Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about

Hello from the other side of newborn mountain! Or in the middle of it? I’m not sure but I can tell you that this ridiculous bundle of sunshine is 2.5 months old.

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I’ve got a lot to tell you about my birth experience and maternity leave (or as I have been calling it, my artist residency in motherhood) but first I thought I’d share this creative exercise that came to me yesterday.

I made a video about it here (co-starring my newest collaborator, two-month-old River Helma-Walters) or you can read on below if you’re more of a visual/verbal processor.


I had a quick idea for an exercise today and I wanted to share it with you while it’s fresh in my mind. Here’s the context behind it: so I was walking my son, Waylon, in to summer camp this morning, and I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the window and had one of those classic moments of, ewwww, this shirt does not fit me well, my belly looks kind of weird… etc etc…  

Anyway, I continued on my way and hugged Waylon goodbye and passed the window again on my way out, and had a reflexive cringe as I saw my reflection again. And then I thought, hold on, hold on: why am I feeling embarrassed?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last four years, it’s that when I feel embarrassed about something, whether it’s physical or emotional or otherwise – it’s a good idea to slow down and pay attention to that feeling.

So I noticed that feeling of embarrassment and took a second to ask myself, hey, why am I feeling like I should hide my belly? Why am I feeling some shame here?

And then I thought, What if  decided to I flaunt it instead?

So I did. Instead of tucking it in and folding my body inward, I took a deep breath and stuck my belly out. And you know what? My embarrassment dissolved.

And that’s basically the exercise: take something you’re hiding, and try flaunting it. If there’s something you feel as a flaw, ask yourself, what would it feel like to show this off? And give yourself two minutes, whether it’s alone in your bedroom or out in the world, to do that.

This is especially potent to try on your belly, because man, the belly is such a loaded body part. I’ve heard it from so many women I know, this shame around having a tummy, like it’s not okay, it’s repulsive. Unless you’re pregnant, and then it’s gorgeous. Both times I’ve been pregnant it’s been striking how much love and admiration and worship is lavished onto my belly from other people. People encourage you to flaunt it! They want you to show it off, they compliment it, they ask to touch it. Some people find this intrusive, but I find it kind of lovely, this loving attention given to something that doesn’t usually get attention.

And then immediately after the baby is born, BAM – the exact same part of your body is suddenly NOT cute, it does not get any attention and if it does, it’s shameful. The worst insult a woman can hear is someone asking if she’s pregnant when she’s not, right? Oh god, the horror!

Why is this belly so horrifying when there’s not a baby, why is it no longer beautiful now that it’s just my body?

So the exercise for me is to pretend my belly is just as beautiful without a baby inside it, to act proud of it, to show it off the same way I did when I was five months pregnant.

I encourage you to join me in drawing attention to whatever body part you’re embarrassed about and giving it some love. Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about. This is like a Daniel Tiger song! Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about. Just give it some attention, that’s all I’m saying. This applies to physical parts of your life and also to the emotional things, which is trickier. Or maybe it isn’t! You could pretend it’s not trickier.

Anyway, that’s me reporting to you from my artist residency in motherhood, with creative ideas inspired by my own body and my own life, that I hope speak to you, in your body, in your life. I wish you well on your artistic journey and navigating the world in all it’s complexities and violence and joys, I hope you’re finding solace amidst the chaos.

The chaos of nature

I’m writing to you in the midst of a wild Portland spring. One day it’s 80 degrees, the next day it’s cold windy sheets of rain. In between, there are moments of glorious rainbow transition.

I’m in transition too: wrapping up the first online round of the Creative Magic Workout, which has been a lovely and fruitful experiment. I’m making plans to retool it a bit and launch it again in the fall. (Registration will open September 12, if you want to sign up).

I’m also preparing my body, mind and soul for the entrance of a new baby into the world (and its exit from my body).

Not gonna lie: I’m scared. And this is different from the last time I had a baby. It’s the fear of the known (or, relatively known) versus fear of the unknown.

Last time, I handled my fear with bravado and denial and blithe ignorance. I went in overconfident and underprepared. And it’s taken me a long time to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know, to see the beauty in how things unfolded as they did, to trust my body and my instincts. Honestly, it took me a long time to forgive nature itself.

I thought my body would know what to do naturally — I thought wanting a “natural birth” would somehow guarantee me a blissful, pain-free experience. And that is not the way it went. (Someday I’ll get around to writing the epic tale of my birth story, because it was beautiful in its own way, medicated and mediated and messy as it was).

This time, I’m approaching the prospect of childbirth with more wariness. The way you might approach a wild grizzly you happened upon in the woods. It’s natural, sure. And it also might claw your face off.

I went on an imagination walk with my son the other day, and we happened upon this sign:

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The funny thing is, I read it as: “Take time to listen to the chaos of nature: it is the music of life itself.”

Either way — chaos or chorus — I love the reminder.

In the years since I gave birth to my son, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve accepted the parts of myself that I used to reject as flaky and soft and inconsistent and weak; I’ve reclaimed them as the strengths of spontaneity, empathy, improvisation and vulnerability. I’ve created a new world for myself, a beloved community that comforts and calls me out, that reflects what I value and shows me what is true.

I’ve forgiven nature her fierceness, her brutality, her dramatic swings. They don’t negate her chorus of calm and loving care. They exist alongside it.

Thank you for being on this journey with me, friends. I will probably be off the radar for the next few months while I adjust to new life. I’m excited to see what I learn while I’m down in the dirt of newborn baby bootcamp, and to return to you in the fall with some hard-won insight.

Until then, I wish you kindness and good fortune on the chaotic chorus of your creative journey.

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Bragging as a bridge (not a wall)

Bragging is a big part of the work I do, and we’ve been talking about it this week in my Creative Magic Workout, so I thought I’d open up the discussion to everyone.

Watch the video:


If you’re doing any kind of creative work – by which I mean, living life as a vulnerable, expressive human being – there are so many opportunities for rejection, and not many for building you up and celebrating what you’ve done and how you’ve grown. That’s one reason it’s essential to cultivate a healthy ability to brag about yourself and your work.

But when we do, fears come up, and one big one is the fear that if you brag, you’re going to push people away or turn them off. We often associate bragging with a kind of aggression, someone who can’t stop talking about themselves, someone who goes on and on at a party or is trying to sell you something or is desperate for your approval. The fear is that when we brag, we’re pushing people away, pushing them out.

But what if we can see bragging as a way of connecting, as an invitation, a way to bring people in? What if we can talk about our strengths and triumphs in a way that draws people in?

I think of it as approaching bragging as a wall, or as a bridge.

A wall divides, it keeps some people out and some people in, it projects an image of strength that is a fakeout, a façade, a lie to hide behind while you lob flaming arrows at supposed attackers to keep them from finding out the truth.

A bridge says, welcome. Come on over and see for yourself. There’s room for you here. I am open to you being here, I want to help you cross over anything that might divide us, I want to provide a path for you to find me.

That’s a different kind of confidence. It’s not about lying, it’s about being totally transparent. And I think when you brag like that, it’s infectious and welcoming and not threatening.

So how does this play out in real life bragging? Let me give you an example from my life: this week I realized that I’ve gotten a lot better over the course of the year at getting my 3.5 year old dressed and fed and cleaned up and out the door on time to school.

The wall version of bragging out this would be to inflate it, to project something bigger and better than reality. I could say, I get my son out the door and to preschool on time every single morning with no problem because I’m a bad ass.

That sounds good, right? Except it’s not my actual reality. And when I have a hard day – like I did yesterday – that kind of brag is an unrealistic expectation that makes me feel worse. And if it makes me feel worse, I imagine it might have that effect on others too!

So what’s a bridge version of that brag? How can I be confident and strong within the challenging circumstances, within my lived reality?

I could say, it’s really hard to get my kid out the door on time. But you know what? Day in, day out, I’m doing it. even when it seems impossible, I find a way to make it possible.

That’s true. That’s reality. It makes me feel better. It opens me up to seeing my own strength in a challenging situation.

And really, that’s the most important thing, right? Building a bridge to yourself, inviting yourself to feel confident as you move through life in all it’s fluctuating paradoxical glory. In my experience, that kind of bragging helps me see the ways in which other people are growing and struggling and doing great things. And that’s how we build a strong community of love and support.

When you encounter a troll in the shower

We’ve been working with our trolls this week in the Creative Magic Workout, which is one of my favorite things to do.

Trolls are what I call the critical thoughts that divebomb you when you’re trying something new or creative or risky or, you know, taking a shower.

That’s what happened to me this morning! I was in the shower and the thought popped into my head: “You should have figured this out five years ago.”

(“This” being “how to balance motherhood and making enough money and having a career that makes everything you want in life possible.”)

And I almost let that thought slip by unnoticed – it’s a thought I have often — but because we’ve been working with trolls, I did notice. I stopped and went, wait a minute, what was that? Is that a troll talking?

You should have figured this out five years ago.

So I did a transformation spell. This is what I call the process of considering, questioning and turning around those critical thoughts.

I considered it: is it true, that I should have figured this out five years ago? Do I agree?

Well, not really. I wish I had figured it out, but I also don’t know how useful it would have been. Or how possible. My life was totally different then, and I’m not sure I could have even imagined how it would change, much less figure out how to respond to that change.

I questioned it. What would be different now if I had “figured it out”? What does figuring it out even mean? Is it possible to figure it out? What is the benefit of figuring something out in advance – wasn’t I figuring things out then that were useful then? Aren’t I figuring this out now? Are there other women I can think of who have figured it out? Honestly, I can’t think of a single mother who has figured it all out. Everyone’s struggling with something.

And I turned it around, which means, I came up with opposite thoughts that are also true.

I should not have figured it out five years ago. In fact, it would have been ridiculous and impossible and kind of miraculous if I had.

It is a waste of time to try to imagine what your life might need in five years. It would have been a waste of my time then.

I am figuring this out now and that is the best use of my time and energy.

I did figure this out five years ago! I figured out some of it, anyway.

Once I went through all this – which was less than five minutes, tops – I was able to laugh at that troll. I wasn’t wrestling with it or struggling to shake it off. It stepped away of its own accord.

Later when I was out of the shower I thought: who is this troll, exactly?

And what came to mind were associations of impatience and wanting to know everything in advance and being very annoyed when things don’t go a certain way. I got an image of the classic rom-com business woman protagonist who falls in love with a laid back handyman and learns to laugh and not take herself so seriously.

So I sketched a picture. Here it is:

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Do you want to try it? Notice your critical thoughts as you go about your day, and when you have a couple minutes, jot down associations with that critical voice, sketch a picture, and give that troll a name.

And then do a quick transformational spell.

  1. Consider the thought
  2. Question the thought
  3. Turn it around

And see if the troll doesn’t soften, stand back and let you cross that bridge after all.

Creative Breakthrough: how I learned to dance

I was driving yesterday, stuck in traffic, and I don’t know why but I found myself remembering the process of how I learned to love dancing. And it occurred to me that it might be a good story to share, because it involves overcoming fear and awkwardness and that is so central to all our creative journeys, whether they involve dancing or not.

So here it is! The story of my creative breakthrough as a dancer:

… IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE WATCHING THE VIDEO, HERE IS THE TEXT …

I love to dance now, but I didn’t always feel that way. For many years I was super self conscious about my dancing. I felt like I didn’t move right, I didn’t get it, I thought I danced like a white girl and that was not a good thing, so whenever I was in a situation where dancing was called for I moved as little as possible and got out of there as soon as I could.

Of course when I was a kid I loved dancing. Every kid I’ve met has loved to dance, and it seems to be a natural reaction to hearing music they like, their bodies just move. So yeah, I loved dancing when I was five but by the time I was ten I was crippled with self-consciousness. And I think this is true for a lot of us, we hit adolescence and we get self conscious, we don’t trust our bodies, we feel like we don’t look right or talk right or move right, so we spend a lot of our energy hiding, and that’s what I did. I can remember standing at the edge of the gym during school dances, arms crossed, terrified and annoyed and waiting for the whole thing to be over.

For me, two things changed this, and I’m so glad they did. they were pretty random.

One of them was this one time at band camp – yes, this is a real story about band camp – when I was about 13. There was some sort of a dance we all had to go to, which normally I hated, but because I was at band camp, there was a freedom to be someone different, to explore different sides of myself. And I felt safe with my new friends and we were all outside our normal lives, so for some reason, the song Rockin Robin came on and I had a reaction of total love for that song and my inner five year old busted out and I started dancing like I was on fire.

And it was really clear to me in that moment that when I loved the music, I loved dancing. It didn’t carry over – I didn’t go home and love dancing from that moment on – but that awareness stuck with me, the joy I felt shedding my self consciousness in that moment.

Flash forward to my freshman year of college. I was hanging out in someone’s dorm room with some new friends. Somehow this girl I didn’t know very well and I got to talking about dancing, and I said, I don’t feel comfortable dancing, I don’t get it, I can’t do it. And she decided right then and there to give me a dance lesson. She put on some music and for about 30 minutes she watched me dance and pointed out to me what I was doing that made me look like stiff and uncomfortable and showed me some moves and helped me get comfortable enough to try them myself.

And I can remember the big aha moment: I thought the problem with my dancing was my flailing, awkward, hopelessly uncoordinated limbs, and my response was to bring them in and move them as little as possible. But she was like, you are barely moving! You gotta get in your body more, really move your body. Your arms and legs don’t matter, what matters is that your hips are moving. Let your arms and legs follow the core of your body.

OH! I’d been so fixated on what not to do, I hadn’t noticed what was missing, And she showed me what that meant, she drew my attention to my hips, and I had time and space to try it out and look stupid and hesitant and practice moving boldly and feeling foolish and laughing at myself and there was nothing humiliating about it. And by the end of those 30 minutes, I felt like I got it. Enough that the next time I was in a situation where dancing in public was called for, I felt confident moving to the music and realized: this is fun! This is a fun way to spend time with people! If I liked someone else’s moves, I could copy them. If the music didn’t speak to me, I could sit it out and jump up when a song I loved came on. I lost my self-consciousness, and now after 20 years of dancing I can say, I am a very confident dancer. This doesn’t mean I’m a good dancer necessarily – I think I am, but in the end it really doesn’t matter – because I like dancing.

When I look back on it, this is such a metaphor for any kind of creativity. You need time and space to move through that awkward phase, to do it badly, to do it wrong, to look stupid, to flail your arms, to hit the wrong note, to draw a shaky line, to write a meandering sentence. And the irony is, when you give yourself that room to do it fully and badly – that is how you move to rocking it.

I’d love to know if you had a formative experience, with dancing or any form of creative expression. What led to your breakthrough?

And if you’d like to join me for a six week process of breakthroughs and creating and failing and practicing being bold in a safe and loving space, the very first online version of my creative magic workout starts April 3! Wooooooo!

Here’s some Dr. John for you to dance along to:

Express Yourself: come up with an imaginary project

Lately I am feeling even more fired up than usual about awakening our collective creativity.

Maybe it’s because every day I talk to someone who shudders at the thought of dancing or singing in public.

Maybe it’s because our president wants to cut the NEA. (Not to mention Meals on Wheels).

Maybe it’s because arts funding in our country is already so laughable.

Maybe it’s because our education system — which in most places has bare bones arts education, if they have any at all — is gearing up to be gutted even more.

Maybe it’s because our national narrative, going back to the Puritans, is that artistic expression is a waste of time and money, a whimsical luxury, something that has nothing to do with survival or real life. And that’s a narrative that is powerful, one that most of us have internalized. I know I have. I catch myself dismissing art all the time. I don’t have time for that. There are more important things to do. Even though I know art has been essential to my survival and my growth and my health.

I can’t help but think there is a link between the scorn so many people feel for art, and the fear so many people have of expressing themselves creatively.

So, I’m feeling the pull to step up my efforts. I truly feel that every single human being has the capability to dance and sing and draw and write and tell the story of their life — and if you shy away from any of these things, it’s because somewhere along the line, someone made you feel not good enough to do it. That you should be ashamed of your natural expression. That the way your body moved was wrong, somehow, or the way your hand drew a line was too shaky,or the sound of your voice too grating, or the way you formed words too slow.

And I say this not to shame anyone further — we all have our fears, and they are worthy of our respect — but to counter that shame with some encouragement. You are a human being with a body and a voice and an imagination and the ability to use tools. You don’t need to deprive yourself of the great pleasure of using them.

It’s not something you can overcome with a snap of the fingers, I know. Hey, stop being afraid to sing! It’s not that easy. But if you are feeling silly or sheepish or small today, know that you are not alone, and it is possible to overcome your fear, and you have the capability to shine and shimmy and kick ass. You have the right to express yourself.

(My inner trolls are telling me right now that I am laying this on a little thick. Who do you think you are? Nobody cares about your encouragement! Oh, trolls. Don’t you see that this pep talk is 97% to myself? And if I could use encouragement, isn’t it possible that someone else could too?)

Well, if that someone is you, here is a video I made, a mini-lesson on one of the themes I cover in my creative magic workout:


… IF YOU DON’T LIKE WATCHING VIDEOS, HERE IS THE TEXT …

I’m going to share an exercise with you. I call this, imaginary creative project. We’re going to come up with a creative project, just for fun – and we’re going to dream up how we MIGHT pursue it if we WERE going to make it happen – and we’re going to take out any pressure or stress or critical mind shut-downs by telling our subconscious mind that this is for pretend, it’s not for real.

(Don’t tell your subconscious this, but by doing it like this, we might trick ourselves into actually doing it in the real world).

So right now, I want you to get some paper and a pen, close your eyes and take a deep breath. I’m going to play some contemplative music, and I’d like you to think about what you want more of in your life.

What are you craving? What fascinates you? What are you wishing for?

Ask these questions, but don’t try to answer them. Sit with them, and let your hand start to draw on the paper in front of you. Don’t open your eyes, just draw whatever you feel like drawing as you ask yourself those questions.

What am I craving? What fascinates me? What am I wishing for? What do I want more of?

If any words come to you, jot those down too, along with whatever you’re doodling. They don’t have to make sense, you don’t have to understand them, just let your hand draw and write what it wants. I’m going to let you do that for the next 30 seconds, and if you want to spend more time doing this I totally encourage you to do that, and you can just pause the video and start it up when you’re done.

Now open your eyes and look at what you drew and wrote. If you’re like me, it’s probably a ridiculous inscrutable diagram – but just for fun, let’s look at it and see how we could make it into a project. It might take a while, and there’s no rush. See if any patterns emerge.

 

For me, I drew a lot of circles and wavy lines, and I can make out the words magic, carpet, water, connection, elephants, sleep, Beyonce, fruit. Hmm. I guess I can see a pattern, maybe a desire to feel more connected to my dreams at night, to remember them and spend time thinking about them? (I’m leaving out elephants and Beyonce at the moment).

So how might I make this into a project? Here are four things I consider when I’m making something into a project – four things that take it out of the ether of my imagination and root it in the real world:

  1. Give it a name

In my case, I could call it the Dream Recording project.

  1. Make space and time for practicing it

What does practicing look like for my project? How can I include elements I wrote and drew into that?

For my Dream Recording project, I could keep a notebook by my bed and every morning, jot down impressions of dreams. Then twice a week I could schedule in some time to look over what I’ve written and do some freewriting to see if I can recall more about what I dreamed, and what I think it means. I could eat fruit while I do this to make it more enticing, and drink sparkling water.

See how we start to get practical here? We take these amphibious desires and start finding ways to anchor them, to practice them in our daily lives. So for me, that means I am going to schedule time twice a week, for fifteen minutes after I drop my son off at school and before I start working. I will make sure I have fruit and sparkling water with me and sit down to do my magical dreamwriting time.

Now remember: this is still imaginary! I’m not saying I am actually going to start doing this. But if I were going to, that’s what I could do.

  1. Find a way to share it with people

This can be as simple as deciding to tell people. I could tell people, I’ve started writing down my dreams every morning. I could ask them what they’ve been dreaming about. Or I could get all social media and post every day on facebook, here’s what I dreamed today, #dreamfruitproject. Or I could say, at the end of the month I’m going to throw a dream party and invite people over to talk about their dreams.

  1. Set up deadlines

This can sound scary, and part of me always balks at doing this – but all it means is, I’m setting things up to make it easy for me to do this for real. it would be easy for me to say, this is a fun project – and then never do it. but what are the actions I could take that would make it easy and inevitable for me to do this for real?

In my case – it could be as simple as saying, every week when I go grocery shopping, I will make sure I’m buying enough fruit and sparkling water for the week. Special things for me to consume during dream recording time. That also builds in some incentive for me to use them up, so they don’t go to waste.

If it’s a deadline that fills you with dread or takes all the fun out of this project, drop it. but if it gives you a thrill of excitement that scares you a little bit, that’s fantastic.

So I’d like you to do this. Come up with a name for a project, think up some ways you could practice it in your daily life, find a way to start talking about it, and see if there are some simple deadlines you could set for yourself.

And remember: this is all imaginary. This is just for fun. You are under no obligation to go do any of this. But here is the sneaky part: now that you’ve got this project in mind and some ways to make it easy to do, why not give it a shot? For myself, I had no intention of starting a dream recording project before I started this video, but now that I’ve said it out loud to you, it sounds like a great idea, it sounds fun and I think I might try it for a week and see what happens. I encourage you to do this too. Why not try it for a week?

Good luck to you out there. (And if you want to go deeper into coming up with creative projects to bring more joy and connection and fun into your life, this is what we spend six weeks doing in the  Creative Magic Workout. Join us!)

Creating my own beloved community

Yesterday, because I came down sick for the third time in two months, I took the day to take good care of myself. I haven’t done that since my six beautiful days at Caldera two months ago (which feels like it was six years ago), and my body sent me a message loud and clear: YOU NEED TO REST TODAY. YOU NEED TO BE VERY VERY CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT FOOD YOU PUT INTO YOUR BODY.

So I listened. I rearranged my work schedule. I dropped my kiddo off at school, and then I came right home and lay down to take a little nap that turned into a 3 hour nap.

Then I made myself some nourishing food and did one of my favorite grounding rituals: (1) draw a 2-minute self portrait (2) do 2 minutes of freewriting, (3) circle 7 words and turn them into a poem mantra for the day.

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There are a million things I could / should have been doing, that I’m behind on. Really important things. But you know what? After my day of rest, those things were all still there, but instead of feeling overwhelmed by panicky freefall, I felt calm.

And with that calm comes the clear, gentle message: there is time to do what I need to do. It will be okay. The world isn’t going to crash and burn if I don’t get my flyers up or keep up with my emails or figure out how childcare is going to work when the new baby comes. It’s okay if I don’t share the latest outrage on facebook. I can take the time to rest.

I wish I remembered this more often. I wish I moved through the world like this all the time. I wish it didn’t take three rounds of sickness to force me to listen to my body’s demands to rest. And it’s easy for me to go to a bitter place about that – why don’t we live in a world that values a more balanced way of living? Why do we live in a culture that cherishes busy-ness and working too hard and putting yourself last and never asking for help?

But I could also look at it this way: what do I need to do to create that world? How can I change our culture, starting with myself? What can I do to create my own world that values self care and taking your time and listening carefully and looking up at the sky and asking for help?

It’s easier when you are not alone – when you’ve got a culture to back you up, to reinforce what you think is important. So that’s why one of the key elements of my work right now is building a beloved community.

It starts, as one of my heroes John Lewis so wisely says, with yourself. It starts by moving through the world as if that beloved community already existed – as if the world was the way you wished it to be.

You could call this wishful thinking or even (shudder) positive thinking, but I think it’s very different. It’s not forcing yourself to believe a lie: it’s posing a question to yourself about what you want the world to look like, and how you can embody that world starting now.

So that’s what I’m asking myself today. What does my beloved community look like?

One thing I’m doing to create my own beloved community is leading Creative Magic Workouts! There are still spots open in the live version that starts Monday, and if that isn’t your bag, the online version starts April 3. If my beloved community sounds like yours, contact me and let’s join forces!

The kind of magic I believe in

Two weeks ago, I finished up the first round of my new solo show / creative expedition. It was incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, which is funny, because at every step along the way, I had doubts about its worthiness as a project and my ability to pull it off.

I can’t tell you how many times I almost cancelled it. And each time, the question came down to — is the risk that this will be a disaster a risk I’m willing to take?

And each time — BARELY — my answer was yes. So I did it. And lo and behold: it was not a disaster. It was wonderful! We performed a ‘What If’ spell to imagine a world where we have what we want. We named the trolls in the room and charmed them into helping us. We summoned champions and felt their energy. We dissolved toxic spells and enacted an ‘As If’ spell to imagine ourselves engaged in a beloved community.

Someone asked me after the show: well, do you believe in magic?

I was a little taken aback, because to me there’s no question. Are my feelings not clear? Am I communicating something subconsciously, some doubt, some deep lingering hesitation?

But then again, the reason I am working on a show about believing in magic, the reason I’m building a creative workout program around it, is because I frequently forget about it.

It’s easy to find yourself lost in a fog of forgetfulness about what magic feels like and how it works. To feel adrift, floating along at the mercy of elements you don’t understand or control.

For me, when I’m lost in that fog, the way back to magic is through magic. It’s like self care: when I get busy or tired or stressed out, I stop taking care of myself, stop paying attention to my self-talk, stop drinking enough water, give in to the desire to eat starbursts instead of eating actual fruit. I stop drawing self-portraits in my daily dream journal. I forget how important it is to check in with my friends.

And it starts to feel all or nothing. It starts to feel like what is required to get me back into alignment with myself is something huge and insurmountable. When in fact, the way in is through small gestures, small tokens, small footsteps. One drink of water! One drink of water is all it takes for my body to remember what being refreshed feels like. One text to a friend is all it takes to set a time to get together over coffee. Five minutes of sitting with a pen and a blank page of my dream journal is all it takes to draw a self portrait and feel that rush of recognition. Five minutes of walking outside to give all my attention to a tree is all it takes to see some magic at work.

Does that sound silly? I am serious: go outside right now and look at a tree. Or a plant or a flower or a bug. You start to notice things you didn’t see before. And in that noticing, magic starts to creep back in, possibility creeps back in. The awareness that the world is much bigger than you can imagine creeps back in.

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The key for me is this: magic isn’t a THING. You don’t snap your fingers and it’s there, easy to digest. It’s not a pill or a trick or a simple set of directions. It’s a state we can enter, an energy we can feel and a power we can sense.

 

It’s a process and a practice. Magic is both what we are trying to summon, and the way to summon it.

For me, for many years, the practice took the form of live theatre, which uses all the elements of true magic: you create a space. You dim the lights. You invite people to sit in silence. And then you enact a ritual within that silence. You spellbind. You cast spells together. You tell stories. You take people on a journey in their mind.

These days I’m still fascinated with these tools, and with what we can do with them, in or outside of the theatre.

Because I know that in my life – incredible things have happened since I’ve switched the focus of my creative work.

I’ve talked before (here and here and here) about the radical change that came about when I stopped thinking of my life as a vehicle for my creative projects, and instead turned my life into a creative project.

The transition into motherhood 3.5 years ago was a rough one for me, and in order to find my footing, I had to use all the creative tools I could think of to survive. I drew pictures. I wrote poems. I wandered into a zumba class down the street from my house. I made up little songs to sing to my baby son to try (vainly) to get him to sleep.

All these things helped me survive, and the big surprise was, I came out of the transition stronger. For the first time since I was maybe 9 years old, I felt comfortable in my skin. I felt comfortable with my taste and with voicing my ideas, no matter how corny or naïve or half baked they might be. Because for the first time, I wasn’t pursuing them to please or placate or impress anyone but myself.

Since then I’ve become passionate about helping other people do this, because I’ve become more and more aware of how desperately we all need creative work, and how little room we’re given to pursue it. When you’re left to your own devices, it can be hard to pursue – because as soon as you do, trolls start jumping out from under bridges and dragons rise up out of your nightmares to frighten you out of your wits. There are a million ways to sedate that creative urge and not many ways to step into it.

So to answer my friend’s question: that is the kind of magic I believe in. The magic of the creative urge, and what happens when you follow it. It’s there if you start looking for it. It’s there if you take one small step towards it.

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(And if you want to join a Creative Magic Workout, we still have open spots! Heed the call, friend).

Why it’s vital to escape

I’ve been at Caldera the last two weeks, a gorgeous, remote arts residency near Sisters, Oregon. I haven’t been on an artist residency since before my son was born (actually, the last time I was in residence was four years ago in upstate New York, at EMPAC. I was  pregnant but didn’t know it, though the fact that I cried three times a day while I was there might have tipped me off). I can’t tell you how wonderful it’s been to be in residency again, what a luxury it is to dedicate time and space to recharging my creative spirit. This is what I want for all of us, every human being. Two weeks a year to go to a beautiful place in the mountains and remember who you are and what it means to be alive.

Some of my time here has been with my family, and it’s been fantastic to get away from our everyday lives and go deep into art and nature and snowball fights and hot cocoa together.

But I’ve also gotten to be here by myself for five days and I cannot tell you what a gift it has been. I’m getting a little choked up while I write this. Because as much as I love my family, I didn’t realize until my husband and kiddo drove away how long it had been since I’d had real alone time. With nothing to do but get out my art materials, tape notecards to the wall, and spread out my laptop and keyboard and microphone and cables instead of carefully keeping them out of toddler reach. The first day, I cried every hour or so at the joy of being able to stretch out and putter around and watch the snow fall outside. (This might have something to do with the fact that I’m pregnant again, but I digress).

I say this not to brag about my wonderful alone time, but because I bet there are many of you out there who would love more of this in your life. And the thing is, it’s HARD to make space in your life for doing nothing. For reading or watching a movie or losing yourself in thought.

There are always too many important things that need doing, and now more than ever there is this urgency in the air, the need to take action and not waste time. And yet — AND YET — nothing makes me feel more deeply alive than walking in the moonlit snow and listening to the night. Tending to a fire in the morning, making tea at night. And you know what happens when I feel deeply alive? I get creative, and I get clear, and I move fast.

Nothing creative happens without that vital first step of WASTING TIME. That’s when the huge insights hit! That’s when the clear perfect plan presents itself! That’s when true bonds of friendship are formed, it’s how community is created. Amazing things can happen when you step out of your everyday life, when you give yourself permission to ESCAPE.

My first day alone here, I gave myself full permission to waste time, and had a magical walk and recorded two new songs and put all my ideas for my new show up on the wall and jotted down my business plan for the next year.

The second day, I got nervous about time running out, and thought I’d better get productive. Can you guess what happened? Somehow I ended up spending ALL DAY learning iMovie so I could turn one of the songs I recorded into an impromptu trailer for my new show.

I’m not mad about doing that — I kind of dig what I came up with even though it’s terrible — I’m just saying, it is no accident that the day I gave myself permission to do nothing, I ended up doing a lot, and the day I tried to get all my shit done, I ended up wasting it on something that is at the bottom of my to do list.

Anyway. I’ll be carrying this lesson with me and trying to remember it back in the hubbub of my daily life, as I try to make time to work on my new show, and remember that the most efficient way to work on it is to allow myself time to mess around.

You’ll be hearing more about my show, which is linked to my spring creative magic programs, because I’ve made the decision to do a first showing of it at the Fertile Ground Festival this year. You can read more about it here: Do You Believe in Magic.

And if you’d like to find out about creative magic and how to get some in your life, registration is open, man! Read all about that here: Creative Magic Workouts.

And I will leave you with images from my time at this magical place:

Oh god, and okay, here is the trailer. I know, it’s terrible.

Giving (and taking) advice from your past self

A creative exercise for freeing yourself from panic, stress and overwhelm

You can watch the video –or– read through the steps below.

I don’t know about you, but I frequently find myself in the grip of panic and stress, especially lately. When there are overwhelming things happening in the world and it feels like there’s nothing you can do, try this:

  1. First, take a deep breath. I like to put my hand somewhere on my body, like on my forehead or over my heart. Somewhere that feels like a loving touch.
  1. Think back to a moment when you most recently felt overwhelmed by stress. Could be five minutes ago, could be last night. Put yourself back there.
  1. Notice everything around you in that moment – the air, the sounds, the smells, what you see, who is with you, what you’re wearing, what you’re saying. You might notice your body now in this moment feeling the sensations that you felt then, and that’s okay. Remind yourself that you’re here now, and you’re noticing those feelings without judgment. Only noticing them and feeling them.
  1. Take a deep breath, and send love to yourself in that moment. Without thinking of what you’d like to change, without judgment, send love and support. The way you would to a friend you love dearly.

Shake it off! Now we’re going to widen our focus.

  1. Think back to a moment ten years ago, a moment that caused you great stress or panic or overwhelm. Put yourself back in that moment when you’re consumed by stress, and look around. Where are you? Who is with you? What are you doing? What sounds do you hear, what do you smell? Are you throwing a tantrum? Are you yelling, are you crying? If it’s overwhelming to you now to put yourself back in that moment, remind yourself that you’re only noticing what you were feeling then, and you can always pull yourself back.
  1. Ask yourself: what do you see now that you couldn’t see then? How do you see the situation differently now? What advice would you give yourself then, knowing what you know now? What would have been helpful to hear? What did you need? Grab some paper and write it down.
  1. Take a breath, and send deep love to yourself in that moment ten years ago. Let her know you love her and believe in her, and you know she’s going to make it.
  1. Bring yourself back to the present moment. Look at the advice you wrote down. Does any of it apply to your current situation, to the thing that has most recently caused you stress? Can you take some of that advice now?
  1. Open yourself up to guidance and love and support from yourself ten years from now. Imagine she is sitting somewhere sending you a breath of deep love. Accept it, and open up to whatever she might know that you don’t know in this situation right now.

And remember:

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You are very brave!