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Fear

Most of it is Junk (it’s not just you!)

(I most often write for and work with kids. This post is not limited to Kid-Appropriate Language.)

“I like to try to apply [the] spirit of crate-digging to everyday life. The only way to find the good stuff, the special stuff, the genuine moments and the true inspiration, is to first engage with the everyday, the mundane, the seemingly useless, the things nobody else seems to care about. [To dig through the junk].”

Robert Walker, talking about DJs digging through crates and crates of shitty records

I really like the context of MOST THINGS ARE JUNK– it’s very Ecclesiastes: we’re all gonna die and life is hard, so drink and be merry with your friends once in a while and don’t worry about it so much (you can’t do anything about it anyway).

Isn’t it interesting and strange that I feel so much better when the context is IT’S ALL A MESS? Because I no longer have to worry about fucking it all up– it is crap. Nothing I do can make it more crap.

And if I only have to do better than Total Shit… Well, I can do that (at least some of the time)! That’s doable, bite-sized. I mean, I won’t always achieve that, but failing won’t actually make anything worse than it already is. I CAN’T MAKE IT WORSER, AND I CAN’T MAKE IT “GOOD” aka PERFECT. I can only maybe make a moment more bearable.

But if the Law says I Must Not Mess Shit Up because otherwise society will fall to chaos because of my dumbass– there’s no room to even begin, to even answer an email– if I answer it promptly today, I know it’s only a matter of time before I fuck up, because failure is inevitable. As with that time Jay gave me lessons in snowboarding, each success only only moves me higher up the hill and lends me more momentum when I inevitably come crashing down (thus, all successes are really evidence that it’s gonna hurt even more when I fail). (But it’s possible Jay was right in telling me to move up the Bunny Hill: that more momentum makes it easier to succeed, to get the hang of it. Maybe we should be learning how to fall better).

If EVERYONE is shit at email, at dishes, at folding their laundry, at going to bed at a reasonable time and eating enough leafy greens, if EVERYONE is wiping out all the time… then… maybe I’m not so terrible?

This is such a backwards-sounding wish, but I want to see how everyone is fucking everything up and actually no one (well, not including Michelle Obama) no one is actually better at adulting than I am… because then I could actually HELP people. I could DO stuff. Perform a little triage, staunch the bleeding, sit in hospice with someone. (And not delude myself with hopes of defeating the inevitable death that comes for them and for me).

EVERYONE IS AFRAID OF FUCKING UP ALL THE TIME. EVERYONE IS AFRAID THEY ALREADY MADE THE WRONG CHOICES.

I’m not “qualified to help them” because I’m Amazing and Advanced– I’m qualified because I care. Because I want to try. Because I’m Here. Because I’m a mirror for Beauty. And even in a junk pile, people are beautiful– IT’S LIKE A HOMEMADE PIE: NO MATTER HOW MUCH OF AN OOZING MESS IT IS, IT IS BEAUTIFUL– truly beautiful, because it is alive, it has soul, it has ATTENTION, and

“attention is love.”

Karen Maezen Miller

Wow. Living well is the same as making a pie from scratch. No matter how it turns out it’s beautiful. Something magical happens when you make a crust and fill it with fruit and bake it for an hour– things merge and it’s they transform. (I hadn’t fully articulated before how making pie is a spiritual act– it’s so redemptive BECAUSE YOU CAN’T FUCK IT UP. IT’S LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO FAIL. A bad pie has to be really, really, really impossibly bad to be Bad– I don’t think it’s even a pie anymore at that state– and even then you can still eat the filling).

So, it’s extremely important for my freedom and full expression and health and creativity to really know I am not actually able to fuck things up any worse than they are: The house is burning/falling down– why worry the paint you chose might be too “loud?”

YOUR BODY IS FALLING DOWN. IT IS MAKING ITS WAY BACK INTO THE EARTH. AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT TRULY CRUEL TO ANYONE, YOU CANNOT FAIL MORE THAN DEATH*. You can only die once (and it’s not a punishment).

So, write a shitty book. Draw lazy illustrations. Don’t bother with an ISBN. It doesn’t matter! Doing it right isnt a real thing! Sing the wrong note– sing almost all the right notes but sing sharp. It doesn’t matter! The world is a mess. Everyone is a mess. Everyone will die. There’s no redemption because there’s no sin. There’s no fault for the chaos of being a person– this “oh, shit” feeling is not a punishment– it’s just the weird truth, like gravity.

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU FUCK UP. EVERYTHING IS “FUCKED UP.”

Congratulations: if you’re fucking things up left and right you are 1000% normal, you’re right on track.

See lots of JUNK everywhere? Congratulations again. Nothing is wrong with you— you’re just paying attention. (And attention is love: keep looking– it’s the only way to find something wonderful).

We are all 8th graders / 3rd graders / overly-tires toddlers who happen to be allowed to drive cars and use the stove and there’s no one to tell us when not to spend money or when to go to bed.

I think we’re doing pretty well. We could certainly do much worse.


*(I do believe there are some “cardinal sins,” like not recycling– that hurts my heart! This rant is about how it’s not my fault life is so fucking uncomfortable– there’s no linear correlation– so I can stop being afraid of someone blaming me for everything and kicking me out of the treehouse.)

Being Your Own Ambassador

I was feeling some drama (Sadness? Stress? Overstimulation?) about asking for something professionally. So I scrolled through Seth Godin’s blog for a little reset of perspective.

He writes:

Other people don’t believe what you believe, and they don’t see what you see.

You have to speak to them in their own language and on their own terms if you want to change their minds or convince them of something.

And why the conflict can feel scary:

Our fears burn so bright that if we truly face them, we think we might be blinded. …[But] once we’re truly clear about the fear, it fades. It might even disappear.

And why it can feel unfair:

In all markets, the market leader gets an unfair advantage… because it feels easier and safer...

The strategy, then, is not to wish and dream of becoming a big fish.

The strategy is to pick a small enough pond.

And that there’s a difference between projects and tasks, and that freelancers, or anyone “making a ruckus,” is doing projects:

Your goal is to create an extraordinary outcome, not to perform the tasks. The work done is simply a means to an end.

[It is not] saying, “I’m going to move this paper from here to there.”

Claim the project before you start the work.

(Hello, email, which has long been an inspiring, inconsistent, contextless task).

And finally, emphasis mine, why I want to avoid asking:

From an early age, most of us were taught to avoid [initiative]… Wait to get picked. Wait to get called on. Become popular. Fit in. Maybe stand out, but just a little bit. Failure is far worse than not trying.


The only way to get initiative is to take it. It’s never given.

Conflict & Dog Walking

Walking our new dog has brought lots of good moments:

Being up and outside in the morning (you can’t sleep in with a playful pup hopping all over the bed).

So many snuggles (she’s a spooner).

And a fresh inner conversation about conflict.

Because Blue is only 1 year old. She’s super smart and responsive, but she was an off-leash country dog in her previous life. And because I’m great at “training” (wooing) cats, which is a completely different process than teaching a dog not to jump, to walk beside you, to come when she’s called.

I’m grateful she’s such a quick learner (shake on day one?? Amazing), but there’s still a conflict of wills and interest: I want to walk, she is a hunting dog and wants to sprint.

I let her off-leash in the woods today and thouh she came closer when I called her back, I didn’t have any treats with me, and she didn’t come close enough for me to leash her until she was done sniffing.

It made me feel a little stressed and sad, a little anxious and dramatically pessimistic. Which is super interesting, because this is a DOG. A PUPPY. This is not personal.

And because I’ve been thinking about the conflict I’ve experienced regarding career stuff: it feels like conflict to have to ask for what I think is fair (my name on a poster, my book stocked in a gift shop, or just giving a price quote). In a lot of situations, no one has even said no; no one has limited me except myself. But having to ask and risking the No feels like conflict, sadness: sisyphean.

But lately I’ve been wondering if maybe asking is a huge part of my job as an independent artist. Though I want to go to conferences to “be with my people,” maybe in most cases I will instead be showing up as the Ambassador of Rose’s Realm of Delight: maybe no majority will automatically get me. Maybe, just like with Blue, my job is to teach, train, introduce, translate, reward.

Maybe every jarring tug of the leash is not a failure but part of creating connection.

Now, after an hour of walking and another of fetch in the backyard, Blue is prostrate on the grass while I sit and write. Tugging doesn’t last forever. Neither do I have to ask and ask and ask constantly in professional settings. It just feels like that in the moment.

Big Voice (& the Demons)

It turns out that I can sing. I mean I can do some operatic Edith Piaf thing.

At SVEA rehearsal last week I was goofing around and did a Big Viking Lady high note. Tina and Erika whipped their heads around so fast I could almost hear their necks cracking. “Ok, you can not tell us you can’t sing loud,” Tina said. I began to melt into my seat, shrinking like a snail. “I was just faking it!”

Erika looked at me with an expression that was not quite disgust— not towards me, any way, but the way one is disgusted by the patriarchy or crappy cafeteria food. “That is not faking it.” (The look was more like what you’d give a kid who is old enough to behave properly but tries to revert and pitch a fit. Um, no. That’s not happening.)

My immediate reaction was to sweat. Profusely. To squirm. I think I went into some stand-up routine patched together from every video I’d watched online in the last month. Then, as if to prove them wrong, I did some acrobatic scales. (I might have even rolled over like a dog: pleeeease don’t look at the roll of toilet paper I destroyed, here’s my belly!)

Or something like that.

I tried to sing some songs like that during rehearsal. It sort of worked. “You were doing fine, and then I don’t know what the gremlins said to you, but you went back to singing from your throat,” Erika said, still with a slightly appalled, no-nonsense look.

Tina said I should work with Erika to figure out proper breath support. Basically, the jig was up: not only do they know I can sing in a Big Voice, but because they witnessed it, my conscious brain is forced to confront this information.

It was exhilarating and horrifying, and after rehearsal I was exhausted and as crabby as if I had a hangover.

 

This week was more of the same. Tina got me to be goofy and I did the Big Voice… and then I had to peel off three layers of clothing (I fully expected to be forced down to my long johns before the hour was up). I thrashed around and did my penitent stand up comedy shtick. “I’m pretty sure this is going to happen every time until I sweat out the demons.” They graciously did not quit SVEA and go in search of someone with more stable emotions or core temperature.

Every time I tried the Big Voice I waited for them to say it was too loud!, but instead Tina said I’m still not louder than them and we are just now starting to blend well.

 

It is an extremely uncomfortable feeling. All I want (I think) is to be Fabulous. Rock Star-Ballerina-TED Talk Lecturer-Academy Award Winner-Best-Selling Author-Fabulous. But this is so loud! I’ve tried to trace back to the inciting incident that is causing the alarm bells to clang so furiously, and I’m coming up with nothing. Being a good singer was totally ok in the more stayed, Baptist side of the family, and I had a voice teacher with a Big Voice, so I was certainly exposed to it. I don’t have a clue.

In a moment of furious self-analysis alternating between anguish and incredulity, I thought about my sister, Abbey. Abbey has a really cool voice. Though I haven’t heard her go for Edith Piaf/Viking Opera Singer, she has an amazing low range, she has cool vibrato, she has a voice much bigger than her physical stature would lead you to expect. She’s an itinerant musician. But she’s my little sister. Part of my brain kicked in in a delightfully cliché superior-older-sister way: Well, if Abbey can do it, you can definitely do it. (Ahh, the ego is a strange horse to ride, but sometimes it gets you where you want to go.)

Last night, while still feeling the detox of demons leaving my body (scrabbling around for better handholds?), I told Jay about it.

He said, “You’re a better singer than you think.”

I said, “Ok, but I’m way weirder than you think! What happens when all that comes out? What about the spew of weird improv-comedy blather?”

He said I should just let it out, but then didn’t seem thrilled by my immediate showcase of character voices and anecdotes. (To be fair, he was already in bed with a pillow over his head when the whole conversation began.)

It feels so weird, it feels like driving on ice— if I take away one filter [Don’t Be Loud], it feels like all the other filters and barricades between me and the edge of the cliff vanish, too.  Who knows— maybe in addition to being able to Sing Big and be Extra Weird, I also have wings and I won’t plummet into madness/freindlessness/stardom/a whole new personality. Maybe I’ll fly around, have a great time, and never be afraid of that particular edge again.

 

Besides the emotional discomfort, it feels physically weird, wrong, strange, like learning better posture or how to cross country ski. Nothing is habitual, and I’ll suddenly drop all my breath support and not know how to get back on board. Honestly, it’s the first time in my life I’ve thought maybe I should start exercising because cardio feels bad! That I should practice feeling horrible and doing something anyway, both for the improved breath support and core strength, and to do something that feels physically more wretched than singing! (If you see me at a Zumba class, you’ll know why).

I think it might not take a thousand years. I’ve been thrashing around through first drafts of stories, and over and over again it turns out if I just flail for a minute or two, I settle down eventually and things turn out pretty well, or at least I have something to build on.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll be heating our house purely on the power of the Shame/Courage circuit. If you see me around town wearing a clown nose and muttering to myself, count it as a sign of progress.

When You’re Overwhelmed

The reason you get overwhelmed is because you’re looking ahead. You’re looking to the future and feeling inadequate; you know you don’t know how to handle all those problems.

And you don’t.

photo: David Prasad

It’s a long way up.                             photo: David Prasad

 

But you aren’t there yet. You aren’t supposed to be tackling those issues right now. Right now you are supposed to be in the present.

 

This kid is in the moment. photo: Mahalie Stackpole

This kid is in the moment.

photo: Mahalie Stackpole

When my son was a baby, I agonized over what would happen once he could walk. (My niece was a 6-month crawler and 9-month walker… and that was just around the corner!)

What I didn’t realize was that, besides him being a much later walker (he was a chunky baby), there was the scooting stage, the crawling stage, the toddling-while-holding-onto-furniture stage.

By the time we actually got to the walking stage, I was ready for it. My life didn’t fall apart. My house didn’t look like vandals had broken in. It was a slow process.

Sure, some things hit you faster than you expect, but our brains jump ahead so easily that we often don’t notice we’re thinking three steps into the future.

When you feel tempted to curl into the fetal position, chuck the manuscript, or vow to never, never, never ask another probing, door-opening question of your characters again, stop. Look around you. Where are you now?

Just do what you need to do for now.

The rest will take care of itself when it comes.

by Maria Ly

If you stay in the present, you can relax almost anywhere.                                    phot: Maria Ly