GOAL: 52 in 12

If there was any one piece of advice that I wish we/everyone took to heart it would be this: to live life intentionally.

What this means to me is that we live our values. This influences the sort of work we do, how we are with our families and friends, and how we treat ourselves and pursue our interests. Don’t get it twisted. This doesn’t mean striving for an external yardstick of perfection. My house is a wreck (laundry piled on the dining table, bits of Christmas paper liter the living room rug) and that doesn’t make the top five on my list of priorities. What living intentionally means to me is that we consider what’s important to us and work for it.

While not a New Years resolution exactly, my personal goal for 2020 will be to make 52 writing submissions for publication in 12 months. To be clear: the goal isn’t to be accepted. It could be that I’ll get 52 rejections and learn that much more about the submission process, hopefully figuring out some things along the way.

This isn’t brand new (thus not being a “resolution” exactly) as I’ve been writing regularly and recording the submission process in a spiral-bound notebook. That simple notebook has been an amazing tool to keep track and note when submissions were made to specific publications, how long responses took and what the feedback was.

I invite you to do this with me. 52 in 12 could be anything. It could be 52 creative works, 52 blog posts, 52 long walks. For me, 52 creative works is too broad. I need narrower goals that give me more structure. Leave me a comment to let me know you’ll participate and how. Let’s be a community that encourages and celebrates our progress on goals.

The Christmas-tree self-care technique

One cold and dark early November morning in 2016 I picked my phone off my nightstand. Perhaps I and a significant portion of Americans moved in sync that particular morning; laying in bed, glancing at the top news story, putting the phone down, pulling the covers over our heads, and feeling the despair roll in. My husband, face down in the crook of his arm, muttered, “That bad, huh?”

My mental health had a lot running against it at that moment. Included in the laundry list of things outside of my control were two common experiences, the pending turnover of the executive branch and the growing darkness of the changing seasons. After muddling about in bewildered grief for a day, I dug the Christmas lights out of storage and went about wrapping the dogwood tree in the front yard.

I am well aware that not everyone approves of pre-Thanksgiving Christmas lights. My husband only tolerates them and pre-2016 I would have heartily disapproved. Yet I’ve come to think of this impulse as a coping strategy.

Sometime last year, I was watching TEDTalk videos to pass the time. Among them was Ingrid Fetell Lee’s presentation on joy.  How does this intersect with my need for Christmas lights? Among the patterns Ingrid describes in the things that bring joy are abundance and pops of color, attributes of twinkly lights. From time to time, I sit with them. I pay attention to them being just as they are, and this appreciation allows me to reset. Fetell Lee’s elements of joy combine with practices of mindfulness and intention.

This year, as election day came to a close, my ten year old and I went about hanging up ornaments, plastic icicles, and draping the artificial tree in multicolored lights. Each little decoration from the hand-painted and decoupaged trinkets my children created in younger years, to blown-glass fruit and birds are beautiful of their own accord. I sent my bestie a quick picture message, “Lights hung to ward off the possibility of post-election despair (as I question our collective humanity).” Perhaps dramatic, but true.

The last thought I leave you with is that light is a symbol of hope, ever needed in dark times (whether literally or figuratively). So, acknowledging that there is indeed nearly two months between today and Christmas, I invoke the power of the twinkle light and wish us both many days that are merry and bright.

How to say what, when to talk vs. hitting send

Recently I received a voicemail about a business opportunity. The caller invited me to either call back or send them an email to set up a meeting.

I called.

It wasn’t as simple as the phone being closer than my computer. Certainly, in our smart-phone immersed world I could just as easily do either. Calling was intentional.

I considered both options prior to calling and knew that the best option for building a business relationship was going to be the option that was most personal. Even brief voice to voice communication, such as to set up a meeting, provides opportunities for conveying warmth and friendliness through tone and inflection in ways that electronic written communication cannot.

I think of the expression, which I regret that I also have uttered with obvious annoyance, “Well, that could have been an email.”

Usually the could have been an email box gets ticked following a meeting of one-way communication. No one likes a monologue meeting from management.

So if some communication needs to be personal and some really could be emails, when should we use which?

Three considerations: relationship, efficiency, and accuracy.

I responded to the invitation to call or email to set up an initial meeting with a call because relationship was the primary factor. The communication itself would be brief and with little room for error, eliminating concerns about efficiency and accuracy which sometimes tip the scales towards email being the preferred communication.

Email tends to be more efficient. If you compared email and voice communication side by side with a list of pros and cons, efficiency generally falls under a “pro,” as time is a limited resource. In fact, even drafting a complex email (such as to explain actions taken in response to a critical situation) tends be less time consuming than discussion of the same subject.

So we file accuracy and efficiency as strengths of written electronic communication, or email. Previously mentioned, the work put into long emails still tends to be less time-consuming than a long discussion. Yet sometimes a long discussion is essential. This brings us back to relationship. Relationship building through person-to-person communication facilitates learning, builds trust and creates an opportunity for vulnerability. Vulnerability, bringing the idea full-circle, has this neat quirk of strengthening relationships. Following an essential long discussion, an email can be useful to confirm accuracy of understanding.

I would additionally say of person-to-person communication that for it to be effectively sticky, or resonate, it must be interactive. Otherwise, why was it not an email? The interactive quality of person-to-person communication, or discussion, actually increases the efficiency of the communication as it allows for questions and responses in real time.

Between email and live person-to-person communication (either in person or over video or voice call) one is not superior to the other, but different situations are better fits for each. The three factors of accuracy, efficiency, and relationship can be used to determine when which is the best fit.

 

 

 

 

 

All the confidence of a gourmet meal gone cold… and other sh*t to work out.

There are lots of places in life where it seems I’ve created stumbling blocks for myself, or just not seen a thing all the way through.

A quick run-down of projects outstanding and intentions gone astray:

  1. The Artist’s Way (Yeah, girl. It’s supposed to be a practice)
  2. Exercising in the morning (HAHAHAHAHA)
  3. The research article (Get on it).

I find myself in limbo between, “Get your sh*t together, woman!” and “Be compassionate with yourself. You do good work. You’ve got a lot going on.”

Twenty billion years ago or so, I worked in restaurants. There’s an impatience when the ticket has taken too long. The patrons go from happily chatting to wondering what is taking so long. Have they been forgotten? The waitress stands at the line with her hands on her hips tapping her feet, her lips pursed. She sucks her teeth as she asks the cook where it’s at. The cook throws his hands in the air. One thing got delayed and then another. What tw*t changes their mind when the food’s halfway done? It’s not his fault! This sh*t is ridiculous! 

In life, with tickets outstanding, I am the patron and the waiter and the cook all at the same time.

And yet, I am adding another ticket to the line.

The new ticket on the line is my MBA.

Progress so far is that I am accepted to Louisiana State University’s online MBA program and registered for my first 2 semesters of courses.

If I were approaching this new experience with a foundation of personal successes where I’d been crushing my personal goals it might feel more certain and comfortably confident. That’s the ticket! But with a rack of false starts, or incomplete tickets, the uncertainty is thick and difficult to clear.

There’s a nagging part of me as I write this. Should this uncertainty be guarded? Should I cover it in bravado and pretend to have my sh*t together with utter confidence? While I’m not certain, like at all right now, (Uncertainty is the name of the game) I think this is right. It’s right to write it down, or to say it aloud. It’s right to own our sh*t and right now uncertainty is my sh*t. It’s my own thing to work through and maybe I do that by returning to the practices, The Artist’s Way, the morning exercise, that I started with and maybe not.

The MBA matters. To me. It matters to be able to do what I want to do, which is to be part of building healthy organizations and coaching leaders to support a*s-kicking happy teams.

So I push the ticket down the line. Uncertain about what happens from here to there, along the cord that stretches between time and space, but I am certain that the realization of this goal is delicious.

 


Whatcha got cooking? 

 

 

From whence we came, squaring with history and sitting in gratitude (thanks, Sena)

It was either the time I was crouched behind a rust bucket of a car, hiding from a skinhead, in the parking lot of the goth club, or it was the time that a I was scurrying between tables with a bus pan, picking up pint glasses when a customer pinched my nipple ring through my shirt and asked what gauge they were that Sena stood up for me. I pretty sure it was the later.

I am grateful for that part of my life: for sometimes sleeping on flattened boxes under abandoned buildings. There’s electricity in the laughter of youth, huddled together on a stack of railroad ties by the fire.

There’s also sadness there, the muscle of sadness sinewed to tremendous loss by the connective tissue of my psyche.

I am glad to have been there, but I don’t ever want to go back.

Yet there is Sena, stored in that place in my memory. Down to earth as a friend, fierce as a defender. Kids on the fringe need that. They need someone who will sit with them, who will look them eye-to-eye and say with conviction, “You matter.”

Somehow 20 years passed. Not everyone that sat on the railroad ties by the fire had the same passage of time. Some will forever be 22, 18, 16. That loss is unfathomable, and yet… here we are. Some lives go on.

It should come as no surprise that nearly 20 years later Sena, steady and compassionate as ever, is running for Charlottesville City Council on a platform of affordable housing, educational opportunities, and fighting government inaction on climate change.

She is someone who walks the walk, who feels the community’s pain and who sits with people when they are hurting and levels with them, “You matter.”

I believe that she will help Charlottesville find its way.

And whether she knows it or not, I am so grateful for her friendship, for sitting with me at times that were confusing and heartbreaking.

I believe that she will help Charlottesville find its way just as she has helped me to find mine, because she believes we matter.

The Confrontation Obligation -or- Yes, you really do need to say it.

I can’t remember what it was exactly. Some perceived conflict between the other therapist and I. For story-telling purposes we’ll call her J-Diddy. There were only two then. I’m sure I was certain I was right. I’m sure I was certain J-Diddy was wrong. There was likely an ethical imperative to the situation (You know, I’ve met me and I’m pretty darn good at ethical arguments). There was a lot of ethical gray area at that particular time.

I sat down with the boss.

The big boss. The big boss who had an open door policy. Small non-profits can be like that.

I’m sure I was upset. That was my M.O. when feeling righteous and certain my team member was wrong.

Kris, the big boss at the time, was empathetic. She heard me out. She made me feel supported.

Then she did something I didn’t like at all.

She told me that if it mattered as much as I said it did, I needed to go to my colleague. She would not say to my colleague that she had heard from part of the team, because that would cause J-Diddy to feel unsupported and add fuel to workplace politics. She could either allow me to address it, with my commitment to do so, or she could be present while I did so, but it was my responsibility. If I chose to address the issue on my own, she was willing to coach me on how to handle myself: how to do healthy conflict.

In the moment I didn’t like it at all. I wanted her to take the burden of my discomfort from me. I wanted her to own it and for me to be free of it.

She told me, which is nearly always accurate, that in any story there are multiple perspectives. There would be my truth and J’s truth and the truth was probably somewhere in the middle. She could not take ownership of my truth for me.

I didn’t like that at all.

I didn’t like it at all, but I learned from it.

I am forever grateful that working with Kris as boss was my first employment experience in my career in social work. She eventually promoted me to lead a slightly larger therapy team, likely because I was willing to learn through a lot of tough feedback, but she never allowed me not to own my own stuff. She held me accountable and expected the same of the team.

Years have passed since then and I’ve found myself wondering if her approach was an anomaly.

Since leaving that little non-profit I’ve had more than one, or two, or five experiences of colleagues feeling that a colleague was in the wrong and “going to their supervisor.” I know this because they tell me and I encourage them to talk to our teammate, but usually people don’t. People generally don’t like conflict. People especially don’t like the face of conflict that looks like confrontation.

As I’m reading Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, I happened upon a paragraph that reminded me of Kris and J-Diddy and how much I learned from both of them during the 5 years we worked together.

Most people assume that the leader of an executive team should be the primary source of accountability–and that’s the norm in most unhealthy organizations–but it isn’t efficient or practical, and it makes little sense. 

When members of a team go to their leader whenever they see a peer deviate from a commitment that was made, they create a perfect environment for distraction and politics. Colleagues start to wonder who ratted them out, they get resentful of one another, and the team leader finds herself being constantly pulled into situations that could be more quickly and productively solved without her. 

When team members know that their colleagues are truly committed to something, they can confront one another about issues without fearing defensiveness or backlash. Afterall, they’re merely helping someone get back on track or seeking clarity about something that doesn’t seem right…

I realize of course that Lencioni is writing for executives, or agency leaders. I would contest that leadership, or ownership of the organization’s success, is every staff member’s responsibility. This also calls to mind something that therapists, counselors, psychologists and social workers (like yours truly) call “parallel process.”

The concept of parallel process asserts that there is a phenomenon that occurs between therapist and supervisor in which the clinical supervision mirrors the interaction between therapist and client. I’d propose that this is not limited to the therapy profession, but is simply an element of how human interactions work. With that in mind it follows that under the guidance of an organization’s leader, the interactions of the executives with their teams will mirror those of the leader with the executives and the interactions within those teams will mirror those among the executives.

Another thought on confrontation is that it is the best course for mandated reporters. I can tell you that as a social worker, previously working in a whiz-fast Emergency Department, I have made countless mandated reports. There are times when clinical judgement has guided me to report without disclosing to the family that I am doing so, usually due to safety concerns. However, it is nearly always better for the organization’s relationship with the family for the social worker to tell them of the concern and mandated reporting requirement. This is a confrontation. It’s not a character judgement. It’s not done out of spite. I’ve made mandated reports regarding families that I genuinely liked. The confrontation is helpful to the relationship because it is much better for the family to hear the concern and know that a report is being made than to be surprised later and (similarly to the problem of colleagues who “go to the supervisor”) wonder who ratted. Feeling that someone ratted breaks down trust. The open communication fosters trust, is usually appreciated and, even when it is the catalyst for anxiety, respected.

It is essential to the health of an organization that colleagues respect each other.

So, yes. It is the leader’s responsibility to manage confrontation, but not in the way you might expect. Or like. I didn’t like it at all.

It is the leader’s responsibility to expect you to do it.

Thanks, Kris.

 

 

The TARDIS arrives, a Dr. Who metaphor on navigating healthy conflict

I’m sitting in a parking lot outside the Alamo movie theater waiting for Max’s friend’s Detective Pikachu birthday party to wrap up. I’ve been sitting in my car reading the first chapters of Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. I started at Krispy Kreme with the intention of sitting at a table and reading over coffee, but quickly opted for the car due to the shop’s jangly sugary-sweet oldies music competing with the text for my attention. In the row of cars ahead of me a bright yellow Porsche is parked. Its vanity plate reads, “TARDIS,” and makes me smile.

If you aren’t a Doctor Who fan (My egocentric self struggles with the possibility, but knowing there are infinite equally legitimate personal realities, I concede that this may be the case), the TARDIS is the time machine in which the Doctor travels to various points in space and time.

Lencioni’s book discusses healthy conflict in organizations requiring a culture of trust in which participants are safe to be vulnerable and bring all of themselves to the table.

It was likely the presence of the TARDIS’ yellow manifestation combined with Lencioni’s thoughts on conflict that brought to mind for me a conversation I had yesterday with a friend about science fiction and the need for writers to grasp basic scientific concepts to be able to present fantastic parables that are tethered to reality.

At some point she asked, “What does the C in MC squared stand for? It’s Energy equals Mass times something squared.”

I couldn’t remember exactly and responded eloquently with rapid onomatopoeia, “TICK TICK TICK TICK!” She raised an eyebrow, “Okay, so I don’t remember exactly, but it has something to do with movement, though clearly ‘movement’ isn’t represented by the letter C. That’s the sound for movement in my head, ‘TICK TICK TICK TICK!”

While sitting in my car (I hadn’t had an internet connection to look it up during yesterday’s discussion.) I did look up the formula and C is the speed of light. I knew it had something to do with movement!

One of the greatest takeaways from my training as a social worker, is that desired change often requires conflict. Very few people show up in a therapist’s office because life is flowing along swimmingly and no change is desired, though perhaps if we had a proactive paradigm for health more would. Generally folks show up because there’s a deficit to their ideal state of health and they want to correct this. In therapy as in organizations to move from a state of incongruence or health deficit, to a state of congruence or health, participants must be willing to go through a period of conflict, or cognitive reorganization. To be able to vulnerably engage in conflict you have to start with trust and trust requires a sense of safety.

I imagine the TARDIS. Let’s say that the TARDIS represents a sense of safety (the thing that is necessary to move from one point to another). Outside of the TARDIS is a person or organization in an incongruent/compromised state. The space outside of the TARDIS is unstable and doesn’t offer the safety needed for vulnerability. In order to emerge into a healthy state it is necessary to enter the TARDIS to be able to be vulnerable and engage in potential conflict to work through issues to arrive in a different place.

The therapist, in the case of personal health, or the organization’s leader, in the case of organizational health, becomes The Doctor in this metaphor as they have the responsibility to support the participant in doing their difficult work of seeing previously unseen possibilities the safe space of the TARDIS. The Doctor themselves must feel safe with conflict to create a safe space in which others can be vulnerable and allow conflicts to arise and be worked through.

There are infinite reasons, just as there are infinite personal realities, that individual people may be uncomfortable with conflict. I’d propose that these are generally rooted in our personal histories and the way in which our families of origin navigated conflict. There are families that stuff it, in which it is not okay to express conflicting points of view or engage in confrontation and negative emotions build. There are families in which conflicts are a storm of anger and at the end of a blow-up nothing is resolved. Coming from either of these backgrounds, it is understandable how someone would see conflict as unsafe territory. Sadly, this makes it so that when conflicts come up they go unresolved. Having a healthy orientation to conflict provides a safe space, a TARDIS if you will, in which conflicting points of view can be explored and navigated to reach a point of congruence that can be moved forward from in a healthy way, arriving at an entirely different space in time. Therapists call this metaphorical TARDIS “holding space.”

You may not share my love of the eighth longest running British television show of all time, but I hope that in your organizational and personal life you have the opportunity to work through healthy conflict and to find yourself in a different, and better, place.

 

Week two of The Artist’s Way: On my first artist’s date and paying attention

In working the Artist’s Way, I have written my morning pages each day. I continue to ponder the privilege of uninterrupted time, something foreign to me and (I imagine) moms everywhere.

The sticky-stuff in this week’s reading was on attention. There were other themes that author Julia Cameron devoted more time to, but those didn’t pull me in in the same way. At one point she writes, “the capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” I thought of the expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and with that formed the intention to pay attention so that I might learn to better describe a place or an experience during my artist’s date, which the Artist’s Way prescribes as a weekly practice in addition to the daily morning pages.

As kismet would have it, today I was gifted with 4 hours of unclaimed time. I had originally planned to hang out and “watch” my nine year-old Max’s math tournament, having no idea what a math tournament looks like I figured it would be just as good creative fodder as anything. As it turns out, math tournaments aren’t a spectator-sport and I could not stay, so paused for a little while at Milli Joe to finish my morning pages and watch the traffic and runners pass by. I didn’t realize that the timing of the below picture cut a car in half in the center of the image while I was taking it, but here it is. The only picture of where my adventure started from. Then I took a drive to see the (also unobservable) snow-covered mountains from the Blue Ridge Parkway.Before I made it to the Parkway the fog got so dense that it was difficult to see any distance, so I veered from my initial path and rambled down route 250, which runs parallel and just below interstate 64. I pulled over at an “overlook,” from which I could only see the brush and craggy rocks so close that I could reach out and touch and then faint outlines of trees that disappeared into the fog beyond.There were images I saw as I drove down Afton mountain that caught my breath, but that I could not capture. Many of these were of the snow laden canopy, creating a monochromatic cathedral arch over the winding shiny cement road. One particular image that made me smile, once I made sense of it, was of a pile of cows. My brain first coded the multi-hued brown shape as a pile of dirt, leaves or manure. And then I realized the gentle faces and broad curving backs. They huddled together for warmth. I don’t know how many. Maybe a dozen in varying shades of red-brown.

I thought about stopping at another coffee shop, Mudhouse in Crozet. I drove into Crozet and was enamored with the railroad in the snow and stopped in the nearby IGA parking lot so that I could get out and admire it. The wall of the parking lot was painted with a mural of the Blue Ridge mountains in colors that are common to the local landscape, which today’s perfect silvertone gave no hint of. After poking around the parking lot and losing the confidence to walk across the road to the railroad tracks, I headed out of town and skipped the second cup of coffee. I pulled over at a little country church. I’m a sucker for little country church buildings. When I look at my pictures, I notice that I didn’t get up close and personal in the details of things I might have liked to get a closer look at. There was a little church graveyard at the little country church and the dusting of snow on the headstones was lovely and serene. The larger of the headstones was inscribed with the name Wallace. I didn’t go up to them, feeling like I was intruding there. The same with the railroad tracks, my perception of boundaries kept me from seeing the details I wanted to take in.

But often it was the overall composition, or the big picture, that blew me away. There was another photographer there, at the intersection pictured below, with a very official looking professional camera. He had just stepped out of the frame when I took my picture and I wanted to tell him about the cows near 151, so that he could take the picture I missed, but I didn’t. Back in Charlottesville, I took a walk at Mcintire Park. The sound of wheels clicking and gliding across concrete created an ever-changing tempo to the faint music of adult chatter from the skate park. I took no pictures of children at Mcintire skatepark, though there were so many lovely pictures of emotion, of attempting. Children turned away from their parents, arms outstretched, finding their balance. Parents watching, holding their breath, not calling out, allowing their children to try. Both being courageous. As I was not going to photograph the young skaters, I meandered around the field and enjoyed a brief visit from one of two dogs that were enjoying a romp. The dog’s person, a white-haired man wearing a thick coduroy jacket, gruffly called after him. When I returned to my car, I felt both successful that I had 4 hours of uninterupted time, and also aware that I missed opportunities to give my attention to the extent that I wanted to by virtue of timidity.

I thought about taking a sentimental journey, revisiting all the houses I have lived in in this city, Charlottesville, to sit with them and see what memories come up. Longwood Drive, Meridian Street, Stonehenge, Poplar, Bennington, Wilder Drive. I wondered how they’d look now in the snow. There are feelings and stories that belong to each place. Maybe another day, a different artist’s date.

Between values, gender and identity development in kids (my rad kid especially)

We are parked before going into the Food Lion, my quick-witted fantastical child and I. I am trying to navigate the territory of self with my youngest, to support their exploration. I am explaining spectrums.

I hold up my two hands. “Say this one, the one on the left, is all the way feminine and the one on the right is all the way masculine. Where am I? All the way feminine, right?” My beautiful 9 year-old looks at me and giggles. Clearly not. A little finger touches the air nearly in the middle, but slightly to the left, between my two hands. I say, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I like to feel lady-pretty and exercise my femininity. My favorite little voice responds, “Maybe like years ago.” Sass Panda reigns supreme.

I had gotten an email about pronouns. An email that would be followed by a phone call from the fourth-grade teacher. I wanted to have an idea of what to say and to do that, I needed to get a sense of whether my gender identity paradigm needed to be re-evaluated.

Here’s the skinny on what I think. Gender exists on a spectrum and the variance of gender’s meaning and expression is unique to each human. There is no correct or incorrect way to experience or express gender. What I want is for people to bring their whole best selves, however they understand it, to the table. I especially want my child to feel supported and safe to do that.

Sometimes there’s a leap from pronouns to body parts. To me, this leap seems extreme but it is one I see made often in recent school board discussions and fear-mongering social media posts. There’s an assumption that because I advocate to embrace kids and families and treat people with respect I am pro-surgery.

So… would I support my child in surgical sex reassignment? No. Not at this point in my thinking.

This doesn’t imply that I think families who do this are wrong. I can see it both ways. My worry about my being where I am in my thinking is that if that is the eventual choice that my baby, as an adult makes, that I may be making that physical transition more difficult by delaying it. At my own parents insistence that I not “mutilate” my body as a child, I waited to my teens to pierce my ears, which never properly healed. It may be that my insistence on waiting could impede physical healing as the body ages and becomes less resilient.

The scales tip for me in favor of psychosocial development. I believe that adolescence is a journey in identity development and self-discovery. Maybe all those college human behavior and development courses misled me, but I tend to agree that adolescence is a time of trying on, and of casting off, roles to find what fits. I don’t think it’s necessary or healthy to commit to a particular identity at age nine. Maybe when you are nine you are passionate about the Baltimore Orioles, or yellow lemon-scented markers, and by age twenty-two you’ve completely moved on. I tend to think attachment to gender roles and sexuality is like attachment to colors and sports teams. As the brain changes throughout adolescence so too does one’s identity and that is okay, normal, and natural.

So that’s my framework, but I was willing for Max to pull out a screwdriver and disassemble it. I was open to the response of, “Your framework crushes my soul,” and I would need to re-evaluate. While I am driving Max makes two, seemingly discordant, statements.

1: “I am an awesome woman.”

2: “They, Them, It.”  Those were the preferred pronouns.

We talk about both of those statements. It’s not either/or. She is an awesome little woman. They are also deserving of respect and the space to explore gender within a safe supportive environment. I agree to try to use the preferred pronouns and to tell our 4th grade teacher that my child can go by whatever pronouns they choose.

Duality and/or multiplicity can make brains achey. It can be a struggle for people to accept that two seemingly opposed concepts can both at once be true. Yet, of course they can. I am both feminine and masculine. I am both a lover of chess and checkers. Well, almost. More importantly, I am a mom to one rad kid who made it back from Food Lion and together made something delicious. For me, what’s important more than gender or definitions, is time shared and relationships nurtured. Those are my Mr. Sketch markers. They smell just like lemons.

On being a “shadow-artist,” a beginner’s review of The Artist’s Way

I was delighted recently with my friend Sri Kodakalla, making space in herself and in the world for herself as an artist.

I met Sri for the first time two or three years ago in the basement of The Jefferson music hall, at Charlottesville’s Goth Night. Somehow, in our introductions, we talked about creating art and being “sort of” artists. Between then and now, she dedicated more of her time and energy, honed her craft, and began showing her work. She creates atmospheric multimedia pieces that are at once personally emotive and visually engaging.

I spent a little time with Sri and other beautiful creative souls through the arts and music communities Charlottesville offers, most notably Aimee McDavit’s Creator’s Circle. Aimee created a community of artists, provided prompts to offer a catalyst for artistic exercises and offered her home for structured and unstructured nurturing of creativity. For a little while, I tried to commit myself. I love Aimee and wanted to be part of what she was investing her energy to create, yet I floundered.

I am 60% snark, which is a difficult majority to override. I often think of my snark as my “inner Holden Caulfield.” Snarkiness is not my primary creative barrier. My primary barrier is a sense of priorities and obligations, but snark gets a little credit. Snarkiness makes it damn difficult to read a book like The Artist’s Way. It chants at each lesson, with the audacity of a sixteen year-old critic, “Fucking, Duh!” Maybe my sixteen year old would have simply said, “No Duh!” but my internal sixteen year-old has fully integrated my adult language into their vocabulary over the years.

My sense of priorities and obligations moved me away from the Creator’s Circle, and often nearly to tears as I struggle to balance taking care of it all and taking care of my self. Of course, it all comes first. I have yet to figure out exactly how to manage it all. I look at the clothes often strewn across my living room, remains of once-toys and random fluff on the floor, dishes in the sink. The word, “mom,” repeated repeatedly in the midst of my attention towards anything, and little gets done. The needle of progress just budges. I have no idea how to do it all, and even less of an inkling how to prioritize my self.

It helps a little to assume this is universal. Please tell me its universal.

I tried to be part of book clubs. I quit. I found that I did not love the assigned readings and with my limited time for myself, it is important that whatever my energy goes into ignites something in me. It’s essential to konmari my time. If it’s not required and it doesn’t spark joy or at least stimulate my inner protagonist, out it goes.

I lack both time and discipline in my personal life. This makes me a sporadic friend and I am grateful for the friends that have kept me despite my inconsistency. One such friend is the multi-talented Daisy Rojas, who is a writer, a talented fundraiser, and manages to mysteriously be a mom and remain connected to her community. Daisy suggested The Artist’s Way. She had come to my house, and I hers, a couple of times with the intention of writing together. Again, as per usual, the follow-through drifted to somewhere, perhaps the realm of lost socks.

With due resistance from my inner Holden Caulfield, today I started. “Look”, I told my Holden, “I have to embrace a something. I need a something, however phony it may feel, however ‘duh!,’ to move me into an inspired place.” Holden shrugged and rolled his eyes and I started anyway.

As Daisy had described, The Artist’s Way prescribes daily writings which author Julia Cameron calls morning pages. Reading the text required suspension of my inner Holden as well as buffering my atheist inner-critic that recoils at the liberal application of the G-word. There is a lot of use of God, which makes good sense since the subtitle of the book is A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. When you’re in the absurdly cultural minority it’s important to reframe your lens as though you are in Rome, you know, “When in Rome…” and accept the lens through which the book is written, adapt it with the proper couplings to fit it to your own philosophical plumping.

So far, one chapter, and one day’s morning pages in, it is helpful and good. Really, that’s the only relevant barometer. The book asks for a commitment of 12 weeks to follow a regimen of daily writings, readings from the book, and a once-weekly date to nurture the creative self. Julia Cameron suggests the exercises and readings to take approximately 10 hours per week and recommends waking 30 minutes earlier each day to complete the morning pages.

I woke at 5:10am this morning to my daughter’s sing-song voice floating from her bedroom. She chatted with her friend who had spent the night. I asked them to quiet so that I could sleep. 7:30 is when my body agrees, “Okay. We can get up now.” I returned to bed, struggled with whether I should sleep or not sleep and just get started, and got up and wrote my morning pages. I was interrupted by my daughter’s voice, “Mom…” at least six times as I tried to get three pages on paper combined with the dogs’ demands for food, attention, and to go out to pee, and wondered at the privilege of people who have a dedicated uninterrupted creative time and space.

I filled three pages and my mind felt clearer. It is not glorious writing and I won’t return to it for some time. Cameron suggests not going back to your morning pages for at least 8 weeks, if ever.

So with a need for inspiration, for stimulation of my creative spirit, I will try it. One chapter in, I would recommend it with the caveat that it requires a willingness to quiet your inner critic and accept the framework from which it is written. As I continue, when I write about it here I will tag those posts The Artist’s Way to record this process.

In my reading to date, the concept of the “shadow artist,” described in Chapter One sits with me as does the Introduction that asserts that there exists an artist in everyone. Holden rolls his eyes and grits his teeth and begins to utter something. Oh, “Fucking, Duh.” That everyone is a creative soul and that to bring our truest self to the table is the work just is. It’s what I believe to my core. Holden gets annoyed when truths have to be spelled out. While I feel it’s important to accept that annoyance, it helps me to have those truths affirmed. Duality just is as well. We are multi-faceted creatures.

The concept of the shadow-artist resonated with my own story, in my love for Sri, for Aimee, for Daisy. Cameron describes the shadow-artist as the person who had made a life of staying in art’s periphery, but not manifesting as an artist. When I met Sri and, with all the reservation I have, said I was “sort-of” an artist, but not nearly so confident as to own that title, I spoke in the voice of the shadow-artist Cameron describes. The Artist’s Way is about healing the shadow artist, to allow the artist to do the work.