Free to Fail

My younger son is a musician. He’s played trumpet for six years and picked up the tuba a year ago. As a high school sophomore, he registered for two music classes: Jazz and Symphonic Bands. Music is his happy place, the band room his safety zone.

His private instructor also works at the school; he asked to chat. Apparently, my kiddo did not do well on his jazz audition. But his instructor wanted me to know all the ways I could encourage him:

He did better on the harder of two pieces.
He persevered when he lost his place.
When he finished, the whole room broke out in applause rather than their normal toe tapping, understanding the struggle and the grit.
He did not have the worst audition in the group.
This was the hardest piece of music he will encounter all year,
and now auditions are over until next year.

No accident that I’ve been reading about creative risks and failure and how to go on when you feel discouraged.

Thing is, he knew the audition had been a mess, but he didn’t let it flatten him; he let it go. I reminded him that everyone will blow it from time to time, everyone fails, but that creates an opportunity for growth. And that artists may fail even more so because artists have to take risks, the nature of the creative game. I told him that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly so that you can get better. That everyone is a beginner, and even with experience, we face many, many, many beginnings (like, every new piece of music).

Yes, he agreed. Wise kid. How does he know all this when I’m still learning?

Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Circle of Quiet about receiving a rejection letter on her fortieth birthday. She put the cover on her typewriter in a dramatic gesture to mark the end of her writing career; she walked circles around her writing room, sobbing, until she realized that already in her head she was writing a story about failure. She uncovered her typewriter and got back to work.

Failure requires a response of swift, gracious action. Instead of asking the pityingly poor question, “Why me?” we ask, “What next?” For my son, next meant more music, Symphonic Band, followed by geometry. He kept his head up and kept moving. For Madeleine, it was making the decision to keep pecking away at her typewriter. We do the next right thing, however small and seemingly insignificant.

The creative road can be scary, but we keep walking, step by step. We speak kindly to ourselves, not berating ourselves for failure but commending ourselves for the courage to risk. We may feel sore, like sore muscles after a hard workout, but we persist, assuring ourselves that as we keep at it those creative muscles will also grow stronger.

The next morning as I dropped my son off at the band room, I asked how he was feeling; I knew that morning’s class involved sight reading, not his strength. He said he felt fine, and he was. Having gotten through one difficult scene in the band room, he knew he could do it again. And this time, it was even easier. Next time will be easier still. He’s getting stronger.

 

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Sprinkle Kindness Everywhere

Someone left a rock dead center on the sign-in counter at the gym. Painted white with black letters reading “Sprinkle Kindness Everywhere” amidst colorful polka dots, it’s so out of place it caught my attention.

It reminded me of painted rocks I saw while on vacation in Pacific Grove. Someone(s) had painted stones to resemble little ladybugs and dotted them along the walking trail above the seaside cliffs. Some people must have taken stones but, like me, others chose to leave them to delight other passersby. Another house had a rock garden out front with whimsical painted stones strewn here and there which made me smile each time I passed.

I read: “The Venetians conceived the idea: beauty reinforces the good of society” (from Women in Sunlight, Frances Mayes).

We need beauty. We need whimsy. We need kindness.

The creation of beauty enhances the lives of creator and viewer. Random acts of kindness feel good to give and receive. Beauty and kindness, delightfully unexpected and absolutely necessary, make us better people. Make us a healthier society.

Back at the gym, I caught a headline on the morning news: “Hate in America.” It turns my stomach, so much hate.

Let’s focus on sprinkling kindness instead.

Give Good Gifts

My nephew came to visit and brought me a gift from my sister. She thought I needed some encouragement, so she put together the best care package ever.

Gifts are her love language, not mine. Time and good company are really all I need to feel loved.

But this gift…! She packed a small box with so many individually-chosen-for-me items. Every single item made me laugh. I smiled. I oohed and aahed.

The first thing thing I touched—rainbow metal straw—had me belly laughing. The previous evening I had put iridescent metal straws in my Amazon cart for her! She included cork coasters with cute cartoons/sayings. A notebook to carry in my purse. Floral napkins, because our grandma always gave napkins as gifts. An eye shadow palette (she is a makeup maven) in just the right colors, and a coordinating lipgloss. A coffee mug with a delightful unicorn reminding me to “Stay Magical.”

My sister loved me with every item in that box. She knows my likes and dislikes, my sense of humor, what will tickle me. The gift was so perfect it was as if she’d taken me shopping, shown me each item, watched my expression, and put it in the basket because it was just right.

Looking at the box’s contents, our sons thought we were silly (they’re not wrong). We are so different and still share the same sensibilities. They don’t quite understand that yet.

A long time ago, I remember my sister saying that she dislikes gift cards. If someone wants to give her a gift, they should choose it carefully and specifically for her. I understood what she meant at the time, but now I completely get it.

Coming out of a season where I have felt invisible, I have been sad. Every end is a new beginning. There is freedom in walking away, and there is loss. My sister recognized that. This gift collective tells me that she sees me. I didn’t really need a gift, but then again, maybe I did. Each time I reach for any one of these items, I will know I am seen and loved. Isn’t that what we all want?

 

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

Creativity as Spiritual Practice

I read in The Artist’s Way:

Are you contemplative? Yes.
Do you allow yourself to go on retreat? Oh, well…

Shortly thereafter, I saw a magazine ad for a nearby retreat center. An ad for the same center popped up on social media a few days after that; I clicked, and Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, would be speaking there soon. It was expensive.

A week later, I randomly received a yoga catalog in the mail. I flipped through, and saw that Cameron would be leading a retreat at a yoga center on the East Coast. Even more expensive.

Interesting: I’d considered retreat-ing, and opportunities popped into view.

About a week later, another ad appeared on social media: a FREE online retreat with Cameron and one of my favorite artists, SARK, plus five others. The topic: Creativity as Spiritual Practice. In my wheelhouse, do at my own speed, and free? Sign me up!

I’ve listened to two of the seven speakers so far and gained wisdom from both. As I took notes on the second speaker, though, a rather obvious thought grabbed me:

Creativity is a spiritual practice.

The speaker talked about being told as a child that she couldn’t draw, so she should find something else to do in life. She cut herself off from creativity and became a successful doctor instead. But she wasn’t whole until she recovered her creative self.

I want to write, “Who tells a child they can’t draw, so find another career?” Except, how many of us heard the same message? Art’s just not your thing, honey. You’ll find your thing, don’t worry.

Hogwash.

First of all, Art and Creativity aren’t necessarily the same thing. Too often we get all high and mighty about Art. Art hangs in museums, so the average human can’t make Art. Maybe not, but we can all create. And it doesn’t have to be your career, although it might be. It can be a hobby that fulfills you in ways you never imagined and influences who you are in all spheres.

Secondly, creativity is spiritual. At the least, it connects us to our own spirits. Creative activity is pure self-expression. As a Christian, I believe that humans have been created in the image of the Great Creator. We join God in co-creating our lives, and we image God most fully as we engage with Him in body, mind and spirit. I regularly practice my faith, praying/meditating, worship, etc. Why not fold creativity into that mix? I connect with God in new ways as I create.

Whatever you believe, creative work is less work than flow, getting things down rather than thinking them up. Receiving, not straining, and expressing. Poet Jon Fosse said, “To compose poetry,” he might have said, to create, “is about listening…it is, so to speak, about bringing forth something that already exists…”

Thirdly, creativity is about practice, not necessarily mastery. It’s not something you do just like anyone else. You do you. Not everyone can be Picasso, Matisse, O’Keefe, but everyone can express themselves. It doesn’t have to look like anything specific, and it doesn’t have to look like anything else anyone has made.

When I practice yoga, it’s my practice. I don’t have to do it perfectly, because the best I can do is breathe and stretch my own body, imperfect and healing and differently balanced each day. I don’t compare, because someone else’s breath and stretch makes for their practice. I don’t practice towards an end, but for the sake of my presence in the process.

When our kids were young, we expected them to participate in a sport most seasons: soccer, basketball, baseball, swim. Hiking and biking with family and friends on weekends. We didn’t expect them to be champions, but to enjoy movement, play a game, be active, learn good sportsmanship. Eventually, they’d tried enough sports to know what they liked and didn’t. They understand that physical exercise is a practice, a discipline for overall health.

Why don’t we treat creativity similarly? So what if you can’t draw, try painting. If not painting, ceramics. Try music or writing or collage, mosaic or poetry, jewelry making or sewing or cooking or…

Why oh why do so many young children hear the message that they’re just not creative, especially at, arguably, the most creative stage of their lives? No wonder so many adults don’t believe they are creative. We lose part of our humanness when we cut off our creativity.

Like playing sports, we can play at creativity. And like anything you practice, it gets easier over time.

Creativity is a spiritual practice. I’m all in. How about you?

Smell the Roses

It’s rose season!

I take a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures of flowers. Roses especially, but any beautiful flower that captures my attention.

Taking pictures—just on my iPhone, nothing too fancy—is for me a joy-filled discipline of noticing.

I stop. I lean in. I frame the subject. I go for a better angle. I see the flower, its unique bloom. The way the petals curl, the nuances of color, the contrast with its foliage and/or background in the frame. This flower, in this moment, this beauty.

I allow the bloom to give me pause, to be present to the goodness in the world. It is good for my soul.

And then, generally, if the picture captures anywhere near the truth of what I saw, I share it. Because we all need more beauty, more goodness, more joy and peace in our lives.

This may seem an obvious omission, but what I don’t always do? Smell the rose.

I read recently (because I’m always reading) that someone took a breath so deep that it was like inhaling the smell of a rose all the way down to her toes.

Yes!

That phrase captivated my imagination. I could see myself leaning in even closer, phone down, sticking my nose inside a gorgeous, single white rose in full bloom. Inhaling all the way down into my toes. What a way to slow down and become present.

So I’m adding “smell the roses” to my discipline of noticing, whether or not I have my phone in hand.

I discovered this blessing the other day, and it seems appropriate to share here:

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening.
May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.
Amen. Let it be so.

(John O’Donohue’s Blessing for Solitude, from The Road Back to You by Cron & Stabile, p230)

What’s My Commitment?

I briefly interacted with a gal working one of the booths at BottleRock. She wore amazing eye makeup, intensely purple and shimmery, ombre, with thick, expertly-applied liquid cat-eye liner.

Because I believe in freely and generously offering sincere compliments to friends and strangers, I commented on how beautiful her makeup looked. I also asked how long it took to apply, because obviously it took time.

“Forty-five minutes,” she replied matter-of-factly, like it was no big deal.
“Wow, that’s a commitment,” I responded.

To myself I added, That’s not a commitment I’d make!

I wouldn’t know how to spend 45 minutes on makeup. I could watch YouTube eye makeup tutorials, but I wouldn’t. It doesn’t matter to me to wear that kind of statement makeup.

That interaction has stuck with me. Commitments take time. Time spent = commitment.

Where do I spend my time?

This summer I’ve committed to doing a lot of writing and reading, exercising and praying. But I’ve also noticed the time sucks, the minutes between things where I pick up my phone out of habit and scroll through social media. Periodically I check the “Screen Time” function on my phone which reports how much time I have spent on social media versus reading/research; guess which wins…

I want to say that social media doesn’t matter to me that much, but my time says otherwise.

For now, I’m working on Social-Free Sundays, one day a week when I leave my phone down altogether. I’m also working on microMOVEments, a technique promoted by one of my favorite artists, SARK.

SARK decided that she could motivate herself to get big projects done if she broke, say, “Write a book,” into five minute steps. She could do anything for five minutes, especially if she sprinkled juicy adjectives into the description of each step. For example, one microMOVEment in writing could be: “Write down title.” But it’s so much more fun to “Play amazing title game!”

SARK’s secret is that once you get going, once you commit five minutes to one succulent step towards a larger goal, it’s easier to keep going. But even if you just commit five minutes, that’s still something. You can fill in another five minutes another time. Eventually all the minutes add up.

And what a better use of the in-betweens!

Library Love

“A world of reading brings a bounty far beyond us, and we find it creates a legacy to stretch far past us into every next generation.” Kaitlin B. Curtice, Glory Happening

Yesterday I made a library pit stop to return two books and pick up another five waiting on hold. I left at home several more books I’m reading or will soon, but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these new adventures. I also scanned the “Lucky Day” shelves, the ones that hold high-demand books, and found another contender.

The summer heat blistered our little town and the library felt blissfully cool, so I took my new stack to a corner chair to peruse my new finds. I chuckled as a little one holding his mama’s hand loud-whispered, “Hi, Library! Hi, Library!” When I checked out, I was surprised to discover that I’d whiled away an hour in cool bookish delight.

The Library is one of my favorite places on earth. It doesn’t matter which library, so long as it has stacks upon stacks of books and quiet nooks in which to cozy up between the pages.

My children rejuvenated my library love. Before they arrived, I had come to associate libraries not with the joy of my own childhood reading but with academic research, starting with my third grade research paper about mice. I felt particularly proud of my illustration of two little grey mice nibbling on a juicy red berry.

With my kids, we regularly visited the library. At only two years old, my first child knew his way around: where he’d find his favorite books, where he’d discover new animal documentaries, and where he’d locate Mom or Dad looking for books of their own. And all the librarians knew him (whether they wanted to or not).

One of the best things I did as a parent, I believe, was to teach my children the joy of reading. We read all the time. We read at bedtime, of course, but also throughout the day. We carried books everywhere. We read at the park and the beach, in the doctor’s waiting room, in the car between appointments, and at the dining table. When the big kid had to keep his own reading log for school, he regularly read perched in a tree.

At 20 and 15, these days my kids read mostly for school. I get that: when reading becomes a requirement it may lose its luster. Like PE class takes the fun out of playing games. My hope for them is based on both investment and experience, that someday they won’t “have to” read but will choose it for pleasure; and that someday they will  read with their own children, letting little hands drag them down library aisles in anticipation of new discoveries to share together.