Best Self Redux

Maybe it was wishful thinking. Maybe it was the excitement of an assessment that mapped so strongly to what I want to believe is my most valuable trait. Maybe the CIVIFS I coined is pretty close to the most valuable or tied with it, even. Or maybe, I struggled with admitting what my true most valuable trait is. Maybe it was easier, prettier to ignore.

But all that changed when I read GinnyLee Taylor’s wonderful response to Sally Hogshead‘s Quest 2015 prompt:

What is your most valuable personality trait — and how can you bring it forward in your best work in 2015?

In it she said:

My most valuable personality trait is introversion. I’m a thinker, a listener, and then responder with depth.

She claimed her introversion. Something I own for myself, but as a most valuable trait? All I could think was, now that’s brave. And then I remembered something I have long believed and even stood up and said on way more than one occasion:

The thing we consider our greatest weakness is often our greatest strength.

How could I have forgotten what I’ve known most of my life? That my most valuable trait, not just in personality, but emotionally, spiritually, physically, is my sensitivity. Yes, my sensitivity.

I am the girl who cries at movies, who escorts insects out of doors, who is overwhelmed by light and noise and scent and touch, who some days doesn’t have the energy to haul myself out of bed, who breaks out in hives or whose joints swell with most everything I eat or when the weather is damp. I am a girl who has been labeled hypersensitive, moody, overly emotional, hysterical, even hypochondriacal once or twice. And I have to admit, it can be hard to own that.

But I am also the girl who feels everything. The sun on my back, the stillness of trees, the tears you cannot or will not shed.

And there’s something else. Something about living with pain, with experiencing deep loss, that opens our hearts. That gifts us with empathy and its companion compassion. What we do with those gifts is up to us. We can accept them or shut our hearts tight against them. Me, I chose to do what I have always done, what I have to do: I embrace them. I feel them. And today, I own them–the good and the bad.

 

Your Best Pack

In this 12th and final prompt of Quest2015, Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend asks:

Do the people around you inspire possibility? If not, it’s time to 
make some changes. The fastest way to do the things you don’t think can 
be done is to hang around people already doing them. In 2015, what changes will you make accordingly?

One of the downsides of being an extreme introvert is that, on a day-to-day basis, there really aren’t that many people around me at all. And because of that, I’m going to answer this prompt backwards, starting with “In 2015, what changes will you make accordingly?”

I’m going to do a better job of connecting with the amazing and inspiring people I know and have drifted from.

  • My tribe of Silicon Valley NaNoWriMo writers (classes of 2001-2004), several of whom I was blessed to reconnect with over the holidays, and several more of whom I hope to see at FOGcon in March
  • My tribe of writers from Natalie Goldberg’s 2011 year-long intensive and 2012 France retreat
  • Former co-workers from The Exploratorium, CKS, Handspring/Palm, Walmart.com
  • Distant friends and family members

And I am going to do my best not to drift from the amazing and inspiring people I have met here in my no longer quite so new home state and through Quest2015.

How? By asking who I am missing and what I can do to remedy that. By making a list and checking it regularly. By reaching out, through social media, telephone, thoughts. By gathering addresses, buying stamps, collecting cards, and stationery, and sending them out.

But more than that, by carrying them with me–their words, their hearts, their images. And from some of them, directions to help me find my way back when I lose sight of this winding path.

So in answer to the first question: Yes, though they may be scattered throughout this country and beyond, they do.

 

Best Self

Today’s Quest2015 prompt comes from author and speaker Sally Hogshead, whose work is all about finding our Fascination Advantage®.

What is your most valuable personality trait — and how can you bring it forward in your best work in 2015?

After a brief derailment over exactly just who it was the trait would be most valuable to, I realized I was wrestling with air because, at least in my case, it’s the trait that’s most valuable in my life and for being of service to the world: CREATIVITY.

But because language can sometimes be imprecise, I’m going to throw in a couple of more words to help pinpoint what I mean here. My most valuable personality trait is the sweet spot on the Venn diagram at the intersection of CREATIVITY, INNOVATION,  VISION, and INTEGRATION/FUSION/SYNTHESIS (or CIVIFS for short)–bringing together different ideas, media, processes, seeing how they can be combined to create something unique, and developing a vision for how to bring it into the world, ideally for the good of all. Which is interesting, because according to Sally’s Fascination Advantage Assessment, my archetype is ROCKSTAR, with a primary attribute of INNOVATION (keywords: creative, visionary, and entrepreneurial). So, just in case I needed validation, there it is.

Unfortunately, despite my million big ideas and the sky castles I build with them, it all seems to fall apart at the level of implementation. I get overwhelmed, I don’t know where to start, I don’t know how to ask for help, and when I do, I often find it hard to turn down help that draws me away from my original intention. I also have trouble figuring out which ideas most deserve my attention (clearly a recurring theme for me). Especially between the “should” projects and the “want to” projects. I mean, really, how many people are interested in using apocalypse art and fiction as a lens through which to discover ways to save the world (or at least ourselves in the event of SHTF)? Especially when living on part-time and freelance work that barely pays the bills (in a good month). But I digress…

Given that my most valuable personality trait is my own brand of CIVIFS, how can I bring it forward to create my best work in 2015?

Get out of my own way and just do it. Follow the passion. Dream the dream. Then wake up and write it, stitch it, build it, live it. Then share it. Without that last bit, how will our tribes find us?

Service

Today’s Quest2015 prompt comes from women’s leadership expert Tara Sophia Mohr.

How can I be of highest service?’

Interestingly, this is a question I ask myself all the time. This and its variant, “what is the greatest good I can do?”

And because it is my way, I have a bunch of different answers. But figuring out which one thing would be of highest service? That is much harder to figure out. At least it was, until I remembered that in order to accomplish anything, serve anyone, I have to be well enough to do the work. I have to be clear-headed enough to discern what matters most. I have to be connected enough to the world and the people within it to see what needs doing. And that means taking care of my body, mind, and spirit first and foremost, before anything else. Because if I don’t have the strength to stand, I cannot reach out my hand to help someone else off their knees. So for 2015 at least, I will be of highest service by building enough of my own strength to be able to share it with others. By finding clarity. By nurturing important connections.

And on days when I am strong, I will help others build their own resilience, through example, stories, art, craft, and whatever else I can think of, in support of the manifesto I wrote not so long ago:

I believe that art can save the world. That creation, illumination, revelation, can and will heal the darkness, pain, and destruction that currently shatter our world. I believe that trading guns and lies and fear and hate for a paintbrush, a camera, a needle and thread, has the power to stitch the world back together again.

I believe that there is enough for everyone to live simply and well. I believe that “trash” is in the eye of the beholder and that it is our right and our duty to salvage every bit of everything we can. To transform the cast-off, the tossed away, the unwanted into something useful and beautiful and meaningful and loved.

Because I believe that it isn’t just things we are wasting—we are losing people, too. Unique and important beings slip through the cracks every day. Just as every day those cracks grow wider and deeper and hungrier. I believe in “no one left behind,” in “never give up,” in “no one is an island,” in “every life is worth living,” worth saving—starting with our own.

I believe that every one of us has a hero within, just waiting to to be revealed. And the world needs heroes now, perhaps more than ever before.

Miss You

Today’s Quest2015 prompt comes from author Seth Godin, though to call him just an author doesn’t really do his work justice. According to his bio “He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and most of all, changing everything.” If you haven’t read his work yet, I highly recommend it. I am looking forward to getting my hands on his new book, What to Do When  it’s Your Turn (and It’s Always Your Turn).

Who would miss you if you were gone? If you didn’t show up to work, didn’t send out that newsletter, didn’t make that sales call, didn’t tweet that tweet… who would miss it? How does your answer shape how you’ll live out 2015?

I have rewritten my response to this prompt at least three times. Once focused on the people and their words about what they would miss about me. Once turning away from the original prompt to obsess about why they would miss me and what that might reveal about the path I should be pursuing. And once about the different ways I would be missed and what it might reveal about my relationships. Sam's, Half Moon Bay, CAUntil finally, after a long lunch at the ocean with a small assortment of family members, I wrote this:

I started blogging about Seth’s prompt as soon as I read it first thing this morning, but as I wrote I seemed to get more and more lost in tangents, more and more distant from what I was trying to figure out. I got distracted not by who, but by why. What would they miss about me, as though that held some important seed of what I should be doing with my life. And maybe it does. But when I read Kate Arms-Roberts‘ response to this prompt, I realized that there is something even more important. That there are two categories of people who will miss me: the people with whom I have forged deep connections, and the people who want something from me. That second group includes the quilt guild members who “need more of my energy around them” (according to the guild president), the freelance boss who calls me only when she has a project with an impossible deadline because she knows I will always find a way to get it done in time, the neighbor who needs help with an auction site. And in the first group? My boss at the Sewing Center who loves to spend our lunch hours talking about books, creativity, dreams (who happens to be lurking somewhere out in Quest land–I’m still waiting for her to speak up). The neighbors who still thank me for the quilt I made for a neighbor who died recently of cancer–a quilt that they all signed, giving them each a way to act in the face of help- and hopelessness. The would-be writers who believed me 12 years ago when I stood up in the front of a first-time National Novel Writing Month group and told them they could write a novel, several of whom are now published authors. The ex, still in tech, who tells me he is in awe of my bravery for dropping out of corporate life to pursue simplicity, art, and poetry. And maybe in there is the why… maybe it’s not about what I do, but about standing up and being who I am. In fighting every day for this life I have chosen and in doing so, proving that they can, too. And maybe it doesn’t really matter which path I choose–quilts, poems, an apocalypse garden–so much as having the conviction to walk it, with all its pain, and beauty, and magic. Maybe it’s the being, not the doing that matters most. 

So how will this answer shape how I’ll live out 2015? By allowing me to stop wasting so much time worrying about which to-do items matter most, and start focusing instead on being who I am, in all its varied, distracted, and floundering glory. By reminding myself that it’s the process that matters, and the people you really connect with along the way, not the goal at the end. 

 

Shadow Bags

Yesterday’s Quest2015 prompt from Eric Klein, founder of the Wisdom Heart School is a long one–the prompt itself and the story that explains it. Because the prompt doesn’t make sense on its own, and because I have readers who aren’t part of the quest, I’m going to include both here. First the question:

How will you face your shadow bag and stop the stink, so you can bring forth what is best within you in 2015? What can you claim right now?

And now, the story:

The Question of Power (and where to find it)

I recently received this email from a reader of our Wisdom Heart newsletter:

“Can I harness my power and still be nice?”

It’s a wonderful question for anyone seeking to live with greater clarity, courage, and compassion. And the short answer is no.

Because, power is the ability to fully and authentically embody your values and create what matters most in your work and life.

So, what is nice?

Nice is a knife.

It’s a knife you use to cut off parts of your self. You started using the knife when you were young; cutting off the parts of yourself that don’t fit with family expectations.

It’s something we all do. It’s part of the human condition. It’s how we adapt, fit in, survive.

But, don’t worry; those dismembered parts of yourself are still part of you. 

The dismembered parts don’t disappear.

They go into, what Robert Bly, evoking the work of C.G. Jung, called the “shadow bag”. All the cut off parts of your psyche go into the shadow bag. 

Here’s how it works . . .

Imagine you’re a kid feeling the buoyant energy of Spring. You run into the living room whooping, leaping, and bouncing off the walls. You’re feeling pure joy. But, to your folks your behavior appears “noisy” and “crazy” and “loud”. They tell you in no uncertain terms to cut it out.

And, you do.

You cut out the buoyant, leaping, energetic parts of yourself and stuff them onto the shadow bag.

Year by year the bag getting heavier, filled with the unacceptable parts of your life. The parts of your soul, psyche, and self and were deemed unacceptable by powerful others” – parents, teachers, leaders, friends, lovers. The list is long.

Wonderfully, those parts aren’t gone. They’re in the shadow bag. You drag them behind you but don’t offer them to the world. You tip toe along. You modulate your voice. You’re . . . um . . . nice.

Every cut diminishes your power.

You can still proceed with your life with parts of cut off.

You can even do quite well – you’re nice after all – and people respond well to nice. But, there’s that bag and all those cut off parts dragging behind you. 

Sooner or later things start to stink.

You begin to notice a strange odor. At first it comes and goes. It’s bothersome but not persistent. But, if neglected for too long, the stink gets stronger. Soon, every meeting you go to, every conversation you have, everywhere you go, is permeated with that annoying odor.

What’s that smell?

It’s the odor of your cut off parts seeking to rejoin your life.

They’ve been reaching out to you all along but you were trained not to notice. So, you didn’t.

You were taught from a young age to hide your deepest longings, to deny essential and sacred parts of who you are. In your family, at school, in the world, you’ve been encouraged to act as if you are complete while simultaneously cutting of parts of your self and exiling them to the shadow bag.

When you cut off parts of yourself, you cut off the flow of your life.

To get your life moving in a powerful, authentic direction starts with reclaiming the parts of yourself that have been cut off. And reclaiming starts when you notice that persistent stink.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as saying “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

The stink that’s pursuing you isn’t a problem to make go away. It’s a call to live more fully and contribute more completely.

Which all sounds great. But, honestly it’s not easy to face the stink.

So, before you face the stink of the shadow bag, you may want to try some air freshener.

You know what I mean? Maybe take vacation to recharge your batteries.

But, pay attention to what happens when you come back from vacation. If you find that within a day (an hour) of returning to the office that the stink has returned – be not deceived. The issue isn’t that you’re not getting enough time off.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a vacation.

There’s not. Same with exercise, yoga, meditation, and hiring a coach. All can be useful. But, if you use them to mask the stink and avoid facing the shadow bag – you’re avoiding the issue. This issue is whether you want to be powerful or nice. To create what matters most or wield the knife-of-nice and continue to amputate your life. 

Let me be the first to admit – I’d rather use air freshener than face my shadow bag.

I’d rather not face the stink. But, at a certain point, it becomes clear that turning towards the shadow bag is the way forward. The path to power travels through the shadow bag.

It’s not a matter of being either nice or being powerful.

It’s a matter of facing your experience fully. Truthfully. Without leaping to conclusions or solutions.

It’s a matter of life.

So, how can you proceed? 

Step towards the unacceptable places within you.

You don’t need to do anything else. Simply step with awareness towards the shadow bag. Take your time.

There’s no road map. No time table.

The path of power is a step-by-step journey fueled by willingness and honesty.

As you step forward, your experience of the stink changes. You begin to see how the difficulties you encounter (especially the really stinky ones) are precisely structured to call forth the cut off parts that are waiting to be redeemed from your shadow bag.

The conflicts that you face in work and in life point towards the un-integrated parts of your self.

Those parts that are calling  to return to life. To your life.

I don’t want you to think that this path is automatically strewn with flower petals.

But, I do want to encourage you to pay attention. Notice the stink. Step forward. And keep breathing. 

Yes, keep breathing.

Deeply. Fully. Breathe.

And soon you’ll notice something strange.

That stink  – which had been so noxious – is starting to smell like flowers.

Now, that’s nice.

So, how will I face my shadow bag and stop the stink, so I can bring forth what is best within you in 2015 and what can I claim right now?

My answer to this is simple. I have already been facing and reclaiming my shadow bag for years, especially in the last two since the death of my ex-husband, and the ending of a long-term, less than functional relationship (which happened two weeks apart). Nice is not a problem for me anymore, but I have kept the knife to help in severing one or two lingering toxic relationships and to cut through the haze that obscures my ability to discern true heart projects from passing fancies. I also sport a few cherished scars that will forever remind me never to use the knife against myself again.

 

Life’s Story

I’m still catching up on my Quest2015 responses. Thursday’s prompt comes from Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative and Die Empty, two books that have been on my reading list for ages (looks like it’s time to get them off the list and into my hands).

If you knew that your life’s story will be written based upon your choices and actions in 2015, how will you live?

If 2015 is the year in which my choices and actions will be the catalyst for my life’s story, I will need to begin it with space–space to imagine, space to create, space for experimentation, space for serendipity, and learning, and joy, and rest.

I have been packing my days so solidly that I can barely breathe. I have been sqandering each left-over moment staring at screens. Meanwhile, I don’t sleep, don’t stretch my body, don’t eat well enough to build my strength to work the day jobs to pay all my bills or have anything left over to help seed inspiration through travel, or workshops, or a week off for a personal retreat, or a larger casita in which I can actually work without having to move my projects aside so I can have a small space to put my dinner plate.

And so in 2015 I will cultivate and seek openness–in my mind, and heart, and physical space.

And I will continue to create, daily–stories, quilts, art, poetry, magic.

And I will connect and re-connect, in real life, to the people, places, and projects that inspire and support me–my writing tribe out in California, my quilting tribe in Santa Fe, my blood tribe in California, Rochester, NY, and Wales, my ancestral tribe on the Scottish Isles and in the history books and stories of Celts and once and future kings.

And I will reclaim the beloved people and things that got lost along the way–squeezed out by career and diminishing relationships.

And together we will create an incredible alchemy, transforming our once lost or missing dreams into something infinitely more valuable than gold.

 

Sacred Joy

I have gotten a little behind. The last several days have been filled with travel prep, travel, post-travel recovery, and throwing myself in the holiday vacation by getting together with friends and family–some of whom I haven’t seen in person in many years. It has been wonderful in a lot of ways, some of which I’m sure I won’t fully see until time has passed. Already, though, it’s clearly having an impact because it has opened up new answers to the most recent two Quest2015 prompts, starting with  Tuesday’s Sacred Joy prompt from Sunni Brown of the Doodle Revolution.

How could you make moments of joy a sacred priority in 2015? What forms will such moments take? Doodle, draw, photograph, or write your way into these questions and share your responses.

Doodle Quilting
Doodle Quilting

The first thing that came to me when I read this prompt was a piece of free-motion quilting I did while demoing a sit-down long arm quilting machine at Quilt Fiesta 2014, back in October. I’ve had a bit of a choppy relationship with free-motion. When I first got my new sewing machine, I ran out and took a free motion class, and promptly decided it wasn’t for me. Instead I focused on methodical walking-foot quilting over detailed quilting patterns drawn onto tracing paper and pinned to the top of the fabric. I loved the control, the accuracy, the way it came out exactly how I wanted it to. But this past summer something shifted in me after a discussion about embracing the feminine during a healing treatment. I was lying on the table getting worked on, and the next thing I knew, I realized that it was time to give free-motion another shot–but really more than that. It was time to fully embrace the free-flowing, serendipitous, spontaneous art. I took the next class offered by the local sewing center and was liberated. Two months later I found myself demoing the technique on a stunning machine and signing up to be the back-up teacher for the class I had taken.

As it turned out, that one decision opened up a world of others, including signing up for the 30 day blogging challenge that resulted in the Apocalypse Garden–a project I’d been dreaming of for years.

So, how can I make moments of joy a sacred priority in 2015?

  • By listening to what my gut and intuition whisper to me
  • By clearing mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical space to embrace these whispers
  • And finally, by going for it–by following the heart trails where they may lead, and being open to whatever they have to teach

Right now, that pull is taking the form of free-motion quilting and black & white photography. It is taking the form of coffee with distant friends. It is taking the form of integration of multiple disciplines around a single theme: resilience.

For decades I have focused on the strength part of resilience-training. It now feels like time to focus on flexibility, elasticity, ingenuity, and the power of improvisation. And it’s going to be fun. And filled with joy.

 

Stop

Yesterday’s Quest2015 prompt from visionary Charlie Gilkey, asks us to think, not about what we want to take on next, but about what we need to stop.

“Pursue knowledge, daily gain. Pursue Tao (wisdom), daily loss.” – Tao Te Ching*

We often think too much about adding new things, when the source of a lot of our growth is eliminating old things.

What do you need to STOP doing in 2015?

And what do you need to do to make that STOPPING more than an intention?

Attribution: Derek Lin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching

Interestingly, it was the stress of being too busy to answer this question yesterday when it first posted, that led me to wake up with the answers:

In 2013, with the intention of jump-starting my quilting career, I did three crazy things: I signed up to do a solo quilt show and started two holiday craft fairs, one in my community and one online. All three happened in November. Because I had no real idea what I was getting into, I figured I had all kinds of time, and wound up nearly killing myself in October and November trying to get everything done. At the end of that month, I swore that next year (this year) I would do things differently. I would start earlier so I wouldn’t be sewing at the 11th hour. I would clear my schedule starting in September so I could focus more fully on getting everything done without stress. But alas, not only did I procrastinate the making, I added a ton more to my plate (National Novel Writing Month, daily blogging at the Apocalypse Garden, increased hours at work, and not one, not two, but three quilt commissions). Suffice it to say, it hasn’t gone so well. 

So what do I need to ‪#‎stop‬?

  • I need to stop procrastinating, thinking I’ll have more time later (NTS: I won’t)
  • I need to stop putting my art last and do a better job of integrating it into my daily life, both to minimize stress and to enable myself to take better advantage of opportunities
  • I need to stop wasting my time on low-return projects–financial, emotional, creative, and/or spiritual
  • I need to stop saying yes to every commission–only a select few are worth the work and stress
  • I need to stop taking on every fun project that piques my interest, especially at this time of year
  • I need to stop refusing to invest in my art and business–business cards, a $20 webinar on the slow stitching movement, a website plug-in that will allow people to contact me via form not email, none of these cost that much and could make a big difference in my ability to transform this hobby into something more

And how will I make that stopping more than an intention? By committing to taking a close look at everything on my plate within the next 30 days and really discerning what matters most (including empty space for myself) and what needs to be cut (both projects and physical stuff). Quilt making stays. Poetry stays. That November novel, the daily blogging, the five websites, commission work, the two craft fairs and annual solo show… we shall see.

 

Heart Leaps

Today’s Quest2015 prompt from author Pam Houston asks us to consider what makes our hearts leap.

Sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Not what should, or might or always had, but what did. Make that list. Be honest, even if it surprises you. Keep the list with you this month. Add to it when it happens. Train yourself to notice. Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?

The list is longer than I expected, which shouldn’t surprise me. I have a lot of different interests.

  • Holding the finished 7 Blessings quilt top up to the light and watching it glow like stained glass
  • Having a fellow quester compare 7 Blessings to an Australian Opal
  • Finding, watching, and sharing Apocalypse Rhyme on Apocalypse Garden and on Facebook
  • Dreaming the future shape of the Apocalypse Garden
  • My near perfect Apocalypse Garden blogging streak (only one day missed since I started the blog on 9/30/14)
  • The Friends of the Library book sale and all its treasures, especially finding a $1 copy of the Book Lover’s Journal and a mint condition copy of The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Discovering, browsing, holding, sharing, reading books of all kinds, but especially having them in my space–more than anything else, they are my security blanket, my inspiration, my solace, and my joy
  • Finishing CS Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet (and sci-fi lit in general)
  • Watching some amazing, original, risk-taking movies, including Birdman, Twilight Angel, and an old favorite, Strictly Ballroom
  • Poetry class taught by Tony Hoagland (and his amazing reading last month)
  • Sharing and discussing poetry with my two poet cousins, MJ and Suzanne Marie. whose work and interests are uncannily similar to mine
  • Making connections with some amazing fellow questers
  • Napping in my casita’s only comfy chair with the man I love
  • The koala painting in my bathroom–every time I see it

So how can I arrange my life to get more heart leaps?

Spend more time in the bathroom? But seriously, the answer is simple–prioritize what’s important:

  • Quilting
  • Poetry
  • Books and writing (let’s just call this stories to keep it simple)
  • Movies (also stories)
  • Art
  • People
  • My blog (which is set to include all of the items on this list, plus prepping, my favorite OCD obsession)

And stop trying to second-guess what I’ve already decided to focus on in 2015–the Apocalypse Garden. Instead, I should spend my energy this month sorting out just how all that will manifest.