Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stripped (Or...The Guest That Wouldn't Leave)

"Take my hand, come back to the land
Let's get away just for one day

Let me see you
stripped down to the bone

Let me see you stripped down to the bone"

~Depeche Mode

Hello out there, if anyone still peeks in here from time to time...

For the last six months I have been treading the waters of "survival mode" (i.e. working a temp job, barely making ends meet, and trying to get my feet firmly on the ground in my new city at "bare minimum" living). And as I've often told people, when I'm working that hard at trying to stay afloat, my creative juices tend to dry up and my writing-mojo train derails. It's not fun. A writer should be putting pen to paper (or finger to keypad, as it were) daily. Everyone knows that. But there are times when it just won't come. And you wait patiently for it to return.

In these last six months (let alone 3 years), things did not progress quickly. There were obstacles at every turn. Unsatisfactory situations dragged on and on. But I've made it most of the way through, now. According to the stars, there is light at the end of the tunnel - at the beginning of next month, to be exact.

If talk of astrology makes you say "BAH-ha-ha! Really?" then you may want to skip ahead a few paragraphs. Or bah-ha-ha your way through.

You see, for the last three years, Saturn has been the "guest who wouldn't leave" transiting through the House of Libra (my sun sign). If anyone reading this is a Libra, this might explain any hardships you've had, too. Saturn sauntered in around October of 2009, wedged its ass in our couch, helped itself to our snacks and drinks, and began inflicting unsolicited lessons on us, whether we Librans wanted them or not. For three years.

I think sums it up best:

Saturn transits and cycles can be considered cycles of achievement and maturity. When Saturn forms a hard aspect to a personal point in our chart, we might feel that everything is slowed down--we encounter delays, frustrations, and pressures. But these times also challenge us to face reality, thereby opening ourselves up to increased wisdom and the freedom that comes with living in truth

Significant decisions are often made during Saturn's hard transits to our personal planets. These transits slow life down (or at least, that is how we perceive it) and force us to live our lives in the present. Although Saturn transits can make life feel like a drudgery (these are often times when our lives seem to move at a snail's pace and advancements are hard to see), they also give us the opportunity to gain inner strength, to become more responsible for what we do and say, and to cut out waste or excesses in our lives. Basically, what happens is a form of paring or slimming down in the area of life affected by Saturn. We are getting rid of things in our lives that are not working for us in the real world, and focusing on improving and strengthening the things that do serve a useful purpose.
I won't go back and recount all the things that went down in my life when Saturn arrived at the end of 2009. I only want to talk about this last year--when I decided to knock down the sandcastle of my 4-year life back in Ohio, return to the west coast, and start completely over. Yes, again. I belong in the West and near the ocean. I decided this is where the setting and the cast for Part II of my life would definitely happen.

This is where the Depeche Mode reference comes in. In starting over, one is stripped of pretty much everything that makes up "life as they know it." The song is about a man wanting to see what his woman would be like stripped of all her possessions and technology and city living that she apparently is so dependent on--just for one day. While I was never this sort of material girl, dependent on any possession or way of life, really.....I thought of this song often, after coming to Portland.

After leaving Ohio for the second time, I was stripped of my immediate family and inner posse of best friends. Yes, I know they are only a phone call, an email, or a Facebook click away, but I no longer had the ability to spend time with them whenever I wanted. I missed all the weddings and pregnancies and babies being born. I missed seeing Dave's woodcarving gallery on first Fridays and visits to The Pub with my bestest buds.

Then I was stripped of privacy. I lived with relatives (bless their generous souls!) and had only a common living room in which to use as a temporary headquarters. Gradually, I was stripped of my savings as I lived off them to support myself until I found a job. Once I found a long-term temp job, I acquired my own space again in an apartment, but it was a very small one, with none of my belongings in it. Just a borrowed airbed--which ended up leaking and so I moved my free Craigs List futon into the bedroom with some memory foam on top. I also got a cheap second-hand computer desk, and two plastic deck chairs. But everything I owned, which had been culled down to a handful of furniture, household necessities, important documents/files/books, a massage table/chair, and my bike, was back in Ohio. I would have to live without it all for a long time, because I wouldn't be able to move it anytime soon.

I got really good at living with little to nothing. It was cleansing and good for the soul. It forced me to venture out and find no-money fun to have, like hiking and meetup groups that listened to music in parks and wrote together and played Euchre! I had my sister and my bike-tech nephew ship my bike out to me when summer came, because no one should be without their bike in Portland. That's like a mortal sin here. Having my bike offered me a psychological sense of freedom to move forward quickly and go wherever I liked, while everything else in life (that I had no control over) was holding me back. Running did this for me as well, as I happily trained for the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon and crossed the finish line at 2:29:54 - six seconds under my personal goal.

Living in this "bare minimum" style also forced me to take a good look at my dreams and goals and start re-forming a game plan as to how I would achieve them. It was going to take a lot of strategic planning and ingenuity, but also persistence and faith and never giving up on them. No matter how distant and impossible they seemed. I never got to have children, so these few dreams I have left in life are ALL that I have. I owe it to myself to go after them, and maybe even find something better than I ever imagined along the way.

In mid-summer, I mastered the art of living on $30 of grocery money per week. It was down to fruits and vegetables and maybe one meat that I could creatively fix five different ways. I got fancy with Ramen Noodles, throwing in celery and mushrooms to make an Asian dish that I'd had at my sister's in Hawaii once, and loved. (I learned to exist on about 500 calories/day--I would SO survive a Mad Max Apocalypse, hiding out in the wilderness and being a leader of the Resistance) The afternoon lattes that I would sometimes treat myself to (prior to this period of life) ceased, because sometimes there wasn't even three extra bucks in my purse....and I had to just look forward to the day when those could be affordable treats once again.

(One day, after encountering the hundredth desperate-eyed person on Fifth Avenue asking for money...I simply looked at him with compassion and said, "How I wish I had extra right now.")

In the last few months I have been stripped of a comfortable bed to sleep in, regular (and healthful) massage therapy, live music concerts (at venues that cost money), travel, or even short trips to things around town when I had no gas in the car and no money to fill it up. During those weeks, I stayed home and hung out in the nature preserve next door, swam in the apartment pool, or went on long bike rides from my parking lot out onto country roads in the area.

At long last, I landed a full time, permanent job in downtown Portland at the same company at which I'd been temping. It was a real turning point for me, in that I would now have reasonable amounts of money coming in. I could set a tight budget, pay off some debts that had accumulated in my months of poverty, and then save up to move my belongings and sleep in a real bed again. It didn't change things overnight, but I'm definitely on my way back up again...and extremely grateful. office faces Mt. Hood. I can't tell you how often I have to walk to the window, gaze across the river into the distance, and draw strength from that magnificent creation of nature.

Rather than look at my remaining debts--the things that are STILL standing in my way and holding me up from, say, self-publishing my completed novel Just Wait (how ironic is THAT title)--as horrible things, I wrote them each down on a paper cut-out of a puffy cloud and stuck them on my bare wall. When each one is paid off, I rip the cloud from the wall, and little by little the clouds start to disperse.

Now, I am immersed in learning a new and challenging job. My brain is fully engaged, and I often come home worn out and in need of mindless entertainment (like old episodes of Arrested Development--who can resist hours and hours of Jason Bateman, I ask you?) But once my training is over, no more excuses. Writing must take precedence in my life, once again. If I could work diligently on a novel while being a busy First Grade teacher, and finish another novel while simultaneously working in a busy publishing company, then I can continue with my works-in-progress now. Just a little bit each day, be it journal or blog or poem or snippet of a scene that I thought up while riding in the elevator.

My sister also advised me to get one of the spiritual tools I've used in the past (meditation, Law-of-Attraction work, Yoga, Presence Process, etc.) and not let it fall by the wayside. She said to keep doing it each day and letting it finally become so ingrained in my life that it takes no effort at all...then and only then will inner shifts finally take place. Beliefs about money and how much I deserve to have. Belief in the success of my future novels. Belief in the dwelling I wish to live in one day with my husband. Belief in the lovely little banquet center that could be my retirement project. Belief in the endless and joyous possibilities continuing on in my life, getting more amazing by the year.

Belief is a powerful thing. Perhaps it was never Saturn's fault. Perhaps it was just some inner growth that was supposed to take place at this point in my life. Perhaps I was supposed to experience this stripping away, like the varnish off an old hardwood that it can be sanded and re-done into something smooth and polished, its authentic wood revealed once again. Or silver annealed in fire, only to emerge stronger and better. And, as a dear friend of mine pointed out, "Remember that it needs to cool slowly."

And so comes the cooling off period. The Reconstruction of my life. It's going to get even more amazing than it already has, and I'm looking forward to it.

But I'm still glad Saturn is leaving. Goodbye, you Taskmaster Planet. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out. Ho ho.........ho.

Okay, fellow Librans....and anyone else who's been facing hardship and challenge of late. This is our rally song!