one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams

Wrapping up a Year of Living for Our Dreams

Amelie on the Beach in Virgin Gorda, BVI

It’s been a year since we set out to live for our dreams. Our project has been to dare each other to do all those things we’ve always wanted to do but somehow couldn’t find the courage, the money, the time for. We gave each other and ourselves a year with the idea that we could probably do just about anything we set our minds to for a limited duration.

We started by plotting out a series of adventures, and pushed each other out the door to experience them. Wendy went to India. I started flying lessons. We made friends and made music. We clutterbusted, loved, meditated, traveled, played, and then the most amazing thing of all began to happen. We opened ourselves to new possibilities.

We found that by giving each other license to live more fully, starting in specific, well-defined ways, we set ourselves free in spirit as well as in body, opening ourselves to opportunities that we couldn’t have imagined in advance. No longer confined by our perceived limitations, we we began to feel a strong sense of abundance in our lives that wasn’t related to the size of our bank account. We began to live each day with a renewed sense of adventure, and increasingly to let go of plans to allow the unexpected to happen.

Our last great adventure of the year was to travel to the Caribbean as a family. We enjoyed bright sunshine and warm water for a December week completely disconnected from the Internet, with our computers left at home and our iPhones locked away. Without the distractions of work, school, household chores, and electronic media, we had the time and the space to reconnect with each other in beautiful surroundings, with lasting results. We’ll be back next year.

We’ll return to other adventures we began in 2011 as well. I’ll take another retreat, though likely not to meditate this time; next time I put my life on pause I want to finish a novel. Wendy will return to Asia, but this time I’ll come along. We’ll hit Singapore first, and then probably Bali. We’ll keep paring down the clutter in our lives, leaving only what’s important, which continues to be each other, our dreams, and the things that bring us and those around us joy. The space in our lives is there, and the opportunity, to live adventurously for the rest of our lives, thanks to our year of living for our dreams.

What will you do in 2012? Where will you go?


Working on a Dream

This is where I’m working this week. I and 1,999 other space geeks. Yes, I’m really getting paid to sit by a pool in Florida and talk about interstellar travel. Disneyworld is only a few minutes’ drive away, but the real imagineering is going on here at the Hilton Orlando, at the 100 Year Starship Symposium. This is definitely one of those “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this” moments.

When you set out to live for your dreams, sooner or later, you run up against one inescapable fact: unless you’re independently wealthy, most of your available time is taken up with earning money. And unless you love what you for for a living, how can you be said to be living for your dreams?

This month I chose work for my focus as Wendy and I continue our year of living boldly project.

The shaky state of the economy makes this especially scary, but I’ve determined to let go of work that doesn’t feed my soul. Instead I’m loading up on the work I do enjoy.

Freelancing as I do makes this process easier than being captive in a “real job,” but I think anyone can benefit from asking themselves the questions I’ve been living with this month:

-What do I want to be doing most of my waking hours?

-Does the work I do feed my soul as well as put food on the table?

-Can I replace income from work I don’t like with something else?

-Will what I’m doing lead to interesting/exciting/fulfilling work down the road?

-Does my work benefit others?

Which is why I’m riding on a starship right now instead of writing junk mail.

You can see my reports from the starship on my other blog at http://michaelbelfiore.com/category/blog and at http://popularmechanics.com.

Engage!


Revisiting Our Dreams

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe

Many years ago I put these words on my college application, alongside a pencil drawing of an open hand that was not half bad. I chose my school, Vassar College, in no small part because I fell in love with an amazing tree that defied gravity to stretch a single solid limb across the lawn in front of the amazing, cathedral-like library. I spent a lot of time in that library.

Now the quote comes back to me with all the force of its exhortation. All year long, this Party of 4 project has incited my family to live with Goethe’s brand of boldness. It’s not easy to maintain that, but we’ve accomplished a lot. A trip to India. Flying lessons. Ten days of life-changing meditation. But round about midsummer we lost a bit of momentum, or at least, I did. My guitar teacher moved to Colorado. A nationwide franchise took over Michael’s flight school. Our finances were feeling the pinch of my India trip.

To get back the spark, I feel it’s time to revisit our original plan and make a few changes. The blogging diva Gwen Bell creates a “life list” of sorts every year, and then around midyear she revisits and revises it. I think this is wise, because we are not the same people we were in January, or even last week. We’re always changing, and this is a good thing. It’s a sign that life, energy, and the creative spirit are flourishing within us.

So I’m reevaluating. I’m letting go of a couple of the dreams that feel too much like type-A deadlines to me. Learning French, for one. This just might not be the year for that one, and I can let that balloon go. Instead of pressured goals, I’m opting for experiential dreams. I have discovered that I simply do not need one more item on my to-do list.

So my family has replaced French lessons for now with a plan to unplug together in a beautiful and inspiring place (I’m rooting for an obscure Caribbean island, or off-the-path Mexico). And above all these past couple of months, we’ve realized that feeding our creative spirits is as essential to us as food and sleep. Michael and I have both rededicated ourselves to creative writing–yet without those type-A demands and pressurized goals. It’s about creative play, and we’re taking cues from our 6-year-old, who is amazingly adept at this art. Now I’m writing poems again, Michael is back to penning his children’s book, and we’re both loving the process, the experience of creating itself, for its own sake.

Letting a dream go can feel just as bold and exciting as setting one into motion. Try it: Take a look at your life list. What can you edit out? What can you put in its place that really captures who you are right now, fully engaged in the intoxicating flux and flow that is life on Earth?


Life in the black


It’s a case of be careful what you wish for. In an earlier post I mentioned that we’d like to unplug for a while. Now look.

That’s what our house looks like inside at night. Yes, that’s an actual photo.

We’re five days since Hurricane Irene without power or water. I’m not complaining; other communities have it much worse.

Instead, we’re finding things to celebrate, like our neighbor’s brush-clearing bonfire. Last night I picked up some smoors fixings, Amelie got into her best party dress, and I took the kids over for a marshmallow roast. Then we told stories by the fire, with Amelie piping up most of all.


(Woodstockers lining up for dry ice at the community center.)

No way that would have happened if the TV and our computers still had power. Hopefully the beneficial effects of unplugging will last after power is restored.

Try it: turn out the lights. Start a fire or light a candle. Listen to what everyone has to say.


What to Do the Day Before Armageddon

Tree smashes car during stormSaturday very much had an end-of-the-world feeling to it. Hurricane Irene was cruising up the East Coast at a stately 14 miles per hour. It would hit us the next day. Filling stations were running out of gas. Supermarket shelves were emptying. Parts of New York City were being evacuated.

I decided to take Amelie to the county fair. Unfortunately the folks running the place were shutting it down. Hell, I thought, there’s a full day left before the end of the world, why end the fun prematurely? I squinted up at a glowering sky. It hadn’t even started raining yet. Amelie was howling with disappointment.

So I took her out for pancakes. See below as she demonstrates proper pancake-eating form. She had a stomachache afterward, but it was worth it. Just the sight of those pancakes and that pastry cheered her right up. This, I thought, this is how to spend the day before the end of the world.

We shopped for toys and books, and then we hit the movies with popcorn and ice cream and then took a turn on some coin op rides at the mall. Rain was spitting down on us as we left, but we were feeling no pain by then.

Amelie demonstrates the proper way to eat pancakes. Don't forget to drink your syrup.

The wind tore down some tree limbs in our yard during the night, but thankfully did no further damage. The power went out throughout our town around five in the morning. We got a flat tire driving through the debris-filled streets after daybreak.

Three days without power, running water, or a flushing toilet have tested our patience, but I keep thinking of those pancakes and Amelie’s delighted laugh as she hoisted that mug of maple syrup, the first-grader’s ale.

By this morning, power had been restored to the town, thanks to help from utility workers imported from Kansas (I felt like cheering when their trucks rolled in like the tanks of a liberating army). We still can’t flush the toilet at home or take a shower, but at least now we can work at our office. We’re back in business. I have a backlog of work to do, but I’m writing this post instead.

How would you spend the day before the end of the world?


Sparking the Creative Fire

Fireworks

Fireworks in Woodstock. Yes, they do them in August here, just to be different.

When I was a kid, I frequently had the urge to “make something cool.” But my model airplanes and ships never came out right. The glue smeared, the paint showed finger prints, the masts and propellers tilted at crazy angles.

There was a kid at my school who made his own tusken raider costume, inspired by the just-released first Star Wars movie. The mask was a rendition of the buck-toothed beast done in papier mache, complete with red light-up eyes. It was beautiful, flawless, untouchable.

I wasn’t a maker, I realized. People who were seemed like magicians to me. Still do, and that’s why I’ve made a career of writing about them.

But what to do with that urge to create? As a boy I read constantly, while walking to and from school, in bed at night, every chance I got. Novels, comic books, nonfiction books, it was all cool. Entire worlds held together with stables and glue between colorful covers. I wanted to make my own worlds, and to my great satisfaction, I found that I could. I taught myself to touch type on an old manual typewriter when I was eight. One of my first stories was a humorous alien invasion tale called “The Coming of the Goozer.”

Now, as an adult, even though I’ve made writing my living, there lingers still that urge to make something cool. I love writing about other people’s cool projects. But I still want to make one of my own.

This month, Wendy and I are focusing on creativity as part of our live-for-our-dreams project. I’ve picked up the threads of a kid’s science fiction series I started years ago and haven’t found the time to finish in the midst of big people’s deadlines. Yesterday, while immersed in my story of time-traveling trains, I had a breakthrough when starship appeared on the outer fringes of the solar system and homed in on our rocky little planet. It all makes sense now, who built the time traveling trains, and why. Wendy’s been working on the poetry that she loves and that has similarly been pushed aside over the years.

I believe we all need our own cool projects to work on. Something to lose ourselves in, something no one else need even know about. Maybe its a garden. Perhaps some metal and wood contraption in the basement. Or a knitted sweater or just a perfectly executed vacation. Don’t call it a hobby; that’s an ugly, demeaning word. Instead call it soul work, as opposed to money work. The creative spark resides within all of us. The only question is, what to do about it.

What’s your cool project? If you don’t have one going, what would you like to start, and what excites you about it? Post a comment to share.


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