My Quiet, Unsexy Life

Sitting on the kitchen counter

Sitting on the kitchen counter

I said, "You know how we kind of have this fantasy about what other people's lives are like?"

"Yes, I know exactly," she said.

"Well, lately I feel like my life isn't living up to my own fantasy of what it should be like."

I've had this feeling a lot lately, just being struck over and over again by the vast ocean of ordinary and mundane that makes up a life and noticing our impatience with it. I tell myself when I watch a prime time drama that it's not real--that so much paperwork and down time and trips to the laundromat are omitted for the sake of pacing and focusing the audience on the main event: the action.

But I am still amazed when I can spend days--days--doing paperwork and entering numbers into spreadsheets, and cleaning and mopping and picking blankets and socks up off of the floor, sweeping up stray peas and rice grains in the kitchen.

I don't know what we hope for, exactly--I don't know what I was hoping for. Maybe for it to feel glamorous or important a little more often, perhaps that I would get a pass to drift through life in an inspired artist fog. That I would graduate from being concerned with such ordinary things.

But the opposite seems to be true. The more my work grows, the more systems I need, the more routines and spreadsheets and bookkeeping days, the more diligent I have to be about things like calendars and reminders. I actually need more time to care for my body because I'm learning how essential is my wellness, and I need my home and studio space to be clear of unnecessary things, so there is space for both the miraculous moments and for the quiet, unsexy tasks to be executed in a space of beauty and peace.

My husband returns today from a week away at a conference, and I have been doing the ordinary tasks for two in his absence. The other night I went to bed at 8:30 and fell asleep promptly. On Sunday night we will go to one of my shows, and I will emerge from an ocean of school bus delays and play dates and bank statements and way too much Miss Marple playing in the background for my own good and step for a few minutes into a spotlight, onto a shore.

For five minutes or maybe a few hours it will might feel glamorous, or even important, and I will savor every second before coming back home to the quiet and the unseen moments that make up the rest of this beautiful life.

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.

How to Feel Crazy and Still Make Things

I feel like I only do two kinds of blog posts any more: project posts (videos, podcasts, books we're making) and posts in which I confess to barely keeping the crazies at bay. Lately I've been thinking of dividing it all up into separate streams, in which case all that would be left in the "Journal" category would be these little check-ins I throw out to illustrate that I don't have everything together, regardless of how all the project posts might make it seem.

Remember when we were little and we used to swing on swingsets? Our family had the small, wobbly versions in the front yard, and then in 5th grade my friends and I had a really tall one on the school playground with long chains and you could go so high. For two weeks straight, we played a game where the girls would wear slip on shoes (usually dress shoes) and swing, and once we got going really high we'd kick them off to see how far they would fly and the boys would chase after them and bring them back.

I'm thinking of that giant swing set this morning because there are these times when I can trust myself, really trust myself. And I can listen for what I should say in an email or what wants to be made and I can feel the stretch of shooting my toes up to the sky. But then the chain reaches as far as it will reach, and I get pulled back.

"Oh no, I totally blew that email. Why can't I write emails like regular people? You know, the ones who always know what to say and always come off sounding so sane and normal." 

"I can't believe I thought my photo was good enough for a full-page spread."

"I got it all wrong."

"It's a disaster."

Back and forth, more like whiplash than rhythm. Pride and shame. Celebration and fear. Elation and debilitating insecurity.

This is how it feels to me: making things. I think it's also why promoting anything is such a struggle for me--I just can't get those proud, celebratory, elated moments to last. One minute I post something, the next minute I'm dying to take it back down. 

A few things help:

Making work with other artists. This gives me emotional distance from some of the parts and pieces, because when it comes to someone else's words or images or layout or design, I am the shoe flying off the foot of the little girl on the swing. There is only the joy of flight, with no chain to yank me back. I love their work through to the end, and it's easy for me to tell you how much I love it. I do feel responsibility, though--that never goes away. I want to do their work justice with whatever form we put it in. There's still so much vulnerability involved in the process that I can only do it with people who are safe places for me.

Staying connected. I talk to my friends every day. When I feel like I'm drowning in doubt, I say, It's gonna be okay, right? This happens so frequently that in the end it's like a verbal tick. Yes, everything's going to be more than okay, they say. It's this funny call-and-response that's like being rocked in a rocking chair. Their swing is going forward when mine is pulling back, and because I trust them, it comforts me. 

Learning the art of gentleness. I'm just trying to love that girl on the back swing. To get her someone to talk to when she needs it, people who will help her look after her wellness, a teddy bear to hold, a Masterpiece Mystery to watch, a cup of cocoa or peppermint tea to soothe her nervous stomach. I'm trying to schedule days off for her, time to lay down and rest when she's not feeling well, and permission to have days that feel more crazy than sane, more fearful than brave.

And somehow, by some miracle that I cannot yet explain, things keep getting done. Something is finished, and before the day is over the next adventure is born. And so I make things. And so I swing.

Confessions of a So-Called Fairy Godmother

If you could be here to witness how nervous/frazzled/questioning-my-mental-wellness I get right before releasing new work online, you might shake your head and wonder why I keep doing it. God knows I do.

It's a little bit like childbirth--so much of the painful parts fade from memory. I forget how much I dread calling the printers, and how often I end up having to call them, and how disappointing it is when a mistake is made and I arrive to find it wrong, all very wrong. I forget that we need to take however much work we estimate it will be and multiply by ten.

I don't forget how I feel suddenly shy and awkward when the moment comes to finally send something new into the world. All the worries are familiar--that I'll forget something, a clumsy drop of china plates circling in mid-air. Or that I'll fumble through the words and not really do the work justice--that passerby will shrug, unmoved, and walk on without knowing what they are missing.

I am haunted by the way my heart feels like I am throwing it over some invisible line. Or how with every offering it's like climbing up onto an altar, hopingprayinglonging for it to be welcome. For it to be loved.

Here's the truth: I don't know why I keep doing it. It doesn't feel terribly sane, and I'll soon be asking my therapist if I need medication yet.

All I know is, I feel this compulsion when greeted by beautiful dreams to make them real.

One of my friends/collaborators joked last week that she should start calling me her fairy godmother. It doesn't feel fairy-like, or godmother-ish tonight. I'm not sure it ever does. But maybe this is how things work in the real world--perhaps us all of us makers, who do what we do even when it's hard/scary/crazy-making, are allowed our anxiety, our fear, our soft blankets, soothing cocoa, and even our therapists.

 

Heading to the printer tomorrow to pick up these. Fingers crossed that they turn out just right.

In Progress

A lovely home that my friend Ramona and I walked by in Vancouver, BC.I am in the throes of an Apartment Love Obsession. It's been going on for weeks or months now, I'm not sure. My days are punctuated by small bursts to epic projects as I purge unnecessary things, curate and tend all of our spaces. Before my parents came to visit, I actually broke a toothbrush in half while cleaning the bathroom. The spice cupboard and junk drawer testify to no space being too small to escape attention, and the days we spent on the hall closet while my mom and dad were here prove that no project is too daunting.

My soul work these days grapples with a public and private existence, so perhaps my obsession with home is fitting, as sinking into my physical, private world grounds me and counterbalances the work I am doing online and onstage. I am simply along for the ride on both journeys, letting them run parallel and teach me as I go.

There are few things as satisfying as home makeovers, really, the pinacle being the Before and After Pictures. I keep kicking myself for not taking more Before Pictures so that I can have that satisfaction--that proof of progress--at the end when you get to step back and say, "Look: once a mess, then transformation, now beauty." But the Before and After Pictures are not the whole story, because minutes or hours later toys and blankets have made their way from their assigned homes onto stray surfaces or floors. One room sparkles while another is neglected.

This is the whole picture: A Life in Progress. Minor victories and major defeats, and sometimes the other way around.

When we share what we learn, it can have a similar effect--a Before and After Picture of the Soul, if you will. "Look: once a mess, then tranformation, now beauty." And it's not that it's untrue--it is quite true. The mess is real. The transformation is real. The beauty is real.

But this is the whole picture: A Soul in Progress. Minor victories and major defeats, and sometimes the other way around.

We clean what is dirty, we mend what is broken. All that is finished is temporary, and all that is yet undone reaches to the horizon like an ocean before us.