I came across this article and it reference a line in Something’s Gotta Give that I’d never even noticed. As I read through the rest of the post, I agreed silently that women (and men) should know what they like about themselves and be proud to agree and say those things out loud. As a matter of fact, I wanted to go right away and tell everyone I knew to start saying aloud what they loved about themselves. And for those who struggled with identifying those things, I wanted to challenge their thinking. I wanted to help encourage them until they did realized there were things that made them truly amazing and unique that they did like about themselves. And then I realized something; I didn’t want to do the exercise myself. Continue reading
This phrase has made its way around the internet the last few years. It’s on journals, sketchpads, bags, and tshirts. It’s in Instagram photos galore. “Makers Gonna Make” and other similar phrases have taken hold and passed all around, in theory inspiring makers and creators to spend time working on their crafts. To spend more time actually making something than you do scrolling Pinterest.
I’ve thought about this saying – create more than you consume – multiple times. In my head, I rationalize things to myself by saying that I don’t have time to create. Besides, what is “consuming” anyway? Is listening to a podcast as I walk consuming? Should I be using that time to make a podcast instead? I’ve toyed with what this really means many times in my head, often justifying to myself that I don’t have a consumption problem and I make plenty.
While sitting on a train heading from Washington back to Oregon, I was listening to a podcast and it provoked thoughts of this very phrase. While staring out at beautiful, lush forests and expansive views of water, I felt compelled to write. Thoughts and stories fluttered though my head, beckoning to be written. I knew that if I didn’t go back to my laptop and get these notes down on “paper,” they’d be gone by the time I tried to write them later. Nonetheless, I just wanted to sit and listen to my podcast aimlessly. That’s the precise moment that I understood this lofty statement – create more than you consume. By continuing to just listen, even when I felt inspired to make, I was consuming instead of creating. Falsely convincing myself that I’d remember these thoughts when the podcast was over, was me enabling myself to keep listening. Here are the facts:
Creating is much, much harder than consuming.
Creating requires effort.
Creating sometimes requires struggle.
Consuming, on the other hand, is easy.
Consuming requires little effort.
And most importantly, consuming can leave us with more inspiration than we know what to do with, resulting in stagnation of ideas and lack of productivity.
Finally, I understood the magnitude of this mantra. We consume more than we create because it’s easier. There’s less risk. And although we don’t have to be churning out 1,000 paintings a day or writing more books than we read, we should make time to be sure that we, too, are putting our work out into the world. When inspiration strikes, we should stop immediately and go explore that spot. Liz Gilbert says ideas are fleeting. They only stay with us a short while and if not put to use, they’ll travel on to someone else.
Finally seeing this saying as more than just something to repin or put on a tshirt, I paused my podcast and wrote those posts. I stopped consuming for a minute in order to create something, even though continuing to listen aimlessly would have been easier.
Most likely we’re all faced with the create vs. consume crossroads more than what we realize. And what if we broadened the spectrum a bit? What if instead of always being the person to receive lovely notes from friends, you were the one to send a note – creating kindness and friendship? What if rather than always being invited to lunch by a coworker, you invited someone to lunch with you – creating relationships? If we broaden the scope of this mantra outside of just the artistic world, we can pretty easily see ways in which we consume more than we create. I wonder what it would be like if we created more in all areas of our lives. What if we created more art? Created more relationships? Created more kindness? More opportunities? More love?
When faced with the opportunity to create or to consume, I think we should remember – consuming in the easy road. Creating is the road less traveled. Which one will you take?
(P.S. Above photo is of my closet/craft room. You can see more on the quick home tour!)
Some days are better than others. Some days turn into weeks, and I’m going to be real with you – some weeks suck. This week is one of those weeks for me. I knew within an hour of waking up on Monday that everything was turning south quickly. By the time I made it to my office, I was ready to drop kick everyone that crossed my path. Lunch with Matthew wasn’t pleasant because my bad mood took hold of the room like a permeating stench, and nothing he could say or do was turning that negativity around. For the record, I did apologize for being in such a foul mood and just asked for some grace until I could get ahold of myself.
So what do you do on days or weeks like this?? Tuesday didn’t seem to start off any better and the rest of the week wasn’t looking so hot either. I’ve wrote before on what to do when you’re having a crappy day, and realistically, I needed to go into hiding and avoid everyone until this dark cloud of a mood could pass. However, what do you do when you have made a commitment with a deadline and you can’t simply withdraw from society for a bit? Unfortunately, when I needed to employ my usual tactics the most, I simply couldn’t.
Here’s what I did. I avoided as many people as possible. There was simply no need in infecting the masses with my mood. Because don’t forget, a bad mood and a bad attitude is just as contagious as a good mood and a positive attitude. If you’re not careful, you’ll have instilled the funk in everyone around you and that’s just not fair. Then, I put my head down and PUSHED through my tasks. I had a specific goal to reach and I buckled down and pushed hard for it so that I could get the hell out of there…for everyone’s sake, not just my own. And then I bought myself prizes.
Thankfully, the commitment I made before knowing my mood was going to fail me had a specific deadline. Since I couldn’t set it to the side until I felt more positive and productive, I simply powered through. It’s like seeing the finish line at the end of a long race. You can see the end point and you can push yourself to reach it, even though you’d like to collapse on the ground. (I’m assuming. I don’t run races.) Either way, I can see the endpoint. I seriously buckled down and pushed hard for the goal, knowing that very soon, I’d be able to stop and retreat. As soon as I completed these last few (22 to be exact) tasks, I could give myself a break and do something to help pull myself from the funk.
Not all bad days are accompanied by pressing deadlines. If not, try to employ any of the tactics I mentioned in this post. If you simply do not have the ability to run away at that time, like my situation this week, my next suggestion is to buckle down and get your job done ASAP. Then retreat. Treat it like that last day of work before vacation. We accomplish more on that final day before leaving than we do all year! Don’t drag it out. Just get it done and then move on to something that will hopefully make you feel better. Dragging out your responsibilities will only make it worse, and at a minimum, it sure as hell won’t make it better.
In conclusion, understand that you’re going to have those days and sometimes those weeks. It’s ok. (If you find that you have more of these days than positive ones though, reevaluate your surroundings and make changes to remove the negative stimulus. Or speak to your health care professional.) I’ve been known to beat myself up when I have these bad days, because usually they make me pretty unproductive. And if you saw Monday’s post, you know that productivity and achievement are my vices, which I’m actively working on.
For now, if you’re having the sort of week that I am, get your work done and then go get you a cupcake. Do your best to feel better and if it’s just not happening right now, know that this too shall pass and it’s ok to have a crappy day every now and then.
Instead of your most frequently diagnosed “problems,” my problem is with achievement. And I’m willing to admit that it, too, is an addiction. Since I can remember, I’ve been an over-achiever. Type A. Perfectionist. A real go-getter. Work horse. You can call it whatever you’d like. The fact of the matter is, I’ve used hard work to mask my own insecurities and as a marker of my value. I’ve placed my self-worth on how hard I work and what various accomplishments I reach.
Don’t be confused. I am a firm believer in a strong work ethic and setting challenging goals. I love goals. Have all the goals. It’s important to make note of the line in the sand though. Work ethic and goals are one thing, positive things even. Using those things to justify your worth, however, is not.
I’ve talked briefly about the glorification of “busy” before, and since then I’ve focused on removing that word from my vocabulary. I don’t want to be busy. I don’t want to compete for the trophy of being the most tired, ragged, and worn out. Being “busy” isn’t cool anymore. Early on in Present over Perfect, the writer talks about a group of friends who help each other take a simpler approach and focus on self-care. She says, “Instead of competing for who’s busier or who’s more tired, who’s keeping more balls in the air, we’re constantly looking for ways to help each other’s lives get lighter, easier to carry, closer to the heart of what we love, less clogged with expectations and unnecessary tasks.” I want these friends. Honestly, I need these friends. I’m not sure that I know where to start on my own.
I’ve been struggling with the realization that my worth is tied to my work lately, and quite frankly, I’ve been trying to ignore it. No one, not even me as a personal growth junkie wants to dig that deep and challenge their very core. Repress, repress has been the name of my game here. Don’t pay any attention to that little voice telling you to reevaluate things and it won’t become real. As I began to read the first few pages of Present over Perfect, I could not focus over the sound of my own mind screaming, “That’s me! That’s me!” The author talks about feeling exhausted and her dreams involving nights alone in complete silence with nothing to do. And sleep. Ah, the thought of a good night’s sleep and feeling rested…preach it, sister!
As I flipped through the first few pages, I knew I wasn’t hiding from this notion of self-care any longer. It was finally time to take stock and identify a better, more compassionate (to myself) way of living. There is an immediate problem though – even though I penciled in “self-care” as a goal for October, I don’t truly understand the concept. I’ve never practiced this approach and the very ideal makes me feel anxious. My approach with myself has been more like that of a pissed off drill sergeant. “Work harder! Do more! You can’t stop yet! Toughen up!” are the types of things I’d say to myself quietly and sometimes even aloud. “Get your shit together,” has often been my motto.
To begin to think seriously about how I talk to and treat myself scares me. Thinking seriously about self-care feels overwhelming. The concept is so foreign and I hardly know where to begin. I’m tempted to smack myself around a bit and give myself a stern talking to, just for “wasting time” on these thoughts. Nonetheless, my rational mind tells me that I’m deflecting and avoiding emotion and that I need to explore this more. What am I hiding from? What emotions and insecurities or fears am I masking by always working harder? Why when I’m not working do I feel like I should be doing something for someone else? Why do I feel undeserving of rest and personal care? I’m not sure what the answers to these questions are yet, and I know it won’t be an easy process to discover them.
“Richard Rohr says the skills that take you through the first half of your life are entirely unhelpful for the second half. To press the point a little bit: those skills I developed that supposedly served me well for the first half, as I inspect them a little more closely, didn’t actually serve me at all. They made me responsible and capable and really, really tired. They made me productive and practical, and inch by inch, year by year, they moved me further and further from the warm, whimsical person I used to be….and I missed her.” – Shauna Niequist, Present over Perfect
I would never classify myself as “whimsical,” and truthfully not particularly “warm” either. However, I can say with certainty that I can relate to this statement. The skills I’ve mastered thus far have been skills that helped me excel in academics and in my career, and much like the author mentions, they’ve also prevented me from resting and taking care of myself both mentally and physically. While I hope I’m not at the midpoint of my life as she references, I can easily see how the skills I’ve developed thus far are not serving me well either. Coming to this realization before my midlife point doesn’t really surprise me – I’ve always been “mature for my age,” another example of my tendency toward over-achievement. Is it possible to take stock of your life and methods at the young age of 30? I think so. Actually, I know so, because as these words leap from her pages, slapping me in the face with reality, I know that I must begin identifying what skills will serve me going forward and do away with many of the ones I’ve mastered so far.
To (hopefully) be continued….
If you haven’t had your nose rubbed in this enough yet, it’s election year here in America. Every election that I can remember has been a tough one. Our country is always divided. A large portion of the population is afraid. Many become downright mean and disrespectful, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve hated the back and forth banter. This year seems to be all of the above on steroids. This year seems to be the most crude and divisive election thus far in my lifetime. Before we continue, if you think I’m going to take some sort of political stance with this post, I am not. If you think I’m going to condemn or condone a particular candidate, I am not. Instead, I simply want to talk about the manner in which these conversations are had.
As with any other topic in life, we will often disagree. I may firmly see a situation from one end of the spectrum and you could see it from the other end. What I’ve found to be true in most scenarios is that the “truth” actually lies somewhere in the middle of our perceptions. There are seldom black and white solutions and there’s almost always an exception to the rule. Just as an example, you might be “pro-life” and yet support a mother terminating a pregnancy if she’s told that she’ll certainly die if she carries that baby to term. You might want to “close our borders” and yet would not turn away a scared, abused child that needed refuge from a tyrannical country. You might even draw a hard and fast line in the sand on the issues above. However, the majority of the time, I believe rational people will see a variation in what’s true when they’re presented with other side of a story. A less political example could be a disagreement at home. Harry could have come home early and worked on a project in the backyard. Since he came home early, Sally could have expected him to do the dishes. When Harry didn’t do the dishes, Sally drew the conclusion that Harry doesn’t want to help around the house and that he expects her to do everything. When seeing how frustrated Sally is, Harry then demands that she only complains and that he can’t do anything to please her. Ever. A neutral third party could easily what actually went down and understand that both are a little right and a little wrong. By communicating their individual perspectives, Harry and Sally could come to realize that neither were inherently wrong and the reality of the situation lied somewhere in the middle of their two perspectives.
This post, however, is less about the actual topics at bay in this election and more about how we treat one another. I’ve been rather fired up during this election, and I’ve chosen to stay calm and to keep most of my opinions/frustrations to myself. Well, Matthew has heard them. Repetitively. Other than that, I’ve mostly kept my lips sealed. If I had the chance, though, to stand on the world stage and offer any insight to influence our country it would be the following things:
- We should ALWAYS have respect for another’s opinion, even if it’s vastly different than our own. You can be pro-life or pro-choice and still have a RESPECTFUL conversation with someone on the other side of an important issue. As a matter of fact, you could possibly understand the other side a little better or at a minimum have some new information to consider if you truly listened to the other side without judgment. We’ve all heard the saying that a person’s true character is shown in how they treat someone who can’t do anything for them. I think character shows up in how we treat someone that we disagree with. Or in what we post angrily on facebook.
- It’s very, very easy to exclaim what’s “right” or what’s “wrong” and how things should be done from our own living rooms. We should keep in mind though, that the information provided to us in our living rooms, is limited. We have a very limited view of the situation as a whole. And as with anything, it’s easy to call the shots and say what you would do, when you’re not actually faced with a situation. For example, I often hear people say that a victim of domestic violence should “just leave.” That’s very easy for someone to say who doesn’t feel that their life is in danger, who doesn’t have children with an abuser to consider, who doesn’t have to determine how they’ll support themselves if they leave, and who isn’t being controlled both physically AND mentally. It’s easy to offer up what you would have said AFTER the fact, and even easier when you weren’t the one faced with a stressful situation to begin with. And with so much abuse being discussed in this election, I think it’s downright disrespectful and appalling to decide from our couches if someone was or wasn’t abused or what they should have done. That’s not our place and we have much too limited information to ever make a judgement of the sort. Furthermore, keep in mind that your comments and discussion on the topic of abuse can be very damaging. Statistically, someone in your circle of friends or your facebook feed has been a victim of abuse. Belittling these situations is a major insult to those people.
- In addition to all of the hot-topic issues this election year, I feel as if we should also be considering the moral character of the person we choose to lead our country, keeping in mind that what you deem to be morally correct can be very different than what your neighbor thinks. We can talk about Planned Parenthood, border control, the Second Amendment, and taxes (Although, why aren’t we talking more about education and healthcare??) until we’re blue in the face. However, most of these items aren’t even directly controlled by the President. The President definitely has influence, yet many decisions are actually made by Congress, not the President themselves. Therefore, we should be a little more selective when choosing our Congressmen rather than saving all of our passion and decision-making abilities for the Presidential race. We can talk about “issues” all day long and yet one of the things that I feel to be most important, especially in this election, is the moral character of the candidate that can, and likely will, set the tone for future decisions and justice in our country. Think of it this way – if you had to chose a candidate that was an immediate influence on the character of your own son or daughter, who would it be? Please don’t answer this question aloud. Just ponder it. If you were raising a child who would reflect the morals, the attitudes, and behaviors of one of our Presidential candidates, who would you want to raise up and present to the world? Who’s behavior would you endorse and be proud of?
- There are more than two candidates in this race. I’ve heard soooo many times that we’re choosing the “lesser of two evils” in this election. First of all, you voting (or not voting) in the primaries is what brought these candidates to the national stage. Secondly, there are other candidates available! We do not have to vote simply Republican or Democrat. Do your research and see if there’s another candidate that might align more with your values. There could be another candidate on the ballot that’s a better fit to lead our country. I saw someone say recently that if every person who used the “lesser of two evils” speech voted third party, there’s a high change that the third party would be the majority winner. Don’t simply vote Trump or Hillary because they’re the two you see on TV most. At least do your due diligence and research all candidates before using your little thumb to choose the leader of our country. You owe it both to yourself and your country to be informed.
- Do NOT take everything you read or see on the news as truth, especially if you’re getting your information from biased parties! Do your own research! Check the facts. Step out of your echo chamber and learn for yourself what the truth is. Even the facts thrown around by the candidates themselves aren’t 100% true! (And sometimes they’re completely false.) I firmly believe that if you’re not going to do your own research, look for what’s true, and consider ALL of the information at hand, you should not vote. Making a decision on the leader and representative of our country based on bogus articles shared on facebook or information from biased news sources, is irresponsible. Be informed before making this or any other large decision. Please!
Again, this post is not condemning or condoning any particular candidate. Furthermore, I’m not looking to incite opinions on who’s right and who’s wrong. I am especially not inviting anyone to voice their opinions without respecting the opinions of others. Instead, I’m simply suggesting that we not set our human decency to the side, just because it’s an election year and we have different opinions on the subject matter than our peers. We’ve seen enough of this behavior lately. Whose lives matter most, for example? I’ve seen more insults and inconsiderate comments made on this sensitive subject than I’d care to admit. Common decency insists that we respect others, even when we disagree. Now, when we have tiny computers with us at all times, we sometimes feel the need to vomit our opinions for the entire world to see BEFORE we consider the consequences, before we consider the whole story, or before we consider our audience.
I am a huge proponent of free speech and the ability to make our own choices. However, I cannot stand for “free speech” as an excuse to say things at the expense of others. “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothing at all,” said Thumper on Bambi. He was right. We thankfully have the ability to say whatever we chose to be correct. That doesn’t mean that we have the right to insult others, to not consider all of the facts before speaking, or to be disrespectful. It is alright to be passionate. I’m probably one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to something I believe in. However, passion is not an excuse to be reckless. Your words live on in the minds of others forever. By not choosing them carefully, you could be doing more harm than good.
This election year, I encourage everyone to be informed and to be considerate. We can disagree or see different sides of any particular issue without insulting one another. If you don’t feel like you can, consider keeping your hurtful and accusatory comments out of the global conversation. If we truly want to contribute something to the conversation, we can be more effective by doing so with grace and understanding. The “other side” likely isn’t comprised of a bunch of outlandish monsters. Instead, it’s made up of your neighbors and likely a lot of your friends. Before you rip them to shreds or position them as the “devil, the anti-Christ, ridiculous, dumb, and stupid as hell” (all words I’ve seen posted by people that I actually know on social media), consider first what you look like by being so aggressive and inconsiderate. I maintain that our first duty to society is to be respectful and considerate of others. If you’re not able to do that when choosing your words, consider remaining silent until you can. Everyone will appreciate your restraint.
Beautiful photo by: Ashlee Matthews
Below is a post I’d started regarding how to handle death/tragedy as an outsider, as a friend or acquaintance of the effected, or as a mere stranger who wants to help. Since sharing my post after the Baton Rouge flooding, I’ve been asked to come up with a list of things others can do to help. I left the original message intact and added this first portion of items that YOU can do to help in a flood or similar tragedy. Browse the list. See what you’re capable of doing. And offer a helping hand. Believe me, there’s no task too small and your good deeds will mean the world to those hurting. After browsing this list, continue to read my original thoughts below. These were written a few months after navigating our own tragedy and offer some insight on what to do AND what not to do.
How to help:
- Gather tubs/boxes for them to pack in. If there’s items that can be saved, they’ll need something to pack them in. These aren’t usually items that come around on the donation trucks, so pulling together something to pack in could be very helpful.
- Help pack salvageable items. They need to save everything they can. Help them with this process, just be sure NOT to put anything wet into a box.
- Write down damaged items for them. As someone is cleaning out the damaged items, someone needs to make an inventory of what’s tossed for insurance purposes.
- Help with demo. The most obvious way to help is to help with the demolition. Wet furniture and belongings need to be removed. Carpets need to be pulled and sheetrock/baseboards need to be removed. Anything and everything that was touched by water needs to be removed for the house to dry properly. This job can be done by most, not just the strong ones. Carrying out pieces of sheetrock and baseboards isn’t as labor intensive as you might initially think.
- Wash clothing. Some of the wet clothing might be salvageable and even the dry items need to be laundered before packing away or wearing again. This job is great for someone who has to remain at home and isn’t able to do manual labor.
- Run errands. Most likely the effected need medications or toiletries picked up. They may need something taken to the post office, etc. Offer to run these errands for them because they likely need to be at the home or on the phone for now.
- Deliver food. During a major tragedy, there will probably be organizations delivering meals. If not, be sure they have something to eat, especially for lunch while they’re dealing with insurance, etc. After most of the volunteers start pulling out, this is a great way to continue to help.
- Give them somewhere to stay. If they don’t already have somewhere to stay for a few days, offer a room or extra property you have. They’ll need a few days or so to make permanent plans. Hotels are usually in short supply and they often don’t know where to go.
- Help with their business. Their work lives probably don’t stop because they’re facing this experience. If there’s a way you can help – taking care of clients, rescheduling appointments, etc. – do offer that. If they run their own business, they’re likely afraid of things falling apart during the toughest and possibly most financially unstable time of their lives. Do what you can to help them stay on top of work.
- Offer childcare. If they have children or pets, offer to take care of them while they sort through things.
- Give rides or offer up spare vehicles. If cars were flooded too, they’re very much so stranded. This adds to the helplessness and even if they’re allowed a rental via insurance, they’re very tough to come by in a major disaster when everyone else is procuring rentals too.
- Pick up supplies. A lot of cleaning items will be donated by organizations. However, there might be some specific items that are missing. Gloves for volunteers are a good example. Or raincoats if it’s still raining. Think of items that the Red Cross won’t be gathering and offer up those.
- Store items for them. Storage for what was saved is probably also in short supply. If you have extra space, offer that up as a way to help.
- Make suggestions for contractors, etc. They’ll need to make decisions quickly and if they don’t already have a network of home related individuals to pull from, they could use your recommendations.
- Offer opportunities from your network. If you know someone who provides a service or have connections at a place they need help from, pull those strings! We called in every favor we had in town during our time of need. If you have a connection to offer them, they’ll appreciate it.
- Go grocery/supply shopping. Once they’ve found temporary housing, they’ll need help getting it set up. They’ll be starting from scratch here so helping them stock the pantry and house will be helpful. Think salt & pepper, paper plates, bathroom and door rugs, towels, etc. Unless their temporary housing is fully furnished, they probably won’t have any of these items. You can even offer up items for them to borrow. Just be sure to write your name on it. They’re likely to forget what belonged to who amidst the chaos.
- Reach out. At a bare minimum, reach out to them. Tell them you’re thinking about them and that you hate they’re having to face this. Even if you don’t know exactly what to say, saying (and doing) something is better than nothing. If you don’t know where to start, share my previous post with them. Also, see below for things NOT to say.
- Show up. Once the shock wears off and support dies down, they’ll start to see things they need. They need both emotional and physical support. Seeing a friendly face who’s happy to pick up a snack on the way will mean the world to them.
As Matthew and I experienced this flood together, we lost a lot. Lots of physical items, the safety and comfort of our home, sometimes our sanity and the overall quality of life and our marriage. Since the beginning of the process, I’ve compared this experience to that of losing a loved one. (Please note: if you just lost a loved one, I’m not at all saying that losing my favorite Antonio Melani pumps – along with thousands of other things – is the same as losing a person.) Instead, I’m saying is similar. If you don’t quite understand yet, let me explain further.
We went through the same stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There were some parts of the process in which we literally had to mourn. For months, we felt a sense of emptiness and incompleteness. Our worlds were shaken and turned upside down unexpectedly, and that simple fact left us in a state of chaos and grief for a long time.
Over a year ago I came across this post about how to write a sympathy card and parts of that article have stuck with me since. Just recently I came across it again and was reminded of its good tips and point of view. I could also relate all of those back to this flood experience and thought this would be a good opportunity to share that post about sympathy and offer some suggestions on how to help a friend in need when you really don’t know what to do (as well as, a few suggestions on things to steer away from).
Let’s start with what TO do:
- Do something. This might seem obvious and yet it isn’t. Often times, we don’t know what to do to help in a time of loss or tragedy. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care – we just don’t know what the person needs. However, what will stand out to your friend is that you did something. We received many of the “if I can do anything, please let me know” messages, and we did appreciate the thoughts. The problem is, in a time of chaos and uncertainty, you really don’t know what you need. If you want to be there for your friend, just show up and do something. For us, we had people just show up to help us pack up what we could save and throw out the majority. They just showed up and it was the most comforting thing ever. We didn’t have to think, plan, or ask. They were just there. My suggestion to anyone wanting to comfort a loved one is to just so something. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Show up with an icee, give them a hug, or just show your face so they can identify you as someone who cares. Bring take out, offer a night away from the craziness a few weeks/months later, bake cookies, run an errand for them…even the smallest of deeds will speak volumes to your friends. I promise. One of the main things that I’ll take away from this gruesome experience is that though we mean well saying “let me know what I can do to help,” they don’t know what they need. Just do something.
- Do realize that the pain and chaos doesn’t end that day or that week. Whether it be death or tragedy, it will affect your friends for months or years. The pain and heartache doesn’t go away after everyone else has returned to their normal lives. From experience, I know that it will mean the world to your friend if you check on them weeks or months later. After the initial shock dies down, most people return to back normal life and the effected is left still trying to figure things out alone. I remember the day the madness died down here. We’d been surrounded by friends and family helping. One day we woke up and the city had gone back to work. Friends weren’t here, volunteer crews had pulled out, churches were no longer delivering food, and it was the loneliest feeling you can imagine. Of course, we never expected to have support forever. The point I’m making here is that if you don’t know how else to help someone in need, watch for the new to wear off for everyone else. Watch for family to return home and people to stop talking about what happened. There’s a good chance that your friend is just now facing the reality of what happened and they could probably use a loving face to remind them that they’re not alone. Again, no one expects you to be a knight in shining armor and make the pain go away. Most of the time, just showing up and listening if they want to talk or unload is usually enough.
- Do NOT try to trump their story. So often during the process we got responses like “my aunt’s second cousin twice removed had 6 feet of water in her house.” Or even worse, “I know what you mean, my hydrangeas got so much water they’ll probably never bloom again.” Most of the time, people are just trying to make a connection and find common ground. However, telling someone that you know a story that’s worse than theirs can be a little insulting. And in the case of that second example, it might make them want to punch you in the face. In this situation, it’s definitely ok to share a similar story or show that you understand…just don’t belittle what’s happening to the person in front of you. The same thing often happens with death. Do your best to relate to the person without stealing the show. I often encounter this when a friend losses a loved one. I’ve had my fair share of experience with death so I definitely understand all of the emotions they’re feeling. However, this isn’t a time for me to tell my story of loss…it’s a time for them to tell theirs. My suggestion is to simply say, “I understand…I lost my dad to cancer too. It really sucks. Can I bring you a pizza tonight?” Leave it at that. Or, “Yes, I saw the crazy flooding and helped some friends move out. I have some extra towels you can borrow. Do you need those right now?” So many times during this flood, people would launch into stories they’d simply heard about people they hardly knew and while I always knew they were just trying to connect, it felt like they were competing with my story. And whether someone got two inches of water or twelve in their homes, I can promise it still rocked their world. It’s not a competition. We’re not trying to win. We all just want to survive.
- Do NOT say everything happens for a reason. Whether you believe this as truth or not, no one wants to hear that they just lost everything “for a reason.” When you’re in the throes of despair, the “reason” doesn’t matter. Whether you learn a lesson, become a better person, or end up better off in the end, the reason simply doesn’t matter when you’re hurting. Whether it’s a breakup, a death, or they’ve just fallen on hard times, don’t tell them it’s for a reason. Instead, tell them that they’ll make it through because they’re strong. Tell them that you hate they’re having to go through this. Tell them specifically how you can help (see #1). And then just listen.
- Do NOT ask “were they sick” or “did you have insurance.” It’s natural to sometimes let curiosity get the best of us. We want to know things and to understand. Even as outsider, we sometimes need to feel some closure and feel better because there was some preparation involved. However, regardless of whether their loved one was sick, or in our case if we had food insurance, the situation still sucks. Dismissing their struggle because they had insurance or knew it was coming, is very insensitive. In our case, most of the conversations happened like this: “aw, you flooded? That sucks. Did you have food insurance? Yes? Ok, bye.” I cannot even tell you how many times my feelings were hurt when people minimized what we were going through, simply because we had some insurance. Yes, that’s a relieving fact and something I’ll forever be grateful for. We still had to go through hell (and high water, ha) and I often felt disregarded simply because our story wasn’t as tragic as some others. Again, regardless of the topic, there’s someone’s story that’s always worse.
These few dos and don’ts are just suggestions based on my own experience and feelings. The second half of this post was drafed shortly after making sense of my own reality. We identified who showed up and who didn’t. We were met with a lot of unintended insults and could clearly see situations in which we, too, had committed these unintentional faux pas or should have done more to help someone. Gathering this list of “tips” helped me to process my own feelings on the topic and realize how I’d like to approach these situations going forward. Going forward, I won’t ask someone hurting to think of what I can do to help. Instead, I’ll offer specific things that I can do. And I’ll just show up. If anything, this experience has taught me how to be a better friend or a better stranger to those in need.
If you have learned other things from similar experiences, please leave a comment! I think we’d all like to be better friends and to know what to do when tragedy strikes with or without warning. Please share your thoughts! And please reach out and encourage those who are still struggling!
Sometimes you’re unexpectedly forced to think about the brevity of life. A young acquaintance dies much too soon, you’re faced with the fear of disease, or you read some heart-wrenching story. Most people continue on pondering the fleetingness of life only for a moment. I, however, end up thinking about this stark realization for much, much longer. Sometimes I’d say it even consumes me.
Of course, we all know that “life is short” and we should “enjoy the moment” or “treat every day like it’s your last.” And yet, days come and go with us focused on the monotony of daily life. We get stuck in our routines and forget to look up from our well-traveled paths. We sleep and wake without doing even one thing that’s special during the day. Without telling even one person how wonderful they are. Weeks pass and then months, and next thing you know, years have seemingly flown by and you’re still in the same spot you were the last time you looked up. You’re still taking the same vacations, driving the same routes to work, and talking to the same people. While I understand that not everyone shares my grand sense of adventure, I can’t help but wonder – is this monotony what people want? Is a string of years unchanged or absent of variety what people truly desire?
Whether this be the case of not, when I’m caught in that moment of realizing how truly short life can be, I quickly evaluate my own life. Would I worry about what I’m worried about today if this were the end? What would I do today? Would I spend my day cleaning baseboards or would I paint or read? Would I go to the park for one last walk on my favorite trails? Unfortunately, we don’t usually get to plan this sort of thing. Most of the time we aren’t presented with a syllabus for life that shows us exactly what date on which the final exam will take place. We’re not given a course outline showing the progression of life. Instead, we can only hope that the culmination of our daily activities equal something we’ll be proud of in those last moments. And this is precisely why we’re often told to live in the moment and make the most of it.
Furthermore, I ponder – who would I want around me? Who is most important to me? So often – too often – I let the opinions of mere strangers cause me to worry. So often – too often – I let would I should do interfere with what I want to do. I worry and I make up stories when things happen around me that I don’t understand. If these were my last days, I’d find these things so trivial and unworthy of my attention.
Today, as I finish The Opposite of Loneliness I am forced to think hard about this fleeting life. Marina Keegan’s time here on Earth was so limited. She wrote such impactful things in her short life, not knowing in the slightest that her life would indeed be short. It forces me to think about what I’d do differently if I saw the end was near. And because of those thoughts, I’m forcing myself to do some things differently now. I am choosing to dig deeper when I feel worry. I’m choosing to let only those that really, really matter affect my mood. And I’m choosing to go after the things that I might be “waiting for.” All of these things are easier said than done and without a continual conscious effort, I too, will get caught up in that next email or the next “problem.” Without focus, I’ll get swept away in today’s struggles and today’s issues, forgetting the big picture at hand. Unless I do something extraordinary (which hopefully I will), today won’t even be remembered a year from now.
We all talk about time moving too quickly. One day we’re 15, dreaming about what we’re going to do in life. The next, we’re plucking gray hairs (or in my case letting them grow out) and watching grandchildren play in the yard. However, what if time doesn’t actually move that fast? I also just finished Essentialism and here’s an excerpt that really stood out to me regarding time.
“Recently Anna and I met for lunch in the middle of a busy workday. Usually when we meet for lunch we’re so busy catching each other up on the events of our mornings or planning the activities for the evening that we forget to enjoy the act of having lunch together in the here and now. So this time, as the food arrived, Anna suggested an experiment: we should focus only on the moment. No rehashing our morning meetings, no talking about who would pick up the children from karate or what we’d cook for dinner that night. We should eat slowly and deliberately, fully focused on the present. I was totally game for it.
As I slowly took my first bite something happened. I noticed my breathing. Then without conscious intent I found it slowing. Suddenly, time itself felt as if it was moving slower. Instead of feeling as if my body was in one place and my mind was in five other places, I felt as though both my mind and my body were fully there.
The sensation stayed with me into the afternoon, where I noticed another change. Instead of being interrupted by distracting thoughts, I was able to give my full concentration to my work. Because I was calm and present on the tasks at hand, each one flowed naturally. Instead of my usual state of having my mental energies split and scattered across many competing subjects, my state was one of being focused on the subject that was most important in the present. Getting my work done not only became more effortless but actually gave me joy. In this case, what was good for the mind was also good for the soul.”
These few paragraphs made me ponder whether or not life actually moves as quickly as we feel that it does. Maybe the increasing speed in which time seems to fly as we grow older is simply because of the manner in which we spend our time. When we divide our concentration and energy, time seems to fly by without allowing enough hours in the day. When we’re focused, however, time seems to pass more slowly. When we dedicate our time to what’s most important to us in that moment, we make the most of the time we have – whether it be mere months or an expanse of years.
I have to wonder – what would it look like if we lived each day only focusing on the important stuff and the important people? What if we remained focused and allocated our time only to our highest callings, rather than dividing our days such that we never feel content and time flies right past us without our consent? What would life look like then? Would more people reach the end with satisfaction? Could we live in a way that we’d be content if life was taken from us tomorrow?
I don’t quite know the answers to all of these questions, though I do know that as I ponder the brevity of life over the next several days, I’ll make better decisions. I’ll call attention to how precious my time is and I’ll allocate it as I see fit. Hopefully, I’ll let the trivial circumstances roll right by just as the hours seem to. I’ll be the first to admit that living with this mindset isn’t easy. And it’s far from simple. However, if we want this life that we’re given to really matter, I feel like we simply must treat it’s passing minutes with more care. No more worry over the trivial. No more fretting over what’s next. No more obsessing over how to do it all. My goal is to stop. All of it. I want to CHOOSE how I spend each minute, giving focus only to what truly matters to me. I intend to start small. I hope to be intentional today, and then tomorrow too. I’ll focus on this minute and this hour, until hopefully, I’ve developed a habit of culling and focusing on the big things, the important things. It’s so easy to get distracted, and yet life is SHORT. It’s fleeting and you never, ever know when it’ll be over. You won’t be able to negotiate for more time and you won’t be given a second chance. If we approached every to-do list item, every opportunity, and every relationship with this mindset, how grand could our lives be? I hope to find out, and I hope you will too.
Right now a large portion of South Louisiana sits under water. Just mere months ago, North Louisiana experienced the same trauma, and even though Matthew and I have made it through the hardest parts, the pain/fear/uncertainty/stress still feels fresh. A few weeks into the rebuilding process, I joked that I could now write a manual on “what to do in a flood.” Now, when so many of our friends are suffering through the same things we did, the idea struck that I should actually jot down a few pointers from our experience. Keep in mind, every situation/insurance and mortgage company is different, so these tips are based solely on our experience and could vary based on each individual situation.
Here’s what we did:
- Start a “flood notebook.” You are about to be bombarded with information, phone numbers, policy numbers, deadlines, etc. and you’ll want all of that information in one place. My flood notebook was attached to me at all times during the first 3+ months and every bit of information was kept there.
- Contact your insurance company. If you have flood insurance, file a claim immediately. With a disaster of this nature, insurance adjusters will be swamped and you want to get on the books ASAP. If your cars were damaged, you’ll need to file separate claims for those. (Remember to be nice to everyone you speak to. They want to help you.)
- Contact your mortgage company. If you have a mortgage on the property, you’ll need to let the mortgage holder know. They’ll be a part of the rebuilding process and you’ll most likely have to run funds through them to rebuild. Also, they’ll possibly delay your house payments for a few months to help out until you sort things out. (Be mindful that these payments will probably all become due at the end of the delay period. They’re most likely not doing away with those payments – just delaying.)
- Register on disasterassistance.gov. We did not register with FEMA at first because we thought they wouldn’t help since we had flood insurance. That’s not true. Register anyway. There’s most likely things your insurance won’t pay for and FEMA can help with that. If you do not have flood insurance, register right away!! This will most likely be your best form of assistance.
- Take lots and lots of photos. Hundreds. Thousands. You can’t have too many. Take photos in all rooms, from all angles. Inside closets. Inside cabinets and drawers. YOU CANNOT HAVE TOO MANY PHOTOS.
- Find a more permanent place to stay. We were overly ambitious and thought we’d be back home in 3-4 months. We were home before most of our neighbors/friends and it still look way longer than expected. You’re about to be stressed to the max and pushed to limits you’ve never been before. Find a place to retreat. My suggestion would be to plan for something stable for at least 6 months. This way, you’ll be less stressed when you experience delays or bumps in the road.
- Delay/pause your excess utilities. You won’t be using a lot of your excess things like cable, internet, alarm services, etc. for a bit so if you can, pause or cancel those temporarily. Some will be great about this, some won’t. Just save where you can. For internet, for example, it didn’t make sense to cancel so we just dropped it down to the very basic plan. Our alarm company let us disconnect and easily reconnect when we were back home.
- Call your cell service provider. If you begin to run low on data/service, you can call and ask for help. Once the area is declared a natural disaster, some providers will extend your limits for the month so you’re able to make those important calls, etc.
- Write down people to thank in your flood notebook. I kept a running list of those who helped so I could thank them when things settled. (I still have some cards to send.) There is no possible way you’ll remember everyone so start writing down names immediately. And believe me, you’ll want to thank those people. These people will literally be your heroes.
- Take more photos. If you took photos while the water was inside the house, take more with the water gone. Be sure to document any visible water lines. Again, be sure to get inside all cabinets and drawers. You want a record of everything in the house.
- Remove any and everything that is salvageable. If it is dry, pack it up and find a place to store it. This is very important – DO NOT PUT ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY DAMP INTO A BOX WITH DRY ITEMS. If you do, you’ll have lost everything in the box by the time you’re able to unpack it. If you think clothes can be saved, launder them immediately. Remember, it’s not just rain water you’re dealing with here. If it’s dry, get it out immediately and keep it separate from anything wet. If it didn’t get touched by water, insurance probably will not cover it. Save it if you can.
- Pull anything wet out outside. You want to get everything out that’s holding water. Carpet and rugs need to be pulled ASAP. They hold water in the house, so remove them as soon as possible.
- Make note of EVERYTHING, big and small, that’s tossed. As you take something out, write it down. I bought several yellow notepads and some of the girls helping us stood by the doors, making note of everything that was tossed. This will be a LIFESAVER when you go to inventory things for insurance. The more pictures and notes you have, the better. You’ll want to write down the model/serial number of appliances and the other can be general notes…anything that helps trigger your memory of what the item was. It would also help if whoever is writing in that notepad would include their name. That way, if you have questions later, you’ll know who to ask. Also, know how many notepads you have going so you can be sure one doesn’t get misplaced.
- If there’s furniture that you think you can save, clean it immediately, especially before you put it into storage. If it’s upholstered or cloth, it’s probably not salvageable. If it’s cheap furniture or not real wood, you should probably toss it. Anything that’s real wood (antique furniture, etc.) might survive if you clean it and get it dried out immediately. We wiped everything single thing that we thought could be saved vigorously with Lysol/Clorox wipes and let it dry before storing it. Some survived. Some didn’t. Again, be careful storing anything wet because it could ruin everything around it. NOTE: Some real wood items might have faux wood backs, etc. If so, rip those off and try to save the rest. You can add a new back later. Just clean it really, really good.
- If you don’t have a dumpster, make piles within 10 feet of the edge of the road. It’s going to be a while before they can pick these items up, so put them as far out of your way as you can. If you have someone with a trailer or dumpster, these are good options too. If not, make piles close enough to the road that the trash collectors can legally pick it up and far enough back that it won’t fall into the road.
- Begin pulling out sheetrock/insulation. The amount of water you had inside will determine how much sheetrock needs to be removed. Usually, it’s done in 2 or 4 feet increments. It’ll be easier to replace that way. At a minimum, pry away the baseboards. Usually, there’s a gap at the bottom of the sheetrock that’ll allow air to start flowing within the walls. If there’s not a gap or you can’t remove baseboards, knock holes along the bottom of the sheetrock with a hammer. This will allow some airflow. If you’re doing demo yourself, wear gloves. Get gloves for anyone helping you. Pull up flooring, pull out sheetrock, wet cabinets, appliances, etc. Note: It’s ok to do these items before the adjusters come AS LONG AS YOU’VE TAKEN A TON OF PHOTOS. Some people are afraid to start and there’s actually probably a clause in your insurance policy somewhere that says you’ll do everything you can to “maintain the integrity of the home.” In this case, it means getting it dry ASAP. The insurance company will be very unhappy if you simply leave it until the adjuster comes and you’ll only cause more problems that way.
- Hire a professional water remediation specialist. These folks will be swarming your area soon and a lot of them do demo too. We used Clean Master and Service Master is another good one. They’ll professionally dry the home once it’s demoed and treat the studs etc. for mold. You’ll want to hold on to the “dry logs” they provide you because insurance will want them and they’ll be handy when/if you sell the home in the future.
- Accept help. There will most likely be church groups and volunteers everywhere offering help, food, or supplies. This is not the time to be prideful. These people want to help. Let them. You’ll need strength later, I promise. (Just remember to make a note of who helped in your notebook.)
- Choose a good contractor. Your mortgage company will most likely require a licensed contractor to oversee the reconstruction. Pick a good one. The good ones will book up fast, so call as soon as you can. Ask around for suggestions. Listen to reviews. Be sure not to choose a crappy or unreliable contractor.
- Be wary of poachers and scammers. Within hours, you’ll notice people scoping your trash piles and offering services with hand-written business cards. Accept help from others, yet be cautious of people just trying to make a buck from a bad situation. Don’t leave valuables outside, especially not near the trash pile. You might also have investors make offers on your property as-is. This isn’t always a bad deal…just be sure you aren’t taken advantage of. If you have questions about this, contact me.
- Save all receipts. All of them. Anything you buy or pay for right now should be documented. In addition to my flood notebook, I bought an accordion file to keep all paperwork in one spot.
- If you’re not attached to an item, do not save it. Now is not the time to save anything that doesn’t mean something to you or than you don’t need. Storage will be scarce and once you’re ready to move back in, you won’t want to clutter your new, pretty home with old junk. If it’s damaged or if you don’t love or need it, get rid of it now.
- If there’s an area of the house or items that are important to you, have someone close to you work in that room. My closest friends/family worked in my closet because they knew better how to handle those personal items. They also knew to just toss what was ruined without me seeing it (after writing it on the damaged inventory) because that was easier than me having to face that item at that moment.
- If photos got wet, pull what you can apart gently and lay them out to dry ASAP. They won’t be perfect, but you might can salvage some this way. I also had friends help with this task so maybe I wouldn’t even remember photos that had to be tossed.
- And possibly most importantly, remember that this sucks and it’ll be really, really tough. However, IT’S TEMPORARY. You won’t have to live this way forever and someday things will level back out. I think that the only way I kept my sanity is by constantly reminding myself that I can handle anything for a limited amount of time, and this nightmare is just temporary. As with any situation, it is what you make of it. It sucks and if you let yourself wallow in that, you’ll only make the process worse. It can be positive or negative…you decide your outlook.
- When the new wears off and the volunteers go back to work, you’ll feel the most alone you’ve ever felt in your life. However, there’s a group of us out there that will be constantly thinking about you and cheering you on. I’ll be constantly thinking about you and cheering you on. And I know that you’ll pull through. You’ll come out on the other side with a new perspective on life and you’ll feel invincible. I promise.
These steps are not something I worked on for weeks and I haven’t even proofread. The thought just came to me to share my tips in case it helped just one person find their way in this tough time. I wish I had someone to reply on for instruction when this tragedy first happened to us. If you have questions, feel free to ask. I’m happy to help in any way that I can!
I haven’t shared much yet, but you can find some of our story here or check the #100daysofrebuilding hashtag on Instagram. If you’re struggling today, know that I feel your pain and I’m on this journey with you.
Much love, Pamela
Call the tax assessor. This isn’t something that needs to be done right away. However, make a note to call them when you have time. They’ll keep a tally of damaged homes and this is how they’ll determine whether tax breaks can be given for the year. (Thanks, Madeline, for this reminder.)
*These thoughts and suggestions are all my own. I’m not a professional, nor are these hard and fast rules. This is just my experience and what I did to survive it.
**The last, overhead photo was taken via drone by a neighbor.
I wrote these words at some point last year. When I was thinking about what I wanted to share on the blog today, I stumbled upon this and decided I didn’t want to let time pass without sharing this thought. It explains SO MUCH of what I felt throughout my late twenties, and I really want that emotion documented here. I’d say that I’m still in this stage somewhat, though I definitely feel more comfortable in my skin and in my world today than what I did at 26, or when I wrote these words even. If you’re just embarking upon these years, be warned. This is pretty much what it feels like all the time and if I had any advice to give it would be to embrace it. You don’t have things figured out and you won’t just yet. Instead, just hang on. It might be a bumpy ride, but you’ll get where you’re going nonetheless. That’s when everything else will make sense. Here are my thoughts:
I’ve started 5,002 blog posts (exaggeration) about my personal growth and what I’ve learned lately, and honestly, I can never seem to flesh out the thoughts in my head. It’s sort of like standing in the middle of the world’s most exciting circus and not being able to decide which part to enjoy first. Do you run towards the elephant rides? Or the lion’s den? But there’s tightrope walkers and cotton candy! The music is loud and invigorating and people are laughing everywhere and it’s the most exciting day of your life! But you don’t know where to start.
That’s what it’s felt like inside my head lately. I literally feel like I’ve come so far in the last couple of years. I can’t put my finger on when this awakening began, but there was some point in the last two years where I woke up and became a new person. It’s felt amazing and scary and rewarding and inspiring. Really, I’ve felt all of the emotions. However, I still can’t put it into words.
I’ve read here and there that it’s in your thirties that you finally learn who you are. They say that you spend your teenage years just learning to survive and you’re twenties are filled with exploration. Then, it’s you’re thirties that you put all of this together and finally learn and understand what you’re really made of and who you want to be. I wouldn’t say this is scientific fact, but I think they might be on to something.
I turned 29 in January. I’m not quite thirty, but I’m not surprised that I would have experienced this personal revelation a little early. I’ve always been a bit on the mature side, but that’s a conversation for another time. If I tried to put my finger on it, I’d say that I started really figuring myself out around 26 or 27.
I’ve wanted to talk about these various realizations many times. I’ve started post after post and conversation after conversation. I’ve talked with my husband about it thousands of times, and I even struggle to make sense in those conversations. It’s as if the words bubble up inside of me, begging to be released, but then they stay there stagnant. Maybe there are no words. Maybe the magnitude of what needs to be said is too large for me to process right now.
One day, I stumbled upon a post written by Karey Mackin on Clementine Daily. The tag line was, “Good grown-ups don’t care about being right; they prefer being informed,” and I knew right away that I must read this post. She talks about what it means to “grow up.” She talks about learning and growing and wearing what you want. She talks responsibility and finding balance between laundry and exciting adventures. The tag line itself spoke to me, because I noticed this shift in myself years ago. I want to know and understand. I don’t care so much about being right…I just want to be informed. Maybe there isn’t so much black and white. Actually, I think the world is probably comprised of mostly gray.
I read the entire post and it resonated with the feeling I’ve had lately. No, I’m not in my forties yet, but there’s so much to be learned and uncovered at any age. This time that I’m in right now is a big one. I’ve often wondered if it’s really possible to know that as you experience it, but apparently it is. Aside from those formable years where I learned to walk and talk and read, I think this is probably my biggest transitional stage yet. I’m growing and changing as a person almost daily. Sometimes it feels scary and difficult, but it’s mainly exciting. I’m thrilled to become someone better than who I was yesterday. I can’t wait to look back on these years and see what a difference they made. I still don’t yet have the words to describe what’s happened and is happening, but I know that it’s something big.
One day I’ll get it. One day, I’ll be able to explain and understand. For now, I’ll continue to sit with that yearning feeling, hoping to someday find the words.
For Christmas, my husband gave me a tabletop easel and some other paint supplies. He’s always encouraged me to paint more. Come to think of it, I’ve never quite understood why that is. I also got a beautiful brush holder from my mother-in-law and some new brushes. I had the makings of an awesome, new painting nook, and to be honest, I felt quite nervous about setting it up. I planned out the area in my head and neatly stacked all of the supplies there. I decided where to hang the brushes and what inspirational art to hang near by. I started looking for a tall stool and knew the lighting in the room would be great. Still, several weeks went by and I didn’t paint a thing.
Before receiving all of these fancy supplies, I didn’t paint often because it was a hassle to drag out all of the supplies, paint for a bit, and then put them away. I always said, “if I had a space for this, I’d paint more.” Well, after I developed a bit of a space, I still wasn’t rushing to paint more. Suddenly, I realized that while convenience did play a factor, the main reason that I wasn’t painting was because I was scared.
Here’s a section about fear from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic:
You’re afraid you have no talent.
You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored.
You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.
You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.
You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.
You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark.
You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously.
You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.
You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing.
You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree.
You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)
You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist.
You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal.
You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud.
You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons.
You’re afraid your best work is behind you.
You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with.
You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back.
You’re afraid you’re too old to start.
You’re afraid you’re too young to start.
You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again.
You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying?
You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder.
You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder . . . Listen, I don’t have all day here, so I’m not going to keep listing fears. It’s a bottomless list, anyhow, and a depressing one. I’ll just wrap up my summary this way: SCARY, SCARY, SCARY. Everything is so goddamn scary.
Specifically, I realized I was afraid of not being good. I was afraid of wasting money on supplies to produce shitty paintings. I was afraid that people would tell me how terrible everything I did was. Some of these fears are justified, as hurtful things have certainly been said to me. However, they’re not justified in the fact that by listening to these people, I’m choosing to live small.
The realization snuck in one morning that while I’m not a “good painter” in the regard that I paint wonderful works of art that are desired by many, I can still be a painter. I think a “good painter” is someone that insists on painting. I finally came to terms with the fact that I just have to paint something. Whether it’s good or not isn’t what matters. What matters, is that I make something. Anything. Good, bad, or more commonly, mediocre. Much like writing, the only way to get better at something is to practice and do it repetitively. The stuff you churn out in the beginning likely isn’t as good as what you’ll be doing years later. I don’t have to rival Picasso; I just have to paint something. Maybe, I’ll have something good come out of 10 shitty projects. Maybe it’ll be 1 out of 50. It doesn’t matter. I’m not painting to win any awards or support my family. I’m painting because I think it’s fun. And that’s what a good painter does – they paint.
Just as importantly, I realized that I’m not even necessarily afraid of how terrible something might be. I’m actually just afraid of what people will say. If someone sees a mediocre painting propped up in my house, will they say something hurtful? There’s a chance. Like practically everything else in my life, the fear of what other people will think/say has held me back from doing something fun. The fear of my feelings being hurt by someone’s unintentional (or intentional) comments, is a roadblock that I haven’t been able to drive around for the majority of my life. Basically, I’ve been letting fear control my creativity.
If you’re hoping for the formula of how I overcame that fear, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. As I finish Big Magic, I might be able to offer you some sort of “solution.” For now, I’ll just go paint something. I’ll slap some paint on a canvas without any clear intention. I’ll mix colors and attempt new strokes and I’ll hope something beautiful comes from it. If it doesn’t, that’s ok too. The goal here is to face the fear. It’s to know that the fear is there, and insist that I’ll act regardless. I’ll paint. I’ll dance. I’ll make something mediocre. And I’ll do all of these things with that fear running right along beside me. However, I know that eventually after “putting myself out there” more and more, I’ll eventually tame that overarching fear just a bit. I’ll live boldly and courageously and say with pride – I’m a good painter.