Sunday, September 1, 2013

September Essay Cafe: On Beginnings.

 On this first day of my favorite, or nearly favorite month-- September has been a month of high changes and great starts since childhood, when it meant the first days of school, cooler weather, earlier bedtimes, new TV shows, and for me, my mother's new semester too (she was a college student back then)-- I have begun yet another course of study. The forward-looking energies of September make for a good time to start any project, and I often use them to get myself going on something new.

 This is in addition to the makeup artist certification I've been working on steadily, the online songwriting course I let languish and want to go back to, the guitar study I've put off recently, the liner notes for three CD's that I am supposed to finish writing for a musician friend, and the ongoing self-training as a pastry chef that I give up during hot weather and crave to go back to when Autumn comes around again. Not to mention my less important side projects, drawings, songwriting challenges, singing performances, the novel & Kindle books and short stories I'm working on, keeping up with my blogs, the cat's new daily dental regimen that I must administer, and oh, the new gaming podcast my hubby-man and I are trying to create together.

  You may see that I don't follow through on everything, and it may seem to others that I don't follow through on anything, but it isn't so-- I just take my time, generally. In the end, stuff gets done. This new beginning is a course of what could be called Creative Healing, or Healing for Creatives. It's meant to unblock us from whatever is keeping us from getting ourselves going or keeping ourselves going.

 Clearly, I need the latter. It wasn't so long ago, though, that I was crazily tentative about starting projects. Worry and fear of success (or failure) kept me from dozens of opportunities. The chances I took, moved slowly. I mean, I had a subscription to Walking Magazine for a year before I got into walking and hiking like crazy. I read about baking yeast bread for several years before it became my normal daily grind for a decade. I thought about vegetarianism from age seventeen on, but didn't go full veg till about 29. My college career didn't start till 26, though I had my GED at 17, months before my old class had graduated.

 I was taking my time, getting used to the idea of big lifestyle changes or little ones that needed to be taken seriously. Also, working though the baggage of childhood, teenagehood, love's first mistakes, etc. Like many women, I spent my youth feeling like a talented incompetent, my twenties roaming around searching for guidance, and my thirties claiming my competence. My forties have been a slow reclaiming of life goals and skills, while I try to heal from a disease I may never fully throw off.

  Being blessed or cursed through my heritage to have a multiplicity of talents, I had no smooth path to follow, to get where I wanted to be, or even find out where that was. When you have no easy template for life that fits you, decades can be wasted just looking for parameters that don't cut you up in the middle. I searched, I honed some talents to a fine point and left others for later. I worked like crazy, to prove I could. After getting sick at 41 and becoming unable to work regular jobs, I've been opening up those closets of unworn talent, reaching out in many directions. In doing so, I found a fantastic asset, one I had all but lost-- the Beginner's Mind.

 Beginners have hope, joy, and excitement. They carry an easy confidence that they will learn through the challenges; they have a false bravado that becomes calm acceptance of the known, in time. They can be persuasive, engaging, intoxicating to be around due to the energy they give off-- fun people. They are, most of all, willing-- willing to try, to focus, to create space for the new, and to make mistakes and learn from them.

 The Beginner's Mind carries you through the fears of the first moments, through the financial rearrangements that new projects call for, through the cleaning out of old junk (metaphorical or literal) that has taken up room better utilized for that new beginning, and through the first realization that you might have more work to do here than you had thought. If you can hold on to it, you find it carries you through the harder, later stages of learning/trying as well.

(He is wrong, BTW).

 I'm writing all of this just to tell you, for my sake and yours, that it's okay to start ''too many'' projects and to let some of them lapse for days, years or forever. It's better than okay, it's fucking great-- because beginning means effort, and motion, and willingness to try. If you begin well, it means learning and accomplishment aren't far away, either. Beginning does, often, lead to a finished creation, or situation. When it doesn't, you're still closer than when you were afraid to begin.

 Not to go all new age-y on you here, but focusing solely on end products kills much creativity. There is a middle ground between constantly flaking out and soulless "success" that feels as bad as total failure, but only beginners have the chance to find it. The more beginnings you make, the more chances. Whether you're beginning to learn how to play an instrument you've never picked up before, or beginning a better health regimen for the twelfth time, start it up. Find out what it would take to do it well, and prepare-- but not too long. Some things you can add on to as you go-- take it from a perpetual beginner. 

 And lest you think I'm fooling myself, soothing myself with fantasies of Someday while I tote up a million false starts, let me tell you what I've finished lately:

 Since November 2008, I've finished the first drafts of four novels, written hefty amounts of several other novels, dozens of short stories and poems, something like 300+ songs, many of which I've collaborated on with musicians from all over the world and some of which I've performed with my band; I've donated some of my precious time to care for children from several families that couldn't afford full-time daycare; I've become the organizer of a great critique group and helped bring it back from a very low point of participation; become a consultant for a young writers group in a local high school; been published in an anthology; I've helped talk a person dear to me out of suicide; I've done artwork and voiceovers for a successful niche podcast; learnt to make the best coffee ice cream on the planet and a perfect cherry pie; learnt to play Happy Birthday on the ukulele; kept my household together through agonizing financial difficulties and illness; and had some of the best writing experiences of my life.  

 Those are just the big things.

 I could have focused hard on one dull task, and made enough money to buy a new couch, maybe. I could have spent all of my time working on my figure, trying to heal my body, or writing bland internet content I wasn't proud of. Instead, people I respect speak of my work with respect and occasional awe. Children I love have been an intimate part of my life, and I know I've influenced them in at least a few good ways. I have turned the sad death of a friend into 2 good songs, and the death of a friendship into at least three songs and a short story. I've gotten better, very slowly but through effort. I've kept myself from getting sicker, too. And screwed up thousands of times, and learned a great deal. To boil it down to one truth, I have lived and thrived after utterly losing my hard-built career status, my dreams, my health and all of my former plans-- and it was all because I started a crazy writing project in a rush, on a whim, throwing myself into it with my whole will, and immediately finding that it sparked dozens of other ideas for projects.

 These lists of accomplishments aren't meant to glorify myself, but rather to glorify and rejoice in the idea and practice of Beginning, which has gotten some bad rap recently. By now, people are tired of the whole Resolution thing each January, and the Western World seems to willfully misunderstand and mock the Eastern ideal of revering a  process, no matter how far ahead the Eastern world gets through actual production following this reverence. We shame those that make a good try, and we ignore what we could get from trying again and again. Instead we focus on the end result to the exclusion of any beginning without solid guarantees for immediate or substantial profit.

 Good beginnings have their own immediate profit-- excitement, the joy of discovery, a shaking off of old habits, the prepping of our minds to receive instead of produce. It's worth more than you'll ever know, if you don't jump in and start something you might not be able to finish on schedule-- but then again, you might.   

Happy September! Peace, Mari


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