Sunday, July 23, 2017

Inspiration - Stepping into Another World

Before I start rambling I want to say/share three things up front.

One, I am glad there are ALL kinds of people in this world. I would not want everyone to be, think or see things as I do. I recently heard of a young man who walks across the country. That's what he "does". Sometimes he works odd jobs for cash and sometimes he is graced with the kindness of strangers who help when he is in need, And you know what? I think he is as important to our world as the doctor or the sanitation worker or the teacher because, like all of us, his story can inspire. It can ignite an imagination. It can offer hope for those who feel like they themselves are an outsider or a little lost.

Two, I do NOT believe I have the answers for most young or aspiring artists. But I DO believe the way Sofie and I got "here" can be as inspiring and offer a glimpse into another way to live life. Choices that can be made today. Especially in a world that seems hell-bent on sinking everyone into debt, identity crisis and existential despair before they are 25. It's still about choice. And, since we are here to say "Look, we are doing it!", then I think it's worth hammering that point home sometimes.

Three - My Zen teacher used to say that our ambitions and pursuits in life are akin to cupping your hands together and then having someone pour cups of sand into them, each cup representing a different undertaking or passion. One cup at a time, for each new pursuit, passion or focus you take on. At some point, the only way to take on another half cup of sand, a new pursuit or passion, is to let go of some of the sand you already hold or the newly added sand will fall off the sides. Or you can fill your hands by only adding a part of, say,  6 or 7 different cups instead of at the whole of 2 or 3 of them. In addition, some of the sand in your hands also will likely leak out as you try to open your hands wider to hold/make room for the new sand. . . now you don't have a full grasp on any of those passions. . . that simple visual, and recognizing it was perfectly indicative of my own way of trying to do or take on too much,  always made me smile.

Anyway, on with it. . .

One of the things I love about writing little stories, and now a novel about a fantasy world, is that it requires me to get out of my own world. Literally to step, thru the senses and experiences of the characters, into a place foreign and unknown.

But in many cases the inspiration for what I create DOES come from this world we live in, though it may be, as in my case, from another time.

This week I was writing a scene where my character needs to travel quite a distance in one chapter to make some deliveries. I was halfway thru when I realized that I had no idea exactly how far some of the places she needed to go were spaced from each other. They were there on the map, of course, but the terrain, the roads etc had only been lines on that map til then. She had a full basket to carry or barrow to push. Though the light is longest this time year in the story, it seemed a long way to travel . . . at least by our modern ideals.

So I turned, as I always do, to a very detailed book of life in and around early Victorian London.   And what I find when I do this sort of research is exactly how far we have come, and how far we have fallen back, in terms of what we are capable of and/or willing to do in our own daily lives.

Reading about Victorian London market vendors who did not live in the city proper, but who came in from the surrounding countryside, and how they would rise in the middle of the night and start out for the city by 2 or 3AM. They would walk up to 6 or 7 miles (10 or 11KM) pushing a barrow or carrying their goods with them to reach the market. Then they would turn around and walk back home after the market was done or when they had sold out of their goods, often purchasing what they themselves required to haul back with them.

This was NORMAL for so many people.

For folk who needed to do this daily, the idea of leisure time was so rare an occurrence. Other than Sunday after church, they had perhaps no more than a half hour each day before falling into bed exhausted. Then waking four or five hours later to go and do it all over again.

To find that place to write from, when we live now in a world where some people I've known won't get up and DRIVE five minutes to the store at a still reasonable hour because it's "too far" or they're "too tired" is rather hard to comprehend. Have I ever walked/hiked that far when it was not just for sheer leisure or hiking for personal enjoyment? No, I do not think I have. Not once, let alone day after day, carrying a heavy bundle or pushing a barrow, just to survive.

And I do not want to compare myself to those hard working people of the Victorian era but when I read these things I realize that, even today, this is why I seclude myself in the world of my choosing.  Blocking out much of the outside world.

We live in a world that embraces bigger cars and trucks, more conveniences, more ease and comfort at the expense of, literally, our own well-being, more all-in-one stores, faster and further reaching ability to travel and more choices and options on everything and anything you can think of.

Now I am not saying I wish to live in Victorian London. Well, maybe in the world of Larkrise to Candleford. . . the books I've read certainly cover, in all the repulsive detail, the smoky darkness, the noise, the dirt, the smells and the discomforts just as well. But I DO feel that the idea of walking a few miles, of rising before the sun to accomplish or pursue goals, should NOT be a shock or a tribulation given our modern convenience filled world! It's certainly not a true hardship. And it should not come with the cry of others saying "oh, how horrible". Those Victorian market sellers are people who did what they had to in order to survive. To build a life. To feed themselves and their families. It was routine. It was just life.

In building the life I have now, I had to do a similar sort of "research". With the exception of a few Zen monastics I knew there were really so few examples in the city of people who chose to live with less. It seemed so out of the box to set out finding a place to live that was inexpensive, yet felt safe. A small, functioning town where we could get by without a car at all. Without highways and off ramps. Choosing to go with no iPhones or telephone data charges, no cable tv or satellite/dish.  No eating out, which meant cooking all our meals at home from scratch. Using coupons all the time at the stores. Stocking up when something was really cheap. Now, the "research" in this case was close at hand. . . these were all things my mother and grandparents imparted to me, by their own life examples, as I was growing up. They lived thru and were part of the Great Depression and war-era generations that got by and sacrificed to survive. My own mother, a single mother working a service industry job, doing whatever she had to so we could be comfortable and safe. These were the very best examples I could have had, that much I know.

We never had much. . . but I never once felt, or look back now and see, a lacking of anything important in that life we lived.

Somehow over the years those sacrifices and willing choices became the signs of  an "impoverished life". Again, I say, really? I know people who literally cannot cook a meal at home. Who can't navigate a grocery store without calling home on the i-Phone to ask where things are located. . . let alone those who would not be alright for one day without their cell phone on them at all times.

On my last two trips on a city bus before we moved I had two very different experiences that highlight the extremes. In one, on a bus filled with middle school age kids heading home from school. In the two dozen or so of them who likely take this crowded ride home every day, most were just being kids, laughing, yelling, sharing things from their Facebook and twitter feeds on their phones. In the midst of it all sat one girl, headphones plugged into an iPod, sketch pad out drawing away, oblivious to the din around her and, I like to think, daydreaming in a world of her own making. She didn't interact with the other kids at all though she clearly knew some of them. At every stop, as one or more of them rose to leave, they had a dozen kids that they had to say goodbye to as they made their way thru the crowd. When this girl reached her stop, three others got off there too. Yet she kept her headphones on and, with just a wave to another girl sitting nearby, she walked alone towards her home. I got a little misty eyed recognizing something inside her that was also in me at that age and I thought, "there's a girl who is always going to be just fine."

In the second experience, two high schoolers, boy and girl, sat on a far less crowded bus and the girl was sharing with him some of the trouble she was having at school. The boy, his face buried in the screen of his phone, was distracted, obviously. At one point she said something to him about it and he apologized, saying he had to keep an eye on his phone so that he would know where his stop was. She seemed dumbfounded, and said, "But you take the bus home every day!" and he replied, "I know, but I need my phone to tell me which stop is mine." I looked out the windows at the passing street signs, landmarks, restaurants etc etc and wondered how has it come to that? At 12 or 13 I used to navigate the streets of a fairly large city, take streetcars, make transfers and figure out how to traverse the maze-like streets and alleys if I had to get somewhere walking. I worry for kids like that because that young man has created a world too. One that it seems may not work to his best interests going forward. One that, in many ways, may limit his choices and shrink his world in not-so-advantageous ways.

For Sofie (who also grew up in a frugal minded family) and I, the choice was simple. Still is. We would not have been able to get to this point, making a full time living as makers-of-things, working from our home  studio every single day, without having made those sacrifices at the start and without having had the experiences of our own childhoods when we had to rely on ourselves far more than most kids today ever will. We could not have done it without the examples of self sufficiency in our own families that showed us the way.

That's just a fact.

So, was it/is it worth it? No question. Do we feel like we sacrificed anything vital? No, not at all.

Today we are more self-sufficient that ever, I believe. We have zero debt, we have IRA's and a good little savings nest egg.  None of which was a reality when we started this quest together and most of it is possible because of how we chose to live our life and how hard we work to maintain it. Yet we actually make LESS than we ever did working "career jobs" in the city when we couldn't seem to stay ahead.

By the way, we DO have a car now too. One that a little old lady drove once a week or so to the grocery store. Literally! We named her, in honor of Barbara, the woman who owned it for it's first 24 years, hence the name "Babs".  So when we got Babs, that 24 yr old car had all of 16.000 miles on it. The woman's son, who was a friend of mine, just wanted the blue book value. . . which was $300.  Babs runs like a dream and we continue to treat it as the previous owner did, driving it mostly for necessity too. We have had to put gas in it just twice since February. :) Our mechanic tell us if we take care of it as we are, she'll outlast most cars a quarter her age.

What did we give up then? Well, it's a short list. Being close to family. City conveniences. Looking outside of ourselves for entertainment. But even giving up those few things brought more "perks. . . less obligation, less opportunity for frivolous spending, less anxiety and, as far as "entertainment" goes,  I personally have read more books in the last five years than in the previous 20. As a child, reading and discovering new books and new worlds was my salvation. . . so that has been like finding an old friend again.

I've had people tell me outright,  "Oh, I could never live like that." and "You sacrifice so much!"

So much?  To enable me to do the thing I've wanted to do all of my life instead of wishing and just shrugging my shoulders at the seemingly impossible thought because I won't entertain the idea of "world-building" a life that this can support? Those are the folks that I want to remind of what daily life was like for most people just 150 years ago. Heck just 40 years ago. Remind them of the days when, say, TV was free and you had to get up off the couch to change the channel . . . and likely get up again in 5 minutes to mess with the rabbit ear antennae to get the station to come in halfway clear.

Seriously, it was not that long ago that even those simple, everyday things were very, very different.

In writing stories about a world like the Bewildering Pine, it feels like such a comfort to dive in, once again, to creating another way of life. To explore world-building thru these tales of many different elven folk and the secrets their little world hides. It's not a moralistic tale at all or, at least, not in it's planning. The whole of the original plan really was to take two or three dozen of "those would be great characters in a book" people I have known or met in my life and set them at odds as elven folk within a world that is not quite what it seems. Each with their own part to play be it part of the larger quest or just figuring out how to live their own small lives and be true.

The book is also a nod to my own family roots. To that ancestry and their new beginnings. To the changes that passing time brought in their world and even to the lost language and customs of the "old country" they left behind.

Mostly though, it's just another way of continuing what I have been doing my whole life. Creating a secluded, safe world where I can disappear and let my own imagination be the only guide thru.

On the written page or in real life (and real life is what I am talking about here!) it's all really just a matter of world-building and, in world-building, one thing remains the constant. . .

ANYTHING is possible. You just have to create it!!

And as for that Zen lesson I mentioned, it took me awhile to get it. . . in response I used to raise my hands up in front of my teacher and say. . ."Good thing I have large hands!" :)



  1. Oh, so much is said here I think I have to read it a few times to be able to really comment back. The first thing that comes to mind is the line in 'Harriet the spy" where Rosie O'Donnell says "There are as many ways to live in this world as there are people in this world, and each one deserves a closer look." I am late getting back to work from lunch but I will return here again

    1. Thank you Andrea! I am sometimes so hesitant to put my thoughts and experiences out there because we seem to live in a world where so many people are increasingly threatened by anything that is different from their own experiences. Yet I cannot imagine where I would be if I had not always had that innate ability to see things through different lenses and try my luck traveling so many varied roads in life until I figured out who I was and was strong enough to live true to that above anything else. I've always been an observer which, often times these days, gets labeled as passing judgement too. My path is just one, no better, no worse, but I think younger people today need every exposure they can get to that which falls outside the norm. To offer hope. To offer possibility. And to offer the voice that says, it's going to be ok. Everything you need really is right there inside you. . . so just slow down and think a little before you leap! :)

    2. I have been back about 4 times and never managed a comment as I had too much to say and not enough time, but I will just start this time and see where it goes. I can totally understand your main point, and I so admire your willing sacrifices to build the world you wanted. It is always interesting to hear about people's lives when they vary from the typical. ....this is the part where I vear off into one, two or four different directions for a reply. I'll pick the first that comes to mind: I would love to make a similar move, and finally in our lives my husband wants something similar too. The problem now is we are so close to retiring it doesn't make sense to give up what we will have if we just stick out our day jobs for another 7 years or so. We both would like to live off the grid or at least a more self sustaining life, but due to Jace and still Partially supporting at least one of our older kids, and the retirement thing it just isn't an option now. But it is fun to dream about what we will do and where we will go when we do retire. And in the meantime we try to make small changes to our lifestyle.... like the garden and canning.

      When we were younger, my husband and I were not of like mind about the lifestyle we chose, so we compromised on a lot of choices and basically lived your typical life, not that we really regret it but now looking back we both say we wish we had made the leap and moved away and had a little homestead (instead of typical jobs) when we were younger and not paying out so much for the kids (who just seemed to get more expensive as they got older). But it is easy to look back and find what could have been done differently. I just hope when the time comes I will still be healthy enough to live a life that is more physically challenging. Dana will have no problem because his job keeps him physically active but unfortunately I spend my day sitting in a chair staring at the blue computer screen... and if that is not surreal enough I have started wearing a black bracelet that beeps to remind me of the need to get up and walk every hour. How is that for relying on technology unrealistically, ha ha, it is almost as bad as the boy who didn't know his own bus stop! In truth, I do like my Fitbit.... it is interesting to know how many steps I take and I am making an effort to walk more on breaks and not continue sitting (which I usually do so that I can paint on my breaks) see I have made sacrifices as well for the life I want... I have given up lunches out with friends/co workers to be able to find time to paint but unfortunately it is still sitting still.

      Basically it is all about WHAT you are willing to sacrifice, and finding a balance. Jace has already forced a sort of distance from family, even though we live in the same town as both of our parents and siblings we hardly ever see them since he can't deal with even small gatherings so like you, we have given that up, and it has had good (as well as some sad) consequences. I don't really mind missing out on all the birthday parties, get togethers and showers but it is not as positive when I can't go to some events I would like to like my nieces wedding in another state.

      Ok, as I feared, I have lost my own point in my reply. But I had one more thing I really wanted to mention.... I am so glad you shared the story about the sand through your fingers. That really!!! seemed to be something I needed to hear. And on top of it being so helpful I just think of us so gray that you HAD a zen teacher. Never even knew that was a thing until you mentioned it once before.
      Thank you for an interesting post and much to think about.

    3. Didn't reread my reply before hitting submit and now see autocorrect changed great to gray ...

    4. Andrea, this is all wonderful to hear. I think that you are dong exactly what you should be! You've expressed interest in, and started down so many creative avenues and you could look at the next seven years as your "testing ground", the time to figure out what it is you want to do most or, at least, what takes off for you as you work towards that retirement. That seems smart and is definitely a "plan"!

      We have both been completely enamored with Tasha Tudor and her later years living off the grid as a creative soul and we dream of the same type of situation someday too. :) (if you don't know of her you will likely find her inspiring!) I don't know about you and your husband but we figure we need some years to prepare. To learn and adapt a little at a time to some of the self-sustaining habits. Just as you mentioned, canning, pickling, gardening. We had a fantastic year in our container garden this year so we are expanding it again next year and growing more each year/season. : )

      OK, the fitbit is different than needing a phone to tell you what stop is yours on a bus you ride every day! WAY different! As we come to discover that range of movement, far more than exercise, determines our own mobility for the later years, it is brilliant to have a device to keep that time for you because we all (sedentary creatures that we become) need that reminder to move, to walk etc. I sure do!

      I think the best thing we can do is NOT compare ourselves to anyone else but to examine other examples and then pick and choose what works for us. As long as it is in a direction that leads TO what we MOST want, then we are moving in the right direction in our lives.

      I am glad my old Zen lesson struck you so! It certainly did for me back then and continues to when I find myself tempted to take on one more thing. :) I found the teacher/meditation invaluable but have learned that what was most valuable was simply the way I made time for that quiet peaceful space each week without fail. So now my writing each morning for an hour or two is one form of "meditation" and our walks in the forest are my "walking meditation". And most of all, silence. Lots of silence whenever I can get it! Making space for it. Reading. Drawing. Imagining worlds. It's not quite the same as a teacher in many ways but it really works. I just needed to learn how to create that space. That silence. That peace of mind. . .

      We keep looking at places to live that are more "off the grid" in terms of where they are and yet need to balance that with the must haves of a nearby Post office, internet etc for work. We're in no hurry. If it take a few more years, that's fine. We only intend to move one more time in our lives. We are entertaining the idea of places like Iowa, Hew Hampshire and Minnesota due to the incredibly cheap housing markets there (for now). For what we'd pay for a manufactured home here we could live in a stately old farmhouse or craftsman in amazing condition WITH land! Crazy. . .

      I think you're on the right track Andrea. Each of us has their own time frame and place in the clockwork. Keep dreaming and keep creating! Thank you SO much for taking time to write such a lovely response!!!!

  2. Nicolas great post! It's actually funny you wrote about this because I was listening to a meditative post and some of the questions were, Why do you need to have what you want? Does getting what you want, free you from the need to get more? It was several questions like this, to get people to think about things, when people are talking about "manifesting". They he was stating, that he knows people who "have everything" and still are not content. And then on the other hand, he knows people with less and are so content. I know for myself, I don't own a cell phone. I don't think you have sacrificed anything. Maybe I can become your neighbour? LOL! Big Crow Hugs!

    1. Hi Stacy! I agree with all you said here. :) The idea of scarcity, of not having enough, is a shadow that is crippling to most but it's how we define it that leads to that state of mind more often than not. I've known and worked for folks who were miserable despite having more money than they would ever need if they just could step back and see it and I've known folks at the other end of the financial spectrum who had so little but were the lightest souls I've encountered in this world.

      And bravo to you for not having a cellphone! You have a freedom that few today will ever know! :) What's funny is how quickly people adapt to the "reality" of the new way of living. I know folks in their 70's and above who grew up with so little and lived on shoestring budgets and were always happy with what they have but now think that so much of the excess and expense that our generation has come to see as necessary is normal. Sometimes I think that for all the possibility that technology/internet held to open our eyes to alternate views and ways of living has actually done the opposite as we are bombarded with a glut of images and articles that show off "perfect lives" that really do not exist. All geared towards getting us to try and buy into them, spend more for them and feel somehow "less-than" if we do not have them ourselves. You define what is perfect for you and whatever it may be I wish you to have it always!! Big crow hugs "someday-neighbor"! :) lol

  3. What an inspirational post, Nicolas and glad you shared it with us. I admire you both SO much! I'm trying to work/build a full-time illustration business. Not that I have to but desire to, especially should something happen to Michael....(hopefully not!!)...but it would be good to know I could make it on my own, if I had to. Not quite there yet and some days, I feel UTTERLY discouraged. I think I'm still trying to find my niche', all the while, trying NOT to be influenced by others in the aspect of feeling like "I have to be like so and so!"...Does that make sense?

    So happy for you two and looking forward to hearing more about your creative journey together.


    1. Alexandra, thank you for sharing!!

      Yes, that all makes such complete sense! We can appreciate the journey you are on and, truth is, we are still on it and finding our way, every day, ourselves. There are times when we too feel discouraged, worried, uncertain and even feel outright lost. I think it's just the "maker's" way though. :)

      Maybe that's how life, across the board, is actually supposed to be and we all fool ourselves with illusions of security, stability and some ideal, long lasting status quo? I mean, in truth, the way we feel with our art and creativity feels alive. It breathes. Changing day to day. . . evolving. It's never felt routine nor as if it were an "escape" from something else. It only took off when we made it part of the fabric of our life and not "that thing we go do X-hours a day". It is WORK and it is creation . . . and it became our life.

      "Finding your niche". . .would you believe that the things we create now, what you see in our shops, is not at all what we started out thinking we were going to do? I mean, it's not 180 degrees around from that but we definitely went thru a process of finding our way to what we make now. It's still evolving and growing too. For me, that meant realizing that I did not have to think of it as a compromise between thinking of what would be seen as "adult" work versus work that was inspired by my childhood. Both come naturally to me and I just had to get out of the way and let them come together on their own. The desire to make Egyptian statues and amulets was just a nod to my young, childhood imagination and inspirations. I had no intention of making it into a viable Etsy shop or having it requested by retail shops and the such. Who knew there would be such a calling for that work or that it would push me to become a sculptor of those ancient forms?? Not me, that's for sure.

      I'm aware the impermanence of life, and especially when it pertains to those around us, is something I do not speak of often. As you with Michael, I cannot imagine life without Sofie now and the only "blue" part of my penchant for nostalgia is that I still feel the ache for family members who have passed on over the years and how I wish I could have had the adult insight I do now as to how precious that time we have with each person is. More so that I wish they could see what it is I am doing now and share in it. I so appreciate your openness about what motivates you to build your creative work/world. . . though I hope you never have to confront it.

      Your illustration work is brilliant! We are biased, of course, because it touches the childlike part of us that is so strong and prevalent in all that we do and put forth. And while we too deal with the adult world it is our goal detach from it as much as possible each and every day. Work like yours offers that reprieve. Gives others permission to dip into the past a bit and let their own memories wash over them or just take a short break from their own reality. We are grateful for it, and for you as the creator of it. :)

  4. I enjoyed reading every word of this. The world is indeed quite different from what it was. I'm glad you've carved such a beautiful niche in which to live. Thank you also for the lovely words about my art.

    1. Thank you Lisa! It is always a joy to visit YOUR world of creation and I appreciate you coming by and sharing your thoughts!

  5. This is a lovely reminder about what's important in life. Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring thoughts!

    1. Christine, it is so lovely to have you drop by and comment! Thank you for taking the time and I hope the inspiration will carry through, in some little way, in your days ahead. :)

  6. I could only read almost half of this beautiful piece of writing and finding myself lucky to meet you again to get some more light from your enlightened world Nicolas!

    i think diversities of colors ,languages and lifestyles are only to create more beauty to this universe .
    In beginning stage of life when i start to "Think" difference in standards made me cry even ,while bringing my bite of meal to my mouth people with hunger and homelessness hovered around me .
    Such imagination hurt me a lot it was powerful sense of "being them"

    Deep inside me inevitably i was annoyed with who got everything and thought themselves "Classy" which was not right of cource but then i was this way.

    In my house food and stuff pinched me bit me and i could not do except writing down my pain in my diary.

    God sent no one with specific sign or mark which show their class ,man begun his journey from CAVES with leaves on .all he got with his struggle and usage of brain .
    Living in groups created gene pools of colors and thoughts.

    Each man is ruler of his own world and this is most important bEAUTY of this world .
    I am coming back to finish this post after a lunch preparing break

  7. There is huge difference between "need"and "lust"
    Man doesn't need as much as he thinks .
    I am 47 and experienced time back in my native town when people lived in village like a One family. They helped each other without anything asking in return .
    Few families had house made of cement and bricks, many lived in clay houses and all were Happy.
    Awareness with media created sense of rivalry among people. Now though it is necessary or not but everybody want everything.
    To achieve this state most choose shortcuts.

    Now it's beyond control. It's not about need anymore it's about lust which has no end ever

    1. Bali, this is a point I have been wanting to express as well. I feel VERY fortunate to have grown up with many members of my extended family who were elders. (my grandparent's generation) At one time, they, their brothers and sisters and their spouses and children all lived together in one large house with between 10 and 14 people under one roof at any one time. The streets of that neighborhood were made up of many houses with similar sized families of various nationalities and color and it was only in their later years, their 40's and 50's (so, the 1960's) that they all moved on to build their own houses and separate lives.

      I agree wholly with you about the media, the visual, the overwhelming impact of outside advertising. The secrets to "happiness" are always presented as something you can add or but or achieve instead of finding happiness within and living with less. Wanting less. NEEDING less.

      My mother, when speaking of her childhood, often says "We all had the same life, no-one worried about who had more or whether we were in the "middle class" or "wealthy" or "poor". It did not matter. Everyone was the same.

      And yes, everyone helped each other out whenever it was needed.

      I am shocked by the level of disconnect people here in my country have from the larger world around them. Houses have become somewhat like prisons, the idea of "scarcity" rules the actions of so many of those who already have so much, and few seem to look outside to the world around them and consider their possible role in making it better UNLESS it serves their own lives first. The foolish pride people have in their wealth, their cars, their houses and leisure toys. And it is not my place to judge so all I could do was remove myself from it and live my life by a different standard. Within that life I chose, I have found the greatest happiness I could have ever imagined. I am lucky, I know. There are no guarantees. But I am aware of my abundant "fortune" and have always tried my best to share what I have whenever the opportunity arises.

      Thank you Baili, for taking the time to leave these comments and share your thoughts with me from half the world away. I hope that the blessings of abundance, in the heart and soul, are with you today and always!