September, 2014

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Monday, September 29th, 2014

“Do you find the tension between seeking contentment and desiring more, difficult? I do, certainly.”

Those were the closing lines of an email I received last week from a woman who has lived more life than I – and just like that, she so concisely distilled my entire life’s dilemma. Perhaps you relate?

Contentment in its truest form is a beautiful thing, and worth cultivating. But personally, I can easily confuse contentment with complacency – an artificial version of “satisfaction,” keeping my dreams and desires in the OFF position.

Contentment should never be at the risk of betraying one’s heart.

I used to feel a little sheepish that I (still) love the song “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid – but not anymore. Why shouldn’t I love it? The lyricist, Howard Ashman*, perfectly articulates the honest acknowledgement of restless desire, regardless of how much one has – which is actually quite profound.

I want more.

When’s it my turn?

Contentment and wanting more seem to be in direct opposition of each other – and like my friend Joey recently said, “I think that for some people, it’s honestly just harder to be happy.” And if it hadn’t been 10 in the morning, we would have clinked whiskey glasses.

The trouble with wanting more is that we’re never satisfied. The beauty of wanting more is that it cracks our lives wide open – for better and for worse, but ultimately for better. It’s like when you love someone. Loving makes you vulnerable to pain. Loving means there’s a lot to lose.

Loving can make you afraid. But being loved means you don’t have to be.

I don’t know that any of this makes much sense, and I don’t know if I even mean for it to. All I know is that I want MORE – and I’m not talking about the material things (although I’d definitely take another pair of Frye boots if you’re offering), but just… more. Life. Depth. Beauty. Freedom. I don’t want to play it safe – because this is what Mary Oliver calls my “one wild and precious life.”

What if there’s more for me? What if there’s more for you?

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(Once on a trip to Texas, I forgot pajamas. I raided the Target sale rack, and obviously chose this.)

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*From what I’ve learned about Howard Ashman (and trust me, I’ve obsessed over the man), I so wish I could have met him. His work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin is some of the best musical storytelling there’s ever been. Watch this short clip, and try not to fall in love with him. And then watch this longer clip and witness Jodi Benson sing like a laser beam.

Writing as light

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The darkness of this world has been weighing me down and sucking me under, cinderblocks tied to my ankles. You know what I’m talking about; all the news is bad. Every day is full of incessant sound bites, ISIS and Syria and Ebola and child abuse and gunmen hiding in the woods. It’s enough to give even the most stalwart a panic attack.

My heart has been beating more rapidly these days, and my fingers have been twitching. It’s not that I’m necessarily afraid for myself (although perhaps I should be). But at a very physical level, this world is not a safe place – and yet here we are, living complicated lives that slap against others’ complicated lives like BBs in a pinball machine. Life should come with a warning: Brace yourself – this is gonna hurt.

Which is why this weekend meant so much to me.

I was invited to attend a workshop called the Art of Songwriting hosted by the Nashville Treehouse. It was fairly last minute, and I had to rearrange some pre-existing travel (to Seattle – which is a trip I’ll need to make up soon). But the writer in me has been in need of some TLC (not this) (or this), and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Fifteen women gathered for two days, and we had a chance to share songs, share stories, co-write, and learn from each other. It could so easily have turned into a competitive game of comparison – because shoot, these ladies could WRITE – but somehow, everyone seemed to bring their most authentic self and check any ego at the door. I was shocked. It was beautiful.

As I drove to the Treehouse, I made a conscious decision to shut the door on all of the darkness and stress and jam it with a folding chair.

And sometime during those two days, full of freedom and light and encouragement, it occurred to me that jamming the door is nothing new for me. I’ve been a professional door slammer since I was 14 (just ask my parents) – but in the last couple of years, I’ve been jamming it in the wrong direction. I’ve been doing it to my writing. I’ve blocked it out, said no, curled up in the dark closet where it’s “safe,” hoping that the boogeyman doesn’t find me.

But the only way to scare off the monsters is to bathe them in LIGHT. And that’s what writing is for me: pure luminosity.

I had forgotten. But this weekend reminded me, and I’m grateful. Kim and Paulette, thank you for hosting us – and Abby for this beautiful video!

The Art of Songwriting Sneak Peek from Nashville Treehouse on Vimeo.

Grace and potatoes

Monday, September 8th, 2014

In the last month or so, I’ve been having a quiet mental breakdown.

I say “quiet” because it’s not like I’m falling apart. I’m waking up and exercising and getting my work done. I painted a wall in my living room the other day. I’m meal planning and taking Foxy on walks and meeting friends for drinks and boarding airplanes and generally just taking care of business.

But every night, I climb into bed and stare at the brick wall across the room, the one that sold me on the house – because hello, charm. But in these nighttime moments, it’s felt like a metaphor for something going on in my soul, something that I struggle to name but have been feeling on a daily basis.

I’m up against it.

I’ve just really been up against it these days, you guys – that desperate feeling that sneaks up for no real reason and with no real warning and tells me that the hard things are never going to get better, and that the things I desire aren’t worth hoping for. I wonder if my days have any purpose. All it takes is one quick trip down the rabbit hole that is Instagram to look at dozens of other people’s worlds that appear more lovely than mine, for a dozen different reasons that really aren’t worth listing, and I’m hit with that same old question: does my life matter at all?

I don’t mean to be dramatic. This isn’t a cry for help or a plea for people to validate me (that would make me embarrassed). But I just wonder if I’m not the only one who sometimes feels this way – futile and insignificant, like I should do more or have more or be more.

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Recently, I stood with my friend Becca over her garden in Minnesota, and she confessed that this year she and her husband had neglected the potatoes that they planted, not doing any of the things that they “should” have done to guarantee a good crop. But even so, their garden has produced dozens of pounds of beautiful, perfect potatoes.

“I look at my garden and I see grace,” she said. “We didn’t do anything to deserve potatoes. But we got them anyway.”

And then she picked some fresh strawberries and gave them to me to eat.

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I’m in the weeds these days. Some are there by my own negligence, some despite my best efforts – either way, they’re messing with my perfect little plot. Because when the things you hope for just aren’t happening and the things you despise just won’t go away, at some point you just want to throw up your hands.

But could it be that there is something good growing underneath?

I think that’s what grace is: the generosity of good things, whether or not we’ve earned them, whether or not we choose to acknowledge that they might be developing.

September

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Well, hello September.

I’ve made nary a murmur in this place for over a month. You want to know why? It’s a little thing called a J-O-B. I went back to work on August 4, and that was that. Because listen, I don’t care how much you love your job – going back after 5 weeks off is rough. August was rough. August was hot. August was a slog, retraining my brain to think in terms of “way too many details” and “never-ending emails” and “calendar deadlines.”

But here we are, August behind us, and September ahead. It’s my sincere intention to write more in September – and I think that maybe that starts tomorrow. For today, let’s play catch up.

In the month of August, I walked hundreds of miles. There are times in my life where my workouts are more than mere walks, but for August, I stuck to hoofing it. As you can see, my “bike to work” days were few and far between – that’s another thing that’s going to change in September.

August

Something else that I’m committed to for September: sticking to using cash envelopes. I need financial accountability, and cold hard Benjamins (okay, Jacksons) seem the best method for right now.

Here’s something we need to talk about: awful TV shows. In August, I watched True Detective and House of Cards. And then I felt so hopeless about the human race that this weekend I binged on season 4 of Friday Night Lights just to renew my faith in humanity (or at least the television version thereof).

I’m realizing that I do not want to consume stories in which I hate every single character. I do not want the good guys to be bad guys. I do not want to immerse myself in narratives with no element of redemption. I don’t care if “the character development is amazing.” I don’t care if “the acting is incredible.” I really, really don’t care if “these shows are a more accurate representation of real life” – because I have to believe that real life includes a lot of good, even if it’s intermingled with the hard.

This month, I’ll be spending time in Boston, Minneapolis, and Seattle – some pretty great places.

Since I last wrote, I had a birthday and so did Foxy Brains! My tiny puppy has turned into a full grown 1-year old dog, and I couldn’t love her more.

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Summer is winding down, fall is on its way, and thank goodness – because sheesh, I am in need of some newness. I hope today somehow feels new for you.