(little) acts of courage

Grand Central, Horizon Perfekt, Kodak Portra 400 35mm film

I've been just hanging on over here, processing some deep things and feeling really quiet on the surface.  Feeling often pretty down, if I'm honest.  But today I tried a new exercise. What would happen, I wondered, if I acknowledged the little acts of courage I'm undertaking lately?  Would it console me about not feeling up for anything big at the moment?  Would it lift my spirits?

Yes.  Yes, it did. 

Here's my list.

(little) acts of courage:

  • Showing up on stage when you'd rather be under the covers.
  • Writing one page of a project that makes it hard for you to breathe.
  • Getting out of bed in the morning and picking up a pen.
  • Knowing people are leaving, but loving them with your whole heart anyway.
  • Asking someone else to make your sandwich when you're wilting.
  • Calling your friends before your words come back.
  • Letting yourself be seen when you're irritable and unsocial.
  • Telling your story when your heart is still living inside of it.
  • Giving your most honest response, even when it means accidentally exclaiming, Hot Damn! to a religious woman when you see how hot she looks these days.
  • Choosing to be thankful for all your body has done when you're struggling to love it.
  • Lacing up your running shoes when you don't know if your feet will make it today.
  • Letting yourself be loved when you feel unlovable.
  • Being present to your emotions when loss is gripping your chest and squeezing it tight.
  • Letting yourself receive gifts when they feel too good to be true.
  • Playing chase in the playground when you feel heavy and slow.
  • Being gentle with yourself when you're inclined to crack the whip.

What little acts of courage can you acknowledge yourself for today?  Once you write them down or say them out loud, you may see they're not so little, after all.

Better

Horizon Perfekt, Lomo 400 35mm film

I'm feeling so much better now that story has been told.  It seems that my New York friends even still like me, which is a bonus.  Today I'll let myself land squarely in love.  I'll talk to my security blanket friends on the phone, and they'll say, We told you it would be fine, and I'll say, I wouldn't have done it if part of me didn't believe you.  We will poke fun at how such a small little story can turn me into a nervous wreck, and I will laugh because some people think that I'm brave but being a nervous wreck is such a funny way for brave to look.

I'll lay off writing a bit and take the cameras out for a spin. Until I start sneezing and cursing the pollen and retreat back into my little hermitage.

And then, next week, I'll put my name in a hat for the chance to do it all again.

Comfort and The Be True Game

The sky, not falling. Horizon Perfekt, Lomo 400 35mm film

It's always a dilemma for me: how many of my mental . . . quirks to spill out here?  But then, once I let you into the crazy it's hard not to fill you in on how it resolves.

Before taking a leap, do I ever ask myself, Why am I doing this again?  Yes.  Yes, I do. I ask myself over and over again while some part of me looks for a way to wiggle out of jumping.  Sometimes the answers are different, other times they are the same.

This week the answer is about comfort, maybe because that's my word for the year.  I find an endless source of comfort in other people's stories, people who are willing to be true, and I want to be a part of that somehow.  I want to tell stories that give comfort, like this: Your humanity is okay.  You can be naive and look foolish and have body odor and all of it means you belong to the human race.

So many messages around us are designed to make us feel ashamed of our humanity.  That way we won't stop buying scented personal hygiene products and matching throw pillows and cinnamon-flavored chewing gum.  But people who look slick and flawless are very hard for me to take.  It might make me un-likeable or unpopular, but here's what I really believe:

People who let themselves really be seen are the bravest ones of all.

There are all kinds of games we can play in life--I've been playing many of them for a long time.  There's the Look Good game, the Be Good game (much harder to shake), and I'm trying with everything I've got to switch leagues into the Be True game.  I think the hardest part for me is the way in which winning the Be True game requires me to lose the Look Good game and Be Good game, so even when I say I'm past caring about those things I still have to walk on stage and prove it.

If you want to come see me lose the Look Good game tonight, you can find the details for what will be an amazing show here.

On the Other Side of Brave

It feels embarrassingly familiar--my pendulum swing back and forth between being seen and being hidden--as if at any minute you guys could jump in and write this blog post on your own.

Yes, Jen, this always happens.  You're right on schedule, and no one is surprised.  You swing out, big and wide, with as much courage as you can muster, and then when it's over the worries begin.

"Did I say too much? Did any of it matter or make a difference to anyone?  Are we still sure we wouldn't all be better off if I was just a barista?" (Don't think we don't know you were plotting your application, For Real This Time, just yesterday.)

Here's the good news, you would say.  It comes, and it goes.  Stay under the covers, watch your movies, it will pass.  And soon enough it will be time to be brave again.  And love will be there to catch you. 

It always is.

Guest Post: If you're very lucky

Meet Phyllis Mathis, my beloved friend and mentor of over ten years.  Phyllis is co-founder and managing editor of Voca Femina, and the ontological coach behind Resonance Life Coaching.  Phyllis, with her profound wisdom and genius, and I joined our powers to cook up the Integrate Retreat in April, which promises to be the most transformative event I've been a part of yet. (There's still room for you to join us.)

Today she shares this story with us:

If you’re very lucky, at some brief moment in time, someone may come along and change your life. 

My someone’s name was Jay. That was the American name he adopted to prevent his yoga students from slaughtering his true Korean name.  

I was an ignorant, overweight, green around the gills yoga-newbie who had grown up on the belief that to darken the door of anything “eastern” was akin to dancing with the devil. Nevertheless I found myself enjoying the newfound flexibility, clarity, and strength provided by this modern/ancient practice, under Jay’s expert instruction. 

Included in my studio membership was a periodic “energy check” – a session with Jay in which he would poke around certain pressure points, looking for anything out of balance, any way he could help his students achieve a healthier balance.  

That particular autumn had been rough. My long-time business partner and close friend had turned vicious - in typical mean girls fashion - and had eviscerated me in front of my colleagues, just weeks after I had signed a five-year contract with her. I was a mess - stunned, wounded, and at a loss for how survive a whopping five years with this woman. 

I was in that condition one day after class, when Jay offered me an energy check. I warily followed him into the treatment room and lay down on the mat.  

He poked and prodded while I wondered what information he could possibly be gleaning, and for what purpose. He moved his hands to press a spot just below my left collarbone. I yelped in pain. 

“What is that?” I asked, completely surprised. 

“Ah,” he said, “You have problem with co-worker.”  

“How do you know that?” I demanded. How could he possibly know that? 

“This energy center have to do with relationships, coworkers,” he replied. “Tell me what is wrong.” 

I gave him a brief history of my humiliation and betrayal. His response startled me. 

“You have to fight!” he said, eyes narrowed, intense. 

“Oh no, I am not a fighter,” I blurted. How could I explain the situation, my cowardice, my complete lack of skills in the art of confrontation, my thorough intimidation under this woman’s glare? 

“In a fight, she is a lion and I am a chicken,” I offered, hoping a metaphor would bridge the cultural gap. 

His eyes did not lose their intensity.  

“Even a chicken knows how to fight for her chicks. You must fight like a chicken – for your soul!” 

His words hung in the air, the moment stretched out in time.  

The oracle had spoken.  

I took his words home, tucked them into my heart. Soon I managed to recover my dignity, face my partner, establish my boundaries, and get my power back.  

Not bad for a chicken. 

Shortly thereafter, the studio closed and Jay was gone.  

Five years later I realize that I was very, very lucky. You never know who might show up to change your life in an unexpected way. 

Curious about this weekend's retreat?  Follow me on Twitter, and I'll keep you posted on what we're up to, as I can.

The Middle Space

Lexington Express, Diana+

Tonight I'll be celebrating my anniversary of onstage storytelling with The BTK Band, an improvisational storytelling rock band led my friend, Peter Aguero.  They are something amazing to behold, all themselves.  They have a great show lined up--one I'm honored to be a part of--and today, like many days, I'm straddling the middle space.  You know the one--the huge cavernous gap between the confidence of knowing you've got a move to bring, and the vulnerability of being true or innocent or tender in a city that's famous for eating such people for dessert.

Big and small. Brave and vulnerable. Good and bad.  These are the dichotomies that have ruled my life, and it took so long for me to learn that I could (or would ever want to) be both, to learn there is a place to stand in the gap that lets you hold all your pieces at once.

Good and bad is probably the last stand for me in this battle.  This weekend I was thinking about how much of my life (most of it) has been about labeling or identifying the good and the bad parts of myself.  This intel fed a massive engagement to hide the bad parts, hoping they would disappear if I shoved them into a dark enough corner.

I still remember the tears that filled my eyes when I looked at Jen in her kitchen last April after she did a Humpty Dumpty number on me--the moment between when she completely undid me and the next, where she would show me the way back together again.

I said, "It's like who I am is a collection of quarters on the table, and I've spent all these years and all this effort trying to keep them all heads-up, to keep only my good parts showing."

"But you don't actually know which parts are good," she said. "Some of those pieces you keep under wraps are the best of all."

In that in-between, undone moment, I knew what it was to be loved.

It's taken months of having this be the larger conversation going on in the background of my life for me to return to it again with new eyes.

A quarter is worth 25 cents, regardless of whether it's facing heads up or tails up on the counter. And so it is with all of our parts, pieces and endless complicated facets.

It's been revolutionary for me to consider that perhaps:

  • my questions are more helpful than my answers.
  • my vulnerability, worry, intensity, fears--all the things I want to keep under wraps--have their own gifts to offer.
  • inviting them all into the picture paints a portrait of me that is more true, that is humanizing.
  • welcoming our dark, unpresentable parts into the light of day is an access point to our own humanity--to our truest selves.
  • showing up in life as our truest selves creates the possibility of deep connection--the kind of connection we long for.

This is what the Integrate Retreat in April is all about.  Finding our own dichotomies and the way to straddle the middle ground, to hold it all: big and small, brave and vulnerable, good and bad--to stand and move through the world with the kind of gentle fierceness that our raw humanity makes available.

I'm inviting you into this conversation, and if you're in the area, I'm inviting you to the show tonight (Under St. Marks, 9pm). Come.

***Thanks to everyone for the moving comments on the Weekend Giveaway. Via random.org, the winner is . . . Lindsey of A Design So Vast.  Congratulations, Lindsey! Email me at jen (at) jenlee (dot) net with your mailing address and your copy of "Lanterns" will soon be on its way. The rest of you will want to get the Light and Love while you can.