Boundaries, Vulnerability and Magic

I’ve been thinking about boundaries.

I am someone who resists boundaries – who likes to keep options open and puts off making decisions – but I’ve learned in my creative life that when I set boundaries, everything is easier. Paradoxically, the  more limits I set, the more free I am to take risks, to go deeper and wilder and weirder.

The same advice applies to parenting – setting boundaries around what Janet Lansbury calls a “yes space” helps kids move and explore more fully than if you set them loose in, say, an open field with snakes and holes and rusty nails.

Structure gives freedom for movement and experimentation and joy. It gives you a place to start. It gives shape to the chaos of limitless potential.

One of the hardest things about doing creative work is facing the blank canvas, the blank page, the empty room, the silence.

I’ve been talking to people this spring about what thrills them, what scares them, what they want to do and what stops them from doing it.

Some fantastic ideas for exercises have emerged from these conversations – or as someone referred to them, creative exorcisms. Yes! This is exactly what they are – spells we are dreaming up, to cast out what blocks us, to call in what we need.

One of the most powerful spells you can cast is to give a name to what you want to do – to give a title to a project and to say it out loud.

If you tell that name to just one person, it gains power. It travels from your mind to the outside world, setting down roots and growing outside your control. The more people you tell, the more it grows.

When you put your ideas into words, draw what you see, move your body, open your mouth and sing: these are acts of magic, acts of power, acts of trust, acts of vulnerability.

And you know what? THAT IS HARD TO DO. It’s scary.

Brené Brown says you can’t have courage without vulnerability – “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.” (Did anyone else watch her Netflix special this week??)

When we show up, when we open up, when we drop our defenses and try something, we are casting a spell. We are asking the magic in. We open up to failure, to not knowing, to rejection, to our humanity.

When trusting and waiting and opening up feels impossible, I try to remember that all I need to do is start.

Draw some boundaries. Make up some rules. Draw a circle and step inside and say, this is for magic. Give what you’re doing a name and say, I am doing this. Then wait to see what it is.

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Your trolls scoff, your body resists, your mind wanders, and you stay in that circle, trusting that the magic will come. Trusting that what you are doing will become clear.

This is what happens when you give birth to a baby, and why so many people experience it as an initiation: your body is pushed to impossible limits and you are handed a tiny vulnerable human to care for at all hours of the day. It feels impossible and yet you must do it. And then one day you look around and your baby is five years old, tying their own shoes and telling you about arachnids.

The magic happens in every moment of every day. The growth happens without you realizing it.

It’s so easy to see the magic in others, and so hard to see it in yourself.

So if I may, I’d like to offer you some encouragement today.

You are living in the middle of magic you can’t see. The magic is there, and later when you look back you’ll be able to see it. Take a deep breath and trust that it’s there.

Even Beyoncé shows up to day one of rehearsal not sure of herself, not sure what she’s doing. She keeps showing up, trusting that the magic will come.

I take so much inspiration from her courage, the incredible courage it took to say, I am going to train and show up every day for eight months and trust that what feels impossible will become possible.

It would be easy to watch her and think, I could never do that. She is a magical being and I’m just me.

But she is human, and she did it.

You can do it too — not what she did, but something that only you can do. What is that thing? What are you capable of? What story are you waiting to tell?

Whatever it is – you can do it, you can tell it.

That’s my pep talk to you (and to myself) today…

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… and if you would like some deep coaching to open up to your vulnerability and creative power this summer, read about the program I’ve put together for six courageous people here: Summer of Creative Magic. What can happen when we say our truth out loud, to ourselves and to others? Let’s find out…

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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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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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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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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.

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).

Playtime with my inner critics (a lesson in failure)

OK. So part of this experiment I’m running called my business is making a practice of being honest. I may not always shout it from the rooftops — sometimes I want to hide, and there’s no shame in hiding — but I’m owning my truth and living transparently.

So here is the deal. I put together a workshop called Playtime with Your Inner Critic. I showed up tonight to lead the workshop. And nobody else showed up.

That’s tough. But the bright side is, I had planned to lead a group through exercises in turning your critical energy around and playing with it — so I am well prepared for the critical thoughts that I am now having. And I’m in a beautiful room with big paper and markers and all the tools I need to work through my critical thoughts.

So I might as well share that process. A virtual workshop, in a way. A workshop of one.

First, I am going to write down what sucks about this situation.

  • I suck at promoting workshops
  • I suck at picking one thing and repeating it. I’m pretty sure if I’d picked one workshop topic a year ago and did that once a month for a year, people wouldn’t be so confused about what I’m doing and when and why.

What is the opposite of those things, that is also true?

  • I am great at hiding out. I am great at bursts of inspiration at the last minute. I am great at under-promising and over-delivering.

I mean, I really did have a great two hour workshop planned:

  • I am great at offering wildly divergent things. I am great at improvising and never doing something the same way twice.
  • Maybe I could find a way to offer that wildly divergent zone regularly. Would anyone show up for that? Maybe if people knew SOME of the why and what, and if the when and where was always the same, it would be clear enough to stick.

Let’s go deeper into my frustrations with this situation

  • I’ve been through this before
  • I knew this would happen
  • I’m tired of this pattern
  • I feel embarrassed: where are my fans, where is my momentum?

Have there been things that did not follow this pattern?

The answer is: yes. And ironically, the events that I’ve had the most success promoting in the past are my failure workshops. Two questions arise:

  • Do I want to lead a regular workshop on failure?
  • Would I have come to this workshop today, if I weren’t leading it?

I think the answer to both is: no. I love my failure practice workshops — but I don’t want to lead them every month. I want something bigger, more open — I want failure to be part of what I’m leading us through, but not the only framework.

And if I weren’t leading this workshop tonight, I am pretty sure I would have found an excuse to not come, because the idea of dealing with my inner critics when I’m tired and cranky and hungry does not appeal to me. (Oof! This is hard to admit, but it’s true).

So what IS the workshop that I would drag my lazy ass out of the house to attend every month?

As soon as I ask this, 3 ideas pop into my head. Ideas that are open enough for me to go wild but have a simple structure that speaks to a clear need (I think). I have no idea if anyone else would like these, but I know I would.

I’m getting too heady, so I take a break to draw my critic

This is Beebee Eye Roller, rolling her eyes at all this WACKINESS which she is sure everyone will think is SO STUPID.

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BeeBee Eye Roller is basically 15 year old me, frozen in time. (Wearing a weird hat and with yarn for hair). And I’m making light of this, but I also want to say: her concern comes from a real place. Her fear of humiliation is real. I can still remember the fear I felt in high school — so don’t think I’m not taking Beebee seriously. It’s just that, I’m 38 years old now, and I am wearing a unicorn shirt, and a headband, and taking selfies of myself jumping in the air, and what’s the worst that could happen?

Then I put on Cyndi Lauper and we dance it out

I dance like I am Beebee Eye Roller and no one is watching.

I dance like I am a ballerina even though I am not.

I dance with white girl abandon even though my greatest fear is dancing like a white girl.

And I am going to share the video I took with you, even though I promised Beebee we wouldn’t share it.

She thinks it is a TERRIBLE idea. Actually what she thinks is something like this: This is not how you run a business. Who would ever hire you to do anything based on this video? Oh my god you are going to embarrass yourself.

An opposite which I can also find a way to believe is: This is an inspired way to run a business, one that other inspired lunatics will respond to. I would love anyone who hired me based on this video.

So here it is:

Oh yeah, and here are the 3 ideas for future workshops:

  1. Dance with your monsters, critics and fears: a hilarious dance party with our monster selves. I bring a playlist that takes us on an hour-long journey and throw out prompts to inspire us to dance with our monster energy.
  2. Failure storytelling circle: share stories about your mistakes and messes, get practice bragging about them instead of hiding them, and get active backup and support from the group for doing hard things.
  3. Big crazy idea clinic: bring your big crazy idea and we’ll brainstorm ways you could make it happen. (You can bring in ideas you think are terrible or would never work and we’ll still give it our best shot. All ideas are taken seriously.)

I would love to know which (if any) of these you would come to.

How to turn self-criticism around

To continue in the vein I started down earlier in the week, I thought I’d share one thing I do when I find myself in a firestorm of self-criticism (like the one I was in last Friday). It can come on you so suddenly, can’t it? That’s why it’s important to be aware of your own signals — because you are the only one who can tell when your body is slipping over from “I’m a little hungry” to “EAT NOW,” or from “I’m not feeling so great,” to “I HAVE A HORRIBLE CASE OF THE FLU,” or from “That didn’t go so well” to “I AM A MISERABLE FAILURE.” Because when you catch yourself at the first signs, it’s easier to turn it around gently.

In other words, try not to do what I did — try to catch the signs before the storm is raging around you. But you know what? That is another thing I have to remind myself of all the time — that this is not a game of self-evolution, not a thing to win or do once and be done. This is something we are working on all the time. It’s an ecosystem, with checks and balances and weather systems that fluctuate.

So. Here is how I pulled myself out of the frenzy:

STEPS TO REVERSE THE SELF CRITICISM

Step 1: Write down what your inner critics are saying

Here’s what mine were saying last week: 

  1. You’ve got too much to do
  2. You wasted your day AGAIN
  3. You can’t get this right
  4. You are a stressful person
  5. You suck at managing time
  6. You made a mess of it
  7. This always happens  (this = trying to do too many things
  8. You can’t get anything done
  9. You couldn’t even do ONE thing right today!
  10. WTF is wrong with you

Step 2: Make a list of things that are the opposite of that (and that also feel true)

Here were some opposites that felt true to me, and/or made me laugh out loud:

  1. You have just the right amount of things to do.
  2. You did good work today
  3. You can get this right
  4. You are a calming person. You want to help people.
  5. You suck at wasting time. You could be better at it.
  6. You get too focused on organizing
  7. This does not always happen
  8. You can get things done
  9. You did lots of things right today
  10. WTF is not wrong with you. Why the fuck is nothing wrong with you?

Step 3: Read that list out loud

Are you being too hard on yourself?

I’ve been thinking today about why it’s so easy to be hard on yourself.

I hear it from women I talk to all the time, and I catch myself doing it too: getting tired, getting overwhelmed and suddenly finding myself caught in a frenzy of self-criticism.

In fact, on Friday AS I WAS COMPOSING THIS POST ABOUT BEING TOO HARD ON YOURSELF, I got sucked into a vortex of being too hard on myself.

Here’s the short version of what happened — see if you can relate: I was writing in MS word. At 2:00, after about an hour of writing, I was 99% finished, so I closed my laptop to head home, thinking I’d finish there and post it before driving to pick up my son from daycare.

But when I got home and opened my laptop — the document had disappeared.

Word hadn’t crashed, I hadn’t saved it somewhere weird — it was gone, as if I hadn’t written it. This was baffling. I started questioning my sanity — had I written it? And then my inner critics showed up in force.

They started saying things like, Oh god, this ALWAYS happens, you ran out of time again. You should have kept it simple instead of making it too big to pull off LIKE YOU ALWAYS DO. Why can’t you get one thing done like a normal person?

I used the exercise I talk about in my new workbook to identify and give a name to one of the critical voices in my mind. He’s Randolph the pencil sharpener shark and he’s constantly barking at me to be stronger, smarter, faster, better.

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Randolph was upset. And after doing some dialoguing with him over the weekend, it’s clear to me now what he is scared of: being left behind, being unprepared, being eaten by bigger sharks, being swallowed up by the world.

This morning, after looking back on the wreckage I abandoned on Friday, I started over.

And ironically, by giving up Friday afternoon and admitting things were a jumbled mess and I couldn’t fix them, and by letting myself go through the process of being hard on myself and then pulling myself out of it — I achieved what Randolph the pencil shark wants. I now am feeling more clarity about why I am too hard on myself, and when it happens, and how to get out of it (I’ll write more on that later!).

Anyway — that’s what’s going on in my world. If you are being too hard on yourself too — know that you are not alone.

With love from me, Randolph and my inner champion, Wild Coach Helma — here’s to growing and stretching and learning to go easy on ourselves.

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Who is your failure hero?

Prince, of course, has been on my mind. It’s great to have heroes who show us what is possible – who shine like a beacon blazing a supernatural path*.

But I’ve been thinking — it’s also good to have heroes who show you what it looks like to stumble. Who blaze a trail of shit so you can say, hey, look at them – they made an ass of themselves, and I love them anyway.

So today I would like to encourage you to think about someone whose failure inspires you. Someone who has done something messy or ill advised or wrongheaded or ridiculous —  and despite all this, or maybe BECAUSE of it, they spoke to you.

For me, one of my failure heroes is Neil Young. He has many beautiful albums, but he also has some terrifically bad ones. One my favorites is Sleeps with Angels**. Half the songs on that album are transcendent and beautiful, and the other half fall flat. I don’t know why, but this is what makes it my favorite. It makes me feel like I know him. It lets me into his process. It lets me appreciate the easy magic of the beautiful songs even more.

Another hero for me is Jean Auel, the author of the Clan of the Cave Bear series. No disrespect to her, but each book is like 800 pages long, the characters repeat themselves, the moral lessons are easy to spot  and there are long, flowery, detailed sex scenes. I hope it doesn’t sound like I am criticizing her books because I LOVE them. I love that they exist in the world exactly as they are. They resonate with me and fill me with delight even as I am aware of how clunky they are.

Scene-from-the-film-version-of-Clan-of-the-Cave-Bear

(This is not the first time I’ve asked, what would Ayla do?)

Is there someone or something like this for you – something ridiculous or shlocky or embarrassing that you love?

Study it, and take some lessons from it. What challenges could you take on from your hero?

For me, I can think of a few:

  • I could make an album of bad songs
  • I could go to an open mic and accompany myself on the 3 chords I kind of know how to play on guitar
  • I could sing covers of only the bad Neil Young songs
  • I could map out a novel of my ideal fantasy world
  • I could create a character who is a stand in for my ideals
  • I could let myself write a blog post that goes on way too long and says the same thing over and over
  • I could add a terrible sex scene to that post
  • Or I could come up with a series and every post in that series is a variation on the same thing. Like I could make this a series – the Failure Hero series – and just keep writing the same post over and over

What ideas do your failure heroes inspire for you? I would love to hear! (And if you want someone to help you embrace failure like the glorious hero that YOU are, contact me to set up a navigation session. It’s my offer of support and encouragement as you set out on your journey.)

footnotes:

* of course, it’s also good to remember that Prince did not feel like everything he did was a success. Apparently he thought he made an ass of himself in this incredible moment with James Brown and Michael Jackson – whereas I see someone effortlessly taking command of the stage and transforming it with ridiculous, sexy confidence. You never know how people are responding to what you think is a huge failure.

** this is weird: I am writing this in a coffee shop, and as I paused to gaze off into space and decide which album of Neil Young’s was my favorite, Razor Love came on.