Life of Carmen

Oh Universe send me meaningful work

Hello to my loyal fanbase—all both of you! Sorry I’ve been out of touch. It’s been a wild  time. Here’s what went down.

One year ago last June, just after I hauled my monkish ass back to Vancouver after 6 months at San Francisco Zen Center, Bicycle Buddha got hacked to smithereens. Twelve years of  ramblings, wiped out, by one arbitrary malefactor. I was stricken. Eventually, with help from geeky friends,  I was able to recover the database and that was a huge relief. But the site looked kinda like shit and there were all kinds of funny characters mixed into the words, and I just could not muster the will to make it all pretty again. I got into a big funk and I basically stopped writing. Which, not writing, exacerbated the funk and made me even less motivated to write. Et cetera. I think I needed to not do it for awhile, to know how important this practice is to me.

The weird glitches are still there and the site still looks kind of crappy. But it’s time to admit that the crash was a lame excuse for fading to black. Truth is I was feeling very lost and unsure, and needed to pull out of the public realm entirely and sit for a while, with my fears and doubts and feelings of failure. I went deep into winter’s wordless darkness.

Unable to find work, I found myself quite literally in the dark, glueing caps onto Christmas balls for 8 hours at a stretch in the dungeon of a Burnaby mall. All those years of education, those flashes of ambition, grand projects, and stretches of local fame, come to this. Minimum wage and hot-glue burns on my fingers. Yup so, I did me a winter’s worth of wallowing.

There followed an epic series of employment events — from trimming plastic Christmas trees to the bike store job from hell, to cleaning houses and planting tulip bulbs, to a soul-crushing and way-overpaid gig writing marketing drivel for such as PepsiCo, to the bike store job from heaven, to running a store on a wee island in Desolation Sound—which last, I backed out on, for reasons that at the time were unclear even to me.

I narrowed all my desires down to one simple prayer: oh Universe, send me meaningful work.

I rode this roller-coaster for over a year, clinging to some slim hope that my Work was out there, waiting to reveal itself. So twisted and drained, I wasn’t sure if I could live through this. Many nights spent not sleeping, stomach in a knot, I chanted the Harmony of Difference and Equality: If you don’t understand the way right before you, how will you know the path as you walk? Progress is not a matter of near or far, but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.

Here are the mountains, here are the rivers, here is the way. Keep walking, dear heart, keep walking.

The tricky old Universe was holding her cards close to her chest. Finally, in June, she coughed it up.

Amazingly but not surprisingly I found myself back in my green school bus on Cortes Island, doing the job I once said I would not wish on my worst enemy. I was hired on at Hollyhock, as Manager of Hosting and of the Resident Service Program (volunteers). Hollyhock is currently in a phase of courageous re-envisioning, with all the attendant hiccups, breakthroughs and disasters. I jumped straight into the fray.

My job is demanding, challenging, frustrating, unpredictable. Some days, every half hour there’s a knock on my door and no matter what I can or cannot do to solve some vexatious human problem, I remember I can do this: listen. I listen. I make shit up on the fly and sometimes it works, sometimes, not so much. I am learning. Every day my dharma is called to action. I get to work/play with all kinds of freaky, funny, brilliant people. Some days feel like a work of art. I’m kind of … loving it. I make lots of mistakes, but overall I think my suspicion is confirmed—I’m good at this managing-people thing. I’ve been working towards this for a very long time.

At this moment, as I wrap it all up and shut ‘er down for the season, I’m about 94.5% certain I’ll be back to it next spring—which might make me the first person to ever take on this job two seasons running. I’m no longer my worst enemy, and I am up to the dare.

I have also identified the hardest part of this situation for me. It is not easy to live in a small community, as a single person without family. I’ve never felt deliberately excluded here, but I often feel overlooked as people default to the well-established social networks and nuclear familial interweaving of island life. It is for me to accept my human loneliness, while at the same time, reach out for the connection I needs.

Hollyhock isn’t the end. There is a bigger picture, and it looks something like bringing a real life dharma center into being. With bicycles, of course. But right here, right now, this is the work I need to do. It is the mountain I need to climb and the river I need to ride. It is the Path.

And right this now, I am so ready for a vacation. I’ve worked my butt off and I damn well deserve it. Next week I will move back to Vancouver to reconnect with my sangha and switch up the flow. I may go somewhere hot for a bit, in search of sand and ceviche…and/or, bunker down and go inward. Relax, rejuvenate, create.

I’m dreaming of a podcast — a Bicycle Buddha podcast. Stay tuned. I’ll be writing.

Hi again! I’m back. I never went anywhere. I’m on my way. And you?

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