New Online Courses at Brave Girl University

I'm so excited that Brave Girl University, a Netflix-style platform for soulful and creative online courses, opens its doors tomorrow. It's an honor to be a part of the more than 80 teachers gathering for this new work. You can have access to all kinds of learning--from step by step projects to deep wisdom for living--all for $24.95 a month. 

While one of my classes shares its name with a live class and handbook I've previously made available, all these videos are from the NEW wisdom I've been gathering around this topic in recent years: The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls. The title umbrella it falls under is the same but the content here is all new.

The second class I've created is an unedited guide for vulnerability: How to Be True (and Live to Tell). It addresses the challenges we bump up against when we create close-to-the-heart work or when we are making room for our more tender places to be seen and heard. Both courses are right at the forefront and edge of where I'm working and living--filmed in real time from the road on our Summer Tour.

If you enroll before classes start tomorrow, there's a special discount on the Brave Box optional add-on that brings exquisite supplies to your post box every month to inspire and support your learning.

There aren't many organizations I would be this proud to partner with--my friend Melody Ross and her team at Brave Girls' Club works with so much heart and integrity that I've been dreaming of working together for awhile now. I'm so happy that time has come and I invite you to join us there, knowing that it will be all you hope for AND MORE.

Learn more and enroll here.

New Writing Series: Creative Cycles and Seasons

There's a new writing series up for fall! One thing that emerged really strongly when I was going through my archives was this attempt to observe, name and navigate different seasons and cycles of my own creative work as I moved through them. You can find the series here.

Finding a New Rhythm

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My husband has been walking for about 10 days now.

It's been a transition back, as he's gone back to his office and I've converted my own studio back from convalescent room to workspace and refuge. The first day everyone was gone it was SO QUIET. And it's interesting how quiet can become a stranger to us, even as we long for it. We simply forget how to be in its company.

I had all this expectation on myself, as if NOW I would be like a racehorse out the gate, fast and unhindered. My phone friends heard this kind of pressure in my voice and urged me to take it easy. To stare out of windows. To not feel that every second now needed to be productive to make up for something--it's only an illusion that anything has been lost.

It was a good thing they did, because the next day it was as if two months' worth of fatigue hit me all at once, like that big let-down after college finals when we usually got sick.  I had a long list of things to do, but no reserve to work from. So I wrote about this cycle I go through of clearing space, rest, and rapid execution, and I tried to believe, as I struggle to every time, that the productivity and clarity would be there waiting for me on the other side of clearing space and rest.

I broke down boxes, and took out recycling. I put things in their place. I watched a lot of Wallander (the Swedish version) on Netflix streaming. I took baths. I walked around the block. But mostly I just waited.

It's funny because the old-school approach to getting work done--the entrepreneurial, management-style approach--says that if we start clearing our spaces or wanting to read in bed, we're just avoiding our work. That we should "push through" and keep in motion.

But that approach has never worked for me in the realm of creative work. Clearing space and resting are as essential to my productivity as the sun and water parts are for growing plants.

I fight against these spells as those old voices nag me, and one day last week I did try to do some work. I was looking over my notes yesterday, which reminded me of the ones I took in college just after lunch, when I would struggle to stay awake through the entire lecture. (Even with the lights on, even when I sat in the front row.) The letters and words are uneven and ragged and difficult to read. The thoughts are so vague in spots that the ideas are even hard to follow.

But my notes yesterday looked like they were written by a completely different person. Even and ordered, in columns and categories. I even banged out a couple things on the list like they were no big deal.

I'm finding a rhythm again--one that's not dictated and structured by external needs but is directed and guided by something internal. It is being at the source of doing. It is the way I keep proving to myself over and over again that if I'm well cared for, the work takes care of itself.

What rhythms are appearing in your creative process? What essential elements are you learning you need to do your best work?

How to Survive a Threshold Season

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Lately I've been talking about Threshold Seasons, mainly because I'm living in one. During Threshold Seasons, we find ourselves operating out at the edges of our capacities, in one way or another. Our limits for things like patience, perseverance, courage, compassion and more are tested and stretched beyond what we previously knew ourselves capable of.

Often, Threshold Seasons are marked by shrinking margins, those extra spaces that leave room for the unforseen or the unexpected, both large and small. Think: the morning that's off to a slower start than usual, or the accident we didn't see coming.

This is what I know about surviving Threshold Seasons:

When the margins grow thin, it's imperative to create new ones.

A big part of this is sending a message to our body, which feels the impact of Threshold Seasons acutely. We tell our bodies through every small act of rest or restoration: I Got This, because if we don't, our bodies will shut us down until we do. 

In a Threshold Season, try these moves for creating new margins:

Send your expectations on vacation. Whether you're up against expectations about time, productivity, or even how good of a mood you should be in--it's time to reevaluate and let go. Threshold Seasons are NOT Ordinary Times, and trying to force them to look the same is only a recipe for frustration.

Understand that The Little Things matter more. It's counterintuitive, because one would think that it would be the other way around, but things like having clear surfaces to cook, eat or work on, or clean clothes that feel good--what is a mere annoyance in Ordinary Time is what sends you over the edge in Threshold Seasons. The Little Things need more of your attention right now, not less.

Know this: a little novelty goes a long way. When slower, longer and more aren't an option, try something different. One way I'm doing this is with a new breakfast I came up with for the girls: the May The Day Go Gently With Us breakfast. It's comprised of a slice of peanut butter toast, a small (6oz) hot cocoa, and mini-marshmallows, as the day requires. (It's for Emergency Mornings--don't judge.) Changing things up can feel good to your body and soul.

Notice the margins you still have. We're always so quick to fill open spaces of time when they pop up unexpectedly or naturally appear during the rhythm of the day. What if you took notice and sunk into those spaces deeply? I'm usually one to wake and roll right of bed, but lately I stay there. Just soaking in a few moments of being held and supported by the earth, and my building and bed, of being covered with soft, warm layers is one way to notice that margin that I still have.

Hold your attention. One thing that sends me to my threshold quicker than anything is having my attention fragmented and interrupted. (This made the early childhood years a real challenge for me.) When disruptions outside of my control are high, I pull back on the ones IN my control. This can look like setting aside whole days for each aspect of my work, instead of trying to do a little work on everything every day.

It also means curbing the multi-tasting. When I'm editing and waiting for files to import, I do better staying offline and using the space for something more presence-friendly, like sipping tea, looking out the window, or listening to records. I've found that the back-and-forth multi-tasking is never as productive as we think.

Focus on the work at hand. The way I'm wired, one part of my mind is always working about three projects out ahead of what I'm actually on right now. And in a Threshold Season, there's just not enough margin for that. Last week Jolie said to me, Could you just make your movie and take care of your husband? As soon as she posed the question, the twenty other things whirling around my head and pouring out my mouth just fell away. Yes, I said, I can.

When I focus on the work at hand, it returns me to the sufficiency of this moment, and I can see that while what I have may feel small in comparison to Ordinary Times, it's still enough.

It's enough.

I'd love to hear from you: How do YOU survive Threshold Seasons or create new margins?

You can leave a comment by scrolling down (or clicking this link if you're reading in your email or RSS Reader). You can also share your tips for surviving Threshold Seasons on the Facebook page.

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Recognizing When You're at Your Threshold

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In my last post I briefly mentioned operating at our thresholds, but today I want to get into this a little deeper, and also add the idea of operating with margins.

I first discovered Life with Margins as a new college student. In my family life back home, if it took 8 minutes to drive somewhere, we left (or aspired to leave) 8 minutes before we had to be there. I hated the feeling of cutting it close, of inevitable delays and arriving late to my part-time job, for example. But when you're at the mercy of other people driving you places and traveling as a unit, you often don't know any other way.

When I got to college, it didn't take me long at all to discover the amazing freedom to leave on my own schedule. I learned there that I could create a margin--I could leave 20 minutes early to get to a building only 10 minutes away. Then, when the gardens were blooming, I could stop and enjoy them. When I ran into friends, I could pause to chat.

Creating a Margin meant leaving room for the unforseen and unexpected. It meant having breathing space in between and around the edges.

Learning about margins simultaneously taught me about thresholds. I started to feel in my body when I'm operating out at the far edges of my capacities, whether it's my capacity to manage stress, to summon courage, to withstand vulnerability or more.

I think this is what people refer to when they talk about "feeling stressed": either the feeling of being at one's threshold or operating without margins. Or both.

The world beyond our door is not all soft edges and cozy corners, but I endeavor to keep life inside our walls as gentle and easy as possible--to compensate, perhaps. Our family rhythm is one with a lot of margins, in an ordinary times. We keep weekends unstructured and unplanned as much as possible. I work really intentionally to create a rhythm for my kids that leaves time for cartoon-watching and fort-building and open space to create, to rest and to be.

Since my husband's accident, many of our usual margins have disappeared. We're back to one parent getting kids out the door in the morning and wrangling them into bed at night. But more than that, this time has us out at our thresholds for so many reasons (and each of us have our own).

There are a few signs we're noticing that tell us we're out at our threshold. These may be different for you, but for us it sounds like:

  • "Just a few hours ago I was doing so great, now suddenly I'm cranky and mad."
  • "I am one push-up test in PE away from completely losing it."
  • "I feel like I'm about to have a meltdown, but for no good reason." 

Our rational minds keep scanning in search of The One Good Reason why our bodies feel sick without actually being sick or our emotions are like yo-yo's bouncing high and low.

What's maddening is that there IS no One Good Reason. It's not the essay or the push-up test or the hair accessory we can't find. The truth is, it's all of it--all that we are holding together at once, all that our hearts and bodies are trying to process.

We're at our threshold, and the only remedy I know is to create new margins. (More on this next week.)

Today, I'm curious to examine this idea collectively and see how being at the threshold manifests itself for different people. I'd love to hear from you:  

How do you recognize when you're at your threshold? How does it feel in your body? What kind of thought patterns creep up? And what kinds of things do you hear yourself saying? 

You can leave a comment by scrolling down (or clicking this link if you're reading in your email or RSS Reader). You can also share your tips for recognizing when you're at your threshold on the Facebook page.

How to Be Strong

The Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver BC

The Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver BC

I sometimes describe my body as a precarious ecosystem, and the more I give myself permission to be a little quirky, the more I find my way into somewhat elaborate self-care rituals. I have a list (yes, a list) of foods that I avoid, I go to bed every night at 9:30 and rise around 6am. There are morning yoga poses, without which my joints bother me, and so many other things.

In general, these things have made me feel weak, and I'm gonna go ahead and say it: high maintenance. My limits have made me feel less-than people who can go to late shows every night or eat whatever they want without their digestive systems and complexions exploding. Sometimes I hear the voice of my father, who liked to say (to his three daughters), C'mon, be a man.

I imagined that strong people didn't require rhythm and care, but lately . . . well, I have to confess: I'm feeling really strong. This morning I was stretching and thinking that for me, the quirks and self care rituals aren't a sign of my weakness but a prescription for my strength.

I'm writing myself this reminder before I forget--perhaps you could use it, too.

How to Be Strong:

Learn what you need. For your physical health, and emotional health. For those moments when you need to be flexible and more patient than you dreamed possible. To keep colds at bay and your energy steady. To be at your best and to stay there.

Then do it. Even if it feels like a pain, or hard to imagine. Do it without apology, as consistently as you possibly can. Feed yourself good things (body and soul), get good rest, spend time staring out windows, get out and see your friends face to face. Consider the things you most need non-negotiable to your well-being.

Keep your reserves full. You know how it is when you've depleted your reserves--one cross look or piece of bad news can instantly undo the paper clips and scotch tape that are holding you together. It pays to be like the farmer, who knows that hard winters and bad storms come, often when least expected, and keeps the reserves well-stocked. Operating at the margins is about survival; operating with reserves is about strength.

What's your prescription for strength? I'd love to hear it.