Just about a month ago, I held a Word of The Year Workshop. As many of you know, instead of New Year’s resolutions, I encourage people to choose one word to focus on for the whole year – a Word of The Year. Continue reading → Word of the Year 2015
Twas the night before Christmas
The topic was stress
Two bloggers were writing
Their posts still a mess…
Hey Karin. Merry Christmas! Can I stop by and bring you some breakfast?
Thanks, but I’m on a deadline. #toobusy #nostresseating
-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:
I teach at a homeschool co-op once a week. A group of parents get together and teach about 100 kids from preschool through high school. Kids can take anything from belly dancing to British Literature. I love being there and tapping into a huge network of creative and resourceful parents.
One of my contributions tot he co-op is to teach a creative writing class for seven to nine-year-olds. It is truly one of the best things I do all week. It just so happens that across the hall from us during that time period is a music class for some of our youngest students and their parents.
This past week, my kids and I were working on creating poetry, when all of a sudden there was a horrible shriek from the classroom across the hall. It quickly became apparent that one small musician was having a meltdown of monumental proportions. Her mom was with her the entire time and quickly removed her from that classroom, moving her down the hall to the unoccupied nursery.
A few minutes later, I needed to leave the classroom to get some additional supplies, and as I walked by the nursery. As I passed by, I was struck by the most stunning image. The young girl, who is about two, was still stuck in a full-blown temper tantrum. Her mother was sitting in front of her, perfectly calm and practicing active listening skills as the little girl sobbed and spoke, fairly unintelligibly, I would imagine, while struggling to regain control. And here was her mother, clearly listening, not judging, not telling her to calm down, just listening.
It got me thinking about those times we, as adults, melt down. It happens to the best of us occasionally. Maybe you yell, maybe you drink, maybe you watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer for hours on end while eating eight cartons of Chinese take-out. People don’t melt down randomly, it’s a build up of frustrations, little and big, that we stuff down until they pile up. Eventually, if you keep it up, you run out of room to hold it in- that’s when the meltdown happens. How quickly we personally recover depends on how long it takes for us to listen to ourselves, without judgement or without asking ourselves to do something we have no ability to do, like calm down or get over it. Meltdowns are a way of saying that something is very wrong, that our needs can no longer be ignored for the sake of politeness, appropriateness or because we’re choosing to put other people’s’ needs ahead of our own.
Some of us need to practice active listening with ourselves which may come in the form of journaling or running or painting. Some of us need stillness and silence – meditation – to truly listen to ourselves. I don’t know about you, but it’s much harder for me to listen to myself without judgement, without harping on all the reasons I should have it together, or shouldn’t have lost it in the first place, that it is to do the very same things for the people around me. And all those judgements, all those “shoulds” and reasons to beat ourselves up don’t help us find our center or right us. They just keep us in the vortex of the storm.
The simple wisdom of this mom to not try to change the situation or judge or ask of her daughter something she simply wasn’t capable of in that moment stunned me. The act of being present in the frustration and the pain and to just listen stuck with me in a way I don’t think I’ll easily dismiss. I hope the next time I find myself in the middle of a personal meltdown I have the ability to just stop and listen and hear what it is I am so desperately trying to say.
This is day 22 of the National Blog Posting Challenge.
“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.
If you’re keeping track, I didn’t post yesterday. First day in the November challenge that I missed. I actually had it all planned out. Writing in the morning was impossible due to scheduling conflicts. I had a concert in the evening but it was early enough that I would be home in plenty of time to write something.
As so often happens, plans change. Finding dinner after the show turned out to be harder than we thought in that area of Washington DC. After looking at a few restaurants and not finding one to accommodate our group, we decided to leave the city and head back to my town in search of food. There was just one complication; friends locked their keys in their car and were stranded. So we waited with them, of course. We made sure they stayed safe until they were able to pop the lock. You have no idea how hard it is to find a wire hanger in this day and age. Anyway, after a bit, we saw them on their way and my group of merry revelers made it home without incident. By then it was after midnight and I had missed my window.
But really, it’s okay. A few years ago I would have freaked out about missing one day. I would have seen the blogging challenge as an all-or-nothing endeavor. Either I succeeded in writing 30 posts or I failed by missing even just one. Thankfully, I’ve mostly recovered from that kind of black and white thinking. I’m learning to recognize the thought patterns and to challenge them when they rear their ugly heads.
In this particular case it was totally worth missing the post to ensure my friends were safe. But there are lots of other reasons that would have been okay too. The first is I don’t have to be perfect to be successful at any goal that I have. And neither do you by the way. Which is actually a fantastic thing because no situations ever happen perfectly. That’s just life. And once I not only figured that out, but also believed it to be true (the harder of the two tasks), reaching my goals not only became more doable but less daunting as well.
So I’m moving forward. Posting this today and letting go of yesterday. I may not get all thirty blogs up but that doesn’t mean I didn’t successfully complete the National Blog Posting Month Challenge. In fact, I think a little struggle to post shows me just how successful I am. Instead of quitting at the first sign on imperfection, I am soldiering on. My journey isn’t perfect but I get to exchange perfectionism for learning and growing. Seems like I am getting the better part of that deal.
This is Day 17 of the National Blog Posting Month Challenge.
Today marks a perfect storm of creative inspiration for me. I’ve got a road trip, live music by my favorite band and lots of laughter with great friends. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way talks a lot about filling the well. You can’t draw from your creativity over and over again without also having a consistent way to refill the well. So, I get to do that today, a lot. It’s fantastic.
Filling the well doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive or exotic. Sometimes, just a simple walk or time in my garden works wonders for me. As does getting lost in a bookstore, wandering through a yarn store or playing my guitar. Lots of options to fit my mood or how much time or energy I have to devote to it. I always encourage my clients to keep a list of what fills them up. It’s important to have it handy otherwise we end up trying to fill our well with things like Candy Crush or Facebook or the Lifetime Christmas movie marathon. Not that any of those things are bad in and of themselves (I’m currently stuck on level 197 though…), but they are not going to refill your well. They may provide a distraction or a bit of respite from a long day but they won’t sustain you through the last hundred pages of your novel, a new business venture or your first major gallery show.
Figure out what fills your well and then do it – a lot. Funny, I wrote a blog recently about being happy – same advice. So, being one who is trying to learn to take her own recommendations, I’m going to go fill my well. I hope you get to do the same today.
Today marks Day 15 in the National Blog Posting Month Challenge. My goal is to post every day during the month of November. Check back frequently and see how I am doing.