July 18, 2018

Why Painting is My New Love...and Why You Should Find Whatever Yours Is


Sometime over the last year or two, writing went from being my hobby to being something more of a vocation. It's not because I started making money at it (I haven't really...yet), but I committed to it in a way that made it somehow different. I set goals, objectives, and timelines. I started investing more time, and more-than-just my time, in it; I'm spending money to attend conferences and workshops; I've joined writer organizations; and I'm querying my work to agents. You know, stuff that makes it feel more like a legit, budding career.

It's great and I'm happy with the path I'm on with my writing. I'm growing and developing and really loving it. BUT, what used to be just a creative outlet for me is now somehow changed. And that change left a little hole in my creative brain space. I realize now that I need a creative outlet that is about nothing more than relaxing, enjoying, and creating. No real goals or objectives or timelines. Just joy.

Enter: Painting.

I've dabbled a bit in art my whole life. I've always enjoyed it, but, especially as an adult, I found myself constrained by fear and scarcity when it came to art-making. I was always a little worried that what I would create might suck. Or, if what I started to create was good, that I might ruin it by continuing to work on it. I would buy art supplies and then be afraid to "waste them" on something not worthy. And I thought I had to wait to have a "real art space" and "real time" in order to create. Basically, I froze.

Is that weird? Is that just me?

Anyway, that all finally changed earlier this year. I can't explain exactly how it happened; a confluence of events, like most things, I suppose. This change with my writing work + the inspiration of others + an online art class + one of those moments when the light bulb just finally goes off. Whatever it was, something clicked and, like an epiphany, I suddenly understood the idea of #artplay.

And now, I'm kind of addicted.

What started out as a way to unlock my writing-- something I call #Creativitycrosstraining-- has just plain taken over. I find sitting down on my art mat the most engaging and relaxing thing I can do. It's like soul yoga--bending, stretching, breathing, relaxing for my spirit. It is a meditative practice and I just love it.

Over the past few months, I've simply claimed a corner near a window in our dining room-- out of the way of foot traffic and main sightlines through the house--and set up camp. And I never clean it up. I found that if I put it away, I forget to do it; or I think of it, but don't feel like getting it all out and setting it up. Now, I just randomly wander by, plop down, and start painting.

I also found that watching online videos of artists-at-work was helpful both in learning and in opening up, getting playful, and trying new things. I paid to join an online art class with artist and teacher Juliette Crane*-- which I highly recommend. But you can also find about a million videos on Youtube for free.

Juliette taught me to loosen up and play. She taught me that art is a layering process, just like writing. You don't sit down and paint a masterpiece in one perfect try; you layer. If you don't like something, go over it again; change it. Like revisions in writing. White paint erases most anything.

Sometimes I actually follow along like an art class, but a lot of times I use the videos to get me started and then just let them play in the background while I create. I like being in the company of other creators; like when my writing friends and I do write-ins...it's an art-in, but on my dining room floor.

The point of all of this is to say that I found something that I really enjoy; something that I'm doing for no real purpose, other than to enjoy myself; and I think that's really important. Our lives are so full of to-do's and must-do's and have-to's. We need things in our lives that exist in a place of pure joy.

Until next time, find a creative outlet; something you love to do for no invested outcome; something you just do because you do. Paint. Draw. Scrapbook. Refinish furniture. Journal. Bake. Write poetry. Garden. Take pictures. Whatever it is that feeds your soul and calms your nerves and makes your heart sing. Go do that thing. And do it often.

Namaste.

P.S.
You can follow my creative life (and see my paintings--and book reco's-- on the regular) on Instagram @bookwormanista here: https://instagram.com/bookwormanista

* If you're interested in exploring your inner artist, I highly recommend Juliette Crane's online art classes: http://www.juliettecrane.com/courses/. If you're local to the Hershey area, also check out Splat Studio in Annville: https://splatfamilyart.com; new class offerings are always in the works there...or just come over to my dining room floor and paint with me. :-)




July 11, 2018

Why I'm Trying to Soften (aka Undoing What I Did in My 20s)


As I slowly evolve into an essential oil-using, organic food-eating, affirmation-saying, meditation-doing, Birkenstock-wearing, flowy dress-owning, new age granola lady (my evolution finish line will be Frankie from Grace & Frankie...which may involve moving to Canada), I find that a lot of the "skills" I built up during my twenties and thirties aren't really serving me well in the life I want to live today.

Looking back, I see that much of what I was doing back then was cultivating survival skills. I was building my armor, proving myself as strong and independent and can-do. I was toughening up and accomplishing. And, as any good over-achiever (perfectionist/worthiness-seeker) would do, I took it too far.

So now, in my forties, I find the need to soften...in most every sense of the word. To allow for softness.

At 23, during my first performance review at my first real job out of college, I remember biting the inside of my cheek and and pinching the side of my leg to keep myself from crying. I speed-walked from my boss's office directly to a stall in an empty rest room where I stifle-cried into toilet paper. I didn't deal well with constructive criticism as it was a direct affront to my perfectionism. But that's actually not the point. The point is that I knew it was not acceptable to let the tears flow while my boss spoke. It would have made him uncomfortable.

I learned in high school-- when I was ridiculed by a male teacher for crying during a conversation; then in college when I was deemed too sensitive by a creative writing TA; and finally, when I hit the business world: emotions are not acceptable because they make the men uncomfortable.

God-forbid any man be uncomfortable.

But that is the unspoken culture in any male-dominated interaction: to play the game, you had to play like them. You had to work more and harder; you had to be tough; and you had to leave your emotions at the door.

And what's funny is that having a female boss in the business world was no different. Because they had been indoctrinated into that culture, because they often felt like that had to abide by those rules too, there was no more softness, no more comfort with emotions, with a female boss than there was with a male one.

This is one of the greatest tragedies of the male-dominated world we live in. The extreme lack of tolerance for anything that is not just like "me"...where "me" = man.

Now, I am 44 and no longer working in that business world, and, I say, as my guru Frankie would say, Fuck that shit.

So here I am trying undo all the damage I did back then. Trying to peel away the layers of armor I created that distanced the world from the real me. Excavating to my essence. For me, that means softening.

I am so tired of being tough. Of plowing on. Of sucking it up. Of pushing it down.

Yesterday I was driving my kids to a camp on a farm, following Google Maps like a lemming, when Google Maps failed me. Technology as a whole failed me when I found myself on back country roads with no signal. My calls and texts to the camp owner went unanswered. My phone couldn't reach the satellite so the directions were all screwed up. And we went from being ten minutes early to being twenty minutes late. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but *perfectionism*.

After I finally tracked the place down and dropped my kids off, now needing to rush to my next task, I wove my way along those country roads again and realized I was trying to squelch my emotions. I was fighting for control while alone in my car because I deemed my reaction an over-reaction. But my body desperately needed the emotional release. Finally, I cried. Not a lot. Just a little. But it helped. And I realized that I've spent A LOT of time and energy over the last 20 years pushing down my natural emotional reactions to things. Trying desperately, always, to stay in control. And not make anyone uncomfortable.

And I no longer think that's a good thing.

I've been thinking a lot about what the world would be like if women set the bar for what's acceptable and right. And I imagine that everything would be just a bit softer.

Strength would be softer, more flexible, more compassionate, more flowing, more sensual. Think of our standards for physical beauty today: all hard and muscled. Why not softer? Bendier? More Rubenesque?

Did you know that you can eat healthfully and exercise for good health--you can live a truly healthful lifestyle-- and still be soft? Did you know you can still be beautiful and be soft? Did you know you can still be strong and be soft?

You can also be successful and be soft. (Reminder: you also don't necessarily have to make lots of money or have lots of "status" to be successful.) You can live a rich and lovely and fulfilling and beautiful life in softness.

And I find that as I get older I want more and more to return to my essence...my softness. It's more difficult than just making the decision to do it, though. I've got a lot of muscle memory for hardness. A lot of layers of toughness that need to be peeled away. I think this is going to take a while. But I also think it will be worth it.

Until next time, take a moment and consider the idea of softening. Are there any places in your life where you could benefit from a bit of softening or where you could love more the softness that already is? Try this mantra on for size:

I AM SOFT.

Namaste.







June 26, 2018

6500 Hours of Writing...Someday


Last night I was on the floor of my daughter's room stretching while she read to us from the biography Who are Venus and Serena Williams?. (It's part of the "Who Was/Is" series, which we are pretty much addicted to.) We're a good third of the way into the book and she's reading to me about Venus and Serena's early teen years, right before they joined the WTA and went pro.

I stopped her mid-chapter to emphasize what she'd just read...that the Williams' sisters would practice 6 hours a day, during that time, in addition to school work and regular life stuff. Isn't that amazing, I said to her. They clearly had talent, but to become the best, that's how hard they had to work. To win tournaments, to become great, to make it their job, they had to practice 6 hours a day. That's a lot of work, I said, marveling over the fact that they hit more than 100 serves everyday. Can you imagine how tired their arms must have gotten? I asked.

My daughter nodded and went on reading, and I bent over my extended left leg to stretch my sad, tight, little hamstrings...and then promptly had an epiphany, while looking at my knee.

The Williams' sisters stopped competing for 3 years when they were pre/early teens and did nothing but practice. 6 hours a day for 3 years. That's more than 6500 hours of practice...and that doesn't count all the hours they did before and after that period.

6500 hours to become two of the greatest tennis players in the world.

So how does that tie to me?

You may remember that I finished writing and revising a book last month and finally sent out queries to some agents a couple of weeks ago. I've heard back from a few...no interest. I know that all it takes is one agent or editor who likes what they see, and that I've only heard back from a few; but still, it's no fun to get the rejection letters. And I had gotten the most recent one earlier that day. I skimmed it and quickly filed it away, but it was, apparently, still sitting in the back of my mind. Reminding me that I'm not good enough. Whispering of failure.

I've worked harder than ever before on my writing these last two years...but I have not put in 6500 hours. And if 6500 hours of work is what it takes to turn a little talent into great work, then I guess I have a ways to go. So maybe it's not such a big deal if this hasn't happened yet...if it doesn't happen right now. Maybe there's no need to get down on myself. Maybe I just need to keep putting in the hours. If I really want it, I have to go after it. I have to get to the courts early and stay until the lights come on. I have to toss that ball in the air 100 times a day; I have to hit a million forehands and backhands; I have to work with coaches; I have to cross-train.

I have to be like Venus and Serena.

And I also have to remember that I do this because I love it. Because writing stories lights me up. Because when I get it right I feel warm and fuzzy all over.

Lee Harper's books/art
Last week I went to author-illustrator Lee Harper's barn studio for a tour and to hear him speak about his work. It was a really cool experience. I love learning about any artist's process and I love hearing about their roads to publication. Does it sound bad to say that it's heartening to hear other peoples' stories of failure and rejection?

I also read amazing soccer player Abby Wambach's graduation speech* last week. In it she talks about using failure as your fuel. She said, "Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it's something to be powered by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You gotta learn to make failure your fuel."

Here's the thing, I think the universe works to get you the message you need when you need it. Those are three separate messengers all sending me a similar message within days of one another...and right when I needed the reminder.

When you don't succeed at your goal, it's not a sign to give up. It's a sign to work harder.

Until next time, I'll be working on getting my 6500 hours of writing in. So, um, see you in a few more years!




*link to Abby Wambach's speech: https://barnard.edu/commencement/archives/2018/abby-wambach-remarks It's worth the read.



June 14, 2018

Self Care: Why is it Always the First Thing to Go?


When things get crazy in your life and you just can't do it all, what are the first things you drop off your to-do list? I can tell you, without the least bit of hesitation, the first things to fall off mine:

Exercise
Meditation
Healthy eating
Downtime
Hobbytime
Sleep

Which means that when I'm stressed out, the first things I stop doing are the things that help me manage stress.

Brilliant, I know.

Am I only one who does this? I have to believe I'm not.

Nowadays, the month of May and first half of June are almost as crazy as the back half of November and the month of December. Of course, in all the wisdom of my pre-kid-self, I conveniently gave birth to my children in December and May. (Who knew?!?) So in addition to all the other craziness that we all have in those months, I also have kid birthdays. Which basically means I'm insane in May and December. It also means that I am stressed out, more likely to have anxiety attacks (a new-this-year added bonus!), and I consistently stop exercising, meditating, eating healthy, having downtime, and sleeping enough.

Insert eye roll here.

Games: I heart bananagrams.
Which is why I find myself here, on June 14th, trying to pick up the pieces of my crazed and bloated self.

We survived the end of the school year and all that comes with it and now we're on vacation and...it's just lovely. There's swimming and golfing and camp and games and reading and napping...and just loads of self care for everyone. Which means lots of smiles.

So if I know this, if I know that self care equals smiles for all, why do I ever let anything get in the way of it? If I'm miserable when I don't exercise and meditate and chill, why do I ever let those things go?

No really, I'm asking you why. Do you know? Do you know what possesses me (us all) to push ourselves to exhaustion and frayed nerves when we know a better way? I am old enough to know better. I DO know better. So why do I still do it?

Any of you out there who don't drop the self care when the going gets tough, please share your wisdom. Please tell me how you do it. I know the why, I just haven't figured out the how.

And every time I come out the other end of one of these crazy times, I vow that I won't do it next time. I swear the next time things go haywire, I'll keep the self care and let other things fall away. And I never do.

So I thought I'd try some accountability:

On this day, June 14, 2018, I vow to continue doing the things I need to do to feel good even when life gets hectic. You all are my witnesses. Next time you see or hear me all stressed out, please remind me of this vow and send me off to do a meditation or go for a walk or something, okay? You have my permission to sit me down for a good, stern talking-to. Put me in a time out, please.

Because I don't like feeling like this. I don't like feeling fat and bloated and tired and frazzled and scattered and short-tempered and all of the awful things that I become when I let the good stuff go.

So if you're at all like me, if you've stopped the good stuff, the things that make you feel like your true and lovely human self, then consider this your good, stern talking-to:

Stop right now, and go take care of yourself. Go for a walk or a run. Do some yoga. Meditate. Pray. Sleep. Have a salad or a smoothie. Play a game. Paint a picture. Read a book. Watch a Rom-Com. Sit on the patio and stare into space. Do your version of real self care (not fake self care, like eating an entire bag of chips while scrolling Facebook...do the real deal).

Eventually, I believe we'll all really, truly learn this lesson and we'll never stop doing the good stuff again. At least I hope.

Until next time, take care of yourself and encourage others to do the same. Let's all be healthier, happier, and saner.

Namaste.




May 3, 2018

Summer Planning and Being #OOFs



I just read this Instagram post by Glennon Doyle that shows a photo of a woman walking her dog from a golf cart. Glennon had named this woman the "VP of the #OOF Club" (that's "Out of Fucks to Give Club") for "carrying a bucket of coffee the size of Florida and finding a way to beat the dog walking system at its own game-- driving 1 mile per hour in front of me and not even considering pulling over or speeding up for me." Glennon wasn't mad; she goes on to say, "HERE'S TO WOMEN WHO REST WHEN WE'RE TIRED."

(And we're tired.)

This made me think of the notes I put in the kids lunch boxes today. For the last 8 months I have written a fun joke and a note to each of my kids and put them in their lunches pretty much every day. These notes are on colorful, cute-shaped sticky notes; they are written in multi-colored pens; they are usually done the night before.

This morning I scribbled I <3 U on a sticky and tossed it in.

This then made me think of the meme or video or something I saw recently showing a mom just sticking a hunk of cheese into her kid's lunch box and calling it a day. Which then made me think of the meme from Jen Hatmaker I saw yesterday that said, "We were awesome back in October; don't forget that."

Which all makes me think that I am not the only one that is just done...with all of it. I know that when August rolls around I will be craving routine and days without the kids all up in my business; but right now, I am done with it all...the early-rising, the lunch making, the rushing, the spelling words and rocket math practice, the after-school activities, the dinner making, the bed-time routine...ALL THE ROUTINES! And all of the obligations and schedules and planning and time-figure-outing.

So, of course, right when we hit this point of DONENESS, that's when the schedule gets the craziest of all...I'll take you're already busy schedule and throw in multiple t-ball games a week, and prep for dance and music recitals, and school concerts, and school field trips, and scouts field trips, and end of year parties, and Saturday activities, and birthday parties, and...ACK! I can't even.

And just when I CAN'T EVEN...let's throw in SUMMER SCHEDULING!

I'm sorry, but when did this become a thing? When did scheduling summer activities, lessons, camps and trips WAY IN ADVANCE become such a stressful, logistical nightmare???

I'm so stressed by the prospect of actually doing the summer planning-- figuring it all out and committing to everything-- that I just keep putting off doing it. Figuring out when we're traveling is enough to make me want to stay home; then add swim lessons and cool camps and camps to go to the same weeks friends are going... My brain feels like it's going to explode.

I thought about just not signing up for anything and not planning any trips; but this, as it turns out, is more of a delayed punishment for me than anything else. (Delayed punishment is like delayed gratification, but not as much fun.) If I want to be able to work or have a break at all this summer, my kids need to do some camps. And I don't want them to drown, so swim lessons are pretty important. And everything has to be signed up for WAY in advance. Plus trips to see family and just get away are a must...and make sure not to double-book anything! So?


So, here I am, staring at the summer calendar and the list of activities...and they're staring back at me, demanding to be figured-out. I empty the dishwasher and come back. They're still there. I make the beds. Still there. I do yoga. Still there. I check email. Still. There.

Fuck! Leave me alone!

Still there.

Sigh. If anyone needs me I'll be in my padded cell plotting a calendar.

Until next time...oh, I don't know. It's May, I'm all out of fucks to give.






April 23, 2018

Spring Pea and Quinoa Salad with Honey-Lemon Vinegrette

photo from pinchofyum.com
It's been a while since I shared a recipe and this one was so good, I knew that it would be my next post. Sadly, I did not realize this until after we'd devoured the entire batch...so I have no pics! I'll likely make it again next week, so I'll come back and add some pics then.

So, this quinoa salad is pretty simple; it's nice and light, making it perfect for spring/summer; it's healthy, so you can feel good about eating; and, of course, it's delicious!

Let's get to the recipe!

Spring Pea and Quinoa Salad with Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette*

For the salad:
1 cup uncooked quinoa
3 cups frozen, organic peas
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
6 slices turkey-bacon, cooked and chopped
1/2 cup raw almonds, pulsed in a food processor until crushed (or super finely chopped)

For the dressing:
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 tbsp raw honey (or to taste)
2-3 tbsp basil paste (or to taste) or 1/2 cup fresh basil minced or pureed
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

Rinse and cook the quinoa according to package directions. (I like to soak my quinoa in water for at least a half hour before I cook it.) You can make the quinoa as you make the salad, or you can make it up in advance and keep it in the fridge for when you're ready to use it.

While the quinoa is cooking, cook the turkey bacon in a pan over medium heat until cooked and crispy. Let cool, then chop or crumble. (You can cook the bacon up in advance as well.)

Pulse the almonds in a food processor until crushed.

Bring a pot of water to a boil then remove it from the heat. Add the peas and cover. Let cook for a few minutes, until bright green. Drain.

Puree all of the dressing ingredients in a food processor or whisk briskly/shake in a shaker or jar with tight-fitting lid. (Just get 'em good and mixed, and emulsified however you can!) Note: I use the Gourmet Garden basil paste shown here and it works great. You can find it near the fresh herbs at the grocery.

Toss the peas with the cooked quinoa, then add the feta, and crushed almonds. Toss the dressing with the salad ingredients; salt and pepper as needed; and top with chopped bacon.

Enjoy!


Until next time, eat more good, whole, healthy foods and you're body will thank you for it!


*Recipe adapted from pinchofyum.com. Check her out. I plan to try other recipes from her site.


April 13, 2018

Fear

Fear is a funny thing. It can invade our subconscious with ninja-like stealth and get us to do things we don't really want to do without our even realizing it. Fear is the creepy puppet master behind so many of our bad decisions.

After lots of hard work, I am staring at the near-end of my work on one of my books. I am so excited to get it done and I want nothing more than to share this story with the world.

Until fear enters the picture.

The next step in the process is to have a few people beta read the book before I ready it for agent pitches and queries. While this is something you can pay someone to do, my plan is to ask people I know to read it and share their thoughts. It's not line by line edits, but bigger picture feedback, like: "It gets a little slow in the middle;" or "I didn't really like this character;" or "This chapter made no sense at all;" or "This totally sucks."

As a writer, you hope for mostly glowing responses, mixed with some great insight that helps you make the story even better. But there is a big risk in letting people-- especially people you know, in my opinion--  read your writing.

And risk breeds fear. And fear breeds anxiety. And fear and anxiety breed the fight, flight, or freeze response.

So I start what-if-ing.

What if it sucks? What if people read it and think I'm a terrible writer? What if they read it and wonder how I could possibly devote this much time to something I'm so bad at? What if they think it'll never get published? What if they think I should stop writing? What if I embarrass myself? What if I look like a complete ass?

What if, what if, what if???

I'm not much for fighting, but it's easy to consider running away...in this case, that might look like letting everything else in my life take over my time, suddenly making myself too busy to finish the work; or freezing up...ever heard of writer's block?

As I get closer and closer to the point of no return (sending the book out to people), I find my psyche doing a dance between pushing toward the finish line and taking side street detours. I burn through another chapter of revisions, then schedule a bunch of activities that take away my time to work. I refocus, push through another chapter, then freeze, and spend an entire day just staring at the words on one page, making zero progress.

Why is this not done already? I ask myself. What is taking me so long?

It's the dance.

Which is to say: It's the fear.

So I force myself to take small but bold actions-- things that can be done quickly and force accountability-- to try and outsmart the fear. I post on Facebook or Instagram something about my writing, my deadline, or my goals. I tell friends and family about what I'm up to. I write blog posts about it. ;-) In hopes that making it public, will make me accountable.

But it doesn't lessen the fear or what ifs. It just makes me bulldoze over them, full-throttle: "Watch out suckers, I'm coming through!"

And in the quiet moments, I challenge the what ifs.

What if it sucks? Then I'll rewrite it and make it better; or I'll learn from it, like I did the last one, and the next one will be better. And, by the way, what if it doesn't suck?

What if they think it'll never get published? Then either they'll be right, and I'll move on; or they'll be wrong...

What if I embarrass myself and look like a complete ass? Would I rather embarrass myself now with bad writing, or embarrass myself later by never having pursued my dreams and having lived a wasted life?

And that's really what it all comes down to, isn't it?

"We tiptoe through life hoping to safely make it to death." --Anonymous

Fear is never going to go away. So here's to bulldozing right on over the top of that shit!

Until next time, challenge one of your fears. Don't wait for it to go away. Just push on past it and get on with your bad self.

xo