Category Archives: December Reflections

Living Chapters: part two

This January I am turning the page to part two of this year long challenge.  Join me in a new location and in new adventures.

Meet and welcome the new Living Chapters players!

January

Ashley and me

The Writer
Ashley Duffalo
St. Paul, MN

Theme: The Environment

I’ve been a fan and a friend of Beth’s ever since elementary school when a very special mutual friend by the name of Leah McClimans first introduced us. Although Beth and I were in different school districts and didn’t often see each other throughout the ensuing years, we kept connected and still do during various holidays and over long phone calls (remember long phone calls?!). It was in Glasgow, during our junior year of college when I realized two things about Beth: she is hands-down the best traveling companion I’ve ever known and she’s always game for an adventure. I suppose Living Chapters is proof of that!

In many ways our friendship has always felt like one long, engaging conversation that we keep returning to, despite separations of time and space. No matter how long the gap since we last spoke, we can always pick up where we left off, which I find very reassuring. This photo was taken during our last trip together to Montreal while standing under one of Bucky Fuller’s geodesic domes.

About me: I unexpectedly stumbled into my adult life in Minneapolis/St. Paul, a place I’m finally comfortable calling home after 11 years. A big part of my commitment to this sometimes frozen tundra is due to the Walker Art Center, where I’ve been mining the pleasures and pain that come with working with artists and the public at a non-profit contemporary art museum. (Where else could I help produce an opera for dogs or host a butter-making aerobics class?!) When not working, I find great happiness in cooking and hanging out at home with Yoshimi, Bindi and John, my two cats and boyfriend.

I’m super excited to kick off 2014 with Beth via Living Chapters, as she’ll be starting the year setting up shop in St. Croix. I’ve also recently relocated, albeit a shorter less exotic move, from Minneapolis to St. Paul. So it seems like the perfect time for us to reconsider our relationship to place and environment.

Dave Schott

The Wild Card 
Dave Schott
currently in the US often in France and always wandering
Theme: The Environment

Forest firefighter, traveler, farmer, and lover of nature and free open spaces. My free time is filled with outdoor pursuits and hiking, reading, watching documentaries, cooking (while listening to Democracy Now, democracynow.org) and enjoying the company of friends. I have never been one to stay long in one place, enjoying the freedom of new experiences, new people and new places. With this has come a depth of wonderful experiences, realizations, and friends. My dreams are now calling on me to root down so that I can start a more grounded project working with the earth, plants, and perma-culture. This proves to be a serious challenge for one who is used to being on the move……

I grew up in the Baltimore suburbs and left after high school, studying in Appalachia, serving with Americorps in St Louis, chasing wildfires in Washington state, while traveling and WWOOFing in between. Yet always returning every so often to Baltimore to visit family and friends eventually coming upon the budding community of Remington where I encountered many wonderful people starting diverse projects. When I met Beth, she was immersed in her community explorations and I was impressed by her creative inquisitive nature and drive to realize her projects. We would catch up over a bottle of wine and she would tell me about current and future undertakings. When she told me about the idea for living chapters, I knew she was onto something good. I have been asked to be a wild card and am happy to be part of the project. Lately I have been busy scheming up ways to make January 2014 more difficult for her (haha – Just kidding Beth). On the contrary, I hope to be a spark to help kick of 2014 to be one of positive growth, change, and reflection in the next chapter of her life!

February

539422_10151174038286665_664532003_nThe Writer
Max von Duerckheim
Barnesville, MD

Theme: Interpersonal Relationships

I’m delighted to come on-board for this project as February’s writer!  I’ve known Beth since a few years back when we became acquainted through her work at the Maryland Humanities Council.  Since then, I’ve doggedly shown up in her life wherever the adventures of the last few years have taken her (read: the awesomest untold corners of Maryland; though I have yet to get to all the cool ones she makes it to).  I’m a failed theatre maker and actor and love that I’m able to say that!  Since giving up the good life of making ends almost meet through arts work, I have been living in a shared home in the country of Maryland with my mother and three cats, and taking what delightful work comes my way.  I’m also very good at sitting on porches and keeping in touch with those I love.

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The Wild Cards 
Aliza Ess and Lee Widger
MD/KY
Theme: Interpersonal Relationships

We three met in Remington, Baltimore! Beth and Lee were neighborhood friends involved in projects like the creation of GRIA, the Greater Remington Improvement Association. One fateful May, Aliza happened by a party on Huntingdon Ave and overheard Lee talking about his chickens. It was love. They raised chickens, ducks, mini goats, and a garden in Remington over the course of several years. Aliza met Ms. B through Lee and has spent many happy times enjoying Beth’s company, eating muskrat on the Eastern Shore together and seeing her many beautiful homes over the past several years. Lee and Aliza will soon be heading on to new adventures in Kentucky. We look forward to keeping in touch with Beth and seeing her creative energy shine.

March

Seth 2

The Writer
Seth Fertenbaugh
Dillsburg, PA

Theme: Existential

I am a musician/historian/social worker from Harrisburg, PA.  I spend most of my time attempting to concurrently read a book, watch a movie, and drink coffee while trying to remember something I’ve forgotten.  When I’m not doing these things, I’m writing and recording music with my brother under the name Slobulus.  Songs about Moby Dick, Werner Herzog, and sloths with laser eyes.  None of these ventures are financially rewarding so I do have a day job where my graduate work in history has never once hampered my ability to return an email or fax a report.  Never once.  I’ve also written a treatise on Emma Goldman, which I’m sure is of interest to no one outside of academia except the guy at the NSA who monitors library records.

I’ve known Beth since the early 1990s when we were in chemistry class together.  She gave me a tape of the Violent Femmes, I gave her some poems I wrote and a mix tape.  Since then we have spent most of our friendship exchanging music, making art, watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, hanging out in graveyards, photographing in diners, and getting reprimanded by authority.

The Wild Cards 
Alexis Vasilos and Brian Buta
Baltimore, MD

Theme: Existential

Alexis says: My interests in travel and the arts have led me to various places around the globe, perhaps most memorably was Florence, Italy where I spent my time studying the Italian language, painting and sculpting.  I also spent five years in New York City where I attended the New York Academy of Art’s graduate program. When New York eventually lost its shine for me I relocated to Baltimore where I embarked on my teaching career. I have taught art to people of all ages. I have taught 5 year olds how to paint like Jackson Pollock and I have taught 80 year olds how to make crepe paper flowers. Most of the time though, I instruct college students in drawing, painting and design.  In 2011 I pursued another passion of mine, and am now a Certified Yoga Instructor, focusing mainly on restorative and meditative style practices.

I met Beth Barbush after I moved to the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore. From my vantage point in an apartment across the street I would see her out on her porch entertaining a constant cast of characters and I thought to myself, I’d like to know that girl. And lucky for me I not only know her now, but I consider her one of my dearest friends. Once we met we became fast friends and confidants. I am still in awe of her, just as I was from afar and now I know she is even cooler up close. I am very honored to be a part of her Living Chapters project along with my husband Brian Buta. If it wasn’t for Beth and her love for people, Brian and I may never have met and we would not have this wonderful new little person in our lives. We welcomed Lucas James Buta into the world this past June, on Father’s Day.

Brian says: Echoing all that Alexis said above, I’m a huge Beth fan and I’m excited and thankful to play a part in her Living Chapters project.  Shortly after moving to Remington, I met Beth and was quickly recruited, along with the fantastic Jason Reed, to help with Remington Youth Community Radio.  RYCR was a fun, challenging and rewarding experience, and a great way to learn about the neighborhood.  And the immersion into the community eventually led me to meet my wife, Alexis, for which I am most grateful.  I am a music-lover, as a listener, guitar-player and songwriter.  I work at Johns Hopkins as a research manager where I oversee grant programs focused on improving the aging process for older adults and their loved ones.  My most recent role is the best yet: Dad to Lucas, our bright-eyed six-month old son.

April

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The Writer
Dawn Bennett
Alfred, NY
Theme: Body/Kinesthetic

Dawn Bennett is an artist, exhibit designer, and most recently organic grocery store owner.  She and her son Patrick live in a small town in New York. Dawn met Beth while designing a photography exhibit in Baltimore, MD and then later learned they were neighbors when walking by her front porch in Remington, Baltimore. Dawn is inspired by Beth’s ambition and fearless desire for adventure. Dawn knew instantly that they would be
long lasting friends.

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The Wild Card 
Howard Shure
Annapolis, MD
Theme: Body/Kinesthetic

 

May

-2The Writer
Dena (Barbush) Wentz
Richmond, VA

Theme: Purpose

I have been able to watch Beth grow through a unique lens, one with a familial focus and one of a friend.   When I reflect on some of our memories together, I think of times from our childhood playing, pretending, crafting and celebrating holidays in our Grandparents’s basement passing out Christmas presents and watching our uncles open gag gifts. I also remember the cherished times during holiday dinners chasing after traditions listening to our mothers talk about politics, plans for the future, and careers.  Now, we can remise and talk about our own careers.

I followed my passion into the world of social services and I am now in an arena where I feel that I can develop my talents and interests.  I have to say that I am thankful to be doing what I love.  While that being said, I have not arrived as I am constantly changing, growing, and developing my skills to improve.

I think about how Beth has grown her career and has helped other people grow in the process, including teaching me many lessons along the way.  She helped me to abandon my fears about starting something new.  Had I not listened to her, I would not be where I am today!  She has used her talents to reach the underserved and to change communities one person at a time.  She has sought more than just a job title but to actually find opportunities to do what she loves, enjoys, and is passionate about and she has encouraged me to do the same!   While not always easy, growth and change are welcomed.  So, for all she was, is, and grows to be, I hope that as part of her purpose, in whatever life experience she takes on or job she works in, she will continue to inspire those in her family, friends, and strangers alike.  Lastly, I must say that I am proud to call her cousin and friend.

myra1

The Wild Card 
Myra Margolin
Washington, DC
Theme: Purpose

Myra is a community psychologist with a background in filmmaking and community-based media production.  She met Beth a few years ago in Baltimore and they quickly became friends.  She is from Chicago and has lived on both coasts of the country.

June

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The Writer and Confidant
Elizabeth Brady
Savage, MD

Theme: Conclusions

Artist, designer, dog-lover and wanderer with a passion for social experiments, community projects and personal upheaval and change.  Might be described as someone who helps others identify and face the challenges in their lives, while perpetually creating new ones in my own. (Blame it on the Scorpio in my chart)  I am both extrovert and introvert, I like to learn new things, hate snakes, and hope to always have music, creativity, laughter, boxed wine and interesting people in my life.  Beth Barbush has been one of the most interesting to date, constantly challenging perceptions of life, people and permanence.  I think I’ll learn as much about myself in my role as confidant as I will about my friend.

reset and reframe: new year’s resolutions

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This December was a much-needed break between the first and second six months of the Living Chapters challenge.  In between holidays, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect upon the past year and prepare for the next.  When the calendar and clock reset, many of us also use this opportune time to try to reset ourselves.  We long for new beginnings, work on breaking bad habits and leaving our ruts behind.  We call this “making new-year resolutions”.

Merriam Webster defines a resolution as this:

res·o·lu·tion noun \ˌre-zə-ˈlü-shən\
:  the act or process of resolving : as
   a :  the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones
  b :  the act of answering :  solving
  c :  the act of determining:  the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic          complication is worked out
: finding an answer or solution to a problem, the answer

I like the idea behind making new year’s resolutions or finding answers and solutions to the problems and complex issues in our lives.  But I find making resolutions a bit pointless and upsetting when we continually fail at following through on them and then feel bad about not keeping them.  This never seems like a good way of starting fresh. This article from The Guardian says new year’s resolutions are “doomed to failure”.  That may be a dismal outlook but unfortunately it may be true, the statistics for successful resolution keepers are less than stellar. I think if we have any hope for personal progress we might need to start re-framing the way we think about making self-improvements or changes.

The psychologist in the article, Richard Wiseman, studied different strategies when making new year’s resolutions.  What I found most interesting was this

“…people who kept their resolutions tended to have broken their goal into smaller steps and rewarded themselves when they achieved one of these. They also told their friends about their goals, focused on the benefits of success and kept a diary of their progress.”

Wiseman himself stated this “Many of the most successful techniques involve making a plan and helping yourself stick to it,”

What stands out to me in this commentary is this: the success stories are ones from those people who make realistic goals, take things day by day, stay positive, and have the accountability of their friends along with themselves.  This is precisely what I had hoped the Living Chapters model would do for myself and others.

In the past few days I celebrated my birthday and the year’s accomplishments with 3 of my favorite people and Living Chapters players, creative, intelligent and wise women: Confidant Elizabeth Brady, Project Manager Moira Fratantuono and Chapter five writer Emily Wheat.  We created our resolutions together for the upcoming year. But rather than resolutions, we agreed to more of a pact – an agreement between friends.  We came up with a goal that is not only plausible for us but one in which we can help each other succeed in achieving.

This year I thank all Living Chapters players and readers for making the pact to come along on this year’s self-improvement adventure with me. Without the loyalty and accountability that you all have given me I’m sure I could not have accomplished as much as I have these past six months.

So my resolution or pact with you all in the upcoming year is to no longer make resolutions in a vacuum, I am going to  continue to tap into the love, loyalty, support and accountability of the friends and community around me to help me achieve my goals.

I’m ready. Bring on 2014 and the next six chapters!

12/29/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

Redefining “having it all”

“You must give up the life you had planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”  – Joseph Campbell

Tomorrow is my 37th birthday, a few days before 2014. I find myself technically homeless sleeping on my mother’s couch. I don’t own a home, I’m not renting an apartment or even  a boat to dwell on at the moment.  I am taking a hiatus from my job and have been working on whittling down my belongings so that they can fit in the back of a pick up truck.  I am unmarried without children and currently not dating. I don’t have a pet or even any plants anymore (I gave them all away including the cactus that was living in my car for a while). My situation may sound bleak to some.  One might ask, “is this what you thought your life would look like at 37?”

I guess I never really thought too much about it. 37? Is there a “should” that life should look like? I had a long-lost friend, now a Living Chapters follower, call me a few weeks ago to ask if my “Living Chapters” project was product of a mid-life crisis. Mid-life already? Really? Well if a quest for self-improvement is the outcome of my mid-life crisis, it seems as though I am handling it pretty well. It may not be unique but creating a blog about life seems a bit better solution than purchasing an overpriced car, starting a fanatic workout routine/diet or getting a really bad oh-so-permanent tattoo. If you’re faced with crisis, of any sort I am always in favor of looking at the root of the problem rather than fixing the surface.

But honestly, no, I can’t say I really thought that I would be in this particular situation at this point in my life.  I guess I was convinced that I would own a home, be married, have 1.5 kids or have a stable substantial full-time job with health benefits. I thought I’d have at least one of these “rites of passage”. I must admit, I had NO IDEA that I would be making decisive choices to not obtain these things and still somehow feel fortunate, content and happy about it.  I was lucky to have an open-minded mother and supportive friends in my life who encouraged and helped me become confidant in my  decision-making.  So yes I have had good fortune on my side but luck has nothing to do with the task of creating your own path. Improvising your life may be rewarding but also takes a lot of work and ingenuity.

Our culture and society (although more progressive than some) has still to this day, left very little room for women to write their own stories from scratch.  From the time I was a little girl, it seems I have been trying to rewrite a pre-written fairy tale that was handed to me at birth telling me how I should look, act or live.  Who knew that improvising these past 37 years would have led me to such a fortunate (and free) place in almost mid-life.  In many ways it’s a pleasant surprise.  I had no idea that at this point, I would be nervous and excited, packing to move to a tropical island, allotting myself time to explore new talents, business ventures and personal growth.  I didn’t think I would be debt free, without regret, with a chance to reinvent my career and daily patterns.  I had no preview of how dynamic and fluid my life could become. Through my twenties and thirties, I have traveled the world, worked voraciously at creative endeavors and gained the most amazing and incredible people in my life. I have never strived toward having “it all” but have worked toward having an authentic and fulfilling existence.  In this past year especially, I have been letting the external ambitions, of what I had thought my life should be, go.  (the thoughts of “I need this job, this person, this trajectory)  These ideas have been difficult to shed but letting go of the expectations has created a new space and place for the potential that I am and will become.

The process of creating and implementing Living Chapters (writing the guidelines for my own script) along with my friends and fellow protagonist, Shannon Twenter, has taught me that letting go and trusting myself and those that I care about brings me closer to the only ambition I hold right now – a calm, more capable, caring and confidant me to take on the upcoming challenges and opportunities.

12/26/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

Living Chapters opens my book, my heart

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It was only two months into Living Chapters when I received a phone call from a woman living in Boise, Idaho – Shannon Twenter.  Shannon shared with me her desire to become the protagonist in her own life and requested my permission to take on the Living Chapters model to start her own blog.  The idea that someone else wanted to and was willing to take on their own self-improvement project in this way was exciting to me.  One of my goals for Living Chapters from the beginning was to encourage others to take on their own personal challenges and take risks. I had hoped that Living Chapters might provide a road map of sorts for others to take for a test drive.  I just didn’t realize that it would happen so quickly.  Below, Shannon shares how living out her own chapters and writing her own blog “Open Book” has affected her thus far.

I knew Beth briefly years ago when she worked with my students at Learning Inc. (a school I use to work at in Baltimore, MD).  A mutual friend of ours made me aware of her Living Chapters project. While reading it, I found a kindred spirit of someone doing things her own way and enjoying the ride.

This summer I drove across the country to a new home in Boise, Idaho. En route, I had a conversation with my dad about the Living Chapters project and my own interest in it.  He never understands my own hair-brain schemes/life decisions, so it seemed odd that I chose him as my audience to tell him about this project. But I was mesmerized by Beth’s idea, and had to share it. The conversation made me consider that perhaps this project meant more to me than I thought.

Living Chapters appealed to me because it was sounded fun, utilized community, gave a vision and led to a serious commitment in sharing and striving for self-growth. I believe in the power of doing this with others. It challenges the protagonist/me to get real with real friends.

I also wanted to try it because I wanted to learn how to trust. I had just watched some of my old patterns recently prevent me from taking a risk I knew my soul needed to take.

My friends are the crux of my life and I even a have hard time trusting them, and even more, trusting myself. I thought I’d try to start by trusting them, trusting that they love and know me enough to suggest ways to do this life thing in a way that could create new meaning or perspective for me. In essence, I believe that Living out Chapters could be a way for me to become more confidant in deciding what I need to thrive and stand up for, while simultaneously helping me to become open to wonderful new experiences.  So I dove in. Lo and behold, I created a blog called ‘Open Book’ formed after Beth’s model and you know what, it’s is working.

Following ‘Open Book’’s structure has made me open my heart. It has made me trust myself. It has made me stand firm when my friends challenge me in ways that I disagree with it helps me adhere to my inner truth. It has made me trust and respect my friends for what they see in me and push me to do, and for how they choose to make hard choices to navigate their lives and hold firm to their perspectives.

It has made me look at things in a new way. It has made me look at my patterns, where they have emerged and took hold, and has shown me how sometimes even a simple change – and saying YES – can make me experience the need for a larger shift and get me started on a new course.

It has also made me appreciate my friends and the power of community. Not only am I benefiting from Open Book, so are my writers and friends reading, who are taking on their own projects. Some have mentioned that it is because of Open Book that they have started to write again, to paint, to believe in the gifts they have been given.

For me, Open Book, via Living Chapters model, helps me prioritize and calls me out to stay true to what makes my soul work, not what the rest say works. It also calls me out to shake those barriers that prevent that from happening. My goal is to keep learning from this process and stay true to myself while making the small needed shifts that will help the “hopeful and open” me become the dominant me.  Thanks Beth.

Shannon Twenter

12/21/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

A word from a pair of wild cards

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Agnes and Grace Lichtner were the first wild card duo adding their mid-month suggestions. In September, the existential chapter, Agnes asked me to take my meditation practice a bit further by adding days of silence while her daughter Grace asked me to not take my mediation practice too seriously by adding humor.  Their wild card final touches on this chapter along with Amy Rothstein’s thoughtful challenges helped make it one of the most rewarding thus far pushing me physically, mentally and emotionally. In this post, Agnes reflects on her and Grace’s role in the Living Chapters process.

As per requested for some insight from us Living Chapters “players”, my daughter, Grace and I would like to express our thoughts.

First, to be asked to be a part of this endeavor by Beth was a shock and an honor as we didn’t know Beth all THAT well but we were definitely drawn to her energetic personality.  We were curious, excited and anxious for the experience and are grateful she considered us an important asset to her experiment of living chapters for a year.

Grace thought it was fun and enjoyed being the wild card because it let her do something different and challenging.  Grace also comments that Beth is a great hula hooper, for sure!  The things we learn about each other!

As for me, I definitely feel I got a deeper sense of Beth as a friend, artist and human being.  I have learned that people are so much more complex with their interests but have the common ground of goodness.  It seemed to be proven through all of us who played a role that we wanted goodness to resonate through the experiences.  There was an effort with positive intent about decisions, interactions with others and nature, desires and aspirations that all of us in one way or another exuded.  Now, I don’t believe we all knew it would turn out that way but we DID want the best for Beth and with that came a bond we all shared and expressed.  Even the “strangers” whom Beth approached contributed a positive role for this experiment.  I was impressed that Beth was able to integrate unchartered players and it shows just how much influence and willingness is out there.  So all in all I feel more connected to the players that Beth is friends with and how we have more similarities than differences.

We didn’t have expectations more than we did curiosity and I admit the month of logging all our usage in daily activities stressed me out and at the same time reiterated how much we conserve and take care of each other and our earth.  Every little bit helps.

A lot of time and focus went into these months and it reminded me how much stamina Beth has and continues to keep for this project.  She’s much stronger than she realized and I’m sure she’s reasserted that into her head by now!  Every month has had a favorite moment but I’m happiest being able to keep up through the blog.

As for future plans for this project – I’m counting on Beth to come out with her idea and will support it’s manifestation.  Course having a get together to celebrate with all players involved would be interesting! hehe

12/18/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

It’s the whole building….

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Chapter four writer, Amy Rothstein challenged me with a series of existential questions to ponder and investigate this past September.  Amy was one of the few writers who joined me on each and every task she suggested for the month including creating a life plan, a meditation practice, and a visit to an isolation chamber. In her post here, Amy shares her reflections on the ideas she explored in that chapter since living it out with me.

In September, I wanted to understand the relationship between what Eckhart Tolle described as “Life” and our “life situation”; between the “foundation” and the “superstructure”. (Click here to view that original ET passage.)

Since then, I have worked hard to identify exactly what my life situation goals are and to respect and validate these inspired desires. Once that was complete (it was a messy process) I began to proceed with a tangible plan, which is to restart my art making practice after almost eight years of inactivity. The process involved in creating work put a spotlight on the negative thoughts that frequent my mind. My inner critic roared, my skeptical philosopher probed, “why this…what for?!”  I was getting in my own way. I found myself relying on past teachings that often seemed like abstract and fluffy concepts. Remarkably, they make sense now that I am using them to help me work on my life situation, and I am changing with the help of these teachings now than ever before.

So I would add to ET’s statement that just as it is unwise to build one’s superstructure (or “life situation”) without a foundation (or “Life”), the opposite is also true. It is futile to build a foundation without a superstructure. The goal of building a superstructure (i.e.: overcoming fears, taking on new challenges) motivates one to lean on their foundation.

**I can also report that I went to the isolation chamber again recently and I’m not sure I need to go anymore. Meditation is equally (arguably more) effective and I plan to pick it back up again.

12/16/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

Introducing the Project Manager

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Project Manager Moira Fratantuono is not only a great organizer and educator but also a natural community artist.  She connects and corresponds with the myriad of Living Chapters players and has the rare talent of being able to balance the skill of implementing and directing a plan while at the same time remains open to and responsive to her environment and collaborators.  I am very grateful to be working with her on this particular project. In her post below, Moira discusses how her role in the LC process and has mirrored or influenced experiences in her own life and artistic practice.

As someone who has watched Beth work her magic for years, I had long wanted to collaborate together on a project.  I responded to her initial email assuming I would be a chapter writer, but was invited to be the LC Project Manager, and thus have gotten an inside look at her thought process and methods of engagement. As such, my relationship to the Living Chapters project is perhaps more intimate than monthly chapter writers, as I have signed on for a year-long commitment that provides a unique perspective into the “behind the scenes” aspects of her creative endeavor.

Each month, I pre-screen the submissions and track her progress in following her assignments.  The monthly tasks I organize and publish on her behalf trickle through my own thought process, shaping my daily routine like water slowly seeping into the fissures of a rock:  June coincided with my own personal health kick, characterized by running regularly and eating well (albeit in preparation for my 30th birthday, not just general self-improvement); in August, I mentally tracked an abbreviated version of my own carbon emissions; September brought frequent thoughts of Beth while I sat on the floor, allocating a few moments to my own meditative practice.

Ergo, much like my relationship with our Protagonist, Living Chapters has re-shaped aspects of my worldview, not only in terms of the self-growth model Beth is experimenting with, but also as an artist, educator, and community worker. Conversations about definitions of community, the future direction of LC, explorations of what an online community constitutes, and utilizing the public blogosphere to hold oneself accountable, are now part of my rapport with Beth. As someone who, without hesitation, considers herself lacking in “tech savvy-ness”, I now contemplate other potential models that create genuine, reciprocated community through new media.

And so, in addition to my daily routines, the ongoing conversation I have with Beth about Living Chapters and her experiences has influenced my community-based work.  One example is the Baltimore-Delhi Art Exchange, an online blog that I recently started with two other educators.  This space serves as a collaborative project that creates common shared experiences between youth from both cities.   Although I wanted to pursue the Exchange before hearing about Living Chapters, its execution and the ways I consider its impact are shaped by my experience as Program Manager.

These instances, on the micro (daily/routine) and macro (theoretical/life choice) levels, reflect how broad social trends are shaping both of us.  The Baltimore-Delhi Exchange was something I wanted to pursue months before my involvement in Living Chapters, and thus perhaps speaks to social and cultural shifts in the conceptions of the role media plays in developing community. Similarly, as we get older, many of us decide to prioritize mental and physical health, recognizing the inherent freedom it brings us, or allocate more time to cultivating our interpersonal relationships. Although Beth is decidedly unconventional in her approach, there is a definite connection between her personal ambitions for the project and over-arching shifts in our collective worldview, both of which make the Living Chapters project intriguing because of its relevance.

12/13/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

Chapter Writers Reflect and Respond

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During this month of December I asked for feedback or reflections from all Living Chapters players on what has happened thus far throughout this project. I sent a series of questions to all participants to instigate their thinking and encourage their writing on one or more of the questions. Both of my Boston friends and writers Chapter one: Joe Gallo and Chapter three: Andy Cook replied specifically to several of the questions directly. Below are some of my questions asked and their answers.

Do you think this project/process has affected or changed me in any way for positive or negative? if so how?

Joe: “I’m not sure that this project has changed you any… maybe it has made you become more of what you have always been. You actually seem to thrive under the microscope you put yourself under. Maybe it’s because you are being challenged on a daily basis and seek to meet the challenges your friends have set out for you to meet. I think we said something about the “contract” aspect of this. I never would have jogged for a month if I hadn’t given you my word that I would. And knowing that this was part of the project, made certain things possible. Sort of like people who barely know each other will embrace for the camera… except this is far more natural. The surprising thing is that nothing seems grafted. Your life seems more whole, now that I think of it…”

Do you think this process is helpful or useful?

Andy: “I think this process is a fascinating way for you to challenge yourself to grow while exploring your relationships with your closest friends. The fact that it’s in public is weird, but I guess it creates the accountability one needs to keep a project like this going. I also support any creative endeavor you undertake, especially when it puts you in the spotlight, as I know that’s outside your comfort zone.”

Has this project affected you in any way – if so how?

Joe: I’m not sure. I think the month we spent in mutual participation was a good one and the fact that you came up to Boston during that time was a bonus… but it did confirm one thing. When I give my word to a friend, I most often keep it. (Can’t say always because there must have been a time or three I hadn’t.)

Did you have any expectations of what this project would be? How is it the same or different?

Joe: “At first I had no idea why you would do this or even want to do this. But in a world in which people find themselves stuck, this is really an amazing way to get unstuck, become less self-conscious, and really experience what makes living worth living.”

Andy: “I guess I imagined the chapters would be more narrative, as in, people would be creating stories for you to live out. They seem to me to be more like challenges than chapters, per se. But whatever, its all interesting.”

How do you think the month you participated in went? What do you think I got from it? Or what did you take away from it?

Andy: “I think it was rocky. I didn’t expect as much push back as I got, or for the negotiations between us to be so difficult and stressful. I think we were both pretty stubborn about it, but I’m glad we were able to make the compromises we did. In the end, I think our friendship was only strengthened by the experience… though I wouldn’t want to do it again. I know for me it was an opportunity to pay the close attention to my consumption habits that I always wish I made time for, and it’s had lasting impact. I try to remember the habits I started that month, and while I don’t always stick to them, I do sometimes, and that’s an improvement. My hope for you is that you have a similar experience. I also think it generated some very interesting conversations on my end, and probably on yours.”

Do you have any favorite moments or outcomes from what has happened thus far in any of the chapters?

Joe: “Chapter 6: Interpersonal Relationships. The interviews, and the write-up of the banjo player and the write-up about your encounters with strangers. Interesting that if there is an aim to something, strangers will back off when they’ve fulfilled their obligations. Whereas if you’re just winging it and talking to someone because you happen to strike up a conversation, things can go anywhere. I tend to think that engaging people to get something out of them is a crime. And I think your experience, as mentioned, attests to that.”

Andy: “I liked hearing stories of you trying to communicate via post-its and pantomime.”

What now? Any suggestions ideas or advice for going into the second six months?

Andy: “Several times when talking about the ‘opinion piece’ part of our month, you said things like ‘I know this isn’t what you wanted me to do, but…” etc. When in fact, I DID want you to make it your own and I was pleased with how you did it. I’d suggest you don’t assume people have certain expectations of you in this project (aside from what is explicitly stated, of course). It made me feel like you thought I was narrow-minded, or overly strict or something.”

Joe: “That you should live happily ever after…”

12/10/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

Thus Speaks the Maestro

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The Living Chapters Maestro, Eric Imhof, has not only been contributing songs each month adding to the soundtrack of these life chapters but he has been creating an ongoing soundtrack for my life now for almost 9 years.  Eric was the person who convinced me to actually start using the medium of “blogging” which before I started this project sounded more like a disease to me than a hobby. In his words below, Eric introduces himself and gives his brief reflection on the Living Chapters process. Eric has contributed to many blogs and is currently writing this one “Coming Soon: A Vast Desert” which I recommend checking out. Oh and his birthday is next week. Happy B-day Eric! – bb

Dear bb,
Let me first say that I, too, was hesitant to start a blog (and only did so originally to continue writing about soccer, er, football), mostly due to the caricature of the misanthrope in the basement eating cheese doodles while anonymously trolling people who’s only crime was attempting to make something of value. Although, yes, I proudly claim the attitude of the misanthrope, I didn’t want to be the kind of one that sadly and silently stews. And besides, who has time to blog?

At least that’s what I originally thought, but have since found the routine of posting something—anything: a picture, a quote, a poem, a small chunk of original writing—to be not only therapeutic, if that’s the right word, but also adventurous and mind-opening, even (or especially?) in its quotidian discipline. Having to write daily makes one have to think daily, and that’s no small task.

Thus, having hated the thought of it initially but then completely embracing the idea, I thought a similar transition might happen for you, being a like-minded Decemb’rist. And since we met through writing (I left some paperwork or something in your mailbox and asked you to write something funny in reply, remember?), and wrote even when we could fly a paper airplane from one’s apartment to the other’s, and have since kept in touch through writing, I thought it fitting that this chain of sorts would continue in the digital world– not as if all the posts are letters to me personally, but letters to everyone, or to the air… or to yourself in the future?

And besides, you had/have such cool stories from so many travels and collections and oceans and alleys and… you get the idea. How can one go on with all those fanciful tales all bottled up?

I guess adding some songs to the yarn along the way is my little way of crouching in the margins of a fun-to-follow life, chirping in every once in a convenient while, as a sparrow flying through one open window and directly out another (to quote Bede). And, while I don’t think it’s necessarily worthy of the phrase “coming clean” to admit that I don’t participate in all the challenges you have set before you, I do, from a safe distance, think about what the challenges may teach you/us, and then imagine tossing similar—but more introverted; I am not talking to strangers—hurdles into my own path, just to see what would happen (and who knows?). So while I’m not doing yoga any time soon, I am thinking A. isn’t it nice that someone is trying yoga? and B. what would an equivalent activity—physical or mental—be for me in the coming weeks?

As to the music: The particular songs I choose are (hopefully) apropos to something you wrote. I also think the occasional song should be something way outside your spectrum, just as the thought of blogging was to you initially. “Backstage with the modern dancers” was a reminder to breathe and let yourself get more comfortable with practice. It was also a nod to exercise. “Swim until you can’t see land” needs no explanation really, except to say that it’s generally good advice in writing and living. “I don’t care—I love it” was at first a joke (although I actually like the song; it reminds me of the London Underground), but looking back was totally what you needed at the time! “Clay pigeons” was written for you, c’mon. “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” was a poke at conventional wisdom—like the idea that nobody writes letters anymore.

While I’m at it, here’s the next one! —A song that Ran Prieur (who writes one of my favorite blogs, which I try my best to copy) says is better than “Waterloo Sunset”:

The winter’s lovely dark and deep!

– e.

12/7

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

this ship is shipping on…

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Looking back at the the prologue, the first entry I posted before starting to live out any chapters, I noticed that I wrote about the idea of “letting go”. I wanted to let go of control, and of planning my life in a detailed way. The goal was to learn to trust and to watch life roll out in an organic way. I was curious to find out if it was possible to be guided by instinct or inner direction, (or in my case my friends) while at the same time be able to continue to make distinct and direct decisions for myself.  Through trusting my friends and trusting the process and also by addressing my resistance and fears, I do feel that I am just starting (after six months) to understand the balance that is needed for this to happen. Maybe with another six months practice, I will be able to utilize these lessons to help me move forward.

During the past nine months, I have been living on a boat upon Spa Creek in Annapolis, MD living as fluidly as I could taking each month as it came written for me, one day and challenge at a time.  The Living Chapters guidelines that I set up for myself, pre-project, somehow made this floating lifestyle seem much more manageable.  The rules and outline of the project gave me a distinct structure that I have been following as closely as I could.  If I found myself doing something that seemed a little out of the ordinary or questionable (like jumping rope in the airport in Boston or hanging out in an isolation chamber) I could point directly at the project outline for an answer to why this was happening and it just didn’t seem that strange anymore.  I was accomplishing a task rather than making an “odd choice”. And even though I have been asked by external sources to do all these tasks, the self-created guidelines reminded me that it was my choice to follow through with them whether I liked it or not. I sometimes even chose to elaborate on them.

Deciding to live on the boat before Living Chapters began, was in a sense creating a space and such a guideline to start out this adventure: giving myself a physical structural reason to live without excess belongings, a place to create new habits, to adjust to a more simple life style, and allow myself financially to continue working part-time only. Somehow diminishing my living space and eliminating the excess stuff, opened up new opportunities and new ideas. This choice brought me personal freedom and time to explore different ways of living. I feel that the process of living out these chapters openly is doing this as well.

Living on water, has been the closest that I have been thus far to the physical realization and feeling of “letting go”. I have enjoyed floating and respected the dwelling for its practical, simple, and independent living.  The boat itself as a home base has kept me strangely grounded in these changing months.  Like the rules of the project, it has given me a structure for being here, and it has held a place for me in Annapolis.  But as the seasons shift and winter arrives, I have decided to depart, drift away from the dock for a bit and metaphorically sail south. It is time to practice letting go just a bit more and take on the spirit of “saying yes to what life throws at you”. I have been given the opportunity to try out a new living situation and have decided to take it.  As of the end of November, I have abandoned ship and will be floating between staying at homes of friends and loved ones for this reflection month of December.  And although sad to leave “Morning Star” and the marina in general, I am excited to see what the warm air of the new year will bring.  In January, I am taking a hiatus from my job and will be setting up camp on a tropical island for a while. So in the first few months of 2014, you will find me living out new chapters on the island of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands.  Exactly what will manifest there and how long I will stay is still unknown. Only time and possibly the next few chapters will tell.

me on morning star

12/4

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.