Monthly Archives: January 2016

Week 76 – Little Bits of Magic-Making

Happy Monday, friends!

  1. I am grateful for the opportunity to connect (in a new way) with members of the artistic community in St. Petersburg, and to act in a radio play for the fist time
  2. I am grateful for a coffee date with a dear college buddy
  3. I am grateful for the exciting week ahead, filled with museum and theatre excursions (getting to be in the audience for a change!), visits with friends, and launching back into Our Town on Wednesday

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the magic we used to make, as kids.

What was your preferred method of creation, back in the day? Did you…

  • Put on magic shows
  • Open your own “restaurant” in the family kitchen
  • Perform plays in the basement or garage
  • Start a business selling home-made jewelry, songs, and painted rocks
  • Write and assemble books, poems, magazines, and newspapers
  • Open an art gallery of your best paintings, in your bedroom
  • Advertise your back massage, pet-sitting, and baking skills around your neighborhood

Possibly you did many of these things.

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I think back with such fondness on the grand ideas, schemes, and concoctions my young mind dreamed up, and made a reality. The reckless abandon and relentless commitment to each detail. The way that “limitations,” or the idea of them, weren’t a part of my vocabulary. There was no “I wish I could open a pet store” – I just did it, the scale was immaterial. (And frankly, stuffed animal pet stores are much easier to maintain.)

It interests me, what happens between that time of total creative freedom that we enjoy as children, and the way we sometimes approach creation as adults. At what point did “I want to….so I’ll…” become a litany of conditions, excuses, and self-doubt? I’m generalizing – I know there are many times when we adults also enjoy and engage in fantastic artistic discovery and play. But how often in our “grown up” lives do we allow obstacles like time, our perceived skill/lack thereof, money, and resources get in the way of us waking up and making things?

Sometimes I become aware of how much more wishing I do as an adult, than truly creating/making things happen. Do you find this? Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic deals a lot with overcoming our fears and experiencing creative freedom, and I recommend it highly.

There are days when I wish for just 2% of the “dumb, blind confidence” and audacity I had as a child, you know? If an idea came to me for a book that “needed to be written” I’d sit down every night for weeks and tear through my spiral-bound notebook with the fervor of a commissioned, published author on a deadline. It never crossed my mind that no one might ever read it but me, I just needed to write. Perhaps as adults we’ve been conditioned to consider the end-game more. We’ve lived through failure and rejection time and again, and maybe after awhile it feels painful to make something, and risk whatever we fear most – the possibility of more failure and rejection, or that our creation will be ignored altogether, and we’ll be considered irrelevant.

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Tonight I was seriously inspired by a group of artists in my community who are out there making magic, boldly. This collection of creators started a monthly radio theatre broadcast that presents original and classic radio plays, live. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it – sound designers, actors, technicians, stage managers and more come together once a month to work on the kinds of material they most enjoy (and in a unique way), serving an audience who – it turns out, is hungry for this kind of entertainment – the place was packed! I’m sure at the onset there were plenty of challenges, obstacles, and doubts. These are all BUSY people with a lot on their plates. But they made time. They found a way. And it’s been going on now for seven years. Incredible.

Consider with me all the brave people you admire who…started a theatre, founded a charity, wrote a book, or did anything that made a difference. They started. At some point, they just…started.

I think this extends to all kinds of endeavors and desires. Anything you wish could be a part of your life…

  • “I wish my community had a book club”
  • “I wish there were opportunities for young poets like me to showcase their work”
  • “I wish I could act in films”
  • “I wish I could write a musical with someone I really respect”

What’s keeping us from starting our own book club, finding a venue that will let us host a poetry slam, grabbing some friends and a camera, or putting an ad out there for a collaborator?

We’ve all got magic within us. And sometimes we just have to start. Pick up the phone, grab a pen, write that email, and GO!

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In the spirit of magic-making, I’ve been challenging myself to write something, every day.  A poem, a rambling, a story, a collection of ideas or musings…and it doesn’t have to be good. Or make sense to anyone but me. Or be “for” anything in particular. Or have a certain form or style. This is what I wrote today, for no reason at all but to write. Wishing you a rich, bold, audacious week of magic-making, Celebrationists.

Things that are cozy

Thick, dark coffee in Tiffany blue colored cups

French bulldog puppies curled up behind your knees

Oversized grandpa-cardigans,
especially in colors like mustard yellow

Hot sourdough bread – crusty on the outside,
spongy on the inside

Soft things against your feet
Like fleecy slippers. Christmas socks. Lips

Wearing a flannel while watching the rain

When your hand fits just right
inside someone else’s jacket pocket

Crawling under the covers with wet hair

Eating home-made soup with your feet tucked up under you

The perfectly shaped spoon

Plopping down in your subway seat of choice when your feet are frozen

An overdue catch up

Writing a poem in a room full of people and feeling solitary
but not at all alone.

Week 75 – Little Bits of Gremlin-Smashing

Hope your week is off to a great start, Celebrationists! And if it isn’t, remember that things can change at the drop of a hat – we’ve all seen it happen, hang in there. *HUG*

  1. I am grateful for the Fairy-godpeople in my life. The folks who happen into our lives/are present in unique, generous, kind-hearted ways – and usually cast their magic when we least expect, or feel like we deserve it. These Fairy-godpeople don’t ask for anything in return, they simply sprinkle their sparkle on us when we need it most, and leave us hopeful about humanity, after all. Here’s to being Fairy-godpeople for each other, and paying that goodness forward…
  2. I am grateful for the opportunity to attend a wonderful film premiere on this night off – starring and produced by some dear friends and fellow artists. It makes my heart happy to see fantastic people doing fantastic work, and coming together to celebrate it!
  3. I am grateful for restaurants that leave a bottle of hot sauce on the table instead of just giving you a little cup of it.

Today’s musings are a sort of companion piece to the post I wrote 65 weeks ago, Week 10 – “Fear Monsters.” I interviewed an inspiring lady about her experience with the negative, fear-filled voice in her head, and the way she externalized/ learned to deal with it. Today I want to talk about the fear monster’s awful cousin – the gremlin.

A very close friend and I are constantly talking about our gremlins. Gremlins are little guys who tell us nasty things about ourselves, and encourage us to second-guess anything positive that we achieve, contribute, or want to put out into the world. They are such good liars that we frequently believe the stories they create for us. These deceptions can take all manner of forms and cover a wide range of topics that can, after awhile, lead to something like Imposter Syndrome – which I think a lot of people probably deal with to some degree. And perhaps especially artists.

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Do you ever:

  • Find it difficult to internalize accomplishments?
  • Feel compelled to speak up/take action in a positive way but then stop yourself because you suddenly feel certain that your feelings are faulty, wrong, or inadequate?
  • Feel like it’s only a matter of time before others will see and reject the negative qualities you are so aware of in yourself that you’ll be “found out?”
  • Feel the need to work twice as hard as everyone else just to keep up?
  • Get it in your mind that other people think a certain way about you that isn’t the least bit fact-based?
  • Have a difficult time starting things because you don’t think you have the (intelligence, skills, talent, whatever it is) to finish?
  • In a moment of “going for it,” you suddenly get in your own way and “ruin things” (whatever that means for you)
  • Experience entire situations in your mind in which you ruin all of the things, and it feels incredibly real?

Is any of this remotely familiar?  Those gremlin voices, gravelly and unpleasant as they are, can be pretty persistent. But here’s something important to note, I think: The difference between a fear monster and a gremlin. 

In my mind, a fear monster is a paranoid little guy who causes worry – makes us aware of all the things that could potentially kill us. Persuades us not to take risks. To stay safe in bed. I think it’s a good idea to make friends with your fear monster (like Jillian did, in week 10), pat him on the head, stick him in the back seat of your minivan, and just make sure he stays there out of the way, where you can keep an eye on him. I think fear monsters are largely well-intended, but just shouldn’t be involved in our decision making process. Gremlins are different. Those suckers deserve to be smashed.

There is not a single positive or constructive thing that comes from listening to a gremlin. I think it’s probably pretty common for our gremlins to act up in waves – we’ll go awhile without them being very present, and then some kind of trigger will birth a whole new litter. But I definitely feel like Gremlins are only good for:

  • Perpetuating self doubt
  • Capitalizing on insecurities
  • Getting in the way of self-love
  • Convincing us that thinking about something is as good as action is
  • Encouraging us to compare ourselves to others
  • Encouraging us to “hide,” in whatever form that takes
  • Silencing our impulses/desire to create

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So how do we smash a gremlin? How do we stop them from taking over our brainwaves to the point where we are walking around feeling like total talent-less imposters? Here’s what I’m going to be experimenting with:

  1. Call it what it is: I think deciphering what is real from what is a projection of our habitual self-doubt is key. And hard. I’m basically talking about telling the difference between a fear monster, a gremlin, and reality. Imagine a dear friend was struggling with the situation at hand, and examine the story from that kind of perspective for a moment. Realizing when our concerns are coming from a place of healthy (or unhealthy) fear, totally unreasonable and destructive self-doubt caused by a trigger, or reality helps us begin to navigate a process of action and healing.
  2. Dissect the story: Get the details out of our subconscious and into our consciousness. Examining the deception from every angle and in a more concrete way might expose the lie more clearly. Keeping anything negative inside only increases our shame, and the fear that it might be true. It’s like if we hear the gremlin rustling around in the dark but are too afraid to look at it too closely.  But pulling it (kicking and screeching no doubt) into the light of day might just help us see the little nasty for exactly what it is – a fuzzy piece of nothing that we’ve given voice to. And we can make the choice to silence it.
  3. Render it useless: I think the only effective way I’ve found to exterminate a gremlin is to replace the space with something else. A different kind of talk. If the gremlin is telling us “Everyone you know actually thinks you’re (increase whatever the negative limiting belief is, unlovable, let’s say)” – then go and spend time with a group of people you love, and who love you. If we feed our gremlins some truth-based, positive self talk, like “I am surrounded by people I care about deeply, and who care about me. This is evident in the following ways….” and give our gremlin plenty of evidence, they don’t have as much to hang on to. And to pack the punch even more, I say we go out and spread the love we wish to receive. Act on whatever our gremlins are telling us that we shouldn’t do. The more we harness our bravery and do/be the thing our gremlins tell us we can’t, the sooner they’ll get bored with us and find somewhere else to go. In short – act anyway. Try anyway. Love anyway. Be vulnerable anyway. Our action smashes their hiss of “helpfulness.”FullSizeRender-34. Keep a record: of the situations, people, and circumstances that trigger our gremlins. Note the patterns. The more aware we are, the more we can be ready for the next time they want to battle. Anticipation gives us a greater, faster chance of elimination. And when we don’t head them off in time, I think it’s best to be gentle with ourselves and remember that we aren’t the only one dealing with these guys.

Have a great week, Celebrationists. Sending love your way.

Week 74 – Little Bits of Eternity

Hi there, Celebrationists. Happy Monday.

1.) I am grateful for Trader Joe’s

2.) I am grateful for this gorgeous, “chilly” weather. I’ve missed it, being in Florida!

3.) I am grateful for the chance to see Room, one of my favorite-ever novels, adapted so beautifully into a compelling movie masterpiece. Consider checking it out!

I’m currently in rehearsal for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. You may have read the play in high school. You may have been in the play, in high school.

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Exploring the world of this piece for the past few weeks, coupled with much of the art I’ve been consuming recently (in the form of movies, podcasts, and books), the ideas that are occupying a prime section of my brain, or that I seem to have a heightened awareness of at the moment, are:

  • Time
  • Aging
  • Repetition and cycles
  • Choices/cause and effect vs. destiny
  • Perception
  • Community
  • The meaning we endow a particular moment with, or don’t
  • Ritual
  • The sacredness of human connection
  • Memory

Our Town, I think, manages to be both deliciously dense and beautifully simple. The events of the play are ordinary to us – mothers making breakfast, fathers reading the newspaper, young people falling in love, marriage, parenthood, death.

In many plays, movies, and books we are thrust into moments of grand import – rare occurrences, exciting inciting incidents, milestones, dramatic situations…magic! The “big events,” if you will. Our Town draws us into the mundane, the daily. The play exposes bare the ceremony and ritual of the non-events in our lives, and through the lens of these ordinary moments, we witness the whole world. And how much we miss, while we’re living in it.

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If we’re doing research on the history of a place – take the town you grew up in, for instance – to look at history books, or through the vast and immediate powers of google, we’ll learn about…maybe some battles or treaties, perhaps a famous rally…the story of how certain buildings came to be, wild and destructive acts of nature, triumphs and tribulations that helped a town to grow and develop. We won’t read in any historical account that a Mrs. Miller had two children, and made them scrambled eggs with rye toast and peanut butter every morning until they were grown up, moved away, and made it every morning for their own children.

There’s a speech in Our Town that I’ve grown to love (stick with me a moment, it’s long, and may feel uncomfortably dense on a first read), it says:

“Y’know Babylon once had two million people in it, and all we know about ’em is the names of the kings and some copies of wheat contracts . . . and contracts for the sale of slaves. Yet every night all those families sat down to supper, and the father came home from his work, and the smoke went up the chimney, same as here. And even in Greece and Rome, all we know about the real life of the people is what we can piece together out of the joking poems and the comedies they wrote for the theatre back then. So I’m going to have a copy of this play put in the cornerstone and the people a thousand years from now’ll know a few simple facts about us more than the Treaty of Versailles and the Lind-bergh flight. See what I mean? So people a thousand years from now this is the way we were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.” 

Can you remember a few tiny moments in your life that were special and carried their own sort of beauty, however simple? Maybe you were aware of it in the moment, or maybe not until after. I’m not talking about the big stuff. I’ll share a couple that I can remember, from various stages and ages:

  • When I was a little girl – Burger King picnics in the library parking lot with my mom, while we waited for the library to open
  • A stranger in a coffee shop drawing my portrait on a napkin. Giving it to me with a twinkle and very few words, and never seeing him again
  • Hearing my mom sing “Let me call you sweetheart” to put me to sleep
  • Sharing a vegan cupcake with my sister in a city neither of us lived in, and remembering the exact moment I realized that she’d become an adult
  • Walking the same route every morning to freshman ballet with my friend Brandon
  • The ritual of setting up my stuffed animals in “parades” – lining them up two by two on our chocolatey brown family room carpet

In Our Town, Emily (the young romantic leading lady) has the opportunity to come back to earth and witness a day in her life, after she’s died. She chooses to return to the day of her twelfth birthday, and sees with startling clarity all the things she never noticed in detail while she was alive. When the beauty of it all – the youth of her mother, the fence in front of her childhood home, the voice of the paper boy – becomes almost unbearable, she asks to return to her grave, saying a final goodbye to…

“…clocks ticking… and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” 

She begs the stage manager (the presence who guides us through the story):

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?” 

The stage manager tells her:

“No. The saints and poets – they do some.”

The message here feels to me perhaps equal parts harsh and hopeful.

I think this play reflects the limits of human understanding.  It’s virtually impossible for us to notice every moment – the beauty and magic of each smile, word, ritual, and second. We’d go mad if we tried to, and wouldn’t actually be present anyway – because we’d be commenting on everything, instead of just experiencing it.  Instead of being a “lesson-play,” telling us what we ought to do, I think it gently reminds us that we are limited. But that it’s also part of the beauty and sadness of being human. I think this play can definitely inspire us to examine the ways we hurry through our lives without really looking at each other, and compel us to be a little more awake – a little more conscious.

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I think about how intensely we work to capture memory and time: through photos, journaling, various forms of social media… a desire to remember everything we can, and also to prove, if only to ourselves, “I was here. This happened. I exist.” I think we were born with a need to be known. To create and leave a legacy. To find or create a part of us that is eternal.

I just want to leave you with this quote, and wish you a week filled with appreciation, connection, and love.

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.” 

Week 73 – Little Bits of Passive Aggression

Happy New Year, Celebrationists!

  1. I am grateful for FaceTime.
  2. I am grateful for a lovely day off, with time to check out the movie Spotlight, which blew me away.
  3. I am grateful for the amazing new elephant pants I got for Christmas! They are so comfortable that I’ve been slipping them on nearly every day when I get home! Also, one or two dollars (depending on whether you buy the pants or the leggings) from each item sold goes to the Say No Campaign, a part of the African Wildlife Foundation. This campaign raises awareness for the end of poaching of illegal wildlife products like rhino horns and ivory. Pretty wonderful!

I think that when there are certain “new growth areas” in our lives, we immediately become more sensitive to any opportunity the universe gives us to practice. Let’s say that you’d really like to work on patience, and this desire has been occupying a lot of your headspace. Do you find that the universe seems to surround you constantly with people and situations that make you crazy, and challenge you to “walk the walk” of the quality you say you want to cultivate, all of a sudden?

For me, the “new growth area” that I’m struggling to develop, is dealing with situations head-on, instead of behaving as though I believe that being passive-aggressive and non-confrontational = being kind. Basically, on an intellectual level I understand that it’s kinder to be direct, most of the time, but I want to put that knowledge into practice on a consistent basis.

Nobody likes conflict – it’s uncomfortable for us, and also uncomfortable for other people, thereby making it even more uncomfortable for us. But after years of moving through the world with a strong habit of non-confrontation-at-all-costs, I’m learning that this method of dealing with conflict (by not dealing) can build up personal resentments, make problems worse, and ultimately isn’t an act of compassion. In fact, it can be pretty ugly.

There’s a moment from the current play I’m working on that illustrates this ugliness perfectly. In Thornton Wilder’s Our Town there is a sequence where three women gossip about the town drunk, Simon Stimson. My character says that “the only thing the rest of us can do is just not to notice it.” Simon ultimately commits suicide. A whole town full of people knew about his troubles, and no one did anything to help. None of them were “mean people,” in fact, probably they thought they were being kind by not drawing attention to the matter. But ultimately, their silence was damning. Their inability to look at something uncomfortable and speak up set the stage for destruction. And all the while they had no problem gossiping about it. Fear is insidious.

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Let me give you some hopefully relatable examples of the day-to-day kinds of things I’m talking about.

  • When someone says something that hurts your feelings or offends you, do you tell them it did, or ignore it, but let their words work on you for days (weeks, months, years…)?
  • When you see violence being perpetrated – physical, mental, or emotional, do you turn the other way, or reach out?
  • Are you sometimes afraid to disagree, for fear of making someone else uncomfortable?
  • Do you want to spare someone (or yourself) a particular embarrassment for a wrong-doing and cover it up with a white lie or dismissal, or enable someone else to do those things?
  • Do you go to whatever lengths are necessary to avoid conflict?
  • When a situation feels wrong to you, do you explore that feeling with curiosity, or plug into the “rules” that society has laid out for you?
  • Do you find that upsetting the apple-cart is vulnerable, and it’s easier to complain or gossip about things than try to affect change?
  • Do you fall into a victim-mentality about circumstances you don’t like, blaming outside sources for things that don’t work, but stay silent?

I’ve shared a lot of musings about fear in previous posts, and I think it plays a primary role in all of this. Why is it so hard to face uncomfortable situations head-on? And let me be clear – I think there is a difference between brash, ego-driven, violent confrontation and compassionate directness. But to me at least, this compassionate directness still feels incredibly vulnerable. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t want my desire for a peaceful discussion to be perceived as an attack, or for someone to mistake my perceptions as a judgement. And sometimes the fear of all those things wins the day and I fall into passive silence, instead of doing what I know is the right thing. And that doesn’t feel great.

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What troubles me most is that I’ve started noticing how small things – tiny acts of injustice or cruelty can quickly become much larger. How much do we have to ignore or turn a blind eye to before it’s enough? Before it’s too late?  Once we give people or institutions permission to exercise certain behaviors “just this once,” or “because it isn’t a big deal this time,” where do we draw the line? And after awhile…will we? I’m sitting here writing this from the muck – not in the clear. This isn’t something I’ve figured out, or have put into practice as much as I would like to.

I had a conversation today with a friend who I respect incredibly, and who is similar to me in many ways. The friend and I were discussing the role we tend to play in our friendship dynamics, and candidly he said, “Yeah. People don’t come to us for growth.” What he meant by this was not that we might not inspire growth in certain ways, but that we aren’t the people our friends come to to be challenged. We are the people friends come to for a listening ear and to feel safe/unconditionally accepted (or at least, I hope that’s the case!). And there is great beauty and value in that. I want to keep that. But I also want to be able to disagree openly. To kindly share when a friend does something I find troubling – and not from a place of higher ground, or talking-down-to… from a place of humanity, mirror-like reflection, and love.

In Our Town there is a gorgeous scene between the two young people – George and Emily. George asks Emily why she has been mad at him lately, and she proceeds to tell him about certain behavior that has been making her upset, and how much it hurts her to tell him so. After the initial shock, this sixteen year old kid thanks her for exposing the “flaw in his character”, and says how happy he is to have a friend who will tell him about the things he can’t see in himself. I want that kind of friend. And I want to be that kind of friend.

If you’re struggling with this too, I’ll be honest – I’m not totally sure how we improve in this area. But here are the things I’m going to be experimenting with:

  • Cultivating a moment of pause: When a potential conflict arises, trying to replace my natural “freak out and hide” inclination with a moment of pause. Breathing into that uncomfortable spot and tapping into what I’m actually feeling. Why is it uncomfortable? Why do I want to run away? What would happen if I stayed right here in this moment? What do I actually want to outcome to be?
  • Time and Place: If the situation does warrant a conversation/some directness, figuring out the most compassionate and appropriate time and place. It may be right there in that moment, and it might be a different time. But establishing the best possible conditions may be helpful in finding the best possible outcome
  • Sharing experiences, not accusations: Choosing the best language feels like the greatest challenge of all. But I really believe that if we speak our truth from the heart, focus on sharing our experiences and feelings rather than making statements of wrong-doing or “calling people out”, we may have the best chance of reaching someone – realizing that the goal has nothing to do with “being right.” We can’t control how this will be received, but we can at least rest with the peace that our intentions were pure, and that we tried.
  • Remember that conflict is not the same as combat

Have a wonderful beginning to your 2016, Celebrationists! May we move forward boldly, with great kindness and bravery.

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