write. play. repeat.

from joy to joy to joy

Thoughts on Claiming Power: Take A Compliment

“Wow, that was really great!”

A blush. A stammer.  “Oh, thanks but… it wasn’t really… I’m not… “
Does this reaction sound familiar to you? It does to me. I used to be unable to receive a compliment graciously.

When I started performing in front of other people, the reaction was immediately positive.  I got encouragement and support all over the place.  The problem was, I had no way to receive it.  I was blocking the support people were trying to provide.

Luckily, I had a great director, Sherri D. Sutton, who always held me to higher standards than I held myself.  Sherri did not take my self-defeating crap.   The very first time she saw me shuffle my feet and stare at the floor when someone was trying to compliment me, she pulled me aside.

“When you deny someone’s compliment, you are insulting them and doing yourself a disservice. Just smile and thank them. Let them have that.”

That blew my mind. I had never thought of it that way at all, but Sherri was right.  When someone enjoys something you have created, who are you to tell them they shouldn’t have enjoyed it?  Why would you deny them the pleasure of thanking you?

Some of us were raised to be humble.   Humility is fine in small amounts (folks who come across as arrogant tend to be ultimately insecure) but shrinking is completely different and robs us of our power.

When someone compliments your work, they are trying to give you back a little bit of what they feel you have given them.  A performance, piece of writing, office presentation, or any other type of project is an exchange of energy.   By putting it out into the world, you will get some sort of reaction back.   Why is it so easy for us to take criticism and so difficult to accept praise? Try not to block the positive energy someone is sending back to you.  Rather, allow the exchange to be complete and enjoy the affect your creativity has had on another person.  It’s better for both of you.

These days, when I perform, there are times that I feel a little shaky, or didn’t think I did my best on stage.  Still, if someone approaches me to pay me a compliment, I still that impulse to tell them that I could have done better — instead, I smile broadly, shake their hand, and say “Thank you so much.”

(please check out Sherri’s website while you’re at it.  She’s a hilarious and talented woman!)

Thoughts on Claiming Power: Playing Small

The last week has been interesting.  I am rediscovering books, snippets, and practices that all point to the same thing – exploration of personal power.  It’s one of those situations where, once you’ve seen something, you come across it everywhere.  I’ve decided to explore how this stuff is affecting me in a series of posts.

The first bit that popped back onto my radar is the famous paragraph by Marianne Williamson from her book A Return To Love:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

When I read those words, I feel empowered, but I also vividly remember several moments in my life where someone or something attempted to get me to “play small.”

  • When I was young, I used to talk all the time about things I was learning. I was eager to express myself and share my observations with anyone who would listen.   As I grew and started school, I was told that I talked too much.  I was told this by family and teachers often enough that I stopped speaking to strangers almost entirely. At family parties, my parents practically had to beg me to be social with the guests.   When I was a teenager, my parents would often complain that I “never talk[ed] to them about anything!”    Something in me that had so fervently wanted to reach out into the world had been silenced, and it was difficult to get that something back.
  • In middle school, I grew very quickly and was soon one of the tallest people in my class.  I took to leaning on my hip when I spoke to people shorter than I was, so that they wouldn’t feel intimidated and I would feel more normal.  Partially as a result of that, I have had lower back problems for the last ten years.   This is the most physical proof I have that “shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you” is bad for my personal well-being.
  • While working in a theatre program in college, I overheard some other girls in the department gossiping about me and complaining that I was cast in certain roles that they wanted.  They didn’t feel I deserved the roles, even though I had auditioned like everyone else.   I thought those girls were my friends and it hurt me deeply to overhear those things.   I questioned whether or not to ever do another show there.
  • One night at a bar I regularly frequented, I was talking and laughing with several other people for a couple of hours.  Some of us were friends, but we welcomed strangers into our conversations.   At some point, a young man I had just met that night informed me that if I ever wanted to get and keep a man, I should refrain from coming across as so well-read and experienced, because guys don’t like to be made insecure by their girlfriends.  (In case you are curious, yes, this guy was single.)

I did not begin to experience real happiness until I finally stopped listening to suggestions like the ones above.   I had given up my personal power to people who did not have my best interests at heart (even if they thought they did) and as a result, my inner light dimmed.   Why did it take me so long to take that power back?  Why did I feel as though someone else had the power or ability to grant me something that was always my own?

The last year has been an incredible journey for me and I know I am only on the very first leg of it.   I was glad to rediscover this message because it reminds me how far I have come and how much more authentically myself I can be now.

Scroll up and re-read Marianne’s paragraph.  Now ask yourself why you have ever felt you needed permission from someone else to shine.

Photosynthesis

Sometimes you just need to change your space in order to change perspective.

As many of you know, I recently moved to a new house.   This new place is going to have a nice little office space for me, that I’ve just barely started working on.  There’s also a great big yard and a nice sunroom and most importantly, lots of natural light.

The old place was…well… a cave.   It was dark, and muted, and felt very small even though it is technically bigger than the place I’m in now.    There are many writers for whom a small, dark nook is exactly the right place for them to bang out their work, but I am not one of them.  I need space. I crave light.  It’s almost as though my writing is directly fueled by photosynthesis.

While living at the old place, I struggled mightily to write anything, much less a song.  Most of the songs I’ve written in the past two years have been started while I was elsewhere, either in a hotel room, at a conference, or on vacation.   I was sometimes able to finish a rewrite at home, but for the most part had to work very hard against the environment to do so.

I’ve only been in the new house full-time for a little more than a week, but I feel a change already.  I started working on a song this week, and was able to work on it for a few minutes at home.   Sitting in the sunroom for a few minutes with the cats, I catch a few ideas as they float by.   Standing out in the yard as the dogs run around joyfully, a turn of phrase occurs to me that I make a note to use later.  I take deep breaths of the air and close my eyes to feel the sun on my eyelids, and I can almost feel them converting something inside into words.

Despite the piles of stuff and stacks of boxes, despite not knowing where everything belongs just yet, my creative self is opening up and letting in the light.  Hallelujah.

Liminal Phases

My friend Adam just asked me how I was doing.

I answered, “In a very strange, transitional, wacky place right now, actually. But it feels sort of like standing outside a really awesome Christmas party:

Shivering and bundled up and with a bottle of wine in my hand…. uncomfortable, but knowing that just on the other side of that door is a great time.”

Ladies and Gents, I think I’m in what psychologists call a Liminal Phase. Growing and stretching and creating new and further boundaries for myself.

It sounds grandiose and fabulous, and I’m sure at some point I will look back on it as a wonderful time in my life…but at the moment it mostly feels like I need to get into new skin, and possibly crawl into a large glass of wine.

What do you do during these phases? How do you try to make yourself more comfortable?

Writing Spider

I spent time on the weekend at the new house.  In the middle of moving, it’s easy to get stressed out and forget why you’re doing it, so it was really nice on Saturday morning to see lots of great wildlife around us.

First, there were two hummingbirds doing a dance in front of the garage while I pulled weeds.

Next, I saw a big Blue Jay fly off of our roof and toward the trees.

Then, on the way back into the house, we noticed a HUGE spider in its web off to the right (near the room that will be my home office.)    Instead of trying to get rid of it right away, we looked it up and found out that it is an Argiope aurantia, nicknamed a  “Writing Spider” because of the ‘scribble’ it weaves down its web!

I decided having a Writing Spider grace my home and garden must be a good omen that this move is going to be good for my writing.
A picture of our new guest, Eudora the Writing Spider, is below the cut for people who are squeamish about such things.

(more…)

Red light, Green light.

Did you ever play the game “Red Light, Green Light” as a kid? One person plays the “stop light” and the other kids have to try to reach him or her.  Meanwhile, the “stop light” gets to shout out directions of when they can go or not go.

Let’s play a little game.  Pretend your finished piece of writing is the “stop light” you’re trying to reach.  The next time you are about to get to work, I want you to take a moment and ask yourself, “Why am I doing it?”

If the answer is anything like some of the following, stop.

  • I want to be published
  • I want to impress girls (or guys, or both)
  • I want to be famous
  • I want people to think I am a genius
  • I want to be validated by someone/something

These reasons all have sources outside of yourself.  If none of those above situations come to pass, you’ll feel disappointed and wonder why you wasted so much time on that book, screenplay, or song.

If, however, your reasons match up with any of the reasons below,  go, go, go!

  • I love the feeling of completion when I finish a piece
  • I enjoy playing with words
  • I like having this time to myself to sort out my thoughts
  • I love to create
  • It brings me joy

These are all reasons that originate from within, and therefore ultimately matter way more than any reason someone else could give you for writing.

* And, as is often the case, Adam P. Knave posted an excellent article today that’s completely related!  Go check it out here.

Mood Lightning

Listen to the rhythm of the rain that’s a-fallin’…

Here comes the rain again…

I love a rainy night.

Apparently, songwriters everywhere love Stormy Weather.  I’m no exception.  When the sky is overcast and gray in the morning, or when lightning shoots over the neighborhood at night, a voice inside me says, “Yay!”

A gloomy day makes me contemplative, while a full-on lightning storm makes me want to dance around the house.   Often, I just end up staring out a window in awe, humbled by the tangle of destruction and renewal offered up by Mother Nature as a reminder of my relatively teensy spot on the planet.

If the rain hasn’t actually started yet I love to walk around outside, feeling the electricity of the impending storm and, in the Summer, the warm, wet wind that almost makes me believe I’m near a beach despite being landlocked in Atlanta.

Once inside, there’s nothing better than a cup of tea or coffee and a book (either to read or write in) and then, inevitably, a nap.

Why are so many songs are written about rain?  Maybe because, if the weather is bad enough, we have an excuse to call the whole day a wash (ha) and do something we don’t usually give ourselves permission to indulge in. Rain is a great excuse to relax and gaze internally instead of focusing on all of the hustle and bustle of a regular day.  When we slow down and focus on ourselves, some of the words that have wanted to spill out may start to trickle down to the page, finally.

Whether we love it or hate it, are saddened by it or made joyful, the rain tends to inspire.  How many songs can you think of that mention rain in the title alone?  I can think of a dozen easily.  I’m sure there are hundreds if not a thousand.

Next time you find yourself completely depleted and in need of some time to get back in touch with yourself and your writing, look to the sky.  If there are clouds on the horizon that would make a sailor tremble, call in for that mental health day, prepare a mugful, and take it easy.

Blame it on the rain.

Get Unblocked.

In an earlier post, my friend Rhett asked, “I often sit down to write, and I get this feeling like there’s nothing much to say. I’m sure everyone gets this, even if I am a more chronic case. Do you? If so, how do you work with that?”

This seems to be one of the many faces of “writer’s block” which, if you’ve ever spoken to someone who writes or read about writing, you’ve probably heard a lot about.

The most common form of writer’s block that I’ve experienced is ultimately based in fear and concern about what others will think. Fear that you’re not good enough, or that nothing you could possibly say is important or will be published, etc. etc.   You are comparing your (as yet nonexistent) work to everything else you’ve read and feel that you’re coming up short.

This is usually the fault of an overly aggressive internal editor (mine’s named Steve) and cripples any bit of creative impulse you had going.   People suffering under this type of writer’s block are worried about the end result of their project before anything is even set down on the page. If, when you sit down to write, you are thinking that it has to be the best, or a completely original concept, or something that will launch you into instant fame…you’ve got a guaranteed way to ensure you continue writing nothing for a good long while.

A related problem is feeling like you have to have something specific to say every time you write.  Again, you’re worried about the ending before you have a beginning.   Rhett is right — this does happen to everyone at some point, and it actually happens to me a lot.   The best way I’ve found to combat this is to take a different approach.  This might mean switching the music I’m listening to, going for a walk with the dogs and observing the outdoors closely, re-reading a poem I love, look over a magazine or recent newspaper, or talking to a good friend for a few minutes.

Most often, I just freewrite.  I write whatever pops into my head, no matter how silly or strange or mundane it might be.  Sometimes these sessions start with, “I have no idea what to write.”   That’s ok.  Eventually, something else comes up.   If, out of three pages of freewriting, I have only one line I can actually use…well, that’s one more line than I had when I started.

I asked some of my creative friends on twitter how they overcome a block and got some great answers:

@vixalicious: I do craft projects – it’s creative, but it uses a different part of the brain or something, and it refreshes me.

@jennyscottmusic: I know it’s nothing new, but I just take my guitar & play spur-of-the-moment, or search for a topic I could write about…

@feachador pointed out a great TedTalks video by Elizabeth Gilbert here: http://bit.ly/7awct

@adampknave:  Keep working.

Christine Kane also has a fantastic list of ways to jumpstart creativity on her blog here.

Keep working…this too shall pass.  You just have to get through it and find an approach you may not have tried yet.  I think we’re all inherently creative beings, and that our creativity *wants* to be expressed.  Our job is to find an outlet and keep the lines open.

quit yer bitchin'.

Last week, I started an experiment on myself.  I wanted to see what would happen if I went for six weeks without publicly complaining.

It’s really easy, when we see something that irks us, riles us up, or that we otherwise disagree with, to jump on Twitter or Facebook or your blog and post something about it. It’s also really easy to create a cycle of negativity wherein a good chunk of your friends list and twitter follower feeds spend the whole day complaining about things.  Now, I’m not talking about outrage over social & environmental issues or treatment of our fellow men & women.   I’m talking about the endless posts about the guy who cut someone off in traffic, the fact that the coffee was cold, and laments over not having won the lottery yet…stuff that is not actually critical to our success as human beings on this planet.

I had noticed that on days when lots of my online friends were posting annoyances and arguments, that my energy and mood was dragged down considerably, and along with it, my creativity.  The ball of stress I was carrying around seemed to be blocking the flow of my thoughts and daydreams like a big, disgusting tub clog.  I needed some metaphysical Drano, stat.

It seemed logical to conclude that if I was affected so easily by that stuff, the people who are reading my updates could be affected as well.   Here’s where the contract comes in.

For six weeks (starting July 7th) I will do my absolute best to not only refrain from posting complaints on Twitter, Facebook, my blog, etc.  but to also go out of my way to share positive things through those forums. When I am about to post something snarky, or sarcastic, or otherwise negative, I will take a moment to think about whether that sentence needs to be out in the public sphere, or whether I can just keep it to myself.

As I write this, it’s Day 10 of my contract and I am already seeing results beyond TweetDeck.

I was raised Italian, so passion is part of my everyday life.  It’s pretty easy for me to get excited about something, and also pretty easy for me to be frustrated.  The upshot is that I can let those things go once I’ve yelled or gestured about it for a minute and not have it bother me anymore…  but this past week, I haven’t even really gotten to the point of being angry.

This isn’t to say that everything has been sunshine and roses all week.  It’s just that, when I feel the impulse to say something snarky, I take a moment to check it.  Having to check my impulse before posting something online has directly translated into doing the same thing in person.  And you know what?   My stress level has gone down a whole lot, and I feel that little well of creativity starting to burble back up.

I decided to extend the contract by a few days so that it ends on my birthday, August 21st, though I don’t think that I’ll ever go back to the level of complaining I used to allow myself.  I figure there’s no better way to celebrate a new year than to mark it with a new surge of positivity.

What small change could you make today that would lower your stress level and allow your creativity?

cyclical creativity

Lately I’ve been thinking about the title of this blog, which is sort of the “motto” for my work.

When I was trying to come up with a tagline that would keep me focused, I tried to think of what the most basic form of what I do is. I thought, and thought, and thought some more…into the next morning, when I was showering. I glanced at the shampoo bottle and saw the familiar, “Lather, rinse, repeat” instructions, and that’s when it hit me.

shampoo-hair

(The shower is a great place for musing, by the way.)

write. play. repeat.

I write a song, I play it for an audience, I do it all again. And I love it. The motto perfectly describes the day-to-day activity of my work, but it also addresses another reality of being a songwriter or other type of artist. Sometimes, creativity feels like it comes in cycles. There are days, weeks, months when I feel like I’m really on a roll, and ideas are coming too fast for me to get them all out. Then there are droughts when I feel like I may never write another thing that’s fit for human consumption.

It’s easy to feel, during those less inspired times, that you’re in “writer’s block” or that you’re no good, and you should just quit already.   Try not to listen to those thoughts.   I’ve found that if I’m patient, and I keep showing up to the page, and I keep my ears open for ideas, that eventually the cycle comes back around.