I noticed a troll hanging out in my head this week, who was rolling her eyes, saying OH GOD GROSS every time I shared something and telling me everyone thinks I’m weird. Do you have a troll like this? I had a cold so I was extra vulnerable and it took me a while to notice.
Yesterday I pulled out ALL my tools: I drew a picture of the troll, I wrote down what she was saying, I asked questions and tried out opposite statements.
It sounds so silly — I drew a picture of the thoughts in my head and talked to the picture as if she were real. It is silly! I mean look at her:
I like mucking around in the weird mud of the inner world. This is messy, awkward, fumbling, vital work and I love it. It’s ok if it feels gross! EVERYONE thinks they are weird. We can be weird together.
It only took a few minutes of this and I was laughing out loud and feeling grounded and sure of myself again. I worked with the troll instead of trying to push her away, and arrived at something that feels true for me: I like being weird.
(I made a Facebook live video of some of this troll work if you want to see it on its feet)
Who are the trolls in your head who stop you in your tracks?
What do they say?
It’s too late, you missed your chance
You are being ridiculous
What a crybaby
Everyone else knows what they’re doing
Oh no, nothing is going right!
You’re going to lose everything!
What happens when you draw them and ask them questions and try on some different truths?
Your eyes are open to second chances
You are taking things much too seriously
What a loving emotionally healthy adult
Everyone doubts what they are doing
Oh no, everything is going right!
You’ve got nothing to lose!
I’m not saying this solves everything. It shifts the power dynamic inside your brain.
It’s one tiny step up a big ladder.
It doesn’t make the ladder disappear — but it does make climbing the ladder feel possible.
Try some troll work and let me know what you find out!
If you live in Portland and want to do troll work with a team: you can still sign up for Fruition.
Last weekend I had the honor and delight of joining my old comrades, the powerful forces behind Hand2Mouth Theatre, for a slumber party where they tried out ideas for the show / ritual / experience they are creating called A slumber party to dismantle the patriarchy. We did an exorcism ritual to clear out old energy and welcome in friendly spirits, we made prank calls and played truth or dare, we stayed up late talking in sleeping bags. It was beautiful.
One of the things we did together was go to this truly epic haunted house in Salem, where we spent 30 minutes screaming at the top of our lungs.
This is what we love about haunted houses and horror movies and Halloween, right? The chance to express our fears, to SCREAM them, to practice them, to feel them, to work through them.
It feels GOOD to scream, and I am struck by how little chance we get to do this. How often do we get to work through our fears, actively and vocally, with permission to grip the hands of whoever is next to us?
It feels good! Often our screams turned into laughter (or vice versa) and when we got out of there, the muscles in my face hurt like I’d been laughing for a half hour straight. Because I basically had!
So much of what people work on with me revolves around fear – and I find that fear, like our inner trolls, isn’t something you can banish directly. You can’t say to yourself, STOP FEELING THAT! Any more than you can say to a four year old waking up from a bad dream, IT’S JUST A DREAM, STOP CRYING!
My two year old loves saying YOU DUMMY right now, and if I let him see that it’s getting to me – if I tell him firmly, STOP SAYING THAT – he only grins and amps up his efforts. DUMMY! DUMMY! DUMMY! Louder, higher, faster.
If you want to get a two year old to stop saying dummy, you have to come at it sideways. And I think it’s the same with our fears. If you try to banish them directly, they come at you faster. If you come at them sideways and give them room to play themselves out, they pass. They might even be enjoyable!
Here’s an exercise I just invented:
FUN FEAR CIRCLE
Draw a circle on a notecard. Inside the circle, draw your fear.
2. Freewrite for one minute: write what you see inside the circle, write about your fear, give it a name.
3. Put your hands on the notecard and set the timer for two minutes. For two minutes, feel your fear. Let it come. Feel it in your body, where it lives and how it moves. Don’t resist it or question it, let it wash over you.
4. Take your hands off the card. Let the fear go. Maybe rip up the card and scatter it on the wind. Maybe embody the fear and move with it. Maybe color it with crayons and watch it turn into something else.
For me, what arose as the antidote to my fear was movement and action — I danced around for 30 seconds and colored in my fear, and I was surprised to see it had turned into excitement and energy.
What happens when you try it? I would love to know. And if this speaks to you, sign up for a free coaching session and let’s do some sideways transformation.
Happy Halloween to you and your shadows! May you look twice at strange figures walking down the street. May your costume come unraveled and still be a sight to see. May your candles be lit up and may your pumpkins glow with eerie delight. May you fill up your bag with treasure and trash.
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.
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.
Last week I got pulled into urgency by my old friend the urgency troll. Ironically, it happened while I was writing about how to work through urgency fears.
I was taking a long time to say what I wanted to say, and telling myself to hurry.
The time is now.
If you wait too long it will be too late.
You have to act, there’s no time to think.
My urgency trolls seemed to believe that I NEEDED TO TELL YOU HOW TO TURN AROUND URGENCY TROLLS IMMEDIATELY.
I did not get it done, and lo and behold, a week later I am still alive.
Looking at the self portrait and freewriting poem I drew last week and taped over my urgency troll — I can see that it was a magic spell, and it worked.
You can do this too! (Scroll to the bottom for my urgency dissolving spell.)
Using creativity to work through big questions
Let’s talk a little more about the thing I wanted to urge you non-urgently to do. I had decided last minute to revive my online course, the Creative Magic Workout, and I wanted to remind you to sign up for it.
But a funny thing happened when I gave myself permission to slow down: I realized something didn’t quite fit. Something about the way I’ve been describing my offerings this summer is off.
I’ve been focusing on the creative project, the creative practice — I can help you develop them and get to work on the thing you want to do. And don’t get me wrong, that’s a wonderful thing to do … but it’s not exactly what I do.
What I do is use creativity to work through big questions in life. For most of us, the most pressing issue in our lives is not making time for creative projects. No — it’s our stress level, our toxic job, the pressures of parenthood, our kid in transition, us in transition, our exhaustion, our restless heart, our bills that need to be paid, our heartbreak, our hunger for more.
There are lots of ways to get help for these things. Talk therapy, somatic therapy, hypnosis, yoga, zumba, reiki, massage. Some people go to church every Sunday. Some go out dancing every Friday night. I’m a huge fan of all of these things and have done them all myself (well, except the church).
I’m offering a different kind of help. It’s somewhere between coaching and therapy and it’s firmly rooted in the creative methodology I spent 15 years developing with my theater company — the kinds of exercises we used to generate and improvise performance together. The exercises we used to train ourselves as an ensemble, to build communication and charisma and the ability to make strong choices.
When I went through my own rocky initiation / midlife transition into motherhood five years ago, I started using these exercises not to make projects, but to survive. I used them in my daily life to figure out what I was doing, who I was, where I wanted to go and how I was going to get there.
I did also make a creative project (my solo show,I Hate Positive Thinking). But before, during and after that, I used creative exercises to work through my feelings, to move past my impostor syndrome, to sort out childcare and money and my toxic job, to learn how to make new mom friends, to dream up a new business, to navigate having a second child. I didn’t solve any of these things — but in working through them creatively, something shifted. I shifted.
Once I shifted, what I really wanted to do was clear — and since then when the fog returns to obscure my vision, it’s creative work that helps me get clear again.
Last week I was reminded that what fascinates me about working with other people is the creative project of their lives — their stresses, their blocks, their wants, their needs. We don’t answer the big questions. I don’t give you advice.We work creatively, until something shifts.
Anyway, so I’m not doing the creative magic workout this summer and I’ve decided to take it back to basics. One person at a time, one conversation at a time. If you want to work with me, contact me about scheduling sessions.
And as promised, here is the…
Urgency Dissolving Spell
1. Write down what your urgency troll is saying (and if you want, draw a picure of your urgency troll)
In my case it was…
… If you don’t send this now you’ll be stuck forever!
… You have to decide now!
2. Question each of those statements
… What does moving quickly do for me? Can I slow down?
… Why do I have to hurry?
… How will I be stuck forever? What makes me think that?
… Do I have to decide now? Could I take a little more time?
3. See if there are opposite statements that feel just as true
… Slow down
… There is no need to rush
… If you don’t act now you’ll have many chances to act again
Since we just celebrated mother’s day (or skipped it entirely if you’re not down with the pressure holidays), it seems like a good time to re-introduce myself and one of my favorite topics.
Hello. I’m Faith Helma. I’m an artist / creative guide and I would not be who I am today if motherhood had not kicked me in the aaaaaabdomen.
If you’re a mother, you know what I mean. If you’re not, swap “motherhood “ with big life transition / roadblock / curveball of your choice.
Getting pushed out of a job you love.
Deciding not to have children. Starting a business.
Traveling around the world for a year.
Building your own house.
Caregiving a parent at the end of life
Falling in love.
The hero quest starts with a call to action — an initiation —and for me becoming a mother called me to action in the most humbling, loving, brutally shamanic way.
I went in knowing it would be hard, knowing there was so much I didn’t know. I had no idea.
It’s probably similar to climbing a mountain or doing any other impossible thing. You’re in it now. There’s no going back.
What do you do, when you’re deep in it and there’s no going back?
That’s the exciting part. And that’s why, for me, no matter what logistical challenges motherhood throws my way, from childcare to balancing work and family to lack of paid leave to health insurance to dentist appointments … and no matter how physically hard the act of parenting is, from projectile vomiting to 2000 hours of wiping poopy butts to the neverending rush of leaving the house in the morning… I’m getting to my point here… for all that, I am grateful for the ways it pushes me to be real, to be honest, to be stronger, to be kinder. To be more creative.
Its made me a better artist even though I’ve technically produced far less since my first child was born 5.5 years ago than I did in the fifteen years before.
It’s fundamentally changed my idea of production and art and who it’s for.
IT’S FOR ME.
I used to think of self-indulgence as the worst thing an artist (or human) could be.
It took going through the marathon of giving birth then realizing I was in charge of someone else’s survival 24 HOURS A DAY to free me from this fear.
Suddenly self-indulgence didn’t sound so bad. Are you kidding? That sounds AWESOME.
I would kill for ten minutes a day of self-indulgence.
Owning that, claiming that is so liberating!
My art is for me. If I make art and I’m the only one who likes it, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
That’s my challenge for you today. If you set out to make art for you and you alone, what would you make?
And if you’re someone who wrestles with the fear of self-indulgence, ask that troll: what’s so bad about indulging myself? What’s the worst that could happen? Could anything good come of it?
Let me know what you find out!
p.s. If you are wanting company as you wrestle with your trolls and claim your human right to be creative, consider joining the summer of creative magic!
I’ve been in a fog the last few months – a fog I am grateful to feel lifting.
I’d been doing all the things to clear it – drawing, questioning my thoughts, singing, dancing it out. But my body kept getting sick, over and over. Or someone else would get sick and my week would get reoriented towards nurturing and nose-wiping and caregiving. Everyone would get better and I’d have a day or two of emerging clarity before the whole thing would start over again.
It was maddening, and frustrating, and overwhelming. All I could do was write from inside it and embrace it.
Now it’s been six weeks of no one getting sick (fingers crossed!) and I’ve had time to get grounded and clear internally. I’ve been thinking about what it is that is so difficult, when you’re stuck in a fog.
The circumstances that brought on the fog were frustrating, yes. But the part that really made it difficult was the shame. I was ashamed to admit I was in a fog. As if I were responsible for it, as if I caused it. I should be able to keep us healthy, to handle this better, to stop this from happening. The fact that I’m lost is a sign that I’m doing something wrong.
But think about literal fog, like in the external world. Would a sailor out on the ocean feel responsible if a fog came on? Would the captain of the ship apologize to the crew for causing it?
It sounds ridiculous! What sailor would dream that because they are knowledgeable about the weather, they have the ability to control it?! That because they know fog exists, they should be able to banish it on command?
And yet that is what I believed about this internal fog – that I should be able to clear it by saying the magic words, that I should be able to prevent it by taking the right measures, that when it stubbornly persisted, it was because I was doing something wrong.
What if I thought of it as something like the weather? Something that comes and goes, that I can’t control but can navigate through?
I don’t control the universe, I don’t control the weather, I don’t control my mind. Ahhhhhhhh.
There is a paradoxical power in that. It is a relief to give up that responsibility, a great liberation of my energy. What if my body is an ecosystem just as complex and sensitive as the planet? What if I let go of the idea that I can control it’s weather patterns, and instead learned how to ride the waves?
What do sailors do when they find themselves in a fog? Foghorns, right? Lighthouses! They send out flares of light and sound to connect with others and seek help. And when they can’t connect, they set down anchors and wait it out.
I share this, in case you too are lost in a fog and could use some words to guide you through – or just are heartened to know that others are out there.
A good sailor doesn’t believe they can control the tides, but learns how to read them, the better to co-exist with them, survive them, ride them, be at peace with them.
So it goes for us internal navigators – we get to know our inner seas, the ebbs and flows of our tides, when a storm is coming on, when a fog has settled, when it is good weather for setting out on an adventure and when it’s time to drop anchor and wait it out.
How do you navigate the internal and external fogs when they settle over you? And what does the fog have to teach you?
A while ago I was in the shower, and a song came on that I remember vividly from the last round of the Creative Magic Workout, because it felt like the most divine answer to the question we were grappling with: it’s safe to dance, it’s a safety dance.
Hearing it again, I was struck by its message — how often do we hear, in our culture, that it’s safe to dance?
You can dance if you want to.
When things feel out of control, dancing is something you can do to feel better, feel stronger, feel in control.
Dancing can change the world because it changes your world. Immediately.
You have the power to express yourself, to say what you want, to will it into existence using your body and your imagination.
How often do we dismiss our imagination, dismiss dancing as something frivolous and fun, the opposite of serious?
And yet, when we see powerful dancing, when we see it fused with image and strength, we know it can knock the walls down.
There is a paradox here: Dancing is frivolous, and it can only be done by professionals who have trained for years and years.
No. I want that power in everyone’s hands. You don’t have to be a professional dancer to access it.You can dance if you want to.
I’m not a professional dancer, but in my years of work in the theater, I have seen over and over how terrified people are of dancing. (Don’t even get me started on singing).
Coaxing them through that fear has nothing to do with teaching skills or routines or sweet moves. I mean it has a little to do with that because learning skills can build confidence and confidence is fun.
But I have seen people who HAVE the skills the routines the moves and DON’T have the confidence. Which tells me that the fear has nothing to do with the actual things you are doing and everything to do with the FEAR. With that little voice of judgment, saying you look ridiculous, you look stupid, you can’t dance, you can’t learn, you can’t move right, you’re slow, you’re clumsy, you have two left feet, you don’t have rhythm, you can’t get it…
I could go on and on. The voice of judgment has endless variations, all on the same theme of SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOUR BODY / HOW IT LOOKS OR MOVES / SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU.
I love figuring out how to break through that voice of judgment. Helping other people do it helps me do it myself. Helps me remember to dance and sing my way through the fear, which is good, because few things bring joy more immediately than dancing and singing.
For years I deprived myself of dancing. When I was a kid I loved dancing like most kids do, but around age 9 or 10 I decided I was awkward, and that decision kept me rooted in my spot, hiding in corners, hugging the wall, resisting the urge to move my body, to get up and dance.
I told myself a story that grew stronger and stronger as I grew older – that I wasn’t a natural dancer, I wasn’t the kind of person who liked to dance, it wasn’t my thing, I didn’t get it.
I was lucky to experience a kind of divine intervention in college, when some gentle, encouraging friends coaxed me out of my fear — my story — the spell I’d been casting — and got me to dance.
Breaking that spell was a gradual dissolution, and also a quick change. After slowly working through my self-consciousness, one day I was no longer scared to dance. The looming terror of dancing with other people was a dream and once I woke up to it, it was gone.
I even decided at some point to start thinking of myself as a good dancer.
And why not? Hadn’t I been telling myself a lie for years, that I was a bad dancer? Why not tell myself a lie that I’m the best dancer in the room? Even when it feels like cognitive dissonance, even when I’m surrounded by ‘better’ dancers, even when my inner trolls are sure that I look ridiculous – thinking I’m a good dancer makes me a good dancer.
You can do this too! Let’s say it right here, right now:
It’s safe to dance, and I am a great dancer.
It’s safe to _____ and I am a great _____.
What happens, what changes when you believe that? When you tell yourself: I am a great dancer – or singer or speaker or artist or entrepreneur or parent or leader or baker or ANYTHING — and it’s safe to do that thing. When you pretend that WHATEVER YOU DO, is evidence of you being great at it?
Dancing is a good place to practice: start moving and pretend that whatever you are doing is fucking great, and why not? Why not believe in the greatness of your own body and feel it’s unique power? Why not dance yourself into greatness, and dance to create a world that appreciates your greatness? It’s a spell you are casting with your body and imagination.
It’s safe to dance, and we are going to dance safety into existence. Once we feel safe, what else could we dance into existence?
Could we do a confidence dance, a professional dance, a calm mom dance, a generosity dance, a powerful dance, a world changing dance, a me too dance, a humility dance, a laugh out loud dance?
Let me know what you dance into existence! And thank you for sharing this space with me. It feels good to be up on my feet again as we dream up a vision of what we want 2019 to be.
I’ve been feeling very Grinchy about the holidays. Even though I’ve built traditions I love, even though it’s fun to experience things anew with children, even though I am enjoying dance parties at night to the Mariah Carey Christmas album – still, when I think CHRISTMAS IS COMING it’s with a shudder. I wish we could flash forward to January.
I’ve been giving this some deeper thought. The other day as I was dragging my feet on taking my two kids to get a Christmas tree, I asked myself: what is it I don’t like about this? Why do I feel like I have to do it, like it’s not my choice?
I didn’t have time in that moment to write anything down,
but I started to think about what is on my YES list for the holidays, and
what’s on my NO list.
It’s very simple, a YES NO list. You can do it for anything and I find it useful for things I have mixed feelings about – to sort out what I do and do not want – to clarify what exactly I’m feeling hesitant or grumpy or meh about, and what makes me jump with joy and smile from ear to ear. If I’m not feeling excited about something, why is it on my YES list? Can I move it to the NO list, or change something to make it a solid YES?
I started thinking about what’s on my holiday NO list as I was wrangling the kids into coats and boots and carseats, and so many things popped into my mind: last minute stress shopping, sitting on Santa’s lap, a naughty and nice list, the film Love Actually, plastic, disposable stocking stuffers. I had to dredge up things for the YES list: okaaaaaaay, the Nutcracker. Warm cozy socks and slippers. Candles. The smell of a real tree.
I thought about that, the smell of a tree. Yes, that is why I like having a real tree, that is why we’re heading out into the freezing rain right now. And as it turned out, we had a blast, picking out a little tree that fit in the trunk of our car, driving home with soaking wet coats and hats and the smell of pine in the car. Getting it home and dragging it inside and draping it in shiny beads and orbs and lights while drinking hot cocoa. (The part where my toddler knocked down the tree is a topic for another day).
This morning when I sat down to write down my list, I was surprised to find that I had an overflowing number of ideas for my YES list. Watching The Big Lebowski! Tamales! Cozy pajamas! Homemade cookies! Believing in the possibility of magic and things you can’t explain! Secret gifts! Surprises!
The things on my NO list are small but clear – anything that
pulls me into obligation, perfectionism, pressure, fake magic and fake crap. As
a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser it is very easy for me to focus
all my energy on making everyone happy, doing things “right,” getting the
perfect gift for every single person and getting it to them on time. And if I
don’t, THAT IS HORRIBLE and they will never forgive me and Christmas will be
I can choose to believe that. Or I can slow down and notice when I’m having those thoughts, and take a breath. Hello, holiday troll. Hello ridiculous expectations, I see you’ve creeped in again. Am I ruining Christmas?
I can choose to believe in a Christmas that is not consumed with meeting ridiculous self-imposed expectations. I can show my love to people in the ways that mean something to me. I can choose to opt out of stress and panic and perfection. I can talk to my kids about Santa in a way that feels right to me. I can choose to stay out of the mall on Christmas Eve. I can choose to only watch Love Actually if I want to feel a rousing, invigorating tide of righteous fury wash over me. (This is also a post for another time though really, Lindy West said it best…)
Of course Love Actually, the apex of cynically vacant faux-motional cash-grab garbage cinema would hang its BIG METAPHOR on the bleak, empathy-stripped cathedral of turgid bureaucracy known as “the airport.” Of course.
It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and sucked in, to feel dominated and overloaded and swept along in a helpless plastic current of holiday cheer. So for me, it’s helpful to remind myself that I can step out of that fake river. I can celebrate what matters to me. I can connect to people how I want. I can give my energy to the things I like and release the things I don’t.
Yeah! Look at that, my Grinch heart is growing! YES!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I’ve been doing lots of champion work this week in anticipation of the new Creative Magic Workout – during which we spend a whole week summoning, channeling and seeking out champions within and without.
A key part of this work is looking at the images in our language, and finding ways to swap out harmful or mean or unhelpful images with ones that are more kind and encouraging and useful.
I call it re-metaphor-izing.
Often there is a potent image behind the meanest names we call ourselves — the ideas that sink their teeth in us and won’t let go.
And you can’t force those ideas to let go, but you can seek out new images that entice your mind to drop the old ones.
For example, did you notice that I used a metaphor just now, to describe how powerful our thoughts can be? I said they “sink their teeth in us” even though, of course, they don’t actually do that. But comparing them to a wild and dangerous animal makes my point more vividly then saying “they are very powerful.” (Suzette Elgin talks a lot about the power in metaphor and how we can use language to defend ourselves, and this is what first got me to thinking about the ways our minds use images and associations).
So, let’s say I want to make the point that ideas are powerful without summoning up feelings of dread and fear and danger.
What else is powerful and won’t let go? A tsunami, a hungry child, a great hug, the moon….
And isn’t it true that your thoughts can also roll over you like a tidal wave
Or call out with a neverending urgency
Or wrap arms of peace and security around you
Or ebb and flow like the ceaseless tide of the ocean
My point being: you can put conscious effort into the images you are summoning, and change the feeling, the vibe, the structure, the EVERYTHING around it.
Like with troll work, a lot can change just by noticing the thoughts that are running through your mind, noticing the images your mind is defaulting to – and seeing what happens when you consciously swap in a new image.
I’ll give you an example from my life – I often think to myself, “you are a hot mess,” or some variation on that theme. You are full of shit, you are batshit crazy, you have got to get your shit together.
And when I slow down and look at those images… wow. I’m comparing myself to garbage, to stinking piles of poop.
What is a different image I could use, that would still be true to the facts?
Hmmm… isn’t “a hot mess” also the conditions under which life emerges on a planet? Aren’t swamps and marshlands teeming with life and activity and balance and their own kind of order?
What if instead of you’re a hot mess, I thought: you are a hot thriving ecosystem. You are a marshland. You are ready for new primordial life.
Here are some other ones:
I am batshit crazy –> I am a night-cloaked superhero
I am flaky –> I am a wizard
I am a broke loser –> I am free as a bird
The facts don’t change. But the way you talk about the facts – the way you tell the story of your life — can change everything.
I’d love to hear some of your images and brainstorm some ways to turn them into champion metaphors! You can register for my free webinar, Champion Yourself, which is Friday May 18! We’ll work this out in real time…