Mayhem Monday: Get Back in the Game!

I slump onto the step out of breath, sweat drips off of my chin. My heart pounds like a bass drum.

“You okay?” It’s a familiar question.

“I’m fine,” my usual reply. I just need a minute.

A pause.

A few seconds to catch my breath then I’ll begin again. I’m not much of a long distance runner. You won’t see any selfies of me on social media from the Boston marathon. But I do believe in the hard push, even if it’s short bursts. I recognize the health benefits of interval training which involves high level intense activity for short periods of time followed by short recovery periods. This kind of exercise works for me. I get bored with doing one type of exercise for an extended time, so I like knowing that in 5 or 10 minutes I’ll get to do something else.  It’s also motivating to know that even if this exercise that I’m doing right now is difficult, I only have to endure it for a little while, then I’ll get to rest or switch to something else.

As I consider this rhythm with my exercise routine, I can see how this also works with other aspects of my life and work.

There are times when every day is a push. I’m running from one thing to the next, hardly able to catch my breath, and I feel as though my heart is going to jump out of my chest from all the stress!  But then there’s that blessed rest at the end of the week, when I can collapse on the sofa and do absolutely nothing for hours. Hallelujah!

The problem comes when I pause too long. The rest has to be long enough for me to recover from the work, but not for my muscles to get cold. Although the weekend rest is relaxing, if I sleep too long on Sunday, it will be that much harder to move on Monday.

If I’m being honest, I’d have to say this Monday blog has suffered because I’ve overslept.

I use that term ironically, because I’ve hardly been asleep, though.  It’s just that this creative work has been pushed to the side by the day-to-day grind. So much so that every time I’ve come to the writer’s desk I’ve stared at a blank computer screen that merely stared back at me! Sometimes there are no words even when the words are there. They float around, but refuse to settle down. There’s so much to say, yet nothing to be said. I’m stumped by second-guesses, muted by mobs of doubt and, distracted by distant deadlines. So, it has been easier to let the Mondays go by.

A pause? A few seconds to catch my breath?

That’s what I tell myself. I need to re-group. Think about what I’m doing, and what’s my plan moving forward? But, long breaks are detrimental to progress. If the creative muscles aren’t exercised they will weaken.  The difficulty I’m having now won’t last, but neither can I avoid the difficulty too long. 

I know this as I claw my way back to the writing desk! My head is still as empty as it was a week ago, my fingers still crooked on these keys, but I can’t quit! Creative work is work–it’s not easy. But nothing that is worth having ever is. If I am ever going to perfect this craft I must continue to work at it, and the only way to work at it is to work it. It’s like exercise. You don’t do it ‘cause you feel like it, you do it until you feel like it, and once you feel like it, you’ll keep doing it!

After a moment or two, I wipe the sweat with my sleeve as I begin another round. Rest time is over. Time to get back to work!

 

Cover photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

Wait for It…

They say patience is a virtue. But, it’s not a virtue that I naturally possess. When I want it, I want it now!  Yet, immediacy and present action has been more of a wish than a reality for me over the years. For example, my plans to move immediately after I graduated from college dissolved into a settlement in my present location.  My intentions to launch directly from school to a shining career have dragged through a meandering road of unexpected detours and traffic delays.

Yet, I’m told by the wise man that “for everything there is a season” …so I should not see these digressions as stumbling blocks but stepping stones. It’s just that when you’re a person who struggles with that patience virtue, it’s hard to conceive that the extended delay at the stop light is in any way a benefit to reaching the destination.

So, what is it with waiting? What is it about that pause, that is so helpful for the future?

And what about you creatives out there? Do you struggle with waiting?

When you sit at the canvas…

at the piano…

at the keyboard and wait…

for something:  an image, an inspiration, a melody? a breakthrough?

Waiting can be hard.  Yet, waiting does something…

It allows for preparation. If you’ve ever been in that weird space in between, you may remember what you learned. Just think back to middle school—that awkward educational, emotional and developmental space after elementary and just before high school. For some of us it may bring back nightmares of embarrassing moments, bad hair days and acne, but it was also a time of discovery. When the world was opening up, when we began to recognize ourselves as individuals and to establish our own sense of self. Granted, it was the beginning, but that safe space in between allowed us to prepare for the subsequent steps which would be more demanding.

Each phase of our lives is really a space between the previous one and the next which allows us time to learn from the past and anticipate the future. While it can be awkward, it is also comforting because we can take advantage of what we know while enjoying the freedom from what we don’t know.  Let’s face it, sometimes the best part about middle management is passing the buck! (“Sorry, I’m not authorized to make that decision, you’ll have to ask my supervisor!”) Yet, watching what happens at the next level, keeping our eyes and ears open to what goes on at the front of the line allows us time to think about what works and what doesn’t.

While you’re waiting for inspiration to come, what can you learn from what you already know?

It facilitates maturation.  You may not like being in middle school or “middle management” because, the other reality is that you’re often reminded of what you “can’t” do! You’re old enough to “know better” not old enough to have the keys.  You have just enough power (knowledge or skill) to do lots of work, but not enough to get much credit for it. Those around you call the shots, make the decisions and hold your future in their hands. Waiting for your day is like watching grass grow!  Yet, as those of us who survived middle school know, the years in between mark a period of significant change, growth and development. Our bodies and minds matured so much during that time that family and friends hardly recognized us by the end of it! The time of waiting may feel long, but it is necessary to facilitate this maturity. If our parents gave us the keys when we were 12, disaster would have certainly followed. But, within 4-6 years, we matured from those awkward middle stages into more mature (though still maturing) teenagers capable of greater responsibilities and independence.

As adults, moving from middle to upper management–or from novices to masters in our fields–may feel like a work of futility, but the work that we’re doing, the small steps we are taking, every task we complete is part of our maturation. We don’t notice it while it’s happening because the changes are imperceptible, but over time, the accumulation of every small effort—even unintentional ones—is contributing to our development until one day we’ll look up and, perhaps, not even recognize ourselves!

It builds anticipation. Then, when you’ve been in that middle zone long enough to see how it works, long enough to watch what’s next, long enough to study and prepare, you’ll feel that preparation welling up. What may have started out as fear will transform into energy.  When you were a middle-school kid, you may have felt out of sorts–uncomfortable in your own skin. Maybe you worried what other people thought about you and cared what others said.  But during the waiting you’ve had time to settle in. You’ve had time to observe the cycles, to see that people talk about what they admire and camouflage their jealousy with disdain. You understand leadership—that blind ambition clouds judgement, but humility covers a multitude of sins.

You’ve grown and matured.  Now you’re ready for your shot.

You’re ready to take your place at the front of the line–to step out onto center stage.  The time spent waiting is like wood stacked for a fire and the anticipation is a simmering cauldron on an open flame ready to explode!

This is your moment. When preparation meets opportunity, you’ll know it, you’ll feel it and you’ll be ready. “Despise not the day of small beginnings”. Be patient…it’s coming…just wait for it!

 

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Special thanks to Anaya Katlego on Unsplash for cover photo

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