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 Trump is Not “unprecedented”

The word ironic can mean coincidence or unexpected. The MLK holiday comes in the same week as the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. I would say that’s ironic because it’s a coincidence.

Eight years ago it was Barack Obama.  I would say that was ironic because it was unexpected.  Yet, it was also fitting because it apparently fulfilled the famous dream.  To the amazement of all who had very present memories of racial injustices, segregation and inequality, the first African American president raised his right hand and pledged to “faithfully execute the office of president of the United States…to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” No one missed the poignancy of this ascension to the highest office in the land, this audacity to set up residence in a house built by slaves. It made that inaugural day truly inaugural, both historic and unprecedented…

obamabidenThere’s another word for us wordies to think about, unprecedented.  It has become the buzzword for this current political season as businessman, reality show star, leader of the “birther” movement and Obama nemesis, Donald Trump set his sights on that highest office. (Of course, we remember that he misspelled the word in one of his infamous Twitter posts—“unpresidented”—perhaps he was attempting a pun?)  But, is Trump’s ascendance to that position more astonishing than Obama’s?  What made Obama so “different” was mostly his skin color. People criticized his lack of political experience, but he was president of the Harvard Law Review and senator for four years. He had, at least, been working in the political field.  Trump, on the other hand is “different” because his experience has been in corporate rather than national politics. Yet, this lack of experience was “trumped” by his wealth, race and gender. Being a wealthy white man opens doors that no amount of intelligence or experience can touch.

Let’s face it. If you’re black, poor, or female you have to prove yourself worthy of respect. If you’re white, rich and male you don’t have to prove anything.

Ironic? Not really. Unprecedented? Definitely, no. It’s the way of the world.

So, while many of us called Trump’s meteoric rise shocking, we have merely forgotten where we are. Those very present realities (not just memories) of racial unrest and inequality never went away. The fact that we had an African American president merely soothed us with the appearance of change. But the reality is we never entered that post-racial era that optimists heralded in 2008. Race is as much a divisive presence as it ever was in the past. Thus, with the rise of Donald Trump we merely see the resurgence of what was always there, white power “taking back” what it never lost. There’s the irony.  The real irony is that all the while that we clapped and cheered the rise of Obama, we were merely hailing a dream that is still deferred.

“…with the rise of Donald Trump we merely see the resurgence of what was always there, white power ‘taking back’ what it never lost. There’s the irony.”

This year, in the wake of the 2016 social and political unrest, the MLK holiday leaves me melancholy. The hope and change that I had hoped for hasn’t come and the future seems frighteningly uncertain with the mercurial man who stands next to lead.

Nonetheless, this image reminds me that the path forward must be paved in love.mlk5I am reminded that this is why we honor Martin Luther King every year, because his words are timeless, his vision unhindered by current circumstances, nor by the winds of change–good or bad.  Whether the dream is alive and well or withering like a raisin in the sun, we must keep hope alive! That’s no irony, just straight talk.

Happy MLK Day!

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