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being 45

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being 45

Last week my physical therapist asked me how old I am. I told her I was turning 45 on Thursday and she responded, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Her reaction stunned me. It shouldn’t have considering the general view of aging, especially for women, in this country. But it did. And I’ve thought about it since: What does it mean to be 45?

Into my 30’s, I subconsciously cast 45 off as old, when dreams have been long realized and everything from there was on a downslope. But as pages of the calendar seem to be flipping off in a windstorm of years, I’ve gained a new perspective.

Let’s not sugarcoat–aging sucks. I’ve never met anyone who wants wrinkles, aches, pains, inevitable loss, new knees, gray hair, or saggy skin. Not once. And yet, that’s where we are all headed. Until our spirits rise, we are destined to live inside an aging body.

But if we are willing to say yes to life, we must be willing to say yes to it all.  And when I step into the light of grace, of what it means to be given 45 years of life on Earth, I realize I have needed every one of those years to get to where I am now, and there is not one year I would give back.

Forty-five to me means going to college and discovering how humungous the world is, breaking rules, boarding airplanes to lands unknown, walking barefoot on beaches and riding bikes through cities, wildflower meadows, and over canyons. It means being in classrooms and lecture halls, both as student and teacher, always learning and discovering. It means taking my time and following my curiosities, and it means getting lost, wandering, and finding my way back. It means breaking my heart and falling in love and making mistakes and saying I’m sorry and practicing bravery and working really hard and being really grateful. It means marrying my best friend and realizing it was worth the wait. It means growing children in my belly and watching them become who they are, spirits and journeys all their own. It means being the “fortune teller” at the school carnival and reading The Giving Tree before bed. It means letting Lucy destroy the kitchen to make “slime,” and watching Oliver disappear down the sidewalk on his bike, praying he arrives at Spencer’s house safely.

It means all of the experiences I’ve had and all of the people who’ve crossed my path and taught me about love and life.

I am 45 and there is no apology necessary. Instead, I want to tilt my head back and sing to the sky, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, God, for all of it.

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let the revolution begin

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At 9:45 sharp, I stood in front of 25 students, all undergraduates at the University of Minnesota, welcoming them to their first “Personal Leadership in the University,” class this semester.  Aside from the three things they each chose to tell the class about themselves, things like, “I like sports,” or “I love to cook, and I make a mean cheesecake,” or “I’m a small-town girl at heart,” I know nothing of these students.

Except.

I know they have worked hard to get to where they are, in these seats facing me, in this room, at this R1 university that accepts a fraction of the students that apply.  I know that I am meeting them at a critical juncture of their lives, when they have left the nests of familiarity, of what they have known, into a future that is yet unknown, yet to be created.  I know that they have dreams and friends and families and struggles and fears and desires and anger and happiness and hurt and courage and hope. I know they each have a story, stories full of possibility and power to change the world.

And when I stand in front of them and share my story, I spare none of my failures.  I tell them that when I was in a student like them, sitting in my chair on my first day of college, I could hear the walls I had built around myself begin to rumble. I could feel a falling apart, a cluelessness about who I was and what I wanted, a feeling of aloneness, of being the only one who had no idea what I was doing with my life.  I tell them I was so riddled with uncertainty and depression, I rarely made it to my classes, graduating five years later with a mediocre GPA, a blank slate, and enough desperation and determination to create a life that resonated with the thrum of my soul’s longing.

I share these things in part because I know mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are epidemic in universities today.  But mostly I share these things because I have a deep belief that sometimes we need to fall apart, obliterate what we have known and think we know in favor of what we may discover, about life and about ourselves, about what we have to give, about our unique talents, and about the profound gifts that can come from profound struggle.

I invite them to be human, to not know. Because in this space of not knowing, in the blank spaces of our lives, we have an opportunity to innovate, to create an idea or thought or solution that has yet to be created.  In my classroom, we begin each day entering the pages of our journals, where I invite them to create the greatest art they will ever create–their lives.

Let the revolution begin.

 

 

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voices amplified: dominique gant

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thumb_OriginalPhoto-486928152.862835_1024 (the following post is from the series Voices Amplified, featuring the stories and voices of everyday people in our community).

I was the girl who…

I was the girl who loved to read, draw, science, modeling, and acting. When I was a girl, my grandmother “Essie” was my biggest cheerleader. My mother and my grandmother were both supportive of anything I showed interest in, whether it was acting or modeling school, they kept me busy.

My mother had me at a young age, but worked hard to provide for my brother and I.

I was the girl who loved to laugh, sing, and dance. I was a silly child with quite the imagination who enjoyed playing and making friends. October 24th, 1997 at 5:30pm, I lost my grandmother to complications of lupus. I was 13-years-old. My whole world changed that day. Even though that was my grandmother, I felt like I lost my mom.

1997 was one of the worst years of my life. I felt so alone. My family was very close and my grandmother held everyone together.

I was the girl who longed for her grandmother because I didn’t understand.

Now I’m a woman with children of my own who will show my daughters the love and encouragement my mothers (Grandmother and mother ) showed me when I was younger.

We forget what it’s like to be a kid again and often take moments for granted. I just want to take the time out to remember the little girl I was because she is who made me who I am today! I just want to be happy, I just want to be free!

I just want Peace.

Domonique Gant is a writer and mother. She was born March 19th, 1984 in Chicago, Illinois. She lives in Bloomington with her two daughters, Diamond and Gia.

  1. Janna Krawczyk is a fiscal year 2016 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This publication and the class during which it was created is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

 

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writing and creativity

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I have created a life out of Sharpie markers and blank pages. When I was in college and hanging on to my sanity and life, I wrote first as a mental health reprieve, and then as a visionary tool. I deconstructed the life I knew and constructed a life that resonated with my soul. Within thousands of pages over more than 20 years, I wrote my way to the career and life I am living now.

For my work, I create and teach writing curricula for many different purposes and populations. I teach writing for empowerment to single mothers experiencing homelessness, and I teach writing for personal leadership to undergraduates at the University of Minnesota. I teach fiction writing to youth and writing as a therapeutic modality to social workers and psychologists. Meanwhile, early in the mornings, I write young adult novels and essays.

Because of this work variance, I am in a constant mode of creation. In order to keep it fresh and inspiring, I must enter the flow of creativity with regularity—it is as vital to my work as breathing is to my body.

Creativity is where innovation is born. It is messy, non-linear, and inspired, coming from a place deeper than the intellect. It is the song of the child within and therefore needs wild and open spaces where it can play and discover. Creativity hates stress and time-constraints. It cannot be called on a whim and expected to show up to the party on demand.

Writing is a powerful tool of entry into this flow. It is physical, visual, and spiritual. It slows the brain and enables me to take a range of ideas, thoughts, and intuition and synthesize them into a clear and powerful vision.

For example, this past February I pitched an idea for a feature article to Mpls.St.Paul Magazine on bike dates. When I got the go-ahead to write the article, I had no idea how I would begin or how the article would unfold. So I began this creative process like I do every other—by clearing my desk of everything except blank paper, Sharpies, and a space of time.

creating a feature article

creating a feature article

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The random and messy thoughts on those blank pages evolved to became a six-page feature article in this June’s magazine.

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It’s a mysterious process, this thing called Creativity. Maybe because it is evidence of the Divine within that we all share. But we each must find a way to make space in our lives for its magic to occur, to lift our ideas and thoughts from the confines of our beings to become full-color reality in the world.

 

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fear and love

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I stood in front of a room full of undergraduate students hearing myself ramble through my introduction on the first day of our Personal Leadership in the University class at the University of Minnesota. I heard myself tell them about being a writer and an as-yet unpublished novelist. I heard myself talk about being a social entrepreneur, having created a career teaching the very thing that saved my life: writing. I heard myself talk about my teaching experiences over the past decade, and I may have even heard myself talk about being a mother of two children. But I’m not sure.

The truth is, I don’t know exactly what I talked about in my introduction because while I was standing in front of that room, I was experiencing an intense wave of nervous fear in front of 26 students, all eyes on me, on my and their first day of class.

What I didn’t tell them was that I have never taken a “leadership” class in my entire life, nor had I ever taught one. I didn’t say I was stepping on the pathway of this journey for the first time with them. And I certainly didn’t tell them that I really had no idea what I was doing, or where this path would take me.

Though this particular situation was new to me, this feeling of standing at the edge of myself, at the edge of my comfort zone, the winds of fear and uncertainty and the Unknown whipping around me, was not new. I’ve been there before, dozens of times, in dozens of rooms.

In fact, it has been on the shoulders of discomfort and fear that I have built my career and my life.

I grew up a blue-collar kid in a white-collar world. My house stunk of cigarette smoke and broken dreams. As I grew, I built wings with the strength I earned from the struggles I had experienced. With pen and paper, I lifted myself out of that situation and decided I would always follow my heart, no matter what.

The problem is, with love comes fear. They are the right and left hands of almost every decision we make:

We love to travel, but we fear if we will miss out on career opportunities.

We love our boyfriends or girlfriends, but fear they will not love us back.

We love racing, but we fear we will lose.

We love to create, but we fear we do not know how.

If we make the decision to follow what we love and step into the landscape of our dreams, we must know that we will meet fear along the way. And if we are to continue on this journey of the soul and spirit, we must make friends with fear. Because bravery does not exist without fear, and if we choose safety, to remain within the cocoon of what feels comfortable, we will never know the full extent of our truth and power. We will never know what it feels like to have reached beyond ourselves to see exactly what it is we are made of.

So the question to continually ask ourselves is, which voice are we following? Are we following love or fear? Are we leaning into life or away from it?

Though fear is uncomfortable, safety isn’t all its cracked up to be either. In fact, it is an illusion when considering the human journey and its true vulnerable nature. Anything can happen at any time. We could walk onto the street and be hit by a bus and become paralyzed from the neck down. Or we could lose someone we love in a moment. Or we could lose that job or that house or that lover or whatever.

And worst of all, if we side with safety and follow our fear, we risk extinguishing the very flame in our hearts that keeps us warm along this journey of life.

Though the path is always uncertain and I am still learning how to “teach” leadership, there is one thing I know for certain: inside each of us exists a still, small voice. It is the voice of our hearts, emanating from the deepest part of our souls. And if we listen to that voice, we will never have to look back on our lives and think, “I wish I would have…”

Instead, we will be able to stand firmly on the ground of ourselves and our lives and say, “I did.”

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a valentine

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