WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

This is the very first blog post I wrote, on Sunday, December 1, 2002.
And it’s still true today. Except Walt is gone now, may his gentle heart and fevered brain rest in peace.  And if it gives YOUR fevered brain a little peace today, well, that’s good, too!

I was going to write about a discussion with a friend about his dirty house.  But when I picked up the Sunday magazine that comes with our local paper, I came across some amazing statements by Meryl Streep that caused me to bump the dump story.

In the talk with my friend, he told me how immobilized with anxiety and self-doubt he felt each day.  I’m a natural born people fixer-upper (much to the annoyance of my friends), so I jumped right in with suggestions that have worked for me.  He kept saying, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand” until finally, in frustration, I told him my deepest, darkest secret:

I wake up every morning with a sense of dread about how hopelessly inadequate I am to achieve my goals, and I go to bed every night ever mindful of….how does the Lord’s Prayer go?  “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done.”  Well, that sums up the beginning and end of my day quite well.

My friend was astounded.  He said, “But you’re always so upbeat and you’re always busy with your artwork and always doing stuff….”  He paused and said, “And I know you’re telling the truth, because you know the old saying, ‘You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?’  I’m in the pits, and I can tell you’ve been there, too.  So how did you turn it around?”

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, spiritually.  I simply stopped listening to the little voices that told me how how futile it all was.

Note that I said I didn’t stop hearing the voices.  I said I stopped listening to them.

It came about through a long, slow process.  It wasn’t any one thing.  It was a series of books, a smattering of important people, teachers, who showed up in my life at just the right time.  It was the birth of my oldest child.  It was a workshop I took.  It was trying to spiritually accomodate the violent murder of an elderly neighbor 20 years ago.  It was a physical injury that tied up my body for almost a year.  It was a brush with cancer (a very light brush, but frightening at the time.)

We often dream that when we figure everything out, when we realize our perfect vision for ourselves, everything else will fall into place, too.  When we get the right job, when we meet the right life partner, when we get our dream home, when we find the perfect little black dress, (when we reach the perfect size for that little black dress!) the perfect lipstick, whatever, that we will finally silence those little voices that always tell us what is wrong.  (Please note I’m not talking about the little voice telling you about real danger.  I’m talking about that little voice that tells you you will never be good enough, fortunate enough, strong enough, talented enough, blah blah blah. The inner critic.)  When we still hear that little voice, we may panic.  Dang!  It’s still there!  Where did I go wrong??

One of my most precious insights, almost miraculous in my eyes, is that it is possible to act in a powerful way even if your little voice says you have no power.  You hear that familiar little rant in the morning–“You didn’t fill that order, you didn’t win that award, you didn’t get into that show and you never will!

Then I get up and do it anyway.

Everything I have accomplished in the last five years–and it’s a lot!–I’ve done in spite of that little voice.  I don’t pretend to say that I have deeper resources than other people, and I would never even pretend to say that all mental health can be achieved by just saying no to those voices.  I am saying it is an act of will to act in spite of my voices, and I feel blessed to have found that out.  I now realize there is no place I can get to where I will not hear them.  But now I don’t let them stop me from getting where I want to go.  They can whine all they want, I’m going there anyway.

So what do Meryl Streep and I have in common?  In an interview with Ken Burns that appeared in USA WEEKEND today, KB asks Meryl if she will always act.  And she answers

“Oh, I always think I’m going to give up.  You get the cold feet.  You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie?  And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?  I don’thave to do this.’  It is something I confront at the beginning of everything.  I have to start out with nothing each time.”

KB: And reinvent the wheel.

MS: “And reinvent the wheel.  It’s very hard.  It’s very, very hard….”

There you have it.  The article notes that Streep has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, tying Katherine Hepburn’s record.  She’s actually won two Oscars.  And that her work ethic is legendary.

And every time she takes on a new challenge, she hears the same little voices I do!

I wonder what she says to her little voices…..?

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Monkey Mind Manners

Yesterday I wrote about the one-minute meditation that can help soothe your monkey mind.

First, let me clarify my two metaphors. I use ‘lizard brain’ a lot. And now I’m using ‘monkey mind’. Is there a difference?

For me, the lizard brain is the part of me that’s angry, jealous, resentful, scared:

When someone else does it better than me, and my immediate reaction is, “Why them, and not me??” When I see someone else’s fabulous work, and my immediate reaction is, “My work’s just as good!” When someone else gets into that show/gets that award/has more sales/success/whatever-the-fear-flavor-of-the-day is, and I think, “My work’s better than theirs, why did they get it/in/that and not me?!” Grrrrrrrrrr!!!!! GRRRRRRRR!!!!

Monkey mind is the squeaky, insecure, scared, self-doubting, worry-wart, over-thinking everything:

“Why doesn’t that person like me?? Did I do something wrong? Maybe when I said blah she thought I meant blah. Should I have said blah? Should I ask her? ” “Why didn’t anyone buy this necklace?? Am I charging too much??” (Since I don’t even earn minimum wage, that is really scary!) “I can’t figure this out! What’s wrong with me?? Am I losing it? Will I end up in the streets??” Blah blah blah blah and more blah.

Lizard brain and monkey brain are both scared, and angry.

When threatened, lizard brain attacks ‘the other’.

When threatened, monkey brain attacks me.

Neither one serves me.

I have a mantra for lizard brain:

Life is a pie. If I believe the pie is finite, then when someone else gets a piece of pie, that means there’s less for me.

But if I believe the pie is infinite in size, then there’s enough pie for everyone.

So what’s my mantra for monkey mind?

Not sure yet. But I know having compassion for monkey mind (rather than berating it, because after all, it’s me) and giving it something to distract it (“Here, count my breathes with me!”) helps.

I read something years ago that stays with me: “You are not that anxious voice in your head. You are the person listening.” This helps.

What is your mantra for lizard and monkey? Share!

 

Quieting Down the Monkey Mind

It only takes a minute. Really. You have 60 seconds, don’t you?

I dunno what’s going on the last few months. Oh wait, yes, I do. I had foot surgery, and accomplished not very much. (OTOH, I read a LOT of books! So THAT was good….)

I still run out of energy early in the evening. So I go to bed early.

And then the monkey mind takes over.

“I’m not doing it right.”

“I’m doing it right, but people are telling me I’m doing it wrong.”

“People don’t like me.”

“Well, actually, I don’t like them.

“I’m a fake.”

“I’m not a fake!”

“Yes, you are.”

“I said I’d do something, but I didn’t. Okay, I did it, but I didn’t do a very good job. Okay, it’s a good enough job, but somebody gave me crap about it.”

“I should be better/kinder/smarter/funnier/thinner/more active/more patient/more appreciated/humbler/more assertive/oh-God-is-this-all-there-is-t0-life??? Self-doubt, self-denigration, righteous indignation??”

After a few months of this, I wondered if California was really were we are supposed to be.

Ahhhh, monkey mind…..

Unfortunately, there’s no permanent cure for monkey mind. Like an appendix, it’s ancient self-preservation thingie that doesn’t serve us well in our modern world.

But we can take tiny steps, daily, to soothe it. Tiny steps that slowly, but surely, get us back to our happy, productive, peaceful place in the world.

How do I get there?

For starters, I found this one-minute video online. One minute that helps you calm your monkey.

Second, watch for what crosses my path.

I contacted a friend recently. She asked me how I was doing. I wrote back, “A little bobbled…We feel up in the air again, some critical things missing. But also realizing we have to sit with uncertainty, or we’ll drive ourselves crazy!! Does that make sense??”

She wrote back, “Yes. I sit with it on a daily basis….until clarity presents herself.”

And then it hit me: I wasn’t ‘sitting with uncertainty’. I was struggling with it. Fighting it. Trying to sort it all out. And when I tried to sleep, it rolled over me like a giant wave, trying to take me out to sea.

Sitting with uncertainty… There it was, right in front of me like a Pokemon Go critter.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

And now I look up at my desk, where a pile of little horses, bears, and otters are waiting to be turned into ‘worry stones’….

I feel better already!

(Thanks and a hat tip to Sheri Gaynor, feisty woman!)

2016-09-19-14-55-32

I thought I made these to expand my product line. Nope. I needed them for myself!

 

 

WHEN YOU SHOULD SKIP YOUR TO-DO LIST

Creativity comes first. Everything else can wait. Really!

Recently I wrote about finding a new source of ideas about creativity. This 3-minute article by Todd Bisson answers 7 Questions Aspiring Writers Ask That Don’t Even Matter a Little Bit. (Short story: Write first. Everything else, later.) (In case you don’t have 3 minutes this morning.) (In which case, you really do need to do something about that to-do list…)

I loved it, because it’s true. So many folks get hung up on figuring everything out first. They spend so much time spinning their wheels, trying to finess all the marketing strategies, they never actually create a body of work to build on. And of course, in the actual doing/making, you’ll probably figure out most of what else you need to do.

I felt pretty smug as I read the list. I’ve got that all figured out already.

Then I got to my studio to work.

And felt totally unmotivated to make anything.

Fortunately, I did what I do whenever I feel stuck. I pulled out my journal (I call it my “blort book”, for…well. blorting.)

Within a paragraph, I knew what I’d done wrong.

I’d followed my to-do list.

Some of it was time-sensitive. I get the damn boot off next week. I know if I don’t line up my physical therapy appointments now, I could lose another week or two waiting for slots to open up. (Even as I was on the phone with Megan, slots were taken as we spoke.)

But did I really have to catch up on email? Well. There were one or two that needed a quick response. But the others? No. They could have waited.

Did I have to do my volunteer commitment (Instagramming!) for the art group I’m part of? Yes. Did I have to take care of my own IG account right then? No.

Did I have to do the dishes? No. (God, no. There will be more in a minute tomorrow.)

Did I have to do the laundry? No. Good god, usually I look for excuses NOT to do it. I tend to stock up on the essentials. I can go for weeks without running out of clean underwear. (Too much information?)

But it felt like I was on a roll this morning, and I ran with it. I was pleased  with how much I’d accomplished.

Until I got to the studio and realized I was out of oomph.

I can blame the fact that it’s been a long eight weeks of recovery, a long time spent off my feet (and necessarily so.) It was my priority.

hanley1med.jpgBut the day that my priority is to do dishes and laundry and check email is the day I officially declare myself housewife of the year. (Please. No. Remember that 50’s TV show, Queen for a Day? Arguably the oddest game show in television history.) (Yes, it was my favorite game show as a very young-ster. There were crowns!)

(Hint: Truly desperate housewives competed for washing machines, so they could do laundry for 13 kids faster.)

So take a good hard look at your to-do list. They can be great for writing down all those big and little tasks, the ones that wear down your brain when you try to carry them all in your head.

There are extenutating circumstances and exceptions, of course. If you are a mom, especially a new mom, yes, young ‘uns are at the top of the list. So does the work that puts food on the table (if that isn’t also your art work.) Partners and friends get top slots, too

But when you can, put your creative work way up at the top. Even a tiny bit of time, and space.

It may seem like a luxury. You may not always be able to put it in the No. 1 slot.

But it is the foundation of everything else you do.

The work of your heart completes the circle of who you are in the world, and from it comes the strength, the clarity, the energy to carry everything else.

Twenty years from now, no one will remember that your laundry basket was always empty, and your sink was never full of dishes. They will remember the powerful energy you got from the work of your heart, and how it influenced everyone you met and everything you touched.

And if, like I did, you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids and/or the other people looking up to you.

How can you want that fundamental wish, the power that comes being in the world with a whole heart… How can you want that for your kids/people, and not for yourself?

And how will they know what that looks like, if you don’t show them?

Go to the studio–NOW!

William Stafford has something to tell you.

p.s. I was going to include a photo of my sink. But you don’t need to be exposed to that today.

 

 

 

 

PERFECTION VS. PRACTICE

Today I read a beautiful post by my artist friend, Kerin Rose, on resiliency.

It’s just what I needed to hear today. I’ve been feeling mopey and wobbly for quite awhile now. Jon says I’m even waking up grumpy from naps. What a waste of a good nap!

I’ve tried to figure out why, but end up in useless mind swirls. Waves of anxiety, bouts self-judgment, exasperation with others (and not knowing how to manage that).

Kerin’s words remind me of what determines how we move forward, and how we get stuck.

Resiliency. (The ability to bounce back.)

I’d add to the list….

Grit. (The belief that we can get through it.)

Vulnerability. (The realization that we are not perfect, and never will be.)

And practice. (Wha……??!!)

Let me explain that last one, because it’s way more subtle than you might think.

Whenever we take up a new skill–piano playing, martial arts, writing–we’re told to practice, practice, practice.

We’re even supposed to “practice” yoga. And meditation. Enlightenment, like everything else that requires skill, takes that proverbial 10,000 hours of practice.

But let’s face it. Most practice is b*o*r*i*n*g. Repetitious. Monotonous. Right?

And many nay-sayers say it depends on what you practice, and how. After all, if you practice an error, you get really, really good at that error.

So what’s the use of practicing?

It’s not what you think.

For example, most Westerners probably think that we should practice meditation because we can empty our brain, and achieve enlightenment. Since most of us may not want empty brains, we think time spent meditating is not time well-spent.

But it turns out meditating–or rather, even trying to meditatehas its own rewards. Even a few minutes a day helps our brain focus better. Being able to recognize a thought, acknowledge it, evaluating it, helps us manage our emotional states better. Our “enlightenment” is actually the realization that much of what we have the luxury of creating in our lives, comes from our emotions and thoughts and perceptions about how the world works. We have the ability to change that for the better. Practice makes it so.

In fact, the value of our practice may be greater than the actual goal we practice for.

I found this in martial arts. Yes, the practice of Tae Kwon Do resulted in me attaining a certain quality of form (for a few years, anyway!) But the real gift was realizing I could get very good at something, even if I didn’t really have a knack or a gift for it. I just loved it. And loving it kept me practicing.

Practicing got me skills, but it also taught me to have more confidence, and trust, in my process and in myself.

(This is why I tell people not to beat themselves up for not “doing it right”, whatever THAT is. Whatever works for you is the right way to do it.)

That’s why we feel better when we actually work our craft. Whether we make art, play an instrument, work in our gardens, sing, dance, whatever our creative thing is, practicing it makes us feel engaged, and more ourselves.

In fact, one of my practices is writing. Lately, I’m encouraging myself to write as soon as an idea hits. This post is a result of that practice. (And guess what? It’s working! I feel better!)

In short, practice is what gives us resiliency and grit.
Practice is what allows us to be vulnerable. Allows us to connect. Encourages us to be open to something new.

Practice may not make perfect.
But practice is what makes us better. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Now go make something today!

MOTHER’S DAY

I’m too hot and lazy today to write a post. So I’m reprinting one from my old blog at Radio Userland, one of the early blog sites.

Enjoy!

Many years ago, I was miserably single, sure that I would end my life alone in a messy house filled with cats. Each new relationship seemed to vie for the previous one for weirdness and dysfunction.

I drove up to my sister’s house for a visit one weekend. While we waited for her husband Tom to get home from work, I helped watch her boys while she took down the laundry.

They lived in a tiny town 30 minutes outside a big city, in a run-down but charming old farmhouse Sue had painted and wall papered to within an inch of its life. It was warm and homey.

We were out in their spacious backyard. It was a beautiful, sunny summer day. A brisk wind whipped the sheets on the clothesline as Sue struggled to unpin them. Joey, her oldest boy, was running happily to and fro, occasionally plowing into a flapping sheet, his little three-year-old body pushing into its folds. Her baby Eddie was gurgling in his bouncy chair.

I was almost heartsick with envy. I was happy for Sue, of course. But I wondered if I would ever have such joy in my life.

The bees buzzed through the flowers, the wind blew, and all birds sang. I finally set aside my envious heart and chased Joe through the sheets as he shrieked with delight.

I remain, to this day, “Aunt You” thanks to Joe’s inability to pronounce the letter “L” at the time.

Years later, my husband and I moved to New England with our newborn baby. We bought our first home, a run-down farmhouse in the middle of Keene.

It was July, and in the middle of a major heat wave when we moved in. We only had one fan. Jon went off in the mornings to his air-conditioned office. I would lie on the floor panting in front of the fan, with Robin gazing at me with solemn eyes at my side.

We had a washing machine, but no dryer. I slogged out huge baskets of cloth diapers (yes, we fell for that ‘environmentally responsible’ crap), clothes towels and sheets to hang on the clothesline in our backyard.

One day, I hung our clothes out to dry. Before I could bring them inside, it rained.

I spun them in the washing machine, and hung them out to dry again.

It rained again.

And then they started to smell, because they’d been damp for so long.

So I washed them again, and hung them up once more.

They were barely dry when it started to sprinkle again. I dashed outside with Robin in her bouncy seat, and frantically began to fling everything into laundry baskets before it really poured.

Despite all the rain, it was still incredibly hot. The rains only seemed to increase the humidity.

The mosquitoes were fierce, and I alternated between smacking them off me and off Robin. She had developed a rash, and was prickly and bumpy. She was usually a happy baby, but not today. She fussed and cried as I raced the rain.

The lawn badly needed mowing–the weeds came up almost to my knees. The mosquitoes absolutely loved it. So did our cat, who repeatedly leaped out of the grass to pounce my ankles whenever I passed too close.

Halfway through unpinning sheets, I suddenly remembered that it was almost time for Jon to come home–and I had totally forgotten about dinner. There was nothing in the house to eat.

And the house was a total mess.

I thought of that day at Sue’s house.

When I called my mom that evening, I told her about my busy afternoon.

She said, “So you realized the dream wasn’t as wonderful as you thought it would be?”

“No, that’s not it at all”, I answered.

“I realized I was deliriously happy.