Mayhem Monday: How to Get Out of the Messy Middle

Have you ever felt stuck? Unsure of or afraid to pursue your dreams? I have 5 steps you can take to get out of that rut you’re in, but first let me tell you about my daughter.

She’s only 12, but she’s an aspiring baker. I’m not sure where her desire came from, as her parents are more interested in eating goodies than making them–but somewhere along the way her interest in creating culinary delights was piqued and what I thought would be a passing fancy has become an absolute obsession. She follows You Tube bakers the way the disciples followed Jesus, studying their techniques, listening to their advice and wholeheartedly believing in their message! She gets  positively giddy over kitchen gadgets and loses her mind over things like star-shaped piping tips. “Mommy, please get this for my birthday” she swoons even if her birthday is a year away. “Sure,” I say, hoping she’ll forget by then.

But she hasn’t forgotten yet.

She has held to this passion for over a year and I’ve been amazed by the progress she’s made in her baking knowledge and abilities. She used to be a bit klutzy in the kitchen as she tried to help me with my occasional baking projects. I would have to monitor her carefully and usually gave her the easy stuff. “All you do is pour” her sister would tease. But since watching the experts has advanced her skills tremendously, her pouring days are over.  Now I follow her lead as she unravels for me the mysteries of fondant and challenges my knowledge of bench scrapers and offset spatulas.

This year, the night before our 4th of July party was our most memorable to date.  We toiled together–she as the boss, me as the faithful assistant, on her pièce de résistance–a flag cake she had seen on You Tube and wanted to duplicate.  It was her biggest project ever. When it was finally done, I must say I was truly a proud mama:

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She had come such a long way in such a short time! She had made a huge step towards her dream of becoming a baker.

Yet, as gorgeous as this cake turned out, she and I both know it was not an easy project. There were some tears shed and some mistakes made along the way. We had to stop a few times and re-group and you know what else? Cake-making is messy! Even though the end is sweet, the middle is an absolute mess. Icing and cake crumbs go everywhere!  I was wiping and sweeping for days. If you had walked into the kitchen in the midst of our work you might have thought our efforts were hopeless. There were certainly moments in the process when my daughter thought so. “Just forget it,” she said at her lowest point. “It’s not going to work,” but we pressed on.

Can you relate?  Cake-making is not the only thing that’s messy. Dream-making is too. The writing process is certainly messy and  most creative work is chaotic until it’s done. Often in the midst of it we feel like it’s hopeless! Why on earth did I think I could do this anyway? But, as I look at my daughter and her mini (and many) messy miracles, I think there’s something to be said for the process.

  1. Don’t ignore your passion.  I tried to dismiss what made her mouth water, but once I realized how happy she was in the kitchen I couldn’t ignore it. Is there something you do that brings you that kind of joy? Does it calm you when you’re stressed or flow naturally with moderate effort? It’s not to say you don’t have to work at it, but your passion is something that you don’t mind working at. Don’t ignore it!
  2. Listen to the Master.  Aside from the still small voice that prods you, think about those who are ahead of you in the process.  It became clear that this was more than a hobby for my girl when I noticed that she was repeating to me lessons she had learned from the experts.  She started by listening to the masters–those who came before her who had tread the path first, who had, no doubt, made their own mistakes too. She watched them carefully and absorbed their information so she would know exactly what to do.

  On a very practical level, she knew she wouldn’t be allowed in the       kitchen without     proving she knew something about the work she   wanted to do.  Likewise, you can’t   be a writer if you don’t study   writing–you have to read! You can’t be an artist   without studying art;   you can’t be a musician without immersing yourself in music!   You   absolutely have to “listen” before you can speak with any authority!

3. Get in there with both hands. My daughter doesn’t do anything half-way. She gives it 100% or nothing, there’s no in between.  It’s probably the reason there’s icing everywhere! If you’re going to follow your passion, follow your passion! But don’t do it half-heartedly–go big or go home! Give it your all, pour yourself into it, only what you feed will grow and if you feed your passion it will feed you in return.

4. Ask for help.  I was by my daughter’s side while she tackled her big project, but she got the most frustrated when she was refusing my help, when she was insisting that this be her project alone. Yet as she pushed me away she began making more mistakes. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. I had to help her understand that it’s actually a sign of strength to recognize your limitations and grab hold of someone stronger than you.  Just because you’re gifted in this area, and just because you’re giving 100% doesn’t mean you won’t fall sometimes.  Neither does it mean you won’t need an assistant to come along side you to help smooth out some of the rough edges. It’s not a sign of your weakness if your work isn’t perfect. It’s a sign of your humanity–and, to be honest, collaborative efforts often create the most beautiful masterpieces!

5. Be patient with the process. It has to get ugly before it can be pretty. Too often we glorify the end result without acknowledging the process that it takes to get there. You may be anxious for the party–the New York Times best seller or the Grammy nomination–but if we don’t take time to put in the work–mixing sugar and flour–we’ll never get there. The sugar is the sweetness, when our creative juices are flowing and the muse is our friend! But the flour is the dry periods when the right word just won’t come and the tune just isn’t right. Notice, though, that the cake is made up of both–sugar AND flour–so, keep mixing!

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Photo by Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash

Why Your “Mother” May Not Know Best!

In Tangled, the 21st century version of the age-old fairy tale about Rapunzel–a princess stolen from her parents and locked away in a tower by an evil witch for the first 18 years of her life–the significance of her captivity is that she is less bound by the high tower and concrete walls than by her own mind.

Why?

Because the witch in this story does not wear a black robe, a tall pointy hat nor have a long crooked nose with a nasty knot on the end. She has beautiful wavy hair, enchanting eyes and sings to Rapunzel in a sweet soothing voice “mother knows best!”

Rapunzel’s witch is her “mother”! Or at least, the only mother she’s ever known. And, of course, with the terrifying picture that she paints of the horrors that await Rapunzel outside the safety of her tower, she has convinced her “daughter” that it is best to keep her magic locked inside. Thus far, Rapunzel has been content to stay put despite the breath that catches in her throat as she peers out of her window imagining the freedom that eludes her.

But one day, everything changes!

The tower is breached by a stranger while “mother” is away and she steps out for the first time. It proves to be the most memorable day of Rapunzel’s life: she meets the man she will eventually marry and discovers a world beyond her four walls that is not so scary after all.

Have you ever felt like you were held captive by something–trapped in an ivory tower by an overbearing “mother” who may or may not have your best interest at heart? How often do we make choices about what to do or not do, because of some imposed standard or set of circumstances rather than our own desires? Perhaps it’s not practical to venture beyond the four walls because of dangers and evils—real or imagined! Yet, how much of our maturity and growth as individuals are impeded by the inability to venture out?

As creatives, we are often discouraged from venturing. If we stick to the traditional paths, we are assured safety, stability, and a 401k! Creative work is less predictable and far less understood by those who may appreciate beauty, but not value it. Like Rapunzel, we’re faced with the choice of peering out of the window and imagining the freedom to explore our creative selves while keeping to the confining tower of “serious work.” We’re discouraged from stepping onto the delicate grass of creative spaces to explore fully, openly and with reckless abandon. What would that even look like? Perhaps it would mean submitting creative works for publication rather than stuffing them under the mattress! Perhaps it would mean writing our stories rather than just thinking about them! What about volunteering to play or sing for church rather than just in the shower! Or attending conferences and networking with others who do similar work? For some of us, it’s as simple as acknowledging that we are creatives—writers, singers, artists—naming it and claiming it is the first step in the process of becoming!

Because your gifts are part of who you are, they are what make you special! You can’t really suppress them, they will manifest themselves in everything you do, in different ways, and those around you will notice. They will call on you to do things that they see you are gifted at. You will be the “go to” person for those jobs that you are naturally inclined to do. Even if you don’t know what your gift is, pay attention to what you tend to do without thinking and that is probably it!

The reality is creative work is hard. When you have to make a living, it is easier to pay the bills with a nursing degree than a degree in art history. But here’s where the lies of the evil witch are exposed. Your creative gifts are being used where you are. Even while you’re locked in the tower of your circumstances, toiling away your days under the tyranny of the mother—whoever she is—your gifts are benefitting someone!

So, if your gifts are already being used where you are and benefitting those around you whom you find oppressive or overbearing, why not step out? Why not put your bare feet on the lush green grass just outside of that tall tower that you think is so safe and see how it feels? Why not take a step towards your dream and see if you can do more with your gifts than just appease the selfish needs of the mother? It may be time to put those gifts to use for other purposes. It may be time for you to decide the uses of those gifts rather than have the uses dictated to you.

If it’s any comfort to you, the tower will always be there. You can always go back if you find that your attempts at achieving the dream are not worth the pain. In the movie, when the witch finds Rapunzel, she convinces her that her boyfriend has betrayed her and coaxes the “lost” princess back to “safety”.

But, even if the world is a harsh and hurtful place, can you be comfortable in an isolated tower once you’ve experienced the freedom of wide open spaces? Rapunzel had been forever changed. It was clear she could never again be appeased by a simple song–mother didn’t know best! Rapunzel had seen and heard for herself what the world was like, and the tower–even with its promise of peace– was no substitute for life.

Life begins when you open your eyes and recognize who you are. If you are a circle among squares you will forever be unhappy trying to make yourself a square. Your circleness (is that a word?) will come through no matter how you try to conform, so step out of the confining tower–even if it means stepping out of what’s “best” for you.

What is best for you is doing what comes naturally to you. Find a way to make your life’s work and your natural abilities work together. The world needs your gifts! They should not be locked away in a tower where no one can get to them, no matter what your “mother” says!

Happy Monday!

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Cover photo: special thanks to Julian Santa Ana on Unsplash

A Lesson from my Unruly Curls!

Being a writer or artist of any kind is a lot like having curly hair–it’s a struggle!
Anyone who has ever tangled with a mass of wild curls knows the overwhelm of taking on a battle that you’ll never win. Curls are inherently disobedient! They’ll rise to the heavens when you want them down-to-earth. They’ll run away from the neat little bun you try to pin them in, and if you decide to try more extreme alternatives, like transforming them all together–you know, making them something they’re not– you’re in for an extensive and intensive process involving heat and/ or chemicals, which is not only painful, but also temporary. The curls will inevitably re-emerge. Meanwhile, you’re that person in the witness protection program, checking over your shoulder for the menacing rain cloud, humidity or sweat bead that threatens to bring the curls back! And woe to you if you’re caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella! Then you’re Cinderella making a mad dash before midnight when the magic disappears and the real you is revealed!
See… the “real you” is complicated. Like the temperamental curls, you can’t be easily contained. Maybe you don’t fit into any particular box. Your style breaks the rules and falls outside of pre-set categories. But, being different is a good thing, right? Unless your difference isn’t appreciated. So, how then do you find your niche? Your voice? Your place? Are you gonna be the red-headed step child or the favored blonde? It’s not just a problem for writers, but all creatives trying to find their place in an industry that’s fickle; in a field that’s looking for the “next big thing,” but no one knows what that is!
Perhaps we should take a lesson from our unruly curls!

  1. Curls resist change.

Although they can be lengthened and stretched, they defy total transformation. Naturally curly hair is difficult to keep straight without extreme measures that are damaging to the hair. Likewise, while it is necessary to be flexible and relevant, the essence of who you are should be non-negotiable. You do damage to your sense of self when you try to change to fit in or be acceptable to others. You can be acceptable without changing who you are.
2. Curls have their own beauty.
In her book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown describes her discovery that true belonging is achieved, not through the affirmation of those around us, but from the affirmation we give ourselves. You have to learn, first, she says, how to belong to yourself.
Looking inward rather than outward gives us insight into our purpose and a connection with our Creator that no attachment to an outside source can substitute. By what standard do we measure our value? By what others think or by how well we fulfill God’s purpose for us? It’s easy to get caught up in how many “likes” we have on social media rather than reflecting on the work, the purpose and the inherent value of what we do apart from the attention it gets. If something I write, or something you sing touches one life, was it worth it? Was it pretty enough to matter? I say yes!
3. Curls are free
Long tendrils coil tightly around our fingers and cling stubbornly to each other in a daily tug of war, but we can surrender the fight. The best thing to do with defiant curls is to set them free! Give them a good conditioning, maybe a headband if you must, then let them fly! If you’re not confined to a particular genre or category you can flourish. You are free to explore forms and styles that would otherwise be off limits. You can create new combinations of words and sounds, colors or kinds. Whatever your craft, the possibilities are endless when your free!
So, before manipulating our strands for purposes that aren’t meant to be, why not follow the zig-zag to its natural end and see what’s there? Let go of expectations and be open for exploration! Let’s give up the battle we’re never going to win and embrace the wild and beautiful differences that make us who we are!

Happy week!

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Do you know a curly girl? Get more lessons from the curly world here!

Photo by Bobby Rodriguezz on Unsplash