Glory In Excelsius

(Or, more thoughts on excellence)

Note: I wrote this a week ago in a moment of breezy triumph, and then the mess of life — in the form of my baby coming down with a fever for five days and caterwauling whenever I put him down for one moment, and then passing the fever on to me — got in the way of me taking that extra 5 minute step of posting it here. Ah! The glory of excellence and messiness intertwined…

I’ve been thinking more about excellence and what it means. If my version of excellence is not perfectionism, if it includes messiness, what is it?

Magic is mess and order

Let’s break it down, starting with the word mess

= fertile
= lost
= too much stuff
= overwhelming, avoiding
= piling = stockpiling = hoarding
= natural
= creative = destructive = generative
= fertile
= neverending
= comforting

And there are some parts of that I want to keep and some I’d like to move away from. What are the qualities of this thing around excellence that I want in my life?

I want…

= a well tended garden
= room to expand
= the right tools
= something manageable = a little chaos but not all chaos
= doing = diving in
= to put things away
= to get out tools, make a big mess, then clean up and put away
= enough space to make a mess
= to let things go
= the key to survival
= to tend to nature
= to tend to myself

And what I don’t like about excellence is this idea of the BEST or the FINEST or getting rated or ranked or lined up and compared. This is the greatest, this sucks, this is hot, this is not. Yuck.

I looked up the word EXCELLENT to see where it comes from.

Ex = outside, beyond

Cellence = Celsus = lofty, high

I remember the term “in excelsius” from some hymn… which one, does anyone know? It means higher, loftier, more elevated, ever upward. Glory to god in the highest.

So to be in excellence is to exist to the utmost degree, to be high, to be praised for being what you are to the greatest degree – to celebrate that quality and that desire and that process.

When Bill and Ted say, Excellent! — they are saying, this is in alignment, this works, this is how things should be. When they say, be excellent to each other, they mean, bring out the best in each other. Enjoy each other. Treat each other well.

My excellence encourages your excellence. When I see you being excellent, I want to be excellent too. Our mutual excellence is a game, a way of taking care of each other.

I want to fly high to the limits of my nature. Which also will mean, failing. Failing and flying are both included in excellence, two sides of the same process.

It is the opposite of calcifying.

It is the process of alchemy, of change, of evolution.

It is stretching and morphing and molting and figuring out what you are now in this moment, which is impossible to figure out, which is why it’s so fun.


But it feels right.

You’re glad on some level.

Like when the toys are scattered everywhere

And cleaning them up will take a lot of work and you don’t FEEL like doing a lot of work, you’d rather go to bed

But you take a deep breath and you put them all away

And it only takes five minutes

And it will only last about five minutes

And when they are put away you look around and feel a surge of goodwill, of pride, of rightness, of clarity

And you make yourself a cup of tea instead of the beer you feel like reaching for

And you feel cozy and comforted and strong and healthy

As you close your eyes and drift off to sleep

In alignment with yourself and the universe

In this moment

That is excellent

May you be excellent to yourself this weekend! Let’s all be excellent to ourselves and each other.


Full Moon in Cancer

I am drawn to write you on this, the fourth day of 2018.

I haven’t been connecting with you not because I have nothing to say, but because I have so much.

Today my little baby is over half a year old — 7 months! — and as I look back at 2017, it was a year in which SO MUCH happened. In the world at large and in the snowglobe of my world. Things I would never have predicted, including a ranting raving shakespearean supervillain for president, a rising tide of rage and solidarity amongst women, and decades of entrenched sexual harassment shaken up. 

Drama and horror and potential cataclysm. World shaking and paradigm shifting and potential coalition.

On a personal level, realizing I’m a different mother than I was four years ago, that things that once were impossible are now easy. And yet, this month finding myself back in the emotional space I remember being in when my oldest was six months old: a wall of exhaustion and frustration, a longing to bust free of my human limitations, to do more than I can do, to resist the inevitable truth which is that I need to slow down and do less.


When I hit the wall four years ago, in my exhaustion I sought out anything to keep me sane and they shook the rocks loose: hypnosis, therapy, life coaching, zumba. I realized that the key wasn’t DOING more or less, but expecting less. If I set out expecting to fail in the world, with the aim to enjoy that failure — I ended up doing more than I thought I could.

So now I find myself in a similar blockade. This has been a good opportunity to look at the ways I cycle through the same phases in my life, and the ways I judge myself for doing that. I’ve been trying to love the phase I’m in while I’m in it, like I love my failure, like I love the phases of the moon. 


Instead of being mad at my waning energy, I can notice it and wait for it to wax strong and full. Instead of being impatient for one cycle to end, I can slow down and experience the one I’m in. And instead of judging myself for not having “solved” issues that are coming up again, I can welcome the chance to dive deeper. Or not! I can welcome the chance to avoid it too. It will come around again.

When I made my solo show two years ago, I Hate Positive Thinking, the guiding question was, what if I put myself out there exactly as I am, in my tired frazzled unkempt state? What if I believed my un-enhanced, un-amplified voice was enough? What if I embraced failure as a human and put it front and center in my work?


This winter it’s been helpful to embrace failure again— to brag about the mess — but a question has been emerging in counterpoint.

What if I allowed myself to be excellent?


The word “excellent “ is one I recoil from because I associate it with the toxic spell of perfectionism. Something hard edged and unforgiving, a desire that doesn’t acknowledge the human nature of messing up, falling flat, going sideways. (And I am a Cancer so I love to go sideways).

But this idea of excellence has been worming it’s way into my consciousness, asking me to look deeper.

Asking, can excellence coexist with human frailty and mess and failure?

Asking, can staying in the mess be a way of hiding, jumping down into the mud to avoid the exhilarating fear of leaping up into the air? Can jumping from one new endeavor to the next be a way of avoiding the tougher work of continuing on through failure and modest success to excellence?

I think about the two journalists, Jody Kantor and Megan Twohey, whose excellent investigative reporting for the New York Times uprooted Harvey Weinstein’s toxic hold over Hollywood. They felt their way into the darkness, sure, and I’m sure there were times when they felt like they were failing — but they also committed to the project and organized for the long haul. They did it for real.

And when they talk about their accomplishments, I want them to crow about their hard work. I want them to own their excellence.

Which makes me wonder: why is it so easy for me to brag about what I’m struggling with, and so hard to brag about what I’m great at? Why is it so hard to even NOTICE what I’m great at? Like I’m scared that if I say it out loud it will disperse and I’ll be left with nothing.

What if I took my time and had the courage to go as deep as I wanted to go, and to speak with pride about what I’ve learned? What if I bragged about the mess… AND about what I have done well?

I don’t know what it means yet, this question. But I’m going to keep following it.


On the first night of this new year, the full moon was in Cancer. A good time to open up to my emotions, and whatever strange and contradictory clues they have for me. It’s taken me a long time to see that my ability to feel suddenly and deeply, and to imagine what others are feeling, is a strength and not an embarrassing useless quirk.

I wrote a poem about it — because I’ve been writing poems for over twenty years, and they are often the purest way for me to express my feelings, and I am excellent at it.

What excellent parts of yourself are you hiding from? Or are you sending your excellence out into the world like a gorgeous sunflare? If so, thank you.


Full Moon in Cancer

I used to be ashamed to cry
The way my face would flush and betray me
The time I passed out at the sight of fake ketchup red on a movie screen
Embarrassing, weak
Expressing my feelings was ceding my power
Letting it run through my fingers like ocean water

Onstage I could feel the power of my receptivity
Onstage bursting into tears was a magnet
Attention snapped to me
It gave me a confidence I did not have chatting in the lobby after the show
Because bursting into tears at a party clears the room

I didn’t find a way to feel the power offstage until I gave birth
And my body aligned in solidarity with my feelings against the shit show of labor
At one with my body against my body
I felt the power in that paradox
I felt humility
And ever since I trust it
Trust my body in it’s haywire variations
Trust my feelings in their shifting shiftless shapeless moony passive aggressive power

Moonlight on the ocean
The way my hands look underwater
It’s not the same kind of power as a volcano
You have to feel your way into it