Taking off the shirt

I’ve been thinking about an audition I had a few weeks ago — a fun group-audition focused on building ensemble, listening, playing, and following impulses (Yippee, my favorites!). It felt more like a workshop than an audition which left me feeling grateful, inspired, and relieved. The people in the room were super. It was fun. I’d like to say that I was great/totally nailed it/surprised myself/did my best/really went for it, but the truth is I was ok. I was fine.

So, in an effort to move myself closer to great/totally nailed it/surprised myself/did my best/really went for it,  I’ve been mulling over the audition and considering whether I fully engaged in those so-called favorites — building ensemble, listening, playing, and following impulses.

The short answer is: I didn’t. I didn’t fully engage.

I almost did. I often did. I wanted to. I tried, but I didn’t quite get there 100% all the time.

Yes, it’s hard to do those things. Especially in an audition setting. It’s hard to just be — authentic, in the moment — rather than perform what I think is desirable, cool, clever, funny, interesting, easy, whatever. But I want to ‘be in the moment’ more. I want to be more consistently authentic. I don’t want to perform myself, I want to be myself.

(Here’s the part where my internal child falls in a heap on the ground and rolls around dejectedly until she gets distracted by something shiny.)

I’m been thinking about a particular moment during the audition when I tripped over my ego instead of following my impulses as I was invited to do (Ok, there were lots of moments, but I only have time to describe one today).

It was the moment when I wanted to take off my shirt, but I didn’t.

(If this sounds titilating, then you can go ahead and un-titilate yourself, cuz this ain’t a sexy thing.)

During the audition, our group performed several rounds of a sound and movement exercise. We sat in a circle and individuals took turns moving into the center. The task of the group was to support the individual in the center by making sounds. The task of the individual in the center was to move in a way that authentically embodied whatever particular concept we were working on during that round — without premeditation or pre-choreographing the movement.

During one of my turns in the circle, I stood up quickly and took off my fleece jacket. My next impulse was to take off the shirt underneath as well (leaving me in my bra) and strike some grimacing, muscle-y poses like the Incredible Hulk.

But my shirt stayed on and my pseudo-Hulk never appeared. Instead I performed goofy fleece-tricks like swinging the fleece over my head and passing it between my legs and pretending to throw it at people and stuffing it up my shirt. It was fine. Whatever.

During that microsecond between taking off my fleece and deciding not to follow my first impulse, a zillion thoughts zipped thru my head (One of the problems = too much thinking! Right? If you are thinking, then you are doing it wrong.)

In that microsecond between trusting/not trusting my intuition, I questioned whether my impulse was weird and off-base and nonsensical  and whether it would seem gratuitous or show-offy (Look at me! Whee, I take off my clothes!).

In that microsecond between does-shirt-come-off-no-shirt-stays-on, I tried to remember what bra I was wearing, if my underwear were peeking up over the top of my yoga pants, and if I was looking bloated. (Would everyone notice that I haven’t gone to the gym in a looooong time? In this situation, would taking off my shirt make me a bad ass or a fool?) 

Never mind that I was wearing a bra on the poster for a previous show. In the moment, I freaked out.

In one tiny microsecond, my concern over what people would think of my creative contribution + my body anxiety knocked me off-kilter. I fretted about how I yearned to appear rather than just stepping into who I was in that moment. I was Incredible Hulk in that moment! Then I killed my Incredible Hulk. (Sad face) I didn’t trust that my 15 second contribution to the circle would be accepted and appreciated no matter what it was. I knew we were all just playing, just trying stuff, just being ourselves, just trying to have fun — I knew I was in a safe space with a group of warm and welcoming artists, and that this was no big deal — but I still couldn’t shake off THE JUDGE. I missed that luscious and rare opportunity to be in the zone, ride the wave, surprise myself, drop into lizard brain and just be. Bummer.

Also, those people in that audition really missed out because I can rock a bra. (JOKING! Seriously, joking.)

So that was 15 seconds of an audition, right? That was one kinda silly-hopefully funny-a little embarrassing moment in my life. Really small beans in the scheme of things. But it did make me think about regular ol’ daily life and the number of times I stop myself, squelch my impulses and pull myself back from being fully present. Do you extinguish your creative sparks? How often? What is the result?

Look, I know we can’t walk around all the time without our filters, just like we can’t walk around shirtless all the time. That would be inefficient and impractical and inappropriate. But maybe we have more leeway than we think?

I’m trying to do the calculation here….I’m trying to determine when the small beans become big beans. Because I suspect we all do this, right? If so, then what’s the effect of our widespread short-circuiting of creativity? What is the effect of so much not-being-present? What is the long term effect of discarding our impulses and intuition? What do you think?

I wonder how much we lose while straining to be too-cool-for-school rather than acknowledging our shared awkwardness and vulnerability. We’re all just working to make art and make life, right? Forget being cool, let’s just be real.

I wonder what is lost…. when I stop myself from reaching out, when I stop myself from taking risks, when I see others second guess their honest reactions, when I see adults reject the invitation to play even though their hearts yearn to be childlike.

I wonder what would happen if we all took a chance and whipped off our shirts once in awhile (I’m speaking metaphorically, but whatever floats your boat). I wonder what would happen if we were brave and creative and vulnerable and intuitive more often. Perhaps it’s worth some practice? Certainly, I need some more practice. And practice and practice and practice.

So, the audition….

In the end, it was all fine. It was fun. It was clearly thought provoking. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I hope to have more. I’ll learn and grow and do better next time. If I keep practicing, then I will.

 

Conversations like coffee

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

My brain got stretched this week, and it was uncomfortable. My head ached. I felt exhausted every night from the extra hard thinking I was doing — from trying to keep up with the conversations, the connections, the leaps of thinking and the much-too-muchness of all people have to offer. Sheesh, people! People and their words! On Thursday night, I cried. Then I mopped my face with a tissue and went straight to bed so I could be well-rested for the more that the next day would bring. More uncomfortable brain-stretching, more conversation, more connections, more much-too-muchness of all people have to offer.

It was a week of deep conversations every single day. Even the conversations that were brief, were taxing for my imagination and my equilibrium:

In conversation with my daughter, I pointed out the rain drops on the car’s windshield, and she explained that “rain drops are made of souls.”

In conversation with a group, a participant suggested that ‘the sky would teach me everything if I really looked at it several times a day.’

In a conversation with friends, we talked about the nets we build and do not build to catch each other when we fall. We talked about the far-reaching life-altering decisions that we make as a result of our connectedness to others.

I had lengthy, far-ranging conversations about illness, legacies, writing, poetry, death, theatre, politics, race, religion, parenting, poverty, libraries, pornography, and life. I made small talk that wasn’t small talk about parodies, calendars, brunches, rock bands, cat food, human food, dreams, real estate, bodies, television, laundry, coloring books, and more, and more, and more. These were conversations face-to-face, over the phone, and via the interwebs — a communications assault on all fronts.

I found myself dropped in conversations that were so unexpected they took my breath away. How did I get here? People surprised me with the size of their hearts, their intellects, their compassion, their blind spots. It was a week full of conversations laced with yearning and unsettledness. It was a week of seeking peace and seeking solutions where there were none. It was a week of reaching out for human connection with laughter and joy, with anger and frustration, with wonder, with confusion, with words, words, and more words…and some tears.

Human beings being human beings.

And I was so grateful. I am so grateful for all of those conversations. I am so eager for more because this was a week that left me vibrating and overwhelmed by the people I encountered. I felt literally impressed — pressed into — by the energy of humanity in a way that made me feel alive and exhausted by the possibilities and the mysteries and the answers on the horizon.

It was a highly caffeinated week.

Even though I love it, it is really scary for me to talk with people. Even though I want to, it’s really scariest for me to have high-wire conversations about the deep stuff of life with all those emotions along for the ride. God forbid I say something stupid or rude and have someone dislike me. God forbid I offend someone. What if someone gets angry? God forbid I have nothing interesting or comforting to say. What if I don’t have an answer when someone is looking to me for an answer? What if this conversation ‘gets out of control’?!

People are messy and the words that we use to communicate with each other can be confusing and frustrating and distracting. Conversations are incredibly inefficient — they take a lot of time. And who has time for anything these days? Sheesh, just send me an email. Sheesh, just get to the point. Just tell me what you want me to do. Many words = many opportunities for misunderstanding. And so much of what we are trying to convey is heart-stuff, laden with emotions and history and hopes that we can barely articulate to ourselves let alone another person.

Talking with people….it’s so much work.

For me, right now I think the work is worth it.

Yes, I think the work is worth it. I’m hanging in there (until I just need a break! until I just need to rest!) thru the hard messy stuff to keep talking. I want to. What do you think?

Real conversations — sincere attempts at connection and a commitment to vulnerability and understanding — we gotta have them to grow as individuals and as a community. Conversations build the (metaphorical) nets and bridges that we need to hold our society together. Conversations lead to commitments and actions that make change. Conversations light a fire under our butts, and help us re-examine our assumptions about responsibility and preconceived ideas of what other people think. Conversations tear down walls, and expose shoddy arguments and lies. Conversations reinforce connection and the idea that we live together on this planet. Of course, conversations lead to great art too.

I am grateful for the talking-talking-talking that makes my head hurt and keeps me awake at night like strong coffee. I am grateful for the seekers and bridge-builders who move thru my life with the curiosity and openness and respect that make these conversations possible. They drop keys/clues/crumbs into my lap that open ideas and connections I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. This is one way I learn about the world.

I am grateful that people allow me to speak and that they allow me to listen. (Yeah, cuz the listening is as important as the talking.)

Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep listening.

Let’s keep hanging in there, even we when need to pass the tissues all around, even when we question whether we should have had that fourth cup of coffee-like conversation.

A discussion about death over orange juice

“You’ll die first.”

My five year old daughter said that to me about two weeks ago. It was 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I was leaning into the fridge reaching for some orange juice. She was between bites of her cereal, sounding chirpy and chipmunky as she usually does.

“You’ll die first.”

Do not underestimate the creepiness of hearing your kid say that to you. Even on a bright Saturday morning while you are in your bathrobe and she is in her snowman pjs and all is right with the world — it was super creepy**. I admit I laughed, snorted and gulped at the same time wondering if I was about to have a kindergartener-exorcist-experience and marveling at how unexpected this parenting stuff is.

I aimed for an attitude of nonchalant curiosity as I emerged from the fridge with the oj. “What do you mean, honey? Can you tell me more? Do you have a question?”

Turns out that she was just confirming a logical sequence that she’d worked out in her head….it goes a little like this:

When people get really old, they die. Mom is older than me. Mom will get really old before I get really old. Therefore, Mom will die before I will die.

Mom will die first (before me). Right, Mom?

Yeah, and it was only 8:00 a.m. 

I agreed that she was right, that I would die first. Yep, yep, you bet, don’t worry about that. Knowing my kid as I do, I know she was looking for comfort and the standard assurance that if I did something first than it wouldn’t be so scary for her. That is her clear preference for how things work in our little family world — her dad and I pave the way, act things out, model behaviors, act as examples, then she feels safe enough to try for herself. On that Saturday morning, her little brain whispered something unsettling about her own mortality; she wanted to make sure that someone else was on the hook to figure that out first. That would be me….on the hook.

It is a sobering thought that your kid is looking to you to model how to approach death — even in the simplest-five-year-old understanding of that concept — yes, that is a sobering thought over Cheerios and coffee and orange juice and slippers and snowman pjs. I didn’t know I was signing up for that when I saw the double pink line on the pregnancy test, you know?

It’s not surprising though, when I consider that this kid is watching me all the time for clues about how to live in this world and how to interpret the events and the people in it. She is all the time looking for indications about what is frightening and what is not, what is safe and what is not, how to treat people/guests/family/friends/neighbors/strangers, how to express herself, the rules of society, the rules of being female, the rules of being a child, and more…She is looking to me and the other adults in her life to model very complicated ways of operating in the world — so she knows how to be and, more importantly, what to expect.

What can she expect? What should she expect? She wants to know. Geez, so do I.

So, death. It comes up from time to time. We see dead birds or dead animals in the woods – we attended my grandmother’s funeral – her grandparents’ dog died – she hears some snippet of news or adults talking or conversation at school about people dying or getting killed. Fairly often, she comes to me with questions about people who died and what that means for them and for us and for her.

I don’t know the answers to any of this. I don’t know what it all means. Once she learns how to read my blog, she’ll know that.

So, we talk about death. We talk about how the body stops working when you die — no more breathing, playing, moving, eating, sleeping, etc. We talk about the permanence of that bodily change (she doesn’t believe in the permanence — not one bit — that’s ok). We talk about our souls and what a soul might be and where it goes after death. Once we get beyond what happens to the body, I answer almost all of her questions about death with my own question “What do you think happens?” Because I’m curious. Because I want her to think it through in a way that makes sense to her five-year-old-mind. Because I don’t know. Currently, she is certain that all souls go directly to Mars to hang out after death. Alright by me. Alright for now.

Mostly, when she comes to me with questions, she’s really asking if she’s safe, if we are going to leave her, and if anything bad is going to happen in the immediate future. I have spent a great deal of time googling ‘age-appropriate conversations about death and dying’ — what the hell, I don’t know how to talk about this — and I’m doing my best to comfort her without feeding her misinformation. I’m doing my best not to make it all sound scary (like how much it scares me) and instead to frame death as a transition, as a mystery, as an aspect of life that we all have in common. I’m doing my best to make sure that she understands that no discussion topic is taboo whether it’s dying or sex or bodies or whatever, and that emotion-laded topics are not to be feared.  In this family, emotions are not to be feared, they are to be shared…even grief, even fear, even confusion, even courage, even love.

Even as I try to comfort her and remind her that she is safe, I know that life and death cannot be controlled. Bad, sad shit happens — wrong and out of order and out of tune and way too soon. I know this. I can’t control it. I can’t anticipate it. One day, she’ll come to me with more questions that I cannot answer about life, death, meaning, fairness, fate, and the f-ed up turning-wheel-of-fortune. In those moments, I will try like hell to hold space for her and her questions, and trust that she will find her own answers over time, as we all must. (Deep breath, deep breath)

In the meantime, I guess I’m showing her how to approach life as well as death (even as I’m figuring that out for myself in real time). I’m engaging what is frightening and what is not, what is safe and what is not; I’m considering how to treat people/guests/family/friends/neighbors/strangers, how to express myself, the rules of society, the rules of being female, the rules of being a child, and more…I am wrestling with the very complicated ways of operating in the world in the presence of my daughter knowing that she can see me and she is watching me live my life. 

We talk about living during this living-alive-portion-of-my-life. Daughter, let’s talk about life! I do my best to comfort her without feeding her misinformation. I do my best not to make it all sound scary (like how much life scares me) and instead to frame life as a series of transitions, as a mystery, as something else that we all have in common.

Like death, life still happens, even if we ignore it. I don’t want to ignore either one.

Yes.

Yes, I want her to be right about me ‘dying first’ (there’s something I never expected I would say).

Yes, that is ok with me.

I plan to live to hit the triple digits. If my soul goes to Mars when I’m 100, she’ll still be a spritely 65. As far as I’m concerned, ‘first’ doesn’t mean anytime soon.

Triple digits, baby.

** Unless you are a five-year-old innocent, please be cool and refrain from repeating this statement to me.

Cosmic creativity — say what?

This post was written before Hurricane Sandy started her march toward the coast. Today, I’m sending hopes and prayers for the safety and welfare of everyone in the path of the storm.

***

This is my 26th post. Hard to believe that this blog is almost seven months old! The more I write, the more I realize that I have a lot to figure out. I’m wandering around this blog, sprinkling words on a page, zeroing in on what I think and puzzling out my parenting, my creative work, and my life in general. Did I mention I’m still figuring stuff out? The practice of writing on a weekly basis has provided much needed accountability and discipline. I’m grateful for the folks who read these posts — I appreciate your support more than you might imagine — especially when I whip out my New Agey wandery thoughts like the ones in the post below. Ah, the discoveries we make about ourselves in the blogosphere…

***

When I am floundering about for some inspiration, I like to imagine there is a giant invisible net that catches all of the creative imaginings of the world. It’s accessible to everyone. If we are wide wide open and a little lucky, each of us can key into that mix on any given day. We reach in and snag an idea that is new to us. Then we mix, shake and stir that ‘new’ idea in with the rest of the thoughts kicking around in our brains and voila! Creative magic!

I like to imagine the properties of the new ideas – some light and skittish like birds – we hold them gently, calmly, moving slowly to build trust. Some ideas are sharp rocks – heavy, solid, dangerous, serious, ancient, beautiful. Some ideas are water, fire or wind — we cannot hold them, but we react to the sensations they create. Characterizing ideas this way helps me befriend the ones I do snag and helps put some distance between myself (I come up with ideas! This has sprung from my gifted imagination! I own it and control it!) and the inspiration (I stuck my hand out and caught this – now let me examine it and see what it is.)

How would you characterize the ideas you are working with now? How about previous ideas? Do you prefer certain kinds of ideas (heavy, flexible, reptilian, teeny, gray, melodic, etc.)? Which are easiest for you to grab?

So, on some deep level, I believe my ideas aren’t really ‘my’ ideas, even though I hold them in my hand (I’ve been lucky enough to coax them into my hand) and even though they are mine (for the moment) to explore. Ideas are gifts — gifts from the great cumulative imagination in a world of creative people, and gifts from something I read or saw or a conversation with an interesting person. In some ways this makes it easier for me to release an idea – if it’s not working for me, then I can let it go back into the great collective imagination soup, and someone else can have it (yeah, I re-gift it!). When I consider the number of people who are contributing to the world of ideas, I am comforted knowing that we will never run out – the people of the earth are reforming and transforming ideas that will lead to ideas that all pile back into the big basket of imaginings. Reach out and catch one.

In all of my creative work, even the stuff that seems solo-like, I have more than just myself to thank (this is always the case in collective art-making) because my ideas are influenced and shaped by the people and the culture and the environment and the world that I live in. In my experience, lone genius is a myth. Lone artist is a myth. As a creative person, it does me good to look to the world for inspiration, rather than just ruminate on my inner thoughts, and it does me good to be thankful to the world around me for the inspiration that presses up against me with every step. Thank you, world. Thank you, inspiring friends and creative partners and family and co-workers and community for the endless inspiration that you provide.

I haven’t fully formed this… but really, I think it’s the working of the idea that allows us to put a more personal stamp on it. To use a silly metaphor, it’s like Iron Chef right? We can all have the same ingredients (in this case, an idea or inspiration), but it’s what we cook with them that helps to define us and our aesthetic. So I wonder… maybe laboring so hard to protect ideas doesn’t make a lot of sense? Maybe hoarding inspiration doesn’t make sense? Maybe that’s a waste of energy since the ideas are going to slip thru the cracks anyway, and it’s likely they were never entirely our ideas to begin with? I wonder about all of this. What do you think?

[To be clear… I do have a soft spot for the cosmic accessibility of all ideas, but I’m not advocating for stealing in the art community. Don’t be a poopy-head by co-opting an idea that someone has been working on for a long time or has publicly declared as their special thing. There’s a difference between being gratefully inspired by someone or the happy accident of a shared idea, and purposefully leeching. It makes sense to tread lightly and thoughtfully in these cases, right? Also, I totally understand the need to have a ‘quiet phase’ in your creative art-making campaign; in marketing our art, we often need to leverage the element of surprise and program an ‘unveiling’ into our publicity plan. And sometimes people need to percolate on their ideas before sharing them. So I’m not accusing people of hoarding an idea just because they want to keep it close for awhile.]

Check out Austin Kleon’s great book, How to Steal like an Artist, for more about creativity and inspiration, most especially, Austin’s 25 Quotes to Help you Steal like an Artist. Fabulousness!

Anyway…here’s where I’m going with this, really…I think…

After we’ve caught an idea, perhaps our energy is best spent actually using the idea to create something. Instead of futzing around finding the ‘best’ idea, perhaps we should subscribe to the words of Nike, and “Just do it.” Don’t just think about running fast and dither about how everyone is running fast and you can’t run as fast as your neighbor and you had the idea to run fast FIRST and running fast isn’t really a GREAT idea….just run fast. You have the idea — you have an idea! — now put on your running shoes, and run with it. Explore. Run, in your way, in your body. Just do it. The doing is where the rubber meets the road. That’s where we can make our mark. That’s where the transformation, metamorphosing, and blooming occurs – that’s where you show what you’ve got and where you find yourself. Use the ingredients you’ve got to make something. For me, it’s even better when I make something in partnership with other people.

So if you find yourself thinking – “I can’t do X, someone’s already doing that” or “Does the world really need another X piece of art?” or anything else that shuts you down when you are only at the IDEA STAGE, then perhaps you can just start working with that idea in your own way and trust that no one will ever do things exactly like you. Make your worthy contribution to the creative world. Thank you.

If you have the same idea that someone else has, then perhaps you could work together — or — do your own thing and congratulate yourselves on how ‘great minds think alike’. Then, when you are finished creating, remember to send out literal or spiritual thanks to all of the contributors.

A rather cranky meditation on fear

I’ve done many things I regret*. (No, I’m not going to list them here. Hee.) A few very big things, many medium and small things, and hundreds of teeny thoughts or words or actions that pile up drop by drop over time. Here I am wading up to my knees in regrets – I wish I hadn’t ** I shouldn’t have ** I should have ** Why did I ** I wish I could GO BACK and do… ** How would things be now if I just did…?

Regrets swirling around me like Exxon Valdez-oil-spill water – chilly, thick, life-stealing. Mistakes and missteps. I am stained by them and stayed by them. Ruminating on the woulda, coulda, shouldas leads to regret-paralysis, and I am stuck – feeling  gross, ungrateful, angry, afraid, and deeply unattractive — unable to learn from the past, live in the present, or move freely into the future.

Here I am in this familiar territory (I must like it here, I go here a lot), soaked and cold like a stone, self-indulgent, whining, trying to make sense of the drop by drop by drop….

There are many strained metaphors we could employ at this point in the post to solve this ‘regret problem’ —  I could clean and wash away my regrets, I could pull the drain and let them go, I could just accept them and don a pair of stylish wading boots, I could turn up the compassion in my heart and let the regrets evaporate in that loving heat, or perhaps in some twist of fate, Deus Ex Machina style, someone could save me and haul me out of my regret soup and fly me off in a private helicopter to a paradise where regret couldn’t find me. I guess those are all possibilities or blog posts or whatever, but here’s the deal….here’s the damn discovery that I am working with and working with and working with and making frustratingly little progress….almost all (maybe ALL?) of the things that I regret doing were motivated by fear. Fear is my greatest regret. My greatest regrets are linked to the times I was most afraid. In my fear, I turn ungenerous, mean, angry, grasping and cold. I run run run. My thinking gets muddled, my heart is eclipsed – at best I am clumsy in thought and deed, at worst I am destructive – and these actions, no matter how compassionate I try to be toward myself after the fact – all translate to thorny sticking regret. Most of my bad decisions have been built on a foundation of fear.**

Once upon a time, during a therapy session, a woman wept about one of the BIG things she regretted doing and how disappointed she was to discover ‘she wasn’t the person she thought she was.’ Wise therapist responded, “Look, your fear kept you from being the person you are. Your fear obstructed your sight and restricted you from acting as your authentic self. Your mind created a vivid scary vision of the future that seemed real to you, so you freaked out. But fear isn’t reality, it’s just fear.”

Yeah, ‘just fear.’ Enlightening, sure (a life-changing conversation actually), but also a little overwhelming to someone who’s ‘just afraid’ of so many things, many of which she cannot even articulate. You might never guess this about her.

But it’s irritating, right? My fear is so annoying. And boring. Boring and annoying and persistent.  And I know that I’m not the only one with a made-up-never-gonna-happen-and-who-cares-if-does fear. I mean, what the hell? As people who are so privileged and lucky, who have so very much, what are we afraid of exactly? Really, what is there to be afraid of in our wonderful lives? Shame on me, shame on us for being so fearful. (Not a compassionate response, I know).  It’s ridiculous and embarrassing and disappointing and deeply human. I don’t want to be deeply human. I’d rather be a movie star instead. Sigh.

So, in a somewhat reluctant effort to step in the direction of a happier, lighter, and more equanimous life, I am working on this.  All roads seem to lead back to mastering, befriending, or getting around my fears. I suppose I have to deal with that. Boo. Hiss. Damn. Boo and hiss and damn.

I’ll get back to you about how exactly I’m going to deal with it. Dude, I can’t figure it out today.

As Fran says in Strictly Ballroom, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived”. Right? [This is a fabulous movie directed by Baz Luhrman. I love Baz Lurhman. You should see it.] I’d like to do some whole-living,  please, as scary as that seems. I’d like to cha-cha down the yellow brick road and ask the Wizard of Oz for some courage, please, so that I can more fully realize the person I am.

Sorting out how to do this consistently  – to be brave or at ease or sit with my fear – this seems complicated and hard, and frankly, makes me feel all sorts of cranky. But geez, what is the alternative, really? A lifetime of regrets? A lifetime of having a heart that’s two sizes too small? A half-life?

*I’ve also done some things I definitely don’t regret like moving to NC, marrying my husband, becoming a mom, making theatre, and having some fabulous friends and family. So there’s that.

**It probably goes without saying, but I am not referring to legit fears about health, safety and well-being. Obviously, in those cases, it is wisest to listen to your body and your heart, take your fear seriously, and get help. It’s ok to ask for help when you are afraid. In this post, I’m referring to those gauzy ill-formed imagined fears that can make a person act unskillfully, such as fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking weak/stupid/ugly/dumb, fear of disappearing or being irrelevant, imposter syndrome, fear of being alone, fear of not having enough/being enough/doing enough, fear of missing out, fear of not leaving a legacy, etc….and of course those fears we can’t do anything about like the fear of getting older and of dying.

How to fall like a cat

I’m intensely afraid of falling. Roller coasters? Um, an emphatic NO THANK YOU. I don’t have that fun kind of titillating scary wheeeee! experience on the coasters. I despise them. I fear them. Even riding the Ferris wheel at the NC State Fair has me muttering protective spells under my breath and trying not to show my 3 year old that I’m on the verge of passing out from fear. It’s funny — I’m not afraid of heights (as long as I am firmly strapped in to something sturdy that will not allow me to fall and does not move), and I’m not afraid of being upside down (fun!), or going very fast (fun!), or spinning (fun!), but I am truly undone by the sensation of falling.

Now if you were me, you might mull on this fear of falling and engage in strange internet research about ‘how to survive falls from a great height’. You might consider whether you had a metaphorical fear of falling as well, and you might discover that indeed you are afraid of any kind of falling — the literal and the metaphorical. You might spend a lot of time staring at your cats and marveling at the feline ability to survive falls.* Then you might ask yourself the question, “How can I fall like a cat?”. [Wow, if you were me, then you’d do exactly what I did. Amazing!]

Of course, I’m not literally asking “How can I fall like a cat?” because I’m not a cat and I’m not actually going to cure myself of roller coaster fears. My band aid approach for that is simply not to ride them. Ever. But metaphorically speaking, I like the rush of spending time high up in the trees of art and ideas, cavorting and pouncing along with other folks, and once in awhile I miss the next branch or someone knocks me off. Knowing how to survive a fall is essential for creative, risk-taking, vulnerable lives.

Who am I? A cat reflects.

So, if you haven’t done your pre-reading on cat-falling, I recommend the great post on the blog Science-based Life titled “How do cats survive falls from great heights?”. Check it out for details and some good falling cat photos. There’s also a quote below from the Animal Planet site.

How do cats manage to take falling so easily? For one thing, in comparison to human beings, a cat is much smaller and lighter. Also, a cat has more body surface area in proportion to its weight than a human being has. This increase in surface area results in greater air resistance, which slows the fall. The important thing, however, is that a falling cat apparently positions itself to form a sort of parachute. Less than one second after it starts to fall, a cat quickly rights itself in midair with all four legs pointing downward. The cat’s inner ears act like an internal gyroscope, telling the cat which direction it is falling. With the legs pointed downward, the cat then spreads its legs so that its body forms a sort of parachute that increases air resistance. With its limbs flexed, the cat also cushions the force of impact by landing on all four legs. The force of the impact is distributed through the muscles and joints.

So, this is a little odd, but I’ve assembled a list of tips to help me ‘make like a falling cat’ when things go unexpectedly wrong in my life. You’ll see them below. Hopefully these will allow all of us to walk away from a fall relatively unscathed.

How to fall like a cat (not literally, just when things go wrong in your life and you feel like you are speeding toward the ground):

Tip 1: Stay light. Cats are smaller and lighter than humans. They don’t jump around in the trees with their baggage strapped to their backs. They don’t carry years of unresolved resentments, expectations, and therapy-worthy self-talk as they cavort among the branches. All of that junk just falls with you (and on you) when you hit the ground. If you don’t carry it, it can’t fall on you. So let it go before you go climbing up high. Stay light, step lightly, take things lightly.

Tip 2: Increase surface area. I don’t know about you, but when I feel things are ‘going south’, I want to roll up into myself like a human cannonball. However, when we feel the sensation of falling, let’s resist our hedgehog nature, ok? Cats don’t contract. Rather, they make like a parachute and stretch out their limbs, increasing surface area to slow the fall. Increase your surface area by breathing and creating space in your body. Stretch out limbs and hands and face, and then ease into something that resembles a physically relaxed state. Ask your mind and heart to stay open to the experience. Reach out to people — not to drag them down with you, but so they can help you remain open (and perhaps they can lend you a hand). Breathe and open, open like a parachute to slow the fall.

Tip 3: Orient yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the HOLY SH!T of falling and remain overwhelmed by it until you’ve hit the ground. However, if possible, and as soon as possible, orient yourself. Which way is up? Which way is down? What’s the landscape and where are you headed? What can you do? What resources are available to soften your landing? Understand what is happening in the moment. Orient yourself so you can land feet first.

Tip 4: Land on both feet. “Stick the landing” like the very best gymnast, and do your best not to land flat on your back, your head or your butt. A poor landing results in cats (and people) getting hurt and looking ridiculous. Landing on your feet requires orienting yourself (see tip above), an attitude of confidence and grace, acknowledging that you are falling, and the ability to respond to it. It also requires a lot of practice. Gulp.

How are you at falling? Do you have a literal fear that matches up nicely with a metaphorical fear? What are your ways of dealing with falling, with fear… with cats?

*P.S. No cats were harmed in the making of this blog post. Please respect and be kind to your cats.