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.

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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…

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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.

I want pizza: Losing ourselves in the Atlanta airport

The mother of all tantrums. You know, the one when you and your kid totally lose it? The one that you fear as a parent?

THE GIANT LENGTHY EXTENDED RE-MIX OF ALL THE PREVIOUS TANTRUMS TURNED UP TO ELEVEN ON THE VOLUME KNOB — THE MOST PUBLICLY HUMILIATING SCREAMFEST COMPLETE WITH VIOLENT FLAILING TO HIGHLIGHT AND UNDERLINE YOUR INEPT PARENTING – IN THE AIRPORT AND THEN ON THE AIRPLANE WHERE YOU CANNOT ESCAPE – DURING WHICH YOUR USUALLY LOVELY CHILD GIVES HER BEST IMPRESSION OF THAT KID FROM THE EXORCIST WHILE SCREAMING “GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME. DON’T TOUCH ME. I WANT TO GET AWAY FROM YOU. I DON’T WANT AIRPLANE. NO NO NOOOOOO AIRPLANE” – AND YOU TRY ALL SORTS OF CALM AND LOVING SOOTHING MOM-TRICKS BUT NOTHING THAT YOU TRY WORKS TO CALM YOUR CHILD AND STOP HER SCREAMING —  PEOPLE STOP AND STARE AND WONDER IF YOU ARE KIDNAPPING OR HURTING THE KID AND THEN THEY WONDER WHY YOUR FOUR-YEAR OLD CHILD WHO IS NOT A BABY ANYMORE IS COMPLETELY LOSING IT AND THEN PEOPLE GET OUT OF YOUR WAY AND LET YOU CUT IN LINE SO YOU CAN HAUL YOUR CHILD (WHO IS KICKING AND HITTING YOU) INTO HER SEAT AND YOU HOLD HER DOWN AND BUCKLE HER IN. AND SHE KEEPS KICKING YOU AND SCREAMING UNTIL YOU GRAB HER LEGS AND ARMS AND SAY IN YOUR SCARIEST MEANEST TEETH-BARED SQUINTY-EYED MOM WHISPER, “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. STOP IT.” And then your kid stops screaming because you scared her speechless with your violent-sounding whisper. Then she starts quietly crying with very sad eyes. She says, “Mom, you scared me. I didn’t like it when you said bad words to me. You hurt my feelings, Mom. You broke my heart, Mom.” You unbuckle her seatbelt and she climbs into your lap for a hug. And everyone feels like crap.

You know that tantrum? Yeah, that was last Saturday. Apologies to the people in Terminal A of the Atlanta airport and to my fellow passengers on the flight from Atlanta to Raleigh-Durham. I would have beamed us the hell out of there if I could have. And I tried everything I could think of to stem, re-direct, or wrap up our mutual misery, but this tantrum was a boulder rolling down hill — it kept picking up speed until it hit the bottom.

Upon reflection, on the scale of No-Big-Deal to Completely-Awful, I’d say that experience was 100% Completely Awful. Yes, she’s had tantrums before. God knows, ‘the year of living with a two-year old’ was full of fits, but this was definitely the biggest. And it was the second part of a horrible tantrum double-feature because the night before she had a massive meltdown during bath time. So, on airport-day we were starting with a rather depleted emotional reserve.

Next time we are in the airport, I will miss our connecting flight so that we can buy pizza for lunch instead of opting for the snacks in my back-pack. The decision to get out of the Pizza Hut line (which wasn’t moving at all and they didn’t even have the pizza that we wanted in the express area so they were going to have to cook a fresh pizza just for us and our flight was boarding!)…um, the decision to leave the Pizza Hut line was the precipitating and unacceptable incident that set us on the wild ride to Crazy Tantrum Town. Thanks for nothing and screw you, Pizza Hut.

Right, it wasn’t Pizza Hut’s fault. We’d just had a wonderful and exciting trip out West to see cousins with lots of fun activities and little sleep. We were both off our routine, tired and sad to leave family. We’re both introverts who’d engaged in a lot of extroverted behavior, and we both have some challenges transitioning from one thing to the next. Can you see what this adds up to in the Atlanta airport when we were starving for pizza but we didn’t have time for pizza because our flight was boarding and one of us is a four-year old who doesn’t understand the concept of time but does understand the concept of not having food? Yeah. I totally botched the transition from pizza line to airplane and then botched trying to explain it in a way she could understand and then it was too late so I had to drag her onto the airplane and scare her into silence. Bad bad Mommy.

My experience of parenting = one humbling experience after another.

On the airplane, in a calmer state of mind and firmly buckled in once more, my daughter began to repeat, “But if I got lost, then I’d miss my mommy,” and she’d cry a little. I couldn’t figure out what getting lost in the airport had to do with the hell we’d just gone through, so I asked her about it, and she’d cry and repeat again, “But if I got lost, then I’d miss my mommy.” [One handy thing about my kid is that she just keeps repeating herself until I figure out what’s going on. She gives me lots of chances.] Finally, I got it. “Oh, you were so mad at me in the airport that you wanted to run away, but you didn’t because you were afraid that you’d get lost.” She nodded.

Oh wow, even four-year olds want to run away and get lost…and are afraid that getting lost means they will not be found.

“Honey,” I said, “if you get lost, I will miss you right away and then I will find you. Don’t worry about that. It’s ok to be angry at me sometimes. And if you get mad or if you get lost, I will find you.” The the airplane took off, and we were on our way home.

Sigh. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

I get lost a lot and it’s scary. I don’t know if I find myself or she finds me or if I just wander around until things start looking familiar again.

My experience of parenting = losing and finding myself, my kid, my mind….over and over and over again.

How did you memorize those lines?

“How did you memorize those lines?” I heard this question for the first time as an undergraduate sitting in the audience during a post-show conversation with the actors.

The “How did you memorize those lines?” question elicited eye-rolling, sneers, and ill-concealed laughter from my theatre-major friends and me. (We experimented with a lot of things back then, but compassion wasn’t really one of them.) Of all the questions in the world, that was the most boring, and even disrespectful. To us, asking an actor how she memorized her words was like asking a chef how she learned to boil water. Like, who cares? Ideally after all, by the time the play is performed, the actor has been wrestling with characterization, motivation, physicalization, concentration, comic timing, emotion, back-stage politics, the arc of the show and the journey of her character. Performing in a play is the most fun and wonderfully addictive experience ever, but it’s also an enormous amount of work, requiring the ability to take risks, manage fear, play well with others, jump into the unknown and surrender to the art. Memorizing the words is just the crappy scut work that you do to get to the good stuff. Put in the time, pound it out and memorize your stuff. It ain’t fun, it ain’t glamorous. And like,why would we want to spend time talking about it?

As a side note, I’ve heard the ‘memorize-lines question’ in post-show discussions many times since then. For plays with complex language sequences, that question can reveal interesting tidbits about how shows come together in rehearsal. However, I think it generally surfaces when audience members don’t know what else to say. If audience members don’t have something to say after 90-120 minutes of live theatre, then that’s very interesting, right? Perhaps they need guidance, guidelines, or a new configuration of people to dialogue with (content experts, designers, the playwright, the artistic director, etc.)? For a fantastic article about post-show discussions, check out Brant Russell’s article on HowlRound. Yes, I’d like to lead your next post-show conversation. Contact me and we’ll talk.

Back to the subject matter at hand….
So, friends, the karma-machine has struck again, kicking me well and fully in the butt. Because now I am asking that same question….of MYSELF.

I’ve been cast in Little Green Pig’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard II which will be performed this September. Hurrah! I’m extremely truly grateful for the opportunity. I’m super excited. I’m going to work my tail off. But holy cow, how am I going to memorize these lines? I am now fantasizing about a post-show discussion when someone will ask me, “Tamara, how did you memorize those lines?” and I can say, “Well, friend, this is how I did it…”. And I will have done it. Can we skip to that part?

The good news is Willie Shakes gave my character lots of rhymes and a fairly consistent iambic pentameter. So at this point, I know when I’m missing words, and I know the ending words for two sentences back-to-back. However, I don’t so much know the words in between. Hopefully, the audience won’t mind when I say, “Shall I da DUM da DUM da DUM da sight? Or with da DUM da DUM da DUM da height?” Impressive, yes?

The language is beautiful, lush, evocative, and in my character’s case, rather bloody. So inspiring. So damn tricky to memorize. Here’s an example:

O God defend my soul from such deep sin!
Shall I seem crest-fall’n in my mother’s sight?
Or with pale beggar-fear impeach my height
Before this out-dared dastard? Ere my tongue
Shall wound my honour with such feeble wrong,
Or sound so base a parle, my teeth shall tear
The slavish motive of recanting fear,
And spit it bleeding in her high disgrace,
Where shame doth harbour, even in Mowbray’s face.

What the what!? Are you feeling sorry for me or sneering like the 20 year-old undergraduate me? Regardless, the fact remains that I must memorize these lines or else. Fear = the best motivator!

So what’s the plan? It’s not complicated, but here it is:

  • Start now. Work everyday. Carry my script wherever I go in case of unexpected downtime.
  • Work with my eyes, ears, and mouth and mind. This means reading the words and picturing them on the page. Listening to myself saying them over and over. Feeling myself speaking the words so I get them in my mouth. Mapping the words in my mind thru various associations and word games. Eventually, I’ll get the body in on it when we’re in rehearsal and can connect the words to action and location.
  • Reconcile myself to the uncomfortableness of this process. Training for a marathon doesn’t feel like skipping-to-the-lou. It’s going to be hard, get over it.
  • Enlist the help of my sweet husband and any other person who will help me run lines. There is no app for this (well, there is, but not one exactly like what I need). For me, there’s no substitute for a live someone who will work patiently with me over and over again.
  • Indulge in a large quantity of profanity without judgement. I don’t swear much, but learning my lines gives me potty mouth. Not good creative swears either, but clumsy ugly strings of mumbled curses. It’s embarrassing, but it happens every time and I just can’t sweat it.
  • Use the power of positive thinking. Yes, I’m a gigantic super-dork! But seriously, if I can’t cheer-lead myself through this, then that’s just self-defeating, isn’t it? I’m going to be doing some powerful positive visualizing and self-talk.
  • And lastly..it’s painful even to type this….I’m going to start running (um, jogging). The last time I performed Shakespeare (a long time ago), the rhythm of running helped me learn my lines and build the breath control to say them. I really hate running, but I’m going to try it. Please, wish me luck.

What works for you when you are facing a challenging task (memorization or otherwise)? How do you motivate yourself and organize your work on a specific project? Are you wondering why I spent time writing this post instead of working on my lines?

I don’t want boo-boo

A few weeks ago, my daughter tripped on the sidewalk and skinned both knees and the palms of her hands. These were the real deal — bloody, angry-looking, quarter-sized sidewalk burns. Just looking at her injuries made me wince, gritting my teeth as I recalled the hot-burning-jabbing-needles sense-memory of the childhood skinned knee.

My kid is not really the stoic-stiff-upper-lip type. Rather, she has a tendency to narrate every twinge of her pain with a dramatic flare (ok, so that’s just like me…).

Anyway, I knew this was going to be a real challenge for both of us right from the start. She screamed as soon as she fell and continued screaming as I bundled her into the house in my most efficient faux-comforting way (I was focused on keeping her blood from dripping onto my clothing).

For the next twenty minutes or so, she alternated between her scream/siren/wail and the tearful chant, ” I don’t WANT boo-boo. I don’t WANT boo-boo.” As a mom on high alert, I pulled out every tool in my tool-box to fix this situation, stop her pain, and stop the noise. Oh, God, stop the screaming!

  • I offered boo-boo cures: band-aid, ice-pack, cool washcloth, antibiotic cream, pain reliever.
  • I tried distraction: TV, games, music, books, snacks, dollies
  • I cuddled and hugged and kissed and rocked and soothed.
  • I laughed and made jokes. I offered the “just shake it off” speech. I scolded the sidewalk for tripping her. I suggested other shoes to wear. I apologized.
  • I encouraged her to calm her body, calm her voice and take deep breaths. I quietly shushed in her ear. I told her it was ok about 500 times (ignoring the fact that it was clearly not ok).

None of those stemmed the tide. During this mom-barrage of fix-its, I felt annoyed, calm, worried, guilty, sad, confused, embarrassed, crazy, loving, ridiculous, and ‘over it’. I feared  the constant repetition of “I don’t WANT boo-boo” would plunge me into madness. I bargained with God and any spirits that might be listening.

Finally, feeling exhausted and out of ideas, I started chanting along with her, “I don’t WANT boo-boo. I don’t WANT boo-boo.”

That did it. She continued to cry, but the wailing quieted so she could hear me.

And this is what I said…

“I don’t WANT you to have a boo-boo either, honey. I know you really hurt because boo-boos hurt a lot. Sometimes we just need to wait until the boo-boo stops hurting. We’ll sit here together until the pain goes away and you feel better. Then you’ll know your body is starting to heal and your boo-boo is getting better. Sometime we sit until the boo-boo stops hurting and that’s all we can do. I love you very much, but I can’t make it go away. I wish I could, but I can’t make it go away. I love you. We’ll just wait here together.”

We sat in silence for another ten minutes. She huddled on my lap teary and sniffling. I took deep breaths and rubbed her back.

She said, “Ok, Mom, I feel better now.” We went downstairs to play. I slugged down a shot of tequila and two Valium. (Just kidding about the booze and drugs.)

Since then I find myself chanting “I don’t WANT boo-boo” on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes I say it to make myself chuckle, but often I really mean it. Stuff comes up all the time — life-stuff, work-stuff, body-stuff, relationship-stuff, creative-stuff — that I don’t WANT. I don’t want to do it, deal with it, solve it, smile thru it. I don’t want to be exhausted, sad, pained, fearful, jealous, hurt, angry, anxious, freaked out, examined, uncomfortable, taken advantage of. I WANT it to go away. (See Running with Monsters post, right?) In my more lucid moments (after chanting “I don’t WANT boo-boo” about forty-five times), I remember to sit still and breath and wait. I wait to see if I can feel a little better. I wait to see if there’s a little less pain there than the moment before. I sit very still with the understanding that falling down hurts, and life can skin both knees and the palms of your hands, and there isn’t always a quick fix (or any fix) for that.

I’ve discovered that sitting with love can take the edge off of my figurative boo-boos. That love can take the form of a pet or a person, alive or dead. For me, the person could be a friend, co-worker, partner, family member, stranger, 3-year-old or even myself when I’m feeling inclined to treat myself with kindness. Sitting with someone and feeling compassion, kindness, understanding and love allows me to gradually reframe the situation and rephrase my chant from “I don’t WANT boo-boo” to “I feel a little BETTER. I feel a little BETTER.” I remind myself that healing takes as much time as it takes.

If you have been one of those loving people, thank you.

What do you tell yourself when life hurts? What makes you feel better?

Running toward monsters

If you ask my daughter what she’d like to be when she grows up, she’ll say a fairy-princess-ballerina. If anyone can do that, she’ll be the one. It’s been a long journey for us to Princessville. For a long time, I resisted cluttering her little girl life with what I considered to be the mind-numbing coquettishness of Disney prinnies, but with an admirable tenacity and sneakiness, those princesses have wormed their way into our lives (along with their fairy and ballerina cousins). She really loves their royal Pinknesses, and I’ve decided not to judge my daughter just because she wants to be a fairy-princess-ballerina. Heck, when I was little I wanted to be Carol Alt, the first female President of the United States. Plans change. And who am I to judge?

Monster-chases-the-Princess is her favorite game. She plays it with me, her dad, her little friends. Last time we played this game, I realized something very alarming. My daughter doesn’t run away. When she’s the princess, she doesn’t run. Sometimes she just freezes and squeals. Even worse, sometimes she runs toward the Monster and embraces it!

What?

First, I tried coaching her (which was confusing when I was playing the Monster). “Run, honey, run away!” This had no effect. I called my husband and told him that we needed to enroll her in Tae Kwon Do immediately so she could learn to defend herself. Forget this ballet class crap, if she wasn’t going to run, then she could at least learn how to punch and kick the Monsters in her life. “Why doesn’t she run when she’s scared?” I asked him, “Why doesn’t she run away?”

As you can probably tell, I fastened a metaphor jetpack onto this incident and blew it up to signify that she would be taken advantage of by her friends, she would never defend herself, she would stick around even if things or people got scary, she would be too nice for her own good. I flew into a complete and utter panic.

But here’s the thing…I’m a runner. Not physically of course (ewww!), but metaphorically speaking, my tendency is to roll out when things get tough. When my Monsters come calling, I look for the exit sign and employ the strategies of get out, slip out, cut people out, make it go away, and leave. It’s true I’m peaceable, I avoid conflict, I have an appropriately developed sense of self-preservation, but mostly I’m just scared to stick around and deal with the hard bits in life. I’m still learning there’s a difference between ‘hard’ and ‘bad’. And I’m still learning that fear is just a feeling, just a state of mind. Thus far in my life, running from my Monsters has not helped me get away from them. In fact, I just used up a lot of energy and money moving me (and my Monsters) around.

So there’s something beautiful about my daughter’s willingness to run toward her Monster even if it’s just a silly game that she plays with her mom. There’s something touching about her willingness to embrace what scares her (because she really does get scared every time). And something wise about her knowing which is a real Monster and which is a pretend Monster. The pretend Monsters aren’t worth running from, you know?

The adult version of this running-toward-monsters seems hard. I’m gonna try it.

So, tell me…What’s your strategy when your ‘Monsters’ come calling? Has that strategy changed over time? How do you keep yourself brave and steady when things get tough?

P.S. In the event of a real Monster or other dangerous situation, run! If you find yourself in an unsafe situation of any kind, then do what you need to do to stay safe — no running toward real monsters! Find yourself a police officer, therapist, or reliable friend to help you out. In this post, I’m talking about those seemingly scary and anxiety-inducing messages we tell ourselves that are simply just unhelpful interpretations of our lives.