Life, Creativity, Passion & Purpose

BUGS!! OVO Cirque du Soleil at The Maverik Center 

Daisy and I went to The (amazing) Leonardo museum and discovery center in Salt Lake City last week for an afternoon devoted to the life-cycle, the gaudy showy displays of nature, the subtle brilliance in even the most tiny contributors to the ecosystem -- and BUGS.  Which happens to be the thematic direction of the new Cirque du Soleil show creeping into town Feb 22-26th at the Maverik Center in SLC.  

The official word is this:  "OVO is teeming with life. Insects work, play, fight and look for love in a non-stop riot of energy in motion. Their home is filled with biodiversity, beauty, action and moments of quiet emotion. The awestruck insects are intensely curious when a mysterious egg appears, representing the enigma and cycles of their lives.  OVO is a headlong rush into a colourful ecosystem teeming with life.   Amazing Ants playing – no, JUGGLING -- their food!  Flexible Fleas Flinging their colorful bodies into the air!  Crazy Crickets!  Silky Spiders…hanging by a single thread, they spin their web of wonder."

But unlike some artistic forms, in which you find yourself reeeeealllly searching for those concepts beneath the actual resulting product, OVO's high-concept statements only nick the tip of the iceberg of what they accomplish in physical form.  The movement!  The color!  The VIBRANCE!  It reminded me of that complete loss of time as a kid when you discover a brightly-colored/fuzzy/prickly/sticky/slow but determined caterpillar -- and you can just BE with it, have it crawl on your hand, watch it as it goes about its purpose, completely oblivious to the schedules of the human giants around it.  OVO asks us not only to suspend disbelief and engage, but to jump through the looking glass with its performers to become part of a system that is usually far beyond our visual grasp and crowded imaginations.  

Years ago, I became really curious about why some performers were so compelling and others, while clearly talented, did NOT capture an audience's attention in the same focused way.  I came to the conclusion that we, as audience members, become most impressed and engaged when performers do something that we don't secretly believe we could someday do ourselves under the right circumstances.  

The conceptual artists, choreographers, dancers, acrobats, gymnasts. of OVO...they are all doing things that I quite suspect are beyond the scope of this lifetime for me. And thus they impress the CRAP out of me and utterly fascinate with their works.  But there is a freedom in it for those of us who want to try to be / have / become so much.  When we release the questions of "can I do that?" or of comparing ourselves with those who are beyond our greatest imagined possibilities, we LET GO and can just MARVEL at the abilities of the human body, the creative mind, the legions of participants that make extraordinary artistic and cultural and intellectual experiences possible.  We are WOWed.  We are left exhilarated and energized (and spent!).  We become part of that high-octane circuitry of idea into form WHICH IS ART and we are better conduits for it, stronger, clearer, bigger.  

I'm going to OVO with our trapeze-class-taking daughter so we can marvel and gasp and get excited and think differently not only about the microworlds around us, but the life-sized one that surrounds us.  

Who's with me?  

Has anyone seen OVO in a different city?  What did you think?  If you've seen other Cirque du Soleil shows, which was your favorite and why? 

Dropping Out of the Cult of Busy 

There comes a time when you just realize:  okay, that’s enough. 
 
For now, I respectfully have had enough running around, hyperscheduling, always muscling to reach some idea of full personal potential, and chronically chemically convincing my body and brain to be up or down or organized or alert or asleep. 
 
I release myself from the compulsion to try to be perfect at all of the many roles I inhabit (not that I have fooled anyone).  The constant endeavor is impractical, unnecessary, exhausting, and frankly, probably annoying to many of the people I imagine to be observing or judging me.  They probably haven’t even noticed my herculean efforts, having their own fish to fry (and crowd to impress).  
 
I’m ready to take a deep breath and jump off the racing train, to curtail the torrential downpour of information, to quietly let go of the million tendrils of possibility that ensnare and tempt me (often past their natural expiration dates).  It’s time to drop out of the cult of busy.
 
Being unceasingly busy -- using the term to define and sum up our lives – is the perfect ‘out’, right?  I couldn’t possibly dream of seizing the unexpected, veering off the path, taking a breath, because I’m so busy.  Realllllly busy.  Crazy, nuts, insane.  Slammed.  Jammed.  Overwhelmed.  Even the synonyms we use to describe our busy lives sound like a menace, like a defense, like a wall of chaos rising up to violently bury us.
 
Perhaps busy also serves as a means of keeping others out.  If I see my life as already full and my energies exhausted, I maintain an inpenetrable front.  I don’t need to be open to anything or anyone new.  I can opt out before I’m even asked.  I can evade challenges or uncomfortable emotions or disappointing someone or anything that asks me to be vulnerable or possibly feel crappy.  Nope.  I’m busy.  
 
I'm not saying it’s a lie, by the way.  Reporting that we’re busy is often an accurate description of our full schedules and commitments already in place.   And if a very brisk pace feels good and fulfilling for you, by all means, rock on.  It’s just that busy has turned a corner for me that feels dysfunctional.   It makes me see basic tasks of life as impositions.  I find myself wishing people would just text instead of leaving a voicemail, because listening and responding to a voice message seems to demand more energy, consideration, interaction.   I make a big dinner but can’t seem to clean the kitchen afterwards for days, as if the simple act of doing the dishes is too much.  There’s all this mustering.  
 
I find myself flustered, flapping around, making a big deal out of things in my head, making tasks more complicated or time-consuming than they need to be.  If MapMyRun tracked my route around the house on an average day, it would be one zig-ass-zaggy line, showing me doubling back in my own steps over and over.  There’s an embarrassing lack of consciousness in my movements that mirrors that of my mind lately.  I crave silence, and direction, and today lists with one or two things on them that really matter, instead of dozens of ones that may not. 
 
I watch Foster belly laughing and thrilled to the hilt, peaking, right before he grows overstimulated and overtired (and crabby and melted down).  I feel myself straddling that same threshold in situations within my own life, yet I’ve been lacking the discipline or self-awareness (or whatever it is) to gracefully bring what has been a great experience/ meal/ buzz/ project/ relationship to a natural end.   And so I get crabby and melt down.  It manifests in different ways, but leaves me off.   I get down, or cranky.  Or it's like I’m high, or dreaming, or haven’t slept or my blood sugar is low.  I become not quite myself, a little strange, a little floaty, untethered.   But this lack of groundedness also makes me disengaged, indecisive, and vaguely anxious.

So I’m dropping out.  
 
Maybe it’s a cliché, but I’m going to do a bunch of yoga, be more present with my friends and family, and choose more often to do one thing at a time.   I’m going to eat slowly and walk in the woods and watch the snow fall and play with our happy baby and witty daughter.  I’m going to go to bed earlier with my honey.  I’m going to write and play piano when I’m inspired to, instead of after every-other-possible-thing-I-need-to-do is done.  

I made a sign for the craft studio that says “I can do ANYTHING, but I can not do EVERYTHING.  Especially at once.”  So I’m going to take my own advice. 
 
Time to fill the well.    

Back To Life in the Time of Endings 

I had a teacher in fourth grade named Vicki Lowery.  Mrs. Lowery was cool because she was the lead singer in a rockin' country band (in fact, I think she STILL is, which is fairly astonishing) and she wasn't afraid to really engage and be kind of intense with us, which was okay, because if you really remember fourth grade, IT was kind of intense. 

I'm thinking of her lately because of a creative writing project we did in my class at St. Columba all those years ago.  We were to choose a picture and then write some kind of prose piece about it.  My photo was of a mountain scene in fall, probably not too far off from what I'm seeing all around me here in Utah this time of year.  The color in the scene was spectacular, and the mountain majestic and huge.  It was a big, loud nature moment, much different from the more subtle changes we generally experienced in nature in my little hamlet of Illinois.

I wrote my piece, highlighting something about all the "richest triumph of color" and how "this is the exuberant PEAK of nature's splendor."   And being a happily nerdy/wordy kind of girl even then, I turned it in and waited for a good grade and positive affirmation.   Instead, Mrs. Lowery just scribbled the pointed comment:  "Is it REALLY?," leaving me smack in middle of the brave new world of revisions.  

I was confused.  Had I not totally nailed the gist of the photo? And autumn itself?  What the ?!

So we talked about it, Mrs. Lowery and I, and she just sort of shrugged and said, "Well, autumn DOES have bright colors, but underneath that there's a lot of other stuff that's about death, and endings, you know?  Things closing down and curling up for winter...endings more than triumphs or peaks, in my opinion." And I got it.  Something changed in me, and I started looking harder for deeper, more real themes in whatever I was asked to examine, not just the ones that sounded good or were obvious from the surface.

And that brings me to here, in the middle of a gorgeous -- dare I even say exuberant Utah autumn -- and we're starting new chapters all over the place, Mark and I, and Daisy.  We're esconced daily in fresh, exciting details of new spaces and faces, all the while saying ready goodbyes to chapters that left us frustrated or saddened or constricted or tired.  

Which is the interesting rub.  For me, at least.  

Because now I'm seeing that below the surface meaning of things, yes, there IS usually a deeper, more universal theme, but there can also be very powerful personal ones that we may choose to nurture and recognize.  And though I have totally heard and agreed with you, Mrs. Lowery, that autumn is a time of closing down and endings, THIS fall I feel an aliveness in my core that signifies a different kind of beginning.  Maybe it's a beginning that won't take place for awhile -- just a whisper of something. . . a gesture of change or possibility -- but it's real and it's moving me forward and it feels good.  Definitive.  Like roots and strength.  Like hot coffee.  Like waking from a great nap.

See you soon.  And if I look different, it's 'cause I am. 

 






Fruits of hard labor... 

I've been digging deep, working through some hard stuff lately. Just HOW hard came to light earlier today when I discovered a top ten list of focus areas/intentions/goals from several months ago.  So much of the list seems to lack depth or real meaning, as if I were just killing time with tasks and light foci until something important enough came along to shake me awake.  And maybe it was.  And I definitely am now.  

It's funny, isn't it, how when we feel a hole inside us, an undefined emptiness, we look so hard to find a way to fill it with some external thing...?  (Or maybe this is just me!)  I tried anything I could think of -- self-medicating, distraction, thinking some wonderful thing or somewhere new might be the answer....I even (not-quite-consciously) blamed others for stealing some spark from me, for nicking the contentment or certainty I once had.  But none of those things worked.

It took a major crash to put real change in motion.  A burning lightning-bolt-through-the-gut kind of hit that left me not wanting to even eat, caffeinate, anti-depress, or ramble to my inner circle about it.  Nothing felt good.  No crutch seemed even close to bearing the weight of it. So everything stopped -- even, it seemed, time (I felt like I was in the fifth level of a dream in Inception for about a week there).

And in the vacuum of all those things I was no longer doing, new things rushed in.  Better things, mostly.  

Since being in my head often felt unbearable, I decided to try to be more in my body.  I started working out, more to shake off anxiety than anything else.  I'd known for months that I needed more regular exercise, yet I didn't do it.  Wouldn't do it.  But something moved me to begin.  And though I occasionally was that odd woman looking ready to cry on the eliptical machine or spinning bike, it eventually began to do something.  To move my internal energy around and shift stuff that has seemed stuck for a long time.  To strengthen both my physical self and my resolve, too.

I also returned to the practice of 'morning pages' (and afternoon and evening pages).  Just writing the shit out of it.  Pages upon pages of pulling at threads which once felt too sacred to tug, unravelling the tangles of my life so thoroughly that there's a real chance to completely reweave the whole thing.  And this new fabric-of-being feels like it can hold new strength and purpose, and better fit to who I am and who I'm becoming, which is such a critical glimmer of hope.  A 'sparkle in the fields at rest'...  

And the other unexpected thing is that after months (years?) of relative silence, I'm hearing and writing songs again. They're coming fast and furious, and somehow I'm in a place again to steward them into life, which makes me incredibly thankful. Some of them are really unlike work I've done before -- they're angry or sarcastic or they include profanity (in a tongue-in-cheek way, but wouldn't I still have to put a Parental Advisory sticker on my CD?  Oh lord.) -- but they're honest.  Raw.  Where I am. Where I have, apparently, needed to be for a while.  

I feel a little like I did when writing most of my "More Perfect World" record in 1998(?).  Melancholy.  Detached, but observant. Deeply flawed, messily human, and ridiculously willing to reveal my inner stuff.  I was doing a lot of music for "Dawson's Creek" then, and the show was a perfect foil to hide behind, thematically...these could be my thoughts and emotions, or they could be working from the teenage angst of the characters, right?  Well, let's set the record straight on that one:  all me.  Just apparently stuck in teenage-angst-y me, at an exceptionally convenient time for those songs to slot into place on the emotionally-driven show.   I am realizing a really good, successful, emotional show for these new songs would be very helpful.  I look forward to your suggestions.  :)

In any case, a new record has begun to take shape, and I'm very curious to see how it will flesh out.  I'm working hard to let things come through as they may, to not censor myself in the writing at all, which at this point is freaking me out a little (and may freak out a couple other people along the way too), but it's so good to feel creatively alive and in motion again.  

I hope you are feeling the same way, finding your own way, with new illumination and clarity about whatever you wish to uncover in those shadows we all know sometimes. 

Five things I'm thankful for today:
1.  The two dozen pink & red roses and two pretty candles on the piano.  Daisy said, "Mom!  The piano looks beautiful!  It's like a wedding!"  :)
2.  That Thanksgiving is coming and we're in a place/time/state of mind to recognize how thankful we really are (and should be) for our life and each other.  
3.  That Mark's sculpture looks SO cool and has come together exactly as he imagined.  (or at least as he described it to me..!)
4.  All the warm birthday wishes and wonderful, thoughtful, generous gifts I received earlier this month.
5.  That I feel able to act on inspiration with a sense of priority and clarity, after a long stretch of feeling largely directionless and uncertain. 



Creating in the Shadows: Navigating The Toxic Partner or Negative Friend 

I received the following question about negative and toxic people from a reader a few weeks ago and have been thinking about it quite a bit. Having certainly experienced the frustration she describes during various times in my life (even when I supposedly ‘knew better’ and recognized the relationship between my own energy and the events and characters around me), it strikes me as a good topic for discussion. So please, if you’ve been there too, share your comments, ideas, and stories -- I’m interested in how many other people find this a concern, and also am so excited to hear how you may have approached and made progress on the issue. (Many thanks to L.P. for your provocative question.)


Q: My question is about negative and toxic people.  I have no trouble being energetically uplifted, happy, positive and so forth.  My problem is that so many of the people around me are in a negative space.  How do you deal with a negative husband or partner, or very close friend?  It is really hard to be patient.   I am good at compromising, but he is really stuck in the lack energy.  I can see us leaving this space and being very prosperous, but it is like dancing with someone you have to drag around the floor.  What are your thoughts on this?

A: L., I hear you.  And I love your dancing metaphor -- it really describes the feeling. . . !

I, too, am generally a pretty upbeat, happy, positive person, and there have been times where I wondered if this vibe was acting as some kind of beacon to all the heavy/downbeat/bummed-out characters who occasionally gravitate toward me. When fully surrounded, I sometimes find myself inspired to redouble my efforts, pushing the positive agenda even harder, getting chirpier and even more determined in my choice of a sunny worldview. (Have not had a lot of luck with that approach, fyi.)

Like you, I then turn to examining own attitude and energy: I try to take note of where I might be more patient, where I could compromise, where I can work on my own thoughts and focus and stop concentrating on areas where I’m unhappy. This can work! Sometimes. If it doesn’t, I might direct my efforts into cajoling, coaxing, acquiescing, validating, or even ignoring the person or the negative behaviors and comments. Still, sometimes negativity persists (and can drive you crazy). If you’re deeply involved with a very negative or toxic person, what’s really going on?

When faced with a toxic person in my life, I’m pulled -- as many of us creative people are -- to try to fix the energy, to analyze and resolve the problems, to single-handedly shift the vibe for ourselves and everybody else!   But sometimes a little detachment can go a long way, whether that means creating some space or seeing things in a different way.

Here are a few questions/thoughts/ideas about how to reframe a situation in which someone close to you is mired down in negativity.

Is it possible that it’s not about you?
Because it may not be about you.  At all.  If the negative person in your life is going through an exceptionally emotionally or physically stressful time -- i.e. moving, grieving, post-partum depression, menopause, a mid-life crisis, caring for an aging parent, changing careers, going through a divorce or bankruptcy, whatever -- there can be dramatic shifts in behavior, values, attitude, and self-identity.  Major transitions in life often spur massive internal shake-ups, stirring up questions and changes that need time and personal space to resolve.  When someone we love is in pain, the helplessness we feel can be overwhelming (along with the desire to fix-and-solve-and-get everything back to normal), but pulling out of make-it-better mode may be the only path that allows healing.

If you’re unsure of the real issue at hand, go ahead and ask your partner or friend what’s wrong or what’s going on, and be open to an authentic answer.  Ask what you can do to help, and then do it. Give space and time. Use that extra time and energy to focus on parts of yourself and life that have been neglected.


Is it possible that you are getting something out of someone else’s negative attitude or behavior?   (Whaaaaaat?  Me???)
Could it be that some part of you actually likes being around a terribly negative person, because it supports your opposite self-identity as a positive, upbeat person?  

My friend C. always seems to be on the brink of disaster.  Whether it’s money, her love life, or career, there’s usually something serious and dramatic afoot.   Mark used to wonder aloud why I spent time with her when her life always sounded like such a mess.  It hit me one day:  I loved being her confidante and counselor because it means I must know what I'm doing!  It makes me feel together and wise to hear her stories of a life in such disarray. . . in contrast, mine only seems mildly disheveled.  I always come home from time with C. feeling extra-thankful for my honey and current projects.

There might be other payoffs.  Maybe having a negative villain supplies an external reason for not making progress in specific areas of YOUR life.  It can be a huge relief to avoid holding responsibility for our own lives, especially when they’re not working particularly well.

Perhaps the most uplifted of us participate in a negative orbit as a form of self-protection.  If we choose a friend or partner who will absolutely not merge with our positive point of view, we can keep ourselves safe from potentially uncomfortable facets of intimacy and vulnerability.  By choosing to stay isolated in an ‘oblivious happy bubble,’ never acknowledging weakness, fear, or struggle, we blind ourselves to the full spectral range of life -- especially the scary dark and painful sides.  Life is defined by contrast; it grays and dulls without it.  It’s both empowering and energizing to learn to recognize frustrations and challenging issues in your life without becoming overwhelmed or engulfed in them.


Is it possible you’re experiencing a shift in the scale?
There is a natural balance, a yin and yang in the dynamics of our closest relationships.   As we seek this equilibrium, it’s the imbalances that take place (in things like vulnerability, fortitude, support, or confidence) that deepen bonds, show that we care for one another, and demonstrate multiple sides of an issue.  We need to need each other from time to time.  The way we reach this balance of needing and being needed can be subtly delicate or dramatically rocky, and we tend to choose the method we find most satisfying. (You may be surprised at what your subconscious finds satisfying, by the way.)

I have a dear friend, Jill, whose infectious smile and consistently upbeat energy is nothing short of spectacular.  When we began growing close, I noticed a strange tendency in our conversations; I frequently found myself taking a pessimistic view, settling into a more mellow energy than I usually felt.  I didn’t care for it one bit.  What's wrong with me?  Why am I being such a downer?  I wondered.  Over time, I’ve grown to interpret my behavior as a balancing mechanism in my identity and our friendship.  With Jill energetically ‘holding up the fort,’ I felt I could finally relax and admit misgivings or doubt in a way that felt refreshing and honest.  And I can do the same for her, in her rare weak moments.  Perhaps the person really getting on your nerves is merely needing you in a way that’s never happened before, relying on your energy to hold up the fort.  Hopefully the bond you’re forging as you work through difficult times will conversely support you in the future, too.


Can you step back and laugh, cry, or consider your situation as if it were a fairytale?
Are there absurdities that you’re missing because you’re so darn serious?  I remember when Mark and I brought Daisy home from the hospital after her arduous birth and first few days of life.  We were exhausted, just wanting to get home, and she began wailing at the top of her lungs. We looked at each other with concern and uncertainty, then both suddenly burst out laughing.  We had no idea what to do, what she needed, what was happening -- and it suddenly seemed ridiculous that they had given the responsibility for this child over to us.  It was either laugh or cry.  So we laughed.

Are you both holding back the floodgates, wishing for the catharsis that a fair fight or good cry might offer?  Many a friendship has disintegrated over a misunderstanding or assumption.  We spiritually-enlightened types pride ourselves on being patient and willing to compromise, but these strengths of character turn to flaws when they lead to overblown silence or resentment.  It’s hard to press for confrontation, but you can be brave.  Gently lure the monster out in the open, where at least you can figure out what you’re dealing with.

Where are the two of you like characters in a story?  What archetypes might you represent?  Are you the loving, sweet innocent babe being unfairly victimized by an evil step-mother, mother-in-law, or big-bad-wolf?  Are you the brilliant artist yearning to be free, kept from your adventurous destiny by your plodding, sensible spouse?  If so, try flipping roles in your imagination for a moment.  Could you compassionately tell the same story, walking through the exact same incidents or comments, except from the opposite point of view?  How might you interpret things differently when released from your usual role? (Carolyn Myss’ book “Sacred Contracts”  explores this concept in great depth.)

Or are you on a hero’s journey, walking through a valley of loneliness and isolation?  What is the landscape of your dreams -- how does it look, feel, smell, sound?  If it were up to you to guess (or decide) the length of your trip, how long will it take you to get there?  Defining our life in sensory metaphors can allow us to see our path with some distance and objectivity.  (See Colleen Baron-Reid’s new book, “The Map” for more in-depth discussion of emotional landscapes.)   Some imaginative contextual layering might help create relief from the powerful knee-jerk protective responses that we experience when feeling threatened by a toxic person or situation. 

~~~~~~~~

As I read this over, I feel a wave of ‘buts’ coming over me.  

I’ll bet there are some doozy stories out there of the many ways a negative person can completely suck the joy out of life, even if you're a champion 'reframer' of tough times. I know there are probably many situations in which none of these strategies will make a whit of difference, and how hard it is to try something else when you’re already drained and exhausted.  

At the end of the day, however, I’m still inspired to try.   Maybe because there’s just the slightest possibility that I’VE been the pain in the ass and I hope I’ve been met with understanding.  Or maybe because it just feels better to have a strategy sometimes than to not have a strategy.
 
Good luck.  Keep calm and carry on.  Play with kids or pets.  Find joy where you can.  Trust that this too will pass.  Pat yourself on the back for being such a hero.  Meditate if you want.  Scream in your car if that’s better.  Lock the door and drink a glass of wine in your bubble bath.  You deserve it.

And as much as you can, create a better world for yourselves and the ones you love.

Three Starter Exercises for Writing a Dramatic Memoir 

I was texting with Susan earlier (as is the custom of people like her in her twenties.   Me?  I'd rather pick up a phone.  But times change...), discussing how she might get started on her book project -- her journey through addiction and recovery as a college student.  The more we bounced ideas back and forth, the more I wondered if there were some ideas that might be helpful for other writers too.
      Dramatic memoirs cover all kinds of territory:  body image, sexuality, abuse, addiction, relationships.  Maybe you experienced a big life event -- a house burning down, an extraordinary animal touching your life, a major life accomplishment at an unusual age. . . if you wish to process an experience or accomplishment in a really thorough, satisfying, and "witnessed" way, memoir is an amazing way to do it.
      Whatever your desired terrain, if you feel you have a story to tell, there's a gift for you in the telling (as well as for the reader in the reading!).  If you've been putting off writing your memoir, maybe these kick-off exercises can help you start moving forward and creating momentum.
     Here are three things to get you rolling on the story that you (and only you) are meant to tell.


Three Exercises for Starting Your Dramatic Memoir 

1.  DEFINE your audience, DEFINE your message. 
Definition Exercise:  Start by writing a letter to your ideal reader -- speak to them casually and honestly, and tell them three things:  why you're writing this story or instruction, what they can expect to get out of it, and what kind of things you're going to cover.

Definition Exercise -- alternate option:  If you're having trouble figuring out who your reader is, write this letter to a younger version of yourself.  Tell yourself the things you wished you would have known back in the day.  Tell it as if you only want to save yourself hassles and unwieldy lessons you'd rather not have had to learn personally.  [From an energetic point of view, you're actually (somehow) helping your younger self in a real way by doing it from this perspective.  It might sound a little 'out there', but the shamans have been working with the idea of parallel selves for centuries.]


2.  Use CONTRAST for drama, validation, and suspense.
Contrast Exercise:  First, write a page about a time when you were in deep trouble with your topic.  Write about when things were a MESS -- when your assumptions were leading you down terrible paths, you were broke, you were unsuccessful, you were ready to tear your hair out -- any time when things were hugely challengin.  Be crazy honest with the details and crappiness of the whole situation.  Readers respond to authenticity, and they'll sense sugar-coating in a second.  
     After you've done this, write a page about a moment when your natural state or your enhanced knowledge, success, skills, confidence -- whatever -- had you in a place free of chaos and full of contentment.
     Then look at ways you might play these contrasting versions of yourself against each other.  Maybe you could structure your project so that it starts out with a scene of you in complete embarrassment or distress, then flashback to a time when everything was smooth;  the bulk of your story might be how one situation morphed into the other.  Or perhaps, you'll start out with a description of the near-ideal life you're leading now, and work backwards to show how it wasn't always this way.


3.  Get comfortable with showing your VULNERABILITIES. 
One worry many of us writers have is that we need to have all the answers.  We need to not only be able to write about life (we imagine), but to also instruct on it.  You don't need to be perfect.  You don't need to have all the answers, or know all the hows around what happened, or even to do extensive research on the why's.
     Just tell your story.  Be honest.  The truth disarms and enthralls the reader.  And the truth is enough.  Any more or any less is too much and too little.  Include details.  You'll think they won't mean anything to anyone else, but you're mistaken.  They mean everything -- they're the way that a reader will shockingly note that "oh my God, this is ME I'm reading about."
     Release the idea that your parents, friends, or anyone else will read this and judge you.  They're either already judging you, or they don't give a damn, or they love you and will appreciate your journey more for knowing you better.  They probably know (or suspect) more about your past than you think, anyway.  Set the record straight.  Let it be a morality tale, if there are some really sordid parts.  Give your parents a "censored version" with some pages ripped out, if you're really that concerned about their responses.
      Vulnerability Exercise:  Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper.  On one side, list things that make you feel good about yourself.  On the other side, list things that make you feel bad/ vulnerable/ embarrassed/ ashamed about yourself.  When your lists are complete, show where your self-esteem and difficult life experiences are connected by drawing lines that show where elements from the "vulnerability side" lead to elements on the "feel good" side.
      Most lingering vulnerabilities have a resonance in our present life that can be positive;  if we feel resolutely crappy about something, perhaps we haven't invested the time in acknowledging its lesson or gift.  (i.e. Maybe your stuttering as a child led to your being an excellent listener as an adult.  Maybe your money screw ups as a twenty-something led to a wisdom and consciousness with money that serves you now.)
      If you have trouble finding the connection, play with the idea that you are a character in the story of your life.  Ask yourself why you might put a specific obstacle / flaw / villain into the life of your character.  What could they learn or gain from it?  How could they grow from it's presence?  See if this offers any insights into the 'story' you hold as your own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Most importantly, just START.  Start jotting down snippets of things you want to include in a memoir -- parts of conversations, images, details -- anything that would create a fuller view of your life in the moments you choose to share.  Throw them in a box if you can't get to them now, or start a doc on your computer with an innocuous name if you're worried about snoopers.  Start an anonymous blog to really organize your thoughts in an archival way.

If you have a story to tell, start deciding how you're going to tell it.  The world is waiting.

xo
mb

Five Things I'm Thankful For Today:
1.  The nice rain all afternoon.
2.  Daisy's cool drawings (suddenly representational!) of animals today.
3.  The midday bubble bath.
4.  Our impromptu pizza gathering at Daly on Thursday.
5.  The adventure of considering ourselves in different homes and what each one means, feels like.

Three Starter Exercises for Writing a Dramatic Memoir 

I was texting with Susan earlier (as is the custom of people like her in her twenties.   Me?  I'd rather pick up a phone.  But times change...), discussing how she might get started on her book project -- her journey through addiction and recovery as a college student.  The more we bounced ideas back and forth, the more I wondered if there were some ideas that might be helpful for other writers too.
      Dramatic memoirs cover all kinds of territory:  body image, sexuality, abuse, addiction, relationships.  Maybe you experienced a big life event -- a house burning down, an extraordinary animal touching your life, a major life accomplishment at an unusual age. . . if you wish to process an experience or accomplishment in a really thorough, satisfying, and "witnessed" way, memoir is an amazing way to do it.
      Whatever your desired terrain, if you feel you have a story to tell, there's a gift for you in the telling (as well as for the reader in the reading!).  If you've been putting off writing your memoir, maybe these kick-off exercises can help you start moving forward and creating momentum.
     Here are three things to get you rolling on the story that you (and only you) are meant to tell.


Three Exercises for Starting Your Dramatic Memoir 

1.  DEFINE your audience, DEFINE your message. 
Definition Exercise:  Start by writing a letter to your ideal reader -- speak to them casually and honestly, and tell them three things:  why you're writing this story or instruction, what they can expect to get out of it, and what kind of things you're going to cover.

Definition Exercise -- alternate option:  If you're having trouble figuring out who your reader is, write this letter to a younger version of yourself.  Tell yourself the things you wished you would have known back in the day.  Tell it as if you only want to save yourself hassles and unwieldy lessons you'd rather not have had to learn personally.  [From an energetic point of view, you're actually (somehow) helping your younger self in a real way by doing it from this perspective.  It might sound a little 'out there', but the shamans have been working with the idea of parallel selves for centuries.]


2.  Use CONTRAST for drama, validation, and suspense.
Contrast Exercise:  First, write a page about a time when you were in deep trouble with your topic.  Write about when things were a MESS -- when your assumptions were leading you down terrible paths, you were broke, you were unsuccessful, you were ready to tear your hair out -- any time when things were hugely challengin.  Be crazy honest with the details and crappiness of the whole situation.  Readers respond to authenticity, and they'll sense sugar-coating in a second.  
     After you've done this, write a page about a moment when your natural state or your enhanced knowledge, success, skills, confidence -- whatever -- had you in a place free of chaos and full of contentment.
     Then look at ways you might play these contrasting versions of yourself against each other.  Maybe you could structure your project so that it starts out with a scene of you in complete embarrassment or distress, then flashback to a time when everything was smooth;  the bulk of your story might be how one situation morphed into the other.  Or perhaps, you'll start out with a description of the near-ideal life you're leading now, and work backwards to show how it wasn't always this way.


3.  Get comfortable with showing your VULNERABILITIES. 
One worry many of us writers have is that we need to have all the answers.  We need to not only be able to write about life (we imagine), but to also instruct on it.  You don't need to be perfect.  You don't need to have all the answers, or know all the hows around what happened, or even to do extensive research on the why's.
     Just tell your story.  Be honest.  The truth disarms and enthralls the reader.  And the truth is enough.  Any more or any less is too much and too little.  Include details.  You'll think they won't mean anything to anyone else, but you're mistaken.  They mean everything -- they're the way that a reader will shockingly note that "oh my God, this is ME I'm reading about."
     Release the idea that your parents, friends, or anyone else will read this and judge you.  They're either already judging you, or they don't give a damn, or they love you and will appreciate your journey more for knowing you better.  They probably know (or suspect) more about your past than you think, anyway.  Set the record straight.  Let it be a morality tale, if there are some really sordid parts.  Give your parents a "censored version" with some pages ripped out, if you're really that concerned about their responses.
      Vulnerability Exercise:  Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper.  On one side, list things that make you feel good about yourself.  On the other side, list things that make you feel bad/ vulnerable/ embarrassed/ ashamed about yourself.  When your lists are complete, show where your self-esteem and difficult life experiences are connected by drawing lines that show where elements from the "vulnerability side" lead to elements on the "feel good" side.
      Most lingering vulnerabilities have a resonance in our present life that can be positive;  if we feel resolutely crappy about something, perhaps we haven't invested the time in acknowledging its lesson or gift.  (i.e. Maybe your stuttering as a child led to your being an excellent listener as an adult.  Maybe your money screw ups as a twenty-something led to a wisdom and consciousness with money that serves you now.)
      If you have trouble finding the connection, play with the idea that you are a character in the story of your life.  Ask yourself why you might put a specific obstacle / flaw / villain into the life of your character.  What could they learn or gain from it?  How could they grow from it's presence?  See if this offers any insights into the 'story' you hold as your own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Most importantly, just START.  Start jotting down snippets of things you want to include in a memoir -- parts of conversations, images, details -- anything that would create a fuller view of your life in the moments you choose to share.  Throw them in a box if you can't get to them now, or start a doc on your computer with an innocuous name if you're worried about snoopers.  Start an anonymous blog to really organize your thoughts in an archival way.

If you have a story to tell, start deciding how you're going to tell it.  The world is waiting.

xo
mb

Five Things I'm Thankful For Today:
1.  The nice rain all afternoon.
2.  Daisy's cool drawings (suddenly representational!) of animals today.
3.  The midday bubble bath.
4.  Our impromptu pizza gathering at Daly on Thursday.
5.  The adventure of considering ourselves in different homes and what each one means, feels like.

Our Collective Creative Future 


I was reading the "Rise of the Tablet" piece in Wired Magazine the other day, and there was a section where a number of people-in-the-know remarked about how the tablet would change the world. It got me thinking about all the ways our creative pasts and futures are constantly changing because of technology. Every day, it seems there are new ways we can create, chronicle, connect, communicate, comment . . . if the blank page sometimes seems daunting, perhaps the blank screen -- with all its potential opinionated audiences -- is destined to become even more so. 


The Universal Peanut Gallery
This started me thinking about the concept of collective book responses -- digital 'scribbling' in the margins by the masses -- that in theory could become part of the ebook reading experience. Will we begin to share thoughts in increasingly narrow territory -- lending our thoughts on chapters, lines, or phrases to anyone who's interested? Will you soon have the choice to import my (and anyone else's) underlines/bookmarks/comments as part of a universal readership community? Will we get to select "pre-readers" with whom we feel most aligned, so as to have our reading guided in the direction that we prefer (much like we currently choose our form of news coverage)? 

I'm not against sharing opinions and information. Right now, many of us delight in the fairly new ability to instantly remark to each other on the products, links, videos, and images on our Facebook pages and blogs. We leave comments on commercial sites about the products we liked (or more likely, didn't like). We tweet about a meal as we're eating it, a show as we're seeing it. Which is fine. But here's the rub: the lag time between experience and the construction of our responses is shortening. There's increasing pressure to decide / give a verdict / comment on everything, even before the experience is complete. Will future watchers ever even get to the end of that Robert Altman movie with the brilliant ending that somehow ties everything together in an imaginative, unexpected way? Will gallery shows that get panned early miss out on the reviewers that might have found it thrilling? 

Are we headed toward a kind of "race" to set the opinion on a piece? Are we already there? Is there room for pieces other than the best-sellers, the most-emailed, the top downloads?

A Morality Tale from the Music Business
I remember getting my first Shawn Colvin album in 1992. I'd bought the CD before my waitress shift at Tommy Nevin's in Evanston, and after work, I rushed home to listen to it. I had to lay with my head kind of hanging off the side of my bed so that the headphones could reach my stereo. I listened to the whole Fat City album that way, contorted but enthralled by the way Colvin used her voice and lyrics. I felt I kind of knew her after listening to the whole record. The last song, "I Don't Know Why," was a quiet and spare one, and immediately became part of my set at the coffeehouse where I'd started performing regularly. It's still one of my favorite songs.

Today, I would probably go to iTunes and look up Shawn Colvin. A screen would automatically pop up with the most popular downloads. I'd likely click on a few of those and choose some to add to my playlist. I wouldn't even see, "I Don't Know Why," let alone hear it. 

There's something to be said for respecting the arc of a complete collection of music (or painting show, or book of stories, or anything else). We don't respect the vision, this arc, unless we allow ourselves to have a full creative experience before being pulled out of the moment in order to comment on it. In theater, audiences are expected to "suspend belief" in order to become fully immersed in the imagination of the moment. Perhaps we might develop a practice of suspending artistic judgement in a similar way.

In the music industry, there used to be business cycles alternately more dependent on the "Album model" or the "Single Model." The album model hinged on the idea that a band or artist had a full album of very high-quality songs -- if not a hooky single -- and lifetime of quality work ahead; record companies trusted that buyers would fall in love with an artist and continue buying their albums over time (artists like James Taylor and Billy Joel would fit this description). The single model focused more on the one-hit-wonder -- the band that had one terrific song that might go huge! but perhaps they didn't have the chops to follow up with a career's worth of other material. (Many sixties' war song one-hit-wonders and fifties' duwop hits would be in this category.) There is a place for both kinds of music in our lives -- we all enjoy an instantly catchy song, and I believe (well, I hope) there's also a craving for the deeper, more resonant songs that might take a few listens to really understand. Dessert and dinner, right? We enjoy both. 

But for the last several years, we've been in a hard and determined single model cycle. With the advent of single-song downloads and the often anonymous transfer of a favorite track from one friend to another, the music industry has discovered that you can't live on dessert.  It's a mess.  Even the veterans who've been shouting from the rooftops that we need to cultivate longer-term acts aren't heard.  We're so full on one dessert after another that we've lost our appetite for dinner. 

As Creators
We can find innovative ways to keep our readers/listeners/viewers engaged as long as we feel its necessary for the piece. We can opt out of importing others' opinions and insights until we've had a chance to develop our own. We can resist the urge to instantly publish the snap judgements we may ourselves make about other people's works. 

Think of it as good posting karma. 

Be well. Make cool stuff. See you soon. 

Best wishes, 
mb

Five Things I'm Thankful for Today:
1. My wifi connection hasn't gone out in the middle of anything critical -- yah!
2. A cool Haro opportunity that's coming to fruition -- thanks mtl!
3. The prospect of a nap in an hour or two.
4. Being back in Utah after a long visit in Chicago.
5. Possibilities, keeping me energized and excited.

Why Does Creativity Matter? 

Everyday we get thousands of media messages about how to be more healthy, more attractive, more loved, more respected.  We get why these traits matter, right?  Evolutionarily, our reptilian brains are programmed to want to survive, to want to reproduce, be a valued part of the clan.  But as we have (hopefully) evolved more as a human race, new desires come up.  We want to find meaning and purpose in our lives.  We want to matter.  We want to use our unique consciousness to affect our environments and the patterns of our days.  And this is where creativity comes in.  

Creativity matters because:

1.  Creativity demands intention.  It asks that we make choices to support a vision.  It's not the paint that makes a room look fun and creative, it's the choices of color, texture, design, and mood that the painter made.  The painter had a vision and then made the choices to support that vision.  People who claim they 'just aren't that creative' are more likely to be a bit afraid than uncreative, I think.  If we are hesitant to claim our visions for ourselves (both in the senses that we 'own' them and that we'll take responsibility for bringing them to life), it's likely that big creative happenings won't be taking place in our gardens, kitchens, and laptops.  Be BRAVE.  OWN your inspired ideas.  And make the choices to allow them to show WHO YOU ARE and WHERE YOU'RE GOING.  It's okay.  You'll be okay.   (You'll be better than okay!)

2.  Creativity helps us filter the overwhelming amount of information we get each day.  We live in a world where we're exposed to billions of bits of information every day.  We're surrounded by media:  there's whatever's on TV, the passive scrolling through the never-ending feeds on Facebook or Twitter, the radio or news chattering on in the car or cafe.  We can move through our days in a laid-back mode of reacting to what media happens to find us, or decide that we'll MAKE (or create) something of the day, the hour, the moment by looking for what we're inspired to find.  We can choose what we wish to learn about or what question we want to resolve for ourselves.  And then we can decide what to DO with that information.  "But what if I miss something?" You ask.  "What if something I'm supposed to know doesn't get to me because I filtered it out...?"   Anything you need to know will find you.   It will find you faster if you're not anesthetized by constant excess information.  When you are very clear about what you want to do, be, or have, it's like the universe sets up a Google Alert to tell you exactly how to find whatever you need for your next steps.  Trust that if you leap, there will be one great big fat pile of information to cushion your fall in exactly the right way.

3.  Creativity is fun, dammit!   Why go through life in the rote, bland, predictable way we could, when there are so many fantastic ways to customize it and make it our own most delightful way?  I've heard there are over 87,000 possible ways to order a beverage at Starbucks, yet how many people order virtually the same thing every time they walk into their favorite cafe?  Reach out.  Try something new.  Shake it up.  Be less predictable, especially to yourself.  Surprise yourself by answering, "Sure!" when you'd normally deflect.  Let your inner nutty teenager take over from time to time and do something silly and dorky and laughable.  If you don't explore, you don't know if where you are is where you want to be.  Unclench!  Very few of the things that seem so important to us today will cause even a blip in the memories of our lives five years from now.  Make your rooms and your food and everything else pretty and fun and representative of your fabulous self!  You are worth it and wonderful!

4.  The time you take for creativity returns to you in increased energy.  When we are clear about what we want and open to new things, we are able to infuse our lives and spaces with freshness and vibrant energy.  We can use classic creative tools -- color, sound, arrangement, aroma, texture -- to personalize what makes us feel GOOD.  And when we feel good, it's hard to hold onto our overwhelmed, pouting, martyr-y persona who doesn't want to do anything or go anywhere.  When we're happy, we feel more willing to take chances and be generous to ourselves and others.  So go make yourself happy.  Buy the flowers.  Turn on the music that makes you sing along.  Light the candle, put on the good sheets, eat something insanely delicious, and leave any snag of guilt behind.  This is for your mental and energetic health.

Now go kick some creative ass.  : )


Five things I'm thankful for today:
1.  More people joining the FB Kick-Ass Creative page everyday -- I love the new comments!
2.  The catching up I've been able to do all morning.  Ahhhhh, sigh of delight and relief.
3.  The lunch I'm going to have in about ten minutes.
4.  Daisy's sweet hugs this morning.
5.  My swanky Gucci glasses from Dena.  Loving them, and feeling very intellectual!

Digital quagmire 

Okay, so being as right-brained as I happily am most of the time, I tend to leave the intensely linear/left-brained tasks of life undone as long as possible.  Add to this that I'm a fan of doing the fun parts of any task FIRST, both because I think it's the right thing to do energetically, as well as because it's the FUN PART.

Managing my social networking has put me in this spot over the last few days.  I like the reading, relating, interesting posts and links of being on Facebook and Twitter, etc, but keeping up with the many places we can gather in the modern world can get heavy.  I don't want to write for the sake of just writing. . . I want to share something that feels germane to share, to do the inspired thing, not the should/must/have to of communicating because it's what everyone else is doing or tells us we need to be doing.

Even the tools meant to help us manage social media have me in a digital quagmire.  I can link my site to post updates on FB and Twitter, and have FB and Twitter update feeds on my sites, and I can coordinate some online spots to grab the info from an upcoming event or appearance in one swooping click, but NOT ALL.  So I'm trying to remember which sites have info from which other sites, which ones do I need to update manually, which do I (uh oh) already have an auto-update mode set up that I might have forgotten about that is going to create an endless loop of posting and notifying somewhere else.  Ugh.  I know the easy solution might seem to be to hire someone talented at these things (a grade-school kid in my neighborhood sounds better suited to it than I feel right now) but I want to do it myself, be able to do it without an intermediary.

I've made this big fun colorful flow chart trying to map out what's going where and what's updating what, but I'm still trying to sort it all out.  Anyone with any insights on this, please HELP.  I love you already.  : )

Five Things I'm Thankful For Today:
1.  That I got in a good workout today, even though it's the kind of day that makes you want to burrow.
2.  That Mark is making such great progress on some big house projects!
3.  That Daisy seems back to her sweet self after a couple weird whiney days.
4.  That the library's guinea pig, "Sweet Pea" was so friendly and curious about Daisy.
5.  That it's May.  New www.astrologyzone.com forecast posted -- I love those!

Stay in the Loop

We'll send you cool info. We'll never sell the list, ever. Let's hang out!