Tag Archives: friend

Braking Habits

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I have a vivid memory of sitting in a café with a trusted friend, many moons ago, lamenting my then relationship.

I had quite the shopping list. Why couldn’t my ‘other half’ be different? Why couldn’t all my love and input make things ‘better’ for us?  Couldn’t he see how hard I was working to try and help? This particular friend doesn’t cake decorate her words. She’s direct. Focused. She knows how to intercept tears.

Here’s what she said:

“Picture this – two broken down cars parked on the same street. One of them belongs to you and one of them belongs to him. You have all the tools you need to fix your own car, but for some inexplicable reason you are spending all your time attempting to fix him first, even though your own rent-a-wreck won’t start. You are NOT equipped to fix his car – only he can do that! Newsflash – you ARE qualified to work on your own misfires, and if he sees you revving your engine, polishing your rims, changing your oil – there’s a good chance he’ll be inspired to do the same.”

Okay – so I might have embellished her metaphor slightly, but the wisdom remains. At the time, I felt defeated. Why wasn’t I ‘enough’ to tune him up? Surely he wanted to ‘improve’ in order to make me happier?

Before long, I realized my sage confidante was a pretty astute psychological mechanic, and I embarked on a mission to service my own ailing parts, instead of wasting my precious energy using a rusty unsuitable spanner on his.

In essence, I began to be kinder and more attentive to myself, and as a result, less critical towards him. It seems to me, we are often drawn towards being our own worst enemy, rather than our own dear friend.

With this insight, I felt more effective and less of a victim of my circumstances. Bitterness receded and I became easier to relate to, while he, miraculously, began to find it easier to relate.

Not so miraculous really, it makes a lot of sense.

The most effective method of change is modelling the behaviour you hope to see in others.

A very simple example is one that parents encounter frequently. They yell at their kids in a vain attempt to stop their kids from yelling. It never appears obvious at the time, but if we could watch ourselves on video flailing around in these chaotic moments, the picture would be absurdly clear.

Ghandi might not have been berating a six year old or fuming at his partner when he said

Be the change you want to see in the world…

 but the most poignant mantras can be applied in many circumstances.

So if you’re investing all your efforts into solving someone else’s problems with the intent of  increasing their worth, put the brakes on. While you’re at it, listen for a squeak – a sure indication of where your own work needs to begin…

Did this post resonate with you?

WRITING PROMPT: Take ten minutes and jump off from the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world…” what meaning do these words currently hold in your life? OR Write about a relationship where you feel stuck in ‘fixing’ mode. Explore options. How can you take your tools and turn them towards self development?

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“Who Still Serves Consomme?”

Last week I wrote about holding onto conflicted feelings and my best friend, Karen, shared this beautiful response:

I just spent two hours ripping through dusty boxes from a storage unit that we finally emptied after ignoring it for seven years. I came across some treasures. The kind you love, but you can also live without, and even totally forget ever existed. I found my children’s tiny hand prints dipped in paint and made to look like turkeys for thanksgiving day. I wanted to keep them and throw them out all at the same time. Same with my grandmother’s china. What will I ever do with eight gold plated consomme bowls and matching saucers? Who still serves consomme? I wanted to smash them to the ground at the same time I was holding them gently up to the light appreciating their delicate craftsmanship. If all this had burned in a fire I would have been better off. Now I’m having to decided where it all goes. Recycling, the shredder, the thrift store, my already full kitchen shelves? Or worse, back in the box to live in our basement.

My favorite line in her response was “Who still serves consomme?”

It struck me as so funny and so accurate. I have actually also been sifting through ‘old stuff’ recently in an attempt to liberate some space in my garage. I stumbled across a once precious journal, tied tightly with bright coloured ribbons – a silver unicorn dancing on the cover. The pages were heavy with heartache. The pain of trying to fit in. The blinding intensity of middle school and high school friendships. The longing for the life I felt I ‘should’ be living. Excruciating analysis both of myself and every person around me (perhaps a precursor to the psychotherapy route I would choose as an adult!)

Scattered amongst the words were concert ticket stubs and carefully transcribed lyrics.  From that tender age, I found empathy in music and I found release in writing. That hasn’t changed about me. But many other things have, and as I flicked through my journal, I understood on a deep level that it was time to let it go… or in Karen’s words, who still serves consomme?

Research has proven that writing down our emotions can be hugely cathartic. But the act alone can be enough. Revisiting those feelings repeatedly in the future or exposing those feelings unintentionally to people they might wound or confuse isn’t useful. 

My revelations were written for no one else to see. That journal was my private refuge, and leaving it lurking around in my garage for my children to discover one day felt like a betrayal to my middle school self. That book served a purpose at a certain time in my life, but that purpose has long since expired.

So I photographed a few key pages. I kissed the cover.  And I set that unicorn free!

The next morning I thought I might regret this brazen act of pack rat defiance.

But I didn’t.

I have been writing profusely since I could use a pen. I have written journals and letters and cards and fiction and poetry and short stories and articles and blogs and essays and a dissertation and a novel. I hope to write thousands of more words to come – but do I need to preserve every one of those words?

No.

Sometimes there can be tremendous value in the process taking precedent over the product.

If you want to explore the subject of ‘letting go’ further, please visit a fellow writer and blogger, Erin Kurup, at her site remadebyhand.com – she is an inspiring role model!

Are you a word hoarder?! If so, I am giving you permission to divest yourself of some of those words which might be weighing you down. I’m guessing this is a controversial topic! But why not give it a try? Create a ritual. Tear up an old journal, school essay or half baked short story. This non attachment will also help you tackle the editing process. OR try writing something now that you never want anyone to see, ever, and then delete it immediately or burn it. Notice how you feel…

Report back, and in the meantime – thoughts on this post? I’m curious to know where you stand?

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Ready, Steady, Write #21

Pause

Breathe

Write about the Light

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Face to Facebook

Ever since I was young, I was drawn towards a few very close friendships…choosing intimacy and emotional connection over flittering throngs of social butterflies. But still those butterflies’ shimmering wings attracted my attention.

Recently on Facebook a girl from my graduating high school class created a ‘closed’ group for the class of 1987. In high school I always felt like I was on the outside of something seductive. Looking versus living. When I requested to be added to this group, I found myself flooded with outdated emotions. Some of the women had posted old photos. Raucous, toga clad  fifteen year old girls, draped over one another effortlessly, linked by confident smiles and the effervescent air of popularity. I am sure were I to come face to face with these women now, we could converse easily about our jobs and families, maybe even our pets.

But coming face to Facebook with them distracted me.

I felt unsettled. Awkward. Envious. All the unpalatable feelings that had smeared much of my adolescence with a bitter icing.

Past emotional states have ways of re-establishing rule when you least expect them to. They can materialize like invisible obstacles daring you not to trip. Taunting you not to fall.

Photograph by Chris Blakeley

But fall I did. I was thinking about these high school girls and the isolation I used to feel when I was walking Lilly (my dog) this week. I was deep in thought, composing the opening sentence to my next hopefully riveting post. I saw a man up ahead, walking slowly, chatting on his phone. I decide to pick up my pace and sprint by him so he wouldn’t slow me down. I felt like pushing forward. Forging ahead. I wanted to run those high school days right out of my mind. As I was just about to pass him, I tripped on that damned invisible obstacle. I flew. Dramatically. Unexpectedly. Magnificently. I landed in a heap at the feet of this poor unsuspecting dog walker. I smashed my knee. I lay nose down in all my vulnerability. Defeated. Ridiculous. I felt fifteen again.

He was very gracious. He waited while I collected my thoughts and my diginity. He tried not to express his own shock as I counted the animated birds gathering in a halo above my head. He told me his name and shook my hand and eventually I hobbled home. I’m waiting for him to add me as a friend on Facebook.

So I didn’t have to write my post this week because my post wrote me. And that’s what happens sometimes. We lose control of something we think we have all the power over. We get hijacked by old experiences. Stale emotional states try to convince us that they are still in date. And it’s hard to STOP them.

The trick, I have decided, is learning how to avoid swallowing feelings that have long since expired. How to stay standing tall. Or if, like me, you can’t help but fall, how to pick yourself up and courageously limp away.

Take ten minutes and write about high school or secondary school. Compare your perspective then and now. Do you have some feelings that are past their expiration date which need to be cleared from your cupboard?! Share in the comments!

PS. It has come to my attention that some of you who are subscribed via email are replying directly to the emails you receive. Unfortunately that is a NO REPLY email address and I do not receive those responses. If you want to respond, please leave a comment by visiting the site directly, or you can reach me at [email protected]  Thank you!

 

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Not Going To Do It

I’ve been writing this blog regularly for six months. For six months the ideas have been flowing – like turning on a tap and finding water.  It’s been eerily effortless. I’ve felt confidently creative. Pleasantly productive.  I’ve been taking it for granted.

Until now.

I had a crazy, busy weekend, full of celebration and story, but when I thought about writing Monday’s blog, my mind drew a blank. My faucet sputtered and gulped. Obstructed by air in the pipes, I confronted manic bursts of feeling, but no free flowing, inspirational thoughts or words.

So I paused.

In the past I might have panicked.

In the past I have retreated, sometimes for years at a time. I have become a bear, addicted to hibernating my ideas, restricting them from light, killing them off with dreary dampness. I came to rely on the dangerous safety of defining myself as ‘creatively blocked’. It felt so much more manageable than rousing my soul and tentatively crawling out into the open air. I was possibility adverse. A quiet sulk always seemed a better option.

But when the water didn’t flow this week, I simply gave myself a break. I didn’t write. I slept a bit longer. I tried to ignore the vitriolic voice within – the nasty naysayer who was filing her horribly long nails and muttering, “Don’t flatter yourself. You’re most likely boring everyone silly. They’ll be relieved to not get another tedious email from you.”

And then I heard from a friend late last night, “I noticed you didn’t post anything today – Monday being your day…I always look forward to it.”

It was straightforward. Honest. Resonant. I paid attention. I took my finger off the PAUSE button and I pressed PLAY instead.

I’m grateful to my friend for nudging me. I’m grateful that I’ve learned to reflect and respond rather than only reacting and running. It’s all too easy to imagine ourselves irrelevant when we encounter the slightest hurdle.  This happens in every area of our lives. We adopt a position of defence. For me that position was clinging to a musty blanket in the corner of my cave.

No more.

If you’re hovering in a creative netherworld I hope that these posts can provide a chink of light.  It has taken me three times longer than usual to write this! But I’ve become stubborn. I’m not going to return to my default position. I’m resisting the pull.

There’s a comfortable log just outside the entrance of my cave. It’s under a tall Robinia tree with kindly spreading branches and delicate lime green leaves. I’m sitting there for now. I’m listening to my breath. I’m lulling words from thin air.

Come and say hello?

Choices: Write for ten minutes using the word ‘cave’ as a springboard or share a story of struggling with a creative obstacle. It  feels good to share experiences. I’m listening….

 

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Spontaneous Acts of Dancing

When was the last time that you did something spontaneous? I mean REALLY spontaneous. Not the variety that involves choosing a different shampoo from the one you’ve been loyal to for the last year. I mean the – oh my god I can’t believe I just did that but it felt SO good type of spontaneous. I mean the cartwheeling, backflipping, jumping jacking, pirouetting, scissor kicking kind?

I wonder what your answer is.

Here’s mine.

“I don’t remember…”

But it gets worse. In reality my ‘memory loss’ is covering up my shame. Shame for having lived much of my life ‘flatly’. Shame for having actively avoided spontaneity in lieu of staying safe, keeping control, walking only on very solid ground instead of ever grabbing the bar of a trapeze.

I have angled myself into daring shapes over the last decade trying to manoeuvre change. I’ve jostled my way to the front row at concerts. I’ve jumped into dark chilly lakes. I learnt to ski (badly) in my thirties. I started writing this blog and baring some of my soul.

But old habits die hard not fast, and shame, as I’ve written about before, is pervasive and contaminating. It sticks like tar. It stinks. Even if you work overtime attempting to scrub it off, it can remain powerful, preventing change by a casting a spell of acute self consciousness.

It’s tough to lose a label and push yourself to become more dimensional. 

I was without doubt a ‘sensible’ child. I was introverted and hushed. Like the icing on the cake of the stereotype, I wore thick lensed glasses and liked to bury my nose in a book. These were all essential aspects of me, but as I grew, I craved expansion. ‘Sensible’ is not an easy image to abandon. People begin to define you by your ‘image’ and then you somehow begin to live out their expectations.

As a teenager there was another ‘me’ living somewhere on an alternate earth. She was less uptight. She talked with her hands, laughed with her head in the air and danced with boys.  She was comfortably confident. But she was also a bit mean. She taunted me when I bought funky pink stilettos from Camden Market. She told me, “You’re not the kind of girl who wears those kind of shoes.” And people around me confirmed that with the mocking arch in their eyebrows. And I felt embarrassed. So I put the shoes away. But every time I opened my cupboard there they were. Pointing their toes at me. Accusing me of caving in. Branding me as inhibited.

Last week my best friend K.E.L. called me to tell me she was going to a fundraiser at her children’s school. The theme was the 80s.

“What are you wearing?!” I asked her.
“I’m not dressing up. I don’t have anything to wear,” she replied. Flatly.

Five hours later her husband sent me a picture from his phone. It was K.E.L. – her hair in an awesome side ponytail, rocking a black blazer with shoulder pads any NFL player would covet. She was on the stage with the band, hands waving in the in the air, shaking it like a polaroid picture.

“She did it!” I thought. She somersaulted through the flatness. She grabbed the trapeze bar. She wore the pink stilettos.

So I’m thanking K.E.L. for the inspiring reminder. We all need a nudge every once in a while.

I bet those shoes still fit me.

It’s my turn next.

You coming?

Write about spontaneity. When were you last spontaneous? What does spontaneous look like to you? It comes in an array of colours – not just pink! Do you want more or less of it in your life? Practice spontaneity and share in the comments!

 

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Golden Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is an extraordinary woman who paints, writes and guides others in their writing practice.  When I was twenty, I discovered her book “Writing Down the Bones” and devoured it.  The experience was delectable.  Her pages were full of wisdom, ideas and permission. While enticing me to write down the bones, she crawled under my skin.  Natalie has written many wonderful books since then, but it was that book that remained with me for years, until I was lucky enough to participate in one of her workshops in Taos, New Mexico in 2010.

The workshop consisted of yoga sessions, writing sessions and enforced silences.  I say ‘enforced’ because while I crave it often, silence does not always come easily to me.  I fill up my space with sound. I love my music. I talk to Lilly (my dog). I bore my husband with daily minutia. I like to chit chat on the phone. I ask my kids too many questions when I pick them up from school. I even talk to myself. All that commotion before anyone else has managed to join the bonanza.

We’ve all heard the saying ‘Silence is Golden’, meaning precious. Sought after. Seductive. Valuable. I’m not sure I fully understood quite how golden silence can be until Natalie Goldberg forced it upon me. Gently. With understanding. She encouraged us to ‘sit’ in silence for luxurious lengths of time.  She instructed us to eat in silence, even if we were feasting next to our best friend (which I was). Instead of filling up the air with words, my tastes buds had a conversation with my food. It was a delightful exchange. She suggested that we walk slowly around the world in silence, and pay close attention to  everything we encountered along the way. And I did.

But silence, like most things shiny, has a darker side. It can be lonely. Frightening. Silence can leave you feeling disconnected. Caught on a broken treadmill endlessly running over unproductive thoughts.  That sort of silence is ‘noisy’.  Tarnished.  The golden glow long since forgotten.

Our task, as writers, as human beings, as learners, is to pay attention to both states. Pay attention to when life gets too fast, too loud. Pay attention to the times we could benefit from pressing mute in order to listen to our breath and not our voices.  Equally, pay attention to when we become locked. Stifled. In need of our volume being turned up.  In need of being heard. Too many of us operate on extremes, missing opportunities to create a more harmonious balance.

I have plenty of lasting memories from that week in Taos, but there is one that stands out from the rest. I was walking back to my bedroom on the first deliciously dark night. Somewhere over Taos mountain there was an electrical storm.  The entire landscape was alive with light — frenetic, neon bolts cracking into the atmosphere, scratching silver zig zags through the blackness. Natalie was walking next to me. Silent. I assumed she would remain wrapped in the meditative moment.  It seemed possible to me that she was the kind of women who could slow walk calmly through Mardi Gras. But then she surprised me, like the best writers do.  She glanced up and caught sight of the spectacular sideshow, and in her broad New York accent, she sliced through the silence with a gloriously, life affirming query.

“What the FUCK is that?” 

I remember smiling. It was that line that leaps out at you from the page of a book when you’re quietly reading at midnight.  It catapults off the page and cartwheels around your brain, reminding you why you love to read. Reminding you why the author is so brilliant.

Golden Goldberg.

And now to you! What is your relationship to silence? Do you want more of it or less? Do you need silence to work or are you more productive with noise around you? Do you have ‘loud’ memories from your childhood or ‘quiet’ ones? Or both?
I won’t talk for a little while… I’ll sit and wait for your words to arrive. I’m ready to listen…

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Round and Round We Go

When I began studying to be a psychotherapist, I was overwhelmed with new theory and information constantly. I was often confused. Bewildered. I doubted my intelligence on a weekly basis.

I made a friend. A lovely friend. And every week I told my friend:

“I’m not going to continue.  It’s too hard to juggle studying and the kids.  I’ll never truly understand.  I fall asleep while I’m reading. I won’t see this through. I don’t want to be a psychotherapist anyway.  Do I?  Do I?”

My friend didn’t answer my question.  She was a good listener. A great listener in fact. She listened to me threatening to quit almost every single week.  And there were many weeks. And she listened as I stood up in front of a couple of hundred people at our graduation and thanked her for listening.

One of the many things I learned that threw my brain into the tumble dryer was the Gestalt Cycle of Experience. It’s complicated. Until you simplify it. I drew a silly picture to simplify it (that works for me).

Each of us everyday are subjected to gestalts – patterns of repeat behaviour that follow a circular path. We begin by having a sensation; we become aware of the sensation; we decide to do something about it and mobilise; we move actively towards what we want; we make contact; we are satisfied (hopefully); we withdraw and move into the fertile void where we wait for the next sensation to make an appearance.  Even simpler?  I’m sitting at my computer; my tummy growls; I decide to go to the kitchen; I go to the kitchen; I determine the whereabouts of a Trader Joes salted caramel butter cookie; I eat it; I’m content (if I stop at one); I walk away.

The law of the cycle is that it repeats constantly in small ways (my cookie craving) and in much larger ways:

What do I want to do with my life?
Can I set a goal and reach it?
Will I write today?
Can I improve my relationships?
Will I start?
Can I finish?

Human beings are brilliantly skilled at finding ways to interrupt the cycle and stop the flow.

Think of The Fertile Void as the chill out lounge for the senses – lava lamps, bean bags, sweet burning incense. You get the picture. It’s the space where you remain receptive and open to inspiration. But some of us chill out for far too long and end up becoming dazed and spacey or so numb that the sensations are difficult to locate.

Then there are those who find it impossible to get past awareness, always aching with want but never mobilising into action.

Others are buzzing around with a manic energy, unable to make the contact they need.

Still others establish the contact, but then rush on frantically to the next moment, avoiding the opportunity to feel satisfied.

There are so many ways to stop the flow.

Where does your cycle get interrupted?  Think about the mini gestalts as well as the broader ones.  Play with the concept.  Draw your own diagram.  Now think of something you would like to achieve.

Write it down. Naming it here will be further proof that you are dedicated to reaching it.

It might be something that you can achieve in an hour, a day, a week, or a year. Whatever it is, as time ticks on, notice where and how you get blocked. What keeps you from moving fluidly through? Are you contributing to the interruption? Can you get back on track?

Writing about it will help you to pin it down and keep things rolling.

Round and round we go.

To all the readers and writers who contributed to ‘That Song’ thank you for being open to sharing your moments and memories.  We have created our own soundtrack of details!  Keep them coming and please keep contributing…

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That Song

We’ve all been there.  A song comes on the radio and you are transported somewhere immediately.  Some other point in time.  Another place in your life directly connected to ‘that song’.  The memory is visceral and vivid.

You might not recall the details of a conversation you had with someone an hour ago, but when you hear ‘that song’, you not only remember every single lyric, every arc in the melody, but you also recall the very real emotions that accompanied them as well.

Yesterday, this for me was ‘that song’

Classic 80s.  Took me right back to being with my best friend K.E.L. our ears pressed against my older sister’s bedroom door as she played this song on her cassette player over and over again.  She was 16 and had a boy in her room. A cute boy.  We were not sixteen and we were dying to know what it felt like to be in her shoes.  I was wearing white shorts and a baggy yellow tank top with the words RELAX emblazoned in black letters on the front. My long hair was pulled into a high ponytail with bangs/fringe back combed meticulously, sprouting forth like a tangled fountain.  K.E.L. had silky brown hair cut in a bob, braces, scuffed keds and the magical ability to make me laugh so hard I thought I would pee in my pants.  The tiles in the bathroom I shared with my sister were teal green and some of them had colourful exotic fish embossed onto them – decor inherited from the previous owner.  My lipstick was opalescent pink.  I was filled with curiosity and envy. My sister’s perfume was Anais Anais, a sickly sweet fragrance with pale, soft petaled flowers adorning the bottle.

Details.  They came tumbling at me avalanche style the moment I heard ‘that song’.

It’s all in the details.

What is ‘that song’ for you?  Have you heard it recently? Can you find it and listen to it.  Open your mind and heart up to all the particulars of the time it takes you to.  Write down the details.  The more the better.  No matter how trivial.  Keep your pen moving as you take a journey in your time machine.  Listen to it one more time.  You might be surprised at what else comes back to you.

Write for at least ten minutes.  Longer if you wish.

Bon voyage!