Tag Archives: shame

Blow Me Away

imagesPeanut butter on crackers was the closest I came to meditating today. Sometimes just chewing and daydreaming does the trick. Today’s chewing found me pondering the perils of marketing my workshops.

I’m going to be a little lazy here and lean on generalizations, but having heralded from a British mother and an American father and having lived in both countries, I began to wonder if 50% of my cells are programmed for polite modesty, while the remaining half are bursting with bravado?

And if that really is the case, then how do I convey my authentic message humbly without sounding arrogant or too loud?

And then suddenly a memory popped into my head… something I hadn’t thought about in a long while, but was obviously still loitering in my psyche waiting to pounce.

I was on a job interview for a position in the counselling department of a university in London, just a few months after completing my psychotherapy training. The man who was interviewing me was wearing a waistcoat and jeans. I can picture him now. He looked gentle and approachable, and I was sitting opposite him when he asked,

“So Rory, what are the strengths you will bring to this job?”

I liked the question. It was both direct and relevant, and I begin to list some of what I considered to be my most effective counselling attributes. I had just completed a rigorous training and was finally learning how to ‘own my strengths’ rather than consistently denigrate myself.

And then this happened.

I paused, and the man held up his hand. Like a stop sign.

“Right, well I get the idea, you wouldn’t want to blow your own trumpet now would you?”

I recall feeling stunned by his statement and blanketed in shame. I looked down at my black lace-up boots. They certainly didn’t appear too small for me, in fact I thought they fit very comfortably, but in a short and sharp second this man had reminded me otherwise. His words struck a familiar yet muted chord and it sounded something like this: Don’t get too big for those boots, missy. Don’t be TOO much. Shrink. Blend. Don’t call attention to yourself. Shhhh. Leave it up to others more capable. Sit back.

In therapy we talk about clients being influenced by their unconscious. Looking back, I wonder if that so called ‘enlightened’ male therapist in the waistcoat and jeans, was actually being driven that morning by a wayward force out of his awareness; a rusty paradigm that for years has kept women ‘in their rightful place’.

I am the daughter of a powerful mother who fought in the 1970’s to carve out a successful niche for herself in the then male dominated world of fiction, and remains there forty years later. I come from determined creative stock, and yet on the day that I was told to keep my trumpet quiet, it was the reverberations of my grandmothers’ struggles that I recognized in the quickened pace of my heart.

I felt a sudden kinship with the previous generations of women in my family who had been shaped by a patriarchal society – an environment where women’s strengths were swept under the carpets they were cleaning, and trumpet blowing was definitely out of the question.

So what did I learn from being baited to brag, only to be painfully hooked for my boldness?

I learned that trumpet blowing, tempered with humility, is essential – for women and men alike.

Not the ‘look at me on Instagram!” mode of trumpet blowing. Nor the Facebook friend foraging frenzy. But the kind of trumpet blowing which requires true introspection and self reflection. The kind of trumpet blowing which takes time and patience and commitment, until it becomes lucid and clear. The kind of trumpet blowing which might involve sitting still with ourselves after the peanut butter crackers and hearing our own repetitive tunes, and then finding the courage to write some new notes.

My trumpet sings: I am a really really good listener. I’m very intuitive and I’m excellent at encouraging people. I also have this special knack for helping others unthread tangles. And I’m NOT afraid to say it!

I guess that’s the only ‘marketing campaign’ I need after all. A united front. The British and American parts of me meeting over the ocean on a starry ship’s deck, soaking up a unique jazz blend. My own fusion of truths.

It doesn’t really matter what any of our trumpets sound like. What matters is that we are brave enough to play them, even in the face of those who tell us not to. What matters is that we polish them until they shine, and we make a sturdy case to protect our precious instruments. What matters is that we reveal our treasures, rather than toss them overboard where they will sink, never to be found.

So imagine that I’m interviewing you now and I ask YOU what your strengths are. But before you answer, I pass you a permission slip. The letters are LARGE and colourful. The words release you.

PLAY YOUR TRUMPET AS LOUDLY AS YOU WISH! BLOW ME AWAY

 

Writing Prompt: Ten minutes on your strengths. If you’ve never done this before, reflect on why it feels so hard. Whose voice is holding a finger to your lips quieting you down?  Be tender with yourself. Care for your strengths and be curious as to where they can lead you. Stay aware of your surroundings. Listen to your tune…what’s stuck? Where does your rhythm need to change?

 

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Every Person’s Life

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In 1987 renowned Gestalt psychotherapist, Erving Polster, wrote a book called “Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel”.  In this book he writes:

Stories must not only be told, but also heard. What is said gains value from the listeners understanding…

He goes on to write:

We also use stories to join our lives with those of other people…

I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of the founders of a remarkable and powerful new venture called Narrative 4 begun by writers, artists and educators who are passionate about ‘hearing’ and ‘joining’. Narrative 4 aims to enable teenagers globally to come together to exchange stories as a tool for social change. The exchange is intended to be literal – an ultimate act of reflection. The idea is for the young people to swap stories and then read each other’s stories aloud to one another – to allow words to transcend all differences and thread together human experience.  The stated ethos of Narrative 4 is: 

We believe sharing stories is the key to opening the world. We call it ‘Fearless hope through radical empathy’

I call it inspired.

We all crave an attuned listener. We carry our stories with us deep in our pockets, etched on our hearts, buried in hidden places. Sometimes our stories are legible, easy to read, but sometimes it is as if they are written on the wet wall of a dark cave and we spend years waiting for someone to strike a match.

And when the day finally comes, the sudden exposure can be glaring. The attention can call forth panic, anxiety, shame, trepidation, but ultimately relief. We want to be heard. We need to be seen. And even the small flickering flame from a single match can shed enough light for us to look around and realize that we are not alone with our stories. Sharing our truths is an act of healing.

I’ve experienced this firsthand both as a client and a therapist. Every week in my workshop I listen intently as participants grow brave enough to write their stories and offer them up to the group. We are not there to assess or critique or shape or edit. We are there to listen. People come to Write To Be You to be seen and heard, and to see and hear. I am humbled by the courage of my participants and I am witness to the bonds that powerfully and delicately ‘join’ us through story, encouraging self worth, enabling understanding, embracing recovery.

I am often amazed at how few questions people ask in social situations. Is it that we are bound by decorum not wanting to appear nosey? Or is it that so many people are wrapped  tightly in their own inward facing cocoon that it doesn’t occur to them to reach beyond that and explore another’s landscape?

Questions are essential to social interactions, and yet contemporary technology encourages a ‘me’ centred paradigm where our young people are at risk of becoming voyeurs and not listeners. Let’s encourage curiosity in ourselves and younger generations. Next time you meet someone you don’t know, practice drawing out their story. Be interested. See what you can learn about yourself by listening to someone else.

And while you’re at it, please join me in exploring and supporting Narrative 4 as a dedicated group of individuals step up to link our ever divided world. Personal narratives are thirsty for oxygen, buried within us they can fester and wilt. Now more than ever we need to return to the ancient arts and allow them to work their communal magic alongside technology.

It is not only in recent years that the most essential tales told have gone ‘viral’…  the passage and momentum of storytelling has been with us from the beginning of time. We just need to keep breathing fresh air into stale corners and lighting that match in the darkest of caves.

Read about the origins of Narrative 4 by clicking HERE and visit their website HERE

A writing prompt inspired by Narrative 4: Write about discovering a story on the wall of a cave. Who has been there before you? What is the writing on the wall? Imagine you are illuminated by the light of the match. Tell both of your stories. Give yourself permission to write in fragments, dream images, floating words. Feel your way…

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If Only Shmonly…

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I started wearing glasses when I was two. Horn-rimmed frames with magnifying lenses that made my eyes look like marbles. Top that with a frizzy bonnet of mad hair and I resembled a miniature version of Garth from Wayne’s World.

I didn’t realize the glasses would present a problem for me until I grew up and began listening to the chatter around me. The reason I wore them, among other things, was because I had lazy muscles in both of my eyes, causing a wayward drift. Even though I might have been looking directly at you, my eyes betrayed me, giving the impression that I was looking both left and right at the same time. I don’t call that lazy – I call that highly motivated!

The chatter I began to absorb, mostly at school, was a variation on a theme “If only her eyes were straight, she would be so pretty…”

I’m not certain if I ever heard someone say these exact words, but I might have done, because that is the story I began to tell myself.

“If only my eyes were straight…”

“If only I didn’t wear glasses…”

That soon translated into my adolescence, fuelled by the images and articles young girls and women are flooded by, “If only my breasts were bigger, my hair silkier, my posture more poised, my skin clearer, my confidence higher, my grades better, my nose smaller, my thighs thinner…” and on and on and on…

It’s a relentless barrage of ‘if onlys’ which many girls start to digest from an early age becoming so full of self-doubt and self-hate and self-consciousness that they feel like bursting or cracking or choking or hiding.

We all know girls that have succumbed to the above list in one form or another, and the saddest part is that our society is hell bent on reinforcing the ‘if only’ mentality, praying on our prediliction to feel shame over pride.

Images of how our lives could be better ‘if only’ we bought these clothes, or that make-up, or subscribed to that magazine, or sprayed that perfume, or dated that boy, or lost that weight, are shoved down our throats incessantly. Girls are being fed on a diet of inadequacies, supplied by companies recently in the media, like Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Disney to name a few.

These corporations, with such great sway, choose to promote a warped mirror to women and men alike – offering reduced, dumbed down, one size fits all versions of ourselves. It’s tragic really, when they have the opportunity to reflect the wonderful truth to women of all ages – that we are dimensional, complex, diverse, beautiful – as is.

If only someone would teach us to believe that…

It took me many years and corrective surgery to overcome my insecurities about my ‘defective’ eyes and my chunky glasses. Ironically I am now the epitome of geek chic. What I wasn’t factoring on was the onset of vitiligo when I was in my early thirties – a skin condition, affecting thousands globally, which results in the loss of pigment from random places on your face and body. I look like an atlas, mapped with islands of white, my skin an ever-changing patchwork of pigment.

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Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that has always fascinated me because in autoimmune disease the body essentially turns on itself. The immune system mistakes healthy cells as the enemy and launches an attack. And I wonder if that is in fact what our society and media and advertising has subliminally encouraged women to do, disguised as self improvement,  enhancement, entertainment?

Have we been brainwashed to ‘battle’ ourselves – to turn away from self-love towards self-hate?

Are men being influenced also?  Consider the statistics of violence against women. This is a bigger, complicated picture and I am merely examining fragments of a broken mirror here, but surely it is worth our reflection?

And as for me. I’m over it. I still have wonky eyes and thick glasses and patterned skin that draws unwanted attention and occasional questions, but I’m healthy otherwise. I embrace my quirks, my unique aspects of self. My issues are ‘cosmetic’ but we’ve been conditioned to allow ‘cosmetic’ to win.

I want to wage another war – a war against this absurdity. And I want to wage it peacefully by offering up thinking points and a compassionate dialogue. I’m raising a boy and a girl, and I know that one size does not fit all. They both need to be part of this movement.

We all do.

If only shmonly…

 

If you are interested in exploring more of the issues I have raised here, visit www.missrepresentation.org and join the conversation!

 

TEN MINUTE PROMPT!

Where do the words ‘if only’ take you? Explore the paths you travel and pause to consider what needs challenging?

I’d love to hear your responses to this post or your responses to the prompt. Let them go. Here. Now.

Here’s thanks for reading and hopes for writing!

 

 

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Get It Write

I’ve never abseiled off the side of a building or walked a tightrope, but I’ve bared my soul in writing and thrown it with abandon into the world. I’ve taken emotional risks with my words that can feel as petrifying and as dangerous as taking similar risks with my body.

And I’ve survived.

I’m privileged to watch people in my workshops week in and week out access the deep courage it requires to take those very same risks. To become vulnerable. To try things out. To expose their fears of shame and failure.

Why is writing so terrifying? In this post from last year, I begin to unpack that question. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject when you have finished reading…

Enjoy  GET IT WRITE

“I’m interested in doing your workshop but the idea of writing intimidates me…” 

I’ve heard this often. It seems the very act of picking up a pen and relaying thoughts and feelings can become burly & threatening, like a school bully who syphons power by frightening others. Sadly, very often that ‘bully’ has been frightened themselves and when they can access help or understanding, there is the potential to deactivate the charge.

So how do we make sense of why the idea of writing is scaring so many people?

Here lies my answer. For many years, traditional western education has hijacked writing and twisted it into something unnecessarily menacing. Something that needs to be done ‘correctly’. Something that will result in a mark or grade that is judged by an outsider – a source of authority. This leaves very little room to embrace the wayward and unruly workings of our human minds. This leaves absolutely no room to celebrate unconventional structures such as:

Outside. Bounce. Bounce. That ball doesn’t never ever stop. STOP. bounce. Bounce.  In my brain. Slam dunking my words away from the train of thought I am riding. With my head out the window. Like a dog. Sniffing. Ears flapping, listening. Absorbing worlds of. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

In recent years the foundations have been shifting, but in 1979 that wouldn’t have earned me an ‘A’ anywhere, especially not in England. In my early education, creativity was shackled with strict limitations.  Apparently we were only allowed to light up the right side of our brains (the creative centre) in nursery school or art class. Even then I have recollections of the teacher removing the brush from my hand and painting over my canvas, in a concerted effort to show me how to ‘improve’.

It’s not a shocker that twenty or thirty years later many people cower from the prospect of trying something just for the hell of it. Letting words out of the enclosure. Giving sentences permission to roam lawlessly. To soar high. To float gently.

In reality, it is not the act of writing that scares us but the external judge, who currently occupies our inner landscapes, ruling the domain with unmerciful glee.

What do I say to those prospective participants – the ones who are drawn towards the workshops but who feel intimidated?

Face the bully! 
Straighten your shoulders! 
Stick your tongue out! 
Hold up a shameless finger and kick the gate open!

There are acres of gorgeous ground to cover. Wasted wooly woodlands filled with creative possibility. Magical truth tunnels. Whispering story trees. And the written word is waiting to lead you on your own guided tour.

So don’t write to please ‘them’ – they have their own issues to tackle. Don’t try and get it ‘right’ because ‘right’ is a moveable feast.

The solution is delightfully simple.
You guessed it… Write To Be You.

Start here! Start Now! Share a spontaneous response to this post. Can be anything… a personal account, a fictional story, a tangled net of words. Share anonymously if that feels safer. Work up to declaring your name. Reinvent or reconnect. Find freedom through your words…

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The Reveal

I’ve been caught up in the sparkle this week. After so many months of toiling the soil and tending the garden, I had the pleasure of the reveal on the weekend. I published my book,Playing Along! And for a few days I feel like I have been whisked into the blossoming limelight – emails, facebook posts, tweets galore.

Affirmation and interest from others can be so seductive… pulling you towards the heat like a moth to the flame.

But the truth is, I was one of those brides at my wedding that didn’t love the attention. I felt a bit awkward.  A little bit out of my skin in a sleek silk gown with yellow freesias in my hair. And I guess I’m confronting that same feeling now.

There’s been much written on the nuances of being an introvert vs. an extrovert, but I am beginning to understand that I am both. I walk a fine line between the two – needing and wanting to be ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ and validated, and then soon after confronting spiky emotions: self doubt, anxiety, the dreaded shame.

In fact one of the main characters in my novel, George, walks that same fragile line. Maybe that is why I was able to write him with such clarity, because he reflects the parts of myself that I grapple with.

Every week in my workshop I see people who take a similar journey. Exploring the relationship between stepping ‘out’ of themselves in order to connect with something deeper… something ‘in’.

So this week I am learning to enjoy the sparkle and glide with the glimmer, but I am also learning that it can be superficial. The attention will die down. The emails will stop coming. The sales will slow, and my task will be to continue to write and rediscover the shimmer below the surface.

Resilience.

Self-acceptance.

Vulnerability.

The treasures that are less obviously opulent, and yet worth so much more.

(If you’d like to read about the birth of ‘Playing Along’ you can do so by clicking here.)

Take a moment to think about how you feel about being in the ‘limelight’. Do you crave attention or does it unsettle you? What is your definition of ‘success’? Take ten minutes and write about the line you walk between being an extrovert and being an introvert.

Do you need or want more or less of one or the other?

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Beware the Slippery Slope

I have imperfection on the mind. We could all benefit from opening our arms wide to the flaws, the crinkles and wrinkles, the messy, nubby bits of life that tempt us to smooth everything out so we can see our reflection in a shiny sheen.

My 12 year old daughter brought an order form home from school this week, sent out by the company that took her yearbook photo. I was horrified to see on this form a prominent ad offering retouching of our children’s photographs to ‘Save the Day!’

“This service reduces any blemishes and lines that might take away attention from how great you look! We can do braces too…”

Just to make sure we ‘get’ it – there are before and after shots. A teenager with some acne and then – hey presto – acne gone! A mouth with braces and then – abracadabra – no braces!

God forbid when my daughter looks back as an adult at her yearbook, she should remember she was a ‘normal’ pre teen. Apparently  it is far preferable that I PAY to ensure that she appears ‘perfect’. Glossed over. False.

It’s a slippery slope and one that we now seem to be dragging our children down. Grabbing their hands and pulling them head first into the pitiful pit of ‘you could look better’ / ‘we all need improvements.’ Where might this company draw the line? Would they suggest slimming hips, augmenting breasts, shaping noses to ‘save the day’?

I know I live in LA, but for once that is no excuse!

Sending this kind of a message to children is inexcusable, especially under the guise of offering a service to ‘enhance’ our kids’ appearance .

This is not a service. This is clearly a disservice. Most especially for young people who are struggling with self esteem, feeling self conscious, longing for a transformation. By providing them with the digital magic to ‘fix’ things – we are drastically letting them down. Surely the transformation needs to come from within? A gentle and affirming path to acceptance. A slow and curious climb up, rather than that slippery downhill run.

I think society’s quest for perfection is especially confounding for creative people, because it is at odds with the true nature of expression.

At the core of creativity lies imperfection. Cracks and dents. Bumps and bulges. The endless act of trying something out and then trying it again- not necessarily to arrive at an ‘immaculate’ final product – but to remain playful with the process. 

This tenant lies at the foundation of my workshops and drives my own creative ethos.

Like an adolescence wrestling with their identity – creativity needs time to evolve and grow and articulate. Embrace the braces! Don’t airbrush out all the blemishes. Explore them. They will tell you a far more soulful story.

Take ten minutes and write about ‘transformation’, creative or otherwise. Reflect on your own life experiences as well as intentions for the year ahead.

Are their ‘blemishes’ that you might benefit from exploring? Are you too quick to retouch the undesirable pieces of your puzzle?

Write in your notebook or journal, or share on the blog.

Thank you for being part of The Write To Be You community! I am extremely grateful…

 

 

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Double Exposure

At the time of writing this, thanks to those of you who generously donated your words, I have raised $395 for The Pablove Foundation.  48 of you sent me a fictional story, poem or memory inspired by a simple picture of an ice cream cone taken by a child living with cancer. 48 of you carved out time from your busy schedules and pledged your words, trusting your voice and risking sharing.

I am so grateful to those of you who participated. 

Plus it was such a treat for me to read the contributions landing daily… each expression unique and interesting. If you haven’t already, have a browse through the comments from the Incentive posts. There are far more than 31 flavours!

With every new comment that arrived, I sensed a community gathering.

This was always my intention for the blog and for Write To Be You. Writing only in isolation can feel extremely lonely. While writing and sharing, linking words like hands, has the collective potential to nourish your soul and expand your outlook. But with that nourishment comes the threat of exposure, and I realized over the last 2 weeks, that many of my readers didn’t join in my fundraising campaign for fear of feeling over exposed. The realization saddened me. I want to emphasize here that any contribution to the site can be submitted anonymously. You can even invent a fabulous nom de plume and waltz your words around the screen with abandon, cleverly disguised by your daring alter ego.

But more importantly, I’d like to propose that some level of exposure is vital to the creative process and integral to growth.

Think old school SLR cameras. The shutter has to open, even briefly, in order to catch a flash of light and imprint the image onto the film. Human beings are not so different. A little exposure can go a long way. Can you break free of your ‘not a writer’ persona and write anyway? Can you give yourself permission to play with words or thoughts and discard the looming fear of being compared or judged?

Can you allow yourself to develop?

Somewhere in the script of my childhood I repeatedly heard the line, “people don’t change.” I am here to contest that notion. I absolutely believe in the power of subtle transformation. Not necessarily sweeping leaps of faith… but small skips in alternate directions. Hushed murmurs like butterfly wings, powerful because they are intricately bold rather than overbearing.

So open the shutter.

Capture a surprising aspect of yourself. Some of the most intriguing photographs are double exposures, randomly stolen moments, immortalized by mistake. Why are these images so captivating? Because they reveal that two things can exist at the same time. You don’t have to define yourself with only limited parameters. Writing is not only for ‘writers’. Creativity is available to everyone.

Demand that the uptight, hard assed teacher living inside of you put down her red pen and experiment with some other colors for once. And while she’s distracted, discard your uniform, skip through the hallways and release your words into the world.

The butterflies are waiting.

PS.If you didn’t get around to donating words for one reason or another, my deadline is up, but you can always go directly to the Pablove site and donate $10 yourself. Every little bit counts…

Are you afraid of exposure? Where does the fear stem from? Can you break through the fear and explore writing something? Anything? Be gentle on yourself. If you don’t want to be too revealing, invent a name and see what words come. Equally, if you have reaped the benefits of exposure, please share!

Or

Create a character who resists change. Write an outline of this person and notice how you feel about them as you write. Think about their backstory. What and who has shaped them?

 

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Singing in the Street

It was a rare occasion to be collected from school by my father. My sister and I had a half day. My dad picked us up and took us out to lunch. I might have been ten. I don’t remember the food we ate. I do remember he bought me a white bird that looked strangely real. It had glass eyes and wings made from silky soft feathers. I ran my fingers endlessly over those wings, imagining it had landed on my window sill to speak a special language, only to me.

My father held my hand as we walked through the West End of London and he sang out loud. My sister and I hit the back of his coat and begged him to stop. He took us later that day to see Flash Gordon in the Odeon cinema on the Edgware Road. Besides us, there were probably only fifteen people in the cinema. I was mesmerized by the adventure on the screen.  Neon lycra, laser guns and the Crash(!) Boom (!) Pow(!) of a boy’s world that had remained elusive to me being the youngest of three girls. My dad wasn’t so mesmerized. He fell asleep. Head lolling forward. Loud snores erupting in bursts. I tried to jostle his arm to wake him up. It didn’t happen. He just wasn’t that riveted by the Saviour of the Universe.

Parents are embarrassing. It’s not my opinion.  It’s a well documented fact.

My Dad was embarrassing but he was MY embarrassing… if he hadn’t sang in the street or snored in the cinema, I might not be recalling the tender details of that afternoon. If he had been dull or bland, twenty years after his death, it would be harder to conjure up the moments that make me smile on father’s day.

My mother was enormously embarrassing too. She collected us from school wearing an impossibly fluffy orange fur coat, flared jeans and owl round sunglasses. Today she might get splattered in red paint, but in 1978 she was the epitome of cool. She was the true manifestation of a yummy mummy, and totally immune to the glares of other more reserved mums, piling kids in the backs of station wagons, heading for Hampshire to their weekend retreats. My parent’s were city rebels. My mum drove a two door silver Mustang with black leather seats, and a perfect white stain on the vinyl roof, imprinted by my vanilla ice cream cone. I’d stand behind the driving seat and hold onto the smell in her hair. Estee Lauder Youth Dew. She made being a grown-up look so very fun and easy. But she was still embarrassing. She was a mother after all – it was part of her job description.

When I became a grown-up, I realized that life wasn’t nearly as breezy or fun as my mother had made it seem.

Perhaps that’s when I started singing in the street.

I might not have fur or glamour on my side, but I have found my own unique methods to ensure my children cringe. And on the days I don’t successfully humiliate them, my husband manages to pick up my slack. Somehow I am reassured by this cycle of life. Like the secret language I shared with my white bird… each family has their own code to interpret. And while back in the seventies I flinched  at my parent’s eccentricities, I grin fondly at the recollections now.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Take a moment and recall some of your own parents’ embarrassing highlights! For some of us this can tip from humour into shame… notice your feelings. See what emotions surface as you begin to write. When I wrote my piece, I felt very sentimental.  Has time smoothed away the creases or does the memory still make your toes curl?!

Be brave, feel free… share your words. Your stories are a gift to me and all the Write To Be You readers… thank you!

If you are subscribed via email please do not reply to the email (I won’t receive it) Click HERE to comment on the site, or click HERE to comment on FB, or email me by clicking HERE. Lot’s of options! I want to hear from you!

 

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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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Get It Write

“I’m interested in doing your workshop but the idea of writing intimidates me…” 

I’ve heard this often. It seems the very act of picking up a pen and relaying thoughts and feelings can become burly & threatening, like a school bully who syphons power by frightening others. Sadly, very often that ‘bully’ has been frightened themselves and when they can access help or understanding, there is the potential to deactivate the charge.

So how do we make sense of why the idea of writing is scaring so many people?

Here lies my answer. For many years, traditional western education has hijacked writing and twisted it into something unnecessarily menacing. Something that needs to be done ‘correctly’. Something that will result in a mark or grade that is judged by an outsider – a source of authority. This leaves very little room to embrace the wayward and unruly workings of our human minds. This leaves absolutely no room to celebrate unconventional structures such as:

Outside. Bounce. Bounce. That ball doesn’t never ever stop. STOP. bounce. Bounce.  In my brain. Slam dunking my words away from the train of thought I am riding. With my head out the window. Like a dog. Sniffing. Ears flapping, listening. Absorbing worlds of. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

In recent years the foundations have been shifting, but in 1979 that wouldn’t have earned me an ‘A’ anywhere, especially not in England. In my early education, creativity was shackled with strict limitations.  Apparently we were only allowed to light up the right side of our brains (the creative centre) in nursery school or art class. Even then I have recollections of the teacher removing the brush from my hand and painting over my canvas, in a concerted effort to show me how to ‘improve’.

It’s not a shocker that twenty or thirty years later many people cower from the prospect of trying something just for the hell of it. Letting words out of the enclosure. Giving sentences permission to roam lawlessly. To soar high. To float gently.

In reality, it is not the act of writing that scares us but the external judge, who currently occupies our inner landscapes, ruling the domain with unmerciful glee.

What do I say to those prospective participants – the ones who are drawn towards the workshops but who feel intimidated?

Face the bully! 
Straighten your shoulders! 
Stick your tongue out! 
Hold up a shameless finger and kick the gate open!

There are acres of gorgeous ground to cover. Wasted wooly woodlands filled with creative possibility. Magical truth tunnels. Whispering story trees. And the written word is waiting to lead you on your own guided tour.

So don’t write to please ‘them’ – they have their own issues to tackle. Don’t try and get it ‘right’ because ‘right’ is a moveable feast.

The solution is delightfully simple.
You guessed it… Write To Be You.

Start here! Start Now! Share a spontaneous response to this post. Can be anything… a personal account, a fictional story, a tangled net of words. Share anonymously if that feels safer. Work up to declaring your name. Reinvent or reconnect. Find freedom through your words…

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