Tag Archives: risk

A Wish for My Daughter

Photograph by Boudist

My daughter turned twelve this week. I remember twelve.  Something about twelve made me want to linger. Maybe it was because I knew it was my last year before lurching into teenagedom. Somehow at twelve stickers and stuffed animals still seemed acceptable, but at thirteen the pressure to try and grow up was on. And that was in the 1980’s, the decade of yuppies and excess hair and ridiculous shoulder pads and fluorescent fashion explosions.

Strange how compared to today, the 1980’s appear relatively innocent and naive… it’s as if our lives pre-Internet have become equivalent to the times of a horse drawn carriage. Quaint. Simple. Charming. In the 80’s I could impress friends when I travelled home to London over summers, bringing back with me a treasure trove of cassettes – UK bands that no one in LA had heard of yet. That was serious kudos.

Sadly kudos is harder to come by today. Everyone knows everything about everyone and everything. My children have been exposed to a barrage of images and information much sooner than I would have ever hoped for. So I resisted my 12 year old’s plea for her dad’s old iPhone, and for her 12th Birthday present I took her to see Florence and The Machine at The Hollywood Bowl instead.

And it was pure joy.

For those who know me and for those who have been reading this blog from the beginning, you will recall that I LOVE Florence Welch and her Machine. She is a truly exceptional role model for young girls and women. She’s gentle and fierce. Strong and vulnerable. Expressive and Free. Dramatic and real. She whirls across the stage like a magical nymph and has a voice like an angel. She weaves stories and tells truths through her lyrics. She asks the audience to move. She requested that all 18,000 of us jumped. And we did. I held tight to my twelve year old’s hand and we jumped as high as we could. And we sung. And we smiled. Florence gave us permission to play!

And I threw a wish into the stars. A wish for my daughter:

That she can hold onto twelve while it lasts.

That even though she is growing in an age that is so far from innocent, that somehow she will still seek out the mystical moments of delight that cannot be delivered via a screen.

That she will mature into a teenager and a woman who is not afraid to embrace the child she was once was. The child she is now.

That she will always feel free enough to jump with abandon.

Who knows what the future holds? She too may look back at twelve and reminisce about the clunky gadgets she used to long for.

“When I was your age we had an archaic gizmo called the iPhone. We all wanted one. Those were the days…”

What was your decade? Share a memory from when you were twelve. OR write for ten minutes using the word WISH as a springboard.

I hope to see you in the comments section! Thank you for joining me here at Write To Be You. I am tremendously grateful for your support and presence…

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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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Me and My Shadow

photograph by Denis Sinyakov

Walking with my dog, Lilly, in the sunshine this week, I noticed our shadows strolling in front of us … attached… dark faceless companions paving our way. I began to reflect on the word ‘shadow’ and how it’s been showing up in my life recently, nudging me cunningly.

Only a few days ago while purging clutter in my garage, I stumbled across an old diary entry from my sophomore year, bemoaning a night out with a friend.

 “She gets so much attention. I always feel like I’m in her shadow…”

It was a familiar story and one I told myself for years. It went something like this:

Once upon a time there was a little girl with crossed eyes and thick-rimmed glasses. She felt she could never compare to the beautiful princesses and queens surrounding her, so she lived in their shadows instead. She wrote in the darkness. She avoided the light, closing her eyes from the glare of the golden tiaras that sparkled brightly around her…

The thing about that story is that it was destined to end sadly, until I made the decision to alter it. I knew I couldn’t change the beginning, but I could affect the middle and the end. I could create fresh dialogue and play with new themes. I could step cautiously out of the shade cast by others and get to know my own shadow instead.

We all can.

Carl Jung, who explored the concept of the ‘shadow’ and how it relates to the human psyche, wrote in 1946 “The man who recognizes his shadow knows very well that he is not harmless…”

Shadow aspects of self are dark and dank. They reside in the mouldy basement of our unconscious where ill wishes and self harm fester and breed. Like a viscous dog foaming at the mouth, our shadow aspects are just waiting to be cruel, and that ferocity is as easily directed inwards as it is outwards.

Once I started examining my own shadow, rather than living in the confines of other people’s, I began to understand my spiteful urge to blame others for my lack of momentum. It was a valuable insight.

Self-sabotage can become addictive until you wrangle it with your awareness. Confronting your shadow head on can diminish its powers – like Dorothy throwing a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West, there may be momentary triumphs when we watch our shadows shrivel.

But unlike the witch, our shadows will never completely vanish. They are licensed to linger.

Coming to terms with our darkest aspects means accepting their presence rather than imagining we can permanently enforce their absence.

Like the prolonged political promise to ‘wage a war on terror’, the battle is one that will never ultimately be won, because wherever there is lightness, darkness is not far away. It is an age old, archetypal, unsettling truth.  The two are inextricably linked.

So drink up the darkness. Walk with your shadow and become familiar with its wily ways. You’ll be surprised how many tales you both have to tell…

 

Write for ten minutes on the word ‘shadow’

or

Give your shadow a voice. Create a dialogue between the dark aspects of your self and the lighter elements. What needs to be said? Who is louder? How could you introduce more equilibrium? If your shadow was an animal what would it be?

Let’s uncover these demons… gather them together here…

 

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Something New

I learned something new last week. Stand-up paddleboarding. It’s one of those beguiling activities I’ve admired from afar and thought to myself that it looked simple enough. Not much to it. Stand. Paddle. Glide across the surface of the water looking elegant. Engage your core. Appear serene, cool and unruffled. It was catalogued in my brain as one of those things I might try one day. When I had the time.

And then suddenly I had the time. Or should I say the time had me.

Saying no to the invitation to learn would have been a red flag. Flapping in the wind. Reminding me that I’m not taking as many risks as I am continually urging my readers to take. Expose your self! Write when you don’t feel like it! Be honest! Stop waiting! Be spontaneous! Try something that makes you sweat!

PADDLEBOARD!

And so I pull on my board shorts and I follow my eleven year old daughter down the dock at the marina (“If I’m  trying it, Mum – you’re trying it too!)

I listen attentively as the super chilled out instructor talks us through positions, launching and how to hold your paddle. I feel momentarily confident. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I fall in?  I get wet? Big deal.  All great lessons involve failed attempts.

And then my husband makes a crack about teaching me to ride a bike when I was twenty. The instructor probably thinks he’s joking.

He’s not.

I laugh along, but inside I cower.

Inside I’m fourteen again. Freshman year school trip in Yosemite National Park. Surrounded by 80 new faces. The first activity of the week is a cycle ride across the valley. The humiliating memory washes over me like a polluted wave. How do I explain that I’ve reached the 9th grade and I  still don’t know how to ride a bike? How do I make adequate excuses for my uncoordinated body? My fear of falling? My stubborn certainty that I am weird? Incapable?

I try and kick the memory to the curb. I try to forget my fourteen year old self who couldn’t cycle, and my twenty year old self who struggled trying. But even as I crawl tenatatively onto the board from the dock, my younger selves sit on the side in the sunshine, their legs dangling in the water. They’re not going anywhere. They look concerned because they know today I am a mother. Today I need to be a role model.

I glance at my daughter who is also floating on her knees, silently trying to summon her brave self. Her father and her cousin, seasoned boarders, are offering advice, but I have a feeling she is waiting for me.

It’s time to stand up. It’s time to balance. It’s time to try something new.

At this point my head is determined to be a grown-up, but my knees are stuck in the past. My knees refuse to cooperate as I ease myself into a standing position. They wobble. They tremble. They violently shake. If they had words, they would be yelling “Go back to solid ground. This is not for you. You’re going to make a fool of yourself!”

I look over at my daughter, who is looking over at me.

“I can’t stand up!” she says. But behind her I see my younger selves who are now standing up, cheering me on, willing me to succeed. “You don’t have to be like us!” they say. ‘You don’t have to stay the same forever.”

And I hear them.

And I begin to calm down.

And I listen to the instructor who seems to have been born gliding on the water. And his voice makes me feel safe. And my knees get with the program. And eventually I stand with more stability. And I paddle. And I’m still shaking but he tells me that’s normal. And in this moment I like the word normal, even though I have recently been wrestling with it.

And when I look over at my daughter she is standing too. Paddling with magical ease. Smiling at a sea lion.

I turn to thank my younger selves but they have disappeared.  I guess they knew their job was done.

So I just keep paddling. Feeling serene, cool, unruffled. Enjoying the light glinting on the water. Marvelling at how poessesive our pasts can be if we allow them to grip us too tightly, and celebrating the joys of learning something new.

Write for ten minutes using the words Something New as a springboard.

or

Reflect on past experiences that hinder your present. Can you loosen your grip on the past and keep growing? Keep going…

If you are reading this on email, go directly to the website to leave a comment or post a response…

 

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Some Like it Hot

Someone close to me went to an earth shift sweat lodge this week. It sounds uncomfortable doesn’t it? Apparently it is. This isn’t a luxury, sanitized sauna at a four-seasons resort. This is the real deal. You and twenty other people cram shoulder to shoulder into a tent, low to the ground, where you sit on the soil amongst hot burning rocks for two hours.

In the dark.

Dripping ceaselessly.

Confronted by reluctance. Fear. Resistance. Anxiety. And eventually surrender.

And when you surrender – that’s when the good stuff apparently starts happening. That’s when you feel reflective. Resilient. Courageous. Cleansed.

Anyway – that’s what I’ve been told. Which is a very different experience to trying it out myself.

Think about how often  we are ‘moved’ by another person’s story? Moved to tears. Moved to smile. Moved to consider.

Being moved is a valaubale resposnse but also a sedenatry one. Feeling something deeply doesn’t always lead to allowing that feeling to propel you.

Now think about how often you ‘move’ after being impacted by something you’ve heard or read? Move to to contribute. Move to change something in your world. Move towards participation.

You might well be intrigued by someone else’s life experience but if that intrigue doesn’t lead to inspiration, and that inspiartion doesn’t lead to action, then all it remains to be is – someone else’s experience.

Am I proposing that we all squeeze into a hot tent? No. But I am suuggesting that we become more open to being affected by other people’s lives. I am suggesting that we pay closer attention to what ‘moves’ us and then make a move in return.

I personally was fascinated by the idea of the sweat lodge. It left me pondering how much time and money and energy we expend in the developed world keeping ourselves ‘comfortable’ when there is much to gain from being confronted by discomfort. Whether that discomfort be awkwardness, anxiety, fear, trepidation.

It’s essential every once in awhile to drag ourselves out of our element and exist in a place that feels too hot or too scary or too new.

Staying safely cocooned leads to apathy. Not only apathy towards events in the world around us, but apathy towards ourselves. A numb sense of disconnection. Distance from the potential to truly and profoundly grow.

The ‘movement’ I’m imagining can be any size and take any shape.

  • Tackling a conversation you’ve been avoiding.
  • Taking steps towards launching a new project.
  • Signing up for a class or a workshop.
  • Trying something you don’t think you can do.
  • Volunteering at an organization that you believe in.
  • Beginning a diet or an exercise program.

It doesn’t really matter what it is.

Just as long as it makes you sweat.

Write about discomfort. What is it you need to do at this point in your life that will bring sweat and growth?  Remember it doesn’t have to be huge. Baby steps count too. Perhaps posting something here on Write To Be You can be your first attempt at sweating. Does writing make you uncomfortable? Post anonymously. Try it…

OR

Write for ten minutes about something you DON’T want to write about. Face the discomfort. Burn it or tear it up afterwards if you feel the need to.

 

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Wait Here

I’ve been sitting here for a while now pondering the blank screen. It’s not a comfortable feeling – waiting. But it’s also not an unfamiliar one. I feel like I spend a lot of life waiting. Waiting for the oven to pre heat. Waiting for the traffic to move. Waiting to hear back from someone about something. Waiting for the result. Waiting for my toenail polish to dry. Waiting for  my vitiligo to spread. Waiting for that sinking feeling. Waiting for my ‘aha’ moment. Waiting to  visit the places that I’ve left behind. Waiting to take my own advice.

When I was teenager I used to wait for the phone to ring. Actually, looking back, I understand that I was waiting to become a grown-up, a woman, a lover, a writer. I was waiting for life.

It’s tedious isn’t it, this waiting for life to happen?

And it’s hard to avoid. How do we reconcile our expectations of what we imagined might happen with the reality of what is happening? How do we push ourselves out of the waiting room and into the world?

Fifteen years ago I had a book published. it was a children’s picture book which took me no more than a few hours to write. The story arrived inside of me like a sudden gift. It landed elegantly whole, not in splinters or fragments like stories sometimes do. It was the tale of a puppy called Charlie, who was searching for an owner. He was so determined to find the ‘perfect’ owner that he put an ad in the newspaper with a checklist of his criteria (he was a very enterprising puppy).

And then he waited.

And waited.

And waited.

While he was waiting, he discovered a true friend and companion who lived next door. While he was waiting he began to live.

The book, to my surprise, performed very well when it found its way out of my head and into the bookstores. It was reprinted. It was translated. It was nominated for awards. It was selected by the ‘selectors’ as something special.  I thought getting the book published meant that MY waiting was over. I assumed it meant that the career I had been searching for had begun.

I was wrong. And right.

It had begun but the waiting never ended. And a ‘career’ is not one neatly wrapped story, tied with a purple and green polka dotted bow. For some of us, a career is an unwieldily package. Sharp cornered. Taped tightly. Tough to get into to. Sometimes it is even too heavy to pick up and shake, preventing us from flirting with the fantasy of what it might contain.

I never had another book published. Not for lack of trying. I tried. Not a hundred times, but I tried. I waited in vain for that box to find me again. The one with with satin ribbon and the soft cotton bedding, cradling the diamond. But now I’m taking an ironic page from my own book. I’m channeling Charlie and paying some attention to what is vs.what if.

I’m becoming rather fond of  the ungainly weather worn parcel with the tattered bottom. I’ve learnt the value in hacking away at various corners revealing curious glimpses into what just might be inside. I’m actively practicing patience, which requires a lot more productive energy than sitting around and tapping the table top.

And fifteen years on, publishing is no longer dependent on endless waiting. So I’m here, writing, because the only thing my words depend on – are me.

Write for ten minutes about the word ‘waiting’. What are you waiting for? Is there an area of your life where you can stop waiting and take back some power instead?

OR

Write a fictional piece with the theme of ‘waiting’. This could be the beginning of something longer. A character sketch. An outline. An opening paragraph. Anything! Don’t wait… Just write!

 

 

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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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Unpacking

Photograh by Mr Woodnz

My family and I moved from London to Los Angeles almost exactly two years ago. While packing up our lives, I found myself unpacking a plethora of feelings related to change, loss, endings, beginnings, doubt.  I was showered in sadness. I cried so often that looking back it’s hard to believe through those tears I managed to cope with all the practical tasks. I was a soggy mess. Our boxes arrived in Los Angeles stained with my teardrops – a reminder of my emotional confetti.

Moving is incredibly challenging and as human beings we are frequently confronting displacement and relocation in various guises. Moving house. Moving country. Moving school.  Moving jobs. Moving relationships. Many people package up their feelings about these ‘moves’ along with their external belongings. Sadness gets taped up. Fear gets shoved in a side pocket. Anxiety gets filed away in a folder titled ‘UNHELPFUL’. And we forge ahead, still in possession of these feelings, but desperately hoping that concealing them will make them less potent.

In England we call this a ‘Stiff Upper Lip’. But isn’t it true that we have all seen that ‘rigid’ lip wreak havoc in many ways, in many countries, translated into many languages?

Repressing profound emotional states can have major repercussions. Feelings that have been filed away, unprocessed, have ways of finding the oxygen they need. They follow us through life, festering, waiting to leak out like toxic fumes or explode into billowing clouds of anger. Or simply collapse, leaving us in fragile heaps.

I know from experience that people are afraid of revealing too much emotion. Keeping it safely hidden away feels so much tidier. But release can take different shapes for different people. You don’t have to have a personality transplant. Find ways to gently tap into your feelings if they have been locked up for a while. Choose a friend who you trust. Consider talking to a counsellor or a therapist. Buy yourself a notebook and begin to write or draw. Creative expression is boundless and free and is available to everyone. But firstly, you must be willing to explore.

Two years on I feel more lucid and centered. I’m rediscovering a sense of being ‘placed’ internally and externally. Facing, rather than avoiding my grief about leaving, has helped me to arrive in each day, to stay authentic, and to feel empowered by my emotions, instead of endowing them all the power to overthrow me.

How does this post resonate with you? Write about a significant ‘move’ in your life and explore the feelings around it. Write for ten minutes. Time yourself. Share any thoughts or responses in the comments.

 

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Ready, Steady, Write # 16

Photograph by Jeff Rowley

Ride a wave of words
Destination anywhere
A one line caption
A short, short story
A  memory
A dream

Dare to write without stopping yourself
Share on the shore!

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Change of the Heart

photograph by Steve Fraeemba

I have been occupied with the idea of change this week because I have been making changes to the Write To Be You site. I hope you like them. I’ve been obsessing over very little things like font and spacing and shades of green. I have been awarding these small changes monumental amounts of importance – cursive versus sans serif.  Lighter or darker. Up or down. And while in the midst of this fixation with getting everything on the site ‘just right’ I received a phone call telling me that one of my dearest, beloved friends had been admitted to hospital with chest pains. Within twenty four hours he underwent a procedure to unblock a stubbornly blocked artery in the chambers of his heart. The cardiac surgeon announced he was days away from a massive heart attack.

Suddenly fonts didn’t seem so important anymore.

Life is full of minutia that stress us out to no end. Schedules, traffic, electronics, laundry, dishes, spills, stains, tangles, grievances – large and tiny. Fonts. And there on the other side of the spectrum, hovering quietly in stark polarity – our mortality.

It seems absurd that all of the ‘business’ that pads our every day lives can be rendered completely useless in a moment of heart felt pain.

Absurd but true.

My friend has been advised that he needs to change. A lot. He needs to change his diet, his habits, his routine. He needs to slow down. Pay more attention. Be kinder to himself . But this I believe should be a universal mantra. I tell it to my workshop participants weekly.

As lovely as it sounds though, change like this can be ridiculously  hard. If only it were as easy as adjusting a font. My friend is worried that he will be so buoyed by his ‘lucky escape’ that he might fall back into denial, assuming himself to have access to as many second chances as a crafty cat. Odds are he won’t, unless he opts for transformation. And even that is uncertain… longevity is a gift not a given.

So what are our choices when it comes to contemplating change? To remain blocked emotionally and or physically, despite knowing that ultimately this will result in some form of pathology catching up with us? Or to explore routes to unblocking?  Enlist help from those who love us. Loiter in moments of joy. Express and create with both careful reflection and urgent abandon.

I know which one I am choosing. And I hope that my friend, who had a beautifully large heart to begin with, will opt for a similar route, now that some of the unblocking has been taken care of for him.

On  a lighter note – what do you think of this font?

Write for ten minutes using the word CHANGE as a springboard. Share in the comments! Or simply respond to this post – does it resonate with you? Tell me why…

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