Making space for ridiculous magic

Hello there. I am Faith Helma, otherwise known as my alter ego, Coach Faith Ra. I am a creative guide and I am here today to invite you to reconnect with your brilliant beautiful shining creative spirit.

If that sounds a little woo woooooo, guess what, I also have a care bear with me. This is a care bear that my dear friend bought for me a few weeks ago and I am unironically, nay UNABASHEDLY snuggling with this carebear. I am a 43 year old woman and I own a carebear. I am okay with that.

If you’re still watching this, fantastic. I think we are kindred spirits. Maybe you loved Anne of Green Gables as a kid, like I did. Maybe you believed in fairies and looked for them when you were out in the woods. And then you grew up and felt silly, you packed that away. You put yourself into a box marked ADULTHOOD and you locked the key on your childhood dreams.

I am making space to unpack that magic. It’s a silly ridiculous process. The silliness makes it possible. We have to make space for PLAY and MAKE BELIEVE if we are going to unpack the  magic. We have to make space for real actions, actions that seem tiny but they are real, they transform physical space. Lighting candles, holding a care bear, making a circle on the floor out of salt and stepping inside. They are ritual actions, creative actions that make space and time for us to transform.

What happens when we accept that invitation, when we journey through the layers of shame and fear, the fog, the dark woods, the trolls saying TURN BACK, YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH, or I DON’T BUY IT, or THIS IS A WASTE OF TIME, YOU NEED TO GET ORGANIZED — what happens is powerful magic.

You doing the thing you’ve been wanting to do for ten years is powerful magic.

You feeling confident setting boundaries is powerful magic.

You singing in public is powerful magic.

You teaching what you know is powerful magic.

You connecting with your 9 year old self is powerful magic.

I believe that. And I believe that a group of us doing that work together over the next 12 weeks is more powerful than we can even imagine.

Are you in? I’m enrolling for Creative Magicians all this week and I would love to have you on the journey with us.

(And if you don’t sign up, you still have powerful magic and you are welcome to join us in your imagination)

Past + future spells

Hey everybody! It’s that time of year, when we reflect on the past and project into the future. I like to do some simple creative exercises (aka magic spells) on this, and obviously those exercises are SUPER WEIRD AND POTENT this year. I’ve been posting over at my Playhouse on Patreon about some of them, and I wanted to share this with you here too (oh and I made a video on this topic if you want to view it here).

This magic word association exercise is called LOOK AT YOURSELF, YOU BEAUTIFUL CREATURE

I came to this one because I was looking back over the self-portraits I drew this year. Whenever I do this, I see patterns and recurring images that I didn’t notice while I was drawing them. 

You can do this too, even if you don’t have drawings to look back on (though I highly recommend you start doing self portraits as a way to track your journey through life).

Look back at selfies, or pictures you posted on instagram, and see what visual cues jump out at you. Are there colors you are drawn to, a shirt you wore a lot, a way of framing yourself that you kept unconsciously repeating? Are there objects or symbols that you notice in the background a lot?

One thing I see, when I look back at the self portraits I drew this year, is a recurring image of gray stepping stones. I wasn’t really conscious how often I was drawing these, but they show up over and over. 

Something I notice in the pictures from my instagram grid is how much I like wearing warm pinks and purples. I posted a picture on New Years Eve of me jumping in my galaxy pants. I realized looking at the picture how much joy those pants have brought me this year. Why do I love the word GALAXY so much, why do I keep coming back to it?

See what images resonate with you from the past year, and then take it a step further and freewrite what associations you have with those images. What do they communicate to you? How do they make you feel?

For me, GRAY STEPPING STONES…

= one step at a time

= comforting and orderly yet mystical and mysterious

= part of the earth but also constructed

= harmony with the world

= the kind of path I like

= call to me, I want to step on a gray stepping stone

= be where you are, and also following your instincts one step at a time

= slow growth, exciting growth, following curiosity

= how to grow my business so it fits with my life

= sustainable growth

Wow. This is helping me see that one of the shifts for me this year is, accepting the slowness of my growth, not fighting it or pushing past it, not trying to trick myself out of it. 

My body insists on slow growth. My body insists on doing this the right way, even if it means I go in circles or take forever to learn. My body says, one stone step at a time. 

Here’s what I came up with for GALAXY:

= unknown

= exploration

= expansion

= mystery

= spirals

= dazzling

= multiple cultures, multiple worlds, multiple ways

= escape

= a better future

= afrofuturism (this raises the question… can I embrace this as a white person? What is futurism from a white perspective? Can I embrace expansion and escape without perpetuating white supremacy?)

= inner work / outer work

= as above so below

= look at the stars to see your mind at work

= get your ship together

= working together, a team in space, a team of equals

Interesting. What do these lists tell me about my goals and relationships and actions for the year? What are my YES and NO based on this?

For me what came up was this:

No hoarding, no hiding, no talking over people, no playing the victim, no all by myselfing, no rushing and skipping steps, no tricking myself.

Yes to paying 30% of my income to Black and Indigenous women, yes to showing up, yes to stepping into the light, YES to dazzling, yes to listening and learning actively, yes to taking in feedback, yes to going slow, yes to giving and receiving help as a powerful being. Yes to a team of equals.

Wow. Something really shifts for me, something expands in me when I think of 2021 that way.

What comes up for you?

I am [the hero of a beloved kid’s movie]

*** If you want to see this IN VIDEO FORM, I’ve posted a wild & wacky deep dive for free on my Patreon page ***

I’ve been watching a lot of kid movies lately. There’s a lot of terrible ones out there but some are deeply wonderful. I’ve been thinking about how we cordon them off into ‘kid’ world so the only adults who know about them are ones with kids, and that’s a shame, because the experience of watching a magical movie through a child’s eyes as an adult is a beautiful creative act.

That’s one of the things i hate most about white supremacy culture, the way it splits everything into binaries, polarities, one side or another, and I especially notice it around parenting.

You either decide not to have kids and have nothing to do with kids, or you decide to have kids and exist ONLY in a world of kids. And it makes the decision whether to have kids or not really fraught and intense. You’ve got two options: have kids and give up your identity and never have another meaningful adult conversation, or don’t have kids and never get invited into spaces with kids ever for any reason. It’s a weird way to approach it, right? Like, WHY? We all lose in that scenario. We get into this war of who has it worse, single people without kids or parents spending all their time with kids. I hate that war. I don’t want to be in a war at all, I want to build a culture where kids are part of it, where my kids have adults in their lives they love and trust who are not their parents, where I get to go out at night and sing karaoke once in a while. That is true in some cultures and it’s something I’m working on, that a lot of people I know are working on.

I mean so much of this has gotten more intense in the pandemic when none of us are doing anything BUT be at home, with or without kids. I am dreaming of this healthy thriving culture where we all coexist together, support each other, raise kids together. Lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. Kids running around everywhere.

Anyway, so I just re-watched Moana, and what struck me this time was the scene where Moana is alone on a boat in the ocean, doubting herself and her ability to continue. She’s lost her way, and the spirit of her Grandma comes to help her.

Her Grandma tells her, you should be proud of what you have done. You have come so far and if you want to go home now, I will go with you. You don’t have to go any farther if you don’t want to. That permission to fail is so beautiful. That’s what we need sometimes from parents or grandmas or people who love us, right? Not someone to talk you into doing what you need to do, but someone to tell us it’s ok not to. It’s ok to fail. I love you no matter what, I’m here with you all the way home. That is what allows Moana to make the next step herself. No one talks her into doing it. She comes to it on her own.

She starts by standing up and saying her name out loud. I am Moana.

She says who she is, who her people are, where she comes from. I am a girl who loves my island, I’m the girl who loves the sea. It calls me. I am the daughter of the village chief. We are descended from voyagers who found their way across the world, they call me.

She says what she has done so far, the things she thought she could not do that she has done. I’ve delivered us to where we are, I have journeyed farther, I am everything I’ve learned and more, still it calls me.

She remembers what calls her, why she’s doing what she’s doing. And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me. It’s like the tide, always falling and rising. I will carry you here in my heart you’ll remind me that come what may I know the way.

She repeats her name: I am Moana!

Then she dives into the ocean to reclaim the green stone, the heart of Te Fiti. When she comes back up to the boat, she is alone.

Crying! It’s so good!

I feel like this kind of self talk is what we all need right now to find our way through this dark time.

I am making this my daily prompt for the rest of the month (and the rest of 2020…!).

Who am I?

Who are my people?

Who am I descended from? (How could I choose a word to describe them, like Voyagers?)

What calls me?

What object symbolizes my call?

They are not easy questions to answer — when I ask myself, who am I, who are my people, what calls me, I’m not sure what the answer is. That is the problem! That’s why I like to draw and write and dance to find my answers — it’s okay not to know. My body knows the answer before I do. I draw the answer, I dance the answer, and slowly come to understand what it means.

I realized just now singing along to Moana (which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND DOING) that I am Faith, and what calls me is my art garage! It calls me, the paint, the paintbrushes, the candles, the quiet, the space to dance. Communicating my thoughts to you this way calls me.

What calls you? What is calling to you right now that maybe you’re not noticing? What is your name? Who are your people?

You know the waaaaaay!

Altar with notecard, "The things you have learned will guide you." - Moana's Grandma

If you want to see me guide you through these questions in video form, I’ve posted one over on my Patreon page for free. Woo hoo! Check it out! I AM COACH FAITH RA.

The happy CAN’T DO spirit

I’m sitting here like many of you in profound paradox. 

I am grateful and thankless. I wish with every fiber of my being that my kids could be in school; we have grown closer in the last 8 months and I see ways my son was struggling in school before. Now that we are together 24 hours a day, I SEE IT. I am truly tearfully grateful for this and at the same time, exhausted.

I am glad for the joy and distraction and energy of my children; I despair at the endless days of lockdown on the horizon.

I have a fantasy of what my life would be like right now if it were just me. I would be reading novels and sipping hot tea all day long in delight. I would be having long complex conversations with adults. I’d be casting spells at midnight and howling at the moon.

Sometimes I tip over into my alternate life and get a glimpse of the fantasy she is dreaming, of a world where two wild children are spouting absurdist poetry and asking questions all day long, where family meals are being cooked and candles lit and stories told around a big table, where spontaneous family rituals erupt, where she feels deeply needed. She (alternate world Faith) is deeply alone and longing for company. 

I think of how she must feel. She thinks I am living a fantasy life; I long for her fantasy life. I am suffering; she is suffering. We are suffering from the same thing. Two sides of the same coin.

I too am deeply alone and longing for company. 

I too feel unneeded, unnecessary. 

The things I am needed for are juice boxes, string cheese and legos. Hugs and anger and wiped butts.

Don’t you know who I am, I want to shout. 

It’s a good question. Don’t I know who I am?

Over in alternate world she doesn’t have the luxury of distractions. She is alone with herself, nothing to distract from that question.

I do have that luxury, the perfect excuse, I get to comfort myself with a game called, what I would do if I could but I can’t. 

Isn’t that a beautiful fantasy?

I would do _________ if I could but I can’t.

Maybe we could do this together. Write that sentence down ten times and fill in the blank with different things. Even if it doesn’t make sense! First thought best thought.

  • I would do some big crazy project if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do more baking if I could but I can’t
  • I would do pilates if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do pirates if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do moving to Arizona and living off grid if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do elephant taming if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do novels if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do taking  it to the streets and f the police if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do writing subversive romance novels if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do a big online retreat if I could but I can’t.

Now take everything you wrote in the blanks and write them as a list.

  • Some big crazy project
  • More baking
  • Pilates
  • Pirates
  • Moving to Arizona and living off grid
  • Elephant taming
  • Novels
  • Taking it to the streets and f the police
  • Writing subversive romance novels
  • A big online retreat

Does your list tell you something? I don’t know wtf mine tells me.

OK let’s try this, for each thing write I CAN DO in front of it, then list three ways that could be true.

I CAN DO some big crazy project

  • I just have to give up the idea of doing it well
  • I’ve done a big crazy project before and it didn’t even fail
  • Actually I’m already doing at least one, a little bit at a time

I CAN DO more baking

  • I’m actually doing more baking than I usually do
  • Baking is fun to do with the kids
  • We could branch out to bread and that would take all day, offscreen time!

I CAN DO pilates

  • I mean i totally can
  • Do I actually want to do pilates?
  • I would rather do zumba

I CAN DO pirates

  • I can definitely dress like one
  • In fact I already did last week
  • I don’t know what it means to do pirates but I feel I’m doing that

I CAN DO moving to Arizona and living off grid

  • I could definitely do this with my kids if I wanted to
  • We had a crazy idea of buying a trailer and driving to Texas to crash with family, we almost did it
  • I could still go somewhere super remote… the truth is I don’t want to give up the connections we’re getting living online right now, for all my mixed feelings about it

I CAN DO Elephant taming

  • I don’t want to tame elephants
  • I maybe want to free them from the zoo
  • I do love them. I could go hang out with them at the zoo, or watch more documentaries.

I CAN DO novels

  • I have read more novels in the last year than in the last seven years
  • The libby app makes it easy to check them out from the library and read on my phone
  • I could definitely choose to do this more instead of reading the news

I CAN DO taking it to the streets and f the police

  • I did for three days this summer, it was hard but I did it
  • The reason I stopped was not because I couldn’t but because I didn’t want to / was vaguely traumatized
  • I am ready to do this again when the time / situation feel right for me (there’s a lot to unpack here)

I CAN DO writing subversive romance novels

  • I could write two minutes a day
  • Stacey Abrams did it
  • Could I add this to something I already do every day, the two minute self portrait? After my drawing / freewriting time, I do two minutes of romance novel freewrite. This would actually be hilarious.

I CAN DO a big online retreat

  • I could get a sitter
  • I could rope my partner into kid care, he owes me
  • A big sigh comes out of my body when I contemplate doing this, not a happy sigh but a deep I GUESS SO sigh. I don’t think I want to do a big online retreat.

So what’s interesting to me is, it turns out half of these things are things I can do if I want to, and… I don’t want to. The other half are things I am already doing, or can do pretty easily.

I DON’T WANT TO

  • Do pilates
  • Tame elephants 
  • Move to Arizona and live offgrid
  • Take it to the streets and f the police

I ALREADY AM

  • Doing a big crazy project a little at a time
  • Living like a pirate
  • Reading novels
  • Baking

I CAN: Write a subversive romance novel two minutes a day

So I guess instead of saying I would do _______ if I could but I can’t, I could say, I don’t want to do _______. I could say, Wait, I AM doing that. I would do that if I could because I am.

I could say, I would like to do that. Can I? 

I want to pause here because I’m starting to sound cheerful and optimistic and lately I find optimism deeply annoying.

I don’t want CAN DO spirit. I want to lay on the couch muttering I CAAAAAAAAN’T while my children leap across my body onto a trampoline.

I want some CAN’T DO spirit.

Is this another paradox? I want to revel in what I can’t do. I want to whine and bitch and moan. I want to have a bad attitude, I cling to it, I savor it like a nice warm cup of something gross.

Have you ever done that? Tasted something gross and then you can’t stop tasting it?

That’s kind of how I’m feeling. Savoring this gross CAN’T DO nog. Somehow I feel like in my alternate world I’m drinking exactly the same thing.

Ok folks, this is my odd message to you on Unthanksgiving Day, on this strange shut-in celebration of harvest, in the last month of a very strange year of constant change.

May you take the spirit of CAN’T DO and run with it like my 3 year old does when I tell him he can’t do something. Nothing motivates him faster! Don’t throw your food! Don’t use my shirt as a napkin! Don’t throw caution and careful planning to the wind and follow your wild crazy dreams!

Crying & painting toenails & other productive activities

Since I talked about the end of the world and the importance of crying, I’ve been thinking about the way we talk about action. The world tells me that productive actions are VOTING, paying TAXES, going to WORK, doing your JOB. 

Actions that are not considered productive are SLEEPING, CRYING, PAINTING YOUR TOENAILS. These kinds of actions are often used as a euphemism for wasting time. Something that’s totally pointless, with no real purpose. Fiddling your thumbs, that’s another one. 

I’ve been noticing this because these examples I just mentioned, they are all in fact productive. They are all actions with a clear tangible result.

Your body needs to sleep every night in order to function.

When you cry, water is being produced by your body to release emotion. There is relief and catharsis and clarity that comes from that action. 

Painting your toenails is fast and soothing and when you’re done, your toenails are a different color, it gives you joy to look at them.

Hell even fiddling your thumbs — I’ve never actually done this but I imagine it’s a very effective way to calm down a racing mind. ((Update: I just fiddled my thumbs and I did not find it calming but it reminded me of knitting which I hear IS calming for many people. We will report back on this breaking development as we hear more).

I was reminded of this because I was listening to Brene Brown’s interview with Emily and Amelia Nagoski on burnout and how to complete the stress cycle. They talk about how important it is to let your body physically process emotions. I’ve learned this over and over during this pandemic — if emotions don’t get expressed, they get stuck in the body. I forget this all the time!

The Nagoski sisters have some fantastic ideas for how to express emotions, and I made a list for myself of actions I do that are effective for processing emotions, and I thought I’d share it.

So there you go! In case you needed permission to go paint your toenails, YOU GOT IT.

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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Shifting the power dynamic in your brain

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!

Saying what you want out loud is a magic spell

I wrote a post two years ago about accidental spellcasting, about how we are casting accidental spells all the time — we  use our imaginations to predict, reflect, reframe, process and distract from reality. We speak predictions of the future as if they were certain, we worry ourselves into a repeating loop, we tell stories to make sense of trauma and thus, shake off it’s hold on us. We cast spells without realizing it — plant the seeds deep in our unconscious mind for the kind of world we want to live in. 

I think of magic as PHYSICALIZING YOUR UNCONSCIOUS. It’s a process for taking your inner world — the symbols, images and associations that make you do what you do — and expressing it on the outside. It’s about changing the inner tangle of associations so your perception of the outer world can radically change.

One of the simplest, most powerful magic spells you can cast is saying what you want out loud.

I’m not talking about manifesting or positive thinking. This is not about crossing your fingers and wishing hard. This is not about expecting everything to work out exactly the way you want it to.

No – this is a different beast. This is following the thread of what you want where it leads. This is paying attention to the images and shadows and surges and obstacles that arise when you say out loud what you want. This magic is a sideways, circular, cyclical, practical process. When you say your unconscious desires out loud — when you embrace them, play with them, pretend with them — they take on a life outside of you. You don’t control them — you dance with them, ride with them where they lead. It’s about co-creating with your unconscious mind.

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If this sounds whimsical or daydreamy, think of a baby. Babies cry for what they want. They voice their desire. They WANT with all their being, without question, without hesitation. They want milk, they cry out for milk. And you know what? IT WORKS. They don’t manifest the milk, they cry until they get it (or mine did. Babies vary, obviously). 

This is basic human survival. And yet what we learn as we grow is to hide our wants. Especially if you were socialized as a white American woman like me, you learn to wait and see what everyone else wants before you say anything. You mold your wants to fit the group. You try not to want too much, so you’re not a burden, a diva, an annoyance.

Overcoming that programming is not easy. It feels scary and weird and uncomfortable — impossible even.

But it’s like any hard thing: you practice, and you get better.

You can practice saying what you want out loud. You can practice being honest about your YES and NO. You can revel in the tension, the thrills, the fears of wanting. You can WANT with all your night, even if it’s just for two minutes.

I have an example from my life. Seven years ago I was channeling my creative energy into theater — creating charged multimedia performances about big unanswerable questions, leading warm ups and trainings, co-leading with a group of strong artists who had been working together for years. Then I gave birth to my son Waylon, and everything turned upside down. What arose (slowly) from the ashes was a new idea — or more accurately, the old idea, with new wings. A new frame for what I had been doing all those years. What if another word for these skills is active listening, facilitating and … coaching? Could I be a coach?

Something about becoming a mother compelled me to physicalize this question, so I made a show to practice embodying a coach. That show was I Hate Positive Thinking, and over the course of a year, I went from calling myself a “coach” in air quotes to doing it for real, working with clients and leading workshops and classes. For over a year, I got up in front of people and practiced being this new thing I wanted to be. I tried it on. I performed my WANT with hundreds of people as witnesses and I felt the spell working it’s magic, night after night.

I am still practicing that want. I am still casting that spell. And guess what,  it’s still hard! It’s vulnerable and scary and feels weird to say what I want out loud. 

But we can do hard things. Try saying out loud what you want and seeing what happens as a result. Maybe nothing! That’s possible. But since change is the only constant in our universe, isn’t it more likely that SOMETHING will happen?

Granting yourself validation

I talk to so many people who are looking for validation from someone who is not giving it to them. And this is such a hard one! Because even if you know you should be validating yourself — even if you want to, even if (like me) you’re a recovering people pleaser trying to disconnect from the drug of outside approval — that desire is still there, to be validated, to be affirmed, to be deemed worthy.

I had a thought the other day: what if you granted validation to yourself?

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Not thought about it, wished for it, longed for it, waited for it, but GRANTED it.

How do you grant yourself validation?

How about we try this:

Write out the validation you want from someone. Imagine them saying exactly what you want to hear: singing your praises, telling you good job, nodding with approval at your actions.

Now this is the important part — read it out loud. If possible, to a trusted friend. Nod with approval. Stand up and clap your hands. Sing your own praises. And end with something like:

I hereby grant myself the validation I seek. 

 To commemorate, put on a validation song and dance to it, or write out a certificate, or make a tiny sigil to wear around your neck, or find a ring to wear, so any time you’re feeling small or insignificant or like an imposter, you can make a fist and say to yourself:

YES: I see you 

I know you

You are powerful

You are learning

You are growing 

I validate you

I strengthen you

I encourage you

I believe in you

I think something happens when we say this out loud to ourselves. When we adopt it as a daily practice, something you can do no matter how you feel, something you can feel your way into.

It’s not a given. It’s not either you have it or you don’t. It’s not something someone else can give you anyway.

Have you ever noticed that? How often, when the validation DOES come from outside, we swat it away, we deflect it, we dismiss it?

I wonder if, when we begin truly to affirm ourselves, when we build up those muscles and recognize ourselves, we also begin to receive more validation from the outside. Because we’re open to it — we’re ready for it — we’re not in a desperate game of hide and seek with it, we already have it.

Something to experiment with! And that’s what I love about this work. It’s something you can practice and learn. It’s a choice you can make and a stance you can take, a question you can ask.

What if I had the power to grant myself validation?

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Humbled & disoriented in my power

It’s been a strange week.

I had planned a trip back to my ancestral homeland of Lansing, Michigan to visit my sister’s family and their newborn baby.

It was going to be just my two-year-old and I – a chance to go on an adventure with him alone, for him to soak up grandparent love and connect with his cousins, independent of his wonderful, confident, boisterous older brother.

But two days before our flight, I started coming down sick, and though I drank tea, emergen-c, lots of water – the morning of our flight, the fog descended.

At the same time, a snowstorm descended onto Michigan, and (long story short) our flight was canceled. So instead of dragging my sick body through the airport with an excited toddler, I was home, unpacking my bags and feeling sad and sorry for myself.

Because you see, what had also descended was (buckle up, gentlemen) MY PERIOD which has a way of amplifying my negative feelings until they are the world and the world is my bad mood.

For most of my life, I have thought of this as a bad thing. PMS sucks! Don’t make decisions! Don’t try to communicate! Hide away and cry!

Well, that’s what I did. I went to bed and slept for two days, shuffling around drinking tea and feeling like the world was ending. OH THE HORROR of my bad, bad cold.

Then I started to feel the fog lifting, and started to ask myself that essential question when you’re coming out of a fog: WTF just happened?!

It feels like I spent the last week in a strange Underworld, a topsy turvy world full of despair and darkness, that is 99% my imagination.

Which sucks, yes. But one reason I’m not a fan of positive thinking is that, as hard as it is to be in the underworld — for me, those dark times are also a source of power.

The best way I can explain it is to go back to my biggest baddest experience in the Underworld thus far in life: the two times I’ve given birth.

Six years ago I went into my first childbirth clownishly optimistic. I remember crowing at a party, seven months pregnant, that I didn’t think it was going to be that hard. I was half joking, but the other half believed that somehow I possessed a superpower — that deep down, maybe every woman who said it was painful was kind of exaggerating.

Ahhhh sweet justice. Sweet 44 hours of labor karma.

If I could sum up my experience giving birth in one word, it would be HUMBLING.

I went in feeling like a superhero, and the universe quickly showed me how truly, painfully mortal I was. I wrote a song afterwards about it called Mother Nature Doesn’t Love You. I was utterly schooled by my body, whipped around, tricked, tested, pushed to the brink and beyond. In the aftermath I was holding a tiny vulnerable human in my arms and overwhelmed by my own vulnerability, unsure, undone, a total mess.

Paradoxically, I was more IN my body than I’d ever been, aligned with it, listening to it. I didn’t have time to waste judging myself. I had to trust my body. Like a buddy cop movie, we had to learn how to work together if we were going to survive.

My second birth was totally different from the first – but equally humbling. (I wrote about preparing for it here. And about my artist residency in motherhood that followed).

The word that comes to mind is DISORIENTED. It happened so fast that my mind couldn’t catch up to my body and I was utterly lost, confused, my navigation tools spinning. I remember laying on my back with an oxygen mask on my face, weeping from sheer confusion, sheer lack of control, and in less than an hour my second son was born. It was easy in a way, and yet I felt so lost.

HUMBLED. DISORIENTED.

We don’t think of these as powerful words. And yet, growing into my own power has been deeply linked to these states.

Out of that disorientation, from a place of humility, I learned to listen to my inner voice.

To give over to chaos.

To cry – to howl – to ask for what I need.

To want what I want, to like what I like no matter how ridiculous it is.

To let myself be inconsistent. To let myself change, to want one thing one minute and the opposite the next.

To find relief where I can.

To find my way by fumbling and following the tiniest of clues, the tiniest slivers of light, the tiniest hint of an instinct.

This is what my birth experiences taught me, and why each time I get my period and return for several days to that state of darkness and loss, I know – even as I’m aching and confused, even as I don’t feel clear about the way – that feeling humbled and disoriented is a great gift. Because I can re-experience the tiny steps that re-orient me and connect me to other people – I can remember again that these tiny steps MATTER.

Tiny steps like taking a nap, drinking good tea, drinking water, listening to music that makes me cry (so cathartic), having a conversation. Looking for the tiniest of connections.

If you are in a state of disorientation and overwhelm, you can look around for tiny connections too, tiny ways you are supported.

If there are no people around, connect with the animals – is there a squirrel outside chattering in annoyance? Are they trying to tell you something?

If no animals, connect with the objects and pretend they’re alive. That’s what my six year old does! He’d rather play with real live friends but in the absence of humans, he’ll pick up a LEGO figure and get lost in rich, complicated adventures.

This may sound silly, and when you’re in a dark place, it can sound dismissive to say, hey just pick up a LEGO figure and pretend it’s your friend!

And yet it is in our times of darkness that we need silliness. When the troll voices roll like thunder in our heads and we give over to them – when the forces of patriarchy feel like they are crushing us – when the future looms and the bills are pilling up and it feels like we’re at the bottom of a deep dark hole…

… it is the tiny, silly, ridiculous things that pull us out. That get us connecting to the world. That get us the care we need, and get us caring for others in return.

Tiny things are deeply important. Like a tiny sip of nourishing bone broth, or a tiny glimpse of the ocean which reminds you to take a tiny breath – these are the ways we take care of ourselves.

Hugging a stuffed animal and whispering, I love you.

Picking up some playdoh and making a little blue figure and patting her head.

Drawing a monster and coloring her hair a wild orange.

Listening to the song that always makes you cry and letting yourself cry.

Saying out loud, I need a hug, and letting your six year old give you a hug.

Those tiny steps matter.

Thank you for listening, friends. I am feeling a little silly writing to you from this vulnerable place and yet, I will listen to my own tiny voice, and trust that this tiny connection is important.


Note: I swear to the goddess I do not plan this, but every year around this time I write a post about vulnerability and sickness and poop and getting lost in the fog. ‘It’s the season my friends!

November 2018: Stretching Season (aka the life changing magic of stepping in poop)

November 2017: Bragging about the mess