“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage.” ... “People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”- BRENÉ BROWN
I get it and I don't. I am someone who constantly, idiotically perhaps, tries to push things out. To try things. Go out on a limb, push it, test my anxieties and self-love-meter out. Trigger therapy. Get to the other side. And I seldom feel like a badass, though I love to learn and grow and improve. And I do love how far I've come in the past few years...
I've never had a problem being creative. Writing songs, poetry, short stories. Books. Inspiration abounds, always. But when it comes to the showing up and sharing part...the visible part, the performance part...I have mixed emotions, I always have.
I've recorded myself on video before. Take after take after take, until it was perfect. Usually while doing something fun and light, like singing. Playing guitar. Hanging out with my kid, being silly. Maybe because I don't take these things so seriously, I just enjoy them. But still, the right lighting, angles, the right outfit, good hair... And tonight, I pushed way out of my comfort zone, and did a live video without much thought or preparation. I felt good about it, it wasn't a big turnout, but that's okay. It was good practice...
And then, I watched it back...and all sorts of things happened, inside...it was turbulent...and emotional...
My inner dialogue went like this:
I don't look like that. Sound like that. Why did I make that face, my boobs are hanging out, the scrap of ribbon to hang up my shirt is loose and dangling, and oh, swell...dry, split ends. My roots are growing out. I need to get my hair done. That crease in my forehead...I need Botox, don't I? And on and on... Complete and utter contempt for this strange creature who didn't look or feel like me. I don't do this to others. I look at other people on video and I just enjoy what they have to say, I notice their very human expressions and smiles, and a light in their eyes. I find beauty past any flaws or imperfections.
Yet, I tore myself apart. I looked up this phenomenon:
And do we all do this? They look great, they can do it. Me? No... who even is that?
Perhaps writers ought to stay writers. Or perhaps I need to put more effort and planning into video making. Or perhaps I should stick to pre-recorded video. Or perhaps, better yet, it's a great time to zone out and watch Eat, Pray, Love.
Dolce far niente. - The joy of doing nothing...
Even as I lay here, cozy in blankets, fighting the urge to self-loathe after such a vulnerable and awkward display, life speaks to me. It's enough now. It's enough. Enjoy yourself, you work enough. "Dolce far niente..."
And in these passing moments I feel so far away from myself. Could I find my way back to that return...of "doing nothing?" Of sitting blissfully, freely, in a rose garden. Finding poetry in all things. Living art. Is it a rather remarkable and rebellious idea to opt out of the race? And to simply love your life? Mm. Right. What happened to that? To celebrate. To stand where you are, in each moment, with the joy of being alive? And I'm looking at this scurrying, proving, busy creature... trying to do what? For what? And for whom?
Hm. And when I ask myself what I want, it's more self-care. It's a life worth savoring. Enjoying the fruits of labor. Simple pleasures and live music and daily gratitude and the shimmering bliss of just being healthy and alive, with nothing to prove to anyone. But to breathe. Smile. And know that I am all I need, that I have all I need. And why do I feel the urgency to do and try and produce so much more, more, always more... because that's the culture, now. Fast. And I'm exhausted. Again. I've got a few events in November and December, and the holidays, and I just want to enjoy them. Feel them. Be present, fully present, for them.
Mm, whatever happened to...slow? Heart-full. Free.
And is this deeper inclination, this stirring inside, to pull back and slow down and focus on home, health, and heart... is this laziness in such a fast-paced, purpose driven, better-than-your-best environment of chasing perfection? And for whom, and for what? And... Sacred Mother. And re-connection. And surrender. And a coming home...again, wiser.
And sometimes courage is being exactly who you are without apology. I'm reminded of my days in Monterey, CA... slow. Indulgent. Patient. Pleasing. Relaxed. Feminine. The magic of otters - slow down, play, enjoy life, trust your magic. I found my heart that year, journeying through layers of myself, years of pain and false beliefs set free, and how easy it is, how easy... to drift right back into busy-ness. Proving. Pleasing. Grinding. Producing. Protecting and guarding, instead of flowing and feeling.
Creating...has always felt free, inspired, divine. Magic. Living in harmony with all that is and capturing it, in some sort of art. And I can get lost in the busy, sometimes. The searching. Seeking. Instead of remembering, knowing, and believing in something greater and bigger, guiding me through.
I saw Liz Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, on an interview somewhere recently...in a sound-byte, a quick passing moment, faster than lightning, in my Instagram feed somewhere. And she was talking about...women who know how to relax. How much that would inspire her... And wow. Me too. And why can't I, for more than a moment? Or why won't I? And why don't we, in general?
Oh, to simplify. Once, being free and grateful was enough. Until I was enticed with more. I'm reminded to unclench my fists and to cherish what matters most:
"All my surface worries and preoccupations evaporated: instant clarity. My boy mattered. Health and well-being mattered. Family mattered. Good and true friends mattered. Experience, love, joy, art, human compassion, and adventure mattered. We waste so much time, on this earth. So much precious, valuable time is given to nonsense and fear and unworthiness. How quickly it could all be gone..." - Wild Horses and Mistakes
Grateful for that clarity.
November. Darker. A deeper release. Another shedding. And further inward...may we all find the courage...to relax. And let Love find us, healthy, whole, and at peace. And so wildly enough.
PS...sometime in the nineties, I wrote about adults being this busy. And all that working Mama wanted to do was Slow Down and put her feet up. Life is funny.
I've been reorganizing. And as with everything, it always seems to happen on multiple levels...
I'm going through the summer clothes, and snuggling up to each item to see if it still Sparks Joy:
I pull out the winter clothes and sigh a little, with summer so far behind us and the holidays approaching, and before we know it, the Wheel turns and we begin again at month one. A new year: one of the greatest indicators of time passing. A year. What has come, what has gone, what has changed, what stays the same, and where are we going?
And those eternal repeating questions...still, that always help me to evaluate and course-correct:
- who are you?
- what do you want?
- what are you waiting for?
(from Ana J Awakens)
End-of-year is always like this for me. A great turning in and slowing down. Cozy. Insightful. Deeper. Poignant. Slower. Trusting the darker seasons and what they show us, which is always some facet of ourselves, really. It's a time of taking stock and reflecting back and making adjustments and plans for the seasons to come.
I continued rummaging, rearranging, and it seems that there is always more to toss out...
"Have I seen this, even looked at it this year? No. I haven't. Do I need it? No, I don't. Why is it stuffed in this random drawer? Does it bring me joy...?"
Absolutely not. It was a bunch of random allen keys from old Ikea furniture in a paper bag. Why...
I made some good headway but I got distracted quickly, as I jumped onto my laptop to order some book event signage for upcoming commitments. I wanted to make sure I got the order in before I forgot to do it, altogether. Mom-brain is real.
I started to go through old files, wanting to sort and delete those, as well. And I came across something that I had entirely forgotten about...I had deleted it from everywhere, actually. And well, out of sight, out of mind. But the original still remained at the bottom of a collection of old quote pictures, from my first book, and well-meant but terrible selfie-moments (which won't ever be shared):
...and this is the part that gave me pause:
"Working hard with the fire of a greater purpose in your belly comes...when it comes. Sometimes a few rounds of self-love and compassion come first. We must heal first, before we can help. We must get through the shadow work and let our pain teach us..."
I laughed, and trembled a bit as I read it... (do you know that tremble? That gaze upward, or outward, or a headshake in disbelief...when you see the puzzle pieces from a higher vantage point? And you know. You remember, and wow, you just know. Again. How connected it all is and how there are no accidents. Your path is your path.)
See, it's powerful for me, because shadow work is exactly what came next. Inspired by a random poem I wrote, in quiet rebellion to a subdued life, and the journey began from there. I was led, step by step, by forces greater than me, in ways I'll never be able to quite explain. And I hadn't thought about that booklet at all, it was out of my mind. But I wrote it all down, didn't I? And those words etched into time-space and started a motion that I wouldn't be able to stop, it seemed.
On CPW: I had been meeting with women's groups for a while, after I wrote Ana J Awakens, and it was going great. Until I was challenged. A new face, from another town, came by and met us all. She came with two other women - she was from the Meetup crowd, rather than the local crowd. I welcomed them all. We had fun and I pretty much like everybody, anyway, unless they really push it. But this particular woman raised my hackles.
I had thrown caution to wind to dive in to this new idea that I had... Confident Passionate Woman (CPW). A brand, for empowering women through books, podcasts, interviews, articles, content, workshops, the works. Confidence and passion; things we all seek and strive to carry with us daily. And I claimed these things, these ideas, as a mission. They were what I craved most, what I thought other women craved most, and so I sought to investigate their essence and meaning, in a deeper way, as I do all things. And I shared what I was learning, as I went. Our most successful event sold out to capacity, just about, as I led them on a guided meditation, did a tarot card reading, and we dove in to the depths, within this sacred container, talking about visions and dreams and some sweet catharsis. Space, sacred space, held for each other. There was presence, there was peace, there was transformation, there was magic. There were new networks being born, ideas manifesting, connections being made, and I loved every minute, it reminded me of all the sister circles of my twenties.
And then it happened: I was beginning to face the hard stuff that goes with a creative life. The blowback, the resistance, the doubts, the criticisms. The small-ness you can feel, in such a vast universe of somebodys and so much meaning and art and noise. And one night, I had my anxiety out and showing, for all to see. The free-spirited, soaring, inspired days were getting more heavy, as the realities of a big life change sunk in (read: divorce and custody arrangements). The first year is a daze, the next year is hell and a mini-death, and the third year you start to live again. Transformed. For me, at least. And this new woman, she stared into me, and said, with a snide laugh... "that doesn't sound very confident at all, you know...Ms. Confident Woman..." referring to something I said, that I can't remember, in my weak and anxiety-ridden state.
And I internalized it, so hard. I was already so shaky and pulled apart and unsure. She was right. And I sank. The floor got shaky. My heart dropped down so low, and I felt like a fraud. A failure. Weak and confused and lost, within myself. All around me, life was spinning, faster and faster, and I tried my best to adjust. To keep moving, to take it in stride, to not give up. But she was right. Things were getting more challenging and I was crumbling, visibly. That's when I disbanded the group. I hid away. I took down the blog, that was doing very, very well, as far as engagement and metrics go. Thousands of new readers per week, reading all about confidence and goals and dreams and belief in oneself. Empowered women, or women who wanted to be. Women who wanted to believe in themselves, trust themselves. Women who wanted to share their businesses or art, and shine and network. I loved doing it, but I let it fall apart. I deleted all traces of it, like it never happened. I was trying to build something that felt like a lie to me. I was a chaotic mess and it was transparent.
So, I trashed it all. All because of doubt.
I hadn't the strength and inner fortitude then, to stare my fears and insecurities down. I hadn't the self-talk and the tools and the mental resets and the strategies that I now have. I hadn't been to see my coaches and therapists and I hadn't begun my regular massage appointments...that I can't imagine living without now. I hadn't looked, learned, and accepted who I was becoming, with honesty and reverence for my emotional state. I held no space for my pain. I hadn't done my walking...yet. I have no idea whether I will return to this idea, to this brand, or not. I'm not sure if it was a passing stepping stone or an idea that needed maturation and finessing, toward something else. But I know that writing it then was an important part of my story.
Wild Horses and Mistakes was that long walk that I needed to take. Writing and living that book was my shadow work. My vision quest. My pilgrimage of faith. My book of shadows. It took me years. Years of inner work, therapy, travel, self-study, reading, workshops, and so many yoga classes. I had to face my own demons and doubts and fears, because they were blocking every single thing that I tried to do in my life. Just everything. And I am changed on the other side. I suppose that I've gone through my shadow work, as I let my pain teach me. Just as I had stated, so defiantly, when I put this first booklet together, about 4 years ago, There's the power of intention for you.
I know now that it actually takes great courage and strength to open up and share our insecurities and fallibilities, even an anxiety condition or two. That confidence is something that we earn, as we walk through hardship and challenge, and stand stronger on the other side. Confidence is a result, I think, not a natural trait. It's the reward we get, for facing our fears, for doing hard things, for following through. It's not knowing everything up front all the time, it's how we're armed with the faith that we'll figure it out, whatever it is. We think we need confidence to do something, when really, it's the doing that generates the confidence.
I also know that passion is a fire that fuels great work, the work that we're here to do. And I can always see clearly, now, how passion burns and lights up when I write and create and make real my thoughts, dreams, observations, and ideas - otherworldly or practical - with free-flowing abandon. Emotion, authenticity, and connection work in tandem with passion.
Creativity is a kind of magic that requires a great deal of passion and leads us down a path, a true path, that grows us, in the sweet soil of waiting confidence. If we're lucky. Turbulent? Yeah, for sure. And it's a long road, once you're open to living intentionally. We never get there, because the road is always changing, isn't it? But let us not be stagnant, let us ever and always evolve and wonder and dream.
On this path, if you're smart, you grow to love the walking. Learning. Creating, because you can't not. It's a sweet sort of masochism, walking the creative path.
But, worth it for who you get to be?
I had a choice to make this morning: a day off, with no looming responsibilities, and sublime weather on a beautiful island. What to do? Located between one of the greatest cities in the world and the gorgeous natural landscape and culture of the East End, I am spoiled, either way.
I listened in close to my heart and to my gut today, and I chose east. Trees and space and water and windmills. I'm so glad that I did. It was beautiful driving weather and it felt incredible to "Stretch my legs.".
First stop: The Dan Flavin Art Institute, in Bridgehampton. You'd never know that this was hiding such funky treasures inside. It's in a small house on a rural road. There were deer grazing on a field across the street. It was so peaceful, yet electric, inside. Perfect. I felt all my senses come alive and creativity start to churn and build, inside.
Next: I stopped at Pierre's after touring around the vacant streets and trendy boutiques and galleries... (off-season, I have a real knack for that). This place swept me right off my feet. Cozy lighting, kind people, a French bistro vibe with great music overhead. I sat down to read some art magazines from the shops, and had a salad and a big crock of french onion soup. And later, a delectable dish of something like an affogato (coffee ice cream, some fresh espresso poured over the top, with whipped cream and toasted almond slivers.) Exquisite. It was treat-night.
After some exploring and visiting, I drove back home - filled up and inspired. It's these moments...when I allow space - quiet, curiosity, and meandering - that inspiration sinks in. I've got more project ideas and plans and thought bubbles and song hooks/lyrics, and book outlines than I know what to do with right now, but I'm jotting it all down, in the right places. Grateful, grateful, grateful.
Creativity is never dead. It's always swirling, like an ever-present entity, all its own, ready to release its Magic for you, through you, into you. If you're open to the elements. This is why the "Artist's Date" is such a great thing (Julia Cameron.) It jogs the muse loose. It frees you from the mundane, from the tasks and to-dos and monotony of sameness and expectations that we often experience. Getting away, intentionally, with no plans and no strategy in your pocket, opens you up to something new and never seen. With new input, and new sensory information...comes a new response, sometimes minute and precious, sometimes grand-scale and worth a deep-dive planning session. And this is inspiration. And taking action on that inspiration, creating something tangible out of so much mood and energy and emotion and feeling and wonder and curiosity...is how we get Art.
If you want to be deeply inspired, truly, down to your weary bones and waiting soul, you've got to go out there and put yourself into life. And it will meet you there. It always does. For me, at least. And I'm glad for it.
**And yeah, that's a bathroom selfie. I'm fascinated by opposing mirrors, I always have been. It's like looking into the infinite. Reflection upon reflection upon reflection...etc... and this was a neat bathroom. It had a vintage pink rotary phone inside.**
Keep creating and exploring.
I was out walking today, as I do every day. And I haven't written about it, really, in quite some time. I took a long break from the whimsical, free-falling, wide-open expression - the free side of me - the utter delight of simply breathing in my world...and writing about it. It's what I've done since I began to process the world as an artist as a child, and in the hustle of life, in the deeper exploration of me, I allowed myself to drift from it. For too long.
As a busy woman - a Mom who works full-time in a public service/community leadership role (Head Reference Librarian), and devotes herself to larger and greater projects on nights and weekends - time is a valuable gem. I spend it wisely, or at least I try to.
I work a lot, and sometimes, I just want to entertain myself: I love art and music and vibrancy and culture. And I'll do just that, without apology. We're allowed to seek pleasure and distraction. Some days, I want to create something in the moment, from my heart, flawed and all, and share it... and I'll do just that, joyfully. We're allowed to create things, for the joy of it. Some days, I question myself and stay quiet, and that's okay, too. We're allowed to hide away, sometimes, for our own reasons. And we all have these pieces of ourselves: some we show, and some we don't. That's real life, despite what Instagram shows you. We are all human. And we all suffer our imperfections under a microscope.
Nothing is all-perfect and all-sparkly all the time. Nothing. Sometimes the brightest stars fight great darkness, just trust me on that. But it's coming through that struggle that makes the shine so much brighter. Seeing our muck-ups and darkness and our own slants toward fear-based cruelty and judgment can raise our awareness of them. And getting to that place is both painful and freeing. What we know, we can address. And change. I've been toxic and riddled with anxiety and would try my best to hide away, and at times I would reach out, desperately. Because we all want connection. We all want hope and friendship and Grace and to be understood. To some, I've been the toxic one, and to others, I've been the Light. it all depends, really. But I rather favor seeking joy and choosing a positive flow, regardless of adversity, these days. It just feels better, and makes the trouble easier to cope with.
So, I've learned to ride my own ebbs and flows, because they always take me home. Writing and living Wild Horses taught me that. To trust where life took me and to trust my choices and gut feelings. Because after all, it's my life. And I want to live it well. Wild Horses and Mistakes was the next, and a most necessary piece, in the evolution of me: as a woman, as a human being, as an artist. As a mother. I've learned to listen more deeply to myself, to my own rhythms, to the wisdom of Nature, to my own desires and truths, my own stores of strength and earned wisdom - than to what can often just be noise and biased opinion from others.
We've all got our own walking to do.
And this is all hard-won, to be sure. To live by one's own thoughts and choices. What's important, I feel, is who you choose to walk with. Having buddies and friends as you explore and reinvent is crucial. Bouncing ideas off of others makes sense, you don't have to go it alone. Learning to trust in and build relationships with new people is essential to a well-lived life, and it's not always easy. So when you find those people, cherish them. Build with them. Heal with them. Walk with them. They're there for a reason.
So. I was out near one of my favorite spots, this morning. At the southern edge of Oyster Bay Harbor. And there is a large house there, right on the water, that has seemed to empty out and be stripped down to boards, in such a short time.
And my mind wandered, as it does... so I asked the local construction workers about it.
"New owners and a remodel," they simply said.
And my mind wandered some more.
Who are they? Are they local? From out of town? And characters started to manifest in the deep trenches at the back of my busy mind. Oh, a new and empty house is a like a large white canvas. "This house... is brand new..." (a lyric snippet from a song I'm working on). It's such a powerful metaphor, artists use it all the time, and it's a favorite of mine, too.
And I just felt so pulled in. Who will live there? And as the house comes together, what else will come together, with it? What are they building? Who are they, what do they fear, what do they love? And why that house and do they love the water as much as I do? And will they let me visit, still, and gaze into the harbor, as I've done so religiously, for so long, now?
Creativity doesn't need all that much to resurface: it needs time and space, it needs slowing down enough to notice things. And to let curiosity bubble up. And the question usually leads somewhere, leaving us to answer it, with some sort of art.
I've always said that: "all art is a conversation, and we just need to keep talking to each other."
So...blocked? Slow down and let yourself notice the world around you: it's always talking, changing, shifting, waiting for you to observe it, in detail. Get close. Art, like Magic, or Love, is everywhere, if you can allow yourself to engage with it. If you can create the space for it.
Thanks for reading. I've missed you. More to come...
© 2019 Stacie Hammond