“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?
Remember when you were a kid and you played and played for hours and time didn’t exist? You were lost, blissfully lost, in the flow of life. Be there for a moment. Small feet in the sand. Sound of the surf. Or maybe just you and a sketch book, graphite on your fingertips. Linger there. Listen for messages.
Going back to the kingdom of childhood is one way to retrieve a dream of who you might become, or who you always were but somehow left behind. You lived completely by your nature. Barefoot, preferably. When a fancy took hold, time became elastic or disappeared altogether like wonder bubbles hitting the pavement.
Lately I’ve been tending the garden of my dreams. I’m keeping Mary Oliver’s famous question in mind about my one wild and precious life. It makes me quiver, as good questions do. It keeps me honest. I see that I’ve got some weeding to do. I need to yank out any duds and make space for the seedlings and tight sweet buds that have been there all along.
One of the great things about creating this blog is that I have heard from so many of you about how our posts have made you think and dream and question and take action in your own lives. Ultimately this blog is not just about me and Michael and our family. It’s about you. What would you do with a year dedicated to dream time? One of you called this blog “a mirror.” One of you took me aside yesterday and whispered, “You inspired us. We’re going out West for a while, just as we always meant to do. We’ll hike and roam for weeks on end.” I’m beaming for you.
Meanwhile, take the invitation. Go back to “that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories.” That’s Rilke on childhood. If you feel like it, tell me what you find there. Seeds await.
P.S. We dig getting your emails! But we have a hunch that fellow readers would like to hear your thoughts as well. If you receive this blog by email, click on the title next time you’re inspired to respond. That will take you to the page where you can post a comment right on the blog for all to see and enjoy. We’ll love you for trying!
In January my family set out to live more passionately. We decided to challenge each other to try new things in 2011 and then chronicle them in this cute little blog you’re holding in your hands. Michael called it the Living for Our Dreams project. But something about that label made me resist: Living for our dreams sounded too selfish and too navel-gaze-y. I was all for the project, but wary of the narcissism it might announce to the world.
Despite my concerns, I climbed on board. The project has given us a jolt of positive energy and has upped the happiness quotient in our little house exponentially. I even think it’s making Michael and me better parents. We have more to give.
So why do words like “dreams” and “passion” have to come with an apology or a disclaimer? I just read a great piece all about this subject by Lane Wallace in The Atlantic: “The Value of Following Passion in a Jobless World.” Wallace just spent the past year and a half researching a book about passion and people who lead passionate lives. She found that nothing backs up the stereotypical beliefs about passion-followers: That they are hopelessly idealistic, selfish, or irresponsible.
Instead, says Wallace, “I would argue that passion is one of the most important elements in any effort to improve a community, build something of value in the world, and even survive tough times or a daunting economy.” She defends passionate people as those who have the courage and perseverance to pursue an alternative potential future. They’re survivors.
I think I can hang my hat on that. Viva passion!
We’re halfway there. In January our family set out on a yearlong quest to live more adventurously, planting a few new seeds in the garden of our lives. Now here we are in June, already reaping so many exotic and unexpected fruits from our escapades.
Among the highlights were a long-awaited trip to India for this yoga-loving Mama and a 10-day silent meditation retreat for peace-seeking Daddy. In a way, the whole family was with us on each of these journeys. All four of us are now, by contact, a bit more worldly and much more Zen.
Michael has become an Olympic-level meditator (if there is such a thing, which unfortunately there isn’t) who sticks diligently to his 2-hour-a-day sitting practice. I have taken to calling Michael “Buddha Daddy” when he calmly shifts me out of an agitated state with a suggestion to “Let it go.” But really, the whole family has taken notice of his more positive outlook on life and his deeper enjoyment of, well, everything.
And my trip to India made quite an impression on Amelie, who turned 6 yesterday and is now a kindergarten graduate reading at Level G. The English major in me could not have been more thrilled to discover that my journey halfway around the world inspired a poem that she wrote at school:
Looking at the pretty, sparkly jewelry
Smooth and soft
Everything smelled like India
Everybody saying exciting yells
Everything was different!
What’s next for the Party of 4? Stay tuned (and say a little prayer) as Michael begins flying lessons next month. And we have a few more surprises to yank out of our magician’s hat during the rest of the year. So stay with us and see if we can pull it off. With two small kids, incessant deadlines, and hardly time enough to make dinner most nights, we’re never quite sure that we can manage much of anything. But by some happy accident, we do.
Party on, and peace out.
When it comes to traveling on a budget, there are few better ways to go than swapping houses. Our family has been doing it for years with friends in New York City, who happily swap their spacious East Village apartment for our quiet Woodstock country house. Last year Michael and I officially became house-swapping junkies: We signed up for an account on HomeExchange.com. Within a matter of days we had offers from people as close as Washington, DC, and as far as France and Spain. We opted for an easy weekend road trip to Amherst, MA, home of my heroine, Emily Dickinson. (This year I’m angling for something a little more exotic. We’ll see what comes our way.)
Meanwhile, this past Memorial Day weekend we once more got a taste of the freedom and possibility that we love about house swapping.
Our girls had the chance to experience life as tragically hip city kids.
Here they are in Tompkins Square Park. We don’t remember city playgrounds like this when we were kids. Back then they were sad assemblages of skeletal monkey bars and creaky swings. Now the city playgrounds are beautifully maintained wonderlands of chutes, slides, tunnels, and sandpits.
Amelie poses under a cupcake. And indeed our NYC adventures included a quest for some of the city’s best sweets and eats. We loved the ice cream at Stogo on East 10th Street.
Jade poses near Angelica Kitchen, which was surprisingly family-friendly. Our kids adored the miso soup.
For Amelie, our weekend wouldn’t have felt complete without face painting and a carousel ride in Central Park.
Bottom line: Home exchange is a great way for families to travel affordably and feel like the whole world is open to them. We can’t wait for the next one.