Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ripped From The Archives: Ten Minutes

Originally posted on July 2, 2012. 

If you are like me, life is too short. When you look in your dictionary, you cannot find the word bored, as in “I'm bored”. You can find the words distracts, as in “Everything I should be doing distracts me from the things I want to be doing” or frustrated as in “I am so frustrated that I can't find enough time for my – you fill in the word -”. I fill the blank in with a variety of words, including music, relationships, writing, and especially, self.

Too many projects and not enough time to get to them, or so it seems. This is a common theme. Never fear, Creatavita is here to help.

First of all, the time has come for some good ol' attitude adjustment. This is particularly true if you have ever seriously studied an art form in your life. You learned early on in your study, that an hour a day was required to progress. Anything less was, at least for some of us, total and absolute failure. That's why we would meet each other in the hallways of our college music departments at ridiculous hours of the day, say 6:00 am or 10:30 pm, or my personal favorite time, 7:00 pm on a Friday night. I'd go to happy hour with my friends at 3:00, eat the free food (okay, I'd have a drink or two. But remember, the legal drinking age was 18 back then) and then I would, honest to God, go back to the practice rooms.

That worked in college and graduate school. But guess what. We're all grown up now, with our fancy-pants lives and the rent is due tomorrow. Gone is the luxury of hours on end spent daily communing with your favorite composer, painter or author. In order to get some artistic joy back into our lives, we're going to have to rework this outdated model.

Secondly, I hereby give you permission to lower the bar. Oh boy, I bet you weren't expecting that one. I stand by my original statement, Your Honor, lower the bar. Try this little exercise. Say to yourself, “Self, I bet you I could find 30 minutes a day to work on my novel.” If Self tightens your gut and your heart starts to race, then you have the bar too high. Lower that number until you find the number of minutes to which Self's response is: “Are you crazy? Of course I can find [X] minutes in a day to work on my children's book!”.

To give you courage, let me tell you that I am currently at 10 minutes a day. There have been times in my life when I've been at 20 and times when I've been as low as 5. By the way, the end of the road is 5 minutes. Any number lower than 5 minutes is not trying. We might have lowered the bar, but we are still trying.

Thirdly, use tools. Like a timer. Yes, you heard me, a timer. Here's the link to one online.
Use it. Some days your minutes will fly by and you'll be astonished when the timer goes off. Some days you will swear the timer is broken. Use it.

Now I know some of you are out there thinking this will never work. Gathering your materials to work for a small amount of time is pointless. You know what, if you write one good sentence, if you play one good phrase, if you sketch one tiny corner, you will have succeeded. And don't forget that being creative is a habit. Maybe today's work will be awful, but that means you'll be one day closer to the great work.

Finally, give yourself a chance. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will this new habit. You will have to tussle with yourself, as the Musts and Shoulds rear their ugly heads. This tussle could be epic, lasting as long as one month. Stick with it. I'm pretty certain there's a day in your future when you will surprise yourself with how easily you were able to find the time for your favorite creative pursuit.

By the way, you can also use this approach for problem-solving. Let's say you are stymied by a work project or you need to finally choose a dissertation topic. How about focusing on the, ahem, situation, for a chosen amount of time daily and then forgetting about it? I know, I know, difficult to forget about it. Oftentimes, the solution appears when we're not thinking about the conundrum. Deal with the situation for, let's say, 15 minutes a day and then drop it like an old flame for the rest of the day.

Gotta go. Time for bed.

June is Creatavita's Birthday month. We are 6 years old. Please consider signing up to receive Creatavita in your inbox. You'll make us smile and you'll give yourself a moment of creativity.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My Favorite Things: Line Learner

There are so many products, so many tools available now for every task. Do they work? That's the first question I ask.

I've got one that not only works, it has transformed the way I perform a very important task.

It's a simple app living on my phone.
It is inexpensive - $4.00. You read that correctly.
It has saved me hours of time.
It has lowered my anxiety level.

It's Line Learner.

I've been using Line Learner for the past 2 years. Initially, I had some trouble figuring out the app, and I still find parts of it clunky. That could be because I frequently don't use the script recording feature, therefore I forget how it works. Also, based on the reviews I read on Google Play, there's currently a bug when trying to use the app with Bluetooth as well. Still, but I'm happy to overlook those issues because my work is definitely more thorough and efficient when using the app (as opposed to before I was using the app).

Once you've recorded the lines (which takes time, but I find it is another way of learning), the app has plenty of options - play your lines; play the other character's line and mute yours; leave a gap, then play your line, leave another gap (so you can say your line), etc. I haven't explored all of the possibilities because I've found the ones that work for me.

I find it easy to stop and start so I can target specific sections of a script.

If you have lines to learn, I think you'd be silly not to try it.

Line Learner for Android

Line Learner for Apple

Simple tool for an important work task.
Made learning lines SO much easier.
Cheap. Best $4.00 I have spent. E.V.E.R.

Learning curve is steeper than I think is necessary.
Current bug when used with Bluetooth.

Have a favorite thing that makes life easier? Tell me about it here. If I use it in a future post, I'll send you a present.

Some men play golf. Mine digs up the yard.
New patio coming soon!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Photo Friday Number 15

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.

Photo: Dicentra cucullaria (also known as Dutchman's Breeches), Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin, Delaware

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Guiding Star Check In: Help Me, I Think I'm Failing

I'm always striving to make this blog better, so when I found this weekly newsletter about creativity from Dan Blank, you know I signed up. The first thing I learned from Dan is to find your super fans. The second thing I learned was to collaborate more. Those two ideas have led me to talk to more of you about Creatavita (and if I haven't talked to you and you have something to say, please, leave a comment or find me).

I asked one fan how Guiding Star was working for her.

The answer? Not so good. As in:

...I'm hesitant to set new goals bc I don't want to fail again.

Instead of rushing in with all kinds of advice and positive words (like "you got this"- a phrase you are unlikely to ever hear come out of my mouth because I dislike it so much), I decided to think about how I deal with failure.

Ah yes, my dear friend failure. Actually, my dear friend is the fear of failing.

This dear friend has been around for as long as I can remember. This dear friend is yucky and awful and has held me back from the magnificent abundance of my life way too often. In fact, if I hadn't had this conversation, I wouldn't have realized how much it had come back in my life.

So, while contemplating how to write about this conversation (and painting a banister. What an awful task, painting a banister), I decided to listen to one of Oprah's Super Soul podcasts, this one with Brene Brown. And there it was, wrapped up for me - a reminder of my largest fear. The same fear I've had forever. The same fear I will always have. The same fear that I continue to learn to live with and continue to learn to embrace.

I'm afraid I don't belong.

Obviously, these ferns belong right here.

Pretty much everywhere when I'm in my darkest moments - I don't belong as a performing artist, I don't belong in my town, I don't belong in my family, I don't belong in this country; once I get going, the ugly list grows and grows.

I recognize how desperate and almost maudlin this might sound, but this is me, honest, vulnerable and authentic. In my worst moments, and even sometimes just on a regular day, this is how I feel.

But see, I know this about me. I know this feeling of not belonging is ancient, crusty and not the truth. I know it is a story I tell myself. I have explored this feeling alone and with trusted professionals. I recognize it. Sometimes, like the past few weeks, it sneaks back into my life, like a little worm. In this case, I didn't recognize it. I was distracted and the little beast took that opportunity to move back in.

Just about everyone I know (except for Patti LuPone, and I don't know-her-know-her, if you know what I mean) has a fear. I bet if I took a poll, most of you would agree fear of failing is one of the top 3 fears.

Every day without wind is a day of failure for these windmills.
Yet they're still lovely.
Here's how I deal with the fear of failure (which is different than failure).

I accept this fear.

I acknowledge that it will always be with me. I recognize this fear has merits - many times, it has kept me from risks that were not wise to take. I also recognize that this fear can easily take over, BUT when I acknowledge it, I am better able to look at it clearly. I see when it is reasonable and when it is holding me back.

I haven't always been like this. I have had to practice, and I suspect I will always have to practice. I'm better than I was. I am particularly better at recognizing when it is starting to hijack my life. I think...

Here's a little game I play with myself: I make a mental list of all of the wonderful people who, in my estimation "belong". I reflect on their friendships, our interactions, their positive words and actions with and toward me. This forces me to acknowledge the truth that these "belongers" choose to include me in their belonging. Even though they don't know that I feel like I don't belong. Yes, this feeling is as convoluted as that last sentence.

Does it work every time? Of course not. However, this action helps me realize that this story that I choose to tell myself, that I don't belong is false, is just that - a story.

I hope this helps. Like I hope every post here at Creatavita helps.

Update: Read this post from Patti Murins, currently on Broadway in Frozen. We are not alone.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Photo Friday Number 14

The secret to living well is:  eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.

Photo: (Clockwise, starting at upper right): Street Artist, Madrid, Spain; 1st Day of School, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; Stuffie, Arlington, Virginia; Decorative Violin, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Family Gathering, Arlington, Virginia.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Photo Friday Number 13

I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.

Photo: Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Thursday, May 10, 2018

It's A Mess

Nature's mess. Quite lovely, yes?

Messy. I don't like messy. Pick up the socks. Put the books on the shelf. Take the dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher.

Same with my schedule. I thrive when I have a routine. For years, it had been the same.  I would teach every day of the week except Wednesdays and Sundays. Wednesdays were devoted to household tasks. Sundays were for rejuvenating. Tasks got done, lives got lived, work and play danced around each other. I liked it.

But lately, as I've been aiming towards new life goals, that schedule isn't working. The time-sensitive goals the previous schedule fed (be available for the Kid and save enough money to send the Kid to college) have been attained. In fact, if I'm going to achieve my new goals (return to performing and travel more), I had to let go of the old schedule. So I began working on a new habit - allowing my schedule, well actually my life, to unfold. Release my grasp and see what the Universe presented.

At the same time, I decided it was time for a social media cleanse. I found myself spending so many minutes hours scrolling on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I found myself annoyed with the content dear friends were posting. I found myself reading about Time Well Spent. It was time for me to scrub that part of my life clean.

Well, let me tell you, changing not one, but two big habits simultaneously? You know what that led to.

It's a mess.

It's awkward. Every day is different. Which is the way my life used to be, years ago and I loved it. Now, it's new and awkward.

It's clumsy. I miss events because I haven't gone on FB for a day. Lots of birthdays, for which I feel bad, but was I wishing my sort-of friend from 4th grade happy birthday before FB? No.

It's leading me to a state of thrivement (I just made up a word!) as I work towards new goals.

It's making me anxious. I'm concerned that I'll miss a legitimately important event or work opportunity.

It's made me calmer. I'm not as easily sucked into someone else's social media rants.

It's given me more time. So what do I do with that time? Well, I'm reading more. Specifically books, including Educated by Tara Westover, which I highly recommend.

It's a mess.

It's my life.

How messy was the artistic process that led to this sculpture?

Is this why we stick with habits, even if they no longer serve our goals? Because we know where these habit leads? To a land of no surprises, only occasional sparks of newness, just enough to keep us alive?

I remind myself I am living the way I believe life should be lived. I am stretching and scaring myself every day.

I remind myself control is highly overrated.

I feel uncomfortable. I go on on.

It's a mess.

Are those branches perfectly formed? No. They're a mess.
Beautiful, but a mess.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Studio Stories: The Restart

I've shied away from telling specific stories regarding the singers that come to my private studio. I like to think that I offer a space filled with trust where singers are free to work on their most serious vocal issues, as well as the mental challenges that often accompany those issues. However, I'm breaking this rule because of a recent experience, one that I believe will help more than hurt. Tony wholeheartedly agreed with having his story told.

Tony finally arrived at my studio. He had rescheduled at least twice, I had my own scheduling conflicts and on the actual day of the appointment, traffic delayed him.

As soon as he walked through the door, I could sense Tony was down. He was walking slowly and his eyes weren't sparkling. Everything about him oozed low - low energy, low confidence, low.

My gut told me he was being challenged by his inner judge (we have had many discussions about the power of persistence and a positive attitude), but I decided to tell my own inner judge to take a walk to Starbucks so we could have the best session possible.

I start every session with a quick check-in, precipitated by a long-ago unsympathetic encounter with a teenager who had lost her beloved grandmother. Good thing I did with Tony, as I found out that in addition to his fulltime job, he was studying for a master's degree. Singing had fallen off of his list. There wasn't enough energy to keep it in his life like he wanted. Okay, I thought, my gut wasn't wrong. Still, I'm glad I sent the judge away.

We began with our usual vocalizations. I'm often pleasantly surprised by how much the human body can remember and today was no exception. Tony wasn't too far off the mark. One adjustment (don't gasp the breath into the body; let the breath find you) which Tony took to quickly, and Tony's handsome baritone settled in, revealing its typical unique presence and range. We continued revisiting old exercises, giving the voice and the body an opportunity to find a level of comfort, running on well-known paths.

Twenty minutes into the session, I introduced a new exercise. Tony found it temporarily overwhelming, but then a vocal and mental alignment took place. Even more voice with the ideal amount of work revealed itself. Tony understood and was able to guide his voice and body to replicate the new idea over and over. And that's when the moment happened.

Tony's eyes lit up.

In an instant, the sad, tired, closed human who had walked into the studio was transformed into a vibrant, open soul. He smiled, his eyes danced and his voice continued to spill out of him.

Tony sang a comfortable song (I always encourage students who are returning from a hiatus to sing something they know and love, to give themselves an opportunity to just sing).  We worked on subtle nuances, not big concepts. Tony was not only singing well and getting good work done, he was also having a good time. So was I.

I then remembered about an upcoming audition for one of Tony's favorite shows at a theatre near his home. Did he know about it? No, he said, he didn't, but now he had an even bigger and better reason to sing. There's nothing like an upcoming audition for motivation.

Tony and I have spoken frequently about setting reasonable goals. Which is why the next part of the lesson continued the wonder of this session. Out of Tony spills this: I will be pleased to just be able to sing well at that audition.

Exactly. The guy's stretched to his limits with work, yet he knows how singing feeds his soul. He also has done enough auditions to know that getting cast is out of his control. But showing up and singing? He owns that.

Both Tony and I learned so much that day, so much that makes living a creative life valuable. Like:

- show up even when you don't want to
- be as kind and generous as possible, especially to your self
- persistence is just about everything
- ask for help
- be willing to be surprised

Friday, April 27, 2018

Photo Friday Number 12

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.

Photo: Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

Friday, April 13, 2018

Photo Friday Number 11

Success is relative.  It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things.
T.S. Eliot

Photo: Big whiff, Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan

Friday, March 30, 2018

Photo Friday Number 10

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.

Photo: Summer Palace, Beijing, China

Guiding Star Check In: You Got To Have Friends

"What does a Buddy do?" came the question from one of my Guiding Star clients.

Good question. Here are some answers:

A Buddy asks for your monthly report (if you haven't sent it).

A Buddy reads your monthly report.

A Buddy talks through the possibilities with you.

A Buddy provides the perspective you can't see on your own.

A Buddy keeps you honest.

A Buddy lifts you up on the down days.

A Buddy helps you stay focused on your goals.

A Buddy gives you permission to change your goals when they're not working.

A Buddy celebrates the successes with you.

A Buddy stands next to you in the disappointments.

A Buddy makes all the difference.

Two Buddies

Monday, March 26, 2018

Ripped From The Archives: Disrupted

Since we've just experienced another Nor'easter this week, this post from 4 years ago is ideal. I've added photos (because I've learned in the last 4 years that you all like photos).

It's been a brutal winter here in the US, hasn't it? Having earned my badge as an official Winter Weather Expert surviving the Upper Midwestern winters of my Upper childhood, I am authorized to make that pronouncement. Did you know that on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 there was snow in 49 of the 50 states in the US? And yes, that means Hawaii.

This has been going on since December, but it wasn't until the first weekend in February that I found the word to succinctly describe how I feel – disrupted.

There are the obvious disruptions. Snow needs to be shoveled. Events need to be rescheduled or canceled. Cars get hit by falling limbs or passing snowplows, which means insurance companies and auto body repair shops have to be contacted, appointments made, schedules readjusted again. The power goes out, which is charming for about three hours. Then life becomes difficult. Internet service drops. The house gets cold. Batteries die on devices. 

I've been coping pretty well with the day-to-day existence, but that early February discovery clarified for me just how much my creative energy has been disrupted. I've still been able to write or compose just about every day for 10 minutes (sometimes more), but I'm definitely having a harder time getting into the flow. My practice time, which is usually a warm oasis, has not been as focused. Teaching is more of a refuge than I often find it. Having to concentrate with a student (or students) means I can't obsessively check the weather forecast or traffic reports. 

Look, here's what I'm trying to communicate to you.

We're not in charge.

This is the lesson that I learn over and over again when some unforeseen event disrupts my Oh-So-Wonderful-Don't-You-All-Wish-You-Had-My Life.

We're not in charge.

Nope. Not even close. And that is what makes most of us nuts. We'd like to think we are in charge. We'd like to think we dictate our comings and goings, with an occasional whimsical day off thrown in to show that we're really not control freaks. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I say this over and over again, to myself, and to anyone who will listen.

We're not in charge.  But I still feel disrupted and here's how I've been dealing with it:

I look up. Frequently. The winter sky is full of beautiful colors. The blue, on one of those sunny, bitterly cold days, is gorgeous. I take a mental picture to be replayed on one of those blisteringly hot days in July that you know are coming. I look at those leafless trees and marvel at the shape and structure. Until they come crashing down, they are a wonder.

I get frustrated. I love my work. Having it disrupted once is a nice change of pace. Having it disrupted on a regular basis is, well, frustrating.

I look out. My backyard, small as it is, is covered in a deep layer of white, untouched except for the tracks of George, the neighborhood cat. I'm astonished that after all of the snow I have seen in my life, I can still have my breath taken away by that dazzling plane of pure white.

I become exhausted. I don't like feeling frustrated, so I enter into a mighty battle with myself, attempting to convince the Me in me that I should relax, I should let go. The Me in me resists.  Exhaustion sets in.

I put on my coat and hat AND boots AND gloves (pet peeve: no complaining about the weather if you can't even bother to zip up your coat, let alone wear gloves or mittens.) I go outside. The dog and I walk as best we can. I shovel. I marvel in the amount of snow. I marvel that my body can still shovel, and actually enjoys it. I know, odd. And no, I am NOT available to come shovel your driveway.

I get anxious. I'd better leave early in case the trains are running late. No, wait, the trains aren't even running! Oh great, I'll have to take the trolley and the El. Are they running? I'll check their Twitter feed. Oh wait, I'm getting rotten service because the power is out. Dang! This is ridiculous! To make sure I'm on time, I'll leave an hour earlier than usual. Best to take along some toiletries in case they stop running as well and I have to crash at someone's house in the city tonight. Whose house can I crash at?....

I truck on. If I can make an appointment or commitment without the potential of too much harm to myself or others, I do it. I don't give up. I leave early. I've spent many extra hours these past months hanging out in coffee shops because the drive wasn't as long as I anticipated or because our local transit system was running on schedule. That's okay. I made it to where I needed to be and I was safe. Meetings could happen, performances weren't canceled, classes were held. Life could go on.

I get annoyed. Buck it up, people. It is only snow. It melts. And while you're at it, stop complaining. I agree, this winter feels relentless. But your constant complaining is not helping.

I try to attend to tasks on my daily list. I try to keep the routine because I know that's when I feel best. Even during the power outages (which, truth be told, only affected my house on two separate days), I still practiced. Why not? I don't need electrical power to sing and play a piano. How lucky am I?

I feel lethargic.  My self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder has clearly kicked in.  Sleeping in, followed by sitting in a chair all day sounds marvelous.  Standing up and doing a small task takes a massive amount of willpower. 

I listen. I can tell before I get out of bed if it has snowed. That distinctive hush. No traffic, felted silence. Or the whipping of the wind, as it swirls around outside. The phone ringing at some ridiculous hour. Even from the second floor, I can hear the machine in the kitchen, “Good Morning, this is the Lower Merion School District.” I roll over and go back to sleep.

 I become irritated.  Even the slightest thing throws me into an internal fit.  Who moved the bowl on the entrance table?  Why is there that speck of dirt on the floor that I just swept?  Why can't that colleague respond to my email now?  Practicing compassion for others takes a Herculean effort, at which I fail, miserably, on a regular basis.

I take a deep breath. I sit in my chair and watch the wind as it whips the power lines and trees around. I feel gratitude that I am inside a home, filled with love and warmth. Then I pull out my computer, grateful that the power is currently on and shoot off some more  rescheduling emails.

As I write this post, we've had no major events for 4 days and even better, there are none in the forecast. The temperatures have risen and the snow is melting. It almost feels like all those crazy happenings never happened.  Doesn't matter. I'm going to keep practicing the moment-to-moment marvel of not being in charge. Here's hoping I get it right one of these times.

Monday, March 19, 2018

My Neighbor Is An Award-Winning Poet

Caught you with that title, didn't I?

Well, it's true.  She's also a teenager.

You know, I feel bad for teenagers right now. What kind of life are we handing over to them? Anxiety, stress, discord, our environment in a mess. If I were a teenager right now, I'd be mighty mad at the adults. And I know just about every generation says this, but we're doing a rotten job as a society of showing them how marvelous life can actually be. I know that you, like me, do it individually, and truth be told, that's probably the best way. Right now, it feels like the only way.

So when my neighbor, Manar Alberakati, placed 2nd in the Teen Division of the 13th Annual Charlotte Miller Simon Poetry Contest, I gladly took a Sunday afternoon to attend the awards ceremony.

You know what that event gave to me? Pleasure. Sheer pleasure. Have you had pleasure in your life lately? It was sheer pleasure to hear these poets - one was 7 years old! - read their words and express their deepest feelings. One poet, the 2nd place winner in the Children's Division (I believe she was 13) had written a powerful poem, entitled "This Is Where The Soldiers Fight". She nervously stood next to the podium as the emcee read her poem. Her words were terrifyingly honest and mature; I can understand why she didn't want to read them in public.

And how about the family of Charlotte Miller Simon, who financially sponsor this competition? One could argue that with their money, they could feed people...well, they DO feed people. They feed people's souls, all in memory of a woman who I never met, but who obviously loved words.

That Sunday afternoon was simple, charming and so pleasurable. Here were people, expressing their individuality through their creativity. It's a simple act, an act that is available to each human on this planet, an act that can take courage, persistence and the willingness to listen to your own soul.

Here's Manar's poem:

by Manar Albarakati
I want to leave my mark on the world
Trace my footsteps in the sand
That no wind would dare to blow away

I want to rip apart the ocean
To walk across its deepest floors
Just to show myself that I can

I want to rise up beyond the towering hills and mountains
And out-glow the sun in the background
To shine on the lands beyond me

I want to whisper my dreams to the wind
So it can sweep my voice wherever it goes
And inspire the people it meets

I want to reach my arms out
And write my name on the stars, billions of miles away
So no matter how far you are, you'll always remember me

I want to rearrange the clouds
Into the shape of my thumbprints
So Mars and Pluto can see through to my existence

And I want to spin the Earth on the tip of my finger
Because no matter how big this planet is,
it's just a pinpoint in the universe

And one day this universe will be proud that I'm its child.

Thanks, Manar!

My award-winning neighbor, Manar Alberakati and me.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Photo Friday Number 9

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. 

Photo: Storm King Wavefield by Maya Lin, Storm King Art Center, Orange County, NY

Monday, March 12, 2018

When In Doubt, Create

I have 21 minutes before my first appointment of the day. An inane list of tasks flutters through my head. Some are of value, some are ridiculously unnecessary (are you really going to watch all of The Sopranos? Do you really need to download it now?). The fluttering in my brain leads to a tension in my shoulders. I can feel myself hunching over to push against the day.

There's also that grabbing in my solar plexus. Drat - I thought I had eradicated that grab; at the very least I thought I had found a successful way to manage it. Fooled myself again, didn't I?

The higher me, the saner me, the calmer me ignores all of these messages, pulls out my gorgeous sand timer (thank you, Jackie), a journal and a snazzy pen. I write. I write the above. I settle. I begin to feel grounded. I notice the tension that starts in my right hand and leads all the way up to my right shoulder, a protection for my fingers as they weaken. My brain stops fluttering, my shoulders unhunch, my solar plexus expands. I expand to the world, to the day, to my life.

Life will unfold; some I can manage, some I cannot. As the timeless prayer states, give me the wisdom to know the difference.

Wisdom. I want that. Don't you? Wisdom feels so deep, so eternal, so noble.

Noble. There's a concept that has been lost. Much maligned when used as in the word nobility. But to be noble. That's different.

These are the words I will give to my fluttering brain today. Wisdom. Noble. These are the words I will ponder today. These are the words I will attempt to live today.

When in doubt, create.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Photo Friday Number 8

Inline image 1

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

Photo: The Monastery of St. Ivan of Rila, Bulgaria

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Guiding Star Check In: Frustration

How ya doing, all of you with your fancy Guiding Star plans? Let me tell you how I've been doing.

Six weeks in, I was feeling the air slowly seeping out of my so-called Life with its so-called plan. I could also feel a dangerously high level of frustration mounting. That's no good for me. When I get frustrated, I listen to those crusty old voices in my head, I let bad habits replace good ones, and it's all downhill from there.  So on Wednesday evening, when it felt like my beautiful existence was about to fall apart, I told myself I was tired, which was true. I told myself a good night's rest was the best move I could make, and I went to bed.

It worked. I woke up feeling good, but...within hours, the frustration had returned. Every task was taking forever, extra tasks were appearing, my singing felt like it was disintegrating not improving, flights were delayed, plans were up in the air, the people I wanted to hear from weren't responding. You know what I mean?

These are the moments when I feel like a fraud. When everything I tell you on this blog feels like fake news. When I'm scared silly that the dog is going to come over, pull the curtain away and expose me to the world as the loser that I am.

So, one more time, I took my own advice.  I took a breath and figured out which task really needed to be done and then I did it. I started with a brief walk to the post office. Walking and saying hello to other people almost always makes me feel better, as it did today. I'm not alone.

I kept working on my voice. I set a timer for 15 minutes and focused on nothing but vocal exercises - the tough ones, the ones I don't like to do, but the ones that I know make a difference. That was not easy.

I breathed deeply and realized there was absolutely nothing I could do about a flight being delayed. However, I recognized that I could call the restaurant where I had dinner reservations (with the friend on the flight) and notify them of the situation. So I did that.

I walked to the other room and did a couple of Warrior Poses. I realized there was also nothing I could do about people responding to messages. I let go of that.

I had lunch.

I taught a voice lesson.

The flight was still delayed, so I decided to return to my singing. Guess what? The problems of the previous days and that morning had been solved. My evil plan of consistent practice had worked!

We all get frustrated, we all fall down. The difference is figuring out how to turn the frustration into motivation; how to get back up.  As Philadelphia's new hero, Nick Foles, said:

"I think when you look at a struggle in your life, just know that's just an opportunity for your character to grow. And that's just been the message. Simple. If something's going on in your life and you're struggling? Embrace it. Because you're growing."

Yes, I have used that quote recently on this blog. How can I not?

Embrace it and grow.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Photo Friday Number 7

I think when you look at a struggle in your life, just know that's just an opportunity for your character to grow. And that's just been the message. Simple. If something's going on in your life and you're struggling? Embrace it. Because you're growing.

Photo: Hiram M. Chittenden Ballard Locks, Seattle, Washington

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Du's Response

Today's moment of joy.
Turkish kids eating ice cream and laughing.

My post about Du brought more attention to Creatavita than just about any post (except for Channeling Roy). Thank you for the reads, Creataviters. I'm always trying to figure out what I have to say that might spark a creative moment for you.

I shared the post with Du and she graciously wrote her own response, which you'll find below. For you native English speakers, a friendly reminder that Du is writing in her second language. But before we get to that, one diversion.

The original post sparked an interesting conversation with one Loyal Creataviter (hereafter known as LC) about the relationship between artists and their audience. Because LC's work involves administering young artists from around the world, her viewpoint was quite different from mine. LC's initial gut reaction was to advise caution. Communicating with me privately, she expressed some concerns about overzealous audience members crossing a line, a situation she has seen frequently.

In the end, LC and I came to the agreement that while sometimes these relationships develop blurred boundaries and misinterpretations, there is room for many types of relationships. We also agreed that the relationship that Du and I have developed is as it looks - a relationship built out of a common love for musical theatre, admiration of each other's humanity, and a moment of serendipity. One cannot plan to stand out of a superfluity of fake nuns in a shopping mall on the other side of the planet. That last sentence will make sense when you read Du's response.

What really matters, and the reason I have deliberated over this post for so long, is that I have deeply-held convictions that I believe need to be said out loud. They are, I believe, incredibly important in our modern society and I fear we are in danger of losing them.

I see too many people who have every material thing they need feeling hopeless. I see too many people who live in safe, secure environments trembling with fear - fear of the unknown, fear that has been created in their minds, either by themselves or by external forces. Meeting Du, the ensuing discussion with LC and then sitting with all of this has made me realize how important these convictions are to me. They are:

I still believe in the goodness of humanity.
I still believe in the importance of recognizing and respecting cultural differences.
I still believe in the power of art to transform lives.
I still believe in taking chances and reaching out to the unknown.

I honestly don't know how much the rest of you care about this topic, so I won't say more here. I didn't hear from anyone except LC, and believe me, I spent many moments wondering if there were others who felt this way. If you do care, post a comment (preferably here on the blog) and let's continue the discussion.

And with that, I turn this post over to my friend from Shanghai, Du:

I'm so honored that we can build up friendship.

I was 13 years old when I first saw musicals, my teacher showed us Les Miserables. And since then I love musicals.

I think watching musicals is my greatest pleasure. It's the only thing I want to do during my break time, and I can relate myself through watching musicals. Most of my friends may not understand this happiness. (Most people at my age don't like musicals very much.)

And I think our influence on each other is mutual. In Shanghai, after the show, I went to Grand Gateway 66 to join the activity. (Heidi here: Du is referring to one of the many "Nuns on the Run" press events that the Sister Act Ensemble Nuns have done on this tour. Photos below.) I started to pay close attention to you at the activity. Then I saw the show again on Sep. 16. Although you are a member of the nun, still attracts my eyeballs. So that in the whole show, I kept looking at you as soon as you appear.

Me at Nuns on the Run, Shanghai Version.

This is not Du. This is another woman I encountered during the same press event.
The Chinese LOVE to take photos.

At the end of the day, I thought about giving you some presents, wondering if it would surprise you (I believe I was surprised you and you are so sweet!). So on the last day of the show, I was so glad that I found you in the crowd and gave you presents.

Then the show was over in Shanghai, you arrived to Hangzhou, Xiamen and Japan. But I still want to see you again. Then I came to Seoul. For the first time in my life I flew from Shanghai to Korea. (In fact, after the end of Shanghai, I have thought of going to Hangzhou to see you, but due to the curriculum, I have to give up). Then I was planning to go to Seoul at that time. Prepare for everything and surprise you (before going to the Seoul, I was wondering you remember me or not)

Before I go to Seoul I have watched your FB, saw that you like yarn very much, I also know someone has already sent you yarn, (Heidi again: indeed, I received a lovely box of yarn from my dresser in Guangzhou. That gift was the first time, but not the last, that I would be the recipient of the generosity of the Chinese culture.) so I want to send you some different colors. (The Loquat cough syrup is so heavy that I cannot be able to bring over).

Du's Gifts

About being shy, actually because my poor English (as you can see), and seeing you are particularly excited and tense. Hope you can understand what I am saying.

I'm so happy to see you again, I hope to see you next time, not only this show, I'm loking forward to see your deduction of other characters. If you have the next performance please let me know, I will try my best to visit the place you are going to perform someday, just want to see you again on live stage. (I can always find you where you are in the show)

Finally hope you can take good care of yourself. To see you happy and healthy on the stage is the biggest wish of me. (I know that you was performance as Mary Laz in the show last week, so happy for you!!)

Heidi here for a final time - Thank you, Du, for your comments and your friendship. Thank you, LC for YOUR comments and YOUR friendship. Thank you, Creataviters, for reading and creating. Let's do what we can to make the world a better place today.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Photo Friday Number 6

Listen - are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?

Photo: World's End State Park, Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, USA

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Guiding Star 2018 Week #4: Touchstones


Sister Act closed in Seoul last Sunday evening. By mid-day Monday, I began the trek back to Bryn Mawr, arriving in time for lunch with Beloved on Tuesday. What's next? I don't know for sure, but I do know it will be fantastically creative.

Stars. Everywhere I go. Stars.

Let's talk about your Touchstones this week.  These little phrases can be incredibly potent. I had no idea how potent, until I spent last year with one of my personal Touchstones - Listen. If you've forgotten how powerful my experience with Listen was, you can read the post I wrote here.

These are my 2018 Touchstones:

- Listen

- Persisting brings joy

- Release your grasp

- Join the Universe's vibration

Last year, I had three Touchstones; this year, four. I've never had more than three Touchstones before, but while I was crafting my Guiding Star, these four felt very powerful. They wouldn't leave me alone. So I brought them all along into 2018. Also, I am repeating two from 2017. Both led me to incredible insights about myself and I think they have more to show me. I'm not leaving that joy behind!

How do I work with my Touchstones? I aim to ponder them daily. Just think about them, how they might work in my life. I don't allow this to be difficult; I do it while I'm doing daily tasks, or walking, or commuting. I've been struggling with my social media consumption, so I'm considering thinking of a Touchstone before I head to Facebook. I think this might make me more aware of how I use social media as a distraction, as well as bring some more useful attitudes into my thoughts. I'll let you know if it works.

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Okay, 2 final things to tell you.

#1 - I'm leaving you alone with your Guiding Star Plans for a month. No worries, I'll still be blogging about other creative needs and desires.

#2 - The clock is ticking down on the super-duper discount!  One-on-one assistance is available at the discounted rate of $30/hour through February 4, 2018 (Click here to schedule a session).

No more palaces for me. At least for now.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Guiding Star 2018 Week #3: Stay Focused, My Friends

One year ago, the Week #3 post focused on my involvement (along with 20 members of my extended family) in the Million Women March. Here we are 365 days later, still organizing, speaking up, resisting. Some days I feel like there hasn't been enough change. You too?

Those are the days I have to remind myself to

Stay focused

Instead of just getting frustrated (with where I am in life, with the state of our country, with my own perceived sense of lack), I now acknowledge the frustration and then I take a new path - I open up my Guiding Star plan. Yes I do. Because I know I will find answers there; I will find the next step I need to take and how I need to take it; and most importantly, I will find the motivation to stay focused. That's why I love Guiding Star so much. In those moments when I am disappointed, unmotivated or lack self confidence, my Guiding Star plan rarely lets me down. Almost always, I find the answer there.

Believe it or not, just like me, you designed your Guiding Star plan for this exact moment.  Now's the time to open that plan up, spend a few minutes with it.  Need to adjust a Touchstone?  Go ahead.  Need to adapt a goal?  Do it. Then choose one aspect of your Guiding Star plan to focus on this week. It can be highlighting one Touchstone, or spending 10 minutes on a Goal, or reminding yourself every morning of your Hat. Doesn't matter. Make it simple so you can be proud of your accomplishment.

Most importantly, stay focused, my friends.

Last year's March. I like being reminded of the energy we all
felt that day.

Always remember:
Positive works
Keep it brief
Feeling stuck? Starting January 4, 2018, one-on-one assistance is available at the discounted rate of $30/hour. This offer expires on February 1, 2018. (Click here to schedule a session).