Bragging Mad Libs

As I said in my last post, it takes a lot of ENERGY to own your power – to express your life’s journey with confidence – to brag.

Know what else takes a lot of energy? Creative expression. It takes time and effort to sit down and draw, to get up and dance.

But creative expression also GIVES a lot of energy. You sit down to draw and suddenly, hours have gone by and you’ve been wholly absorbed in the colors and lines and shapes of what you are creating, and your brain is sparking. You spend an hour dancing like crazy and you end up working out harder than if you’d gone to the gym, but you feel like you could keep going for hours.

Bragging works that way too: it takes energy to stand up and say, this is my story, this is my strength, here I am. But when you do it, you feel the energy flooding in. This is who I am. BOOM. YES. This is who I am.

This is why I encourage you to practice bragging – because you can feel the effects right away.

Here is a super quick and easy way to practice right now – bragging mad libs! Fill in the blank and see what comes up for you.

I like to write down the first thing that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Because if I stop to think, I’ll get stuck and my trolls will want to get in on the action, and then I’ll start wanting to get it right, and then there’s no hope. You can’t brag if you’re trying to be perfect.

Though (as with most things) the opposite is also true: you could also sit with this, testing it out, seeing what comes to you over time.

If you want, make up your own mad libs! I take inspiration from the king, Muhammad Ali, and also from musical divas, country queens and classic rock gods. Here are some lines you could play with:

I’m so mean I make medicine sick

I’m so fast I can turn out the light and be in bed before it’s dark

Here I am, rock me like a hurricane

I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me

I was born a coal miner’s daughter, in a cabin on a hill in butcher’s holler

I’m the sister of a hellraiser, the daughter of an old tomcat, I was playin’ the piano in a honky-tonk before you bragged about that (I just heard an interview with rock and roller Linda Gail Lewis which is where I heard that line!)

So easy to turn them into fill-in-the-blank brags:

I’m so ___________ I make ________ __________

I’m so _______ I can _______ and ________ before it’s _________

Here I am, rock me like a ___________

I’m a ________ baby so why don’t you _____________

I was born a _______, in a ________ on a ________ in _________

I’m the sister of a _________, the daughter of a _________, I was _________ before you bragged about that

Try it! Jot some things down, and why not: speak them out loud.

WOO HOO! Do you feel a rush? Do you feel a thrill? That’s your power, baby.


If you want to do this with others in a safe environment for practicing space-claiming and power-proclaiming, you can sign up for my free webinar, DYNAMIC BRAG

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Here I Am

Hello out there. How was your summer?

I had a very creative summer in many ways – lots of family time and swimming lessons and camping trips and first steps and whoopie cushions and a superhero scavenger hunt.

So many things to inspire and instigate and invigorate my creative spirit. Nothing makes my heart swell with love and pride more than seeing my kids give free rein to their creative instincts. Beautiful!

And at the same time, exhausting. Because facilitating the growth and healthy development of small children involves a lot of thinking ahead, a lot of making mistakes, a lot of head-bonking, a lot of tantrum-decoding, a lot of blanket-fort-decomissioning, a lot of tears, a lot of night frights, a lot of messes.

I believe in messes. I believe in the creative anarchic spirit. And I believe parenting – all caregiving, really – is creative. It requires deep pools of creativity in order to do it at all. And because it is so all encompassing, so demanding, so FREAKING HARD — it also makes it difficult to focus on other creative projects.

Like, it’s hard to foster my son’s beautiful anarchic creative spirit while also embracing my own. It’s hard to embrace making messes when I’m the one cleaning them up. It’s hard to hold space for chaos when you’re also in charge of setting the boundaries.

So I am excited that we are in the fall and my kids are in someone else’s care for part of the day so I can make some time for my creative spirit to bounce off the walls. So I can write to you and turn my mind towards what the hell I do when I’m not wiping applesauce off the floor and chasing a one year old into the bathroom shouting NO HANDS IN THE TOILET!

My coaching tentacles are slowly coming back to life and here I am, curious about what’s going on in your world.

I find my mind returning to a topic that always carries such a charge – something that is a key part of the Creative Magic Workout, the one people are most resistant to, the one that seems like it’s got nothing to do with creativity – like it’s a separate universe – and which turns out to be intricately, inseparably intertwined with creative expression.

That topic is BRAGGING.

Bragging is a loaded word so allow me to use some other words to describe what it means to me:

  • Telling your hero story
  • Standing fully in your experience of the world
  • Owning your experience — what you feel and believe and think
  • Feeling pride in what you have done and what you will do, good or bad
  • Speaking with confidence about your experience, about what you have done and will do
  • Holding yourself with power, acknowledging your power instead of deflecting it, hiding it, pretending you don’t have it
  • Claiming your space
  • Claiming your time
  • Claiming the attention of others

So scary, right?

There is a reason we spend a lot of time on this – because it’s HARD and because it’s KEY to your creative expression.

So my approach, as with anything creative – come to think of it, this is my approach to parenting too – is to make it as easy as possible.

How to make bragging easy?

One way is to find someone to emulate, to remind you of what kind of person you want to be, to spur you on, to cheer you on, to encourage you.

dolly image

One of my champions is Dolly Parton and I’m so thrilled to see my very favorite song of hers, “Here I Am,” out in the world as a new duet with Sia. And it strikes me as a FANTASTIC bragging song. (One of my favorite ways to creatively work things out is to find a song that speaks to whatever is on my mind, and then sing / dance / jump around to it in my garage).

If you’d like to do that with me today, please join me in singing and dancing and hopping around and saying out loud, HERE I AM.

(And if you want to register for my free webinar next week, DYNAMIC BRAG, you can do it here: REGISTRATION)

Bragging about the mess

I talk a lot about bragging about what’s hard and celebrating failure and being real. And I try to walk that walk. But I have been hiding the last few weeks, because I couldn’t find the story that I wanted to share.

And once I realized I was hiding, I thought: why do I feel like I have to find the right spin to put on this? Why can’t I just talk about my doubts and questions as I’m living them? Isn’t that what I encourage other people to do?

So here you go. My life is feeling like a mess right now. Lots of glorious beautiful moments in that mess – and also lots of questions and doubts and problems I don’t yet know how to solve.

In a lot of ways, my summer artist residency in motherhood was easier, because I focused all my attention on figuring out how to mother a newborn baby + a big kid with big feelings and energy and needs. It took all my attention to do that, and there was poetry in living that, poetry in not having a moment to write down the poetry.

And in the last two months as I’ve edged back into work – which is not a singular thing but many overlapping obligations, of which this creative magic biz is one – and the kids have edged into school and childcare, it’s been much harder.

I plunged myself headlong into promoting the fall round of the creative magic workout, and then decided to cancel it. Partly because not enough people signed up, partly because I’m so consumed with mom guilt, it’s difficult to give my full attention to creative magic these days. Even though I think it’s worthy of my attention. My body is at odds with my mind and one thing I’ve learned over the last few years is, when that happens, it’s a good idea to slow down and listen to my body.

And right now my body has a lot of contradictory information. It wants peace and quiet and a break so it can sleep, and it also wants the baby to be snuggled close at all times, and it wants someone else to hold the baby. It wants to dance and play piano and not be mothering, and it wants to dive deep into mothering and nothing else.

How do I brag about this mess? Oof.

I am ROCKING this mom guilt, y’all. Oh my god, I am doing an amazing job of relishing the exquisite pangs of shame and longing that consume me when I’m away from my baby.

I am letting myself feel it, letting myself sit with my questions. Instead of forcing the situation one way or another, I am sitting in the paradox. I am brilliant at sitting in the paradox.

My body is such an amazing teacher that even when I sit and listen closely to what it wants, I don’t have a fucking clue what to make of it. That’s how far ahead of me it is. I find this incredibly frustrating.

Oooh – except, and this is interesting – as soon as I wrote that, my body came alive with an image of exactly what it wants.

(Clue to think about later: sometimes you can’t figure out what you want until you express your rage and confusion).

So here is the image that just came to me: I’m in a small cozy room and I am surrounded by loving, patient women who take my baby and rock him and gently push me out the door saying, go, do your work honey, let us take care of the baby for a while. And I leave him in that cozy place and go outside under a big far-reaching tree to do my own work which begins with checking in with my body.

Ahhhh. I love this. This helps me understand what my issue is. It’s not about the childcare itself, it’s about the where and when and how of it.

I encourage you to join me – to take a moment, if you are currently in the mess (which – I don’t know about you, but I am in it all the time) to sit with your body, to voice your frustration, and to pay attention to the images that come to you.

Write them, draw them, or just notice them.

As soon as I noticed this image, my whole body changed. The low level panic and stress I’ve been feeling all day fell away. I haven’t solved any problems but now I’m alert and creatively engaged in the problems.

That’s what I’ve got for you today. Let’s keep bragging about this freaking mess we’re all living, shall we?

(And if you are interested, I will be offering the Creative Magic Workout at some point later this year — never fear, my mess will not keep me from making a space for expressing the wild ridiculous wonder of our true selves together)

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Bragging as a bridge (not a wall)

Bragging is a big part of the work I do, and we’ve been talking about it this week in my Creative Magic Workout, so I thought I’d open up the discussion to everyone.

Watch the video:


If you’re doing any kind of creative work – by which I mean, living life as a vulnerable, expressive human being – there are so many opportunities for rejection, and not many for building you up and celebrating what you’ve done and how you’ve grown. That’s one reason it’s essential to cultivate a healthy ability to brag about yourself and your work.

But when we do, fears come up, and one big one is the fear that if you brag, you’re going to push people away or turn them off. We often associate bragging with a kind of aggression, someone who can’t stop talking about themselves, someone who goes on and on at a party or is trying to sell you something or is desperate for your approval. The fear is that when we brag, we’re pushing people away, pushing them out.

But what if we can see bragging as a way of connecting, as an invitation, a way to bring people in? What if we can talk about our strengths and triumphs in a way that draws people in?

I think of it as approaching bragging as a wall, or as a bridge.

A wall divides, it keeps some people out and some people in, it projects an image of strength that is a fakeout, a façade, a lie to hide behind while you lob flaming arrows at supposed attackers to keep them from finding out the truth.

A bridge says, welcome. Come on over and see for yourself. There’s room for you here. I am open to you being here, I want to help you cross over anything that might divide us, I want to provide a path for you to find me.

That’s a different kind of confidence. It’s not about lying, it’s about being totally transparent. And I think when you brag like that, it’s infectious and welcoming and not threatening.

So how does this play out in real life bragging? Let me give you an example from my life: this week I realized that I’ve gotten a lot better over the course of the year at getting my 3.5 year old dressed and fed and cleaned up and out the door on time to school.

The wall version of bragging out this would be to inflate it, to project something bigger and better than reality. I could say, I get my son out the door and to preschool on time every single morning with no problem because I’m a bad ass.

That sounds good, right? Except it’s not my actual reality. And when I have a hard day – like I did yesterday – that kind of brag is an unrealistic expectation that makes me feel worse. And if it makes me feel worse, I imagine it might have that effect on others too!

So what’s a bridge version of that brag? How can I be confident and strong within the challenging circumstances, within my lived reality?

I could say, it’s really hard to get my kid out the door on time. But you know what? Day in, day out, I’m doing it. even when it seems impossible, I find a way to make it possible.

That’s true. That’s reality. It makes me feel better. It opens me up to seeing my own strength in a challenging situation.

And really, that’s the most important thing, right? Building a bridge to yourself, inviting yourself to feel confident as you move through life in all it’s fluctuating paradoxical glory. In my experience, that kind of bragging helps me see the ways in which other people are growing and struggling and doing great things. And that’s how we build a strong community of love and support.

How to brag without sounding like a douchebag

I have a question for you. If I asked you to brag about yourself right now, what would you say? I imagine you would react by freezing up and mumbling and not doing a very good job. And you are not alone! Most of us find it difficult to brag. (By us I mean women, but if any of you dudes find it hard, this is for you too).

I’ve been thinking about why it’s difficult, and I think it’s this tension: on the one hand we want to feel respected and appreciated, to be seen as powerful. And on the other hand, we don’t want to sound like douchebags. We don’t want to bullshit people. It feels uncomfortable to make a claim about yourself that someone could knock down.

I have an exercise I use to get myself in a headspace to talk about my achievements without feeling that creeping horror of “they’re all gonna laugh at you” – one that helps me talk about my achievements without making it all about me. It’s a simple idea:

  1. Write down 3 of the hardest things you’ve ever done
  2. For each one, ask yourself: what was hard? What did you learn?
  3. Say it out loud: My name is [insert name], and I [did this hard thing]

That’s it! No elaboration required – you just SAY OUT LOUD THE HARD THINGS YOU’VE DONE. You aren’t lying or bullshitting. You are stating the facts, and sharing your growth, and letting whoever is listening draw their own conclusions.

I’ll show you what’s on my list. Off the top of my head, here are 3 hard things I’ve done:

  • I gave birth to my son after 44 hours of labor.
  • When I was 22, I moved to Oregon with my best friend. We had no plan, barely enough money and only knew one person out here.
  • 12 years ago, I took a show to Poland with my theatre company. We performed in many crazy situations, the craziest of which was doing the show in an open field at sunset while the set caught fire and burned down around us.

So let’s look at that last one. What was hard? It was grueling. I put myself in some dangerous situations. We could have died. It was scary. What did I learn? How to keep calm when the world (or set) is crashing down around you.  How to dodge fire. How to think on my feet. That I could handle the worst case scenario. And after that, performing onstage without fire seemed like no big deal.

From this, I can put together a pretty good brag. Like this:

I am Faith Helma, I worked for 15 years as performance artist. I made 20 shows. I performed in some crazy situations. Once I did a whole show while the set burned down around me. Two years ago, I hatched an idea to channel that creative energy into a coaching business. And instead of dismissing that idea, I took it seriously, and now I am running this business. I am failing and learning every single day. And I am being honest about my failures which scares the shit out of me but you know what? One thing you learn when you are performing a show while the set burns down around you is how to keep calm, how to think on your feet, and how to dodge fire. 

So now it’s your turn! Go through the steps, dig deep into what you’ve overcome in your life, and practice saying it out loud. And then if you’re up for an extra challenge: see if you can sneak it into conversation with another human being.

p.s. I wrote about this topic over a year ago, here: BOASTING PRACTICE . Back then I shared clips from two masters of the boast, Nicki Minaj and Muhammad Ali. Both of them start with something hard they did — making stupid mistakes when starting out, getting knocked down in fights — and spin that out into some righteous, braggadocious poetry.

 

I suck, I’m great

New exercise in my Quick Ideas for Creative Action series, called: I SUCK, I’M GREAT.

This is a great one for flipping your own expectations around about what you’re supposed to be good at, and what you’re supposed to hide.

Simple idea: make a list of things you suck at, switch each one to its opposite, then say out loud, I AM GREAT AT [opposite thing].

Because think about it — if I suck at being on time, I must be great at being late.

I walk you through it here, and I’d like to draw your attention to my fabulous skills in rambling and repeating myself and abrupt video editing:

From DIY to Revolution in 10 Easy Steps

I had a session with someone the other day, and one of the things we talked about was how to build in accountability when you have a big idea, without making the pressure so big that you bail on it altogether out of fear.

This struck me as something we all struggle with, or at least, those of us who like to dream big. There’s a tendency to think that step one is doing only for yourself, and step two is sharing it with the world in a huge public way.

When in fact, there are a lot of steps in between.

In our session, we wrote out what those steps might look like, and came up with this:

  1. Do it for yourself
  2. Tell friends what you’re doing
  3. Invite people to play with you
  4. Invite a few strangers
  5. Publicize it
  6. ?
  7. ?
  8. ?
  9. ?
  10. Lead a revolution

I’m not sure what happens in steps 6-9, but I’d love to hear your ideas.

In the meantime, if there’s a project you are excited about but scared to share with the world, here is my assignment for you: what is the tiniest, easiest, most fun way you could share your thoughts?

Could you tell your kids about it?
Could you mention it to your friends over drinks?
Could you write a note and leave it somewhere for an anonymous person to find?
Could you write about it cryptically on facebook?
Could you google it and see if anyone else is as excited about it as you are?

Or here’s a thought: you could say something here or over on the facebook page! I’d love to know what you’re excited about.

My grand experiment

This weekend, I performed my manifesto-in-training to a fantastic crowd at the Risk/Reward Festival here in Portland.

Can I be honest, guys? (Or as Joan Rivers would say, can we talk?)

Going into this weekend, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with this strange performance experiment that I’ve spent the last year working on. I thought this might be the end of the road, at least for a while.

It’s been a beautiful experiment. When I started, the aim was to see if it was possible to make a show that fit into my current lifestyle, and that actually improved my day to day life instead of requiring sacrifice. I used to make shows as if they were the sun and I was the moon. Everything I had went towards making them. And that’s okay! For a long time it was exciting. And then slowly it became unhealthy. And then when I gave birth to my son it became impossible. So with this show, I wanted the sun to be me — my body, my life, my family, my actual son — and the moon to be this show. It would exist to serve me, and not the other way around.

When I first had this thought, it seemed radical. I had a lot of questions:

  • Could I make a show whose #1 goal was to make my life better?
  • Could I use the show as an excuse to procure resources that I want in my life?
  • Could I rehearse a show by jotting things down in a notebook and inviting people to watch me try out those ideas once or twice a month? And could those ideas just be stuff I think about in the shower?
  • Could I make a show with zero collaborators?
  • Could I make a show with no set or costumes aside from what catches my eye at goodwill?

The short answer is: yes. I rehearsed at a very lackadaisacal pace (at least, compared to how I used to rehearse). I had a notebook next to the shower, and much of the material for the show came from what I mused about in there (or while nursing my son at 2am). Here’s what I spent money on:

$12 – jumpsuit

$14 – shitty easel (I wanted to return it and buy a better one, but it turns out easels are nonrefundable)

$10 – big paper

$24 – 2 fuzzy blankets on clearance, 2 pillows and one “carpet” which is really a bedspread from goodwill

$5 – an “altar” from goodwill

$15 – tape, markers and small objects for the altar

$27 – laminating 4 sheets of big paper

————————————–

$107 TOTAL

(Oh and of course, childcare — but I won’t include that number since I have a small seizure whenever I see it.)

I had no official collaborators and thus no meetings or emails or stress — but I did have help making the show from great artists I love and respect, whose insight I’m grateful for.

I wasn’t able to do all the things I originally built into the plan/budget — for instance, I still want to do intensive hypnosis training in Tacoma, and as I talk about in my show, originally I was going to pay a costume designer to make me a fabulous outfit. But I did in fact procure everything by wandering into thrift stores and seeing what caught my eye. And even though the Seattle Times thought that “with more polished production design it could easily become a ruby,” I am very happy to be a defiantly unpolished rhinestone.

So all in all, I’d have to say it’s an experiment that WORKED, and that is what I’m most amazed by. I always knew it would result in SOMETHING. But I didn’t know if that something would be good, or interesting to other people. And it turns out, it is! And the thing I’m second most amazed by is that I honestly don’t care (much) if people think it’s good or not. Somehow, after giving birth and embarking on all this self-exploration and Creative Guide-ness, the part of my brain that cares about what people think of me or my work onstage has switched off. (Or maybe not off, but to low burn.) I feel comfortable onstage. I feel comfortable talking about my work with people offstage, no matter what they think. If they don’t like it, that’s okay with me. Maybe this sounds like a small thing. But for me it is HUGE.

And I’m grateful and surprised as hell that the result of my experiment is a show I love warts and all, and that other people love too. And the upshot of it is, I want to continue this grand experiment, and make it into a 45-minute hybrid performance/seminar/ted talk. I want to keep doing it my way — no meetings, no emails, no crazy expectations, and if I can, money for pedicures built into the budget. And I want to take it all the way to Vegas. Well, maybe not to Vegas (though Celine, if you need an opening act, I’m available). But maybe to SXSW Interactive, the Canadian Fringe, the World Domination Summit…

Are those big goals? Does it seem a little nuts? Well, a year ago this whole idea sounded beautifully nuts, and I pulled it off.

So let’s drink a toast to following our beautifully nutso dreams and dance badly for 2.5 minutes to Celine Dion singing I Drove All Night.


ALSO: if you’d like to get some practice failing, flailing, falling, sprawling and doing things badly, come to my Sunday Morning Fail Zone workshop! Next one is this Sunday (July 19) at 10am. When we fail, we learn, evolve, grow and become stronger. We might as well enjoy the process.

Manifesto in progress: I hate positive thinking

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I’ve been working on a solo performance this year that has one foot in the performance world and one foot in this new world I’ve ventured into, the world of (duh duh DUHHHHH) self-help.

It’s strange that I’m in this new world, since most of my life I’ve had an aversion to the idea of self-help and positive thinking. In fact, that’s the title of my show: I HATE POSITIVE THINKING.

It’s about this tension I feel, as someone working in the life coaching field who can’t stand the terms abundance, manifesting, law of attraction and poverty mindset. In essence, it’s my manifesto, on its feet, in progress. A living manifesto.

I’ll be sharing bits and pieces from my living manifesto in the coming weeks as I get ready to take it to the NW New Works Festival, so you can see for yourself what I do and do not stand for. One things I most certainly DO stand for is Stevie Wonder. He is a goddamn treasure (check out how he breaks it down starting at 7:29):

But I also want to encourage you to write / create / dance / draw your own manifesto.

In fact, that is the theme of the next Sunday Morning Creative Zone workshop: THE ART OF THE MANIFESTO (manifesti?)

And it just occured to me — as someone who hates the term ‘manifesting’, it’s funny that I love the term manifesto. Maybe that’s my philosophy in one sentence: I don’t want you to manifest wealth, health and abundance. I want you to get on your feet and MANIFESTO it.

Carry on, brave friends.

Boasting practice (part 1)

In this week’s Creative Workout Group, we took all the work we’ve done identifying critics and champions, and used it to start developing material to boast about ourselves and our accomplishments.

This is surprisingly (or not surprisingly, I guess) hard to do, and everyone was nervous about it.

But we took it slow, and by the end we were cracking each other up and feeling inspired. It sounds paradoxical, but I think the key to learning to boast about yourself is:

  1. Not taking yourself too seriously.
  2. Focusing on where you’ve been and the hardships you’ve overcome (not just how good you have it now).
  3. Setting the stage with anything that helps you feel powerful, including props, shoes, a fabulous pantsuit or haircut (speaking of which, I LOVE this video I just came across from Lucky Bitch – and I say this as someone who spends zero effort and money on my hair), and most importantly, the right backing music.

So, in part one of an ongoing series about how to ease into boasting about yourself, I offer you some inspiration from the masters:

Nicki Minaj, “I’m the Best”

Muhammad Ali — man, I could watch videos of him all DAY:

See if this inspires you to talk about what you’ve overcome and what a badass you are.

And if you want to take that inspiration further, put on one of these backing tracks and get some practice!


By the way – if you’d like to join a Creative Workout Group, we have a new one starting on March 3! I’m also offering a free Creative Work Out Zone workshop the first Sunday of every month, starting March 1 — RSVP here.