(Do not)open until . . .

Last May, I packed all my writing in a tall moving box.  It is taped up and buried behind all our luggage in the closet in my office/guest room.

The closet is stuffed with plastic-packed toilet paper rolls, outdated over the counter drugs,  random Band Aids, all the family towels (even all the beach ones shoved in a giant blue Ikea bag), a clothes steamer I’ve never used, which my mother gave me, the ironing board, a scale we bought for our German exchange student last year to weigh his luggage.  There is every manual to every appliance we own (except for the washer and drier, which I searched for last week, without any luck).  On the shelf, there is an unrolled sleeping bag and Katie’s old comforter, Mike’s hard hat and bright-blue safety suit for when he strolling through refineries. The closet also has (temporarily) all the Christmas presents I’ve bought, and have yet to wrap, stacked up against the luggage and the toilet paper packages.

This is no place for my best work.


In response to the second prompt for Week 4 of Quest 2016

Theme:  Doing your best work, Not Someone Else’s
Visionary:  Charlie Gilkey
Prompt:  “Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year?”

On January 1, 2016, I reveal The Story Box.

I rescue my writing.  I set out short imperfect, fragmented pieces, one by one, in no particular order, for readers who are guided to them.

(At least in the light,  there is some chance of growing.)

In doing so (in my being brave):

  • I risk opening my own Pandora’s Box
  • I risk being truly seen
  • I let go of the Story that’s haunted me for more than a decade
  • I protect my family from the horrifying task of “what should we do with your mother’s writing?” should I delay any further

This writing is my best work (not someone else’s), and it is my responsibility alone to release it, amplifying its rise out into the open, into the light . . .

“p.s.  You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.”

[Thank you, for that PS, Charlie Gilkey.]


Charlie is a champion of and catalyst for Creative Giants – talented Renaissance souls with a compassion-fueled bias towards action. He’s the brain and heart behindProductive Flourishing, best-selling author of The Small Business Life Cycle (JETLAUNCH 2014), Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, and a former Army Logistics Officer. He’s driven to figure out how to help Creative Giants be their best selves in the world.


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
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.


Gratitude rising

a tumbling heap of gratitude

Sometimes in late September, when it is gray and growing colder, you feel the sun of gratitude rising in your heart, because your child is safe and home and still that goofy and charming too-tall teen he was leaving for school on Monday, or maybe it is something else for you today, dear Reader. . .

One Sentence/One Beautiful Life
with gratitude to the Satisfaction Finder by Jen Louden

A full week without writing

A full week without writing.

Let me sit
and let the fact
drift into vision:

It is a prairie in June
dreamy with
brushing cheeks
pedaling forward

A full week without writing.
Let me sit
and let the fact
enter into body:

It is a communion wafer
on warm tongue of veiled girl
its full moon
bright and luminous
and haunting.

A full week without writing.
Let me sit
and let the fact
fall into soul:

It is presence in seated meditation
with breath
deep and down and wide
deep and down and wide
thoughts passing by like clouds.

boy at airport

My first-born-17-year-old child
is in flight
ripped away
from mother earth
and catapulted into
lower stratosphere
now 4,510 miles
beyond my view

I am a mother.
(I am his mother)
injected with pitocin
without my seeing the needle
and now this second knifing labor has come on
too fast, too hard.

I cry.

My heart and center
stretching so wide,
then contracting back
resisting the tide
racing out, rushing in

It aches,
this letting go

Yet, I pray the labor to be long.

I am a mother
letting go
and loving still,
and letting go
and loving still
ever still.

A full week without writing,
May I be
such a week
many times over

You have permission

Day 12 - Play today

What if we gave ourselves permission to play? To dabble and draw and paint?  What if it didn’t need to be perfect?

What if it was okay to climb a tree barefoot or stretch our toes to the sky on the school-yard swing?

What if we didn’t care what others thought? Or we laughed so hard we a snorted?  What if we built a castle of bright-blue kindergarten blocks and stomped across it like Godzilla? What if we risked looking silly?  What if we sang show tunes to the dog?  What if we skipped down the sidewalk?

What if we bought balloons or cotton candy? or Razzles or Fun Dip?  What if we sat in the front yard wishing on dandelions?  What if we ran through a sprinkler? or drank from a hose? or made paper mache?

What if we didn’t take ourselves so seriously?  What if we softened expectations?

What if we gave each other permission to play?

You have permission to play.

(I do, too.)

Offered with gratitude to fellow artist Suzi Banks Baum. http://laundrylinedivine.com/suzi-banks-baum/ and her Permission Slip project.  When I first met Suzi, what pulled me into her blog was the laundry line image.

I remember as a girl, standing being beside my mother, handing her clothespins, as she was hanging clean sheets on the line.  It was a special job, and made me feel loved and important – the memory of it is steeped in sun and has a clean, breezy smell to it.  The memory feels warm like skin in summer.  I remember wanting to be like my mom, and deciding to create my own clothesline, stretching my green plastic jump rope, up between trees.  I would hang my doll clothes there.

An older neighborhood boy, named Greg, spotted me one day and shouted nastily “Colleen Clothesline!  Colleen Clothesline!”  when he saw what I was doing.  He then shortened it to just  Clothesline  “How’s it going Clothesline?” he’d say every time he saw me, and this lasted for years.

When he said it, I just wanted just to disappear.  I was only  6 or maybe 7.

I never played with my laundry line again.

Permission to play.  It’s an idea worth considering.  Thanks, Suzi, for the inspiration today.

I am here on an ordinary day

Day 1 - I am here Day 1 I am Here 2

So here’s the thing:  there are no ordinary days, just as there are no ordinary people, no ordinary lives.

I am sitting here in a light pink terry bathrobe with my second cup of coffee.  I am typing (not hand writing, which is how I was taught to approach creative writing).  I have not written my Julia Cameron’s morning pages (3 pages of hand-written stream of consciousness). I am not wearing a writing hat.  I have not lit a candle to mark my time at the page.  I am not in the “writing cottage” (our garden shed).

Instead I am here as myself, not yet showered, at my work desk, typing to no one really, unless you happen to be reading this.

I started this project yesterday, on Mother’s Day.  My ex-husband (whom I never referred to as my “ex-husband” before now, but those were his words to me two days ago, when we spoke and he offered this out-of-the-blue suggestion to me: “Pack away those old stories. Put them in a big box, tape it up, put it in a closet, and write a sign ‘Do Not Open Until 2016′”

“When you write, Colleen, it’s like you have this 50-pound pack on your back.  It’s Mount Holyoke, its Nicholas, its “The House on Almond Street”, it’s “Gingertime”. Let them all go, for now. You don’t need them.”

He went on: “You needed all those stories to get where you are right now. But you don’t need them anymore.  Let them go.  See what happens”

I wonder at this. I am not 100% convinced.  My ex-husband has not talked to me like this in so many years, I cannot count them.  Can I trust his advice?   Is he offering me this great procrastination device, like sitting on the couch, shoving tortilla chips in my mouth, watching TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress? Hmm.

I don’t know.  And I haven’t packed any boxes yet (and yes, there will be more than 1 box, dear god).  But I did start the blog he suggested to me (this one), a place to show up everyday, and write imperfect prose or poetry or whatever, instead of morning pages, instead of something with my name printed on it, on a pretty book jacket in Anderson’s Bookstore where we met 26 years ago.  Weirder than that, I took a video of myself immediately after, crazy and I look well, like a 48-year old mom with no make up and my Nana’s English nose.

So that’s that.  That’s the dare.  That’s the New Blank Page project. What do you think?

I hope you dare too, and risk letting me know.  I’d appreciate the guidance.

“You deserve someone just like me, but without the [shadow] baggage”

redscarf2“Nice is a knife,” says Visionary Leader Eric Klein on #Quest2015. It’s a knife you use to cut off parts of your self . . .  It’s how we adapt, fit in, survive. . . The dismembered parts don’t disappear. They go into, what Robert Bly, evoking the work of C.G. Jung, called the “shadow bag”. 

If “nice is a knife”, I am a bloody dagger.  And my shadow bag is as ripe as the hopeless Kenmore refrigerator downstairs in the kitchen with its broken ice maker and its crusted over pesto jars and beheaded month-old cabbage from some fall farm share box . . . my shadow bag is a rich compost-to-be.

Opening it, I see:

– Secrets swallowed whole, like mice, still breathing and struggling.

– Him seething fire, this silver dragon I loved.  Hate in his eyes, pounding walls, throwing clothes down the stairs Get out! tossing them out on the lawn.

– The red silk scarf I chose
to strangle myself
to remain so beautifully silent
pulled tight with double knot
ends pushed in mouth, wet and suffocating.

(i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry.)

Eric Klein asks:  How will you face your shadow bag and stop the stink, so you can bring forth what is best within you in 2015? What can you claim right now?  I am going to gather some wet leaves from outside the shed, and place them in that damn awful bag and I’m going to grab a pitchfork and plunge it in, and toss it all together, add some water and then, I’m spreading it all out in the backyard for everyone to see.

And then, oh yes! There will be flowers again.

What do I claim right now?  My voice.  I cut it free.

– See more at: http://trackingwonder.com/quest-2015/community/#sthash.XAcFckKL.dpuf

The founder of the Wisdom Heart School and a longtime internationally respected spiritual teacher, Eric Klein has been a pioneering voice in bringing more spirit, meaning, and authenticity into the workplace. He’s worked with over 20,000 leaders from Fortune 500 companies, healthcare, governmental and non-profit organizations as well as mid-size companies. He’s author of the bestselling book Awakening Corporate Soul: Four Paths to Unleash the Power of People at Work, To Do or Not to Do: How Successful Leaders Make Better Decisions, and You are the Leader You’ve Been Waiting For (a 2008 Nautilus Award-winner as a world-changing book in the conscious leadership/business category). His online meditation program The Meditation Habit is used by corporations and individuals globally. (Twitter: @EricKlein)