2014: Back to the Drawing Board

Sunset2014I’ve been having trouble getting this entry done.  There are so many ingredients that I want to chop up and throw into the mixing bowl that my brain just sits there, looking for some momentary pleasure to distract from the unpleasant feeling that non-performance brings. Sometimes, 9gag really can be a blight upon the world.

Multitudes of ingredients, not always the significant turning points or major events of a year gone by, but this time, little moments.  Moments like driving on the highway a couple of days ago and catching a light from my cellphone, glancing downward, and seeing not a notification signal, but the waxing moon set against reflected skies.

Sitting atop a grassy hill in a Burlington suburb this past August with two dogs that I was looking after for a friend, one of whom would become my own only two months later, under highly unlikely circumstances.

Walking the historical district of Philadelphia, past the gravestone of Benjamin Franklin and the hall where the United States first came into being.

Biting into a glorious salty and umami slice of New York City pizza in the shadow of the Freedom Tower under the last of the warm skies.

Attending my first conference as an author at the ROM, my confidence level as big as the T-Rex fossil in the main foyer.

Enjoying post-reception lobster omelette at a French restaurant in Yorkville with the newlyweds and party members, some of my closest friends.   The list goes on.

Little moments, multitudes of them. No way to capture all of them, or their meanings, certainly not in a single sentence, like “2014 was amazing”.  Maybe that’s just a hang up, the source of the blockage traced back to the feeling of necessity of inclusion, that I simply must write about 2014 and summarize it.  Much like sharing family vacation photos with people who didn’t go on the trip, I’m pretty confident my recollections of 2014 aren’t nearly as fascinating to anyone reading this as I should want it to be.

More than that, I myself am not nearly as interested in the moments of the past year or their meanings as I am their one common component.

Namely, the feeling of aliveness.

Take ResponsibilityAliveness.  Vivaciousness.  Vitality.   The challenge of being an English speaker is that our language collapses numerous combinations of meanings and definitions into the same word…or the same meaning across different ones.  I ain’t no linguist, so if you are, I’ll leave you to indulge your fascination on your own time. On the subject of language, however, I will say this much: 2014 showed me…no, helped me truly experience, that the world as we know it is created out of language.

Without a word for it, a “thing” doesn’t exist, and when there are too many or too few words common to that same “thing”, we find ourselves stuck, like a hobbit in a spider web, entangled in our own semantics.  And it’s all fun and games until we realize the connection between our words and the way we perceive our lives and the world. Then we see that our being stuck in the web equals being stuck in our dead end jobs, in our shitty relationships or singledoms, in whatever craptastic circumstance that impacts our ability to live life fully.  Or, if life is good, we start to see the limitations in place that keep us from taking it to the next level.  How we do anything is how we do everything.

Often, though, recognizing the connection between “word” and “world” helps us see that we’re just well and truly effed.

I’m tempted to call 2014 my Landmark Year, simply because it has been the single biggest difference in the quality of my life this year….but I won’t, solely because of the incredibly lame pun that would result.

Still, the Landmark Forum did help me untangle ideas that I had collapsed together that created very crippling contexts in areas of my life before.  Among my breakthroughs, the one with most relevance to what I want to create in 2015 is this: for me, all words, all material accomplishments, all possibilities are merely access to the same way of being: aliveness.

A few days ago, I allowed myself to fall in love with the idea of being in a relationship once again.  I’d been resisting dating most of the past year as I built my entrepreneurial career, rescued a dog, and started the process of moving out again, but this time, I allowed myself to enjoy the idea of it.

How would I feel to hold the hand of a girl I love, to hold and be held,kiss and be kissed back under falling snowflakes or tropical skies?  Amazing!  Spirited!  Passionate!  ALIVE!

bellagrassA couple of weeks before that, I was out with my dog, Bella.  Bella could set a land speed record given the proper terrain and nutrient level in her blood. Take her off leash on an open field and tell her to run, and she’s off before the “n” sound leaves your mouth.  Again, all fun and games until Bella sees another dog or a large human male, which is what happened in that case.  Feeling my chest tighten and my lungs burn as I tried to catch the little black and white blur, I thought to myself: I need to get back in shape, if for nothing else than to be able to keep up with my own dog!

Then I wondered, what would that be like, being in tip top shape and able to keep pace with this spirited little half-Bluetick, half-something-or-other, to run with her rather than after her?  Amazing!  Energizing!  Present!  ALIVE!

Same thing with money: how would I feel about having complete faith of knowing that I always had more than enough money to support my lifestyle and what I wanted in life?  I’d wake up every morning excited to greet the day.  I’d feel amazing!  Grateful!  Abundant! ALIVE!

You see the trend by now, I’m sure.

And here’s the trick: if you want those things that give you the access to feeling aliveness, you start by feeling the aliveness first.  Then you build in structures in your life – meeting the people you need to meet, developing the skills or acquiring the information you need, or cultivating the habits that you need to have – to bring the aliveness out of your own head and into the world of experience so it can exist beyond your mood of the moment.

Then, you watch as the relationship, the job, or the material goodies that you think will give you that feeling of aliveness appear, seemingly like magic.  By then, however, you’ll understand: you don’t need the lover, the vocation, or the toys to give you aliveness: aliveness is what you’re already being and feeling.  All of those people and things are drawn to your song; they aren’t what cause you to sing.

That’s what I discovered- no, lived, in 2014.

There’s an American English expression. When something doesn’t go the way we want, we “go back to the drawing board.”

Imagine such a board.  Since my student days, I picture the chalkboard in the lecture room inside McMaster University’s Hamilton Hall, circa 1999. In its pre-renovation state, it was the quintessential college classroom: big windows, auditorium seating, little swinging lap-desks for taking notes on pen and paper (does that still happen today?).  At the bottom were these four big green chalkboards, and always white or yellow chalk sitting in the dusty trays.  That’s the room I picture when I hear the phrase “back to the drawing board”.

Everything starts with a mark on a surface.  It’s the first act of all art, all design, all engineering….and all language.

The end of every year brings us back to the drawing board in our own lives, so that we can design the next one.

In my mind’s eye, I go back to my drawing board for 2015, and as I pick up the chalk, there’s only one word, one possibility, that I choose to create, for it is the source, reason, and motivation for anything else I would ever want to have, do, and be.

In 2015, the possibility I am creating for myself and my life is the possibility of aliveness.  And as a favourite sci-fi writer of mine once added, “everything else is negotiable”.

May whatever you create for yourself mean just as much for you.

Happy New Year!



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