Every creative being has a soul-deep passion, some kind of unique magic that is just waiting to be expressed.
Many of us have lost track of a wider sense of belonging because of our relationship and family structures, because of our demanding jobs, because wine is easier, because there are so many things tugging at our attention that seem more important than connections with soul friends.
It’s time to look at our need for community, our need for sovereignty, and how the two blend together.
My current work in progress describes how the Celtic Sovereignty Goddess guides women through the transitions of modern life. Why write a book about crowning the queen within if you can't rewrite a few rules along the way? Especially when I'm taking these moments to write to you and the rest of my beloved community of healers, writers, and creatives.
My little one is home with me today, and it might make more sense to hit the grocery store and put away all that laundry so I can empty the baskets and start the whole process again. But, instead, I'm giving myself permission to let her watch Moana for the twelfth time and I am using this stolen hour to do the dream.This is new for me. Until just a few weeks ago, I'd never allow myself to sit down and work on my creative projects before the kids' bedtime. It seems the Sovereignty Goddess is whispering: it's time.
Dreaming Time and Doing Time
This life I lead, as a mother and a creative entrepreneur, it offers ample time for dreaming.
Driving the kids around, throwing together yet another soup, dealing with all that laundry... When the girls amuse one another and when I remind myself that it's ok to turn off NPR (the madness in Washington will go on whether I listen to every news report or not), I find new vast new territories within my own mind.
Yes, this life with small children may give me time to dream, but it often leaves very little time to do. I have time for my clients, of course. I have time to co-create the podcast. But time to actually do my own writing? That has often seemed impossible...
But then, this book project awoke within me. Re-awoke, I might say, but I am not 100% sure that's a word.
With the spring rains, with the rising tides of my own life, and the churning waters of these tumultuous times in the collective, the Sovereignty Goddess rose out of the earth, out of the past, and out of my own past studies and told me it was time. (Get a taste of her magic here.)
And so, the S.G. gets my creative doing time every Friday, and she gets lots of dreamtime in between. And I feel more alive than I have in long, long time.
Out of the Barren Territory of "Just a Dream"
I'm realizing how much effort I have put into dreaming the dream, and how little I devoted to doing the dream. This long time habit has left me feeling barren and lost... I was terribly accustomed to the bitter cycle of feeling inspired and then feeling disappointed as all those ideas just faded into the ethers.
What about you... are you able to dream the dream but just don't have the time and space to do the dream?
I'd love to talk with you about how I can help you capture that creative energy and turn it into words on a page that touch the hearts of your readers and potential clients.
As is often the way with everyday magic, you don’t notice it even when it’s right under your nose. Or encircling your back yard. We lived in the house for a few years before we realized we lived in wild berry heaven. Our land bursts with joyful, succulent gifts every July, but we never noticed until we slowed down to a toddler’s pace and humbled ourselves to look at the world through the eyes of a child.
And now our second girl is a passionate berry picker too. She’s insatiable, really, but at least we know where to find her when we say “but I thought YOU were watching her!”
This need to chaperone a two year-old in a fruitful paradise that also features thorns, concealed ditches, ticks, snakes, and poison ivy brings life to a halt a few times each day.
When at my best, I'm a merry companion willing to tear my dress to reach that perfect cluster of sweetness. Then there are the moments when I’m itching to start dinner or do some writing or simply go find some shoes so I can satisfy the incessant requests for “Berries! Berries! Mama, ber-RIES!” without injuring myself.
There are also the in-between times when it’s possible to be the present parent and take an expedition into my own creativity at the same time.
As I said, it took us a while to notice we even had something so wonderful to harvest. But now that we know what to look for and we’ve come to expect this annual burst of Mother Earth’s abundance, we have a chance to learn the berries’ stages of growth. And impatient pickers that we may be, we try to act accordingly.
We know the tight fists, tough beginnings, sparkling jewels, and shining stars. These are the prickly buds, the unripe fruits, the ultimate treat, and the beauty left behind when a berry has been picked.
Now, think about that story you’ve been longing to tell, the idea that you long to pull out of your head and put on paper. Consider the post that you want to see take root in the hearts of your audience…
At what stage are you? What can you do and what can you expect?
Is it a prickly bud? Perhaps all of the energy still needs to be aimed inward. The idea still needs more time. Though things look quiet from the outside, there’s tremendous growth and organization happening within. The reward seems terribly far off, but the promise is huge.
You need to give yourself time to write some meandering first drafts and to let yourself spend time on the self-focused first draft. Allow. Explore. Practice patience.
Is it unripe fruit? Maybe the structure of the piece of writing has emerged and now you’re tempted to push it out into the world, even if it’s not fully ready. This is when you must remember that the surest way to a disappointment - and a sore stomach - is found when you force a still-in-process post or product in the world. Perfection isn’t the goal, but putting out something that you know is unready is a way of devaluing yourself, your story, and your audience.
Walk away from the piece for hours or days and return with fresh eyes. Call on a friend or think about hiring a writing and storytelling coach who can help you see the big picture and fit all of the vital pieces together.
Is it the ideal moment to harvest? With love, time, and attention - or water, time, and sunshine - that piece of writing is ready to emerge in all of its fullness. Oh, it tastes so sweet on your tongue and it will bring such pleasure and nourishment to those you share it with!
Hit publish and savor the sweetness.
Is it time to share the beauty? There’s a bit of sadness when you release a treasured idea into a world where it might be gobbled up or left to rot on the shelf. Trust that you nurtured your idea with attention and patience. Trust its inherent nurturing nature and promote yourself.
Let other people know about your little shining star. And what if you put it out there and no one seems to notice? Try again. We live in an age of media saturation and a lack of response isn’t a judgement of your work’s worthiness.
I wish I could have you over for a chat down in our berry patch. Let's try the next best thing: set up a free 15 minute consultation to discuss how I can help you get from first shoots to a brilliant harvest.
Everyone has heard that snarky line “those who can’t, teach.” The updated version is said with even more venom: “those who can’t, coach.” I have no use for the throwaway cruelty that lies at the heart of both phrases. Such statements either come from self-loathing or the petty judgement of those standing outside the arena. “Not good enough” never serves anyone and never gets anything done.
And think about it for a moment - this whole idea has a flip side: “those who can, must.”
My 2016 project, #365StrongStories, has taught me a great deal about what it means to do something every day just because you can. It very quickly becomes a dangerous "should."
I’m a born writer. It’s what I do for work and for fun. But when writing becomes a massive obligation - I must because I can, I must because I committed, I must because I am not good enough if I don't… Then you run the risk of making every word a punishing, impossible chore.
In the process of all this doing, all this daily writing, I remembered why I took up teaching and coaching storytellers and writers. It wasn’t because I couldn’t do the writing myself but because it doesn’t make sense for me to do that full time. My creative resources won’t stretch that far. And I do not think they are supposed to.
When Melvin Varghese of Selling the Couch interviewed me, I had a chance to share my insights into why storytelling is important to clinicians in private practice and how to use it to connect to clients. I also talk about making a sane, compassionate commitment to your writing practice.
As I listened back on our conversation, I was struck by the value that lies not just in doing but in supporting the process of those who are trying to find their own way. Humbly and gratefully, I fell just a little bit more in love with the work I get to do.
Save your resources for the stories that matter. Support your creative process by guiding others. When all else fails, support your creative process by pulling out the earbuds and going for a walk as you listen to someone else discuss her craft.
Have you ever heard about the frogs placed in a pot of water? If the temperature rises slowly enough, it’s said they don’t noticed they’re being boiled into an early froggy grave. It’s not a pretty experiment. Apparently the 19th century German researchers who did this - they were on a quest to locate the soul - didn’t think much of our amphibious friends' ability to feel pain.
And it’s not a particularly flattering metaphor either. It has been applied to humans who don’t take action in the face of all sorts of worsening circumstances from the Cold War to climate change to civil rights abuses.
I have no desire to equate myself with our friends from the swamp, so let’s prettify and domesticate the image, shall we?
If you slowly drain the creative waters out of a bathtub and just keep turning up the heat in the steamy room, it seems that a writer won’t notice she’s no longer bathing in inspiration.
When I began #365StrongStories, I made a declaration: I would walk my talk and demonstrate that it’s possible to consistently turn little moments of life and brief flashes of inspiration into stories. Ruthlessly, I named the project, pointed to the calendar, and embarked upon my mission.
I certainly do not have the temperament to be a scientist, but I realize I would have been better served to call this an “experiment” and talking about my "hypothesis" instead. That way, skipping a day or two of writing and publishing wouldn't have felt like a failure. A day of silence would have been a data point on the living graph that tracks the ebb and flow of creative energy, time to devote to the page, and the patience it takes to select just the right font and image.
I didn’t plan to take a long weekend away from my stories. We weren’t occupied by a special occasion or some family trauma. The creative tub had simply run dry. Ordinarily, I would have put off sleep or couch time with my husband to pull something together for the blog. Over the last few days, however, I just poured a glass of wine and said “let’s watch one more Outlander. ”
I couldn't even muster the energy to feel guilty or fret over the promises I had made to my audience.
Three days away from writing and generally refusing to show up gave me the space to notice how emptied out I am. I’ve let my most vital resources - my creativity and my inspiration - dry up in the name of some personal mission that was conceived with all too little self-compassion.
The stories will continue to flow when there’s enough in my reserves to share.
At this point, I am using what creative juices I have left to look at “365” in a new way. I promised a year of stories. Well, who said they all have to appear in 2016?
Today is the 137th day of the year and I believe this is the 132nd story I have written or curated since January 1. That realization alone and seeing how much I have created and held? That begins to fill the cisterns immediately.
This experience is teaching me to become a student of compassionate creative limits. Let’s learn from one another! Please let me know how you manage to keep the tub of inspiration filled and how you might have let your resources run dry.
Yin yoga, she said, is a journey along a path. From time to time, you reach a gate. You have the choice press into it. You see if your body wishes to surrender and move through or if the gate must stay shut. The practice is stay on path and accept that this is as far as you’re going to get today.
I followed along, contemplating the divots in a mat that once saw vigorous daily use. It was distracting, trying to remember how long it had been since I took “work time” to do something as rebellious as an online yoga class. Clearly this was one of those “emotional gates” the instructor was talking about.
The resistance in my hips, in the back of my thighs, I knew these were untold stories. These were the stories I had literally been sitting on. The body was asked to hold them because my mind was just too full.
This isn’t an original idea, of course. We know that the cells, the joints, and the muscles carry the information and the feelings the brain refuses to claim. But this “gate theory” that Julie Schoen talked about, I felt this reverberate through my creaking bones as I tried to rely on them to support me through these long poses.
And by “Story,” I mean the capital “s” Sovereign Story that you craft as you pass through the gates of all the small “s” stories. Your Sovereign Story is your declaration of why you are here, what you are meant to offer, who you know yourself to be. It is your True Story of what it means to be human.
To get to that story, you write into situations, into long held emotions, into unresolved hurts, and triumphs you think you fully understand. You invariably get stuck by thoughts of "this is too dark, too boring, too contrived, too intimate..."
You allow all that to be true. Until the next writing session, of course. The next time, you just might discover that there is light in the darkness, wisdom in the boring, humor in the contrived, and universal insight in the intimate.
Dive deeper into story with me and join The Story Triangle webinar when it goes live on May 11.
“It doesn’t have to be easy. Isn’t it enough that it’s magic?” Ohhhhh, Liz Gilbert, thank you! Thank you for this and thank you for piercing through my crunch week mania and my cranky mama is on a deadline B.S.
I’ve talked about how putting the finishing touches on my new course - You, Your Stories, and your Audience - has been a total grind. If you saw my sleep starved eyes and my messy ponytail you’d understand that I wanted your sympathy. And fresh brewed coffee. And a time machine. And full time care for my children.
But I am done with that. I am embracing this as the creative process it is. I am showing up to fix one more slide presentation with gratitude rather than resentment.
Enough with the tortured entrepreneur. The business martyr is every bit as worn out and uninspiring as the "tortured artist."
[tweetthis] "Business martyr" is just as cliched and unhelpful as "tortured artist" #lovetheprocess[/tweetthis]
It’s time to recognize that this process is the reward - that gathering and honing of what I know and shaping it into something that is worthy and helpful and TRUE. When people take the course and start writing their own strong stories that better lives… that is just going to make an already powerful, beautiful act of creation into something that much sweeter.
Deep gratitude to Elizabeth Gilbert and to the podcaster who hosted her, the wicked brilliant Rob Bell (no, he is not a man who says “wicked,” but if he was from Massachusetts rather than Michigan he would say it all the time and would be freaking adorable).
Listen to this one for the brilliance about the cake and the icing and this whole riff about the “transrational” that I am super excited to explore.
And try this one if you want to jump into Big Magic and get the context for the quote above.
Curious about what's in the new course? Get a sweet little taste in the content rich webinar, The Story Triangle, that goes live May 11!
Apparently Ben Franklin had noisy children. If they were mentioned at the man's museum, I didn't notice because I was herding my own children (who were no noisier than the other kids playing tourist in Philadelphia with their families.) Indisputably, Franklin was a terrifically accomplished guy. He needed the quiet to think all the thoughts and invent all the things.
Having a quiet place to read, think, create... What a privilege.
I hope you have a room of your own to shape your stories and craft your ideas. I hope you have noisy outings with family and friends that enable you to appreciate the silence too. And if either is lacking in your life, I pray they manifest soon.
Stories of overwhelm and overcommitment can be funny or tragic. Picture the comedy montage of the woman trying to do it all who ends up passing the dog a sippy cup, placing a bowl of kibble in front of the toddler, and leaving the house in her slippers. You've seen these pictures by Danielle Guenther, right?
The un-funny tales of a woman weeping in the school drop off line and staring blankly at her computer screen, willing herself to get something done aren't the stuff of Facebook shares - though they might be the stories that you use to connect to clients who need to heal overworked minds and bodies and who need support to heal and feel whole again.
I'm running the risk of giving my "oh, silly mama, you can't do it all!" story into something way darker and related to a breakdown. I hope I am seeing this soon enough to make a change so I don't end up really letting myself, my clients, my readers, and my family down. Instead, I am rumbling with what it means to make a daily commitment and what it means to change it or even break it.
Still, I don't have an answer. Still, I am not able to tell you a strong story with a beginning, middle, and end about #365StrongStories. Still, there's no satisfying resolution to my #365project dilemma.
Instead, from the messy middle of it all, I can share with you a daily practice sister who understand - Saundra Goldman is re-examining her own continuous practice routine.
Saundra's current project is a 100-day commitment to meditation, not a year of public writing, but I am inspired by her willingness to listen to her physical, emotional, and creative needs and recognize that life happens. We need to flow with life and the muse and honor ourselves enough to reevaluate when necessary.
Saundra references Karen Brody's yoga nidra training in her post. Here's a guest post that Karen wrote for us last year.
One of the things that is inspiring this #365 review is my free online class, Connect with Readers & Clients: Discover the Story Triangle. Ultimately, the triangle is about keeping your writing is in balance - a lesson I think we could all use in all aspects of work, story, and life.
The classic definition of story: a narrative with a conflict and a resolution. A story has a beginning, middle, and an end. These days, we've lived ourselves into a broader definition of story, however. Now, we talk about "the stories we tell ourselves." This is about positive thinking and inner gremlins. It's the internal monologue that is either filled with lots of "you've got this" or "you suck."
As entrepreneurs and private practice owners, as creatives, as people trying to make a livelihood out of personal passion, that inner voice is often heavy with doubt and fear.
Let's see how we can shift that story.
My own doubt and fear is growing fat and scary because I'm overcommitted. I pledged too much creative energy when I said I would write a story every day. I committed more time than I had to give to conceiving, writing, designing, posting, and sharing a story and an image.
I'm toast. I've discovered that quantity over quality really is a losing proposition.
It's not time to quit #365StrongStories. Not yet. Not when I have so many dedicated guest storytellers involved. Not when I find out that people around town are talking about this crazy great undertaking of mine. I'm waiting until at least day 100 (today is #92) before I decide to make any great changes in the schedule.
So, in the meantime, I am going to tell a different sort of Strong Story. I'll be offering up a few powerful lines that I hope will stick in your head and help shift your mindset into something that sounds a whole lot like hope, confidence, and peace.
And so, today: my work is worthy.
This is what I tell myself when I stress over webinar sign ups and the size of my community. It is what I tell myself when I decide that I can be seen even if I'm not pulling off the mad feat of creating and posting every day.
Your work is worthy too. Let's make it our mantra today.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the magical creature behind Big Magic and Eat, Pray, Love is inviting us all to come to her with our creative aches and pains. (See her Facebook post here.) As we prepare for house guests to arrive - scrubbing just enough to make the place look decent before our families destroy the place again - I’ve been writing and rewriting my 100-word submission in my head.
You can read what I'm sending below, but first, an admission: I’m afraid to admit I have a creative problem.
So much of creating and manifesting a livelihood and leading a life seems like a head game. “Your thoughts create your reality” and “Where the mind goes, the energy flows” and all that… If I spend a day thinking up all the ways I’m a pathetic creative lost in the woods who needs a brilliant best selling writer to save me am I giving up whatever creative power I have? Thing is, being afraid to ask for help, of course is by far more isolating and disempowering. This crafting a business and doing the creative work is hard enough. Let’s all hold hands and ask for guidance and healing when it’s offered.
As a “creative entrepreneur,” I try to make the writing I love to do serve the work I have to do as a writing coach.
I launched my #365StrongStories project to give myself a creative outlet and to show potential clients that it’s possible to “create content” (Ie. tell stories) every day. Most of the time, however, I seem to end up in a no man’s land trapped between the stories I want to write and the stories that I hope will help me build a business.
Entrepreneurship is a necessary creative act, but it threatens my true creativity.
There are million reasons that an entrepreneur stays up too late. At least 99 of those are actually related to doing the real work that brings in business and enables you to serve more people and make the world a better place. And so, this weekend, my former Online Empowerment partner, Corinna Rake, who is still my website angel, stayed up entirely too late last night to work on my site. The night before, I had pushed myself well past bedtime in order to get her everything she needed to do her tech magic.
This morning, any observant website visitor would spot new sidebars with clearer email opt-in invitations and streamlined categories. Soon, you’ll copy about my approach to making connections and building your online presence through storytelling in a new text area on my homepage.
Thing is, no one is really going to notice.
This isn’t a “poor me” statement. It’s experience speaking. And it’s me taking a deep breath and assuring both Corinna and myself that all of our hard work was important even if no one seems to see it.
Raised to make a difference in the world and to always be at the top of class, being invisible seems like utter failure. Working hard on something that no one is meant to notice seems like a bad joke come true.
I know this isn’t the only way to look at the world - it’s the limited perspective of an American perfectionist born in the last quarter of the 20th century. It’s the lament of the individual snowflake who can’t believe she might get lost in a great white sea of sameness.
If I weren’t so tired after all the website-related sleep deprivation, I might be able to call to mind an Eastern parable about the value of work that goes unrecognized or at least temper these statements as a woman who has grown past that competitive ethos of high school.
Right now, all I can do is picture the sand art scene from last season’s House of Cards. I’m feeling just as baffled as the type A White House residents who couldn’t imagine toiling so hard on something that would just get swept away.
But that’s a different story about a different kind of work.
The website work that we did is easy to see, though it’s invisible to most. The web is a volatile realm, but those coding changes were not necessarily transitory. Corinna’s redesigns will help support my message and my work for the next few years until some shift in design and accessibility trends means “that site looks so 2016” becomes an insult.
After years helping to build websites and write copy that gets a point across and makes people act, I understand the value of work that fades into the background. I understand it, but I can never love it. That’s why I have dedicated myself to storytelling and mentoring other writers, not to churning out sales pages.
This April I am launching a new course called Tell Stories that Matter: Write Online Content that Your Readers Care About. We’re going to explore how to craft stories that connect - not just copy that converts.
This online course will launch in April and I would love to have you with me from the start. Please join the interest list to receiving VIP updates and special pricing. Learn more about the storytelling course
Once upon a time, there was a woman, a woman who was also a writer and a business owner and a healer and a mother and wife. She had wandered in the hinterlands between her various identities trying to root into her most essential, creative self. It was a sweet journey, albeit a scattered one. Most nights she fell restlessly into bed, feeling she’d run a dozen races and sure that she hadn’t finished a single one of them.
But then, in the darkest time of the year, the time we hang with lights and soak with champagne, she heard a call. She was invited to step deliberately into the new year. It was time to bring all the threads together. It was time to embrace a truth she’d long known but often forgotten:
She is a storyteller.
And so, if you happen to have this woman in your digital circles, you have seen the floodgates open. Sixty stories and more have poured from her heart, sprung from her mind, and flowed through frantic fingers. She has dozens of beginnings, middles, and ends to show for herself in 2016.
This writer has never felt so creatively alive.
She is proud. She is weary. She is also afraid.
Though she began this project almost on a whim, she’s not having a casual affair with these #365StrongStories of hers. This project matters and it will endure, she swears it. But at what cost?
Ok, enough of the third person (a handy tool to hide behind when emotions threaten to drown out the narrative, but a way to hide nonetheless). I’m standing before you, my generous and supportive community, to say I won’t quit, but I will change.
The #365 project is vital to my mission - walking the talk and showing that it is possible to tell stories that connect with confidence and ease. And yet, flexibility and transformation are just as vital so I can survive and fulfill that mission.
And so, I am further redefining the parameters of this #365StrongStories project.
In this media driven age, it’s obvious that stories do not need to come in written form. Think about it - storytelling thrived long, long humans could write and story will continue to be an engine of the human experience when we start communicating via telepathy.
I’m giving myself to break my stories out of their sentences and paragraphs (and the sizeable time commitment that comes with editing the written word). More than half of the entries in the #365StrongStories projects will continue to be good old stories that you can read with your eyes, but the rest will be video, image, and even art.
In doing this, I am giving myself some creative breathing room. Now, I am liberated to develop the stories and ideas that refuse to be bound by word limits and midnight deadlines. I can go deep and tell the bigger Story when I need to.
I am also being realistic about what it takes to develop a readership for all this stuff. Yes, it really is true that content marketing is 20% content and 80% marketing. I certainly do not have four hours a day to devote to promoting this content, especially when I have a writing coaching business to run.
In my creative flurry, I think I have occasionally lost track of one of the fundamentals of story: connect with the reader and invite that reader to be the hero.
As I revise the shape of the #365StrongStories project, I am also reconnecting with what matters: you. Please help me do that.
Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments or post them over on the Facebook page.
This project matters to me, and I know that it matters to many readers too. With your help, Strong Stories will fulfill its mission: to inspire a great circle of people to tell stories that matter.
Never miss a story. Subscribe to the weekly #365StrongStories Digest. Click Here to Subscribe
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” The girl had grown up reading that quote, an amateurish watercolor on a piece of torn paper that was tacked to her aunt’s kitchen wall.
“Auntie? Why do you have that old piece of paper up there, way up high?”
The woman sighed deeply and looked into her mug of tea. Childhood went by faster than ever, but there were certain stories that wouldn't fit into a six year-old’s world.
“The writer who said that - can you read where it says ‘Maya Angelou’? She changed the world by writing the stories of her own life. She was a poet who talked with presidents and she had a deep, powerful voice.”
This was when the woman began to pray, please let that be enough. When her niece came to visit her tiny apartment in this blah bedroom community, every inch of the place was examined, so she ought to have expected this question.
“Yeah, but why is it way up there by the ceiling?”
Because I needed it to be there, but not there, the woman screamed silently. The truth behind this painting was too important to lie about and yet too raw to speak aloud.
“I hung it way up there so I had something to look at when I do my neck exercises.” That was a sad attempt an explanation. On the bright side, maybe that lame little story would remind her to stretch now and again.
“Did you paint it?”
“Yes, honey, I did.”
“But you’re not a artist!” the girl exclaimed, skipping over that cumbersome “n” in her passion.
“No, honey, I’m somebody in a cubicle.”
Apparently cubicles weren't interesting to children either. “Yeah, but what does ‘agony’ mean” she asked, making the word sound like it rhymed with pony.
“Something that really hurts.”
“Oh, ok. I don’t have that. I tell all the stories in my heart.”
The nice thing about being cross-examined a first grader is that you can pull her onto your lap and rest your chin on her head so she cannot see the tears in your eyes.
Tell the stories that matter to you. Learn how to access them with this quick, free guide for creative entrepreneurs.
Nowhere in the #365StrongStories rules does it that every single story needs to be put in writing. And so, here's my story of how the way you feel about your body and your own self image has a tremendous impact on your creative output. I'm experimenting with Facebook Live... and really loving it.
I wake up almost every morning happy. I crank open my eyes to assess the weather, then turn to my prayer practice. I tug on wool socks, light a candle because Rumi says, "learn to light the candle." I close my eyes again. This seals the deal on my internal climate. I can handle calamity. Though I have ridden out usual mothering storms and some complicated travails, today's stratospheric turmoil has rocked me. Caused solely by my college-aged son, who'd just spent 18 hours with us, who left at 7:30 AM because he wanted to get back to school to the library. Here I am, saying goodbye, again. He is not off to the military, not off to the fields. He is not off to the hunting grounds or climbing on to a horse or a camel or a tank. He is getting in to his little car and taking his clean laundry and going back to school. But my heart cracks anyway, because wherever the destination, it is away and that changes me.
So I find myself in a curiously quiet house, no alternate sound track running in another room. The girl child is off on an arctic adventure in Manhattan. After 22 years of being accompanied, I am alone. They will be back; this nest is not cleaned out and orderly after the upheaving of babies, toddlers, or teens.
But look who has moved in! Doubt, the cold sister of possibility, has already chosen her bedroom. She chimes in before it is her turn to talk. She tugs away my equanimity and questions every choice. She loves to dangle the "who do you think you are" banner across my daylight. She glories in my prolonged dithering.
Then, Annie Dillard shows up:
The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring.
There is a bootstrap and I will pull it up today. I know what it feels like to show up blind with love, daring to move forward, even when I don't want to, even when Doubt casts her pallor over my day. I have 22 years of experience showing up for two people. Some days, I did not feel like oatmeal or elastic waist jeans pulled over thick-diapered bottoms, but I got them on anyway. Oats and jeans. Doubt. Take a seat. Take a number. Get in line.
Daring and love snuck in and I have work to do.
I prefer mountains of laundry to mere hillocks. So, when I enter a marathon sorting and folding session, I know there will be plenty of time for introspection. Today, however, both kids are home thanks to some freezing rain and a minor fever. Turns out I can’t get much deep thinking done when I must constantly exclaim “Please do not knock over mommy’s stacks!”
So I’m left to consider the clothes themselves. Since I could tell you my life story by giving you a tour of my closet, this is actual fertile territory.
There’s this fuchsia Marks and Spencer sweater that’s just beginning to pill. I find this terribly disappointing and give myself over to a little bit of laundry basket despair.
Even in that moment I knew I was actually mourning the fact that I’m folding and refereeing rather than writing and planning. This was supposed to be a brilliantly productive professional day. But wishing I were entrepreneuring instead of mothering isn’t going to get these clothes in drawers or make me any nicer to my kids, so I focus on that sweater (and sounding kind when I beg the girls not to jump on the towels I’d just turned into relatively perfect squares.)
This sweater doesn’t owe me anything. It was some hand me down that I never even put on my first daughter because it always looked too fancy. With my second daughter, I’ve tried to quit hoarding pretty things for the day when our lives were perfect and posh enough to do them justice, so she’s worn it during trips to the grocery store. As I sit in the midst of this domestic mountain range, unable to control the weather or viruses or my own work day, I breathe into the realization that our lives will never be what the glossy catalogs tell me I’m supposed to be striving for.
We’ll have brilliant days while wearing our mismatched pajamas and we’ll suffer through others while wearing our newest and brightest best. Eventually, it will all come out in the wash.
Yesterday while I was drinking tea – my morning ritual when life isn’t too chaotic – a sudden flutter of shadows dappled the wall. I jumped up and turned to the window to see a huge flock of birds settling in the trees outside, their noise audible through glass and wood. It felt like a revelation, like a benediction. Things are on the wing. Change is coming. Good change, I think. If I had lived in another time, I would have been an ornithomancer. I study the flights of birds for wordless messages, their calligraphy etched dark against the winter sky.
Brenna Layne wove these words in a post about silence and writing, about being seen and getting published, about writing for the crowd and writing for the sake of story. This woman is steeped in magic and knows the spells that turn inner dreams into shared adventures. I trust her and her birds.
We’re all plagued with the doubt Brenna explores in her post…
When in similar creative and/or "what am I supposed to do with my life confusion," I too turn to tea, to silence, to frantic writing, and the messages in the skies. (I also turn to wine and television, but that’s another story.)
Here’s what I know of bird medicine and the creatures that guide a writing mother concerned with making a living and making an impact:
I know the crow helps us spy magic and the power of creation. Of course they do - they’re our spiritual watchmen and the smartest of all the birds.
I know the heron, that unique introvert, gives us the power to focus and find balance. This is how we explore the depths and still stay firmly rooted into the earth.
It’s the hawk that brings the visions and bravery and the ability to fight when you must.
And finally, the cardinal teaches us equality and the right to be seen. The female sings as loudly and sweetly as the male. When it’s time to breed, the daddies mute their bold colors to better keep the nest safe and share in the care of the young.
When we’re feeling too empty and too full of stories all at once, let’s look to the skies and to our own soaring hearts.
“Oh, Marisa!” exclaimed a new client. “We worked together so long ago, but I have had your name filed away in my mind. When I saw one of your Strong Stories I knew that I had to call you.”
Right there - that is the proof that forty days (and, often, nights) of collecting experiences from daily life, current events, and my own memory and sculpting them into stories has been worthwhile. Writing all these stories is in fact good for business. Gee whiz, content marketing does work!
Thing is, I’m not just powering through #365StrongStories to impress potential clients. My dedication to marketing just isn’t that robust! No, in order to devote up to an hour of each day conceiving, writing, image wrangling, and posting these stories, it’s got to more than a visibility gimmick.
I have dedicated myself to writing and sharing a story every day in 2016 because I want to show you that it’s possible.
You can look at the world with fresh eyes each day and tell a meaningful, authentic story that changes the reader in some small, vital way.
But there’s another reason I launched this project. Let me share an an anonymous quote that has been following me around the internet:
“In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.”
Here’s my truth: I’m writing and posting a story a day because I like what I write. I also happen to like the act of writing and the satisfaction of having written something.
And damn, to like myself and my writing enough to do it each day without fail is a personal rebellion for me right now.
It’s rebellious to send my two year-old to go find Daddy in the kitchen because I’m trying to get all the ideas on paper before dinner. It’s a rebellion against what mothers are “supposed” to do when I train my first grader to “respect the hand” and walk quietly away so mama doesn’t lose her train of thought.
This creative rebellion may just be about survival in a distraction-plagued world.
It’s a delightful coincidence that I can speak from 40 days of creative practice at the moment we begin another 40-day cycle. Today is the first day of Lent, a time that is generally about sacrifice rather than creation.
To be honest, there has been an element of sacrifice inherent in this project. Giving up wine with dinner, Netflix and a snuggle with my husband, and desperately needed sleep - sometimes I do that grudgingly. Not infrequently, I’ve had to chose my commitment to my own project over my kids. And sometimes we’ve eaten frozen pizza so I could hit publish before I hit the pillow.
Guess what? Everyone still knows I love them and still manages to eat a balanced diet. And I’ve never had to give up anything that was too precious to lose. There’s a really good chance I would have spent that “quality time” sneaking peeks at my phone anyway!
Overall, #365StrongStories has been a creative celebration - even on the days I curse myself and this terrible, demanding project.
When you honor a daily promise to show up to the page and actively partner with the muse, you’re actively erasing self-doubt.
It doesn’t have to be a yearlong project. It doesn’t even have to last 40 days. It doesn’t have to be about stories or even about writing.
But do consider how this period of the year that is significant to so many people can help you start a personal creative rebellion and kick meaningless sacrifice and self-doubt to the curb (regardless of religious affiliation).
I'm just inviting you to doing something every day that makes you like yourself a little better.
Have you seen the stories in my series? Subscribe to the weekly #365StrongStories Digest so you can catch up on these quick reads each Saturday morning.