Do you ever say to yourself, "I'm starting something new! A new chapter starts today in the book of me! I'm going to be a new person, starting now! Everything is changing!" and then, three days later, you're in your jammies, zoned out on facebook, eating entire bags of Lundberg's brown rice cakes, wondering where all that momentum went? No? Just me?
It happens to me a lot. I get this whoosh of power and energy, and I get really excited about a new project or exercise regimen or foodway, or I feel super compassionate and I just love everyone, and I want to do amazing things in the world. Then the laundry piles up, and I wake up late, and I yell at the dog... and it all fizzles out. Stephen Pressfield calls this resistance. I call it blind, back-pedaling terror.
To Start a New Chapter, do this:
The voices sound like this : "It isn't safe. No one will love you if you grow and change. You're failing. You'll fail again. You have bills to pay and Responsibilities. YOU"RE DOING IT WRONG!!!"
I think I've mentioned those voices before. And I've talked about starting over, and a fresh start. It's a recurring theme here. Life is a constant dance of renewal; we start over, and over, and over, and over. Every day, every hour. But this time, this time I really mean it. I'm laughing at myself now. Because I say that every time. What's different now?
What's different is that I am taking action. Real, concrete action. I am not sitting around, wishing I could make something happen. I am feeling such fear, and moving forward anyway. I have help this time around, too. I have a group of wonderful women who have agreed to be guinea pigs for one thing, a business mentor who is smart and funny and has cute dogs (dogs help any venture!), the support of my awesome wife, and a new sense of determination.
The stakes are a little higher. I'm eager and scared and joyful and a little nostalgic for when I could just get up and go to work, but this is so important. This time, I hear the call, and I have to rise to meet it. I've been holding back so long, out of fear and a need for security, but Life doesn't need that. My gifts are needed in the world. That's why I'm here. How dare I hold anything back?
And it goes for you, too. Your gifts are needed in the world. That's why you're here. How dare we hold anything back?
stop caring what others think.
stop listening to the voices in your head that whisper half-truths and full lies.
stop checking your stats, likes, follows, retweets, comments.
stop checking the phone.
stop feeling like a failure.
stop trying to fix it. all of it.
stop asking for permission.
stop staying up too late.
stop trying to live on rice cakes, candy, and coffee.
start caring what you think.
start letting your heart lead.
start taking a risk.
start being playful.
start opening your close clutching hands.
start being kind.
start enjoying the magic.
start speaking to yourself with honest kindness.
continue to breathe.
continue to question.
continue to tell.
continue to reach out.
continue to look in.
continue praying, dancing, cooking, offering. speaking.
continue being gentle.
continue being brave.
stop. start. continue.
I heard an awesome interview by Kerri Miller this summer with Dan Wilson, of Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic, in which he talked about how you have to do the work of artistic creation in order to make anything. You don't only work when inspired, but you work, and maybe, if you're lucky, you're in the studio when the muse shows up. (He says a lot of good stuff here).
I'm here, writing. Every night. Ugh, it's hard. There's no uninterrupted time; I have multiple jobs and a family and there are PILES of laundry downstairs. I'm not complaining now, just naming the excuses that my little brain tries to serve me, but as Elizabeth Gilbert said recently, your excuses are boring. My excuses are boring.
Let's talk about all the reasons we can't make art. Can't tell stories. Can't paint.
Blah blah blah blah.
make like a 90's Nike ad and Do It.
They have their own stories and struggles.
no one wants to hear how tired you are, how late you were up,
how the baby wouldn't sleep,
how work was hard, or just long.
No one really wants to hear about your aching feet, or head, or heart.
Unless you are willing to punch through the tired, the ache, into the source, into the deep
Pull back the tight-wound layers of it all, the election,
the dishes, the words bitten back, the ones you regret,
and take a moment to tell me
what the moon looks like tonight.
tell me about your anger, or your sorrow, or your need for something
you can't quite name.
It's so much more than tired.
No one wants to hear
they want too much to see, to touch, to hold.
to hold you up.
to hold your hand.
to hold on when you are so ready to let go.
I'm tired of battle metaphors. I want a metaphor of building.
less tearing, less fighting, less struggle.
No one wants to hear how tired you are.
I want a soft pillow, and a gentle hand, and strengthening sleep, not just for me.
for you, and for them, and for the person who made you angriest.
Goodnight. Tomorrow, the sun will rise,
and we will go on building.
going to hot yoga, like writing, is a lot harder to do when you haven't gone in a while. inertia exists.
also, it's very hot at hot yoga.
and it''s okay to stop, and lie down on your mat. yep. totally ok.
all this is a metaphor for writing, except it's also really about yoga.
It's happening. I'm getting excited to write. I found myself thinking today, "Yes. I will share this. And this. And this."
Because I am beginning to feel the urge again, and I love it.
"A writer writes." So often, I have taken this as a tsk-tsk, how dare you call yourself a writer if you don't write?! But now, it feels like permission. I am writing. Ergo, I am a writer; you, if you write, are a writer. We write. We are writers. And I have permission to do it HORRIBLY! So do you.
What shall I share with you? Today, I made delicious Golden Milk, green juice, grilled cheese sandwiches, and toad-in-the-hole. The Sugar Sprite took away a pumpkin full of candy and left two books. I read almost half of this book by Seanan McGuire. I brought a photo of my mom holding my son when he was hours old, and placed it on the table at the front of the church.
I enjoyed this doodle.
The desire to share all of this with you has been immense, and I am delighted to know you are there, and reading, and living. What did you do today?
On Sunday evening, I was driving home from a student's house, and I turned on the radio. Krista Tippett was intervening Maria Tatar. I read Dr. Tatar's work on fairy tales in college when I was working on a semester-long project on Baba Yaga in Russian folklore. When I heard her talking as I steered the car down the cold freeway towards home, I heard a voice that was speaking to all I hold to be true about our need for stories.
Not so long ago in our human evolution, the day's work had to end at the end of day. True, there were tasks that could, and would, be done in the flickering dimness of firelight, but there was an acceptance that night was the time to gather closely around the fire, to share warmth and food, and, if you weren't entirely exhausted, conversation. In winter, when that twilit dimness extended for hours into the daytime, evening brought time for longer, more emotional tales-- "A sad tale's best for winter; I have one of sprites and goblins," says the doomed child of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. Young and old alike took in these stories.
When I read and tell fairy tales, both traditional tales and well-crafted modern ones, I feel the thread connecting me to the women and men and children who heard these stories years and years ago. I feel the tug in my heart and my mind, to open to the journey of the story, which is the journey of humanity, the journey of life. In each moment, I find myself within the tale. Sometimes, I am not the heroine. Sometimes, I am the wise woman, or the weary king, or the magic horse. At a storytelling performance last September, the wild poet Martin Shaw stopped in the telling of "Tatterhood" and asked us who we were in the story, where were we? Everyone nodded. We knew we were there, we were in that moment. The story was living n the room with us, and we were living there, in the forest, in the castle, at the edge of the wood.
In my second year of college, I was going through the kind of soul-searching, identity-seeking journey of most young people. As I envisioned my conference project-- a year-long independent study on an aspect of my coursework-- for Russian language and literature, I felt my love for folklore and stories rising to the forefront of my mind. Together with my professor, Melissa Frazer, I envisioned a two-part project: a paper on the role of Baba
Yaga as both villain and fairy godmother, and a storytelling performance. The paper was adequate; reading it now, I see how much deeper I might have taken my research. The storytelling performance was more than adequate.
It was a chilly spring evening when my friends and classmates, and their friends and classmates, packed into the campus Teahaus, a tiny building in the center of the lawn. It had once been Joseph Campbell's office. Perhaps his spirit's echo was with us that night. I don't remember which tales I told. Probably, the evening included Vasilisa the Beautiful and Marya
Morevna. What I do remember, is the rapt attention of the students in the room, the quiet breath, the startled laughter and gasps of dismay. These were not children, really, these college students in their sweatshirts and jeans, living on coffee and cigarettes and Postmodernism. But they were desperately hungry for these stories. They talked to me about that evening through my senior year. Some recalled it to me at our reunion years later. It was not me they remembered, though. It was the stories, or more, it was the talisman within the stories, the gift of a moment out of time, and the satiation of a hunger carried from childhood.
Eugene Schwartz has written about how college students who are starved for childhood stories and play as children, seek it out in college, buying themselves stuffed animals and Lego sets, but those who had their wells of experiences filled with real, living stories and true heroes when they were little, decorated their rooms with modern art. Can it be, that by allowing children the kind of stories they need when they are small, we are equipping them to be real heroes as adults? Not the kind with capes and crowns, but the kind that sees the need and suffering in the world, and seeks to assuage it, and the kind that quests after the grails of justice and truth?
I don't know the answer to that question. All I know, is that I need stories, and I suspect you do, too. And if I need them now, as an adult, then I am sure in every fiber of my being, that my child needs them. I don't always have the strength or energy to find them within me, or even to retell "Sweet Porridge" or "The Little Red Hen", for the hundred thousandth time, but I seek out books with real stories in them, and I can read those aloud in the moments when I need to be fed on stories, too.
Spring is supposedly here, though Minnesota is laughing at that idea. Getting Boyo to bed early becomes more and more difficult as the days get longer. Stories help lure him towards sleep. Dreams are a kind of storytelling, too, and perhaps the dreamlike imagery of fairytales helps us to make the transition from the waking world to the world of symbol and memory we visit in our dreams.
Dr. Tatar talked about bedtime stories, and about the importance of that time of day for creating connections with children. I am at work on a resource for you, on creating a magical, comforting bedtime for your child, built around the gifts of ritual and story. There will be snack and story ideas, recordings of stories for you to learn and retell, tips for creating a cozy environment for sleep, and more! Not every evening will be sparking with twinkly stars and sweet, sleepy smiles, but the more often they happen, the more possible they feel.
All I can really tell you, over and over, is this: stories matter, and they are food for human development and growth. Like food, the kind of stories matters, too. Let's feed our children the best we can, without becoming so orthorexic that we cannot allow a little fluff now and then, too. Even the most awful drivel can contain a pearl.
This morning, Boyo and I made a wire ball filled with bits of colored wool. Lest you think I am the kind of mother who has lightweight silver wire and bags of colored wool batting just lying around the house, waiting to be put to use in some inspired craft or other, I will tell you that Boyo was given a subscription to Donni's gorgeous crafting boxes by his grandfather for Christmas. Each season, a box full of glitter and butterflies and flowers arrives with four all-inclusive craft projects; this was the easiest one. I was astonished at how much the little bag of wool bits expanded as we teased out bits to stuff into the wire ball we'd made. We had to stuff and tuck the soft bits of fluff into the edges, but it all fit. Then we pulled on outdoor clothes (Boyo put his over jammies), and went outside to hang it in the branches of the crabapple tree so the birds can tug out bits of soft wool to line their nests.
Friday's blog post struck a chord. I have never had so much response to anything I've written. Thank you so much. Since then, of course, I've been obsessively checking my blog stats and pushing down the anxiety rising in me -- now what do I do? I am fearful that I will never write anything that meaningful again, that I've peaked early, that it's all over. How can I go on?
Weekends are busy here. My partner works at our coffee shop in the mornings so that Boyo and I can ease into the day, so you would think it would be all Lazy-Saturday around here. Some of it is. There is time for lots of reading aloud. This morning, I changed sheets, made these pancakes, built a fort, and made the aforementioned wool ball. We took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, ate lunch, and fought over where that lunch would be eaten. Exciting, no? Yesterday morning was much the same, only it had laundry in it, and I got to spend the afternoon with fellow alumni of my college, discussing Poe and Dostoyevsky and video games and mystery novels with my Russian professor; Faculty on the Road is a cool program, and I can't believe it's taken 12 years for me to attend a second one.
Tonight, it's back to my "day job" of tutoring. I feel like I am trying to fill my life like that wool ball, squeezing things in around the edges. Honestly, though, the more there is to put in, the better and more expansive I feel. I can't stand always rushing around, but I also cannot stand too much unstructured time. I need plans. I need ground to stand on. Once I have some framework, some wire, I can begin to fill in with all those gorgeous, bright bits of wool. Without the frame, the wool seems contracted and lumpy, and I have no idea how to begin.
I had never intended to be an at-home mother, but every summer since my son was born, it has gotten harder to go back to school, whereas I used to crave the structure and rhythm of school. Now I have to make my own rhythm, create my own routines. And it's hard. It's also hard to write this with my son yelling, "That's boring work! It's not fun for you! Stop writing and read to me!!" So, my publishing days are likely to be Thursdays and Fridays, when he is at school, and when I can sit quietly for a while and just settle in to writing. That will be a piece of wire for my frame, something to let me collect my little bits of color, and perhaps you can take them home to your own nests to make them more cozy and warm.
Thank you for reading.
Today, I feel like this is storytelling itself. When I start a story, sometimes I have an idea of where we're going, and I can take the listener by the hand and lead them down the shadowed paths. But other days, I just start. I don't have any idea where we are heading. I just go, and the listeners go with me. None of us know where we'll end up, but they trust me to open the doors. Sometimes there's a dragon behind the door, sometimes it's nothing. I prefer when there's a dragon; otherwise, it's boring. I fear boring you.
I'm tap dancing around something here. Being a parent is hard. Trying to start a business is hard. Every word of this blog, I am second-guessing myself. I don't think I can write anything anyone else would want to read. It all sounds so self indulgent and silly. And this fear, this deep fear of being boring, of letting you down, dear reader, keeps me from saying anything.
A friend named this for me once: imposter syndrome. It's the fear that someone will figure out that I don't belong in the group, that my credentials are false. My mask will slip, and there will be a scream, "who do you think you are? You don't have any right to be here, let alone to speak!" It's a fear that shakes me to my core. A belief that I am an arrogant fool creeps into my mind when I start to write, whispering, "there is nothing you have to say. You have no views, no ideas, nothing worth sharing."
This is a lie. Somewhere in this post, there is something that will speak to someone. You will feel permission flowing around you to be yourself, because I am daring to be myself. And that makes it worthwhile.
I have this idea, that everything I publish here needs to be about storytelling and about only that side of my life, but when I read others' blogs, it's the ones that include something of the writer's daily life that keep me coming back. "Tell me how to live," I breathe, and perhaps by reading that,I can learn to order my life in such a way that it becomes beautiful.
I crave a beautiful life, one with light and shadow and adventure. People have those things in their lives, but they get stuck in the mundane, in all the stuff that isn't in the stories. I like to read the blogs that tell about the adventures, too, but also about the small details, giving them loving attention so that they can take on meaning and become holy.
Right now, I'm writing in a coffee shop. There's a young man in here who uses crutches and is wearing a Twins jacket. He is short and shuffles as he walks; he hasn't actually used the crutches since he came in. And he is making the counter staff uncomfortable as well as some patrons. He is not following the rules of interaction, and there is something in his manner that makes others want to tell him the rules. I just called him out for taking the sharpie from the pen caddy by the register.
I'll put it back, he said.
Yeah but you have to ask first. It's not yours.
I always put back what I take,he says, talking over me.
It belongs to her,I say, indicating the woman behind the counter. You have to ask.
I'm going to, he says, as if it was his plan all along. I was going to when you said something.
He wasn't, but I say nothing as he goes up to the counter. The woman says no.
This morning, my son woke me at 5:30 after he had a nightmare. It was about dinosaurs, he said, but he didn't offer any details. Sometimes, you just want to make sure someone knows who you are,and loves you. No one got any more sleep after that. I made bacon and coffee and toast. The pets were fed, and we all got dressed. As we rode to school this morning, I pointed out the crystalline hoarfrost on the trees and bushes. Spring is coming, when the air can hold enough moisture to allow those sparkling sugar-white tracings to line the leaves and bare twigs. I am hungry for the spring.
I am trying to uncover the plan for the next phase of my life. Classroom teaching needs to rest for a while. There is something in what I am starting now-- stories and parent work and writing, plus one-on-one tutoring and teaching-- that wants to grow into sustaining work, but it is still tender and new. I am trying to quiet the voice in my head that says, AAAAAGH! FIND A JOB NOW!!! Steady predictable work!!!
It's a voice that really wants to help me, to take care of me, so I try to be kind and gentle with it. But really, I am not sure that is the way to go. I think I can offer something of substance to the world, something needed and longed-for. I just have to figure out what it is, and the only way to do that is to walk forward into the shadowed forest, trusting that I will lead myself to the right doors, and that behind them will be, not a dragon, but my secret dreams.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.