Don’t Hold Those Coins So Tightly, I Beg of You: A Story

I’ll tell you upfront: this is not my proudest moment. No, far from it. It’s been over ten years, but if I try I can still summon back the anxiety, the scarcity, and the fear that flared through my mind.

Picture this: I am seated at an outdoor café table with my three closest friends. Our backpacking trip is coming to a close, and we’ve just finished a meal of savory crepes in a small village in France.

I love this place because it reminds me of Belle’s village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and also because the crepes come with cucumbers that have little heart shapes cut out of their centers.

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That Whole Gorgeous and Terrible Pageant

Watching people’s professionally-produced videos can be … challenging.

Back & forth ...

Back & forth, back & forth …

Even though I know better, I usually think, Dang, that person really has their life together! They glide through their days with a soft glow surrounding them … no zits, pit stains, or problems! That is so not my life …

As you’ve probably guessed, A Wish Come Clear has a new video in the works, thanks to the talented team at Armosa Studios. But excited as I am about sharing the video with you, the behind-the-scenes story comes first.

Why? Because I am always so relieved when other artists debunk the illusion of perfection. I feel so much better when they are brave enough to say: Honey, I may have had the honor of working with some talented videographers, but I am NO stranger to acne.

***

On the day of the shoot, I was … a little nervous. But I worked hard to prepare, and drove off with my husband’s encouragement in mind. “You’re gonna knock it out of the park!” he said, fake swing and all. Neither of us are baseball people — we’re more reading at home people — and I was touched.

But then I missed a turn — that elusive turn! — and I had to go back and forth over the same bridge. It was so frustrating, because I could SEE where I needed to go, but I couldn’t discern how to get from Point A to Point B.

Eventually, I figured out how to get to Point B … but by then I was 15 minutes late. I tried to remember the perfectionism cure I learned this week: It’s a great day to make a mistake. I took deep breaths. And the presence of dear friends at the shoot helped; they reassured me that everything was all right.

When we find each other, we find the way home. (2013)

But I didn’t even figure out how ironic this whole situation was until I started saying lines from my own script. Writing a 60 second script means allowing only the essentials to remain … and what had I deemed essential for us, for A Wish Come Clear?

I’d written about Choosing Love, Losing Fear, & Finding Home. I’d written that since we are all so scared to be imperfect and vulnerable and real, it’s tempting to run from relationship. I’d written that showing up and loving one another as we are is about the toughest assignment there is. I’d written about getting lost and found.

***

After that humbling realization, the shoot flew by. I was having fun! (I was also sweating profusely, but hey, that’s what August afternoons in Alabama do to you.) And then …

“The water looks beautiful right now,” the filmmaker said, staring into the viewfinder.

I gazed out over the bridge, following his line of sight. It was sunset, and he was right. “It really does,” I replied.

“Yeah … but you have to see it through the camera,” he said, stepping aside.

And it was … magic. Everything, everything was shining, radiant. It was as though the water had stars in it. It was just a different lens … and it was another world. It made me think that maybe heaven, as Anne Lamott says, really is just a new pair of glasses. And that, as Stephen Mitchell writes, “It is as if the world we perceive through our senses, that whole gorgeous and terrible pageant, were the breath-thin surface of a bubble, and everything else, inside and outside, is pure radiance.”

Sunset at Point Clear, 2013

When I looked through the new lens, everything around me was illuminated. And in an instant, my thoughts were transfigured too; I went from doubt to gratitude in the blink of an eye.

Instead of thinking that I maybe I didn’t ‘deserve’ a professional video, I recalled my friends, who took time out of their full lives to participate in the shoot.

Instead of stressing about how the video would turn out, I remembered my husband, swinging an imaginary bat, effectively saying: You’ve got this. I believe in you.

Instead of worrying about future readers, I thought of you. You show up each week, sharing your stories, wisdom, and encouragement with me, and I am so privileged to write for you.

In the end, I saw what was right in front of me all along: the whole gorgeous and terrible pageant, with radiance within and around it. I saw all of us, just doing our best to live and love well.

And what could be more beautiful than that?

***

Thank you to everyone who contributed to our our charity:water campaign! Together, we raised $365, exceeding our goal of $350! Thanks to your gifts, 5 people will have access to clean, life-giving water.

Thank you for your generous support!

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Beware the Laundry: A Guide to Writing & Relationships

“I sure need encouragement to write. Help.”

This photo always makes me smile, because, dude, where’s the typing paper?! Credit: Kevin J. Fischer

A dear friend recently wrote this to me, adding, “I hope you can shed some light on how I can get started.” So I thought I’d, you know, write an answer. And I thought I’d publish it here because writing is about relationship.

Writing is an interplay between what’s in your mind and what’s on the page, between the stories you tell and the stories you live. And so it’s no surprise that the most helpful things I know about writing also apply to forging strong connections.

***

First, make sure writing (or strengthening a relationship) is what you really want. Decide for yourself.

If you do want to write or grow your relationships, count on resistance. That’s what I call the voice in my head that doesn’t want me to take risks (thank you, Steven Pressfield). It helps to name this voice — it makes it less scary.

In case you’re not familiar with it, resistance starts up when you’re about to do something important, something that breaks your usual mold. It begins as you set yourself a writing assignment and type the first faltering sentences. It says:

This is ridiculous. Nothing I write is remotely interesting. I bet great writers don’t flounder like this. It’s probably hopeless. I should be doing something more sensible, like cleaning the bathroom.

***

I call that last line the lure of the sensible, and it’s a powerful snare. Author Julia Cameron calls it the virtue trap, which is apt. What does that mean? It means checking off every item on the list except what’s most important to your spirit.

It’s easy to act like writing and nurturing our relationships are insane, impractical, and selfish … when in fact these may be the most sane, practical, loving things we do all day.

Of course, common sense applies (yes, do your taxes). But beware the tasks that can wait! Beware the laundry! If you’re like me, you are never so interested in chores as when you want to avoid the vulnerability that comes with writing (or truly connecting with another person).

So, don’t tempt yourself. If you want to have a good in-person conversation, put away your phone. And if you want to write, go to the library; it’s free, neat, and full of books to read when you’re done.

Writing at the library, 2012

Speaking of which: Never underestimate the power of a good incentive. I’m a professional writer who has wanted to ‘make books’ since age 6, and there are plenty of days when I can only get started if I bribe myself to do so.

***

Next, be consistent. Set a writing routine, and make it very easy. Do less than you’re capable of, so you’ll stick with it. Same goes for relationships: set the bar low and commit. Long catch-up calls with faraway friends are good, but you know what’s easier and more realistic? Shorter, slightly more frequent calls, which prevent the dance of disconnection.

I write every day (with few exceptions for illness or vacation). If you’re not writing, this is the first thing I’d suggest. Set a relatively easy quota; the key is consistency. Do a little bit daily, and it adds up. FAST.

Plus, doing the work boots your self-respect. When you fulfill your commitment, you can say, I did it! Or, as Anne Lamott likes to say, I am princess of all the earth!

***

Morning writing, reading, and coffee, 2012

Finally, write what wants to be written. Get quiet. Let your mind wander, and stay in the chair until something occurs to you. Will it be good? Maybe not. But it will help you start, and the importance of starting cannot be underestimated. As you continue, you may realize that you’d like to go in a different direction. That’s okay; it means you’re listening.

A reader recently quoted Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, which reminded me of Palmer’s admonition:

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”

What you hear may take you by surprise. In fact, if you’re willing to tune in, your writing (and your life, for that matter) won’t be anything like what you planned.

Instead, it will be better.

***

For more inspiration to write, check out Scott Lentine’s poetry; he writes about life on the autism spectrum with courage and candor. Scott emailed me his poems just as I was finishing this post. Coincidence? I think not.

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