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.

chaos or chorus

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.

When you encounter a troll in the shower

We’ve been working with our trolls this week in the Creative Magic Workout, which is one of my favorite things to do.

Trolls are what I call the critical thoughts that divebomb you when you’re trying something new or creative or risky or, you know, taking a shower.

That’s what happened to me this morning! I was in the shower and the thought popped into my head: “You should have figured this out five years ago.”

(“This” being “how to balance motherhood and making enough money and having a career that makes everything you want in life possible.”)

And I almost let that thought slip by unnoticed – it’s a thought I have often — but because we’ve been working with trolls, I did notice. I stopped and went, wait a minute, what was that? Is that a troll talking?

You should have figured this out five years ago.

So I did a transformation spell. This is what I call the process of considering, questioning and turning around those critical thoughts.

I considered it: is it true, that I should have figured this out five years ago? Do I agree?

Well, not really. I wish I had figured it out, but I also don’t know how useful it would have been. Or how possible. My life was totally different then, and I’m not sure I could have even imagined how it would change, much less figure out how to respond to that change.

I questioned it. What would be different now if I had “figured it out”? What does figuring it out even mean? Is it possible to figure it out? What is the benefit of figuring something out in advance – wasn’t I figuring things out then that were useful then? Aren’t I figuring this out now? Are there other women I can think of who have figured it out? Honestly, I can’t think of a single mother who has figured it all out. Everyone’s struggling with something.

And I turned it around, which means, I came up with opposite thoughts that are also true.

I should not have figured it out five years ago. In fact, it would have been ridiculous and impossible and kind of miraculous if I had.

It is a waste of time to try to imagine what your life might need in five years. It would have been a waste of my time then.

I am figuring this out now and that is the best use of my time and energy.

I did figure this out five years ago! I figured out some of it, anyway.

Once I went through all this – which was less than five minutes, tops – I was able to laugh at that troll. I wasn’t wrestling with it or struggling to shake it off. It stepped away of its own accord.

Later when I was out of the shower I thought: who is this troll, exactly?

And what came to mind were associations of impatience and wanting to know everything in advance and being very annoyed when things don’t go a certain way. I got an image of the classic rom-com business woman protagonist who falls in love with a laid back handyman and learns to laugh and not take herself so seriously.

So I sketched a picture. Here it is:

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Do you want to try it? Notice your critical thoughts as you go about your day, and when you have a couple minutes, jot down associations with that critical voice, sketch a picture, and give that troll a name.

And then do a quick transformational spell.

  1. Consider the thought
  2. Question the thought
  3. Turn it around

And see if the troll doesn’t soften, stand back and let you cross that bridge after all.

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:

Express Yourself: come up with an imaginary project

Lately I am feeling even more fired up than usual about awakening our collective creativity.

Maybe it’s because every day I talk to someone who shudders at the thought of dancing or singing in public.

Maybe it’s because our president wants to cut the NEA. (Not to mention Meals on Wheels).

Maybe it’s because arts funding in our country is already so laughable.

Maybe it’s because our education system — which in most places has bare bones arts education, if they have any at all — is gearing up to be gutted even more.

Maybe it’s because our national narrative, going back to the Puritans, is that artistic expression is a waste of time and money, a whimsical luxury, something that has nothing to do with survival or real life. And that’s a narrative that is powerful, one that most of us have internalized. I know I have. I catch myself dismissing art all the time. I don’t have time for that. There are more important things to do. Even though I know art has been essential to my survival and my growth and my health.

I can’t help but think there is a link between the scorn so many people feel for art, and the fear so many people have of expressing themselves creatively.

So, I’m feeling the pull to step up my efforts. I truly feel that every single human being has the capability to dance and sing and draw and write and tell the story of their life — and if you shy away from any of these things, it’s because somewhere along the line, someone made you feel not good enough to do it. That you should be ashamed of your natural expression. That the way your body moved was wrong, somehow, or the way your hand drew a line was too shaky,or the sound of your voice too grating, or the way you formed words too slow.

And I say this not to shame anyone further — we all have our fears, and they are worthy of our respect — but to counter that shame with some encouragement. You are a human being with a body and a voice and an imagination and the ability to use tools. You don’t need to deprive yourself of the great pleasure of using them.

It’s not something you can overcome with a snap of the fingers, I know. Hey, stop being afraid to sing! It’s not that easy. But if you are feeling silly or sheepish or small today, know that you are not alone, and it is possible to overcome your fear, and you have the capability to shine and shimmy and kick ass. You have the right to express yourself.

(My inner trolls are telling me right now that I am laying this on a little thick. Who do you think you are? Nobody cares about your encouragement! Oh, trolls. Don’t you see that this pep talk is 97% to myself? And if I could use encouragement, isn’t it possible that someone else could too?)

Well, if that someone is you, here is a video I made, a mini-lesson on one of the themes I cover in my creative magic workout:


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

I’m going to share an exercise with you. I call this, imaginary creative project. We’re going to come up with a creative project, just for fun – and we’re going to dream up how we MIGHT pursue it if we WERE going to make it happen – and we’re going to take out any pressure or stress or critical mind shut-downs by telling our subconscious mind that this is for pretend, it’s not for real.

(Don’t tell your subconscious this, but by doing it like this, we might trick ourselves into actually doing it in the real world).

So right now, I want you to get some paper and a pen, close your eyes and take a deep breath. I’m going to play some contemplative music, and I’d like you to think about what you want more of in your life.

What are you craving? What fascinates you? What are you wishing for?

Ask these questions, but don’t try to answer them. Sit with them, and let your hand start to draw on the paper in front of you. Don’t open your eyes, just draw whatever you feel like drawing as you ask yourself those questions.

What am I craving? What fascinates me? What am I wishing for? What do I want more of?

If any words come to you, jot those down too, along with whatever you’re doodling. They don’t have to make sense, you don’t have to understand them, just let your hand draw and write what it wants. I’m going to let you do that for the next 30 seconds, and if you want to spend more time doing this I totally encourage you to do that, and you can just pause the video and start it up when you’re done.

Now open your eyes and look at what you drew and wrote. If you’re like me, it’s probably a ridiculous inscrutable diagram – but just for fun, let’s look at it and see how we could make it into a project. It might take a while, and there’s no rush. See if any patterns emerge.

 

For me, I drew a lot of circles and wavy lines, and I can make out the words magic, carpet, water, connection, elephants, sleep, Beyonce, fruit. Hmm. I guess I can see a pattern, maybe a desire to feel more connected to my dreams at night, to remember them and spend time thinking about them? (I’m leaving out elephants and Beyonce at the moment).

So how might I make this into a project? Here are four things I consider when I’m making something into a project – four things that take it out of the ether of my imagination and root it in the real world:

  1. Give it a name

In my case, I could call it the Dream Recording project.

  1. Make space and time for practicing it

What does practicing look like for my project? How can I include elements I wrote and drew into that?

For my Dream Recording project, I could keep a notebook by my bed and every morning, jot down impressions of dreams. Then twice a week I could schedule in some time to look over what I’ve written and do some freewriting to see if I can recall more about what I dreamed, and what I think it means. I could eat fruit while I do this to make it more enticing, and drink sparkling water.

See how we start to get practical here? We take these amphibious desires and start finding ways to anchor them, to practice them in our daily lives. So for me, that means I am going to schedule time twice a week, for fifteen minutes after I drop my son off at school and before I start working. I will make sure I have fruit and sparkling water with me and sit down to do my magical dreamwriting time.

Now remember: this is still imaginary! I’m not saying I am actually going to start doing this. But if I were going to, that’s what I could do.

  1. Find a way to share it with people

This can be as simple as deciding to tell people. I could tell people, I’ve started writing down my dreams every morning. I could ask them what they’ve been dreaming about. Or I could get all social media and post every day on facebook, here’s what I dreamed today, #dreamfruitproject. Or I could say, at the end of the month I’m going to throw a dream party and invite people over to talk about their dreams.

  1. Set up deadlines

This can sound scary, and part of me always balks at doing this – but all it means is, I’m setting things up to make it easy for me to do this for real. it would be easy for me to say, this is a fun project – and then never do it. but what are the actions I could take that would make it easy and inevitable for me to do this for real?

In my case – it could be as simple as saying, every week when I go grocery shopping, I will make sure I’m buying enough fruit and sparkling water for the week. Special things for me to consume during dream recording time. That also builds in some incentive for me to use them up, so they don’t go to waste.

If it’s a deadline that fills you with dread or takes all the fun out of this project, drop it. but if it gives you a thrill of excitement that scares you a little bit, that’s fantastic.

So I’d like you to do this. Come up with a name for a project, think up some ways you could practice it in your daily life, find a way to start talking about it, and see if there are some simple deadlines you could set for yourself.

And remember: this is all imaginary. This is just for fun. You are under no obligation to go do any of this. But here is the sneaky part: now that you’ve got this project in mind and some ways to make it easy to do, why not give it a shot? For myself, I had no intention of starting a dream recording project before I started this video, but now that I’ve said it out loud to you, it sounds like a great idea, it sounds fun and I think I might try it for a week and see what happens. I encourage you to do this too. Why not try it for a week?

Good luck to you out there. (And if you want to go deeper into coming up with creative projects to bring more joy and connection and fun into your life, this is what we spend six weeks doing in the  Creative Magic Workout. Join us!)