Waking up to baby

Early last year, after a long string of miscarriages and unexplained infertility issues combined with my ever-advancing maternal age, I accepted that I wouldn’t be giving birth to anymore babies. I wrote a post titled Baby Sarah which was an opportunity for me to acknowledge my acceptance (and sadness) as well as give voice to the hope that our family might grow in other lovely and unexpected ways:

Perhaps our family will expand to include animals (rescue pets? chickens?! goats!!), or neighborhood kids, or my daughter’s friends, or adult friends, or people united by a cause, or wise elderly folks, or amazing teams of people working on creative projects. My sweet friend told me, “you will be surprised at the ways souls come into your life to fill up the spaces in your heart.”

The spaces in my heart are waiting to be surprised.

I was very sad. I was increasingly grateful for my daughter and our little family. (You know what’s awesome? First graders are awesome.) And then I moved on. I didn’t get goats or chickens, but I felt myself expand as I incorporated new surprises and experiences. I quit my full-time day job. I took on freelance projects that felt scary and challenging and exhilarating. I finally got my passport and researched exotic beachy destinations with great cocktails. I took Zumba classes and yoga classes with the zeal of the newly converted. I began to cook meals from scratch (a big deal for a professional microwaver like me). And I gave away or sold ALL of the ten tons of baby paraphernalia in my house. Space. Freedom. Strength. Growth. Gratitude.

Then…a happy accident? An unexpected development? I got pregnant.

Surprise! I’m pregnant.

There is an actual heart-beating baby in this old belly. Surprise, Me! Surprise, Everyone! Surprise!

In the Baby Sarah post, I wrote:

I’m casting out trust into the universe, into the cosmic web of connection. At this juncture, I’m trusting that if our family grows (if we even have the time and space to grow!), then it will grow in another, surprising way…

To me at least, being pregnant again qualifies as “another, surprising way” for our family to grow. I didn’t believe in that possibility anymore. Indeed, the spaces in my heart have been amply surprised by this development. Good one, Universe. Well played.

Now, almost half way thru this pregnancy, I am almost ready to accept that this baby might actually happen. After failed pregnancies, non-pregnancies, and a lot of tangled up feelings, it seemed emotionally safer to be in a state of relative denial over these last months. Every doctor’s appointment was a gauntlet to be run, every ultrasound had me on tenterhooks. It has been a hunkering-down, harrowing, contracted kind of time for me. And truth be told, I have been rather overwhelmed by this huge change in my life course. This was not what I expected! I made other plans! I’m on a different track now with space and freedom and creative possibilities! Must I be banished again to those yearning early childhood years in Motherland? GAH!

However.

Today, I woke up. I woke up again to my life. To the life inside me. To the life around me. I built a bridge, got over myself and my bullsh!t, and joined again the land of the living where sometimes surprises are good and can be welcomed and embraced. Like now.

Today, I am laughing at this great surprise. Today, I am hugely tickled by the machinations of the universe, by my wacky biology, by the timing of the bun in my oven. Today, I am accepting and open to this possibility. Funny, I wrote about possibilities in Baby Sarah last year:

We can fill those spaces in our hearts in surprising ways. This is possible. There are possibilities I’ve never considered before.

And I love possibilities.

That’s still true. This is possible. I love possibilities. Of course I love this one and what it means for my life. How could I not? Yes, I don’t know specifically what the arrival of this baby means for my always-fledgling career as an art maker, or my dreams of exotic destinations, or my Zumba classes. Either I will carry on with them as planned (my hope!), or I will create new experiences of space, freedom, strength, growth, and gratitude in my life. Because that’s what we do… if we can, right? Accept, adapt, and love. My friend told me, “Children don’t restrict our creativity. They add creativity to our lives because they demand that we live in a new way. They demand that we live creatively.”

Well, I don’t know about that, friend. Sometimes it seems that way and sometimes not so much, but it’s cool. I don’t need to make any predictions at this point. I’m just going to hang on for the ride and do my best to keep smiling all the way. Wheeeeeee!

As you might imagine, my daughter was thrilled-out-of-her-mind to find out she was having a little sib. Although after years of exaggerating the truth (lying!) about it, no one believed her when she made the announcement to friends and family. A funny lesson in crying wolf, I guess.

When my husband and I sat her down to reveal that she was going to be a big sister, she promptly burst into tears. “What’s wrong?!” I asked (Geez, sibling rivalry, jealousy, already!?), “Why are you crying?!”

She said, “These are happy tears. I’m just so happy.”

Her face was shining. My heart was melting.

She might not be crying happy tears in a few years when her toddler brother* is hitting her in the face and pulling her hair. However, today, I’m relishing and reveling in her sweet words and our beautiful gift and crying some happy tears myself.

Cross your fingers for me, will you? Wheeeee!

*My advanced maternal age and previous preg issues required some additional testing, so we did find out early that this next child will be a boy.

Gratitude, journaling, and new horizons

For the last 15 months, I worked in the Duke University Hospital as the Literary Arts Coordinator for Arts & Health at Duke. During that time, I spoke with hundreds of people about journaling as a tool for self-care, creative expression, and legacy-building. I worked with staff, patients, and caregivers, in large groups, small groups and individually. I led workshops, retreats, and conducted beside visits. I used poetry, visual images, writing prompts, lists, humor, conversation, theatre games, and all sorts of other springboards to encourage people to write and reflect and connect. It was a unique and deep opportunity for me. The work felt important and meaningful. I loved my job and the people there, and I felt like I was good at it — which is such a satisfying feeling, right?

Hard to say good-bye to that.

However, for family/life/balance/creative-project reasons, I made the difficult decision to conclude my time in that position. Moving forward, I will be working as a freelancer — making theatre as a playwright and actor and director, coaching art-makers and journal-writers, teaching workshops, and leaping into who-knows-what-kind-of-other-projects. It’s exciting and scary.

I learned an enormous amount in the last 15 months; possibly more than at any other time except the first 15 months of my daughter’s life. I’m so grateful for that learning and the opportunities that I was given as Literary Arts Coordinator, and I’m so grateful for the open-hearted and generous staff I worked alongside at Duke University Hospital and Clinics.

For this blog…occasionally, I plan to write about journaling and include some of the tips/tricks/inspiration that I’ve found helpful. I’m fully converted into believing in the power of journaling as a tool for self-care, creative expression, and legacy-building. And I think (I hope) I have some compelling thoughts to share about that.

If you’ve ever wanted to write (for yourselves or for others), if you feel like you have a story to share, if you are stressed and need an outlet, if you want to leave ‘something behind’ for your friends or family, then consider journaling, ok? If you’re already journaling (hurrah for you!) — maybe you might be interested in some other writing options that I’ll share? Yes?

Stayed tuned for more.

Wishing you all the best.

Baby Sarah

My daughter is telling everyone that I am pregnant with a baby girl named Sarah. (I’m not.) After the third person at her school congratulated me on this fictitious pregnancy, I asked her why she was telling people this. She replied, “Because it makes people happy when I say that.” Yeah.

My daughter loves babies. She draws pictures of them all the time. Her second word, after ‘hi’, was ‘baby.’ When I told her I wasn’t having anymore babies, she cried big fat tears and asked angrily, “How would you feel if you wanted a baby sister and someone said you couldn’t have one?”

I told her I would feel sad.

So. There won’t be anymore babies in my belly. The how and why of that is long, complicated, and personal, but unless a baby arrives Moses-style on our doorstep (speaking metaphorically), my child won’t have any siblings who share her last name. I feel grief about this. I feel relief at finally being able to let go of the two tons of baby-parphenalia in my house. I feel down-on-my-knees-heart-swelling grateful for my daughter and the life we have together.

So, I’m working on trust right now. I’m casting out trust into the universe, into the cosmic web of connection. At this juncture, I’m trusting that if our family grows (if we even have the time and space to grow!), then it will grow in another, surprising way — perhaps even in a way that doesn’t include babies. Perhaps our family will expand to include animals (rescue pets? chickens?! goats!!), or neighborhood kids, or my daughter’s friends, or adult friends, or people united by a cause, or wise elderly folks, or amazing teams of people working on creative projects. My sweet friend told me, “you will be surprised at the ways souls come into your life to fill up the spaces in your heart.”

The spaces in my heart are waiting to be surprised.

I’m going to trust that my daughter will find her ‘soul sisters’ and ‘soul brothers’ in her lifetime. I’m going to trust that she will find and choose a ‘sister’ like my sister and a ‘brother’ like my husband’s brother. She will find and choose a sibling-like relationship if she needs one, and people will find and choose her. Already, she is lucky to have some wonderful (though faraway) cousins.

We’ll just have to wait and see how she creates and lives into her extended family TBD.

These days, as I’m trusting-trusting-trusting,  I’m also working with the notion that we create our families. I’m considering the idea that the families we are born into, the families we chose, and the families who chose us, are a construction built by the people involved.

And I am comforted by the thought that there is some latitude in thinking about how this will work for us — for the current three-people-in-a-household-family that I have.

(Yes, I know I’m really late to the party on this.) These days I’m percolating on the idea that my-little-three-person-household might loosen up our narrow thinking around what a family can be. We can make the rules; we can tell the story. We can identify the players and the relationships and the boundaries. We can choose the words we’ll use to describe each other. We can make a compact (explicitly or implicitly) to love and care for those souls in our extended family of choice, as well as in our ’traditional’ family. We can locate our village (“it takes a village”) and choose to participate in that village-life too.

We might still have a ‘baby Sarah’ in our lives — she just might be someone else’s baby we love or she might not be a baby at all (see above). We can fill those spaces in our hearts in surprising ways. This is possible. There are possibilities I’ve never considered before.

And I love possibilities.

What possibilities do you see? What is the composition of your family? What kind of a life have you created together?

One more thing:
This post is a meditation for me and a challenge to confront my blind spots. It’s an effort to dive deeper in my Year of Clarity and dig into the life I want to actively create for myself and for those connected to me.
Currently, there are legal and cultural definitions of ‘family’ that constrict and impinge on people’s freedom to fully, legally realize the families they have created. This post isn’t meant to compare my family’s situation to families who are facing shameful laws such as  NC’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. My family and I are privileged in many ways — in this case, my husband and I are legally recognized as a married couple and we receive those associated rights and benefits (including parental ones). It is wrong and deeply disturbing that these rights/benefits/legal recognition are not extended to all consenting and committed adults. Hopefully, 2014 will see that change.
 

The Year of Clarity

It’s been over a year since my last blog post.* Much has happened since then including two birthdays for me, a new job, four shows, a trip to Disney World, a kiddo in kindergarten and other stuff that’s too boring or too juicy to mention here. 2013 was checkered with life’s crazy cocktail of events and emotions — growth, discovery, loss, joy, love, sadness, laughter, friendship, friction. An amazing, exhausting blur. Now, I find myself poised at the beginning of this new year with questions, intentions, and an urge to write myself thru what is yet to come — to lean into the wind of 2014 and let my writing catch me and carry me away…

THE YEAR OF CLARITY

My hubbie and I sit together every New Year’s Eve to reflect on the previous year and write out new goals for the coming year. It’s a tradition that I have come to deeply appreciate as a way to mark the passage of time and the progress of our lives, as well as charting our future. This year we even included our five year old in the goal setting exercise. Her goals were refreshingly simple and surprisingly similar to some of mine — take walks, see friends, have a birthday party, enjoy treats.

On this most recent New Years Eve, I declared 2014 to be THE YEAR OF CLARITY. (Yes, I’m geeking out with the New Year’s goals by giving my year a theme in addition to setting out a list of things to accomplish.) I went with a theme because many of my goals were related to this idea of finding clarity, and quite frankly, I gotta figure stuff out.

I have questions. (I said it in a little voice just then, but it’s really I HAVE QUESTIONS!)

We all have questions, right? They are likely the same ol’ standbys — Who am I? What am I doing in this life? Why? How? What needs to change? What’s going to happen? How can I be happy? Where are the balance points? What is important? How can I love better? How do I hold life loosely and tenaciously? How do I get better? Why is this happening? What does my life mean? What does it all mean? Questions. Questions. I have questions. (I HAVE QUESTIONS!) The questions are mostly the same each year — have always been the same as long as I can remember — but I find them harder to ignore as I grow older. In fact, my questions seem to be mating and multiplying like little over-sexed rabbit-questions. I have more more more questions and fewer fewer fewer answers. My answers are evaporating, slipping away. I used to have more answers, you know? Perhaps I gave them away or lost them or perhaps they weren’t answers at all but something else entirely (maybe recipes for a life I thought I should have?).

And don’t get me wrong, I love questions. Questions are beautiful springboards to creative exploration. Questions are awesome. But life is turning up the heat on my real big questions like the ones listed above — questions alone aren’t cutting it anymore — I mean, I gotta get some answers, people! Did I mention that I started working in a hospital last year? Did I mention that I turned 40, my kid’s in elementary school, and life is rolling forward and speeding up and getting real in a way that I haven’t experienced before. There’s an urgency to answering the big questions for real that increases every year. Or at least there’s an increased urgency to try to answer them — I know, I know some of these questions might be unanswerable — but my life needs to be about trying to find the answers in a more intentional way. For me, life has become wrestling with questions in the hopes that I can gather up tiny, unexpected, bracing bits of clarity like snowflakes in the palm of my hand. The Year of Clarity is me diving into the wonder of it all and coming up with some meaning. The effort that I make to understand life, to consider difficult questions, to examine my existence fully — to me, making that effort is a goal I must accomplish. Then, when I find some answers (or at least gain some rockin’ insights), then I can really fly and spin and gallop gracefully thru life with purpose, with gratitude, with fortitude. Then I can get some real good meaningful stuff done. On purpose.

So I tell myself anyway.

Because I do want to fly and spin and gallop gracefully thru life with purpose, with gratitude, with fortitude. I want to get clear, gain clarity, figure things out, and then do some real-good-meaningful-stuff-on-purpose. Somehow I think/hope this blog can help me do that.

So, I’m back. Want to join me?

*Yeah, so it’s been over a year since my last blog post and I barely remember how to use WordPress. It’s going to take me awhile to figure out how to do fancier stuff and make it look pretty –but don’t worry, that’s on my goals for 2014. Also, I don’t know how regular my posts will be. TBD, friends.

To be continued as needed

This is it. Post #30. Hard to believe that I’ve been writing weekly posts for seven months now. Blogging has been way more fun than I anticipated and way more challenging too. That seems appropriate since I generally find life to be way more fun and way more challenging than I anticipate.

These are the reasons I started this blog:

I liked to write, and I wanted to get better at it. (I still do.) I wanted to encourage (force) myself to write more regularly. I thought I could handle a weekly post; I liked the deadline and the discipline.

I wanted to find my voice. Turns out, I’m still and always finding it. As I watch my daughter grow, as I witness my friends and family wrestling with their lives, I’m discovering that this idea of ‘finding your voice’ is a life-long process. As we change, as we evolve, our voices change. Our declarations, our questions, our need to speak, how we say things, what we say – all of that transforms over time. Maybe there is no definitive finding our voices, maybe there is only locating or glimpsing or journeying with our voices. Maybe our voices aren’t found, maybe they are developed. Maybe they are revealed and accepted. Seeking our voices, still and always.

I felt that I had something to say that was worth sharing. The jury is still out on that, but  really, more importantly, it was time for me to challenge myself to take a stand and declare my point of view, even if ‘my stand’ is often that I don’t know what I think. I’m conflict-shy; I don’t like to rock the boat – I’m a dove, people – but I’ve realized that I can be a peacemaker and still have an opinion. In fact, I’ve decided that having a point of view is actually a crucial first step in peacemaking and change-making.  It’s certainly crucial to making good art. Surprise, surprise, I can have a POV that’s strong and flexible, well-thought-out and fluid. Prior to starting this blog, I had the shocking realization that I’d lost track of my thinking. Since then, I’ve discovered that I think differently than I did five or ten or twenty years ago. I’m still behind somehow and out of step with myself —  my spirit has outpaced my mind, but I’m working to catch them up. I’m updating my Operating System and recalibrating my mind, you know? Over these last seven months, I’ve been pinning myself down with words. The act of selecting words to express myself, rather than sliding by with gauzy unvoiced half-thoughts, has been an act of compass-making. I’m learning which way is North. Mostly.

I wanted to embrace technology. As a presenter/teacher, my preferred audio-visual equipment is still flip-chart paper with a few colored markers. However, seven months after starting this blog, I can (sort of) figure out (some things on) WordPress. Now, I have an iPhone! That’s right, I can swipe my finger across my Apple screen just like those kids do! [I’ve mentioned that I want to do a podcast, right? Will someone please come to my house, set that up, and show me which buttons to press? It’s exhausting to think about.]

I’ve determined that it takes four to six hours for me to write and edit (ok, loosely edit) a 1000-1200 word post. (This post has 1039 words.) As we hurdle toward the end of the year, I’ve realized I don’t have that time anymore. Or rather, I need to spend that time doing other things. Or rather, I’m choosing to spend my time with people and other projects. I suppose this is what they call ‘prioritizing’. So, I am changing up my blogging schedule to be ‘as needed’.  I’ll write when I need to; I’ll write when I can. I hesitate to make this change because I am now opening the possibility of NEVER BLOGGING AGAIN. You know how that inertia can be.

However, I’m hopeful that this ‘as needed’ schedule will help to de-stress my life a little and result in more robust, life-changing posts – perhaps I’ll post only my best stuff rather than a mix of weekly best and half-best. My fortieth (yes, FORTIETH!) birthday is coming up which is bringing me a great deal of angst, and my child is still endlessly inspiring to me (Currently, she is getting the words ‘nipple’ and ‘pupil’ confused which can be quite alarming in conversation. The fact that I find this creatively inspiring is odd, I know.). I’m also happily mixed up in the development of some super-fab theatre projects – so I’m guessing that I’ll still post fairly regularly. After all, life is so interesting, right? There’s so much of it.

Two things before I go (temporarily):

  1. Thanks for reading. I appreciate you. I apologize for all of the grammatical missteps and whacked out punctuation and typos. Hopefully, you were able to overlork that. Hee.
  2. This seems random, but I want everyone to know about it, so I’m awkwardly plopping it at the end of this post…I recently watched the Half the Sky series via our streaming Netflix. I was tremendously moved by these programs, and I’m still mulling on what to do as a result. Anyway, I highly recommend them. If you watch, let me know what you decide to do as a result. You’ll see a little blurb below.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a four-hour television series for PBS and international broadcast, shot in 10 countries: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S. Inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn‘s book, the documentary series introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them. Traveling with intrepid reporter Nicholas Kristof and A-list celebrity advocates America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde, the film reflects viable and sustainable options for empowerment and offers an actionable blueprint for transformation. The series premiered in the United States Oct. 1 and 2, 2012, with international broadcast to follow in 2013.

Keep on growing. Keep on keepin’ on.

Until soon,

Tamara

Getting (or not getting) what you want on Election Day

Tomorrow is Election Day. It seems like a lot is at stake this year. Whew. Like many people, I will be on pins and needles hoping hoping hoping watching watching watching as the votes are tallied. My guy! My guy! My guy! I want my guy to win! Four years ago on Election Day, my husband and I took our three-month-old daughter to vote with us. A beautiful experience voting as a family for the first time.

Sure, I hope ‘my guy’ wins again, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. And no matter the outcome, a large portion of the country is going to be deeply disappointed on Wednesday. Not the majority, obviously, but still, many many people will not get the outcome they voted for.

I wonder how folks will deal with that.

Will we have graceful winners and graceful losers? Given the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy and the numerous other critical issues facing our country, will people quickly abandon the discussion of winning and losing and focus instead on stepping into a united future of the States of America? Will there be olive branches and genuine handshakes of ‘we’re all in this together’? I hope so.

I hope so, but I’m not confident that will be the case. Maybe not right away. Maybe not ever. Because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people handle not getting what they want, and frankly, people don’t handle it very well. I know I don’t. In fact, I venture to say that one of the greatest challenges in life is learning how to ‘be cool’ with not getting what we want — ‘being cool’ for real, and consistently. We are very bad at this. We are so attached — like frantic emotional octopuses (octopi?) — to the outcomes that we want and the way we want things to be.

We seem to have a tendency for grasping and clutching — or maybe that’s just me.

I know I hold much of my life too tightly. I often think there is only one right way for things to be. And based on my experience of living with a wee youngster, it seems this inability to deal with not-getting-what-we-want-when-we-want-it is a problem right from the start of our lives. It’s an on-going ever-growing challenge.

Yeah. You know what’s always caused giant tantrums in our house (ehem, from the adults and the kid)? Yeah, when a person doesn’t get what he or she wants — when expectations are not met, when the outcome is undesired, especially when that person is already stressed — it’s welcome to Tantrum City, USA.

I hope we don’t wake up to Tantrum City, USA on Wednesday morning. I hope we all can put on our best big-girl and big-boy behavior and be friends. I hope. I hope that no matter which side we are on today,  we can be graceful tomorrow and the next day and the next day and so on…together.

However, if that’s not the case… if you don’t get what you want on Election Day, then I’m here to offer you some alternative responses (see them below). They are inspired by real-life recent examples of a four-year-old melting down when she didn’t get what she wanted. Try these on for size on Wednesday (in the privacy of your own home) if you think they will help. If I don’t get what I want on Election Day, then you can be sure I’ll be working my way down that list too.

Ideas for responding like a preschooler when you-don’t-get-what-you-want-when-you-want-it (which is NOW):

1. Whine loudly, yet incoherently, while draping yourself limply over the arm of the couch. Slide slowly, dramatically, to the floor in a heap. Roll around on the floor. Don’t stop whining!

2. Scream as loudly as you can with all of your teeth bared. Clench your fists as your face turns bright red. You, a red pepper, a four-year-old HULK!

3. Menace someone in the room (yes, usually your Mom) with the threat of physical harm. Examples: Hit the carpet as hard as you can while crawling in a circle around her; charge forward with your fists balled up boxer-style, stopping just in time; scoot along on your bottom with your feet windmill kicking — getting closer and closer, but never actually making contact; try to pinch your Mom with your toes. Be careful, if you hurt Mom, you will get an instant Time Out.

4. Destroy things! Break your nightlight; try to pull off the head of your Tinker Bell doll; knock over all of your toys; crumple your drawings in a ball; throw your books around. P.S. You’ll need to clean up this mess later, and if you actually break stuff, you’ll be in big trouble.

5. Negotiate, bargain, negotiate. Surely, we can work this out! When your negotiations go nowhere, find someone else (like Dad!) and try again.

6. Repeat each of these phrases twenty times: “I’m not your friend anymore! You’re not my Mom anymore! You broke my heart! It’s not fair! I’m berry upset with you! I’m berry serious! I want it! I want it! I WANT IT!!!!!!” When you pause to catch your breath, give your meanest Death Glare — like lasers from your eyeballs.

7. Cry — big, fat, sad tears. Point out your tears to your Mom. Go into the bathroom to watch yourself cry in the mirror. Ask your Mom to come and witness you watching yourself cry in the mirror.

8. Apologize wildly for everything that you can think of, everything that you’ve ever done in your entire life, in the hopes that the outcome will change.

9. Refuse a hug. Refuse any attempts by other people to help you feel better. Put your hands over your ears and close your eyes tightly. Refuse to move on.

10. Slam the door to the bathroom and lock yourself in. (When you get scared because you can’t unlock the door, your Mom will pop the lock and rescue you.)

11. Walk away, up to your bedroom for some alone time. Read books and sing songs to yourself until you are calm in your mind and your body. Then, come downstairs to play.

12. Sing along as your Mom quietly sings the chorus of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

13. Hug your Mom or your Dad or your friend or your cat. Cry. Feel better. Move on. Go build something.

Happy pre-Election Day, my friends. Here’s hoping we can roll with the outcome better than most four-year-olds. Wishing you all the best, sincerely.

Vote.

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.

31 questions and then some…

I love questions. In particular, I love making lists of questions. Perhaps that’s because life seems like a series of questions strung together over time [What are we doing? Where are my keys? What’s next? Why did I say that? Who cares? etc.] Making lists of questions feels really empowering to me. I guess that’s a positive way to re-frame my general confusion about the world. What do you think?

When I’m all muddled up and frustrated, I start pushing really hard for the solution to my problem. Thinking and churning and turning those wheels in my brain. However, almost without exception, I’ve found that find the ‘right’ solution is really about finding the ‘right’ question first. Easing up and focusing on the questions has been so helpful — not easy, never easy — but helpful.

Questions are my all-purpose tool to help expand my imagination, sharpen my focus, sort my thoughts and priorities, stimulate creativity, delve deeper into an issue, and occasionally arrive at an answer. Of course, questions are excellent for generating art too. For me, questions are the first step in getting things done. A better question = a better solution (or a better result or a deeper conversation or a more specific plan or more focused art or etc.) Has that been your experience?

What’s your relationship to questions? Do they help you?

To celebrate the month of August — or rather, to celebrate questions during the month of August —  I offer you a list of 31 random (hopefully, thought-provoking) questions, one for each day of this month. [I realize we are a little behind since August started last week, but you can double up for a few days. Hee.] The questions below are in no particular order and have no particular focus. Just good ol’ jumping-off-point questions for self-discovery and conversation. If you want to, use them as writing prompts, conversation starters, or opportunities for getting to know yourself during a meditative walk. Let me know how you do with them. I’m so curious! If there’s a question that you find particularly intriguing, then let me know that too. Perhaps that could be the focus for a future blog post.

For more content-specific questions, check out Story Corps’ Great Questions List.

Questions:

  1. Where are you going?
  2. What is the next book you would like to read? Why?
  3. How do you feel about your name? Would you like to change it?
  4. When people see you walking down the street, what do they think?
  5. What is your favorite place? Why?
  6. What makes you feel invigorated?
  7. What was your last nightmare?
  8. What do you forbid yourself to do or to feel?
  9. What can you let go of?
  10. How do you greet people?
  11. How do you spend your evenings?
  12. Why did you make that choice?
  13. Who do you wish to be?
  14. Where do you want to live?
  15. How do you feel about food?
  16. How did you learn to think?
  17. What is your biggest pet peeve?
  18. Who makes you feel important?
  19. How would you spend a day by yourself?
  20. What is the elephant in the room?
  21. How are you different now than 5, 10, 15 years ago?
  22. What is the first thing you disclose to a stranger?
  23. Have you ever been in danger? How so?
  24. What is your fondest memory?
  25. How do you feel about wildlife?
  26. Who makes you smile?
  27. What makes you laugh?
  28. What situations make your stomach churn?
  29. When do you feel authentically yourself? What does that feel like?
  30. What are you planning to do 5 minutes from now?
  31. What is the best gift you’ll give this year?

Bonus Question #32: What will you do now that you know something you didn’t know before?

Bonus Reference to 32: If you were an undergraduate female in the 1990s obsessed with the song 32 Flavors by Ani DiFranco (um, me), then this list might have triggered a yearning for that song. If so, for sentimental purposes take a look at the YouTube video of Ani singing that song, And Lyrics to 32 Flavors by Ani DiFranco.

A letter to my daughter after the passage of Amendment One

Look up! There’s a video of me reading my letter. Below, you’ll see the transcript if you’d prefer to read instead. What are your hopes and expectations for this next generation? What’s next for you?

A letter to my daughter after the passage of Amendment One

My darling daughter,

You gave me a sweet memory the other night. You were all snuggled in your bed. We’d just wrapped up our ritual of ‘a lotta kisses and a lotta hugs’.

“Wait, Mom,” you said, “Say, no matter.”

“Oh, I love you no matter what.”

“No, Mom. Say it with your eyebrows up.”

“Like this?” I said, with my eyebrows raised. “I love you no matter what.”

“Yes!” You said.

And I thought you are so funny and I love you so much. And then I went downstairs and watched as Amendment One was passed. And I was shocked and distressed and really sad. I thought, how could I explain this to you? I mean, you’re only three now, we can’t have an in-depth conversation, but if you were older, how might I begin?

So I’m writing this letter to you and to some future version of you kind of at the same time.

Here’s the deal, kid. Right now, we don’t know if you are straight or gay or somewhere in between. We don’t know if you will get married one day or not, get pregnant one day or not, get divorced. We don’t know what choices you will make about who you partner with and how you live your life.

But I want you to know that these are my hopes and expectations for you… I want you to be happy and safe and kind and true to yourself. I want you to treat others with respect and with a generous spirit. Be responsible. Love yourself and lead a life filled with compassion, wisdom, authenticity, possibility and creativity. Those are the family values that your father and I are trying to instill in you.

Althought it’s hard to imagine now, one day you will be a grown-up person, and assuming we don’t back-slide as a country, you will be able to make grown-up choices alongside other grown-ups about your grown-up life. Love who you love. Create the family you define for yourself. Don’t let other people take control of your body. Never let anyone tell you that you are worth less. You are worth everything.

But here’s the important part… you are worth-full, and so is everyone else. All your little friends, all the grown-ups, all the people you know and do not yet know — all people are worth-full. You and everybody else.

Since you were born, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I live my life, how to live out the values that I profess to have. When I look at your sweet sleeping face and I think of you or one of your little friends being discriminated against, my blood boils.

As your mother, it’s my job to protect you and fight for your rights always, and as your mother, it’s also my job to lift my head up out of our beautiful family bubble and not just think about your future rights, but also the rights of all people now. To advocate now and to walk this talk I talk to you about freedom, about choice, about equality, about love.

And this is how I’m doing it: Repeal Amendment One. I voted, now what’s next?

I love you, Mom

Sign the petition on Change.org.