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Screen-Shot-2016-06-12-at-12.41.35-PMThe world has been a particularly harsh place lately. I don’t know about you, but when horrific tragedies take place, even though I may not have any direct connection to them, they feel personal. I’m an empathizer big time, so when I hear or read about pain and suffering and tragedy, it drains me and I walk around sad and exhausted and a little hopeless. I think a lot of creative people are this way. Connection is our drug, and like any drug, it can makes us feel great but it can also make the world come crashing down on top of us.

The thing is, I don’t have time to walk around feeling sad and drained and hopeless. That’s not what this world needs. I need to find the energy and strength to infuse the world with more love and kindness and empathy because while it might not be everything the world needs to heal itself, it’s a good place to start.

So in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando and all the tragedies, big and small, we are constantly bombarded with, if you too are feeling overwhelmed, and sad and tired and want to get yourself back into the game, here are some things I do to heal those parts of me.

  1. Turn off the news. Seriously. Turn it off. In my household, I realized that the nightly news did nothing but bring negative energy, fear and anxiety into my home. So for the past 15 years there has been a “no television news rule.” As a kid, I remember my parents watching All. Of. The. News. And I would get anxious as my mother picked me up wondering what horrible things I was going to see on the tv as she made dinner. While you are at it, severely limit your online news. No need to read all the articles. No need to know every little detail. Seriously. You can let it go- plenty of other people are reading it all; you don’t have to. If you want to be supportive of people involved in tragedy, action, not reading is the way to go.
  2. Get outside. Walk, jog, bike, geocache, drive with your windows down and the radio up. We all need some time to be away from all the electronics and just breathe.
  3. Do something. Anything. At these times, what I want to do is curl up n the couch under a blanket binging on Gilmore Girls. Instead, I try to accomplish anything at all no matter how small. I usually go for the easiest and mind numbing things I can think of. I fold laundry. I weed the garden. I clean out the car. Easy things, but they make me feel productive and centered. Think of them as active meditations. Then move into bigger actions if the situation warrants it. Donate blood, call your political leaders, collect tangible donations for the needy. Action doesn’t need to be huge to be powerful. Do what you can, your action will inspire others.
  4. Be unusually and radically kind. Again, these don’t have to be huge initiatives or gaudy displays. Wave to a child in a car at the light next to you. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while and tell them you’re thinking of them. Write a letter to someone who has changed your life. Pick up trash in your neighborhood. Kindness matters and changes the world in tiny and profound ways. We can never be too kind.

This last one is the most powerful for me. Sometimes it feels like there’s very little kindness left in the world. But then I remember, I can be kind. I can be loving and accepting. And quite frankly, I am powerful when I wield all those things. So that’s what I do. I tap into those qualities often and excessively when I am feeling despondent about the world. Does it take away all my sadness? No. I’m still a weeping mess much of the time. But slowly my heart fills up again, and I am able to see all the other kindness and love and hope that’s out there in the world and that further empowers me.

Am I naïve enough to think that folding the laundry is going to change the world? Nope. Heck, it might not even change my world…directly. But all world-changers start small and their impact increases over time. And you can’t change the world if it constantly leaves you hopeless and depleted.

So my friends, take care of yourselves. Take care of others. In times of darkness, put out more kindness right where you are. Changing the world starts right in front of you.

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I hate it when I overthink things. And I overthink things a lot. How about you? I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post for more than a year now. Really. And for about 6 months before that. Each time I spend so much time considering ALL the possibilities. Seriously I consider every last one of them, which keeps me from writing anything at all.

Maybe you can’t relate. Maybe you’re just one of those people who just decides to do something and does it. You want to learn to draw, BAM! You go pull out a pencil and start drawing. Maybe after a couple of hours you pull up a video and watch it or grab a book at the library the next time you’re there because, hey it couldn’t hurt to see if they have anything useful to say now that you are drawing. If that’s you, then this blog post is gonna feel really foreign to you, I bet. Just for giggles, here’s what my process would look like if I wanted to learn to draw:

  1. Decide I’d like to draw.
  2. Think about it for months to see if I really want to learn to draw.
  3. Pin a bunch of articles about drawing on Pinterest.
  4. Start a list of a bunch of YouTube videos I could watch about drawing but read all the comments first to see if it’s a worthwhile video about drawing.
  5. Start to doubt the negative reviews on YouTube, remembering that people complain about every little piece of minutia. But skip the videos anyway in case the critics were right.
  6. Get out all the art supplies- pencils, colored pencils, sharpeners, paper, ink etc.
  7. Stress for at least one week that I have all the wrong supplies.
  8. Go to an art store, walk around, feel overwhelmed, go home with nothing.
  9. Get onto Amazon, load up my cart with arts supplies – never buy any of it.
  10. Mention that I’m thinking about drawing to a friend and then tell them all the reasons (excuses) I’m not actually drawing yet
  11. Feel guilty when my friend, completely non-judgmentally asks me why I don’t just pick up a pencil and draw if that would make me happy?
  12. Finally pick up my pencil, draw for two minutes, decide I can’t possibly be any good at it, become completely anxious and walk away.
  13. After a few hours, contemplate taking a drawing class.

This is Olympic level overthinking people! Trust me, don’t try this at home.

I was going to explain to you all the reasons I haven’t been writing for a long time. I felt like I couldn’t just start writing again without some sort of explanation. But then I couldn’t figure out which pieces to tell you, what would make sense, what you would care about, etc. etc. etc. Overthinking for the win once again.

You know what overthinking is? It’s fear and perfectionism swirled together in a lethal combination. It’s that misguided, bat-shit crazy notion that if I just consider and reconsider and re-reconsider all the possibilities, I am going to be able to figure something out and then execute it perfectly and not make any mistakes and not disappoint anyone and…and…and…

And we all know where this leads.

So today, I’m trying to not let the overthinking beat me.

Here’s what you need to know:

My blog is going to change. It needs to change, because I burned out trying to be someone I wasn’t, trying to impart wisdom I didn’t have. I’m going to fumble and misstep and I’m going to try to be more authentic and vulnerable and I’m going to fumble around that too. I’m going to try for a more, here’s where I am, show me where you are and maybe we can muck through this whole messy life thing out together, sort of vibe.

I’m predicting I’m gonna look  a lot like this at first:

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And it feels a lot like this at the moment:

 

parachute-704416_1280

But I‘m gonna try to remember to have fun even through the fear.

I hope you’ll join me.

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gifts“The only true gift is a portion of thyself.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t know about you, but the holidays are such a peaceful, relaxing time for me. I find that I simplify my schedule, breathe deeply and appreciate all the amazing moments that happen this time of year.

OK, I just laughed so hard at that first paragraph that I spat water on my keyboard and fell out of my chair.

I know that for most of us, this time of year means more items on our to-do lists, additional deadlines and a frenetic pace that leaves us exhausted by the time January 1st rolls around.

Now I get that almost none of us can give up a certain amount of material gift-giving.  But I think we sometimes forget how much those intangible gifts really mean to the people around us.  So without trying to add to your obligations, here are a few true gifts I think we can all manage:

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keyboardSo my month of daily posting is over. For those of you who don’t know, I was participating in The National Blog Posting Month Challenge, otherwise known as NaBloPoMo. The challenge is to write and post a blog entry every day during the month of November. I made it 25 out of 30 days. Not bad for a first attempt.  It’s been a good month generally and it was definitely a learning experience.  Some were new lessons, some were reminders of things I already knew but could use some reinforcement. Here’s what I took away from the month: (more…)

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NaBloPoMo_November_smallWhen I was in college, I lived in an intentional spiritual community of 6 people, three men and three women. We committed to a number of things over the course of our year, including eating dinner together barring any occasional commitments, Sunday through Thursday. One of our traditions was to go around the table those nights with everyone mentioning at least one thing they were thankful for. Being a fairly well-adjusted bunch, we shared moments of gratitude for friends, good grades on tests, letters from home, that sort of thing. Occasionally, someone had a rough day and would be grateful they made it through the day without falling apart or killing anyone.

Then there was my housemate Amy, a lovely soul, truly. Sometimes she’d just be so filled with gratitude for her day, she’s speak for several minutes about the flowers or the squirrels or the way the sun shone through a window, completely reliving her bliss from the day. Most of the time we couldn’t help but get caught up in her joy. Although sometimes, we did just want her to finish up so we could get around to the meal.

What I learned from Amy though, is that the more specific your gratitude, the more profoundly you actually feel grateful. So I could tell you I’m grateful for fall. OK, I guess. But if I tell you I’m grateful for fall because of the way a specific section of my drive up I-97 looks when all the trees change and how it makes me remember fall as a child growing up in the woods of Maine, well, now that’s  visceral gratitude right there.

Being grateful and feeling gratitude are not the same thing. Feeling gratitude is always more powerful.

In some of my retreat work, I have people list 50-100 things they are grateful for over the course of the day. It’s interesting to see how as the day progresses, they really have to get more and more specific. They often realize they are grateful for more things than they realized on the outset. It’s an experience of feeling the true power of gratitude for many of them.

Over the next couple of days, I encourage you to do the same thing. Make a list, get very specific and pay attention to the mundane, everyday things that make you grateful, even for just a fleeting moment. By writing them down, you get to hold onto them for a little longer.

So here is the beginning of my abbreviated list:

I am grateful for:

1. Growing sweet potatoes this summer. Because, today in the rain, I went outside to dig some up for Thanksgiving. I looked ridiculous and at the same time felt like I was a total hardcore gardener.

2. My red-headed child who is clever and witty and loves to laugh. It’s amazing how you can feel when you are around joy incarnate.

3. My older daughter who is brilliant and thoughtful and empathetic, especially around children with disabilities. Her kindness and patience and unconditional acceptance makes me proud and filled with love for such an amazing presence in my life.

4. Going from a beginner guitar player to an intermediate-beginner guitar player (yes I made that term up). When you can play 10-12 chords without too much trouble, it’s amazing how many songs you can actually get through.

5. Finally getting the hang of knitting. Yes, I now understand the obsession and I see color and yarn and texture in a whole new light. I look forward to my active meditation time and appreciate the relaxed state it often affords me.

6. A spouse affected just so slightly with OCD. There are several projects around the house that happened this year because he could not just walk away – I appreciate the fact that he makes things happen that I would never make the time for because they are overwhelming to me in their scope and size.

7. The snores of a funny little sleeping dog plastered against my body who thinks I’m the moon and the stars. Everyone should have one living creature feel this much love about them.

8. One old 16 year-hound dog. She mostly sleeps, but every once in a while, she gets a twinkle in her eye and bounds off around the house. We almost lost her last year and that jolted me into remembering to appreciate her every day.

9. The wildlife in my neighborhood – foxes, deer, bald eagles, great blue herons, hawks – they all remind me of the wildness of the Universe.

10. The roof on my house not because it keeps the rain out, but specifically because it doesn’t. There are several places in my kitchen and dining room where my roof leaks. And with every major rain storm, I am acutely aware that I do have a roof when many don’t.

11. Reading books with my girls at bedtime. My nearly twelve-year-old will tell you she is too big for this tradition, but she still comes to bed early three times a week to listen to whatever book her younger sister and I are working through. I cherish every page.

12. Friends – Friends who laugh with me, cry with me, and get me out of my head when I’m over-thinking – friends who start inside jokes so funny my sides hurt – friends who know and give me what I need even when I can’t figure it out myself.

Tomorrow, I’ll share thirteen more. I’d love to hear something specific you are grateful for.

This is day 27 in the 30 day National Blog Posting Month Challenge.

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NaBloPoMo_November_smallIn no particular order:

1. Stop over-thinking it.  Seriously. You want to write? Then just start. Don’t worry if you don’t know the ending to your novel. Don’t panic if you don’t know how to correctly format conversations. All of those things can be fixed later, provided you have something later to fix. And the only way to have that is to put those words on paper. Write. Then write some more.

2. Which brings me to maybe the most important thing I know. Writing and editing are not the same thing.  Let me say that again.  Writing and editing are not the same thing. Get your words down on paper. Don’t worry about subject/verb agreement or sentence fragments or anything until long after you get everything down on paper. If you want to enjoy writing, forget about editing it at the same time. There is plenty of time after you are done to rework. When I work with my youngest writers, the first thing I tell them is spelling counts, but only a little. Grammar counts, but only a little too. If you can spell well enough and construct a sentence that conveys what you want then a few misspellings or grammar mistakes aren’t that big a deal. That’s what spell check is for. And editors.

3. Keep moving forward. Say you’ve been writing about a middle-aged, male, insurance salesman. Then you get to page 100 and you suddenly realize that your main character is actually a 25-year-old female roller derby skater. You are going to want to go back to the beginning and start over. You’ll think, “I’ll just fix it quick and then it won’t drive me crazy. Plus I might forget later.”  Trust me, you won’t forget. And, again writing and editing are not the same thing. Keep moving forward.

4. You don’t have to create huge blocks of time in your schedule to write. This may be the biggest roadblock for many of the people I’ve worked with. Somehow their image of a “real writer” is a person who sits at their computer for hours at a time, hammering out pages and pages of material at one sitting. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are writers out there who have the luxury of time to create that sort of writing habit.  However, there are lots of writers who sneak in 15-30 minutes a day, sometimes while making dinner or for a few minutes after they put their kids to bed each evening. The key isn’t the amount of time you spend. The key is consistency. Write every day and you will complete the stories rattling around in your head.

5. Write what you like. I once took a children’s book writing class. The first thing the woman said was “Don’t write books about animals who act like people. Publishers don’t buy those books anymore.” That was the same time year Mo Willems exploded on the scene. He’s the author who writes such immensely popular books as  the Elephant and Piggy and the “Don’t Let the Pigeon…” series. Don’t chase after genres because something seems to be popular or you think it’s something you *should* write. If you love what you are writing, it will shine through.

Really.

 

This is day 24 in the 30 Day National Blog Posting Month Challenge.

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NaBloPoMo_November_smallIn the classic movie, Say Anything, there is a memorable party scene where Lili Taylor remarks (talking about her ex-boyfriend):

“I wrote sixty-three songs this year. They’re all about Joe, and I’m going to play every single one of them tonight.”

She then launches into several terrible, but passionate songs about the man who broke her heart.  I bet at least half of you have this moment now stuck in your head (but if you don’t want an earworm burrowing into your skull for the rest of the night, don’t click the link. You’ve been warned.)

Lots of creative-types will tell you their creativity is at it’s best when they experience sadness. The more melancholy they are, the more they create and the higher the quality of their output. There are lots of really talented writers, painters, musicians out there known not only for the heights of their creativity but for their depths of despair as well. Think Hemingway, Picasso and Plath, just to name a few. A few small studies seem to show that unhappy people create more artistically interesting projects.

Then there are those creatives who work best when they are happy and fulfilled. Some studies show that when people have to creatively figure out the solution to a complex problem, the people who feel happier find a solution faster and get more satisfaction out of solving the problem in the first place.

So which is it? Are people more creative when they are happy or sad? Is it pleasure or pain that helps us reach our creative potential? My guess is that it’s both.

Generally speaking, I’m much more productive, creatively and otherwise, when I am happy. And, I also know, I’ve been amazed at some of the ideas I’ve generated when I have been devastated.

I think, maybe, what it’s really all about is that when life jars us out of complacency in either direction, we stop and pay attention. We see and experience things differently at the height of our joy and the depths of our despair. The view is different from when we hang out somewhere in the middle. It’s like driving a different way home. You’re much more likely to notice your surroundings than when you drive the same route you have for the past five years.

If you’re a person who usually creates when life has pounded on you, try seeing what happens the next time you’re beside yourself with joy. If you create in moments of intense joy, remind yourself in those inevitable moments of pain there is something to draw from there too.

I think Neil Gaiman says it well in his young adult novel, The Graveyard Book : 

“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”

 

This is day 20 in the 30-day National Blog Posting Month Challenge. Thanks for stopping by.

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