“All good work is done the way ants do things. Little by little.” Lafcadio Hearn
Truth? I am simply the worst at mastering this concept. And I just tried to think of a time when I wasn’t so awful and came up with … oh yeah. Never.
I never perform small. If my kids wants me to make a cake from scratch, it’s going to be from scratch. I might be tempted to go buy the chickens to raise myself so I that I can also say I grew the chickens that laid the eggs that went into the cake I made from scratch. And then I’ll spend all day and all night rolling fondant and forming it into 62 perfect flowers with centers fashioned out of edible pearls.
If I’m going to reorganize the basement, then it’s going to require that I reorganize the house.
If I’m going to start a blog, it’s going to mean I post to it every single day and then conjure up some grandiose vision of what it needs to look like and what it should encompass and whom it will serve. (All of that coming straight to you in September, by the way.)
The point is, I have a really hard time with little by little because everything I want in life feels like it needs to be done massive by gigantic.
Has it served me well?
Mostly? Not at all.
Tackling everything massive by gigantically has a tendency to leave you melted into a puddle. It’s fine if it’s a marathon you run a few times a year or some major party you throw at the holidays or a room you remodel on your week off. There are projects and endeavors that require much of you in a concentrated amount of time. But for most of my life I’ve had this awful tendency to feel like I have to run some sort of marathon every single day. Until recently.
Over the past year or so, I have made every effort to seek and destroy this tendency in me. (I’ve failed at this a LOT.) Not because I no longer want to achieve anything. But because, on the contrary, I do want to achieve. Everything. And when I look at everything the way I look at baking a cake from scratch, it undoes me before I begin.
So lately, I’ve been all about baby steps. Little bits. Projects spread out over time and divided into bites I can eat politely, rather that shoveling and stuffing everything in at once.
And I’m over here, like WHOAH. Ants are the real deal. They know how to get their crap done. Because by focusing on the small steps one at a time, I have essentially given vast areas of my life complete makeovers.
I still fight that tendency. The one that urges me to do too much at once. That one dreams fiercely and fast and tries to find that best place to start only to be too intimidated and tired to start at all. But I’m learning to see that for what it is. To take a deep breath and get back to center. To just rest in the idea that everything will get done if I am measured and focused keep it small.
So that’s what this quote is for this week. To keep my thoughts measured and my work small. Because little by little is the only way to move forward when the things you’re moving toward are massive and gigantic.
I love dresses. I love them so much. Dresses (and shoes) are like pieces of artwork. And you get to borrow them for your body for a while and strut around like a walking exhibit.
But dresses will make you fat. Especially the comfortable ones. Something I’ve noticed over time is that if you wear a dress too many days in a row, you will not realize you’ve put on weight until you attempt to put on your jeans. Jeans will not forgive you for that chocolate cake you ate at ten o’clock last night.
But a dress will.
Jeans will slap you silly if you munch on potato chips. But a dress will go make you some dip to go with them.
So love your body. Wear jeans. At least a time or two a week. Because they love us toughly. And tough love is the real deal.
People. This Dog. First of all, heart is all kinds of wrapped around his … um … Tail? But let me tell you. He has kicked my butt up and down the street this week. Last weekend we decided to take him with us a on a family hike through the Lake District. It was a beautiful day. But much of the hike was very wet and even more of it was filled with sheep poop. (We live in England. I’m convinced the reason this island is so green is because it is covered in sheep poop.)
Brutus found that to be the most delightful part of the adventure. In fact, I’m not sure I even needed to bring him any snacks. Because he just snacked on sheep poop all day. We kept digging it out of his mouth and he kept right on eating it and that was Satuday. By Wednesday morning we were at the vet getting meds to clear up Brutus’s nasty gastrointestinal issue. It’s been so fun.
But it’s Friday and things seem to be on the mend on the around here. There’s no roundup this week because … well. Life with Brutus.
I’ve never been much good at sitting still. When I was in Kindergarten, nap time was the exactly right time for me get in trouble. (Be still? Be quiet? When there’s so much to say? Well, I’m so sorry Mrs. McDonough but I have to talk to someone about that smell in the cafeteria. It came from the spaghetti and smelled nothing like spaghetti and that’s something a girl like me has to get her head around.) It’s not that I don’t like to be still (although all I can think about is tomorrow and it’s awkward to hear myself swallow my own spit.) It’s just that I am the worst at safeguarding my own time, and so I tend to be the busiest person in all the world, all the time, while I simultaneously sigh and groan and carry on about how tired I am and how I have all these life goals and can never seem to get to them because I’m way too busy for myself. (Whoah. Deep breaths, girl. Calm down.)
Granted, it’s been an unusual couple of years. Leaving Florida and moving to England was a huge undertaking in and of itself that required a lot of our time. Being here and getting used to all the new things and learning every new inch of life as an expat was also quite time consuming. Then of course, there was the insatiable desire to get out and see the world from this new launch pad and so there were weeks and weeks of travel and in between the travel there were 26 house guests visiting us from the states. It was all so wonderful I can hardly I believe it. And also I can hardly remember it because I was so tired.
In June, when the kids’ school let out for half term, we took a massive road trip across Europe. It was easily one of the greatest trips of my life and easily the most exhausting too, and when it finally came time to make the summer break plans I had run out of gas. My calendar had nothing written on it. There was no trip booked, no place to be, no visitors coming … nothing. Each tiny square was gloriously blank, representing days which were gloriously blank too, and I sort of started to bare my teeth and growl every time someone even hinted at taking so much as a light pencil to one of the empty spaces.
“I need to plan a vacation and a trip home” I kept saying “but I can’t seem to bring myself to put anything in that white space right now. I feel like a dog with a meaty bone.” And so I didn’t. I didn’t plan anything. We went to the beach for a day. Went hiking for a day. A few outings here and there, but by and large we have sat in this house and we have been still. The kids have slept until noon. I reorganized the bedrooms. We got a puppy and got him house trained. We’ve done a whole lot of nothing too impressive and lo and behold it was like shoving B vitamins down the throat of my creative side.
Stillness is an unlikely powerful force. It moves the tectonics in you in subtle ways that don’t show up on seismometers. It doesn’t rattle your bones or crack your foundation. Instead it shifts your awareness to places in you that you’ve put on hold, or ignored or buried underground to keep safe until you could get back to it. And that’s where Stillness led me these last few weeks. On an expedition to find dreams I’d put away for safekeeping, a discovery of some new things I’d like to try and a mission to hit the start button on a thing or two I’d paused for so long I was afraid maybe they were stuck. (They weren’t.) The point is, Stillness moves you. And that’s really weird and therefore I was completely not ready for that illogical business.
But just because something is illogical doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, especially when dealing in the realm of the psyche and the spirit and the plate tectonics of the human soul. And sometimes it’s the illogical thing that bubbles to the surface making the most sense and bringing with it a whole new direction or sense of purpose. But it needs you to sit down and be quiet. It needs you to rest. It needs you to wait. It needs you to be still. Because more often than not, that new life changing epiphany or earth shattering idea comes to you as a subtle thing and subtle things often go undetected because we’re too busy being busy to notice. And let’s face it. A big idea needs a person who isn’t too busy for it.
While it seemed the most unnatural thing in the world to me, to leave a whole summer hanging on our calendar utterly void, something supernatural kept me from giving in to the temptation to litter it with things to do for the sake of doing things. Thankfully, our souls know better than we do and I’m happy to report I listened for once. (Although truth be told, my soul totally arm wrestled me every time I tried to make plans, and it won because it can be a badass.)
Being busy is not always a bad thing, but never being still always is. Inspiration needs you to be available, not so overly scheduled there’s no time for magic to happen. So take a few steps back. If you see some space coming up on your calendar and it’s been awhile since you’ve seen a phenomenon like that, get protective over it for a change. Say no to that lunch date and that weekend getaway and that volunteer gig and that cookout. Just for a little while. I’m not telling you to be an antisocial hermit or become an agoraphobic. I’m simply encouraging you to go radio silent for some time. Read. Journal. Listen to a podcast. Paint. While you’re busy doing nothing, fill it with something that will tickle the sleepy parts of you awake. And then reassess what that meant for you. For some, maybe it was just a delightful period of renewal and you’ll be ready to step back out into your life fully tuned into what you love and ready to do it better than ever. And for others, maybe you’ll step out to find your path is altogether different and exciting and new. So move on with that excited spirit of adventure and exploration, taking on new challenges, and giving birth to new ideas, while always actively and consciously looking for that next space in your future to make camp for awhile. Where you can fold inward, grab a cup of tea, commune with your own thoughts and be still.
“But if you have nothing at all to create, perhaps you create yourself.” –Carl Jung
People are born to create things. All things. Whether it’s something as mechanical and mathematically dependent as a space shuttle or something as colorful and texturally interesting as a Klimt painting, creations are always in our wheelhouse. And maybe that’s why this blog has gained my attention again. I had this powerful desire to create something.
It didn’t feel like the inspiration to paint something I saw or felt, and it didn’t feel like a story to write. It didn’t feel much like an invention or an LLC or melody. It is still an enigma, if I’m being honest. It’s not the clearest vision. It’s simply like a faint glow in the distance, and it’s calling me to move toward it, and each time I post here I feel like I’ve taken some steps in its direction and so I will keep coming back and keep posting the steps until it all begins to take shape.
I am a human meant for making things and so maybe I’m creating something here. Maybe something is being created in me. My hope is that it’s both.
Sometimes I feel like the real me is back there. And the sun is shining on and around me but not through me, and it’s cast a long whispy shadow out in front. And that shadow? Well that’s the thing that can’t be, but is. We’re attached. It moves like I do. Bears my shape. Goes where I go.There’s no denying that it’s mine, yet there’s no accepting what it is. Not only mine, but me. The version I’m becoming that’s there but isn’t there.
There is a struggle going on between the middle aged me and the original me. This resistance to accept what’s coming. This desire to cling to what came and went.
The other day I looked at my watch and I noticed when I turned my wrist there were … lines? Creases? Dare I call them … wrinkles? On my arms? How can that be? And then something that felt like defeat dropped into my gut while I thought “There it goes. My arm skin. And the real me is back there with the sun glistening on my young arm skin.”
I have a moment like that several times a week these days.
There is a struggle going on between the middle aged me and the original me. This resistance to accept what’s coming. This desire to cling to what came and went. And that’s what this place is for, I guess. To urge our shadow selves go and give our original selves a big hug. To go tell that little girl, that this is ok. That this is beautiful even. That there is far more dignity in embracing this than fighting it.
But what does that look like? This embracing of age? Does that mean we just let ourselves go? Does that mean we just say “faghettaboudit” and go get a moo moo for each day of the week? Certainly not!
It means we go get the best moisturizers our budgets will allow and then we marinate our arm skin in it.
And we lift weights to force that arm skin to smooth out the best it will and can.
And when that doesn’t work anymore we just say screw it and move on to delighting in decorating our arm skins with beautiful watches, gorgeous sweaters and stacks upon stacks of bracelets. Because arm skin is not what will define us. If we don’t allow it.
It means we laugh at it. And then we work with it. And then we share that laughter and our new tricks with the shadows of our friends, and maybe we walk them back to their sunlit selves and encourage and perhaps even supervise a hug between the two.
An elderly lady once told me she always felt sadly surprised by her own voice, because in her mind she was still 27, but when she spoke she didn’t recognize the sound of her own words. “It sounds like an old woman,” she said. “I’m not an old woman.” It seemed tragic to me. Not the idea of sounding older, but the idea of feeling detached–as though the only you there ever was, was youthful and spritely and she stayed back there, while some altered untethered you goes a-wandering.
I don’t think it has to be that way. I don’t know that our hearts will ever dress our age. As a matter of fact my heart will most likely forever wake up and put on a slinky dress, stilettos and a saucy shade of lipstick. But I hope my shadow self will always wink at her with understanding eyes—the warmest kind of eyes–telling her to go on with her bad self, while I put on something a little more sensible, because I’m cold and my feet hurt too much for those crazy shoes.
I’m accepting that I’ll forever exist somewhere back and forth between the two: the sunlight and the shadow. Suspecting I’ll need them both over and over again for the rest of my life, just as we all have and we all will since the beginning and until the end of time.
My heart will most likely forever wake up and put on a slinky dress, stilettos and a saucy shade of lipstick.
After all, do you know what night is? Night is just what it looks like for us to sit the earth’s shadow for awhile. It’s where things rest and stars sparkle and we watch the moon pull the tides back and forth. It’s where things cool, and when we heal. When we put up tired feet and lay down weary heads, sing lullabies and whisper earnest prayers. It’s when a long busy day in the sun winds down to the quiet comfort of a bowl of soup, a lovely story, the hugs of our loved ones. There is great hope and renewing in the shadow, and so I look forward to making it my friend.
A few months ago, I was browsing the internet, as you do when you’re bored, and per usual the news was disheartening and infuriating, Instagram was full of the same pictures of people’s food and their new clothes or the photoshoot they staged in front the Louvre and everyone was warring on Facebook and Twitter. So I tried to read a new book, but quickly grew bored. I tried to watch a new movie and maybe I wasn’t bored but it was a remake of something old and I suddenly became acutely aware of the stale air permeating everything both informative and creative and I grew ravenous for something fresh.
And so I did something contrary to what you might assume of someone who was hungry for something fresh and new and I dug backwards through history to sink my teeth into something old.
I started rereading the classics, I watched classic movies and I listened to classic rock and also Mozart and I felt like I started to come alive again. I was interested in that phenomenon. How could something like Wuthering Heights, something I’ve read several times before and something written over 170 years ago, feel fresh? Why would going to see a Shakespeare play, set in a circular open air replica of the Globe theatre, feel new and exciting? Why would listening to Def Leopard and watching Hello Dolly and staring at ancient art feel like the new “it” thing?
And I think the answer is actually quite simple. This was art when it still felt genuinely human. Before it was made up of plastic and code and created using a template rather than a muse. Back before it was only considered successful if it could be turned into a funko pop, put on a t shirt or stripped down to a barely there outfit and made to dance on stage, in full hair and makeup. Bottom line? In today’s world a starving artist, no matter how genius, is just a drain nobody has time for whereas a successful artist makes somebody rich, fast. (Never mind you, Emily Bronte and Vincent Van Gogh. Go sit back down.) And successful artists have become an easy thing to mass produce (and all things mass produced are easy things to dispose, but reality is such a drag. I shouldn’t bring it up.)
That’s not to say book deals and recording contracts are new things. Money and art have long had a complicated relationship with one another. After all, a starving artist would always rather be a rich artist and history reflects that too. A book deal is arguably what drove F Scott Fitzgerald to alcholism and near ruin. (Well, that and Zelda.) Paintings were commissioned at a high price (what’s up Leonardo?), and movie stars were rich and 80s hair bands did strip down to barely any clothes and dance on stage in full hair and makeup to make millions. P Diddy actually made no bones about it being “All About the Benjamins.” But even so, something about the art of old speaks to a part of me that lights up and I’m pretty sure it’s because it feels like it was made by a human being.
In other words, I still sense that it was art for the sake of being art. Expression. Talent. It was created by a person with a story to tell. It was painted by a person who was always pushing beyond their ability and looking for new techniques. It was sung by people who were not the best looking, or the had to most potential to sell merchandise, but people who could write kick ass lyrics and pair them with music that rang out of their souls and spoke to humanity—not the latest drama in a career-long streak of drama.
The movies didn’t have to have a billion dollars worth of special effects to be interesting, because the talent and the writing and the story itself, was interesting. The music didn’t have to be attractive. It just had to be something you could dance to, sing to, or cry to. The books didn’t have to meet some distinctive formula composed of intros, and stakes and midpoints and pinch points. They just had to have characters that felt like real people with real human issues and sometimes they got resolved in the end and sometimes they didn’t because just like in real life, not every character is going to show growth. Some are going to die miserable and mired in their same old miserable ick.
If you feel this same sense of disenchantment with the way things are, but maybe need proof that you’re not just you feeling jaded, pick up any recent book on writing and see how they instruct the reader to write a novel and then use what they teach to dissect anything recent you’ve read and any movie you’ve recently seen. It is so formulaic you’ll forget you’re looking at something that’s supposed to be art, and wonder if you’re in some weird story-generating laboratory. Look up the current most popular pop stars and listen to their music and look at their image, then look away and see if you can remember who’s who. Pull up this Youtube video and see just how country music is being created in Nashville. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FY8SwIvxj8o
Whats more, this same overly curated, consumer driven, hyper focus on image and formulas and what sells or garners interest, has infiltrated everything. It’s no longer limited to entertainment and art. The same flavorless theme is saturating behavior in general society too. People used to travel for the sake of going to experience something enlightening or educational or inspirational, and now they travel for the instagram photo. The next time you are somewhere interesting, take a look at how many people are looking at everything they see, through the camera lens of their phone. They will quite literally, albeit accidentally, fall off a cliff for the sake of getting a thumbs up.
People used to throw baby showers and birthday parties because they loved the people for whom they were throwing the party. Now the party, itself, is the important thing and it needs to be larger than life and photogenic and posted on every social media site possible and now all the people at the party are on their phones, taking and posting selfies and the person of honor is … well, who again?
The world has gone bloody mad and it’s all got me longing for the days when people were just real. They wrote what burned within them, sang the song that moved them, painted the feeling they couldn’t shake, visited the place that spoke to them, and didn’t just throw the party for a person but threw a party for the person. They were humans connected to other humans and the evidence of it was in their art, their photographs, the way they acted at parties and the many tacky thimbles on display in their living room, from that time they collected them on a road trip out west.
I understand there are no new problems. While the human condition advances from generation to generation, humanity has stubbornly remained very much the same. Artists have always hoped to sell their art so they could make a living doing what they love with their God given talents instead of relegating it to a side hustle and people have always been eager exploit one another if it meant more money in their own pockets. It’s human nature to want to be liked and to have people recognize you for being pretty or having something cool or throwing a great party. So new? No. It’s not at all.
We’ve just gotten really good at its production. We know what sells. It’s easy to make was sells. And so why take a chance on talent that doesn’t check all the boxes of what sells, when you can safely draft this kid off the street and turn her into what sells? We know how to curate and package and publish a lifestyle on instagram that farms a lot of likes and maybe even enough likes to get paid by affiliates. Society wants to buy it, it’s easy to produce it, and as long as people keep consuming, this will be one of the many challenges to humanity in the upcoming 2020s. A paradox of cheap entertainment that pays back in the millions, even though it’s all bland. It’s all the same and we’re all bored and they’re all rich but everything is disposable and forgettable and nobody is really feels anything anymore.
And long story short (ha. right.) that brings me to what I’m doing here. I want to reconnect with the world in meaningful ways. I’m looking for the stories that make people and places and books and music and food and art interesting again. I know I can look through the archives of history to find the interesting things. And I’m hoping I can find some diamonds in the rough of the contemporary. To find new ways to connect with it too. If for no other reason than to reassure myself that there is still life out there that looks like real life. That it’s not all part of a factory or huge money printing machine.
I’m hoping you’ll help too. That we can be a community of hunter-gatherers who scour the earth for the things that are lovely and then bring them back here so we can all feast upon them in a nourishing way. I’m hoping we can reconnect. To one another. To the world around us. To ourselves—which are so easily misplaced in this chaotic and gluttonous environment. And I’m hoping through all of that, that maybe we can be changed. Not because we need to show growth in some mechanical formulaic way. But because we should show growth in the most organic and natural of ways. Through human connectivity and expression. Changed from the inside out. As history has always reflected and art has always intended.
I believe it still exists so let’s go find it. And we can post our discoveries to social media, just to be cheeky.
When we moved overseas there was a time when every single thing was a struggle. We failed at something every day. Whether it was learning how to drive on the other side of the road, how to use the washing machine or something as simple as where to buy groceries, everything was hard and there was failure everywhere and when there are too many days in a row of feeling like a failure, it can start to mess with your head!
“Finish every day and be done with it.” Emerson’s quote is proof that these feelings and anxieties have afflicted the human spirit for a long time. Do not allow your day to be stolen from you by the feelings you have about yesterday! Be done with it! We all tend to struggle here but it is a struggle of the mind and NOT reality. The reality is there is a solution to almost every problem. And most problems are made overly complicated by our sense of anxiety over it.
Try to sit down. Take a deep breath. Make a cup of tea. See the problem for what it is. If it can be solved by something being done (and most problems can be) then it’s likely not a failed life but rather, simply a failed task. And that is empowering news. Failed tasks usually require nothing more than some time allotted to them and a different approach to tackling them. That is literally it.
Every day after the move, we woke up to new opportunities to meet the struggles of yesterday as well new and unforeseen struggles with which to contend. And every day we grew more confident in our ability to meet the challenge and solve the problems. It didn’t happen overnight, and in fact it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. But now it feels like we’ve lived here all our lives. I can so easily recall the feelings of stress and exhaustion of those first months, and yet they feel so strange compared to how routine and easy things have become.
So rest confidently in the idea that you were created with a brain meant to solve problems! And you were gifted with 24 hours a day to do that! And lookie-here! Today is a whole brand spanking new set of 24 hours. Untouched by any sort of failure. So try again. And if it doesn’t work, you’ll unbox 24 more hours and a renewed hunger to solve it tomorrow, and that means anxiety and fretfulness have are of no meaningful use to you. What a relief to know you can show them to the door.