Glory In Excelsius

(Or, more thoughts on excellence)


Note: I wrote this a week ago in a moment of breezy triumph, and then the mess of life — in the form of my baby coming down with a fever for five days and caterwauling whenever I put him down for one moment, and then passing the fever on to me — got in the way of me taking that extra 5 minute step of posting it here. Ah! The glory of excellence and messiness intertwined…


I’ve been thinking more about excellence and what it means. If my version of excellence is not perfectionism, if it includes messiness, what is it?

Magic is mess and order

Let’s break it down, starting with the word mess

= fertile
= lost
= too much stuff
= overwhelming, avoiding
= piling = stockpiling = hoarding
= natural
= creative = destructive = generative
= fertile
= neverending
= comforting

And there are some parts of that I want to keep and some I’d like to move away from. What are the qualities of this thing around excellence that I want in my life?

I want…

= a well tended garden
= room to expand
= the right tools
= something manageable = a little chaos but not all chaos
= doing = diving in
= to put things away
= to get out tools, make a big mess, then clean up and put away
= enough space to make a mess
= to let things go
= the key to survival
= to tend to nature
= to tend to myself

And what I don’t like about excellence is this idea of the BEST or the FINEST or getting rated or ranked or lined up and compared. This is the greatest, this sucks, this is hot, this is not. Yuck.

I looked up the word EXCELLENT to see where it comes from.

Ex = outside, beyond

Cellence = Celsus = lofty, high

I remember the term “in excelsius” from some hymn… which one, does anyone know? It means higher, loftier, more elevated, ever upward. Glory to god in the highest.

So to be in excellence is to exist to the utmost degree, to be high, to be praised for being what you are to the greatest degree – to celebrate that quality and that desire and that process.

When Bill and Ted say, Excellent! — they are saying, this is in alignment, this works, this is how things should be. When they say, be excellent to each other, they mean, bring out the best in each other. Enjoy each other. Treat each other well.

My excellence encourages your excellence. When I see you being excellent, I want to be excellent too. Our mutual excellence is a game, a way of taking care of each other.

I want to fly high to the limits of my nature. Which also will mean, failing. Failing and flying are both included in excellence, two sides of the same process.

It is the opposite of calcifying.

It is the process of alchemy, of change, of evolution.

It is stretching and morphing and molting and figuring out what you are now in this moment, which is impossible to figure out, which is why it’s so fun.

Fun is not COMFORTABLE.

But it feels right.

You’re glad on some level.

Like when the toys are scattered everywhere

And cleaning them up will take a lot of work and you don’t FEEL like doing a lot of work, you’d rather go to bed

But you take a deep breath and you put them all away

And it only takes five minutes

And it will only last about five minutes

And when they are put away you look around and feel a surge of goodwill, of pride, of rightness, of clarity

And you make yourself a cup of tea instead of the beer you feel like reaching for

And you feel cozy and comforted and strong and healthy

As you close your eyes and drift off to sleep

In alignment with yourself and the universe

In this moment

That is excellent

May you be excellent to yourself this weekend! Let’s all be excellent to ourselves and each other.

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Full Moon in Cancer

I am drawn to write you on this, the fourth day of 2018.

I haven’t been connecting with you not because I have nothing to say, but because I have so much.

Today my little baby is over half a year old — 7 months! — and as I look back at 2017, it was a year in which SO MUCH happened. In the world at large and in the snowglobe of my world. Things I would never have predicted, including a ranting raving shakespearean supervillain for president, a rising tide of rage and solidarity amongst women, and decades of entrenched sexual harassment shaken up. 

Drama and horror and potential cataclysm. World shaking and paradigm shifting and potential coalition.

On a personal level, realizing I’m a different mother than I was four years ago, that things that once were impossible are now easy. And yet, this month finding myself back in the emotional space I remember being in when my oldest was six months old: a wall of exhaustion and frustration, a longing to bust free of my human limitations, to do more than I can do, to resist the inevitable truth which is that I need to slow down and do less.

FAILURE

When I hit the wall four years ago, in my exhaustion I sought out anything to keep me sane and they shook the rocks loose: hypnosis, therapy, life coaching, zumba. I realized that the key wasn’t DOING more or less, but expecting less. If I set out expecting to fail in the world, with the aim to enjoy that failure — I ended up doing more than I thought I could.

So now I find myself in a similar blockade. This has been a good opportunity to look at the ways I cycle through the same phases in my life, and the ways I judge myself for doing that. I’ve been trying to love the phase I’m in while I’m in it, like I love my failure, like I love the phases of the moon. 

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Instead of being mad at my waning energy, I can notice it and wait for it to wax strong and full. Instead of being impatient for one cycle to end, I can slow down and experience the one I’m in. And instead of judging myself for not having “solved” issues that are coming up again, I can welcome the chance to dive deeper. Or not! I can welcome the chance to avoid it too. It will come around again.

When I made my solo show two years ago, I Hate Positive Thinking, the guiding question was, what if I put myself out there exactly as I am, in my tired frazzled unkempt state? What if I believed my un-enhanced, un-amplified voice was enough? What if I embraced failure as a human and put it front and center in my work?

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This winter it’s been helpful to embrace failure again— to brag about the mess — but a question has been emerging in counterpoint.

What if I allowed myself to be excellent?

EXCELLENCE

The word “excellent “ is one I recoil from because I associate it with the toxic spell of perfectionism. Something hard edged and unforgiving, a desire that doesn’t acknowledge the human nature of messing up, falling flat, going sideways. (And I am a Cancer so I love to go sideways).

But this idea of excellence has been worming it’s way into my consciousness, asking me to look deeper.

Asking, can excellence coexist with human frailty and mess and failure?

Asking, can staying in the mess be a way of hiding, jumping down into the mud to avoid the exhilarating fear of leaping up into the air? Can jumping from one new endeavor to the next be a way of avoiding the tougher work of continuing on through failure and modest success to excellence?

I think about the two journalists, Jody Kantor and Megan Twohey, whose excellent investigative reporting for the New York Times uprooted Harvey Weinstein’s toxic hold over Hollywood. They felt their way into the darkness, sure, and I’m sure there were times when they felt like they were failing — but they also committed to the project and organized for the long haul. They did it for real.

And when they talk about their accomplishments, I want them to crow about their hard work. I want them to own their excellence.

Which makes me wonder: why is it so easy for me to brag about what I’m struggling with, and so hard to brag about what I’m great at? Why is it so hard to even NOTICE what I’m great at? Like I’m scared that if I say it out loud it will disperse and I’ll be left with nothing.

What if I took my time and had the courage to go as deep as I wanted to go, and to speak with pride about what I’ve learned? What if I bragged about the mess… AND about what I have done well?

I don’t know what it means yet, this question. But I’m going to keep following it.

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On the first night of this new year, the full moon was in Cancer. A good time to open up to my emotions, and whatever strange and contradictory clues they have for me. It’s taken me a long time to see that my ability to feel suddenly and deeply, and to imagine what others are feeling, is a strength and not an embarrassing useless quirk.

I wrote a poem about it — because I’ve been writing poems for over twenty years, and they are often the purest way for me to express my feelings, and I am excellent at it.

What excellent parts of yourself are you hiding from? Or are you sending your excellence out into the world like a gorgeous sunflare? If so, thank you.

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Full Moon in Cancer

I used to be ashamed to cry
The way my face would flush and betray me
The time I passed out at the sight of fake ketchup red on a movie screen
Embarrassing, weak
Expressing my feelings was ceding my power
Letting it run through my fingers like ocean water

Onstage I could feel the power of my receptivity
Onstage bursting into tears was a magnet
Attention snapped to me
It gave me a confidence I did not have chatting in the lobby after the show
Because bursting into tears at a party clears the room

I didn’t find a way to feel the power offstage until I gave birth
And my body aligned in solidarity with my feelings against the shit show of labor
At one with my body against my body
I felt the power in that paradox
I felt humility
And ever since I trust it
Trust my body in it’s haywire variations
Trust my feelings in their shifting shiftless shapeless moony passive aggressive power

Moonlight on the ocean
The way my hands look underwater
It’s not the same kind of power as a volcano
You have to feel your way into it

Listening to Venus de Riveter

So, here we are. It’s December. I’m still a mess.

Don’t know if it’s got something to do with having a six-month-old, but last time I felt like this was four years ago when my older son was six months old. And what’s keeping me sane right now is remembering that. And remembering that even though it felt neverending and impossible while I was in it — the period of time in which I was hitting the wall was only about three months. And what came after that was huge, sudden, sea changing breakthrough.

It helps a little, to remember that. But nevertheless I am at a wall. The wall of: I can’t go out at night without paying someone $50-75 to watch my kids. I can’t seem to go one goddamn week without forgetting a meeting or an appointment or when my kid last pooped, oh god is he constipated again, where did I put the miralax? 

I have big ideas, ideas that fill me with tingling thrilling excitement, but when I try to make them happen in the real world, I run out of steam or blow a fuse in my art garage or lose hours in a tailspin of self pity and web edits and mom guilt.

My body wants to dance in the streets and bring the baby with me everywhere. All of me wants revolution and paradigm change and to join hands with all the women I know and shout me too,  me too, me too. 

I want to make a literal space for us to come together and cry and rage and laugh and feel our power. It’s such a great idea! A monthly creative emotions worksho so we can cry and rage together. I know I can do this. I want to lead with the confidence I had when I was nine years old, I want to be doing and creating and taking care of my family and making our dreams come true, doing it our way.

But my body reels me in and tells me to slow down. I burn my hand on the stove. I bonk my head with the car door which… how do you even do that?!

So I listen. I slow down. My inner goddess — these days I’m seeing her as a combination of Venus de Milo and Rosie the Riveter — she reclines with her chin on her fist, smiling and waiting for me to come back to myself.

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What a relief, when that cloud clears, when that story drops.

And if I’m making this sound easy and idyllic, like I just sit back and the clouds clear, like I am a different human than you are, more evolved or courageous, or that I always snap out of it easily: no, girl. I am still a mess. But sometimes I see that what I thought was a wall is an optical illusion.

The mess hasn’t changed. The judgment has – THAT was the wall.

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Here’s what dissolved my walls this week:

I cut my own hair and felt the simple, immediate power of being able to alter my appearance.

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I read something from the great witch whose work I love so much, Carolyn Elliot — she said:

… you’ll definitely die, and in dying, you will totally fail to keep your ego projects in motion. You’re a complete failure no matter what. A dead failure.

And that bracing reminder helped me drop my sad sack story — god, that’s right! No matter what I will fail! What a relief. We are all going to die. No matter WHAT I do, the realization of my big ideas will never match the vision in my mind — ahhhhhhh. There is comfort. There is the sound of my grand ridiculous expectations, spontaneously combusting.

And as soon as they disappear, there is Venus de Riveter, lounging in my psyche, eating some almonds and laughing. Hi honey. Where you been?

Hand on heart, listening to Venus, why don’t you text so and so? And I do, and simple as that, I’m not alone. I am surrounded by loving, wonderful friends. They were there the whole time, but I couldn’t see them.

There is magic, right in front of my eyes.

My son, drawing intricate maps carefully inscribed with the letters B, O, T, D, A and Y. What does it mean?? Who knows?

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The trains he is always pointing out — I notice that they are roving art exhibitions. What an amazing thing.

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Even his tantrums — his huge, primal anger that I find so overwhelming — they are an opportunity to feel my feelings, to witness someone I love expressing feelings without filter. You’re mad! You wanna knock over chairs, that’s how angry you are! What can we do instead? Let’s rip some paper! Let’s draw a storm! Let’s dance to Sly and the Family Stone! 

Look at that! Every day is a damn creative emotions workshop in my world. I don’t need to make anything happen, it’s already here.

So in case you’re feeling angry at your mess or stuck behind a wall or lost in a storm today: you are not alone. I’m a mess too. We all are. Let’s draw / write / sing / breathe our way through it, shall we?

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Bragging about the mess

I talk a lot about bragging about what’s hard and celebrating failure and being real. And I try to walk that walk. But I have been hiding the last few weeks, because I couldn’t find the story that I wanted to share.

And once I realized I was hiding, I thought: why do I feel like I have to find the right spin to put on this? Why can’t I just talk about my doubts and questions as I’m living them? Isn’t that what I encourage other people to do?

So here you go. My life is feeling like a mess right now. Lots of glorious beautiful moments in that mess – and also lots of questions and doubts and problems I don’t yet know how to solve.

In a lot of ways, my summer artist residency in motherhood was easier, because I focused all my attention on figuring out how to mother a newborn baby + a big kid with big feelings and energy and needs. It took all my attention to do that, and there was poetry in living that, poetry in not having a moment to write down the poetry.

And in the last two months as I’ve edged back into work – which is not a singular thing but many overlapping obligations, of which this creative magic biz is one – and the kids have edged into school and childcare, it’s been much harder.

I plunged myself headlong into promoting the fall round of the creative magic workout, and then decided to cancel it. Partly because not enough people signed up, partly because I’m so consumed with mom guilt, it’s difficult to give my full attention to creative magic these days. Even though I think it’s worthy of my attention. My body is at odds with my mind and one thing I’ve learned over the last few years is, when that happens, it’s a good idea to slow down and listen to my body.

And right now my body has a lot of contradictory information. It wants peace and quiet and a break so it can sleep, and it also wants the baby to be snuggled close at all times, and it wants someone else to hold the baby. It wants to dance and play piano and not be mothering, and it wants to dive deep into mothering and nothing else.

How do I brag about this mess? Oof.

I am ROCKING this mom guilt, y’all. Oh my god, I am doing an amazing job of relishing the exquisite pangs of shame and longing that consume me when I’m away from my baby.

I am letting myself feel it, letting myself sit with my questions. Instead of forcing the situation one way or another, I am sitting in the paradox. I am brilliant at sitting in the paradox.

My body is such an amazing teacher that even when I sit and listen closely to what it wants, I don’t have a fucking clue what to make of it. That’s how far ahead of me it is. I find this incredibly frustrating.

Oooh – except, and this is interesting – as soon as I wrote that, my body came alive with an image of exactly what it wants.

(Clue to think about later: sometimes you can’t figure out what you want until you express your rage and confusion).

So here is the image that just came to me: I’m in a small cozy room and I am surrounded by loving, patient women who take my baby and rock him and gently push me out the door saying, go, do your work honey, let us take care of the baby for a while. And I leave him in that cozy place and go outside under a big far-reaching tree to do my own work which begins with checking in with my body.

Ahhhh. I love this. This helps me understand what my issue is. It’s not about the childcare itself, it’s about the where and when and how of it.

I encourage you to join me – to take a moment, if you are currently in the mess (which – I don’t know about you, but I am in it all the time) to sit with your body, to voice your frustration, and to pay attention to the images that come to you.

Write them, draw them, or just notice them.

As soon as I noticed this image, my whole body changed. The low level panic and stress I’ve been feeling all day fell away. I haven’t solved any problems but now I’m alert and creatively engaged in the problems.

That’s what I’ve got for you today. Let’s keep bragging about this freaking mess we’re all living, shall we?

(And if you are interested, I will be offering the Creative Magic Workout at some point later this year — never fear, my mess will not keep me from making a space for expressing the wild ridiculous wonder of our true selves together)

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Accidental Spellcasting

The kind of creative magic that I’ve been talking about comes very naturally to kids. Because another word for creativity is just this: playing.

Put two kids in a room together, they will start pretending. Have you ever listened to a four-year-old playing with trucks? (I am doing this every morning and night so it’s fresh on my mind). You’ll hear them repeat and reuse and recycle everything that’s been happening in their lives — they use that play time to work out conflicts, figure out what they don’t understand, be the bad guy, be the good guy.

Think back to how you played as a child. Can you remember doing this?

One of the big questions I ask every day is: why do we stop doing that? Why are we in a rush to grow out of it and give it up? What happens when we make space for it as adults? For working things out, actively and creatively?

It’s the reason I put together the Creative Magic Workout: When we practice, when we pretend, when we play, we embody an alternate reality. And just like that, we’ve cast an accidental spell.

It’s easy to see accidental spells in retrospect – not always as easy to see them as they’re happening.

For instance: I cast an accidental spell eight years ago.

I wrote a post on my old blog in November 2009 (which I am not going to link to because I am not quite ready to give attention to the parts of it I’m embarrassed about).

Here is what I wrote — I was speculating about an imaginary world in which I might have a business:

My business isn’t really a business. It’s a weird combination of artist haven / social service agency. It looks like a kindergarten classroom, if kindergarteners had an amp/mic/delay pedal station. And a waterless shower where they get to sing their favorite songs and shout imagined rants / visionary speeches.

I am selling dreams and rainbows and story time and a place to talk about your fears and practice becoming the badass you already are but don’t know it.

Yeah. Um… is that something I can sell? What would make me qualified to provide that? Can I just say I want to do that, and it’s cool? Will anyone buy it? Am I wacky enough to pull something like that off?

I would love to get to where I can embrace my own wacky, woo woo, stumbling dreams. That is what I want: to believe in myself enough to go there, to lead people in wacky, crazy workshops where they spend half the time thinking it’s total bullshit and then have a breakthrough. To have a space where I can work on my stuff and other people can too. Where they can show up and I’ll make them a cup of tea and we’ll sit on a big old rug in the middle of the room and I’ll pull out a book and read from it and we’ll put some music on and dance out the stress.

Holy shit y’all. Eight years ago all I could do was articulate how much I wished I had the guts to do this totally impossible thing, and now I AM DOING EXACTLY THAT IMPOSSIBLE THING. Like that is for real what I am pursuing, with zero irony.

That, my friends, is an accidental spell.

I was casting a spell without realizing it – planting seeds deep in my unconscious mind for the kind of space I wanted to create, the kind of work I wanted to do, the kind of world I wanted to live in.

I cast it, and then forgot about it. And then life or my inner voice or my unconscious mind started moving towards that vision like a magnet. And now, eight years later, through rain and shine, through trolls and money mud traps and confidence-scorching dragons, through child-birthing and job-juggling and mom-guilting and the neverending tetris of childcare: here I am, doing this thing that I feel like I’ve stumbled into, and yet eight years ago described with perfect clarity.

That’s my exercise for you today: write / draw / speak out loud the biggest, goofiest, boldest, most ridiculous version of your impossible dream. Spend two minutes imagining it and seeing yourself in it.

Then put it aside and don’t give it another thought. Do NOT try and pursue it for real.

(This part is key, I think – it’s got something to do with how resistant my four-year-old is to doing anything I tell him he has to do, and how motivated he is to do something I tell him not to do.)

So whatever you do, do NOT start taking steps towards making your dream a reality. Just let it sit there, okay?

Using magical intervention to do your taxes

Lately I’ve been thinking about how to bring magical attention to the most mundane, minuscule, everyday activities.

Some things stubbornly resist magical intervention (though I’ll keep trying to figure out how to apply magic to clearing out my email inbox, wiping my kid’s poopy butt and doing my taxes).

But you’d be surprised at how many mundane things open like a flower when you slow down and look at them with magic in your eyes.

For instance, I decided last week to approach my kid’s toys with a magical eye, and try to Marie Kondo them, which I thought would be impossible. Hold each of the 1000 tiny cars and bits of playdoh in my hand and decide which of them bring joy?! But my four year old was totally down. I asked him, “Does this spark joy?” and he said, “What’s joy?” and we went from there.

What is the most mundane thing that you could approach with an eye towards creative magic? 

Maybe this sounds like a glib question but I’m for real! Can you do your taxes with magical intent? Let’s do some brainstorming about how that might work. We can use one of my favorite tools: the stupid solutions brainstorm. It is what it sounds like: we brainstorm as many stupid ideas as we can, and we relish in the stupidity, we embrace it. The stupider, the better. I’ve done it on all kinds of things (including truly impossible problems like gun violence but that is a topic for another day) so let’s try it on this:

STUPID SOLUTIONS FOR HOW BORING IT IS TO DO YOUR TAXES

+ Fill out tax forms with a feather quill and ink
+ Fill them out with invisible ink, mail them in to the IRS with a matchbook and instruct them to hold the forms over a lighted candle for the writing to appear
+ Use numerology to determine the magical significance of your gross income
+ Do your taxes in a wizard hat
+ Do them by the light of the full moon
+ …and naked
+ Get your 1099 in a foreign language and try to fill it out
+ Fill it out with your left hand

I’d love to hear your ideas, for magical taxes or anything that seems impossible to enjoy.

What to do with this sadness

It’s been a hard week, and like many of you, I’m struggling with what I see in the world around me. I wrote out some thoughts the other day and was able to pull myself out from the cloud of hopelessness — I share it in case it helps you too.

Last night I opened my eyes
I had fallen asleep holding my sweet baby boy
He kept sleeping while I reached for my phone
and let the information in

Cholera in Puerto Rico
Another shooting
Every day a fresh horror

What to do with this sadness rolling over me like a storm

And then I thought: this is not my sadness
I am not directly experiencing these losses today
Someday I might but today I am not

Those who are do not need my sadness
They need my help
They need me to hold theirs

So why don’t I put aside my imagined sadnesses
and get to work

Maybe it feels like running away – to escape into dreams
but in order to make a new world
We have to dream it first

It’s a radical act, dreaming
And to speak the dream out loud can be downright dangerous
So we must band together
For protection
For strength
For encouragement

And when we come together
In vulnerability and anticipation
Our new world is born

Artist residency in anything

What I love about my artist residency in motherhood is, it helped me to see the creative energy that was already pulsing through every moment of my life. By calling it an artist residency, I put a frame around it that made things visible, and gave me a reason to create for the sheer joy and necessity of it.

Have you heard of Sister Corita Kent? She has an exercise that’s the physical version of this – you find a frame and hold it up anywhere in the world. That’s art.

This was like that, except the frame was time.

It helped me to notice the poetry in my everyday life, like this:

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River plays piano with his feet

And this:

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A sea cave for sleeping

Being more attuned to noticing these moments made it okay that I had much less time to transfer them into … you know, actual poetry.

There is a poem to be written about the feeling of piano keys on a newborn baby’s feet, and I don’t know when I will get around to writing it. There is also poetry in just noticing it. For every fully formed piece of creative expression, I have ten that are half jotted in my journal or my iphone notes or deep in my subconscious. And somehow, that becomes part of my practice. Like scattering wildflower seeds – the beauty is in the scattering.

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It only takes one roll of toilet paper (and four minutes) for your four-year-old to lay down a path to adventure

It helped me see patterns.

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It helped me step out my frustration and see the genius in my four year old’s chaos theory:

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An accidental collaboration with my young child leads to a new exercise: let your kid draw all over your planning chart, then interpret the ink blots — what do they tell you about your now/next/future plans?

My artist residency in motherhood could have been an artist residency in anything. In activism, in gardening, in mountain climbing. It could have been focused on summer itself, and maybe I’ll do that someday — focus all my creative energy on savoring sunshine and river swimming and garden harvesting and dancing by the light of the midnight moon.

Will I continue my artist residency in motherhood throughout the year? Will I have time / space / capacity to hold it while running the creative magic workout? I don’t know. I also want to do an artist residency in dismantling white supremacy (starting with myself) and the world seems hellbent on convincing me that now is the time to start that one. I’ll keep you updated, and I hope to hear about your residencies too, wherever you are.

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remember growth comes from doing impossible things

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self confidence, world building, creative muscle building

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banish or embrace the boss bitch

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reaching out touching you touching me

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To make this happen, who would I have to be?

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Ready, dream, action

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green devil thrill

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to create to improvise to build to make rules to destroy to be every day humbled and exalted

 

Artist Residency in Motherhood

Hello, dear friends.

For the last 3+ months I’ve been in the newborn dreamtime, remembering the things that make it maddening and miraculous. I have been thinking of you and the work we are all doing in the world to keep the flame of creative healing and revolution alive. I’ve been crafting manifestos in my head, while I’m cradling a tiny human in my arms.

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In some ways this has been much easier than the last time around, when it was all unknown and I groped forward guessing at the unknown. A lot of beautiful, hard-won truths emerged from that unknown, and I am surprised to find that this time around, even on the hardest days/nights/days, it’s a lot easier. This time it’s a known challenge. It’s looking down the path and being able to see a bear coming towards you and reaching for your bear spray, versus listening to grunting in the darkness and wondering what it could be and letting your mind race to all the worst possible outcomes. (I’m not sure why I’m drawn to bear metaphors when it comes to motherhood – something to explore in a future creative time).

So many things seemed impossible the first time. The fact that some of those things now seem easy helps keep me going when I hit a snag that feels impossible (like how to handle bedtime with two small children, or how to figure out childcare, or how to take a shower).

I tell myself: right now this seems impossible, but soon it will be possible, and then it will be easy.

Which is not to say that it is all sunshine and rainbows over here. (Obviously, since last week it was toxic wildfire smoke for all of us in the Portland area). There are plenty of times when I am feeling grumpy or edgy or full of self-pity or exhausted or coming down with mastitis AGAIN or taking my baby to the emergency room because his fever is too high or waking up with a four year old’s foot in my face. Trying to go out into the world with both my children is total madcap chaos and it takes all the good humor I have to laugh at myself as I chase my four-year-old across the park while clutching a tiny baby to my chest.

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A moment of stillness

It feels impossible, but I am doing it. Doing it badly, sure! But doing it!

And I have tools to help me when I feel overwhelmed. I can take five minutes to draw out my feelings or put my hand on my heart and breathe or pull a tarot card or text a friend or go on an imagination walk.

The beautiful thing is, when I use these tools, my kid picks up on it and dives right in. I’ve gotten so many great ideas for exercises from him, like stomping around the room pretending to be the bad guy, or building yourself a literal safe fort space, or scribbling all over your (or your mother’s) five year plan.

This is a whole different way of seeing myself and my life and my creativity. Motherhood isn’t the thing that keeps me from practicing my art: it is the practice. The challenges are impossible to separate from the rewards. This time around, though of course I do need breaks from being all mom all the time, I am feeling less of a need to escape from it and more of a desire to dive into the mess.

This has been my artist residency in motherhood (an idea I first heard of from this brilliant artist/mother, Lenka Clayton). Mothering my children makes my creative work stronger, and creative work makes my mothering stronger.

 

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, River Rowan 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.