What Would You Create???


I can’t contain it any longer! I HAVE to tell you:

I’m taking the step I’ve been dreaming of for more than a decade and I’m creating something new! And the best part? The thing I am creating will support you in your creating, too!!!

For the past ten years, I have been the primary support person for a full-time, professional artist. That experience taught me a lot: especially about how showing up every day for your creative work—which is really about showing up for yourself and your purpose in the world—can help you accomplish more than you can imagine. I met many artists and witnessed that everyone, no matter how accomplished and experienced, has self-doubts and fears, and that LIFE HAPPENS to all of us, no matter who we are. We can’t control all the variables, such as when a family member or cherished pet will get sick, a tree will fall on our house, an ice storm will take out our electricity for a week, or a traffic jam will cause us to miss that appointment that was so difficult to arrange in the first place. But we can manage our responses to those things, remember what’s important to us, and surf the waves! Those ten years also taught me that I’m pretty good at helping someone watch for hazards and keep the surfboard under her while she paddles into new waters.

Last week I posted on Facebook a one-question survey asking, “What keeps you from being your creative best?” and I got some GREAT responses. Thank you for that! What your answers helped me confirm is that our internal struggles—fear, our inner critic, perfectionism, procrastination, self-doubt, and even the sheer number of ideas and interests we have—far outweigh the external factors that we so readily blame for keeping us from doing the things we long to do.

Everything you have ever wanted, is sitting on the other side of fear

I have struggled with all of these things myself. In fact, I still struggle with them because the reality is, they never really go away, you just get better at managing your response to them.

And that’s the thing: I want to help you get better at managing your response to the things that try to stop you. I want to help you turn that “I-would-love-to-someday” idea into a TODAY! IDEA. I want you to BE AN UNSTOPPABLE CREATIVE SOURCE!

So, think about it. If you could get past the fears and all the things that look like obstacles (Hint: they’re not really obstacles!), WHAT WOULD YOU CREATE?

Did I lose you there? Did your Inner Critic say, “But I’m not creative!” The truth is, we are ALL creative. Often without even realizing it, you solve problems and bring new ideas, processes, and objects into the world all the time. You don’t have to be a “visual artist,” “writer,” “musician,” “dancer,” “app designer,” or “architect” to create something, and you definitely don’t need to be any of those things to be passionate about a change you would like to see in the world or in your own life.

So, let me ask again:

If you could get past the fears and all the things that look like obstacles, WHAT WOULD YOU CREATE?

Take your time answering. Maybe even force yourself to make a list of 10 things. The more things on your list, the more likely it is that one of them is the thing you are truly passionate about creating—and not just a project your tricky subconscious is telling you to choose because you think “that one is doable” or “that one is safer” or “that’s the only one any one I know would support.”

It could be something as awesome as getting a new, world-class aquatic center built (you know who you are!), or as amazing as building a regular 15-minute yoga routine into your schedule when you’re so busy you sometimes forget to brush your teeth and are lucky to have time for more than coffee for breakfast.

Whatever it is, I want to help you get there. And not “some day,” but TODAY! (Okay, maybe TODAY is really September 8, 2015, but definitely sooner rather than later and in THIS year!)

I don’t want to give you all the details of what I’m proposing just yet—I’m still having brainstorms that are making me giddy. BUT, I will post all the details next Tuesday, August 25 and invite you to check it out.

The problem is, I’m having a really hard time keeping all of this to myself! So, let me just say that I want to help you, between Labor Day and Thanksgiving of 2015, get a SOLID START or even COMPLETION on a project that is dear to you and that the rest of the world NEEDS you to create for us!

Some of the ways I propose to do this include:

  • one-on-one coaching with an initial strategy session and regular check-ins on your progress;
  • weekly email support;
  • weekly “office hours” when you can ask for whatever help you need;
  • weekly resources for managing life’s “obstacles,” time, your inner critic, “writer’s block,” and procrastination—and winning the Mind Game;
  • 24/7 support from a small, private Facebook group of people, who—just like you—want to stop putting their dreams off.
  • AND some SURPRISES! (Good surprises, I promise!)

So, if you have stayed with me this long, please leave me a comment and tell me WHAT WOULD YOU CREATE? Or let me know what your biggest obstacle to being your creative best is. And questions are always welcome!

Have a great rest of the week and I’ll be back next Tuesday with the FULL Reveal!

Wishing you wonder!


The Problem Is the Solution

Here’s a small sample of some of the observations I made in April:

The first tiny tip of one of my calla lilies broke through the surface of the mulch by the mailbox today. (Yay!) (So maybe the landscapers didn’t pile the mulch too deep on top of them, as I’d feared.)

Three of the 5 mums I planted last year seem to have survived the winter.

The tiny lilac bush I planted last summer and the clematis I planted several summers ago seem to be thriving.

The basil plant in my kitchen window, however, is not thriving. It wants desperately to live – it has put out two white blossoms and has one stalk that is racing toward the ceiling – but it is spindly and pale and needs better care than I have been giving it.

I have been doing so much “thinking” in my job in recent weeks that by Wednesday afternoon I am nearly brain dead.

The added stress that accompanies all this thinking and doing at work has pushed me back toward old, unhealthy coping strategies.

Writing a blog post (or two or three) per week eats up a substantial amount of the time I have available for writing and has, apparently, been one of the things that has kept me from achieving my word count goals for my novel in April.

Creativity begets creativity. The more I allow myself to write, the more ideas I have that I want to write about.

Having more ideas has made me both happy and stressed. The stress comes from the tension I feel in trying to find the time and energy to devote to each of my ideas and from trying to make some ideas wait (when they want to be attended to right this very moment!) while I move forward with others.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the maxim “the problem is the solution.” On the surface, this sounds as though it could be saying that a problem is a good thing to have. And in some cases, it might be because the fact that there is a perceived problem probably means that the problem is one of perception. Shift your perception of the situation and the problem goes away. Maybe, what was once considered a problem could actually be considered an asset.

What happens if I apply this to my last comment that having more ideas causes me stress? It doesn’t mean that more stress is good for me. Instead, I think it means that this stress is pointing to a different problem: that if I perceived of having an abundance of ideas in a different light, I might have less stress. Or, if I perceived differently of the amount of time and energy available with which to address these bountiful ideas, the stress might diminish.

I have a friend from high school who has now known me for 30 years, and he will attest to the fact that I have been looking for the ideal schedule since he met me. I have this incredibly persistent and attractive idea that if I just scheduled my time better, I could do everything I want to do in a day. (Do you by chance share this idea?) Perhaps this would be true if I didn’t have a distracted brain or if I had a more realistic sense of how long various tasks take and how much energy they require – and could therefore adjust my expectations accordingly. But, it appears, I do not have a realistic idea of either of these things.

I have some experience with the notion that if I remind myself that I have plenty of time in which to create the things I want to and that I do not have to do them all at once, stress recedes. This is a difficult state of mind for me to maintain, however, since it seems to run counter to my every day experience of an overly long to-do list of often equally important and equally appealing (or unappealing!) tasks and not enough energy or hours with which to complete them.

Time in Paris covered walkway

Time is tricky for me. I have an unfortunate tendency to live too often in the past or, worse, in the future. I have a sense that time is speeding by too quickly and that I have too few accomplishments to show for it. I have this, often vague, impression of what I want to put into the the world and an accompanying need to get it out there now before it’s too late. Some people might find this a motivating situation; I find it paralyzing. With too many ideas and projects pulling at me, I don’t give adequate attention to any of them and everything suffers, including my health.

If I’m lucky, though, in the middle of my paralysis, something will remind me to breathe and I will get a flash of a different perspective. I will remember that a large part of the personal permaculture project I’m engaging in this year is to learn to live within my boundaries – including my energetic ones. If I want to create anything, I have to create a space in which to focus on it. That means I must exclude everything else from my field of vision, at least for the duration of time I’m working on that one creation. The trick in doing this successfully is in remembering that this exclusion is a positive thing in the grand scheme of things. It means that at the very least this one thing will be done to the best of my ability and then there will be space, energy, and time in which to work on the next creation.

I don’t know how long it will take for this healthier perception of time and my ability to create to really take root in my everyday interactions with Life, so I have to find ways to remind myself as often as I remember.

Maybe I wrote this post to help you remember, too.

Shiny, Happy Person

jar of glassOn Monday, I posted about the first permaculture principle, Observe & Interact, and asked if you’d like to choose an area of your life to observe over the coming week. How’s that going? Are you having difficulty refraining from labeling what you observe as good or bad? Do you want to explain immediately why the thing you have observed happens? Do you have the urge to jump forward to a “solution” rather than just staying with the process of observation?

I consider myself to be a fairly self-aware person, but I know that if I am not clear with myself that I am only observing, I will be judging myself left and right and planning little changes (or, more likely, dramatic ones) at every opportunity.

Which is why it is helpful for me to have someone partnering with me in my observations, as well as in the behavioral experiments that will follow. At various times in my life, these partners have consisted of friends or my husband, but since August, my observation partner has been my therapist. And because depression was the main reason I had sought help, it only made sense that my first project be that of observing my depression – in the hopes of eventually diminishing it. It is true that once you start observing a phenomenon, the phenomenon shifts. The mere act of finding a therapist, taking an hour each week to focus on my well being, and being able to talk to someone about why I felt so sad and overwhelmed helped the depression begin to lift.

I knew from experience (observation!) that focusing on the behaviors I wanted to change was not the most effective way for me to make change. A strategy that seemed more useful to me would be to focus on filling my life up with the things that make me happy rather than trying to rid my life of the things that made me unhappy. The hope was that the happy things would slowly squeeze out the unhappy, depressing things and the balance would tip.

So then began the process of observing which things, people, activities, and ideas in my life already brought me some happiness. It turned out that despite my longstanding night-owl nature, getting a full night’s sleep actually made my life easier and happier. It also turned out that eating a vegan diet with recipes from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 21-Day Vegan Challenge brought me both pleasure and satisfaction. The recipes were quick and easy and always, to my surprise, really flavorful. I already knew that yoga made me happy, so I began doing it three nights a week with my husband in our living room and found the practice even more rewarding. It was one more thing I could share with my husband and the gentle moves and deep breathing helped me release stress at the end of my work day. Similarly, I knew that exercise, writing, spending time with my family, being outdoors, and cuddling with my dog all made me happy.

So next came the process of implementing these things in my life in small doses to determine how much of each thing is enough to make me happy, how much lands me in overwhelm, and what is the right balance of all of these things so that I feel I’m hitting all the right notes and recharging my energy instead of draining it.

This is where I still am and probably will be for many months. Things are definitely moving in the right direction, but there is still much experimentation and skills-building to be done.

Of course, the easy, and maybe even advisable, strategy would have been to begin taking an antidepressant immediately. I went so far as to obtain a prescription from my doctor, but I couldn’t bring myself to begin this course of treatment. Research has shown that 30 minutes of exercise is as effective at reducing depression as medication, and since I needed the exercise anyway, it made the most sense to me to try to figure out a mechanism that would help me get to the gym on a regular basis. So, I hired a personal trainer and have worked with her for the past six weeks. She has helped me get stronger and stay focused on improving my physical health. There have definitely been days when I would have stayed in bed if I didn’t have her waiting to meet me at 6:30 a.m. One day I hope to have such a strong exercise habit that her assistance is no longer needed, but for now, I’m still building the systems I need to help me self-regulate and I am happy to pay her for her service.

Even though I have moved on to the “interact” portion of this permaculture principle, it only works if I also continue to observe my feelings and thoughts throughout the process. It’s fun to think of my life as a series of little experiments and it reduces my anxiety level because if something doesn’t cause the desired effect, it is not the end of the world; I can just try something else.

Shiny, Happy PersonOne last tip I would like to offer, if you are observing something in your own life and want to experiment with behavior change, is to make sure that even the ways in which you are tracking your observations and data make you happy. I found that creating a check list of every activity and behavior I wanted to participate in caused me anxiety and focused my thoughts on all the things that I didn’t accomplish on any given day. Counting calories and fat and carbs was too complicated to keep up with and made me feel deprived. So instead I found a tall, pretty juice bottle and a bunch of glass beads in various colors that I had bought for an art project that I never started, and began using them to track the behaviors that made me happy. For example, if I ate a vegan meal, I dropped a blue bead in the jar. If I went to the gym, I dropped in a green one. The small pink beads were for writing sessions and the large clear ones were for tackling an activity that scared me. This is fairly simple to keep up with (I played around with much more elaborate schemes, like trying to use the beads to make an image but knew, again from experience, that they would end in failure) and it’s shiny and colorful and makes me happy when I see it. Plus, dropping one of the glass beads into the jar makes a satisfying “plink” that is reminiscent of how good it felt to put a quarter in my piggy bank when I was a child.

I hope your observation experiment is going well, and I would love to hear about your process! Please leave me a note below, and I’ll be back on Monday – provided I survive tomorrow’s Camp NaNoWriMo novel-writing marathon! (Wish me luck!)

Your Invitation to Join My New Project!

Recently, life has had an air of expansiveness. Have you felt it? The feeling that anything is possible; that there is enough time and enough energy to do the things that bring real joy and not just the satisfaction of crossing something off the almighty To-Do List. The feeling that ample resources have already been gathered and now there is an opening to actually begin doing the real work, not just preparing for it. Seriously, have you felt it? I hope you have! It is an exciting and delicious way to experience the world, and such a welcome relief from the worries and stresses and not-ready’s and overwhelming not-enoughs that can dominate life when we let it.

After several years of starting and stopping various projects of importance to me and surfing waves of manageable depression that rolled in along with feelings of inadequacy and “stuckness,” last July I was rear-ended in my car while I was stopped on the freeway trying to exit during evening, rush-hour traffic in Raleigh. It was the second time I had been rear-ended while stopped during my commute and it was the second car that was totaled as a result. It also turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly I found myself in the kind of depression that was so deep I couldn’t stop crying and I lived my days in dread of having to face even the most mundane of my life’s responsibilities. I got news from my doctor that I was heading rapidly toward diabetes and news from my husband that I had become nearly impossible to live with. I am fortunate enough to have health insurance, thanks to my hard-working (and patient and loving) husband, and in August, I began seeing a therapist who helped me begin to put things in perspective.

By mid-September, I was feeling much better, was taking better care of my health, and had become a pleasant person again. Almost as a reward, I received the Message from the Universe that I had been expecting to receive during the cross-country bike trip I did in 1998 and had despaired of ever receiving. It was an understated-though-profound message and it quietly and suddenly shifted my entire perception of life. It enabled me to rewrite the last chapter of my memoir, Your Mileage May Vary, so the book ends on what I feel is the authentic note on which I always felt it should end. (I posted the new, last chapter on the book’s website and you can read it here if you are interested.)

In October, Hans and I spent an exhilarating and exhausting ten days in Paris. It was our first trip outside of North America and it fired up our desire for more international travel. Despite the months of planning, neither of us was convinced the trip would actually happen. We spent many moments pinching ourselves and saying, “We’re in Paris!” It was a true perspective-shifting experience and it heightened my new feelings that anything was possible.

In November, I signed up for NaNoWriMo and got serious about writing the novel I had spent much of the year outlining. The main character in my novel is going to be someone who becomes deeply involved in Permaculture, which is the application of principles observed in nature to design in the human world. So, in December, when the Regenerative  Leadership Institute in California opened registration for its next Permaculture Certification course, I signed up, justifying the expense and the time away as necessary to the completion of the novel.

And that brings me almost up to the present. On my birthday last month, I was on a plane flying to San Jose, California for a nine-day certification course and just last Friday I received my Regenerative Leadership and Urban Permaculture Design certificate in the mail! Image

Considering that I did not truly know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the course and had given myself permission to not finish and/or not get my certificate if it proved to be too much to handle, I was thrilled to receive the piece of paper in the mail. The permaculture course was an exciting experience, and one I’ll elaborate on in other posts, but I’m going to skip ahead now and tell you about the project I’m excited to be launching!

Starting today, I will be using this blog to write about my Personal Permaculture Experiment. I can see your eyes glazing over from here! I know that “permaculture” is not a familiar or obvious term, but I promise you it is an exciting one. So for my first permaculture project, I will be applying the permaculture principles to my own life and showing examples of how you might apply them in your life on a personal or community-level basis. I will also be blogging about my novel’s progress and, hopefully, also making more regular posts about the other things going on in my life.

I will be back here on Wednesday with a list of 20 Things I Remembered while I was on my permaculture retreat in California and again on Friday with a list of 10 Things to Remember to Live Your Most Awesome Life. Then, every Monday, I’ll be here discussing the exciting art of Permaculture!

Are you ready to take another road less traveled? If so, I’ll see you Wednesday!

*Your Mileage May Vary

Thirteen years ago this week I was Rider #1514 in the 1998 GTE Big Ride Across America to benefit the American Lung Association. It was a 48-day, 3,254-mile journey by bicycle from the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington to the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness of lung disease. Thirteen years ago today, Day 8 of the ride, we were traveling between Kooskia and Powell, Idaho, but I was not on my bike. I had been taken to a hospital the night before with three other injured or ill riders and crew where I had been ordered off my bike until we cleared the mountains and had crossed into Montana. I was having an asthma attack that had begun two days earlier and would not break.

Before the ride began, I had never participated in any organized rides. I didn’t even have a bike when I signed up for the adventure nine months earlier. So on the first full day of summer, June 22, 1998, I was an overweight, asthmatic, novice cyclist who was already well acquainted with the SAG (Support and Gear) bus as we climbed along the Lewis and Clark trail through Clearwater National Forest toward a small, gravelly, clear-cut lumber camp at the top of a mountain that would serve as our home for the evening. Many of the riders who had a goal of finishing each one of the summer’s miles astride their bikes would no doubt have deemed my first week a failure. Or, perhaps more accurately, they would have deemed me the failure. I, however, had come to terms with my physical limitations early on and decided that the summer’s adventure happened regardless of my mode of travel. I could be as present, as profoundly alive and awake, on a bus as I could on a bike. I was going to make the most of every moment. For me, Day 8 passed in a sunny, joyful moving meditation spent among friends and ended with a rainbow arcing through the twilight as our camp was bathed in deep, orange light.

Today, I am engaged in the process of pushing Your Mileage May Varya memoir about the Big Ride, out into the world. I had a finished draft of the manuscript by the summer of 2001, but while I received several letters of interest from agents, no one snapped it up prior to my move to North Carolina in 2003. The manuscript got put away as the more immediate demands of finding a job and a place to live took precedence, but it resurfaced periodically for revisions, refusing to let me abandon it altogether. My husband and my friends have lived with me and this manuscript for so long they are thoroughly sick of us both; yet, they keep urging me onward as I complete each step that will eventually launch it.

I need to get this manuscript out into the world because that is how I will finally finish the trip. Publication Day will be my true Closing Ceremony. I did not ride every one of the miles of the Big Ride, but when I publish this manuscript, I will have demonstrated, if only to myself, a different kind of courage and a different kind of perseverance. I will be making good on a promise I made to myself – a promise I, apparently, can’t bear to break.

The problems arise when I forget one of the best lessons I learned on the Big Ride: comparisons don’t matter. I loved my Big Ride experience and finished feeling proud of what I’d accomplished. But, at regular intervals since the ride’s conclusion, I have jumped perspective and started to judge my experiences, my “performance,” and my choices through someone else’s eyes. I’m never sure exactly who that someone else is, but I feel certain that someone somewhere–potentially many someones–will judge me harshly when the book is released. Since “death before SAG” was a mantra for several Big Riders that summer, it is not a stretch to imagine some of the harshest criticism coming from any of the 729 other cyclists who participated in the event.

The fear of these judgments has been crippling at various stages of the writing and editing process. It has only been made worse by agents and editors asking me to “justify” my manuscript’s validity in the marketplace. How can anyone really say that her memoir fills a gap that no other manuscript has filled or argue for why his memoir is better than all of its competition?

To get through this, I have finally realized that I have to take off one hat before I put on the next one. The Writer has to stop being the Rider if she is going to make the most of the material she is given. She can’t spend all of her time feeling guilty for getting on a SAG bus or regretting a thought that went through her head during an exchange with another rider if she is going to get on with the business of writing. The Editor has to stop being the sensitive, protective Writer if she is to shape the words for their best effect. And, the Marketing Manager has to stop being the embarrassed Rider, the shy Writer, and the constantly tinkering Editor if she is to put the book out in a manner that will garner the largest possible audience. Knowing this and accomplishing this, however, are two very different things.

I am at the Marketing Manager stage and yet I am battling the Rider, Writer, and Editor daily. The Rider wants me to publish the book without telling anyone – especially other Big Riders; she thinks (erroneously) that readers will simply stumble upon the book and happily shell out money to read a memoir from an unknown writer. The Writer wants me to wait to publish the book until she is happily ensconced in the middle of her next project and “won’t care as much” if the book gets ridiculed, or more likely, completely ignored. The Editor is the easiest to manage – all I have to do is keep her from opening the manuscript, because if she reads anything, she will want to change it.

The thought that keeps me going is that I have, at each of the previous stages, done the best I could. The Rider was completely overwhelmed and underprepared for the journey she undertook and yet she stuck it out, in her own way, and found meaning, joy, and long-lasting friendships everywhere she went. The Writer did everything she could to tell the story accurately and honestly, to preserve everyone’s secrets but her own, and to shape the actual events into a narrative someone might actually enjoy reading. The Editor hired someone to help her, researched grammar rules constantly, and did the best she could to preserve the language and perspective of the 29-year-old cyclist, despite the fact that she was getting constantly older and more removed from the events of 1998. And, now, I as the Marketing Manager owe it to the Rider, Writer, and Editor, to bring the project home. The book deserves the best cover I can design, the best copy I can write, a fun and appealing website, and someone standing behind it who believes in it. Someone who isn’t afraid to tell people about the book’s existence, regardless of the outcome.

Yes, as a purely literary endeavor, Your Mileage May Vary may still fail. There’s a chance that my experiences really are not worthy of a book. There’s a chance that I wrote a bad book. There’s a chance that the book still needs substantial editing to be worthy of publication. And there’s a chance that, even if I wrote a good book about a worthwhile journey, there is not a large enough audience for my memoir to make it “viable,” or, worse, that I do not know how to find the right audience for my book even if it does exist.

All that matters at this point, though, is that I continue moving the project forward. The contract I have is with myself alone. I have struggled too long to give up now. So for the foreseeable future, I will be keeping my eyes on my own work and reminding myself that in publishing, as in cycling, your mileage may vary – and that’s okay.

Internal Logic in a Made-up Landscape

A friend of mine, cxKLAW, posted this video link on an email list I participate in and I can’t get the performance out of my head.  You should watch it. Go ahead, I’ll wait….

Did you make it through the full piece or did you cut out early?

I found it mesmerizing, and when I did cut out early–I watched the first few minutes of it at work and needed to get back to doing actual work–I found it difficult to pull myself away.  I found myself asking, why is it so difficult to stop listening? and I’ve been turning that question over in my mind ever since.  It turns out, though, that some of the people on the email list did not share my fascination and had no trouble clicking away to something else.

So here’s my question for them and for anyone else who didn’t last through the whole piece: what would happen if you didn’t watch the video, but only listened to it as though it were a piece of music?  Would you find it engaging enough to listen to the entire piece?  Personally, I find Jaap Blonk’s face interesting–to me it almost appears that the recitation of this poem over the years has carved his face into its current form–but I could see how watching someone recite nonsense syllables for half an hour might bore some 21st Century Internet users accustomed to more visual stimulation.  I would bet, however, that without the visual signals saying “this is boring,” your ears might find the piece quite engaging.

Let me say that I know nothing of Dadaism and that until I clicked on the link I had never heard of the “Ursonate” or its creator, Kurt Schwitters, nor have I searched the Internet for other performances or writing about the poem.  I want to respond to it from my own experience, before I read about how others have experienced and analyzed it.

So, assuming I’m not the only person who finds it so, why does a thirty minute poem composed of made-up syllables hold one’s attention?  It’s the enjambment, of course!  Just kidding, I couldn’t help myself.  Enjambment is probably the only poetic device a nonsense poem can’t take advantage of.  It does, however, use many others, such as rhythm, repetition, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance.  All of these make the poem aurally interesting, but what allows it to hold our attention for such a long period of time is its consistencies.

Even though the poem is composed entirely of made-up syllables, there are rules.  The syllables have a consistent sound (with the exception of the face-pulling, neck vibrating, buzzing sounds near the end!), as though they all belong to the same, single foreign language we have yet to learn (rather than from a dozen different foreign languages), and the syllables are finite in number and most of them are repeated.  It would, in theory, be possible to spend 30 minutes performing a string of made-up sounds and syllables that do not repeat and that sound distinctly different from each other. This might be an interesting challenge for the performer, but human brains seek patterns in chaos and with no discernible patterns, listeners would quickly bore.  In the “Ursonate,” however, one senses movement and emotion, as though you are being told a graphic story in a language you do not understand.  Watching it for the first time, I felt like a toddler who hadn’t yet learned to speak, trying desperately to grasp the meaning in the animated face and voice before me.  If I truly were a toddler, I can even identify the places where I would have begun to cry in fear, where I might have been soothed, and where I would have been excited enough to “dance” to the rhythm.

Anything completely made-up that has enough internal structure to make me feel safe and keep me interested for a long period of time and that can return me to a pre-verbal state of participation is pretty spectacular.  How often do we as adults encounter something like that?

So, goody for me, I got to have this experience.  But where I think this really could get interesting is if it were to become a collaborative experience.  When I work with kids to help them get in touch with their creativity, one of the biggest challenges, and the biggest goals, is to get them to express a first response to a stimulus, without planning their response in advance or censoring themselves to express an “appropriate” response.  It’s about spontaneity here–not, necessarily, originality.  This freedom is difficult to achieve, and so really needs to be practiced.  And, here, even though no one asked for it, is a spontaneous list of how I think someone could use the “Ursonate” with people of any age to practice spontaneity and getting in touch with their creative impulses:

Synesthesia Activities: The goal here is to inspire movement in response to sound.  These activities could be done with any group of two or more.  Full body: The group “performs” (a portion) of the “Ursonate” syllable by syllable with one person speaking a single syllable or word and the others immediately moving their bodies, spontaneously and without coordination between group members, in response.  One challenge might be to come up with a novel movement for each successive repetition of the same syllable; another challenge might be to remember and repeat the same movement each time the same syllable is repeated–both of these options require “thought before movement,” however, so if your goal is to help others get in touch with their first responses, skip these.  Brush strokes: A similar activity would be to have the group draw or paint in response to each syllable. Instead of moving their entire bodies, the participants would make one stroke with the pen or paintbrush in response as each syllable was spoken.  If large canvases or pieces of paper were hung on walls for the participants to mark on, this activity could be a combination dance/painting activity as the actors would have freedom to make large movements with their bodies.

Acting/Storytelling/Dance: Two or more people could divide the poem into parts, to make it feel more like a conversation.  For a larger group, the words and sections of the “Ursonate” could be analyzed by the participants and rated in terms of “action” and emotional temperature, such as scary, soothing, questioning, answering, motivating, sluggish, sad.  The group could then divide up and assign “parts” to subgroups and perform the “Ursonate” as though it were a musical piece being performed by various instrument sections or a play with actors and a chorus.  The actors might also choose to pair movements with the lines they speak, playing up the story aspects or emphasizing the musicality through dance.

Musical Notes: Each participant could be assigned a syllable that they will speak or sing each time it appears in the poem. The trick will be keeping everyone together and getting each member to speak their syllable on time.  To increase the creativity value, the group could agree on emotional values of various sections of the poem, so that each time a member said her line, she would have to say it in a manner in keeping with that section, thereby exploring the different meanings or emotions that can be expressed by a single syllable.  This could make a fun game, and if it could be accomplished with a fairly good tempo, it might be useful in a larger discussion of poetry or music in demonstrating the internal structure and musical or poetic elements of the piece.

There, I think I’ve said all I have to say about the video, why the poem works, and how it would be fun to explore it further with a group.  Now I’m free to go exploring the Internet and see what other people have had to say on the subject.  (Oh, I should also point out that Jaap Blonk’s memory, voice, and facial expressions are all incredible!  And mention that I could see my friend Tad performing this, or better (worse?) yet, I could see him creating this…conversations he had with our roommate Jim in college could have fairly easily sparked such a piece!  There, NOW I’ve said all I have to say.)  Any broader comments on internal logic in a made-up landscape will have to wait for another post.

A Path Is Made by Walking

I am failing.


I have committed to publishing electronic versions of my manuscript, Your Mileage May Vary, about a cross-country bicycle trip I participated in with the American Lung Association in 1998.  I was 29 years old, overweight, asthmatic, and a novice cyclist who didn’t even own a bike when I signed up for the 48 day journey.  I was also in search of adventure, and through that adventure, some lasting sense of who I was and what my life was about.   I’ve decided to publish now not so much because I think my account of the trip will change anyone else’s life dramatically, but because the trip changed my life so dramatically that I have been obsessed with it for the eleven years since.  Many people helped me achieve the goal of participating in that event and many people helped make the event what it was – and I have not adequately thanked any of those people, nor have I followed through on my commitment to share my writing about the event with them.  Publishing the book will help me repay a karmic debt I feel I owe and, hopefully, also will help me gain greater clarity and move on to new projects.

I am trying to be as professional about the publishing as I am able and have found, I believe, a travel editor who is interested in helping me polish the manuscript.  Before she undertakes the editing, however, she wants to know that I am serious and that I have done all of the thinking I need to do to be able to launch the book in the world once it’s ready.  I think she’s also gauging whether the manuscript is worth bothering to edit based on how I describe it.

And this is where the failure comes in.  I am failing to define my audience well (I used to think I had a wide audience – as most novice writers do – and have narrowed my target audience considerably, so much so that she has actually suggested I widen it again) and failing even more profoundly to define the benefits my book will convey to readers.  When you ask, “why should I read your book?” I’m supposed to have an answer beyond “because it might be fun.”

Okay, before I get much farther along this path, I need to stop here and say that even though I claim to be failing, and it really does feel like that, I don’t really believe in failure.  I don’t believe in mistakes.  Every action and its consequence, every experience shapes who I am becoming.  If I changed anything about my past, I would not be who I am at this moment, and, despite my sometimes claims to the contrary, I do like who I am and what my life has been.  Even if it were possible to erase painful memories or eradicate pieces of my experience à la The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there is nothing I would give up. (That reminds me, I also need to do a post on Unknown White Male.) My struggles now, my temporary “failures,” are doing what they are supposed to and making me decide whether a) I’m going to abandon, once and for all, this project that I’ve loved for so long or b) I’m going to get stronger and clearer and carve a path for it in the world.  I’m sure there are editors out there who wouldn’t force me to go through this process first, but would gladly accept my payment and do the work I asked them to do and move on to the next project without investing personally in the success of this one.  But I know this is work I need to do and it’s easier (really? maybe not so much easier!) to go through it with someone else than to go through it alone.  It’s difficult, it sucks, and I have allowed my indecision, confusion, and fear to grind the process of getting the book out to a near stand-still.

Which brings me to the idea of forward motion.  A few weeks ago, Hiro Boga posted a comment on this great post about personal responsibility by Chris Guillebeau that began with the words “a path is made by walking.” This was the first time I’d heard the quote from the taoist Chuang Tzu and I LOVE IT! So often I feel I should SEE the path laid out before me and I get frustrated when I see nothing but trees and thick undergrowth and don’t know which way to go. I forget that I chose to walk my own path, which means I must create my own path.  Which means I have to take the next step, whatever that step is.  I can stand and stare into the forest, and be scared or stall or look for diversions, for as long as I want, but those are moments I lose and moments in which I lose momentum.

Which is not to say that I have to move quickly, only that I should aim for consistency. One small step per day may be all I can manage and that’s okay. Today I took a small step (that, because it was the culmination of several other small steps, felt like a giant leap!) that did not land me where I thought it would. Instead of moving me forward fast and far, it turned me around and insisted I start again.  This evening I have made an attempt to start again, and tomorrow I will get up and make another attempt. That’s how fear and inertia are defeated. I have them on the run! Do you feel it, too?

Results of the Lifestyle Test Drive – Part 1

I am on day 6 of 9 of my summer vacation.  If my plans had gone as intended, I would be writing this happily from a location a few dozen yards from the Atlantic Ocean on a beach or a pier or a bench on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  But, plans being what they are, I am writing from my couch in my living room instead.

Lessons Learned:

#1: DO NOT go to the beach in North Carolina in the summer.  EVER. You will just get sweaty and sticky, your pores won’t be able to breathe through the 50+ sunscreen, your hair will get tangled  and always be sticking to your skin or blowing into your eyes, and you’ll be oxygen-deprived from the high humidity content of the air while you bake in the wind-whipped, outdoor sauna.  You will not feel sleek and sexy.  You will feel bloated and lumpy and grimy and will spend the majority of your time dreaming of standing under one of the cold water, outdoor showers just to feel a little relief.  Do not be fooled by weather reports that always promise it is five to ten degrees cooler at the beach than anywhere else in the Piedmont.  They are not taking into account the high humidity that will make your experience one of true misery.  Do not listen to the stories of fellow Carolinians who claim they go to the beach in the summer and love it–they are insane or flat out lying.  And, most importantly, do not forget that a summer Outer Banks beach experience is similar to childbirth: if you remembered it accurately, you would never do it again.  Tattoo it on your arm or your forehead or backwards across your six-pack abs so you can read it in the mirror: Do NOT go to the beach in North Carolina in the summer. EVER.

#2: DO NOT CAMP on Ocracoke Island! You will suffer all of the above, plus you will be under constant attack from the millions of mosquitoes who reside at the beach regardless of the high winds and the high heat.  I am not joking or exaggerating when I say you will kill two or three or more mosquitoes with every slap of your hand against your own skin between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 a.m.  Go ahead and cede the island to the mosquitoes now.  There is no need for further bloodshed.  The mosquitoes can have Ocracoke Island during tourist season.  Go to the mountains (where the weather report always promises the temperature is ten to fifteen degrees lower than in the Piedmont) or the North Woods and let the Ocracoke Island bloodsuckers feast on someone else.

#3: When you are test-driving the new lifestyle you want to create for yourself, test-drive the parts that will comprise the biggest percentage of your time–not just the parts that seem most fun. For example, the lifestyle I am working toward is one of writing, traveling combined with ecological/environmental (most likely volunteer) projects, some teaching, and a handful of clients of some kind–people I can help with writing or marketing or editing or social media & Internet skills or increasing their creativity or creative productivity.  Of course, the part that seems the most exciting–and that I can visualize most clearly–is the traveling part.  So for this vacation, I decided to camp for 3 nights on Ocracoke Island and do my own personal writing retreat–to see if I could keep my hand moving across the page, to get some new creative pieces started, to break me out of my routine, and to seriously test-drive the kind of writing and traveling combo I envision.  Since I am writing this from my couch instead of the beach, you probably have guessed that I spent 7.5 hours traveling to Ocracoke Campground where I spent 14.5 hours in almost constant and complete agony and then spent 7.5 hours traveling back home.  During the 29.5 hour “adventure,” I wrote only half a page in longhand in a college-ruled notebook while I was waiting to board the ferry that was going to get me the hell off that god-forsaken island.

My point: if writing is the goal (and it was the primary goal of this week, although the travel part was running a very close second), then write. If a lifestyle–and an income–is going to be built around writing, you better be willing and able to write anywhere, especially at (or very near) home.  Instead of test-driving the travel part of my dream lifestyle, I should have test-driven the “can I get up and write for 4 to 12 hours per day at home” part of the lifestyle because that is the biggest component of what I’m aiming for and it is also the most difficult.  The upshot: I will spend the last four days of my vacation testing this component.

[Side note: prior experience has shown that while I am able to write in my journal and start new projects while traveling, most of the writing I do for public consumption takes place after a trip is over, from home.]

#4: Plans don’t have to work out as expected to be of value. Even though I had to cut my camping trip short and I wasn’t able to write much while I was away, the adventure did serve several purposes.  It got me out of my every day routine and away from clocks and computers and cell phones.  I reminded myself I was on vacation and had no schedule, and just knowing this freed me of stress (while I was traveling, not while I was besieged by bugs) and allowed me to follow the rhythms of the day.  I met people I wouldn’t have otherwise; I faced my fear of bridges six times and was almost relaxed driving over the three I crossed on the way home; I introduced my dog Kaija to boats and got to see how happy she was to be running and playing on the beach; I got sunshine and blue sky into my eyes and saw two shooting stars; I got to say hello to the lighthouses I love so much; and I got to think thoughts my every day life probably wouldn’t have produced.  Plus, I got to test my fortitude (I can survive one night of anything, right?) and my flexibility.  Turning disappointment into something more positive (I can go home and write in air-conditioning all day and all night–alright!) and being able to “go with the flow” have not always come easily to me, so I am grateful for opportunities to practice those skills.

And now I’m home, unpacked, surrounded by temperature and humidity-controlled bliss and sitting happily on the couch next to the sweetest (and bravest!) little dog in the world. (Would you have wanted to spend the night in a tent (followed by the car) with a crazy person who turned on a flashlight every two minutes and slapped the walls and ceiling with great force?) Not to mention, my writing hand has been moving continuously for one hour and twenty-three minutes.  Life is good!

What New Language Are You Learning?

Since finishing the triathlon–and receiving those super lovelyprofessional race photos in my inbox (I especially love the one, taken seconds after I hauled myself out of the pool, of me pulling my shorts up while simultaneously pulling my bra-tank down, all while running toward my bike–how’s that for transition efficiency?)–I have been counting Weight Watcher’s points and trying to be more conscious of what I eat, when I eat, and why I eat.  I have decided that if I’m going to eat “treats,” they need to be really good treats that are worth the calories, sugar, and fat.

The other day I was craving chocolate and decided to stop at Weaver Street Market, a cooperative grocery store that specializes in gourmet and specialty foods, to buy an organic brownie with walnuts from their bakery.  (We are talking about a seriously good brownie–good enough that I was able to stop after only two bites and save the rest for a later craving.  Totally worth the hit my “diet” took!) 

Before I found my way to the bakery section, however, my eyes landed on an endcap featuring progressive and alternative magazines.  The first one I saw was Yes! Magazine whose tagline is Supporting you in building a just and sustainable world.  This magazine focuses on positive stories surrounding some of the world’s most challenging issues–climate change, globalization, health, social and racial justice, peace–and I was psyched because I hadn’t seen a copy of it on a newsstand since I left Seattle six years ago.  The cover headline read, “The New Economy Starts Here: why this crisis might be our best chance.”  My hands grabbed the last copy of the magazine without waiting for my brain’s permission.  (You can get your own free, trial copy here!)

Before I could flip through the magazine’s pages, however, my eyes landed on another magazine I’d never seen before: EnlightenNext: the magazine for Evolutionaries.  The word Evolutionaries was in red.  I was intrigued.  What was an evolutionary? The cover text read, “Envisioning the Future: what today’s brightest minds have to say about the road ahead.”  Again, the magazine was immediately in my hands.  I scanned the bottom of the magazine cover, a green bar that listed the articles inside and their authors and recognized a few of the names, Ray Kurzweil, Jean Houston, Duane Elgin.  My left brain forced my eyes over to the right corner where the price was listed–a steep $7.50–before my right brain overrode it and decided both magazines were going home with me, despite the cost.

I started reading EnlightenNext first, but I haven’t read far.  I’ve been savoring it, determined to read it from cover to cover, even taking time to study the ads to get a feel for who this magazine’s readers are.  On the inside of the front cover I was already confronted with a phrase I hadn’t heard before, “integral theory.”  My brain began to tingle.  A few pages later, in the magazine’s mission statement printed on the masthead, I found mention of “the emerging field of integral and evolutionary spirituality.”  Now, my whole body was tingling!  I was holding a portal into an “emerging field” that used language I did not know.  How exciting!

It has been a long time since I felt the thrill of being slightly over my head in a piece of writing, when I felt that I was on the brink of a whole new way of thinking, when a whole new language was about to open up to me.  That’s why the desire to savor it, to let the words unfold slowly, to let the mystery linger as long as possible.  I love new things, but I especially love totally new things and I had clearly stumbled upon a treasure.

For most of my time in public school, I felt like I was simply relearning things I had already learned before.  The first time I really felt over my head was in a freshman honors seminar at the University of Michigan titled “Imagination.”  A handful of us sat around a big wooden table for an entire semester discussing how humans create the world in which we live using our imaginations, both individually and collectively, and the mechanisms by which we “change the world” through shifts in our collective thinking.  For most of the class, I felt I was running at full speed to catch up, unable on most occasions to put together a single coherent sentence to contribute to the discussion, trying desperately to create a nice, sane, neat understanding of what was a complex, unwieldy subject.   It was totally delicious!

The next such class occurred in my senior year, a class taught in the engineering department by a professor who had a knack for turning students away from engineering, Dr. Henryk Skolimowski.  It was called “Ecophilosophy.”  We discussed the nature of life on earth and the relationship between humans and nature.  We read Teilhard de Chardin’s  The Phenomenon of Man–a book that stood my world on its head–and I was asked to summarize it in two sentences for the class.  (Skolimowski pounded it into our heads that you only have two sentences to get your point across, people won’t listen longer than that, and he had us practice summarizing our ideas in this manner throughout the semester.)  I was fabulously immersed in a new world, a new way of thinking and being, and I was in love with the entire experience.

I have encountered few things so completely new to me since my years at Michigan; nothing that has forced me to change the language I use, and therefore my world view, to such an immense degree. 

And, even as I savor EnlightenNext, hoping it will upend my experience of the world in some dramatic way, I already have seen beacons in its pages pointing me back toward familiar terrain.  For example, on page 20, I found the name Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in bold type.  What 21st century magazine has the name of a Jesuit priest who’s been dead for more than fifty years printed in it?? (Well, apparently two: this one and a recent issue of the scientific magazine Discover.)  So, this magazine may not send me into completely new territory as I had hoped, but may instead deepen my exploration of spiritual and philosophical ideas I first joyfully encountered twenty years ago–and that’s an exciting prospect in itself.  There are new words to learn, new concepts to wrap my brain around, new voices with whom to acquaint myself.  New challenges to face as I ask myself if I am living up to my ideals and according to my moral compass.

When was the last time you immersed yourself in something completely new?  Are you learning new words and new ways of experiencing the world as frequently as you’d like?  Is your life, as mine all too frequently is, already so full of other busy-ness that you close yourself off to new possibilities?  What about old passions? When was the last time you abandoned your schedule and let yourself sink into something you absolutely love but don’t often indulge in?

The next time you get a craving for a bite of chocolate, follow it.  You never know what serendipitous portals it might lead you through!

Creative Release

I have been doing too much and not doing enough.

I have been expending energy but not necessarily in the right ways.

I know about the four quadrants Stephen Covey outlines regarding time management in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I understand the energy management principles described by Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute in The Power of Full Engagement.  I have read about managing my attention deficit challenges through diet, exercise, interpersonal interactions, and physical challenges that utilize various segments of my brain in books by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey.

I used to teach time management skills to college students, and I can be very good at managing my own time – up to a point.  As long as I know the length of time my diligence will be required – say, for a semester or until a particularly large project is completed – I am able to remain focused and excel.  As soon as that deadline disappears, however, and I am faced with simply having to live an organized, efficient lifestyle every day with no end in sight,  all of those skills go out the window.

Of course, anyone who read the preceding paragraphs closely will point out that I said I understand the principles outlined by those various writers–not that I had practiced them with any regularity.  As part of my time management counseling, I would tell clients they had to practice time management and study skills for thirty to sixty days before they would begin to feel like habits, so, clearly, I understand the need for practice.  In my defense I might argue, as many of my clients did, that I don’t have the time to practice or that I can’t figure out which skills to practice first or that I can’t possibly implement all of these great ideas in my life and I get overwhelmed trying to figure out where to start.

But the truth is, if I am doing what I love, I am focused, effective, and fulfilled.

When I begin to see my focus fade and my energy dwindle, when I start dreading the next day before I go to bed at night, and when I have a hard time dragging myself out of bed in the morning, those are the signs telling me I’ve somehow lost my way.

I discovered several years ago that I am what Barbara Sher calls a Scanner.  I am always scanning the horizon for the next interesting thing.  I can get intensely interested in something for a period of time and then put that aside, often without warning, and dive with great joy into something completely different.  This doesn’t make sense to the people around me and gives me one of the craziest resumes you can imagine – I have to organize it around the skills I’ve used in each job, because people freak out when they see it chronologically.  And as crazy as this kind of life looks on the outside, it can be quite confusing and draining from the inside, too.

It takes a LOT of energy to try to remain engaged with work that has lost its ability to excite you.  It takes a lot of energy to try to find some small corner in that work that can excite you.  It takes a lot of energy to try to convince yourself, as a grown-up with grown-up obligations, that if you only expended a little more energy you would be able to grow your work in a new, exciting direction and your overall passion would return, bringing your focus with it.

Luckily, I have discovered I don’t have to be excited by every aspect of my life, provided I am sufficiently excited by some aspects of my life.  Recently, to reenergize my life and recapture my focus, I’ve signed up to race a sprint triathlon.  This has reminded me that I am capable of following a training schedule, that I really do love working out (especially swimming and biking, although the running hasn’t completely sucked), and that I am capable of following through on commitments I make to myself.  Swimming before work puts me in a great mood and helps me get into an early groove that carries me through the day.  It also makes me feel strong and gives me more confidence that shows in how I carry myself.

I have also decided to publish electronic versions of Your Mileage May Vary, the memoir I wrote about the cross-country bike trip I did with the American Lung Association, and have found an editor and had several friends read the manuscript to give me feedback.  As soon as I made this decision to do something for myself, to move some small part of my independent, creative life forward, my energy at work went through the roof and I was able to find plenty to keep me interested.

Recently, I’ve had to struggle a bit to maintain that level of engagement, however.  When I admitted that I’d lost some steam yesterday to an artist I’m coming to know, she said, “You’ve stopped working on your book, haven’t you?”  I was suprised that she nailed it so quickly, but she was absolutely right – I have stopped working on the book, allowing myself to be side-tracked by other things and getting caught up in doubts about whether or not I really should publish the book or whether it will just embarrass me in the long run.  I’ve been keeping up the workouts – even increasing the number, intensity, and duration – but I haven’t written anything new or even looked at anything old in several weeks.  And this lack of creative exploration, this lack of taking care of myself on what for me is a fundamental level, has taken its toll on the rest of my life.  Stress has built up in my body, causing me to feel tight in my shoulders, chest, and back.  I’ve actually been angry and antsy, even telling my husband on Thursday night that if I didn’t spend an hour writing sometime this week I was going to go crazy.  (He suggested that I spend several hours writing to undo some of the crazy I’ve already gone.)

On the way home from work yesterday in rush hour Friday night traffic (unfortunately, I spend about three hours a day commuting these days), I got the urge to release some of the energy in my upper body vocally.  I didn’t scream exactly, I just opened my mouth and “sang” a single, sustained note at very high volume.  I was shocked, actually, by what came out of my body.  For one thing, I didn’t know I had the lung capacity to make such a loud or long noise.  But I was also surprised by what the sound sounded like.  It was totally foreign, a part of me I don’t think I’ve ever touched before.  For fun, I opened my mouth a second time and sang a different, sustained note to see what that felt like.  Amazingly, the tension in my shoulders, chest, and throat melted right away!

When I got home, I walked and fed Kaija, our American Hairless Terrier, and immediately began writing something new.  I slept well last night, had no bad dreams, and felt rested this morning when I set off for my thirteen mile bike ride at 8:00 a.m.

What about you?  What areas of your life have you been neglecting?  What effect does this neglect have on the rest of your life?  Can you do one small thing, today, right now, that will bring you back into touch with one fundamental aspect of yourself that you have been ignoring?