Mask down

The final prompt for Quest 2016 is offered by Srinivas Rao:

“What will you do in 2016 to assure you and your best work are unmistakable?”

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Colleen (& Bear) on New Year Eve 2015

 

 

Mask down.
Bear up.

 

 

***

Srinivas Rao is the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative podcast where he has conducted over 500 interviews with thought leaders and people from all walks of life. This has given him an incredibly distinctive view into branding, storytelling, and marketing. He’s also written multiple books including the WSJ Best Seller The Art of Being Unmistakable (2013); created, planned, and executed a 60-person conference called The Instigator Experience; and recently signed an offer with Penguin Portfolio to write 2 books. Somewhere along the way his compass led him in the direction of an economics degree from UC-Berkeley and an MBA from Pepperdine University. Extracting unmistakable stories out of people is his superpower. And in his spare time he’s usually chasing waves.

 

 

 

A shimmering web of wind

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A piece of poetry emerged tonight – not my intended response to the Quest 2016 prompt offered today, but there you go.

The wind made me do it.

No apologies.

Theme:  Prioritize your value
Visionary:  JOHN JANTSCH

Prompt:  What can you stop doing in 2016 such that it would allow you to focus on higher payoff activities?

In 2016, I will stop apologizing for things that need no apology.

I will stop diminishing myself.

I will stop living in the land of intentions.

I will stop postponing action.

I will stop holding back.

How about you?  What can you stop doing next year?

***

I see the wind changing.
Pushing back on the river’s flow forward,
quickening its surface like poorly-ironed silk.

I hear the wind changing.
Threading itself through clusters of chimes, sounding like sea air, teasing and circling and rising before waves.  

I feel the wind changing.
Entering like a swirling potion of ether – wooing me, pricking tears at my eyes, sending my heart all-a-swoon.

Change comes.

***

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author ofDuct Tape Marketing (Thomas Nelson 2011), Duct Tape Selling (Portfolio 2014), The Commitment Engine(Portfolio 2012), and The Referral Engine (Portfolio 2010) and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network. Twitter: @ducttape

Drawing by:  Nataliia Kozlova
(beautiful woman with birds in her hair (series C)

I will remember you

 

2939612_sI love Sarah MacLachlan’s song I will remember you – you will hear me singing it often to myself when I am holding the story I’ve yet to birth in my heart.  When I do that, I feel this beautiful feeling, this warm sense of something larger than I am inside.  The feeling is resonant of that sweet stretch of  an April day when I  knew my daughter Katie would be born, but chose to keep the knowledge secret, this constant, bearable labor – an echo of a Christmas Bible verse I love:

” But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19: 

***

On that early March day in 2006, when I was diagnosed with cancer, the reality that I might not be there for my kids and my family struck first like a hot iron thrust in my center – I’m not ready-I’m-not-ready-I’m-not-ready was all I felt, as these stormy waves of fear and sadness passed through me,  sweeping me under. 

On that same day, I also thought of the story I’m speaking of (the one in the box in the closet)  and panicked –  if I wasn’t here, no one else would write it, and the world would never know the profound impact this one child had had on my life.

***

That September,  I applied for a writing residency at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island, WA.  It was my 4th or 5th time applying. Here is part of my essay:

The piece I am creating is, by its nature, going to be a painful, like birth I imagine.  The places that I will need to go in my heart and mind are dark and uncomfortable ones: the murder of a child; a mother’s struggle with post-partum depression; and the gaping-hole-in-the-heart that is September 11.  Being diagnosed with breast cancer last March was probably the best and worst thing ever to happen to me. Cancer broke me, forced me to look in the mirror at the woman and mother I had become.  I had not recognized how isolated I was; how much I was taking my children and family for granted; how little of life I was allowing myself to experience.  I had built an iron wall around my heart, dug a moat around my life, and kept the drawbridge up and closed.

I can write this story now because I am here and alive to tell it.

My application was rejected (wisely).  And while I began an application again the following September, but in the midst of divorce, I needed to let it go . . .

***

The truth is:  I am afraid.

I am afraid that once I finish this piece (the one boxed up in the closet marked: Open on Mother’s Day 2016), and it is out there in the world, I will have accomplished all I am have been called to do in this One Beautiful Life.  That  the cancer will come back.  That I will die.

[Typing this now, though, I can see the frayed and irrational connection my mind has made – between this story and my health. As though by not writing it, I could somehow  keep Death over there, at someone else’s door]

Sarah MacLachlan sings:
I’m so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose

Clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night
You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me light

***

I didn’t directly answer the Quest 2016 prompt this time.  Instead, this piece emerged  when I held on to Seth Godin’s question:

Theme:  Imagine Your Future While Being Wholly Present
Visionary:
Seth Godin

Prompt:  “Would they miss you if you were gone?  What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?”

Would they miss me if I were gone?  All depends on who “they” is.

  • My children & Mike and my parents and my family (and of course the dogs, but probably not the cat) would miss me.  So much so it breaks my heart to think of their pain.
  • The few friends I have would miss me.   A little bit. (I’ve kept myself hidden from them for the most part anyway)
  • My corporate work colleagues would be shocked and some sad, but only for a moment, barely a breath.   Sure, there would be a flurry of activity trying to piece together budgets and understand where things are and how to cover my role.  But soon it would be like I had never been there.  I know this.  I’ve watched death visit  here too many times, in my 22+ year career.
  • Readers here might miss me  though, the sad truth is that they wouldn’t really know how much.   Because I don’t show up consistently for them.  And up to this point, I have not been  brave enough to finish the story and send it out into the world: to race it down the beach – smiling, laughing, child-like – to catch the breeze and to watch it rise and hold, and then hold and hold, tugging at its string – this soaring beauty cast against a wider sky.

The birth of the story I am to write has required an unusually long gestation and a great love.  It will also require great courage.

***

Seth Godin is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.

 

Beyond beauty

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daydreaming/dreaming day

The summer I was 17, I wandered on to the campus of a prestigious women’s college in Western Massachusetts.  [I ended up graduating from this same school, but that is another story]

I fell in love with this campus, the idyllic beauty of it:  its castle-like buildings with towers and leaded glass;  its Upper Lake  rushing into more sedate Lower Lake; the stone bridge in the woods near the horse stables;  the college’s formal gardens pooled at the bottom of a long stretch of  wooden stairs; its Victorian greenhouse of whitened-glass, iron, and meringue-like tops ; its chapel bell mellow and slow in its chiming, marking each quarter hour, as though time itself stretched longer there; leaves stirring high above in hundred-year old trees, a place quiet yet not, a sacred beauty in which to learn.

Beyond its beauty, though, the school was steeped in tradition.  I loved that in every dorm there was a grand piano (even though I didn’t play), and that there could be such a day as Mountain Day.  [A gift, bestowed on students by the college president, on one day in October – a postcard-perfect one – heralded  by the constant ringing of the chapel bell in the early morning hours. There would be no classes that day because New England’s foliage was just too beautiful to stay inside.   Many students would travel by van to nearby  Mount Holyoke, the college’s namesake, to climb to its peak and savor the view across the valley]

So what does all this reminiscing have to do with Quest 2016?  and the prompt gifted to us by SCOTT BARRY KAUFMAN who is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute.

Theme:  Imagine Your Future to Be Wholly Present
Visionary:  Scott Barry Kaufman

Prompt:  “What recurring daydream for 2016 inspires you to do business as unusual like never before?”

Well, my recurring daydream is tied to Mount Holyoke and one of its traditions:  M&Cs (or Milk & Crackers).  Basically, every night – at around 9 or 9:30 pm – everyone would stop  studying and walk downstairs – even in pajamas (when I was there they were Lanz nightgowns) – to the dorm kitchen for M&Cs  (we always hoped for cookies or graham crackers with peanut butter).  You would get your snack and  either head back up to your room, or you could sit and laugh with friends, or talk about a paper you were struggling with, or listen to someone trying out their Russian or Japanese language skills.   The tradition fostered community, helped reduce isolation.

My daydream. over the last year or so,  has been to  create  a 1-hour, weekly M&C’s inspired  event.  I have dreamed of  hosting it in the Naperville Women’s Club because every time I drive by its building, it makes my heart happy and reminds me of my alma mater (and oh, I love its purple door).  I’m not a member there, nor do I feel a great desire to be right now, but I long for the companionship of women friends, who are also busy with their full lives, have limited time, and maybe just long for a quick moment to connect, take a breath, and then get back to it, same as I do.  I envision the event as an easy-as-warm-flannel kind , one that demands nothing of you, but that you show up as yourself and be as present or as day-dreamy as you like.

 

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Naperville Women’s Club and its purple door

Founded in 1897, the Naperville Woman’s Club (NWC) is one of the longest-standing organizations in Naperville.  The club represents six generations of women whose goal was and is to enrich their community, form friendships, and engage in lifelong learning. 

***

Scott Barry Kaufman is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the measurement and development of intelligence, imagination, and creativity.

Sometimes I write

 

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Sometimes I write because my heart is too full and the desire to set beauty on the page feels like a song rising up, unrehearsed.

Gratitude.

Last night, I stood among faces I knew from long ago, the ones that filled my high school classrooms, sifted through halls, this colorful blur of velour and Jordache jeans, standing tall, yet awkward, spinning combination locks right-left-right, hip-checking grey/green lockers closed, arms laden with textbooks, covered in brown paper, scribbled with hearts.

I remember you. You touched my life, whether or not you knew you did.

We were tumbled together like this haphazard mix of pretty aquarium stones – not because we chose one other, but because we lived in the same small town, for the same 4 years – the town with the pretty white church on the long triangle of lawn, where each June, all would gather to eat strawberries, this annual Festival marking the close of one school year and  the beginning of summer –  something delicious to mark time passing – so sweetly, juicily, stickily.

Yet, our town seemed split across by railway tracks, this jagged old scar, littered and gravelly, overgrown.  On one side, there were these white Quaker stones sitting low, almost invisible in the block-wide field where the town clock once stood and the giant Sycamore, shedding its papery brown/white bark.

These remembered lives.  This litter of Life passing.

It is gratitude I feel for having grown beside you  – during years I was not yet the woman I am now (and still becoming), but the seed of her, I’m guessing.

Thank you for nurturing me while also toughening and strengthening me, through times marked by struggle, mostly the hidden kind.  I didn’t know then, what I know now.  That none of us felt like we fit in.  Even the cheerleaders, even those who lived in wedding-cake mansions on Chester Avenue, even football players who scared us with big bellowing voices, even the field hockey beauties, in their black and gold skirts, and pony tails swinging – no one felt at ease, as though she belonged.

How I wish I knew that back then.  How I wish I did.

Yet, perhaps that is the way it must be.  Perhaps we aren’t to know those things, when we are young and not yet fully-grown. Perhaps the discomfort is necessary and crucial for our lives’ unfolding.

Honestly, I don’t know.

Yet tonight, having returned safely to my home, here in Chicago, my heart full – to have been welcomed back, embraced again, by those I knew growing up – to have danced and laughed and eaten cake with them – all that remains is gratitude – this overwhelming gratitude that unlocks my voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the lines

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pure joy

snow sparks
the day’s brightness
hair, icy wet,
against cheek

we race
holding children
in circled arms
our too-small sleds spin out
toward each other

________________________________________

I wrote this poem in December 2013, but my heart remembered it today when walking the dogs with my husband Mike on the icy pavement, the morning after the first snow of the season.  There was sun, but it wasn’t warm (and certainly not melting anything!), and the morning sky was this bright Virgin-Mary blue against the silvery white of snow on all the branches – and  I could hear, but not see, the sound of children sledding in the school yard, which is near our home – their laughter and shouts like bells, heralding memory in sweet beautiful waves, of childhood and joy and hope – the sound, I have to believe,  the same for all time of children at play in a first snow.

[But then, Dear Reader. if I were to be even more honest with you, which I guess I am being – the seed of this poem hearkens back a million more years to a similar day, in our first family home on Julian Street, when all the kids were small and the idea of racing outside in the snowy cold, dragging sleds and snow-suited children, was not an entrancing idea to most adults.  But it was to me, this absolute need to be outside in it – to be en-wrapped in the magic and beauty of it.  And he, my best friend, but a man married to another, a similarly practical, more sedentary spouse, said “yes, let’s go!” and off we went towing the kids behind us – sledding down hills ourselves, laughing for the pure joy that it brought us and our kids.

It is a memory of love that my heart forever holds – this moment of reveling in life with another, of being truly alive in the world.  It was (and still is) a North Star moment for me.  Its the image my heart holds, reminding what it feels like to be true to myself, what it means to love, to journey with another, and what it means to truly be alive in the world.

 

 

What if?

What if you  could draw a circle around your whole life, as though you were some giant dragging your walking stick behind you, pulling it through gravelly dirt, just to see if you could?  How wide would your circle be?  Would it even be a circle?  Could you then, do you think, make yourself stop and put down the stick and instead just walk that one cleared line, slowly, deliberately, as though in some sacred meditation, tracing its uneven curves, stopping, turning, peering every so often to look far into its center, trying to take it all in – all this you’ve known, all this life you’ve lived – suddenly right there in front of you – held within this fragile line of your own creation?

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One beautiful life

And then, oh!  How your senses deceive you! And what at first seemed fixed and touchable, is miles away and fathoms deep and still changing  – yes, always-and- ever-still-changing!

A vista so vast – leaving you breathless, in awe – yet still wondering, always wondering at the beauty that is one’s life . . .