Sunday, July 31, 2016

A provocative thought from Elizabeth Gilbert

I've started reading Gilbert's Big Magic. I've had it on Kindle for a while and wasn't sure why I bought it (did I really need yet another book on creativity?) or why I hadn't started reading it (did I really need more encouragement to be creative?) But I'm liking it and I'm finding it's more about fearless living than anything else.

In the first chapter, she quotes a saying I hadn't heard before: "Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them." I had to laugh when I read this. Of course we do. We are usually so full of excuses and justifications for why we can't get what we want, do what we want, have what we want that we are arguing to stay stuck.

I've had conversations with two friends in the past week who are dealing with others who are stuck, who are arguing for their limitations. One is trying hard to keep her mother in independent living but her mother has a list of limitations a mile long that she's arguing to keep. Another is dealing with an obese friend with diabetes who has well-honed excuses for why she can't do a healthy food plan and exercise.

I have much personal experience with this. I lived for decades arguing for all the limitations of my abusive relationship, my unhealthy professional situation, my addictions. I know how hard it is to get unstuck, but clearly a key is letting go of our need for those limitations so we can step into possibility.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Finding myself by the process of elimination

That phrase, "finding myself by the process of elimination," was sent to me last week by a good friend. She found it on the inside of the cap of her bottle of green tea shortly after a conversaion we had on the phone. During that conversation, I talked about not only the recent loss of my studio but learning this month that the retreat center I love on Whidbey Island is going up for sale.

I've been going to Aldermarsh for writing retreats since 2002. I fell in love with the land and the center itself right away and have been going twice a year ever since. In fact, this past month was my 23rd retreat there. I've written large parts of eight books there and hosted dozens of women writers and creatives in a week of silence and creative community.But the owner is elderly now and needing to move on; plans to turn it over to her great manager have fallen through and change is in the air.

The timing of this second loss has been difficult and curious for me. Two deeply loved creative spaces are falling away from me. What is going to open up? Maybe the challenge really is to find myself through elimination.

Monday, July 25, 2016

1968 and the world we live in today

I've been watching the CNN/Tom Hanks-produced series called The Sixties. I am a child of that time or rather I became a young adult during that decade (I turned 21 in 1967). It's a fascinating show for the photos and videos and interviews. It's not objective, of course, but it seems reasonably balanced in its presentation of ideas and selections. Last night, I watched the episode on 1968. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The riots, the sit-ins. The defiance of us, the youth, who were so fed up with the war and the greed and the oppression of blacks and women and gays.

We had such hope for a peaceful revolution and that hope mostly died in 1968. The movements turned more extreme, especially after the egregious police brutality of Chicago during the Democratic convention, brutality witnessed by the nation and the world that never got responded to. A lot of our disrespect and indifference stems from that year, I think. And of course, there was Nixon, an unscrupulous politican from the get-go with Watergate the tip of the iceberg, ushering in decades of no integrity among many young people eager to get rich and get ahead.

We have not healed much of any of what ailed us then. Im not surprised it's all coming back around. We are in sad shape as a culture. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

My new studio

It has been my habit for the last several years to figure out in the early morning when I could go to the studio. It wasn't far away, about 10 blocks, but it was away and I liked to go for at least an hour or two. I'm still thinking that way, not yet used to the fact that the studio is 15 seconds away although I might have to stop and pet a cat or two en route.

My office has moved to a cozy end of my living room and my second bedroom (formerly the office) is now the studio. I have about a third the space than before but I think it's going to work out fine. My sister Shannon helped me clean and put down the new rug (to protect the hardwoods) and get the basic furniture in place. Then my friends Sue and Pam came over and we had a smudging and blessing ceremony. It was really lovely.

For the next few days, I didn't paint in it. I took my time figuring out where I wanted to put my paints and pastels and brushes, figuring out how I might use the space. I remember doing this when I first moved into my Troy studio. But mostly I realize I was still in transition, still attached to Troy and all its happiness for me. I need a bit more time to make the shift, or maybe I need to just do it slowly.

The last two days I've been painting in the late afternoon in the studio. It isn't my creative home yet, but we'll get there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Finding one small thing you can do

My dad's last full-on mission in his life was to get someone to smile every day, preferably a service person or a stranger rather than his wife. It was a small mission but it brought him great pleasure and purpose. I recently took an online class from poet David Whyte and Brother David Steindl-Rast. There was a lot of good thinking in that class but one of the things that really impressed was Brother David's daily habit of picking up trash on his morning walk. "One small thing I can do," he says. Brother David turned 90 this week.

I've been thinking a lot about what my one small thing could be. I try to paint every day because I know that creating things of beauty helps balance out some of the violence in destruction in our world. I do my best to be kind to those I meet, especially animals, wild and domestic. I haven't thought of anything else except to follow in the footsteps of Brother David.

Four days a week, I walk in my neighborhood. There's always trash to pick up. Maybe that's my job. And of course, I can use the stretch of bending over.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

An interesting take on the decluttering conversation

By Leo Babauta
Zen master Suzuki Roshi spoke about the idea of leaving no trace — doing something with complete presence, and then moving on to the next thing without holding on to previous activities.
His wonderful advice for doing any activity was to do things with “a simple, clear mind.”
One way to apply this is with a simple decluttering habit: clean up your mess when you’re done. This is a more literal way to “leave no trace” … not exactly what Suzuki Roshi was talking about, as he meant that we should leave no trace in our minds … but still a very useful practice.
For me, this means simply putting things away and cleaning up a bit when I’m done with a task:
  • Wash my dish and clean the table and counters after I’ve eaten.
  • Put my clothes in the hamper (or hang them up if they’re still clean) after I’ve showered.
  • Put away materials that I’ve used after I do a work task.
  • Make my bed after I wake up.
In practice, this means you have to be mindful of what you’re doing, and conscious that you are moving from one task to another. Most of us rush from one thing to the next without thinking about the transition, but when you’re done with one thing, this is a good time to appreciate the space between things, to breathe and notice if you’re staying present, and to clean up your mess instead of leaving a mess as you traipse through life.
The effects of this simple habit are incredible:
  1. You don’t leave a huge mess to clean up later.
  2. Things are clear, which helps give you peace of mind.
  3. Your life doesn’t become cluttered, because as you’re putting things away you decide whether it’s worth keeping in your life.
  4. You take time to pause between tasks, taking assessment of how you’ve been doing and what you really want to do next.
I truly love the “leave no trace” habit. Here’s how to form it.

How to Form the Habit

If you’d like to form this “leave no trace” habit, here’s what I’d recommend:
  1. Put little reminders where you’ll see them — a note on your desk, a little flower on your countertop, for example. These can serve to help you remember to clean up after yourself.
  2. For the first day, put all your focus on noticing when you’re done with a task, whether it’s a work task or personal one.
  3. When you notice you’re done with a task, pause. Take an assessment of how you’re doing with the task, whether you were mindful during the task, and what your intention is for the next task.
  4. Wrap up your previous activity by cleaning up after yourself. This might mean putting things away, wiping things down, or just filing away a document and crossing a task off your to-do list.
  5. Breathe, and smile.
You’ll forget often, probably, and that’s normal and completely fine. Just try to remember as often as possible, perhaps setting phone or computer reminders, or putting up more physical reminders, so you don’t forget.
Eventually, you’ll start remembering more, after a few days. You’ll get better and better at the habit, and in the process learn a lot about habits and mindfulness.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A word about creative overwhelm

Three weeks ago, I set aside the book manuscript I was working on to attend to the studio. I'd just gotten word that the extended contract had fallen through and I wanted to finish a few paintings that I had in the works up there. I also needed to sort and purge and move everything out of it in those three weeks. I got all that accomplished but in the process came up with several series of paintings that I want to do. In a couple of weeks, I'll have my home studio ready and can get started on them.

In the meantime, I'm off for a 9-day writing retreat on Whidbey Island and have a whole bunch of projects in mind for that too. I'm closing in on a final draft on my book on sugar addiction, I'm contemplating a chapbook of poems, and I have a novel drafted that's waiting for revisions. But percolating in the back of my mind is the start of the next thriller. Yikes! So many ideas, so much to do.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The imposter syndrome

Just before I started my first year as a graduate, four days before to be exact, I got a call offering me a teaching assistantship (someone had withdrawn from the program). I could have free tuition, a stipend, and health insurance if I taught two classes of first-year French. I was thrilled and said yes, but I was almost completely unprepared for the experience, and on the first day, I felt like an imposter, someone pretending to be a college teacher. I felt I didn't belong there.

I've had that imposter feeling any number of times: the first time I gave a paper at an academic conference, off and on the first year I was a tenure-track professor, the first time I was the featured speaker at an AA meeting, the first time I officiated at a wedding. When we haven't done something before and people are watching, it's hard to accept our newness.

One of the best things about having my studio for three years was the ability to fully step into being an artist. I started painting about 15 years ago, once a week in a class for years. I had shows of my work in local restaurants and coffee shops. I sold some pieces. I even wrote a book on creativity.* But I always felt like an imposter. The studio shifted something for me, something in my identity as a creative, and the imposter syndrome disappeared. I have no plans to be a working painter (writing is too dear to me), but I am glad to feel like I belong in that tribe.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

My lesser body and clothes

I'm having trouble finding clothes that fit. I'm down 76 pounds from October and that is of course a huge cause for celebration. And I celebrate every day with increased stamina, clarity, lightness of being. But getting dressed and shopping for clothes is not yet a pleasure.

I weighed way too much for a long time but I weighed it consistently. And that made shopping easier. I found two catalogs that had clothes I liked: cotton knit, colorful, well made. I bought a variety of tops and pants and got along fine. But now I'm not that size anymore. I'm down two sizes, sometimes three, sometimes four, depending on the style and manufacturer. What's more I don't need or want things to be as loose, as baggy as before, but I'm not really comfortable in tight clothes. I never have been. To make it worse, my favorite of the two catalogs has shifted to a much younger clientele and I'm no kid. And complicating this even further is the fact that I'm losing weight on the bottom considerably faster than on the top. Most importantly, I don't yet have a mental image of myself as thinner.

Susan Peirce Thompson, the founder of the food program I follow, had a weekly vlog about this recently, about the kind of skewed image we may have as we transition to a smaller body. We keep looking for clothes that fit the body we used to have. I keep looking in those old catalogs, not fully grasping that it isn't just the size that is changing but how I dress myself. I need new styles, a new concept as much as smaller clothes. An unforeseen conundrum.