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!

The kind of magic I believe in

Two weeks ago, I finished up the first round of my new solo show / creative expedition. It was incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, which is funny, because at every step along the way, I had doubts about its worthiness as a project and my ability to pull it off.

I can’t tell you how many times I almost cancelled it. And each time, the question came down to — is the risk that this will be a disaster a risk I’m willing to take?

And each time — BARELY — my answer was yes. So I did it. And lo and behold: it was not a disaster. It was wonderful! We performed a ‘What If’ spell to imagine a world where we have what we want. We named the trolls in the room and charmed them into helping us. We summoned champions and felt their energy. We dissolved toxic spells and enacted an ‘As If’ spell to imagine ourselves engaged in a beloved community.

Someone asked me after the show: well, do you believe in magic?

I was a little taken aback, because to me there’s no question. Are my feelings not clear? Am I communicating something subconsciously, some doubt, some deep lingering hesitation?

But then again, the reason I am working on a show about believing in magic, the reason I’m building a creative workout program around it, is because I frequently forget about it.

It’s easy to find yourself lost in a fog of forgetfulness about what magic feels like and how it works. To feel adrift, floating along at the mercy of elements you don’t understand or control.

For me, when I’m lost in that fog, the way back to magic is through magic. It’s like self care: when I get busy or tired or stressed out, I stop taking care of myself, stop paying attention to my self-talk, stop drinking enough water, give in to the desire to eat starbursts instead of eating actual fruit. I stop drawing self-portraits in my daily dream journal. I forget how important it is to check in with my friends.

And it starts to feel all or nothing. It starts to feel like what is required to get me back into alignment with myself is something huge and insurmountable. When in fact, the way in is through small gestures, small tokens, small footsteps. One drink of water! One drink of water is all it takes for my body to remember what being refreshed feels like. One text to a friend is all it takes to set a time to get together over coffee. Five minutes of sitting with a pen and a blank page of my dream journal is all it takes to draw a self portrait and feel that rush of recognition. Five minutes of walking outside to give all my attention to a tree is all it takes to see some magic at work.

Does that sound silly? I am serious: go outside right now and look at a tree. Or a plant or a flower or a bug. You start to notice things you didn’t see before. And in that noticing, magic starts to creep back in, possibility creeps back in. The awareness that the world is much bigger than you can imagine creeps back in.

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The key for me is this: magic isn’t a THING. You don’t snap your fingers and it’s there, easy to digest. It’s not a pill or a trick or a simple set of directions. It’s a state we can enter, an energy we can feel and a power we can sense.

 

It’s a process and a practice. Magic is both what we are trying to summon, and the way to summon it.

For me, for many years, the practice took the form of live theatre, which uses all the elements of true magic: you create a space. You dim the lights. You invite people to sit in silence. And then you enact a ritual within that silence. You spellbind. You cast spells together. You tell stories. You take people on a journey in their mind.

These days I’m still fascinated with these tools, and with what we can do with them, in or outside of the theatre.

Because I know that in my life – incredible things have happened since I’ve switched the focus of my creative work.

I’ve talked before (here and here and here) about the radical change that came about when I stopped thinking of my life as a vehicle for my creative projects, and instead turned my life into a creative project.

The transition into motherhood 3.5 years ago was a rough one for me, and in order to find my footing, I had to use all the creative tools I could think of to survive. I drew pictures. I wrote poems. I wandered into a zumba class down the street from my house. I made up little songs to sing to my baby son to try (vainly) to get him to sleep.

All these things helped me survive, and the big surprise was, I came out of the transition stronger. For the first time since I was maybe 9 years old, I felt comfortable in my skin. I felt comfortable with my taste and with voicing my ideas, no matter how corny or naïve or half baked they might be. Because for the first time, I wasn’t pursuing them to please or placate or impress anyone but myself.

Since then I’ve become passionate about helping other people do this, because I’ve become more and more aware of how desperately we all need creative work, and how little room we’re given to pursue it. When you’re left to your own devices, it can be hard to pursue – because as soon as you do, trolls start jumping out from under bridges and dragons rise up out of your nightmares to frighten you out of your wits. There are a million ways to sedate that creative urge and not many ways to step into it.

So to answer my friend’s question: that is the kind of magic I believe in. The magic of the creative urge, and what happens when you follow it. It’s there if you start looking for it. It’s there if you take one small step towards it.

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(And if you want to join a Creative Magic Workout, we still have open spots! Heed the call, friend).

What stands between you & what you want?

It’s a simple question: what do you want?

But in my experience, for women especially, it’s not simple at all.

Even SAYING what we want – to ourselves, in our minds – is difficult.

Try it right now. Ask yourself what you want. I just did it and my brain’s first reaction was to freeze up and go blank.

Then it did a little dance and said, Aghhhhh I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know!

And once I took a few deep breaths and encouraged my little brain to calm down – this isn’t a test, no one will judge you for saying to yourself what you want, you can always change your mind – it admitted that what it wants right now is to lie down in bed and watch Atlanta.

See? There. I admitted what I want.

So once you say what you want, ask yourself this: what stands in the way of what I want?

And then write down the reasons. It’s important to write them down – if you try to do this in your head, you’ll go down all sorts of rabbit holes and tangents and get lost and forget the question.

So write a list.

Here’s mine – why can’t I lie down in bed and watch Atlanta right now?

I’ve got too much work to do
I’m not at home
If I stopped working and went home, that would make me lazy
Too many other things going on
Watching TV isn’t good for me

OK. So you’ve got your reasons. Now turn the list over and ask yourself a third question: what elements of what I want are already happening?

In my case – I am not lying down in bed watching Atlanta. But I’m thinking about doing it, which makes me smile. I’m setting the intention to watch it later tonight when I get home – it’s settling deep into my bones. I’m savoring the moment when I can drop everything and chill out. I’m making the decision to allow myself space and time for that.

Try it yourself and see what comes up for you.

To recap, here are the three questions to ask yourself:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What stands in the way of what I want? (Write the reasons down)
  3. What about what I want is already happening?

There are all sorts of variations on this. You could give yourself two minutes of silence to sit with each question. Instead of writing, you could draw the reasons. Or you could go on a walk while asking yourself each question.


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And if you would like to do this in the company of others – it’s so much more powerful that way! – you have one week to join this fall’s incarnation of the Creative Workout Group.

Registration is open now. It starts Monday October 24. We meet for six weeks. This is a live in-person class (those of you not in Portland: I want to do an online version of this someday!)

It’s an experiment in asking ourselves what we want, then diving into that question, creatively. Think of it like going to yoga every week (or zumba, or pilates, or water babies). It’s a workout for your brain, body and imagination. It keeps your mind and body aligned and it’s also fun. And it costs about the same as a yoga class.

You don’t have to train or prepare or get ready ahead of time. If it calls out to you, you’re ready. Show up, and we’ll take it from there.

Announce a mistake in advance

I made a video as part of a new series I’m doing, Quick Tricks for Creative Living (note: I can’t decide if the name for this series sucks, so I might change it in the future*) (I’m already demonstrating the power of this exercise by announcing a potential mistake in advance!) 

These are short, easy exercises you can try as you’re going about your day, to help you diffuse obstacles, reframe expectations and engage creatively and proactively with the challenges life is throwing at you.

Today’s trick: ANNOUNCE A MISTAKE IN ADVANCE

I don’t know about you, but I hate making mistakes. I’m a recovering perfectionist and an oldest child so I get stuck in “if I’m not doing everything right I’m LETTING THE TEAM DOWN” narratives.

That’s why I was so delighted when someone in one of my workshops had this idea (as a way to deal with stress at work), to pre-emptively neutralize criticism by announcing what you might do wrong before you do it.

So say you’re stacking a bunch of onions in a display case. You would announce to everyone around you, “I am about to arrange these onions precariously so it’s impossible to take one out without sending them all rolling.”

When this idea first came up, we all cackled at the idea, and then had a blast thinking up examples.

I am about to awkwardly introduce myself to that woman over there.

Hold on, I need to try and parallel park and end up 3 feet away from the curb.

I am heading out to a meeting, and will take the most roundabout, least straightforward way and hopefully get stuck in traffic on the way.

The more examples we came up with, the more I started to think it might actually be a brilliant idea. So I’ve been trying it out since then, and without fail, it lightens the energy, relaxes the (self-imposed) pressure and more often than not, helps me to NOT make the mistake!

I’ll walk you through it here — give it a shot and let me know how it goes!


 

*UPDATE: I have indeed changed the name, it’s now Quick Ideas for Creative Action!

STUPID SOLUTIONS TO A BIG PROBLEM: GUN VIOLENCE

One exercise I do in my failure workshops that’s always a surprise hit is ‘Stupid Solutions to Big Problems’. We form teams and brainstorm stupid solutions to huge, urgent, seemingly intractable problems. It’s strangely cathartic, and often the weirdest, wildest ideas are actually kind of great.

I bring this up because today, once again, I am confronted by a horrifying, endlessly repeating problem: gun violence.

And I cannot bear to see the same old helpless questions and dialogues and discussions and nothing happen in response.

So I thought: why don’t I brainstorm some stupid solutions? At least it will distract me from the sheer awfulness for a while. And so I present to you:

STUPID SOLUTIONS TO A BIG PROBLEM: the gun violence edition

  1. Mandatory support groups for all gun owners to talk about their feelings. Like you can’t buy a gun unless you attend two meetings involving group hugs, crying it out and learning how to speak your anger.
  1. Someone hire clowns to trail the NRA and freak them out until they do something about this. Clowns with guns? Is that too much? Can’t be worse than what we already have.
  1. Stop talking to any friends with guns until they shut down the fucking NRA.
  1. This might be a good idea actually – can we boycott the NRA? Obviously the NRA doesn’t give a shit if I boycott them, but could responsible gun owners boycott the NRA? Would you do that, guys? Would you boycott hunting – refuse to buy any hunting gear, licenses, guns and whatever else you buy when you hunt until the NRA backs down and legislation is passed?
  1. Fine anyone who sells a gun to a mass shooter a million dollars. Like the OLCC does for bartenders who serve alcohol to someone who goes on to get in a drunk driving accident.

Here’s what the OLCC says:

Q: What will happen to me if I allow a visibly intoxicated person to continue to drink alcohol?

A: You could be fined and your license or service permit suspended. Repeated violations could lead to the cancellation of your license or service permit. In addition, you could be held liable in a third party liability law suit if the visibly intoxicated person injures another person or damages someone else’s property.

OK, call me stupid, but couldn’t we do the exact same thing if someone sells a gun to a shooter? Just swap out ‘visibly intoxicated’ with ‘visibly planning to shoot someone’.

  1. Give mass shooters an infantilizing nickname and never use their actual picture, instead use a cartoon image that makes them look ridiculous, like this:

Lots of Kids Dead in Mass Shooting by Loony Lardface

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Fantastic. Well, I feel a little less consumed by rage and horror. If you have some stupid ideas to share, I would love to hear them!

Try this: Invent your own superhero

This past Sunday, we had a lovely workshop on the theme of alternate worlds / alternate lives. There were only two of us (it’s hard to compete with a warm sunny day in Portland), but we inhabited our alter-egos (Lightbulb Helmet and Craesie Fleur) with aplomb.

If you’d like to do some world shaking on your own time, I invite you to try one of the exercises we did in the workshop: invent your own superhero.

Step 1: Get some paper and a pen, sit down and close your eyes. Let the image of a superhero float into your mind.

Step 2: Jot down answers to these questions (don’t think about them — write the first things that come to mind):

  • What is their superpower?
  • Where did they come from — what is their origin story?
  • What is their fatal flaw or weakness?
  • What kind of outfit do they wear?
  • What vehicle do they drive?
  • Who are their helpers?
  • Who are their enemies — who are they fighting?
  • What are they fighting for?
  • Who are they protecting?

Step 3: Draw a picture of your superhero based on what you wrote down.

Step 4: What is your superhero’s name? Do they have a catchphrase?

Splendid! Now if you want to, share your superhero with us on facebook! I would love to meet them.

Here’s mine:

JET DIAMOND

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Jet Diamond was born in a coal mine. Her mother was 9 months pregnant and working in the mine when it collapsed. They thought everyone was dead, but when the rubble cleared, Old Man Winters walked out with a canary on one arm and a newborn baby in the other. He adopted the baby girl and named her Jet Diamond. Right away he noticed that she had laser sharp eyesight, and as she grew, her ability to see through dust and hypocrisy grew stronger.

She wears all black glittering with diamonds, and is accompanied always by her canary, Blink.

She is extremely sensitive to coaldust and can only spend a little time in dusty, murky environments before the air gets to be too much for her lungs.

She rides in on her jet black motorcycle, sees through the shams and shoddy deals constructed by rich men, and helps the workers see what they can’t see and stand up for their rights.

Then she rides out of town so fast a thunderstorm can’t keep up with her.

Bonus step: If this superhero were to show up at your door for an emergency meeting, what would they need to tell you? Would they need your help? Would they have some advice for you? Would they alert you to danger?

I imagine Jet Diamond riding up after she’s had a long, tough battle. She’s worn out, and afraid she isn’t up for the challenge anymore. I make her a cup of tea and have her tell me the whole story. Then I tell her she needs to take a break and go easy, and she insists there isn’t time for that and she needs to save the world, but then she falls asleep on the couch and I take off her boots and lay a nice cozy blanket over her.

Aside from the fact that this scene that plays out in probably every movie ever made about a superhero (and I am casting myself in the faithful butler role), what does this tell me about my own life? Maybe I’m taking myself a little too seriously. Maybe the best thing to do is take a nap. Maybe I get a little carried away with the desire to save people and be the hero. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to do things just because you feel like doing them. It’s okay to let other take care of me sometimes. Or even better, to take care of myself.

But who knows, maybe next week I’ll see a whole different message.

Extra bonus round: using the exact same prompts in step 2, invent a supervillain.


Hey there! Is this right up your alley? If you’re in Portland, you can come to one of my free Sunday morning workshops and experience it firsthand! Or if you want to go deep, you can join a Creative Workout Group, or work with me one-on-one

Try this: A VISUAL SYLLABUS

Today as I was dreaming up the trajectory for the next round of the Creative Workout Group (there are still spots open if you want to sign up! I would love to have you there) I got the idea to make a visual syllabus.

I taped a big piece of paper on the wall, wrote the numbers 1-6 (one for each class), wrote the big themes we’d cover under each number, and then drew a picture for each.

IMG_20150310_131235It was so much fun and I highly recommend it if you’re trying to figure out the big scope of a project.

  • Write the name of your big thing at the top of a big piece of paper
  • Divide the big thing into chunks — could be classes, chapters, months, weeks, hours, years
  • Write the names / numbers of the chunks on the paper
  • Draw what will happen in each chunk of time (the word ‘chunk’ is unfortunate but I’ve chosen it and I’m sticking with it)
  • If you want, write action steps, exercises, reading to be done under the drawing. In my case it’s a breakdown of how each class will go — the structure, the exercises we’ll use and any relevant reading material.

I love the one I made because it gives me visual pleasure, which helps keep me connected to why I’m doing this, what I love about it and how it fits into my big picture.

The anti-to-do list

Our first Creative Workout Group has wrapped up, and I am sad to see it end. (But I am excited for another round to start next week!)

We ended by coming up with alternatives to the dreaded to-do list, which included:

  • The trail map timeline: come up with a KEY for your project and mark the time-trail on the page (preferably with crayons)
  • The visual icon / talisman board: track your project through symbols and containers for relevant objects (hard to describe but highly inspiring)
  • Brian Eno’s oblique strategies: make a set of cards with the things you have to do, and draw one at random. I can’t tell you how much I LOVE this idea.
  • The don’t-do list (the jury is out on whether or not this would work): make a list of what you do not want to do, and don’t do it (or if you’re a born rebel, do it).

We also reflected on what we discovered together, including our academy of critics — not included on this list below is a late addition, and one of my personal favorites, the Iconoclast Curator (he is very concerned as to your status as an original thinker and whether or not you are HOT SHIT):

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…and our crack team of champions:

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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.

Try this: Identify your champions

Last week in the Creative Workout Group, we put names to our critics — this week we went in the other direction, and identified our champions.

If you would like to identify some champions rattling around in your head, try this (and warning: don’t let your critic stop you! If he/she keeps getting in the way, get out a separate sheet of paper and write down whatever they say there, to be addressed later).

1) Get some things down on paper — don’t worry about answering all of these, use any that get the ideas flowing and skip the rest.

  • Write down anything positive that is running through your head about yourself right now.
  • Think back over the week until you hit on something that you feel proud of. What did you say to yourself when it happened? What did other people say to you about it?
  • List all the compliments paid to you this week.
  • What would you like people to say about you? What would you like to say about yourself?
  • Think about someone you saw this week who you admire. What did you admire about them? What did you say to them (out loud or in your mind)?
  • Fill in the blank:

I am at my best when I _____.

I have always been good at _____.

I really know how to _____.

I wish I could spend all my time _____.

___ is one of my greatest strengths.

2. Go down the list and for each phrase, jot down any associations that arise:

  • Can you hear someone saying it? Is it someone you know? Does it remind you of someone, real or fictional?
  • What does the person saying it look like?
  • What qualities does their voice have?
  • Do images or objects come to mind?

3. Write associations down on a new sheet of paper.

  • Take a look at them. Are there different camps or are they all a variation on the same thing?
  • Group them together or separate as needed.

4. Give each group a name and a catchphrase. 

  • As with the critics, this can be a descriptive alias, a random strong name, a job title or mark of authority, or it might be right there in your list of associations.
  • Give them a catchphrase — something that they say often, or that embodies their spirit or sums them up for you.
  • And now if you want to get really warm and fuzzy, write those names and catchphrases on a big sheet of paper in sparkly markers and give them a team name. The one our Creative Workout Group came up with for our collective champions yesterday was The Crack Team.

When I did this exercise for myself the other day, four different champions emerged. I’m calling them the Breakfast Club:

Gruff Teacher → “I’m proud of you.”
Excited Little Sister → “Wow, you’re doing this!” or “It’s WORKING!”
Calm Clear Girl → “You’re weird. I like you.”
Wild Freestyler → “I’m the Best!

 See what emerges in your champion world!


Want to delve deeper? Sign up for a session and we can work together one on one — the first one is free!