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Comparing Diminishes My Authenticity

Kira Elliott Comparing

“Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason and Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable. ” ― Brenda Ueland

The morning is heavy. The air  thick and damp as blue jays squawk and screech high in the trees. I smell remnants of the neighbors bon fire from a party that went late into the night. Fog hovers low to the ground. Summer is waning. I see the signs as I ride my bike through the woods. Patches of leaves at the far end of branches turning a yellow or orange hue. A single golden oak leaf on the dirt path. Canadian Geese flying in formation high in the sky. Or simply the fact I had to start wearing sweaters and jackets when I left the house each morning last week.

I feel myself shifting too. I took last week off of writing, or really any creating, for the most part. It was not intended. It was as if I needed to recalibrate after a month of intense creative activity. I wrote in my journal but other than that, I was empty and still of words. Even in my meditation practice, my normal bouncing, planning mind was conspicuously quiet and still. I found myself sitting each morning on my black cushion following my breath with relative ease.

Yet lurking in my belly was a nagging anxious feeling. Not my normal anxiety that stomps around and yells loud and clear most days. No this was deep, more primal, almost a low growl. All week I felt uneasy and flat. Like I shut down and was hiding.

On Thursday morning this unease finally came into focus. I caught the edge of this deep low growl in my belly writing in my journal. I heard the fragments of a story I know so well. The weekend before I had co-hosted a Kindred Connection workshop with Jen Lee and Anna Oginsky. It was an intense and awesome day. I met so many brilliant, fiery, creative women making not only beautiful and powerful art but wonderful lives as well. I left inspired and connected. And I left drained and questioning my own validity as a maker.

I hate to admit this but I struggle with comparing my writing and other creative work to others all the time. It is a constant nagging thought. I think it is endemic of my chronic not good enough feelings I acquired growing up. For me, I worry my writing is too messy, not clear, and oh, too many images streaming along not making sense. I worry my visual artwork is just scribbles and crap, that I am deluding myself thinking it is beautiful. I get frustrated that I continually seem to return to images and ideas from my childhood. I tell myself, I must grow up. Make something pretty, simple and clear.

Yet what shows up in my work is somewhat messy, not so mainstream, not so happy most of the time. So I embrace what does show up and I allow it to grow. That is who I am, what is in me. My writing style is not a standard literary style, it is not going to win any great awards, but the point is I love writing, it helps me to clarify. I love the images that pour out of me. Many times these images  and words will stay with me for days. Writing and drawing are almost like dreaming on paper; they me help figure out my insides.

I have found the more I embrace my voice the stronger it becomes and the less I compare. I show up for me first and honestly that feels really good. There are not too many places in my life where I can put me first—on the page or canvas I can. I need to remember that comparing diminishes my authenticity.

It is so easy grab hold of the habit to compare and think we are doing it wrong or have to be different. It is easy to think that who we are or where we came from is not good enough. Letting go of this habit, impulse or whatever you want to call it, is hard. I am not sure the habit ever goes away.

I think we learn how to recognize comparing when it shows up, say hello to it and then tell it not today as we move on with our work. The hard part is we still know it is sitting in the corner of our hearts, just out of sight and we have to muster the courage to forge forward anyways despite the annoying comparison habit still there growling low in our bellies.

 

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart.

Is There a Time and Place for Authenticity? by Claire De Boer- This is a thoughtful post exploring where, when and how much to share about ourselves. This is something I grapple with tremendously. Transparency is important to me and I struggle with being seen as I really am. The habit of hiding in plain sight still lives in my cells.

Meditation on Gratitude and Joy by Jack Kornfield- Strange but gratitude and joy can be difficult emotions for me to sit with. It is through deliberate cultivation I have learned to grow and allow gratitude and joy to flourish in my life. I love this line from this meditation, “Gratitude is confidence in life itself.”

How Painting Can Transform Communities by Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn- This TED talk explores how art empowers and transforms entire neighborhoods.

Make Your Laziness Be Real Rest by Caroline Knox- I love this poem. This is one I would be well served to read everyday as a reminder of how productive rest can be.

Interview with Lidia Yuknavitch on Other People Podcast– Two things about this: 1) Lidia Yuknavitch is beyond an amazing author. Read her now. I had to pull over and take notes while listening to this interview. One of my notes, self-expression is better than self-destruction. Yes, that is why I must show up and write. 2) I know I have said it before but Brad Listi’s Other People podcast is by far one of the best podcasts out there. Engaging and always interesting. Go listen to it.

And finally, Registration for Writing to Open Your Heart is open. Register now and save. We start writing together on September 16, 2015.

Do you have questions about if my writing workshops are right for you? Or any other questions you want to ask?

Join me for Open Office Hours! I am holding open office hours on Wednesday September 2, 2015 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm EST to answer your questions via live video chat (same system I use for workshops). Send me a private message HERE and I will send you the link to join me.

 

 May you find the courage to create what arises this week and kick the habit of comparing to the curb. ~ Kira

3

I Tell Myself Stories

Kira Elliott Stories

“The knowledge of the past stays with us. To let go is to release the images and emotions, the grudges and fears, the clingings and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit.”
― Jack Kornfield

I tell myself stories. Even when I don’t know I am whispering deep inside my mind. If I pay attention and listen, the stories I tell reveal what motivates me, scares me and holds me back from my dreams.

The other day I saw a homeless couple camped out on a street corner before a freeway ramp. He was standing on the curb holding a cardboard sign scrawled in black marker saying, Need Money for Food. She was sitting on the dry grass behind him, her hair thick dreads that hung down her back. She looked annoyed and seemed to be yelling at him.

I sat in my car waiting for the light to turn and assumed she was telling him he wasn’t begging for money right. I found myself feeling sorry for the guy and getting mad at her for not getting up and begging herself. Soon I was thinking about how many times I see women defer to men and doubt their capabilities.I also told myself they were junkies and if I gave them money it was going to go for dope. All this from watching a homeless couple sitting on a corner for about 2 minutes.

And then I stopped mindlessly thinking about this couple and brought myself back to the present moment. I don’t know how they found themselves sitting on a street corner in Detroit begging for money? I don’t know if they are “faking” at being homeless to get money for dope. I don’t a thing about that woman or why she yelling at that man, I assumed was her boyfriend. In a short span of 2 minutes I made a lot assumptions and filled in a back story for these people.

I tell myself stories to make the world around me fit in with what I know and believe. So while this example of telling a story to myself seems harmless I also tell myself other stories that aren’t so harmless.

I am in the process of gathering courage to submit some of my writing for publication. This terrifies me. I procrastinate. My anxiety levels boil over. I feel like I am standing on an edge of a cliff and it is time jump. It feels like life and death. I know these feelings are blown out of proportion for the reality of submitting my work to websites and journals for publication. And yet these feelings have stopped me for years and have created a lot of unnecessary drama.

After writing for what seemed like weeks in my journal about these feelings, looking at them in every which way, I realized I was telling myself a story, deep in my marrow, about what happens when I submit my work.

In my version of the story I see all the smart, preppy girls from high school. The honor students with matching pink and green sweater sets and Jordache jeans. The girls with shiny long blonde hair. The ones who actually read the reading assignments and could answer the questions when asked. The girls who moved to the other side of the hallway to avoid walking next to me. (I was the girl who skipped school at least once a week and went outside everyday at lunch to smoke. I dreamed of writing great essays and stories but life was too demanding for me to show up for writing beyond my journal.)

In the story I tell myself about submitting my writing, these are the girls, now women, who are the editors of the world. They are reading my submissions. I see them rolling their eyes, laughing out loud, saying oh hell no and throwing my words into the gray garbage can with scraps from yesterday’s lunch. I see them printing out my words and passing them around the office, everyone double over, clutching their bellies laughing at me and my words. Yes, this is a powerful story I tell myself and most likely not true. Yet, it has stopped me for years from submitting my work.

Here is what I know is true. Submitting my work is me sitting alone in my little office, writing cover letters, uploading files and clicking submit. Nothing more than that. The crickets and cicadas sing in the overgrown garden, the fan gently oscillates, my gray cat sleeps on chair next to me. There are no mean girls from high school laughing at my audacity to think I can be a writer. Nope, just me alone doing my work. Sure I have no idea what happens when my work is read or even if it is read. But that is none of my business at this point, if ever. My business is to submit my work.

Last weekend I submitted 5 separate pieces to various journals and websites. This week I plan on submitting 3 more. This is my next step for myself as a writer. It is scary and thrilling at the same time.

I don’t think I will ever stop telling myself stories. Stories are the way I navigate and try to make sense of the world. I need to be mindful of what the stories are and check with the reality of what is actually happening.

Here is the this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime by Nadine Burke Harris- This TED talk by Nadine Burke Harris discusses the importance of screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences. She talks about how she is making changes in her practice to have better health outcomes. She maintains this is a great threat, if not greater, to public health than smoking. I have to agree. As someone with an ACE score of 9 (which is really high) I know that intervention and lots of self-care can change long term health outcomes.

On Confidence and Community- Women Who Submit by Ramona Pilar- As I mentioned above, I am working on submitting some of my writing to places for publication. And this scares the crap out of me. I am another cat under the bed but only I am hissing at anyone who gets remotely close. Reading this post infused me with confidence and let me know know I am on the right track.

Feral Body Wisdom: Another Layer by Kimberly McGill- This is a beautiful, lyrical post about befriending our bodies and listening to the deep wisdom stored inside. The line, “ After that incident in the pool, seemingly out of nowhere, a full sentence formed in my mind: Your body isn’t the culprit. It isn’t the trauma.” has stayed with me all week. This is worth hanging up on the wall above my desk so I see it everyday. My body is partner, my friend. I am not at war with it.

Columbia Record and Tape by Allison Joseph- I found Lumen Magazine looking for places to submit my work and I have fallen in love. I love this poem and all of the specificity of details that take me back to my early teen years. Can anyone else relate?

Come Closer by Brenda Miller and Lee Gulyas- I love this collaborative essay written from a series of photographs. The idea of writing from same photographs and seeing what happens is intriguing. Stories are contained in images.

An Interview with Lee Gulyas and Brenda Miller by Carmella-Guiol- Interesting to read how the process worked to write a collaborative essay.

May you uncover the stories you tell yourself and let them go this week. ~ Kira

 

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Five Facts About Me

Kira Elliott Fair

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”  ― May Sarton

I shared these five facts about me on last week in social media as part of Susan Conway’s August Break but I thought I might share here these here on my blog too. This was my favorite prompts because I got to learn so much about others. Things we don’t normally share with folks. Things that unless you are living with me day after day, you wouldn’t know. I think I also I liked this prompt so much because it is in the sharing of details about ourselves we open our hearts.

So here are five facts about me (and ones I have not shared here, at least I don’t think so).

  1. I hate washing my hair. I wash it maybe once a week. This started when I grew my hair long after having it cut in a short pixie cut for about ten years. I think I keep my hair longer now just so I don’t have wash it.
  2. I smell like patchouli and sandalwood. I admit it, in my late teens I was a deadhead. I also admit I was following the drugs and lifestyle more than I was following the music of the Grateful Dead. This is a long complicated story I will one day write about.
  3. If I didn’t get so sick I would still smoke my camel cigarettes ( it’s been 20 years since my last smoke). I mean I loved to smoke. I started smoking when I was 11 years old. I used to smoke 3 packs a day. I quit cold turkey and it was one of the most painful things I have ever done.
  4. Drawing a simple line makes my heart sing. Seriously, there is nothing that makes me swoon more than a strong organic line in a strong composition. My artwork is abstract and reflects the simplicity of early mark making. I am not sure most people get my artwork, it is not mainstream.
  5. Writing has saved my life and continues to do so. (Okay, I have shared this one but it is so fundamental to my being I had to include it.)

Ok, now I feel rather exposed, I am admitting to some of my hoodlum past. These are some of facts about me that make me what I call scrappy but are never the less part of me. I will also admit that I have struggled to embrace and celebrate all of me and I still do sometimes.

What are facts about you that you struggle to embrace and celebrate?

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

On Books and Unrequited Love by Claire Handscombe – Books are my solace in life. When I finally learned to read at 10 years old (Dyslexia and a bad school system got in the way before that) books became my mother, mentor and guide in life.

Put the Hammer Down by Anna Guest Jelley – So much wisdom in this post. I am guilty of holding a heavy hammer over myself with regards to anything to do with my body, including body acceptance. I agree 100%, it is awareness of what my body needs at the moment.

You Don’t Need Anyone’s Permission To Do What You Want to Do by Valerie Martin- I admit I am a permission junkie. I don’t like this fact and I work to have awareness of when I am looking outside myself for permission to take care of myself or just being my authentic self. For me the root of seeking permission is me wanting to be good enough.

How to Handle Overwhelm by Monica Fauble- I will give you a hint, the key to handling overwhelm is the hardest thing in the world for me to do.

And Finally, Instant Groove by King Curtis- Some soul to inspire you to do your own thing, because everybody’s got a thing.

May you embrace and celebrate all the facts about yourself this week. ~Kira

 

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Drop the Heavy Load

Kira Elliott Drop the Heavy Load

“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?”  

― Brené Brown

I have struggled writing this post today. 3 drafts sit half completed on another tab in my browser window. The space behind my eyes throbs rhythmically like the bass at a dance club shaking my insides. I tell myself a cold front is coming through in a few hours because I don’t want to admit I am having a migraine headache. I have things I need to get to done— to do lists, bike rides and lots of writing.

Looking at the endless blue sky through the window my heart slows as I follow my breath and allow my shoulders to release down my back. I breathe and inhale deep into my lungs picturing the tender pick vibrant sacs that billow up thousands times a day, the capillaries pulsating with blood. I think of my heart pumping, the valves clicking open to push the warmth sticky blood up around and out through my aorta. I hear the leaves from the maple rustle in the midday breeze.  My eyes squint to dim the bright sunlight. I want to lay my head down.

This morning I stood at the kitchen sink watching robins plump, red and many dot the verdant lawn, pecking seeds and earthworms finally up from the damp earth. The landscape is rich and full, buzzing, chirping, singing with life. August sweetness has arrived, I want to go out and ride my bike.

Instead I sink back in my chair, I dream of Tuscany or Florence, maybe Myriad. I want to eat sun dried tomatoes or olives dropped from trees in little rows on a hillside in Greece. I want crystal blue seas outside my window with fresh daisies and camellias to wait for me in an old white porcelain vase with a chip on the lip.

I know I need to rest, slow down, drop the heavy load of should, good enough and perfectionism. I know when the body says rest, to rest. Yet shock waves of guilt and frustration tremble throughout my body too. What I don’t know is how to rest without guilt, despite years of study and practice. I have so many books to tell me how to obtain this delicate balance of rest, peace and listening to the body. You know the books, the ones all of the seemingly perfect people with long golden hair, white teeth, eternally happy, holding a green smoothie and sunshine that rests on their shoulders are reading.

In an effort to feel better, I go to the web sites designed to exceptional perfection, you know the full screen fluid layouts with bright compatible colors and fonts so damn happy I feel bad reading them but then I don’t because I internally slap myself and tell myself to stop being petty, be happy for others fortune.

So I search for what I what I need but I don’t want to know. I know I need a day off but not today. Over the last 2 weeks most days when I wake at 5:30 am I think of taking the day off to sway in a hammock, read a pile of books and not think about what needs to be done. But I want to choose the day so I can be productively unproductive. Today is not my choice.

I wonder if it counts if I schedule a slowdown day 3 months out and pray for good weather, kind of like what you do when you are planning a wedding or a bat mitzvah? I sit at the table squinting to reduce pain in my head and scroll through my calendar to seek a day free or even a half a day, like a heat guided missile but I miss my mark. I want to implode, as my days are stacked with little yellow, blue and green boxes, each filled in with tiny print telling me where to be and what to think about. It is no wonder my head feels like hot pokers are searing the fragile matter of my mind.

I breath and watch the clouds drift by trying to ignore the pain in my head. I think of lemons mingling in ice water, the tang of the tart puckering my mouth. I think I shall return to my bed and rest this over taxed weary brain.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart.

Not Writing by Anne Boyer- At times writing can feel like a heavy weight I am dragging behind me. Another should I have to address in my life. And yet the drum beat calls and I have to write, even if only for myself.

To Mother by Karen Salyer McElmurray- This is part of Marginalia, an ongoing conversation between two writers via letters. The issues of mothers and mothering is a recurring theme in my life. I am soaking in the way Karen describes what mothering might be in these three women.

Geography Lessons by Jaclyn Dwyer- Beautiful, powerful writing.

Writing Advice by Mandy Stadtmiller- Good solid advice about writing, especially the section about why and what you really want to write.

Unconditional Love and Your Inner Kid by Anne Heaton- How well I treat my creative self and work has been arising in my mind a lot lately. Anne reminds us to treat ourselves with the same unconditional love we would a kitten. How do we not hold ourselves hostage to get the work done. Anne says it so well.

De-Cluttering is the New Juice Cleanse (And Equally Annoying) by  Maureen O’Connor – So I am not a minimalist and never will be. This post sums up some of my thoughts about de-cluttering. I have to be careful or else it will lead to more feelings of not being good enough. I have enough of that.

Get Rid of Clutter and Live Abundantly by Mallory Ortberg- Here is a witty piece about the extremes of creating a sublime life living with less. This made me laugh.

Open Hearted Wisdom Circle is this Wednesday, August 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm EST. We are talking about Open Hearted Writing Practice this week. Open Hearted Wisdom Circles are free facilitated groups that foster the opportunity for not only deep sharing but deep, focused listening, which helps us hear the wisdom in our hearts. There are a few spots still open. I hope you will join us. More information here.

May you find space in the coming week to drop the heavy load, whatever that may be. ~Kira

 

 

7

Accept the Goodness

Kira Elliott Carnival

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu

I am sitting at my desk listening to the music of a damp summer morning. A squirrel is sitting in the maple tree making a squeaky clucking sound over and over. It sounds like he is talking with a cardinal who is singing sweet melodies with the tiny finch and other song birds. Sheets of rain finally poured from the sky overnight dampening the dry earth. Every now and then the droning buzz of a cicada rises and falls. Early morning light cast soft shadows across the wet grass.

Everything feels rich, moist and full—peaceful.

I love mornings like this, space to linger and notice. To feel the warming air wrap around my bare legs, to smell the earth and listen to the sounds of the neighborhood before people wake up. This space also grants me the opportunity to feel and listen to what is happening inside my body, mind and soul.

Today I feel rested and relaxed. My joints feel loose and open. My muscles are not achy from tension and stress. My mind is alert and noticing but not hyper aware. I feel like I can let down my guard and not scan for danger. My breath deep, full and measured. I don’t have to force it. Everything is ok, I don’t feel called to change, fix or do. This is peace for me.

This is also kind of rare for me and my inquisitive brain wants to dive in and figure out what created this state of peace in me. I want to know so I can replicate and never suffer again. My mind starts going over the last few days to see what conditions may have contributed to the development of this moment.

A few things come to mind right away.

The power went out at the office of my day for two days, so I had an unexpected long weekend. Those two extra days of less stressing helps. Or maybe it is because I finally started work on proposal to teach writing workshops locally. Just starting the proposal released tension and fear I didn’t know I was carrying. Procrastination always creates a feeling of constriction in my belly, my shoulders and my breath.

Or maybe it is that after 12 years away from working in ceramics, I took a leap and enrolled for an independent study class at a local art center. The last few Saturday mornings I stand in the a dusty ceramic studio in the basement of a 100 year old building wedging my clay. Ceramics was the center of my creative work for years. I was immersed in using clay to transform me and tell my story. Today after so many years away, I feel a little awkward yet my body and soul remember what it feels like to put my hands in the cold wet clay. I intuitively remember what to do and how to push and mold the clay to tell my story.

Ceramic work and visual art in general is an essential part of me that I have been neglecting for years. Really since D. died over 3 years ago and my son Max moved out. I am gathering these parts of me I left behind as I grieved and transitioned to a new phase of my life. I didn’t know letting go, learning how to slow down and that there is nothing to prove to anyone could take so much energy.

It may be some or all of these things or it may simply be that my hormones are balanced, or I got enough sleep last night, or I had enough alone time. The bottom line is, I am not sure why the peaceful state, and I don’t need to know. For me letting go of the need to know is more important than knowing. This is where I take a risk and just accept the goodness.

So it is late July, life is teeming with possibility and abundance. Today I am going to let myself rest and watch. Rest and allow. No doing or fixing. No knowing. Just accepting.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

The Secret Language of Girls on Instagram by Rachel Simmons- A fascinating look at how tween girls use Instagram to compare, connect and get validated. I think of how hard middle school and high school was for me, the ache of constant striving to figure out where I fit in until I finally gave up and followed what I thought was my own path but I can see I only disconnected and put up huge walls to protect myself. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to be a young girl today. So much pressure and no where to hide.

Just Don’t Do It by Debbie Cameron- Another feminist article but this time about the debate of policing women’s speech. Very thought provoking and well worth the read.

Transforming Lack Into Abundance- Seeing the So Muchness by Shulamit Ber Levtov- I love this post about Shulamit finding a new definition of abundance and shifting a moment of craving into something bigger and infused with peace. I have to admit when I read headlines about abundance I tend to stiffen up a bit. I don’t want to read about magical thinking and creating more but this is about the seeing and allowing the abundant world we live in.

Attention is Not Our Currency by Sarah J. Bray- Jen Lee shared this on Facebook this week and I had to share. Wow, we don’t do our work to win the popularity contest but rather because we are called to do the work. No matter what amount of attention we get we need to keep showing up to do our work. Another post well worth the read.

As I mentioned I am dabbling (can I really dabble) with some ceramic work again. These artists make my heart swoon and my creative juices flow.

Sexy Ceramics by Justyna Karamuz
Ceramic Drawings by Katharine Morling

I am pleased to announce a couple of ways we can connect in the next month.

I hope you will join me and other women on August 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm EST for an Open Hearted Wisdom Circle. Open Hearted Wisdom Circles are free facilitated groups that foster the opportunity for not only deep sharing but deep, focused listening, which helps us hear the wisdom in our hearts. Learn more here.

Let’s meet in person! If you live in the Southeastern Michigan area I am super excited to announce that I am co-hosting a live in person one day Kindred Connection Workshop with  Jen Lee and Anna Oginsky on August 22, 2015 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm EST. You can find more information Here.

May you find peace and allow it dwell in your life this week. ~ Kira

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