Tuesday, March 31, 2020

This is who I am: a 5-year plan at 74? While in a pandemic? (part 2)

Turn my ship around

March 31, 2020 - 
part 2

And then, came a virus with a vengeance. You could hear doors slamming shut all across the planet. Lockdown. 

Sudden change left our heads spinning and our hearts softened as we marched to war … the peoples of the earth fighting against something we couldn’t even see.

Uncertainty. Not knowing what’s coming our way is changing us, turning us back toward the basics, stripping away norms built up over the years of prosperity and gluttony … eating too much, buying too much, self-indulging too much. It’s like we have been sent to our rooms to contemplate our futures and think about what’s important.

My thoughts about a 5-year plan were caught on the edge of this tectonic shift. A plan implies that there is an X in the future that we want  to arrive at or achieve. How can you plan for an X five years into the future, when you’re not even sure there is a future or what it might look like? 

However, what we do now counts … it will create our future and who we become regardless of whether we’re in good times or in a totally disorienting pandemic. We can’t wait for calm waters to figure out how to handle our lifeboat in the middle of a raging sea.

The word plan doesn’t quite fit this during corona (DC) time. However, what should we call a set of possible actions or intentions chosen to take us to a different state of being? Thesaurus and I had a long discussion about words: pattern, picture, guideline? Nothing quite worked until I started asking questions:  
Who am I? 
Who do I want to be? 
What’s important to me? 
What are my gifts? 
What can I give? 
What do I want my days to be like? 
How do I want to spend my time?

Suddenly, it was clear. QUESTIONS. 
I don’t want a 5-year plan. 
I want a 5-year question.

Whereas a plan is a fixed, step-by-step set of actions focused on an outcome; a question would be a living energy constantly refocusing me on my “one wild and precious life” and what I want it to be.

Plans take  you to places the world recognizes as good: fame, fortune, accomplishment, recognition, a book published, a piece of artwork sold, a new title and bigger office, a spiffy car, an island hideaway, a marathon record, more followers on twitter. A question circles around our essence, inviting new layers into action, calling forth intentions that resonate with who we are, asking:

Assuming there is a future, 
who do you want that future self to be?

Then, the logical me kicks into gear and asks: how will you measure success?  What will be on your “to do” list? How will you know you’re making progress? How will you manage your time? How will the world know that you’re a good and successful person?

My head spins again as an old tune begins to play … “What’s it all about, Alfie?” 

Is it “doing” or “being”? I know that’s the wrong question. As always, it’s both/and. We are living beings who do things. What we do is either a reflection of who we are, who we want to be, or a negation of that standard. If I know who I want to be, I can judge all my actions based on that criteria, asking: Is this action a reflection of who I want to be?

Searching for my 5-year question, I write: 
What do I want in my life and who do I have to be in order to create that life?

It sounds good, but I’m not sure it’s THE question. see part 3

Monday, March 30, 2020

This is who I am: a 5-year plan at 74?

Written late February, 2020, a time we now call BC (before coronavirus):

The first three decades of my life were spent as a chameleon. I worked hard at being invisible, turning whatever color someone wanted me to be. You want cheerful; I’m cheerful. You want responsible; I’m responsible. You want flexible; I’m a yoga master bending to your whims.

That life strategy gradually cracked, but it wasn’t until my 50s when it split open like a ripe watermelon in a hot Kansas field. Poetry, certifiably bad poetry, spewed forth; grade school imagery showed up in art workshops, and “creativity,” a word I don’t remember hearing as a child, took hold of my spirit as I started teaching people how to free their thinking and imaginations. I believed and taught that everyone was creative, while the voice in the back of my head reminded me that I was the one true exception.

All of this is to say that I have been a late bloomer. A recent conversation with a friend about my 18 year-old granddaughter raised the issue of 5-year plans. I’ve had a fairly productive life so my friend was surprised when I told her I had never made a 5-year plan. I guess it surprised me also because the conversation kept haunting me.

In my 20s and 30s, I read most of the popular positive thinking books. I wrote affirmations and filled my mind with possibilities. I visualized wealth and fabulous homes on distant islands. I pasted the title of one of my books on the NY Times best seller list and made vision boards. My efforts were always short-lived and, obviously, those fantasies never materialized.

Gradually, I determined to become visible. I began to blog, post art on FB, spew my thoughts on Twitter and occasionally tiptoe into Instagram and Pinterest. Apparently I'm trying to make up for those years when I was that mousy girl in the corner with her nose in a book. The metaphor may be inept but I basically crept out of the closet and said “take me or leave me, this is who I am.”

So, here I am at 74, thinking about 5-year plans. Who makes 5-year plans at this stage of life when the standard joke is that we don’t even buy green bananas? 

However, turning the coin over, the question becomes: why don’t we ALL make 5-year plans at age 74 … or 84 … or even 94??? Who cares if we die before we reach the end of the plan? If our spirits are still reaching for joy, still learning more about ourselves and the world around us, still finding new ways to share our being with others, then wouldn’t that be a good thing?

So I flung myself into the 5-year plan idea, doing it my way, of course. Fame and fortune no longer interest me, so no more cars and boats and planes in my plan. The only thing that truly interests me these days is deep connection … with friends and family, with myself and the world around me, with the mysteries of the Universe. 

I began to develop a plan to become more who I am, more visible, more generous with my gifts, more attuned to the Universe. I reviewed the new literature on making changes and establishing new habits and found a model that resonated with me. Rather than starting with specific (or even SMART) goals or new processes, this theory advocates starting with identity. Who do I want to be?

As I began my contemplation on who I wanted to be, suddenly there came a virus with a vengeance … see part 2

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Love Letter to my life #21: The Road to Gerlach

(book cover)
by Joyce Wycoff 

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.) 

I had already drafted a different letter for this month when a virus  turned the world upside down. Conversations on Facebook went this way and that and one of my friends suggested I post some art as sort of a distraction. My mind jumped at that idea like a hungry bass after a perfect fly.

Turns out, I had just finished a 30-page photo book …  hmmm ... 30 pages … 30 days. And, there was a story involved about a place most people don’t know exists. As a matter of fact, Nevada is one of those places people hardly know exists  … other than Las Vegas, of course. 

So for the next 30 days, I’m going to post this micro story, one page every day. It’s a transformation tale about my decision to apply for an Artist in Residence position in the Black Rock Desert … some of the harshest territory in the US. I wanted to go … I didn’t want to go (not big on hot, wind, or dust). 

I know little about this part of the world and I’m not a typical candidate for a gig like this so I knew I had to somehow present myself creatively. Of course, I won’t know if I will actually get the opportunity to go until sometime in May. However, just writing this story and assembling the book turned on a new energy. Plus, we all need a bit more distraction for the next few weeks … right?

So, this is the beginning of The Road to Gerlach … The "story" is told on the  left side "black" pages and amplified by pieces of my art with snippets about its creation on the right side "gray" pages. This photo book will be part of my application for the Artist in Residence position. We'll see how it works. In the meantime, I hope it brings you some interesting thoughts during the next 30 days.

I’ll also post it on Facebook and here so if you miss a day, you can always catch up … not that it’s exactly going to be a cliff hanger. If you have any questions or comments about Gerlach, the story, the art, or anything else, please leave in the comments.

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5/15/2020 Update: Following the development of the corona virus side-tracked my commitment to post The Road to Gerlach. However, you can see the entire work here in magazine format:

I was not chosen for the artist-in-residence program that stimulated the creation of this little book. I was a bit disappointed but life had moved on and I felt a bit of relief even though I'm sure it would be a grand experience. I'm sure the chosen artists will do amazing pieces of work inspired by this beautiful and intriguing land.

At some point along the way, I thought about how I would feel if I were not the artist chosen and decided that there were other projects I could get equally excited about. The world does not lack for inspiration. And, the pandemic that developed shortly after I applied for the residency turns out to be one of the most interesting, as well as confusing and tragic, experiences of my life and offers unlimited opportunities for inspiring writing and art that can connect me more deeply with myself and the world around me as I freely share whatever develops.

Everything seems to be building on my 5-year plan insights that I want to live fully in delight and what I want to do is: LEARN - CREATE - CONNECT - SHARE.