“If you can’t survive in this world, you had better make a world of your own.” – Jeanette Winterson
This quote has been North on my life’s compass for about a decade now, since I was first introduced to the mind-expanding works of Ms. Winterson. When I first read it I underlined it not once, as was standard, but twice—and then sprinkled stars around it. I knew I had found scripture.
As someone who often felt and at times expressed that “I wasn’t made for this world,” this quote was a warm blanket—a knowing that I wasn’t alone in an otherwise lonely world.
When I was in my mid-20s, high on the first glimpses of enlightenment, convinced I could change the world through a bumper sticker, I created a website called The Passion Project. I loved that project with my whole soul. The entire mission of the website was driven by the above quote: I was trying, through extreme measures, to make a world of my own. A lot of people in my life thought the website/idea was radical but I brushed those comments off because, hello!, I was and am and always will be radical. Radical is who I am—proudly. If you don’t know that by now, you don’t know me.
The goals of The Passion Project were to take steps, though they were big and radical and difficult to fathom in this society, to create a world of my own—a world that would be majorly different from the world I was born into and lived in for my first quarter of life. A long-time partier, I committed to be sober. A long-time junky food eater, I committed to eat local and organic and healthy. A long-time suburban commuter, I committed to experience life on foot and bike. A not yet paid writer, I committed to build an autonomous, creative work life. The list went on and on. Basically everything mainstream in America, I wanted to do/be/have the opposite.
It was radical, yes. And therefore, it was difficult, like everyone warned it would be. But here’s what I knew: Mainstream living was difficult, too, and with little real reward that I could see. To me it was pretty straightforward: There were two difficult paths in life, one of which misery was generally the prize, the other, authentic, spiritually derived joy. It was a no brainer.
Ultimately The Passion Project folded because the relationship I was in that was entwined with the project folded. But, though publically the idea of it went away, I personally never stopped pursuing this radical lifestyle. If you’ve noticed me, you’ve noticed.
Five years later brings me to this very morning, when I woke up and in my morning meditation it occurred to me that I have built a life of my own. A radical life indeed! In so many ways my original Passion Project goals have been manifested. I have done the most difficult thing and created a successful counterculture lifestyle. I work from home, doing creative work (writing) that brings me a solid, comfortable income (a feat in itself in this world that devalues creative work); I’m starting school on Monday for an MFA in creative writing that will fulfill my soul/spiritual writing needs; I live in a beautiful town (like, the most beautiful!) where I can bike and walk and enjoy farmer’s markets and spiritual nourishment easily; I am moderate in my indulgences and currently on a “30 days at 30 years” sober deal-y (and feeling great).
Read: I am no longer a slave.
Realizing the only liberator to life’s seeming captivity is myself (so many rely on others/things to set them free), I have, over time, done the most difficult thing: I have become authentically happy; I have become free.
I have become.
With The Passion Project I was guided by the “instant gratification” mentality of youth. I saw what needed to happen and I wanted it NOW. And if it didn’t instantly manifest, I considered myself a failure. I wanted to be who I would become without the becoming. Silly rabbit.
I didn’t know in The-Passion-Project days that everything is gradual, that time is a great revealer and patience is rewarding, and that the very best thing you can do until you do approach upon your huge, radical goals is to be gentle with yourself. In the spirit of Vonnegut, be soft when you’re building your new world—don’t bring the hardness of the old world into it, for that would defeat all purposes. And keep in mind that building an environment in the reflection of your deepest, more authentic self isn’t an item to check off a to-do list. It is a constant checking in with your soul, a constant tuning away from fear and toward love.
That’s the key to successfully building your own world: to be a sunflower; always facing toward love, the sun.