Magic & mayhem & Lynda F#%*ing Barry

I have to share the magic I’ve been experiencing this week, in all it’s unpredictable mad wild glory.

There are plenty of times when I feel lost and frazzled and… unmagical. Monday morning was one of them. I saw in my facebook memories that four years ago I’d posted a gleeful, glowing update that ended with something like…”even though the past year has been the hardest of my life, it’s also been a time of joy and change and breakthrough. For me, motherhood = creative explosion.”

I vividly remembered writing that post – but I can’t remember what happened that day to fill me with excitement and confidence about my new ventures, the business I was dreaming up, the show I was making. And though I’ve made a lot of progress in the last four years and I still feel like this is the most confident creative time of my life… this Monday I was not feeling confident or joyful. I was feeling tired and overtaxed and unsure.

I had time for a shower so I did one of my favorite rituals: I asked a question and drew some tarot cards to find an answer, and stepped into the shower to contemplate them. How can I tap into that feeling from four years ago? The cards went deep: what helps me is the Queen of Swords. What stops me is fear of failure. Who I am is the Fool.

I didn’t have much time to dwell on it after that, and when I picked up the kids and hustled to get dinner ready, I remembered that the new sitter was coming over in an hour. I had to cancel a bunch of plans over the last two months because we couldn’t find a sitter, the kids were sick, miscommunications, mayhem, etc. Now I had one coming over but I didn’t know what exactly to do with myself! I didn’t feel like singing karaoke, I didn’t have time to text anyone to meet me, and I didn’t want to drive around aimlessly without a plan. I felt like reading a book, but I was worried that I’d get sucked into scrolling on my phone. The thought drifted into my head – is it possible there’s a reading at Powell’s tonight?

I looked it up while the kids threw spaghetti noodles at each other, and sure enough, there was something happening… and what’s that? That can’t be right. Is it Lynda Barry??? My hero, the person who got me thinking about changing the way I work as an artist??! Was she really in town?

SHE WAS. And she was reading at the exact right time for my schedule. WHAT?!

I have no doubt that if I had planned it for weeks, something would have come up to throw sand in the gears. But somehow magically with no effort I was on my way to hear Lynda Barry speak on a night I surely, sorely needed inspiration.

I went, and it turns out she also has a new book coming out!

And long story short – oh my goodness. It is pure vivid direct delicious magic. I can’t read it without grinning, and crying. I couldn’t listen to her reading without grinning and crying either. 

I was reminded why I got so excited four years ago when I first read her books Syllabus, then What It Is – why I felt that thrill of recognition and clarity and sureness, the THIS IS WHAT I AM SUPPOSED TO BE DOING feeling.

They gave me the structure and confidence to frame my ideas as coaching – to bring the kind of creative transformational work I was doing in theatrical spaces to people directly. And to start drawing and encourage others to draw with me.

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I remembered the accidental magic spell I’d cast that morning – my desire to connect with the inspiration I felt four years ago. Here I was, 10 hours later, not remembering that inspiration but reliving it, immersed in it, swimming in that beautiful blissful sense of connection and purpose and deep need for creativity. Lynda Barry, man. Her books are a guidebook for how to connect to your own soul using creative work.

I drove to Powell’s feeling exhausted and overwhelmed; I left with so much energy I could barely sleep Monday night.

And then life continued. I picked my six year old up from school on Tuesday and found out he’d been acting out, as boys often do, by being physically aggressive.

As it happens, many of the exercises in Making Comics come from Lynda’s work with her 4-6 year old “co-researchers”. So I used one of those exercises with my son, to see if it would help us connect.

And OH MY GOD. We spent about two hours drawing and talking and telling stories and laughing. I had him draw a Bully Monster, and then draw the Bully Monster’s parents, what he looked like as a child, where he lives…

I’ve been trying to get this kid to talk for two months, and that night I was so mad I couldn’t speak the whole drive home, until Lynda’s exercise floated into my head. We went from not speaking to joking, laughing, dancing, telling each other stories, asking questions. I asked him why he likes to hit and got curious instead of freaking out. He asked me to tell him one more time the story about the kid who was bullied in high school, who I wish I’d stood up for.

I still have no freaking idea how to handle this, but it opened up the energy between us. 

So that’s the magic I’m experiencing this week. A lot of ups and downs, joy and despair, I’m the best / I’m the worst / maybe I’m doing ok kind of magic. And I’m sharing it because this is magic we all need. To connect with our children, with our inner children, with the world. We need it. We need to draw with our own hands to see what’s going on in our hearts.

I’ve still offering a free hour long session as part of my people project, so if anyone out there is resonating with this and wants to draw and dance and talk with me, please sign up. I know it’s scary! I’m a little nervous before every single session I do. And then each one fills me with energy and a rush of connection.

Here is the self portrait I drew at Lynda’s reading on Monday, and one I drew four years ago. If you want to draw one right now, set the timer for two minutes, grab a notecard and draw. It doesn’t have to be good. And anyway you are not a reliable witness on whether it’s good or not. What does it say to you? That is the question.

Queen of your Domain

Hello my Queens,

Do you mind if I call you Queen? Its been coming up a lot this summer season, this desire to be Queen. To be in charge, to be in power, to feel confident and comfortable in your skin.

It’s been a slow journey for me, finding my way towards sovereignty. For a long time I thought it made me stronger to be harsh with myself – to expect more, to not be happy with what I saw in the mirror, to critique, to push, to want to be better. I gave my inner drill sergeant free reign. Don’t go easy on her. She’s lazy, make her work harder. Don’t let her rest. 

As I settle into my 40s (I turn 42 on this month) I continue to learn how untrue – how unhelpful – those thoughts are. Being hard on myself doesn’t make me stronger. It freezes me, locks me in, blocks me, paints me into corners. Being gentle with myself frees up my energy, allowing me to do more, try more, open up more, learn more.

I continue to unlearn harshness, to learn how to love what I see in the mirror, to relish my mistakes. To ask, what if NO ONE was judging me harshly? It still feels like a thought experiment most of the time. Oh of course, I know that everyone is judging me harshly. But what if they weren’t? What if they were curious and loving and wanted me to succeed?

Still, I can finally say most of the time: I love myself, I love the way I look, I love the way I talk. I love my hesitations, I love my awkwardness, I love my sudden clarity, I love my ebbs and flows. This is a huge leap forward. 

I am finding my way towards sovereignty – towards being Queen of my domain.

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How are you Queen of your domain?

It’s another way of asking, how do you set boundaries? What are your rules? What do you do when someone invades, when someone breaks a rule, when someone crosses a line?

What kind of Queen are you? What kind of Queen are you NOT? You don’t have to have an answer, you can play with it as you figure it out.

You can do what kids do naturally without anyone telling them to do it: find a quiet corner, find some dolls or a hat or a car or a stick, and give yourself five minutes to play pretend. Or just walk into a coffee shop dressed as you are saying nothing, but thinking: I am Queen of my domain. I am Queen as I order this macchiato. I pick up my cup, I turn around, and everyone can feel that I am Queen.

Does that feel ridiculous? I know! It does for me too. We are adults and we don’t allow ourselves time to do this.

This is why for years I made theater – it gave me an excuse to play pretend.

This is why, when I wasn’t able to make theater, I freaked out – WHERE DO I GO TO PRETEND?!

But the good news is, you can pretend anywhere, quietly or loudly, in full color or in darkness. When you close your eyes and go to sleep, your body will insist on pretending. If you choose, you can write down your dreams so you have a log of the ways in which you deep down are pretending, and you can use your awake brain to decipher the code.

You can make a decision — a Queenly decision — to send some of your awake time pretending.

How am I Queen of my Domain? What would my day look like if I moved through every moment as Queen?

You can pretend your way through these questions, in your waking life or your dream life, and see how different answers make you feel.

This is one way that creative play is different from, say, talk therapy or straight up life coaching. You can ask a bold question and play with different answers – try them on to see how they feel. You might think you know the answer – but as you play with it, a surprising answer emerges. You’re not even sure you believe it! You play with it to find out what’s true and what’s not.

For instance, you might think you know what kind of Queen you are. But you find, as you draw her on paper, that she is much weirder or bolder or craftier or sneakier than you thought.

So that’s my labor for you, this month of July in the year 2019, when the sun is in Cancer and the moon in Aquarius.

  • Draw yourself as Queen of your Domain
  • Write what you see in the drawing
  • Circle five words and turn them into an incantation
  • Find an object that speaks to you and hold it in your hand
  • Recite the incantation when the moon comes out

I’d love to hear what you find out! My Queen loves to hear from other Queens. I believe we all strengthen and fortify each other – like a network of sovereign beings who build each other up, like a grove of trees reaching out their roots underground during a storm. We make each other more powerful as we ourselves grow in power.

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…