My recent post on Letting Go received an insightful comment. “Letting Go can be so hard, especially when you've experienced something difficult long term. I appreciate your suggestion to free write to help release the things we hang on to and determine why. Journaling can be such a cathartic practice and can reveal underlying issues, that, when addressed, can change your life. Writing about the things we treasure can also help unearth what really matters to us.” With that comment came an interesting invitation. Dawn Herring, Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter went on to invite me to her weekly journal discussion where “Letting Go” was the the @JournalChat pick of the day and pick of the week. I was honored to be part of the discussion and to learn about her great journaling resource. Visit the latest edition of Dawn’s Refresh Journal to read more about last week’s chat. You can also sign up to receive your own weekly copy.
Journaling was just one of my suggestions for letting go after a loss or lengthy grieving process. Let’s talk about journalling a little more. I use free-writing every morning in order to both let go and discover more about myself. I can’t recommend this practice enough. Since this is a creativity blog I encourage journaling to get in touch with hidden stores of creativity that may lay untapped within each of us. And you might guess journaling is extremely useful for unblocking. All types of journaling will be a regular feature in my upcoming zine, Outlet, because it’s the easiest, and most overlooked, way to find yourself.
No fancy tools are necessary--just a spiral notebook a pen and 20 minutes of your time.
Free writing, or stream of consciousness writing is the simplest way to begin. As I said last week, “go buy a spiral notebook, put pen to paper and keep it moving. That’s the important part. The motion of the pen will connect with the flow of your subconscious and you will let go.” Buy a bunch of college-ruled spiral notebooks when they’re on sale. I prefer gel pens because they flow so smoothly. My best time to write is in the early morning before too much information invades my thoughts. But of course, there are no rules here. Write when it fits with your schedule, whether that’s after the kids leave for school, at lunchtime when you have some down time or before you go to bed. Write for about 20 minutes or 3 pages in your spiral notebook. If you’re doing this for the first time you will have to work to silence your inner critic and simply write. To be perfectly honest, when I first started this practice more than a decade ago I thought it was silly. But I kept at it. And now I can’t really do without it. Even my husband notices the difference in me on the rare occasions I miss.
What about you? Do keep a journal? Or is the time right for you to get started? Add your experiences in the comments section below.
My mother always said, “Only two things in life are certain--death and taxes.” I’d like to add one more item to the list--change. Change is certain.
When you’ve spent the last 18 years of your life raising a child it doesn’t feel like anything will ever change. Each moment is a part of you. Their laughter is your favorite song. Their cuddles are molded to your form. Their scent gives life to your breath.
And just like that, high school is over. It’s time for them to go. You want to cling yet they can’t wait to take the next step. And what a big step it is. It's a leap that creates a chasm of space.
Change. As painful as this may feel, take heart in knowing that now it’s time for you. Take all that time and love and energy you sent out to your children and turn it inward. Do you feel lost? Try finding yourself. Are you grieving? Give yourself a hug. Do you feel lonely? Invest in the closest friend you’ll ever have.
This may seem impossible right now. But think of it this way: you’ve had 18 years to practice loving someone. Your nest was a labor of love. Why not re-feather--for yourself?
Last month I talked about two aspects of body image. In accepting myself
, I wrestled with maintaining a positive self image in spite of life's ups and downs. Adorning myself
dealt with boosting self-esteem with head-to-toe makeovers. Ultimately, self-acceptance comes from within. This series details my checklist for an inside-out makeover.
#1. Get strong.
First on my list is strength. In my experience, getting strong is the most important thing I can do to shape my attitude. Somehow a set of strong, competent muscles has an amazing effect on my psyche. As if a sturdy internal framework fortifies my very spirit. I'm talking about more than a daily walk. My suggestion is good old fashioned variations of crunches or planks, tricep extensions and lunges. Fancy equipment and gym memberships are not required. Start slow and be consistent. You will feel so empowered by your progress!
The first time I remember using strength to bolster my spirit was 2007. My younger child was a senior and I felt terrified by the inevitable empty nest. I decided to enter the Danskin Women's Triathlon. It was an athletic goal beyond anything I'd ever done but why not set my sights high? Indeed. I hadn't run in a couple of years. It had been 10 years since I'd been on my bike. And not only had I never learned the crawl, it had been 20 years since I'd done anything in a pool besides float. Other than these minor obstacles I figured I'd be good. It certainly took my mind off losing my baby. In return for pushing my limits I gained an awareness of my own strength that will last my lifetime.
My mother was an amazing example of strength. She took Jazzercize classes 3 days a week for 20 years; on alternate days, 50-minute power walks. Sinewy and fiercely strong, she could take on any challenge. That her amazing strength outlasted her failing mind is a testament to maintaining a strong body. Her will remained powerful to the end.
I wish I had remembered my own advice earlier this month when I injured my foot
. Although I'm happy for the rest and the space I created, adding a little yoga to my routine might be a good balance next time I'm in that situation. Running for the first time yesterday reminded me how good it feels to use my body. And today, each step brings a painful, yet welcome reminder of my personal strength.
We got away last week. It was a wonderful, welcome campout although slightly different than our typical active vacations. Due to my foot injury, hiking was not an option. Afraid to stop moving I wondered, "What will it be like to camp for fours days with no hiking?" Pre-departure I anticipated boredom, frustration and weight-gain and had a really bad attitude. Knowing this was our only opportunity to recharge, I decided to pack as many journaling supplies as I could and optimistically envisioned hours of time to play.
I packed a quilted, fabric journal that I made during an Artfest
retreat. The smaller size fit nicely in my tackle box along with the rest of my journaling kit. I hadn't used this journal for more than 10 years. When I made it my creative life was focused on art. Due to a car accident I hadn't played my viola for nearly 3 years. Depressed, suffering and living in a musical void I longed for happier times. In the first dozen pages of my journal I sketched dreams of health and happiness and musical goals. And then I put it away for a decade. A funny thing happened during that wait. I stumbled across my journal last year, opened it and was astonished to see my dreams on paper. As I turned each page I was more and more amazed--my dreams had all come true!
It seems like this is a magic journal. But I think every journal is magical. Fill one with your dreams and watch them come true. Work through your challenges. Sketch your hopes. Doodle your fantasies. Then watch them come to life. Like Harold and the Purple Crayon, you may be surprised and delighted by what comes out of your pen!
I just read What it Is
by Lynda Barry and fell in love. Read this book! It is a fascinating creative journey; a "how to write" manual in journal form. She journals her artistic journey beginning with childhood. We see the dreaming, the questions the self-doubt and eventual confidence played out in her journal. We see her become an artist. During our trip I practiced one of her ideas, "keep your pen moving." I sat under a tree to draw. I drew all afternoon. I refrained from judging my pages; I just drew. It felt good. I experimented with new styles and techniques and had a ball. Barry talks about children's art, "when kids draw they make sound effects or start talking out a story that seems to be happening live." The adult version of this is doodling. "Doodles can be called mindless drawing. It's one of the last places drawing still exists in a person who gave up on art long ago. A place where one line can still follow another without plan."
It turned out to be one of our better camping trips. My take away from this vacation was I didn't have to be in constant motion. It was enough for my pen to be in motion. The last morning of our trip I remarked to my husband, "I've been so content and placid on this trip. I think it's because of all the journaling." His reply? "Don't stop."
Do you journal? If so, share your thoughts. If not, head over to Creative Playground to find out more.
I've been making notes for this topic for quite some time. For several weeks now I've come across objects that meant a lot to me. At least, they used to mean a lot to me. I began to wonder why I was hanging on so tightly--even to broken mementos. My original concept was "letting go" which implies the release of non-essential holding/then relief. Last week I recognized a twist which alters the exercise and affects the results. The first scenario seems slightly negative. Why not a creative approach? How about making room or creating space to achieve a fruitful outcome?
The end of school is an easy time for a test. Changes are built into our schedules in the form of fewer obligations and longer, warmer days. Last year at this time I first considered ending my youth orchestra. Consuming much of my time for the past six years, the group was straining my resources. Membership and funding were down significantly last season. I asked myself a lot of serious questions but the crucial one was, "what would my life look like without it?" After deciding to suspend operations until January, another opportunity came out of the blue. It didn't take long to realize that working for someone else teaching elementary orchestra was more rewarding. I closed one door; another one opened.
There are physical ways to create space. Spring cleaning is a time-honored method for freshening a stagnant home. The change from winter to summer means it's time to put away the bulky boots and sweaters and haul out lightweight shorts and sandals. A new hairstyle or color might also make you feel lighter than air. There are also emotional ways to create space. The main one is….
Rest. Slowing down is a great method--if, you can do it. That's a big "if" for me. Orchestras, classes, commitments and students had wrapped. I had an opportunity to fine tune next season's workload and consider changes. This was my time to take a closer look at my choices. I should have had the time--instead I filled my schedule with exercise, errands, ...stuff. I realized I was spinning my wheels just as fast but with different tasks. In other words, I'd been running away from my breathing room and wasting precious time.
Too bad I had to figure this out the hard way. Instead of simply resting my body took over. Colds, back pain, foot pain--all literally knock you off your feet making sure you slow down. Apparently I really needed space because last week I injured my foot on a run. After the initial frustration and considerable pain I wondered if this was just what I needed. Fight it or accept? Continue to clutter my head or be alone with my thoughts? Now off my feet for a week and a half and counting there's time to soak in Epsom Salts and journal and think. I created space and now I have the space to create.
A number of years ago when I was newly separated, I had no idea how to be alone. After countless miserable nights and days I finally made a list. My list was a poster written in crayon entitled:
What Makes Me Feel Happy."
On it were things like "listening to music," "expressing gratitude," "dogs" and more. It hung over my desk for years as a daily reminder. Secure in my contentment the list now hangs in the studio closet where I rarely see it.
This morning I encountered two triggers (an email and a Facebook post) which suggested "Happiness" is a goal. A target. "If only….then I'd be happy." That really got me thinking. I wondered if this hit a little too close to home. I realized if I'm not happy until I've reached the destination then I had better switch paths. Maybe it's time for me to redefine my happiness. A personal mission statement if you will.
I came up with a draft--at the very least it's a new start. My happiness: provide sufficient self care that I will have the reserves to give to others when they are in need.
A few weeks ago a colleague and I were in the green room preparing for a concert. "I don't think I could ever wear skinny, white jeans" she said, "they would show every bit of cellulite." This woman is tall and reed thin and makes clothes look fantastic. I managed to mumble an agreement all the while thinking she would look stunning in skinny, white jeans. My mind was racing, "I wear skinny, white jeans and I don't look anything like her. Maybe I don't have any business wearing them."
Oh dear. It was a meeting of inner critics disguised as girl talk. Actually, I think we have similar image issues. We obsess over the imperfect details--our own details
--and trust that's all anyone
sees. To have a positive impact on your body image I believe in a two-step process--accepting yourself and dressing the body you currently have.
In January when I noticed my extra pounds I took another look at myself and my routines. My fashion attitude had taken a turn towards comfy sweats. It may sound trite but I had let things go. During the holiday break I wore roomy sweaters and baggy jeans. I skipped hairstyling and makeup. It was time for a pick-me-up. The internal shift towards acceptance is gradual--but it gets a boost from taking care of your outward appearance.
Feet hide from view in winter boots and cozy socks. Why not do something just for me? My first step-- a pedicure. Even if I'm the only one who will see my pretty toes. When Valentine's Day rolled around I wondered how to do something sweet for myself. I made an afternoon date at the Nordstrom cosmetics department where I had a Bobbi Brown
makeover and tried a new perfume--Grapefruit by Jo Malone
. In a few hours I looked and felt delicious and it didn't cost me a dime!
Next, the clothes. For me, clothes are creative expression. They reflect my mood, my sensibility, my whimsy. Putting them together is a little art, a little technique and a little more disguise. I'm a huge fan of makeover shows like "What Not to Wear
" and I have been for years. I love to see the positive and empowering transformations. Their advice "dress the body you have," is repeated on every episode. My current favorite resource to dress the body you have is the blog and so much more, YouLookFab
. On this excellent website you'll find body type guidelines, style advice and a welcoming, supportive forum. Using YLF tools
I went back through my closet to find the clothes that worked together and followed rules for my body type while making me feel my absolute best.
Newly accepting and freshly adorned I'm back to myself again, inside and out. And feeling confident allows me to support my gal pals too. Next time I see my friend I'm going to tell her to go shopping--because she would rock a pair of white, skinny jeans!
I stood up and walked across the room. "I sure do like to look at you," said my husband with a smile on his face. Did I say thank you? No. I made a face. "I look terrible," I protested. No make-up. No shower. Still wearing filthy clothes for walking the dogs and working in the yard. Not only did I reject the compliment, I felt irritated. "Well, I still like to look at you." Does he see something I don't?
My weight had been creeping up since January and I felt self-conscious. I started the year off on the wrong foot as far as forgiveness goes. Proud of a minimal holiday weight gain, I had resolved to start right in on a diet and exercise plan January 2nd. Well, my normally foolproof system didn't work this time around. After a couple of weeks I was holding tight to a couple of pounds. But I had let go of my resolve.
I decided to let my weight be for a while and redirect my focus. Since my unsuccessful diet attempt I had spent a few weeks in a serious funk. I wanted to make a change--what about accepting myself the way I was? Accepting that winter might add a few pounds. Accepting that I may have to explore another way to shed weight. Accepting that the timing wasn't right. And so I turned to my morning pages
. I started every day by writing the words--accept yourself
. My mantra. A persistent reminder to be gentle.
Well, that's easier said than done when your jeans are cutting into your waist. March's gorgeous weather finally had me running again. On the other hand, March's celebrations had me eating birthday cupcakes and an insidious deep fried Twinkie. Two pounds grew to 6. I stuck with my mantra through the sweets and the celebrations, the sweat and the pavement. And by the time April rolled around I was absorbing the change. Buoyed by physical exercise and positive reinforcement I finally felt ready to shed the weight.
A month later exercise is working. A healthy diet is working. Accepting myself? I'm working on it. Accepting compliments
in spite of my perceived appearance could be a new mantra. Yet...this is still a challenge for me. I wonder how much more accepting I would feel if I saw myself through my husband's eyes?
Diversion. Distraction. As a new mother I learned to say "jump up," when my toddler fell. Now more than two decades later, I'm telling myself that the fall didn't hurt so much. I'm really ok. I just need to brush the dirt off my knees, get a quick hug and keep on going. This isn't about ignoring real pain--it's shifting my attention towards higher ground.
When I hit a real rough patch, nothing says Taking Care like calling my VIGs--my Very Important Girlfriends. Even though inertia may be working against me. Even though the last thing I want to do is get dressed and leave the house. Even though I think I'd rather sink into my sorrow. If I pick up the phone and call on my VIGs, I can instantly create the most pleasant diversion.
Creating something to look forward to is the key. Last week during one of those really rough patches I sent some emails and made some calls in spite of a deep, dark funk. They all said to call if I needed them; and I needed them. Of course, because they're my darling VIGs, they all said yes. We had lunch. We went to the movies. In one instance a VIG and her baby even showed up on my doorstep! And let me just say that nothing takes away the blues like holding a baby.
I also tried a new Taking Care strategy last week--the art of distraction. Before the girlfriend dates were set, I noticed that crying more than a couple of times a day made me label the whole day as bad. What if I made a list of all the good things I do for myself every day? A Taking Care list. Even if the list had only one thing on it I figured I was ahead. Did you get out of bed? And eat breakfast? Write it down. Did you take your vitamins? Write that down too. Did you walk the dogs? You get the idea.
By the end of the week I had seven slips of paper that proved I could get through a moment... and then an hour... and even another day. I surprised myself by how many good things I could do for myself in a day. A distraction. Now all the days feel like good days with some crying thrown in. Maybe even a lot of crying. It doesn't matter now. Because I've shifted my focus towards Taking Care of me.
How do you cope with life's ups and downs? It can be a tremendous challenge to stay on track when you feel low. Through several years of trial and error I've developed my own personal tool kit of strategies. Coping strategies come into play for me when an entire month is over-scheduled or when I'm hurting from disappointment or loss. Wouldn't it be great if we could teach our kids some tools to help deal with the tough times they'll face now and as adults?
Here is my basic set of tools:
Take Care of Myself
Ask for Help
Be Gentle. This is number one on my list because it's the toughest for me to remember. When you live by the calendar and the schedule and the clock it's easy to push yourself too hard. And that's precisely why we need extra special self-care. For me this can mean anything from closing my eyes and taking deep breaths to taking the time to sit down and eat slowly. In the smallest way I try to slow my pace. In addition I focus on the voice inside my head and switch my internal soundtrack to a more forgiving channel.
Take Care of Myself. A recent addition to my tool box is separating my "want to do" list from my "should" list. This category also includes a few details that assure life is running smoothly in spite of any outside chaos. I regularly stock up on healthy foods so I have good choices available at home, in my handbag and in the car. Often I'll make a big pot of stew that I may end up eating all week. And I make sure I have a couple of fool-proof outfits in flattering colors clean and ready to go. That way I know I'll look better than I might feel.
Get Outside. There's nothing like taking a walk to keep me quite literally grounded. I may not always have enough time to work out or I may not even feel like exercising--but I can usually find the time to take a short walk or sit on the deck.Being outside helps show us where we fit in the world. While walking I can look down and see the tiniest beetle; then look up and see the expansive mountains--and know that all is well in the universe.
Ask for Help. This one has also been hard for me to learn. I started small--my journal is full of little prayers asking,"may I have help with that?" What assures me is I always receive an answer. After loads of practice asking God, now I reach out to people too.
Be Creative. Stress and loss and pain feel destructive. When I direct that negative energy towards creating I gain a positive outlet. For me, creativity can be small like placing wildflowers in a vase or bigger, like making a shrine of mementos and photos. One way I multi-task my coping strategies is to make soup--I'm creating and taking care of myself at the same time.