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Monthly Archives: November 2012

“Recovering a Sense of Safety”

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Some days I feel better about this blogging process than others. Sometimes it feels awkward and revealing. Other times, it is honest and empowering. I can say that so far, my experience with the blog has given me a feeling of being grounded. A feeling that I am doing something during this strange time in my life. I had taken some time ‘off’ from the business planning to enjoy the holiday weekend and try to sense what my opportunities feel like. Overall, I feel like I have the opportunity to embrace myself and share that with others. I have the opportunity to make connections in my small community, in which I still feel so very new. I am looking forward to both of those.

Every time I share myself a little bit more with others, I come to like myself better. That is a good thing! As I shared my efforts to renew and nurture my creativity, a friend recommended Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  It has been an interesting read. I loved that Cameron reminds us,

We want to be great— immediately great— but that is not how recovery works. It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good— to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.

So I have begun the process of creative recovery. This week, I will be working on “Recovering a Sense of Safety.” It seems appropriate. After all, it is difficult to be at one’s creative best when overcome by fear. For people, who like myself, learned to thrive in a world based on unpredictability, I suppose it could be an onerous and ongoing process. My tasks for this week include:

  • Get up early everyday to write my morning pages. This is three pages of stream of conscious writing, straight out of bed. Now if only I had a coffee maker at my bedside.
  • Take myself on an artist date. We are planning on going to Bismarck this weekend, so I might be able to take myself out for a real treat.
  • List three old enemies of my creative self-worth. Seriously!? Only three? These three delightful influences will be the beginning of my monster hall of fame.
  • Select and write out one horror story from my monster hall of fame. This could get ugly…
  • Write a “letter to the editor” in my own defense and mail it to myself. I expect to get kind of childish with this one. Good thing we have lots of crayons and construction paper around the house.
  • List three old champions of my creative self-worth. Seriously!? Only three? I don’t think I ever would have survived had I not had such a wonderful sixth grade teacher! There are plenty other heroes who will be going into my hall of champions.
  • Select from the hall of champions a happy piece of encouragement and write a thank you letter. Mail it to myself or my long lost mentor. This seems like a good reason to send a sappy letter to someone I haven’t talked to in 20 years… I hope its not too shocking to hear from me.
  • Imagine five other versions of my possible paths in life. Then go live out a little slice of one. Hmmm… this one will take some thought and feels a little strange.
  • For every negative criticism I give myself, turn it into a positive affirmation. For example, I hear my inner critic say “Stop this silly stuff and go talk to your husband.” I turned that into “I can communicate with reason and play with nonsense.” Yay for a little nonsense!
  • Take my inner artist for a brisk 20 minute walk to take a good look at the world around. *Sigh* that sounds lovely!

So, that’s what I’ll be up to over the course of the next week as I get back involved with thinking seriously about my next steps to opening that awesome bookstore/gift shop/craft supply store!

A snippet from my visual framework for entrepreneurship.






balancing act

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balancing act

Balancing, it is a tricky one for me. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally— balance has been elusive.

I had turned five just after the deadline for kindergarten enrollment, but the district agreed to test me, to see if my development was on target to start school. I remember the tester taking me over to the balance beam to walk on. It was a narrow strip of wood set on the floor, just out of arms reach from the wall. I struggled on that beam. I remember tipping over and catching myself on the wall. The tester said, “That’s enough.” Lack of coordination = lack of balance.

As I continued through my childhood, I became very observant of my surroundings. My inner anthropologist was formed during holiday visits to very different sides of the family. We oscillated between fundamental southern Baptist gatherings and volatile celebrations of with varying degrees of inebriation. I would observe the language, the rituals, the appropriate behavior for the occasion, adapt myself accordingly, and try not to get caught in any of the crossfire. For me, lack of stability = lack of balance.

For having survived such familial settings, it is no wonder that my emotional development got caught up in a world of black and white. As a teenager, I was either elated or raging. Deeply saddened, or overflowing with energy. I either loved someone, or I hated them. ImageIt took me years to find the many shades of gray that comprise the human experience. I am still learning. Lack of shading = lack of balance.

The lack of coordination, stability, and shades of gray found an appropriate gathering space— in my work.  My methods of working were full-immersion in a sense. I became so involved in my work that it became a extension of me. Whether I was cooking, cutting, or serving pizzas at The Hut, working with clients at a weight-loss center, cleaning and cataloging Late Woodland artifacts, waiting (and bumping into) tables, cleaning skeletons for curation, teaching students, collecting research data, or doing any of the 143 jobs I had as the VP of Land Grant Programs—they all became a source of external validation of my worth. At a point, in my lack of balance, I toppled over. This time it was I who said, “That’s enough.”

So here I am, trying to regain my balance and redefine my relationship with work. Some days are better than others. Some days I can manage to fulfill my basic responsibilities and then some. Other days just getting kiddo #1 to school is completely overwhelming. Some of the most difficult work cannot be seen in a glance, it happens on the inside, as I tend to the tendencies, issues, feelings, and ambitions I had once ignored.

Being a recovering work addict doesn’t really lend itself avoiding my method of addiction. I can’t very well say that I’ve been ‘sober’ for 4 months since I left my position at the tribal college. I’ve worked in many ways since then. I can’t very well say that I will be ‘sober’ the rest of my life either, that would be pretty boring to never work again. But, what I have to do is separate my idea of work from my image of myself and no longer see my work as a form of validation.

It is not easy and I by no means have all the answers. There are two reasons that I share what I do. First, to become more honest with myself. Second, I hope that sharing my experience can benefit others. I hope that I am not alone. I am sure there must be other folks who struggle with the same issues that I do. I hope that as I try to maintain this balancing act, I can be connected to humans, who are flawed, just like me.

Please share! What is your balancing act? Is balance difficult for you? How do you know when you are off balance? How do you get back to where you belong?

to teach, to share, to learn, to love

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Dad, with the pig ear's he brought for the holiday feast

Dad, with the pig’s ear he brought for the holiday feast

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I am thinking of my dad today. I think of him everyday really, with varying themes, recollections, humor, and pain. It wasn’t until I was about 19 that my dad and I really seemed to get along well. Since that turning point in our relationship I learned so many things. My dad was a great teacher. While he taught things like karate, dance, and Pilates, the thing that made him a great teacher to me was his enthusiasm to try and share new things.

When he would come to visit, he would teach the boys how to do headstands and how to make bean sprouts. He helped the boys plant trees and examine each other’s ears using his otoscope. We talked about what it was like for me growing up and discovered some of the roots of those teenage power struggles we endured. He’d bring unusual food. For one New Year’s Eve dinner, we made roasted kale and pumpkin spaetzle. We experimented with recipes from Susan Hermann Loomis’s “French Farmhouse Cookbook” for a Confit of Duck Gizzards and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “River Cottage Cookbook”for Crispy Pig’s Ears. He helped us move from Wyoming to North Dakota without hesitation. Then returned a few months later to help cut down some overgrown trees in the yard. He was overjoyed with the arrival of each of his grandsons and so proud at my graduation.

What I learned most from my dad, whether it was about food, physical health, anatomy, spirituality, finance, life changes, or relationships, always had to do with conquering fear—about having confidence and courage to do what feels right, even if the chosen actions might end up raising a few eyebrows along the way.

I will never forget the last conversation we had. I was struggling to tread water with the responsibilities I had as a Vice President at a college. More was being asked of me in terms of administration and leadership, sadly at the expense of engaging with staff and students in the projects I loved. Through the conversation I felt the love and acceptance from him, like a warm and comforting hug and his final words, “Rachel, be happy.” I took a deep breath, sobs choked in my throat as I exhaled a reply of “I’ll try.” Less than a week later, he was gone. No warnings, no signs. Just gone, to walk in the next world.

Again and again, I find myself looking to that moment to help fill in the gaps of the times when I feel like I needed his reassurance and guidance most. Like in February, when we had to plan his funeral, meet with an attorney, discuss inherited IRA rollovers and distributions. Or this spring, when I spent a month going through pain, medical tests, and surgeries to identify that I’ve been suffering from gallbladder attacks for years. Or this summer, when I resigned from my position to focus on my physical and emotional health and I had no idea of what I might do to carry the family through financially. Or the last month, when I began developing a business idea, looked at commercial property, and began to think of myself as an entrepreneur. Or now, as we take the final steps into the holiday season, when we’ll be eating wonderful food, sharing memories, and missing him dearly.

And amid it all, I can say that I have tried to “be happy.” And it hasn’t been easy. But I know who I am, what is important to me, and I am grateful for all I was able to share with my dad.

time, in a moment

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Since my last entry, my efforts to nurture my creative core have not been entirely successful, but rather interesting and insightful. It takes a lot of effort for me to tone out the part of my brain that thrives on incessant planning, often much too far into the future for realistic comfort. There was a point when I was in high school that I stopped making doodles in the margins of my notes and instead willfully calculated projections of how much money I needed to make to have my own apartment, how much I would need to feed myself, or how much utilities might cost, and how many hours I could sanely work while still in school. Years later, I still feel like I am spinning in a hamster wheel when I get in that mode.

As it ends up, an influential force through all this is my perspective of time. My creativity simply cannot flourish when I am consumed by sequential constructions such as cents, dollars, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. In fact, it becomes a little too overwhelming for me to think of what things might be like years from now. I mean really—if I was given a glimpse at my life now just five, ten, or fifteen years ago, I certainly could not have believed it. The point is, letting go of that neurotic forward thinking provides the opportunity for my creativity flourish with a sense of the present.

Living day by day is something I am very new at, and when I get “off-track” it takes quite the effort for me to become aware of the present again. But when I am able to allow my mind to interact with the present, I begin to see things differently. Colors, textures, and images all seem clearer. Laughter, birdsongs, and silence seem crisper. Relationships seem richer. I feel more of what surrounds me and become intoxicated by the beauty in it all.  It kind of sounds like falling in love, doesn’t it? Those moments when the sky, the trees, the ground, and the love of your life all become one and nothing else matters. Or the genuine experiences of childhood discovery—these are examples of living in the moment at its finest. 

I think that is what art allows us to experience with ourselves, and why it is so important for me to embrace my creative side, listen to it, and care for it. Today I am revisiting Hannah Hinchman’s “A Trail through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place.” I found myself suddenly relaxed and totally present as I read about how Hinchman interacts with her art materials. I’ll leave you with a sample of what moved me:

All of this material-gossip has one real goal behind it: to get me to pay attention. To get closer, to slow down, to use a loving, inquiring touch. I can’t think of any work of integrity in which the materials aren’t respected, known intimately, and asked to perform at a high level. That’s part of what moves us when we admire a piece of art, though we may not recognize it. This is all part of not staying on the surface of things, but dwelling, really dwelling, in the moment that contains all the sensations. In the best drawings and paintings you can isolate any section, any square inch, and find evidence that the artist attended carefully to it.