Live the Dream!
I was going to start out by writing, “Toto, I’m not in Kansas anymore!” … but frankly, my life wasn’t a black and white place to begin with … no offense to Kansas-based farmgirls. That’s totally just a reference to the movie, not the state, when Dorothy ends up in a colorful place called Oz, and WAKES UP TO see the contrast. However my life already IS colorful … I love what I do, where I live and the people I do those things with … but it just got a bit MORE colorful this week, thanks to something I want to share with all of you!
To end the suspense, I’ll tell you right off that I’m in Maine, I’m camping by myself on the coast and I’m going to a 3-credit graduate program taking place in only 7 intense days on The Book Arts!! I’m writing this to you on my laptop from under a pine tree where I just happened to hone in on some rogue Wi-Fi signals. But let me give you some background on how and why I got here, and why this is so earth-shatteringly wonderful to me.
This journey I’ve been on for 59 years so far, has been very exciting at times, naturally with many peaks and plenty of valleys, like the mountains I hold so dear. My family and I have had some extraordinary adventures, not the least of which was moving to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and buying an inn nine years ago. It is awesome!! But even earthly paradise has its downsides and statistically, five years is the burnout time for innkeepers. Whoever figured that out (probably an innkeeper), was right on the money, almost to the day. Five years … try to imagine: That’s 1825 days of entertaining guests in your living room … sometimes 125 of them at a time, day in and out, morning, noon and night ,,, even THROUGH the night. It continues when you’re sick, sometimes when you’re so tired you can hardly keep your eyes open, and when an occasional (and fortunately rare) unhappy person wants a scapegoat and you’re the only one in sight.
As an owner/operator, I literally work 18-hour days in the busy season. However, in this business, if you own, operate and live in the same place, it is easy to have your whole life consumed by work, even if you adore what you do.
Innkeeping for me, is the coalescence of many things I love:
• Food: Cooking and creating things in the kitchen for my guests
• People – meeting and talking with guests from all over the world, many of whom become good friends
• Teaching: Giving workshops on various things I love to do
• Gardening – taking care of 5 acres of flowers and a few vegetables
• Writing – creating the content for a website and marketing ideas
… just to name a few off the top of my head (there are many others).
The perfect life, right? For me it IS, absolutely! And yet, wanting to do it, and HAVING to do it are sometimes two different animals, and take a toll on a healthy outlook. No matter how much I love it, it is important to keep a bit of perspective and know that this is my profession, and that I have a family and a life (the “WHO” I am) that is separate from “What” I do. And I need to give as much importance to those things as I do to my business.
Right around year 5 (and don’t forget we’ll be starting year 10 in a few months), I started to ‘feel the burn’ as Jane Fonda would say. Except for me it was definitely burnOUT. I was exhausted. Something needed to change, and I thought it might be my livelihood. Except that is was exactly the same time that the economy crashed and selling our business absolutely wasn’t an option I could consider. If I couldn’t sell the inn, what I could do was to stop selling myself short: I needed to start making time for ME, so that I could get back to work with re-charged batteries. This is essential advice whether or not you’re an innkeeper, own another type of business or work for someone else. All work and no play makes ‘Jane’ a dull and unhappy girl (… not our MaryJane, though, certainly!).
Livin' the Dream!
A few years ago I wrote a Farmgirl Blog on following your passions. One of mine was to make time for creativity, and one of the ways I wanted to break into that was through a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’d had the book for almost a decade, and every time I rediscovered it on my shelf, I had a small “Ah-ha” moment, and thought,”Oh, yeah, I REALLY want to do this” … but then good intentions aside, life (and my business) would intervene and back it would go on the bookshelf. Timing is everything. Maybe I wasn’t ready in the past; maybe other priorities really were more important, but one day last November I said to myself, ‘I AM going to do this, and I am going to start TODAY.’ And fortunately for me, I did!!
Intuitively it was the right time, although making the commitment right before the holidays was most inconvenient. And yet I knew this 12-week course in a book was important enough to make a top priority. It was all about getting rid of blocks to creativity and becoming the artistic beings we are all born to be. It literally changed my life. I’ll have to write a blog about it sometime, but suffice it to say for now that it was one of the most important things I have ever done for myself. When those 12 weeks were over and I was through the book, I turned back to the beginning and went through it a second time. It was this ‘thin thread’ that led me to another artistic connection called “Weaving a Life” which had an even bigger personal impact – certainly worthy of ANOTHER blog! Last year, as a result, I studied one-on-one with Weaving a Life’s founder, Susan Barrett Merrill. After a very intense internship with her (covering 4 months), I am now certified to teach this amazing program, which I plan to do in the future both at our inn and at our cottage on the coast of Maine. I have recently been asked to teach next summer at the New England Fiber Arts Retreat, and locally at the Jackson Art Gallery and Studio in NH. This just goes to show you that when you are in the creative flow of life, opportunities arise that put you in the right place at the right time.
The Book Arts program, where I am now, is an offshoot of all of this. It was a serendipitous connection as a result of an “artist date’ I took myself on as a homework assignment in Julia Cameron’s book. Yes, the Artist’s Way book was the catalyst, that has put me in touch with a local bookbinder, and led to an incredible place that will impact the rest of my life! The ‘Book Arts’ which I am studying are Bookbinding, Papermaking and Calligraphy … all of which have been hobbies of mine since college. They will now be a source of livelihood for me in the future! These arts bring together everything I love and want to incorporate into my life in the future.
Unheard of in the past, I have been able to get away during our busiest innkeeping season. ANYTHING is possible if we want it enough! I am studying in one of the most beautiful places on earth: a 25-room, Greek Revival Stone House built in 1917, on Casco Bay. This former home was given to the University of Southern Maine and has been our classroom all week. What could be better than this? We’ve had famous bookbinders, paper crafters and calligraphers teach us every day this week. Delicious, healthy lunches have been catered daily. I have learned so much I feel like I will burst!
This is all part of “Living the Dream” and it can begin as soon as NOW, no matter what your situation. For me it came about because I was determined to find -- No, TO MAKE!!! -- 15 minutes a day to start the process rolling. Living the dream comes in small steps, in increments, just minutes carved out of every day at first.
I like this idea that someone had, which I paraphrase, since I don't have the original qoute in front of me under this pine tree! Basically it said, 'Why get all depressed that you can't go to Italy right now, when you can sit on your balcony sipping cappuccino and eating a cannoli, planning for how and when you will get there?'
Why wait until ALL conditions are right before you start living your dream? Start NOW, one tiny step at a time. What is YOUR dream? What one simple thing can you do today to move closer to realizing it? That is what life is all about. I’ll have some tips next time on how to get started.
Until then, Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from Cathi,
The Mountain Farmgirl