Scaring Ourselves Silly (fun fear circle)

Last weekend I had the honor and delight of joining my old comrades, the powerful forces behind Hand2Mouth Theatre, for a slumber party where they tried out ideas for the show / ritual / experience they are creating called A slumber party to dismantle the patriarchy. We did an exorcism ritual to clear out old energy and welcome in friendly spirits, we made prank calls and played truth or dare, we stayed up late talking in sleeping bags. It was beautiful.

One of the things we did together was go to this truly epic haunted house in Salem, where we spent 30 minutes screaming at the top of our lungs.

This is what we love about haunted houses and horror movies and Halloween, right? The chance to express our fears, to SCREAM them, to practice them, to feel them, to work through them.

It feels GOOD to scream, and I am struck by how little chance we get to do this. How often do we get to work through our fears, actively and vocally, with permission to grip the hands of whoever is next to us?

It feels good! Often our screams turned into laughter (or vice versa) and when we got out of there, the muscles in my face hurt like I’d been laughing for a half hour straight. Because I basically had!

So much of what people work on with me revolves around fear – and I find that fear, like our inner trolls, isn’t something you can banish directly. You can’t say to yourself, STOP FEELING THAT! Any more than you can say to a four year old waking up from a bad dream, IT’S JUST A DREAM, STOP CRYING!

My two year old loves saying YOU DUMMY right now, and if I let him see that it’s getting to me – if I tell him firmly, STOP SAYING THAT – he only grins and amps up his efforts. DUMMY! DUMMY! DUMMY! Louder, higher, faster.

If you want to get a two year old to stop saying dummy, you have to come at it sideways. And I think it’s the same with our fears. If you try to banish them directly, they come at you faster. If you come at them sideways and give them room to play themselves out, they pass. They might even be enjoyable!

Here’s an exercise I just invented:

FUN FEAR CIRCLE

1. Draw a circle on a notecard. Inside the circle, draw your fear.

2. Freewrite for one minute: write what you see inside the circle, write about your fear, give it a name.

3. Put your hands on the notecard and set the timer for two minutes. For two minutes, feel your fear. Let it come. Feel it in your body, where it lives and how it moves. Don’t resist it or question it, let it wash over you.

4. Take your hands off the card. Let the fear go. Maybe rip up the card and scatter it on the wind. Maybe embody the fear and move with it. Maybe color it with crayons and watch it turn into something else.

 

For me, what arose as the antidote to my fear was movement and action — I danced around for 30 seconds and colored in my fear, and I was surprised to see it had turned into excitement and energy.

What happens when you try it? I would love to know. And if this speaks to you, sign up for a free coaching session as part of my people project, and let’s do some sideways transformation.

Happy Halloween to you and your shadows! May you look twice at strange figures walking down the street. May your costume come unraveled and still be a sight to see. May your candles be lit up and may your pumpkins glow with eerie delight. May you fill up your bag with treasure and trash.

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Listening to Venus de Riveter

So, here we are. It’s December. I’m still a mess.

Don’t know if it’s got something to do with having a six-month-old, but last time I felt like this was four years ago when my older son was six months old. And what’s keeping me sane right now is remembering that. And remembering that even though it felt neverending and impossible while I was in it — the period of time in which I was hitting the wall was only about three months. And what came after that was huge, sudden, sea changing breakthrough.

It helps a little, to remember that. But nevertheless I am at a wall. The wall of: I can’t go out at night without paying someone $50-75 to watch my kids. I can’t seem to go one goddamn week without forgetting a meeting or an appointment or when my kid last pooped, oh god is he constipated again, where did I put the miralax? 

I have big ideas, ideas that fill me with tingling thrilling excitement, but when I try to make them happen in the real world, I run out of steam or blow a fuse in my art garage or lose hours in a tailspin of self pity and web edits and mom guilt.

My body wants to dance in the streets and bring the baby with me everywhere. All of me wants revolution and paradigm change and to join hands with all the women I know and shout me too,  me too, me too. 

I want to make a literal space for us to come together and cry and rage and laugh and feel our power. It’s such a great idea! A monthly creative emotions worksho so we can cry and rage together. I know I can do this. I want to lead with the confidence I had when I was nine years old, I want to be doing and creating and taking care of my family and making our dreams come true, doing it our way.

But my body reels me in and tells me to slow down. I burn my hand on the stove. I bonk my head with the car door which… how do you even do that?!

So I listen. I slow down. My inner goddess — these days I’m seeing her as a combination of Venus de Milo and Rosie the Riveter — she reclines with her chin on her fist, smiling and waiting for me to come back to myself.

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What a relief, when that cloud clears, when that story drops.

And if I’m making this sound easy and idyllic, like I just sit back and the clouds clear, like I am a different human than you are, more evolved or courageous, or that I always snap out of it easily: no, girl. I am still a mess. But sometimes I see that what I thought was a wall is an optical illusion.

The mess hasn’t changed. The judgment has – THAT was the wall.

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Here’s what dissolved my walls this week:

I cut my own hair and felt the simple, immediate power of being able to alter my appearance.

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I read something from the great witch whose work I love so much, Carolyn Elliot — she said:

… you’ll definitely die, and in dying, you will totally fail to keep your ego projects in motion. You’re a complete failure no matter what. A dead failure.

And that bracing reminder helped me drop my sad sack story — god, that’s right! No matter what I will fail! What a relief. We are all going to die. No matter WHAT I do, the realization of my big ideas will never match the vision in my mind — ahhhhhhh. There is comfort. There is the sound of my grand ridiculous expectations, spontaneously combusting.

And as soon as they disappear, there is Venus de Riveter, lounging in my psyche, eating some almonds and laughing. Hi honey. Where you been?

Hand on heart, listening to Venus, why don’t you text so and so? And I do, and simple as that, I’m not alone. I am surrounded by loving, wonderful friends. They were there the whole time, but I couldn’t see them.

There is magic, right in front of my eyes.

My son, drawing intricate maps carefully inscribed with the letters B, O, T, D, A and Y. What does it mean?? Who knows?

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The trains he is always pointing out — I notice that they are roving art exhibitions. What an amazing thing.

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Even his tantrums — his huge, primal anger that I find so overwhelming — they are an opportunity to feel my feelings, to witness someone I love expressing feelings without filter. You’re mad! You wanna knock over chairs, that’s how angry you are! What can we do instead? Let’s rip some paper! Let’s draw a storm! Let’s dance to Sly and the Family Stone! 

Look at that! Every day is a damn creative emotions workshop in my world. I don’t need to make anything happen, it’s already here.

So in case you’re feeling angry at your mess or stuck behind a wall or lost in a storm today: you are not alone. I’m a mess too. We all are. Let’s draw / write / sing / breathe our way through it, shall we?

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The chaos of nature

I’m writing to you in the midst of a wild Portland spring. One day it’s 80 degrees, the next day it’s cold windy sheets of rain. In between, there are moments of glorious rainbow transition.

I’m in transition too: wrapping up the first online round of the Creative Magic Workout, which has been a lovely and fruitful experiment. I’m making plans to retool it a bit and launch it again in the fall. (Registration will open September 12, if you want to sign up).

I’m also preparing my body, mind and soul for the entrance of a new baby into the world (and its exit from my body).

Not gonna lie: I’m scared. And this is different from the last time I had a baby. It’s the fear of the known (or, relatively known) versus fear of the unknown.

Last time, I handled my fear with bravado and denial and blithe ignorance. I went in overconfident and underprepared. And it’s taken me a long time to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know, to see the beauty in how things unfolded as they did, to trust my body and my instincts. Honestly, it took me a long time to forgive nature itself.

I thought my body would know what to do naturally — I thought wanting a “natural birth” would somehow guarantee me a blissful, pain-free experience. And that is not the way it went. (Someday I’ll get around to writing the epic tale of my birth story, because it was beautiful in its own way, medicated and mediated and messy as it was).

This time, I’m approaching the prospect of childbirth with more wariness. The way you might approach a wild grizzly you happened upon in the woods. It’s natural, sure. And it also might claw your face off.

I went on an imagination walk with my son the other day, and we happened upon this sign:

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The funny thing is, I read it as: “Take time to listen to the chaos of nature: it is the music of life itself.”

Either way — chaos or chorus — I love the reminder.

In the years since I gave birth to my son, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve accepted the parts of myself that I used to reject as flaky and soft and inconsistent and weak; I’ve reclaimed them as the strengths of spontaneity, empathy, improvisation and vulnerability. I’ve created a new world for myself, a beloved community that comforts and calls me out, that reflects what I value and shows me what is true.

I’ve forgiven nature her fierceness, her brutality, her dramatic swings. They don’t negate her chorus of calm and loving care. They exist alongside it.

Thank you for being on this journey with me, friends. I will probably be off the radar for the next few months while I adjust to new life. I’m excited to see what I learn while I’m down in the dirt of newborn baby bootcamp, and to return to you in the fall with some hard-won insight.

Until then, I wish you kindness and good fortune on the chaotic chorus of your creative journey.

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Creative Breakthrough: how I learned to dance

I was driving yesterday, stuck in traffic, and I don’t know why but I found myself remembering the process of how I learned to love dancing. And it occurred to me that it might be a good story to share, because it involves overcoming fear and awkwardness and that is so central to all our creative journeys, whether they involve dancing or not.

So here it is! The story of my creative breakthrough as a dancer:

… IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE WATCHING THE VIDEO, HERE IS THE TEXT …

I love to dance now, but I didn’t always feel that way. For many years I was super self conscious about my dancing. I felt like I didn’t move right, I didn’t get it, I thought I danced like a white girl and that was not a good thing, so whenever I was in a situation where dancing was called for I moved as little as possible and got out of there as soon as I could.

Of course when I was a kid I loved dancing. Every kid I’ve met has loved to dance, and it seems to be a natural reaction to hearing music they like, their bodies just move. So yeah, I loved dancing when I was five but by the time I was ten I was crippled with self-consciousness. And I think this is true for a lot of us, we hit adolescence and we get self conscious, we don’t trust our bodies, we feel like we don’t look right or talk right or move right, so we spend a lot of our energy hiding, and that’s what I did. I can remember standing at the edge of the gym during school dances, arms crossed, terrified and annoyed and waiting for the whole thing to be over.

For me, two things changed this, and I’m so glad they did. they were pretty random.

One of them was this one time at band camp – yes, this is a real story about band camp – when I was about 13. There was some sort of a dance we all had to go to, which normally I hated, but because I was at band camp, there was a freedom to be someone different, to explore different sides of myself. And I felt safe with my new friends and we were all outside our normal lives, so for some reason, the song Rockin Robin came on and I had a reaction of total love for that song and my inner five year old busted out and I started dancing like I was on fire.

And it was really clear to me in that moment that when I loved the music, I loved dancing. It didn’t carry over – I didn’t go home and love dancing from that moment on – but that awareness stuck with me, the joy I felt shedding my self consciousness in that moment.

Flash forward to my freshman year of college. I was hanging out in someone’s dorm room with some new friends. Somehow this girl I didn’t know very well and I got to talking about dancing, and I said, I don’t feel comfortable dancing, I don’t get it, I can’t do it. And she decided right then and there to give me a dance lesson. She put on some music and for about 30 minutes she watched me dance and pointed out to me what I was doing that made me look like stiff and uncomfortable and showed me some moves and helped me get comfortable enough to try them myself.

And I can remember the big aha moment: I thought the problem with my dancing was my flailing, awkward, hopelessly uncoordinated limbs, and my response was to bring them in and move them as little as possible. But she was like, you are barely moving! You gotta get in your body more, really move your body. Your arms and legs don’t matter, what matters is that your hips are moving. Let your arms and legs follow the core of your body.

OH! I’d been so fixated on what not to do, I hadn’t noticed what was missing, And she showed me what that meant, she drew my attention to my hips, and I had time and space to try it out and look stupid and hesitant and practice moving boldly and feeling foolish and laughing at myself and there was nothing humiliating about it. And by the end of those 30 minutes, I felt like I got it. Enough that the next time I was in a situation where dancing in public was called for, I felt confident moving to the music and realized: this is fun! This is a fun way to spend time with people! If I liked someone else’s moves, I could copy them. If the music didn’t speak to me, I could sit it out and jump up when a song I loved came on. I lost my self-consciousness, and now after 20 years of dancing I can say, I am a very confident dancer. This doesn’t mean I’m a good dancer necessarily – I think I am, but in the end it really doesn’t matter – because I like dancing.

When I look back on it, this is such a metaphor for any kind of creativity. You need time and space to move through that awkward phase, to do it badly, to do it wrong, to look stupid, to flail your arms, to hit the wrong note, to draw a shaky line, to write a meandering sentence. And the irony is, when you give yourself that room to do it fully and badly – that is how you move to rocking it.

I’d love to know if you had a formative experience, with dancing or any form of creative expression. What led to your breakthrough?

And if you’d like to join me for a six week process of breakthroughs and creating and failing and practicing being bold in a safe and loving space, the very first online version of my creative magic workout starts April 3! Wooooooo!

Here’s some Dr. John for you to dance along to:

Creating my own beloved community

Yesterday, because I came down sick for the third time in two months, I took the day to take good care of myself. I haven’t done that since my six beautiful days at Caldera two months ago (which feels like it was six years ago), and my body sent me a message loud and clear: YOU NEED TO REST TODAY. YOU NEED TO BE VERY VERY CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT FOOD YOU PUT INTO YOUR BODY.

So I listened. I rearranged my work schedule. I dropped my kiddo off at school, and then I came right home and lay down to take a little nap that turned into a 3 hour nap.

Then I made myself some nourishing food and did one of my favorite grounding rituals: (1) draw a 2-minute self portrait (2) do 2 minutes of freewriting, (3) circle 7 words and turn them into a poem mantra for the day.

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There are a million things I could / should have been doing, that I’m behind on. Really important things. But you know what? After my day of rest, those things were all still there, but instead of feeling overwhelmed by panicky freefall, I felt calm.

And with that calm comes the clear, gentle message: there is time to do what I need to do. It will be okay. The world isn’t going to crash and burn if I don’t get my flyers up or keep up with my emails or figure out how childcare is going to work when the new baby comes. It’s okay if I don’t share the latest outrage on facebook. I can take the time to rest.

I wish I remembered this more often. I wish I moved through the world like this all the time. I wish it didn’t take three rounds of sickness to force me to listen to my body’s demands to rest. And it’s easy for me to go to a bitter place about that – why don’t we live in a world that values a more balanced way of living? Why do we live in a culture that cherishes busy-ness and working too hard and putting yourself last and never asking for help?

But I could also look at it this way: what do I need to do to create that world? How can I change our culture, starting with myself? What can I do to create my own world that values self care and taking your time and listening carefully and looking up at the sky and asking for help?

It’s easier when you are not alone – when you’ve got a culture to back you up, to reinforce what you think is important. So that’s why one of the key elements of my work right now is building a beloved community.

It starts, as one of my heroes John Lewis so wisely says, with yourself. It starts by moving through the world as if that beloved community already existed – as if the world was the way you wished it to be.

You could call this wishful thinking or even (shudder) positive thinking, but I think it’s very different. It’s not forcing yourself to believe a lie: it’s posing a question to yourself about what you want the world to look like, and how you can embody that world starting now.

So that’s what I’m asking myself today. What does my beloved community look like?

One thing I’m doing to create my own beloved community is leading Creative Magic Workouts! There are still spots open in the live version that starts Monday, and if that isn’t your bag, the online version starts April 3. If my beloved community sounds like yours, contact me and let’s join forces!