Monday, November 30, 2009

Art (almost) every day

Well, Art Every Day Month is over in just a few hours.  I wasn't fully successful at creating art every day - life got in the way a few too many times - but I made an effort, and that's good enough for me.

This afternoon, I showed a friend the "Strength of her hands" painting, and he marveled at how I find the time - with a demanding career (that involves travel), three active children (who like it when I show up for volleyball games, soccer games, and band concerts as often as possible), and all the other things that need to be done like housework, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. - to paint and write.

There are a few answers to that question. For one thing, I do as little housework as possible, and (sadly) it shows. Marcel does a fair bit (because he's home more than I am), and the girls are old enough to contribute, but we've grown used to living with "good enough" when it comes to housework.

For another thing, I find snippets of time when I can - while I'm doing laundry (it helps that my studio is right next to the laundry room, so I can sneak in there), when the youngest (and most demanding of my energy) member of the household is asleep, etc. - and I make do with that. Since I travel, I bank time now and then, and occasionally take a day all to myself when I can get longer periods for more concentrated work. The TV holds very little temptation for me, so most of my leisure time is spent with a book, a computer, or a paint brush.

This month, one of the things that worked for me was that I included Maddie in the fun.  She loves nothing more than to "do art with Mom", so she and I often disappear into the studio for some art fun after supper. She's getting old enough now that she can get absorbed in a project and not need constant care and attention from me, so it's working fairly well to do parallel projects with her (or sometimes we do joint projects).

The truth is, I know myself well enough to know that if I don't find at least a little time for creative activity, I'll go stir crazy. The longer I've been away from a creative project, the more I start getting agitated and grumpy and the people around me suffer. So it's best to find the time (even just 15 minutes here and there make a difference) and everyone in the household ends up happier.

I'm grateful to people like Leah who inspire us to try to be creative every day. Thanks Leah!

A few other art-related tidbits...
  • Bailey, you can scratch "The War of Art" off your wish list, because your prize copy will be in your mailbox soon (along with the piece of art I promised you in return for your contribution to my studio)!
  • I've been looking for an opportunity for Nikki to get a little more exposure to the world of fashion design (since she's not able to play sports until at least March), and today I got an email back from a local designer who's willing to have Nikki come into her studio to help out now and then.  Both Nikki and I are kind of excited about this!
  • Next week I'm flying to New Brunswick and one of the things I'll be doing is going to an art show and hanging out with the artist.  What fun! I'll post more about that soon.

This is the beginning

Today marks another beginning. I have a new employee starting today. It's the first of the three we hired recently - the other two will start in the new year.

It's a new beginning because it marks a new chapter in my journey as an evolving leader. I've been a positional leader for a dozen years or so, but each role I take on pushes me to a new level. (I purposefully say "positional leader" because I believe there are all kinds of ways of being a leader without every having the position.)

Expanding my team this year and adding a big new strategic plan is going to stretch me (and my team) in ways I haven't been stretched before. In this year of trying to be more fearless, this may very well be the biggest step I'll take.

Today I am being called to:
  • trust my instinct more.
  • be bold and push forward into spaces I've never been before.
  • thicken my skin and brave the resistance that always comes when we push into something new.
  • challenge those people who don't want to give their energy to the team's direction and purpose
  • be authentic, vulnerable, and humble, even at the risk of embarrassing myself
  • trust my own wisdom and my ability to be the "voice of authority"
  • be true to myself and what I believe I am being called to do
  • be brave enough to admit failure and strong enough to pick myself up and try again
Six months ago, I put a big proposal forward to the board. It was approved, though not without some resistance on the part of both board and staff. Six months ago, I started slipping into a deep pit of restlessness, fear, frustration, and yes... I believe depression. I wrestled with demons that said I wasn't good enough, smart enough, or capable enough. I battled obstacles I wasn't prepared for, with two staff resigning, challenges with a consulting company, conflict on my team, and all measure of personal angst and unease.

This week, the board meets again (for semi-annual meetings). I'm still a little fearful and still not sure I can do what I know I need to do, but something in me has shifted. I'm ready to move into this new challenge. I'm ready to trust that I am not doing this alone - that God has equipped me with the skills I need to succeed, or the courage I need to fail.

Let it begin.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Some things that make me smile

Watching my youngest daughter fall in love with reading...

Baking mountains of Christmas goodies with my mom, sister, daughters, and niece...


Meeting my friend Eveline's first granddaughter...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shaped by the Shadows

At the labyrinth
I’ve been thinking a lot about shadows lately. Last weekend when I was painting hands and faces, it occurred to me that most of my energy was spent trying to get the shadows right. Without the shadows on a painting or photograph, the hands and face have no shape.

It struck me that that’s a powerful metaphor for life. Sometimes we get lost in the shadows. It feels like the light has passed us by and may never shine on us again. Eventually, though, (and sometimes very slowly) we emerge from the shadows into the light, and the warmth and brightness is so much richer because of the time spent in the shade.

If there were only light in our lives, it would seem flat and uninteresting. But throw in some shadows and various intensities and shades of light, and suddenly you have shape and beauty.  Though it was hard to believe at the time, I am a richer person for having been through the shadows of death, rape, more death, the near loss of my beloved, and many lesser shadows.

Making Art

Dipping my brush into the paint
I wrestle with the shadows
The face emerges
Only because light balances with dark

Dipping my memories into the past
I wrestle with the shadows
The beauty emerges
Only because hope balances with fear

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The War of Art - words of wisdom from Steven Pressfield

"Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it." - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

It's a pretty good sign that you've got a great book in your hands when you can't stand reading it without a pen close by.  The War of Art is one of those books. It's a quick read with lots of wisdom packed into its pages.

Steven Pressfield has been reaching out to bloggers, and I got a chance to lob a few questions his way...

1. I've only read part of the book so far, but in the part I've read, you approach the idea of "life's work" and "resistance" from the perspective of someone who knows his life's work is to write. What about those people who have a lot of creative talents and they're not sure what to focus on for their life's work? What suggestions do you have for them?

Remember that old Lovin' Spoonful song, Heather?

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
To say yes to one and leave the other behind?
It's not often easy, not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

It's really hard when one is multi-talented and pulled in multiple directions.  It was easier for me because I can't do much of anything except write.  What I would say is this:

If we find that we're pulled in multiple creative directions--start a business, write a screenplay, move to India and work for the Mother Teresa Foundation--the key question to ask ourselves is, "Which one am I most afraid of?"  Put another way: "Which one elicits the most powerful Resistance?"

I say in The War of Art that Resistance can help us in a weird way in that it can tell us what we have to do.  If Resistance is our enemy (and it is) and if it wants us NOT to tackle Project X, then... 

2. What advice do you have for parents trying to foster creativity in their children? Can we do things to help them grow into adults who give in to resistance less? 

That's a great question.  I'm not a parent so I can only answer theoretically.  One thing I heard once that made a lot of sense to me was on a disk called "An Interview with the Coach," which was an interview of Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach by Joe Polish of the Genius Network Interview series.  It's worth tracking down, this disk, by logging onto "Strategic Coach" or "Genius Network."

What Dan Sullivan was saying was that our schools don't teach the entrepreneurial mind-set.  And they should.  Instead our schools regiment our children.  They prepare them to be cogs in a machine, to work for organizations, etc.  Nobody teaches us the skills of self-motivation, self-discipline, self-validation that are necessary to succeed as an artist or an entrepreneur or anybody who follows his or her own heart and who values the work for its own sake and for the joy it brings us, rather than just chasing a paycheck.

I think a parent should identify in her own mind the virtues that she'd like to teach her children and then teach them just like she would anything else--i.e., reward them when they appear spontaneously, reinforce them in all ways, talk equal-to-equal to the child about the reasons why these qualities are virtues and why they'll pay off.  And be alert to counter-conditioning, to nip it in the bud or to amplify it in the proper way.  For instance, if your kid is on the football team and the coach is hammering him to work hard, be tough, fight till the bitter end (all good things, in my opinion), amplify this by highlighting for your child the difference between externally-enforced motivation (what the coach is doing) and internally-enforced motivation (what the child will need when he goes out on his own.)

What virtues and what skills am I talking about?  They're the virtues of self-reliance (see the famous essay by Emerson): patience, kindness to oneself, self-motivation, self-discipline, self-validation, generosity toward others, ability to endure hardship, delayed gratification, the talent of listening to one's own heart and trusting one's own intuition. 

3. Do you think the proliferation of blogs and social media networks is fostering more creativity in our culture or less? (ie. Do you think this is offering more writers and artists the opportunity to try out their craft or is it just giving us more opportunity for resistance?) 

Great question, Heather!  To me, the qualities of mind that produce really good work (and also, in my opinion, produce happiness) are focus, concentration, the ability to go deep, and perseverance over time.  Things like Facebook and Twitter promote the exact opposites--shallowness, distractability, short attention spans, etc.

That being said, the one person in ten thousand who starts a blog and really goes deep with it may take the skills that she develops from this pursuit and use them at the next level--starting a business or non-profit, writing a novel, getting a Ph.D.

Note: I've got an extra copy of The War of Art, so if you're interested in it, leave a comment by Monday, Nov. 30 and I'll pick a winner.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Flat Madeline goes to Rome

Maddie has been quite taken with the Flat Stanley books of late. (For those unfamiliar with them, Flat Stanley is a young boy who gets flattened when a bulletin board falls on him. Being a flat boy has its advantages - he gets to travel the world in envelopes.) Maddie's class is doing a Flat Student project in school, and Flat Madeline has already made her way to Kenya where she will spend a little time with my Aunt and Uncle, take a few pictures, meet some of the local schoolchildren, and then make her way back home.

Three dimensional Madeline made an extra Flat Madeline to keep at home and had taped her to her door where she was holding hands with the Flat Stanley cutout from the book we’d bought recently. (I think a romance was budding.) Two weeks ago, just as I was rushing out the door to fly to Alberta, I said “hey – maybe Flat Madeline would like to come with me!” 3D Madeline got very excited and tore her alter-ego off the door and tucked her in my computer case.

With the whirlwind of activities at the beginning of the trip, I didn’t remember to take Flat Madeline out until we’d reached Regina, halfway through the trip. There she finally got to eat soup with me and my companions after a long and arduous journey.

Dining with us was my friend and co-worker Paul, who was leaving directly from Regina to Rome to be part of the official Canadian delegation to the World Food Summit. Being a father himself whose own children had done Flat Stanley projects in the past, he said, “well, if Flat Madeline has her passport in order, she’s welcome to join me on my journey.”

Though I offered her the alternative of a day trip to the Rockies, Flat Madeline would have none of it. With barely a backwards glance in my direction, she jumped into his briefcase and was whisked away on an adventure across the ocean. When I told 3D Madeline about the change in travel plans, her eyes lit up with possibilities.

After Paul’s official duties were completed, he took his new flat friend on an adventure.

To Constantine’s Arch…

To the Colosseum…

And to Ostia Antica…

(I just love the fact that Paul, a policy wonk who was in Rome hanging around with big muckity-mucks in the upper echelons of power took the time to take pictures of a little child’s drawn paper cutout! It shows the whimsical father heart buried beneath his official position.)

Now that she’s had a taste of adventure, Flat Madeline won’t stop bugging me about where she can go next. If anyone would like to invite her to visit your part of the world, let me know in the comments (or by email) and 3D Madeline and I would be happy to serve as her travel agents.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The strength of her hands

I like strong hands, especially on a woman.  I'm not one for dainty, perfectly manicured hands. Give me strong work-worn hands with a firm grip over pale wimpy ones any day.

When I was traveling in India and Bangladesh last year, I often found myself captivated by women's hands.  As in most developing countries, the women tend to do the lion's share of the work, especially on the farm.  I've seen women maneuver plows, haul boats ashore, hand-wash their laundry on rocks by the river, cook meals over small household fire pits, carry water in large earthenware jugs, weave baskets, care for children, the sick, and the elderly, pound wheat into flour, carry home the firewood, dig up fresh potatoes, and build their homes out of twigs and mud.  Such strong hands I have seen in so many places!

This weekend I tried to capture some of that strength in my painting.  I haven't done watercolour in a few months, so it was lovely to have some time on Friday to get lost in the paints again.

It turns out hands are really hard to paint. Almost as hard as faces. My first attempts kept looking more like claws than hands.  In the end I was more satisfied with the hands in the bottom two frames than the face in the top.  (The face gave me no end of trouble because I was trying to capture the shadows that were cast on that really sunny day when we met Mina Baidya, the woman with the water jug. It's close, but not quite right.)  I find it interesting that even though these photos were taken in 3 different regions (2 in India and one in Bangladesh), all of the women were wearing the same bracelets.  And all three were wearing beautiful, brilliantly coloured saris even thought it was just an ordinary work day for them.

Note: it's not the best photo of it, since I had to take it inside with the flash. Plus it wasn't on a flat surface, so the top looks a little warped.  If you're interested in seeing the original photos, look here, here, and here

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday thirteen - Thirteen quick and random things

1. Maddie just kicked my butt at the Winnie the Pooh stamp game. I'm licking my wounds and she's dancing on my pain. Ah, the callousness of children.

2. I'm going downstairs to watch The Border with my husband. A little mindless TV now and then? A good thing.

3. I'm completely sick and tired of hearing about Sarah Palin. I wish the media would just shut up about her already. WHY are they giving her so much air time? (And PLEASE don't tell me they're going to give her a talk show.)

4. This morning I heard Linda Duxbury talk about the crazy burn-out there tends to be among middle managers and suddenly the last six months TOTALLY made sense.

5. Tomorrow is my "take a day off to recouperate from all the intense travel and writing board reports and hiring new staff time lately". Yay.

6. I'm declaring tomorrow "play with paint" day. My only goals for the day involve making fun things and getting some rest.

7. Saturday is our second annual three-generational Christmas baking party. Anyone have any great suggestions for recipes for Christmas goodies?

8. Six months of stress? Yeah, well, it seems it equals about 15 pounds of extra weight to add to the whack I already had to lose. Blah. That's all I have to say on THAT subject. (Except for this one thing - WHY do I have to gain most of my weight in my boobs?!?)

9. I bought some groovy new mitts. I don't remember ever having mitts that I loved for their colourful funkiness before.

10. Adding a little colour to my winter wardrobe makes me want to go out and buy a fun and colourful parka. That may have to be my Christmas present to myself.

11. I'm going to see Twilight with my oldest 2 daughters tomorrow night. I'm a little embarassed to admit I'm looking forward to it. Yes, I read all of the books and enjoyed them more than I expected.

12. Given those 15 extra pounds, wouldn't you think I'd have had the good sense NOT to eat that Rolo ice cream tonight? Sigh.

13. Maddie is taking her fish Bobbert to show and tell tomorrow. Here's hoping there are no mishaps.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This is what hope looks like

Driving across the prairies last week, after 3 intense days of meetings, presentations, and connecting with my national staff, I had one of those lovely epiphanies that comes once in awhile when we're open to them.  The sun was just beginning to set on the horizon and the gentle light was glistening off the railroad tracks.  The yellow light was so warm and inviting.  I pulled onto a side road just to gaze at it in wonder, and the thought came to me, "this is what hope looks like".  It looks like a warm welcoming light on the horizon. It looks like glistening railroad tracks inviting us down a gentle journey into something new. It looks like a familiar and cozy, yet intriguing and mysterious prairie landscape. It looks like telephone lines connecting us to the people we love.

It felt so good to recognize hope again.  I've been through a tumultous time these past six months and I was beginning to feel like hope was stubbornly hiding behind a huge mountain of stressors and frustrations. I was so unsettled and restless I was ready to toss some of the things I cared about just to feel free again. I'd come up against so much resistance and apathy, I'd begun to doubt the value of my own wisdom and ideas.  I'd lost some of my effectiveness and imagination and I wasn't sure how to get it back. I had huge hurdles to cross in my leadership role and I just wasn't sure I had the strength (or capacity) to cross them.

Six months ago, I was lost in the shadows. I took a week off work and spent most of the week crying. I was completely overwhelmed with my life (mostly the career part of it, not the family part) and couldn't see the way out.  There was no shimmering railroad track on the horizon beckoning me forward.  A few months later, I came very close to quitting my job or at least taking an extended leave of absence.  The timing was really horrible, though, since I was about to launch a big new marketing and fundraising strategy that included the hiring of two new people and a whole lot of difficult work with a marketing consultant (with the board looking over my shoulder).  On top of that, two of my other staff handed in their notices, so I had four positions to fill and four people to integrate into a team that was, at best, a little dysfunctional.

I struggled through and tried to find other areas in which to place my hope.  I launched a new website, I became part of a new fledgling community, I connected with some very dear friends who share some of my leadership challenges (Pinky the Bear - you know who you are), and I went for a lot of walks.  Each of those things worked for awhile, but mostly the relief was short-lived and soon I found myself floundering in hopelessness again.

Last week as I drove, something in me shifted. The stressors didn't all disappear, but most of them began to feel like they were manageable again.  I can hardly tell you how refreshing the meetings and connecting time with my staff were. I was beginning to feel like I had something to offer as a leader again.  But at the same time, I was recognizing that some of the things I'd taken on I didn't have to carry by myself - other members of the team were willing and able to carry them with me. The newest member of the team brought with her such brightness and initiative that I was beginning to believe that some of the transitions we're going through will be just what we need.

Yesterday we completed the final interview for the fourth and final position. Shortly after that, I finished writing my overdue board report in which I got to reflect on all of the work I'd actually managed to accomplish in the last 6 months despite the darkness.  Suddenly, I felt like skipping down the hallway.

This feels like hope and OH, how I'm ready to follow it into the light!

p.s. I'm beginning to dream about writing a book on "leading with creativity, connection, and courage".  As hard as they were, these past six months have felt like the perfect testing ground.  I have a feeling the next six months - when the true test of whether I can lead in bold new ways comes - will be further grist for the mill. If anyone has ideas on what they'd really love to read in a leadership book, spill them in the comments below! 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Run to the mountains

Waking from her nap, Hippie Me tucked Corporate Me away with the business attire and powerpoint presentations, hopped in the shiny blue rental car and headed for the mountains. I relished the thought of even just a few hours of pretending I was a free spirit again before flying home to family and obligations.

The closer to the mountains I got, the giddier I got. How can you not love the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains?

As I pulled into the town of Banff, though, a strange kind of melancholy settled on me. After stopping for a few cold photo ops, I took the familiar road toward Tunnel Mountain. When I passed the Banff Centre of Fine Arts, the melancholy grew and I started to cry.

I flashed back to the summer I used to find refuge from my chambermaid duties by hiking down Tunnel Mountain to the Centre to take in a concert or art show. It was a sad, sad time for me, that summer I turned nineteen. It was supposed to be the breakout summer for my adventurous spirit, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, but instead it turned sour.

I came to Banff with high hopes that summer, and left wounded and raw. Faced with an abusive boss who took chunks out of my fledgling self-esteem as often as she could, a job that revealed nothing but my weaknesses (cleaning, precision) day after day, a room-mate who didn't really like me, and other friends who I'd come with who were happier in each other's company and didn't really need a third wheel, I was lonely and depressed all summer long.

The Banff Centre of Fine Arts provided occasional escape, but mostly it just made matters worse because it reminded me how inadequate I was. I dreamed of being a student there, but never actually believed I belonged there. I was an incompetent, unaccomplished, unartistic outsider who could, at best, only hope to be inspired by other real artists.  Let's face it - I couldn't even clean a hotel room properly, how could I possibly be good enough to be an artist?

I had planned to continue my adventure after that summer by changing schools and moving to a different province, but instead, I nursed my wounds and opted for safe and small choices, returning home to what I knew. 

I'm not the same person I was twenty-four years ago. I've faced many of those demons and found ways of taking risks I didn't know I was capable of.  And yet here I was, crying over the memory of her sadness.

After parking in downtown Banff, I gathered my camera and the book I'd promised to find a place for, and wandered across the bridge at the edge of town. I found the perfect place on the railing of the old stone bridge in arguably one of the most beautiful locations in the world. I took pictures and walked away. It all seemed so perfect.

Suddenly, I felt like skipping. The book drop had done wonders for my spirit. Banff is full of not only tourists, but young people just like I'd been - coming from all over the world to work for a few months in the service industry in an interesting location before going back to school or moving on to the next adventure. I pictured a younger version of me finding that book just when she needed it most. I pictured the difference it might have made in my nineteen-year-old life.  I wanted to believe I'd been a conduit for something special happening for a young woman in the blossoming time of her life.

Fantasizing about the person who'd find it (and even imagining I might see her later walking through downtown with the book tucked under her arm), I crossed the river and killed some time in a Native arts centre. When I was sure I'd left enough time (quite a few people had crossed the bridge by then), I headed back into town.

The book was still there. Someone had torn open the tape on the paper packaging, peeked inside, and left it all behind. I was heartbroken. How could someone see such a beautiful book free for the taking and not whisk it away to a private little hideaway for some quality soul time?

I did my best to re-seal the package, propped the book back up, and walked away again.

About half an hour later, standing in a gallery staring at paintings and photographs that I was suddenly aware were no better than what I could produce, a thought flashed through my mind. Maybe I was meant to take the book. Maybe this was MY ordinary sparkling moment.

I didn't think the book would still be there, but I decided that if it were, it was meant to be mine. Pretending for a moment I was my nineteen-year-old self crossing the bridge to my forty-three-year-old self, I returned to where I'd left the book. It was still there, lying on its side again, like someone else had rejected it and assumed it was meant for someone else.

I took it, but not without HUGE reservations and a whole lot of arguing with myself. (Aren't you cheating? Maybe Christine will be angry. Shouldn't you fulfill your duties like you promised? You're failing again!)

Steeling my resolve, I marched back into town with the book tucked under my arm. The arguments didn't fully stop (I considered dropping the book on a bench, or giving it to a lovely woman in an art gallery or to one of the owners of the "Three Wild Women" boutique), but in the end, I chose to make it mine.

In a flash of inspiration, I walked into a jewellery store and bought myself a promisary ring. (I later learned that the blue chalcedony is meant to strengthen the body and mind and give the wearer a sense of clarity about what they like and don't like.)

In the Wild Flour café, I wrote myself a promise note.

I promise:
- I will take more chances.
- I will believe that I am an artist.
- I will trust my ability.
- I will look for opportunities to paint and make art as often as I can.
- I will sign up for another class or workshop that stretches me.
- I will honour the muse.

It's never too late to learn the things I should have known that summer I turned 19.

(If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see that I picked up a brochure for the Banff Centre of Fine Arts. Maybe... someday...)

I drove back to Calgary wearing my new ring. I am rather fond of the way it looks on my weathered 43 year old hand.

On the flight home, I read my new book. Perhaps, on my next trip, I'll pass it on to someone else who needs it, but for now, it sits on a shelf in my lovely little studio reminding me that I AM AN ARTIST!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lift off

It's a sure sign that I am preparing to leave on another business trip when there's a line of Maddie's clothes on the dining room table - one outfit for each of the days I'll be away. Marcel's very capable of managing the household when I'm away, but the one thing I do for him before I leave is make sure the youngest member of the family will be properly dressed.

I have flown at least a hundred times, and yet each time I do, I still get that giddy feeling of anticipation each time the wheels tuck under the body of the plane and the giant machine is airborne. I love to fly.

I am in Calgary. Tomorrow I will embark on a crazy road trip that consists of four cities in two provinces in four days. I'm fond of road trips too, but this one will be a little exhausting, especially since it's mixed with a whole lot of "acting like an extrovert and doing the public relations side of my job". I have my extrovert moments, but I'm glad these moments will be mixed with lots of introvert moments in the car.

Right now, though, I'm enjoying the company of my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew. It's one of the perks of business travel - getting to hang out with people I like in different parts of the world.
Speaking of my brother, he's a very talented Technogeek dude who's created a very cool techno gadget that you can use for your church, your community, your family, your business - whatever - to share reminders like prayer requests, meeting details, or whatever you want to share in a little gadget that shows up on everyone in your group's computers. Read about it here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

This is how nice it was this weekend...

Mindfulness Monday #2

This sunny Monday morning, I am mindful of:
- Sunshine. Lots of it. And warmth too.
- The vision and artistry of the people who designed The Forks in our city. It’s a truly lovely place to hang out on a Saturday morning.
- Sitting on the bench where Marcel and I pledged our lives to each other. And the 18 and a half rocky, beautiful, painful, happy, fun, agonizing, rewarding, frustrating years since then.
- Watching Maddie wander with the eye of an artist.
- Watching Julie playfully play her flute on the front lawn.
- Watching Nikki tease her little cousin over their shared love of shoes.
- Watching a little four year old girl (my niece) skipping across a parking lot in her shimmery gauzy yellow dress on the way to her champagne birthday tea party.
- Seeing the look of delight and recognition on my little nephew’s face when he spotted me across a crowded church
- Hearing my smart, talented, humble, bold brother preach one of the best (and most challenging) sermons I’ve heard in a long time.
- Cinnamon buns. From the best bakery in town.
- Clean and FOLDED laundry. (Putting it away would be bonus points. I consider it a success if it’s folded and accessible to all members of the family.)
- A ladybug crawling up my arm. Still alive – in November.
- Sleep. Pure delicious uninterrupted sleep.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

An ordinary sparkling moment

Maddie has joined Art Every Day Month along with me, so today we decided to combine our artist endeavours with our commitment to being book fairies for Christine Mason Miller's 100 Books Project.  The result was a delightful "book fairy photo walk".

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What am I afraid of?

Our deepest fear
is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness,
that frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be
brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
(Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure
around you.)

We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fears,
our presence automatically liberates others.

- Marianne Williamson.
This quote has been on my mind a lot lately.  I think I am afraid of my own power.
For the last several months, I've been thinking that I wanted to do something "fearless" at the end of this year and in my dreams that meant quitting my job and jumping into self-employment.
But then some things happened.  I took an online break for awhile to re-examine what I really wanted. I pushed past some of the stuff that had been blocking me at work. I took charge a little more. I got a little more creative at work. I read a book called "How Remarkable Women Lead" and realized that I truly do love leadership and would miss it if I weren't doing it any more.
It started to dawn on me that my desire to leave my current position was not really about being more fearless, it was about running away from fear.  You see, I have a whole bunch of big opportunities at work right now - new staff to hire, a big new social marketing strategy (and a budget to go with it) - and deep down, it was scaring the crap out of me. It was calling me to move into a whole new level of leadership and  (especially given the fact that I was dealing with some dysfunction issues on my team and 2 people quitting, as well as some frustrations with a consultant) I was quite sure I was going to fall flat on my face.  It was more pressure than I'd ever felt as a leader, because now I was having to prove to the board that what I'd proposed and got funding and approval for was the right direction for this organization to take, even if most of my team members (and some board members, truth be told) were not standing behind me.
I'm still quaking in my boots, and I still might fall flat on my face, but you know what? I think I can do this. I think I have more leadership ability than I thought. 
Trusting your own instincts, being bold in the face of resistance, risking failure and disgrace - it's all really quite scary.  I still have so much to learn about fearlessness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I don't know much

I don't know how to be a "real" artist,
but I know that when I push paint around on a canvas, it makes me giddy with anticipation.

 I don't know if I'm a good parent
or if my kids will turn out alright,
but I know that the time I spent with Maddie making a painting (below)
was the best possible use of that half hour I could imagine.

I don't know the "right" way to be religious or to have a relationship with God,
but I know that when I sit quietly in my studio painting,
I feel the presence of the Spirit and sometimes that is enough.

I don't know how things will work out in my life,
or which direction the future will lead me,
but I know that when I immerse myself in creativity - leading, teaching, and doing - I am content.

I don't know how to keep up with all of the demands in my life,
but I know that if I don't find at least a little time for wild and carefree creative play, I go a little crazy.

I don't know how to do so many things - sing, dance, knit, draw -
but I know that when I give myself to the act of creating, I surprise myself again and again.

I don't know if I'll ever have a clean, organized house,
but I know that I will always surround myself with colour and light,
and most days, that feels like it's good enough.

I don't know if I will succeed at creating every day
(especially with a 4 cities in 4 days crazy business trip coming up in the middle)
but I know that I will have fun trying
and I will let "doodling in the margins" count as art.

With some fear and trepidation, I've joined "art every day month".

Monday, November 02, 2009

I need a road map

I’m not one to ask for directions very easily, but I do rely heavily on maps. I like to figure out my own way of getting places, and don’t really like admitting when I’m lost. Every once in awhile, though, the road maps have their limitations and the only thing we can do is turn to someone who has prior knowledge of the area to point the way. One way or another, I find some wisdom to help find my destination.

When it comes to parenting right now, it feels like we have neither road-maps nor wise advisors. So much is changing so quickly in our world that there really aren’t any more experienced parents who’ve dealt with many of the issues we’re dealing with. I was a farm girl raised without a television, and now I’m raising city kids in an era in which they have more Facebook friends than were resident in my small town. When I was in high school, to do a computer exercise, you filled out a stack of cards with pencil marks in little circles. (Yes, I really am that old.) The output came in the form of a mile-long paper printout that took 30 minutes to print. Now my kids can take pictures with a computer they hold on their laps and put together elaborate videos and post them for all the world to see. When I was growing up on the farm, we had one phone in the house and we were on a party line. If a neighbour was on the phone, we had to wait our turn. Now my kids can not only send text messages instantly to their friends from the car, the mall, or wherever they are, but they can take pictures of themselves and share those in an instant.

When it comes to areas of faith, it’s not much different. One might say “well, just go to the ancient texts (ie. the Bible, for those of us who are Christian) – they are timeless road maps for all of life, including parenting.” But the problem with that is that the way of interpreting the Bible that my parents used isn’t entirely relevant for me anymore either.

This weekend, I heard Phyllis Tickle talk about The Great Emergence. She believes that every 500 years or so, culture goes through a huge shift, where very little that we believed in the past is relevant anymore. It starts with a shift in science, and with that comes a shift in the way that we approach faith. The last shift was the Reformation, nearly 500 years ago. First it was a discovery that the world was not flat, and then came a realization that if the world is not flat, then heaven and hell cannot be as clearly delineated as “above” and “below”. And if the world is not flat, then perhaps there are other things scientists have not been telling us. Perhaps that means there are things that our spiritual leaders have not been telling us either, so maybe it’s time to educate ourselves in scripture rather than rely on the church’s interpretation. That led to massive growth in the numbers of people who were learning to read, primarily because Luther and his cohorts introduced the idea of turning to scripture as the authority rather than the church. (I realize I’m talking primarily about Christianity, but Tickle suggests that these 500 year shifts are also apparent in Judaism and Islam and perhaps other faiths as well.) Hence the Protestant church was born.

Now, 500 years later, we have been faced with another significant shift in the scientific “truths” that we accept. Things like the theory of relativity, quantum physics, space travel, and the introduction of computer technology have dramatically changed how we view the world and our place in it. With that, says Tickle, comes another shift in the way we approach faith. If a human body is less literal than we once believed it was, and we can break it down even beyond the molecular structure to energy and strands of dna, then perhaps scripture can no longer be interpreted as literally as it once was either. Metaphor and narrative are becoming much more relevant. The “rules” of how we do church and how we interpret the world that many of us were raised with no longer fully apply.

Which brings me to parenting. My faith has shifted significantly since I was a child. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s my reality. I just can’t interpret scripture the same way I was taught in Sunday School, and I can’t give my children the same answers I got. Sometimes I wish I could (it would make life easier), but I can’t. It just doesn’t make sense to me to accept traditional teaching on issues such as women in leadership, loving same sex relationships, etc. I don’t even know what to do with “I am the way the truth and the life” and “no one comes to the Father but by me” when I see so much beauty and value and apparent access to a loving God in other faith traditions (not to mention creativity in the way God communicates with people).

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have faith in a triune God – it just means that it’s shifted. When I listen to Phyllis Tickle talk, I recognize that I am not alone in this shift. It’s happening to a significant number of people who are disgruntled with the traditional church and are just waiting for Luther to nail his thesis to the door.

But in the meantime, I need to parent, and parenting means trying to instill wisdom in our children. Sometimes I feel like all I have to add to their questions are more questions instead of answers. I don’t have a road map and I can’t pretend to them that I do. All I can do is muddle through and hope that we all emerge successfully (whatever "success" looks like).

(Note: This is a really rough paraphrase of Phyllis Tickle’s talk – to learn more, you can read the book. If you ever get a chance to hear her talk, do it – she is one of the most brilliant and engaging presenters I have ever heard.)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween costumes (or what I was obsessed with all week)

This is why I haven't gotten much sleep this week. The green egg, milk, and oreos costumes are all from this year and the Tootsie Roll and elephant are from years past. (I'm happy to be able to share my old costumes with my lovely little niece - at least they're still being put to good use!) And in case you're wondering, Marcel didn't go out as oreo cookies - he was just modeling it for the picture.

I can't take responsibility for the green ham - that would be my talented friend Jo-Anne.