Friday, October 29, 2010


Requiem, originally uploaded by scrollwork.
"I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid."

— T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Same sky, same window — altered view

Sky, originally uploaded by scrollwork.
A year ago, I drove 100 miles to work and back each day. In the winter, there'd be many days when the tulle fog made it impossible to see beyond my own car hood. I had to keep inching along or risk being rear-ended. It took a great deal of willpower to get up everyday and get behind that wheel, knowing I had two hours of white-knuckled steering ahead. I tried to remind myself that somewhere beyond all that claustrophobia-inducing impenetrable shroud, beyond the dead quiet isolation of the back roads, there was still a sun that shone down, invisible as it was to me at the moment. I projected myself by sheer imagination into that clear, calm, sunny space.

Know that the fog is fleeting, and the sun will always win out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shine your light anyway

Find your way home, originally uploaded by scrollwork.
In grade school, we were taught to sing,
"It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark,
Better far that you light just one little candle — all you need's a tiny spark.
If we'd all say a prayer that the world would be free
The wonderful dawn of a new day would be...
And if everyone lit just one little candle
What a bright world this would be!"

With my dimming memory (which I blame on perimenopause, the convenient catchall for all my physical woes), that's my best recollection of the lyrics, anyway.

Yes, it feels so good, freeing and cathartic to vent to a friend, write an angry letter (then rip it up), or come up with one brilliant retort that silences that irritating little yappermouth who's been snarking up your tree.

But if that's become a way of life for you, not an occasional release of steam, I'm guessing you're walking around with your finger on the giant button labeled, "Just try pushing this."

And you're not happy. So who's got the remote control on that?

How do I know? I fight that battle in my head every day, dear reader. I'll be serenely picking cat fur off the furniture one moment, and the next my heart will be pounding as my thoughts careen toward My Personal List of Unjust Utterances.

Grrr, I remember a host of cutting remarks that have knocked my ego onto its front teeth or dared me to unsheathe my saber of a tongue.

"I would never wear something like that." (It's good to know your limitations, girly.)

"I could never live where you live." (You'll never have to, you have Doctor Daddy buying you a condo.)

"Isn't that a stretch for you?" (I can stretch far enough to connect my knuckle to your jaw.)

"You'd be pretty if it weren't for that chin." (I'm Leno's love child.)

"You speak English very well." (for a non-white person?)

"My wife says you did better than she had expected you would." (And you have no qualms repeating this to me?)

"You have young children, you should be home with them." (from a two-bit editor trying to intimidate me into quitting)

"We picked the other applicant because she's young and single, and her interests reflect that." (from another editor who forgot there are things such as birthdays, weddings, and oh, this little thing called non-discrimination)

In the tradition of Dave Barry, I add: I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

Funny how my usually foggy memory manages to retrieve all the bad things without delay. I have yet to locate the manual on setting preferences for memory access. I think the drop-down menu is in the vicinity of the heart, not the head.

By the time I'm to the bottom of My List of Unjust Utterances, I'm walking around in a dark cloud of buzzing flies and dust the likes of which Pigpen in the Peanuts strip has never seen. It won't take much effort to grow that list. Or balloon that dark cloud.

But would those trapped miners in Chile choose to stay in darkness? That would be insane. The world cheers, and I right along, as each miner is brought back into the light. I just need to snatch myself back.

If only it were as simple as switching on my head lamp. I am always on the prowl for switches that can toggle me over to the bright side. Happily, it doesn't take much to do that, either.

Today, my friend, Jan, posted this thought on Facebook:
"Being happy doesn't mean everything is perfect. It means you have decided to see beyond the imperfections."

Aaaand I'm sunny-side up again!

The keyword here is 'decided." Happiness is a choice. It's not contingent on every condition being met. (But I do think happiness and hope are intimately related.)

In the quiet evening hours, my husband is used to me randomly piping up, "Contentment." I'm bookmarking the moment. It's a good way to balance our interaction so that not everything that comes out of my mouth is a whine.

What do I choose to be happy about today?
How about this: you're reading me right now. You've given me your time. You might decide to sample a couple other posts here. You might even come back. I'm on cloud 9! (That's the cloud above the dark cloud.)

"I see you," as they saluted each other on James Cameron's Avatar. I see you in Australia, China and the Philippines lighting up on my analytics audience map when my Canadian, Mexican and U.S. readers tuck in for the night. I see you in the U.K. and Germany checking in. There you are, Saudi Arabia. Hello!

You've lent your energy to this space we've carved out for us, not even two months in existence. My Follow widget works now, too -- woohoo! Hearts to Kristine, my first official follower who isn't related to me by blood or marriage. Soon the little page views counter will say 1,000, and we'll all be flicking on our lights in the darkness to let each other know we're here.

Be brave, say something out loud in the comments section, OK? I'll be listening for you, dear one.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Demise of Clockwise

The Demise of Clockwise, originally uploaded by scrollwork.
I call out, "Get into Line of Dance; move counter clockwise around the ballroom."

The students freeze. Faces blank out. To a generation that tells time by cellphone, clockwise is archaic. Even those with alarm clocks on their bedside table rely on LED numerals. They can't read what the big hand and the little hand might be trying to tell them.

The generation gap spans widely at the dance studio where I teach. But that's OK. You couldn't get me to tell time by the sundial in my garden. And the only time we've ever used the likeness of an hourglass was with a miniature minute version that timed my daughters as they brushed their teeth.

It's not the speed of technology I rue, it's the lag of language. And it goes both ways. In another class, one of the 20-something teachers, instructing the men not to squeeze their partners' hands with their thumbs, said, "Your partner is not a Gameboy." Dead silence from the mostly middle-aged crowd.

Despite these minor communication blips, the art of ballroom dancing continues to find appreciation across all age groups. It's a joy to watch our students become fluent in the language of movement, attuned to the meaning behind the lift of a hand, the nudge on the back, the flick of the wrist. They grin widely as they jump on the rhythm train and it takes them on a breathtaking ride. Amid the huffing and puffing, there are outbursts of frustration, but just as many bursts of applause and hop-skips of delight.

Learning to dance requires such absorption in the moment that whether the class is an hour or three, it's always a pleasant shock to glance at the clock—the one with the big hand and little hand—and find we've been fastforwarded. We set goals for the next class, review the accomplishments of the hour just passed, and hug friends who were strangers barely an hour before.

If that big clock on the wall could wear a smile on its face, it would.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Can creativity be a liability?

One of my strengths, it seems, has a downside. And oh, has it ever been a thorn in my side! Often complimented on my creativity, I have also borne it on my back as my cruel tormenter. It fans my fear of mediocrity. I labor to buck the predictable.

The predictable is comfortable! Familiarity breeds comfort, not always contempt.  I color outside the lines and it's curtains for me.

Now, when I say creative, I'm not talking about Van Gogh-proportioned, cut-off-my-left-earlobe angst. (I remember as a child being horrified to learn this about the painter.) I am nothing if not even-tempered day to day as well as in crisis. Nor am I inclined to blow things out of proportion, as author Pearl S. Buck describes:

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.
Please, no. Particularly the part about failure being death. I'm still alive!

Copyblogger's Brian Clark wrote about mental blocks to creative thinking, particularly the pressure to conform and be viewed as "normal." He calls it the unquestioning consensus that inhibits your natural creative abilities.

Commenter Frank observed:
To revisit Point #7:

“Most of what keeps us civilized boils down to conformity, consistency, shared values, and yes, thinking about things the same way everyone else does. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but if you can mentally accept that it’s actually nothing more than groupthink that helps a society function, you can then give yourself permission to turn everything that’s accepted upside down and shake out the illusions."

You do, however, have to be prepared to be seen as interfering with the function of society. That can be a very dangerous place to be – thus all the groupthink.
"Creativity is best achieved by people who know that it is not always a perfect good. It has its price, and the price is sometimes very high. You threaten people – sometimes very ambitious and intelligent people, who can retaliate."

I've learned to be skeptical of opportunities that purport to seek my creativity and exuberance. I made the mistake of accepting such an opportunity, offered by ambitious, intelligent, uber-accomplished but rigid thinkers. I tried but failed to please them. It's true what Seth Godin says, that you won't succeed by giving people what you think they need — you must give them what they demand. They demanded obeisance. Before I realized it, I had been pounded into a dried out bouillon cube version of my formerly inspired self.

Many creatives must not only live among pragmatists but make a living with skill sets that don't involve creativity. It's still a pragmatist's world down here among the rank and file. We die a little every day, not from failing, but from gradually losing the will to try something innovative.

These past 11 months after walking away from a salaried position, I gave myself permission to try chucking the cubicle that had shaped me in its likeness.  I was selective about where I applied next.  From refusing to be square, my bank statements dwindled to a series of round zeroes. I wasn't surprised. As long as my spouse remained employed, I was willing to fail — in the eyes of the income-driven, anyway — to revive the parts of me that had fainted from the drought.

Failure of this kind does not equate with defeat!

Everyone has a someday list. Someday I'll find the time to dabble in dive into a craft tackle that mess in my startle my inner entrepreneur dive into the mosh pit of social finally unleash a blog and let it drag me in whatever direction it takes. I checked off everything on my list.

For me, the terror of unstructured days gave way to stretching out the day as far into night as my stamina would allow. I still forgot to stop and eat lunch on some days, but now I was working on things that fulfilled and challenged me. I discovered there were still things that could surprise and move me.

What remains to be seen is if this spate of productivity will stay constant and cushion me when I return to the pragmatist's world. Or will I have to hold up a white flag and whisper "Shush!" to my creative side while I'm at work?

Tell me if you've been through something similar. How did your cubicle rejection turn out?