But What If It’s All Crap?

Last night and I had a super bizarre dream.  It was one of those “Peggy Olson” pregnancy dreams – I didn’t know I was even pregnant and then BAM! I had a baby.  It was just there.  So Ben and I are suddenly walking around with this surprise baby and introducing it to all of our very confused friends.  As I always do in these dreams, I’m wondering how the heck all the logistics will work out (I kept thinking that I didn’t even have a stroller!).  Then suddenly, there’s no baby.  I look down and I realize I have just been carrying around an empty blanket the entire time.  At this point, my friend Claire comes up to me and very gently reveals that they, “Know I have gone insane, created an imaginary baby, and that they have been humoring me the whole time to be nice.”  Yikes bikes.

Surprise!  You're pregnant!

Surprise! You’re pregnant!

If you took this literally, you’d think it was anxiety about moving to the suburbs and all that jazz.  But I don’t think it is.  Because last night I fell asleep again with that age-old fear about myself: What if all of the art I have been doing and creating is just a bunch of crap?

Am I alone in this thought?  I have been writing a play recently that I actually started over four years ago.  In the past two months though, I’ve been finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m probably about 30 pages or so from the end, and the only thing that trips me up is the occasional wave of, “What if this is just really terrible?”  Luckily, probably because I live with a very encouraging playwright, this thought has not completely lead me to throwing up my arms in defeat.

Knowing you’re not going to know

And no, I am not actually thinking that everything I do is awful, it’s more about the idea of: how do you really know if what makes sense in your head will make sense to anyone else?  I’ve been thinking about this idea for a few weeks now, with the thought of writing a blog post, and realized that the answer is: you don’t know.  Until someone gives you legitimate feedback, someone whose opinion your trust and who isn’t going to sugarcoat what they think, all you have is what makes sense in your mind.

It’s like the other day when I was whistling that song from Fun Home from the Tony’s and Ben came in and said, “Why are you whistling ‘A Horse with No Name’?”  Now does this mean I’m a really lousy whistler?  Maybe.  Or maybe it’s just one of those things where I hear one thing and everyone else hears something completely different.  That’s how I feel about my play.  I think I just need accept that when people read my play for the first time, they may hear something other than what I hear.  And there’s a chance that what they hear is also not crap.

Or like this Rorschach test...where two Russian dancers teach a native jig to a spiky beetle...

Or kind of like this Rorschach test…where two Russian dancers teach a native jig to a spiky beetle…

Ego vs. Confidence

I may get several very sweet and encouraging messages from this post about how I should have more confidence in my writing, and yes, please believe I deeply appreciate those.  They have really kept me writing this blog.  But it isn’t really about confidence here.  I like my writing voice, and I am happy that I’ve had a place to develop it so I can work on all these different projects.  This is more about finding that middle ground between having the confidence to write genuinely and being an egotistical writer that refuses feedback.

grumpy cat

So many times, Ben and I have come across playwrights or actors that simply say “no” to any constructive criticism.  As soon as they do, we both get a wave of, “Oh what a shame.”  Because you know they will only get so far with that naive attitude.  You can stand up for your work, of course, and at the end of the day, no one can make you do anything.  Also, no one is forcing you share your work at all.  But if you truly don’t want to change it, then why let anyone hear it in the first place?  You might as well just line up all your stuffed animals, give them the voices of your characters, and march them around your living room.

On the other hand, I tend to cringe during talk-backs gone rogue.  Ben teases me for my terrible poker face that develops when a group discussion about a play goes on too long or when the moderator loses control of a few audience members who are trying to turn the play into a whole new story (that maybe they should just go home and write).  There has to be a balance between “this is the story I want to tell” and “I want the story to be clear enough so that others can relate.”

So why do it?

Perhaps the real question is: why are your creating that particular project? If it is 100% for your own fulfillment, there is nothing wrong with that AT ALL.  At least you know what you want and there will be great passion in what you make.  Many will naturally relate to that.  But if you want others to connect with a story you’ve created or a character you are representing?  Then you have to learn to let your ego take a seat.  If we want to create a human experience, you need other humans to help bring that story out of you.

Ginny, you’re holding a blanket

So before I jump off that terrifying cliff and share my first draft with a group, I would like to find that middle ground so I can at least write the damn thing without judgement.  I don’t want to hand off something that I think is very special only to have the world say that it isn’t even workable.  Or worse, have everyone pretend it’s perfect when it’s not, just to protect my feelings.

Thoughts?  Mutual anxieties?  Whiskey suggestions?  I’m open to anything that will help me finish this draft.  Thanks for reading, everyone!!

A Mindful Wedding: Pinterest Propaganda

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About a week before the wedding, I was using our paper cutter at work to slice the ceremony programs (which is why they were all a little crooked). I texted my bridesmaid Helen to ask to if I should order a bushel of dried lavender so I could glue a sprig on each program and make them look better.  Because right now they looked pretty busted.

And the great friend that she is (who always promised to tell me if I went to far), she finally asked, “But why?”  And all I could think was, “Because it isn’t enough!  I haven’t done enough!”

The crazy didn’t end there, oh no.  After my failure to construct a ribbon curtain for our outdoor ceremony, I stopped on the way to our venue at a garden center for some potted plants.  Ben asked me why we needed them to which I responded, completely in zombie bride mode, “My ribbon curtain failed.  We have no ceremony decorations!  You have to have those!”  Later, during the ceremony, I remember snorting at myself a bit when seeing the $40 potted plants I fought so hard for, tipping over in the front of the lawn where we got married.  The ceremony was outside.  Why did I need plants?

Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.

Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.

Now it wasn’t until the end of planning that the stress caught up with me. I was told otherwise I stayed surprisingly low key throughout the process.  But now that I look back, I see how the crazy seed was planted: Pinterest, The Knot, and all those budget bride blogs that only show the good (and never the ugly) sides of DIY.  They were like crack for a budgeting bride, and the lanterns and birdcages were how I got my fix.

Buddha to the rescue

A friend of mine recently lent me the book “10% Happier” by Dan Harris from ABC, who chronicles his discovery of Mindfulness while reporting on various religions.  I was excited to find that a newer “convert” of Buddhism was writing on this topic since its a goal of mine as well; and I often feel unworthy since I’m NOT a retreat-attending, yoga-for-the-people card holding,  non-meat eating Buddhist (yet?).  In the scheme of things, I am very early in my Buddhist education, and was excited to find that Dan Harris’ cynical yet quirky tone is similar to the one I aspire for on this blog.

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At one point, he mentions that during a retreat a teacher of his talked about the common misinterpretation of the Buddhist idea of Dukkha, aka “Life is Suffering.”  Most people hear this and think, “Why would I want to follow a religion that sounds so miserable?  I’m supposed to accept that life is terrible?  Fun!”

Well, we’re all missing the boat a bit, but that’s okay.  It’s an odd phrase and very confusing if you aren’t told the rest of the message.  Turns out it’s poorly translated as well.  Dukkha actually translates more closely into “Life is stressful.”  Yes!  Yes it is!  And the rest of the main message is that the stress (or suffering) comes from attaching ourselves to the idea that A. Things or events will make us complete and B. Those things are going be around forever.  The more we let go of these ideas, the closer we come to enlightenment (which in their terms is a jolly mix of understanding, compassion, clarity and contentment…in a nutshell).

Stress relief is actually just a lovely side-effect of seeing the world clearly.  The idea of Buddhism is not the notion that life sucks and we should learn to deal with it.  It’s understanding that there is good and bad, and neither is going to remain permanent.  Whether it’s the most delicious tiramisu on the planet, a root canal, or say…a wedding day…

(Whenever I do this, I hear “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof start to play but  with the word “Transitiiiiionnn, Transition!”)

Wedding Dukkha

When planning a wedding, in regard to my own and while helping friends, there is the inevitable feeling that your list will never end.

Even when you enlist your friends' help!

Even when you enlist your friends’ help! (yes that’s a sand bucket)

And it’s not only your things-to-do list, but also your shopping list.  Now there are a million blogs out there about small budget weddings, glitzy weddings, hipster weddings, the whole thing, and all of them seem to have a similar thing in common: lots of things and lots of steps.  Personal touches and ways to impress your guests are wonderful, but when do these things start to overshadow the marriage itself? And once you’ve bought into the idea that someone else managed to make their wedding “that cute” with little money and “little effort” a modern day pressure to craft grows into an obsession with obtaining a blog worthy wedding.  At least this is what happened with me.

There is a Buddhist idea wrapped up in the lesson of impermanence that we are always waiting for the next thing to complete us.  This is another idea that came up is Harris’ book.  We are waiting for the next relationship, the end of the week, the next paycheck, the next cup of coffee.  That thing will make us complete.  And because of all this waiting, we are missing the fact that the last thing arrived, and it wasn’t enough.

This was how my wedding planning snowballed for me.  I was on a budget, yes, but we also wanted to throw the majority of our budget into our guests being well-fed, well boozed-up, and comfortable.  So once that was taken care of, the money for all the tchotchkes Pinterest tells you to buy was slim.  And this is when this weird panic set in as a bride.

I am throwing the money into the food and experience, but not into things like a matching cake, disco lighting, 500 paper lanterns, and a mashed potato bar (which I’ll admit, I was pretty sad the day we cut it).  But nonetheless, I still tried to keep up with the Pinterest pressure.

blog again

It wasn’t until I was spray painting 150 small handstamped tambourines with glitter paint that I asked myself, “What am I doing???”  Here I am with the wind blowing paint all over my apartment door (it’s still sparkly) two weeks before my wedding.  I’m making inside joke wedding-favors that most people will not even take home.  All because I learned that you are supposed to get personalized favors.  I was proving my worthiness through homemade dollar store props.  And with each addition of things, I never felt that complete feeling I was searching for.  Even after the wedding was over, I still stressed looking through the pictures that maybe I hadn’t done enough.

But what actually matters is that I had one of the best days of my life.  Everyone was incredible loving and generous, no one cared when little things went wrong, the food was delicious, the crazy idea to DJ it ourselves worked out, people DANCED, our made-up cocktail was a hit, and Ben and I got married!

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The part of the blog where I relate this to other parts of life…

This realization continued to help  me past the days of hot gluing ribbons to mason jars.  When it comes to my job, my artistic career, decorating the house, and even on our honeymoon, I remind myself a lot that our Pinterest idea of things in not going to bring happiness.  When these blogs and Pinterest were invented, they were created to share ideas, which is dandy, and I still love to use it for that.  But when it comes to things in our lives that we believe we are judged for (money, career, weddings), it can become a social peacocking site.  And clearly I’m leaving out the pressure from the wedding business itself, that isn’t a walk in the park as far as pressure, but since I mainly approached things from a DIY standpoint, I can only speak of this side of things.

But to all my friends who are planning now, remember that the personal touches and projects that bring you joy are the ones to keep around.  But there is no need to go past that.  There are plenty of other logistical tasks to throw your energy into, including caring about your relationship and your guests, the whole original reason you’re planning all this craziness in the first place.

Either way, planning a huge event is never going to be “easy”, but the more we remember that it is all passing (the good and the bad), the more we can take a step back and realize that it is all enough, and pretty wonderful.

 

All wedding photos by and linked to Kim Craven Photography because she’s awesssooommme.

Rituals, Direction, and How to Not Kick Your Cat While Doing Yoga

daily rituals

 

A couple months ago, I read Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a book that many bloggers have been chatting about recently.  Man did this collection make me feel better about myself as an artist. He has collected the daily routines of famous and historic writers, artists, scientists, and other great minds throughout history.  By breaking down how each person spent their day, it is A.) a fantastic read for someone with a short attention span like me and B.) incredibly humbling and inspiring.

The most eye-opening part?  They were all regular people, who ate meals and did chores, had crazy sleeping schedules, and errands to run.  They’re like you and me!!  Doing people things!  So I tackled the whole “if they can do it, I can give it a go” mantra and broke it down.

These are some of the themes I spotted (The quotes are all pulled from Mason Currey’s Blog, also listed above.)

1. Consistency, even when life takes a turn: On Joseph Campbell: “So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. ”

2. Drugs, drugs, drugs: On Paul Erdos: “Erdös first did mathematics at the age of three, but for the last twenty-five years of his life, since the death of his mother, he put in nineteen-hour days, keeping himself fortified with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin, strong espresso, and caffeine tablets. “A mathematician,” Erdos was fond of saying, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”

2. Guilt: On Alaa Al Aswany: “I have a very firm schedule. I must wake up at six a.m. or I feel very guilty. I write from 6:30 to 10:30 six days a week, like a soldier—no interruptions.”

4. Above all, doing whatever the hell works for you: On Gary Panter: “Get up at 7:30 in the morning — feed cats, drive daughter to school, read the NY Times and drink chocolate milk.”

5. A wonderful amount of interestingly-timed whiskey.: On Winston Churchill: “At 11:00 a.m., he arose, bathed, and perhaps took a walk around the garden, and took a weak whisky and soda to his study.”

There wasn’t a single artist that was the same, thus disproving any self-help/success guru that claims there is one way to do things.  But looking at this list, obviously there are some things I can do without.  I need to go to work, so an 8 hour regimen is not possible yet.  If I stayed home all day, I would probably start to go crazy.  Drugs aren’t up my alley.  I get nervous when I take too much Tylenol.  So scratch that.  Guilt?  I was raised Catholic, so I am not in short supply of guilt.  Consistency!  Heeeey, there’s something I’ve never been great at, that may do!  And whiskey.  I can keep that part.  I would be up for making Moscow Mules a brunch staple.

Literal Sun Salutation…

Taken on the Camino!

Taken on the Camino!

For the past four weeks (at least on weekdays, all bets are off on weekends), I have gotten up a little earlier than usual to write and do about 5 minutes of yoga before hopping in the shower and going to work.  At first I thought:

This isn’t going to last, it will be like one of those Pinterest Yoga challenges I desert for sleeping in by day 4.

Or…

It’s so dark out in the morning, this is depressing, I am in my dark living room doing yoga with my cat chirping at me.

But it’s wild: the more I did it, the more I couldn’t imagine not doing it before work.  It’s still slow, I am not about to join a 6am yoga class or anything, but I have found that I am no longer an evil anxious human being while getting ready.

And what’s even more fascinating: without planning or following some sort of guide, my yoga and writing have been going a bit longer each morning.  Thanks to my cat who wakes me up for food at 5:45am, I have a natural alarm clock.

The other wonderful thing about writing and yoga at this specific hour is watching the days get longer through the winter.  When I first started, it was still dark by the time I headed off to the shower.  Now, the sun is rising as I start yoga.  I am so much more aware that Spring is on its way, no matter what this little asshole says next week.

The Cat Part of the Blog Post

Strangely enough, I didn’t expect the ritual to grow into something far more important than exercise and journaling.  Of course this makes sense, if you do the same thing every day, you’re going to feel more comfortable with it.  Right?  But I honestly didn’t assume that 20 minutes out of my day would make much of a difference.

I recognized I had made a yogic breakthrough when I no longer wanted to smack my very loving cat the moment I rolled out my mat (Hey I rhymed!).  Whenever I stretch down to floor level in a sun salutation, here comes Tiber, our overfed dog-like cat rolling, cooing, and running back and forth under my downward dog like I’m a playground bridge structure.

tiber

At the end of my practice, I meditate for a few minutes while Tiber purrs and occasionally makes his signature “chirping” noise that translates into, “Hhhey….Heeeey….Hey youuu.”  With each chirp, he pats my knee with his claws half extended.  It’s great.  After many days of shooing him away, lightning struck.  All of my Buddhism instruction talks about remaining in the moment while meditating, not closing your eyes and drifting off into philosophical la-la land, a common misconception. So Buddha Tiber (he has the belly for it) is the present moment saying, “Heeey…stop thinking about cleaning the floors.  Hey, yes we still have cereal…heeeeeeeeeey, HEY.”

When I thought of this, I chuckled, gave him a pat, and he stopped chirping.  He purred, which was way more calming than my spastic thoughts.

Cats: Better than Overpriced Yoga Props

viola

Since I have learned to work with my furry yoga partner, I have been noticing other helpful things about his distractions.  He is often standing exactly where I was about to put my foot, causing me to have to look where I am placing it.  This was often mentioned in yoga classes I took anyway, but I never really understood its importance.  When I look before I place, much like spotting in dance, I see where I am headed and have less of a chance of flailing around like a drunk person.

not yoga

For example.

I am more present, because I don’t want to kick Tiber, and I feel more in control of the movements.

Thanks cat!

What does any of this have to do with a book about rituals?

What I loved most about the routine book is that each artist built upon their work, slowly but surely through some consistency.  And because of this, they found a direction, however abstract.  It’s hard to have direction as an artist when so much is out of your control.  You can build it, but you don’t actually know if they will come.  So I find setting a goal is tricky, and they often sound too abstract to act on.  Building on the smaller things is actually in my control, and they just take time.  I feel I have made some progress at the end of the day, however little, and this is invaluable.

Writing and exercising each morning is something I can act and build on, and I have already started to learn from it.  So I tip my hat to you, Mason Currey.  Thank you for showing me that accomplished artists live regular lives like the rest of us in the same world we know.  It’s not on some magical wealthy creative cloud that we can’t reach, but usually in their living room, with dirty dishes in the sink, and maybe some whiskey.

A Fabulous Book for the First Day of Fall

Today I would like to tip my hat to Lodro Rinzler, the author of several books on how to be a modern Buddhist, or rather, how to live compassionately nowadays based on the teachings of the Buddha. I specify this because he’s wonderful at explaining that you don’t need to buy into everything about Buddhism to learn from its philosophy. It is so accessible that I recently passed the first book I bought on to a non-Buddhist friend. I love when any spiritual teacher achieves this, no matter what religion. We all have the same ideas after all.

walk like a buddhawalks into a bar

I picked up his second book today after recently reading The Buddha Walks into a Bar…a Guide to Life for a New Generation.  My new one is called Walk Like a Buddha: Even If Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex is Torturing You and You’re Hungover Again.  Other than being fabulous with titles, I love the way he writes. He hits the nail on the head with how I’ve felt about Buddhism since I stumbled upon it in highschool.  It is a welcoming, non-judgmental religion that was started by a guy in his 20s and 30s who was equally feeling odd about his spirituality in the world. That totally makes sense. Thanks, Siddhartha. I feel angsty too! Because of this connection, Lodro Rinzler lovingly refers to Siddhartha in his books as Sid.  Not out of disrespect, but to remind us that people who lived twenty-six hundred years ago were people too.

Anywho, I am taking on this second book as a study to guide me in my own writing. One thing that stuck out to me in the introduction is the phrase he uses “I’m a mess and I’m also okay.” Yes! Thank you! Something so simple takes the pressure off that weird dark 20-something cloud (and I’m sure it happens in other ages as well, as much as we love to be self-deprecating 20-somethings). There is a lot of pressure to decide if you are in a good place or a bad place at this given moment. But I do believe it’s possible, and perfectly normal to be grateful, in a comfortable lifestyle, and trying your damndest in your career while still feeling anxiety. Or your life could be a hot mess right now, but you’re feeling rather peaceful and under control. I often find when I’m in one mood, the opposing voice try to remind me of why I should feel otherwise.

The other thing Rinzler brings up is Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s quote, “Live your life as an experiment.” I love it. Suddenly the thirty temp jobs, mish-mash liberal arts education, and wandering lifestyle we lead feels a little bit more justified. My experiment today is tagging an author I look up to in my post. I will continue to share some of his messages throughout my wedding and life ramblings.

If you happen to see this, thanks for the fabulous books, Lodro Rinzler! And your notes about reaching out after reading your material is just the coolest. Way to stay humble as a very talented writer.

Also, unrelated! Fall equinox is tonight! Break out the mulled wine!

Throw back to Fall of 2011.  LEAVES!

Throw back to Fall of 2011. LEAVES!