Tuesday, February 26, 2013

All Signs Point To Yes

When I was in elementary school, my best friend had a Magic Eight Ball. We asked the oracle important questions like whether on not we should watch Love, American Style that night, and if certain boys we liked did indeed like us back.

 We believed the eight ball when we received answers like: It is decidedly so, and all signs point to yesWe complied when it said: Concentrate and ask again, and reply hazy, try again

But, when it answered: My sources say no, and don’t count on it, we shook and shook again until we got a without a doubt or as I see it, yes.

For the last year and a half, my husband and I have been looking into a future as blank as the blue liquid inside the Magic Eight Ball. Leaving his job, selling our home, moving nine hundred miles from our family and friends: we’ve been moving forward, trusting in God and intention as if the eight ball told us: You may rely on it. In the matter of his work—the job he was pursuing in California was withdrawn—well as the eight ball says, you will have to wait.

On my end, everything is working out. Little events seem to confirm that I'm on the right path. Two weeks ago, I came across a merlot-colored office chair sitting outside a non-profit office building with a note taped to it: Free.

I checked it out: Smallish and armless, with a wooden frame and wheelbase. The upholstery was in great shape, no stains or rips. I sat in it. The cushioning was still supportive with no signs of wear.

It’s exactly what I wanted for my writer’s studio, but didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars for. I carried the chair a block to my car. It’s in the studio now, waiting for the writing guest who will arrive Saturday all the way from Utah to spend a week working on his Sci-fi novel.

After he leaves, I will host a copy-editor from Bavaria on a three-week working vacation to the island as she visits family. Last week, a traveling nurse from Michigan stayed for seven days, commuting to an ER room in Seattle twice for 12-hour shifts.

In between, have been hosting one and two night guests: an MFA student on Valentine’s Day, a couple traveling to Seattle for a business meeting, another couple celebrating the husband’s fiftieth birthday.

I Tigger around the house with each reservation request I receive, bouncy and giddy. Did my vision really become reality? I’m wowed, but I’m not unique: People pursue their dreams and passions everyday and are filled with creative energy in the process.

 The creative high that zings through me when someone chooses to stay at my writer’s retreat is the same feeling I had when I first began writing, when I first began preaching and planning worship, when my husband and I first decided to have children.

 I’ve been hibernating this past year, not as withdrawal, but as renewal. I’ve learned to feel comfortable in solitude, to accept myself outside of any roles or accomplishments in the community, to grow in internal spaciousness, to spend time with my husband, learning new skills from him, increasing in my appreciation of his genius, but not clinging to him for my self-definition or happiness.

Now that our writer’s retreat is launched, I’ve looked up to see the rest of our home still under renovation needing my attention, and beyond our walls to begin to discover where I fit and what I can contribute in this geographic place.

I began to think about what else fed me: holding the door open for creativity, leading writing workshops. But how do you lead workshops when you don’t know anyone? I attended a half-day workshop on mindfulness meditation led by a Christian spiritual director. We clicked. I asked if she’d be interested in co-leading a meditation/writing day in the future. She said yes.

A few days later, an organizer from Field’s End, a group that offers writing classes through our local library (I hang their posters around town and set up chairs for monthly presentations), asked if I’d like to lead an open writing group through the library.  It’s funny you should ask, I told her.

It’s been a long, happy winter. In a rare moment, the sun shines. I grab my camera and snap pictures: Crocus push up through the lawn, purple and lavender, and tulips and daffodils sprout green shoots around the yard, everything emerging, like me ready to bloom where they’re planted.

Do I belong here? The Magic Eight Ball answers yes, definitely.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pursuing Justice and more

I interrupt my regularly scheduled blogging about heaters and job hunting, to tell you about some new writing. In the midst of remodeling I have managed to send out a few stories and essays for publication. Mostly they've been declined. A few have been accepted.

You'll find a few new links in the sidebar for my latest pieces online (and if you're on my email list, you already know about them).

Today I want to let you know about two books I'm honored to be included in:

The first is Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things. It's a highly readable book, filled with stories about justice in every day life. Reading it reminded me that justice isn't something that exists outside of us for the courts or governments to administer, it gets to the core of who we are and how we live. The book is published by a Christian house, but I think it engages a wider audience.

The author is Ken Wystma, and he has been greatly aided by D.R. (David) Jacobsen, who was in my graduating class at Seattle Pacific University where we received MFAs in Creative Writing. David, who edited the book, was kind enough to include a poem of mine.

I also have a story appearing in The California Prose Directory later this spring. This anthology features   both fiction and nonfiction all set in California. The editor is profiling all the contributors as he prepares to launch the book. I enjoy reading anthologies, and the first thing I head to is the author bios.

I'm enjoying the opportunity to read about the writers before the book is in my hands, and I'm humbled  to be included in this gathering of very talented writers. The profile also includes a Q&A about the contributors' experience with California. Mine appeared today.

Now I'm going to paint an accent wall.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

If You Build It They Will Come, But How Much Should You Charge?

I’m changing sheets and towels, dusting, putting away dishes, and vacuuming in my writer’s retreat, and in my mind hear James Earl Jones straight out of Field Of Dreams: “If you build it they will come…. They most certainly will come, Ray.”

I substitute Cathy for Ray, and look at this beautiful studio, this vision realized. I’m blessed to have had writing guests three weekends in a row, and two-thirds of them I’d never met before, thanks to listing on airbnb.com.

Field of Dreams ends with a steady stream of cars lining the back-roads of Iowa. Here’s what we don’t see: neighbors complaining, traffic congestion, parking shortages, zoning regulations. Ray will plow up more corn to add parking, wondering how much must remain for Shoeless Joe to appear. He’ll rent port-a-potties and more bleachers, build a ticket booth and concession stand, keeps records on Quicken, and fork over taxes to the municipality, state, and feds because he was listening, living out his call.

I believe in the transformative power of both retreat and writing. In my own life, leaving home and responsibilities (particularly for the Mercy Center in Burlingame California, where I spent forty days over two years in Spiritual Formation) released my creativity to flow uninterrupted by routines and chores.
The labyrinth at the Mercy Center, Burlingame

I was inspired by the opportunity to explore a place that wasn’t mine and find its gifts. This is my vision for the writer’s retreat I now host: to provide space that is welcoming, comfortable, yet challenges and encourages the creative genius in each guest to come forth, to delight in self-expression, and to be inspired to continue the good work they began here.

It’s a lofty goal, but with each guest who writes, there is more creative energy and intention gifted into this room. I contribute to it when I’m cleaning, wishing well the guests who have left, readying for the ones to come in the tasks of emptying trashcans, snapping sheets, hanging towels, lifting up my guests' creative endeavors, breathing a generative spirit of peace and well-being into this room.

The dining nook in the retreat studio

How can I put a price on this? I would love to invite everyone without charge because I believe we should all have the opportunity to leave home, squirrel away with a pen and paper, and discover.

That said, my husband and I have invested thousands of dollars in transforming this room from a freezing pale-green non-descript room with rusted plumbing and a metal shower stall, into a sanctuary of wood, color, warmth, and views. It’s an investment we won’t recoup until we sell this house, which we hope won’t be for a very long time.

The room before we bought the house. Only the desk remains.

Now I’m a business owner, and the state and city want their excise and lodging taxes, and my guests cost money: taxes, water, electricity, toilet paper, dish soap. And there is my time, which as a writer (and former lay minister and classroom volunteer) I am used to giving away, to be paid in copies and compliments.

My husband, in his professional life, has been responsible for million dollar programs and budgets. He is the one reading the tax codes, installing electric sub-meters, coding expenses, and separating out capital improvements.

I explain to him that webreserv calculates some taxes, airbnb none, that webreserv charges no fees, airbnb some, and he explains the discrepencies in tax liabilities for me. He doesn’t tell me how much to charge, only that my rates should differ on each site.

My mother-in-law, at the age I am now, opened a bed and breakfast inn in San Francisco. My husband and I helped restore the mansion on weekends, and helped market it too, buying our first computer and performing mail merges, sending out hundreds of invitations and announcements. Getting the word out was difficult and costly. I’m fortunate to launch my small business in these days of free social networking, but there are still many expenses.  

The former Warner Embassy in San Francisco

I’ve checked what other island B&Bs charge, and how much folks charge to rent the cottages in their backyards, and it’s not cheap. Unlike large hotels and chains, we have no economies of scale. Like Ray in Field of Dreams, we built it and they have come. They have come in large part I think, because of the introductory rate I’ve offered this first month of my business.

Unfortunately, that rate is not sustainable: we’re paying to have guests. My rates must rise and I know that means some writers who’d love to stay here won’t be able to. As one used to offering my skills and talents as a ministry—at no cost and open to anyone—it’s difficult to think like a businesswoman.  Do most business owners wonder how little they can charge to break even? I do.

Several times in California, when my husband was employed and we didn’t do everything ourselves, we hired a contractor. His bids and invoices always had a line item for “overhead and profit” calculated at fifteen percent. He was a great builder, honest, ethical, and recognized that he deserved to make a profit to stay in business. He wasn’t the cheapest contractor around, but he was the most conscientious and we were happy to pay his fifteen percent.

Now that our retreat is built (we’re still busy remodeling the rest of the house) and our focus shifts from construction to hospitality, I will continue listening for leading—even if it’s not God or James Earl Jones speaking—consulting my conscience, and attending to my guests and their needs, giving my attention, and living out my intention to provide a meaningful retreat.

All this at a rate I hope my guests are happy to pay.