A love letter to you

10867026_sDear Reader,

I am trusting you to hold what I share with tenderness, like a nestling in your hand.  Please do not laugh or shame me into the corner . . .

This afternoon when no one but the dogs were home,   I knelt before 2 small boxes. There was a plain white box, with black magic marker scribbled on it, and a robin-egg blue Tiffany box.

Both of these boxes had been packed inside the larger moving box in my closet – the one filled with my writing that said “Do not open until Mother’s Day 2016” – and which I opened 3 days ago.

My heart guided me to the blue box (the only Tiffany box  I’ve ever received.)

All its contents – papers and notebooks and journals – were wrapped carefully in gift-bag tissue, tied with satin ribbons.  Old greeting cards and saved hand-written notes from my children were tucked deliberately throughout  – their messages perfectly timed and resonant.

To say my heart is overwhelmed is just too small a phrase.

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My heart feels like I have pulled open a heavy-wooden door of some ancient church – and been invited into the largest, most sacred space I’ve ever known – my soul is rising up and stretching itself  to embody the height of its arches, the length of its aisles, its gold filigree, its field of candlelight – such a holy, trembling stillness inhabits this space, this moment . . .

So moved and so full is my heart that there was no way for me to open the other box.  Instead, my heart whispered : it is enough.  And the hymn Amazing Grace emerged from my mouth as I knelt there..

Then, I stood up and walked to my chair and sat at my desk to begin typing this letter to you,

I wanted to share this private moment with you,  to mark its importance, its sacredness, its beauty with you.  Every part of me knew I needed to tell you, while still being immersed in its beauty, not to wait another minute longer or for some better time . . .

Also, there is a promise I need to make to you,  my reader and to you, my writing.   And like this reflection, I must make this promise today.

To my Writing – I will honor you by being brave and taking action.  I promise to take each page out of the left-side, desk drawer beside me and read it, with as much love and time and attention as I can.  Then, I will make a choice: to share you immediately here, to hold you back and thread you into a larger tapestry of story, or to let you go, as hard as that will be.  No more boxes.

To my Reader – I will honor you by showing up at the page, by demonstrating courage, and being truthful with my words – even when I fear what I write may hurt or frighten you or make you hate me.  I will trust that truth trumps secrets every time.  And that our shared stories matter, even the seemingly ordinary ones.

With these promises,  made on this 3rd day of January in the year 2016, I honor you.

i remain, your loving & brave writer

colleen patricia

(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.

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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.

 

how to clarify

 

8450830_sTo clarify butter, you need to start with the unsalted kind and then heat on a low simmer, patiently skimming off foam until milk solids and water separate from it.

The golden liquid, which emerges, has a pure, clean flavor which won’t burn at high temperatures like regular butter.

(Thank you, Rachel Ray.)

So these are the early-morning wanderings of my mind avoiding the Quest 2016 question posed to us over the weekend . . .

Theme:  Prioritize your Value
Visionary:  Seth Brogan

Prompt:  How will you better clarify whom you serve and what you do for them in 2016#Serve

I remember that, for me last year, this was the toughest time with Quest 2016 – it became one of many shiny ribbons amid packages and cards and year-end work.  And while I looked over and admired it often from afar (oh yes, I need to do that, too), I tended not to go as deep in my reflections as earlier prompts.

Yet, it is important that I better understand whom I serve and what I offer.  At my workplace, this is clear.  In my creative life, not so much.  How will I clarify this in the new year?

What gentle, yet steady heat is necessary?

quotes-helping-others-iyanla-vanzant-600x411

 

Be present.

Listen.

Write.

Stand and share.
Heal.
Heal others.

* * *

CHRIS BROGAN explores how people use content and community to build marketplaces around areas of belonging. He is CEO of Owner Media Group , providing simple plans and projects for business success. He is also a highly sought after professional speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of eight books and counting, including his forthcoming book, Insider: Strategies and Secrets for Business Growth in the Age of Distractions.

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.

 

Why I read. Why I write.

yin yang

“What is to give light must endure burning” – Viktor Frankl

Today, I was reading a memoir in literary magazine The Sun

To be honest, I never enjoyed reading literary journals.

As a 20-something, I felt I should read literary magazines because well, that is what writers do who want to be published.  Because if you are published that would mean  you’d made it, that your pricey English literature degree paid off and now you could walk through the world this super enlightened New-York-City-I-live-in-the-Village and-wear-horn-rimmed-glasses-and-sip-lemon-tea-with-3-stray cats-and-patchouli-incense-burning-and-long-stringy-spider-plants-draping-down-from-thick-macrame-hangers-bought-at-some-street-fair-somewhere-capital-w-Writer.

Oh please . . .

But seriously, until my friend Laura shared a old issue of The Sun with me (which I read cover to cover by the way), I hadn’t picked up a literary journal since that first year out of college (25+ years ago when I was working full-time in the basement of Anderson’s bookstore packing boxes of books for school book fairs, but also look! wearing my blue felt “writing hat” so people would know I was made of greater stuff.  Right.)

Anyway, today over lunch, I was reading a piece entitled Almost Unendurable Beauty by Jocelyn Evie.  I’m not going to tell you about the story because well, you should read it if you have a chance.

But please let me tell you my experience.  I saw myself in another’s words.

“I wanted badly to have some remarkable talent that would garner attention, but at the same time I also hoped to skirt by unnoticed” – from Almost Unendurable Beauty by Jocelyn Evie (The Sun, Issue 473, May 2015)

There I was reflected in one crisp, beautiful sentence (with juicy verbs).  The experience was stunning, so  much so, that I underlined the words (and I normally don’t do that).   It was like I’d heard the silver sound of a tuning fork – and I was now sitting up straight, properly aligned.

Through that personal, very intimate experience of reading the author’s words, her description of her thirteen-year-old self, I could discern not only recognition but also something a layer deeper.

I could see Why I read and Why I write.

I read to discover meaning, connection, understanding and beauty.
I read to be touched and to learn.
I read to experience that reverberant sense of “ah, yes, I see” and be changed.

This is also why I write.  (wow)

Reading and writing are this exquisite yin and yang, one-embracing-the-other-embracing-the other – I love the magic of that, the wonder of that, the connected-ness of that, the inter-dependency.

This was my experience today reading The Sun – being part of the concentric circles ever-widening – the author’s words,  my reading of them, my being inspired to write about the experience and now inviting you to read my reflection (and possibly the author’s memoir).

It is stunning really, when you think of it.

==============================================

With gratitude to Laura M. for introducing me to The Sun.
For the The Sun for remaining independent and for embodying the Viktor Frankl quote  printed on your masthead (and at the start of this blog).  Thank you for being there for writers and readers.
Special thanks to writer Jocelyn Evie (see bio below), whom I don’t know personally.  Thank you  for modelling what it looks like to stay committed to writing (with courage) all while living a full (and messy) life, being a parent and spouse, while also flourishing in a corporate career and writing!  You inspire me to remain open to possibility. 

Here is the link to the story she wrote and was published in The Sun:

http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/473/almost_unendurable_beauty

Jocelyn Evie is the pseudonym of freelance editor and writer living in California.  She’s spent most of her career working for large corporate clients.  Now, she’s thinking about writing a memoir using bullet points and PowerPoint slides

Why write?

I’m angry.

I’m not happy about my work sitting in a closet.

It feels crappy.


I wasn’t going to share this video diary with you

because to me,

this little girl’s face

says it all.

It really does.

But then I remembered how

I’d promised myself,

that,

this year,

I would be brave.

Who are you?

Who are you? I wonder.  And why are you here? especially on a day, when it feels there is nothing coming through to the page?

Somewhere close by, there is a bird singing.

I don’t remember him from any other spring and I’ve lived here, in this same neighborhood, for years.  In April, there were the same sweet chickadees chicka-dee-dee-deeing  in search of mates.  For months now, the cardinals have serenaded from tree tops, so bold and boastful and red.

But this bird, he is one like no other, and he has been singing to the heavens in every different trill and caw and warble you could imagine a bird singing.

I wish my words could sing as effortlessly.  Instead they plod along like work horses.   Tomorrow will be better.


With gratitude to the hidden garden bird.  My best guess (thank you Audubon Society) is that he is a Lark Sparrow

http://www.audubon.org/sites/default/files/LARSPA_2.songsnum2_UTkc_1.mp3?uuid=5560d0b988f45