Category Archives: vocation

Declaration of Dependence

why it's sometimes a good thing, and what we can learn from being dependent

(Remember to send me your Mad Quotations! So far, song lyrics are well represented. What else have you got up your sleeves?)

American Statue of Liberty from the back

CC image “Statue of Liberty” courtesy of rakkhi on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I’ve begun to think a lot about Dependence recently.

This is a change of pace. Generally speaking, I haven’t thought much about Dependence as a positive trait. I hadn’t considered it a virtue. It mostly surfaced as a counterpoint to a theme I’ve thought a lot about throughout my life thus far, namely Independence.

I’m not just talking about big geopolitical ideas of Repression versus Freedom for groups and in the political arena. I mean personal self-reliance, a sense of individual freedom, the concept that the individual is capable, and therefore responsible, for arranging the circumstances of their life. But before we get into the thorny issue of responsibility, a comment on the idea pair dependence/autonomy. You can take this pair any of a number of ways: physical dependence, which happens when we cannot care for ourselves physically in some way because we are ill or incapacitated, temporarily or for our lives; financial dependence, in which we rely on someone else to supply the money necessary for us to procure the things we need to survive, like food and shelter; emotional dependence; and so forth. So while there are variable permutations of dependence/independence, the root identifying characteristics are the same across all cases.

Generally, I’ve seen dependence as a negative, a burden. Worse yet, I’ve interpreted my own episodes of dependence as pushy neediness and a sign of personal weakness. I didn’t learn this from my immediate family; somehow I taught myself the Stiff Upper Lip principle. I am the oldest child in my family, and (on one side) the oldest of all my cousins, so I got to be a trailblazer by default. I was rewarded with lots of praise whenever I did something well. Perversely, instead of increasing my confidence, throughout my formative years I developed a sustained fear of failure.

An independent personality

Not every aspect of my life was fraught with such deep psychological angst, but if I was unable to do something or figure something out for myself, I got annoyed (with myself). I had something to learn, and pronto.

I don’t like asking people to do things for me. I don’t like owing people.

I can usually figure out how things need to get done. If I don’t know the answer right away, I probably know where I should go to find it. If you give me a task, I’ll take care of it  — and do it well — whether I have to stop at the beginning and sort out a few basic principles or not.

So where does this leave us with our current discussion of Dependence as a virtue?

I’ve gone through a lot of life transitions in the past year and a half. When I embarked on my adventure two thousand miles away across the country, I thought I’d be trailblazing. However, as with any good enterprise, there have been a number of substantial immediate challenges. To my chagrin, I’ve had to accept help, and, more often, ask for it.

I’ve found that Dependence is a great teacher. I’m having to learn — repeatedly, it seems — that it’s OK not to be perfect, and that no one is, overnight, anyway. Also, with each overlapping obstacle, I am learning that there are only certain aspects of my life that I have direct control over or even significant input into. Despite my being fabulous, transition is hard, and it takes time. It takes other people. So I am bumping into my own hubris. I’m learning that the ideal of the Rugged Individualist can be really selfish.

“Collaborator” is a reflexive term: it takes at least two.

Most of all, I’ve had to learn that accepting help can sometimes be a great gift to the giver. Whether it’s time, resources, or an actual physical gift, it’s a blessing to be giving. So I’m learning to accept with grace. Do I still want to be self-reliant? Well, I still would like to know how to fix my car. And I still don’t want to be a secretary. But if I have to learn how to receive now, in order that I can give like crazy later, I’d say that’s a fair trade.

Depend upon it.
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What about you? Have you discovered any virtues in Dependence?

Muse Hunting

3 lists you need to get creative

author with a bust of Hans Christian Anderson in Solvang

Musing… with Hans Christian Anderson

You’re supposed to be writing.

Or making art.

You’re supposed to be being productive, anyway.

What’s happened? Cat got your brain cells?

We’ve got plenty of “shoulds” in our lives. There are self-imposed shoulds, like, “I should get up earlier” (I dislike this one). There are work-
imposed shoulds, such as, “I have a deadline today at 5pm.” There are creative shoulds, similar to this one: “I haven’t made any time to shoot pictures this week. I should really do that.”

Some shoulds are more demanding than others. We could say those shoulds have PRIORITY. That doesn’t make them any easier to accomplish than the lower-priority shoulds. In fact, sometimes that makes them harder. Or it brings out our inner five-year-old, who JUST DOESN’T WANNA!

Is today such a day for you?

For those of us in chase of the muse, I have put together the following three lists of necessities for muse hunting. Fear not. They aren’t long. Just like you can’t bake a cake without flour (I’m not saying the flour has to have gluten in it), you won’t be able to get a handle on the muse without the following ingredients. Some of the items are commonplace and easy to procure. Others may be more esoteric. These lists are NOT exhaustive. How long do you want this blog post to be?

The three lists correspond to three categories: The Tangibles, The Intangibles, and The Physique. We would be wise to think in three dimensions when hunting the muse.

Here goes.

3 x 10 ITEMS YOU NEED TO HUNT THE MUSE

Category 1: The Tangibles
Yes, we can touch these. No hunter or gatherer (on Earth, anyway) gets dinner by sitting in a corner to meditate. Likewise, you won’t catch the muse without

  • a pen, a pencil, a piece of paper, a camera, a paintbrush, or a computer — I mean, hello!
  • a club (thank you, Jack London)
  • a better mousetrap
  • peanut butter/chocolate/wine/cheese/cookies/Chinese food or Your Consumable of Choice
  • space — to pace around in
  • a floor — to lie on when it’s just NOT WORKING
  • the ceiling — to stare at while you’re on the floor
  • curtains — so your neighbors can’t see you dancing around in your pajamas or underwear
  • pajamas and/or underwear
  • bait. With what can we tempt the muse?

Category 2: The Intangibles
We’re not going to be successful hunters without the right attitude. Haven’t you watched enough football movies? Anybody can hold a pencil or lie on the floor. To corner the muse and truly make her ours we also need

  • time — yes, precious!
  • a closed door — do not open it. It does not lead to the castle at the center of the labyrinth.
  • a deadline — an actual one. When you miss it, you experience physical consequences. Heartburn is a physical consequence.
  • a sense of humor
  • wit
  • cunning
  • recklessness — no muse ever cared for a safe harbor
  • a willingness to get dirty
  • a flair for the dramatic
  • selfishness — MY muse, MINE!

Category 3: The Physique
All winners train. The muse doesn’t walk up to slackers and tap them on the head. The muse wants your blood, sweat, and tears. Deliver by trying some of these

  • a walk or a run
  • yoga or tai chi
  • gardening
  • cleaning out the basement
  • throwing a temper tantrum
  • washing your car
  • washing your friend’s car
  • playing with the dog and/or cat
  • dancing — which you can do with the aforementioned curtains open or closed
  • yelling, singing, or caterwauling — alone or in chorus

What have I left off the lists? What unusual sources have you visited to find your muse-hunting tools? Let me know in the comments.

Happy hunting!

Dream On

Like many other people, for years I walked around under the shadow of the great What If.  What If I were living elsewhere?  What If there were less people, and more space?  What If I actually pursued work I’ve always wanted, rather than succumbing to someone else’s “practical” suggestions, or taking what was available at a given time?

What If I succeeded?

image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

From the time I was small, I was in love with the written word.  In grammar school, I used to read books while walking home from school.  I read everything I could get my hands on – whatever I saw lying around – whether or not it was appropriate.  My mother tells me that when I was about six years old, I found one of her Lamaze books and read it out loud to her and her mother (I am the oldest child).  By the time I was in first grade, I knew I was going to write books.

Then I didn’t.  Write them, I mean.

I pursued all sorts of other things I thought that I wanted to pursue.  After college I took a “good” job, and otherwise digressed from the dream, prompted by concerns about practicality and the well-meaning suggestions of those close to me.  I found myself getting ever more frustrated and unhappy, though it took me some time to acknowledge it.  Eventually my unhappiness became self-directed anger, and impacted my health and personal relationships.

This went on for years.  Then, at the end of 2011, I had another opportunity to confront my long-time nemesis, What If.  I had quit my job.  What If I spent a month in Montreal, in the teeth of winter, with three words of French and my laptop computer?  What If I spent this month just writing?

It’s hard for me to adequately express how much I loved it.  I made myself a schedule – yes, I was one of those people – and gave myself writing assignments.  They were longer in nature, but I broke them up into bite-size pieces.  I was firm with myself – I had a workweek.  In the evenings, I was required to relax and do something completely different.  I could literally almost feel my body unfolding, relaxing, filling with energy and purpose.

What If I wrote for a month?  I fell in love all over again, that’s what I did.

 

What have you been dreaming lately?