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november project, day 4: changing my mind

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Sometimes I use my writing to get my mind right.  Coming from a champion lineage of depression and addiction, this is something I have to do on a regular basis, when my thoughts tend toward the negative and I am not being kind to myself.  When negativity arises, I neuroplasticize.  In other words, I change my mind.  To do this, I simply write at the top of my page “thank you.” And then I begin filling the page with words and images and thoughts and things that I am grateful for in my life, from coffee to Oliver and Lucy to the warmth of sunlight through the windows in a cozy coffee shop.  And it works.  From the time I begin writing until the page is stuffed with words and color, I am able to alter my own emotional and mental state.

I often tell my students that life is not easy, being human is not easy.  It wasn’t meant to be.  But it’s how we navigate our humanness–bringing ourselves back when we fall out of grace–that heals our souls and makes us powerful.

As the sun slants away from summer and the days shrink and the darkness grows, we must to tend the light and warmth within.  Next time you notice your thoughts leaning toward the negative, give yourself the gift of ten minutes, a blank page, and colorful markers, and pull out the grace within so you can see it and feel it.  Again and again.  This is the work of life.

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november project: filling the creative well

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A few days ago, I wrote myself a prescription for November.  I wrote it because I need some creative medicine.

For the past few months, I have been running along the edge of an empty tank. My time is spliced between too many things, things that feed my soul and enrich my life, but that require a lot of physical, mental, emotional, and social energy.  At the end of the day, I am left with little for myself.  My kids get the last fumes, and that’s a wrap.  Paul and I hang out, but since we are in the same boat, we are bogged down together.

By nature (and identity), I am a writer and a creator.  But life has been so immersive, I have not been able to try new things with my writing. The last extensive project I engaged in was a full revision of my second novel. I finished that project in May, and haven’t written a word of fiction or posted a blog since.

And in the meantime, I grew comfortable.  And fearful about sharing my writing.

I still write daily, filling blank pages with thoughts using thin-tipped markers.  But I haven’t written anything for anyone outside of myself to see. And the longer I’ve been away, the more apprehensive I feel.

What am I going to write about? I wonder in a low-level writer’s despair.  I have a million ideas, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t sit down and risk bringing them to light.

My creative energy is flat, and I’ve been banging my head, feeling a like a fraud teaching leadership when I’m out of balance in my own life.

A week or so ago, I figured it out: I’m hiding in my comfort zone, in the pages of my journal, where my thoughts are safe from judgement or scrutiny. But in the comfort zone, there is no risk, no growth, no innovation, and after a while, stagnation.

I’m a writer, after all.  And part of being a writer is letting people read what you write.

So I wrote myself a prescription to push me out of my comfort zone to practice what I preach in class–to bravely and creatively express what is within.

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For the month of November, I am going to nurture myself creatively, in some way, every day.  You are welcome to join me, or sit back and take it in.  Whichever, I hope my quest to fill my creative well inspires you to do the same.

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being 45

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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giving voice

Coretta

Coretta

She walked in class, mascara smeared sideways across her face, “I am having a horrible day.”

Though this wasn’t the plan for our writing that day, the school social worker suggested she write about boundaries. I told her to write about whatever she needs to write about.  Because if there is something on our minds, something painful and pressing and full of energy, we need to go there and attend to that thing.  Because in that moment, there is no room for anything else.

Because, most of all, when we make space for our students to listen to their thoughts and to express what it feels like to be a human being in this world, we allow for the poetry of their souls to emerge.

Boundaries

I put my heart on my sleeve
but to you it was off-brand.

I put a good head on my shoulders
but I tend to crash, not land.

You said to cry you a river
I did so you could sail

But I ended up drowning and going off the rails.

I wonder who you are, who you were, who you want to be
but lord knows I’m an open book with no mystery

I was your rock but you needed a boulder
no matter how you treat me
I’ll let you cry on my shoulder

I’ll let you hit me before I ever fall
for you I’ll always call

But will you be there?
When I’m drowning in my tears?
When my life’s defined by fear?

I put my heart on my sleeve
I cried you a river
I tried to be your rock

Either way I’m going to
always be here.
-Coretta

 

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deface the page (and save your brain)

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Here’s the problem with thinking: thoughts build upon each other and begin ricocheting against the walls of my brain, creating pure chaos and a cacophony that distracts me from the very life I’m living.  Often, too often, the thoughts I wake up begin with the words “I should…”  I should have woken up earlier.  I shouldn’t have stayed up so late.  I should be more organized.  I should relax more.  I should do more….

The sun comes up, the gloves come on, and I begin beating the crap out of myself for all of my failings and shortcomings.  Yippee!

Lucky for me, I have been gifted with a malfunctioning brain that tends more to negative, self-defeating thoughts than fresh, wind-blown inspirations. Even so, I’ve come to believe most of us humans are susceptible to these unkind thoughts about ourselves, and we all must find a way to live and thrive, in spite of the asshole within.

This is why I write. To change my mind. To move it from a negative to a positive state, so I can air out the stale thoughts and get on with things.  I neuroplasticize baby.  I move, I should have woken up this morning at 6:00 to I want to wake up at 6:00 each morning so I have time alone with my thoughts and steaming cup of coffee.  One contains punishment while the other contains positive intention and inspiration.

So I make time for this.  I make time to change my mind, to feed it positivity and power.  Because it really comes down to choosing the thoughts we want to think.  Therefore, I deface the page to save my brain.

 

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