We are living in a sh*tty first draft

Friends, I have no good advice for you today. No insights, no tricks, no shortcuts to make this easier.

I have my truth: this is hard and I am struggling. I have another truth: this is a chance to rethink my life, my family, my work, my kids’ schooling, my income, my day to day life, and I welcome it. It doesn’t look linear or neat or clean and progressive like the line on a growth chart. It’s meandering, sideways, going around in circles — and yet on some level I can sense a pattern forming. This might just be what I need to believe — which doesn’t mean it’s not real. The need to detect patterns is a deeply wired part of our instinct to survive.

I have my willingness to live in paradox, and to model what that looks like. I have my lived experience which has taught me: when things get unclear, when you’re in unfamiliar territory, retreat to your body. Follow your body where it leads.

My body is finding some aspects of this familiar. It’s reminding me of being home with a newborn baby, the way you find a rhythm not through the thinking mind, the way your energy organizes itself around what you need to survive on a daily basis. The way what you need surprises you.

I am using creative acts to survive. I draw to ease my mind; I dance to release my stress and anxiety; I sing to give voice to my sorrow, hopelessness and rage. I seek out jokes and laughter to get some relief. I seek out poems and songs to get perspective, to find out how I feel.

I’m thinking of my art garage as a playhouse, and I created a Facebook group to try and share this with others, though to be honest, I don’t know if I even have the capacity to show up in that space in any way that is meaningful for anyone but me. But even if it is just for me, the idea of a playhouse is keeping me going.

What is keeping you going? How are you surviving? What expectations have you let go of and what odd new habits (other than washing your hands like a surgeon) have you adopted? Who is helping you in this time?

Here is who is helping me:

Oh my — this is getting perilously close to me giving you good advice! I promised not to do that.

Instead, can I offer you some bad, dumb, stupid, awful advice?

I call this a Bad Idea Brainstorm (a BIB) and you can use it on anything — school closures, unemployment, grocery shopping, parenting, coexisting with roommates, living alone… anything you’re struggling with.

My inspiration for this is Anne Lamott’s advice on shitty first drafts  (which I’ve written about before)…

All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.

You want to sit down and stare at the page? Try to write a great novel from day one. Want to actually write a great novel? Write a shitty first draft.

How can we take this idea and apply it to other areas of life? Because we all want to survive and make it through this weird time not just intact but thriving and healthy, but aiming for success right now feels overwhelming.

Well guess what: that’s because NONE OF US HAS LIVED THROUGH A GLOBAL PANDEMIC BEFORE, so we’re all living in a shitty first draft.

What changes when you admit that — when you give yourself permission to do a bad job, because that’s all you can do in a new situation (what Brené Brown calls FFTs, or Effing First Times)?

One way to embrace and celebrate and revel and LAUGH with this situation is to do a Bad Idea Brainstorm on it. Lean IN to your awkward uncertainty, your weird instincts, your dumb ideas.

BAD IDEA BRAINSTORM: PANDEMIC EDITION

  1. Release live poisonous snakes into all the public areas where we want to discourage social interaction
  2. Follow our president’s instructions and whimsies to the letter
  3. Instead of wearing a face mask, get a tattoo of a face mask
  4. Fill the house with silly putty for the kids to play with
  5. What a great time to make paella with your small children! Or craft delicate glass objects to hang from windows and balance on tables!
  6. Oooh how about we make our own ant farm?
  7. I know! How about try to work a demanding full-time job while home schooling your child! (My apologies to anyone who is being forced to do this for real)
  8. Announce your plan for the day to the neighbors via bullhorn
  9. Forage all food instead of going to the grocery store. Can you eat grass?
  10. paint I AM STAYING HOME on my roof in neon pink

I did one of these around homeschooling on April Fools Day, and wrote out the worst homeschooling plan I could think of. Y’all… I cannot tell you how much more fun THIS was to create then the real ones I was making the first couple weeks (a practice I have now thankfully dropped).

This is the beauty of a Bad Idea Brainstorm — it gets you laughing, it gets you thinking outside the box, it gets you moving and in the mood to try things, and (this is the secret) once in a while, a brilliant idea sneaks in.

That’s what I have for you today! Until next time…

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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.

STUPID SOLUTIONS TO A BIG PROBLEM: GUN VIOLENCE

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

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

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

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

STUPID SOLUTIONS TO A BIG PROBLEM: the gun violence edition

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

Here’s what the OLCC says:

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

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

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

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

Lots of Kids Dead in Mass Shooting by Loony Lardface

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