Tiny Wish (Into Big Reality)

Once upon a time, I had a tiny wish. I wanted to work with a small group of people on accessing their creativity and gearing up to take creative risks.

This wish turned into a big, huge reality a few weeks ago when I hosted the first Chin Up Heart Open Workshop: Bust Out in 2016.

I was hoping for ten people.

Instead, there were thirty-nine. [HOLY MOLY. SO MUCH CREATIVITY.]

And let me tell you, I was in awe of their soul spelunking and courageous creating! There was laughter and reflection, and awarding of gold stars. Friendships were forged and exciting ideas were proclaimed. 

The Bust Out Workshop was a series of fun activities I designed and curated to help people get in touch with their creativity and tap into their tenacity. Everyone left with a booklet at the end of the night so they could refer to the activities later. And gold stars for their effort. (Because who doesn’t love those?) I am full of gratitude for everyone who attended, and even a week later I'm charged up from their work!

There will be more Chin Up Heart Open Workshops in the future. Currently, I’m designing a workshop geared specifically toward writers, and should have that up and running soon. If you can’t wait until then, you can always join the free, two-week Artist's Way Adventure Group that will start February 17th. Hope to see you soon!

Bust Out in 2016 was done as part of the SHE In the Pub series by Super Heroines, Etc. SHE is an amazing non-profit that hosts variety of meet-ups and workshops with the overarching mission of empowering women to embrace their inner nerd. This workshop would not have happened without them. In short, SHE is incredible, and if you’re in St. Louis I highly recommend checking them out. And if you’re in another city, I highly recommend starting a chapter.

Sharing (isn't always caring)

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"Wow…that sounds like a lot of work.”

Stressful! Are you sure you want to do that?”

“That’s a great idea, but how are you going to make it happen?”

If this sounds familiar, you have come into contact with a wet blanket. Do not fear. Just back away slowly...

When I let folks know I was leaving my job, I had a few people ask me if I sure I was making the right decision. They were so kind - very well-meaning! But still wet blankets.

There are times in life when we are filled with energy to create something, to shake things up, or to make a big change. This newfound aliveness and excitement can make other people uncomfortable, and most often it’s the people nearest and dearest to us. 

It doesn’t mean they don’t wish you all the best. Maybe their wet blanket status is because you’re making a change they wish they could make, or because they’re afraid of how your change will affect them. But it can still feel crummy to be met with doubt or fear when we’re totally jazzed about something. 

Soggy dreams don’t flourish.

I try to share my fledgling ideas with people who are cozy blankets who can provide support. Or people who are non-blankets that will give my spark some air. Eventually, as my idea gets stronger and I get more confident, even a conversation with a wet blanket is not a setback on my journey. 

Note: This goes both ways! When we identify who fits where on the spectrum of blankets, then we need to know where we fit on the spectrum for others and make a change if needed.

No matter someone's blanket status, you can still love and respect the people in your life. Choosing what you share and with whom doesn't mean you're selfish or secretive. It just means you're not asking people to be anything other than themselves. And in a time when we share so much on social media, it’s good to remember that not everyone needs to know everything.

You deserve to have cozy and non-blankets in your life, and to be the same for others. If that’s a challenge at the moment, I highly recommended the cozy blanket / non-blanket wisdom of Brene Brown

Discover (new places)

Have you ever had to catch your breath after reading something? That happened to me when I saw this quote. 

My former shore was a job at which I was very good: classroom teaching. I taught high school and then elementary school music.

Between wanting to be a classroom teacher and then being one, I spent 20 years staring at this shore. There were very rewarding moments, and I had many indicators that this was what I was born to do

But in real life, I was a wreck. Every ounce of my energy, my creativity, my self went into being a teacher. It really upped the number of places I cried, as you can see below:

I knew it was time for me to try something else, but I was afraid of moving away from the shore of teaching. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t in that bad of shape.

Then I remembered some more locations in which I cried:

So I went out into the ocean to discover new, non-classroom lands.

What’s it like losing sight of the shore? Scary as hell. But this is the most alive I’ve felt in almost a decade.

I’m not saying you have to do something drastic like quit your job.

I’m just saying that it can be good to lose sight of a shore that doesn't serve you.

You deserve to be in the ocean of possibility.

Are you in the ocean with me? Thinking of leaving shore? I'd love to hear about your experiences and cheer you on!

Wonderful, Terrible (Terrible, Wonderful)

Today I saw creative lesson unfold in warp speed as I watched a video of a little boy finger painting. (A friend's son. So adorable!)

 

But then he looked at his messy, paint covered hands. He didn't know what to do.

 

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My wise friend gently took her son’s hand and put it on a new sheet of paper.

“Make hands,” she said.

 

But after a few tries...

 

In the span of sixty seconds, this little guy made it through a whole creative cycle. He was inspired. He faced a setback and experienced sadness and self-doubt. Then he got some support and kept going until he was inspired again.

I’ve experienced my fair share of despair and self-doubt while engaging with my creativity. I’d look at the mess on my hands and wonder why the heck I even started the project. I wanted to quit. And I did quit. A lot.

Nothing creative happened when I just got up and washed my hands. I had to stay with the mess, keep visiting it, and sometimes even get some support from other people. Eventually there wasn’t a mess any more. There was just a thing that I had made, no hand washing or quitting required.

Every creator you love has gone through this process, so you are in good company. Sometimes it’s wonderful, terrible, really really terrible, slightly ok, or magnificent (sometimes all at the same time!) That’s how poems and dances and paintings happen, and how your art can happen, too. 

What can you do today to get through the terrible? Got an idea? Good.

Now go on and do it, because it will get you through to the wonderfulness of being a creator. Promise.

The One Rule (To Rule Them All)

I’m a rule maker by nature. I have made rules for everything. Once, I sat down and made a list of them. It wasn’t pretty. I had rules about writing and singing, exercising and showering, sleeping and eating. Even my rules had rules, and my life was paper-thin under their weight.

Rules can be helpful because they tell us what’s allowed and when. You shouldn’t hurt people, if you buy stuff you’ve got to pay for it, you normally need to wear clothes…

We all have personal rules that guide us in our relationships, our careers, and our creative endeavors. But some of these rules stomp on vulnerability and courage because they tell us we should look and think like everyone else. And if we have rules, it means they can be broken.

What happens when you break the rules? Punishment. It tells the story that we are bad. Our rule breaking or keeping defines our inherent worth as human beings, which leads to shame, which leads to fear and more shame. Goodbye bravery, goodbye engagement with life.

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But it doesn’t have to be that way, because here’s the thing: unless you make them, there aren’t any rules.

Who says you have to have the job you have? Who says your creative projects have to look like someone else’s? Who says whether or not you’ve got something to say? 

YOU. 

It’s exhilarating and terrifying. Because you’re in charge! Yes, families, friends and pets are important too, but you are the one who ultimately gets to decide your life.

When I first discovered this, I wanted to shout it from the top of the mountain! But I didn’t have a mountain, so instead I wrote a short song, which someday will be posted here.

I wonder if you have any rules that are preventing you from living whole-heartedly and creatively. If you look, you might be surprised at what you find. It’s your decision to keep them or let go of what doesn’t serve you. Unless you make them, there aren’t any rules!

Shortcut: When You're Stuck

Sometimes we get stuck. And then we get stuck in the existential mire of getting stuck. Wouldn’t it be great to avoid all that? Here are some things you can do right now to gain some momentum. 

Shortcuts can do this!

Shortcuts can do this!

Look out the window. Hey! There’s a whole world out there!

Write with your non-dominant hand. Could be your name, could be a sentence. “Five hexing wizard bots jump quickly” is both a pangram and an awesome image.  

Get up and stretch. When you move, so do your ideas.

Take three deep breaths. When’s the last time you breathed? (You should breathe.)

Put on some music. Change your music, change your mind. 

Close your eyes for thirty seconds. Sometimes that’s all you need to clear out the mental clutter.

Write down five imaginary lives. Trapeze artist, spelunker, cheesemonger, mystic, stunt double. Your turn. Don’t overthink it. 

Compose a haiku. 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. How about themed on one of your imaginary lives?

Draw a picture of a dog in a teacup. Or a cat in a boot. Or a lizard on a bike.

Move away from the glowing screen. I love you, stop interneting! 

Being Creative (When You Have Good Taste)

I get it. You have good taste. You’ve spent years cultivating an appreciation for jazz or poetry, sculpture or gastronomy, and you know what’s what. That’s great! And also, not so great. Because it’s getting in the way of your creativity.

Photo: CCAC North Library

Photo: CCAC North Library

It happens all the time. We make tentative moves in an artistic direction, such as sitting down to sketch or start that screenplay.  We’re secretly very excited, because we’ve had this idea for a long time. But then we step back to admire our work, and deem it garbage, because it’s nowhere near as good as what (insert person you admire) is doing.

We beat ourselves up for being untalented and boring. We tell ourselves that creativity isn’t that important after all. We’re adults. We’ve got bills to pay. It’s not going anywhere anyway.

When I teach piano or voice lessons, the adults are the students who struggle most. Not the five-year-olds whose feet don’t touch the pedals, or the thirteen-year-olds whose voices are changing. It’s the grown-ups. Hands down!

It’s tough for adults to get past the first few lessons. Their voices crack, their fingers stumble over “easy” piano pieces, and they get supremely frustrated. God forbid I make adults improvise on the piano! I tell kids to make up a song and they go nuts - tonality and time signature be damned! Adults look at me like I’m a crazy person, and they have to be tricked into improvising. (They love it, I promise.) Improvising or not, adults quickly feel embarrassed or defeated because they know what good music sounds like, and they believe they’re not making it. 

Good taste! Standards! BORING.

When you played as a kid, did you ever worry about what your action figure’s storyline said about your narrative voice? Did you ever wonder whether the placement of your stickers displayed your understanding of balance and harmony? I doubt it. You just followed your fancy and played.

But as adults we don’t let ourselves play. Instead we point, judge, and criticize. We save our harshest words for our own endeavors - if we start them at all. We wage internal battles to tamp down our creativity. I’ve been there. Sometimes I’m still there, because I’ve got good taste, too, FYI. But here’s what I have found helps:

When I sit down to create, my (boring) artistic standards are not invited to the party. When I’m creating, I get to play. I get to experiment. There is no right or wrong. Censorship is right out. I get all my ideas out and I move on.

Revision and fixing is for later. Hemming and hawing is for later. If I edit while I create, all of my good (vulnerable) stuff disappears, and then my work is bland and doesn’t meet my (boring) artistic standards. Editing while I work gets me nowhere. 

Creating without judgement gets me everywhere. 

Opening the Door (for Creativity)

I spent years pretending I wasn't creative. Creativity was low on my list of priorities, after laundry but before yard work. I longed to "be more creative," but I didn't know how to let the creativity in.  My artistic attempts were more like fights with myself.

Here’s how it used to go:

Creativity knocked at the front door. I could hear it, but I ignored it because I had other things to do. Creativity moved on to a window, tap tapping away, but I went in another room. Creativity turned cartwheels until it broke the window with its foot and disappeared. I was angry but I didn’t have to engage, so I thought I had won, but creativity had a different plan. It burrowed underground, dug its way into the house, and laid in an X on the floor so I kept tripping over it. 

“Fine!” I said, “Enough already!” I sat down to honor this creative idea, which was now covered in mud caked with shards of glass. Plus, it was pissed that it had to work so hard to get my attention. By this point, the creativity and I didn’t even like each other any more. Our time together was awful and ended in tears or cupcakes or both.

Here’s how it goes now:

Creativity knocks at the front door. I open it. I work with whatever arrives, and then I show it out and close the door.

Sometimes creativity is quite jolly and brings five of its friends. But sometimes it eats all the hummus and sits on the couch to sulk. Doesn’t matter. I open the door and am responsible for protecting and providing for my guest. What shows up is not of my concern.

This might sound counterintuitive. If we’re making art, shouldn’t we make good art? That sort of pressure stops us before we even start. We can’t make good art unless we make art. The most important thing is to open the door.

Know that very few people can sit down and write a novel from beginning to end, or compose a symphony from opening chord to final crescendo. (If you’re one of those few - great, stop reading this and get cracking.) I’m not one of those people, though. When I open the door, all of my ideas appear in the wrong order. I put them down anyway, because - hey - I’m just in charge of opening the door.

This imagery has helped me develop a healthier relationship with creativity. I no longer berate myself when my art isn’t immediately wonderful (it never is.) As a result, I can open the door more frequently because I’m not afraid of what’s on the other side. My creative sessions are more prolific, but take less time because I don’t spend the hour before procrastinating and the hour after recovering. 

You can access your creativity right now.  All you have to do is open the door. Maybe it’s for five minutes at a time, maybe it’s a few times a week. Chances are that your art will not be as good as you want it to be. That’s okay, because that’s not your concern right now. If you open the door, you've done your part.

Creativity is knocking. Go on, let it in!

Today (Is the day it begins!)

Hey you. I’ll bet you’ve got a really great idea. Don’t gimme that guff, I know you’ve got one. I’ll bet it’s so good that it that would make your life, your community, your fill-in-the-blank better, and you’ve been saving it for the opportune moment.    

Well hot damn, it’s your lucky day. Today is the day you’re gonna take one step in the direction of your idea.

If you’re feeling trepidation, you’re not alone.  Often, fear of vulnerability ties up our wishes so tight that we quit before we start. If you listen closely you can hear the doubts pile up: 

“I’d really like to _________, but….”

“What’s the point in trying when….” 

“You can’t do it! You’re a total fraud! Everybody will know it and something terrible will happen like you'll kill the sun and we’ll all freeze to death because you are so awful.” (Just me?)

I’ve been there and had many irrational thoughts. Let’s go for it anyway!  Let’s do the incredible things that we know will transform our lives! But let’s be good to ourselves and start small.

If you’re feeling vulnerable (“Ughhhhh"), go on and listen to the thoughts swirling in your head. What are they saying you can’t do? Where are they saying you can’t go? Whether these limitations were placed by you or somebody else, acknowledge that the doubts are there. 

Then step right around those doubts and go towards that feeling of vulnerability.  Do one small thing that will take you in the direction of what you want. Something you can realistically accomplish. (A phone call. A googling of an organization.) Give yourself the big go-ahead and do it, today. 

And then you don’t have to fret anymore about whether or not you should do that thing! Huzzah! Choosing the discomfort of vulnerability can actually lead to a great sense of relief.  If something happens as a result, great! If nothing happens as a result, great!  You are one step closer to unleashing all the goodness you’ve been saving. 

Now get a move on, pleaseandthanks.

Why? (Oh Why Would Someone Choose Vulnerability?)

I consider myself a champion of vulnerability.

I heard the “Ughhhhh” that just came from your side of the screen.  Thanks for your honest and visceral reaction!  That’s what vulnerability, even the word itself, does. It makes us feel alive.  So alive that it scares us.  Our stomachs do some interesting things.  We entertain fears of the catastrophic events that might happen as a result of being vulnerable.   This discomfort is something with which we are all familiar, whether or not we like to admit it. 

And we really, seriously, don’t like to admit that we are vulnerable.  We often pretend that we are invulnerable, and are perfectly content with the way things are, thanks.  We keep secret our very best ideas and our biggest dreams.  We hide who we really are.  We run away from connecting with others. 

That’s not being alive.  That’s going through the motions of being alive.  

It is impossible to truly be alive without being vulnerable. 

(“Ughhhh.”) 

Let’s clear something up. Vulnerability is neither masculine nor feminine, and it is not weakness. Being vulnerable does not mean oversharing or placing yourself in situations in which you could experience serious harm.

Vulnerability is bravery and connection. Being vulnerable means doing the things you know are good for you (or the world) even when it’s uncomfortable, difficult, or intimidating.  Vulnerability is living as the most “you” you’ve ever been.  

It’s going to take some work.  Vulnerability requires stepping out of your comfort zone and accepting the challenges that arise. Not every moment will be amazing.  Sometimes you’ll want to pitch vulnerability out the window and go back to your couch and favorite video streaming service. That’s normal, but keep your chin up and your heart open. Practicing vulnerability will unlock experiences, relationships, and opportunities you never dreamed were possible. It will transform your world, which will transform my world.

So join me on this adventure. Let's be champions of vulnerability together.