “got” or things mommy “bought” for them instead of things they “do”. And that makes me sad.

6741750829_ebca16b816First and foremost, edit their rooms with them. You can’t go into your child’s room and just take their things away. Respect goes both ways. This is true whether you are 4 or 40. You can’t tell a child, “I bought it for you so I can take it away.” That is absurd and disrespectful. Instead, sit the child down and talk as a family. Start by saying that decision has been made to make do with less. Show her a finished space, and how you are unattached to what you are giving/throwing away. If you make it sound like a fun thing, and a cool thing – and if you are doing it – the kid will jump onboard.

Or you might have a fight on your hands. And that’s fine too. You (literally) bought it so now you have to deal with it. Give little Bob one hour to make two piles: Keep & Give. When you come back in an hour you can gauge if he needs more help or not. If he needs help, let him know that you (the parent!) will be making those choices if he cannot. Be brutal and merciless with your editing and let him know that after you will be MAKING some fun new things.

Sensory Bottle Collage for blogThat’s right – make. I promise that your kid doesn’t want or need a shit ton of store-bought, plastic toys. For the little ones: take all of those empty plastic juice or water bottles and fill them with anything. Seriously. Feathers, cotton, sand, bells, a little olive oil and some sequins or marbles. Babies enjoy rolling them, shaking them or putting them in the old pie hole. The fancy folks call them “Sensory bottles” but I call them cheap and easy. The point is, you don’t have to spend a ton on toys. The bigger kids will enjoy making cookies with you, or putting together a puzzle. Take them to the wood shop and build your own wooden toys. If you are saying. “Who has time for that?” then you might need to edit your commitments again. I mean, are you spending a ton of money on a fancy gym membership when you could be hiking with your kids? Exactly.

Hopefully after you have finished editing your home, closets, wardrobes, drawers, car, kids rooms and closets – you’ll feel lighter. You’ll feel happier. Your kid will feel the same. Life just feels nicer when it is free of crap. Below is a handy little system to help you stay on track. And remember, let your children have the responsibility of editing and cleaning their own things. It is not your right to decide what is important in their life. And, don’t pick up after them. Keeping the house “perfectly clean” isn’t the goal here. The goal is for a simple life in a simple home.

  • A place for everything… – Your child (and family) should know where to put something when it is not being used. If you are about to set something down on an available patch of surface space: STOP. Take a second to ask yourself, “Where does this belong?” and then take it there. Basically stop being a lazy jerk and put the dishes in the sink. Put the clothes in the hamper. Put the toys back in the toy bin.
  • Have a simple paper system – Incoming bills, notices, tax docs, school papers should all have a place where they are filed and looked at. Hopefully you are not using paper as much for bills and things, but in some cases it just can’t be helped. Help your kids to have a system for homework and projects as well. I can’t stress how important it is for a kid to feel personal responsibility. Never ever leave papers for “later”. File immediately. Throw junk mail out before it even reaches your door. Don’t leave papers lying around.
  • Clean up before bed & before walking out – I abhor waking up to a messy kitchen. I make sure (most of the time) to clean the dishes and the kitchen before bed, or before leaving the house. and stop multi-tasking. Multitasking is less efficient and more stressful than seeing one task to its completion. Just take a few minutes to de-clutter flat surfaces before bed and before you leave you house. It’s a good habit to get in, and your kids will do it if they see you doing it.
  • Re-purge every couple of months – No matter how hard you try, new stuff will happen. Just make sure you keep tabs on it. Maybe the first weekend of every month you de-clutter something in your home. Maybe you throw an item out if you bring a new one in. I don’t know, it’ll be personal for you. But just don’t let your shit get out of control again.

Just remember the word “now”. If you can remember to do what you need to do now, then later won’t be an issue. Hang your clothes up now, not later. Wash the dishes now, not later. Pay that bill… well, you get the picture.

Less stuff = more time = more happiness.

Editing Your Life

beauty_of_nature-beauty_spring_desktop_wallpaper_1920x1200As a writer, one of the most important tools in my tool box is being a good editor. Editing means taking out anything – any word- that isn’t necessary to my plot or story. One of my writing teachers gave me the nickname “Slash and Burn Brooks” because of my take no prisoners way of attacking a piece. Sentimentality has no place in the world of editing. If the writer has to explain to me why they wrote something, then it needs to go. Period. I’m like the Gordon Ramsay of writing.

Knowing that one year from now I will be living on the road means that I have to translate my slash & burn technique to the rest of my life. I don’t want to set off in search of freedom with 27 boxes taking up space in my mom’s garage. My life has been heading this way for a number of years and now is the time to take even bigger steps. I figure it has to be easier than moving to a new country. I’ve done that a few times so this should be a cinch.

Many of you have been asking for tips and tricks to simplifying your life. Hopefully this will help. There is no one way to do this, and it will be a little different for everyone. For me it means getting rid of both physical and mental clutter, seeking out peace, and spending my time doing things that are important to me. It’s a journey. Use this list as a jumping off point and see how it feels. Take one step this month and see if it fits. (I will go into more detail for each step in separate posts so this doesn’t take a decade to read.)

  1. De-clutter: Your home, your car, your work space, your purse, wallet, closet, pantry, kids room… you get the picture. Take it one step at a time and start getting rid of stuff! Having a clean home means having a peaceful home. It’s nice to walk into a home that isn’t filled with personal items and junk cluttering the shelves. Get boxes and garbage bags and have a purge party. Have a clothing swap with friends. I like to start in the closet – take one shelf, dump it on the bed, and separate it into two piles: Keep or Give. If it hasn’t seen the light of day in a year or more – it’s out. Set aside a few hours, do it, and you’re done. Remember – don’t get sentimental about T-shirts and sweaters, or any other junk you come across. You can keep memories without keeping physical items.
  2. Prioritize your commitments: All of it. Work, family, chores, kids, community/religious, classes, hobbies, freelance work, watching “The Biggest Loser”, etc. Your list may be really long, or really short. Just write it all down. Now, think about each item on that list in terms of what value it brings to your life and happiness.Think about how your life would change if you cut it out. Take on thing one thing on that list and get rid of it for a few weeks. The cream will rise to the top but it is up to you to implement the changes. When I realized how much time I had spent watching TV, or simply having it on in the background – I got rid of it. I haven’t owned a TV or paid for cable in about 10 years. I can still see shows if I want by streaming it online. For free.
  3. Practice saying “NO”, and following through: In order to start really editing #2, you’ll have to start saying no. Maybe even a lot. Once you figure out where your priorities are, and you begin to detach from commitments, people will start to make you feel guilty. Don’t let them. Others might be uncomfortable with your changes, and that’s cool. Free to be, right? Just don’t let them drag you back in to your old habits out of guilt. Once you start using your time the way YOU want to, saying no becomes easier. Others might be disappointed, but that isn’t really about you. You can’t control the way anyone feels so don’t bother to try.
  4. Limit shopping/buying/spending: You don’t need a big paragraph about this, right? Don’t go shopping because you are bored. Don’t buy your daughter that toy just because she wants it. Don’t buy that 60 inch flat screen TV because… ew. Living a simple life means limiting material possessions. I’m not saying sell everything and go live on a commune (which I plan to do next Spring/Summer) but be aware of what you are bringing into your home, and where it will go. Not having a TV helps because you are not bombarded with the words “SALE!” “BUY!” or “MUST HAVE!” And, I know some of my friends will think this is blaspheme but, limit or just cut out trips to “Super Stores” like Target, Wal-Mart, Cost-co, Globus or whatever they have where you are. Stores like that are designed for one purpose – to get you to spend MORE money. Just don’t go. Go hang out at a park or museum instead. It’s free, more fun, and has long lasting great effects on your personality.
  5. StreamlineNow that you have more free time to do what you love, hang with your friends and family or maybe nap, you can streamline. Go chore by chore, and really look at your system (or lack there of) and fix what needs fixing. Paying bills, laundry, emails, paperwork, cleaning, morning routines – all of these are household systems that can be made very simple. This article features a great method. A step further is to consider a smaller car and home. I mean, once you get rid of all that shit, you might not need all of that space.

That’s all for now. I will post about each step in more detail in future posts. I just wanted to get this out there. I’m excited to see that so many other folks are excited about living a more simple life. Single folks, couples, families – heck I read one article about a family (Mom, Dad, 2 boys) who produce only 1 quart of trash PER YEAR. Crazy? not really. Once you change your perspective you’ll see that what is really crazy is not changing.

5 Reasons Perfection is Overrated

tumblr_lyojqj0FA41qeqoxyo1_500_largeYou see it all the time. Silly people search of “perfection”. They want a perfect wedding, or perfect hair. They try to keep a perfect house or land the perfect job. It’s even worse when they try to have perfect kids. As if that is even a possibility! I hate when adults put all their bullshit baggage onto their little people. Kids are the opposite of perfection which is why they are so much fun to hang out with! But I digress. If you are chasing “perfection” you might as well try your hand at unicorn hunting. You’ll yield the same results: frustration and zero unicorns. When I hear people claim, “I am a perfectionist”, I immediately roll my eyes and say, “Why!” What a total waste of time! They might as well be saying, “I am deeply insecure. I use perfection as a shield against trying new things and making mistakes. I end up just being really stressed out and kind of depressed. I might as well be chasing unicorns.”

Just keep this in mind the next time you are searching for the perfect body, or the prefect cheesecake – there is no such thing as perfect. That’s right, I said it. Perfection doesn’t exist. Much like those elusive unicorns, perfection is all in your head. And my head. And your mom’s head. And your neighbor’s head. And even the annoying dude with the beer belly, the guy who still talks about college and wears his college T-shirt even though college was over three decades ago… he has an idea of perfection too. And that’s the point. It’s different for everyone, and everyone is different.

  1. Perfect is the enemy of good” –
    "Give Me Your Heart" by me

    “Give Me Your Heart” by me

    I adore this Voltaire quote. It means that insisting on perfection will often leave you with no improvement at all. That’s right, zero unicorns. Why not strive to do well? That way you still feel successful and you are not spending hours agonizing over tiny details that no one else would even notice. I recently started painting, and I have to just do it for fun. Sure, I see tons of “mistakes” in my work, but I keep going. It’s not a “mistake”, it’s just different. I post all of my art work to Facebook not because I think I am the next Picasso, but because I am proud of my efforts both good and not so good. 

  2. Bloopers! – I love a good blooper reel! I like seeing people who are supposed to be poised and together totally lose it. It makes me happy. Not in a Schadenfreude kind of way, but in a “I like to see people laughing and happy” kind of way. It’s fun to see news people and movie stars make mistakes, it makes them seem more human. If perfection was so awesome, we wouldn’t have bloopers. And I would take bloopers over so-called “perfection” any day. 
  3. Corn Flakes, Slinky and Potato Chips – What do these things have in common? Their very existence in the world is the result of a mistake, or an accident. I for one would not want to live in a world that did not include potato chips. And it’s even better! The dude who accidentally invented potato chips in 1853 did so trying to get back at an annoying patron who kept sending back the fried potatoes he had ordered claiming they were “too soggy”.
  4. DifferencesurlWhen there is a standard, or “perfection”, things that don’t fit get tossed aside. I think that sucks. I don’t have a perfect body, and I don’t know anyone who does. If you think of your body as more than a hanger for clothes, it gets easier. Your body has a heart in there that pumps blood all over and keeps you breathing. Are your insides “perfect”? I doubt it. If you drink, smoke, live in a city, wear heels, never exercise, or have ever eaten too much of anything – then you do not have a perfect body. Sorry to break it to you. For me, a perfect body is a healthy body – inside and out. Yes, that means watching what you eat and setting limits. That means exercising. That means knowing that a flat stomach isn’t going to last forever, so you’d better be happy on the inside. Personally, I like a curvy woman. I think super skinny ladies look hungry and sad. And funny. Bones sticking out is funny.
  5. Your “Way” isn’t the best way, or even the ONLY way – Ugh. I deal with this a lot in my line of work. Little kids and mothers. Two groups that like to have things their own way.  And not just their own way, oh no! It’s just “The right way”. Drives me fucking nuts. If you are focusing so much time and energy into making sure that – not only is the task getting done, but it is getting done the way you would have done it... wow. Just… wow. How sad for you. Wouldn’t you rather be doing something fun instead of nagging? Wouldn’t you like your child (or in some special cases, your HUSBAND!) to be happy and figure out their own way of doing something? No one likes to be micro managed. Not kids. Not adults. So back off. If you think that your way of doing the dishes, or feeding your child lunch is so perfect, then do everyone a favor and just do it yourself, and then keep it to yourself. A perfect person doesn’t need to constantly talk about how perfect they are, now do they? All you are really doing is annoying the people around you, working yourself up over nothing, and finding zero unicorns.