Monthly Archives: January 2011

Passion and Play: Artist Advocate Arising

For much of my life, my need to tell stories has been filtered through theatrical performance. But fiction was my first love. Like too many sensitive children, I let an English teacher kill my passion for writing with a few flicks of her red pen.

When I finally decided to get over it and write anyway, I addressed the power of her comments creatively. A character with her name was the first victim in the first novel in my ″never going to see the light of day″ pile. Killing her comments off symbolically was a surprisingly powerful act and was the beginning of my adult journey to writing from my own imagination.

In reigniting the passion in this one area of my life, I have triggered other dormant passions to rise up and demand attention. My lifelong interests in justice, art, and play are combining with my compassion and care for human beings and driving me to write non-fiction about issues I care about. And, I am being driven to do more than write, to connect with others and to advocate in many forms for the issues that matter to me.

Watching my bright children make their way through a world where their intellects and sensitivities are not always appreciated has reminded me of the issues that bedevilled my childhood. I have taken up the mantle of advocacy for gifted child and their needs.

I have developed new online connections with InterPlayers and other people who care about play and playfulness. They remind me daily of the power of play. Because of their inspiration, I have returned to the advocacy of play as a crucial element of human growth and development. I am looking to lead InterPlay workshops and am building a website to promote play around the world. More information about the website A More Playful Life will be coming soon. In the meantime, follow A More Playful Life on Twitter for play-related news and inspiration.

In my life, I have trained as a lawyer, a minister, an actor, a director, and a play facilitator. Now, in a stream of energy and power, all this training is coming together and pushing me into three distinct areas: fiction writing, gifted advocacy, and play advocacy.

My fiction writing is my place of personal deep play. The other activities are forms of engagement with the wider world on behalf of myself and others. The heart of them all is the knowledge that through playful engagement with myself, I create energy that I can direct towards transforming the world. My power is where my passion is.

Justice, art, and play are my driving concerns and they are driving me forward with great energy now. I am not sure where the ride will take me, but it promises to be thrilling. I hope you′ll join me.

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The Perils of Page One

Last night, I was struggling for a book to read. My husband remarked that I have dozens of books on my to-be-read pile by the bed was accurate, but limited.

I was in a particular mood last night. I had not had a good day and I wanted a fiction book that take me away to another world. Most of the books on my to-be-read pile have some element of work associated with them. I needed escape.

Eventually, I settled on Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle. I have not read this series. A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favourite books as a child, but I did not pursue L’Engle’s work beyond that series. A few years ago, a friend referred to one of the Austin books as crucial in her development in the same way that A Wrinkle in Time had been for me. Last weekend, I chose Meet the Austins for myself as I was browsing Young Adult books for my son. And last night, I decided to give it a go.

I was grumpy and tired, not a good starting point for being generous with an author.

Meet the Austins opens with a description of a family. It is a loud and boisterous house full of children and Mother is cooking dinner. Not an auspicious beginning for me at this time of my life. Cooking dinner with my four kids in the house is my most stressful time of the day. And I wanted to relax with this book. So far, all it had done was reinforce my desire to get away. I was about to throw the book down in frustration.

And, then, I turned the page. The sentence that spans the first two pages describes Suzy, the 9-year-old of the family, performing surgery on her doll while peeling carrots and using the peeler for both tasks simultaneously. This image and the beautiful phrasing that L’Engle uses to convey it enchanted me. And with that sentence, she kept me as a reader.

Many readers are not willing to spend time investing in a book that doesn’t grab them immediately. My husband is one of them. And last night, I would have been. But, there, in the last sentence I expected to read before putting the book down, was my reason to continue.

If I had a slush pile to read through and was trying to get things off my desk, I wouldn’t have lasted to the second page. As it was, I closed the book at the end of Chapter One and am looking forward to returning to it tonight.

But, I learned my lesson as a writer. Those first words are vital. It is true. Don’t wait until page 2 for an engaging image and a well turned phrase. The reader might not get to page 2 if page 1 doesn’t sparkle.

Dancing on the Keys: Bringing Joy to Piano Practice

For Christmas, we bought an electronic keyboard because our eldest son said he wanted to learn to play piano.

I have always wanted to play piano, but have never played for long enough to get past the physical confusion that arises when my left hand and right hand are asked to play different things at the same time. My husband also has some projects that might benefit from having a MIDI keyboard at home. Since three of us were likely to use it, we bought a better quality instrument than we would have done if it were just for our son.

And, having spent the cash, I feel obliged to practice.

I started playing through the lessons that we bought for our son. So far, it is all material that I had mastered two decades ago but haven’t played since. It is coming back quickly. By the end of next week, though, I will be starting the material that I never mastered: chords in the left hand on beats 1 and 3, and dotted half notes and dotted quarter notes in the right hand melody. My body clenches just thinking about it.

And so, I added a new element to my practice this week. An active pursuit of fun. I have thought of my fingers as dancing on the keyboard. Thinking of playing as dance has shifted my physical connection to the instrument. My fingers caress keys they used to hit. My shoulders release. My torso gets involved.

From my earliest childhood, I have danced from the heart. Even during my years of serious ballet training, I never lost the passion of improvising by myself in my living room. The years of legal training and practice were bad for my dancing, but even then the impulse was there. And then, I discovered InterPlay: a community and practice that invites me to dance with my biggest body-mind. I reconnected with movement that starts with my breath and ends beyond the reaches of my physical being.

Now, I am bringing that energy and impulse to my piano playing. If I feel myself tightening against the challenge or mentally straining for a passage, I take a deep breath and remind myself to dance. Practice has become a joy. If I come to the keys exhausted at the end of a long day and let my fingers dance on the keys, I am rejuvenated. I reach a state of oneness with the keys even as I struggle to find the notes for a simple melody.

The muscles of my torso, shoulders, arms, and hands are adjusting to the movements required to play and there is a physical tiredness after a long practice, but my heart is open and my spirit high.

Who knows how my piano skills will grow or stagnate, but I am starting to believe that if I bring this energy of playful dance to my practice, even the discovery of what my limits are could be fun.

An Ideal Audience or Why I′m Not Writing For My Son Anymore

My current work in progress is the second long narrative I have started by thinking ″I would love to write a book my eldest son would like to read.″ And it is the second one that is not turning out that way after all. Although I might write short stories that he would choose to read, when I spend the time to write a novel length story, my need to tell a story that is meaningful for me wins out every time. And, in fact, the audience I am writing for is the daughter of a friend of mine in California.

One challenge is that my son is an ever shifting audience. Because I live with him, I see all the daily changes in what interest him and the development of his reading interests and I cannot keep up with him in the process of writing a novel. His whims come fast and go faster. My writing continues to plod through revision. If I have a shifting target, I will never hit it with anything as massive as even a short novel.

Another challenge is that my son doesn′t love the same stories that I love. He is 7, but he wants a book written with the depth of thought and complexity of language of a well-written novel aimed at 9-12 year olds. He reads a mix of science fiction and fantasy, loves comic books, and has a small boy′s fascination with all things sticky, icky and gross. And he has become anti-girls. He has a definite preference for books written by people who are more in touch with their inner small boy than I am.

As I have delved into my story, I have become more aware of how the person I am is shaping the story that is in me for the telling. For example, I found myself realizing that the emotional story I wanted to tell would fit more easily on a female protagonist, and so I have changed the gender of my protagonist. And with that change come a wealth of changes, each of which makes the story less likely to appeal to my son.

Luckily, I have an Ideal audience to write for. Her name is Lydia and she is a real girl. She reminds me of me when I was her age and she is right in the middle of the 9-12 reading world. I have not seen her in ages so, for me, she exists as much in my memory as she does in reality. And, my memory of her hardly changes. But, she is also a real person. At the moment, in the early revision process, I am writing for my image of Lydia. And that image gives me direction and focus. But, I also hope that eventually she will read the manuscript and give me feedback on it. Because she really is the sort of audience I am writing for: girls who are kind of like I was. Girls who want to find themselves reflected by a book while at the same time being transported to an imaginary world.

Maybe some day I will write a book for my son. But it won′t be this one. And it may not be the next one either. And that′s okay.

Can We Not Pause? Reflections on the Shootings in Arizona

Today′s shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson, Arizona is a tragedy. There is no doubt about that. My thoughts of compassion are with all those who have been touched personally by this event. I feel a need to address the public reaction to the news. And, despite the fact that I live in Canada, I am an American and have responded as an American.

There are people who have their hearts breaking today. Some have lost a loved one. Some are waiting with bated breath to hear about the condition of loved ones. And some, presumably, have seen a loved one commit a horrific act. My heart cries out with compassion for all of these people.

I have chosen not to watch or read more than the basic news about the event today because the responses are dishearteningly predictable. The media are trying to tell a story before there is enough information to support more than a brief recitation of facts. Politicians are making public statements of compassion. Pundits are weighing in on possible motivations of the shooter. Accusations of culpability are being thrown around, without regard to merit. People are distancing themselves from rhetoric that appears callous in light of today′s events. A lot of people are busy talking, making judgements, interpreting the circumstances in ways that reflect their prior understanding of the way the world is.

I am not ready to engage with any of that. My heart has been touched and I must grieve.

I grieve for the people who have been touched today’s events. I grieve that the world is one in which people do horrible things to each other, for whatever reason or lack of reason. And I grieve that we cannot simply let our feelings be our feelings. The commentary, the PR spin, and the blame-throwing so soon after the event diminish the experiences of those who weep out of love. It is too early to analyze. This is a time to stand in company with each other. And, as facts are gathered and the circumstances understood, then there should be reflection and analysis.

Like many people, I want never to hear news like this again. Like many, I have ideas about how social institutions might be modified to increase such a likelihood.

But, I fear that without taking the time to experience our emotional responses, we head into a preordained game, where each of us interprets this event as reinforcement of our preconceived ideas. Our psychological defence mechanisms will kick in to prevent us from seeing alternative ideas or facts that suggest our initial views might be narrow or even wrong. In the conversations I witnessed before shutting off my connections, I saw too much of this happening already.

Yes, I have ideas and hopes about political conversations that might emerge eventually, but I don′t want this event to be political before it is witnessed as deep individual experiences. Even if we end up with the same political divides we had this morning, allowing ourselves the time and space to have human emotional reactions and to acknowledge that there is common ground between people at the level of our human physical experiences might allow respect to bubble back into that divide. I fear it is already too late.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet? A Question of Public Persona

Who do I want to be on Twitter? Each time I tweet, I am putting an aspect of myself into the public sphere. Each time I delve into a new content area, part of me asks, ″Is this wise? Is this how you want to be perceived by strangers?″ My answer is a growing sense of ″Yes!″ I am embracing the complexity of ″me″ in a public way. And I think that is a good thing.

In The Beginning

I started exploring Twitter after a workshop on self-promotion for writers. I signed onto Twitter with the explicit purpose of finding people who might want to read what I write.

What I found was so much bigger and better than I expected. In particular, I found connections with individuals and organizations who engage with issues I care about but have no one in my offline life to dig deep with.

  • I found writers whose work I admire talking about their process to turn words into a book.
  • I found mothers of babies born too early and mothers of triplets.
  • I found people who lead InterPlay and live inspired by its principles.
  • I found #gtchat, a weekly conversation about gifted issues hosted by Deborah Mersino.
  • I found Unitarian Universalists sharing writings by some of the theologians I studied with during my years at Starr King School for the Ministry.

And more.

The Dilemma

All my life, I have struggled with issues of giftedness and theology. And both are areas in which I have been shunned or shamed for speaking openly. But, my life and work are infused with these elements of my personality. To write about what I find most important in this world, I have to engage these areas of myself.

If I refuse to participate in the #gtchat or Unitarian Universalist conversations because I don′t want to scare off potential readers, I am depriving myself of the opportunity to connect with people who will enrich my world. I am vulnerable when I expose myself, but without exposure, I cannot meet the people who will value those parts of me.

Resolution

Phil Porter, co-founder of InterPlay, says life is like the contents of your kitchen drawers:  some items are easily categorized silverware and the rest are miscellaneous useful gadgets: “Our experience is as specific and varied as the potato masher, the cheese slicer, the garlic press, and hundreds of other kitchen utensils that we can hardly identify by name or function.  We are a delightful mystery, full of inexplicable surprises and the simplest of pleasures and pain.” (Phil Porter, An Invitation to Embodiment.)

I tweet because I am a writer, but I tweet as a person. If I only tweet about the easily categorized ″knives, forks, and spoons″ of my writing life, I am not bringing my whole self to the table.  I want to bring my whole self to my writing, why should I not bring it to Twitter?

My answer is ″To Tweet″ and to trust. I trust that my full disclosure will not drive away too many people who would otherwise be drawn to my work and, that in being open, I will find the audience who wants or needs what only I can say.

Step By Tiny Step: Changing My Life Practices in 2011

I like the idea of New Year′s Resolutions.

But, the dark of winter isn′t a time of year that sits well in my body for changes; change requires energy. When the days are short, my body wants to hunker down in mock hibernation.

And, resolution is an uncomfortably strong word. Resolved is decided, completed, determined. I don′t know exactly what result I′m shooting for. I only know that my life could do with being shaken up a bit.

By nature, I am an idealist and the messiness of real life often disappoints me. I need a goal setting process that encourages me to be gentle with myself if I fail. And yet, I want to push myself. I need a gentle process for making changes.

InterPlay holds powerful tools for playing with change in easy, non-threatening ways. So, I am turning to InterPlay principles for guidance this year: the power of Body Wisdom Practices, Incrementality, Easy Focus and the ever-central ethic of Play.

One of the principles of InterPlay is that we get in and out of trouble in incremental steps. Actually, in my experience, I get into trouble in huge leaps and out of trouble in tiny steps. And, most of the time, when I leap into trouble, it is because I went overboard in a direction that could have been good, if only I hadn′t gone so far. This year, I don′t want to make a sweeping resolution, I want to start taking little steps. And maybe they will move me away from trouble. But, by only making small changes, I will have the opportunity to change course before I have strayed too far into dangerous waters.

If we change our practices, we change our lives. ″Practice″ is a great word, though it is better in American English where the spelling does not change between the noun and the verb. To practise something is to accept that one is going to make mistakes, but that one will continue and will most likely get better. A regular practice can be seen as an opportunity to practise.

In my life now, too much of what I do feels like hard work, my body yearns to move fully, and my writing cries out for more time. And so, my plan for this year is to practise playing, moving, and writing, and to see where those practices takes me. By taking my focus off the goal and holding the process lightly (Easy Focus), I hope to have fun on the journey. How cool would that be?

Here are a few other resources on setting goals that have resonated with me this year:

Goal Setting for Perfectionists

Goal Setting Strategies from Life Coach Martha Beck

One Way to Nudge Ourselves into a Nourishing New Year Together

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