Tag Archives: courage

Whatever You Polish Will Shine

I’m working on a new opportunity that is exhilarating and terrifying.

I’m going to talk to a group of people.

Live. In person.

So you might be thinking…”Girl, whut? You talk to people all the damn time. What’s the big deal?”

I do. I talk to big groups about Wesleyan. I talk for a living. I tell stories on the internet. I read a story in front of all those people at BlogHer last year. I love the feel of a podium and a mic.

This talk feels different. I’ve been invited to Missouri State University as part of their Women in History Month programs. This year’s theme is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” I get to talk to some college students about the vital role of telling your own story.

SQUEEEEEE.

And YIKES!

I’ve been working on my ideas for weeks and weeks, but I ran into a big wall of fear every time I tried to get them down into images to go along with my talking points. Petrified. And guess who comes to live in my head when I say YES to some new challenge: my inner critic. That voice that croaks, “See? I told you you couldn’t do this. Your ideas are stupid. No one is going to listen to you. Why would they? What’s special about you? I’ve never heard such arrogance.”

Jasmine of Just Jasmine gave me some great words of encouragement yesterday when I confessed to the same old struggle with the same old shit:

That critic voice is a protective mechanism we develop to keep us from starting so we never fail and never have to face whatever is on the other side. Often, as I am sure you know, when we push pass that voice we find we are far more capable than we’ve ever imagined.

Ain’t that the truth? This fear, this critical dance is a habit. I sat my ass down in the chair tonight and pushed my way past the critic and roughed out my talk.

And I loved it. I got excited about it. I found just the right way of expressing my thoughts. I am looking forward to the interchange with new people in a new place. One big ball of YES, rolling on its own once I got it moving.

While I was searching for some free license images for the talk, I came upon this haunting picture of a Chopin statue:

Chopin

Chopin

While looking at Chopin’s nose, I thought, “Whatever we polish will shine.” Normally, a bronze statue left out in the weather will take on that beautifully thick green patina that we see on the rest of this statue. But so many hands have reached up to pat, caress or tweak Monsieur Chopin’s nose that the constant polishing keeps it shiny. After a while, the nose leaps out and becomes what we notice about the entire statue. Whatever we polish shines.

Whatever we keep touching on, that’s what stays in the forefront. I polish the fear when I let that critic voice run rampant. If my heart travels back to fear over and over again, that’s what shines. If I point it towards courage and YES, that’s what shines.

Here are two other memories of shiny statues that I encountered in adventures and both of them made me smile.

This little dog sits at his master’s knee in a bas relief bronze plaque on the Karluv Most (Charles’ Bridge) in Prague. For hundreds of years, passersby have been unable to resist giving the dog a little pat:

karluv most dog

See how he shines from all that attention!

Here’s a funny one from Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Journalist Victor Noir was killed as a  second in a duel by the great-nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. Noir is memorialized in bronze, in such a realistic style that he seems to have fallen down (his toppled top hat often fills with flowers brought by tourists). Well, as you can see from the photo, certain…contours within the statue are remarkable. Over the decades, Noir’s crotch has risen in myth to a fertility symbol, so visitors to the cemetery give it a little polish for some extra luck in the baby-making department:

victor noir

(I gave it a polish myself…et voila, deux bebes! Tres simple!)

Jeez…How did this talk wander off into rubbing a French reporter’s crotch in a graveyard? I hope this doesn’t happen at Missouri State. Rein it in, rein it in….

So polishing. The power of polishing doesn’t come from force–it’s in repetition. It’s a gentle, consistent alchemy.  I’ve spent years inadvertently polishing the voice of the inner critic. Now I’m keeping my hands off of it and using them to gently pat the head of courage, who sits at my knee and looks lovingly at me, to remind me to give Yes a try.

 

The Glameris Life

viviHow exactly did we end up HERE, you ask?

Well.

Last night, Vivi crowed, “Mommy!  I laid out my own clothes for tomorrow!”  I went into her room to ooh and ahh over her being so responsible…but all she had laid out was a diaphanous sequined sundress and a pair of pink high heels.

“Oh, sweetie.  I’m so proud of you for taking care of this.  I love the way this dress looks on you.  It’s for school, though, not dress up, so you’ll need to wear something under it, like some leggings or shorts.

She thought that was a grand idea.  She dug around in the “bottoms” drawer and came up with a pair of old brown yoga pants.

Okey dokey.

“How about a little jacket for the morning because it might be chilly?”  She frowned at the blue butterfly hoodie that I pulled from the closet.

“Can I just wear a shirt under it?”

Sure you can.

“I know you love these pink high heels, but they’re only for dress up, not for school.  You won’t be able to run or play or climb on things if you try to wear those.”

She brightened.  “I can wear my OTHER pink shoes!”

Of course you can.

So when she emerged in this riotously wonderful ensemble this morning, the only thing I could say was, “You look FANTASTIC!”  She smiled and spun a little so that the sundress flared out.

Her sister, lounging on the couch in a cloud of teenage disdain, asked, “Is it Tacky Day?”

Vivi looked at her in confusion and answered, “No, it’s Tuesday.”

________________________

Do you let your kids out of the house in their own creations?  I do, but I worry.  I worry that someone will make fun of her.  Someone will break her heart.  Someone will think she’s weird.  But I shut my mouth because I want her to pay more attention to the bold voice within her than she pays to the timid voices around her.  Especially the frightened one in my head that says, “Fit in. Lay low. Don’t attract the attention of the carnivores.”

And wouldn’t you know, Vivi’s schoolwork folder contained an essay that made me think we might be on the right track:

ALL ABOUT ME

     By Vivi

I am a book worm.

I am nice to others.  My mom

sas I am glameris.  I have lots

of talints.  I love to play

Dragon City on my sisters ipad.

If you say Im alwasy an arihead,

your rong.  I stay as calm as in

egal.  Im sometimes loud but

I can be qiet too.

 

This is the drawing she did to go along with her essay.  She drew herself as a lion, surrounded by a mane of “adjtives” that describe her:

vivi lion

 

She’s glameris and frindly and amaginitiv and talinted.  Most days, my only hope is to keep her spirit intact.  She’s ALREADY OK.

She’s not wasting time worrying about carnivores because she’s the straight up Queen of the Jungle.

(And if I said that to her, she would correct me to point out that lions do not live in jungles; they live on the grassy savannas of Africa.)

The Alone Part and the Adventure Part

boxcarVivi and I went to the library today.  She chose seven books from The Boxcar Children series.

I never read these books when I was a kid.  Did you?  They were mentioned this week on The Writer’s Almanac:

The Boxcar Children series is the story of four orphans, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, who range in age from six to fourteen. Their parents die, and their grandfather is granted custody. But the children are afraid that he is a cruel old man, and so they run away and set up house in an abandoned boxcar, supporting themselves and living an independent life.

Gertrude Chandler Warner said that after it was published, many librarians objected to the story because they thought the children were having too much fun without any parental control. Warner said, “That is exactly why children like it!”

As we were driving home, I told Vivi, “You know, when those books came out, some people didn’t think kids should read them because they didn’t think it was right for children to read about kids who lived on their own and had fun adventures without any grown-ups around.”

I looked in the rearview mirror and she was gazing out the window, nonplussed.  I asked, “What do you think about that?”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t think about the alone part as much as I think about the adventure part.”

Huh.  That pretty much sums up the first three years of therapy for me.  When Fartbuster and I divorced, I spent at least a year staring at the alone part instead of at the adventure part.  

The Alone Part–that’s the part where you end up sitting on the edge of your bed and asking yourself, “How did I get HERE?” (to quote my friend, Heather).  The alone part is the part where you can’t breathe or sleep because your brain is hashing up every NEVER AGAIN and ALWAYS that it can lay hands on.  The alone part demands logic and reason and a really sound explanation.  The alone part asks, “WHY?”

The Adventure Part–that’s the part where you end up sitting on the edge of your bed and asking yourself, “What do I want to do today?”  The adventure part is the part where your whistle comes back and you get some jig in your giddy up.  The adventure part sleeps at night and dreams during the day.  The adventure part demands leaps and giggles and doesn’t care to explain itself.  The adventure part asks, “WHY NOT?”  

Sunday Sweetness–Your Wings

There are going to be times when the place where you were resting safely falls away beneath you.  Your job disappears in a reduction in force.  He comes home late from work with lipstick on the collar.  The doctor calls you personally with some odd test results.  You hear, “We did everything we could…”  

Or it just dissolves.  One day the branch is there and the next day it’s not.  Gone.

Those moments are going to happen.  But your wings will be there in that same moment.  

bird-photo-21

An Ounce of Quit

Have you ever heard the expression “an ounce of quit?”  I associate it with sports, some bandy-legged kid who has more determination than the rest of the team put together:  “That kid don’t have an ounce of quit in him.”  It’s a high compliment. 

Last night, when I set the alarm for 5:01 a.m., I gave myself a pre-sleep suggestion:  “Wake up feeling like a bad ass.”  Don’t hit the snooze.  Don’t sit there on the edge of the bed feeling tired and sleepy. Get your feet on the floor.  Put on the clothes you’ve already laid out.  Eat some protein and GO.  It may be 13 degrees outside and you only had six hours of sleep, but GO.  Don’t apologize, don’t half-ass it, don’t quit.  GO.  

And it worked.  Until it was time to run.  

When I run, I can’t escape the simple fact that I am carrying 40 lbs more than I carried back when I ran long distances.  Try doing something you like with a large bag of dog food strapped to your back and see if it still feels the same.  It doesn’t.  Still, I forced myself to focus on each footstep, on one victory at a time.  I didn’t think about anyone else in the gym–just myself.  But my calves were screaming and I wanted to walk, just for a little bit.  I wanted to quit.

That’s when another music moment happened.  As I was rounding a corner, Kelly Clarkson belted out:

You ain’t got the right to tell me

When and where to go, no right to tell me

Acting like you own me lately

Yeah baby you don’t know a thing about me

You don’t know a thing about me

(from “Mr. Know It All)

I’d like to dedicate that song to the voice in my head.  To Fartbuster.  To every other person, including myself, who ever told me I wasn’t quite good enough.  You don’t know a thing about me.  So sit down and shut up.  

I kept running.  It was only a couple more minutes.  I told myself, “You’ve done harder shit than THIS.”  In my head, I heard a color commentary football announcer voice crowing, “She ain’t got an ounce of quit in her!”  

The truth is, I have more than an ounce of quit in me.  I have many many many ounces of quit in me!  But “quit” is what I push out of my body every time I sweat.  Every time I put my feet on the floor and remind myself to choose to be a bad ass.  

I got inspiration this morning from some Wesleyan sisters who are bad muthas:

-Irene has lost 75.1 pounds and she ain’t quitting.

-Wyanne had to give up her tongue to beat cancer, but she kept her voice.  She’s sitting up in bed today and painting–she ain’t quitting.  

-Stephanie has spent 2 years learning how to walk again after she was almost killed by a driver who was texting.  This fall, she and her horse made it to Nationals.  She ain’t quitting.

-Kristina is going home from the hospital today after fighting her way back to life for the last two months.  She’s going to be a teacher one day.  She ain’t quitting.

Sometimes it’s so easy to quit, to slow down–or to never try in the first place.  Don’t quit.  Don’t let that little voice in your head that wants you to be less win.  That voice may be inside your head, but it doesn’t know a thing about you.  

7-Muhammad-Ali

Sunday Sweetness–Robert Frost

frost

Another day to get it right, to make things better.  Another day to love myself.  

This quote from Robert Frost reminded me of a piece I wrote last summer at the beach:  “The Sorrows of Your Changing Face.”  It all goes on.  

One Victory At A Time, Then Suddenly

Yesterday morning at boot camp, I teetered on the verge of crying.  Not from pain, unless you count the mental kind.  I could barely hear the complaints of my muscles over the cruel and negative messages in my head.

I was OK while we were warming up and doing squats.  I joined in the banter and the commiseration about it being 5:30.  Then it was time to run laps and my brain started thinking things about myself that no one should have to hear.  I imagined anyone ever saying things like that to my daughter.  Telling her she was fat and hopeless.  Telling her she shouldn’t bother.  Telling her it was never going to get better.  Telling her she probably didn’t deserve to feel better about herself.  That’s when I wanted to cry.

Because I was last.  Slowest.  The only one having to stop to walk in six minutes of running.  Marissa, who started coming to boot camp years ago because I encouraged–she lapped me.  I couldn’t catch up with April, who used to be my running buddy a couple of years ago.  New people, tiny people, genetically predisposed to speed, zipped past me, carrying on conversations with each other as they bounced along.  I lumbered down the lines on the basketball court and lurched around the corners.  Trying not to cry.

Here’s the kind of junk that rang between my ears:  It’s been TWO whole weeks since I started back to exercising and I’m STILL not in shape!  Everyone notices when I have to walk.  I’m really too fat to do this.  And it’s probably too late to turn this truck around–I’m 45.  I weigh twice what that girl who clocked a 3:30 marathon weighs.  I could be asleep but I’m out here embarrassing myself.  It’s never going to get any better.

Since there was no one behind me, I tried to think about the legions of people who aren’t there because they decided not to try.  That’s something, but it wasn’t enough to stop the chatter in my head.  The song from our coach’s ipod switches to Pink’s “Sober” and I truly hear the line:  “When it’s good then it’s good, it’s so good till it goes bad Till you’re trying to find the you that you once had.”  Yep.

That’s when April, the founder of WoW! Boot Camp hollered the thing that got through to me:  “One victory at a time!”

That was it.  I gave myself a tiny bit of credit for the victories I had already racked up since 5:01 when my alarm went off.  Getting out of bed.  Getting myself dressed.  Getting there.  TRYING.  Not rolling over and quitting.

My head was hanging at that point, but I looked at my feet in the running shoes that I bought for my last half-marathon, the one before Carlos was even on the radar.  I willed my right foot to run a step and it did.  Victory.  Then the left foot.  Victory. Each footstep a victory and I ran two fresh laps with my head up instead of walking because I was only thinking about the footstep that I was making, not the last one, not the next one, not the one I ran five years ago.  Not the one I will run six months from now.  Just this one, this victory.

waddle

While I ran, I thought about other “one victory at a time” moments.  My sister who chooses every day to stay sober.  My friend who doesn’t answer the phone when it’s a person who makes her feel bad about herself, even if that person is her mother.  The friend who can sit next to a smoker and not bum a cigarette.  The friend who resists the bait when a coworker fires an email at her with red caps and lots of exclamation points.  The mom who chooses talking over yelling.  The friend who sleeps in the center of the bed because it’s hers now.  One step at a time, not the whole race at once.

I finished the workout–at my own pace–and by 6:30 a.m. I was feeling euphoric.  I sat in the car, waiting for my butt heater to warm up and reading my email.  The daily message from Seth Godin popped up on my phone:  “Gradually, Then Suddenly.”  That’s a quote from Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises:  “How did you go bankrupt?  Gradually, then suddenly.”  Seth’s message was about how businesses fail that way–making small bad decisions that no one worries about along the way, then a sudden collapse that everyone sees.  The good news is that careers can be made the same way–years of slogging away, worrying that your tiny efforts aren’t having any impact then BAM.  You become the overnight success who’s been working hard at it for ten years.  Like when Shelby Lynne won the Grammy for Best New Artist for her SIXTH album!

That’s when I finally cried all those tears I had refused to cry when I was feeling bad about running in last place.  I sat in the dark parking lot, in the privacy of my car, and cried with relief that I might still have a Suddenly in my future, even if the Gradually was tough.

Gradually, then suddenly.  One victory at a time.

victorious