Six Ways to Combat Zoom Fatigue

Overwhelmed in a Sea of Online Meetings?

Overwhelmed by the tide of online meetings?

 

Two weeks into the 2020 Covid-19 quarantine, I was feeling pretty good. I met online with my directors at Clark College, strategizing how to offer my 20-years’-running class, Wildfire Writing. Lisa and Roseanne were asking what I knew about teaching online.

“I’ve learned that Zoom classes are different,” I said. “The attention is different.”

Turns out, my insight was an understatement.

The attention is different. Oh my goodness gracious me, it is solar-systems-away different.

It is not only different for the participant, but for the facilitator. Three weeks into the pandemic, I was walking around in a haze, or treading water, with this blurry, slow, foggy feeling in my bones. What was wrong with me? I was holding three or four or six Zoom classes and sessions a week, all short, but in between I felt like a zombie.

I started reading about Zoom fatigue. And then I realized it wasn’t trauma that was making me weird and tired, it was simple science.

The energy and strengths of an online class are topsy-turvy from interpersonal meetings. And this helps explain why Zoom fatigue is real.

As humans, nonverbal cues make up ninety percent of our communication. Subconscious, nuanced gestures and tones can only be received in close contact. If you’re an intuitive teacher or worker like I am, you’re reading the moods and modes of your people—but you are using subtle cues on a deep level without conscious awareness of what you’re doing. You’re noting breathing, eye movement, and posture, among other things—many of which are impossible to transmit via camera.

Reducing our meetings to two-dimensional experience restricts our awareness, taxes our resources, fogs our brains.

When we’re relying on Zoom day in and day out for work and learning, we’re asking the technology to do things it can’t. We’re asking ourselves to perform in arenas that are unnatural.  Conversely, it’s easy when meeting online to send and receive resources, to edit documents, to hand off links, articles, videos, titles, and lessons.

At the same time, screens are exciting. To have “phone TV” was my dream as a child, ever since I saw it on the Jetson’s. Now, it’s a reality, and stimulating. And kind of delicious. Just like coffee is stimulating and delicious. But, oh man, too much at the wrong time is hard on the brain.

Screen use and upload of information can be fatiguing. What’s more, these things tap only a fraction of our capability.

Studies abound regarding whole-brain learning, and the benefits of using all of our senses. It so happens, quite nicely, that the strongest writing also incorporates the five (plus fifteen!) senses, and that when we are creating concrete, specific, sensory images with words, we are engaging our brains and activating the brains of our listeners.

Yes, listeners.

Although our eyes may be overtaxed, one thing we’re in short supply of during this stressful and unusual time of quarantine, is listening. And yet many of us have fully functioning ears—thank goodness. Our ears, when allowed to take over for our eyes, can be an amazing resource that funnels useful info we can use.

The auditory system is a neurological system. When we listen to each other, we are connecting in powerful ways that our overtaxed eyes can’t achieve while looking at a screen.

So, incorporating this knowledge, I’ve designed hacks for myself that have made all the difference. My energy is back! My meetings and classes are bringing positive gratitude and feedback which means so much right now. And I’m loving my work – even online.

Here are some things you can try along with me.

  1. Say hello for the first 5 minutes of the meeting, then turn off the cameras.
  2. Limit how many cameras-on meetings you’ll have per week.
  3. Put a lovely screen saver on your computer or phone, turn of your volume, sit back, and listen.
  4. Use an old-fashioned notepad or journal, and take notes by hand. (There are studies on the benefits of writing by hand, too.)
  5. Take a 5-minute break every 30 minutes, or a 10-minute break once an hour. In Wildfire Women, which meets Thursdays, we get up and stretch together halfway between class. In my Story Camp on Fridays, I send the kids out for 10-minute scavenger hunts in their homes or front yards, writing about the objects at hand. As a certified yoga teacher, I also incorporate yoga into the weeks’ classes.
  6. Turn off self-view. In some applications, you can turn off your own view of yourself, and this creates a much more natural feel. You don’t  have to be preoccupied or self-conscious. In Zoom, find your own “square” of image, now click on the three dots in the right hand corner. Scroll down to “hide self view” and select.

Best wishes! Tweak, try, experiment, and see what works as you find peace and equilibrium in this strange moment of history. Whatever happens, please know that the fog you are feeling is not permanent.

 

 

 

 

 

Quarantine Stories: Stuck at Home

  1. Go under the bed.

Under Mother’s bed is a light bulb, a pink sweater, a safety pin and an umbrella. Also, I’ve got Gold-n-Treasure marshmallow bits, and three pillows. Even stuck at home, all in all, I’ve got a pretty good hideout.

I move the hideout into the living room. Mother is reading Ladies Home Journal. “It’s bad luck to open an umbrella in the house,” she says matter-of-factly. “But that’s just superstition. You can break that rule.”

I leave the warmth of the radiator and go outside. It is the first summer in our new apartment, after Mother’s breakdown. An oil slick runs below the curb, blue purple green yellow orange dark blue pink red in a spilt rainbow. I walk around, toward a lake of puddle. I splash. It starts to rain.

I have the umbrella to keep me dry.

When you’re lucky, you can break rules.

 

2. Wear the green vest.

I graduate from Sparrows and that means I’m a Forest Craft Girl now. In the dark with candles and rows of girls, we have a ceremony and sing Kum Ba Yah. Some girls have badges all over their new vests, round ones, square ones, triangles. The only badge I have is the old brown sparrow in a light blue circle.

My best friend Ruby Nickels never got her green vest. She quit. When you’re lucky, you don’t have to quit.

3. Make up Recipes.

If you stand on the kitchen counter you can reach way back into the cupboard.  There’s a lot of old stuff. In a see-through bag there are marshmallows.

Marshmallow Delight. 

Chop three mini marshmallows. 

Break five Triscuits.  Put in bowl. Put in sixteen raisins. 

Put in eleven pieces Gold-n-Treasure cereal. 

Sprinkle red cupcake sugar on top. 

Shake constantly.   

4. Play in the dark.

We turn off the lights. I do six jumping jacks. I walk around like a clown. My brother clicks the flashlight, off, on off, on off. It makes a fast-motion movie like we’re Laurel and Hardy.

We make shadow shapes. Eagles are easy. Theodore makes a fantastic shadow dog.  My fingers don’t close all the way, so my dog has a hole in its face.

I hold the flashlight to my chin.  In the mirror my face turns red with blood.

 

5. Go to Safeway.

Mother is by the milk with her big wool coat, brown comfortable shoes pointing down the aisle. She looks past the cottage cheese, small curd.  “Christy! Where are you?  Christy!”  She says it like I am getting killed. A teenager is watching.

“I’m right here behind you,” I whisper.

It happens again by the creamed corn.

 

6. Use the Sparrows Telephone & Address Book.

Count rings. Twelve for Kendall. Fifteen for Jennifer. Untwist the pig tail cord on the phone. Twenty-four for Lisa May. Lisa May said she would be home, and we could probably play sometime. Six more for Lisa May.

Stop at forty-seven.

 

7. Get my birthday present.

Mother talked to Grandma and didn’t tell me, and Grandma talked to Mother, and now it has shown up, leaning on the porch rail, tied with a white bow.

“It’s a Schwinn,” says Grandma.

It has a yellow banana seat. It’s just my size. “Yay!”

“Just look at you,” said Grandma. “Just look at you riding around. You’re quite the lucky little racer.”

Having a bike means, if I have to go to a foster home, I can ride away fast.

 

8. Go to the corner drug store.

Me and Mother cross the street. She reaches for my hand. Nobody is looking, so I take it. The rules run different for Mother. She knows rhymes and rules and bad luck, but pays no attention.

When she paints with watercolors, she makes her own lines and goes outside them. We are swirls of paint, flowing where no one else can see.

The light turns red for the cars and the walk sign with its walking person turning white, and we walk slow across the street. There are her tan panty hose, and her brown comfortable shoes. Her shoelaces are tied in small bows.

Mother squeezes my hand.

I squeeze back.

Trapped in the darkness, tucked in the creases of my palm, puffy and hidden; it is there: all the luck in the world.

Quarantine Stories: Summer Camp

 

The packing list said sunscreen, sleeping bag, trail mix. I would tame the wild woods with flashlight and wool socks. But the word swimming suit choked my mind with unknown waters.

I’d been living with Grandma since fall, and nobody seemed to know how long it would last. We didn’t discuss Mother’s illness, only that she was “sick,” and “in the hospital.” But it was the most frightening hospital I’d ever seen, where a teenage girl with a crewcut sat hollow-eyed in a TV room, and an old lady shuffled back and forth holding a doll, and a bearded man with a greasy T-shirt talked to a plant.

Not to mention Mother, dressed in a bathrobe, moving slow as if she were drowning. Speaking in a flat, faraway voice, with eyes that looked in your direction but didn’t see. There was a breadcrumb in the corner of her lips.

Now it was summer. No talk about fall, past or future. “You’re going to camp,” said Grandma. The only words I had were mysterious, in Helvetica typeface, next to tidy checkboxes.

Pillow, I read. Out loud I said, “Camera.”

“You can borrow my Instamatic,” said Grandma. She frowned and tapped a pen against her lips.

I looked at that one word again. It reminded me that I could not swim. It told me I might drown.

“It’s only for a month,” Grandma added. “A whole month! You’ll have So. Much. Fun.”

The last word on the list was stationery. Grandma wrote letters every week on her Smith-Corona typewriter. Letters were what you did when you couldn’t do anything else. When home couldn’t hold the right people, at the right time.

I stood in the parking lot, sun gleaming off the gravel. Grandma gave me a peck on the cheek and handed me a package just as I was about to board the bus. It was a see-through box tied with blue ribbon: stationery topped with bluebirds. Their beaks smiled grandly.

Two hours later, the Hidden Valley Camp bus turned out into wide, green fields bordered by forest.

Two days later, I knew the names of everyone in my tent, and what they got in the mail. Stacy got a care package of chocolate chip cookies. Jenny got a troll doll. Terri got a very small pillow with white daisies. I got a letter from Mother.

The return address was Western State Psychiatric Hospital. On the stamped letterhead, Mother’s penciled handwriting sagged like a sprung spiderweb. She wrote, I forget if it’s two or three sentences to a paragraph.

When I was five, I used to lean against the window and cry whenever Mother left. Now I crumpled her letter in my hands.

***

“Canoe time,” Counselor said, some days after. Stacy and Jenny cheered. Terri said, “All riiight!” I shivered at the water’s edge.

I don’t know how I made it into the boat, fat in my orange life jacket. Then I dipped my oar in the blue-green lake of shadows and it was easy. Like sticking fingers into frosting and pulling away a smooth, silky hunk. It was like mirror writing, the way you paddled opposite how you wanted to move.

After, I sat on the dock with my tentmates, dabbling toes in the ripples. The warm wood scratched my thighs.

“I saw ‘The Omen’ before camp,” said Stacy. “It’s rated ‘R’ but my Dad takes me to any movie I want. It scared the hell out of me.”

“Yeah?” said Jenny.

“In ‘The Omen,’ there’s this kid, Damien. His parents don’t know where he comes from. He’s a child of Satan.”

And with three words, the terror was back. Child of Satan told me everything I needed to know. The water wouldn’t kill me. Neither would it kill me to have a mother in the mental hospital. But this was the ultimate terror, and the reason I felt different from the other kids: I was a child of Satan.

The truth of it was a shadow, thick and empty, filling my stomach. I fed on it at night in my sleeping bag, the trees whispering about the canvas tent walls. It exhausted me at craft time. Child of Satan. It yanked me from the inside and outside, stretching me until I was thin and see-through like the taffy we pulled at Group Activity.

Three weeks, those words threaded through my mind.

Then, one day in the woods, I forgot to think them.

Our hike leader led us high along the forest trail. At last she said, “Okay, guys. Lean your heads back. Look up to the highest branches. Squinch your eyes. Can you see how different everything looks?”

There was a shine that wiggled in the treetops, like soap bubble liquid stretched over a plastic hoop. The light was changing, things were shimmering. Walking back to camp, I saw a trail mix of leaves and mushrooms, frosted ponds, sugar-daddy creeks. Old trees offered friendly, knobby hands. The creek was not afraid to sing.

That night, Jenny, Stacy, Terri and I held flashlights to our chins, laughing as our faces glowed molten red, changing from human to alien. I took out my packet of bluebird stationery.

Dear Mom,

I was very happy to hear from you! I’m going to tell you a little about this camp. There are many different things to do. There is Archery, Rifelery, Hikes, Riding horses, special events, sailing, canoeing, swimming, sports, overnights. Its hard to think of everything… Camp fires. Every person has to do something around the tent. One day you might be the sweeper. Another day you might be the Person that puts up the Tent flaps. Everything is fun. Hope your glad to hear from me! Love ya!!

Love, Christy

P.S. I’m beginning to miss everyone a little.

When camp was over, Grandma met the camp bus, tapping my shoulder with her driving glove, ready to hit the road. A month later, she would put me in a foster home.

For years, Mother would save my letter, shuttling the bluebird pages from drawer to suitcase, from dresser to shoebox, in the halfway houses and care facilities where she spent her life. Home would never again mean having her with me.

I stopped crumpling Mother’s letters when they came.  I answered them, putting down my thoughts — even when they were bright and flighty and fake as bluebirds that smiled. In this way, I learned to make my own magic words.

Quarantine Stories: The Contagion in Apartment 30-B

Unseen, unheard. Staying out of school. Exiled from restaurants, parties, sports. Daily getting fearful reports from the front lines. Waiting for it all to be over.

No, I’m not talking about society during Covid19. This was life in Apartment 30-B. I wasn’t given an explanation of my mother’s mental illness, but what I did hear was a constant litany of bad things about to strike: cancer, robbery, disease, suffocation, kidnapping, accidents, murder.

The one thing that calmed my system was a small supply of paper, a pencil, and markers. I read, wrote, and illustrated stories. It was as if I could create a magical trap door, leading out of Apartment 30-B and into a space of hope. When I picked up my Dixon Ticonderoga, I touched possibility. I found respite from the craziness.

And then at age 12, I was brought into a new home, where parents didn’t forecast a terrible future, day after day. I was free from the contagion of fear. And at last I could express myself to others. But the early days had brought a lifetime lesson.

Creativity and panic don’t co-exist. In any given moment, one must dominate.

If I choose creating, it makes way for feelings and experiences other than raw fear. Even if I start with unease or worry or pure dread–this is perfectly good. I can tell a story, draw a picture, doodle into a different thought.

When we choose creating, we’re building rather than defending. This helps hope to thrive, as well as creative strategies for managing crisis.

My writing coaching client and soon-to-be-author, Marianne Wakerlin, sent this note today:

“Much to my delight, I have been able to get a lot of writing done. Not all of it new stories or renditions of old ones. I skip around a lot. I’ve made writing the book my quarantine event so my day revolves around being productive. Skipping around to different stories keeps me from getting stuck. I also change location, spending the majority of my time on the computer but also taking a clipboard out to the deck or the living room couch. My writing endurance has increased remarkably.”

You might not think this possible, but there is hope in any measure needed.

If you find yourself in Apartment 30-B, my heart goes out to you. And I wish upon you a notebook, a yellow number two pencil, and a pack of markers. Look for that trap door. It’s waiting for you.

–Christi
P.S. All classes, workshops and coaching sessions are currently online and over the phone. We’re being patient as everyone learns the technology. Email me with class selections and fees. I’ll add you to Zoom or Skype, or connect with an old-fashioned phone call. Some things are free. Scholarships are available, too.

 

Sense and Sensibility: Finding A New Approach

“I will be mistress of myself.” –Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

I wrote my first novel twenty years ago. It was thin in concept, long in syllables, but filled with characters I loved. I picked it up ten years ago, realizing it was a perfectly good story that just needed revising. But it was tricky: now I was a different person. My early, fanciful ideas didn’t charm me anymore. I stopped revising out of sheer boredom.

Normally I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but this year the resolution found me: I will complete this book and make it amazing.

One the hardest things to find, as a creator, is balance between letting old things go, bringing on the new, and holding onto what truly matters.

This in mind, I fell in love with the Portland Center Stage production of Bedlam’s Sense and Sensibility I saw with my daughter on a recent rainy January evening. We settled in for a girls’ night, expecting all the frills and old-fashionedness of the 1889 novel – and to be honest, I was trying to get myself into the mood but feeling bored with the traditional story.

And then. We were knocked out of our seats by the outrageousness. Victorian girls’ night? My petticoat!

This play captivated me in a thousand ways. It was innovative, fresh, colorful, wacky, inspired and even obnoxious – yet it kept the core of the original story, without ever making fun of the ideals or timeless truth of what these characters were going through.

It was all about the way the story was framed for us. We were forced to see with new eyes, much to our delight and amazement. Imagine: a stage where everything is on wheels, and the action whisks and arrests you, accelerating your heartbeat with the motion and surprise of it all. Imagine: a character change that consists of a person flung across the floor, who rises as another, donning glasses. Laughter erupts from the audience at silly sound effects, and at the whirlwind of movement as doors become carriages, as characters become horses, as men and women are driven together by emotion or scattered far apart. Brilliant choreography brings to light the struggles of a bereaved family in a society far, far removed from our own. We feel it. It comes alive.

The world has changed, oh so incredibly much, since 1811. No doubt we’re a bit bored with the conventions of that time; we don’t speak or live that way anymore.

Ah, yes, back to my own changes. I can honor them, knowing I don’t want my novel to be what it once was, twenty years ago.

You and I move, we wheel about, we surprise the universe.

But the core of our story, the substance of our hearts, it remains timeless.

Photo credits:

Top: Quinlan Fitzgerald as Marianne Dashwood, Danea C. Osseni as Elinor Dashwood

Photos by: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye tv.

Why Every Brilliant Thing Is Brilliant

“Look with new eyes,” I tell the writers I coach. “See through the eyes of Dream Kid. Then write about what you see.”

Dream Kid is that hope-filled inner dreamer, blissfully engaged in any given moment. She is taken with wonder and notices the intricate, quirky details of everything.  As adults, however, we are rushed, challenged, stressed, and injured by the grown-up problems in our lives, and we seldom take time to hang out with these micro-joys. As responsible, critical-thinking people, we lose the tiny miracles that make up a life.

The play, Every Brilliant Thing, takes us by the hand and brings us back. We follow a charming, deep-feeling, curious, caring, seven-year-old who finds a way out of painful adult-induced problems—by concocting a list of all the brilliant things in life. He hopes to convince his suicidal mom that life is worth living. With each addition to the list, he cultivates this magical quality of seeing.

It’s a difficult quality to describe, this way of being absorbed in the minute and wondrous. And so it kind of boils down to things. A kitten, a newborn, a sunset . . .

Wait, this kid’s list is much better:

A ham and mayo sandwich without the ham

The word ‘plimpf’

Water fights

Gatefold sleeves

How long can this list get? What will it take to keep growing the list when the hopeful child becomes a troubled adult?

Isaac Lamb, who performs Every Brilliant Thing at Portland Center Stage, is warm, disarming, convincing as both a kid and the grown-up he becomes. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role; he invites audience participation in such a genuine way.

There’s a moment when he launches into a bongo-drum induced dance, so uninhibited and goofy that you can’t help grinning for joy. He runs offstage with a quick, “Talk amongst yourselves!” grabs a breather and swig of water, then rushes back without skipping a beat: “What’d you talk about?”

Spontaneity is present whenever we look with new eyes. It invites concrete, interesting noticings. It reminds us to live in the moment, which is the only way we get through the really hard stuff.

Hard stuff like family problems, suicide, depression.

“That the list could combat hardwired depression was incredibly naïve,” the performer tells us. And yet,  it offers a gateway to wonder. We can examine the most difficult things along with the most brilliant, seeing the wonder when we take them apart, moment by moment.

It’s what we do when we tell our stories.

It’s what writers do. And all of us who are keeping our Dream Kid alive.

 

 

 

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“Astoria” and How to Be Death-Defying

“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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Teachers Who Help You Be You

Lee's art

Watercolor by Lee Baughman

Thinking today about my art teacher, Lee Baughman, who has made such a difference in my creative life. The best teachers are the ones who support you being you. They don’t insist that you become carbon copies of their work or that you echo their preferences.

Lee has helped me discover my own voice through watercolor, collage, and mixed media. Although Lee is specifically a watercolor teacher, his focus is on helping each student find the tools to develop her own unique voice. With this support, I’ve found immense freedom to grow and play and experiment, and I’ve recently discovered a new teacher who has infected me with the joy of pastels. Thrilled to be learning from Jane Aukshunas.

Teachers and mentors like Lee remind me how much I want to help writers become more themselves. Not to travel the path that I would like or expect, but to lean into their own storytelling vision and follow where it leads.

This is why I get excited when my writers “graduate” from working with me, and move on to other classes, teachers, writing styles, and schools. I don’t own their growth–I’m simply here to witness and boost as they build on their strengths.

No matter where the creative journey takes us, we always hold our first teachers in our hearts. They are our angels.

Similarly, when I run into a student from a class I taught years ago, I revel in our shared connection. It never ends.

Heroes like Lee Baughman have granted free reign to my artist soul, and I’m grateful to offer the same freedom to my students and clients, those beautiful writing souls in my world.

Thanks, Lee!

 

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Outshine the Fear: A Writing Coach Climbs A Mountain

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

When No One Believes You: Reclaiming Your Authority

trees and moon

Out Went the Light

Ned and Karen went to dinner. The little brothers were in bed. Sly was out with his friends. Mina and I were allowed to read in our bedrooms, but lights had to be out at 8:30. I was tumbling through tunnels with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH when I glanced at the clock radio, saw the white digits flipping into place, and turned out the light.

At 9:03 came the thuds of feet on the front porch, door locks, and my own door creaking open. “You didn’t fool anyone, Christy,” said Karen, poking in her head.

“What?”

“Your light, we saw it go off as we drove up.”

“But I turned it off at 8:30.”

“No, you didn’t. I saw it in the window.”

“But—”

I didn’t want to be in this moment.

Best friends, watermelons, Christmas trees and Barbie dolls. Calico bedspreads and Casey Casum’s Top 40, a boy that liked you, Abba songs and Little House on the Prairie. What good thought could I conjure up to change the night?

The entire family gathered in the dining room. Sly tried making a serious face under his thin blond mustache but smashed a grin. “Poor Christy. She’s having a hard time telling the truth.”

“Christy, do you have something to say?” asked Karen.

All those ears waited for my answer. Their eyes flat and staring, their bodies still. Sly’s fingers drummed the table. Stupid Sly. It was none of his business. And there was Mina in her apple-green sweater vest pulled taut over her stomach, her mouth slack and small, her face worried like a mother. Ned leaned away, sinewy forearms on his knees; shoulders thin against the chair back. Karen pushed up her round, pink tinted glasses and watched me. Ned and Karen, the foster parents I was trying to learn to call Mom and Dad.

“Here’s what happened,” I said. “Your headlights were shining in the upstairs window.” I was the queen of reason. “The reflection must have bounced back when you turned off the car.”

Ned shook his head.

“No,” said Karen.

“But I did not keep my light on.”

Silence.

Because of who I was: someone not to be believed.

“I—I didn’t.”

Did I have a multiple personality, like Sybil? Did I leave the lights on, and not know? I wished I had the brains of Justin the Rat, capable of explaining everything scientifically to Mrs. Frisby, even though she was a mouse, and mouses had small brains.

“I don’t know why you’re making this so hard on yourself,” said Karen. “All you have to do is apologize.”

“But I turned my light off!”

“It’s just not possible,” said Ned.

“We know what we saw.”

“But it’s true!” The last syllable trailed long and loud through the kitchen, curling like a mouse-tail back to my own ears: “You.”

Silence.

________

The above story is based on an event when my voice was invalidated. This was the first time such a thing had happened to me. It triggered nightmares and days of hysterics, as if my sense of self was too weak to handle being doubted.

In the year to come, I would move in with a new foster family who would always try to hear my point of view. But this night of not being believed was the first tremor, leading to the earth-shattering news that I was no longer wanted by Ned and Karen.

As traumatic as that was, we creators face this situation day in and out – with tiny ideas, or humongous projects. We believe something, affirm it, create it. Others don’t see it our way. Then . . . we often give up on what we know to be true.

Are you the authority in your own life? For your own creation?

Sunday, January 31, at Vancouver Community Library, I’ll be presenting, “You’re the Authority,” at 1 pm. A lineup of three accomplished and big-hearted writers will follow, making the afternoon complete.

I hope to see you, and look forward to the ways we can validate each other.

_________

Here’s a handout for Sunday’s presentation: Eleven Ways to Develop Your Artist Author-ity.


Happy New Year: Starting Over Is An Illusion

2lotym15_009Happy New Year . . . two weeks late. And right on time.

My thoughts this new year are all about what isn’t. A new year isn’t.

It’s a figment of our collective imagination. A construct. We created calendars and new years to organize our time and activities, to help us identify and sort.

And sometimes, the idea of starting fresh is enticing and exciting. It’s like the pull of a blank page, inviting words.

Other times, starting over can be an enormous burden. This is the case when facing repeated mistakes. Or making New Year’s resolutions we can’t seem to keep. Or re-starting a novel or book or creative work that didn’t meet our expectations.

I used to be unable to keep a journal. I would tear out the pages in frustration, endlessly starting over. I had to scratch out the past, have a blank, clean start, find square one. (My video “Journaling as a Creative and Spiritual Practice” tells more.)

If you’ve made New Year’s resolutions and feel them crumbling already, know this: there is no such thing as a new start. And it is not needed.

Your life is one seamless, beautiful moment, from birth to last breath. Think about it: did you experience a blank screen between December 31, 2015 at 11:59 and midnight on January 1, 2016?

It’s simply your critical mind (“Dr. Codger,” I call it), that relies on tools, calendars, and timelines, in order to assist you. But you are not being assisted if that critical mind is hounding you, over and over, about what you haven’t done within a certain time frame.

Get this: you are right on time. Everything is happening just as it is supposed to. You can keep every page in your journal, even the ones with mistakes. You can accept, too, the imperfectly painted canvas and the broken resolution.

And so we learn from our mistakes, and tell stories about them. Next Saturday, January 23, I’ll be joined by three beautiful storytellers as well as the stunning art of Erin Leichty. “Fumbling Forward, Personal Stories of Awkward Grace,” happens 5 pm at Waterstone Gallery, with myself, Carisa Miller, Sage Cohen, Gypsy Martin, and Susan Domagalski Fleming.

Come and be reminded that you are exactly where you belong, here and now.

With Gypsy Martin, another storyteller for “Fumbling Forward.”

Photo credit: top photo by Johann Leiter.

Breaking Silence, Blogging Mindfully

b 5-instagram-collage

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.

typewriter at The Bookstore

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.”

feeding gray jay

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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Working with A Young Writer: Noticing Favorite Things & Play

Natalie

“The puppy flew out of a cupcake. Her name is Candy.”  –Natalie, age 8

Natalie is the youngest writer I coach. When she walked in with a box of rainbow-colored modeling clay, I set aside my prompts for the afternoon and admired her tiny, intricate creations. As is always the case, what you love is the doorway to your creativity. Your passions are stronger fuel than the instructions of any teacher. Sure enough, when I asked questions and followed her lead, her story was incredibly imaginative and wonderful.

The next time you are hoping to motivate someone to write, yourself included, notice what is already being created but perhaps overlooked. When working with a young writer, pay attention to her play.

Build the writing world on a foundation of beloved things.

Contact Christi