“Astoria” and How to Be Death-Defying

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“Astoria” tells of Herculean effort: the dual expedition to the Pacific coast in 1808 shortly after Lewis and Clark made their journey. When Artistic Director Chris Coleman first came across the book unveiling this history, he asked, “How have I never heard of this?” And in typical Chris Coleman-genius-fashion, he found a way to adapt it for Portland Center Stage.

It’s a sweeping tale. One expedition sets sail, seeking the Northwest Passage via South America, while the second expedition pushes across land by foot, horse, and canoe. The adventures are harrowing, and the miscalculations and misery and deaths along the way are ominous. The man behind this two-journey scheme is John Jacob Astor, an entrepreneur determined to cash in on the Northwest’s number one resource: fur. He’s in such a hurry to get on with things, he makes less than optimal choices of leadership, while ensconced in his stuffed armchair back east.

Astor appoints Jonathan Thorn as the ship captain whose staunch military training takes black-and-white thinking to a horrifying extreme. Ben Rosenblatt plays the role compellingly. As for the land expedition, Astor appoints Wilson Price Hunt, a greenhorn businessman barely qualified to lead a camping trip. His constant waffling makes every bad situation worse. Another great performance here, by Shawn Fagan.

I imagine Astor to say: But what can you do? Brilliant, courageous, survivalist, self-sacrificing, resourceful, ambitious, determined, daring, death-defying, hardscrabble, relentless, mountaineering-and-seaworthy leaders are hard to come by these days.

Near-misses, hard choices, selfishness and self-sacrifice all come into play. It’s a harrowing saga which recounts many near-deaths: being scalped, or gulping down moccasins to avoid starvation, or swallowing seawater in a storm-tossed rowboat.

Why would anyone sign up to go through that? I kept asking, witnessing the perils of each crew. How can greed be such a compelling force? But it wasn’t greed for everyone. It was survival. The hirelings who made up these crews were dirt-poor immigrants or persecuted natives or out-of-work sailors. So they made up their minds about what they had to do.

To not risk, meant dying.

As the play closed, I stood with the rest of the packed audience in a resounding ovation. I felt relieved that I didn’t have to fight fatigue, starvation, disease, hypothermia, attack by natives, treachery. How comfortable my life is.

I have nothing compelling me to take my life in hand and journey across an unknown world under brutal conditions.

Being a creator, my mind quickly goes to the landscape of my writing. I’m okay, so I don’t write as if my life depends on it. If I don’t get my stories or thoughts out: so what?

Creative discoveries may be awaiting as if on a jagged peak or along a swollen river, or in a meager encampment. These are things that deep down I believe I was meant to experience, but may not, without conviction.

Could I willingly sign myself up for emotional peril: pain or embarrassment or the mental anguish of writing my story?

In Letters to a Young Poet (translated by Stephen Mitchell), Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”

I don’t want life-or-death choices, I want my hot bath and my lavender chamomile tea. I don’t want to reveal my stories if it means rejection, judgment, scoffing, or the worst: being ignored.

Those who move the world are these brave ones underneath it all, acting because they must, carving pathways, creating change, for better or for worse.

Time to rethink what I want, and to want risk.

What this reminds me is that it’s time to take the lead of my own creative journey. There’s only one choice of leader. And if she’s going to be a good one, it’s entirely up to me.

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Photo credits: Kate Szrom

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Outshine the Fear: A Writing Coach Climbs A Mountain

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One week ago, I embarked on an adventure I never thought I could or would undertake: climbing a mountain.

It’s too much work.

I’ll freeze to death.

 I don’t have time to train.

I’m not strong enough.

 Ron did it, and Ron didn’t like it, and I probably won’t like it either. 

There’s nothing up there to see anyway.

 These are the thoughts I usually had at the mention of mountain climbing.

Then this spring, I received a personal invitation to climb Mount Adams in support of Mountain Owl, a new northwest nonprofit. I felt a sense of wonder, and a rising, “Yes!”

I said yes.

Deep down, it was something I’d always wanted to experience. My fears on the surface, however, had convinced me for a long time not to try.

As I prepared for the adventure, objections and fears returned. I noticed them. But I didn’t let them run the show. I had to continue to check in with that deeper part of me who is unlimited, who is unafraid.

13743370_1624998721146598_1416744886_nIn this way, climbing a mountain is meditation or prayer or dancing. Or public speaking or painting or singing. Intrusions and doubts swirl like mists obscuring a mountaintop. We learn they won’t last forever. We keep going.

And climbing a mountain is telling someone we love them. If we expect too much risk or effort, we let this override our deep-down desire to show up in the world.

And climbing a mountain is writing.

When we check in with what we truly want to say, we find a yes that outshines all the fear.

One week ago, I climbed a mountain. I didn’t think I could do it; but then I allowed a new thought. And my idea of what was possible lifted 12,000 feet into the clouds.

Mt Adams from the Tent

 

 

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My Creative Journey: Gratitude for A New Guide

I feel beyond lucky to have a new teacher in my life: Jane Aukshunas. Her paintings are magical and vibrant and playful and nature-inspired and radiant. (Those of you who know my art will be able to see right away why her work resonates with me.)

Whenever you try something new, that old, badgering critic waits in the shadows, ready to pounce at the first mistake. Poised to tell you how unpoised you are. Crouching for the kill.

When a gentle, inspired, positive, passionate teacher guides your process, the critic doesn’t get a chance to criticize. What I loved about working with Jane was that she kept offering new materials, ideas, and perspectives. She showered her students with possibilities, so the creative sparks could fly.

So even though I felt awkward about working with pastels for the very first time, Jane ignited my confidence.

X Marks The SpotEvery hour or so, I was learning a new material, throwing down new lines, making a discovery. It was intoxicating.

Jane offered timeless artist quotes as well as her own wisdom. She can see what color is needed in a painting, just by stepping back and becoming aware. I love adapting her techniques and inspirations. They make me feel brilliant!

Also, having many beginnings meant that I could take them home and continue working, continue practicing.

The emerging creations make me happy.

A good teacher is one who colors your world.  Thank you, Jane!

Creative Storm by CJKrug

Breaking Silence, Blogging Mindfully

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I have been deciding what to say about not saying anything.

Just over a week ago, I was immersed in silence. I didn’t post, text, email, or make a phone call for 11 days. For ten days I did not speak.

The silence was part of a 12-day meditation course, and the silence was not the hardest thing. Facing the self was the hardest thing. I witnessed, close up, the false worlds I have built around myself, for myself, through myself. Just noticing those worlds loosened them, threw them out of orbit. I am grateful to feel closer to reality, to spiritual reality, to what is real and true at my deepest level.

And I wrestled with sharing/not sharing. It was all so close to home.

What I learned over the course: I am okay if I am not heard. It won’t destroy me. I experienced a beauty and a release, letting life take over, humbly recognizing that my words do not propel the universe.

Returning home, no longer craving being heard, I considered whether I should quit blogging altogether.

I thought of Tad. When I first met this sweet, wise friend, I was astounded by Tad’s communication skills. I was surprised that English wasn’t Tad’s native language.

A year later, Tad’s speech changed. Where there had been the slightest hint of an accent, there were now round, rolling R’s and thick, festooned consonants. It took me several minutes to understand Tad clearly.

“You speak differently,” I said. “Why?”

“I was masking my accent,” said Tad. “I decided to speak without that layer of effort, and say the words as they wanted to come out. Basically, I quit worrying what others think.”

This beautiful, brave transformation inspired me. I, too, want to show up in the world without the concerted, continuous effort of masking my natural way of communicating.

And this is why I decided to go ahead and break my silence.

I realized, this is why I blog–and why I write, for that matter.

I am committed to being myself, to showing up, and offering the gifts I’ve received. What others do with those gifts isn’t up to me.

I’ll say it again: I don’t have to be heard. I may often be misunderstood. It’s okay.

I discovered a few tips for keeping my ego’s false realities at bay. Here are Five Ways to Blog Mindfully. They work for handling the online confusion of self . . . and I think they also work for putting yourself out there, in any form.

  1. Remember An Audience is Not Needed

An audience is lovely, but I am just as happy, connected, and validated in my creative experience if you, the reader, are not there.

2. Connect with the True Self, not the Online Persona

It’s that saying about not believing your own press. In some strange way, the ego hooks into the person online, or in a photo, or even in the mirror. The brain gets hung up on this appearance,  whether the images are positive or negative. And no matter how I try to be authentic in social media or in a blog, that person online is never who I am. Something is always missing.

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3. Accept A Small Audience

I wrote in Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough, “smallness can connect to happiness.” Allowing my audience to be as small as it needs to be, I can focus on those few people who need my message, the readers and creatives who find inspiration in the things I share. I’d rather deeply connect with one or two folks than “mask my accent” for the whole world, and have everyone fall in love with a me who isn’t me.

4. Relax and Let Down My Guard

So once I’ve gotten clear on who I really am, and what will and won’t make me happy (a mega-following appears to have this power, but in the end will leave me wanting more, always more), then I can cut loose. After all, some people won’t be paying attention, and others won’t get me anyway . . . so what the hell? I might as well say what I want to. And keep enjoying the words that spring forth, even when I seem to have no words.

5. Focus on the Giving

The writer Robert Benson taught me this. In the insightful little book, The Echo Within, he explains why he places twelve names on the wall in front of his desk. “That way while I am working, we can keep an eye on each other.” Instead of making cyberspace or the planet or a bookstore crowd his audience, he focuses on giving to these few humans. His trick is to “Keep writing sentences to them and for them. They are the ones to whom I have been given and who have been given to me for this particular bit of my work.”

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And so, I freely re-enter the work of words. Knowing I can return to the silence whenever I need to. Remembering there is so much more to this business of being human.

Challenge, Ease, Yoga, and NaNoWriMo

Photo by Stacey Hedman www.staceyhedman.com

Photo by Stacey Hedman                                                 www.staceyhedman.com

This morning, mixing up a smoothie of fig, banana, yogurt, and vanilla, I found myself thinking of all the ways I support myself. Today I spent time with my journal. I did my centering meditation. I attended a yoga class, my first since completing a month-long yoga teacher training, and I felt so grateful for the strength, flexibility, knowledge, and perspective that I gained.

Because the month was hard.

And it was easy.

Here’s the surprise. Ease and challenge don’t cancel each other out. They synergize. Dynamic tension becomes an alchemy of limitless possibilities.

Wherever I support myself, I find ease – even in the midst of challenge.

This is the beauty of any practice, whether writing a novel or holding a yoga pose, or growing in a relationship.

In yoga, we energize a posture, activating core muscles needed, giving it all we’ve got. At the same time, we can let go of any tension that isn’t serving – relaxing a tense mouth into a soft smile or releasing locked knees.

My life is fraught with numerous challenges at the moment, but my life is also incredibly easy. The ease comes from knowing I can head into the winds of change while saturated in joy, peacefulness, and a sense of security and comfort rather than stress or fear.

I used to have it wrong. I thought that life was hard, and so I didn’t take care of myself. I didn’t want to push too much. If life is frightfully hard, why invite challenge?

Now my view has flip-flopped. Life is easy. That is, when you are kind to yourself by breathing, trusting, listening, caring. And in this ease, we can reach for change and challenge and growth and move through things that are very difficult. They are going to happen anyway.

I’m thinking of a young writing client. At nine years old, she is accomplishing the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing a novel in 30 days. She has the support of her mom and dad, who each do their part to help. She is playful, yet propelled by vision. She understands that with her schedule, reaching her word count may not happen on time, but she supports herself by being positive and lighthearted. Oh – and let me not forget – she uses the support of a writing coach! I think we could all learn from this kid. I know I can.

Are you trying to make life easy by not trying? Oh, this is a hard path.

Are you reaching for creative challenges?

Are you making things hard, by failing to practice self-care?

I invite you to go for your biggest dreams, your hardest challenges. At the same time, relax, breathe, and discover all the ways you can be at ease.

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Courage is Simply the Willingness to Be Heard

The Willingness to Speak Your Poems - www.christikrug.com

A new writer thanked me today for showing her the way to courage, the courage to speak up, the courage to share work.

I don’t feel courageous.

As a featured poet for an event last week, I found myself standing at the mic thinking, “Why did I say yes to this?” Before I could say a single word, there was a blank moment when my poetry appeared in my mind as a Very Stupid Idea. This isn’t the first time I’ve had that thought, and it won’t be the last.

What I keep coming back to: the willingness to be real. The willingness to show my pain and my struggles, my outrage and terror, my creations, my experiments, my soul.

The willingness to speak and to be heard is more powerful than fear. That’s all I have, really. It is the willingness to be the person I am at my deepest core.   I know others won’t always get me; they definitely won’t all think I’m brilliant. My poetry may indeed appear to others as a Very Stupid Idea. Yet they’re not the ones I answer to.

That soul of mine: it’s where the accountability is.

And so I’m willing. I guess this adds up to courage, all on its own.

NaNoWriMo and Places of the Imagination

I’m taken aback at my sudden directive to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’d planned to do some work on my novel, but in a last-minute gut decision I committed to fully enter the world of my imagination.

And I’m glad for it.

I put so many demands on myself that I don’t give free reign to projects that take my imagination full tilt. I’ll create, but I’m wary of my time. I’m wary of losing control. Working in bits and pieces helps me feel sane.

You can’t create art that astounds you if you’re trying to stay in control.

What I’m discovering is that digging into a world of my imagination is renewing my energy, not using it up. I’ve had it on my list, for weeks, to write this Fire By Night post, for example.

And I’ve also longed for more art. I’m doing that too.

IMG_0195You’ve got to let go, meld with the process, and move where the creating takes you.

And so I’ve rearranged my schedule temporarily in order to lose control.

How about you? Are you on a wild ride of creating, or are you trying to keep everything neat and tidy, and same as always, so you can maintain certainty?

If you’d like to chat in person when I come out of NaNoWriMo hiding, please join my visits as a guest author on Saturday, November 8 at 1:30 at Another Read Through Books in Portland; and as a guest poet on Saturday, November 29, at 7 pm at Mon Ami Coffee and Crepes in Vancouver.

Goals vs. Purpose: Measuring the Creative Life, Where Everything Counts

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My daughter B, home from college, is sleeping in my writing space.

I feel displaced, frustrated. Failing.

What about all the things I hoped to accomplish this summer?

Publishing: submit
Short story: start
Art: finish picture book
Novel: get halfway through this monster
Nonfiction: draft book

I’m not getting anywhere. Stuck.

“So, Christi,” I ask myself. “Why are these things so important, anyway?”

I take the list apart and look closely.

Publishing.
I want to get my words “out there.” I want to mean something.

Short Story.
I love the fun of a short piece, the surprise of discovering where it will go.

Art.
I want my art to delight.

Novel.
I want to fuel my creative life, to stay with the craft and enjoy it.

Nonfiction.
I want to teach, mentor and forge relationships.

All of the above.

Ultimately, this is why I do everything: to love and be loved.

 

And then I realize I’m doing it. ALL OF IT!

Total mindset-flip. How?

I stopped looking at the goals (the “what”) and got in touch with my purpose (the “why”).

Things are much simpler than we make them. Your purpose is far more important than your goals.

I invite you to downshift into a greater understanding of why you create.

My list is below. Now it’s your turn.


 

How I Stayed in My Purpose Today

Publishing:

Made a couple of greetings to send friends. These two hand-crafted cards will mean something to my dear readers. If this isn’t publishing, what is?

Short story:

Chose carefully my words for the cards. 

Art:

Decorated the cards.

Novel/fueling creativity:

While cleaning kitchen, listened to John O’Donohue’s thoughts on being an artist (To Bless This Space Between Us). Worked on novel for 15 minutes. Wrote two pages in journal. Walked with a fellow creative coach.

Nonfiction/teaching and mentoring:

All week, taught and coached gifted, appreciative, unique, amazing writers.

“Loved and was loved.”

In the weeks that my daughter has been home, we’ve shared laughter, stress, stories, adventure, art, and hugs.

Which means I’m right on target with what matters to me.

It’s all in knowing what to count.

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Creative Change in Relationships

Living well means loving and honoring the people in our lives. Sometimes, though, we use them as an excuse to avoid the work we know deep down that we need to do.

This is a personal look at how I’m emerging into brave places in my relationships.

It’s not an easy thing – and in fact, involves loss and disappointment.

But these are the scary choices we face on the way to being our most authentic, creative selves.

 

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Creativity, Trauma, and My Beautiful Selfishness

Last weekend I ran away for “my selfish weekend.” Alone and unplugged, I focused on creativity and restoration.

I painted. I walked in the woods. I made collage. I drew a bubble chart of my projects. I wrote poems, worked on my novel.

I’d tossed into my bag Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life. I picked it up. It came to me in a fresh wave that indeed, I survived chronic childhood trauma.

One thing trauma does is shut a person down. Creativity opens a person up.

As I’ve learned to express myself, I’ve woken up to life.

And life isn’t about being comfortable.

Over the past year, emotions have sharpened. The life force insisted I pay more attention to my inner world.  I tackled creative growth with a fierce, new selfishness.

Yet there’s been a sticky sense of guilt. Part of me wants to go back to being the person I used to be.

And, honestly, the people around me have been less than thrilled. One family member said, “Everything’s about you, you, you.”

I could explain what’s happening as healing from post-traumatic stress. Or I could grab another label: midlife crisis, perimenopause, empty nest syndrome, soul recovery.

Or I can just call this my beautiful selfishness.

As I told one friend, “I can hardly believe myself. I’ve started doing what I really want to do. I am not all about my husband and kids anymore. I’ve stopped asking permission.”

“Oh, then it’s balanced,” she said.

“What?”

“It’s balanced. When your kids were young, when you were newly married, you focused on everyone else. You spent years doing that. This is a time of putting things into balance.”

I came across this in Healing from Trauma:

“It’s okay to enjoy yourself,” writes author Jasmin Lee Cori. “It’s okay to let go of others’ suffering as well as your own and for a little time be ‘selfish.’ Actually it’s not selfish; it’s self-regeneration. It’s a very human capacity that helps keep us alive.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, giving ourselves time and permission to create, play, and heal can feel selfish. But it’s our birthright. It’s being alive.

I must claim all of this if I’m going to help anyone else do the same. The more care I give my soul, the more I can care for others.

This selfishness is crucial to wholeness.

It’s balanced.

It’s beautiful.

 

 

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