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How do we live with uncertainty?

In a few days, these avocados will be ripe enough to mash. I’ll add a little sea salt, onion powder, a dash of cayenne and a squirt of fresh lemon. Plop it on some toasted multigrain and voila, breakfast is served. Delicious avocado toast is certain. So much else is not.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve trained hard for Covid Times. When I was little, a friend of my Dad’s once coined the phrase, “The Leffert Uncertainty Factor,” to explain why no one ever knew what to expect from my family. While all the adults laughed I remember thinking, that’s not funny. All these years later, my youngest child is similarly unsettled by my refrain about when the pandemic will end. “We just don’t know,” I’ve said, over and over. That’s not funny either. We count on our routines to feel safe, rites of passage to mark how far we’ve come and celebrations to enjoy our accomplishments. They’ve all been swiped off the calendar and it’s unsettling, to say the least. And then there’s the news. For many, the pandemic has wreaked havoc. If you’re not accustomed to having your life turned upside down on a semi regular basis, I can see why these times might throw you.

If we think about it, the uncertainty has been here the whole time, we’ve just assumed our plans and supports will hold. In Florida, we know we can’t always count on each day going as planned, especially during hurricane season. Any amount of certainty is an illusion, even “hurricane season” itself. We’ve had a hurricane in Florida every month of the year, it’s just more likely to blow into town during specific months.

No matter where you live, we’ve all dealt with some level of unpredictability before this. But the pandemic has been a master class in the concept. So, how do we deal with not knowing? There are no experts on this in my house, but we have been able to ride the wave without completely falling off the board, most of the time. Here are the go-tos we regularly incorporate into the march through the bog of coronatimes.

LAUGHTER

Everybody knows this one. When we find something to laugh about together, worries evaporate. My family is always looking for a laugh. Over the last months, we’ve binge watched Key & Peele, The Office, Parks & Recreation, The Chappelle Show, New Girl, and Bob’s Burgers. Thank God Netflix is a closer family member than many of our own blood relatives. A good laugh releases the pressure.

VALIDATION

Mark and I are pretty bad at this, but when disappointment is at it’s most crushing, we all need validation. One of our kids has accused us of something called toxic positivity which is pretty horrible—I googled it. When the one special trip to Europe with Grandma got canceled, our kid didn’t want to hear how lucky we all were to be healthy with a roof over our heads. When things we’ve been working towards evaporate, it sucks. I watched Glennon Doyle’s video on how to listen repeatedly and I am finally starting to get it. Commit it to memory so your loved ones don’t call you names. http://bit.ly/2WkmbFq

SERVING OTHERS

When we are wallowing in all that we’ve lost, serving our community helps us realize we are all in this together. That sense of a shared burden lightens the load a little. It’s like when everyone cleans up after dinner and it’s not left to just one resentful person, as a totally random example. And our family could do a lot more of it. Especially helping others who don’t have it as good as we do. One of our favorite helpers is Educate Tomorrow, an organization that supports young adults aging out of the foster care system to pursue higher education (and so much more).https://www.educatetomorrow.org/who-we-are/who-we-are/ We love the SEED school too—the only public boarding school in town and one of only three in the country. https://miami.seedschool.org/about-us During the pandemic we stocked the new dorms with college gear to create an inspiring home for the students. Because of the hurdles I faced as a kid, I am drawn to organizations focused on helping children. Involving my own kids in programs for children who’s parents have been unable or unwilling to care for them has been a challenge, however. I felt so ashamed when my needs were not being met that it’s triggering for me but I do as much as I can and applaud the efforts of my dear friends who champion this incredible work.

ONLY USE YOUR IMAGINATION FOR THINGS YOU WANT

The anxiety of not knowing when we will ever get to leave our homes safely only goes away when we break the habit to worry. That may sound nuts, but hear me out. Years ago, in the Before Times, I used to worry so much it was debilitating. Some awful things actually did happen so I felt justified. After working on my mindset, I now understand that worrying is a choice. Now when I stumble over my worry trip wire, I think of surfer Eddie* who says, “don’t worry because that shit ain’t happenin’ right now.” I look around and notice that none of my worries are in the room with me. Most of them aren’t real. There’s loads of research that shows when we spin nightmare scenarios, our body feels as if it’s actually happening—we unwittingly put ourselves through tremendous stress. We can get out of our heads and back into our bodies, to the present moment where for most of us, everything is fine. I am no expert on mindset training but I have learned from some of the best: Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins and Maria Forleo to name a few. Luckily, now that we are in full blown crazy town, my mind has been trained not to worry. If the problem is something I can solve, I make an action plan. If not, I let it go and only use my mind for things I actually want. Choose another thought. If you study how to do this, you can be a reformed worrier too.

ACCEPTANCE

The other thing that helps is accepting that this is harder for some of us than others. We all have had moments of hitting the wall during coronatimes. And that just has to be ok. We can’t expect everyone to handle this the same way because it affects each of us differently. And we came to this moment in varying degrees of readiness. Relaxing expectations has been an absolute must around here. The more love and acceptance we can show each other right now, the better we will get through this, and the more connected we will be on the other side.

MAKING PLANS WITH STUBBORN OPTIMISM

Lastly, as evolving humans we freaking need something to look forward to, especially kids. When our present feels tedious and frustrating, future plans energize us. They help us with discipline and motivation. If we are going nowhere and doing nothing, it can lead to despair. Regardless of whether it’s going to happen, our family will be making plans to get the heck out of dodge on go to the mountains. https://www.theemotionmachine.com/power-anticipation-need-something-look-forward/

So. Take it easy on yourself (and everyone around you) and trust that it’s all going to be ok.

Love,

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: what are you looking forward to?

*Mentioned on The Robcast. Rob Bell is one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s buddies who I tune into from time to time.

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What do you really want?

The kids and I binge watched “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” over the interminable summer of the pandemic. One of the contestants who lost straightaway stuck in my head. He was an older guy, who had loved to bake his whole life. When he was younger and choosing a career, he didn’t consider pursuing pastry even though it had brought him so much joy. It wasn’t practical. So he went into sales. All the years into that decision were etched on his face—eyes at half mast, a sickly pallor to his skin and a demeanor plagued by timidity. Having chosen a life he never wanted had cost him. He was so nervous during the competition that he screwed everything up and was eliminated. A lifetime ago, he knew in his bones what he really wanted and he ignored it. What if he’d been such an extraordinary pastry chef that he’d become a household name and made a fortune? He never gave himself the chance.

We spend gobs of time pondering what we “should” do, imagining what people will think, projecting the judgment of others back onto ourselves. We go from one accomplishment to the next, assuming we will be well-regarded and fulfilled once we have ticked off our list of approved goals. This hamster wheel has no end in sight until we spend some time with the truth of who we are, underneath all the false measures of our worth. When we know ourselves, we know what we want and we can make a plan to get it.

None of us comes to this earth to gain our worth, we bring it with us.

So how do we get back to the truth of who we really are? We get to know ourselves again by engaging the subconscious—it’s all in there. And it’s way more accessible than we think. One way to do that is to keep a daily journal. Writing without judgment, just putting it all down on the page, one little bit at a time. The benefits of adopting this practice are many. Let’s break it down so you know what you’ll get if I can convince you to take pen to paper and let your mind do it’s thing.


We write to let the sun in, to banish the darkness,
to shed burdens and lighten ourselves. We write to be free.

1.   Through writing we get clarity.

When we let our subconscious choose what to write about, our priorities become clear. Underneath all the noise lie our hopes and dreams. When we articulate them, the next step is to make a plan and execute on it.

When I first started writing, I was so intimidated by the blank page, I froze. Beginning with writing prompts was the perfect way in. It’s a simple tool to get you going and might even take you in a totally different direction. But it’s not like art class where you are supposed to sketch the flower in a vase or you get an F. The prompt is a mere suggestion. Where you go with it is your call. When I write in the morning, forgotten intentions come out. I write notes to myself in the margin so I remember to follow up on an idea, chase down a contact, etc. Writing brings my focus back to what’s important to me.

When we tell the truth, we create the possibility for more truth around us.

2.  Finding your truth.

Many of us have family and relationship drama that occupies valuable space in our heads. And it’s not just the time and energy it consumes, it also messes with our sense of self. Family narratives around incidents may conflict with what was actually true for each of us. Even siblings experience the same parents in conflicting ways. The important bit to extract is our own truth, regardless of someone else’s version. When we write down what is true for us, not only do we benefit, but we also bring healing to the world.

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Joan Didion

3. Getting in touch with our true feelings.

When we use writing to explore our subconscious mind, we increase our capacity for insight into ourselves and understand our reactions to current triggers more fully. For a long time, I was in survival mode, just hoping to get through the difficulty and avoid my emotions. Going back and fully exploring what happened and how it made me feel, put me back in touch with feelings I had buried. In large measure, putting those feelings on the page liberated me from them. I have more sensitivity and insight into my own life than ever before. Having a place for unexpressed emotions has served as a stress-reliever. There is a lightness I never thought possible. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

4. Building our own intuition.

The more time we take to listen to our own voice, the better we know ourselves. We gain wisdom and insight into our own motivations. We trust ourselves more. Our instincts sharpen. Our self-awareness grows. What could be better?

Accept what is. Let go of what was. Believe in what will be.

5. We can consciously choose an empowered meaning to our personal stories. We are the ones who decide what to focus on as we write. We get to say why something happened the way it did and the significance. I’m not suggesting we should make up a bunch of hooey to be the hero of our story—that serves no one. What we can do is reflect on what we gained and extract an empowered meaning from the hard times. That makes all the difference.

Being on the other side of this concept is a beautiful thing. After I wrote my book, I got to see that the hardship I experienced brought me to where I need to be. I used my writing not just to replay events but to understand them. I now appreciate my own resourcefulness. I realize that everything I am comes from all I have been through and I honor both the good and the bad.

6. When we get negative emotions out, assign an empowered meaning to our lives and integrate our own personal stories into who we are today, we feel better. Mountains of research shows the benefits of expressive writing to increase self-esteem and to heal physically and emotionally. There are clear connections between expressing emotions and enjoying good health.

7.    We write to recognize our limiting beliefs.

We have all had experiences that end up placing limits on us in one way or another. The end result is that we believe we cannot do certain things before we even try. For me, I concluded early that I couldn’t have close friendships because people would judge me if they really knew me. My hippie family did everything differently so I kept friends at arm’s length to avoid their scrutiny. Unless we take the opportunity to examine these beliefs, we don’t ever question whether or not they are actually true. Lucky for me, I questioned this belief somewhere along the way in my writing. The real truth is that the more I share of myself, the deeper the connections between me and my friends and family. I invite you to think about all the things you believe you can’t do and ask yourself why you’ve reached that conclusion. You may be surprised.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you. Zadie Smith

So here’s how to get started. You have a lot of options but the optimal time to journal is when you have quiet moment and a comfortable place to write. I do it right after meditation in the morning before anyone’s up. You can even light a candle and make the space comfy. I prefer to fill three full pages but even if you only do a few minutes a day, say fifteen, three or four days a week, it’s effective. The key is not to edit as you go. This exercise allows you access to your true feelings and if you censor yourself, you will undo that valuable work. No editing, no judgment for grammar or spelling errors. Rereading should be left for later and never before the next session.

So. Take a risk and get to know yourself on the page. I promise, it’s going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: Explore a memory. What lingers with you the most? How has this experience changed you? How are you seeing your resilience through this experience? Who do you wish you could share it with? (It’s okay if its just for you.)

 

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Six Tips to Save Your Sanity

I used to wake up with a sense of dread so familiar I didn’t notice it until it was gone. Maybe some of you have felt that way too, this week especially. Today I want to share 6 Sanity Rituals I have been practicing, some for about a decade. Initially, my goal was to maximize my own happiness and peace of mind. Little did I know I was training for the mother of all tests of mental fitness: Covid Times and the mayhem that’s come with it. I am not the authority on any of these—I’ve just curated different techniques for my own personal benefit. So if you want to control anxiety, clear your mind, and get your energy ready for what’s been going down, keep reading.

Sanity Ritual #1: meditation. Friends have recommended it to you, but who has time? You do. It’s a few minutes. If you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and look into it. I’ve practiced for nine years and it may be why I don’t drink coffee and enjoy a burst of afternoon energy that gets me through the evening feeling good. It’s trendy now, but it’s been around for thousands of years. If the thought of trying it out makes you antsy, check out tm.org. All kinds of influential people credit meditation with their greatest accomplishments. And, best of all, this method is meditation for dummies. I had never been able to do any form of it—and believe me I tried—until I learned this one. I’d trained myself to worry and nothing could compete with that lifelong habit. This technique undid my worry trigger. And sometimes during a meditation, inspiration shows up and I get to keep that gold nugget as a bonus. Win win win win.

Sanity Ritual #2: morning pages. If you are not a morning person, there are plenty of folks who choose another quiet time during the day to do this exercise. For me, the only guarantee I have to write uninterrupted is when my family is unconscious. After an early meditation, I creep out of bed before the dog wakes up to fill three pages without thinking. This serves as a data dump for whatever is rattling around in there. Plans I am making in the back of my head, regrets for how I handled something, but also awesome ideas that were buried underneath all the garbage.

Sanity Ritual #3: get out in nature and MOVE. This is a two-fer. My family is still asleep when I take off, but when I’m done, everyone is up so there is no time to dillydally. Today, I am exhausted so I went for a quick walk to watch the sun burst through the clouds and streak the sky yellow to pink to blue. There is nothing that brings me to the present moment quicker than taking in a sunrise. Moving my body outside in nature grounds me. Walking, running, roller skating, who cares, just as long as I am outside and moving.

Sanity Ritual #4: breath work. Stay with me here. You non-yogi types are probably going to try to clock out. Maybe it seems weird to us here in the US but it is widely practiced in other cultures across the globe. Ancient breathing techniques used in Eastern traditions direct your prana, a sanskrit word meaning life force energy. The technique clears your head and wakes up the energy centers (chakras). The technique I use is four quick inhalations, then four exhalations, all while tapping each of my fingers to the thumb, from the index to pinkie. I do it for a dozen times or so. Your neighbors may look at you funny as you huff past their house but if this is the only behavior they find odd, clearly they don’t live next to me. If you are interested in learning more about breath work, take a look: https://www.calmwithyoga.com/pranayama-yogic-breathing-ujjayi-techniques/.

Sanity Ritual #5: energy cleanse. This list may sound time-consuming but the breathing is a couple of minutes and if you can do just one or two of these, it still helps. I find this one so critically important that if I don’t do it, I feel like I haven’t showered, to borrow a friend’s analogy. We deal with some sort of lockdown-related disappointment, fear or heartbreak daily. If the whole world did it, there would be peace on earth.

So this is how. As I walk along, I visualize the bright light of the universe shoot down through the clouds, in through the top of my head down through my body all the way to the earth’s core, then back up the same path through my feet, up and out my head and into space. I repeat until my energy feels sparkly clean. The number of times I do it depends on how I feel—usually three or four times. Then, in the same fashion, I bring the energy in, hold it in my heart, turn it pink (the color of love) and send it out to my family and friends. I have an attorney friend who sends good energy to her judge before every hearing. If you are her opponent, watch out. This is her secret weapon.

I finish up by sending healing white or blue light to people who are ill or otherwise having trouble. I end with drawing the energy in, expanding pink energy in my heart and disbursing it throughout my own body. Every time, without exception, a spontaneous smile spreads across my lips. I saw Master Stephen Co at a seminar demonstrate this powerful technique and I have done it regularly ever since. If you follow him on Facebook, you’ll get lots of intel on these techniques.

But wait, there’s more!

Sanity Ritual #6: gratitude. This really shouldn’t be last but this is how I wrap up—it’s the cherry on top. When I am nearly home, I take the time to thank the trees for oxygen, the sky for the beautiful clouds, and God (you can thank whomever you credit for all that we have, doesn’t have to be God) for giving me and my family everything that we need. I name each family member and express thanks for their unique gifts and thank God for things I don’t yet have (Dr. Edith Eger style, if anyone is familiar with her beautiful book The Choice). This is the part I look forward to the most. Someone smart once said, “express gratitude as if you only get the things tomorrow that you were grateful for today.”

And this brings me to my one and only “don’t.” Do not consume news in the morning. Apparently a full 80% of people who consume bad news first thing, report having had a bad day. Don’t do that to yourself. Maybe at a low energy point during the early afternoon, read what you need to stay informed and then move your body so it doesn’t get stuck in there. I like a 4:00 p.m. dance break myself.

 

By the time I walk into my house, I am refreshed and ready for the day. When it’s raining or I work out indoors, I sometimes miss the energy and gratitude work. It shows. When I’m doing all this regularly, I glow with a sense of wellbeing others around me can feel. These rituals have healed me and my little corner of the world.

With this practice, I feel a deep certainty that everything is going to be ok.

Love, Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: What are you grateful for today?

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It’s what we had feared all along.

Despite the masks, the relentless sanitizing, and social distancing, we received news that a member of our household had been exposed to the virus.

Before breakfast the next morning, we masked up, piled into the car, and headed to the enormous testing facility at the fairgrounds. Hundreds of spooky, lime green traffic cones separated long, empty lanes of traffic. It’s like they’d color-coordinated with the green splat emoji we had all been using as shorthand for coronavirus. If it hadn’t been a rainy Sunday in Miami, the lanes would have been full, according the national guardsman we met at a check point. Miami drivers can’t do rain—traffic comes to a standstill.

The sweet scent of banana bread filtered through my mask from the thermal bag on the passenger seat. I’d packed it up in case we’d had a long wait. We wound our way through the Covid themed race track as I fiddled with the container using my free hand.

“You guys want to eat?”

No one was hungry.

We pulled into the metal shelter and a PPE-draped nurse tossed a few clear bags labeled “BIOHAZARD” into the car window. She delivered some clipped instructions and stepped back. I turned around in the driver’s seat to show everyone how to cough hard into theirs masks, then swab the insides of cheeks, and along the gums and tongue. When the last kid finished, his collection kit nearly went flying. It seemed weird that a child should be in charge of his own sample, but I wasn’t there to question protocol. I handed back the kits and asked when we’d received results.

“You should hear back within twenty-four hours,” she said and waved me on, beckoning the car behind us with her mummied-up limbs. I pulled the car forward to snap a photo of the gigantic semi trucks marked Miami Dade Fire Rescue. This was history in the making after all.

“Mom, you better take off, here come the cops,” said my older son. A police cruiser loomed in my rear view mirror so I stepped on the gas. Was it illegal to take photos at a government testing facility? I didn’t wait around to find out.

When we arrived home, I did the only thing I could do: wait nervously. Sitting at my kitchen table, I self-medicated with a half wedge of brie and onion matzah. I felt lightheaded and panicked that it might be a symptom. I released the thought and reflected on the last eight months.

At the beginning of quarantine in mid-March, I was aggressively fine with all of it. I reasoned that the kids could use some downtime from the grind. I’d felt relief when suddenly I got back all those hours I regularly spent in my car. No more schlepping children and stuff hither and yon. Volunteer obligations vanished and suddenly I had time to write my book. We all needed a break.

As March became April, then May, there was much talk about family bonding opportunities. I unloaded board games from the hall closet, forming neat stacks on the dining room table. The kids didn’t feel up to it, but I left them out, figuring we’d play eventually. I put together lists of festive meals like pizzeria night, taco bar and nacho making to varying levels of enthusiasm. Closets were cleaned and items donated to programs for communities in need. I chose a family charity project and the kids selected college-themed supplies for the new dorms at a public boarding school. Every chance I got, I repeated how fortunate we were. But the kids needed to mourn their lives a little and weren’t totally sold on my covid-tastic-ness. But in those early months, I was doing battle with corona and winning.

I was raised to thrive in chaos—my training started early. An unexpected divorce, the surprise departure of a parent, a move across country that none of us kids saw coming. And that was just the beginning. Every few months, our house of cards blew down in one way or the other. By the time I left home and controlled my own life, I was conditioned to worry reflexively. I attended law school with a full 75% of my brain devoted to spinning nightmare scenarios while the remainder worked two jobs and did schoolwork. Before every exam, I cried, long and hard, then got to work. It was exhausting.

So I started therapy. I credit those twenty years with a mostly healthy relationship and the ability to care for my family. But even after those endless hours on that burgundy leather sofa, I still woke up, grinding my teeth. Until, finally, I learned to direct my thoughts to what I could control instead of fretting about a future I couldn’t. I learned that energy is matter and I need to be conscious of what I focus on because that is what I create.

I was doing great with corona for months, building mental fitness and practicing gratitude. Until the unrelenting cancellations began to take a toll on my kids. Rights of passage missed that wouldn’t be back. The dance party to end elementary school, a Disney trip at the completion of middle school, a European adventure with Grandma the last summer before entering college. Yes, we had our health, a roof over our heads and food on the table. Nonetheless. There was no fine then. I could take any amount of pain, just don’t hurt my babies.

Because of the turbulent years I spent as a kid, I vowed to do it differently. When they were born, I made every decision as though their lives depended on it. Overpriced, organic produce, stainless steel lunch containers to avoid phthalates, silver copper ionization for the pool instead of chlorine. I have chilled out a little, but the thing that remains is that I take my job of protecting them seriously.

The next morning the test results came in. One child had tested positive.

I have broken down a handful of times on the coronacoaster, and that day was one of them. It was one child’s birthday, the other was sick in bed and the third was miserable for having to miss a tiny Halloween party—the one and only festive ocassion in eight months.

Friends offered to bring food. I am not comfortable accepting help. Guilt consumes me when people go out of their way. Call it a trigger from childhood when I felt like a burden. But I accepted it on that day. Two bags of groceries from a dear, sweet friend. Homemade chicken soup from the warm kitchen of another. I get by with a little help from my friends. And, of course, our pediatrician who told me not to worry, it would be a mild case. My kid said everything hurt, but the lungs are clear.

Now that I’ve had my cathartic cry, I know there is only one way to deal with all of this. Get back up, take a deep breath and do what I need to do. I will “stand guard at the gate of my mind,” focus on the things I can control and be grateful for all I have.

I say this to myself and to all of you. It’s going to be okay.

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: When the pandemic knocks you down, how do you get yourself back on track?

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Want more JOY in your life? Yes, please.


If you are one of those folks who never lost that childlike curiosity and willingness to take risks—this piece is not for you. It’s for those of us who consider spontaneous fun just a bit too irresponsible. I became that person at age ten.

My fifth grade teacher had just transferred from the high school. He assigned a comically heavy load of homework. Each afternoon, I fanned the books and papers out at the foot of my bed and began to fret, wondering how I would get it all done. One afternoon, I spotted my bright blue roller skates sitting in the corner. They hadn’t been touched since I opened the box at Hanukkah and took them out for a spin. Without a thought, I grabbed them and marched out to the front porch. Up and down Quiet Lane I raced until the sky streaked orange, yellow, and pink. I slowed my pace and rolled up the driveway, lungs burning in the high desert air. As I pulled off each skate, I promised myself, I’d do this everyday.

I never did it again.

The next afternoon, a voice in my head scolded me: you are not a frivolous person who puts fun before work. No skating.

Cut to forty years later—I asked for a pair of roller skates for my birthday, just this month. Up until recently, I was still the type who wouldn’t waste time on such a silly hobby, nor would I risk injury that might bench me from yoga or running. What caused the change, you ask?

In short, it was Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. I’m here to tell you, it’s not just for artists, it’s for anyone who straight up wants more joy in their life. My sister Dinah recommended it when I called her a while back, upset after receiving some hurtful feedback on a piece of writing from someone who’s work I respected. Dinah had some pointed advice.

“She’s your wet blanket. You can’t show her your work,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She talked about those people who, when you have something exciting going on, will plant doubt in your mind, claiming it’s “for your own good,” their comments serving only to stomp on your enthusiasm. A “wet blanket” is the polar opposite of a “creative champion,” someone who can be counted on to offer encouragement and constructive criticism– a generous and self aware friend or colleague. I ordered the book immediately.

“The Artist’s Way shows you how to keep your own counsel. It helps you tune in to yourself and figure out which people you need to keep around. If you follow the program, you will let go of what’s holding you back and gain a crazy kind of momentum.”

I just completed week twelve and have been officially reacquainted with fun. And my creativity is gangbusters.

The exercises are based on the concept that we should do the work to maximize our creative power because, “there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money,” according to Cameron. In other words, want to live your best life? Get yourself a copy of The Artist’s Way. And don’t be put off by all the spiritual talk, if that’s what throws you. She’s a twelve-stepper, just so you know.

So how do you go from being an overly cautious pre-worrier who is super intimidated to share her creative work and stresses out about everything? I’ll tell you because that was me. Each chapter of The Artist’s Way includes exercises that are mostly just play that you will love doing. For example, one night after dinner, I sat on the couch and cut out photos from magazines of beautiful places I want to go and things I want to achieve. I pasted them into a collage like I had for friends back in high school. It now hangs in the bathroom where I see it every day. And some of it’s already happening. I was invited to a magical yoga retreat–when the world had been canceled for months–spent a day on a boat having deep, satisfying conversations with new and old friends, I’ve been swimming in the ocean, and now we’re talking about staying in the mountains while the kids attend school remotely.

And before you think to yourself, that sounds like a goofy vision board—no gracias. Expressing your desires in a tangible way programs your brain to seek those things out. It’s simple science—like deciding to buy a Mini Cooper and suddenly they are swarming around you in the streets. If you don’t believe me, ask Elizabeth Gilbert, Martin Scorsese, and Anne Lamott who are all over the book jacket. My pal Liz has done the program three times. After the first, she decided to 1) travel to Italy and learn Italian, 2) go to an ashram in India, and 3) return to Indonesia to study with an old medicine man. This decision resulted in, you guessed it, Eat, Pray, Love.

I suggested the book to a dear friend who is searching for her next thing. She said, “I really don’t want to blow up my life, so I better not.” No one is forcing you to change anything. This is all information that is stored up inside you already. Self-knowledge is the greatest power you can harness.

This book deploys techniques to evade your inner censor. You know, the one that shuts down opportunities before you even explore them. The Artist’s Way has you speed write a Wish List.* You go so fast that the answers come straight from your subconscious. Your mean little critic can’t catch up to say, that wish is stupid. Cameron explains, “because wishes are just wishes, they are allowed to be frivolous (and frequently should be taken very seriously).” How great is this? And just so you don’t get the impression that it’s an exercise in daydreaming on your apple pie in the sky, here’s the deeper work: it explores the limitations placed on us by receiving wrongheaded messages from parents and society. It interrogates our fears and investigates why we may have lost faith that life will work out in our favor if we go after what we really want.

And don’t even get me started on the signature exercise of The Artist’s Way: the morning pages. Writing for three pages in a dedicated journal, longhand—without planning or stopping to think—turbo boosts your intuition and has you answering all of your own questions.

Here is the end result. I say YES to spontaneous fun. I am sharing my creative work not just once a week, but every day— little mini stories on Instagram (@elizabethheise1) and a longer piece like this once a week. I didn’t even have Instagram until now. After reading The Artist’s Way, I will go to the beach on the weekend, instead of being the foot soldier of my To Do list. I jump in the surf in a bikini. I used to dress in a sun protective swimming costume that would have worked great on the Jersey Shore in the 1930’s—modern day Miami Beach, not so much. I am more carefree than I have ever been in my life. I am not trying to be any certain way. I just am.

So order the book already. It’s going to be okay.

Elizabeth

*Writing Prompt: As quick as you can, finish the following phrase. Repeat FIFTEEN TIMES:

I wish _____________.

Finish with this last one:

I most especially wish _____________.

Categories
Stories

It was the moment I had been waiting for…

Elizabeth Heise

My back pocket buzzed in the international foods aisle. I try not to check my phone in the store to avoid contaminating it with my covidy fingers that have been all over the communal groceries. But I expected word from The Spun Yarn—an evaluation by early readers of my first book— so with every push notification, I jumped.

I had heard other writers hadn’t been able to get much work done during lock down. All manner of crazy was happening in my very full house but none of it involved physical illness or going hungry, so instead of perfecting a sourdough, I used the time to write. (I am from San Francisco so, regardless, I wouldn’t have dared.) My manuscript, Scrappy, was completed during the unending summer and had been in the hands of the betas for nearly a month. I yanked the phone out to scan the full report in my inbox, skipped over full blocks of text and mined for compliments, key words of praise I dug out like bits of brownie in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

“The author has a captivating voice and story…excellent at her craft…”

“A pleasure to read on a sentence level…a few turns of phrases I especially enjoyed.”

“Gripping…kept me wanting more…incredibly true to life…so realistically wrought…”

“Vivid details and realistic dialogue…she dove completely in…heartbreaking and eye-opening.”

Right there in front of the rows of hot sauce, I cried. They liked it.

Now that I’d enjoyed my pats on the head, I was ready to hear what they really thought. “I was a bit disappointed that the author didn’t explain more of her feelings… Did she feel betrayed, furious, or alone? We are left to infer all these emotions, which is less effective in showing how defining this moment was for her.”

Oh, dear.

“The emotional impact is diminished by cutting out of the scene too soon or not giving any feeling that the event had any real effect on the author’s life. Moments like these deserve time for our narrator to express how she felt and how it pervaded her thoughts.”

I hyperventilated a little, causing the heavy cloth “VOTE” mask to seal around my nose and mouth, restricting my breath all the more. I now regretted what had seemed like a good choice when I swiped it off the dash from the scattered collection of political statements baking in the Miami sun.

My eyes landed on the wrap-up from the head honcho at The Spun Yarn.

“At times, readers felt scenes ended abruptly and wanted to spend a little longer processing these moments from Elizabeth’s point of view. It’s a very good thing that readers want more details because it means they care about your characters and enjoy your writing. So, keeping that core theme in mind, what details can you add to allow readers to connect more with the story?”

I had run away just when they were ready to feel something.

The socially distanced checkout line wound around the prepared foods section. I pulled my full cart behind a young couple and took a moment to absorb the critique. The readers felt cheated. It didn’t feel that way when I wrote it. Some of the scenes made me cry every time I re-read them.

But. I had survived the hard times I had described by picking myself up and pushing on. If I had sat around contemplating the “emotional impact” of what had happened, I’d have been done for. And then I remembered what Mary Karr said about the genre of memoir. That people are drawn to it because they want to “occupy another person’s heart.” My readers had wanted to occupy mine and I had denied them. I had protected myself, like I had learned to so long ago.

I loaded the groceries and slid into the driver’s seat for my sanitizing ritual: sprayed hands and goggles, removed mask, disinfected hands again, wiped down phone. I thought I had let my readers into my heart, but apparently I didn’t quite know what that looked like on the page. I couldn’t just tell my story of perseverance and skip off down the road to book number two that I couldn’t wait to write.

Driving home, the readers’ feedback looped through my mind. I was the emotionally unavailable boyfriend that had frustrated me so much as an undergrad. (Sorry, Greg, if you are reading.) The lesson landed, hopefully for the last time. If you want deep connections with other humans, there is no way to avoid your own vulnerability. You must let people in. No skipping over the hard parts. I can’t believe I wrote a whole book about how I had persisted through adversity and I still have to deal how I felt about it. &*%$. I have more work to do.

So. Go be the real you. It’s going to be okay. It seems scary, but it’s the only way.

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: What details you leave out?