As I think about my own storytelling projects, I am reminded of my introduction to it when I was a young child.
I grew up in a rural area where Native American culture is still very much alive. We had a family friend who was a Mohawk chief, Chief Black Bear. We would often go to visit his trading post. He was a very tall, solid, regal man. I was fascinated by him. I remember the jewelry, items fashioned from animal skins, the art, and the tobacco pipes carved from natural items. I have no Native American heritage in my blood, but I somehow felt very much at home in his culture. I still do.
One year for Christmas, my mom bought me several books about Native American history. The way they live and what they believe makes complete sense to me. They take care of the planet and each other. They believe in the connectedness of the heavens above and the Earth below. And their storytelling—that’s what captivates me the most. They make deep wisdom palpable, even to a child.
Yesterday I learned about how some members of some tribes welcome people back from war. There is a recognition that they must have transition time. They go with the medicine man for a number of days to literally and figuratively have the blood washed away. The trauma of war is recognized and processed. They deal with this in the light so that it doesn’t get subsumed into the shadows. They grieve. They’re cleaned. They’re healed so that they can return whole.
Setting war aside, if we just look at our own grieving process today with any lens, we often don’t allow space or time for it. We are supposed to move on quickly and in earnest to sunny skies and smiles. We are told to let it go as quickly and cleanly as possible. Though truthfully we hang onto things inside of us. We don’t always give ourselves time to adequately mourn our losses and reflect on what we’ve learned. And so it piles up, and up and up and up until we literally collapse under it. We do ourselves a disservice all in an effort to get on with it. Except we haven’t gotten on with anything. We are playing a role, and eventually we will have to leave the stage and all of our grief will be there waiting in the wings. And we will feel alone and isolated and ashamed of it. And we will bear it until we can’t.
Our society is dealing with massive public issues now, issues that have been ignored and swept under the rug for too long by too many. Of course they now seem unwieldy. Look how much time they’ve had to grow unattended. We cannot and should not shrink away from dealing with them now, no matter how large they loom. If we don’t recognize and set ourselves on a course to solve them, that task will fall to the next generation and the generation after that. Bringing them into the light is painful, but it is the only way to create a better tomorrow. Have faith, and let’s get to work. We can do hard things, together.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Ken, was telling me about his current project and how it came to be. Someone asked him what he needed to bring his vision to life, and he went for broke. He laid it all on the line, didn’t pull any punches, and went for it. I decided to follow his lead.
Last week I was scheduled to have a conversation that I was nervous about having. I wasn’t sure what to expect, what to ask, or what the outcome would be. I knew what I needed the outcome to be, but I really had no idea how to get there. I knew a lot of people were counting on me to come through for them; I wanted to do right by them. I tried to prepare for it, create a presentation, or at the very least get down a set of bullet points. I stared at my screen and then at a piece of paper, and drew a blank. I would have to go with the flow; I had no choice.
It went fine, better than fine, better than I could have imagined. In the moment, I was asked what I needed and I laid it out clearly, reasonably, and without hesitation. If you’re trying to prepare for something, and the preparation just won’t come, maybe that’s a sign that you don’t need any preparation. Maybe you already have all the words you need.
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
The stresses of life pile up from time to time. These last few weeks were a little rocky. Stress at work. Apartment issues. The nerves associated with putting on a live show in New York City on a cold Monday night in January. A really not-great date. Not enough time to write. One afternoon, I was sitting with all of that and I realized I was holding my breath. This is what I do with stress. I get very still. I get quiet. I hold. I wait.
I’ve found that the breath is the beginning and end of everything for me. A thought. A feeling. An action. A reaction. If I can get my breath moving, my spirit comes back to life. Then the mind. Then the body. And if I can keep the breath going, these pieces of me begin to work together. It’s a slow but reliable process.
Sometimes breathing moment to moment is what I can do. Sometimes it’s all I can do. And that’s enough. That’s the seed where solutions begin. And I always have access to it. It’s always an option, and so I take it.
“The world is full of people who say it can’t be done. If everyone listened to them, we’d still live in caves—and there would be no such thing as books.” ~Dean Koontz #NaNoPepTalk
I’d like to talk to you about naysayers. Some are valuable. When I was deciding to go to grad school and expressed my desire to work part-time and go to school part-time, a friend of mine told me exactly why that was a terrible idea. (He had gone part-time and deeply regretted it.) He was right. It was a far better idea for me to go to grad school full-time. After I got my MBA and a good job, and decided I want to work on my writing on the side, that same friend said I was wasting my time and that I should really focus on important things like climbing the corporate ladder and finding a husband. (He never climbed the corporate ladder, he’s not a writer, and his spouse is less than a good match.) That time he was wrong.
To find out if naysayers are worth listening to, I consider the feedback as if a friend was telling me my own story. That objectivity helps me sort the BS from the gold. Also, consider the perspective of the naysayer. Are they offering you advice from experience, or are they just stating their opinion as fact? I’m glad my friend gave me solid, informed reasons to go to grad school full-time. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I’m glad I ignored his opinion about my writing and how to spend my time. If I had listened to him, I wouldn’t have the writing career I have today.
Ultimately, the one who lives with the consequences of your choices is you. What matters most is your opinion of your own life.
I want to talk to you about following your gut. We are quick to let our minds take over our decision-making. We go back and forth and back again on a decision. We talk ourselves into, out of, around, over, and through things. We agonize over the right thing to do and why. We have regrets and we consistently second-guess ourselves.
I had a day like this last week, and it was a brutal. Finally, I wore out my brain and all I had left with was my gut decision. I just knew what I needed to do, even if I wasn’t clear on all of the specific reasons. All I can say is that the answer was always deep down in my soul, and it persistently and consistently kept rising until my decision was on my lips and refused to remain silent.
And that was it. Once I made the choice, there was no going back. My mind relaxed, exhausted. And my heart was glad. I will tell you that the decision is not without its fears. It wasn’t easy to make the choice, but I know I made the right choice for me. There’s another long climb ahead, and I’ll begin that journey next week. Now, it’s time to rest, rejuvenate, and rejoice.
“The more you love your decisions, the less you need others to love them.” ~Unknown
Yesterday, Phineas decided it would be a good idea to roll in goose poop. It wasn’t. Or at least I didn’t think this was a good idea. However, he loved his decision so much that he didn’t care about whether or not I liked it. He proudly marched through Central Park like he was a king. He made me think of the quote above. And though I wasn’t thrilled with having to clean him off with hand sanitizer in the park, followed by a bath once we got home, I do admire his confidence in his choices.
Plant the seeds of your dreams and see what grows. Some of that growth is out of our control. Some of it has to do with our actions. Your way will find you if you continue to do your part. Show up. Work hard. Be kind. Let the Universe take care of the rest.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked to a lot of friends about the concept of how to spend our time. As they say, even Beyoncé only has 24 hours in a day. We all have to make choices. Try as we might, we can’t do everything, at least not all at once.
So how do we decide what gets attention, effort, and time, and what has to fall by the wayside? And how can we be confident in those decisions once we make them? All I can give you is my own experience. I gave up a lot to write my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters. There were many times I didn’t go out and have fun for the sake of writing, rewriting, and editing. I poured myself into that book, and that meant I spent less time on other parts of my career and personal life. I stopped teaching yoga; I took on fewer freelance projects; I spent less time trying to climb the ladder in my business career; I dated less; I made less money; I left my home in New York City to go out into the unknown. All for the sake of a book that I wasn’t sure would ever see the light of day.
You might be asking, “What the hell was she thinking?” and you’d be very right to ask.
I was thinking that if I didn’t write this book, if I didn’t get this story down and work my a*s off to get it out into the world, then I would be left with a profound sense of regret. And I don’t mean the regret varietal that goes something like, “Huh, I wonder what that would have been like.” Nope. I’m talking about the kind of regret you read in articles like Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Want to know the #1 regret in that list? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Ouch. I couldn’t live, or die, with that. I had to be true to myself now, and that meant I had to write this book. So I gave up what was needed to get it done. And there isn’t a single thing I gave up that I wish I had done instead of writing that book. Not one.
I had the great gift of a fire that nearly killed me at age 33. The 8th anniversary of that fire is about a month away, and every day since then has been gravy in my mind. I was infinitely fortunate to survive. I have tried hard to live a life I’m proud of, even if people don’t understand it, don’t agree with it, and criticize it. I hope I’m around to see 103. Seriously. If our world is this insane today, just imagine the crazy sh*t we’re going to experience in the year 2079! But if that’s not in the cards for me, that’s okay. Really. I wrote this book. It’s the creative act of my life that I’m most proud of. If and when you hold that book in any form in your hands, you are holding my heart. How great is it to be able to give that away in the hopes that it helps some one, somewhere, some time.
That’s what I did with my time here on this Earth in this life, and it was more than worth it. What’s your Emerson? Find that. Pursue that.
“You made a misstep, but you were walking in the right direction.” ~Frank Reagan, Blue Bloods
Sometimes the best intentions and efforts don’t get us exactly what we want or exactly where we’d like to go. Life isn’t always a linear path. (My life is never a linear path!) I used to bemoan my missteps and chastise myself for making them. On occasion, I still do. Maybe you do, too. This quote above gave me a different way of thinking about my missteps.
I’ve always put my best foot forward in everything I’ve done and because of that, I’ve started to look at my efforts over time rather than only as individual events. Over time, the missteps in the right direction added up to something larger than the sum of its parts. They added up to a life and career that has been anything but dull and something far more exciting than I ever imagined they would be. So what’s next? Who knows? But I know it’s going to be in the direction of building a better world.
In the past few weeks, I’ve learned that a few opportunities I left on the table would have gone horribly awry if I had taken them. People I wanted to work with left their roles in short order. Products were pulled from the market. The leadership floundered. The role was never filled because they just couldn’t figure out what they wanted. Most of the time, I didn’t have a specific reason for turning down any of these roles except to say that they just didn’t feel like the right move for me. My gut was right.
If you’re searching for a new opportunity now, don’t be afraid to walk away from one that doesn’t match your criteria. You deserve better; you deserve to find exactly what you want. Keep looking.