Last night we celebrated a milestone for our design business: the ten year mark. I spend little time thinking about the road behind, imagine largely (perhaps grandiosely) what lies ahead, and now and again the present stands still, surprising me into a moment of stillness. There is a magic to those seconds when the essence of the immediate arrests us, reminding us to be out of our heads. For big-picture thinkers and creatives, we are often dualistically both believers in ‘of the moment’ awareness and hostages to the millworks of our own seething imaginations.
Being brought into the moment is a gift. Light shifts on a street to highlight the overlooked; a song we once had a fling with is playing in the checkout line; a whiff of shampoo in an elevator reminds us of an aunt who passed too young. In the midst of a hectic work day, we’re transported to the past, to summers spent with relatives. We recall our aunt’s little rituals, the morning exercises, a smudge of lipstick on her coffee mug as she took her last sip before heading to work. She left her geranium red mark every day, a seal to close the last home hour before returning to her beloved grind.
There are truthful lessons tucked into our past; they assert themselves in these sharpened moments. For instance, the aunt. A newspaper editor who was faithful to her craft for decades, she belonged to no professional meet groups, took no bows at dinner parties, never climbed onto a dais to receive an award. Small towns don’t award journalism – good, bad, or indifferent.
Yet she loved her work, took pride in accomplishing her constant mission: to draw together the events of the week, yanking the national from the AP, overseeing a small flock of reporters for everything local, checking in with ad salesmen and photographers, finally to work late of a Wednesday while the printer pieced the content together the old fashioned way, by letter press. Along with her staff, she rendered the week of her town and her nation, every seven days, into a package that, when folded twice, could just about fit in a dog’s mouth to be carried up onto a porch come Thursday.
When I opened my design business ten years ago, I was thirty years old, felt invincible, played at being humble, too, though it comes harder to the young. My weekly rituals included running two miles every other day and drinking eighty-four ounces of water between sunup and sundown. In my memory, I was bolder and more lusty in my wants than I was aware of at the time. I didn’t pause to consider my undertaking: I simply did the daily work needed to keep the wheel rolling forward.
At the five year mark, the economy turned, I had to let go of a treasured employee, and I lopped away at the fledgling business until only the essentials remained: the workings of an interior design firm. I put aside the part of that dream that included a retail presence, a showroom that shifted with outgoing and incoming inventory, that invited my creative urges to play with each new setup, and that kept an open door to the world and to my street. And I survived through hard times, watching with empathy as other businesses closed, cheering the adventurers who chose that moment in time to risk their own enterprises. More than anything, I found in my mid-thirties a deeper humility and gratitude than my thirty-year-old self could have understood.
When the economy strengthened, I relaxed my bear-mother hold on my company and breathed just a little easier. I could allow myself to take big-picture stock of things. What became evident to me was that I wanted to be bold again, to dream as I had done at thirty. I wanted doors cast open onto the street, I wanted the creative fulfillment of shopkeeping along with the satisfying work of interior design. They are, after all, twin loves of mine, each stimulating a different aspect of visual composition, imaginative thinking, and dynamic problem-solving.
I wonder how often my aunt paused to audit her progress, to mark her place in the arc of life’s dreams. I hope it was just often enough to find her gratitude – or to quicken her passion for the next thing. The trick is not to check in too often, not to trip over yourself as you play sidewalk supervisor to your own journey. Rather the way is to stick to the work of the day, allowing the weeks to string together until they form a rhythm, trusting that everything in the universe will collide just often enough to make you lift your head and think, “That’s right; I’m here.” A shifting light, the forgotten song.
Last night, my energetic staff, my husband, beloved friends, cherished clients and patrons gathered around me, one of those ‘of-the-moment’ moments found me. I came up out of the place in my mind where I still dissected the little defeats and triumphs of the last week, and I was in a beautiful room, with chatter, live jazz and laughter blending in cool air, fragrant with summer cocktails. I was forty, bold and bright, happy in my accomplishments, poised for more.