“Not That Good” — Embracing Imperfection and Writing Anyway

“Not That Good” — Embracing Imperfection and Writing Anyway

Real talk: I’ve been having difficulty writing lately. It’s not that I don’t have topics or ideas at the forefront of my mind, it’s more that I fear I don’t have the time or mental energy to share them with the thoroughness they deserve.

Like many writers, I feel a responsibility to present multiple sides to a story, and to do so with integrity, creativity, and truth. Perhaps even more cumbersome is my desire to offer up perfect writing to the world — to eliminate all spelling and grammatical errors, to strike cliches and idioms, and to refine my points so they are concise and fair.

I’m sure this fixation on perfection has something to do with negative feedback that made its way back to me several years ago. This comment was flippant at best, harmful at worst — and it has remained with me all this time, probably because it was made by a then-aspiring writer friend, a friend whom I genuinely and noncompetitively encouraged to pursue a career in the field in which I’d been working for several years.

His feedback? “She’s not that good of a writer.”

Funny how the loudest and harshest critics tend to be the folks who have little to no authority on the subject about which they’re so vocal.

Also funny: how just seven words — even when uttered by someone without tact or authority — can haunt a person whose primary motivation for writing is simply to connect with, engage, and, just maybe, inspire others. I relate to the words of Cheryl Strayed when she asserts, “The most important work I’ve ever done as a writer is to make people feel less alone.”

And what is “good” writing, anyway? What does a “good writer” look like? What does a “good writer” even write?

I will admit that, without an editor, a writer is often lost — left to captain a vessel without a crew or navigation instruments, relying only on our intuition as we make our way through the rough seas of an untold story. Left to our own devices — yes, that’s an idiom — we are all just fumbling, bumbling amateurs at different stages of inexperience (or, as I prefer to define it: discovery).

And since there is no editor I’m able to call upon in the wee hours of the morning when I finish a blog post, this space is one of sometimes raw, incomplete, and rambling thoughts (or, as I again prefer to define it: a place of discovery).

Partly because of the absence of an on-call editor, I will be the first to admit: sometimes my writing appears messy. That’s because it is. All writing is messy.

And, in some way or another, or to some person or another, all writing is “not that good.”

Over a month has passed since I set a daily blogging goal, and some days I have not met this goal. A typical blog post on Daley Muse typically takes about two to four hours, two to four times as long as the single hour I idealized. There have been times when other responsibilities piled up so high it felt impossible to push over those piles and do the work I feel most compelled to do while I’m on this planet: write.

But here’s the thing: at least I’m writing. (Even if I’m “not that good.”)

And here’s what I hope for you: even if you feel like an amateur without anything valuable anything to say, that you say something anyway.

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“New Residue” – A Lesson from Artists on Collaboration

“New Residue” – A Lesson from Artists on Collaboration

Last week I attended a presentation and opening reception at Boise State University for artists Michael McFalls and Jon Swindler, both residing in Georgia. The two work as professors and also have the admitted luxury of financial support when collaborating — and they have done so via installations all over the globe.

Although my art is on the back burner for the time being, I feel creatives (specifically artists) have a lot to teach members of society — regardless of one’s career path, background, or belief system.

For one thing, I was amazed by how readily these two men embraced both the element of play and discomfort inherent in the collaborative process. Through it all, it seems their overarching desire is to cooperate — despite their differing creative disciplines (Swindler is a sculptor and McFalls is a printmaker).

This feels like a great lesson for anyone navigating both the professional world and our personal lives. Many times, people just don’t want to listen to one another. Sometimes, we (myself included at times) think we know it all. But collaboration only works when both parties mutually respect one another — then listen to and consider opposing ideas.

New-Residue2-Daley-MuseCollaboration brings our egos (and our stubbornness) to the fore. But aren’t the most fulfilling relationships the ones where we feel respected and listened to?

Those that are the most unfulfilling are usually the relationships where one party feels disrespected or that their feelings or expertise are minimized. (Yes, that’s ego talking. But wouldn’t our professional and personal lives be so much happier and healthier if we were to all navigate the world with the mindset that we have something to learn? That’s the kind of world I want.)

When asked how they decide which artist receives acknowledgment for which pieces, they both admit they really don’t care who the art “belongs to” — but that “a suspension of the ego” must take place in order for collaborative work to be successful. “It’s liberating when you don’t have to take credit,” Swindler said.

Many of the objects that compose their sculptures are recirculated, and the two artists are continually taking pieces apart and putting them back together in different forms — sometimes even using tape to do so. “I’ve learned not to get too attached to anything,” said Swindler.

Here are a few more poignant comments from the presentation:

“It’s always the stuff you think isn’t the art that becomes the art.” —J.S.

“It’s important to make stuff you like. We’re our first audience. If we’re doing things that challenge ourselves, we’re probably challenging our audience.” -M.M.

“The work changes so fast when you collaborate. So you’ve got to be willing to take risks. It’s changed my practice.” —J.S.

“One of the ways to keep evolving is to take the things you like and break them.” —M.M.

If you’re in the Boise area and would like to check out the exhibition, it runs through March 16th, 2018. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m on Fridays.

Friday Feel-Good: February Warm and Fuzzies

Friday Feel-Good: February Warm and Fuzzies

Each week, as I cull the web for hope- and joy-inducing news stories, something interesting has begun to develop — I’m starting to see and appreciate more of the good things and people around me. Despite the bad stuff, a lot of wonderful things also happen all the time, and this week was no exception — so I have lots to share.

For starters, February 1st began Black History Month (about which I’ll be blogging more in the weeks ahead) and several adorable kiddos articulately reminded us of a number of achievements by members of the black community. Perhaps another testament to the amazing black women who realize representation matters — Actress Octavia Spencer announced she plans to buy out a theater in an underserved Mississippi community so that low-income families can see Black Panther for free, and “to ensure that all our brown children can see themselves as a superhero.”

My happy-maker trifecta this week also consists of food (and how people are using it to make a difference), children (showing acts of kindness to our society’s most vulnerable), and animals doing what they do best — being adorable. (If you haven’t yet seen these photos of Ingo the dog and his owl friends, you really need to.)

For starters, this animated film just won an Academy Award — and deservedly so. It’s only five minutes long, but took three years to make. If you’re not feeling brave these days, watch this — the message here was the reminder I needed to keep trying even when life is hardest, and to never, ever give up in the pursuit of your dreams.

In the food department, one man created has helped create a movement on National Muffin Day (January 28th) by providing these baked goods to the homeless in communities all over the nation. And this non-profit, Fill My Basket, is similarly doing good by showing random acts of kindness in one of the places it’s probably needed most — the grocery store.

I was also inspired by this nine-year old girl who has launched a company that sends comfort dolls to children with cleft lips and palates and in need of surgery — and proceeds help to benefit related charities.

If you, like me, need the occasional reminder of how social media can be used for good, check out this vid about the Very Old Skateboarders, a Facebook group that brings together “older than normal skaters, people who might have been told ‘you’re too old to be doing that’ but don’t care.”

After this woman lost her leg in the bombing at the Boston Marathon, one pup came into her life — and brought with him healing and hope.

And perhaps because I can’t have a dog of my own, I can’t resist stories of street dogs around the world being adopted by loving families — like this amazing account of everyone’s favorite Jackass star Steve-O and how he found “true love” in Peru.

After the Cranberries’ lead singer Dolores O’Riordan passed away unexpectedly at the age of 46 earlier in January, the kids of New York’s PS22 Chorus memorialize her with his beautiful rendition of “Dreams.” (They became notably famous in 2015 after serenading their teacher [who had just been diagnosed with cancer] with Martina McBride’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.” As always, these kids get me right in the feels.)

Cheers to the weekend, friends. And, as always, feel free to drop a line in the comments with your week’s happy happenings.

What If We Put Down Our Phones — and Started Living?

What If We Put Down Our Phones — and Started Living?

This afternoon, I met with a fellow creative for happy hour and to discuss a potential collaboration. What I initially expected to be an hour meeting turned into three hours of conversation about art, entrepreneurship, family, moving to a new city, the creative process, writing, authenticity, being paid what you’re worth, setting boundaries, the meaning of beauty, and travel.

The best part? We were having such a great time that our phones didn’t come out once, other than to exchange numbers. There was no compelling need to photograph our meal, ourselves, or to otherwise document the occasion. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing any of those things, I marveled at the silent agreement that had been made between us: our mutual company was enough.

The conversation was enough.

Being present was enough.

Recently, I read a quote from novelist and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison that resonated with me:

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph it, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”

I think I may have reached that point.

The last week of December 2017 was an eye-opening time for me. After reflecting on what I had experienced in the previous year, I realized I had thousands of photos to look at — but the majority of these images portrayed only half realities. (There were more than a few smiling selfies in which puffy eyes hid behind dark glasses.)

Further, in selectively sharing only my best photos to social media, I was adding to what I believe is a dangerous clamor responsible for alarming rates of anxiety, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and other forms of psychological distress. And research suggests our society’s youngest members are at the highest risk of developing these side effects, particularly when using Instagram.

It seems that, in our widespread use of social media, many people are living within the self-imposed constraints of curated lives. Many of us show our faces only when they’re made up, filtered, and otherwise beautified. (Ladies, please tell me you realize the smoothing function makes your husbands look like Ken Dolls and your babies’ already cherublike faces resemble possessed Cabbage Patch Kids. You and your families are beautiful; please stop turning them into scary dolls in the name of vanity.)

Yes, there are certain benefits of social networking.

I work in this field, so I’ll be the first to disclose: social media is an integral part of my business and my livelihood. The platforms at our disposal have revolutionized and streamlined the way we communicate. News and information can reach millions of people in mere minutes. Powerful imagery can be uploaded to the web and shared with people on the other side of the planet in seconds. Correspondence can happen between loved ones living across oceans.

But at what expense do we experience those benefits? At the expense of our productivity? At the expense of our authenticity? At the expense of our mental health?

As I looked at my year in photos and pondered the disconnect between what I showed the world of an entire year of my life — and the reality of that year (for the record, 2017 sucked, y’all), a part of me — the part of me that craved connection, suffered intense FOMO, and needed constant approval — cracked in two.

It was by no means a trip to the beach or the mountains for a full-fledged digital detox, but I embarked on a brief purge that meant four days without using my phone, watching television, or listening to the radio.

Those four days were both my punishment and my reward.

I missed social invitations, yet fortuitously ended up running into several friends whom I hadn’t seen in months. I missed a few days of working over the weekend, yet that meant I actually took time off for the holiday (like most normal people with jobs and vacation time do). I was absent from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Marco Polo, Strava, Instagram, et al. — but I was, for the first time in months (maybe years) present in my own life.

Something else amazing happened when I realized I didn’t have to publicize every social function, every life event, every happy hour, every toast with friends. I call it liberation. It was only a four-day-long detox, but I felt like I got my life back.

In the weeks that followed, I found myself experiencing my life with newfound curiosity and wonder. My phone’s battery began to last the entire day, instead of just eight or nine hours. I began to notice just how dependent I was on a device — for distraction, for entertainment, and for fulfilment.

And I started asking myself some tough questions I wasn’t willing to answer even a week earlier.

What would happen our society stopped its morbid fixation on documenting every last detail our lives?

What would happen if we truly showed up — with our presence alone as our sole intent?

What would happen if we put… the phone… down?

Social media platforms go away, algorithms change, people get bored, people unfollow. Remember MySpace? You may laugh, but that kind of mass, gradual exodus can (and will) happen again. (Did I mention I do this for a living?)

If you, like me, could rarely enjoy a moment last year without your phone in front of your face, a digital detox may be in order. At the very least, I’m inviting you to join me in committing to connectivity — real connectivity — in 2018. Whether that’s reconnecting with others or reconnecting with ourselves, I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

We still have 11 months remaining in the year to show up, be present, and take it all in — even without the phone. Maybe, just maybe, everything about our lives would improve.

#MotivationMonday and the Productivity Trap

#MotivationMonday and the Productivity Trap

Today was #MotivationMonday — a perfectly appropriate social media trend if you’re on top of your game, but one that can incite feelings of inadequacy if you’re not.

I was not.

Do you ever have days where you get relatively nothing done (or at least, nothing compared to what you had hoped to get done)? Maybe a lack of sleep left you feeling lethargic. Maybe you’re fighting the flu and just couldn’t get your head in the game. Maybe you’re stricken with grief after the death of a friend or family member — or you’re mentally and physically preoccupied by a loved one’s illness.

When these experiences affect my life and the lives of those in my immediate circle, I’m reminded there is so much more to a meaningful existence than checking off the boxes on my to-do list.

And yet, still, we fetter ourselves with long lists of daily duties — as if they were talismans that could protect us from the everyday realities of grief, disappointment, and the very real fear of not being good enough.

As much as I enjoy learning about and discussing productivity hacks, the honest truth (my honest truth) is that most of these hacks are merely distractions — distractions that keep us so focused on the achieving that we forget about the enjoying.

And this idea that achievement is the holy grail of success and fulfillment is an ideal bombarding most adults. It affects how we work, how we play, how we prioritize tasks, and even how we rest. Have you heard of this thing called “polyphasic sleep?” It’s an alternative to the traditional eight or nine hours, in which a person gets their quota of shut-eye via multiple (short) sleep sessions within a 24-hour period. But as with most health trends that sound too good to be true, it can be risky.

The root of the problem seems to be our need to achieve. And in our insatiable craving to do more, we convince ourselves that if we check enough boxes, we’re doing something important with our lives.

But are we really?

When did we become so obsessed with our to-do list that we forgot the importance of our to-be list?

What radical transformations could we make in our lives if we focused as much on the being as we focus on the doing?

Coming from someone who’s prone to burnout, I’m learning that approaching each day as a challenge to be vanquished is not just exhausting, it’s not sustainable.

Some days, merely existing is enough. Sometimes, enduring a rotten day is enough. Some days, surviving is enough.

Friends, I hope you found time today to just be. And if you didn’t, I hope you are able to make time for being in the days ahead. There’s more to Mondays — and all the other days of your life — than the boxes we’ve checked.

Sunday Funday: Your Permission for Pleasure

Sunday Funday: Your Permission for Pleasure

In a recent attempt to adjust my overall approach to life (from one of self-punishment and over-work to one of forgiveness and self-love), I recently read The Hedonism Handbook: Mastering The Lost Arts Of Leisure And Pleasure.

As often as I say this, I’ll say it again: that book changed my life. Witty, well-researched, and surprisingly sensible, after reading it I found myself conscientiously trying to infuse my days with simple pleasures that were intended for only that — pleasure.

But as personal obligations, professional priorities, and self-imposed distractions crept back in, I realized I have to work at pleasure seeking. It’s not enough to assume that I’ll remember all the wonderful tidbits I read in that book; I need continual permission to seek and enjoy pleasure. If you’re anything like me and your to-do list is as long as your don’t-do list, you probably need a little permission, too.

Here are some of my favorite literary tokens of wisdom and inspiration, for those who also need an excuse to kick up your feet and enjoy your life, even if it’s just for an hour.

“Robbing ourselves of the great pleasures in life only makes us perform worse. We need to be happy, and do things we like doing if we want to excel in whatever it is we’re focusing on.” 
― Torron-Lee Dewar, 50 Ways to Become a Better Choreographer

On looking up at the stars:

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” 
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

On taking time to do something creative:

“Few pleasures are greater than knowing you can close your door, ignore the world and create your own.” 
― Tibor Fischer, Voyage to the End of the Room

More specifically, on getting reacquainted with your inner artist:

“Art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness. It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind. As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.” 
― John Lubbock, The Pleasures of Life

On loving:

“I’m in love with you,” he said quietly.
“Augustus,” I said.
“I am,” he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

On making love:

“So sweet and delicious do I become,
when I am in bed with a man
who, I sense, loves and enjoys me,
that the pleasure I bring excels all delight,
so the knot of love, however tight
it seemed before, is tied tighter still.” 
― Veronica Franco, Poems and Selected Letters

On indulging your tastebuds:

“… food is not simply organic fuel to keep body and soul together, it is a perishable art that must be savoured at the peak of perfection.” 
― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

On reading:

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” 
― W. Somerset Maugham, Books and You

On reading with your kids:

“If I have done anything, even a little, to help small children enjoy honest, simple pleasures, I have done a bit of good.”
― Beatrix Potter

On taking in every moment:

“…the bittersweet reminder of life’s ephemeral pleasures, of opportunities that pass…These experiences would never be repeated and for that I was sad to see them go. But I also relished in the pricelessness of things so unique. That which can be duplicated loses its gold.” 
― Kevin Revolinski, The Yogurt Man Cometh

And, perhaps for a little perspective, one of my favorite writers brings the pleasure conversation full circle:

“Pleasure is a false god. Research shows that people who focus their energy on superficial pleasures end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable, and more depressed. Pleasure is the most superficial form of life satisfaction and therefore the easiest to obtain and the easiest to lose. But pleasure, while necessary in life (in certain doses), isn’t, by itself, sufficient. Pleasure is not the cause of happiness; rather, it is the effect.” 
― Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Cheers to pleasure, friends. And most importantly, cheers to happiness.

World Penguin Day — and a Centenarian’s Wisdom for Younger Generations

World Penguin Day — and a Centenarian’s Wisdom for Younger Generations

At last, the day we’ve all been waiting for: World Penguin Day.

I know what you’re thinking: there are a lot of other significant events happening right now; why talk about these tuxedoed, waddly creatures, when the government is shut down and women all over the world are marching for equality?

Well, for starters, LOOK AT THIS PHOTO OF A PENGUIN WEARING A SWEATER. (We can always make time for penguins in sweaters.)

Penguin-jumper-Daley-Muse
Image courtesy of The Penguin Foundation

But this isn’t a fashion statement or an excuse to put adorable animals in jumpers; these knitted sweaters helped save the lives of hundreds of little penguins over a decade ago.

After several oil spills near Phillip Island in the late ’90s and early 2000s (including a particularly devastating spill in 2001), the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation put out a call for knitters to assist in the survival of 438 injured birds. They called the effort Knits for Nature.

According to the foundation, a patch of oil the size of a thumbnail can kill a little penguin — which can die from exposure and starvation because the oil separates and mats its feathers, preventing a penguin’s from regulating its temperature and maintaining buoyancy in the water. Little penguins can also be poisoned when they ingest the oil while preening, so the sweaters bought rehabilitation workers extra time as they rushed to clean the oil from the birds’ feathers.

When one Australian man, Alfred (“Alfie”) Date, heard the call, he began knitting protective jumpers for the injured birds. Then the oldest man in Australia (he was 109 at the time), Alfie told more about his interest in knitting below:

The little penguins affected by the oil spill in 2004 have long since been rehabilitated and the Knits for Nature program was so successful it has been closed. But there are plenty of other ways you can get involved in helping both penguins and the many other creatures on this earth that suffer due to the humans’ neglect and greed. (Care to adopt a penguin? You can do so via the Penguin Foundation. Or, you can play a part in the conservation of endangered species by supporting the World Wildlife Fund.)

Though Alfred Date has since passed away, he showed us what compassion looks like. Even at over 100 years old, his age and related stresses didn’t stop him from being concerned about the environment or about its most helpless creatures. He didn’t stop caring, even in the midst of major world events. He didn’t wring his hands in frustration, either, he put those hands to work — and got to knitting.

“What is your favorite memory from your long life?” an interviewer asked Mr. Date for this Daily Telegraph article. “Today,” he responds.

Here are a few more pearls of wisdom, from the article:

What is your secret to living a long life?

Being sensible in the way you live. Don’t live just for yourself, but try and be of help or service to somebody else.

What advice do you have for younger generations?

Look on the bright side. There’s always a bright side. If you rub the wrong side long enough and hard enough you can make it shine a bit.

Thank you, Mr. Date, for showing us the way.