Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The last baby tooth

Gwendolyn arrived home yesterday and I was reminded how this oldest child grows me up.  The river of her life is always the first to cut my banks, always the first to rut out new territory, always the first to show me:  this comes next.

In her hand she held a tiny orange box from school, the last of it's kind for her.  A tooth kicked around inside.  It was a molar, wide and substantial, there was nothing babyish about it.  

Instead, it looked ancient, another one of life's artifacts, something that could have been dug from the ground, just as easily as from the dense gum of her jaw.   It marks the end of an epoch, and the history lays beneath us, solid as stone. 

The feeling of this ending has been hovering around me lately.  I felt it this weekend when I stood next to a woman holding a tiny infant, it's fragile, animal head and claw like fingers all huddled in a bundle near her shoulder.  The baby's tininess so foreign to me, and at the same time, so familiar.   

At that moment I was sure that it had happened.  That I had grown old--yes old, no longer young, no longer the mother with an infant in her arms.  There was a certainty to it that I had not felt before.  I felt it again when Eloise, our baby, read the word should, and again when I looked in the eyes of our aging dog.

Then Gwendolyn came home with her tooth, round and solid like a period, marking, very definitively, the end of something.  

There is nothing to do really but rest, 
right here on the solid grown of now.  

So I get on my knees, 
bow my forehead low, 
and pour my tears out like an offering.
May Gwendolyn and I go gently
into the dark mystery. 
May we stay tender.

May our next epoch together, 
and its great crossing,
show us our strength.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Your last post really spoke to me. Now how the "f" do I do it??

My last post about reducing stress for ourselves, resonated with a lot of people, and my favorite response was the one above.  It gets right to heart of the matter.  Sure reducing stress is a good idea, but how the "f" do we do it?

This post has taken me a long time to write, because I struggle with stress myself.  Some days are better than others.  Progress, in this area, at least for me, both comes slow and requires slowness.  

I did eventually figure out how to crawl out from under that desk I wrote about in the last post, though, and even all these years later, I still return to what I learned at that time.  One strategy that I bumbled into then, and still use now is something like "no solution," or taking a breather, or redirecting your energy.  Very simply, the strategy is to put your life goal aside, and deal with your life instead.  For me, these days it looks a lot like not writing (my goal) and cleaning the kitchen pantry instead, which is exactly what I did last weekend.

It was high time the job was done too.  Since December brown bugs had been appearing.  Tiny as the head of a pin, they buzzed under cabinets and perched themselves on the top of cereal boxes.  I kept hoping they would go away but they didn't.  When I found one swirling in a pot of boiling pasta, I finally reached my limit.  

It was time.

You'd think things had become desperate enough that I would have been committed to the whole effort of cleaning the pantry from the beginning, but I wasn't.  I imagined I'd root out a single box that was housing the family of brown bugs, clean a couple shelves off, and be done with it.  But after playing tetris with the cans for awhile, I was struck by a shock of hope.  Even a small amount of work was bringing a sorely needed sense of order, so I decided to go for broke.  I pulled everything out onto the kitchen counter and began the task in earnest.

Here's some of what I found.  Four bottles of toasted sesame seed oil, three opened boxes of baking soda (one expired in 2012), Indian curries that I can’t recall how to spell, cake flour, bread flour and two entire sets of ingredients for making gluten free muffins.  Capers from Greece, a opened box of orange jello that had never been made, and preserved apricots I made a few years ago.  

This is to say nothing of the spice collection, which astonished me, both in its breadth (what was I thinking of making the day I bought asafetida?) and its depth (how did I not know that I had four bottles of bay leaves?).  And that was just the beginning.  The pile spilled down the length of the counter and rose up like a small mountain.

I learned a lot looking at that pile.

The first, undeniable, realization was just how big it was.  There was a lot of food, and a lot of it was going to go to waste.  To even be able to see what I had, I needed to get rid of a lot.  The heft of the guilt felt as heavy as the food itself.  I felt awful.  It can be so hard to look at the mess we make for ourselves that we let the mess continue.  The pantry seemed to fall in this category.

And then memory came.  It was my first apartment, the one on Stanyan and Fredrick, the first place I ever lived all by myself.  It was a sunny studio with an ample pantry and old gas stove held together by a bungee cord.  I loved that apartment.  And in particular, I loved the pantry.  I loved it so much I took photographs of the first three cans of tuna and two bags of spaghetti I put in there.  It was a milestone.  Forget the new car I had just bought, it was storing my own cans of tuna that made me feel like I had finally become an adult.

And then returning my attention to the matter at hand, I saw the box of Kosher salt.  I thought of my mom.  She has taught me everything I know about cooking.  Many lessons have to do with salt.  It's the ingredient that balances a vinaigrette, that deepens a chocolate cake, that corrects sour.  Salt opens the window to all kinds of tastes and makes food come alive.

I thought of her when I glanced at the four bottles of bay leaves.  I use them in chicken soup when my kids are sick.  Bay leaves are the only non perishable ingredient in that dish, and so they are as much a part of my first aid kit as Advil or Tylenol or bandaids.   Which accounts for how I ended up with four bottles.

And I even thought of her when I touched the asafetida.  I had the gumption to think I could take on that Indian recipe, not because my mom taught me how to make Indian food, but because my mom taught me I could handle anything in the kitchen.  I fear nothing and make everything, because my mom didn't just hand down her recipes, she showed me the way to cook.

And so as terrible as I felt, I could also see that there was a good lot of love in that mountain of food.  For awhile, as I made my way through the mess, my thoughts toggled between these two kinds of feelings, back and forth between love and shame.

Soon, though, a bit of order started to emerge.  Space reappeared on the counter, logical piles started to cluster, and I could imagine how I was going to put things back to rights.  I stood back for a moment, took a deep breath and what came to me was not a thought.  It was a sense.  It was that voice that blows in from above, that feels like not me, that reveals the wise thing.  It said, "Sweetheart, it's simple, you need less."

And it wasn't just less food.  It was less time spent in Whole Foods.  It was less pressure to cook the perfect home cooked meal every night.  It was less guessing about what I had in the pantry.

My pantry had gotten clogged up with a problem of plenty.  I had plenty of everything, good intentions, healthy food, and financial resources.  What I had been lacking was time spent taking stock of what I already had.  Not knowing, or not taking the time to find out what was already in the pantry, meant that I had been buying the same thing over and over and over again, from baking soda to bay leaves.  The repeats were everywhere.  And storing them was making it difficult to see what I had, which led me to buy more, making the problem worse.

Sweetheart, it's simple, you need less.
With sorting--navy beans with navy beans, cereals lined up where the kids can reach them, Asian ingredients together--the mess settled out.  Everything found its place.  I found the box housing the brown bugs (an unopened box of number 12 spaghetti, if you want to know), and discarded it.  I discovered a delightful jar containing all of the ingredients needed to make minestrone, a gift from a friend.  I learned I had run out of simple granulated sugar--a staple I actually need.

In very concrete terms my life had become less stressful.  The kitchen was bug free and I was free from gnatty feeling that comes from avoiding the thing that really needs to be done.  The pantry, once the locus of potential hazard for the whole family, looked calm and balanced, like a Barnett Newman painting.  My twenty-five year old, pantry loving self, was present and pleased with the job.  It felt good.

And it made me wonder.  What else am I loading up on that I already have?  

My pantry was showing me that I cram up my life with the mistaken notion that I'm missing something, when in fact I have it in triplicate right under my nose.  This is a real cause of my stress, and maybe yours too.  We move around so fast, that the movement alone stimulates the vague sense of forgetting something, or missing something, or about to miss something.  And it's not true.  It is a feeling, a feeling that can lead toward over doing things.

A correction can come from taking a break from the pursuit, whatever the pursuit may be.  Time taken to clean out a drawer or a closet or a pantry or a garage--it can make a real difference.  It sounds unrelated, but it's not.

Establishing clarity somewhere, makes clarity more possible everywhere.

That's how the "no solution," take a break and deal with your life strategy works (or the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, if you're into that).  Our lives are always talking to us, calling us toward wholeness.  Our homes, our cars, our relationships, they are showing us the way.  All we need to do is offer ourselves the time it takes to listen.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A humble offering

Dear friends,
We find ourselves reeling again, here in Palo Alto.  We've lost another child to suicide.  And we don't know what to do.

In hard times like these, when I don't know what to do, I take a Cliffs Notes approach.  By that I mean, I look for a wise source I trust and I do what the notes say to do.  In the face of loss, grief, or despair, I look for something to hold onto that makes sense, that is part of a tradition that's been recommended for generations and I just try it.  Some might call it faith to even have tried some of the things I've tried, but more often going with the notes has amounted to experiments in survival.  My faith in a lot of ways is a reverse engineered byproduct born of necessity.  

And the notes I'm relying on today are from Karen Maezen Miller who posted a Dogen quote recently:  "When an object can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way."  When Maezen posted this quote someone right away asked her about racism, how could we not be offended by racism.   Her response was:

"see it in yourself and change"   

This is the note I'm holding onto today.

What it means to me is that I am part of the cause and I am part of the solution.  As painful as it is to think that some of the seeds of a suicide are mine, I stay with it, because the promise this note holds is that if I can change myself, I can change the future.  Proceeding Cliffs Notes style in the face of Palo Alto's recent tragedy, for me means that I am going to live as if changing myself could actually change the world, even if I'm not totally sure it will work.  It means I'm going to try it for myself and see what happens.  It also means I'm asking you to consider doing the same, because each of us are a part, but together we are the whole.  And rather than fall into overwhelm or paralysis we might as well start with ourselves.

What I have noticed in myself lately is that stress creeps up on me.  Even with a strong desire to live a peaceful life, even with a true intent to be reasonable, my life gets crowded.  Meetings pile up.  Kids have activities in different directions.  I forget to pay a bill or call back my friend or buy a gift for a Birthday party.  Water floods from the ceiling in the kitchen and the dog needs to go to the vet.  Sometimes I lay awake at night stressed that I am stressed, because I know my life is easier than most, and I'm still stressed.

Stress, it appears, is something I do.  It's a habit I fall into, even when I don't mean to.

There was a time in my life I was not stressed in the usual way.  I had quit my job and had enough money and wanted to write.  My days were vast and I was not busy.  No one in my day to day life needed me in any real way.  I had very few responsibilities.  You would think I was relaxed, but I wasn't.  I was terrified.  I was curled up in the fetal position crying, half hoping I would accidentally drive off the road into a tree.  Not to end it all exactly, but to know for sure that I didn't want to, to wake up in a hospital bed with faces around me.  The white walls like light and the concerned soft eyes of my mother, my father, my brother and my new husband spreading love like a blanket.  In the fantasy I was sure that I wanted to be alive, that those people mattered to me and I mattered to them.  In my thoughts I knew this was true, but I had the fantasy, because part of me couldn't feel it or believe it.  My life's work at that time was to breathe my vitality into that vacuum and feel my way back to the love that existed for me.

I share this today as a way of owning my piece of the whole, and of remembering that stress is a strong tendency of mine with roots that trace back a long way.  Historically, I filled my life with tasks I could succeed at because that made me feel like I mattered.  I think it takes some amount of courage in a place like Palo Alto (or who knows, maybe anywhere) to dare to believe that you matter for who you are, not for what you do.  

This story also reminds me that at one point or another some of us will lose track of our hope.  We fall into despair and need tools and teachers and loved ones to help pull us out.  Bright, imaginative young people can have vivid fantasies that lure them in a dangerous direction.

 I was a little bit like that.  Knowing that I was like that, I chose to tell my own kids at the dinner table that suicide was not allowed in our family.  That suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  And that their father and I love them too much to let them do that, ever.  It was crazy and I don't offer it as advice.  I did it for myself, because I would have wanted that recording in my brain when I was having those disturbing driving off the road into a tree fantasies.

Other things I've done to reduce my stress the past couple of days:  I made chicken soup and drank it from my favorite mug.  When Gwendolyn looked over at me, and said, "Mom, that looks really, really good,"  I gave her the cup and savored watching her polish off a recipe I learned from my mother.  I surrendered to a sick day with my youngest and pushed off my self imposed writing deadline.  I bought a baseball glove and a new bat for Chloe so that we can practice together, and I know when that will be.  I did the dishes by hand and read a book and took a walk with a friend.  I wrote what I felt like writing, not what I felt I needed to be writing.  I sat and took deep breaths for a part of the day, and if you want to know the real truth, I pulled a tarot card too.  I curled up on the floor with the dog.  I played some legos and drew My Little Pony for Eloise.  I started the process of de-cluttering my calendar, because I need to feel the being part of myself--not just the doing part.  This bit about the calendar is a challenge for me, guilt masks vestiges of that old fear.

These are the things I did for myself the past couple of days to deal with my stress.  To own it, and to try to change myself.  A work in progress, to be sure.  A very humble offering in the face of all that has happened--but I hold on to the hope of the note--see it in yourself and change--that starting with ourselves is fundamentally how we change it all.  And here's the gift of it--you don't have to believe it to try it.  Reduce your own stress and see what happens.  Certainly no harm could come of it, and maybe a world of good will.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book Recommendation: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

Recently I finished reading The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.  It is the story of a brilliant young African American man from Newark, NJ, who graduated from Yale, and then returned home.  It tracks his experience living between very different American cultures.  

In a couple of ways, Robert Peace inspired my word for the year, ask.  Though on the outside, he and I seem like we couldn't be more different, two aspects of Robert Peace's story strike home for me.

One is that his elite education had drawbacks for him.  As much as Yale opened doors for Peace, it also built a rigid model of expectations that structured Robert Peace's exterior and interior experience.  Expectations about who he should be and what kind of work he should do constrained the potential vast range of his life.  The world of ideas that he lived in for four years in New Haven was a stark contrast to Newark, irrelevant, even sometimes dangerous, in the context of his real life.  And what was worse, though the cultural gap between Yale and Newark was real, there was shame and confusion for him in not being able to bridge it effectively.  

Palo Alto is no Newark, that is for sure.  But, with regard to some of the mundane challenges of my own life--say caring for a colicky baby or encountering grief, my own education has sometimes felt extravagant and useless, like a Tesla abandoned in a redwood forest--no charger for miles.  And this experience has often been accompanied by a wild shame--that I should have been more prepared, or I should have seen that I was unprepared, or I somehow should have known something that I didn't.  I often look back in wonder and sadness that I spent most of my education mastering new information, very little time experimenting, taking risks, or visiting the emotional terrain of not knowing.

The second way that Peace's story strikes home, and this is one, oddly, I think a lot of moms might relate to, is that Robert Peace was a giver.  He tutored other families' children, he gave money to family and friends, he supported his mother, organized the legal defense of his incarcerated father, and in a lot of ways, spread himself thin on behalf of his community.  By doing all of this, he created a social world that perceived him as competent, resourceful, and empowered.  The reality was, his energy drained from his life.  He failed to be honest with himself and with others about how low his own reserves were, and eventually this had a fatal cost.

In these few ways, Robert Peace inspired me to take up the word "ask" this year.  He showed me that giving can sometimes be a cover up for where we feel small and scared, where we need to reveal to the world that we are under resourced, need help, or simply don't know what to do next.  And he reminded me that I am still learning about learning, that I still struggle with taking risks and not knowing.

I am deeply grateful to the writer, Jeff Hobbs, for creating this work of non-fiction.    This was a personal story for him:  Hobbs was Robert Peace's white Yale roommate.  He narrates a complicated story of race, class, education and poverty with clear sight and a big heart. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Wild Night

Brette, Kirsten and I (aka Impact Guild) hosted a casual girlfriends' night out to see and discuss the movie Wild.  The movie, based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir by the same name, presents many opportunities to reflect on the nature of transformation and the paradoxes inherent in a wild life.  To deepen our group experience of the movie, we prepared a set of juicy discussion questions to talk about afterward.  We hoped our inquiries might stretch the group to engage in a different kind of conversation than they normally would, something maybe more intimate or varied.  But there was some awkwardness there.  We really didn't know if the group would engage with our questions or not.

After the movie was over, all twenty of us walked across the street to a cafe.   Our breathy conversation filled the air with gray mist and the magical sound of women chattering.  As one woman after another arrived into the warm cocoon of the cafe, Kirsten, Brette and I handed out two different sets of questions.  We invited each guest to pick a question they wanted to answer and discuss it with someone nearby.  

And similar to our first Impact Guild event, it was the sound of women's voices, the torrent of spirit and friendship, that lingers in my mind.  A cooing lullaby mixed with a rally cry that conjures deep in the bones comfort and a sharp, maybe dangerous strength--loosening me up and sparking magic in my veins--calling me home and challenging me to step out all at once.  One woman dreamed of competing in an amazing race, another recalled skinny dipping in Mexico, and a third learned that there might be hope yet that she'd survive her morning sickness.  Healing and play and adventure, it was the sound of all that.  

Before saying goodnight, we handed out a third set of questions.  Some were more personal, a few were darker, and all of them, we thought, were a siren call to go inward and explore--in a journal, in meditation, or on a long walk.  One sheet of questions at a time was taken, tucked into a purses and nestled in between notebooks, until there were only a few left for me to take home.

It was a rare and amazing satisfaction to feel these questions land in the hands of other women.  And so I thought I'd share them again here on the blog.  If you've seen Wild or plan to see Wild, please feel free to print these out, give them away, or even better, use them as an excuse to open a bottle of wine with friends and wonder aloud what wild means to you.


Group questions:

Set 1

If you were going to take a 90 day expedition, where would you go?

If you could only take what you could carry on a long journey, would you take books?  Which ones?

What is your relationship to wildness?  Where do you get your wild fix right now?  Where in your life do you need to invite a little more wild?

Set 2

Where do you go to refresh or refuel?

If you were hiking alone for 90 days what foods would you miss?  What would be your Snapple and Lays?

We all make comebacks in our lives, maybe a lot of comebacks.  What is your next comeback?  What kind of expedition or adventure could you take to kick it off?

Take home questions:

In Wild Cheryl is attempting to become the woman her mother imagined her to be.  Is there a person in your life who has a vision of you that empowers you?  What would that person want for you right now?

What is your relationship to time alone?  How much do you get?  How much do you need?  What length retreat would be the right length for you?

In Wild, Cheryl goes out to nature to “be in the way of beauty” pointing toward the idea that there is some kind of care or goodness or benevolence in beauty?  What is your relationship to beauty?  to nature?  Can exposure to beauty heal?

Cheryl goes to some very dark places in her life.  In some ways, it could be argued the depth of her darkness makes way for the brilliance of her redemption.  What relationship does our dark side have to our light?  What do we gain from embracing our darkside?

Amy is Cheryl’s friend.  She is there for her in the dark times, supporting and challenging her at the same time.  She sends boxes that arrive on the trail.  Who is your Amy?  Does she know this?  What do you need her to know about your friendship?  What kind of support could you ask her for this year?  What support might you offer?

Motherhood sometimes seems like a long hike, not too unlike Cheryl's walk along the PCT….maybe you packed the wrong stuff, bought shoes that were too small, ran into scary shit you didn’t expect, and encountered some beautiful things too….if you imagined your motherhood journey like a long hike--what have been the last few important stops or episodes, and where are you headed next?

Cheryl’s hike has a lot to do with her grief process.  Her experience of her mother’s grief first leads her to a very dark place and then she course corrects with the hike on the PCT.  If you have experienced grief, how was your journey different from Cheryl’s?  How is it the same?  What insights or thoughts came up for you about grief during the movie?

Friday, January 9, 2015

One Little Word 2015

For the fourth year in a row, I am participating, alongside my friend Laurel,  in the practice of choosing a word for the year.  We were introduced to this habit by blogger, Ali Edwards, who offers a great online class called One Little Word.  I enjoy the prompts and ideas in the class, and even though I'm not as into scrapbooking as Ali Edwards is, I've signed up for her class again.

Last year my word was practice, and I'm finding that I'm having resistance around heading into another year and a new word.  I think it has to do with the fact that practice was a resonant word for me.  With practice, I deepened my writing practice, I settled into my role as a student of zen meditation, and I started my coaching practice.  As I write this, what I'm realizing is that all of that stuff, it's for life.  Practice was not last year's word or this year's word or next year's word, it is a part of who I am. 

That feels big.  It is like waking up to the fact that I am an oak tree or a cedar tree or a redwood tree.  I am not going to switch types, or wake up as something else one day this year or next.  I will grow and develop--there will be change, but practice will always be a part of me.  So even though the calendar pages will flip one after another as they do, that word, practice will carry on.  

And yet, here we are, beginning our next turn around the sun.  It is the time of year to choose another word.  Having lived in a major word for myself last year, there is a new spin on thinking of a word for this year.  Will it be another lifer?  Or will it be one that comes and goes the way flexible was in 2013?  Or are there a hundred other ways to live with a word that I haven't experienced yet?  Only another year + another word will tell.

In a way, this year's word chose me.  When it popped into my head, I thought, "No, no, that is a selfish word.  You need a word that is more inspirational.  Something stronger.  Maybe something prettier."  And yet, even before 2014 ended, I felt the word coming to my aid, popping up when I felt myself wanting to shut down, turn away or take sharp action.  Whenever this new word shows up I feel a tiny frisson of insecurity or unsureness, and it was this feeling that made me think, "this is a word I need to experiment with."

The word is ask.

As in:  ask for help
As in:  ask for insight
As in:  ask what's possible
As in:  ask what's needed
As in:  ask if there is another way
As in:  ask and you shall receive
As in:  ask what's important about this right now

Asking for me feels very humbling.  It means that I have to admit that I don't know, that I can't do all that needs to be done alone, it means that I don't have all the resources I need, and it means that sometimes I may be told no.  I may find that what I want is not possible.  What gets that little frisson going, that feeling of insecurity vibrating, is that ask is a word that could break my heart, which may be why I sometimes avoid asking.

But ask is also a very curious word, an open word, a word that has a lot of possibility.  It is a word that is important to coaching, to writing, and maybe even to meditation.  Ask sometimes feels 

like a bud that hasn't opened yet

or like looking up into the sky and asking "what's possible?"

For me, ask feels like an interesting challenge to take on in 2015.  

How about you?  Will you pick a word?  What will it be?  Would you consider posting it here or on Facebook?

Wishing you a Happy Healthy Peaceful New Year.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Another trip around the sun

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments, oh dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?

--Rent, the musical

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Mistakes and Mastery

Sometimes December can feel like running a three ring circus as the stage lights slowly dim.  Five different things are going on at the same time, right as the theatre is about to go dark--there is a frenzy combined with exhaustion that is unique to this time of year.

This year I happen to be feeling it more than usual.  Work is drawing my time away from house and home.  The children are in three different schools.  The rain has finally returned, adding more mess and more chaos, and even more desire to snuggle down into bed or fill up a hot bath.

And after ten good years, our snow globe yard decoration 

has lost its steam.

Oh dear.

I feel like that myself a couple of times a day this month, and yet I am happy.

Two weeks ago I had the chance to chaperone my middle daughter's Brownie troop at the Girlscout Nutcracker workshop and performance down in San Jose.  And if I'm being honest, I did not start off the day with the best attitude.  First of all, the event took all day--all of a pre-Christmas, weekend day in December.  So there was that.  And then there was the fact that I was dubious about the performance I was going to have to sit through.  I was thinking--if I have to sit still on a pre-Christmas Sunday in December, I want to see the "real" Nutcracker, the one in San Francisco.  And then there were the logistics of ushering nearly twenty little ones for the day: lunches, bathroom trips, lost coats, you've been there.  So I was feeling a little grinchy.

But here's what happened.  As part of the workshop, we got a back stage tour of the San Jose Dance Theatre's Nutcracker performance, the longest running community based Nutcracker performance in the Bay Area.  We looked so closely at the staging you could see the brush strokes of the volunteers brushes.  We watched some of the performers, none professional dancers, practice on barre before the performance.  We listened to presentation by Girlscouts who gave us tastes of real sugar plums.  And we met the handful of moms dressed in black who maintain the army of costumes that a Nutcracker performance requires.  This year, they actually sew one of the dancers into her costume before she goes on stage, and then cut her out of it when it is time to go home for the night.  
And then there was the performance.  

Some dewdrops danced out of step.  The Russian dancers nearly dropped one of their leaping scene mates.  My daughter complained that when Drosselmeyer had his magical flying scene she could see the ropes.  Clara, though, had a brilliant night, as did her young prince.  And the two principals who had been hired to dance the pad de deux at the end of the ballet, they were magical, dancing their parts with the precise mastery that only emerges from long, hard serious training.

By the end, I was in tears, because I got something important for the first time.  The Nutcracker Ballet was written in 1892 by Tchaikovsky as the Christmas recital piece for the Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg.  It was intended to be a performance that included a range of dancers and dancing ability.  In the community performance by the San Jose Dance Theatre I experienced the Nutcracker, for the first time, in the way I imagined it was intended--as a performance for an entire community.  I saw how inclusive it was, and how the arc of the ballet led up to the final pas de deux.  I saw, really for the first time, that the Sugar Plum Fairy is Clara's guide to the dancing life, and that Clara's wintery dream is about growing up.  I always knew this about the ballet, but I really felt it in this one.  What I didn't know, what I had never felt before, was the wholeness of it--how fitting the mis-steps of the beginners are in this Christmas performance, and how important it is to the story to have all of it together.

So as we plow into the last week before Christmas, into the final week of the circus and the dimming light, this is what I am holding in my heart--the blessing of wholeness, the chance for even one second to hold the mistakes and the mastery in one hand, the frenzy and the rest, the dark and the light.  I saw it, right there, for a magical moment in the San Jose Dance Theatre's Nutcracker.    

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Holiday Leap

Friends, meet Sharon Wong.  She attended our November 2nd Event and took a leap.  At the event that day she decided to launch the Palo Alto chapter of The Shoebox Project, a charitable initiative that packages holiday gifts for women in transitional shelters.  

Here's the leap that she posted at the event!

Since that day a burst of grassroots goodwill has been spreading in our community as more and more people participate.  Groups of friends are hosting shoebox parties, businesses are offering donations, shelters are reaching out and asking to connect with this kind of support for their clients.  Kirsten, Brette and I will be hosting a party of our own on Wednesday December 10th at the University Club in Palo Alto if you want to stop by.

I had the chance to talk with Sharon about taking her leap.  In the interview below she shares some of what she's learned so far.  

My favorite Sharon-quote:  "I saw the cause was bigger than my fear of failure." 

Sharon, in a really short time you've successfully launched the Palo Alto chapter of The Shoebox Project.  What was it about the Playing Big event that got you into action? Why did you choose this idea?
I attended the Playing Big talk not knowing what to expect.  I went mostly to support my friend Kirsten Romer, who co-organized the event. However Tara Mohr's opening words, "You are all brilliant women playing small" inspired me to take on something new.  We all have fantastic ideas and dreams in our head that we don't make a priority, so it's great to get motivated.  I'm originally from Ottawa Canada, and duing my visit last year, I recalled seeing a picture of a car trunk full of shoeboxes filled with basic neccessities being sent to a women's shelter.  I  thought this would be a meaningful cause to bring to my community because it was a simple, hands-on way to make a difference and brighten the day of women needing encouragement and support.  I like that all ages can participate and that it can be done with a group of friends or by yourself at home, on your own time. 

What were the first three steps that you took and how did it feel taking them?

My first step was to start telling others about the project.  At this point I had decided to do it, but I knew if I told others, I couldn't back out of it the next day.  
Based on people's responses, my second step was to ask them if they wanted to get involved in the project, because I knew I would need support and couldn't do everything on my own.
My third step was to set deadlines for myself, so the project would stay in motion and be completed with an end date.  I realized I had to start immediately to have enough boxes for D
ecember 25th.
What has been the biggest surprise for you in taking on this project?
My biggest concern was that this project was dependent on others' participation during a busy time of the year.  However, the generosity of others has exceeded my expectations.  I received two boxes the next morning after I sent out my initial request.  Some of the boxes I've received really show how much people care.  Many strangers have emailed me asking how they can do more.  Businesses have generously donated. It's wonderful to see the different ways people are willing to help others in need. 

From the outside, the kinds of actions you've been taking look a lot like what I would consider Playing Big. Do you think this is your version of Playing Big? If so, what does it feel like to be Playing Big?
This was my first time leading a charity project so I wanted to start with an attainable goal.  As my project grew, I grew braver with it. When a second shelter reached out to me with a shoebox request, I saw the cause was bigger than my fear of failure, so I said yes, not quite knowing how we would achieve it. I'm thrilled that people from across the US are now asking me how to start a Shoebox Project in their region.  When you're doing something out of your previous realm of possibility and comfort zone, that to me is the essence of Playing Big.  I've realized that Playing Big is a state of mind.  You can apply the attitude to your daily activities.

What are you learning from your experience with the Shoebox Project? How does this shape your hopes and dreams for the future?
I've realized you don't need to overthink a unique, complex innovation to attain change for yourself or others, you just need to take that first leap. If you fall, just take another leap.  Once you have a meaningful goal, it's not about you and your inner critic anymore and you become braver and stronger when faced with obstacles. I like Tara Mohr's quote, "Be more loyal to your dreams than your fears."

Sharon would love to hear from you.  She can be reached at @thesharonwong on Twitter, or if you see her around Palo Alto, stop and say hi!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Celebrate :: Finishing Day

From here on out, November 18 will officially be known as finishing day.  Yesterday morning I completed my last "assignment" on How To Write Your Own Ceremony.  A solid draft is complete.  It took a long time for me to get to this point. And I am happy.  The young writer in me is wide eyed at my ability to see the thing through.  The mom in me says, "Ha, you ain't seen nothin' yet, young writer.  There's more in much more!"

But November 15 isn't finishing day just because I finished.  My friend Laurel finished her book today too.  Three years ago Laurel and I set out to run a Half Marathon--on a lark, to see if we could do it.  I wrote about it here.  We met our goal of finishing in three hours by the skin of our teeth, but more than meeting our goal, we found a way--a way through the long haul, through the weeks of training and ultimately through the race itself.  In the end, we both understood that we accomplished something together that we probably would not have been able to see through alone.  

We did not know it, but in this sideways way, we were becoming writers.  The Half Marathon set us on a course of rich mutual support.  I have a lot of thoughts about this, about how people are more connected than we appear to be, about how our identities rise up in the spaces between us, about the fact that if Laurel can see me finishing a project in her mind's eye, then I am much more likely to finish it.  This is a kind of magic--a kind of invisible human connection that I have been swimming in for a few years now--both with Laurel and with a few other friends.  We hold each other in a way that make more possible.  Being held like that changes things, it changes us, and I think it changes the world we live in.

So November 18th, Finishing Day, is more about that for me than anything.  I'm glad to be at a completion point with a project, but I'm even happier to be in a friendship that holds two women as writers.  To be nested in a friendship like that fills me with hope and faith that we will look back some day on these projects as our first projects, the first of many.