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!

I Don’t Trust a 100% Guarantee

… part of my walking-talking manifesto in progress, on the theme of I Hate Positive Thinking…


One meaning of ‘positive’ is 100% certain.

 I AM POSITIVE THAT THE THING I OFFER WILL HELP YOU.

 I guarantee if you use this system you’ll have massive breakthroughs in the next month.

 You’ll be making six figures in no time if you take these three steps. I promise.

 If you’re experiencing [random thing], I can guarantee that the problem is [something I can solve].

I’ve come to realize that I never trust anyone who 100% guarantees a result.

the power of positive thinking

To me, it’s an automatic bullshit detector. But it’s hard to avoid, because it’s tied in to the language of buying and selling. And because coaches and practitioners and healers are offering something intangible – a service, not a product – there is a temptation to make it feel more tangible by guaranteeing results.

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This is one of the reasons I avoided entering this field for so long: I can’t stand seeing the realm of the unconscious reduced to being bought and sold like a product.

But can you be successful without doing that? This recovering life coach thinks you can’t, but I’m hoping you can. I’m heartened to see examples of coaches, counselors and mavens who offer great services without false guarantees or manipulation disguised as positive thinking.

And I think, if their honesty and humanity and humility is something that attracts me, then it can attract people to me too.

Because I think most of us would rather hang out with someone who’s being honest and real than giving us a line we want to hear.

So I’m not going to tell you that my approach is 100% GUARANTEED.

I’m not even going to tell you I have a foolproof, rock solid “approach,” as if it were a product I hammered out that sits on the shelf, gleaming and perfect. Nope.

What I have is a way in, based on years of working creatively with my own mind and body, and with other people. It is born out of the particulars of my circumstances – particulars that I think a lot of people share. It works for me, and it works for other people. But it is constantly evolving and doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

I could give you a pencil and the chances that you’d write something with it are high, but I have no idea. Maybe you’ll chew it. Maybe you’ll draw on the table. Maybe you’ll throw it across the room. Maybe you’ll break it into tiny pieces and fashion a miniature beaver dam.

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The possibilities are endless, and that’s what I love about this work.

I give you tools, show you how to use them, and guide you through the process. Then you do the work, and see what arises. If you have a breakthrough, it comes from you and your life, your passion, your abilities – not some magic pill I conjured up for you.

That’s what I offer. A process that grows and changes depending on who is using it, when they use it, and how they use it. A process that I think is kick-ass, and which usually leads to insights, aha moments and shifts in perspective. It’s like a chemistry experiment: powerful things are bound to happen, but it’s impossible to predict exactly what.

That’s why we experiment: to find out what will happen. No guarantees, no promises, no bullshit.


Want to work on your own manifesto? Come to my free workshop on June 14! 

Manifesto in progress: I hate positive thinking

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I’ve been working on a solo performance this year that has one foot in the performance world and one foot in this new world I’ve ventured into, the world of (duh duh DUHHHHH) self-help.

It’s strange that I’m in this new world, since most of my life I’ve had an aversion to the idea of self-help and positive thinking. In fact, that’s the title of my show: I HATE POSITIVE THINKING.

It’s about this tension I feel, as someone working in the life coaching field who can’t stand the terms abundance, manifesting, law of attraction and poverty mindset. In essence, it’s my manifesto, on its feet, in progress. A living manifesto.

I’ll be sharing bits and pieces from my living manifesto in the coming weeks as I get ready to take it to the NW New Works Festival, so you can see for yourself what I do and do not stand for. One things I most certainly DO stand for is Stevie Wonder. He is a goddamn treasure (check out how he breaks it down starting at 7:29):

But I also want to encourage you to write / create / dance / draw your own manifesto.

In fact, that is the theme of the next Sunday Morning Creative Zone workshop: THE ART OF THE MANIFESTO (manifesti?)

And it just occured to me — as someone who hates the term ‘manifesting’, it’s funny that I love the term manifesto. Maybe that’s my philosophy in one sentence: I don’t want you to manifest wealth, health and abundance. I want you to get on your feet and MANIFESTO it.

Carry on, brave friends.