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Finding My Magic

Last winter, my dear sweet husband started trying to teach me to play the trumpet.  He played in high school and college and it was and still is a big part of his identity.  I had fun learning the basics, he had fun teaching me, and it made for some very nice date nights.  We eventually moved on to other things.

What struck me at the time and what has stayed with me is the way in which my husband relates to music.  When he listens to music, he hears it in a very different way than I do.  It hits him on a different level than it does me.  I enjoy music.  He understands music.  Hearing him talk about and play music is almost like a kind of magic.  It is something beyond my understanding.

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My husband the trumpet player

My dad is a brilliant scientist and thinker.  He is creative and curious about the world in a way that defies categorization.  The way my dad sees the world and understands the science behind it, and the math behind that science, is to me a kind of magic.

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My dad the scientist

My mom has loved photography for most of her life.  She is very modest about it, but she has an ability to see pictures that others would miss.  Her understanding of light and lines, and her ability to capture them, is a kind of magic.

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One of my mom’s photos

I didn’t feel that I had any particular magic of my own.  There were things I was good at, but nothing that came so easily to me that it felt like magic.  And that was that.  I didn’t think much more about it for the last year or so.

Then last week, I published my piece about becoming a grown-up and had more than one person ask me how I write like that.  I had no answer for them.  I just write.  Words come easily to me and flow easily from me.  It brings me peace and calms my mind.  I am able to write honestly and without second-guessing.

And it struck me that maybe I do have a magic of my own.  Writing might be my magic. This is not to say that I think I am a brilliant writer or about to change the world with something I write.  But the ease with which I am able to write apparently strikes others as a kind of magic, in the sense that I use the word.

I know music and math and writing and photography are all things that can be learned. Magic involves learning. The magic is in that thing that lights you up. Once you find the thing that lights you up, you need to learn and cultivate it.

Magic isn’t something you just have and that’s that. It takes work and dedication. Not just learning how to do your bit of magic, but dedication to actually doing it. Your magic doesn’t do you or the world any good if you never actually do it. If you love music and love to make music, but stop making it, then you’re neglecting your magic. I love to write. It inspires and sustains me. But only if I actually take the time to write.

9781594634727_p0_v2_s550x406In Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic,” she discusses the idea of “permission slips.”  You do not need to wait for someone to give you permission to be creative, to cultivate and enjoy your magic.  You do not have to wait for a life or world changing idea or project to come along.  You have permission already.  You do not need to wait for it.  You do not need to be the greatest or most original.  There is no requirement upon your creativity and magic except that you give it a means of expression.  There is an exchange in a song from “Sunday in the Park with George” by Steven Sondheim that goes,

[GEORGE] I’ve nothing to say

[DOT] You have many things

[GEORGE] Well, nothing that’s not been said

[DOT] Said by you, though. George.

I love that exchange.  Don’t worry so much about being the best or being original.  Worry is not helpful in creativity.  Your magic is yours, and yours alone.  It is good enough and original enough simply because it is yours.  There has never been anything quite like it and never will be again.  Isn’t that amazing?  Figure out what your magic is.  You have one.  It could be dance or fixing cars or running or doing makeup or computer programming or invention or painting or gardening.  If it brings you joy and lights you up, it is your magic.  You do not need to explain or justify it to anyone.  Learn all you can.  Cultivate and practice it.  Give it room to move and be.

For me, the hard part of my magic isn’t the writing, it’s taking the breath and finding the courage to share it with the world. I’ve always written. It’s the sharing that’s new.  I hope that as you discover your magic, you will also discover the courage to share it.  The world could use a little more magic, I think.

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Wait, when did I become an adult?

If you google “impostor syndrome,” you get a page full of results saying that everyone deals with this and suggestions for combating it.  This is also what comes up when you google “not quite impostor syndrome,” which is what I did this morning.  I don’t know a term for the way I feel.  Impostor syndrome is defined as “individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud'” (according to Wikipedia.)  Which a lot of people do struggle with.  But that’s not what I’ve been feeling.  I don’t doubt that I am qualified for the work that I am doing.  I am proud of and deeply attached to my accomplishments.  The work I do and the results I see give me a lot of satisfaction and a feeling of purpose.  But I don’t have any idea how I got here.

There are days I feel like I woke up in someone else’s life. A grown-up’s life.  And I don’t know how it happened.  When did I become someone with a career?  With meaningful work?  With opinions and thoughts that other people care about?  When did I become a peer and not just some kid who works here?  It bewilders me.

I began thinking about this a few weeks ago when I took a meeting with a new marketing coordinator for a local transportation company.  She was looking for ways to partner to serve people with transportation challenges in our area.  The meeting was interesting and some good ideas were thrown around.  But then I mentioned a few projects I had worked on and she suddenly started taking notes.  She asked me for ideas and I was able to give them to her.  I was able to share resources with her that she had never heard of.  I left that meeting feeling for the first time like I had been a mentor to someone.  It was surreal.

Me…and also Me:

 

The HR director at my organization is someone that I get along with really well.  I often go sit in her office and we chat.  And she asks me how I would handle difficult situations between employees and listens when I answer!  She has told me that she considers us mutual mentors.  I love this.  I love being taken seriously.  I have no idea when this happened.

When I get together with my friends, we talk about work and our homes and financial woes.  We also talk about our relationships like we always have, but it is no longer the drama of dating.  It is the quiet and everyday drama of marriage and in-laws and bosses and coworkers.  Last Christmas I was talking mortgages with my little brother.  When did this happen?

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My little brother (1995)

As it always does, writing helps me to process.  As I have been writing this, I began thinking about when this change started to sink in.  I think it was about two years ago that I began to actually internalize the change.  My life went through a huge upheaval two years ago.  When the dust settled, a lot of my old patterns and even my old sense of self had fallen away.  Been shattered, really.  And thank god.  They weren’t healthy.  But what remained was the person I was supposed to be in the first place.  The person I had always been but hid behind ditzy flirtatiousness, extroverted chattiness, and never-ending cheerfulness.  I was happy, but I was only superficially me.  I wasn’t joyful, and I wasn’t content.  I am now.

I allow others to see more fully the person I want to be and am trying every day to realize more fully.  The responsible, intelligent, sarcastic, serious-minded, still cheerful, clever, and hopefully kind woman I was intended to be.  I think that is what people have begun to respond to.  I take myself seriously and treat myself like an adult now.  Only took 30 years.  Others are then able to do the same.

I’m not done yet, of course.  I’m only 30 and I think maybe have only just begun to see what I can do.

Years ago, I met a nun named Sister Peggy.  She was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.  She was in her 70’s and had lived an incredible life dedicated to God and to serving others.  I could have sat at her feet and learned from her for the rest of my life and been content.  She told the group of us that were with her that day that at 70-something, she was still not fully herself.  Still not fully “Peggy.”  I think I begin to understand her.  She was still just beginning to see what she could do.  I hope I keep that same feeling of exploration and expectation.

I wasn’t expecting this piece to be quite so serious.  Funny how these things happen.  I don’t know what you believe about God and the universe and everything, but for me, I believe that we were created with limitless gifts.  I look forward to the continual realization of these gifts in myself and others. Thanks for reading along with me as I figure this out.

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Seven Days of Black and White

I got sucked into the #7daysofblackandwhite challenge that is floating around social media these days.  But it was kind of a cool exercise.  Below are my photos.  I took eight, not sure how that happened.  If you want to see really good photos, go check out the Photo Traveler blog.

The Community of Community Theater

This past August, I found myself on a middle school stage, auditioning for my first play since 2008.  The play was “Harvey,” by Mary Chase, and I still couldn’t quite tell you what had made me decide to audition.  I had found out about the Prior Lake Players community theater organization through work.  The Players had donated proceeds to our food shelf the previous season.  I was familiar with the play – well, not just familiar, I adored both the film and stage versions.  It’s tough to beat a Jimmy Stewart movie, and the character of Elwood Dowd was one of my favorites.

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Anyway, I auditioned.  I wasn’t nervous.  I didn’t have any particular stakes.  If I got in, great!  If not, it’s not like I had lost anything. I hoped I would get in of course, but wasn’t pinning any big dreams on it.

Then I left the country on vacation for a couple of weeks.  I got the email saying that I was being offered the part of Nurse Kelly while I was in Norway.  And just like that, it was the biggest deal in the world to me!  I accepted the part right away.  I was so nervous and excited.  I hadn’t been in a play in almost a decade, and the last part I had played was a pie server in Beauty and the Beast.  I mean the actual utensil, not someone who served pies.  That had been in community theater back in college.  I had never had this large of a part or this many lines!  I had an actual character!  With a personality!

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Right after Labor Day, rehearsals started.  We all stumbled through our lines, literally stumbled through blocking the movements on stage, and introduced ourselves to our fellow cast members.

The community created around a show is an odd thing.  You are thrown together with this group of people, with no say in who your fellow cast members will be.  Sometimes cast members know each other, but I had never met any of them before.  And it starts of very professionally.  You show up, you run the scene, you work out the bugs.  Slowly, you might start to have side conversations when you’re not on.  You find out what people do for a living, what their theater experience has been, which musicals they love and hate.  It’s a group of theater lovers.  Musicals come up a lot.

Then, you start rehearsing with the set, and with props, and pieces of costumes.  It starts to take shape.  And you are truly in this world belonging exclusively to the cast and crew.  You sit around together in between scenes or when the directors are arguing over a bit of blocking.  You might have things in common with your cast mates, you might not.  But you find out you like each other.  In this weird little world all your own, you become family.  You joke and laugh hysterically at things no one else would find funny.  You become a family.

I have never experienced anything else like the community one finds in theater.  These people, who a couple months ago I didn’t know at all and who I hadn’t specifically chosen to spend time with, are now dear friends.  They are hilarious and odd and wildly goofy.  I have no idea if I will keep up contact with them once this show is over.  People tend to go their own way.  I’m sure we’ll check in on Facebook now and then.  I hope for more concrete friendships though, with at least a few.  My female costars especially.  Girl friends are frightfully important, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never have too many.

Community theater is a funny thing.  We spend hours upon hours of our lives for weeks rehearsing for a show.  We do not get paid.  We do not perform before enormous audiences.  We do not get famous.  We are all there simply because we love it.  A shared love for theater.  Yeah.  That’s more than enough to build a community on.

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7 Things that make me happy (That I think other people should do because maybe then they would be happy too)

I, on occasion, have been known to think that I know what is best for everyone.  What follows is a list of things that I have recommended or wanted to recommend that people do in order to be happy.  I am a generally happy person and tend to want to spread that around, whether others like it or not.

Running

So I am aware of the thousands upon thousands of blogs and websites and magazines and books and podcasts dedicated to the joys of running.  And yet, people still don’t believe me when I say that running fixes everything.  I guess maybe they don’t read/listen to those thousands of running dedicated media.  It’s true though.  I took up running about 6 or 7 years ago, starting out very slow with low mileage.  Since then, I have run two half marathons and one full.  And there has never ever been a time when I regretted a run.  There have been runs that weren’t what I expected or hoped they would be, but I have always felt better afterwards.  My friends and family have seen the (sometimes dramatic) improvement in my mood after a run.  And still, there are those who are all like, “Nah, I think sitting on the couch watching TV will be better for my mental health.”  They are wrong.  Dancing also falls into this category.  Dancing and running have never failed to make my life better.

I am also aware that running is not a possibility for all due to physical constraints. To those of you who are not able to run (not wanting to is not the same thing), I am a firm believer that going outside and moving, or sitting by an open window, is a decent alternative.

Reading

Books are amazing.  Not all books.  Some books really had no business being written.  Some books have turned out to be a waste of my time.  But books, in general, are fantastic.  Reading is calming, a safe and healthy means of escape, and can actually make you smarter.  I’ve been an avid reader my whole life.  I highly recommend it.  I have also become an avid listener of audiobooks lately.  Thanks, hour long commute.  The best thing I have found to feed my reading habit has been Overdrive.  This amazing app lets you borrow ebooks and audiobooks from the library and download it right to your phone!  It has saved me piles of money and allowed me to make better use of my commute.  Most recently, it nearly caused me to drive off the road from laughing so hard at “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson.

Spending time with kids

Kids are hilarious.  I don’t have my own, which may be why I think so.  But working with or volunteering with or even just hanging out with kids tends to make you check your problems at the door.  Kids do not care that your check engine light is back on for the third time this month, or that your work deadlines are insane, or that your mother in law is driving you bonkers.  (That last one I made up.  Love you Kathy and Debbie!  Yes, I have two mothers-in-law.  It’s a stepmom situation, not a married to each other scenario.)  Kids demand and require all of your attention in the time that you are with them.  Their joys and concerns are the biggest thing in the world to them, and need to be the biggest thing in the world to you too at that moment.  I have taught pre-school and had to say things like “Stop punching the duck,” “We do not make our friends into horses,” and “Nope, that is definitely not food.”  Little ones are a fun escape if you don’t have any of your own.  I can’t speak to what it’s like to have kids of your own.  I’m now a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run and work with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.  I don’t have to say quite as many ridiculous things, but their joy and learning is still a bright spot in my life.  Spending time with them makes my day better.

Spending time with dogs

Similar to kids, dogs are hilarious.  And I still get to say “Nope, that is definitely not food” pretty frequently.  Plus, snuggles.  So many snuggles.  And they depend on you, so it kind of forces you to get yourself together.  I’m just going to leave this picture of a dog here to prove my point on why they are fantastic.  Feel free to hear the “Jaws” theme song in your head.

 

Crafts

Making things is amazing!  You start with stuff that isn’t anything, and you turn it into something!  Gives one a feeling of accomplishment.  And if it’s total crap you can start over or throw it out.  No pressure, just something to do that has no connection to whatever else might be stressing you out.  Arm knitting and cross stitching have been my latest endeavors.

Travelling/Exploring

If you have the means, travel the world.  If you don’t, this site has some interesting ideas on how to travel for cheap. (Disclaimer- I am not on board with their hitchhiking recommendation.)  Travelling is incredible.  Seeing things you’d never have seen otherwise, experiencing other cultures, meeting new people – there really isn’t anything else like it.  I believe some of this experience can be found in your hometown.  I love Facebook’s Events feature.  It is so easy to find things going on near you any day of the week.  A lot of it is free, too.  Art, music, dancing, sporting events, comedians, activism, charitable events, it’s all there.  And if you live in the Twin Cities and can’t afford a study abroad program for you or your child, check out City Stay.  This unique non-profit brings study abroad to the local community level by arranging stays in the homes of families from other cultures.

Journaling/Therapy

I’m putting these two together because they are similar in my mind.  For the love of God, if you are having trouble, talk to someone!  Here is a list of 81(!) mental health resources that are low or no cost.  Finding a professional to talk to is the best thing you can do if you are struggling.  But it’s important to have an everyday outlet too.  If you have a close friend you can talk to, that’s awesome.  That can be such a help.  I find that writing helps me.  I try to journal most nights before bed.  This gets all my thoughts out and allows my brain to slow down enough to go to sleep.  This does not solve all my issues or get all my crazy out, but it helps me to be calm enough to see the good around me.

 

I will continue to recommend these and other happiness inducing activities to my friends and family to the point of annoyance.  I’d love to hear what others do to keep calm and find joy in the midst of life’s craziness.  Leave a comment or contact me!

 

The Inner Beauty of Girls

Last Monday, a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade girls were learning about inner beauty.  While running laps.

These girls are part of a team for Girls on the Run.

Girls on the Run is a non profit organization founded in 1996.  The organization’s mission is to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”  Over the course of ten weeks, girls and their volunteer coaches meet twice a week to run, play games, and prepare for life.  The proven curriculum covers topics like peer pressure, making and maintaining healthy friendships, expressing emotions, dealing with bullies, staying healthy, and making a difference.  At the end of the ten weeks, the girls, with an adult running buddy (a parent, teacher, neighbor, etc) participate in a 5k just for them.  Last Spring’s Girls on the Run Twin Cities 5k had over 3,000 runners.

One of the girls, a very squirrely one, had sprained her ankle at soccer over the weekend and was not able to run laps.  This was a bit worrisome to her coaches, as running laps was usually 100% necessary for this girl to burn off enough energy to listen to instructions and not distract her teammates.

The lesson that week began with all of the girls being given a piece of paper with a list of adjectives and some blank space to write.  The girls were asked to take a few minutes and write down the qualities that helped to make up their inner beauty.  They wrote down words like “kind,” “funny,” “smart,” and brave.”  The team then talked about which was more important, inner or outer beauty.  They talked about which was easier to change and control.  The girls decided that inner beauty was easier to control because you can’t always change the way you look, but you can change how you choose to act.  Pretty good for a bunch of 10-year-olds.

Girls on the Run Coaches go through thorough training every year on the curriculum, how to build relationships with the girls and how to encourage friendships among the team.  

After the initial activity, the team went outside to the soccer field and warmed up.  The warm-up consisted of out and back sprints.  After the first sprint, the girls shared with one teammate what some of the qualities were that they had written down.  After the second sprint, they shared their qualities with two teammates.  After the third sprint, they shouted what gave them inner beauty to the world.

Each lesson in Girls on the Run consists of an introductory activity, followed by a warm-up that builds on the day’s theme.  The girls then stretch, choose their lap goals for the day, and begin to run their laps.  After up to 45 minutes of running, the girls cool down and wrap up the lesson.

For this lesson, the girls were given the name of one of their teammates to think about as they ran their lap.  At the end of each lap, they would take a moment to write down on notecard with that teammate’s name a quality they felt that teammate expressed.  Then they would receive a new name to think about for their next lap.  As the girls chose their lap goals, the coaches checked in with the injured girl.  On her own, she came up with a creative way to still participate in the lesson and support her teammates.  She would spend the lap time writing down qualities for each of her teammates on a poster along with their names.  She also volunteered to help the coaches and girls keep track of laps for the day.  As the team ran their laps, the coaches watched the notecards fills up with the beautiful qualities these girls saw in each other.  The injured girl filled an entire poster with these qualities, then cheered her teammates on as they ran, telling each of them how amazing they were and that she knew they could keep going!

At the close of each practice, the girls and coaches give each other “Energy Awards.”  A girl nominates one of her teammates, who stands in the middle of a circle formed by the team.  The nominator tells why she thinks the girl deserves an energy award.  The reasons range from “She ran my laps with me” to “She kept going even when she was tired” to “She encouraged me to keep going.”  The team then does a cheer just for that girl.  

As the girls finished their laps and prepared to head inside, holding their new notecards filled with the beautiful qualities their teammates saw in them, the coaches noticed something.  The girls were being kinder to each other. They were offering to help each other with bags and water bottles.  They congratulated each other on laps.  They thanked each other.  They held doors for each other.  They listened to each other during the wrap up.  This was different.  This was a change even from the beginning of practice that day.  And all it took to create this change was forty minutes of focusing on the inner beauty they saw in themselves and in their teammates.  The energy awards were flying that practice.  All the girls wanted to thank or recognize someone else on their team.  As parents came to pick up their girls, the kindness continued.  The girls hugged and said goodbye for the day.  The coaches just stood there and smiled.

Imagine what a world full of Girls on the Run could look like.

 

For more information on Girls on the Run, including how to become a volunteer coach, a donor, or a Solemate Charity Runner, how to sign up your girl, and more, visit www.girlsontherun.org/

Photo credit: Kathleen Cannon

Things Worth Doing

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

 

Interesting paradox, isn’t it? When I decided on the title of this blog, I’d only ever heard the first version of the proverb.  But after a quick google search, I came across the second and I think I like it better.  It is considerably more freeing.  If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing just to do it and never mind the consequences.  Worry about perfection should not keep us from exploring the world and what it has to offer.

For as long as I can remember, I have been the type to dive right in to the deep end without actually checking if I know how to swim first.  Because why not?  The world is full of incredible things to do and amazing opportunities and if you don’t say yes to them then you never get to do anything.

I had a teacher in high school who told me I was the type of person who wanted to try all the ice cream flavors in a shop in case one of them melted.  I guess these days that would be called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those of you not up on the latest lingo.)  And at the time, he was probably right.  It actually has gotten me into trouble over the years as I frantically tried not to miss out on anything.  All that got me was profound discontentment and the neglect of the things in my life that truly mattered.

So I don’t recommend that mindset.  After a much needed wake up call a few years ago, I’m beginning to find a good balance of accepting opportunities to do the things I love without neglecting the ones I love.

So what is this blog about?  Well, it is about the things that I love doing.  It is about finding time in your life to do the things that are worth doing.  It is about finding joy in what you have, and realizing joy when it seems to be lacking.  It is about volunteerism and wellness.  It is about work and communications and marketing.  It is about family and friends and dogs.  It’s about what I have learned and continue to learn.  It’s about living a life full of things worth doing.

 

Photo Credit: Susan Boyd