Ten for Tuesday

Some of this stuff is a few years old, but it came to me recently, right when I needed or was ready for it. Sharing in the hopes it will be such for you as well. Whoosh! Away we go:

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Reality Bites at 25 (Studio 360)

This movie about recent college grads in Houston came out when I was a college grad in Houston. How could I not love it? I’ll fight anyone who argues against its charms. That said, listen to the segment and tell me whether starting the piece with a reference to the Big Chill is not the most aggressively Boomer thing evah. News flash: not everything is about you, behemoth generation… which is one of the subtext of the film.

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Free beyond Wires

Been pondering this piece of art since a friend posted it… what do you think?

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Climate Wars: The End of the Beginning? (Washington Post, Capital Weather Gang)

A word of cautious optimism about a story that seems to have very little.

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Equal-Opportunity Evil (Slate)

A new history reveals that for female slaveholders, the business of human exploitation was just as profitable—and brutal—as it was for men.

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Poet Jane Kenyon’s Advice on Writing (Brain Pickings)

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More at the link. Like most writing advice, it’s good advice for life too.

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Ft. Myer Construction Stories

A Facebook friend shared this page—a construction company whose employees share stories of what they do in their pursuit of the American dream. They are as diverse and infused with everyday strength as you’d expect. This site reminds me of a workshop I took many years ago about helping organizations find their purpose and mission. The trainer once worked with a group of city employees who helped fill potholes. He helped them move from “I fill potholes” to statements like “I help people get home from work safely to their families.” A lovely reminder for all of us of the power of framing and finding that deeper Yes that animates us.

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Why I Hope to Die at 75 (Atlantic)

Written by a doctor, who makes a very compelling argument… which I say with trepidation, given that I have several family members in their 70s and I’d like them to stick around for a few more healthy decades.

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“Closeness Lines” Visualizations of Relationships Over Time (Olivia de Recat)

Sweet and thought-provoking:

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An Illustrated Talk with Maurice Sendak (The New York Times)

An illustrated segment of a four minute snippet of a 2012 interview with Maurice Sendak:

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The Delicate Cages of a Stranger’s Hands, Robert Bly (Improvised Life)

In a jewelry studio at the legendary 92nd Street Y, an instructor stopped in to chat with a colleague. Her hands were adorned with more rings than I’d ever seen anyone wear. When I asked her if I could photograph them, I learned she was Honey Jeanne Laber, who had been teaching jewelry-making at the Y for 30 years. Of her 40 or so rings, only one had not been made by her — of wonderfully incongruous-but-right-at-home emeralds and diamonds that was her grandmother’s. When I asked which was the oldest, she pointed out the first ring she ever made.

But more astonishing than the rings were her hands. They were to me a surprising symbol of how very beautiful we can become as we move deeply through life — the big gift of my day.

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Onward, friends. You are all beautiful!










Gratitude... and a Pre-Announcement Announcement

The following was sent to my email newsletter earlier today—to receive content like this right to your inbox, about twice a month, subscribe.

“Increasingly I discover that being alive involves taking a chance, acting on less than certainty, engaging with life. All of this brings change, and for me the process of change is life. I realize that if I were stable and steady and static, I would be living death. So I accept confusion and uncertainty and fear and emotional highs and lows, because they are the price I willingly pay for a flowing, perplexing, exciting life.” 

-Carl Rogers

I heard this quote on a podcast while driving to a women’s retreat I led over the weekend. Carl Rogers was an American psychologist and one of the founders of modern psychotherapy as we know it. I was so struck by this quote that I pulled over to jot it down so I could refer to it later. It seemed a perfect segue into a weekend of considering improvisation as a spiritual and life practice. When we say Yes-And to what the world offers us, in a spirit of curiosity and possibility, we often find ourselves in a life that’s flowing, perplexing, and exciting. 

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It’s also a deeply meaningful message for me personally. This week marks the beginning of my fifth year of ‘free-range’ ministry. That ministry has included writing, speaking, a couple years of managing social media and communications for a global non-profit, and now, approaching my third year of leadership and ministry coaching. Not to mention running coaching, the side hustle for all my side hustles. Life is often hectic, but it’s a grand improvisation and I love it all. 

Over the last four years I’ve spoken at some 70 retreats, conferences, workshops, and guest preaching opportunities. Wow! That’s a lot of seeing the church in action, and I’m grateful for the bird’s-eye view. Add to that the wonderful perspectives I get teaching medical students at George Washington University once a month, and a new role as parish associate at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon.

There’s plenty to fret about in the world, but spending time with so many fine groups of people, and being inspired daily by coach clients, reminds me that, as Carrie Newcomer says, the things that have always saved us are still here to save us. 

Speaking of those connections… I’m excited to offer a teaser of a new initiative I’m rolling out in March, called Living Improv. These are short video conversations about how people engage with the challenges and perplexities of life in a spirit of improvisation. Some are clergy, some are not; some have studied improv, but many have not. These videos will be accompanied by a short reflection by me, plus some questions for reflection/discussion. You don’t need to be reading God, Improv, and the Art of Living to engage with these videos… but if you’ve been looking for an opportune time to get a book study going, this is it!

The videos will be released via email newsletter, so subscribe if you want to receive them.

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I am beyond grateful to each of you for these bonds of connection and curiosity we’ve forged over the years. Thank you for your wisdom and companionship.

Onward!
MaryAnn

Ten for Tuesday

It’s Monday night. Middle child has asked to be tucked in 20 minutes from now. Can I pull all these links together in that time? Let us find out. Here is a quick and dirty list of some wacky wonderful stuff I’ve accumulated to entertain and edify:

  1. A meditation by Sharon Salzburg on the power of making a difference right where we are.

  2. Zeynep Tufecki argues in Wired that It’s the “democracy-poisoning golden age of free speech.

  3. But if it is, we have at least a partial remedy, according to Ephrat Livni of Quartz: to act like a 19th-century Parisian.

  4. The remembrances of poet Mary Oliver continue with this reflection from the Improvised Life website about failure.

  5. Speaking of poets, Matthew Rohrer talks about shaking up his creative process.

  6. The beloved cringe-com The Office saves lives.

  7. For those of you who are writers, or other creative types, here are 25 highly recommended books by writer and speaker Chad Allen.

  8. I’m low-level obsessed with the MAYA principle for design and technology… and maybe life in general: “Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable.” Sounds like World’s Okayest, no?

  9. This Baltimore Sun story puts a heartbreaking face to the migrant caravan that so many in leadership want to paint as dangerous or sinister.

  10. And finally, this gorgeous tale of real love and hard commitment, from Humans of New York:

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Click the link above for the whole lovely story.

No go be awesome yourselves. I’ve gotta say goodnight to a 13 year old who still likes being tucked in.

Ten for Tuesday

Whew! It’s been a while since I offered up a nice piping hot batch of links and stuff. Here’s the latest:

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Got Mice? Time for a Working Cat (NYT)

Even feral cats can be adopted and be excellent mousers. This isn’t quite the level of “dog that can detect a seizure coming on,” but still pretty cool.

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Photographer Geert Weggen Takes Pictures Of Squirrels In His Backyard For 6 Years

Precious and amazing:

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Roseanne Cash on Trusting Your Process

I am so in love with the Creative Independent site. I find inspiration every time I visit.

I’m more willing to trust whatever that process is now. I had to learn that it’s OK not knowing in the beginning exactly what you are writing. In the past I would get frustrated and feel like I was beating on a door that wouldn’t open, but now I’m more like, “Well, let’s see where this goes.” It may take weeks before I understand what a piece is trying to be. For example, I’ve been writing the lyrics to a musical for the last four years, as well as writing the songs for this new record, which is why it took five years to get the record done.

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The Mistake I Made with My Grieving Friend (Huffington Post)

Don’t make the same mistake. Hint: it’s not about you.

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Claudia Day, Mothers as Makers of Death (Paris Review)

Ugh… gut punch.

When I became a mom, no one ever said, ‘Hey, you made a death. You made your children’s deaths.’ Meanwhile, I could think of little else.

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Mary Pipher: The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s (NYT)

I’m in no hurry to be 70—47 is pretty awesome—but I’m also excited.

By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day.

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Conan O’Brien: Nothing Matters and We’re All Going to Die (Vice)

Is it weird that I found his comments comforting? I did.

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Pooja Lakshmin, We Don’t Need Self-Care; We Need Boundaries (Op-Med)

I posted this link to my writing/speaking/coaching page, but it bears repeating:

[The] “faux self-care” that we are being offered is not actually feeding us. If feeling confident and empowered were as easy as spa days and meal delivery service, life would be much easier! Self-care is the internal hard work of making tough decisions for yourself and by yourself. It starts with recognizing that you have limits, and you really do have to choose what you prioritize because just like everyone else, you are human. It’s actually not that pleasant of a process, because it means you have to set boundaries.

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Goerge Monbiot, The Fear that Lies Behind Aggressive Masculinity (Guardian)

On Gillette, and more:

The age-old mistake, which has stunted countless lives, is the assumption that because physical hardship in childhood makes you physically tough, emotional hardship must make you emotionally tough. It does the opposite. It implants a vulnerability that can require a lifetime of love and therapy to repair and that, untreated, leads to an escalating series of destructive behaviours. Emotionally damaged men all too often rip apart their own lives, and those of their partners and children.

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Debra Dean Murphy, Why We Need Mary Oliver’s Poems (Christian Century)

Do we ever.

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And a bonus link, in which my friend and colleague Renee Roederer does a mashup of Richard Rohr and MAMD. What an honor!

What has inspired you lately?

The Joy of Yes-And

The following was sent to my email newsletter earlier today—to receive content like this right to your inbox, about twice a month, subscribe.

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You may have seen the amazing video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi absolutely nailing her floor routine—with precision, energy, and sass. If you haven’t, please check it out, and the Washington Post story about this amazing athlete.

My friend and colleague Kathryn Johnston summarized what was so powerful about Ohashi's performance:

What really caught my attention is how Katelyn Ohashi stepped back from training to be on the Olympic elite level because it was breaking her body and spirit. She decided to focus on her college career instead, and have fun doing it. Obviously from the video you can tell, she's still pretty damn elite. There's a sermon in there about going for our joy even when it's not what society says should be our joy. 

I need that sermon, as I’ve gotten myself in a bit of trouble with Yes-And lately.

Many of you know Yes-And as the cardinal rule of improvisation—we receive what is offered on stage (or in life) and build on it in some way. I’ve written about this, I speak about it, and it’s the place where I start in God, Improv, and the Art of Living.

And it’s something I still get turned around about. Too often, Yes-And becomes an excuse to add more and more to my schedule without removing anything.

We had our first snowfall in the DC area this past weekend, which meant a snow day for my kids on Monday. Meanwhile I had a number of phone calls scheduled, and a lot of “thinking work” I really needed to do.

Now, my kids are old enough to entertain themselves, and also entertain one another. I could have made those calls. I could have sequestered myself for a couple of hours and gotten the work done, popping out from time to time to make sure everyone was OK. And I have done that—it’s a staple for working parents, and a Yes-And of a sort… to say “Yes, this is a lot, and I’m going to embrace the chaos, juggling these handfuls of Jello as best I can, and being kind to myself when some of it splishes through my fingers.” A full, abundant life is a gift.

But for whatever reason, this time I took my own internal temperature, looked at the bigger picture, and Yes-Anded in a different way. I rescheduled my calls and subbed in some less taxing mental work. This enabled me to help my eldest with a looming school project, consult with the middle child on making the traditional snow-day pocket pies, and when my youngest came back in the house, stomping snow boots and shedding gloves and coat, I was ready with the hot chocolate. Most importantly, I saw this as a faithful expression of who I am and who I wanted to be that day.

Now, as Kathryn points out, Katelyn Ohashi is still performing at an extremely high level. But too often, our culture looks at people who take a step back in terms of what is lost. Maybe Ohashi will not end up at the Olympics as a result of her choice... but it’s clear from that performance how much has been gained.

Sure, sometimes Yes-And is a process of sheer addition, and making it work imperfectly and beautifully.
But other times—maybe more often—it’s about subtraction. Clarification. Deepening. 

One of my favorite follows on social media is elite runner Tina Muir. Tina is a serious athlete, logging hundreds of miles a month, and winning and placing in all kinds of races (she won the Army Ten-Miler here in DC in 2015). 

A couple of years ago, she left running altogether—arguably at the pinnacle of her own physical conditioning—because she hadn’t menstruated for nine years and had simply had enough of putting her body through that. She and her husband Steve wanted to start a family. 

Now, a couple of years later, she has a baby daughter, Bailey. She’s training again, but she trains differently. Her body has changed. She logs a bunch of her training miles with a jogging stroller. The demands on her life are more complicated. She’s also happier than she’s been in a long time.

She entered this weekend’s Disney Half Marathon with no expectations, but determined to run the 13.1 miles as best she could—to run them hard, and to run them joyfully.

Well… she won:

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...Now, just because you Yes-And and shift priorities and embrace the journey and all that stuff doesn’t mean you’re going to “win,” whatever winning means in your context. Results not guaranteed; this isn’t a formula.

But using Yes-And as a way of aligning with your deepest purpose means that winning no longer matters. The joy is its own sweet reward.

We Begin Again--A Workbook/Playbook for 2019

As many of you know, I love this time of year as a chance to ponder the previous year, clear out what needs to be released, and set some intentions for the year to come. Do I keep all of my intentions? Not even close. But that's not the point. The point is the practice itself--a process which may include self-reflection, celebration, lament, hope for the future, or all of the above at once.

Many of you have asked whether I would be creating another workbook/playbook for the new year. Well, here it is! I’ve been creating these for at least four years now, and I'm glad people find them helpful. This year's workbook/playbook is called “We Begin Again,” inspired by a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.

In the spirit of World's Okayest, some of the pages are the same as in past years, but I’ve also added some new features and prompts. One of these days, I’ll partner with one of my graphic design-oriented friends to make it extra pretty. But in the meantime... use this with my blessing.

The workbook/playbook is a PDF file in Google Drive. Once you click on the link, look in the upper right corner of the window--there are options for you to download, print (it’s formatted for front and back), or other actions. Let me know if you run into problems.

I know some of you share this resource with friends, or complete the exercises with a small group--I’d love to hear how it's being used!

May your 2019 be filled with people and things you love, and that love you back.

Onward,
MaryAnn 

P.S. Technical note: If you use this link on your mobile device and it launches the Google Drive app, you may receive an error. In that case, please copy the link and paste it into your browser rather than clicking on it:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qj02y2doiZrJ3LQdxEHfCA56T-hV-_gd/view?usp=sharing 

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This was sent to my email newsletter earlier today—to receive content like this right to your inbox, no more than twice a month, subscribe.

Ten for Tuesday

First, some housekeeping. Last spring I did a series of interviews with a bunch of interesting people about how they incorporate improvisation into their lives and work. Some of these folks have studied improv, but many more of them were new to that language. But as you’ll see, they (we) are all improvisers in different ways.

We’ll be releasing these videos in the winter, along with a leader guide so groups can use them in their study of God, Improv, and the Art of Living (or heck, these would probably work on their own without the book, but you’re gonna get much deeper with the book!). Stay tuned for the announcement about the videos, or if you want to make sure you’re notified as soon as they’re ready, sign up for my email newsletter.

With that said… it’s my last set of links until 2019. Away we go!

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IMPROV MISCELLANY

1. Learn how anxious teens gain confidence by performing ‘off script.’

2. Be amazed by Melissa McCarthy in this deep and wise profile about improv and more. (I think “no scrolling” may be a good resolution in 2019).

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LIFE AND STUFF

3. Get clarity on what “emotional labor” is and how the term is getting misused. Right from the source, Arlie Hochschild herself.

4. How an 18th-century priest gave us the tools to make better decisions. Bayes’s theorem. New to me!

5. How loneliness is tearing America apart. “On reading [Sasse’s] book, I asked myself where I might get that hometown feeling, where I have natural roots, where I can imagine being buried. No specific place came to mind.” 

6. Rethinking “political correctness.” It’s not about what you think it’s about. Thank you Jan Edmiston for this!

7. DNA test helps mother reunite with daughter she thought died nearly 70 years ago. This was one of the articles in this week’s NYT “Good News” email, and it is a bittersweet ending to be sure, but an infuriating injustice. They will never get those 70 years of relationship back.

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ART AND FUN

8. Dad Photoshops his baby into dangerous-looking situations:

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Wisdom for Times of Anxiety (with bonus playist just for fun)

The following was sent to my email subscribers this morning. To receive articles like these in your inbox, twice a month (at most), click here.

A coach colleague recently recommended the wisdom of psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, who does a lot of work around anxiety. I caught an interview with him on the Anxiety Coaches podcast, which is a decent resource for people who struggle in this way. (There are a TON of episodes.) 

In his interview on the podcast, Hanson offered a mental trick for dealing with anxious moments. As I’ve pondered it and worked with it myself, I’ve come to appreciate it as one of those simple-but-not-easy things: Let Be, Let Go, and Let In. 

Let Go and Let In both made immediate sense to me. When we’re anxious or stressed, to the extent that we can, we should Let Go of the self-defeating thoughts or behaviors that aren’t serving us. Hanson is gracious in his guidance on this one: not everything can be let go of in the moment. Don’t worry about that. We should simply see if there is something, however small, that we can release. (As I like to say, quoting Anne Lamott, “Everything I ever let go of has claw marks on it.”)

Similarly, Let In seemed intuitive enough: when we let go, we create space to let in various positive thoughts and behaviors. What helps us feel calm and centered? Breathing? A walk? Talking with a friend? Laughter? Hopeful words? Welcome those things in, Hanson says, and they can help shift us away from acute anxiety. And even if they’re not effective in the moment, they help us build habits so maybe next time, the positive behavior can defuse the anxiety before it takes over.

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It was Hanson’s first step, Let Be, that was the new revelation for me. Before we can Let Go or Let In, we need to acknowledge where we are and receive it non-judgmentally. “Observe [your experience] and accept it for what it is, even if it’s painful,” he writes

Recently I was talking with someone who had gotten tightly coiled into their own anxiety. I found myself (gently) arguing with what seemed to me like a completely irrational series of thoughts. Of course, at the time I never would have called it arguing. I was “bearing witness to the truth!” or “holding hope when they could not!” or whatever flowery language we use when justifying ourselves for trying to fix someone.

It will not surprise you to know that my assurances did nothing to calm my friend. In fact, they seemed to make things worse. Finally I said quietly, “OK, you’re right. Sounds pretty bad.” 

I wish I could say I was pulling a Hanson and letting it be, when in reality I was simply frustrated and fresh out of arguments. But wonder of wonders, the person visibly relaxed, as if relieved that what they perceived really washappening in their head, and it really was pretty bad. And fairly quickly, they were able to come to a different, slightly more centered place. 

Let Be, Let Go, Let In. 
I’m a believer!

I'd love to hear what this stuff evokes for you.

And just because it’s fun, I put together a three-song playlist on Spotify to help reinforce Hanson’s idea, and to give you a little soundtrack to try this out yourself. See if you can guess what the songs are before you click through—it should be a pretty easy quiz… 

Onward,
MaryAnn

I'm currently booking speaking engagements for fall 2019 and beyond. To find out more, or to see if I'll be coming your way, check out my Events page.

Image is from the movie Inside Out. Sadness was pretty good at "letting be" with Bing Bong.