Finding Your Fire: How One Little Thing Can Change Everything

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Tonight I lit my first fire in my second rental house since my divorce four years ago (looks good, yes?). Not a big thing on the surface. But it’s my first house with a fireplace in 11 years. I was married then. I grew up with a fireplace. In both homes, either my dad or my then husband always lit the fire. My dad did it because, well, I was a kid. My ex did it because…that’s the way it was. (Yeah, yeah, I know – that’s for another blog post.)

I’ve been ready to light this fire since I moved in last June. One of the first things I did was get the fireplace inspected. Safety first! When fall came, I went to Home Depot and got the fireplace tools, a screen, built the tool rack with that stupid little gadget thing they always give you in DIY kits. I picked up a bundle of wood. I was READY. And then…

Christmas came and went. No fire. 

I kept telling my kids, “Hey! Maybe we should light a fire tonight!” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I told myself it was because I was afraid of looking like an idiot in front of them if I couldn’t get it going (our first campfire fiascos and my ineptitude with cooking over a fire are still fresh in my memory – suffice to say the hamburgers melted through the tripod grill thingy and we ended up eating potatoes for dinner.)

Except there is a YouTube video for everything these days, as I realized when my radiator went out on the road last summer, and duh, DuraFlame. So…why am I waiting to light my first fire on Easter? April Fool’s Day, no less? But it is 32 degrees in Chicago tonight…and then it hit me:

This is another first. 

I thought I was done with those, but I am coming to learn that those never end. They just Continue reading “Finding Your Fire: How One Little Thing Can Change Everything”

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Enter “Happiness” into Google Maps: Where Will You End Up?

Sunset landscape

There is something about
Watching an orange sherbet sunset
framed by weeping willows
Sink quietly into darkness
that soothes the soul
(despite the weeping)

There is something about
Walking on eggshells
that changes you
Cheats you
Damages you
Shames you
Silences you
(did you know you could live your whole life this way)

Being told
Don’t tell
Don’t cry
Don’t question
Don’t feel
Don’t be you
(how long exactly does it take for a heart to die?) Continue reading “Enter “Happiness” into Google Maps: Where Will You End Up?”

Why I Write: Find or Reignite Your Creative Fire

creativityThis is for anyone who creates, used to create, wants to be more creative, or wants to start creating something new or different. We all create things. Some of us make art, new recipes, or clothing. Some of us build businesses. Raise children. Creativity takes many forms. But life and time takes its toll. Our creative pursuits often fall to the wayside or we get burnt out, especially if we have to be creative for a living.

I once worked with a group of senior citizens in an assisted living center as a volunteer to help them write their stories. In the first session, there was a lot of silence until one woman finally said, the only thing I’ve ever written is a grocery list! The others laughed. I said – that counts! Because it does. (And yes, we got to their stories.) The ways we share our words and stories may have changed with social media. But any effort to capture our ideas, thoughts, plans and vision matter. That’s why we should do everything we can to make time to create and stay fired up about our creative passions.

One way to do this is Continue reading “Why I Write: Find or Reignite Your Creative Fire”

Burnt Out? Get Your Vision Back!

georgewashingtoncarver158551We all have those moments – I hate my job, I’m burnt out, I can’t take anymore, I’m stuck, I give up, why bother, it’s hopeless! Whatever “it” is that is driving us to feel this way (jobs, crowds, living arrangements, parenting, you name it), the worst part is that we feel hopeless to change anything. So – nothing changes.

We can’t always change jobs. Although sometimes we do and we find that the negative feelings pack up their suitcases and come right along with us. 🙂 We can’t always change our friends, families, etc. But these are all external factors. We don’t have control over those things and that’s frustrating. But there is one thing you can change: how you think.

I believe this starts with thinking about you, instead of everyone and everything else around you that is driving your crazy. Hit pause on all of that for a moment and think about you instead. Build a vision for you and your life that will become your purpose and direction. I know about this because I help companies craft their mission, vision and values – and this becomes the purpose and direction that guides everything from employee motivation to acquisition decisions. But you know who my first customer was? Me!

When I was 9 years old, I created my vision for my life and it was this: I want to write things that make people think. In a speaking engagement on this topic last year in Dublin, Ireland, I only changed one word of that vision: I want to write things that make people think differently. Whenever I am feeling stuck, burnt out or worn down, I return to my vision. And it helps bring me out of that funk and move forward with renewed inspiration. I almost always find one little thing I can do to execute against my vision – and before I know it, I’m back on track.

Want to build your vision? Start with these six questions:

  1. What did you want to be or do when you were a kid? No crossing things off because it’s impossible. Just write it all down. If you don’t remember, dream a little. See what you come up with. Write it down.
  2. What are you really good at? Maybe it’s cooking. Debating. Care giving. Mowing the lawn. Researching data. Whatever it is, put it on the list. Make it a really long list!
  3. What do you believe in? It could be a value – loyalty, kindness, integrity. It could be connection with others; giving back; spirituality. Sky’s the limit here. Once you have a few, rank order them. Pick  your top three.
  4. What do you need? Do you need lots of introspective time alone or do you get your energy from being around people?
  5. What do you miss? Think about your current situation. What’s lacking? Are you getting enough connection with people? Has your job changed so you don’t get as much collaboration as you like?
  6. What brings meaning to your life? Think about the times in your life where you felt like you were really doing your thing, what you were meant to do. What did that look like? Feel like? Where were you? When was it? Who were you with? Try to capture as much as you can about the context.

See what emerges from this. What insights do you see? What connections can you make between the answers on your list? What can you change? How can you be more ‘you’ and do more of your ‘thing’ in your current situation? What would you need to change – and are you willing to do it? Is it practical and financially feasible? Is there a way to make small changes in your current situation – and how you think about it – that would make a difference?

Ultimately, you want to come up with a short vision statement for your life. It looks like this: I want to “fill in the blank.” What you fill in should be high level – short and crisp, memorable, easy to remember. It should be a big, hairy, audacious goal that feels a little nebulous, a little scary, a little like – how the hell do I do THAT? Be idealistic. Esoteric. Go for it! This is your vision. Make it BIG.

Your vision should feel like a stretch to get there. Something you can work toward and build upon for a long time. You won’t know at first how to get there. But you’ll have that vision and it become the guiding principle for your next steps into the future you deserve. It works for me – every time I feel like I’ve lost my way, my vision reminds me that I have a purpose and it drives me to find ways to execute against that purpose in my everyday life. More importantly, it brings me back to the real, authentic me, and the story I want to tell myself and to others. And that’s the only thing that any of can really control.

Go for it! 🙂

You see the problem: Now where do you go from here?

Feeling buried? You can - and you will - dig your way out.
Feeling buried? You can – and you will – dig your way out.

In my last post, I talked about seeing the possibilities one step at a time. Today I want to talk about clarity – once you see a situation clearly, what do you do with it? Where do you go from there? I will start this off by saying I’m not a counselor or licensed in anything at all, I am just a person trying to do my best in life with what I have, so – grain of salt with all of this, okay? And remember that I am a writer, so I think best in metaphors. So here goes…

Continue reading “You see the problem: Now where do you go from here?”

free to see the possibilities

This is my daughter in Florida the very first time she saw the ocean. I feel like this photo captures her true spirit and joy in life. Wouldn't it be great if we could all be this open to joy at every age, not just at age 8?
This is my daughter in Florida the very first time she saw the ocean. I feel like this photo captures her true spirit and joy in life. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be this open to joy and the possibilities of life at every age?

So I saw this quote early today at the gym and I had to share it with you: “Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther” by John Pierpont Morgan.  (Note to self: love that the source says, “This quote is about possibilities.” – Thanks for clarifying!!) You know how people and quotes and things come into your life at seemingly just the right time? This quote did that for me. And I hope it does the same for you.

I think we are all looking for possibilities. I’ve been talking to a lot of folks lately who are dealing with some tough situations – my creative cohert in crime and one of my all-time favorite people Susan is convinced that there is something in the air polluting things for everyone. (Thinking about all the toxins in the air, water and food, I violently believe she is correct – I will specifically mention my personal aversion to Sweet ‘n Low for those I have been trying to talk out of using – you know who you are. 🙂 ) But there are always tough situations that need to be managed. People lose their jobs and their homes, die, divorce, move on, get pissed, you name it. The questions should be not – why me? Or, why did this happen? The questions must be: where do I go from here? And most importantly, what do I want? (Another wise friend gave me that last one – lucky for me I know all these wise people.)

Continue reading “free to see the possibilities”

Writing process: How to get unstuck and have spanking clean toilets too

I have a book manuscript that I’ve dabbled with on and off since 2005. I recently cleared out my creative space and once again opened up the box with everything related to this project: a folder bulging with first drafts and revised drafts, research books, notes, email print-outs, three or four different outlines, story ideas, suggestions, schedules.

So many false starts, hopes, plans, dreams. All incomplete. Where to begin??? Like so many times before, I slapped the lid back on the box and shoved it back in its corner under my desk, out of sight but never out of mind.  My sense of failure was palpable.

Why can’t I finish this damn thing? Was it time to give it up? Had the moment to tell this story passed? I continued to berate myself as I threw in another load of laundry then headed upstairs to make dinner and clean the bathrooms, which is way more fun than feeling like a failure. I might not be able to finish this story, but by golly, my toilets will sparkle and I’ll make the best damn Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff ever!

The thing is, every time I return to this project, I get stuck right here. It didn’t help that I had some chapters in one computer file, others on a USB stick, still more on a disk, and multiple print-outs of copies and versions of drafts. I am organized in every aspect of my life, what the hell happened here? How would I know what was what? Where to start?

And then, shortly after the family was full of stroganoff, the toilets were sparkling, kids were in bed, and I was just about to overindulge in chocolate, I had an epiphany:

I could start over.

I sat up straight on the couch and put my chocolate down. Who said I have to try to put the pieces together from the way I saw this story five years ago? I always knew what the problem was: my story needed a skeleton to hang on, but every time I went back to the pieces, I was forcing the pieces to fit a structure that wasn’t working. Isn’t that the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result every time?

Yep, I’ve been driving myself crazy. But just like that, I gave myself permission to try a new structure. It seemed so simple, but I guess I had been so focused on making the square peg fit the round hole, I didn’t think to look for a new peg.

So, I’m starting fresh. I’m actually pretty excited about it, because I feel like I have a new skeleton that can work. I will pull details and scenes from the 200+ pages I’ve already written when and where it makes sense. That might sound depressing to some who aren’t used to the writing process, but sometimes you have to write a lot to find out what you have to say and the best way to say it.

If you’re stuck, consider clearing out your creative work space to make room for new ideas. Spend time in your creative space. Look at your old drafts. Don’t force  yourself to solve any problems. Try not to berate yourself. Read. Think. Ponder. Simmer. Just show up every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and see what happens.

As for my book, I don’t know if this new insight will solve everything. I hope I will finish this damn thing once and for all. Mostly, I feel pretty good. I’m trying. I’m writing again.