Week 87 – Little Bits of Seed Planting, part 2

Happy Monday, Friends.

  1. I am grateful for a beautiful and truly magical day off, at Disney World
  2. I am grateful for friends who teach me more about the world, compassion, and myself, every day
  3. I am grateful to be launching into a big and bold new adventure:

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Nearly a year ago I wrote a post called Little Bits of Seed Planting.  The basic concept I was turning around in my brain is this idea that at any given moment we have infinite choices about the kinds of “seeds we are planting” – what we leave behind when we engage with any person or situation. Trying to own for myself the fact that we have serious decision-making power here, and have the ability to live with intention so that we plant things like compassion, empathy, and empowerment.

“… I think that in every moment we have a choice about what we are planting. Our choice to add aggression or peace to each moment. It might manifest as a smile or frown, our decision to leave a tip, cause a ruckus, create something new, thank someone or scold them, etc. – but we leave the seed behind, after we’ve gone. That seed is planted in the person’s day, and may grow or wither accordingly depending on how they water it. But we plant the seed, first.”

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I’ve been thinking about this a lot again lately, and wanted to dig a few inches deeper. Get beneath the soil a bit, if you will. Get my hands a little dirty.

I think our lives feel complicated to us, much of the time. Our brains are constantly buzzing with our “stuff” – our worries, hopes, fears, insecurities, dreams, drama…there’s a LOT going on up there. And when we feel consumed by all that buzzing and are in a totally tunnel-visioned, self-focused headspace, I think it can be dangerously easy to overlook/miss how our actions affect the people around us. And not only our actions. Our words, our attitude – all of it.

And I guess what I’ve been thinking about lately is that YES, I want to work harder to make sure the seeds I’m planting are seeds of service, seeds that are contributing positively to the world and the people around me…but of even more dire importance I think, is the fact that I remember that I’m planting seeds at all.

It can be so deeply and richly that we impact another person’s day. Week. Life. And so easy to forget.  And just because we’ve gotten in the habit of reacting to a situation in a particular way doesn’t mean we can’t make a different choice at any moment. What I want to remind myself of this week in a renewed way (and I hope you’ll join me if you’d like), is that we can do an incredible amount of good for one another just by CARING. Actually caring. Wanting to know. Asking the questions, and responding in a way that reminds each other that we are not alone.

I want to remind myself that I always have the opportunity to exercise a heart of service or a heart of selfishness. A mind of consideration and thoughtfulness, or a mind of carelessness. That I can plant seeds of compassion or judgment, but the fact is that I AM in fact, planting. Always. All the time.  When I have a great day and incredible luck, and equally when I have an awful day and feel like I’m failing at all of the things. And that those hard days don’t give me a special free pass to be a jerk-face. Or at least, I don’t want to give myself that pass. I want to challenge myself with the idea that it’s the times we are at our lowest might provide the greatest opportunity to reach out. It can be so easy to turn inward, and think the answer is there…I think it hardly ever is. As the most wonderful Pema Chodron says, “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder.”

I want to be accountable. I want to plant good things. I want to take care of each other. We’re beautifully flawed humans, so it’ll be a struggle – we’ll mess up for sure. But want to join me, and try?

Also, enjoy this delicious wall of sound, if you like – just seems appropriate : ) Make Our Garden Grow

Have a great week, Celebrationists. *HUG*

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Week 86 – Little Bits of “Better”

Hi there, Celebrationists.  Happy Monday.

  1. I am grateful for generous, patient friends
  2. I am grateful for these past two days of exceptional weather
  3. I am grateful for my bed

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past couple of days: sometimes, you need to just let yourself enjoy things.

Here’s what I mean.

I think some of us move through the world with a pretty decent amount of drive, work ethic, desire, passion – whatever that quality manifests itself as for you….and possibly some of us hold ourselves to a particular standard that can make it difficult to enjoy almost anything, because we know “it could be better.” We could:

  • Perform better
  • Look better
  • Teach better
  • BE better (in any number of ways – be more patient, compassionate, kind, etc)
  • DO better (at whatever “it” is)
  • Etc.

At the end of the day, this obsession with “better” can get exhausting. And for what? What are we gaining – or more importantly, what are we contributing/adding to the world by fixating on everything we feel like we aren’t doing? I’m not talking about letting go of the desire for self-improvement, or to put a damper on a sense of striving – I’m talking about that purely self-critical judgement that doesn’t empower us to work harder, but cuts us off at our ankles and makes us want to stay in bed for three days.

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I don’t know if you ever experience this, but in certain moments where you do feel somewhat satisfied with a job well done, do you ever experience guilt about…feeling good? Like, you feel the need to either keep your joy very private, or…even then, you feel as though the contentment is an illusion/you’re kidding yourself because the “reality” is that “it” probably wasn’t as good as you think, and “here’s why?” What an exhausting and silly way to live.

What would happen if we could let go of that? In those moments when we are most disastrous to ourselves, what if we could pause and say….”Stop. Just STOP. This is boring and selfish and useless.” And then…actually stop.  The thing is, I do believe that this is possible – I just wish there was a fast and easy method for how to do it. The only answer I can think of though, is simply, practice. Practice a new way of responding to situations until you’re bored with how many times you’ve reacted in this new way. The part that’s maddening is that it’s deceptively simple, and that it takes time. And knowing that most of us will definitely take many paces back before we move forward. But how cool really, the thought of cultivating a practice of just…enjoying ourselves. Enjoying. Our. Selves.

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What if we could make a practice of really appreciating:

  • Our performance in any given situations – ups, downs, flubs and all – enjoying it just the same because it happened, no matter what the end result is
  • Our bodies
  • Our ability to share and also receive information, because each of us has a totally unique way of doing this
  • Our quirks
  • Our efforts about anything and everything we pursue, because each time we put ourselves out there and bravely attempt something, we are learning. And what does it even mean for something to be a success or failure? To a certain degree, I think those are terms that we define for ourselves. Something doesn’t have to be a commercial success for us to find meaning and worth

What might happen if we could look at our perceived shortcomings with a greater sense of

  • Humor
  • Humility
  • Awareness that at the end of the day, so many outcomes don’t even matter/won’t be remembered
  • Awareness that all of us are a collection of incongruous bits and bobs, and that something you view as a shortcoming might be a treasure to someone else

So what happens when we let go of “better” and just embrace where we are and what we are doing right now? What happens if we make a practice of celebrating what is, instead of what might be? Life is awfully short, and if we spend all our time focusing on the “betters,” we might just miss out on what is already pretty wonderful.

Do something nice for yourself this week, Celebrationists – let yourself enjoy the internal and external things in your life that might bring you pleasure. When we deprive ourselves for any length of time, it can be harder to be generous in a genuine way. So be good to yourselves this week – and I’ll try to do the same : )

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Week 85 – Little Bits of Self-Perception

Hi Friends. I hope your Monday has been really lovely.

  1. I am grateful for a super productive day off, and for having shared it with wonderful friends
  2. I am grateful for Warby Parker
  3. I am grateful for kind-hearted people who care. About things. About the people around them. About the impact they make on the world.

Every now and again, do you feel like there is a particular phrase that keeps popping into your life – something you find yourself saying to others, or that other people say to you with increasing frequency? An idea that becomes a common denominator between yourself and groups of friends who don’t even know each other? Then you happen to read about it in books, hear other people saying things related to this concept on the street, and find yourself meditating on the idea in a variety of situations? For awhile now, this has been one such phrase, in my life. If you spend any time with me at all, and struggle with self-doubt even remotely, you’ve probably even heard me say it:

“We never see ourselves the way that other people do.” 

This has been bleeding into my life in all sorts of ways lately, and I just want to tease it out in a way that might be meaningful for you, too.

Let’s say that someone were to ask you to talk about about the backs of your knees.

Who would you trust to give the most accurate description – yourself, or your pet dog (assuming we lived in a universe where dogs could talk, and that you are a human who wears shorts or skirts from time to time). Probably the dog, assuming they have good eyesight and a decent vocabulary, would be the better candidate to speak about the backs of your knees. They are part of YOUR body, of course, but you’re not really able to see them so well, not like the dog can, and does. I’m not advocating that we base our self worth on the opinions of others (though dogs are great, because they love unconditionally), or look to other people to tell us everything we need to know about ourselves, but I am saying this: maybe we would do well not to take our own own opinions of ourselves quite so seriously.  Maybe we would do well to remember that our view might be just a little bit warped.  And that ultimately, our inability to see ourselves accurately can serve as a great unifier, and one of those little things that can make us feel less alone.

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How often are you flabbergasted by the way a friend, family member, partner, etc. views themselves?

Pause a moment for this little exercise. To execute, or to just theorize about (because I’ll be totally honest – whenever a book or article has an exercise, no matter how much I love the book, I usually skip ahead and say I’ll come back to the exercises, and never do. So, do as you will – I won’t judge…)

  • Think about five of the most important people in your life right now, or the five people you feel closest to at the moment. Or just five people you’re fascinated by
  • What are the first five words you would use to describe them, without thinking too hard about it? The most immediate descriptors that leap to your brain
  • You could go and ask them for the five words they would use to describe themselves, or for a different angle on this exercise – think back in your brain about their self-talk. When they speak about themselves, what kinds of language do they use? Or just based on their actions, how do you think they would describe themselves?
  • How does it add up?

What are some of the most ridiculous things you’ve heard the people you love say about themselves? Maybe comments that seem to you totally off-base, about their:

  • Talents
  • Bodies
  • Performance
  • Laziness
  • Productivity
  • Worth
  • Some aspect of appearance
  • Voice
  • Generosity
  • Kindness
  • Ability in any manner of areas
  • Etc, etc, etc

How often do you note a major disconnect in their statements with the reality that you observe by spending time with them on the regular? So my theory is – if their perspective isn’t a totally complete picture, chances are that the same is true for us, about ourselves.

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And why does any of this matter? It matters because the language we use about ourselves is powerful. The more we feed the negative thoughts and perceptions we have about ourselves, the more that type of language becomes a habit. And the more it becomes a habit, the more it becomes impossible to look in the mirror (literally or figuratively) and recognize ourselves at all. And why waste valuable time and energy punishing ourselves over something that might not even be real?

It’s also problematic because once we’re in deep enough, all that negative thought starts having an impact on our actions. And then once those actions become enough of a habit, we run the risk  of becoming the thing we never actually were, but have turned ourselves into.

As in “Oh, I’m a terrible public speaker.” (This isn’t the truth, but we say it is/send this message to ourselves over and over). Over time, this thought turns into active anxiety, shortness of breath, clamminess, freezing up onstage – because we’ve started actually believing we are a terrible public speaker. After enough time, being a terrible public speaker becomes our reality. This is a gross oversimplification of course, but you get the picture.

So what to do.

Here’s what I’m going to be experimenting with, when struck by a bout of negative self-perception:

  • Remind myself that this is recycled language, talking. That the criticism I’m crucifying myself with is probably stuff I’ve used hundreds of times. It’s a habit, and nothing more. I can choose to observe it apathetically, and let it go before getting caught up in the emotional part of it
  • If I don’t succeed with this, reminding myself that the emotional part of the negative thought is a habit, too. That just because my body is having a strong response to this negativity, that STILL doesn’t mean it’s based in any reality
  • Try my best to have a better sense of humor when that mean little voice gets talking
  • Remind myself that at the end of the day, when I become obsessed with a negative thought about myself, the best answer of all is almost always to reach OUT, not in. Taking the focus away from the negative thought diminishes its power, and gives me a greater perspective on my very little place in this great big world : )
  • Most of the time when we criticize ourselves, it isn’t constructive. It’s just like a mean kid on the playground shoveling out dirt that isn’t helpful or meant to do anything other than harm. Name your kid. Send him to detention where he belongs
  • None of this takes away from the fact that most of us are striving to be self-aware individuals. And maybe some of us are, in certain respects. But I think the main thing is to recognize that even the most self-aware people are still subject to an inaccurate view of some parts of ourselves

Also, I really enjoy reflecting the good I see in other people back to them – because chances are, they don’t see it – not in the way that I do. Not in the way that you do. And sometimes just letting a person know what we see can bring a great deal of good. When we are caught up in ourselves, illuminating the beauty we observe in others – in a sincere way, reroutes that energy into something positive, and often healing. Be good to yourselves this week, Celebrationists – you’re worth it : )

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By: Brian Andreas, who I think is the best at making a person feel ALL of the things using as few words as possible : )

Week 84 – Little Bits of Blindness

Greetings, Celebrationists! Happy Monday.

  1. I am grateful for Trader Joe’s Sriracha Hummus
  2. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with some wonderful kids again this week, and help them create their own awesome plays!
  3. I am grateful for this day of “chilly” Florida weather. 60-something and sunny – sweater weather, will always be my most favorite

Today’s thoughts are less about musings, and more about a mission for the week.

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I’ve noticed kindness manifested in buckets this week. Thoughtfulness, all over the place.

Whether (for whatever reason) people have been feeling extra generous lately and more compassionate than usual, or maybe I’ve just had a heightened awareness recently, is unclear. But either way, I’ve seen so many little acts of good – some directed towards me, and some directed towards others, that I’ve happened to witness. Many of them totally (or seemingly) unrecognized. And I’m inclined to think that this wasn’t just some special springtime-week-of-random-kindness or something – I think it’s just that I was aware, for a change.

And it got me to thinking.

When we get caught up in the drama, ego, and neurosis of our lives (which might show up in the form of)

  • Feelings of unworthiness
  • Frustration at the people or situations who/that drive us crazy
  • The sensation of being exhausted, spent, or overwhelmed
  • We have the “complaining” bug
  • Getting tangled up in fear, nervousness, or dread
  • Etc, etc – insert your own

it can be easy to overlook the little acts of love happening all around us. Sometimes we are stuck so deep inside ourselves that we literally don’t NOTICE the goodness, thoughtfulness, and generosity taking place right in front of our noses, and find it easier to focus on how selfish, hateful, inconsiderate, and ignorant people can be. We all do it –  I know I do it.  But in those moments where I get over myself and open my eyes, I’m often astounded. I’ve written posts about gratitude before…but how can we even get to gratitude until we are able to acknowledge what we have to be grateful for?

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These frequently overlooked little acts of kindness might come in the form of:

  • A friend, coworker, roomie, partner, or spouse taking the time to clean, fix, donate, or contribute something to the workplace, home, or some area of life – an act of generosity (of spirit, money, resources, etc)
  • A direct, purposeful, and sincere word of well-timed encouragement
  • Someone giving the gift of time despite their own busy schedule…and we may be so wrapped up with our own hectic lives that we don’t even think to ask, so we would never realize what THEIR life is actually like at the moment
  • A phone call, text message, or “check in” showing genuine care
  • Someone seeing a need (physical or emotional) and meeting it without being asked
  • A person who notices an insecurity, worry, or person who is beating themselves up and either verbally or non verbally squashes the fear before it’s even expressed aloud
  • Someone going out of their way to make your life easier in a specific and thoughtful way that shows emotional intelligence and intuition
  • A card, compliment, gift, coffee, or helping hand that is given for no “reason” at all
  • An act of love, in any form it may take

Maybe you feel like your life is void of such things right now. But if you make a point of looking, I think you’ll find that these things are happening. Yes, people can be ____________ (insert your most relevant negative word of choice) but they can also be incredible and loving. Choosing to focus on THAT might seem to some like “looking through rose colored glasses,” but I don’t see it that way. Sharpening our awareness of the “good stuff” doesn’t mean we have blinders on, and ignore everything else. It doesn’t mean we are choosing delusion and unrealistic idealism. What I’m saying is that the good is THERE already, we just aren’t always in the practice of seeing it.  And for as much as we notice the negativity, the least we can do for ourselves – and others, and the world, is to balance the scales, and enjoy the complete picture .

And then…what would happen if, once we did notice…if we responded with our gratitude appreciation, and affection? If we said “thank you” more? Acknowledged the kindness we see and used it as inspiration to be more thoughtful?

What if, when we feel dragged through the muck, we were able to keep our heads up just long enough to allow ourselves to be genuinely touched by… the fact that our friend reached out to another friend who was struggling – when we know that first friend is also struggling, but not saying a word about it? What if we worked harder to see what other people need, instead of complaining about what we need from other people?

Want to join me this week, Celebrationists? In

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Finding new, sincere, specific, well-timed ways to be thoughtful
  • Stretching the limits of my emotional intelligence and intuition
  • Complaining Less
  • Opening my eyes more

Have a great one, beautiful friends.

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Week 83 – Little Bits of “Just Say Thank You”

Hi there, Celebrationists. Happy Monday.

  1. I am grateful for an exhilarating and satisfying opening weekend of Sondheim on Sondheim
  2. I am grateful that my SISTER is coming to visit in two days!
  3. I am grateful for this lovely gift, which I’ve been using every day this week : )

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Do you have a hard time enjoying, celebrating, or acknowledging personal progress, accomplishments, or successes? Is it difficult to express whole-hearted gratitude when someone attempts to pay you a genuine compliment? Does “just saying thank you” make the tips of your ears turn a little pink, and you practically have to bite your tongue to stop yourself from saying something like “Oh, not really – I mean, you should see so-and-so or such-and-such, that’s REALLY something…”?

Why is it so darn uncomfortable to just say “Thank you so much” without any disclaimers, when somebody makes a positive observation about ourselves, and shares it with us? Why can’t we just take the compliment

There are hundreds of possibilities as to why we deflect compliments, reject them, ignore them, or re-route/turn the tables on them. Could be…

  • That we aren’t used to compliments in certain areas of our lives, and therefore they make us uncomfortable
  • On some base level we feel like the giver of said compliment just doesn’t see the full picture of ourselves accurately, and we feel like an imposter/liar for not correcting them
  • We don’t trust the motivations of the giver, consciously or unconsciously
  • Our people-pleasing natures make us feel an immediate need to repay the kind words instead of just taking in the gift of verbal generosity
  • We get in our heads about having the “right” reaction to such things
  • Perfectionism
  • A whole bunch of other who-knows-what

But the main thing I’ve been thinking about lately is that the why we do this is much less important than figuring out how we can make a new choice about this habit we’ve established. Because in addition to being an unhealthy habit for ourselves, it’s so much more destructive than that. Every time we refuse to take a compliment, we are basically making an aggressive statement that the kind-hearted, generous giver of said compliment…

  • has no taste
  • has no intuition/ability to see things clearly
  • has poor perspective
  • is an idiot
  • isn’t safe to be giving compliments and kind words in the future
  • has questionable observation skills

Horrifying, right? We’d never mean to send this message, but that’s essentially what we’re doing when we refuse to accept kind words with grace. And I know that none of us would want to make another person feel awful because of our own collection of insecurities – I know I certainly don’t. And there are so many ways in which we do this…

  • Downplaying
  • Turning/reversing the compliment/focus on the other person
  • Flat out rejecting their statement/feelings
  • Using humor
  • Using sarcasm
  • Self-deprecation
  • Sharing examples of people who have “done it better”
  • Making faces/staying silent/averting our eyes (a personal favorite…)

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Also, I think that when we deny our worthiness habitually – when we reject ourselves over and over again in this way, we send the universe the message that we aren’t open to receiving, in general. And then we don’t. And then we wonder why nothing good is happening for us.

At the end of the day, I think the world needs as many acts of generosity, kindness, appreciation, and lifting up of one another as possible. And something as seemingly small as “just saying thank you,” can help keep that energetic cycle of positivity going, instead of stopping it/putting a lid on the flow. If someone is being brave, compassionate, and vulnerable enough to express how our actions, talents, etc have had some kind of particular positive impact, what might happen if we were able to embrace these sentiments with thankfulness and joy, and then look a little harder at observing and lifting up the goodness in others? What do we have to gain by telling someone they don’t know what they’re talking about, when they offer a kind word in our direction? What does the world have to gain? And think about how wonderful it feels to GIVE compliments! The way someone’s face and heart lights up when we notice something they’ve perhaps been working really hard at? What beautiful cycle might begin if we shove our ego in the trunk for awhile and allow the kind folks in our lives the opportunity to give us a genuine compliment? And be generous in giving positive feedback, as well.

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As far as how to take the compliment, I think the answer is simple, but the habit will take practice and patience – just say thank you : ) And mean it.

Sending you love and best wishes this week, Celebrationists! Join me in noticing the little things that people do, and speaking up about it, if you like! : )

 

Week 82 – Little Bits of Dissonance

  1. I am grateful for a wonderful beginning to tech week, surrounded by such creative, patient, kind friends and coworkers
  2. I am grateful for the most perfect little hour-long break, today : )
  3. I am grateful for the opportunity to be working on a show filled with rich, challenging, glorious music by my favorite composer, Stephen Sondheim (If you aren’t familiar with his work, here are links to a few of my favorite songs he’s written. It would be impossible to pick a favorite…but here are a few, if you like…

Every Day a Little Death (Song starts at 3:43)

Anyone Can Whistle

 Johanna

There Won’t Be Trumpets

No One Has Ever Loved Me

Moments In The Woods

 Send in the Clowns 

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There are many things I love about Sondheim’s work. One of them is that he enjoys writing “neurotic people,” which he explains in this way:

”I like neurotic people. I like troubled people. Not that I don’t like squared-away people, but I prefer neurotic people.” ”What ‘neurotic people’ means to me is people with conflicts. And that’s like saying I like to write about character. I don’t like to write about oversimplified people unless it’s for something like farce, like ‘Forum.’ Songs can’t develop uncomplicated characters or unconflicted people. You can’t just tell the sunny side and have a story with any richness to it. Good drama is the study of human passions.” 

His writing underlines the complexity of human nature in such a way that you could listen to one song over and over again, uncovering a new layer of meaning each time. Then you could leave it alone, return to it five, ten, twenty, forty years later, and find even more.

Would you agree that the characters we enjoy most in television, movies, books, and plays tend to be the kinds of characters he describes? People with layers? People with some internal dissonance?

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For as much as I think that this is the case – how often do we feel compelled to square off our own edges in some way? Become the cleanest, most streamlined version of ourselves – or at least paint that kind of picture for other people? Hating the parts of ourselves that aren’t pretty? And I don’t even mean pretty in the traditional sense – I mean, how often do we reject the aspects of ourselves that aren’t cohesive with the image we want to project to the world? I think that most of the time too, this rejection is completely unconscious. Stay with me a minute. Maybe you find comfort in being considered:

  • The “sarcastic, bitchy, self-assured one”
  • The “hyper-intelligent/intellectually untouchable one”
  • The “put-together, multi-tasking superhero”
  • The “emotionally indestructible one”
  • The “weird, mysterious one”
  • The “happy one”
  • Etc, etc.

Whatever your “thing” is – how often to you find yourself in a private little panic when the stark opposites (that exist in all of us) threaten to expose themselves? I think it’s normal that over time we develop some sort of baseline for “who we are” out in the world. But what I’m curious about is, why do we sometimes run from the parts of ourselves that don’t “fit in” with the rest? Most of us talk the good talk of “being a well-rounded person,” and “being a little messy,” …but for many of us, that’s still a very controlled, self-regulated statement.

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Sometimes we have little bits of internal dissonance that we enjoy. These can begin at the superficial, for instance, I …

  • Enjoy whiskey and teacups in equal measure
  • Love wearing sundresses and cuddling puppies, but also dumping hot sauce on everything. And if you’ve never arm-wrestled me, we should probably do that, soon
  • Adore terrifying movies and also Anne of Green Gables
  • (you get the picture – little opposites that are just kinda fun)

But then there’s the fact that I (to name a very few…)

  • Have a pretty high (I think) level of emotional intelligence, but really struggle with textbook learning
  • Can jump to the defense of a friend with no problem, but find myself afraid to speak up for myself, most of the time
  • Love trying new things, but also get embarrassed really easily, so sometimes I just don’t
  • Have an incredibly high physical pain tolerance, and a substantially lower emotional one
  • Am as patient with other people (most of the time) as I am impatient with myself
  • And this can extend to ALL sorts of things – we may have contradicting views within ourselves about anything – politics, religion, various sensibilities and inclinations, etc.

And the truth is, when it comes to other people, these things that “don’t make sense,” the “cracks in the plaster”… tend to be some of the things I treasure most. The parts of a person that fascinate and mesmerize me. But when it comes to myself, and we get to some of the deeper sorts of internal dissonance…I’m so much less accepting. In fact, I can be pretty judgmental.

Do you ever feel this? I’m not saying that our aim here is to relish in and glorify being troubled and neurotic people, or that we shouldn’t strive to overcome challenges in our lives. But I am saying that some of these things that drive us nuts about ourselves are also a really vital and sometimes lovely part of who we are. That we can be both sensitive and bold, angry and soft, wise and goofy…that giving ourselves permission to enjoy and allow all of it, could be a great gift, with a pleasantly surprising outcome.  That if art imitates life – and some of the best-loved art is far from sensible, far from explainable, far from cohesive…we might gain some wisdom there, and allow ourselves to be all of the shades of all of the colors. All the notes on the page – sometimes a balanced blend, and sometimes dissonant and strange. It’s all pretty beautiful, even if we can’t see it.

All things are beautiful, Mother. 
All trees, all towers, beautiful–
That tower beautiful, Mother.
See? A perfect tree.
Pretty isn’t beautiful, Mother.
Pretty is what changes . . .
what the eye arranges
is what is beautiful!

– Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George

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Week 81 – Little Bits of Control

  1. I am grateful for patient, generous, and compassionate coworkers and fellow artists
  2. I am grateful that my sister is coming to visit in about a month
  3. I am grateful for surprise mail, and for the kind-hearted people who sent hand-written magic my way in the last week or so

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Celebrationists. Do you ever have those weeks where you feel like the universe is testing you to the limits of what you’re able to handle? I know you do. Because it’s all a part of being a human on this planet.

You know the weeks I mean. When your work life, personal life, and everything in between are firing full-force with challenges – some welcome and wonderful, and some that make you want to stay in bed for three weeks and talk to no one (except maybe a puppy, which you don’t even have…)

Intellectually, I’m able to grasp the fact that life is always giving us exactly what we need to move through uncomfortable moments with grace (whether we choose to act on this wisdom is another thing, of course). That with enough creativity, intuition, and patience we can rise to meet challenges we never thought we were capable of handling. We see evidence of this everywhere, every day – in our own lives, and in the lives of all the people we know.

And yet, when we are in it, situations can feel “impossible” in a totally fresh way – as though we are the only people who have ever dealt with:

– a family illness

– a work challenge/being stretched in a new way

– a personal/friend/or romantic challenge

– A high volume of responsibility in many different areas

– etc.

Even though on a practical level we know that we’ve “been here before,” and that we know so many people who “have it way worse than we do, and we shouldn’t complain,” what is it in our physical bodies that makes us panic? The shortness/shallowness of breath, the doubt and worry, the sleepless nights? I think there isn’t any one answer, but I am interested in digging into one component of what might be going on…

I think many of us struggle with the discomfort that can come from feeling out of control. When we feel spread thin, even situations that are in our control can feel totally…not that way. But here’s the thing I’ve been unpacking for myself, about the idea of being in control, or “having it all together”….

We’ve never been “in control,” and we’re never going to be.

That can sound like a bleak, morbid, or hopeless statement, but I find it to be quite the opposite.

Think about a time when you felt the most in-control, really at the top of your game. Despite the wonderful high that can come from this sensation, the reality is that at any moment something could shift, and we could be back at square one. The rug could (and has, and does) get pulled out from under us, and suddenly we are totally groundless, all over again. We all know that there are forces larger than any one person that can dramatically impact a situation, at any time. I know, I know – still kind of depressing sounding, just stay with me.

Because if the above is true, that means the reverse is also true. That even when we are experiencing what we perceive to be a low moment or wildly challenging time, we are also just a degree away from something shifting. How many situations in your life did you not have any clue how to get through, and then something came sailing at you from left field, and you caught it in the right moment and “saved the game?” (I cannot believe I just made a sports analogy…clearly anything is possible…) But you know what I mean?

I think the important thing in all of this is that…in times of struggle, making peace with the groundlessness might be a key to something sort of magical.

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okay-ness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom — freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.” – Pema Chodron

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So how do we practice letting go? Here are some things I’m going to be experimenting with…

  • Releasing the need to feel the “appropriate” emotions about a situation: sometimes, if we just allow ourselves to experience anger, sadness, or anything else we’ve labeled as a negative or unattractive emotion, we will be able to move through it more sanely than if we deny ourselves the process our body wants to go through
  • I say this one a lot, about many things, but it’s so true – reminding ourselves that nothing lasts forever, good or bad
  • Find a friend with a great sense of humor, and spend some time with them. This. Helps.
  • Reminding ourselves that feeling uncomfortable doesn’t actually mean that anything is wrong. It doesn’t mean that the world is ending. I think we live in a culture that is constantly trying to hit the “reset” button, and that our “normal mode” should be this thing called happy. But I just don’t think that’s how life works. Telling ourselves that we are actually perfectly ok when we aren’t “happy” can be freeing, and that release of pressure can help us stay rooted in the present moment
  • A gentle reminder to ourselves that our pain, our sadness, our anger, our confusion, our desire for control isn’t exclusively “ours.” This stuff has been rolling around in the universe for centuries, we just happened to have caught and connected with a strain of it in this moment. In time, it will pass. And then we’ll find it again, over and over and over. And maybe, instead of that being a bad thing…maybe it’s really just the beauty of being human

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ” Pema Chödrön

Sending heaps of love your way this week, Celebrationists.

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Week 80 – Little Bits of “What to Say”

Hi There, Celebrationists!

  1. I am grateful for the lovely, full, and energizing week off – and am excited to start rehearsing for Sondheim on Sondheim, tomorrow
  2. I am grateful to have some fantastic reading material on my hands at the moment. I’m working my way through Molly Crabapple’s Drawing Blood, William Seabrook’s Asylum, and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I’m usually a one-book-at-a-time kind of girl, but I’ve been cycling through all three of these with great interest and enthusiasm
  3. I am grateful for this wonderful recent gift – it’s an incredible collection, in every way

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Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “saying the right thing,when someone we care about deeply is going through a challenging time.

Do you sometimes find yourself at a loss for what to say, when a person you love is suffering? And perhaps at times this fear of saying “the wrong thing” keeps you from engaging at all?  Or engaging so unnaturally that you wonder if you’ve made matters worse for them, and then obsess over what might have been the perfect sentiment to have expressed?

When a friend, co-worker, or family member is struggling with:

  • A physical or mental illness
  • The loss of a job
  • Total aimlessness/loss of purpose
  • A break-up
  • The death of a loved one
  • Insert your own, here ___________________

Do you find yourself filtering through some of the following:

  • “Should I try to share a similar-ish experience, in an effort to make them feel not-so-alone?”No, I don’t want to make it about me, or for it to seem like I’m trying to take away from their pain and particular experience…but maybe it will HELP them…no. It won’t help them…
  • “Should I attempt to put a positive spin on their situation?”No, this could actually (without meaning to) be really insensitive, and the last thing I want to do is make light of their situation…but maybe a jolt of optimism would inspire them!…or send them deeper into a downward spiral…ugh
  • “Should I regurgitate every bit of potentially relevant inspirational material I’ve gleaned from the last twelve self-help books I read?” – (This is actually some version of my go-to, but can feel manic in the moment, and has wildly varying results)…ughh
  • “Should I allow myself to express emotion about their situation (as is my natural inclination) instead of holding back – showing them that their own emotions are valid, normal, and that I’m not scared to experience theirs?” No, because then they will likely feel the need to comfort me and calm me down, which is the opposite of the desired goal…ughhh
  • “Should I offer practical, un-emotional advice about how they might be able to help themselves cope in this situation?”No, because chances are they’ve already been through a retinue of options, are getting “advice” from everyone they’ve ever met, and I don’t want to insult their intelligence…or ability to research, or listen to their doctor…ughhhh
  • “I actually have some frame of reference for this terrible situation – should I tell them how much I understand, so they don’t feel alone?” – NO, because I’m not THEM, and I CAN’T understand fully, and it’s self-important to think that I could!…But there are these similarities, maybe it would help…NO, it WON’T help…Ughhhhh
  • “Should I offer one of those nice little trite but true cliches I’ve read on the internet, or that somebody told me at one point?” No, because they are trite for a reason. But…also  they are true for a reason…but does that make them meaningless and seem like I don’t actually care/am just reciting a thing I read? But I actually BELIEVE that one thing I read… Ughhhhhh….
  • The list goes on…

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So what to do?

I was chatting about this with a friend of mine who has been in remission for two years after a  tumultuous experience with breast cancer. One in two thousand women in their twenties are diagnosed with breast cancer, and she is one of those ladies (also, you should probably check out her blog – and by probably, I mean definitely). She offered some really interesting insight, as she dealt with many well-meaning humans who wanted to be present for her during a really awful time.  And – she just had to tell a lot of people, so she’s had plenty of practice dealing with reactions of all kinds, to this news. She said the responses that meant the most to her were from people who were able to stay themselves, and not change the nature of their relationship by reacting strangely and unnaturally. The people who were pretty bluntly honest in their reactions, as opposed to those who were precious about it. She offered that a response of “I don’t know what to say” is sometimes the best one, because it is the most honest.

The internet is filled with lists of “what to say, and what not to say,” right? When a person loses a loved one, when a person is in recovery, when a person has cancer…and well-intended as such collections are, I think the bottom line is that not one of these lists will be “right” for all of the people in all of the situations, 100% of the time. We are all beautifully complex webs of emotional wiring – it’s impossible that one method of coping will work wonderfully during all circumstances. This might seem like an obvious thing to say – something we all know on an intellectual level, but when we’re there in the moment with a person…what really is the best way to show that we care?

What I’m realizing is that possibly I’ve been asking myself the wrong question.

I think instead of obsessing over what is “the right thing to say,” it might be more useful to ask ourselves these kinds of questions:

  • Am I really listening to this person right now? Am I listening and observing in all the ways it is possible to? Clues in their body language, tone, their relationship to the words coming out of their mouths? Am I as fully plugged in as I’m able to be? Am I making it clear to them that I am listening, and have the appetite and eagerness to do so for as long as they have a desire for it?
  • Does it feel appropriate in this moment to ask thoughtful questions?
  • Why am I so uncomfortable? Is this making me question and ruminate on my own mortality, or planting other seeds of fear in me? What about all of this is making me feel fearful, in this moment? The sooner we can identify and get past our own discomfort, the sooner we can get back to being totally present in a way that is authentic and useful
  • Am I validating this person’s experience? Usually a decent indicator of this is, am I listening more than I’m talking? Am I offering acceptance of everything happening in this moment, without conditions? Am I reflecting their experience back at them in a thoughtful way?

And more than anything, I think it’s important to show up. We don’t have to be perfect to be there for someone. We don’t have to be an ethereal goddess of centered wisdom to let someone know that we support them unconditionally and validate their feelings of anger and sadness. We don’t have to be totally whole, ourselves. Being there, just as we are, can be enough.

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I’m also realizing that we are setting ourselves up for a hard time when we try to anticipate the needs of others in an obsessive way, because you know…I don’t know if we know what we need most of the time. Has somebody ever offered you a piece of advice, and you really take it to heart, appreciating and ruminating on it for awhile….and then a different person gives you the same advice in a different context and it feels hollow, or makes you want to fling something heavy across the room? We are changing every second. And especially in times of tragedy, we might crave a hug or sweet word in one moment, and find those things unbearable in another. So I think that showing up, preparing to be patient – with ourselves, with the situation, and with whatever comes up in our environment, is a great place to start.  Remembering that our love can be shown just as well in our silence as it can in our speech. That whatever words come out of our mouths – if they are from our most authentic self, there is nothing more “right” to say, than that.

And when in doubt, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you” might just be more comforting and normalizing than you realize.

Love to you all this week, Celebrationists xoxo

Also. I am now the owner of a deck of delightful affirmation cards. These are the two I drew for you this week, Celebrationists – enjoy them!

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Week 79 – Little Bits of Reactivity

Happy Monday, Celebrationists. Hope your week is off to a great start, already.

  1. I am grateful for the wonderful final performance of Our Town, and a lovely Valentine’s Day yesterday
  2. I am grateful for a dear friend who once taught me the best way to pack a suitcase or duffel bag, and ever since then, packing for any length of trip has been a DREAM (key: rolling, not folding)
  3. I am grateful for the music of Stephen Sondheim : ) And for the opportunity to do the musical review Sondheim on Sondheim, next!

Would you agree that many of us tend to be pretty reactive beings? That much of the time we respond immediately and emotionally to problems as they occur, instead of working harder and smarter to prevent them in the first place? That we are largely driven by our feelings about a thing, by outside circumstances, by whatever is going on around us – though intellectually we may “know” that we have the power of pause, and the ability to choose our reaction to any given situation, using logic, compassion, and our core values? Do you find yourself sometimes being more reactive than proactive? I think you’re not alone : ) It’s SO easy to be affected by our surroundings, and to respond accordingly. Grab your fuzzy slippers, stop beating up on yourself, and get comfy with me for a second.

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I’m not much interested in trying to write about how we transform ourselves into consistently proactive people. I think more than anything, it just takes a WHOLE MESS of practice and a willingness to “fail” over and over again. The ability to look ourselves in the mirror and remember that we have unlimited decisions when it comes to our response to any given situation, and that we don’t have to be slaves to our feelings, even if we have been for our entire lives and feel like it’s too late to change. That all sounds so nice on paper, right? But seriously, I think that like cultivating any new habit, it takes a great deal of time, and we just need to decide if we have the patience, and exhaustive desire to change…I really think that’s the only way it can happen. We have to want it bad enough. Our old ways of doing things are comfortable though – especially if many of the people around us live this way, too. I’m working on it right there with you, friends. But I digress.

What I really want to talk about is something with (I hope) a bit more levity. A bit more humor. Because if you’re anything like me, THAT’S what I need, when I’ve just been a reactive mean-head. If you’re having a hard time calling to mind the kinds of situations where you find yourself being the most reactive, it might be:

  • When in a disagreement with a loved one
  • Dealing with a coworker or superior, at work
  • When we learn about a conflict, illness, or unexpected setback
  • After any kind of criticism
  • After someone “ruins our day”
  • When we’re asked to do something we don’t want to do, or don’t feel like we should have to do
  • When we feel like everything is “getting worse” instead of better, despite our best efforts
  • When life feels unfair
  • You can probably add your own

After I have a reactive episode, the first thing that sets in for me, is guilt. A feeling of total failure as a human. A feeling of “I know better than this.” And yet, at the same time, though my brain is back on the right page, my body is still locked in that sad/angry/unpleasant emotional state. Have you ever experienced this? Where your BODY is just angry (or sad, or etc)??

Something that we’ve probably all heard before, but has been bringing me a great deal of peace lately, is the fact that nothing – including this negative feeling, our reaction to it, this moment…none of it is going to last. We’ve seen it time and again – an argument we obsess over for a week that barely matters in a month, or six months. An awkward situation with a friend or coworker that seems to repair itself in a matter of days…some things take longer, of course. Sometimes a resolution takes years. But mostly? So many of the day-to-day happenings that “set us off” will work themselves out so much faster than we expect. There’s a tiny bit of peace to be found in this kind of ephemeral nature of situations, isn’t there? As much as we might mourn the fact that certain beautiful, incredible, joyful parts of our lives won’t last forever, we can find peace in knowing that the unpleasantness won’t, either.

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The next time something makes steam come out of our ears, I wonder what would happen if we were able to remind ourselves, “This is passing. This is all passing.” I guess I just think about all the time we waste stroking negative narratives – the strings of moments spent stewing in negativity, sadness, or anger about something “the world (or someone in the world) has done to us,” when…how much time could we save ourselves by finding a tiny grain of good humor, and think about where we might be a week from now? If we remember that the very people who “hurt us” are probably, in all reality, doing the very best they can – and that we may have just been the recipient of something that THEY were reacting to. What if we were able to stop that chain of reactivity (because it really is a chain, isn’t it?) dead in its tracks? It’s like an emotional and energetic “Pay it Forward” system! The way we react to situations has a bigger impact on our fellow humans that we will probably ever fully realize. Don’t we all want to make that impact a positive one?

Have you ever seen the holiday classic A Christmas Story? For those of you who aren’t theatre-folk, this film was made into a stage musical in 2012, and the composers Pasek and Paul wrote a pretty fantastic (I think!) score, including this little gem of a song, that I often think about when I waste time reacting to something in an unhealthy or ridiculous way. Give it a listen, and also here are the lyrics.

Just Like That

Catch your breath and look around

There’s no monster waiting by

Nothing’s crumbling to the ground

Nothing’s tumbling from the sky

Notice how the world keeps turning,

Life goes on.

A moment comes,

A moment goes,

And just like that –

The moment’s gone.

If you slip and scrape your knee,

Think it’s never gonna heal,

In a day or two you’ll see

It’s just not that big a deal –

And you’re back to jumping,

Laughing

You’ve moved on –

The moment comes,

The moment goes,

And just like that

The moment’s gone.

So you felt like bursting

Somewhere deep,

Deep inside

And it overwhelmed you

So you cracked

So you cried –

But it passes in an instant,

Passes by so fast,

Don’t forget to remember these moments

Never last.

Notice how the world keeps turning

Life goes on

And just like that

The moment’s gone.

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Isn’t that lovely? Have a wonderful week Celebrationists!

Wek 78 – Little Bits of Worthiness

Happy Monday, friends.

  1. I am grateful for Richard Linklater films, and the good friend who is introducing me to them! If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, or Boyhood (I still need to watch Before Midnight… and everything else he’s ever created), I can’t recommend them with more enthusiasm!
  2. I am grateful for my upcoming short trip to NYC
  3. I am grateful for these two days off, which will be filled with a wonderful balance of work, theatre-seeing, book reading, long walks, Netflix watching, laundry-doing, and plenty of good coffee : )

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What’s been on your mind this week? This has been occupying a significant piece of real estate in mine…

The moments in our lives when we wish hard for something – put our desire out into the universe with all our being, do the work required of us (in whatever form it takes), and somehow “the thing” actually happens – but instead of reveling in relief, gratitude and wonderment, our dominant sensation is abject terror. Do you know this feeling? Maybe you’ve experienced it about:

  • a job (you get the offer you’ve been dreaming about for so long, or an even better one)
  • a relationship (you’ve specified for yourself the kind of partner you dream about, and then actually think you may have found him or her)
  • a health related issue (you’ve longed for healing, rehabilitation, or recovery and find yourself well on the journey)
  • some aspect of personal growth you’ve been striving for (you’ve been working at forming a new habit, and after some sweat, tears, and plenty of “failure,” you find that you’ve shed an unhealthy habit and formed a new one)
  • whatever you’ve been hoping for most

At some point or other we’ve all dreamt about some kind of good that we’d like to attract. And there’s so much to be said for that period of striving, working, and hoping, isn’t there? The anticipation. Probably there’s a fairly substantial part of us that wonders if “it” (whatever your particular and elusive “it” may be) will ever happen. So why the boot-quaking, when it does? Why can’t we just enjoy it?

I wonder how many of us actually believe we deserve the good we say that we want. So many people stay for years in:

  • jobs they hate
  • toxic relationships
  • unhealthy patterns
  •  “stuck” in some area of their lives

And why? For one thing, I think it’s at least comfortable there. And we spend a lot of our lives chasing one comfort or another, don’t we? I also think it can be hard to capture and believe fully in our own lovability, desirability, or aptitude/potential. I think it’s often easier to identify these these qualities in other people. I’ve started taking a hard look at the self-sabotaging I’ve done over the years, and have made a firm commitment to zone-in and give a hard look at my choices when I find myself walking down that familiar path. The path of doubt. The path of scarcity. The path of mistrust – of myself and the universe. Who knows what the “right answers” and “best, most effective methods” are, but here’s what I’ll be trying to remind myself, the next time I start rejecting the little bits of good in my world before I even have the chance to enjoy them:

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  • I really believe, deep down that the universe will only give us what we are ready for. If the universe is giving it to me – then I am ready for it.  When something seems too good, the happiness and excitement feels so positive that it’s painful, and I’m tempted to drift into a pessimistic cyclone of “Oh great, how am I going to mess this one up?” I’m going to do my best to cultivate a moment of pause, breathe, and remind myself – I am ready for this.
  • If I weren’t myself – if I were my best friend, how would I react to the situation? The new relationship, the job promotion, the growth? I would freak out with/for them in celebration! I would tell them how it’s been a long time coming. I would remind them of their hard work, fortitude, and lovability. Sometimes I think we could all stand to be a little better friend to ourselves.
  • When the “good thing” happens, spend some serious time in my gratitude journal, and explore the ways I can express gratitude for the new situation, in my daily life.
  • Continue the practice of cultivating joy about the accomplishments, beautiful relationships, growth, and little bits of good that others experience.
  • Remind myself that obsessing over whether or not I’m worthy of something good is, at its core, selfish and boring. I say that with kindness, and not with the harshness that it feels like to write. But think about it. It’s just as easy to think that we are as worthy as anyone else, as it is to engage with the self-important punishment that we are somehow unique, and the one human on the planet who is not worthy.
  • Throw myself into the new situation 100%. All in.
  • Gain some perspective. Consider the fact that the sensation I’m experiencing is not unique. That probably anyone who ever wanted anything and got it, has felt this same apprehension. I’m right where I should be, in my place in the universe of things.

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So join me, Celebrationists! Please join me in dreaming big, asking big, believing big – and then expressing big gratitude. Celebrating big. Remembering that this life is short, and we would be wise to grasp these moments of happiness and hang on for as long as we can, because everything in this life is temporary. And if we spend our time with these joys worryng about them,  they may be gone before we ever realize the beauty between our fingertips.

All my love, and celebration of whatever good you are most excited about in your world, right now!