11 January 2012


What inspires you?

For me, it's easier to define what doesn't inspire. Prime-time TV. Fox News. Whiny people. Mean people.

The flip side -- what's truly inspiring -- is less easily identified. I just know it when I see it. Or when it hits me. (Yeah, sometimes it hurts.) Some things are obvious, like books or articles by my favorite authors, or art, or music. A zen koan that lands exactly where it fits best, when I least expect anything at all to fit. The taste of a new dish that I expect to be good, but that turns out to be blow-me-away, unforgettably delectable.

A color. A texture. A skein of variegated yarn that begs to be touched, worked, transformed into something useful.

A couple of weeks ago, I started idly noting the odd fixtures of my daily commute, and before I knew it, the notes and observations had begun to evolve into a poem. Who would think a person could be inspired by the stuff that comes out of the power company's waste-disposal smokestacks? But the color of that stuff just shouted a particular turn of phrase that wouldn't be quiet.

Real inspiration isn't just a good idea that takes root. It's an idea that locks itself onto your creativity and won't let go. Like a snapping turtle -- it won't turn loose until it thunders. You have to use it; you have no choice. If you don't, it will drive you crazy, like the stupid pop song that gets stuck in your head.

01 January 2012

The big picture

Several years ago, I quit making New Year’s resolutions. For me, they were just “to do” lists with all the time in the world and no accountability. However, the end of one year and the beginning of the next can be a time to reflect on where I am and where I’m going, evaluate my progress toward larger goals, and redirect as needed. This is the time to clear the clutter, decide what’s important right now, and commit to bringing that to life. It’s the time to discard what’s slowing me down and start fresh in living life well.

For years, I tried to build more structure into my goals. I wrote them down and posted them on mirrors and bulletin boards, created deadlines and to-do lists, and pushed myself to adhere – and inevitably, ended up frustrated, behind schedule, and mentally and physically drained. In recent years, I’ve learned I can only deal with so much structure before I start to feel boxed in and out of touch and seriously uncreative.

Let me explain: If you’ve had a child with ADHD, you know how intently teachers, administrators, caregivers, and mental health professionals all push the “structure” thing. Gotta have expectations. Gotta have accountability. Gotta have routine. But when the expectations, accountability, and routine become inflexible, you’re headed toward a major meltdown. If you focus exclusively on managing the ADHD, you stifle the child – and the end result is never pretty.

For me, the balance is the “big picture.” I have intended results and drop-dead dates on my calendar – and I try to ensure everything doesn’t come due at once! But I keep the day-to-day activity flexible. Once I start a project, I try to stick with it until I get to a good stopping point, but I know I work best if I have more than one project going. I need something to switch to, in case I get bogged down. I can work toward goals, but if the “pogo stick of thought” needs to bounce down a different sidewalk, both my intellect and my mental health absolutely require the flexibility to do it.

If I make a to-do list, it’s only to break out the steps involved in one short-term project, like updating all the email addresses in eight sets of documentation with five documents per set, or cooking a holiday dinner with minimal stress. (Yes, it can be done!)

The keys to making it all happen are, first, taking time to make sure the “big picture” is the one I really want in my heart of hearts – which takes time and careful contemplation, which is what December is good for – and second, accountability, which is the point of this note. I’m about to tell you what’s in my big picture. Once you know, in my mind (the part that belongs to the Recovering Preacher’s Kid who grew up in a fishbowl, always aware that everyone was watching), that makes me accountable.

A friend of mine, life coach Stacey Vicari, sends her clients and former clients a workbook toward the end of each year, and encourages us to use it to help clear out the clutter – mental and otherwise – and refocus on what’s most important to us. It’s an important exercise. When I look back at the one I did three years ago, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come in establishing my identity as a writer. When I joined Women Who Write, writing was something I did. Now, it’s become the center of who I am.

I haven’t finished this year’s workbook yet, although I’ve evaluated where I am now, in terms of self, spirit, career, family, leisure, health, and finance. And I’ve roughed in my calendar, which points me toward where I want to be when next year’s workbook arrives in my email. My goals this year – the “big picture” things – are (1) publication, (2) not just self-identification, but a degree of public recognition as an author, and (3) completing multiple challenging bike rides.

And getting the 2012 Christmas tree up before Dec. 24…

Happy New Year – here’s to productive “fresh starts” for us all!