I haven’t shared with you, friends, what this year holds for me. I’ve hinted a little here and there, but some dreams are so precious you just want to hold them to yourself for a little bit. Not because you don’t believe in them. Because you do.
This is the year that I write three books. You read that right. Three books. Or, to be more specific, three entire drafts, with one of the three to be finished entirely.
This is the year that I start my own social enterprise. You know that’s why I’ve been studying business and economics last year and this. This year it’s going to happen. I’ve been saving for the equipment I need, designing and learning, and soon, soon, Kind Fox will be launching.
This is the year my husband quits his job in IT, studies media production, and starts his own media production business. This is already underway. And I’m helping, and by helping I mean giving suggestions while he does all the work.
This is the year we finish renovating our new little apartment with the fireplace and the giant studio underneath. A studio we’ll need to achieve all of the other things we’re planning to do.
This is the year all our dreams from the past few years coalesce into something real.
It’s been a hard few years, friends. We’ve been working, working, working, but sometimes (oftentimes) it seemed nothing would come of our dearly held dreams. Michael was meant to be a high school teacher, but as he ground out assignment after assignment at uni, it was beginning to feel like someone else’s dream. In the meantime, he was putting more and more of himself into his volunteer job producing our local hockey team’s online video stream. This was where he came alive. Not in the classroom, but in the production studio. It took us far too long to see.
For my part, I’d honestly stopped believing. In myself and in my dream. I kept working, working, working, but it was a grind, I’d lost the joy, and it showed in the work. And then our big family trip to New York, planned and dreamed over for almost a year, devastated me in ways I hadn’t anticipated, seeing the poverty, wanting to help but not knowing how. There had to be a way I could both live the full, creative life I’d dreamed of and help others at the same time. There had to be a way.
There was a way. There’s always a way. We just hadn’t seen it yet.
And this year, this year, it’s all coming together. All the spider threads of dreams and latent talents and stubbornly-held faith. It’s happening. The joy of it, oh you have no idea, the joy.
It’s terrifying, of course, but in a good way. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re leaping blissfully into the great unknown. But we have faith, oh wow, do we have faith, that big things are coming. We’re doing the things we were always meant to do. We’re living the lives we were always meant to live.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
― Howard Thurman
2015, oh what a year you’ve been. Last year was a difficult year for me for many reasons, and so 2015 was necessarily a recovery year. A healing year, a growing year, a year of broadening mind and narrowing focus. It started off with a bang in New York and slowed down for a period as I focused on volunteering and breathing and just generally getting well. So much love to my husband who supported me through this period, physically, emotionally, financially. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me this year.
The second half of the year was tightly controlled madness as I started a new job, went back to uni and wrote like a mad thing in whatever time was left. It’s breathtaking to think of the girl I was 12 months ago and how far I’ve come since. Of the fortitude I’ve developed, the sense of peace, and yes, the physical strength. 12 months of yoga and a very physical day job and dude. I have all the muscles. It feels so good to know just what my body can do. To feel functional and not merely cerebral. I’ve spent so much of my life living inside my head, it’s refreshing to embrace the physical world in such a way.
Because this year has been so growth-centred, I can sum it up pretty simply with the five biggest lessons I’ve learned this year:
When you spend your whole life looking for signs, you start to forget what you already know.
I don’t know when I became this person, relying on outside markers to set my path. I’m not talking about superstition — a black bird flew anti-clockwise on the third Thursday of the month — none of that. I’m talking about validation. An encouraging word on the right day to take me a little further. A good mark on an exam. Answers to prayer just when I need them.
These are all good things, but they all come from outside of me. My friends, my husband, my lecturer, some random stranger on a street can’t decide my path for me. They don’t know what I know. Because let me tell you, the world won’t know what you’re made of until you show it how far you’re willing to go.
And friends, from a more spiritual perspective: When God speaks He expects you to listen. It’s not His job to follow you around, reminding you again and again what you already know. Trust what you know. Trust what God/the universe/that little voice inside has told you. How many times do you have to hear something before you start to believe it’s true?
I lost sight of these things this year. I started to forget what I believe in. In looking for validation from external sources, I began to forget what I already know. I don’t need you to tell me I’m meant to be a writer, a philanthropist, an adventurer, a friend. I already know.
Hope is a choice. Faith is a choice. Joy is a choice.
I was looking through some notebooks from three years ago the other day. My notebooks are filled with writing notes but also just general notes on life, the universe and everything. I was looking for a specific note but what I found was that the tone of my journals back then were so… filled with hope. I don’t know when I lost that.
Hope, to me, has always seemed like a limited resource, dolled out in unequal measures. Some people have it, some don’t. You can’t make your bowl bigger. You can’t change your capacity for hope.
This is a lie.
That day, the day I found the notebooks, I decided to hope again. I decided to believe in the future I envision. I decided to trust what I already know. And oh, oh, it’s made all the difference.
Try it. You’ll see.
Your body can tell your heart how to feel and your mind how to think.
In recovering from a truly terrible bout of anxiety, earlier this year I turned to yoga. Exercise has always been calming for me, but I didn’t realise just how powerful it could be. For so long my emotions have controlled my body. For so long I’ve been crippled by stress-induced headaches, insomnia, breathlessness, and other, more serious things. For so long I sought to control my body by controlling my emotions. It never worked.
This year I discovered I could change my emotions by controlling my body. By using my muscles, deepening my breath, stretching long and slow, I can change how I feel. I can find focus again.
Two other things: a fake smile turns real given enough time. And there are some awesome apps out there if you are struggling with anxiety. Pacifica is one I particularly like — the breathing and meditation exercises help me take what I’ve learned in yoga out into the world. It’s with me when I need a reminder to breathe.
Writing the true things sometimes takes longer. Sometimes it takes no time at all.
Basically, it takes the time it takes. Repeat that after me: It takes the time it takes. Love your process. Embrace it. You’re stuck with it; you might as well 😉
There is a brilliance in first drafts that can’t ever be recaptured. Be careful whose voices you let in when you change it.
I was looking through some of my old writing the other day, searching for a particular passage. I love this scene. I’ve always looked on it as one of the favourite things I’ve ever written. But it took awhile to find. I’d written somewhere around six drafts of this particular novel and I had to go all the way back to the first one to find the scene I so loved. I’d made so many changes through all those drafts I’d lost what magic inspired me to write it in the first place.
Revision is so, so necessary. Don’t think I’m dumping on the editing process; I’m not. But first drafts are where the magic is, I really believe that. You don’t get that sense of discovery ever again. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know I’m going to keep my eyes open next time I revisit a draft.
I guess my lessons from 2015 can be summed up as this: Choose magic.
Choose [you are in control] magic [all good and wonderful things].
Chase the good things with everything you have, and when you catch them, hold them as tight as you can.
Choose hope, friends. That’s the best advice I can give you going into 2016.
I have a whole post planned about busyness, about what it’s been like these past months to balance work and study and writing, but this week was full of Thanksgiving prep and pie-eating and I’ve run out of time. Because something cool is coming and it starts in just a few days.
I’ve loved watching all my friends participate in NaNoWriMo this month, and while strict word count goals have never really been my thing, I’ve been a little sad at having to watch from the sidelines. At least until I finish my degree, November is going to be a month of exams and assignments for me. December, on the other hand, offers a little more time and a lot more Christmas cookies. And so, this year, I’m doing my own month-long writing event. I’m calling it DRAFTCEMBER!
Here’s the deal. I like working with a little less structure than NaNo allows, so I won’t have a word count goal. If I make 20,000 words, GREAT! If I make 50k, AWESOME! But I do need motivation, so I’ve come up with a series of reward platforms.
So what counts toward word count? Anything. I think I know which story I’m going to work on, but that could change. I might work on two stories, or three. Blog posts count as well. Anything that is creative and makes me smile.
I love these words by Ray Bradbury, and I think they’re a good representation of the true spirit of Draftcember:
“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun–you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself, You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is–excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms, without such vigors he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health!” — Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing.
Would you like to join me? Please do! Create your own reward list and your own rules. Post about it or don’t. But together let’s make December the most fun and productive month of the year, bursting with zest, gusto and Christmas cookies. Be big! Be bold! And write your heart out, my Draftcember warriors!
Five years ago I dropped out of university. It was a combination of things, but mostly this: I didn’t want to be an anthropologist. I didn’t want to be a journalist. I wanted to be a novelist, and I didn’t have the time to pursue two goals. It was a hard decision, but it was also incredibly easy. By then I was used to making these kinds of sacrifices. I wanted to be a writer and I was willing to give up anything to make that happen.
Five years is a long time, but in many ways not long at all. Good things have happened in pursuit of my dream; bad things, also. But I’m privileged to be chasing after a dream that rewards the years, that values insight and maturity over youth and enthusiasm. I’m getting better at this, and I’m also getting better at the life that comes with it. More and more, my goal has been to write rather that to be read. And so, in many ways I’ve already achieved it. I’m living the life I dreamed of when I was 21. I’m happy.
Perhaps as a consequence of this, I’ve found myself in pursuit of a new dream. An additional dream. Another grand awakening of the soul. It started years ago, but it also feels incredibly new. I’ve always had it but I’m only now taking the first steps to make it real.
Always, besides be a writer I’ve been clutching help people. For a few years there I lived a sweet delusion that I could use one to achieve the other, but, dear past-Beth, writing with an agenda is no way to make great art. In fact, it’s a great way to make terrible art. That’s not to say that art can’t help people — it often does — but readers can tell when you’re proselytizing and it never feels good.
I’ve known this for awhile, but it’s taken some time to find the way. The way my skills and strengths and life experiences, limited though they seemed, could become something important. How could I help people? What did I have to offer? Nothing felt like enough. I was still searching when I went overseas last year. And that’s when things really got rough.
New York for Christmas with the family seemed like a magical idea. Christmas trees and cold and holiday windows and maybe even snow. I guess I never thought about the other side of New York until I got there. Poverty. Homelessness. Loneliness and greed. I remember walking the Brooklyn Bridge with my family and thinking: I shouldn’t be here. What right did I have to holiday in a place where people were starved for food, warmth, shelter? How could I enjoy Christmas knowing so many people were out there in the cold, hungry and alone?
New York broke my heart. But that’s necessary sometimes. Only after breaking can something begin to mend.
On Christmas eve we went to a church service near Times Square. It was a church started by Australians and it felt like a little piece of home. The sermon was on waiting for a plane, waiting for a dream to be realized, waiting for direction, and at the end of the service we were given bundles of blankets and food to give to the homeless people we passed on our way home. I remember the first homeless woman we encountered on our walk to the subway station. She cried when a man handed her the gift. Are you sure? she asked him, as if she couldn’t believe this humble bundle was for her.
That was the start of things. I still wanted for a method, but I’d found my cause. I was going to help the homeless. And with that realization came a sense of urgency. It wasn’t enough to know what I was meant to do, I needed a how. I needed a big idea, and these things don’t always come quickly.
While I waited (oh, how good I’ve become at waiting), I volunteered. When I got home I signed up with a local community group providing emergency relief to families in need. It was heartbreaking and healing, frustrating and energizing. I’d been there three months when the government cut our funding. Suddenly we had all these volunteers and nothing to give. Time wasn’t enough; we needed money. We needed resources. We needed income that didn’t rely on the whims of the political machine.
And that’s when I found my how. Halfway through this year I enrolled in a new degree: Business, with a focus on managing not-for-profits. Last week I finished my first semester. Three weeks ago I had my Big Idea. I know how I’m going to change the world, or at least my little corner of it. And even when it means struggling through subjects like economics, I’m going to make it happen. Funny how, when you care about something strongly enough, I can’t so quickly becomes I must.
I have so much more to tell you, dear friends, so many plans and dreams and Big Ideas, but this post is long enough for now. And I have time. My next semester is still months away.
Here’s to big ideas, for dual-wielding dreams, to heartbreak and I musts. Here’s to now. Cheers.
The other night I dreamed I gathered all my friends and family together because I had something important to say. At the last moment, my bosses from work showed up. My husband’s extended family came. Random acquaintances and strangers from the internet arrived. The room was full and everyone had something they wanted to share.
At last, it was my turn. I stood up in front of them all, all those expectant faces, waiting to hear what I’d called them all here for. That semi-conscious part of my mind hovered over the room, as curious as the rest.
My dream self took a breath. “I have always dreamed of having an extraordinary life,” I said. “But I’ve come to realise it is a far more noble thing to desire a life of quiet and ordinary joy.”
I told the room that I was a writer, and I didn’t need my name on the spine of a book to fuel and feed me. That I had a joy no one else could give me and it came from a pen and a blank notebook page.
I told them in my childhood dreaming I’d never imagined I’d be doing this kind of work, this humble, physical task of hauling bags of fertiliser and preaching the wonders of weedkiller. But that this is the best job I’ve ever had and I am so grateful that I get to use my hands in good, useful ways. I come home from work each day with dirt under my fingernails and hair in my eyes and I would have it no other way.
I told them I’m studying economics right now even though it pushes me far, far outside my comfort zone, even though it brings me weekly misery and I have no chance of making anything better than a passing grade. I told them this because I’ve come to understand the importance of humility, of shaking off your own understanding of your limits like an old winter coat. I’m studying economics because I want to find small, practical ways to help other people. I’m studying economics because I no longer accept the lie of “I can’t”.
I told them I have an incredible husband and the great, fulfilling ordinary kind of love that occurs when two people commit to serving each other in everything they do. I told them I have a puppy and a roof over my head and a regular paycheck. I told them sometimes I get to travel and sometimes travelling means driving to the beach. I told them I have a quiet, gentle relationship with the Holy.
I told them there’s nothing else I long for.
I am content with my humble, ordinary life and the humble, ordinary joy it brings.
The other day I came home from work while the sun was still shining. I smelled my blooming jasmine and picked up after my puppy and watched the sunset for awhile and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
This is what I dream of. To have this quiet, ordinary, creative, love-filled life for the rest of my days.
The sea casts a net to find me. It sends salt out over the hills, a fine mist that clouds windows and sticks in throats. It glimmers, a blue jewel in the distance. I don’t come.
Michael drives me past the beaches on dreary winter afternoons. Come, says the sea. Come. But I turn my face away.
I dream of it sometimes, a giant swell that comes to eat the shore. It pulls at me, lifts me up, tugs me out into its great expanse, but I always pull free.
I am a sticky-fingered child. I am an unfulfilled promise. I am hiding and I don’t know why.
Months pass and the call becomes easier to ignore. I’m busy. I’m waiting. I’m losing myself in other things. But the sea is patient. Endlessly, it pulls and tugs, endlessly it calls, reeling me in.
It hits me like a thunderclap. It’s time to go back to the sea. It fills my mind, drowning all thought, and I can’t ignore it, not anymore.
I don’t want to.
I go one morning, early, and the wind is so cold it wrings me out, pulling the moisture from my bones. I watch from a distance at first, viewing it from over a coffee mug I hug to my chest to keep warm. The sea, the sea, the sea, my heart sings, and I don’t know why I have left it so long.
It’s like this: coming home after a long absence. In my travels I have loved other places and other things, but I know no love like this. Long ago, when I was a child, a lonely corner of my soul got snagged there, and though I wander I feel stretched thin until I make it back. I am home. I am home and I don’t know why I ever left.
Except, I do. In my heart, I do know why. It’s because I allowed myself to feel old for a moment. Because I was waiting for news and hope felt like a faraway thing, a bird perching on souls other than mine.
But I know now, hope is not a thing that visits and leaves you wanting. It is a mark on your skin, forged through disappointment and failure, and it only grows deeper the longer you fight. Hope is a battle scar. And I wear mine with pride.
I go back to the sea. I crawl right up to its frigid edges and I feel it fill me again, that lightness, that letting go. The sea purges me. It washes me clean. It welcomes me back without judgement, without rebuke. The sea is ageless and I have not been gone so long.
It receives me gladly, with gifts and good tidings. And this: A sliver of glass, the colour of the sea at its edges, worn down over 20 or 30 years and more beautiful for it. I’ve never found one before. Never, in all my life. It means something, that I’ve found it now.
I go back again the next day. I spent a whole day there, exploring beaches and cliffs, watching the waves pound upon the shore. I cry sometimes because it’s more ferocious and lovely than I remembered. Some people find God in a church. Some in the work of their hands or in the pages of books. I have always, always found God in the sea.
Then comes a day when I run out of time. The sea calls and I don’t go to it because I am an adult, and I feel the press of adult things. I do chores. I run errands. I go to work. I see the corner of blue at the end of my street and my snagged soul can do nothing but stretch a little further.
But Michael knows me and he knows my heart, and in the dead of night, when I return home from work, he bundles me into the car. He drives me, heartsick and wanting, towards the thing that feeds me. He takes me back to the sea.
“I am losing precious days,” said John Muir. “I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”
I have learned to love the mountains, but I will always, always, heed the call of the sea.
You have to know what you’re working for. You have to fix it firmly in your mind so when doubt looks you in the eye and asks “why?” you can have an answer ready. This is why. This.
It can be publication. You’re allowed to want something big. But I have to tell you the larger you make your goal, the harder you will have to hold on to it, because years could go by, years, and all you have is that one dream to keep you warm.
If I had to suggest something, I’d make it this: the writing. Make the joy of creation your goal and your reward and the doubt won’t be able to touch you. Write and you’ll find it. Write and you’ll never grow cold.