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Blue Sky

How to Build a Life: Everyday Magic, Day 1089

Updated: Apr 18

How to build a life is really up to the person living that life, but after carrying this topic around in my head for a while, I realized I had a lot to say about how to build one particular life, the one I'm inhabiting.

Although I can't handle most power tools without a lot of training and trepidation, and I've hit my own thumb too many times when trying to hammer anything, I do love building things: collections of poetry, curriculum for classes and training, step by step guides for clients revising their books, or meeting agendas. Some of us just find surprising delight in putting together small bits in some kind of architecture that is more than the sum of its parts. But then again, we're all building our lives or, for better or worse, having them built for (or against) us.

In my case, here are some of the ingredients, blueprints, steps, hunches, and leaps. Please feel free to leave your own in the comments.

  • Pick up a crayon. Then a colored pencil, a paint brush, a pastel, a jumble retractible pen with six ink cartridges of rainbow colors (remember those from the 60s?). Pick up a nub of a pencil or green fine point marker and a journal. Pick up the pace on the coveted manual typewriter your parents finally got you when you were eight.

  • Take fairy tales and first stories seriously while also taking them apart to see what's inside them. Remember how Clara learns to walk again in Heidi and how the sister of the seven swans regained her voice.

  • Get a cat. Get a dog. Live with beyond-human animals, who are often so much better than we are.

  • Think about your dreams even if it distracts you in math class. Alegebra, in the life you're building, won't matter nearly as much as waking up wondering why your dog turned into panther or why there wsa an extra story on the house where you live.

  • Read a poem. Change your life. Repeat this every day.

  • Place your hand on piano keys or in the right position on whatever instrument comes home to you in mandatory or much-begged-for engagement. Learn to read music or improvise until your body learns how to eke out the sounds that thrill you.

  • If someone hits you, tell someone, but be discerning about who to tell. Get help early and often to not carve words meant to diminish you into your brain forever. If the help isn't helping, try something or someone else.

  • Get flowers. Grow them or buy them or barter for them, but have them around.

  • Find someone who believes in you. Stay close to or return to them, and turn that trust into a springboard to find more people who believe in you and how you, in turn, can believe in others.

  • Travel to surprising places, no matter how unwieldly. Yup, spend a year's worth of under-the-table below-minimum-wage saleswork pay to go to France for 10 days with your high school. Work an extra job for a stretch to buy tickets to Kenya a decade later. Drive in shifts to get to Big Bend National Park and discover, despite a bad start, how to love the desert.

  • Listen to your gut. Learn to trust what you innately know while entertaining how often it's a tangle to sort fear, trauma, and truth, but keep sorting. Your gut will show you the way.

  • Wear a costume whenever you have the opportunity and even when you don't. Play against type. Keep people guessing.

  • Give gifts that mean something: a watercolor swirl you glue to the front of a greeting card, a poem for a friend who just lost her husband, a tray of spinach enchiladas to one of your besties. Buy things too that make the receiver take a sharp inhalation, then break into wild laughter. Give yourself a break if the gift doesn't land just so.

  • If you're living in an abusive situation, get out, and if called, go far away. Start over and remember what Goethe says (repeated by the character played by Frances McDormand in that great film, Almost Famous): "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."

  • Acknowledge before, during, and afterwards that you will make many, many mistakes, and there is no such thing as living fully without snagging some regrets along the way. Fix what you can, take responsibility, make amends, and forgive yourself for the times you didn't know how to do this or didn't have the bandwidth, generosity, or trust.

  • Let yourself be loved, and on the way to this, forgive yourself for all the times you put yourself in harm's way by throwing yourself at the wrong people. Give up and come back to the table again and again until you meet someone you can floss beside after watching a bad movie and eating a dinner that turned out all wrong.

  • Learn to cook a good soup, then expand to variations. Find vegetables you can marry and live happily ever after with (mine are zucchini and tomatoes). Try to eat a little less sugar. Figure out how to make a casserole that will bring you back to life after a heartbreak. Of course, master the art of the potato (sweet and white) and always behold the glory of mashed potatoes.

  • Turn your life over to something, someone, somewhere more vast and deep than yourself and cultivate devotion. This could be the holy or a spiritual practice or a pilgrimage or a life focused on making a place or community better. This could also be all of the above in the form of the most taxing guru of all time: parenthood (which, if you jump in, never ends). Fail, fall short, or summon up baby steps back up a million times and then some. Remember this kind of devotion lasts your whole life and maybe beyond.

  • Immense and self-hatred-driven hours lost in detailed plans to lose weight for the sake of meeting some single-digit-size mirage of womanhood aren't the best use of your life. But seriously, keep aiming at feeding yourself nutritious and nourishing food in tune with you. You're fine just like you are. Seriously.

  • Do yoga.

  • The big relationships in your life will, at some point, make you or the other person into the a big asshole or ugly, hot mess. That's okay. That's how you grow your capacity.

  • Fling yourself at the work that calls no matter how impractical it might seem while also covering your bread-and-butter expenses. Keep in mind that how people make a living in ten years may be being invented right now, even by you.

  • Accept people for who they are. Fail at this a billion times and keep returning to the drawing board. Remind yourself you have just about no power to change anyone else, and it's also outrageously challenging to change yourself an iota.

  • Don't shop for affirmation and love where none is offered.

  • If someone can only give you 10% of what you're seeking, consider whether that's enough, and if so, accept it gratefully. If not, hit the road, Jack.

  • Find everything you can possibly laugh about (but never at another's expense) and then laugh about it.

  • Make seeing live music a priority.

  • Don't count anyone or anything out. A friend who vanishes for a decade may reappear as one of the great gifts in your life. A family member you thought hated you may show up at the door with daisies and cookies. A dream of drawing a good tree may dissolve into a pile of drawings of good trees. Don't harden your heart but let it grow softer, more tender, and larger over time.

  • Courage is your calling, even if you're terrified.

  • Wash the dishes often or often enough. Sweep the floor occasionally. If you're really sad, clean out the everything drawer in your kitchen.

  • Health insurance is good, or at least not as horrendous as no health insurance.

  • Find the ever-changing momentary balance between not holding back and emotional regulation.

  • Your friends are everything.

  • So is good music, delicious meals, great movies, and astonishing books.

  • The purpose of money beyond sheltering and feeding yourself: adventures in books, travel, restaurants, and meanderings.

  • Listen to your children or other children around you, and especially to what they're pointing to in their actions and yearnings.

  • See the dentist regularly and practice good hygiene.

  • It actually does make sense to eat dessert first because that actually can work better for digestion as well as for sheer joy.

  • Balance your checkbook, and if you want to cultivate an illusion of security, balance it daily or weekly.

  • Wear clothes at make you happy rather than what gives the illusion of being thinner (although sometimes a dress can do both).

  • If life isn't amusing for you, lower your standards just enough. Or make your own amusement.

  • Make getting enough sleep a priority and don't harangue yourself if the sleep gods are against you. It's fine to get up and read a book about how stars evolve in the middle of the night. Even better, step outside for a moment and remind yourself that not all beings are asleep right now.

  • Don't put off visits to doctors, energy healers, acupuncturists, and others who can help you help yourself.

  • Err on the side of generosity.

  • Give away what you don't need, whether it's in your basement, psyche, or workload.

  • Befriend your hardest edges, worst flaws, most selfish instincts, and inner bitch, screaming child, and brittle old dog. Treat them with compassion and see what they really have to tell you.

  • Tell yourself the truth and especially send updates when that truth evolves.

  • Step outside no matter the weather. Listen. Let the chill wake up your face. Let the sun warm your toes.

  • Begin again. Begin again. Begin again.

Now how are you building your life? Inquiring minds would love to know.

Please consider joining me on Patreon -- get lots more content like this and help support my creation of more writing, workshops, and community offerings. Join for as little as $3/month and you'll receive a weekly Care Package for a Creative Life, a writing guide just for patrons, and cool surprises. Details here.

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1 Comment

Elaine McMilian
Elaine McMilian
Dec 19, 2023

This list is amazingly comprehensive! Thank you, Caryn! I try to live by some of these ideas, especially "Begin again." I'm printing out this list to keep at my desk. ❤️

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