Jun 142017
 


It took me a long time to become willing to be part of a writers’ group. Frankly, I’d heard some fairly awful things about them. I had heard such groups could be competitive and repetitive. That some groups were more in love with the idea of writing than getting anything done and that those meetings sounded more like a roomful of angsty teens than a bunch of grown-up word nerds trying to help one another improve.

A bunch of grown-up word nerds trying to help one another improve... Click To Tweet

Whenever I’m trying to get better at something, I seek out people who are striving to improve a similar skill set or someone who is far more accomplished and willing to share expertise. And, while I always hope to find people with a passion for improvement and excellence, I loathe the expression “like-minded.” When I’m trying to learn new skills, or I’ve backed myself into a corner, I can be impatient or hard on myself. I don’t want or need a mind like mine. I need fresh eyes, different experiences, humor, and compassion. I need my very own word nerds. The ones who love me and have got my back.

I made some false starts before finding my group. I attended some critiques that bordered on mean and others that appear to have been fueled by lollipops and rainbows. I’ve been asked questions by (usually male) newbies who proceeded to argue and mansplain my answers away or treated like a kindergartener by a facilitator. And there were groups that didn’t recognize my genre and people who believe that “real” writers limit themselves to longhand, legal pads and lead.

Do real writers limit themselves to longhand, legal pads and lead? Click To Tweet

A year or so ago, a mentor of mine questioned me about my efforts to find a writers’ group. His experience had been wonderful and, not only did he want to understand my tenderness around the topic, he also wanted me to experience the growth that can come from participating in a good group.

I decided to pursue a new genre and joined a group as the member with the least experience with that sort of work. After attending a few meetings, they asked me to read. To my amazement, they listened attentively, respected my boundaries about the kind of feedback I wanted and encouraged me to keep going.

Today’s meeting was inconvenient. I hadn’t read the facilitator’s materials or found a segment of my work to bring for critique. Early this morning, I did a public presentation on an unrelated topic.  My husband is hours away from some big, disruptive travel, and my son’s home decided to develop “issues” while he is somewhere at the other end of the country. I was hungry, over-tired, unprepared, it was raining again… and I was shocked. I couldn’t wait to get there.

As it turns out, everyone who showed up was in the same boat for different reasons: grant deadlines without cooperation from grantees, house construction delays, family member illnesses, returned-to-the nest adult children. Stuff.

So we tossed the agenda and talked about our stuff. Then we talked about some new and exciting projects. And awards we had applied for and conferences we were attending. And, eventually, after having each experienced one? We talked about character arc. And we laughed.

 June 14, 2017  Posted by  E, Happiness, Writing and Reading 11 Responses »
Jun 062017
 

While employed by others, I spent a lot of years maintaining strict boundaries and everyone’s privacy. In many of my work environs, it was not a good idea to become part of the story, and any information shared outside of the office qualified as TMI. So, as a highly introverted advocate-turned-author, one of the things I struggle with is how to connect online without sharing too much about myself. The idea of “TMI Tuesday” felt right, so, here’s my first attempt. (I hope the questions don’t get more difficult later on!)

As an introverted advocate-turned-author, I struggle with how to connect online without sharing… Click To Tweet

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

I have been lucky enough to have dinner with some pretty extraordinary people over the years — some famous and some just plain fascinating. Right now, my dinner guest of choice would be my youngest stepson. Having him here would mean his passport woes are behind him and he’s getting to spend time with the American half of his family. (And, yes, we’d appreciate all the good vibes you can send in our direction, please.)

2. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

You mean aside from waking up on the right side of the dirt???

So far today is pretty close to perfect. I got up early, caught up with some friends on social media, and found this blog idea, all while drinking slurping not spilling savoring my first cup of coffee. There’s a gentle rain outside. I’ve got the windows open, the birds are singing their heads off, and the garden is full of fresh new growth. There are no outside commitments on my calendar and no critical end-of-the-day deadlines. I have two exciting, active projects in the works and lots of ideas about what I’ll be able to get to add to them today. And I’m only minutes away from My Favorite Husband returning from the gym. He almost always brings me a latte. (It’s the best of both worlds — like getting room service without having to leave home.)

It's the best of both worlds -- like getting room service without having to leave home. Click To Tweet

I also enjoy perfect days exploring new places… or new looks at old, familiar places. I’ve got a few of those on the calendar.

3. How much do you like your personality?
(pick just one)

a. A lot.
b. A little.
c. It needs work.
d. I am annoying sometimes.
e. I am difficult, and people have told me so.

I’m going to have to go with “c” — my personality needs work. While there are parts of me that are pretty OK, there are some parts that could be best described as “a hot mess.” I try not to injure others with those parts, to be at least a little bit better every day, and not beat myself too mercilessly when I screw up. I’m consoled by the fact that my dogs love me — or at least pretend until they get fed. Progress, not perfection, right?

quote on fiery background "If I'm not the problem, there is no solution."

4. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

Neither. My mind is a whole lot better than it was at 30. My body? Eh… I’d look even more ridiculous. Seriously? Everybody’s got challenges. Whether physical or mental, I hope to keep learning from mine.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any ability, what would it be? Click To Tweet

5. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any ability, what would it be?

Wow ~ so many things. To be kinder. To lose fat and build muscle. To run long distances or return to downhill skiing without requiring another knee surgery. To write something that sells millions of copies….

Maybe the best new ability I could hope for is to keep up with the ideas I have about trying things!

picture of Mary Oliver quote "instruction for living a life:
How about helping me out and making this more of a two-way street by answering one of these questions in a “comment”? (I really DO want to know.)

May 312017
 

Dog sleeping on meditation cushion in front of buddha

What does it mean to live an inspired life? It’s a phrase that can bring to mind images of artists, monastics, and martyrs. It also makes me think of sweeping the floor and tending my weeds.

I think the phrase got stuck in my head the other day when one of my friends referred to another as an inspiration. Word nerd that I am, I was intrigued; my friend the inspiration has a breathing disorder and one of the definitions of “inspire” is “to breathe in.”

What does it mean to live an inspired life? Click To Tweet

purple coffee cup in woman's hands

Spending time with other writers and artists, I hear a lot of talk about “inspiration.” Sometimes it sounds magical and mystical; it can seem impossible to achieve. We can sound like we’re sitting around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick. I don’t think I’m alone when I say my ability to produce quality work ebbs and flows. I’m not always happy enough with what I’m writing to share it with you — even here. I think that has more to do with my personal standards than a lack of inspiration.

I don't want to sit around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick! Click To Tweet

“Breathe in. Soften. Go a little deeper.” I’m new to yoga and fascinated by the various instructors’ descriptions of breath… the ways they coach us to be aware of it. Maybe that’s what has me thinking about inspired life.

the words namaste yall against a starry sky

My husband goes on silent meditation retreats. Some of my friends paint. I write. And occasionally try my hand at other forms of art: redacted poetry, multi-media painting, landscape design. It all feels connected.

I also just finished reading Painting Life by my friend Carol Walsh. It’s a memoir about balancing her life as an artist and her life as a therapist. And about the endless process of reinventing the self. Sometimes I wish I had known more about self-care and reinvention when I was a young advocate but, eventually, I learned to embrace both. Maybe there is no “wrong.” Maybe there’s only “next.”

What if the fact we have breath means we are inspired? Click To Tweet

What if inspiration only meant “breath?” What if the fact that we have breath means we are inspired? What if it’s all really that simple? How do we best use that precious gift?

 

 

 

 May 31, 2017  Posted by  E, Fun & Inspiration, Self care, Thinking 5 Responses »
May 172017
 

lilacs in bloomIt was the second Sunday in May, a lifetime ago. I had developed solid relationships with many of the women in the locked facility so, standing in front of the entire patient community, I sensed the need. And, as was the habit of most women in mandatory addiction treatment, they were prepared for disappointment.

“Good morning ladies. Before we start, I need to get something off my chest.” I rarely addressed the group this way. I had their attention.

“I have concluded that, despite any evidence to the contrary, Mothers’ Day was invented by a man. After all, no woman could be oblivious enough to come up with something so powerful it makes us feel like inadequate mothers AND crappy daughters at the same time.”

...so powerful we feel like lousy mothers AND crappy daughters at the same time. Click To Tweet

About a hundred women let go of the tense, collective breath that hung heavy over us all. Some nodded. Some giggled. Almost everyone in the room relaxed: they were neither going to have to pretend to feel wonderful nor would they be expected to spill their guts about painful experiences on this Mothers’ Day.

And, although it has been some years since I consulted to that facility, I think of those women every Mothers’ Day, especially when I’m on social media. This year, in addition to addicts in treatment, I thought about many other women.

How cruel is the social media environment for women who have lost a portion, if not all, of their motherness through miscarriage, illness, accident, addiction, or other tragedy? Do those who care for them ignore their grief and loss? Or, still worse, try to fix it by offering well-intended faux-comfort pearls like “everything happens for a reason,” or “they’re probably better off.”person with face in hand

And what about parent-child pairs who are burdened by separation: incarceration, institutionalization, some adoptions, homelessness, violence, or the foster care system? Or those who are denied legal protection for their families simply because they are gay?

Do they offer well-intended faux-comfort pearls like “everything happens for a reason”? Click To Tweet

Although there are facts to contradict my initial statements, I’m convinced that Anna Jarvis, the holiday’s founder, would approve of my rant.

I’m not anti-Mothers’ Day — like most people, I’ve participated in wonderful celebrations and some awful ones. What I *am* opposed to is making things harder for people who already struggle. Or exclusions that border on exile. And extreme insensitivity. Are women who choose childlessness the selfish, driven stereotypes often portrayed in our media? Or, are they simply people who exercised choice about how to allocate the time allotted on the planet? Unfortunately, it’s tempting to point to exceptional contributions that have birthed movements or nurtured companies. Why unfortunate? A woman does not have to be an outlier to validate her choices.

At some point this Mothers’ Day I thought about the women who hoped their children’s demons (violence, poverty, health) would take enough of a day off to allow a casual coffee date or an upbeat phone call. I thought about adult women who no longer have wonderful mothers… and the adult survivors of abuse. Both can turn to total shut-down mode to make a cheerful-sounding call, a brave form of denial to keep them safe.

And how should we honor those who became mothers through rape or incest? What must any of those women be feeling on this, the largest of commercial high holy days? How does a woman manage the intricate mental and emotional gymnastics linking violence and violation to an innocent child? Does she have to go a little bit crazy in that process?

How should we best honor those who became mothers through rape or incest? Click To Tweet

During the first half of May, there is little evidence that such people exist. Many of us have drunk the commercial cool-aide and vigorously post our parental highlight reels for our friends, fans, and followers.

I can’t help wondering what Anna Jarvis would have done with social media. Back in the early 1900’s, she spent three years and a lot of her own money lobbying for a holiday honoring mothers and their contribution to society.

And, soon after that happened? She dedicated much of the rest of her life and her wealth trying to stop the commercial juggernaut. A Jarvis researcher tells us she thinks Miss Anna would be pleased for the holiday’s popularity… and equally horrified by the associated commercialism. (By the way, she was reportedly equally appalled by charities that tried to leverage the day.)

Several years ago, many of our family members collaborated in a decision to cut holiday stress. We replaced obligatory gift-buying with experiences and the occasional spontaneous “I thought you’d love this” gift. And while we sometimes choose to go against another tide and skip certain holiday travel nightmare scenarios, somehow we’re all finding more ways and times and places to connect. More “Hi, how are things?” phone calls.

I love being a mother and a mentor and a grandma and an auntie, but it may be time to stop the madness. Whether we consider connections to our mothers or those from our own children, what’s so special about the second Sunday in May? How can we better honor one another on other days?

##

Andrea Patten’s first book, What Kids Need to Succeed: Four Foundations of Adult Achievement, was written with all parents in mind. Her most recent release is The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head.  Both are available on Amazon.

 

 May 17, 2017  Posted by  Parenting, Self care, Thinking 8 Responses »
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