26 January, 2015

Hello Monday: Ennui and Creativity

Happy Monday! 

I hope everyone had a safe and happy weekend. My love and I got dressed up Saturday to attend a ball. The food was delicious; the wine delectable, the band was fun. We had a great time. This ball is also a big fundraiser for a group that I am involved with. We coordinate the silent auction. I love this group – throughout the year we do service projects and fundraisers, and then in May we give it all away to groups in our community (and around the world) who align with our mission. Last year we gave away $24,000. This year I hope we can top that.

I realized that I have let that passion to help others who are doing incredible things to help women, cloud over the other benefits of this club. I’ve been involved for three years, but a lot of the women have been there for 5, 10, 20 years. There are deep friendships, a network of women there when life hits and you need to breathe. I was talking to my sister about it and realized this group is unique because we are apolitical, a religious. We leave a lot of what we use to define ourselves at the door and come together around a shared interest. I (hope) we can all agree that the safety and dignity of women should be a universal human right. No woman should live in fear or have her humanness denied because of her gender. But we as women in America can give a lot to women around the world. We can give our voice, our passion, our pressure, our solidarity for women who live under conditions that are nothing short of de-humanizing.

This club is part of a larger organization that started in 1919 (before women had the right to vote). It was founded by women in leadership roles who wanted to do something to help other women, locally and around the world. We don’t start programs, but support those who do their work well. It’s incredible to a part of something that is having an impact in our community and around the world. But the impact is not just external, but internal. I am coming to value more and more the hearts and friendships of these women. I have seen them rally when life hits, care about each other, be there in life. It’s not a networking group, or a once a month social thing, but a group of women who care. I realize they have been my sanity, encouragement and compass over the last year in a way I am just starting to understand.

Since the fall I have been in a bit of an ennui, a time of acedia. Something Kathleen Norris calls: the spiritual aspect of sloth. The word literally means not-caring, or being unable to care, and ultimately, being unable to care that you can’t care. Acedia is spiritual morphine, but it does more than mask pain. It causes us to lose faith in ourselves and in our relationships with others (blog).

via Day of Tikkun

It has been hard to be creative. It’s been hard to care. Each day is about meeting the demands of that day. Just doing enough, to be honest, so people don’t wonder what’s up. I don’t know how to explain this period or what caused it. But it’s been a thorn in my side for months. Since Christmas it has lifted some. But writing creatively is still a struggle, editing is almost impossible.

So I have searched for ideas on how to break this ennui. How do I shatter this listlessness and get back to what I love? I recently finished The Accidental Creative, which helped. I have several other books on the creative life to read. But at some point you have to stop planning and researching and DO something.

I came across this interview with Tiffany Han – who is easily one of my favorite people. I get her weekly emails and they speak to where I am. She has found her sweet spot, helping people to take action and stop hemming around already!

In the interview, Hann talks about why people abandon projects:
Based on your coaching experience, what are the reasons you see well-meaning people abandon projects? 

Fear and a lack of resonance are the two biggest reasons. Over-commitment is also a huge problem.

 Fear—the things are big, so we tend to focus on the easier tasks with known outcomes first. I’ve been talking about writing a book proposal for years now, but it’s hard. Instead, I focus on the things that feel easy, the ones that I already know how to do.

 Lack of Resonance—sometimes, we have good intentions, but when we get into a project, we just aren’t feeling it anymore. This is usually a case when it’s okay to walk away instead of powering through. It’s like reading a book that you just aren’t into. You can simply put it down and find another book to read. It’s as simple as that, but we tend to put pressure on ourselves to finish.

She talks about the need to look long term and to establish boundaries. Hann has a podcast, where she talks to other creative women in their endeavors. Her latest interview was with Kelly Rae Roberts and they started with boundaries. Boundaries from family and other obligations. Boundaries from social media and the killer distractions we let crawl into our days and rob us of time. Boundaries from the lies that say you can’t do this, just give up, you’ll never be as good as ____.

It is hard sometimes to stare at a blank screen. It’s hard for me to not pick up a project I am so passionate about because I don’t know where to go next. The characters aren’t speaking, the movement isn’t coming. So I give up. I don’t wrestle through it, and I let the apathy of ennui be my excuse.

I do think sometimes we need to let our bodies rest. I think sometimes we need to acknowledge the burnout or the dry spell and let that be okay. But we still have to keep trying. So if everything I wrote for the last three months will one day get deleted, that’s okay. Who knows, maybe something great will come out of the drought.

Do something creative today friends. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just do it.

via Erin & Chase

20 January, 2015

This Week

Hey friends,

I am taking some down time this week to do some research, recharge and reset my priorities for the spring.

Be back Monday!

From Tiffany Han

13 January, 2015

The Water

Here is my entry from the last Friday Creativity prompt

The water was cold against her skin. Her ankles were already numb, soon it would go up her calve and then to her thigh. She had to keep going. She had to press on or her pursuer would overtake her and she needed to be free.

Free. She barely remembered the feeling of freedom. To ability to dictate her own time, to decide what happened to her body, to be in control of what was going on. For too long she’d been held back, held captive by a decision she did not fully understand.

She had her freedom once. Before her love was killed she had defied all she had ever known for a life with him. They were going to live a quiet existence together. And they had until the war came and he went to defend the little they had. In her grief she carried herself back to her father. He took her back into their clan, but not without conditions. She was no longer his daughter, but a lowly maid in the commander’s household. She thought in time he would pardon her, but her father was always cold-hearted and stubborn.

So now she’d runaway again. Stolen the commander’s horse and ridden through the night. The sunlight was just starting to crest the dawn. Beyond the very edge of the lake she could see her destination. If she could get across the lake she would escape her father’s reach. He might be powerful, but he would not risk invading the land for her.

The horse started to swim. She fell into the rhythm of its movements of its legs, each stroke taking them closer to freedom.

The water crept to the top of her thigh, reminding her of the measly clothes she wore. She had thought about taking more, but that would have required opening the wardrobe. Hopefully she would find peace. Hopefully she would find a quiet life. She would return to the cabin and live out her days.

The coming dawn could only bring better days.

Hello Monday: Be Kind to One Another

Hello friends,

I took a much needed day off from the computer yesterday. So the Monday round-up is coming today.

I have been thinking a lot about my efforts to DO. To only commit to things that I can give myself wholeheartedly to, to learn to say no and to build boundaries. It’s hard. As a woman I was taught that “no” is a bad word. It’s not about me. I’m a giver. But the ability to guard how I spend my time can be wonderfully liberating.

It is one day at a time. But I am learning to stand up for myself. I am learning to shed guilt that is not mine to carry. To try and be kind and generous verses judgmental and better than. In the last week I have been confronted by two articles with grace at their core. And they have really left me thinking.

The first came from my mother, who sent me an article about the frustrations in our day. We often forget that the voice on the other end of the phone, across from us at the cash register, annoying the heck out of us in traffic, making our work life less than ideal, is a person! They are a human, like us, who is probably dealing with a host of issues in their own life – and yet we feel like we have the right to treat them as “less than.” Most times so we can feel better about ourselves.

We all do it. From the server we don’t acknowledge at the restaurant, to the grocer we never get off the phone to interact with, to that phone rep we let have it though we know they have zero control over what we’re mad at. We make a dozen decisions every day whether to treat those around us as human or not.

We are not cogs in a machine! Whether it’s letting someone in on the interstate or taking two seconds to at least say hello to the person behind the counter, we have to respect the humanness in each other.

Because when we don’t, we lose a piece of our own humanness and the mentality of treating people like objects can be a very slippery slope!

And almost no place is this dehumanization more prevalent than in the world of women.

image via Facebook
Enter in writer Elizabeth Gilbert. She wrote an incredible post on Facebook about the need for women to be kind and non-judgmental to each other.  What do we get by tearing each other down?

Maybe at the heart of it is that women are still unsure of where our place is. 

The group over at Makers posted this video about women “getting ready to lead” in 2015. If you’ve read Lean In you know that men and women are perceived differently as they climb the power ladder. The sad this is that it’s women who are tearing those in power down – not men.

Why do we do this? We judge a woman based on her size, that outfit, what she eats (or doesn’t), what’s on her Instagram, any nit-noid thing we can of and why? I think Gilbert says it best:

To judge a fellow woman for her choices about her own appearance is not only cruel, it also speaks to a fundamental insecurity that says, "I am so uncomfortable with myself that I have now become deeply uncomfortable with YOU, lady — and I don't even know you."

I watched the Golden Globes on and off on Sunday and kept hearing women talk about the amazing roles for women in media today. They patted themselves on the back – because look there were films with strong female leads (1, 2, 3, 4)  ! We’ve taken such strides… And yet, one of the biggest films of the year is, at its heart, all about domestic violence, we let rappers sing about raping a woman who challenges them without any repercussions, women are still being reduced to who they are wearing, and we are still even having the conversation about how great women’s roles are (notice how men never do this?). And to get beyond the superficial –women in the Middle East still fight for the right to exist, girls in any war torn area are turned into sex slaves, women still make less than men (even in the film world), and right now little girls are being molested, sold, and abused with no hope that it is going to change. But it was a great year for women, right?

So what is the thread in all of this?

Compassion – love – appreciation – EMPATHY. They are not qualities we value anymore, but we should. It is so easy to judge and yet so hard to be kind.

I love Gilbert’s closing:

So here's what I do. 
When I see a woman who has lost weight, I say, "You look terrific." When I see a woman who has quit dieting and embraced her curves, I say, "You look terrific." When I see a woman who has obviously just had plastic surgery, I say, "You look terrific." When I see a woman who has let her hair go grey and is hanging out at grocery store in her husband's sweatpants, I say, "You look terrific." Because you know what? If you are woman and you managed to get up today and go outside, then you look terrific. If you are still here, then you look terrific. If you are able to go face down a world that has been arguing about your body and your face for centuries, then you look terrific. If you have figured out what you need to wear, or do, or not do, in order to feel safe in your own skin, then you look terrific. If you are standing on your own two feet and the stress of being a woman hasn't killed you yet, then YOU LOOK TERRIFIC. To say anything less than that to (or about) your fellow woman is to add ammunition to a war that is bad enough already. So back off, everyone. Be kind.

Why don’t we all try a bit more kindness and a bit less judgment? What if treated those around us as we want to be treated? I know I hate being treated less than, so how can I do it so easily to someone else?

Be kind – ask the checker how their day is going. Talk to the teller at the bank. Don’t yell at the phone rep. Hold the door. Say thank you. Let someone in. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you. Complement someone just because (and really mean it). Speak up when your friends start bashing someone they don’t know. Realize the world is so much bigger than your little corner of it. 

Maybe if we all started practicing generosity. Stopping in the midst of our day to engage, caring about someone we will never meet, these small acts could built into something good – even if it is just a world where we can all see each other as human and value each other equally.

image credit

07 January, 2015

Alice and Alzheimer's

For my bookclub this month we are reading Still Alice. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Alice, a thriving and vibrant college professor, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at 50.

The book is about Alice and Alzheimer's. Alice battles to retain what is slowly slipping away. Her family struggles to adjust. Life changes in an instant.

I was hesitant to read this book mainly because my grandmother passed away after a long batter with Alzheimer's disease. I can remember, as a little girl, the first moments when words began to fail her. I can remember (like Alice experiences in the book) my grandmother unable to finish a sentence. I remember my grandfather trying to help her, and my grandmother’s frustration over what she knew she should be able to remember.

It wasn’t the loss of motor function for grandmother (though that did come towards the end), the loss of control over one’s bodily fluids, the loss of ability to dress oneself or do ones hair that really affected me. By the time my grandmother died when I was 12, what I truly missed was her company.

I missed my friend. My grandmother was the one that taught me how to bake. Sunday afternoons we would be in her kitchen baking cookies. We would play games together. I have been writing stories since I was three. And though it was gibberish on the page (I didn’t know how to spell), my grandmother would let me curl up in her lap and read it to her.

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. My parents both worked and my grandparents lived close. Watching my grandmother fade into herself was like losing my best friend.

I remember the blank look in her eyes as she got towards the end. The face of the man she’d been married to for 50+ years now a stranger. I remember the hallucinations. Grandma on the front lawn, baking pan in hand, convinced people were coming to take our land.  

It was a bittersweet moment when she passed away. But she was not in pain anymore. She is in heaven, renewed and alive, transformed to be as God made her.

But still, my grandmother was gone. I would never hold her hand again, never hear her sing. I have always felt like I only got to know one side of my grandmother. That if she had been around as I got older, perhaps we could have related to each other in an entirely different way. Maybe she could have taught me that being a woman of God means it is okay to struggle, to defend yourself, to not be dainty and perfect and something out of a Jane Austin novel.

Perhaps she could have been there as I struggled in high school or after coming home from Africa. Perhaps she could have pushed me in my writing. Perhaps my world wouldn’t have shattered again at seventeen when we left my childhood home. Perhaps –perhaps.

The thing with Alzheimer's, and I would imagine any neurological disease, is that the person becomes trapped in their body. It’s a prison. And for those on the outside it is harrowing and tragic.

Another book I would like to read is You’re Not You, which focuses on one woman’s struggle with ALS.

It is good that these diseases are getting more attention. As this story on the movie version of Still Alice points out, funding for research on Alzheimer's is incredibly low.

Maybe with more authors like Genova and Wildgen willing to write about these diseases honestly and with care, we can get more done so no other family has to watch someone they love fade.

05 January, 2015

Hello Monday: Your Niche and the Arena

Hello friends!

Welcome to the first Monday of the new year. I hope you had a blessed weekend. My love and I did a date night on New Year’s Eve. We tried somewhere new, watched some of the college bowl game frenzy and went home.

The start of the year brings a time to think about commitments and what we would like to change in our lives.

I am currently enrolled in Capture30 over at Big Picture Classes. It is a chance to start the year focused on what matters. Connecting to your dreams and leaving the rest behind.

For one assignment we had to write down a Possibilities List. Not a to do list, but one that was more focused than that. It’s areas of our lives we’d like to focus on. Things to learn about, focus on or change.

It was hard for me. But I finally was able to identify some things including writing more (and developing that craft), learning more about photography (my other love) and learning to live with less. I cling to stuff to define myself and I want to let friendships and memories do that instead.

With that in mind, I came across a blog by Seth Godin. He puts in perspective the idea of impact, or your niche. In this ever increasing social media, digital age, we are told that to have an impact we have to have 100,000 Facebook fans and Twitter followers! We have to create content that gets shared! There are tips and tricks all over the place. Social media experts (what is that really?) will help you reach magical numbers.

But Godin asks what if instead of trying to increase our niche because it’s not currently “big enough” (which does nothing but tell our current niche they aren’t good enough), we produce “more value” for those who are already with us and let the growth come naturally.

You might have 100,000 Facebook fans, but how many really care about what you are putting out there?

Another article that caught my eye was about how much writers actually make. Yesterday CBS Sunday Morning did a story on Jeff Kinney, author of the Wimpy Kid series. Kinney found tremendous success with a book originally written for adults (no joke). But not that many writers get to Kinney’s level.  

Jim Hines gives us a look into his finances for 2014. He is a published author, whose books have been successful (not NY Times successful but still they sell well). Even though he has been publishing one book a year since 2006, writing is still not his full time vocation.  

Hines is a much more typical writer’s story. I think most writers would even enjoy getting to his level. Too often as a writer, I dream of reaching Kinney’s level (don’t we all), but maybe Hines’ level is more realistic, if you are lucky enough to get a book published a year.

All of this comes on the heels of my finishing Accidental Creative over the weekend. In it Todd Henry alludes to the idea of emptying yourself every day. (He then expands on the idea in his book Die Empty.) Emptying yourself is the idea of leaving it all on the table. It’s pursuing whatever you are doing (which is hopefully attached to what you love) with all you have. It’s not being idle or waiting for whatever we think would make our situation ideal to come, but doing it now.

He writes that life is finite. And each day is too precious to not give all you have. We each have a unique contribution to make. While I am not 100% sure what that is for me, Henry’s book has challenged me to stop living in this holding pattern and get into the arena.

image from Etsy

02 January, 2015

Friday Creativity: Woman in the Water

The Rules:
1. Set a timer for five minutes

2. Look at the image and write what comes to mind, no editing, no thinking about it - just write. 

3. If you want to post what you wrote below, I'd love to read it.

Image via Stormtrooper Fashion