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I’m responding to posts out of order, as I find time to respond, and as complete responses come to me, so although today is December 7, this is my response for the December 6 prompt, which is:

From author Gretchen Ruben, Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

As a nearly compulsive knitter, (I think of knitting as productive fidgeting, and have needles and yarn in my hands whenever they’re not busy with something else.) I am in the process of making something almost all the time, though I’ll admit that I often go for months between finishing my knitting projects. Right now, whenever I watch TV, often when I converse with my roommate or on the phone, and sometimes when I read, I’m making a pair of lacy, cabled socks from a tough, royal purple, wool and nylon blend. When my hands yearn for something simpler, I’m also working on an English/Irish-style flat driving cap, of my own design, knitted from tweedy green wool.

I’d like to sew more—especially to make my own fresh, fuzzy, flannel pajamas before December 28, when I’ll head off for January in Massachusetts, which promises to be the coldest winter I’ve yet experienced—but sewing is harder to fit into my life. Sewing requires space, laying things out, leaving them out, making dedicated time. It can’t be stuffed into a bag and carried on an airplane or bus, like knitting can. It can’t be stuffed into the nooks and crannies of my schedule, like knitting can. Thus, I’ll probably settle for store-bought pajamas, not quite exactly as I want them, not quite mine, but fuzzy and warm enough for January.

Still, I make plenty. I make things all the time—we all do, even (especially!) people who are convinced they aren’t creative. I made a salad last night. I made a cup of milky coffee, just as I like it, this morning. Yesterday, I made lots of web copy for my clients, and I’ll make more today. This weekend, I’d work with a group of actors to make a show to entertain a party. We all make things all the time—what else could we do with our lives?

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Once again, I’m writing at bedtime—my bedtime, which is past the time when the day officially ends. December 2 is just coming to a close for me. December 3 will start after one sleep.

December 2’s prompt comes from Leo Babuta: Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing—and can you eliminate it?

My answer is easy to identify and difficult to conquer: Cringing in fear. Most people call it procrastination, and Barbara Sher, one of my favorite authors, calls it resistance, but I know that it’s fear, pure and simple. I’m afraid to write what I most want to write. the more I want it, the more I fear—fear that it can’t possibly be as good on the page or on the screen as it is in my head, and even greater fear that it will be exactly that good, and people will hate me for seeming better than them, or for saying something so strongly.

When I get scared, I do anything I can to avoid writing. The worst offenders are the tasks that accomplish very little, like driving aimlessly, reading every entry on Failbook.com or FML, watching mindless TV. Sometimes I do great, useful things while I’m trying not to write, like going for a run, practicing my guitar, designing a new knitted hat, or calling an old friend, but knowing that I’m doing it for the sake of running away, rather than running towards the good things, steals some of the joy out of the task. And in any case, I become increasingly guilty and stressed out because I haven’t written. If it’s professional work I’m trying not to write, I will get it done by the deadline, but with more stress and less devoted time than I wish I’d had. If it’s personal writing, it often doesn’t get done at all.

Can I eliminate this? Probably not entirely. If I knew how to simply get rid of the fear, I would have done so years ago, and saved a lot of wasted time. So far, the procrastination activities are what I need to do to calm the fear enough to allow myself to write. I will work on finding the best, most efficient ways to get past the fear. I will try to streamline the process. This is my project for the coming year, and probably for the rest of my life.

In an effort to re-start my personal blog, and to focus my mind for the coming year, I’ve joined the #Reverb10 project, in which bloggers write on a prompt for every day of December. I’m posting right before I go to bed at the end of my December 1, even though it’s past midnight and the calendar says December 2. I plan to write every night this month before bed—maybe earlier sometimes, but #Reverb10 is likely to be my bedtime musing most nights.

December first’s #Reverb 10 prompt is: One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

2010: Testing

This was a year of trying things out. In 2010, I’d come to see that my plan of living from house sit to house sit, rent-free, living on very low income, had become more a form of hiding than a way of exploring what life had to offer. The fully nomadic, low-money-usage life may have had things to teach me, but it had outlived its purpose. It was time to try something new.

On the other hand, I knew I still didn’t want a conventional life. Near the end of 2009, I turned down a full-time ad-agency proofreading job (at the height of the recession!) because it didn’t offer to teach me anything I needed to learn—but also because, I realized, I really couldn’t imagine working a standard, 9 to 5, office job ever again. I wanted to expand my career(s) and be part of the economy, rather than avoiding needing or using money.

To that end, I spent 2010 trying things out. I found wonderful mentors in two of my major writing clients, and now I’ve learned corporate ghost blogging, taking my freelance writing career in an entirely new, constantly educational, far more lucrative direction.

I tried living in one place, sharing a cabin in Evergreen (a gorgeous small town in Colorado’s foothills) with the boyfriend I met in the second half of 2009. From that, I learned that Evergreen was too far from the hustle and bustle of Denver city life for my taste, and my romantic relationship worked better when we lived in separate homes.

I slowly tested my acting skills in new directions, too. The start of 2010 found me in Chicago auditioning for MFA acting programs . . . to no avail. I learned that my lack of formal theater education, and probably my age, make it extremely unlikely that I’ll ever be accepted into such a program. I’ll have to find other ways to take my acting to a higher level. Back home in Denver, I experimented: I acted in my first scripted stage show in three years. I became a regular in children’s murder mystery shows. (Yes, there are such things. Don’t worry—we murder fictional adults and let the kids solve the cases. No children are murdered.) Most amazingly, I learned how to help train police officers by playing realistic characters in crisis—mentally ill people, the developmentally disabled, and people who were very angry or severely traumatized.

I spent the 2010 trying new things in all kinds of directions, still not sure what was the right path to focus on.

2011 Direction

On New Year’s Day, 2011, I’ll already be at Shakespeare & Company, a Shakespeare festival theater company in the Berkshires, working my ass of in their month-long intensive training program for professional actors. I’ve known for three years now that this is what I most want to do with my acting career: perform live, on stage, in the classical and other brilliant plays done by Shakespeare festivals. Giving up on MFAs, I’ve chosen the most direct route I can find: the highly-respected, Shakespeare-specific training of Shakespeare & Company’s 40-year-old Month-Long Intensive program. I still don’t know exactly where my acting will go when I finish this “acting boot camp” and return to my regular life, but I’m confident that what I learn in the Berkshires will help me map my course.

Corporate blogging will continue to be my bread and butter from February on. I’ve already arranged with my best client to pre-write the blogs that will go live while I’m at business further as soon as I’m back home. I also plan to start writing fiction again—once my favorite art form, but one I’ve neglected since college. I haven’t felt I had the concentration to write my own stories these past . . . too many years. It’s time to find my focus again.

As for my home, when I finish my actor training, I will still have a home to come back to. I’ve been renting a room in the house of an old friend from high school, and I love it here. I’ve actually unpacked and set up furniture. I have a home base to help me focus on my next direction . . . or directions.

 

And my love life? That’s the one area of my life I don’t think I have the power, or good reason, to try to direct.

This news story breaks my heart. At about 7:20 am on April 18, 31-year-old Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax saw a man threatening a woman with a knife on a city street in Queens, New York City. Tale-Yax stepped in. His reward? He was stabbed. The woman he saved ran off, as did the attacker.  As Tale-Yax lay on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood, a security camera from a nearby business filmed people walking over and around him. Of the few who gave him a second look, one man snapped a cell-phone photo, then left. Another shook Tale-Yax, got no response, and walked away. When emergency workers finally arrived, Tale-Yax had been lying on the street in full view of morning traffic for an hour and 20 minutes. He was dead when EMTs got to him.

After telling the story, the AOL news article goes into theories on how this could have happened. This may be an example of the bystander effect: the psychological theory that, the more people are around, the less likely any one of them is to help, as we each tend to assume that someone else will take care of it. Another theory proposed is that people today, especially those in big cities, are too stressed and preoccupied to really look at each other. Yet another suggests that in a large city, where people get used to the homeless sleeping on the sidewalk, passersby may not have realized that Yale-Tax was doing anything other than taking a nap.

While that last one is hard to swallow for those of us from smaller cities and suburbs, when I lived in San Francisco last summer, I did see people napping in the middle of busy sidewalks, at all times of day. I was amazed, and I stopped to look them over, timidly checking to see if they were still breathing, but I’m a bumpkin from Colorado. A veteran city-dweller would be used to sidewalk nappers, and it would have taken a closer look for someone to have seen the pool of blood under Yale-Tax’s unmoving body. Still, how can we explain the man who shook him, lifted his shoulder (clearly exposing the pool of blood), then walked away without doing a thing to help? How can we explain the man who found him interesting enough to photograph, but not enough to call 911 for?

I’m reminded of Neil Gaiman’s TV series (and later novel and comic), Neverwhere, in which businessman Richard Mayhew stops to help a tattered-looking young woman who is lying injured on a London sidewalk. This simple act plunges him into her world, called in the book “London Below”: a world of magic, communicative birds and rats, angels, vampire-like life-suckers, and extremely eccentric people. It reads like a fantasy novel, but at a few points, Gaiman makes it clear that this is really the world of the homeless and mentally ill. Read on this level, it’s a touching and disturbing commentary on how we treat our homeless. In Neverwhere, people from “London Above” are literally unable to see those from “London Below” . . . unless, like Richard, they are heading towards madness, themselves. In the real world, we actively choose not to see the homeless—and the news story notes that Yale-Tax was homeless when he was killed. Whether it’s due to the bystander effect, the Neverwhere effect, or some other aspect of human nature, there are too many examples of the basic human tendency to ignore fellow human beings when they most need our help.

There is some hope to the story of Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, though. Not everyone ignored strangers in need. The whole story started when Yale-Tax, a young man down on his luck and low on society’s totem pole, stepped in to help a woman who was being robbed. And someone, eventually, called an ambulance for Tale-Yax.

I want to be the rare person in these stories: the one who notices a person in need and does something to help. Every time I see a story like this, I want it to remind me to try to be the one who doesn’t follow the crowd. I want to be the one who sees other people. I want to be the one who helps. I’m afraid I’ll forget, become complacent, and stop seeing other people, as so many of us do. Then again, there will always be more stories like this to remind me.

There are drawbacks to freelancing (financial ups and downs, feast-or-famine schedules, condescending credit card companies), but there are many rewards, as well. Perhaps the greatest of those is being able to choose every project I take on, and sometimes being paid to do things I would love to do whether or not money was involved.

For example, I often do small projects for Sounds True, the spiritual and self-help publisher where I’ve once had the privilege of working full-time. Lately, I’ve been transcribing installments of Sounds True’s weekly podcast, Insights from the Edge, for posting on their web site. In these podcasts, Sounds True Founder and CEO Tami Simon interviews great thinkers who’ve created audio programs (lectures and lessons on CD or downloadable mp3) for Sounds True. Three weeks ago, I was particularly excited to find that Tami had interviewed Vicki Robin, who, with the late Joe Dominguez, co-authored Your Money or Your Life. I was being paid to listen to one of the great heroes whose ideas had informed much of my adult life! Check out the interview here.

Tami’s interview celebrates the release of the updated, 10th anniversary edition of the Your Money or Your Life. I remember when the book first came out, when I was a 20-something, deep in college studies and deep in anxiety, wondering if I would ever figure out how to handle my own finances, live free of family support, and take care of myself. I read the book, began tracking my expenses, and have never looked at a job offer or a price tag in the same way since. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this book changed my life, or more accurately, that it did a great deal to shape my adult life.

Vicki Robin and her coauthor, the late Joe Dominguez, taught me to see money as something I (or someone, such as my parents, who have given me many generous gifts over my lifetime) traded hours of my (or my loved one’s) precious, limited life to gain. They also taught me that credit is a form of indentured servitude—a harsh way to put it, but it is signing up to work for many hours, often hundreds or thousands of hours, to pay off a debt—not free money. And best of all, they taught me that true financial independence—defined not as having mountains of money, but as being wholly in control of one’s own financial life—is possible. Creative lifestyles can be fun and freeing, the “American dream” is not a dream for one, and a sustainable world for all is possible.

I was delighted to trade my life energy for money when it came with a chance to listen to Vicki Robin expanding on the ideas from this life-changing book. The interview is a nice introduction to the Your Money or Your Life philosophy, and an interesting listen (or read, if you prefer—just go to the podcast page and click “Read the Transcript” to see my handiwork). I encourage you to check it out.

I came back from my summer adventures in San Francisco all excited about renewing my commitment to my blog, and then I proceeded to not post for two months. My apologies. I have been busy, and scattered and confused, building up my life again back home in Colorado: finding work, finding more work than I expected and gratefully lapping up every opportunity, reconnecting, bouncing from house sit to house sit and remembering why that made me feel flustered and out of sorts … Mainly, though, I’ve been uncertain about the direction of this blog.

I’ve been reading some fantastic popular blogs of late, from The Comics Curmudgeon and Medium Large, to RedheadWriting and SEOmoz, to the Tim Ferriss’ blog and I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Each blog has a specific focus, an overall message and reason for being. Does mine? So far, I’ve felt unfocused, writing on whatever happens to spark my mind. I wonder whether I should stretch for a gimmick, find a way to promise my readers that I will make them rich (as soon as I figure out how to make myself so) …

But the fact is that I already have a focus for my blog. I have a very strange life. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a mortgage, and I don’t have a lease. More unusual: I don’t want any of these things. I make money, I sleep in safe and comfortable places, and I feel wealthy. I also feel creative, excited, and grateful about my life overall. While my lifestyle is far from unique—in fact, the “joyfully jobless” (as author Barbara Winter calls freelancers and entrepreneurs) are far more common than Americans tend to think. I expect that people in creative housing situations—house sitters, eternal travelers, and those who live in non-house, non-apartment homes like RVs, cabins, mini-houses, and such—are also far more common than we tend to think. Still, there’s far too little talk about the alternatives to the standard American dream of “get a job, work all day Monday through Friday for 50 years, then retire completely; while you’re at it, buy the biggest house you can mortgage, as soon as you can.” As the business world shifts, that dream is becoming increasingly impossible, and I’ll argue that it was always impractical. There are many other ways to live, and many that are not only safe, responsible, and relatively comfortable, but also fulfilling and joyful. Simply blogging about my own life experiments, and those of others I learn about, I’ll never run out of things to say.

There is another reason, though, why I’ve been unsure about this blog: It’s out there for anyone to see. I have a feeling all of the ideas that make me interesting and readable are the kinds of things any proper American should be keeping secret. We’re constantly being told to watch what we write on the interwebs, lest we be unemployable for life. Dates, too, can Google and judge, as can potential roommates, landlords, creditors, anybody. The more unorthodox opinions I share (meaning everything that differentiates me and makes me worth reading), the more I mark myself as a freak. Will I ruin my future chances by expressing myself too widely? Telling people about my odd lifestyle, how I turn down “good” “permanent” jobs, how I hop from home to home and work project to work project, has already started an argument that nearly lost me one of my best friends, and is obviously starting to worry another (more on him next post).

After careful consideration (two months of it!), though, I realize that any job, any business partners, any date or friend or roommate I’d ever really want to be with had best be willing to accept me as I am. I am a responsible, intelligent, hard working, sane, and happy person. I also happen to like exploring unusual ways of making a life. I’m willing to tell the world about that.

One of my favorite web comics put it better:

XKCD Dreams

Special thanks to the glorious XKCD.com

knittyI’m just recovering from a miraculous lesson in gratitude. Last week’s events made me suddenly notice how much joy I get from something I’ve always had; something that I depend on, many times every day, for earning money, for pleasure, for art, for independent travel, for everything; something a great many people don’t get to enjoy: having strong, healthy, working hands.

Last Tuesday, I got calls from two clients, a brand-new one and one of my best and longest-standing ones, each asking me to complete a large transcription job. The deadline to be done with both jobs was Saturday night, just four days away. To meet the deadlines, I would have to be typing every moment that I was awake and my hands were unsure and strong enough to do it. It made for a strange week, but feast or famine is the nature of freelance work, and I was delighted to have so much to do (and income, and a great new client, to boot!) and determined to make the very best of it, so I typed. And typed. I typed until my wrists felt tight and strange, every muscle in my hands was sore, and my fingers started missing the keys. Then I went out and bought a wavy ergonomic keyboard and a pair hand-supporting spandex gloves, then typed until my hands gave out again. I spent the week typing, resting until my hands worked again, then typing some more.

And in this way, I realized how marvelously gifted I am to have strong, healthy hands. With all the punishment I gave my hands last week, I never felt numbness or outright pain. I do not have carpal tunnel syndrome—lucky me! I was just tiring out my muscles. As I rested my hands, desperately trying to think of something to do, I realized that most things I love to do depend on my wonderful hands. For example:

•    As I started the week of typing, my hands were already tired from the stage combat seminar I’d taken the weekend before, in which I learned to safely load, unload, store, and use guns for theatrical purposes. We loaded and unloaded various types of handguns over and over again, fired them in many situations, pulling back slides, cocking hammers, pulling triggers, carefully and gently guiding hammers back down to keep loaded guns from firing as we carried them to the stage. As I cocked a revolver with one thumb, the very tough lady fight director standing next to me (and struggling with her own gun) said, “Well look at you with your strong hands!” I glowed, proud of my powerful little thumb.

•    I credit the guitar, a love I found just five years ago, with building the strength in my hands. I play almost every day, fingerpicking, doing bar chords, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and trills, making strings ring out with my tiny little pinkies, as well as my other fingers. Last week was the longest I’d gone in five years without playing a guitar. My hands couldn’t handle even the simplest chords.

•    I didn’t blog last week, or write anything personal, except for the occasional very short email. Normally, I spend hours of personal time on my computer each day, emailing friends, doing silly things on Facebook, writing short stories, blogging, applying for more freelance jobs… My world changed completely when I couldn’t type anything but the urgent work at hand. I felt lost, isolated.

•    In normal times, I knit almost constantly. I knit while I read books and internet articles. I knit while I talk on the phone. I often knit while I edit, letting the motion of my hands focus my brain while I read the text, dropping the knitting whenever I need to make a mark. While resting between transcription sessions, I tried to watch TV, but it felt too strange. I was too used to knitting while I watched.

•    Last week, I was sitting for my favorite cat, a friendly, purry, silky longhair who loves petting, brushing, and roughhousing. I struggled to brush him once a day, and I let him hang out on his enclosed porch too often, feeling guilty that I couldn’t play with him as much as he or I would have liked.

•    I like to go to my local recreation center (whatever locality I’m in) and lift weights twice a week. This week, I didn’t go, as I couldn’t trust myself to safely hold the weights. I couldn’t even do yoga, which is notoriously hard on the wrists. Strong hands make it much easier to maintain strong legs, arms, backs, abs, and so on.

•    In fact, I didn’t go much of anywhere last week, as safe driving requires a safe grip on the steering wheel. I ran errands only when I was feeling rested.

•    I often walked to the coffee shop on the corner, or the diner down the street, to gingerly hold a coffee cup or a fork over an omelet, amazed at how difficult even eating can be when you can’t trust your hands. I watched with envy as the diner cooks chopped, flipped, and grabbed handfuls of food. I goggled at the waitress as she carried a platter of heavy dinners.

I missed my strong hands every minute of those days, and my mind opened in wonder as I remembered that many people live like this every day of their lives. My grandmother, who crocheted the way I knit, lovingly, constantly, had to stop ten years before she died, because arthritis made the movements too difficult. A good friend of mine has a condition (tentatively diagnosed as lupus) which makes her hands tire after a few hours of work, tiring the rest of her body, as well. This woman is a professional cake decorator, a mother with an adorable baby to play with, (How do you lift something as precious as your child when you can’t trust your hands?) a household full of chores, and, fortunately, a loving and understanding husband who lends his hands when hers are too tired. I know artists with rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve read about Les Paul, [wikipedia link] the inventor of the electric guitar, who still finds ways to play, even though his hands are now frozen, arthritic claws. And there are many people the world over who create rich, important lives, even though they have only one hand to work with, or no hands at all.

After last week, I am amazed at these brave and resourceful people, and most of all, I am grateful that, for this stage of my life, at least, I don’t have to find a way to live without my strong, flexible, wonderful hands. I love my hands! I am in awe of my ability to play my guitar and my mother’s piano, to knit, to drive, to hold a baby, a kitty, a pen, or a fork, and to type these lines. I am definitely a fan of having hands!

The amazing ups and downs of my life (settling into a new home, worrying more than I need to about my mom and her recovery) have slowed my progress, but I am still working through Martha Beck’s step-by-step self-help program, The Joy Diet.

I actually have kept up my daily dose of “Nothing,” as Beck calls any basic meditation practice, but only because she’s pointed out that one can quiet one’s mind while safely driving a car. Since the idea is to let one’s thoughts and emotions flow by without getting hung up on any of them, I find that my driving is actually more safe, not less so, when I’m trying to meditate. I’m not lost in a daydream, and I’m in the present moment, so I’m more alert to every bump in the road and sudden move from other drivers. Since I’m now back to living in my house, but visiting my mom’s every day to check on her, I feel better knowing that I’m spending my time wisely during the 45-minute drive each way.

I’m also getting quite used to menu item #2, “Truth,” a series of questions Beck suggests we ask ourselves after a meditation session. I haven’t had any more truly surprising revelations, like I did when I first tried the exercise. I think I’ve simply become more aware of my underlying thoughts and emotions, so this exercise comes as a gentle reminder now, rather than a slap in the face. I’m quite relieved to find that the process gets less scary as one gets used to it.

Now I’ve spent two weeks trying to wrap my mind around item #3, “Desire,” and I’ve been struggling with it. Beck’s book laid out the first two steps so clearly, but while chapter 3 gave her philosophy of desire, I felt less clear about what I was supposed to do with my desires on a day-to-day basis. Beck asserts that we can and should have everything we truly want. If we want something immoral or self-destructive or evil—for example, to punch our boss, to kill our ex, to leave our children, or to have another six or seven beers—that want is only a cover for a deeper desire that we think we can’t have. We really want love and respect from our boss and ex, and only want revenge because we feel we can’t get it; we really want peace of mind, not seven beers in one sitting; and so on. Our true desires always feel warm and safe, and are the best for ourselves and the world.

I can get on board with that philosophy. In fact, I believe that I have always known what I truly want out of life, and thinking of those dreams makes me feel great. I just don’t know how to get them, and don’t fully believe that I can.

Once I’ve come into contact with my true desires, though, I can’t see from The Joy Diet how to incorporate them into my daily practice. Instead, I’ve been practicing the “Cherishing” exercise from another of Beck’s books, Steering by Starlight. (Yes, I’m becoming quite the rabid Martha Beck fan.) This exercise simply involves imagining that one’s desired outcome has already happened. I already have that boyfriend, that business, that play. I’m already watching my mom smilingly waving her once-painful arm. Beck assures us that imagining every day makes our dreams more likely to come true. In any event, the exercise is fun. It feels good to have what I really want, even if, so far, it’s only in my imagination. I feel more confident, more hopeful. I’m ready for the next step.

2009It’s January 23, and I’ve already accomplished one of my New Year’s Resolutions, the one that I expect to have the greatest impact on my life: I am no longer homeless. I actually rented a room in a pleasant, new-ish townhouse, with a very nice roommate/landlady, a garage for my beloved Chevy Metro (and my bicycle, which has been in my mother’s storage shed for three years!), neighbors and neighbor dogs to meet, and a neighborhood to become part of.

Now I have an answer to the icebreaker question, “Where do you live?” I live in Lafayette, Colorado, a suburb of Boulder, a half-hour’s drive away from Denver. The post office where I’ve been receiving mail for the past three and a half years is a few blocks away. It’s a nice, comfortable spot, centrally located to all of the classes, theatre gigs, and contract jobs I’d like to take on. It’s a good spot to have a home office, to organize my stuff, to get to sleep on a steady schedule.

And, of course, to start with, it completely freaked me out. On first hearing about my lifestyle for these past few years, people comment that it must be hard, moving around all the time, never knowing where I’m going to live next month. To that, I say: It’s amazing what you can get used to. It’s also amazing how frightening normalcy can be once one is used to something else. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this place after two weeks here—I’ve started sleeping through the night, actually unpacked some (not nearly all of my stuff), and stopped trying quite so hard to find reasons to be out of the house when my roommate comes home in the evening. As I’ve said, she’s terribly nice, and smart, and interesting, but I have to admit I was extremely (still am, a bit) nervous around her, and nervous about this whole deal. Once one makes a commitment to live in one place for a long time (three to six months was the agreement here, but that’s a long, long time for me), many fears come up:

• What if my roommate hates me? What if I hate her?

• What if I never get used to the roar of traffic outside? What if I can’t sleep here?

• How am I going to keep paying rent month in and month out?

Ah, that’s the tough one. After not paying rent for years, I actually have a savings account that is just about the size of six months rent here, but I hate to see it shrink. I’ve been hustling harder than ever to find more freelance jobs of all sorts—writing, acting, knitting design, secretarial temp work, anything. Actually, that’s one of the side effects I’d been hoping for when I moved here: I was hoping the anxiety, combined with finally having a place to sit still and get some work done, would jump-start my career. Now I’m in the same boat as most of my more “normal,” once-employed and now laid-off friends: I’m worried about how to pay my rent, and I need to hustle to find a job (or in my case, lots of freelance gigs). Then again, unlike them, I know what will happen if I lose my home. I’ll house sit, or travel, or find some other creative way to make due. It is comforting to have lived on the other side. What if I lose my home? I’ll be back to normal, or what feels normal to me.

And no, I’m not changing my nickname or the name of this blog. I still have a nomadic spirit. However well this home works, I will not be here for any length of time that most people would expect for one’s home. I plan to be here a few months, and then I hope to go away for the summer to study theatre. After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll come back to Colorado and rent another actual home. Maybe I’ll go back to house sitting. In any case, my mind is still in an impermanent place, open to travel, creative housing, new growth and new ideas.

For now, though, I’ve got some unpacking to do.

Photo courtesy of Andy Bahn

Photo courtesy of Andy Bahn

Last Saturday evening, I played chess in a cafe with the friend I play with on most Saturday evenings. She was telling me about her search for a telephone customer service job, as she has every Saturday since she was laid off in October. She was slowing down out of pure despair—why send out more resumes if nobody answers? Just then, another friend happened by. After exchanging the usual hugs and hellos, I asked how he’d been, as I hadn’t seen him for months.

“Oh, you know,” he said, “Still looking for a job.”

Still? The last time I’d seen him, he’d been very gainfully employed.

“Oh, really?” said my friend. “It has been a while. I got laid off in August.” He went on to explain how jobs were scarce in his field, mechanical engineering, as they are all around. Then he and my chess buddy exchanged creative ideas for paying their mortgages, (She was using expensive early distributions from a 401k, and he, cannibalistically, a home equity line of credit.) and praised the glories of antidepressant drugs.

The next day, I called another friend to ask if he was up for Sunday morning coffee, our weekly ritual. He said he wasn’t, because he, along with his company’s entire sales department, had just been laid off. Being an introvert, he wanted to absorb the shock by avoiding all of humanity for several days.

I started to worry about my friends, and about the state of the world. In addition to the many unemployed, I know homeowners who are stuck in houses they can’t afford but can’t sell, successful self-employed renters who can’t buy homes because mortgage lenders are now too careful, and workers at non-profits who are watching annual budgets shrink, wondering if there will be enough left to pay their salaries. It looked like a dark and scary time, indeed…

…until yesterday and today, when I had more in-depth conversations with those friends. Now another pattern stands out more strongly than fear:

• Over coffee, the “out-of-work” mechanical engineer told me about the inventions he’s come up with in his free time, and his plans to get them to market. He also told me how he’s analyzed his investments (Playing the stock market is one of his many hobbies.) and how excited he was about buying now, at what may be the bottom, before President Obama gets sworn in and his HopeTM drives prices back up again. Then my friend

offered me ideas on how to market the knitting patterns I’m always making up, and encouraged me to look into monetizing my blog.

• I’d been worried about my newly-unemployed introvert friend, so I was relieved to get an email from him. (He still didn’t feel like talking.) He told me he’s spending most of his time in his living room, which doubles as a recording studio. A songwriter and musician, he’d been meaning to work on a new album for months, and now he finally has time. It will surely be colored by his feelings of loss and worries about money—and the fact that he’s now spending all of his non-recording time listening to Joy Division, (I’ve got to keep an eye on that boy!) but in any case, his muse is working overtime. I can’t wait to hear the album.

• Yesterday at noon, I got an out-of-the-blue call from another friend, one of the non-profit workers who’d been wondering whether he would soon be non-salary. He’s still wondering, but he’s largely forgotten about that, as he’s very busy figuring out what would completely different career path he should take next. He’s reached the top of a steep learning curve at his current job, and now he’s wondering whether to go back to school so he can do biological research, and how to fit that in with his family life, his job, and his growing career in experimental jazz. He’d called me, not because I had the faintest idea what he should do, but because I love hearing all of his ideas, and bouncing them off me helps him organize his own mind.

Taking them as a whole, I have to say: Damn! I have cool friends! On top of that, I’m noticing a larger trend here, and it’s an exciting one. Yes, the economy is in the toilet, yes, jobs and loans and charitable donations are hard to come by, but this is, above all, a time of incredible creativity. We’re being forced by economic realities to move in with people we normally wouldn’t meet, take very odd jobs, and create our own side ventures just to keep our heads above water, not to mention our juggling of debts and strange ways of paying them. In addition, laid-off employees finally have time to remember their passions, be they music, woodworking, painting, or communtiy theater. We also finally feel we have time to volunteer to help each other out—nothing puts our misfortunes in perspective like helping someone even less fortunate.

I figured out, nearly four years ago now, that having an ordinary, day-to-day job was not for me, so I’ve been experimenting with other ways to live. Now that the usual way of making a living is hard to come by, more and more people are joining me in the experiment, and I’m seeing some amazing ideas. Yes, the economy is in trouble, but I think we’re also in for a gorgeously creative time. I can’t wait to see what the world comes up with.