My Dream is Not Your Dream, and That’s Okay

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou

“Each of us has an inner dream that we can unfold if we will just have the courage to admit what it is. And the faith to trust our own admission. The admitting is often very difficult.”

“What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.” – Julia Cameron

A couple of things happened to me recently, which helped me get a clearer picture of what it is I want out of life.

First, my brother and sister-in-law celebrated their 30th anniversary with a trip to Mackinac Island in Michigan. When they started a Photo Stream of their trip, I said to Barry, “Why are they going to Mackinac Island? Why not some place exotic like Hawaii, or the Caribbean?”

Barry said, “I don’t know. Maybe they want to go to Mackinac Island. Maybe it’s exotic to them.”

Well, of course, he was right, and that got me thinking. What’s exotic to one person isn’t necessarily exotic or attractive to someone else. Also, Barry and I didn’t take a 30th wedding anniversary trip, because we didn’t have the extra cash. Granted, we took that trip around the world and that’s still good for a few more anniversary trips as far as I’m concerned. But, I had no room to talk about 30th anniversary trips since I hadn’t taken one.

Then I had to admit what was really going on for me. I have dreams of selling enough books, so that I can live the life I’ve always wanted to live, which includes travel to places I’ve always wanted to go. Exotic places, like Hawaii, New Zealand, Italy and revisit some of the places on our world tour. Everyone has a different list, different dreams, and that’s okay. After seeing all the pictures of their trip, I have to admit it looked like a fun place to visit. It’s just not high up on my list. Who knows one day I may get a speaking engagement, or a book signing there. Now wouldn’t that be interesting?

Just now as I’m thinking about how we each have different dreams, some large and some small, I realize that I’ve always had big dreams. I always thought there had to be more to life than what I was living. However, I didn’t think I deserved more. I settled for what I thought I could get. Until recently. My personal work is paying off. I’m feeling different about myself, who I am and what I can accomplish.

I have some pretty big dreams. I’ve been struggling to believe in myself for a long time. Now I think my dreams will come true. Some people may think I’m foolish for dreaming those big dreams. That’s okay. But, in turn, I don’t want to think someone is foolish if what they want is smaller.

It’s funny how Karma works, because last week, when I was at my book club group, I was telling the women that one day, Barry and I want to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico so Barry has more opportunity to sell his artwork. And one of the women said, “That’s a hard nut to crack.” In other words, “Good luck breaking into that closed group of artists.”

Now, I know she didn’t mean anything by that. Sometimes when we care about someone we want them to be cautious. We don’t want their feelings to get hurt. We want to protect them. But, it struck me that she felt the reverse of what I felt about my in-law’s trip. I may be wrong, but it sounded to me like she thought what I wanted was impossible. I’m beginning to see that nothing I want is impossible.

Barry and I’ve got bigger dreams than most of the people we know. Nothing anyone says to poo poo them is going to change my mind about seeing them come true. It’s my responsibility to do the artwork. I’ll let God take care of the rest. I want to remember that, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”- Steven Pressfield. I’m going to give what I’ve got.

Memories of India

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” – Steven Pressfield

Seventeen years ago this month, Barry and I arrived home from our three month trip circumnavigating the globe. It was a trip of a lifetime. The lessons I learned have been invaluable to my personal growth. I would not have been able to understand some of the things that happened to me without my journal.

Barry and I were reminiscing about our trip the other day, and we both agreed that, it’s India we think of most often. India was the most challenging place for us to be. The contrasts were so stark, modern high rise buildings with cardboard villages at their base, people sleeping on the street, whole families riding on one scooter, the din of traffic, the brilliant colors of the women’s saris, the hands out stretched waiting for baksheesh. To say we experienced culture shock is putting it too mildly. I experienced sensory overload. Thank heaven for my journal to help me organize the chaos of emotions I experienced every day we were there.

Last month at our book club meeting, I related an experience from those days in India that I’m just now understanding. I’ve written many pages in my journal over the years trying to understand my feelings about this incident. Something about the book we’re reading, Women Who Run With the Wolves, and the course of our discussion made me relate the story. Here’s what happened.

Barry and I were walking down the sidewalk in Delhi, headed to the government tour office to arrange our trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I felt a light brush on my elbow. I’d seen the mother and her small child sitting near the wall that surrounded the lush grounds of a four star hotel. As we passed, the mother sent the child to beg for money. The touch was so delicate. I wanted to turn and look at the tiny girl, but I ignored her. The day before, we’d taken the government sponsored tour of Delhi, and our guide had cautioned all of us to ignore beggars when they approached us. Even to look at them would invite them to press harder for money. If we acknowledged them, or gave them money, we could be mobbed by others wanting money too. Tourists had been seriously injured and even killed in such situations. My heart was broken and I cried. I cry still when I think of that little girl’s light touch.

One of the women asked, “Why do you feel so bad? Was it because you didn’t give her any money, or was it because you have so much and she so little?”

“No. The reason I felt bad was because I wanted to look into her eyes and see her. All I could do was send out a prayer for her.”

“But at least you did that. Most people wouldn’t even do that.” the other woman said.

Yes, at least I did that. Prayer can be a powerful thing. Maybe it helped the girl in some way. All I know is, the brief encounter with that little girl continues to teach me something. I hadn’t been able to articulate what it was about that encounter that still haunted me until that day. Now I know. I wanted to let that girl know, I acknowledged her existence. I think of her often and every time I do, I send up a prayer for her. She must be a grown woman by now. I wonder what her life is like and if she knows that she’s much more than her life circumstances. I think of her as changing the world in some profound way. She certainly changed my world in ways I would never have imagined. I guess I was ready for the lesson she was teaching.

That brings me back to my practice of keeping a journal and now this blog. We can learn important lessons without writing about them. But, I think it’s important to do the inner work necessary to understand what we’ve experienced, then share what we’ve learned with others. We never know who we’re going to affect. We never know the change we’re going to bring about. I don’t let anyone read my journal. It’s my private friend a place where I can go to make sense out of confusing situations. However, after I’m gone, my friends and family members may read my complied journals and may gain some insights that will help them with their own challenges. I don’t expect my journals to affect large groups of people. Blogging is different.

Blogging is a more immediate journal. I’d resisted writing a blog for a number of years thinking I didn’t have anything important to share. Or maybe I liked the anonymity of keeping a journal. Once you publish a blog entry, your thoughts are out in the world and they can affect people for good or ill. Not only that, you invite comments back about what’s been written. I’ve hidden my true thoughts for so long that I was surprised when I felt the urge to express ideas that I’ve held inside for most of my life. Like the story about the little beggar girl and what I learned from her.

Now that I’ve been writing a weekly entry for three months, I find blogging helps me do deeper inner work. I feel good about sharing my personal outlook on life with others. I guess at this stage in my life, it’s time to share a little of what I’ve learned. I’m excited to say, I’m still learning.

A New World

“Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can find his way by moonlight, and see the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde

“Don’t let yourself be weighed down by what other people think, because in a few years, in a few decades, or in a few centuries, that way of thinking will have changed.  Live now what others will only live in the future.” Paulo Coelho

Just recently my husband and I started watching a new summer series The Bridge on FX. We wanted to watch it partly because we live one mile from the border of Mexico. Would the series tell of the story of what it’s like to live on the border? We were pleasantly surprised.

The first episode begins when a body is found on the bridge from El Paso, Texas to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. One half of the body is in Mexico, one half in the U.S. and law enforcement on both sides must work together to solve the murder mystery. As we get to know the two main police officers on the case, we also get to see how differently their departments work. But more than that, we get to see life on both sides of the border and how interconnected it is. In some ways, life on the Mexican side is much like ours and in others, it’s vastly different. It’s much more violent and threatening. That’s what makes the series compelling. The writers are letting us see into each character’s life experience. They’re letting us get a glimpse into a world we might not ever get to experience. To me that’s great art.

As, I was thinking about that show, I was thinking about my own creative process. What is my creative process and how do I describe it? Serendipity gave me a helping hand. Yesterday, while I was cooking, I was watching a movie I’d recorded some time back, The Magic of Belle Isle, with Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen. He’s an alcoholic writer, who’s lost his writing muse, until he goes to Belle Isle for the summer and meets a newly single mother and her three daughters. The middle daughter waltzes over to his house uninvited and demands that he teach her how to use her imagination to write. As incentive to accept her as a student, she offers to pay him $34, all the money she has. Since he’s short on cash, he accepts.

In her first lesson in imagination Freeman’s character asks her to look down the road and tell him what she sees.

She says, “Nothing, it’s just a road.”

“Okay,” he says, “tell me what’s not there.”

It takes her a few lessons before she can tell him a story about something that only she sees. That’s the beginning of her writing career. In the end he tells her to “Never stop looking for what isn’t there.”

I realized that’s what I do. That’s what other creative people do. They look for what’s not there and then they use their chosen media to make it a reality and we’re all affected by the new vision we see. That’s what Steve Jobs did when he created the iPod, iPhone and iPad. We didn’t know we needed those things until he invented them. We might not see the horror of war until we see it presented graphically on the screen, we don’t know the beauty of the wheat field until we see it in a painting. We don’t know the anguish of living in a hostile environment on the border of Mexico, until we see it portrayed on the screen. That’s why we need artists. They show us a new world.

Word Power

“The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, And let it spring from love. Born out of concern for all beings.”

– Buddha, was the central figure of Buddhism.

Words have been on my mind a great deal since I began writing my novel and this blog. That’s not true, I’ve always been fascinated with words. I’m told I spoke clearly before I could walk. None of that baby talk for me. When I was in grade school, my teacher praised me to the class for saying the word “multiplication” clearly, enunciating all the parts of the word. The other kids looked at me with perplexed expressions on their faces as if to say, “What difference does it make”?

My favorite subject in school was English where I learned to love great literature. In college my majors were Religious Studies and Theatre and Speech and my Masters degrees are in Theater Arts and Education. So, as you can see, words and the ideas behind them matter to me.

That’s why I’m concerned. There seems to be a growing trend of speaking before thinking about the consequences of what we’re saying. Is it just me, or are we lashing out at one another more than we used to do? We’re making a habit of using personal invective against one another without realizing that words are made up of energy. When spoken they are sound vibrations that we’re sending out into the world. When read silently, they stir or damage our soul.

Maybe you don’t know what I’m getting at. Okay, let me demonstrate. In the “Declaration of Independence” the line we revere the most is this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” As Americans, aren’t we proud of that document? Would we be as proud if Thomas Jefferson hadn’t been such a good writer? What if it said: “This is what we believe to be the truth, that everyone’s created equal, with rights that can’t be denied. We state that some of those rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It doesn’t have the same ring does it? Here’s another example of a document we hold dear, “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” What if Lincoln had started his address with, “One hundred and seven years ago our nation was created.” See what I mean?

My point is that words have power. We continue to study the works of Shakespeare because of the way he stated his ideas through characters in interesting, sometimes desperate situations. It’s the same with all great literature, but our popular entertainment, with a few exceptions, is made up primarily of reality shows where the “real” people are bickering, tearing each other down with their brutal honesty, or using profanity that has to be bleeped out. What kind of negative energy are we saturating the air waves with and how does that affect us? I’m not saying that a good swear word should never be used. Sometimes that’s the best way to express our feelings. What I object to is yelling them in someone else’s face.

In a fantastic book I read last year, Every Word Has Power, Yvonne Oswald writes about the power the words we think and speak have on our lives. If we’ve got the habit of denigrating ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to be successful out in the world. For that reason she helps the reader notice their self-talk. Beginning to change ourselves is the way to change our outer world. For that reason, I don’t watch all those negative reality shows, or the news. However, because I’m sensitive, I feel overwhelmed by the negativity of our dialogue with each other. I can feel it in the ethers and I feel sad that we’ve lost much of our civility.

Now that I’ve written about the negative aspects of our media, I do want to point out that I see glimmers of hope. I think the big wigs at the networks underestimate those of us who are viewers. The popularity of Downton Abbey, on PBS no less, took everybody by surprise. It’s a literate television show. Oh, there are characters who can deliver a cutting remark with flair. But, we get to see them suffer the consequences of their actions. They don’t get away with being nasty for long. Another glimmer of hope is the fact that OWN is doing better than ever, and while I don’t watch all the shows on that network, the programming is heavy on personal growth and healing. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I know this one blog post, which will reach maybe 50 people, isn’t going to change the way we think about each other, or talk to each other over night. My goal is to be one voice added to many others, saying, we need to pay attention to how we treat ourselves and others. We need to think, and not just drift along. We need to wake up and be conscious of our actions. If we’re compassionate with ourselves, it’s easier to show compassion for others.

Find Your Creativity

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

Steve Jobs

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.

Erich Fromm

“I love fantasy. I love horror. I love musicals. Whatever doesn’t really happen in life is what I’m interested in. As a way of commenting on everything that does happen in life, because ultimately the only thing I’m really interested in is people.”

Joss Whedon

Yesterday I attended my book club meeting. We’re reading Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. When I was thinking of what to write this week, I wanted to write about creativity, but my thoughts were all a jumble. I had no clear idea what I thought about creativity. Then after our discussion, everything snapped into place.

The creative person is a Wild Woman, or Wild Man. There’s a fire in their belly and they must tell their fire story or die. They’re not conventional. They’re often misunderstood. But, we need their message, because their story reflects the culture from which they come. It reflects human experience. Clarissa Pinkola Estés says that stories help us along our inner journey. They can lessen fear, they can help us cut through the crap, and they can help us regain the damaged parts of ourself.

There are as many fire stories as there are people to tell them. The story need not be in written words. It can be in visual art, dance, theatre, music, a finely made quilt, a beautiful garden, a home decorated in a way that invites you in, that opens up conversation. We connect to the stories that speak to some longing within ourselves. If we let them in, the stories can help us heal.

Of course, there are dark stories of destruction of a human soul. I’ve never been attracted to those kinds of stories, but I’m not going to say they don’t help us heal. Maybe those stories provide the wake-up call needed by a segment of the population. After all, we can’t heal if we don’t venture into the dark places of our psyche.

I’m going to close this week’s post with another quote from Joss Whedon. These were his last comments about Firefly fans at the 10th anniversary Reunion panel at Comic Con 2012. I use this quote, because I believe what he describes, happens to us when we allow ourselves to be affected by a piece of art.

“When you come out of a great movie, you feel like you’re in that world.… When you’re telling a story you’re trying to connect to people in a particular way. It’s not just about what you want to say, it’s about inviting them into a world. And the way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, have made you part of it, part of the story. You are living in Firefly. When I see you guys, I don’t think the show is off the air, I don’t think there’s a show. I think that’s what the world is like. I think there are space ships. I think there’re horses. I think it’s going on in all of us. The Story is alive.”

What stories attract you? Look at the archetypes of the characters in those stories. Which archetypes speak to you? Those are clues to your inner life, the fire within your belly.