Money and the Mosaic

Change/Transformation, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Writing

For most of my life, money was an unsensed presence.  I only noticed it when I was in a crisis, and never really considered it otherwise.

When I first started thinking about my relationship to/with money, I couldn’t describe it, envision it, or even feel it.  It took some time to realize I couldn’t describe it because it was so vague and intangible. It only became real when I was desperate so, of course, it seemed inconsistent, almost negligent or cruel.

I realized this some time ago, but couldn’t figure out what to change until a few days ago, it hit me – I needed to define a script, to write out the words. But what words?  I didn’t have a clear starting point, just a blank gray spot.  And what kind of relationship did I want to have?  That was part of the whole problem – what little I’ve seen of money relationships aren’t so positive or healthy.  What role did I want money to play in my life?  How could I think about money in a way that didn’t make it the center of my life and thought?

It came to me, though, that I could think of money as another reflection of myself, like my friends, family, job, hobbies – another piece of the mosaic of my life. I suddenly knew that money is just another way the world can reflect my value, that I could view it as another type of mirror.  I decided that I want that mirror, I want a healthy, prosperous relationship – I deserve to have my worth reflected in my relationship with money.  I bring enormous value to this world, and I want that value reflected in a new way.

The universe has been good to me – my life is rich and full, even with the recent move and starting over.  I have an unbelievable family of friends and loves, deeply meaningful work, a growing connection to my creative self, and I like the person I am.  Engaging intentionally with money is another way to learn about that person, to live well, and be comfortable with my whole self.

An Exaggeration

It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Random Observations, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Seth Godin recently published this very short post:

A parody of yourself

A simple test for brands, organizations and individuals:

When you exaggerate the things that people associate with you, your presence and your contribution, does it make you a better version of yourself?

When Seth gets it right (which is often), he gets it really really right.  I’ve been thinking about this question since I saw the post and damn.  What *do* people associate with me, my presence, my contribution?  I know what I want them to associate with me, and I make an effort to focus on those traits.

But what can I do about those unknown things – the personal quirks and habits and unlikeable bits that I’m unaware of?  The things that people who love me don’t care about but could nevertheless impact my ability to accomplish my goals?  Self-awareness and reflection get me to a certain point, but how do I get past all the doubt and uncertainty and accept that I’m just a human?  A normal human who has normal human-y quirks and habits and oddities?

I thought about doing a self-parody but stopped that idea right in its tracks.  I’m not in the best place to parody myself from a helpful, funny perspective and it’s far too easy to think of myself as a ridiculous monster.  Untrue, of course, but that’s what too much navel-gazing gets me.

So…going out on a limb, I’m going to answer Seth’s question with a “yes.”  People tell me that I’m creative, engaged, warm, attentive, and kind, and those are traits that only make me better 🙂

Lodestones

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

I’ve been avoiding writing for the last several months.  There are many reasons for this.  I’ve been turning to artwork as an expressive outlet, a need to be out of my internal, intellectual world, a deep, pervasive feeling of exhaustion, and, related to that exhaustion, no desire or will.

The impacts of seven months of looking for work, a two month journey to losing it, and the last ten weeks of re-entering the world of unemployment and job searching again?  Those impacts aren’t clear yet and probably won’t be for some unknown time.  What is clear is that my desire to feel productive, to feel useful, has lost its lodestone.

My internal compass has been spinning wildly, seeking an orientation, a focus, a place to land.  I’ve volunteered, networked, job searched, made art, written, and simply sat on my couch doing nothing.  I’ve had countless ideas for products, novels, art pieces, and community organizations, and I’ve put effort into a business idea with some potential.  But nothing has snapped into that empty spot.  None of my own ideas have quite slipped in to fill that hole – they aren’t big enough yet, solid enough.

What I have noticed is that the pressure to be productive – to always be creating something, doing something, seeking success in some way – is enormous and intense.  Internal, external, implicit, explicit, the subtle and not-so-subtle influences are everywhere.  To say that I feel like a piece of coal being squeezed and compressed into a diamond is a bit dramatic, but maybe it’s the best metaphor.

I no longer have an external motivator or source of direction; there is no one to help me direct when, where, and how I spend my energy and resources.  While I have a strong sense of myself, values, and interests, I’ve never thought of myself as an entrepreneur.  This time of unemployment has changed my thoughts and feelings though, and I’m planning toward self-sufficiency, toward being my own boss.

Perhaps I’m becoming my own lodestone.

lodestone2

Reading the Comments

It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Wins, Writing

I recently wrote a post about rediscovering my desire to serve others.  Much to my surprise, my post garnered a very long, angry comment largely focused on what an arrogant dick I am for openly expressing this desire.  The comment opened with “I don’t even know you” and proceeded to cover a wide swath of territory that included judgments on my character, accusations about my intentions, and speculation that losing my job was caused by my arrogance in thinking I have something of value to offer.

The level of judgment and bitterness was extraordinary.  I hadn’t written anything controversial, it was a personal statement, nothing I’d ever expect anyone to care much about.  I wrote it for myself, to clarify my own thinking and solidify my commitment, and I’d expected it to go entirely unnoticed.  That it engendered such a vitriolic response was a giant surprise.

But what was most surprising was that this stranger had plucked out of my head my very own words, fears and doubts and insecurities, typed them up, and sent them to me.  When I read that so-familiar and hateful rhetoric, felt the judgment and resentment, I was paralyzed.  How did this stranger know to use those words, the exact words that live on a never-ending loop in my head?  How did they know to say the most harmful words, words that would undermine my confidence, and tear down what I’d worked so hard to build – my belief in myself, in my own value and contribution?

How could one person say such cruel things to another person – a complete stranger, someone they know nothing about?  Even worse, what if they were right?

Encouraging words from a friend helped me gain perspective, but this comment, I think, may prove an invaluable tool.  Seeing my own self-doubt and self-judgment so clearly articulated was terrifying.  I would never say those things to someone else, why am I saying them to myself?  Marianne Williamson’s famous writing on our deepest fears includes the following lines:

“It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

My internal monologue and this anonymous comment both demand smallness.  They demand that I not recognize any of my potential, talent, or value.  This message – that we have to play little, hide our light, deny our desire to shine and grow and expand – is the message of fear and denial and rejection.  It is rooted in rejection of our shared beauty and grace, grief at our self-imposed barriers, and a profound fear that we will never measure up.  It is that message that keeps us suspended in a state of perpetual self-hatred and destruction.

It is valuable also because I do need to check in with myself, ask for feedback from friends, and pay close attention to the impact I have on others.  But I get to decide which feedback is helpful, which friends and colleagues to ask, and what advice is helpful.  Because I tend to believe the worst of myself, I have to get objective opinions, and advice from people who care about me and want me to thrive.

Ultimately, that one comment prompted useful thought and reflection, although perhaps not in the way the author intended.  I am proud of my talents and skills, the work I’ve done to develop them, and my commitment to helping others, and it doesn’t matter what other people think about my decision to write those things down, or say them out loud.

88427-Confidence

Finding North

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, service, Uncategorized

Today, my life re-oriented itself and I am renewed in purpose.  I had the enormous fortune to spend some time with a friend – one of those friends who is supportive but directive and says the really crucial stuff, sometimes the really hard stuff.  It was the equivalent of someone taking me by the shoulders and saying  “Look, what happened was painful and unexpected, and this path doesn’t get any easier.  you need to learn how to apply some of your skills to yourself, to be more objective about your successes and setbacks, and recognize your value and purpose. you are prepared and skilled and talented and your heart is big enough – time to move forward again.”

And she’s right.  What I’d forgotten, what my time at DOC had hacked away, is my desire to be of service.  For almost two decades, the question that has driven me is “how can I best be of service?”  I haven’t always known this question was pushing me onward, although the pattern of seeking some answer is obvious in my choices of education, career, and interests.  And to be clear, I’m not entirely thrilled about having discovered the question.  I’ve been fighting the knowledge for a while, wanting some acknowledgement for what I’d already done, the service I’d already given.

I was so tired, so exhausted, so beaten down by the endless need and casual, normalized brutality of the prison system that I couldn’t tolerate the thought of more service.  I couldn’t tolerate giving more of myself and getting nothing in return.  The final defeat was when I was being targeted by DOC.  My employer never acknowledged my service, my value, or that they cared about my situation or me.  That was crushing.  To have worked for them for so long, doing such difficult work, and be pushed aside, so casually and thoughtlessly, was a terrible experience.  My desire to serve was profoundly wounded, and I couldn’t imagine ever putting myself back into that arena.

Unfortunately, purpose doesn’t really work that way.

Even if my conscious mind couldn’t bear to think of being in service, the rest of me knew the deal.  I focused on private industry, found a job, and all was well with the world.  Until two weeks ago when, out of the blue, with no explanation, they let me go.  I was thrown into the perpetual chaos, confusion, and uncertainty of looking for work, again, in a very tight market.

I was also faced, AGAIN, with the question of what did I want for myself, what kind of life did I want to live?  Not once, but twice in a six month period I found myself asking the same round of questions, looking at the same batch of answers, and questioning my sanity.  Why would this happen twice?  Why would I be forced into this process twice, in such a short period of time?  What the fuck was I supposed to learn?  Sweet baby christmas, how much reflection was I supposed to do before the light came on?

Of course, I was far too close to see the answer, even though it was probably obvious to everyone else.  Everything in my life is about being of service.  Hell, every single idea I’ve had about starting my own business is based in service to others through education, creativity, or advocacy.  My reading, my art, my writing, it’s all grounded in the desire to serve, to help others be the best they can.

I was hoping for a different answer.  I tried to redirect my ambition in other directions, but it literally didn’t fit.  My ego, my intellect, wants a bigger presence, accolades, acknowledgment, praise, the recognition I see going to others who do work I admire. But that’s not why they do the work and, ultimately, not why I will continue doing that work.

We do it because it’s who we are.  We came here to serve, to be of service, to lift others and, in turn, be lifted.  As Gandhi said “we find ourselves in service to others.” This clarity doesn’t mean my desire for recognition has magically disappeared, it just means it isn’t driving the bus anymore.  I’ve found my north again.

Nothing-Liberates-Our-Greatness-Like-The-Deisre-To-Help-The-Desire-To-Serve.

 

 

In a Raggedy Nutshell

Art/Images, Business, Change/Transformation, Leadership, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Uncategorized

This last venture into unemployment, although not even a week old, has coughed up some significant personal epiphanies.  Because I’m a writer and believe in laying down the roses and the shit, here’s what I’ve learned.

First – I’ve long been clinging to this notion that if I just make the right choices, I’ll somehow have a normal, conventional life.  I’ll write more on that later but the end result is that I’ve never had a normal, conventional life and I likely never will.  I’ve been accidentally unconventional most of my adult life and I wouldn’t change even if I could.

The second epiphany is that I know far less about myself than I thought.  What I’d like to believe about myself and the person I truly am aren’t exactly in alignment.  The best I can say is that I don’t speak or act on my wartier thoughts and urges, which is probably a reasonable success.

Third – I want to own my own business, take charge of my career and financial security, and have what I choose to work on reflect my talents, skills, and interests.  I gave self-employment a try a few years back, but not because I thought it was the right choice.  This time, it’s different, I have a vision for myself, my business, services, projects, and brand.  I’ve resisted even considering this path because it often feels like an incredible cliche, and there are many, many barriers to success.

Frankly, I’m terrified.  I’m considering opening a service business in a city that is physically awash with service-focused solopreneurs.  I want to offer professional development, personal growth, and leadership skills in an environment where even the clerk at the 7-11 is offering a web-based course that will help you realize your true potential.  It’s like Hollywood, only “the industry” is personal development and everyone wants a piece of the services action.  We’re so over-preneured that even the yoga instructors and massage therapists are starting to complain, and yet….and yet….

I am an extraordinary coach and educator.   I excel in working with women, building educational communities, increasing circles of influence, and supporting people in their creative endeavors.  I have a clear vision of building a leadership incubator that focuses on developing everyday servant leaders, everyday bodhisattvas.  I see those people, in turn, extending compassionate influence in all areas of their lives.  Our world is sorely lacking in people who are willing to own the influence they have, and use it for the betterment of others.  I believe that needs to change, and that I am a person who can help others make that change.

But I’m still really, really scared.  My safety net doesn’t feel very safe, and all I ever thought I wanted was a secure, comfortable, normal life.  I can’t pinpoint when that path disappeared, but it’s obvious now that it has, and the path in front of me is far from certain.

Mine-Alone

The Eleanor Club

Change/Transformation, Feminism, Leadership, Life, Power/Privilege, Reflection, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized, Wins

My friend Dennise and I were talking a few months back about women and power.  We’re both mid-career professionals, were both unemployed, and having weekly conversations about our job search, and what it means to be older women looking for positions of responsibility and influence.  Those conversations birthed The Eleanor Club, a place where women can speak directly about their areas of influence, personal ambition, and what it means to be a woman with power.

Our first meeting was last week and it was extraordinary.  Dennise and I had NO idea there was such a craving for this conversation!  Woman after woman came up to each of us and said “I’ve been wanting to talk about this, ask questions, explore what it would mean to expand my influence and own the influence I have.”

We had no idea, but we should have.

The current power paradigm we live in – authoritarian, hierarchical, individualistic – is becoming more and more problematic.  While it is not clear whether women and men are biologically inclined to use power differently, my personal experience is that women are often more interested in power as a way to connect, not dominate. While this offers its own set of challenges, it also opens the door to an multitude of new directions we could grow as a race and individually.

Women are actively seeking ways to exert power, to leverage their existing influence, and grow their circles.  We are learning to own our ambition, to state loudly and clearly that our agendas are critical to the health and well-being of our families and the planet.  At our first meeting, when we opened the floor for women to speak about the issues closest to their hearts, we heard about

  • community development on the micro level,
  • the importance of civil discourse in theory and practice,
  • amplifying the voices of women in the music industry
  • building a conversation around an all-year school schedule
  • the criticality of local and state elections,
  • finding ways for working mothers to serve as elected officials,
  • and how to protect and heal our environment.

Even though the conversation was entirely unscripted and unexpected, we can clearly see the seeds for robust discussion and action on a wide-ranging and deeply connected group of concerns.  In those moments, I realized that all the women in that room had tapped into something revolutionary – our mutual commitment to actively  and directly influence change through OUR decisions, our ideas, and our actions. It was an unforgettable moment.

quote-when-you-have-decided-what-you-believe-what-you-feel-must-be-done-have-the-courage-to-eleanor-roosevelt-81-51-50

 

After the Purge

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Sitting down to write this post took an enormous effort of will.  I finished an online creative nonfiction course a few weeks ago and I stopped writing regularly as soon as my final essay was complete, so it’s been maybe two months of unexpected and welcome relief.  For the last two years, writing about my experience in the prison has been a release of sorts.  It helped capture my thoughts and feelings, although it’s unclear whether it helped me release either but probably not.  Nothing short of a complete separation would have accomplished that feat.

Today, I’m close to eight months away from my last day at CCCF.  Most of these last eight months have been spent de-toxifying from my time there, and learning how to operate as a normal human being again.  Those years, combined with the years of stress and uncertainty preceding them had turned me into an anxious, brittle, and fearful woman.  I had some success hiding just how anxious, brittle and fearful I had become, but I was never able to hide it from myself.

Those years ate my light; they consumed everything I knew of beauty and grace and joy and spirit.

Lately though, the writing has been pressing on me, memories lingering in my consciousness.  The stories of my time there, my relationships with the women I taught, and observations about the system constantly break the surface, jarring me with their presence.  I can shove them back under, but they are still there. I’ve asked the non-intellectual part of my being to grieve and celebrate this enormous transition and it’s been thrilled to comply, so I’ve been processing mainly through art these several months.  But as much as I love exploring drawing and illustration for emotional release, I cannot tell these stories through that art.  Words are my medium, and the words are softly demanding my attention.

I just don’t know how to start again.

Being away from all that pain and suffering makes it less immediate, and reduces the feeling of urgency.  That voice that demanded, constantly, that I let people KNOW and do my part to change the system has quieted.  It rouses occasionally, but it is lackadaisical, at best.  I’ve stepped away from all the information sources that used to stimulate my awareness,  deliberately choosing to set all that pain to the side.  It is a position of privilege, but I cannot bring myself to feel shame or guilt about this choice.

I feel light and happy and safe. Work doesn’t feel like much work, it’s a delight to do something less fraught, where a mistake won’t mean drastically increasing someone else’s suffering.  This new path is a great gift, and all I want to do is enjoy the days, do art, and drift.  Even thinking about writing that story feels hard.

I’ve realized that almost all the writing I do is somehow related to suffering – to trauma and oppression and the misery of the world.  When I think about writing a memoir, whether it’s about CCCF or not, my thoughts focus on the sad and miserable things that brought me to where I am today.  How do I write about all of those things – feelings, events, circumstances, choices – without putting myself back in that grueling, grunting space?  It’s not a matter of self-judgment, it almost feels like self-preservation.

How do I stay connected to this precious gift of light and space and relief if I’m writing about those pain-soaked years?  I know they are part and parcel of who I am, but I’m ready to write a new story about myself.  How do I hold this new facet, and gently touch and release the old?

Figure vomiting words

Give It Up

The Launch

Art/Images, It's Personal, Life, Uncategorized, Wins

I’ve finally done it, I’ve launched my Etsy store!  I have a small selection of drawings available, but am looking forward to adding more. Other than this blog, the Etsy store is my first time putting my creative talents out for public consumption.  For any of my two or three readers who are willing, I appreciate any reblogs or shares 🙂

Energy-WtrMrk

Muses

Art/Images, Change/Transformation, Creative, Dance, It's Personal, Life, Poetry, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Earlier this year, for the first time in my life, I met someone who inspires me to create art.  Despite my introverted extrovert nature, I meet a lot of people from many different walks of life.  I tend to network in an  unusual variety of circles, and have a knack for remembering and connecting people – often making connections others don’t see.  I don’t actively nurture all these connections, but I keep them in my mental Rolodex.

I’m also a social dancer, and I’ve talked to and danced with thousands of people.  In all those thousands, I’ve met (at most) a dozen or so who truly inspire me to create movement with them.  None of them has ever inspired me to create anything beyond the three to four minutes we spend together in the music.  Those moments are magic, but they’re ephemeral.  The sense of what happened fades, and all my body remembers is the warmth and joy and connection.

This was different, this unexpected inspiration.  I’ve never experienced this type of connection, where all thoughts have the potential to spark the drive to create.  Positive or negative charge is irrelevant, what is relevant is that something emerges from that charge.  I started making art when I was young, wanted to be a musician for a while, and then stopped when I left home.  I dabbled in photography for years, drawing here and there.  When writing became more of a focus, other forms of creativity faded until I discovered dance.

My first experience with dance was with a woman named Fariba, a class named Spiritual Bellydance.  I was living in a conservative area that the time, but was exploring any number of non-traditional interests and hobbies.  For me, this class was a revelation, a revolution.  After years of martial arts training and equestrian activity, I found something that incorporated similar awareness and presence, but for reasons of pure sensuality and beauty.  I did it simply because it brought joy and pleasure into my being.  Fariba inspired me, and her memory continues to visit me when I’m dancing.

When I began to learn salsa, I had any number of teachers, but few true inspirations.  Over the years, that has changed as I discovered Magna Gopal, my good friends Sheena and Asia – the first women I saw lead swapping and dancing together in bachata, my instructor Sarah Riddle, and Stacey, one of my best friends.  All these women inspired me to try different types of movement, to experiment with connection and stillness, excitement and joy, technique and exploration.  I recently had the great good fortune to get social dances with Frankie Martinez and Franklin Diaz, dances I wouldn’t have been brave enough to ask for if I hadn’t been inspired to push myself over all these years.

So to find someone who inspires me to create art – images that convey a feeling, emotions, thoughts – is welcome and scary all at once.  Art has not been a way for me to communicate how I feel.  Until now, writing was that channel.  Now, art has become an outlet, in a way that words aren’t.  I’ve spoken with poets, and this feels like their descriptions of writing poetry – using words to shape a feeling, sensation, experience – an urge I’ve rarely encountered.  But now I feel compelled to release that desire to express…something…through drawing.

I’m not entirely certain how the whole “muse” thing works, but I suppose this is part of it.  They bring energy, alien patterns and dynamics, that demand a response, but the old responses aren’t strong enough, or subtle enough, or bold enough, so I look for alternatives.  How else can I interact with this experience?  How can I hold it, let it go, integrate or spit it out?  Do I hold myself in safety, or expose my vulnerability to risk?  All these questions – unanswerable, rhetorical maybe, but each a challenge to how I see, feel, and think about myself.

It amuses me to think that I’m just the latest in an infinite line of humans, of artists who have struggled to understand the nature and sense of inspiration.  Finding novelty in something as old and well-worn as the creative urge is both precious and fleeting.  I believe the work now is to make the effort to enjoy this time, and whatever it brings.

All-SM