Well, Happy New Year, friends!
Yeah…a bit late, but better late than never.
Late as it may be to do it, I want to open this year of blogging/writing by trying to put into words the big, clanging, stinging-yet-freeing shift that dawned upon me as 2014 wound to a close and made way for 2015.
* * *
At the end of last year, I felt like a failure.
Together with my fiance, I set off in early December for a month-long jaunt around Florida and Tennessee–a welcome get-a-away, but one I embarked on with a lagging spirit. I was lower than I’ve been in awhile, feeling bleary and stuck as a stick in deep mud.
The funny thing is, I did a lot of stuff that year! Like…
- traveling to New York, experiencing Open Space Technology and building valuable bonds with wild, wise, lovely practitioners new and old (OST is a tool freeing humans beings from our doomed habit of over-planning, over-controlling.)
- doing lots of graphic recording, photography and experiments in Roving Illustration (storytelling-art-community-building) at that event, and at 2 others–with Juanita Brown and David Isaacs of World Cafe fame in Tampa, and Grassroots Grantmakers’ “On the Ground” anti-conference. (galleries comin soon)
- kicking ass as first-time Lobby Manager for the Sarasota Film Festival–ie. plotting and directing the flow of hundreds of people through Sarasota’s Hollywood 20 theater for 10 intense days.
- getting and learning professional photo and video gear, editing software, and desktop publishing beast Adobe InDesign.
- helping document Broadway Church‘s “Roving Youth Corps” of young folks who spend their summer discovering, celebrating and connecting their neighbors here in Indianapolis.
- my largest-ever full-day, fully solo workshop on Asset-Based Community Development (FL)
- sharing asset-based thinking and tools with Dayton’s young River Stewards as the university’s Visiting Artist for University of Dayton’s Rivers Institute in Cleveland, OH.
- and last but not least… Meeting and getting engaged to the dashing Trae Carlson, the love of my life.
That’s a lot.
Writing all this out, I feel some pride, fullness, accomplishment. But on a deeper level, what I see–and what was dragging me down at the close of last year–is what’s missing from this list. It’s what I moved here to Indy for, and what I’ve been holding in my heart of hearts as my “True Work” for years now: on-the-ground organizing on the neighborhood level, in my own neighborhood and as a support for others in theirs.
That’s what I care about most. That’s what I most yearn to see alive in the world. That is my secret dream and steadfast calling.
So–why didn’t I do that?
To be fair, in some ways, I did. I met a bunch of neighbors, formed friendships, learned about their gifts and passions… all necessary and part of the “work” I want to do, and part of who I want to be.
But the great stories I hear my mentor-so-far, Roving Listener De’Amon Harges, and his mentor Mike Mather tell–where connections lead to new businesses, life-changing relationships, golden support in moments of tragedy, neighbor-led, income-producing produce markets? None of those. I met some neighbors. But I didn’t attempt any major connections or host more than a couple meals.
Instead, what I did last year was WAITED.
…to be told how to do this from this person I had chosen as my mentor.
…for his, and others’ golden invitations to be a part of the projects I most wanted to join.
…for direction, feedback, assignment, partnership.
Since coming to Indy, I’ve grasped for nuggets of guidance and feedback on my own neighborhood efforts. Yet without official ordainment that this is my “Role,” my task, my mission from others, none of it felt real. Meanwhile, I drifted from paying project to paying project, glad to be doing things that relate to the work but always nursing that “fraud” feeling–selling myself as a practitioner of community-building, but lacking a strong practice of my own.
* * *
The funny thing is, I got phenomenal advice waaaay back in January about not waiting.
Over steak and pasta at the last dinner of that mindblowing January Open Space New York gathering, the “discoverer” of Open Space Technology, Harrison Owen, did his damnedest to shake me out of my humble puppy mentality.
He had listened silently as answered that classic, “So what do you do?” question to the nice lady across from me. My words revolved mostly around De’Amon, the work he’s done, why his approach is so unique and cool, and how honored I am to be learning from him. Suddenly, Harrison put down his cutlery and made one of his characteristically dry, wise and irreverent declarations:
“You don’t need a mentor! Your mentor is the streets.” He proceeded to tell me his own stories of unplanned, un”ordained” community organizing: off-the-cuff neighborhood block take-over celebrations, dances for the “rough”-labeled kids, organized ninja style.
“You are a storyteller,” he said. “So be a storyteller. I don’t think there are many people who can say no to someone who comes up and asks, ‘What is your story?'”
Harrison’s words jolted my mind and core. This was such a liberating, demanding proposal.
Just… do my thing?
It seemed too extreme. I argued back–at Harrison, and in my head over the year following–about the value of a mentor for doing creative, world-changing stuff.
World-famous choreographer Twyla Tharp argues in The Creative Habit that it is natural, even essential to embrace and emulate great teachers in order to forge our own unique path to creativity and contribution to the world. While modern Western culture often shuns the idea of giving ourselves over too much as a follower of any one person, this highly original, productive and game-changing woman credits much of her own success to doing just this–literally, bodily mimicking to the tiniest of movements the actions of her choreography and dance mentors.
In the end, she did not lose herself, but rather gained a basis from which to explore and express everything that is uniquely her own. Examples of tight mentor-student bonds abound throughout history–Socrates and Plato, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, and my own mentor at the time De’Amon and his mentor, Mike Mather.
I still believe this to be true.
Yet however right I may be about the need for mentors, this didn’t fix the chasm of sadness and frustration at this particular bond to have fallen short of my hopes. What was wrong with me, that I had shown up, shown my eagerness, tried to contribute, absorb, learn and collaborate… and here I was, alone?
* * *
The glint through the gloom came in the form a three-day Buddhist conference in Weston, FL. I determined that I would get space from this swamp of turmoil that had become my life in Indianapolis, and some ringing clarity, direction, and new energy.
Over those three days, the chanting, chatting, reflecting, and lecture-listening brought a sun out in my heart.
I slowly began to grasp this: the season for waiting is over.
I have given all I can in this one direction. I have waited long enough. To stay standing on the ledge, waiting for the hand to hold while I jump is a losing plan. I needed to do something that is mine… to step into the lead on something no one had told me to do or how to do… and, well, just DO it!
As soon as I began thinking in this way, everything lifted. A new buzz began in the middle of my body as I toyed with the idea of what my “it” might be.
What bubbled up: current hero and human-crush of mine, ComicBookGirl19.
A gorgeous, sassy, highly insightful and articulate young YouTube star, ComicBookGirl19 (CBG19 for short) crafts a steady stream of highly entertaining commentaries on YouTube–all about things that she most loves to watch and think and geek out about to others. (I first found her while browsing the web for quality reviews of one of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones). In doing this, CBG19 has amassed 38k subscribers on YouTube. She is unabashedly herself. She also works with a team of friends, equally enthusiastic about their material, collaborates with others who geek out using other talents/mediums, and even uses her own platform to promote independent artists she loves.
I love her because she has gone with what she gets endlessly excited about and, in a steady torrent of full, unabashed authenticity, has unleashed her thinking, creativity, perspective, vision and voice around that thing upon the world.
As CBG19 danced around my head down there in Florida, I began to wonder:
What if I were to give full play to my own torrential enthusiasms? What if I stopped waiting for someone to say, “We want to hire you to _(insert pre-defined role here)_,” and built and populated my own platform for consistent, authentic expression? What if I just… let it flow?
What if I did something–something all my own–with regularity, focus, rigor and honesty?
What if I threw off the tense, constant need to match my work with what others in my field are doing or how they’re doing it? What if I stopped trying to classify myself as Artist OR Connector OR Photographer OR this or that, and just let myself be all of those things at once?
The clouds parted.
* * *
So, almost two months later, here’s my plan:
1) Produce *One* (1) Blog Post every day.
Every. Frikken. Day…!
I know now that the only way to break my bad run of fruitless waiting, and the misery that comes with it, is to choose something I can do, and just do it. And a daily commitment seems the only thing to shake me out of my endless timidity and lollygagging when it comes to output.
How will the rest of it come about–the neighborhood work, the partnerships and structure around those which I so deeply crave? I DON’T KNOW. But I know this: that if I don’t do something of my own, where I can trust, polish and push myself, nothing else will ever change.
2) Smash the walls of what the blog should be, setting in place a light feather of a fence around a much wider perimeter. What comes each day may be a photograph, a neighborhood story, a drawing, a video… or a painstakingly crafted commentary on something. I don’t know! I’m owning the fact that, at this point, my whole self needs to breathe, reach and tumble out without segregation from itself.
Will anybody follow it? Will it make sense? I DON’T KNOW. But I gotta try.
2) Read & Use my dear friend Kalyn’s AMAZING, brand-spakin’ new e-book, How to Set Goals and Smash Them* to flesh out the rest of my pathway forwards for this year and maybe beyond. (Kalyn, like CBG19, is another real-world heroine of mine whose work I recommend if you like to zoom and expand to the max.)
To close, a poem and some questions…
From my life mentor, Daisaku Ikeda:
“Your environment does not matter. Everything starts with you.
You must forge yourself through your own efforts. I urge each of you to create something, start something and make a success of something.
That is the essence of human existence, the challenge of youth. Herein lies a wonderful way of life always aiming for the future.”
How does this all relate (or not) to your journey? How are you living into your purpose, finding direction, doing your own thing… or what’s stopping you? What have you learned from others about these questions? Why does it all matter anyway?
* Warning: Kalyn’s language is refreshingly colorful–including a few f-bombs.