HOLDING ON TO “FACTS” THAT WILL HOLD YOU BACK

I had a great idea last night. I’ve been referring people to my old blog at Radio Userland. But it’s hard to maneuver around that site, and impossible to search it.

So I’ve decided to repost all those articles, one at a time, on Fridays, and maybe some weekend days as well.

They will all be marked as reposts, so if you’ve already read them I won’t trick you into reading them again.

Here we go!

Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back

(This was my very first blog post, from November 29, 2002!)

Years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in education, I met a young woman in one of my math methods course. We paired up for several projects. I found her bright and funny and easy to work with.

One day we were doing some measurements for a hands-on project, and she stumbled on an easy mental calculation, multiplying something by 9. I said something jokingly about her multiplication tables needing work. “Oh, I never learned my 9’s facts,” she explained. “I was absent that day.”

I thought she was joking. But she wasn’t. She said she really WAS absent that day.

Surely someone as smart as she was, and as someone who was taking master’s level math methods coursework, knew that elementary school does not denote one day out of the entire fourth-grade curriculum to teach the nines multiplication table. But she wasn’t kidding. She told me an elaborate story about being sick the day the nines table was taught, and so more than 15 years later, she was still unable to multiply by nine.

I think of that young woman often.

Coincidentally, in that same math teaching course, we were learning how to teach kids their math facts–addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. There are many easy facts. Let’s take the multiplication tables. Everyone knows what the ones facts are–1×1=1, 2×1=2, etc. Next come the twos, and it turns out they’re pretty easy, too. Most kids learn them quickly. Next are the fives and the tens. They’re easily mastered, too. Also the “doubles”–3×3=9, 4×4=16, and so on. Now if you were to map out a chart of all the multiplication facts, and mark off all the “easy” ones, including their reversals (2×3 and 3×2, for example) you’d find almost half of the facts accounted for. And what are the strategies for learning those remaining facts?

The answer, it turns out, is not so much fun. You just have to memorize them. Of course, there are some good tricks, like the nines tables. (6×9, one less than 6 is 5, 5+? = 9? 4. So 6×9=54. Cute, huh?) But the straight skinny is, ya gotta memorize them. The math facts are one of the few academic skills that are ultimately only learned by memorization, and best reinforced by drill and practice. (Acquisition of vocabulary, especially in learning foreign languages, also benefits greatly by this approach, BTW.)

So here we have two statements, or stories, about facts. One is measurable, observable, concrete. To learn the math facts, you gotta work at them. You gotta memorize them. You gotta be able to knock out the answers within a second or two of hearing the numbers. But once you learn them, you never really forget them. You might get rusty, or you might get stuck on one or two. But the foundation, the habit, is still there.

The other story is harder to quantify. Everyone will believe it, few will really examine it. It goes like this: “I have a special story about why I can’t do something. It’s an odd story, but it makes me feel better about not being able to do that thing. So I hold onto it fiercely.” Even when a calm, adult eye would see that it doesn’t even make sense anymore.

What do you gain by holding onto a story like that?
Well…you don’t have to try anymore. You can have a clear conscience about why you can’t do that thing. Others might think you’re silly, but it’s possible no one would ever say that to your face. In fact, probably other people, who have their own “I can’t” story, nod their head in sympathetic agreement, relieved that someone else has such a story, too. You may even get sympathy, or admiration. “Wow, that’s quite a story! How awful for you! No wonder you can’t do that!” It also is a way to make sure you don’t have to do the real work of learning those new facts, those new ways of doing something. It’s too hard, it’s too time-consuming, it’s too late, it’s not possible, and so on.

But what do you lose with a story like that?
A lot. A lot of missed chances, missed opportunities, a whole world of missed possibilities.

I’m telling this story because I used to tell myself a story like that, too. It was all about how I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do–make art. It was about how I couldn’t be what I really wanted to be–an artist. It was about how I would never be able to sell my work, or find anyone who would want to buy it. Surprisingly, once I realized my “stories” I told about myself were just that–stories–I found I could change the story to one I like better. A huge paradigm shift occurred, and I began to see that all the things that “couldn’t happen”, could.

I now hear that old story from people who ask me how I accomplished so much in the last five years. When I tell them, they first tell me how lucky I am. (I am, but not for the reasons they think!) I soon hear their story. They think it’s specific to them, a special story, an unusual story. When I point out that I had the same story, they are quick to correct me that their story is different. When I point out the inconsistencies of what they’re telling me, they tell me I don’t understand their story fully. When I suggest ways they could tell another story, they are horrified. They’ve put so much energy into holding onto this old story. There’s just too much at stake. It’s always a really, really good story why they simply cannot do the very thing they just told me is their true heart’s desire.

So my first question for you today is: What is *your* story? What is the story you tell about yourself that is holding you back from doing the things you really want to do?

Tomorrow I’ll tell the story about my friend and his messy house. Now there’s a story!

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BABY IN THE WORLD

When you truly open your heart to possibility, you will find beauty, joy, compassion, love and other miracles.

It’s odd, but my hospice training experience is already crossing over into my artistic experience. Last week’s session made me think about the connections we form when we make our art from a powerful place in our heart. (Yes, that place some of you are finding so hard to think about when it comes to your artist statement!) (And I say that with love and acceptance, by the way. No lecturing parent thing here, just bear with me.)

During my first hospice training session last week, we split into small groups to do various exercises.

I worried for a moment. What if I didn’t like the people in my group?? What if they didn’t like me? I decided to set my fears aside and simply see what would happen.

We started our listening exercises. I soon realized the people in my little group, these “randomly selected” people, were soul mates.

Their stories blew me away. Their outlook on life amazed me. When it was my turn to talk, their compassion sustained me during difficult moments. What we shared with each other was astonishing.

Oddly, when we returned to our big group, I noticed we all felt the same way. Everyone felt their little group was the perfect match for them.

The only thing is, the groups were created in a fairly random manner.

How could all of us, have “randomly” ended up in “the perfect group for us”?

After the session, I asked our trainer how often that happened.

She said it happens all the time.

In fact, it happens every time.

In fact, she’s come to believe this:

“If your heart is open to this work (hospice), then that connection is already there.”

I thought about that all night. This insight is one thing that made me realize this is the perfect place for me to be right now.

When your heart is open, so many things are possible. Miracles are possible.

This phenomenon reminded me of a story, one of my personal favorites.

Years ago, before kids, before Keene, my husband and I shared an evening with new friends. They had just started the arduous process of adopting a child from another country, working with an international organization. In one of their support groups, another couple had told them this story, and now they were sharing it with us.

Now, because this story is third-hand, and because we heard it so long ago, I’m sure I have many details wrong. So if I’ve messed up anything that may be distracting if you know more about this kind of thing than I do, please forgive me and go for the story.

This other couple had gone through years of preparation and paperwork, and waiting and disappointment. (At one point, they were almost given a baby they learned at the last moment had been STOLEN from her mother. They were devastated on many levels.)

But finally, the glorious day came. They were told a child was available for them, really truly available. In fact, a number of children were available. A group of prospective parents were traveling to a South American country together, to receive their new babies and return home.

Now, for some reason, they would not be allowed off the plane. Their babies would be brought to the airport from the orphanage, then carried to the plane by the nuns who cared for them. Each baby would be given to its respective new parents, and the plane would take off immediately and fly home again.

On the flight down, the parents-to-be talked excitedly among themselves. They were bubbling with hope, and excitement.

And fear.

It had been so hard. So much had gone wrong. They’d waited so long. Was it really going to be all right today? Were they finally going to have a child to love?

Their biggest fear, they all agreed, was that they might be given an ugly baby.

(I remember the way Cathy told this part, in a hushed voice, and it always makes me laugh. It seems so silly! Yet a year later, I was pregnant, and that’s why I remember this part so clearly. Because I had the same fear.)

They could handle anything–missing toes, deformity, sickness, injury. But maybe something else would wrong with the baby. Maybe it would simply be ugly. And what would they do then?

And everyone agreed that it wouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter at all, not now.

No matter what, they all decided they would learn to love that ugly baby, and give it a wonderful home and a beautiful life.

The plane finally landed at the small airport, and rolled to a stop.

They could see the little terminal from the plane. They could see the doors.

They waited. And they waited.

For what seemed like an eternity, they waited.

Was there a mistake? Had something something wrong? Had the orphanage changed its mind?

Finally, the terminal doors flew open, and a very strange procession marched out into the fierce sunshine.

It was the nuns, with their habits and white wimples flapping in the breeze. They marched quickly, single file, across the tarmac.

And each nun, in her arms, carried a baby.

The nuns-with-babies marched up the steps into the plane, names were called out, hands were raised. And soon every baby was being cradled by its brand new mommy and daddy.

Now, the rest of the story is very fuzzy, probably because it would be almost impossible to describe the joy that must have filled that plane. If you could measure joy, if you could figure its weight, it would have been so big, so deep, so profound, our planet Earth must have surely tilted slightly on its axis that day.

But, Cathy said in a hushed voice, her friend had been very clear on one point:

Every single couple on that plane secretly rejoiced that they had received the prettiest baby in the group.

Each couple whispered to each other that their baby…

….that their baby…

… was the most beautiful baby in the world.

So it’s true. When your heart is open, wide open, fear and doubt will fall away. And the most powerful connections–authenticity…compassion…love–will already there.

Don’t you think that’s a miracle? I do.

That’s why art can be a miracle, too. When we make art from this powerful place in our heart, we will find other people whose hearts resonate with it. And that is a powerful connection. One heart speaks to another. A miracle.

P.S. At the end of our training session, we were asked to give the person next to us a blessing.

Here is mine for you today:

May you find such joy in everything you do in life, especially your art.

May you always have an open heart.

And may you always know, deep in your beautiful, open heart that you, as a child of the universe, as someone who brings your own special creativity to this world, at this time, in this place, may you know that to somebody, somewhere, you are the most beautiful baby in the world.

And may you know that somewhere in the world, your creative work has made someone else feel that way, too.