Stretching Season

Hey beautiful dreamers,

I’ve been out of contact or a lot of reasons – long story short, this fall parenting has taken more of my energy than anticipated, and my plan to offer a lot of free webinars and launch an expanded round of the Creative Magic Workout in October got knocked to the ground like cheerios from the hand of an exuberant toddler, which is mostly a metaphor and also a pretty literal description of my day to day life.

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I’ve been a bit lost, in a bit of a dark place – a place where my trolls take over and drive out my sense of humor and incite a stewing toxic jealousy about everyone but me who has their life figured out. My poor wretched trolls, with their either/or thinking and their helpless rage. YOU ARE A LOSER. EASY FOR HER, SHE CAN BE A WINNER BECAUSE HAS EVERYTHING. (It’s no accident that my trolls sound a lot like Trump supporters).

When I’m lost and overtaken by my trolls, it feels like I’m out of control. I forget that I am the one who decides, that I am at the helm of this ship, that I can change course if I want to. Life feels overwhelming, unmanageable, something that happens to me, like projectile vomiting in the middle of the night (another metaphor drawn from my recent experience).

This feeling sucks, obviously. Let’s not sugar coat it. It’s hard. At the same time, it’s instructive.

It’s instructive because it is a feeling – an internal state – not objective reality. The thing I’m wrestling with is 100% in my head.

And knowing that is really helpful. I can feel the trolls taking over, but they have not totally taken over. I am aware of them. I know that the things they are saying are not true, even though they feel true.

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It’s also instructive because in that moment of overwhelm, when it feels like I’m trying to pull off the impossible, when I’m making dinner even though I cannot possibly make dinner, I can feel my brain and body stretching. I can feel the gulf between what needs to be done and my ability to do it, and I bridge that gulf and do it anyway.

My parents were in town and my Dad said on two different occasions I was muttering to myself, I don’t know what to do here, I don’t know what to do. That moment when you are suspended in the not knowing: that is what I’m talking about. That is when the growth happens. And that is also when I burst out laughing because what else can you do, when your kid has an attack of diarrhea in the parking lot and in the scramble to remove clothing and clean up the poop and wrap him in a baby blanket and get him in the car without anyone noticing, you step in the poop.

There is just something so GROUNDING about stepping in poop. And I am laughing as I say this but I am also dead serious. This is the grounding, grinding poetry of my everyday life, the way it stretches and stops me, the way it helps me laugh at myself.

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With that laughter comes space, comes distance, comes relief. The trolls step back and I remember that I am okay, this is a moment in time and it will pass, that help is all around me if I choose to see it. I am not the only person dealing with a sick kid! As Byron Katie says: other than what I’m thinking and believing, am I okay?

There’s a primal call to all this, a drumbeat of THIS SUCKS, an I CAN’T, a WHY ME that vibrates through my body as I remember how to laugh, as I remember how to feel like myself. It’s not about resisting that drumbeat. It’s about giving in to it, saying it out loud – OH MY GOD THIS SUUUUUUCKS – and then laughing as I give in to it.

I wipe the poop off my shoe and get my kid home and in the bath and into his pajamas and now he’s asleep (and so is his brother) and I make some tea and write this to you. Telling you about the tiny ways I find to survive. The poems I jot down, the shows I dream up, the ballots I cast, the ways I get clear.

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I am not offering the Creative Magic Workout this fall. I might in the spring. I might put it together differently. For now, I’m embracing the unknowing, the undoing, the unraveling. I’m choosing it. I resisted at first and then my body made it clear: that’s not what this fall is about.

I’m going to offer 1:1 sessions and have as many conversations as I can instead. I want to hear about what is blocking and trolling and demanding too much from you.

I also might start working on a show / book – I have been remembering that three years ago, that’s how I found my way out of the fog and reorganized my creative universe, by making a show about my questions.

This time my questions have something to do with the power of apology and atonement and reparations, with fragility and white flight and escape, with truth and reconciliation and songs about Saturn and joyfully upending fascism like dandelions busting through the sidewalk.

I will work on it the way I’ve learned to since becoming a mother: jotting down the ideas I have in the shower, writing in my iphone at 3am, inviting people to come and look at what I’ve made even though it’s a mess, drawing the costume I imagine and waiting for it to find me. Actually, this happened in reverse this summer when I found this incredible teal dress suit at my neighbor’s garage sale – I am waiting for its purpose to reveal itself:

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And the hardest, most important part: remembering that my creative work is vital and worthy of dedicated time and space.

Thank you for listening as I work my way through the darkness and richness and paradox.

I hope you are finding your way too.

 


p.s. It is not lost on me that EXACTLY a year ago I wrote a post almost exactly like this one. I don’t know what to make of that but it is evidence that what goes around, comes around, and that what you learned before will come in handy again in the future. 

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You have no power over me

I had a dream the other night, about someone who used to be a troll in my life.

This wasn’t an inner troll  – no, he existed in the real world. He was a manager at my day job, and he triggered all my fears of being seen as stupid or flakey or childish. I had a strong desire to prove to him that I was smart and capable, and – FOR SOME REASON – I had an equally strong drive to divebomb that desire.

Consciously I wanted to do a good job and show him what a good worker I was. But every day I would mix up my words, misunderstand his directions, forget some key detail, stammer over a customer call, mix up numbers, double book appointments. He would simmer and stew. He never outright said to me, YOU ARE A MORON – he said it with loaded silences and unblinking stares. And I was baffled. Why was I making such stupid mistakes?

So he showed up in my dream, which is funny because I haven’t thought about him or that job for a while. In the dream he told me how idiotic my creative endeavors were, and I reacted with curiosity and sympathy. This sent him into a boiling, helpless rage, which I calmly defused and then moved on.

Isn’t that awesome? I love it when things work out in my dreams. The way I handled him was a beautiful example of boundaries and of how far I’ve come since I left that job four years ago.

And one of the reasons I’ve come so far is BECAUSE of that job.

I’m better now at reading my body, owning my truth and asserting my boundaries because of what I learned there over two years of NOT listening to my body, not asserting my boundaries, not owning my truth.

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So really, his trollishness was a gift. His constant dismissal of people as MORONS helped me assert to myself something that has become a key mantra for me:

I don’t believe in morons.

I remember the day I said that to myself. It was like a fog clearing. I don’t believe anyone is a moron, including myself.

I don’t know if I would have articulated that so clearly had I not worked for this magnificent troll for two years who called people morons every single day.

So thank you, troll, for bringing me to a deeper understanding of what I believe.

Thank you, troll, for helping me stop dismissing myself, and start claiming my strength and my space.

I do not choose to divide the world into morons and non-morons. Anyone who is alive on this planet is alive because they have the intelligence to survive. Thank you for helping me see that.

And thank myself for stepping out of a situation that didn’t work for me.

Thank you, dream self, for showing me that — like Sarah and the Goblin King who she thinks she has to appease — he has no power over me.

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Even when he technically had power over me at work, his power to dismiss and disdain and diminish only worked if somewhere inside I had an inner troll who agreed with him.

I don’t believe in morons. You have no power over me. 

Those are some powerful mantras!

Is there a troll in your life you are giving power to? Whose approval you are seeking when you could be saying, I do not need your approval, I do not live by your values, I do not care to share space with you…?

Sometimes it takes a while to identify a troll! It’s not easy. It’s a practice.

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(If you want, come and practice with me tomorrow during my free live webinar, FREE YOUR TROLLS! Bring your entrenched, enmeshed, embedded critical thoughts and we will do everything we can to charm those trolls)

Artist Residency in Motherhood

Hello, dear friends.

For the last 3+ months I’ve been in the newborn dreamtime, remembering the things that make it maddening and miraculous. I have been thinking of you and the work we are all doing in the world to keep the flame of creative healing and revolution alive. I’ve been crafting manifestos in my head, while I’m cradling a tiny human in my arms.

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In some ways this has been much easier than the last time around, when it was all unknown and I groped forward guessing at the unknown. A lot of beautiful, hard-won truths emerged from that unknown, and I am surprised to find that this time around, even on the hardest days/nights/days, it’s a lot easier. This time it’s a known challenge. It’s looking down the path and being able to see a bear coming towards you and reaching for your bear spray, versus listening to grunting in the darkness and wondering what it could be and letting your mind race to all the worst possible outcomes. (I’m not sure why I’m drawn to bear metaphors when it comes to motherhood – something to explore in a future creative time).

So many things seemed impossible the first time. The fact that some of those things now seem easy helps keep me going when I hit a snag that feels impossible (like how to handle bedtime with two small children, or how to figure out childcare, or how to take a shower).

I tell myself: right now this seems impossible, but soon it will be possible, and then it will be easy.

Which is not to say that it is all sunshine and rainbows over here. (Obviously, since last week it was toxic wildfire smoke for all of us in the Portland area). There are plenty of times when I am feeling grumpy or edgy or full of self-pity or exhausted or coming down with mastitis AGAIN or taking my baby to the emergency room because his fever is too high or waking up with a four year old’s foot in my face. Trying to go out into the world with both my children is total madcap chaos and it takes all the good humor I have to laugh at myself as I chase my four-year-old across the park while clutching a tiny baby to my chest.

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A moment of stillness

It feels impossible, but I am doing it. Doing it badly, sure! But doing it!

And I have tools to help me when I feel overwhelmed. I can take five minutes to draw out my feelings or put my hand on my heart and breathe or pull a tarot card or text a friend or go on an imagination walk.

The beautiful thing is, when I use these tools, my kid picks up on it and dives right in. I’ve gotten so many great ideas for exercises from him, like stomping around the room pretending to be the bad guy, or building yourself a literal safe fort space, or scribbling all over your (or your mother’s) five year plan.

This is a whole different way of seeing myself and my life and my creativity. Motherhood isn’t the thing that keeps me from practicing my art: it is the practice. The challenges are impossible to separate from the rewards. This time around, though of course I do need breaks from being all mom all the time, I am feeling less of a need to escape from it and more of a desire to dive into the mess.

This has been my artist residency in motherhood (an idea I first heard of from this brilliant artist/mother, Lenka Clayton). Mothering my children makes my creative work stronger, and creative work makes my mothering stronger.

 

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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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!)

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 would my alter ego do?

One of the things I love about acting is being able to step into and out of an alter ego.

I learned a long time ago that one way for me to be confident was to “play” someone confident onstage.

It took me a lot longer to figure out that I could use the same principle in my life offstage: that if I went into a situation with the right outfit / mantra / alter ego / attitude, I could fake my way into confidence.

I only learned this once life (in my case, having a baby) forced me to build a life outside the theater – and learning it is what propelled me to channel my theatre training into coaching. 

I tested this idea in my own life over the last month, as I performed my manifesto in the persona of a character who is basically me in a spectacular jumpsuit.

The outfit took on a life of its own, and to live up to the image it projected, I became another version of myself: someone who is sharper, bolder, more confident in her weirdness.

You can try this too, and you don’t have to go onstage to do it.

You can create an alter ego that is another version of yourself: stronger, clearer, more spaced out, softer, meaner, louder, grungier. It’s not about being better. It’s about what you learn about yourself when you step into another character. (Those of you who have children, or who remember your own childhoods, have probably seen this with your own eyes: when we’re little, we figure out who we are by pretending to be something else).

You can use this alter ego to test out what you want, what you think, what you fear, what you hate, what you think you’re capable of. You might be surprised by what you find out. (For example, I was very surprised to find out in the course of making my show that I love new age woo woo stuff once you take out the element of control, domination, betterment and perfection).

To create your own alter ego, here’s a good way to start:

  1. NAME
  2. OUTFIT
  3. MANTRA

I’ll walk you through it:

1. PICK A NAME

  • Look around until a random object catches your eye (here are some examples from where I’m sitting right now: stool, skeleton, iron, rainboots).
  • Pick a nickname you or someone you knew had in childhood (examples from people I know: Face, Boo, Kaa, Jaja).
  • Put the two names together (examples: Stool Face, Skeleton Boo, Kaa Iron, Jaja Rainboots). Voila! You’ve got an alter ego.

2. DRAW A TWO MINUTE SELF PORTRAIT OF YOUR ALTER EGO  

  • Set the timer for two minutes
  • Write the name on a piece of paper
  • Draw a picture of that character
  • Color it in with crayons or markers or a weird red pen

3. FREEWRITE FOR TWO MINUTES

  • Set the timer for two minutes again
  • Write what you see in the picture you drew
  • You could also answer these questions: Who is this person? What are their superpowers? What is their kryptonite? Where do they come from? What are they wearing? Who are they protecting? Who are they fighting? What car do they drive?
  • Look back over what you wrote, and circle 5-6 words that stand out to you.
  • Write those words in a list, then mess around with them until they become something like a mantra. It doesn’t have to make sense, but it needs to speak to you.

When I did this at our workshop last week, here’s what I came up with:

DURA-FLAME WAITHY

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Looking into the distance, wearing a cape of flame

So now what? What do you do with this alter ego?

I’ll tell you what: you practice stepping into those shoes. You channel it at boring parties or endless meetings or conversations at the grocery store. When you need to speak up, you think, what would my alter ego say? When you aren’t sure what to do, you ask, what would my alter ego do? And when you’re at a thrift store, you ask, what would my alter ego wear? And if you’re brave, you buy that piece of clothing and you wear it out in public and see what happens.

That’s enough to get you started! Let me know what you find out.

(And if you want to go deeper with this, come to the next Creative Living workshop or sign up for my 6-week coaxing program)

My grand experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$12 – jumpsuit

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

$10 – big paper

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

$5 – an “altar” from goodwill

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

$27 – laminating 4 sheets of big paper

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$107 TOTAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What do I do? (A primer with fart sounds)

When I tell people I’m a Creative Guide, the next question I usually get is, what is that?

Or, so what do you do exactly?

They’re good questions. What DO I do, exactly?

I tell people that I “use creative tools” and “help people get in touch with their imagination” but this doesn’t sound very tangible. And in fact, the work we do often IS tangible. As in, perceptible by touch, palpable, real, and substantial.

I thought the best way to get this across would be to take a page from my own toolbox (my toolbox is FILLED with pages) and take these three steps:

  • name things
  • write the names on cards
  • arrange the cards on big paper

So that’s what I did! Here it is:

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My approach comes down to 6 principles:

  1. Ask questions
  2. Experiment
  3. Paradox: mess with binary oppositions
  4. Radical empathy + honesty
  5. Slow down, look & listen
  6. Do it badly

And I guess there’s a 7th wild card principle which doesn’t get a card because it pervades everything: go deeper by not taking things too seriously.

Or: take everything to heart while laughing your ass off.

An example of the wild card principle in action: one of my go-to exercises when I’m first working with people is to look deep into each other’s eyes while making fart sounds.

It sounds so stupid! And it is! We’re open and receptive, and we’re giggling like kids. An excellent place to start.

My point is, these principles might sound airy, but they are all about action that you can take, starting now, that shift your perspective and shift your world.

I’m going to talk about each of my guiding principles (god, hopefully I come up with a better word than principles… guiding lights?) in the weeks to come, and if you’re worried that it will be boring, I vow to include videos and dumb things to make you laugh.

In fact, I’ll start now! Let’s do the fart exercise together! I know we’re not actually in the same room right now, but let’s pretend we are and make fart sounds for 30 seconds. I bet you can’t do it without laughing, but if you do, you win a SERIOUS FART SOUNDER award (email me your address and I’ll mail it to you, for real.)

SFS Award

Ready? Let’s go. I’m going to say my name and title so I sound super important, and then I’ll pause to give you time to say yours, and then we’ll make fart sounds. YES!