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What to Do When You Have to Wait for Success

In Seth Godin’s latest book What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) he talks about how the radical cultural and economic changes of the past 10-20 years have created room for a very different type of work to emerge. With increased access to tools that once didn’t exist, we artists and dreamers have more opportunities to shine while also making a living.

But with increased digital resources, why do so few of us actually commit to living out these dreams? And I mean REALLY commit to it.

Sure there are the hangers on to days gone by, the ones who refuse to flex to history’s flow and stay rigidly rooted in their ruts, but what about the rest of us?

As with most limitations I think it comes back to fear, fear of the unknown, of failure, or even fear of success. However, there’s another facet: what it actually means to live in a state of tension.

When I think about it, there’s one thing we often run from in our modern society, it’s tension.

We don’t want to endure the tension of waiting to find out if we got likes on that Facebook post so we open the app for the fifteenth time today; we don’t want to wait for the finale of our favorite TV show so we binge watch, and we don’t want to sit through the news to hear the key headlines so we go online and consume, consume, consume.

Seth asks the question, “What happens to your work if you’re able to wait a little longer?”

Think of the last great novel you read or movie you saw, do they work because the tension is relieved in the first chapter, or scene, or because it builds throughout and resolves only near the end?

I’m totally guilty of avoiding tension, or at least I have been historically. I’m the type of person who decides, then does, and wants immediate results. It’s in my nature, or the very least my habit, and it’s part of what makes me a go-getter. But it’s also hurt me when I’m too impatient to see something through. Sometimes I need to pace myself, or remind myself that there’s also value in the in between.

In fact, most of our lives are lived in the in between.

So I ask, what might we miss out on if we only ever take the easier, more immediately rewarding path, or grasp at only low-hanging fruit?


While I don’t think we should view our creative work in too precious a light, I think there’s a lot to learn about the art of living from the natural course of nature.

Me, age 17, at thirty-six weeks along with my son. 1998, Michigan. Also, why did I pose in front of a giant white teddy bear?

When I was pregnant with my first child (my son) a nurse gave me the news that pregnancy isn’t really nine months like everyone says, it’s really more like ten–if you think about the fact that it’s 40 whole weeks, that is. Of course this is wonky math, but when you’re headed down a road where this being inside you hijacks your digestive, hormone, endocrine, and immune system for almost a year, you start counting weeks.

I was seventeen, newly married, and living in BFE—or rather Michigan—far from my family in California trying to imagine just how long nine months would feel. During my first trimester, I was barfing around three times a day and could barely keep the occasional saltine down. I was also working full-time as a preschool teacher, while my then husband went to school and also worked.

At my one of my first checkups, I sat on the crinkly paper atop the table waiting for my midwife to step into the exam room. I studied a nearby poster with illustrated renderings of each month of pregnancy.

At ten weeks along,  I learned that my baby now had the beginnings of little feet and hands and even a heartbeat, though he was the size of a bean. The largest illustration on the poster was a cross-section of a uterus containing a baby so big that it seemed to defy physical probability.  I wondered where the heck would my intestines and bladder go once this monster baby took over my torso. 

I was excited about my baby, but worried about how this long journey, and feats of internal physical contortion would pan out. The thought that grounded me was this: women and babies had been partnering in this dance for tens of thousands of years. We would both be okay.

With a knock on the door, my midwife walked popped her head in. She was a kind-eyed black woman who just exuded the feeling of calm. I felt better just seeing her face. She had this maternal way of being that helped the lonely seventeen-year old me relax a bit.

Asking how I was feeling she pulled out a heart monitor device out, rubbed it against her hand to warm it up and placed it low on my belly. I heard my heartbeat first and then a faster, lighter beat. To that point, having a baby felt mostly like sore boobs and round the clock nausea and not much else. But in that moment, it got real. My baby was real. That was the moment I became a mother.

In the coming months, I worried a lot. About things I had no control over, like first whether he would form correctly, until the ultrasound confirmed everything was normal, then I worried about whether he’d have a giant birthmark across his face or something awful the ultrasound couldn’t detect.

I felt kind of helpless but also in awe that my body and my baby’s body knew what to do. Even if I didn’t.

Of course, I could control what I put in my body and what I exposed myself to, which I did, with vigilance. But everything else was up to the workings of two bodies partnering in a dance that nature itself had perfected.

Just after he was born. Me and my son. You can thank the Nineties and scrapbooking for the beautiful design of my couch and the background, respectively. 😉

As much as I yearned to hold my baby boy in my arms and see his little face, I knew nature must run its course. I knew he had to stay in until he was done baking. And he did, even stayed in an extra week for good measure. Lucky me. Then he emerged fully formed, perfect. Indeed, lucky us.

Maybe our dreams, our goals, the good work we aim to do in this life can be viewed through a pregnancy analogy. Things mature in their own time, or become fully realized as they’re meant to. The problem is, we don’t always know when the appointed time of our dreams birthing. Sometimes you have to push hard at the right time, but there’s also a beauty in the expectation and tension of something truly wonderful materializing through perseverance.

Life is anything but predictable, and sadly just like pregnancy, things don’t always go the way we want. Sometimes, we do our best and things still don’t work. Sometimes, it does.

The truth is we don’t have control over outcomes, only the grit and work we put in. At a certain point we must dust off our hands and acknowledge when we’ve done our best. We’ve honored our calling. And leave the rest to nature, or the Universe, or God, or whatever you believe in.

I try to bring myself back to this when I feel myself vibrating at light-speed, revving for action right away, or when I’m down on myself, feeling like I’ve failed yet again. Tension isn’t necessarily comfortable, but I’m working on allowing it to move through me as opposed to allowing it to knock me down.

Sometimes it’s better to just take action and get shit done. Other times its worth it to work on something for as long as it takes to get it where it needs to be. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or a loser, or lazy. It’s one of those mysteries of life that we must hold with open hands.

As I set my intentions each day, I’m going to be working on being more at peace with the natural tension it takes to create something worthwhile. I hope this idea helps you right at the moment you might need it.

In the spirit of apparently being in almost every pic in this post, here’s me with Seth’s book. You should go buy it. 😉

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Inspiration is for Freakin’ Amateurs

Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. -Chuck Close

I realize this is a funny thing to say given that my work is largely infused with inspiration/motivation, but you’ll see what I’m really getting at. As writers and/or artists, we know that 90% of the battle is just putting your damn butt in the chair to write, or picking up the paintbrush (or pencil), or whatever implement you use to create. Yet all too often we expect this flash of inspiration to hit us like a gift from the gods.

Sure sometimes that happens, but more often than not it’s a slow build.

For me, creative writing, especially nonfiction about my life, is often an arduous process. There’s the occasional moment where the clouds part and the Universe says, “here you go, honey,” as they hand me a nugget of flow.

But usually, it pretty much goes like this:

 

As a kid I was a good student. I hated disappointing anyone almost as much as I hated being anything less than perfect. For the most part I got straight A’s. I was highly disappointed in myself if I didn’t.

Classmates would often remark that I was “so smart” or how they wished they could get A’s like I did. Frankly, this kind of pissed me off. Sure, on the surface this was a compliment, but underneath was the assumption that I just had some special gift that they didn’t. Bear with me, I know I sound like a bragging asshole right now.

I spent hours studying, doing drills, and practicing to earn those grades. In fact, in fourth grade when I got my first D ever (ironically, in spelling), Dad and I worked every night for months to bring that up to an A.

I was lucky that my parents definitely passed down their genetic propensity for traditional intelligence (make no mistake there are many different types of intelligence), but after that, it was up to me to get the grades even in subjects that felt like my brain was being torn apart. I’m looking at you math and conceptual physics!

In seventh grade this girl Mary and I competed for the best grades, we were often neck-in-neck for who had the best percentage A. This was when I realized there were smarter, harder working kids than me. She wanted it more and maybe she was smarter than me, too. I backed down a bit from my quest for perfection and sometimes settled for B’s or C’s (conceptual physics, you bitch). If I couldn’t be THE best, I’d get by with my reasonable best.

The thing is, I never applied this drive to physical activity as a kid. When it came to sports of most kinds, I was riddled with self-doubt and self-pity. If I couldn’t hit the ball, run fast enough, or catch often enough I just gave up. I needed to be at the top, and if I couldn’t I bowed out. It didn’t occur to me that hard work might just get me to “decent” eventually. I understood how to apply hardwork to school, but not as much to other things.

~

Fast forward twenty-some years to when I started out at UCLA X Writers Program. I entered thinking I was a pretty good writer who just needed to learn some tools in order to write better. From my first class, I realized I was an amateur. I was not even close to the top tier. Again, I wanted to be THE best. 

I secretly dreamed of being the next Joan Didion, or Mary Karr, until I realized I would likely not only would have to work for decades, but also was not born with their level of talent either.

Something had shifted. After a brief mourning period around not being born a golden child, I was able to better fight the urge to be perfect. I cared so much about becoming a better writer. Writing was something I’d wanted to learn since high school, and now I was finally doing it. I wanted to learn as much as possible, and push myself to my best, but not THE best. 

The initial momentum of my dream to become a writer propelled me, but it was the revisiting of it that got me through the hundreds of edits and thousands of hours of writing. I still feel as if I have a long way to go, but now just being on the path is enough to keep me going.

~

I liken creative work to walking. When you’re doing the work, you often feel as if you’re just staring at your feet as they step over the earth. You’re not sure where things are going, or even where you’ve been. There’s beauty in that presence, but if you don’t look up occasionally you’ll likely fall off a cliff or wander into a bad neighborhood.

On the other hand, if all you do is look up and around and your surroundings, looking for inspiration or motivation, you’ll never effectively see the path that leads you to your goals. And we all know the path is always a winding one.

I think then that our best bet is to do both. Observe what’s happening in our world, look forward toward our goals, our ultimate vision, as we call it in my personal branding course.  But we must also remember to look down at our feet, be in the moment, so we don’t stumble over that rock, or we can step over that brook, or clear out those branches that have fallen to block our path.

The rewards are all around us and even within the work of our path. But it’s that combination of steps, moving forward–the daily work–that leads us closer to our dreams, while that looking up that reminds us why we’re here.  

The more we do the work, the more inspiration follows. We don’t have to be the best, but when we are relentless in the pursuit of our calling, dream, or purpose, our most inspired work bursts forth.

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Fighting Dirty

This is a piece I’ve been holding on to for years (since my kids were in elementary school). Today I was inspired by a fellow writer to post this. Hope you can relate. 😀 

fighting-dirtyPhyllis Diller once said, “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk in a blizzard.”

Is it just me or have you ever felt like “Dirty” is actually conspiring against you? As if no matter how much you clean, you’ll never win? There is a war going on in my home. It’s not between me and my children, or even my boyfriend. No, this is between me and Dirty!

On any given day as I suit up with my all natural cleaning products, my vacuum, and an iron-willed determination to rid the house of squalor, the onslaught begins. Quietly at first, it materializes in the Little Stains on the carpet, whispering their disappointment.

“How you could you have missed us? Tsk, tsk!”

Then the Dirty Laundry taunts me, piling up in flaccid indifference. Like wallowing swine, it revels in repose.

The Dust leers at me, collecting itself on every prone surface. I dust away that which I know full well will return in only moments. In the shadows, it accumulates, waiting for me to falter, building its mite-ridden legion.

Every room of my home is a battlefield.

The kitchen burgeons with self-indulgent villains. As I step onto the Linoleum, it provokes me, flagrantly flaunting every splatter and crumb. The Dirty Dishes breed on the counter. Yet the clean ones hide, discreetly tucked away in cupboards. But not the Dirty Dishes, they simply wait by the ‘pool’ for me to massage the food off their porcelain skins. In the corner the Garbage Can, always protected by its liner, somehow still manages to attract the nastiest of odors. Mystery liquids collect inside it, inundating the house with toxic gases.

But the most maniacal of household hooligans is both devious and ubiquitous, manipulating the best of my intentions. The Clutter is everywhere. Often, it can be hard to tell if an item is part of the Clutter or if it is something more important: perhaps a bill, a coupon or a progress report. If I wait too long to decide they will multiply.

Worst of all I am betrayed by my own children’s unwitting allegiance to Dirty. Their loyalty is most apparent in their bedrooms. Items discovered and treasured–if only for a moment–are hoarded there. Their collections of random artifacts: paper clips, stones, crumpled leaves, wrappers, shells, dried-up snails and other knick-knacks have formed a bond of profane chaos. In the wee hours of the morning I imagine these baubles striking alliances with the Dust, becoming eager accomplices to Dirty’s work.

As toddlers, my children brought two of the most unholy warriors into the fray. The most depraved warlords of house: the Pee-Pee and the Poo-Poo. Walking by my son’s room, the Pee-Pee or the Poo-Poo (or both, as they often travel together) would waft evil tendrils at my nose. The hunt would begin. Of course they would not be in a diaper or the toilet. Oh no! Following their vapor trail, I would find these two consorting in the Lego box, taking a cat nap on the carpet, or crouched for attack in the closet. These days though, these foul foes are confined to one room: the most dangerous of all battlefields.

The most active frontline of our home is the Bathroom. Here the little black hairs taunt me, spending their last moments curled in defiance on the tiles. The dribbles from misaligned toilet adventures whirl up their pungent, yellow reek. The mirror languishes behind water spots and toothpaste splashes, as the toilet revels in its ring-around-the-collar.

In cacophony, the legion of Dirty calls out to me:

“Go ahead and clean, we’ll just infiltrate again soon. You shall never defeat us!”

Deep down I know it’s true. Here and there I win small victories. They are short-lived, but divine: a freshly vacuumed carpet, a pristine bathroom mirror. Sometimes in the still moments, when the house has just been cleaned I relax, kick my feet up and sip some tea. These are the moments I must remember during the dark times, when I’m dug in, in a swirl of dust, scouring away.

Yet no matter how many battles I win, it comes to this: I will never defeat Dirty for good. So if you ever visit, please know Dirty and I have reached a truce. The battles are fewer now. And as much as it may irk me, I know someday when I’m old, I will not regret my decision to fill my hours with those I love, rather than constantly battling an enemy whom I can never truly defeat.

 

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Feel Wonder Again

A walk in the park.  Our busy lives make it seem so difficult.

I’m making the simple act of walking more of a priority in my daily life. And boy howdy, does it change my mood. It was good to just be in the moment. To feel the wonder again. Here are a few photos from my stroll this morning. (I’m no photographer, but hope these bring you some peace anyway. )

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start admiring the little things again.

 

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Writing Peace

The window near my desk is fogged up against the cold and rain outside. The drops cling to the dirty window screen like tiny crystals.  I’m sitting here in a coveted state of alone.  The whiz of cars on wet streets, the gentle hum of my laptop and the muted clack of keyboard strokes are the only sounds.  It’s lovely.  I feel the quiet fill me.  The space between chaos, to-do lists, shopping, cooking and work is here.

“I love you,” I almost say aloud, to this peace.

Of all the bustling I do in order to set aside a time of calm, is now worthwhile. To feel like I’ve run around like a chicken with its head lopped off and then to lie down and just bleed out, feels good.

As I sit here, it strikes me how much my love affair with writing is growing.  Writing is like that special someone from the past–that crush you wonder what could have happened with.  I’ve had friends who, after dating around for years, ended up coming back to an old high school flame.  Writing is like that for me, an old crush I never pursued before.  Now that we’ve found each other again, as worldly wise adults, we’re so meant to be, it’s ridiculous.

Sure it’s like any other relationship, hard to get enough quality time together; sometimes we fight, or don’t communicate or feel like we have nothing in common anymore.  But when I’m back here, at my keyboard or with pen and pad, I remember why I fell in love in the first place.

This is my home.  From the depths of my soul, to the inappropriateness of my jokes, this is where I can truly be me.  From emotional shit storms to oases of peace, I get to wrench out my guts and throw them down on the table, oozing and floppy, to dissect and cull, prod and discover.  And it doesn’t even matter who cares.

We’re all gloriously messy humans, sad, happy, conflicted or numb, but when we read someone who has been through it too, it becomes more than words, an alchemy of souls.  On the flip side, when you write and someone reads, then emotes, what you had set out to explore (and sometimes even more than you intended to share) – Oh my God, what a feeling!

Those were the connections I made, in my first Creative Nonfiction writing class (which ended this week).  People from all walks of life, being brave, shared the inner workings of their memories, their pains and joys.  People unafraid to explore the emotion of our lives, these are my people.  At 33, I found them, people who feel so deeply, think so expansively, strive so luminously to tell the stories that make sense of our lives:  Writers.

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Brave

If you’re ever in a down moment, need a little inspiration, Sara’s got it for you. I heart this video/song! (And yes, I’ve been known to spontaneously dance in public – my kids & boyfriend can attest to that).

 

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Don’t Cry Over Spilled Latte

I was pulling my Starbucks cup in close to breathe in what would end up being my last waft of Pumpkin Spice Tea latte. I set the lauded holiday cup down on my kitchen table gently, reveling in what would soon be my joy. But something went terribly wrong, I tilted the cup too far and it landed almost entirely horizontal. Precious orange-caramel hued  fluid billowed from the cup and all over the table. No, my heart cried out, No! In vain I scrambled to rescue it, clutching the cup with both hands, helplessly watching as my latte convulsed below.

Time seemed to slow, as if often does in moments of trauma. Desperate thoughts assailed my mind in rapid succession: I should have caught it with my hands! Can I tip the table and pour it back in the cup? Should I wipe it with a paper towel and squeeze it back into the rest? It’s still warm; perhaps I could just lick it up off the table.

I looked down at the devoided cup between my palms, not even 1 inch of fluid was all that remained of my creamy, pumpkiny, caffeine brew. The 8 plus ounces that had spilled over the table, now dripped onto the tiles below. It was only then that I realized how shitty my day had begun.

That morning I had waited so long for this beverage, having bought it  hours ago while waiting for a friend who ended up forgetting our coffee date. I had only sipped on it, conserving its sweet goodness for when I returned home from my errands. I had set it aside as I restarted the load of laundry my children had forgotten to finish the night before, rewashing the sour towels that had sat undried for too long.

As I walked into my kitchen, chores done, on the gloomy, cool November morning my thoughts turned to how nice it would be to sit at my desk with a piping hot latte by my side. I had removed its lid, refreshed its milk a little and warmed it up in the microwave. It was going to be a perfect accompaniment to my morning. I got one last sniff. And then I got to clean the table and the floor.

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Thankful

It’s in the words left unsaid,

the home you once had,

love lost.

What life should have been.

The light in her eyes,

the concentration in his lips,

the arms that hold you now.

Warm.

 

The friends that remain.

Food on the table.

A good busy.

Hope.

 

Look into their eyes.

Love and say it.

Thankful.

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Confessions

I have a confession to make, sad but true. I haven’t been writing. On April 9th I wrote that I would be scaling back my blog writing to 3 days per week, but writing every day. I have not held my word on this.

It’s amazing how the discipline of the first month propelled me to keep up with daily writing. Then once I gave myself too general of a goal I basically used it as an excuse to put it off – for weeks.

Of course a lot has also changed over the past few weeks – I am working my jobs but have also received a wonderful influx of side work, kids have a ton going on and to top it off we just moved. Oh & we have a big trip in a couple weeks. So as my wise boyfriend told me – “wait til you’re back from your trip to recommit to a more disciplined writing schedule again.”

So that’s the plan. I’ll be back more consistently, with some nice juicy posts I’ve been mulling over, probably mid to late May.

In the meantime though I do want to tell you that I am seeing some awesome things happen in my life since I took the leap of faith to pursue my dreams. It’s amazing how the universe (God) steps things up when you set your intention on what you were made to do.

I look forward to sharing more about those things with you very soon.

Oh & while I’ve slacked off on writing I have still been attending Toastmasters! Still actively working toward my dreams…just a little slower at the moment.