Fast and Re-nourish: Unblock Your Body and Your Dreams

I’ve been fasting for the last six days. On the day you read this, I’ll begin eating again. And I’m REALLY looking forward to that first meal!

Why would I want to starve myself?

To begin with, I’m not starving. I’m following a “Lemonade Fast,” which means drinking about 3/4 gallon/daily of a  precise mixture made up of organic lemons, maple  syrup, cayenne pepper and water. This provides enough nutrition to fast safely for 40 days. Six days is actually less than the recommended ten day minimum, but I decided to do this more or less on the spur of the moment, and because I’m going to a wedding on Saturday (where the temptation to eat could prove to be irresistible) and I need a day to re-acclimate my body to food, I’m keeping the fast to six days this time.

But I’ve fasted comfortably for 13 days in the past. My sister managed 37 days several years ago, and it completely rid her body of some serious problems that were rapidly leading her toward a hysterectomy; the fast was a last-ditch effort to avoid that, and she’s had two children since then.

Am I hungry? Yes and no. I’m not having hunger pangs, or thinking about food too much – unless I see it, smell it or read about it. Everything sounds good – but HEALTHY foods especially attract me.

And that’s why I do this fast from time to time. Well, it’s mostly why. It also helps kick-start weight loss for me when I’m feeling a little too heavy. But the most important factor is that I feel SO good when the fast is over!  It’s a “cleansing” fast, designed to rid the body of toxins, and I DO feel very clean by the end. My mind feels more clear, my body lighter, my step springier. I feel as though I’ve just grown a set of wings. And when I begin eating again, I think far more carefully about what I’m putting into my body.

The food images making me salivate right now, for instance, are of broccoli spread with radish sprouts and sliced tomatoes on whole grain bread. Grilled veggies with goat cheese. Corn on the cob. Minestrone soup. Bean salad. Eggplant Papoutzakia from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Fasting helps me to rid my body of toxic substances, and then re-establish a healthier, more conscious relationship with what I’m consuming. It reminds me that eating and drinking are primarily about the nourishment I need in order to thrive on multiple levels, and that consumption of unhealthy substances clogs my system and defeats that purpose.

But fasting can be applied to more than just food. Think about the number of “toxins” we regularly introduce into our lives. Toxic relationships. Toxic employment situations. Toxic spending. Toxic addictions to television, the internet…  All of these “toxins” can clog our lives in ways that prevent us from creating lifestyles that truly nourish our spirits.

Over many years, I’ve learned to abandon certain toxic relationships in my life because the energy they required and tensions they created were emotional clogs exhausting and impeding me. If we have an addiction to buying, buying, buying, it might block our ability to eventually leave that toxic job, because the job provides enough money to continue those spending sprees. We need to ask ourselves what that spending is all about, what bottomless pit we might be trying to fill up when we shop.

And those addictions to TV and social media: what are they costing us? How much time are we spending on them, and what truly nourishing activities could we be engaged in instead? Would we have the time we need to build that freelance career and/or create the lifestyle we’ve been dreaming of?

I’m thinking that a Facebook fast might be on the horizon for me…

What is blocking your dreams? What kind of fast would cleanse your life and create space for true nourishment? How long will you need to stay away from Facebook, or the mall, to break that habit? How will you end those unhealthy relationships? What’s your plan for the aftermath – for screening out toxic relationships and meeting people who will nurture your spirit? For creating healthier spending or social media habits? For leaving that toxic job behind and creating a career that will give you wings?

 

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Drought

Here in southern Indiana, we’ve had about 20 minutes of rain in more than a month. For real. And temperatures during this period have usually been in the high-nineties and 100+ – all the way up to 110.

My husband and I have never watered our (ahem) lawn (mole haven is more like it). Or our plantings, except for vegetable gardens and newly planted flowers. In the last several months we’ve seen dramatic rate increases for local water, so we certainly didn’t plan to start watering our entire 3 acres THIS year. But I’m realizing belatedly that we should have been outside with a hose for an hour or so every evening. Even the hostas, those hardy, versatile plants that have proliferated for several years in the rocky sub-soil churned up by a construction project, are yellow, brown and crumbling away…though still sending up their spiky flowers.

The drought of the world around me seems to have infiltrated my psyche. I’ve been lethargic, unmotivated, uninspired. Today, I looked over the list of blog topics on my editorial calendar (which I created  in April, and which fell apart by June but remains useful as a list of potential post ideas) and have no enthusiasm for ANY of these topics.

I read a couple of articles today on “writer’s block.” Because that’s what this is, isn’t it? These were more helpful than most such articles I’ve read…but not in the way I needed them to be helpful. What they say, essentially, is that if you think you’ve got writer’s block, you’re writing about something that’s so dull to you that it will certainly bore your readers to death. This “block” is a GOOD thing, say these authors, because you are learning what NOT to write about. Your “writer’s block” is preventing you from making a big mistake and boring people.

But for me, today, EVERY topic I could think of seemed dull.

Except, perhaps, for this topic that’s insinuated itself into my brain – the drought that is permeating both my internal and external environments.

There’s not a lot that I can do about the external drought, other than water all of the stuff out there that should be green this time of year. (Well, all but the poison ivy…we’ll let that shrivel, okay by you?)

But I can figure out the source of the internal drought, and correct it. And you know what? Having now written the rest of this post (because writing helps me to think things through), I realize that it boils down to the same issue my outer environment faces, and that is:

LACK OF NOURISHMENT

Oh, boy, have I been neglecting my nourishment! The bad habits that have overwhelmed my life in the past month are myriad. I’ve become very sporadic about taking my vitamins. I’m not drinking water, a simple energizer…and an obvious requirement; we’ve been providing tubs of water for the wildlife, but I’m forgetting to down half a dozen glasses daily, myself. And I’m not exercising.

When my sister was coming to visit a few weeks ago, I realized that I finally needed to make cleaning this house a priority in my life, as I’d committed to doing in a previous blog post (Coach, Coach Thyself). I spent a week cleaning my desk, paring down the number of tchotchkes crowding every surface, sorting old mail and catalogs that covered other every available inch of those surfaces, creating files, sweeping and vaccuuming and mopping and dusting and polishing, hands-and-knees scrubbing of the kitchen floor (because the mop broke at the last minute…aargh). I even managed to sprain my ankle in the process.

And in all but two closed-off, non-public rooms, we (my husband DID play a substantial role in the cleaning efforts) achieved some level of order. During that time, I wasn’t working out…but was allowing myself the glass of wine and, sometimes, the ice-cream, that I normally allow myself only when I’ve done a full work-out. After all, housecleaning IS a work-out, isn’t it?

And when my ankle started swelling up the first evening of my sister’s visit…well, I couldn’t exercise, but I certainly wasn’t going to deprive myself of the late-night wine-and-chat sessions with my sister, was I? So I hauled out my crutches and shopped with Brenda and the kids by day, then iced the ankle, poured the wine and chatted away by night.

And continued, after the visit, to drink the wine and eat the ice-cream without having done the work-out first. Because the ankle was still swollen, I COULDN’T work out, and I shouldn’t be punished for that…right?

And now…the ankle has healed, I’m out of the exercise habit…but keep indulging anyhow.

And I haven’t been eating many healthy foods, either. While supplies lasted, I ate a lot of potato chips, cheese puffs and chocolate. Organic cheese puffs and dark chocolate, but even so.

It’s no wonder that I feel like crap.

The more I’ve felt like crap, the more I’ve sagged and shriveled like the whole outdoors, and the more I’ve neglected the sources of inspiration I usually rely on: interaction with my online writing friends/support group, reading the blogs of other people. Reading the newspaper. Reading non-fiction. And just writing…picking a prompt and running with it, knowing that it might not lead to anything publishable; but then again, it often does.

And to some degree, I’ve also been making the mistake that those hostas are making: sending up new blooms while my means of sustenance– those green leaves, the water and good food and vitamins and exercise – atrophies. I’ve spent some time with my banjo, time dreaming up gourd-art projects, time at music festivals and rock and gem shows and hanging out with friends. And this is truly GOOD! This is priming the pump, filling the well, and important to fueling more creativity. But when the feeding system atrophies, the energy drains away (especially in someone who battles chronic fatigue syndrome, as I do), and those happy activities use up ALL of the available energy.

Sluggish body = sluggish brain. It’s that simple.

So beginning tomorrow, it’s back to the resolutions I made this past January: plenty of water, a cleansing fast followed by healthy meals, vitamins, exercise…and no wine or ice-cream without the workout, gradually segueing back into all of those inspirational and pump-priming activities. I’m making this pledge public – hold me to it!

Is your life suffering from drought? What’s the source of this for you? And what are you going to do about it? Want some prodding? Give me your email address/friend me on Facebook, and I’ll remind you.

Because when the crops shrivel and humus turns to dust, we can help one another carry water until the rain returns.

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Is It Time to Declare Independence?

If you’ve ever dreamed of leaving your day job to work freelance from home or to start a small business of any kind, one major obstacle may now be out of your way. Here’s a summary, culled from a Blouin Art Info article, of how your ability to purchase health care insurance will be improved, as of the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday.

States will now be required to form “exchanges” which will then organize the insurance market and allow small businesses and individuals to form groups. By joining a health care group, in terms of insurance premiums and deductible costs it will be as if you are working for a large corporation, with the buying power of a corporation to purchase inexpensive health care plans for  its employees. Any pre-existing conditions you have will not play a role in your ability to join a group.

Also, if you earn up to 400% of the poverty level ($43,320 for an individual), you are eligible for some degree of subsidy from the federal government that will either limit the percentage of your income that you pay for insurance, or will help you with out-of-pocket expenses.

If you work for a small business your employer can join a group, which should allow you to purchase a health care insurance plan with costs similar to those paid by a person working for a corporation.

Further, small business owners (with 25 or fewer full-time or 50 part-time employees, who earn on average $50,000/year or less) can receive subsidies from the federal government in order to purchase healthcare for their employees.

These  provisions are being phased in slowly. Even New York, which has already set up an exchange by executive order, will not have this fully operational until January 2014. All states must have formed these exchanges by 2014.

The Great Recession has forced large numbers of people out of work. Many have started working for themselves on an interim basis, knowing that without health care insurance, they must go back to a “day job” for the sake of benefits…though they might find themselves preferring self-employment. This Supreme Court decision makes the self-employment option more feasible. It could even help us move from the corporate employment model on which we’ve become so dependent, to a model that’s more Jeffersonian.

It may be time to start thinking about when you can make YOUR break…to begin the process of finding your calling, considering the kind of business you’d like to create, researching funding options, and writing your business plan.

As a coach, I’d be happy to help you begin working on these issues. You can contact me for a free consultation and one free coaching session – followed by a 50% Independence Day discount if you retain my services for 4 – 12 sessions. Just email me at bonnie@justventurescoaching.com to schedule a consultation.

If you’re dissatisfied with working for others, begin planning your independence. It all begins with that step.

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Creation or Destruction?

I was blessed last week with a visit from my sister and her two children.

My sister, niece and nephew at Bloomington's Roots - a locally-owned restaurant that can accomodate the kids' multiple food allergies.

 

As we drove around Bloomington, visiting downtown stores (Zack, age 5, got his first guitar; and Haley, age 3, her first ukulele) and trying to maneuver our way around multiple  road construction projects, my sister told me a story about her trip to Bloomington. As she sat in delayed traffic because of a road repair project not far from her home, she fumed, “I hate road construction!” To which Haley replied, “Mommy, I hate road destruction too!”

Ray Vervlied

Out of the mouths of babes. (Haley’s a Pisces, so she has a special talent for intuitive wisdom. And for attracting REALLY big fish to her Barbie fishing pole).

I’m certainly not condemning all such work. There is a great deal of infrastructure repair and construction that truly NEEDS to be done in this country, and it can help put people back to work. As we have seen through the hindsight of disastrous events, dikes and bridges MUST be kept in good repair. And I think that the repair frustrating my sister might be on a road that my husband always complains about when we’re traveling to visit the family, because of the constant potholes.

But there are times when a new layer of asphalt is being layered over what seemed to be a perfectly fine road. And you start wondering if “busy work” is being done, perhaps a municipality spending surplus funds so that they won’t receive less in the next budget request.

And construction of brand new roads and other projects, I’ve come to believe, should be undertaken with great caution, lest they result in DE-struction, instead.

DEMOCRACY  IN ACTION?

In my state, a major new highway project is underway, as part of the Indiana portion of the Canada to Mexico I-69 route, (and, not coincidentally, to enable traffic to travel from Indianapolis to Evansville several minutes faster). Existing roads could be improved to serve the same purpose. The new terrain highway, on the other hand, will devastate expanses of forest and farmland, and there has been widespread opposition because of this and because of the enormous cost of the project as a whole to the state . Despite the fact that Indiana has leased a toll road for the next 75 years to a foreign consortium, as part of its I-69 funding plan, the state is running out of money to complete it’s portion of the highway – let alone pay for other important infrastructure projects.

Citizens’ groups were opposing this new terrain highway when my family first moved to Bloomington almost 25 years ago. But the state machine has relentlessly bullied and bulldozed its way through the regulatory hurdles – most recently threatening a local planning commission with withdrawal of needed transportation funds if it did not approve the I-69 project. This is democracy?

PAVING PARADISE

My sister told me about a couple of development projects that her home state of Illinois is pushing for the area in which she lives. An airport is planned for a rural town several miles south of her home, one that will destroy homes and farms and prairie land. Surrounding communities have fought this plan for years. They are now, additionally, taxed with fighting plans for a major trucking depot that will eat up large expanses of prairie, farmland and semi-rural homes right next door to my sister’s semi-rural neighborhood, her mother-in-law’s neighborhood, and the neighborhood in which we grew up. Eventually, her mother-in-law’s home, and the home our Mom has lived in for 52 years, will likely be gone.

I remember running through that prairie grass as a small child, the tall grasses and wildflowers tickling the backs of my knees. I remember ice-skating on frozen ponds that accumulated in the small dips of land, and a particular early spring day with my best friend, trying to invent child-carrying boats that would float on the newly-melted ponds. I rode my bike down those golden rural roads, the fall sun beating down on the harvested cornfields where my brothers sometimes worked during the summer. I often chose to drive those slower roads coming home from school, after I got my driver’s license, because that route was so much more beautiful than traveling the highway.

If the plan goes through, it will all be asphalted, acre after acre. Talk about paving paradise to put up a parking lot…this is the Joni Mitchell song of my youth coming true, like a horror story. I would never have dreamed back then that it would hit SO close to home – right smack dab, in fact.

ECOSYSTEMS

Ecosystems are always impacted by development projects – both natural ecosystems, and as a subset of nature, human ecosystems. Yes, jobs and healthy economies are important. But what constitutes a healthy economy? What kinds of jobs are we talking about? What skills are necessary? How many of them will even pay living wages? What will this do to our local wages, and to the cost of living in our communities? If wages will be low and the cost of living high, we’re inviting problems that will be very difficult to resolve in the future (speaking as former social worker living in a community that struggles with this very issue).

And there are plenty of factors beyond economic ones that contribute to the well-being of a community, factors that aren’t always easily measurable, but must be given some serious weight. What happens to our downtown businesses when we bring in superstores? How will our neighborhoods and schools and relationships be affected by new industry? “Roses” – childhoods spent wandering through wild meadows, spaces for baseball and ice-skating, golden bike-paths – are as necessary, to my mind, as “bread.” (See my last post for the “bread and roses” reference).

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES:  REALLY?

What may seem to be an obvious benefit of a new road – business relocation to towns along the route, and thus new JOBS – isn’t that simple. A Federal Highway Administration study suggests that while new highways may, SOMETIMES lead to new industry, this is generally limited to scenarios where there are existing labor markets, land available that is zoned appropriately, utility infrastructure in place, and connections with other highway routes.  The highway can, in fact, lead people AWAY from the town that was supposed to benefit, to do business in cities that are now more accessible. If the citizens of your little southern Indiana town adjacent to I-69 decide to buy their clothing or toys or furniture or books in Indianapolis, where there’s a greater selection, instead of back at home…there goes your downtown. True, Indianapolis will only be a few minutes closer – but if people have the PERCEPTION that the trip is faster, that may be all that it takes to attract them away from hometown shopping.

And we need to keep in mind when we think about attracting industry that our local labor pool must contain plenty of people with the skills/education appropriate to the anticipated industry – and remember that there are thousands of other municipalities competing for these industries to move to THEIR communities.

THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM

And then there’s the issue of communities racing each other to the bottom: i.e., municipalities might build roads, improve infrastructure, provide tax breaks and other boons – costing taxpayers an arm and a leg – in an effort to attract business. But if that business pays sub-standard wages (or as in the case of my college-town, where real estate developers flock to build high-end dwellings and drive up the cost of housing, while wages are suppressed by the presence of college students) social services wind up making up the difference, and the resources to take care of the people under-employed by that business come out of community coffers.

And if environmental disaster happens, who will bear the cost of the clean-up? Communities might find themselves facing years of legal battles in order to reach a clean-up cost settlement with a corporation that they spent enormous resources to attract in the first place!

And…who owns the businesses we are seeking  to attract, and where do they live? Where is the top management, and where are the investors? In other words, where will the profits flow TO? Will the profits stay in OUR town, or will we just get low-wage jobs out of the deal?

And finally – how long will that business stick around? We’ve all watched industry hightail it for greener pastures when they come up with a better deal elsewhere…and developing countries often  have FAR better “deals” to offer, especially if repressive regimes are willing to enforce those great deals by cracking down on the efforts of their citizens to advocate for humane working conditions and wages.

I’m admittedly rather Jeffersonian in my thinking on this. Give local citizens funding and guidance to develop plenty of promising local farms/businesses with small to moderate numbers of employees -  so that there are balanced opportunities for business leaders to lead, and for followers (employees) to follow – and so that zealous business owner/citizens WANT to fund and preserve their parks, schools and communities as a whole, and want to stay in this lovely place they’ve built and preserved, where their families work, become educated, and play. That’s a long sentence, but it’s my ONE-sentence recipe for sustainable economic development.

And yeah, it’s simplistic, I know. We might need to attract a larger industry or two. But let’s NEVER put all of our eggs in one basket, okay?

SUSTAINABILITY HAS MULTIPLE FACETS

Sustainability is key. But when I use the term “sustainability,” I’m thinking in terms of three components:

First, there’s the most common interpretation of the term, environmental sustainability. I don’t know about you, but I want my grandchildren to have fresh air and water, parks, bicycle paths and plenty of wild nature in their lives. I want them to have the opportunity to bird-watch and ice-skate and explore wetlands. And to feel the tickle of meadow grasses against their ankles. I’d like for them to have a wide variety of FROGS in their lives, to be able to watch eagles circle their nests, as I did a few weeks ago. I’d like for them to have the option of sowing seeds harvested from plants that they grew themselves…plants that weren’t rendered impotent by Monsanto…for God’s sake, let’s allow FOOD to perpetuate itself!

Then, there’s the issue of individual and family sustainability. If the employment “opportunities” we’re attracting don’t pay enough to sustain our families (and if housing costs are jacked up enough, minimum wage jobs may not even sustain a family of one), is this a business worth romancing in the first place?

And finally, there’s the issue of community sustainability. Will the industries we attract stick around, or will they move off in search of a sugar daddy? If they leave in twenty or thirty years and they’ve employed several hundred people, we’re left with massive unemployment, and a scramble to attract new industry…perhaps leading us into more lousy romances with partners who are constantly looking around for the next sexy young thing.

I think here of the mountaintop removal travesty. That proposition, truly? Let’s blow the tops  off our mountains and employ some miners for a while to extract the coal; we’ll poison the water, create rockslides, clog waterways, move graveyards (and blow up those that we don’t find), leave after the coal is extracted (which won’t take all that long), substitute an entirely new “natural” environment, build a Wal-Mart atop those new flatlands to employ all of the recently unemployed miners at substandard wages, and throughout this whole process we’ll destroy the potential for tourism and businesses that can accompany tourism (hiking, state parks, rock-climbing, whitewater rafting, outfitter stores, artists colonies, restaurants, B&Bs…). And then we’ll invest our profits elsewhere.

Yeah, thanks for nothing.

Sorry. That’s an emotional issue for me.

THINKING AHEAD – OUR COMMUNITY VALUES

Regardless of our natural landscapes – prairie or rolling hills or mountains – or political party affiliations, we need to think WAY ahead about our community values before we undertake “development” projects. What kinds of communities do we want for ourselves and our children, and for the next several generations of our descendants? What do YOU want for yourself and your grandchildren?

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What Difference Can Art Make?

When I realized that I desperately wanted to leave my social service day job and work for myself, doing something that I loved, I was confronted with a dilemma. In social service work, I spent every day helping impoverished people, making a difference. How could I do this as a “for-profit” venture? I decided to coach, and to specialize in coaching people who wanted to make a difference by starting non-profits or social entrepreneurships. I’d also coach people who wanted to make a living in the arts, since this community felt like my “tribe.”

And I’d segue into writing part of the time. But up popped that dilemma, again. What good does writing, or any art, do to heal the overwhelming problems of human suffering and environmental disaster that this planet faces?

Here is my answer to that dilemma. Really, I’d absorbed this understanding throughout my life. But I needed to think it through, spell it out, write it down, for myself.

  1. Art can expose issues literally and graphically.

The most obvious answer is that an artist can very literally illustrate or write about suffering and solutions to it. This was my “easy fix” to this dilemma – I know a lot about social issues, and can easily write about poverty, homelessness and housing issues, unemployment, mental health and neuroscience, and “green” jobs. I love research, I know how to interview sources, and so it’s easy enough to write about other important issues. My current novel- in-progress deals with mental illness and homelessness.

File:Lange-MigrantMother02.jpg

My favorite, stark illustrations of the realities of poverty come from the Depression era photographs of Dorothea Lange (Migrant Mother, 1936, is pictured above), and Jacob Riis’s 1890 book of photographs, How the Other Half Lives (see photo excerpted below).

Visual artists have clearly illustrated the horrors  of war, as have writers, songwriters, playwrights, choreographers. The sculpture my daughter created as her senior art project, which I featured in last week’s post, was an arrangement of “paper” cranes into a mushroom cloud, and was about finding peace and hope in the midst of war, chaos and horrific circumstances.

Think: All Quite on the Western Front, Johnny Got His Gun (the book that made me a pacifist), Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Blowin’ In the Wind, Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, Goya’s The Disasters of War.

Feel free to add your own favorite examples of anti-war and social justice-oriented art in the comment section. There’s an endless array.

  1. Art is provocative – it helps us to confront and explore difficult questions, and to question our own actions.

How do we know right from wrong? This is not such an easy question. In making many decisions, we are confronted with gray areas.

I recently wrote a story called “Flawless”, published on my “wordjunkie” blog (http://www.bonniejj.wordpress.com), about a woman who has been involved in killing two people – actually committing the second murder. Both could be considered “justifiable.” But even though I created this character, I don’t feel entirely warm feelings toward her. She’s a little bit cold. She’s self-centered – with good reason, considering her life and what she has suffered, but still. And killing has perhaps become a little too easy for her.

And is this the case any time we find it necessary to take an action to protect ourselves, whether on a personal or national level? Justification of violence is a slippery slope – terrorists and street criminals often believe very firmly in the justice of their acts.

Nations resort to violence on often sketchy bases: consider the variable “reasons” that were, one after another, used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq following the 9-11 attacks. Iraq wasn’t responsible for the Twin Tower attacks, but when the 9-11 acts didn’t hold water to support a war,  other “reasons” were invented (i.e., the aluminum tubes as “weapons of mass destruction”) and then proven to be without merit. In the end, the U.S. resorted to the excuse that we needed to rid Iraq of dictator Saddam Hussein – yet the U.S. had previously provided weapons to help Hussein remain in power.

When nations or individuals make up their minds to commit a violent act, they will grasp at straws, if necessary, to defend their violence.

Can even our non-violent defensiveness become too easy? Personally, I’ve cut several very negative, toxic  relationships out of my life. I don’t regret doing this, but I have to admit, I’ve become a little too watchful and cautious about the relationships I get into because of it – after all, it’s easier to drop a relationship at the first sign of potential danger, right? On an unconscious level, I think that I may have written “Flawless” as a cautionary tale for myself, a warning to myself to not go overboard with my self-protection maneuvers.

This is an example of just one little story provoking one type of question. But art does this on a continual basis. Art is provocative. It forces us to confront and think about issues that aren’t always as simple as they first appear to be.

  1. Art teaches us empathy, and helps us to feel a sense of connection and oneness.

Cover

The first time I can vividly recall feeling empathy for a story character was in early grade school when I read The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes’s Newbery Honor book published in 1944. This is the tale of a young girl who is a poor Polish immigrant with one dress that she continually wears to school. Her classmates tease her because of this, and because of her odd last name. The child defends herself by insisting that she has 100 dresses at home. The other girls confront her each morning, mocking her and demanding that she describe her dresses.

Her father decides that he needs to move her away from this school, but not before the teacher holds a drawing contest, in which each of the girls is to design a dress. The girl in question turns in 100 beautiful designs and awes the other girls with her talent – but she has moved away before the girls see her drawings and realize that the dresses have existed all along, in their victim’s vision. The girls are remorseful and write a letter of apology, which they hope will be forwarded from her old address.

Literature and art can put us inside the mind of another human being (or animal, for that matter – consider Black Beauty and Watership Down). We feel what the character feels, and I’m convinced that art contributes greatly toward our development of empathy.

And empathy, in turns, helps us to see our similarities, to feel the oneness of our humanity and the “Godness” in all of life. As Carrie Newcomer, whose music often provides the soundtrack for my life, joyfully sings, “Everything Is Everywhere.” And I believe that this understanding is, ultimately, what will save us.

http://www.carrienewcomer.com/press-kit/photography/Carrie_In_India_at_Abyaya_2.jpg

Carrie Newcomer in Trivandrum, India, at Abaya (Home for women and girls in distress). Photographer K.S. Bijukumar

 

  1. Art expresses what is in our hearts and inspires us to action.

Just try to imagine the protests of the 1960′s without the protest songs and Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches (which were as literary as any poem). Would they have happened? I have my doubts.

I am continually inspired by music – again, singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer writes In I Heard An Owl  :

“Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will

These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves

The whole world weeps and is weeping still

Though shaken I still believe

The best of what we all can be

The only peace this world will know

Can only come from love.”

  1. Art provides us with roses to go with the bread, insists that we must dance in the midst of the revolution.

The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike is sometimes known as the Bread and Roses strike, and won higher wages for the extremely exploited textile workers who worked under very dangerous conditions. It was led largely by women. The poem by James Oppenheim that inspired the “bread and roses” phrase says, in part:

 As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.

Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.

Yes, it is bread we fight for– but we fight for roses too!

And Emma Goldman wrote in 1931:

At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.

Try – just try – to imagine the room you are in with no art. Bare, drab walls, desktop emptied of all but the stark essentials, no books, room stripped of every artistic touch. Imagine your life without music, stories, or movies. What a barren wasteland! I would suggest that, beyond the survival instinct, there are two major incentives that encourage us to carry on with life, regardless of our circumstances: love, and art.

And when we encounter dramatic loss of love or anything else, it’s the cry-in-your-beer songs, the humane words of Anne Frank, the colorful whirl of the dance, that commiserate and envelop us and move us to hope for love, or justice, once again.

What do you see as the meaning of art in troubled times?

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10 Steps to Raising Creative Kids

The youngest of my baby girls, Genevieve, turns 24 on the day that this post publishes. Her big sister, Katelin, turns 29 just fifteen days later. Both of my daughters are artists, and I’m as proud as proud could be. So this post is in part a celebration of my daughters, and their creativity, which will continue to benefit them and their world in so many ways throughout their lives. It’s also a breakdown of what – at least in my experience – goes into raising creative kids.

Not every child is going to be a Picasso – nor should they be. There are many ways of contributing to community and life on this planet, and creativity is useful to any field of endeavor. In fact, Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind) believes that creative minds are those most in demand in today’s world. Creativity isn’t necessarily about crafting a novel, painting, sculpture, play, poem or song. Rather, it’s about the process of starting with just an idea, and perhaps some materials, and making something original out of that, perhaps expressing something that can’t quite be expressed any other way. It’s about seeing a problem and coming up with a unique solution.

And it’s a very necessary quality in a world where all the tired old solutions cannot seem to end poverty, create enough jobs, make peace or clean up a toxic, dangerously warming, globe. We live in a world that seems to be constantly hovering on the brink of destruction, and creation is an antidote.

In my experience, here’s what it takes to raise creative kids:

1.  Provide materials and food for thought.

From the time my daughters could hold a crayon, they were drawing. And most of their toys throughout their childhoods were creative materials – paints, clay, easels, musical instruments, journals, as well as CDs and books. We had collections of old magazines, pipe cleaners, fabric, buttons, foam and other forms of stuffing, egg cartons… Being a pack rat – and we are a family of pack rats – has its advantages, and the volume of materials the girls had for creating things was pretty phenomenal.

Besides providing resources in the form of materials, it’s important to provide resources in the form of ideas. Read to your children from birth, if not before. Sing. They’ll learn to love the sounds of language, then the meanings behind the language. Read fiction, non-fiction, poetry. They’ll become interested in learning to read themselves, and it will probably be easier for them to learn the skill. Teaching my daughters to read was almost like teaching them to breathe – it came that naturally to them because they’d had so much exposure to the written word. If your children have learning disabilities, it will be more difficult for them to begin reading, but if they WANT to learn, they’ll be more determined to work at it.

If you’re going to watch TV, watch documentaries. Because we watched a lot of public TV, as a preschooler Katelin had a keen interest in both volcanoes – we spent a lot of time drawing these – and the civil rights movement. The latter provided a jumping-off point to talk about the struggles of people to be treated fairly. Gena has been fascinated by frogs for as long as I can remember – probably a product of both her Dad’s interest in slimy critters, and PBS documentaries.

2.  Make your own.

We’ve always kept plenty of basic food ingredients on hand, as well as a variety of cookbooks. As a small child, Gena was fascinated by PBS cooking shows and spent countless hours copying recipes from the shows – I still have her recipes, written in big, block letters because she was just learning to write. She made her first loaf of yeast bread when she was seven – all  on her own from a cookbook, because she’d woken up long before I did and had no idea that yeast bread was supposed to be difficult to make. She shaped her loaves into teddy bears, glazed them, then woke her sister to turn on the oven and put the bread in since she wasn’t allowed to use it herself. She tied ribbons around the necks of the freshly baked bears, and they were such a success that she made more to give away as Christmas gifts that year.

Both of the girls learned to pinch-hit when certain ingredients were missing (or unappetizing, or involved meat – we’re vegetarian), and became accomplished and inventive cooks. And they are now in charge of making Thanksgiving dinner

Halloween costumes in our house were ALWAYS homemade. The day after Halloween each year, Kate and Gena began planning their costumes. By the time they were in upper grade school, they were crafting their own costumes, and by high school, sewing them.

If your kids make gifts for people, they will be thrilled by the praise and appreciation they receive, encouraging their creativity. Sitting on our couch right now is a little pillow that Kate made my Uncle Jep for Christmas ten years ago, fabric-painted with an intricate Celtic knot. It rested on his bed until the day he died last fall.

Katelin, together with her Dad, created a special gift for Gena’s birth – they wrote and recorded a song together for the new baby, and performed it for Kate’s pre-school class. Remembering that still makes my eyes tear up.

 3.  Cultivate Curiosity

What do you talk about at the dinner table? Try asking open-ended questions that will stimulate your kids’ curiosity. If earthquakes are in the news, talk about what causes earthquakes. If you don’t know, encourage your family to make guesses, then go to the encyclopedia (or Google) and look it up.

I have a fond memory of a day when Kate was eight and interested in owls – she was going to a school the next year that had an owl as mascot. She began asking me questions that I couldn’t answer. Gena was three, and began crawling under the piano – which happened to be where we’d stored our new set of encyclopedias, because we didn’t have shelf space yet. Gena pulled out an encyclopedia and brought it to her sister – already aware that THIS was a place to go for answers.

We took the girls to earth day celebrations, and talked about environmental issues. Gena’s kindergarten graduation project was a book she wrote on “Saving Mother Earth.”

Teach your kids what you are learning. When Kate was a preschooler, I used simple language to describe the topics I was researching and writing about for college courses, so she learned about revolutionary struggles in Central America and elsewhere. Larry took a class in finite math, and taught six-year old Kate some of the simpler concepts he was learning. In sixth grade, she interviewed one of my professor-mentors for a paper she wrote on the Danish justice system, because I’d told my kids about his research.

4.  Tolerate clutter and disorder.

If you’re gonna have lots of stuff around, you’re gonna have clutter. And it’s hard to keep all of that stuff organized, so expect disorder. I remember one of Kate’s teachers saying that she thought that Kate must have a very interesting home, because most creative kids, she’d read, live in cluttered environments. “Oh god,” I thought, “you have no idea.” Well – our family of pack-rats kind of went to extremes.

But I do think that the sight of these pipe cleaners and that FIMO dough, against a background of this magazine and the memory of that story can lead to inventiveness. And you don’t get those kinds of juxtapositions if everything is picked up and put away all the time. That’s my excuse, anyhow.

Photo: once again, a bad photo.  i need a better camera so i can someday properly photograph all of my paintings over again.  this will do for now, idk how obviously different from the rough draft it is here but in person it's got more contrast and is more detailed.

5.  Expose them to what creative people have accomplished.

Once again, books, and music, plays and museums…  And don’t forget that Thomas Edison and Madame Curie were very creative individuals – biographies and museums can provide your kids with an understanding of all the different ways there are to be creative.

6.  Allow them plenty of down time.

I’ve read that a preponderance of well-known creative people were sickly and spent a lot of time in bed, or even hospitalized, as children. This doesn’t surprise me. The correlation may be partially due to the fact that suffering tends to sensitize people to the feelings of others and to the human condition, which feeds into the works they create. But I also believe that having plenty of downtime is very important to creativity. I worry as I see children scurry from piano lesson to soccer game to ballet class to supper and homework and bed, that they are not being given the time to think, dream, put together ideas and the “stuff” of creation.

The greatest gift my 5th grade teachers gave me was the opportunity to spend the whole school day writing a story when I was “in the zone,” (see my guest post on Mel’s Madness, In the Zone: One Child’s Day of Enchantment). From that day forward, I was clued in to the idea that writing was to be my path, though it took me many years to convince myself that I could make a career of this.

When I saw my daughters “in the zone,” whether painting or writing or practicing a play – I knew that was the time to just let them be. They were rarely involved in more than one “extra-curricular” activity at a time – theater OR art class OR self-defense…but not all three at once. And I’m convinced that this gave them more time to dream and invent.

One of my favorite memories of Gena is from a camping trip. She was about 6 years old, and befriended a group of girl scouts camped nearby, who were a few years older. When we called for her to come to bed, the girl scouts begged us to let her stay up a little longer – because she was telling them stories, they were enthralled, and they didn’t want the stories to end. She was creating stories and “in the zone” ….so we let her stay up for another half hour. She wound up becoming pen pals with one of those girl scouts.

7.  Provide – and be – role models.

From the time Katelin was born, Larry has played in bands that have often rehearsed at our home. Some of his band mates became very close to our daughters. One of Kate’s earliest influences, Clare, was an actress as well as singer – it’s no surprise that this rubbed off on Kate! Dear friend Karen is a singer, quilter, artist and former actress, who helped Gena make a fairy purse one year, served as “back-up Mom” after Gena began college near her home in North Carolina, and gave Gena one of her beautiful quilts as a graduation gift.

One of Larry’s former band-mates from “Just Us”, Hal (who was also one of my professors and mentors), played the part of the cowardly lion in a Wizard of Oz song the band performed, and the girls loved it – so the band played for the girls’ birthday party, and Hal charmed the crowd with his cowardly lion act.

Larry’s also done various types of work in the visual arts over the years. I sewed costumes, made Christmas gifts and wrote poetry, sometimes taking the girls along when my writers’ group met. And we all read, read, read.

When Kate was 18, she directed a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream for our local civic theatre – which she envisioned as a 1980′s musical with stars of the period singing lines from Shakespeare. Larry set the lines to music and played keyboards for the play; Gena made wings for the teenage girls who will forever be known as the “little fairies,” as well as playing a little fairy herself; and when the cast met at our house to build sets, I did my part by cooking for the crowd. The play was a huge hit, drawing a record crowd that stayed throughout each of the performances. It was a great family project, and some life-long friendships grew out of it.

Photo: done done done

8.  Limit TV and video games.

Our TV blew up when the girls were about 6 and 11. We couldn’t afford a new one right away. And that’s one of the best things that could have happened. There was some grumbling for a while but by the time we COULD afford a new TV, the habit of watching had been broken, so we opted to not get cable (where we live, only PBS was viewable without cable). The kids focused on reading, artwork, knitting, origami, writing, theatre, music… And believe it or not, years later they thanked us for limiting their TV exposure.

Because I’m a pacifist and most video games tend toward violence, I had a strict rule against video games in the house when the girls were young. Later, we installed Oregon Trail and a few  other less violent games on the computer – but we never had Nintendo or any other “gaming system.” At one point Gena and Larry got drawn into a game and developed a brief addiction – but recognized this and quit while they were ahead.

In a previous post I described a young man who was fascinated by Disney and the muppets, and went on to become the puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s Elmo. And certainly some children who love video games will go on to become brilliant programmers. But there’s a difference between fascination with MAKING games, or using them as an occasional outlet, and an outright addiction to playing them. And addictions can eat up time and energy necessary for creativity in the same way that TV can.

 9.  Let them follow THEIR passions, within their own time-frame.

When my husband was a child, he would NOT succumb to his mother’s efforts to teach him piano. But one summer during his early teens, when a move from one house to another was in progress, he lived with friends. They had a piano, he loved The Doors, and spent the summer teaching himself to play Light My Fire, ad nauseum. He has a gift for learning songs by ear, and since his teenage years, has been a well-respected keyboard player for many bands.

Passion can’t be forced. If your child balks at lessons now, they might show an interest in later years (Gena wasn’t interested in violin lessons as a child, but since becoming enthralled with contra dancing five years ago, has taken up fiddle). Or they will find their passion in another creative pursuit. Let them point the way.

10. Connect them with other creative kids.

My musician friend Carrie and I exchanged child care days when our girls were young; more of my favorite memories involve watching our three girls create paper beads by rolling up segments of old magazines, clay beads from FIMO, dollhouse furniture from our pack-rat compendium of scraps. And I’m sure that Emmy will never forget watching Gena sit in her spaghetti.

Being a creative kid can be lonely. Not because other kids aren’t creative, but they often don’t know what they have inside them, so don’t pursue it. That will make your child “different.” Find clubs and classes for kids who share the same passions – or create them. If your children are toddlers, form play groups with other parents who want their children to grow up with that ability to add one and one and come up with a land of enchantment.

Some recommended reading: besides Daniel Pink’s book, you might also want to check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

The photos above are all works of art by my daughters – first, part of Gena’s senior sculpture installation – those are ceramic “paper cranes,” folks, arranged in the shape of a dark mushroom cloud, with a white center signifying the need to find peace in the center of despair; one of Kate’s intricately woven Thanksgiving apple pies; a recent painting by Kate; one of Gena’s handmade “teeny” journals; another of Katelin’s paintings; and Genevieve jamming with Larry, Karen, and other friends.

Kate, Gena and friends, you might have memories and tips that I haven’t included  - feel  free  to add them in the comment section here. And anyone else who has raised a creative child or been raised AS a creative child – please add your suggestions!

And happy, happy birthday month to my sweet, loving, brilliant, talented and absolutely perfect Gemini daughters!

 

 

 

 

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Balancing Act

I tend to be obsessive. My mind can’t seem to run on more than one track simultaneously, and it takes time for me to find focus, so once I’ve found it I like to run full speed ahead on that particular track. This makes leading a balanced life a tad difficult.

Per my commitment of last Friday (Getting Organized: Coach, Coach Thyself), I launched into organizing my household. By Sunday, a couch was covered in manila files and separated piles of papers to-be-filed. And then I discovered that my husband was taking a vacation week, which for him means not only getting stuff done around the house, but having my company as he views movies, goes kayaking, etc. Then some CFIDS symptoms started kicking my butt.

"Conehead" Cappuccino, recovering from surgery.

 

And not one, but both of our dogs became ill – Mooshka with geriatric vestibular disorder (i.e., aging-doggie vertigo), and Cappuccino with hematoma of the ear flap. Cappuccino, in fact, had surgery this morning and is whimpering, head encased in plastic cone, as I write. I’m taking frequent time-outs to comfort him.

Running full-speed ahead with my home organizing goals has simply not been in the cards for this week. I could force it to be so, but I’d be living in a very unhappy household. By the end of the week, my body would force me to bed, perhaps for several days. And I would have missed out on a glorious afternoon of kayaking yesterday. Life, I’m reminded, is all about balance.

It’s very easy to become so focused on one area of life that other areas are ignored. And you know something? Sometimes, that’s very much okay.

If you’ve just given birth, your priority is your newborn baby. Career plans at that time tend to take a back burner, or be put on hold all together. Pretty much everything else becomes low priority. During your college years, academics and friends probably took priority, and family relationships were given less attention. People starting a new business or working toward a promotion must focus a significant portion of their energy on career.

When seeking balance, don’t berate yourself for not spending “enough” time or energy on a particular area of your life. What’s “enough” is a very individual matter that changes over time.

Ask yourself how much time you truly want to spend on this part of your life right now? To focus less on a particular life area doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your career, or your friends, or your family. It just means that you’re at a point in your life when other values are absorbing your attention. Areas that you are neglecting right now, if they are important to you, will eventually get their due.

The Balance Wheel

Try creating a “balance wheel.” It works like this:

  1. Draw a donut – a huge, fat donut, with just a tiny hole in the middle.
  2. Between the circle for the hole and the circle for the outside of the donut, draw as many concentric circles as you can fit – 14 or more (copy and print the image below if you like).
  3. Jot down the life areas that are important to you – these might include family, friends, spirituality, career, hobbies, pets, home and yard, athletics, spending time in nature, exercise,  social justice activities, politics…whatever categories encompass the life areas that you value and to which you might want to devote energy.
  4. From the inner circle of your donut to the outer circle, draw lines to create pie “slices” representing each of the life areas you listed. Label each “slice.”The concentric circles you drew will divide each pie slice into 15 or more “bites.” At this point, your balance wheel should resemble a spider’s web (there’s quite a mix of metaphors contained within this “wheel.”)
  5. For each of these life areas, determine how much attention you would like to devote to that area at this time in your life.
  6. Now, determine how successful you’ve been at giving that life area the amount of attention you’d like. For instance, if it’s important for you to spend 10 hours weekly with your partner, but you’re only spending 2 hours, you’re giving that area of your life 20% of the time you’d like. If you want to give your job 40 hours of your energy each week, but you’re spending 60  hours in the  office, you’re giving your job 150% of the energy you’d like to give it. Jot this percentage down.
  7. Reflect this on your balance wheel. Starting from the center circle, consider each “bite” as 10% of a particular slice. Color in the number of bites on each slice necessary to show the amount of attention this life area is getting as a proportion of the amount of attention you want to give it right now.

How round is that wheel of yours? If this were a tire on your car, what would that ride be like?

[Maple Plot]

You may be spending more time on one life area than you’d like, and less on another, out of necessity rather than desire. But is it necessity? Is it really the end of the world if your dust bunnies become dust buffalo for a while, so that you can spend time with your children or work on the business you’re trying to build? And if it is truly necessary to devote large amounts of energy, can you delegate tasks, either at home or work? If you’ve colored in more than 100% for a particular life area, it’s a good indication that you may become resentful of that relationship or activity – especially if that means devoting only 20% to another area.

You might feel that your friends will abandon you if you have to cut back on your nights out with them in order to take care of an aging parent or focus on getting that manuscript written by deadline. Talk with them about it. Friends and family are usually more willing to be supportive than we, in the midst of our anxiety, give them credit for. If loved ones know you are feeling burdened, they may offer help or have ideas for ways that you can alleviate the burden.

That said, it’s important to not give any area that’s important to us short shrift for too long – especially relationships. Understanding on the part of family, friends and coworkers can extend to cover the duration of writing that manuscript or the first several few months of your newborn’s life – but asking people to overlook your inattention for years, or for the course of several manuscripts – is a good way to dissolve relationships or lose a job.

How to Tighten the Lug Nuts

If you sense impatience in the people around you with your work performance or time you’re giving them, or if you’re feeling burnout, it’s time to revisit your balance wheel.  What’s important, how important, and how does your balance wheel reflect this? What can you change in order to more give more energy to what you most value?

Because of my obsessive tendencies and health requirements, I’ve realized that I need to be careful to give attention to a variety of life areas each day…certainly not all of them, but giving each some degree of attention in any given week. It’s like tightening the lug nuts when you change a tire. You don’t completely tighten one, then the next, proceeding consecutively around the tire and tightening each all the way. You alternate, partially tightening nuts on different sides of the tire, then repeat until all are completely tightened.

Or think about balancing your tires. You do this so that they wear evenly. A  tire in one position might get more wear, but the next time your tires are rotated, another tire winds up in that position.

So not all of my relationships will get attention every day…but some will every day. I may not do my full workout every day… I might go hiking or kayaking instead, and if I don’t exercise at all, I’m especially careful about what I eat and drink. Some days I work on fiction or poetry, but one day weekly I spend writing blog posts. Some social media or another gets my attention almost every day…but on some days I focus on Facebook, other days I give more attention to Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or Goodreads.

And some weeks are all about vacationing and nursing my poor sick doggies…

How balanced is your life? What has helped you regain balance you’ve lost in the past? What can you change to make your ride less bumpy?

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Getting Organized: Coach, Coach Thyself

My lifelong aversion to housework has finally caught up with me. I had a challenging post planned for today, one I began researching and thinking about months ago. And inside a yellow legal pad, I’d jotted extensive notes and a rough outline for the post. That legal pad also held notes on other blog post ideas. I know that I’ve seen this yellow pad recently, but it was nowhere to be found when I was ready to write, not in my house, not in my car. Except that I know that it is, somewhere, in this house. I would say that I tore the house apart searching for it, but unfortunately, the house was already torn apart.

During this search, I began wondering if the Feds could declare my home a disaster zone. Probably. The force of nature that produced it wasn’t the unstoppable power of a tornado or hurricane or flood, or even toddlers, but rather, the slow and steady power of my own malignant neglect.

The Long Decline

When I began working a full-time social service day several years ago, I immersed myself in the work, often spending 60 hours in the office. I battle chronic fatigue syndrome but after many years of deterioration I’d found a nutritional supplement program that worked very well for me. I felt largely cured, and thought that I was ready to take on a demanding position. The “cure” couldn’t hold out against the stresses of the job, though, and my health gradually deteriorated again. I came home late every evening, ate, and fell into bed, which is where I also spent a lot of recuperation time each weekend. My poor husband tried to keep up with the domestic chores, but couldn’t do it all alone.  By the time I’d finished my coach training and left the social service job last fall, the state of the house had nearly reached it’s current disastrous state.

On top of this, I piled the boxes of stuff I’d brought home from the office. And then there were all of the notes and binders and DVDs from my coach training, the files full of information I printed from the internet. All in overflowing stacks. Then a bathroom pipe busted, and the ensuing flood crept into our walk-in closet, where cardboard boxes of “stuff” had been accumulating for years. They all had to be pulled out of the closet and stacked in the bedroom, mingling with clothes to be sorted for Goodwill, books, and all of the other detritus that had taken over while I was holed up at the office. And um, did I mention that I’m a terrible pack rat?

Mooshka hair is everywhere...but she's worth the extra work.

 

And of course, there is the constant shedding of fur from my beloved canine buddies – Mooshka, a Siberian Husky, and Cappucino, a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix – that puts the final layer of icing on the cake, so to speak.

Remember the illustrations from “The Cat In the Hat?” The damage caused by Thing One and Thing Two? That pretty much sums it up.

My last day on the old social service job was the last Friday in September; the first day of my new career was October 1st. I was raring to go, and didn’t want to halt my enthusiastic momentum for the weeks that it would take to clean and organize my environment – ugh, housework – or the additional weeks that I needed to rest.

It wasn’t long before my long-depleted body put me to bed, and I had to halt my progress on creating the coaching career anyhow, and search for the supplement cocktail that would build my energy levels this time. I’ve found a combination of supplements, exercise and lifestyle changes that is helping, and I’m gradually increasing my stamina. But hours spent searching for one legal pad hasn’t done much for my energy or irritability levels today.

And so I’ve come to the very unwelcome realization that it’s time to get organized.

The Comeback

At this point, the idea of cleaning up the mess feels like one of those nightmares in which your feet are firmly rooted to the ground, and when you open your mouth to scream, nothing comes out. How to even start, under these circumstances?

So, I’ve decided, this is a matter of “Coach, coach thyself.” Where would I suggest that my clients start?

1.  Create a plan, beginning with a task that can make a large, visible difference fairly easily, and will thus provide encouragement.

For me, this means cleaning my desk and the area around my desk, which are located in a corner of our family room. I spend many hours a day in this location. Having it organized will make my life much easier. And in searching for my legal pad today, I’ve already begun the task by sorting some of the mess into piles, so that it won’t take an enormous amount of time to get ‘er done.

2.  Break the goal down into tasks, and steps, and sub-steps, if necessary.

My next task after the desk area is the bedroom, partially because I believe that this is where that legal pad may have found its resting place.  I’ll break that down into steps: clearing the nightstand and chest of drawers and dresser, switching out current and out of season clothing…and sorting through those dreaded cardboard boxes.

Then I’ll work on my new office space – a bedroom abandoned by my North Carolina daughter (whose pack rat tendencies and aversion to housework echo my own) when she went off to college several years ago. Everyone in the family has made disheartened attempts to clean up this space. My daughter who formerly inhabited the room puts time into it every time she comes home for a visit; when my other daughter and her fiance wanted to earn some extra money, I paid them to clean it, but they preferred yard work. Nonetheless, it’s reached the point where I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Plus, I’m planning a visit to my North Carolina kid soon, and she’s made room in her apartment for the huge chest-of-drawers and bookshelf that I’m eager to re-locate from her old bedroom.

Then comes the dining room, then the living room. And so on – one room at a time, one step at a time.

3.  Plan rewards that enhance natural consequences.

A serious natural consequence of letting the house get to this state is that I am unable to find what I need. It’s what has finally prompted me to make a change. A natural consequence of cleaning it up, therefore, will be the ease of finding stuff in the future, but this natural reward can be further enhanced to create more motivation for moving on to the next step.

When a task is finished – unless it was a relatively small one or you’re very eager to get to that next step, create an appropriate reward. When my dining room table is cleared of its stacks of mail and other debris, and prettily polished, it will be anointed with a big, beautiful vase of flowers from our wonderful, local Farmers Market. That alone will spur me on to the next task. When the new office space is clean (and painted), I can move my new desk and other furniture in, stock the bookshelves, hang pictures and lay rugs purchased especially for that room, furnishings that have been set aside for months, waiting for their time to shine…  When the kitchen is organized, I think it will be time for a dinner out at my favorite Italian restaurant.

And when everything is nice and orderly, I might just persuade my baby sister to bring herself and my adorable little niece and nephew down for a visit!

4.  Keep plans realistic and flexible, put them on a calendar, and allow for extended deadlines.

If we decide to have dinner guests before the bedroom is cleaned, I may wind up putting off work on the bedroom and new office until the more public areas of the house are up to speed. And that’s okay. If I put tasks on my Outlook calendar, it’s easy enough to move them around if necessary. And no matter how determined I am to allow plenty of time for a task, problems always crop up that hold up my plans. And that’s okay, too. Personal deadlines can be rescheduled.

The most critical thing to remember is this: steady, baby steps, and never abandon ship.

5.  Ask friends for support.

This is where you come in.

And no, I’m not asking you to come on over and clean my house. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to provide beer and pizza, but you’d faint in shock and I’d die of embarrassment. Thing One and Thing Two are taking full responsibility for repairing this damage.

Here’s my proposal: if you will “like” my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/JustVentures-Coaching-and-Communications/147339475363095), I’ll post regular updates on my progress and celebrations. If you don’t see an update for a few days…ask me how it’s going. A few reminders from my followers about the commitment that I’m making here, and my butt will be kicked into gear. Either that, or I’ll stay off Facebook for a while, which could be a very good thing. And in return, I’ll be happy to provide you with a couple of gentle reminders as you work toward your goals, either via email or through Facebook – just let me know what you’re trying to do and how I should “nudge” you.

If you don’t see a new post here next Friday, it’s probably because I’m buried under an avalanche of books and papers and dog hair and Goodwill donations. But I’ll dig my way out, and will be a more satisfied, organized coach and writer when my next post hits the blogosphere!

What are the “natural disasters” in your life that are holding you back? What’s your plan to tackle them? And how can your friends help?

Genevieve Serene Vesely liked this post
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Encore! Or Is THIS Our Prime of Life, Boomers?

Baby Boomers and world-changers, this may be the moment we’ve been waiting for.  (Gen X and Gen Y, please read along and contribute to the discussion – it concerns you, too.)

We certainly had strong ideals, back in the day. We’d stop the war, end racism, sexism, poverty, injustice and protect the environment. We’d have careers in art, writing, theatre, music, dance. We were full of enthusiasm, and the revolution was at hand.

Yes, the powers-that-be thwarted us. They were stealthy planners. The tragedies at Kent State and Jackson State crushed us. We were infiltrated by provocateurs who created havoc in our organizations. We were stunned, and fell apart politically.

But also, “grown-up” life happened.

Make Love Not War led to children, and we were awestruck by our love for these perfect and helpless beings we had created – who were completely dependent on us. We wanted a safe place  to raise them. We suddenly needed health insurance, money to pay the mortgage and for orthodontia. This all required full-time jobs with benefits, which our “ideal” careers didn’t usually offer. Many of us chained ourselves to a dismal 9 – 5 grind, to the corporate job where we sold mass-produced fuzzy dice.

Inflation increased steadily, wages very little. It became important for even a middle-class family to have two incomes (poor families had already experienced this reality).

At the end of the day, we were tired, and there was still dinner to make, feeding and bathing and diapering, story time, dishes and floors to wash, the lawn to mow. Later, our children needed our help with homework, schlepping to the soccer games and dance lessons and birthday parties. Even with a supportive partner, it was draining. The revolution was put on hold until we had more energy.

Then we needed computers, followed by internet dialup, DSL, wireless connections; 8-track and cassette players followed by DVD and MP3 devices. Station wagons and SUVs. Cell phones, smart phones.

We had to prepare for our kids’ college educations, retirement.

And for the most part, we wouldn’t have done it very differently. Perhaps, in retrospect, some of us wouldn’t have upgraded to the larger house, would have stuck with used cars instead of buying new, would have found ways to be less materialistic.

But having children would have required setting aside many of our plans, anyhow. It would have been difficult to live much less materialistically unless our children accepted that value – and that would have been difficult unless their peers and the families of those peers accepted that value. It felt impossible.

And would we have wanted to live our lives without our children? Speaking personally, no way, no how. I’ll bet that’s true of you, too.

The world and economy we lived in simply was not set up to accommodate the ways in which we would have liked to live, and we were not in a position to make it so.

When we were supposed to be in our prime of life, we were too busy and tired – and perhaps discouraged – to notice.

Today, many of us have grown children. Our mortgages may be paid off, retirement nearing. And we’re looking back at those partially finished canvases we stored in the attic, thinking wistfully of the guitars we sold. We gaze out at a world crumbling apart, and wonder, how did we let this happen? It wasn’t supposed to be this way!

It occurred to me recently that this – right now – might be our prime of life. This may be our greatest chance to give our children the best gift of all – a world and economy that IS set up to accommodate their dreams, and ours.

Because it’s not over ’til it’s over, and it’s far from over for our generation.

I’ve thought a lot lately about this subject – the aging of my generation. I’ve also been reading a lot of freebies on my Kindle – a few are a joy to read, most not so much. Some are great reminders of everything NOT to do as a writer. I’ve finished reading one of the latter recently, and the author repeatedly refers to characters in their  late 50′s as though these people are on their last legs.

A part of me is amused by this – the book was clearly written by a very young author, who won’t realize until he’s in his 40′s that 50 is the new 35. I’ve begun looking around at my 50- and 60-something contemporaries, and though we may be graying (or missing hair), and having a bit more trouble keeping the waistlines trim, many of us have taken good care of ourselves, eaten right, exercised, and we’re pretty damned healthy. Many of us are healthier than some of the 30-somethings we could name. Our minds are active and sharp.

Many of us are still operating in the professional world. Others of us are looking for new careers doing something that feeds our passions. One friend recently opened a thriving yoga studio. Another is exploring  programs in organic solid waste management. Singer-songwriter friend Joe Peters – who DIDN’T sell his guitar, though he did have an academic career -  is about to record his latest CD, called “Second Wind”; the title song says, “I may be old, but I’m not dead yet.”

Singer-songwriter Joe Peters

It was while listening to Joe perform this song, first at a May Day festival organized by friends who live at May Creek Farm, an intentional community, later at a singer-songwriter showcase, that I began feeling an objection rise up. Old, my friend? I just can’t see anything truly old about us!

That’s when I realized that just as 50 may be the new 35, this, RIGHT NOW, might be our prime of life. And oh, what we could do if we all just realized that!

Most of us would like for our children and grandchildren to have what we didn’t. This was true for our parents and their parents, too, but earlier generations were thinking in terms of “stuff.” We boomers were the first generation to espouse the new ideal of “being” instead of “having.” Our depression-generation elders were bewildered – they wanted to hand us this world they had built that was all about having and consuming, and we were turning up our noses at it!

But we wound up accepting that world anyhow, mostly because our kids and responsibilities came along before we had any real chance to change it. And once we’d been sucked into that world, it felt impossible to get out. We acquiesced.

This is all a little unfair. Certainly, a fair number of our generation have TRIED to change the world. I think of my old friends at the People’s Law Office in Chicago, and of Legal Service Organizations across the country, of friends who have started alternative schools, intentional communities and organic farms, friends who are teachers and nurses, friends who have started hunger organizations, counseled domestic violence victims and staffed homeless shelters.

And I know more than a few  people who make their livings in the arts.

We’ve made some social progress. In my lifetime, world-changers have moved us from a country that relegated African-Americans to the back of the bus, to one that has elected an African-American as president. It’s been an evolution, though, not a revolution.

And without a fundamental restructuring of our economic priorities and the values that these are based on, the task has been one of Sisyphus proportions. The boulder keeps rolling back downhill.

At this point in time, many Boomers are less encumbered. We have life and career experience, far more economic and political savvy that we did at age 20, perhaps some money (for a discussion of the power and influence that women can contribute, see my earlier post, Will the World Be Saved By Western Woman?). Between the internet and Twitter, we have an almost infinite array of tools for political organizing, artistic expression, non-profit fundraising, and marketing of the wares that we have shaped out of our passions. The powers-that-be are holding onto their legitimacy by a single thread.

We have the tools to cut that thread. We have the ability to insist on a restructuring of our economy into one based on caring, and meeting the needs of people and our planet, focused on providing “bread and roses,” instead of on power-mongering and accumulation; on a foreign policy that ALSO asks how we can work together to meet the needs of all, instead of stealthy plotting around what’s in it for us and how we might profit – and winds up making enemies.

We are living in a time of great possibility, but I have the distinct feeling that it is one breath long – that we need to seize the opportunity NOW.

How will you use your prime of life?

What will you do to change your life and the possibilities for your children and grandchildren?  If you are having trouble re-discovering your dream, check out another of my earlier posts, How To Find Your Calling.

And as a social body, what’s our next step?

Please comment with your ideas. I hope that all generations will feel free to join in on this discussion.

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Challenge Yourself, Change Your Life!

Most of the challenges we face in life are uninvited. Some, like an employment layoff or death of a loved one, slap us hard in the face. But we can CHOOSE challenges that will stretch us in the direction of our better, happier selves, and help us to reach our goals. And we can create such challenges for ourselves, our friends and our larger communities.

I made this choice recently. I decided to take part in Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Challenge. Robert is an editor with Writer’s Digest, and he challenged participants to build, not a deck or patio, but a social media platform, an online presence composed of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Red Room, Pinterest…  Each day for 30 days, we had a new assignment from Robert, who is affectionately known by participants as “Not-Bob” after his blog title “My Name Is Not Bob.”

The benefits of this Challenge for me, as it turns out, went far beyond the building of a social media presence. Here’s how this experience has enhanced my life:

1. Provided a step-by-step structure.

Goals can feel monolithic. I’d read a half-ton of articles and e-books, attended many hours worth of teleseminars, on building a social media presence. There was so much to learn and do…so I did very little of it. But every day in April, Not-Bob presented me with the next step in building my platform. Every day, he said, “do this.” I did it, and brick by brick, that virtual patio took shape. I went from having essentially no “views” for my blog, to having over 500 in April – 144 on one day. These are very modest numbers by some standards, but still a huge improvement for me.  And by the end of the Challenge I’d learned of other ways to increase my “SEO.”

2. Created a future plan to solidify the new, good habits.

One of our assignments was to try out tools that would help us switch quickly between various social media and thus shorten the time we needed to spend on this per day – I chose Hootsuite. Another assignment required that we plan long-term “editorial calendars” for our blogs – mine is now planned through the end of August! One of the last assignments was to give ourselves assignments for each workday in May. But we Challengers also went beyond the assignments to create our own, private Facebook group, where many of us decided to list our plans for each week in April, and our accomplishments at the end of each week.

3. Immersed me in a nurturing community.

Quite honestly, I’m a very introverted “do-it-myself” type of person. I love working in my own space, all alone, setting my own rules and making my own decisions. I don’t get lonely – my head is too full, my dogs are at my feet, my husband is home in the evenings, there are some evenings with friends or my kids, long-distance friends and clients I chat with by phone or on-line…who needs work-buddies? Mostly, I don’t.

But I discovered through this challenge that the encouragement and support we as Platform Challengers have supplied for one another, not to mention the tidbits of information and advice, are indispensable. We have the common bond of our passion for writing, since most people joined the Challenge in order to build a platform that could promote their literary works. And we all have a passion for books.

When I say that this community has been nurturing, I mean truly nurturing  – not pushy. We were all free to complete the assignments, or not. There were people who were so averse to one medium or another that they would decide to not join Facebook, or not to Tweet. And that was okay. As my Mom might say, it was no skin off of anyone else’s butt. One Challenger whose encouragement has been very gratifying to me has not been part of the Facebook group where much of the community congregates, but we connected through Google+ and our blogs. Some people weren’t able to finish the Challenge by April 30, and that’s okay, too. We are all standing at the sidelines, cheering them on to the finish.

Besides sharing our goals for the week, we created a document listing everyone’s blogs, so that we could read each others’ on-line work. I’ve discovered some favorite new poets this way – a special shout-out to De at http://whimsygizmo.wordpress.com/. Another document lists our “author” pages on Facebook, and still another lists participants who’d like to have other Challengers “guest blog” for them. Under Not-Bob’s tutelage, we began having Tweet-chats as a group. We formed a private Goodreads book discussion group, just for our community of Platform Challengers, so that we can chat about books that are helpful for writers. (First on our list: Stephen King’s On Writing.)

Evenings now will often find me absorbed in Facebook chats with Lori in Hawaii, Linda in L.A., Monique in Pennsylvania…  Monique once lived in my town; she plans a visit with old friends here next year, and I’m excited about the new-friends visit we have planned. My world has been expanded through these friendships.

A mutual challenge, formal or otherwise, I’ve realized, can create strong bonds.

4. Pushed me warp-speed into clarifying who I am and working on new goals.

I began this Challenge as a career coach, with the intention of creating a social media platform that could expand my practice.  I love being around writers, so I knew that this would give me that opportunity, and maybe I could begin wandering s-l-o-w-l-y in the direction of my life-long dream of becoming a writer.

But as I watched my fellow Platform Challengers work through their to-do lists, I began adding to mine. Lori was doing several April Challenges, while recovering from an injury, and seemed to be on-line almost 24-7. Monique is battling MS. Other Challengers are parents of small children, working full-time  jobs; they come home in the evenings to make dinner, help with homework, complete other chores, work on their novels or poetry – and complete Platform Challenge assignments on top of everything else. My awe at their perseverance spurred me to challenge myself further.

I began to add work on my abandoned novel, research for one non-fiction book and development of interview questions for another – all projects I’d planned to begin working on “someday” – to my weekly schedule.  I downloaded Scrivenor, novel-writing software, and worked my way through the tutorial. And on April 30, I made the split-second decision to begin a Story-A-Day Challenge for the month of May.

Though the business cards I had printed last fall read “Career Coach/Writer,” that was future planning. I didn’t see myself as a writer – after all, other than some articles that were written as part of the day’s work at my old day job, I wasn’t being paid to write. I’d hoped to crawl toward this title, and since I was having a lot of business cards printed, I figured I’d better include this just in case an opportunity came up in the next couple of years. But I began to see myself differently on the day that a fellow Challenger made the comment, regarding one of my blog posts, that this was the best post she’d read in a long time! I decided to salvage a blog I’d started years ago and abandoned almost immediately because I didn’t know what I was doing; I’ll used it to post blogs related to my passion for books and word-smithing. Other Challengers encouraged me to create a Facebook author page (on my to-do list) and to name myself “writer.” Which I have done – more confidently, this time. (And yes, I’m still coaching).

5. My blog was nominated for an award!

Three of my fellow Platform Challengers, Linda Hatton  (http://whatnotshop.blogspot.com), Michelle Reynoso (http://www.michellereynoso.blogspot.com/), and Kristi Carver (http://kristicarver.blogspot.com/) have deeply honored me by nominating my blog for the Liebster Award! This award is for bloggers who  have fewer than 200 subscribers, and one of the responsibilities for award recipients is to nominate five bloggers to receive it, for each nomination one has received  – which I am very happy to do. Since I received three nominations, I  get to choose fifteen blogs for the award. There will be a drum-roll near the end of this post, with my list of nominees to follow!

Now, How About You?

I can’t guarantee that by participating in a Challenge you will win an award or sculpt a new persona. As a matter of fact, I can’t guarantee that you’ll achieve any of the results I did. A lot depends on what you put into the Challenge, and who you are inside. If there’s a writer or artist or musician or fitness-and-nutrition expert waiting to be released, and the Challenge in some way calls to that part of you, and you work hard to fulfill the Challenge assignments…you might just find the new you, warp speed.

Some options for you:

You can join an existing Challenge.

There are plenty on-line for writers. A small sampling of these:

Besides the April Platform Challenge, Not-Bob creates and facilitates an annual PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge every April, and writes poems right alongside his participants. I’m planning to join in on that one next year.

April is National Poetry Month, so at least one other poetry Challenge that I’m aware of exists: NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month).

There’s the SAD (Story-A-Day) Challenge I’m participating in right now.

November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which requires beginning and finishing a novel in one month – my family will be chagrined to discover that I intend to get in on that one this fall…

Google and ye shall find, all of these and more!

Fitness challenges may be offered by local gyms and communities – local organizations partner to offer one in my town every summer. What kinds of Challenges would help you to achieve your goals? What issues in your life might benefit from a step-by-step plan? You can use Google to see if there’s an established Challenge that will meet your needs – or you can create your own.

Creating a Challenge

Gather a group of friends – either physically or on-line – who have the same goal, and decide on a timeline. You can design the Challenge so that there are assignments every day for a month, or for three months, or every week for a year. Decide on the parameters for the group. Will this be a “closed” group of friends, or will you open it up to the public via the internet?  Put together the assignments (healthy ingredients to include in meals? new workout routines to try? writing a song a day?), and choose someone to broadcast them to the group via an email list, Facebook group page, or blog. Create a way to share your trials and successes, to encourage and support one another.

If creating and facilitating a Challenge – as well as participating in it, a la Not-Bob and PAD – seems too big a job, you can check out my JustVentures page and contact me for assistance with this.

Liebster Award Nominations

Ta da! Drum Roll please! And my nominees for the Liebster Award are… from the raw and open voice/wisdom of Shelley-Lynne Domingue and the perfect imagery of Khara House, to Patrick Walsh’s vivid prose-that-draws-me-in-regardless-of-the-subject matter…

Sarah Bartlett, Sarah’s Pages: http://sarah-w-bartlett.com/

Patrick J. Walsh, Media Intercept: http://mediaintercept.blogspot.com/

Claudine Jaboro-Giorio, Fiction, Family and Science: http://fictionfamilyandscience.blogspot.com/

Alvarado Frazier, Strong Women Grow Here, Writing Through the Hills and Valleys of Life: http://www.latinapen.blogspot.com/

Shelley-Lynne Domingue,The EY Page: Living an Inspired Life: http://eypage.blogspot.ca/

David Owen, David Owen Art Studio: http://davidowenartstudio.blogspot.com/

Khara House, Our Lost Jungle: http://www.ourlostjungle.blogspot.com/

Rachel Sahaidachny, P.S., I Write: http://www.rmswriter.blogspot.com/

Julia Tomiak, Diary of a Word Nerd: http://www.juliatomiak.blogspot.com/

Lynn Obermoeller, Present Letters: http://www.lynnobermoeller.blogspot.com/

Barbara Morrison, B. Morrison: http://www.bmorrison.com/

Janice Sheridan, Writing on the Sun: http://writingonthesun.wordpress.com/

Bruce and Mary Lou Dickson, Dickson Images: http://dicksonimages.com/blog

Mary Pfeiffer, Bite-Size Chunks: http://www.marypf.com/marypf/Blog/Blog.html

Linda, bluetruedream: http://www.thebluetruedream.blogspot.com/

So, here are the Liebster Blogger Award nominee responsibilities:

1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.
2. Nominate five blogs with fewer than 200 followers.
3. Let your nominees know by leaving a comment on their sites.
4. Add the award image to your site.

More Challenges?

If you know of Challenges that might interest folks, or would like to see someone create a particular type of Challenge, please comment!

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