The little day dreamers

bougainvilleaToday, I went for a walk to the beautiful park that I am lucky to have at walking distance. I saw a bunch children’s backpacks under the trees. The kids were there for some sort of nature appreciation project. A few were busy picking pink bougainvillea flowers that lay scattered on the grass, and dried twigs. Many ran around the park, laughing, playing games. A little day dreamer ran into me as I walked on the track, lost in his own world, clutching a twig. Another little one ran around, the branch in his hand held up as a sword, in a dreamworld of his, where maybe he was a knight.

Though it has been a long time since I was a kid, it’s not been so long since I pretended to be one. In my creative writing class last year,  we went through a workshop to help us get in touch with our free, playful, creative natural self before it was chained. One of the students who was also a dad had been tasked with bringing toys. He’d brought along little Hot Wheel cars, some bigger fancier cars, and teddy bears, and dolls.

Pretend you’re in kindergarten and play, Menon sir said. Do what you want. Don’t hold back.

It began soon. “Kids” ran across the room, shouting loudly. In another group, the kids smashed the cars into each other. One broke. A little girl hung on to her stuffed toy and wouldn’t let go, It’s mine! I sat, a little away from the group of mostly boys who were busy orchestrating accidents with the little cars, with my teddy bar in my arms. I held him close for comfort and whispered little secrets into his ear. I walked sometime with him, holding him close, and then went back to my perch, hugging him tightly, glad he was around in all the loudness and excitement of cars crashing into each other that the others seemed to enjoy so much.

Why don’t you play? Do something, Menon sir cajoled. Act like you’re in kindergarten. This is how I was in kindergarten, I told him.

This is how I still am. Easily stimulated by loudness, aggression, crowds. But also dreamy, imaginative, and kind. I had real empathy for myself during that workshop, when I realized how over-stimulated I probably was as a kid, with little control over my environment.

Today, when I saw the little ones who marched to the beat of their own drum,  sensed little kindred spirits.

Enjoyed this post? You might enjoy the wonderful Susan Cain’s treatise on introversion, Quiet.

If you know someone who’d relate, do share this with them. And for more posts on self-awareness and living better, do follow the blog. Thank you!

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Letting go of perfectionism and wrecking my journal

I don’t remember when I colored outside the lines. The lines were always severe, defined, binding. I colored safely within. The leaves of the coloring book were always limited; how could I “waste” them coloring with abandon?

I drew a vase brimming over with flowers one day in Art class in first grade. As the teacher took rounds of the class, she stopped to appreciate my drawing. That was it. Her approval meant I drew a dozen safe vases with flowers brimming over till the flowers didn’t have their exuberance and their wildness and abandon. They were staid replicas of the image that had come up from somewhere inside.

Safe is what I drew. Safe is what I did. My Camlin pastels preserved safely after their coloring was done, instead of being broken in half and rolled across the art sheet to create textures and messes.

I had flights of fancy sometimes when I was free. I remember taking my mother’s old pair of iron scissors, cutting through my white frock with soft pastel frills of pin, lemon, and blue, and sewed it up to create an off shoulder dress for my Barbie doll. But most of the times, I followed the directions to the T. Three quarters water, a quarter milk, a tea-spoon of sugar, half a spoon of tea leaves, and two cloves, was how I made tea for my mother when she was tired, or sick from her asthma from the humid Bombay air and her burdens.

There comes a time when following recipes and directions  does not cut it anymore. For me, the big 30 has been a marker of sorts, coming with the realization that this is it, this is my life. Maybe it’s ok not to follow directions. Maybe it’s ok to make mistakes. Maybe it’s ok to be free. Maybe it’s ok to fail. Maybe it’s ok to be. Maybe it’s ok to be me.

Perfectionism is a relational trait. It is an outcome, a badge of a time where I needed to be perfect. A remnant I would like to let go off, so I can color outside the lines. But how do I let go of something so deep-rooted?

Reading to understand why we are the way we are helps intellectually, but it is being present that heals us. Being in nature, walking on the wet earth barefoot. Looking at  mountains with the windows of the car rolled down, watching them turn from stony to sandy to red to purple, watching the snow sprinkled on top of the mountains like one might scatter powered sugar on a muffin. Feeling the cold wind and watching the blue skies and seeing the shapes the clouds make; a heart, I saw a heart!

mighty mountains

I look to renew my soul, little by little everyday, by coloring in my coloring book for “advanced colorists” (read adults), by writing in calligraphy the names of my favorite books as a child (The Wizard of Oz!), and most recently by following directions of writer Keri Smith who orders her readers in her wonderful book Wreck This Journal to destroy the journal to unclog the flow of creativity in us.

If I am afraid to destroy, I cannot create. I write one line, then delete it. I try to write a perfect line, instead of writing shitty first drafts as the wise Anne Lamott advises us. I pick up this journal and give myself permission to destroy it in the myriad ways Keri has cooked up.

After a tiring day at work where I have been productive, left-brained, and efficient, I want to breathe free, be creative. Put a pen in your mouth and write on this page, Keri commands, and I do, a 30-year-old lying on the bed, wrecking the journal at 11 at night. I smile. Infuse this journal with a scent of your own choosing. I hop over to the kitchen to slice a lemon and squeeze it on the page.

In the course of a few days, I have torn a page out of the journal and let it go, made a paper plane, squirted water from my mouth on to the journal, sewn some pages together, and written backwards from right to left, only to be reminded of my grandfather who wrote in Urdu, a luminous script that flowed delicately from right to left. Close the journal and write or scribble something on the edges. I write the words a close friend said to me recently: Khul Jao. That’s hindi for Open Up. Slowly but surely I am unfurling. Slowly but surely the ice is melting.

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Would your words change if your draw the letters by hand, instead of type them?

I remember reading Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Minds a few years ago and remember her advice to writers on the importance of writing by hand. While I can’t find her exact words, the essence (if memory serves me right), was that the voice that comes out when we write one word after the next, drawing the curves, stringing the letters, crossing the Ts and dotting the Is (or not) is different from the voice that comes out when we’re going tap-tap-tap on the keyboard. This same idea came up again in Lynda Barry’s beautiful book on writing “What It Is – Do You Wish You Could Write?” which combines Lynda’s advice on writing, her drawings,  collages, and some of her life story in one of the most unique books of writing and living that I have come across. Why write by hand?  Here’s what Lynda says:

There is a state of mind which is not accessible by thinking. It seems to require a participation with something. Something physical we move. Like a pen. Like a pencil. Something which is in motion. Ordinary motion like writing the alphabet. The ordinary everyday motion of a person with a pen writing the alphabet. on writing

  What does writing by hand accomplish that writing on the computer does not? Lynda says:

I have found that writing by hand slowly is faster than a computer-way. I know it’s not easy the way tapping a computer is easy. Tapping a computer is easy. Tapping a finger is not as complicated as making an original line in the shape of an S. Different parts of the brain are used when we make an S by hand and more of the body than a finger tap and images seem to come from this kind of being in motion. S

So, I was thinking, may we can try, you and I, to write by hand this week, even if just once or twice? And see the voice, the writing, the movement,  the red ink spill on paper? You don’t have to share them, maybe those words are for your eyes only. How does your voice change when you write by hand versus write on paper? Would love to hear about your experience. Enjoyed this post? Sign up to receive posts on creativity, writing, generosity, and living better.

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Some Saturday inspiration for creatives

Source: deviantart.com
Source: deviantart.com

A beautiful poem by the wise Rumi to spark your creativity this Saturday:

To each is given

God never gave
His bigger beasts a sting
He gave it to the bee
With an invisible wing
 
And with the skill of storing
Sweetness in the hive
The silkworm spins its gossamer
In order to survive
 
However large, the elephant
Has no such subtle skill
God gives to each his powers
His wonders to fulfil.
 

–Rumi

Are you using your eye for beauty, your ear for melody, your feel for fabric, your love for nuance – YOUR subtle skill? To decorate your home, to stitch a quilt (or maybe someone’s broken heart), to fashion clay, to string a necklace, or to write a silly poem for your boo just to tell him “miss you one” so he can say “miss you too”?

Looking for some more creative inspiration? You may like:

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Enjoyed the post? Do stay around to explore!

A little dose of Ben Franklin’s wisdom on learning and communication

Source: peakprosperity.com
Source: peakprosperity.com

Benjamin Franklin’s love of learning and self-improvement is inspirational. In his autobiography, he talks about a self-improvement club that he formed with like-minded people. The club, which they called JUNTO, met Friday evenings. The agenda?

The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one of more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.

Taking the time to think about and discuss some of the things that really matter, instead of being consumed by the minutae of daily existence is something as relevant today as it was all those years ago.

To make the most of these meetings, JUNTO followed certain principles that enabled the pursuit of truth.

Our debates were to be made under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary peculiarities.

These principles remain timeless, and the wise try to follow all these commandments. But forceful communication and surety seem to be encouraged, or tolerated, more often today. “Positiveness of opinion” can mistakenly attributed to confidence.

And yet, modern research echoes Franklin’s timeless wisdom that “power-less” communication, characterized by “asking questions than offering answers, talking tentatively than talking boldly, admitting their weaknesses than displaying their strengths, and seeking advice than imposing their views on others” is a more sustainable path to building prestige and influence, instead of forceful “there are no gaps in my thinking,” style of communication.

Do you know anyone who is feeling the pressure to be more “power-ful” in their communication? Do share this post with them! Also, if this post resonated with you, you may also like:

The upside of showing our less than perfect self to the world

micWhenever we’re trying to do something new, something for the first time, we feel an excitement, but also fear. What if we mess up? What if make a fool of ourselves in front of others? And if we do put ourselves out there, some of these fears may come true.

In her wise and helpful book, “The Dance of Fear,” Harriet Lerner shares how her  anxieties and fears about speaking in public came true one day.

As I strode out before the audience and placed a copy of my speech on the podium, I failed to notice that this particular lectern lacked the conventional ledge for holding papers. The pages of my speech cascaded to the floor. This incident might have been relegated to the category of minor embarrassment had it not been for the fact that I had not bothered to number the pages. Unlike my Seattle speech, this was a brand-new presentation and I wasn’t familiar with its flow and structure. “Just a minute,” I said brightly, then spent the next five shuffling papers and trying to control my panic. At last I was ready to begin.

Ten minutes into the speech, I broke the expensive laser pointer that I had borrowed from my hosts. Keeping my sense of humor about it became difficult when, a few minutes later, the left shoulder pad of my silk jacket somehow lost its moorings and came to rest up against my neck. “Breathe,” I sternly ordered myself, but by now I was beyond the reach of oxygen therapy. I finished my talk in a stew of embarrassment and wondered if I should drastically lower my fee for future (if any) speaking engagements. But my trials were not over. During the question-and-answer period, I was forced to respond, “I don’t know,” several times. “Some expert,” I berated myself.

What do you think happened after the talk? Harriet of course was mortified and wanted to remove herself from the situation as soon as she could. But…

…I saw to my surprise that a small crowd of women had gathered around the lectern. They were smiling at me. “Thank you,” said one, reaching out her hand to shake mine. “It was wonderful to see you being so real.” A younger woman, a psychology graduate student, chimed in. “I’ve always been afraid to speak in public,” she confessed. “Now I feel, if you can do it, I can do it!” Others spoke of the palpable connection they felt with me during my talk, a sense of being in the presence of someone they already knew and understood. Being approached by members of an audience following a speech wasn’t a new experience for me. What was new, however, was the level of vitality and connectedness I felt flowing toward me that evening. I looked around at the open, loving faces surrounding me and felt my embarrassment melting away.

We’re comfortable sharing our competence, but shy away from sharing our vulnerabilities. Maybe we’ve been raised to believe that anything less than perfect is not good enough. Maybe that’s a bar we’ve set for ourselves. Whatever the source, it’s important to remember that the fear of being anything less than perfect limits us. On the other hand, putting ourselves out there, practicing our craft in public makes us human, makes us others connect with us, see us as real.

I wish I had a story like Harriet’s that I could share, but I don’t. And I realize now that this means that I’ve been saying “No” because I wasn’t perfectly prepared to do something, when I should have been saying “Yes” and figuring it out along the way.

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Thinking of becoming a writer? Some advice from the wonderful Gretchen Rubin

fork in the roadAs I’ve said before, I am a Gretchen Rubin SUPER FAN. I love Gretchen’s insights into human nature, which help her readers understand themselves better, and as a result, live better. This nugget comes from the Goodreads Q&A that Gretchen did some time ago (and needless to say, I was super excited that Gretchen answered my question!)

Question: When you quit law for writing, did you have any reservations or fears? How did you make it easy for yourself to take the big leap?

Here’s what she answered:

It took me a long time to make the switch from law to writing, but it was made easier because I had an idea for a book that I desperately wanted to write (and was already writing, in fact), my sister was a professional writer, so I had that model; and everyone in my family was very supportive of me taking a big risk. At one point, I thought, “I’d rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer,” so I knew I had to give writing a shot.

Often, when we’re contemplating big life or career changes, we feel a sense of anxiety. This anxiety definitely serves a purpose – it makes us carefully examine our options so that we can choose one best suited for us – but sometimes it can cause us to abandon our dreams, without even trying. This is why I love Gretchen’s decision-making framing: “I’d rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” Framing the decision this way helped Gretchen – and can help many of us – from preventing fear of change from clipping our wings, even before they sprout.

Is there something YOU’D rather fail at, than succeeding at what you’re currently doing? Would love to hear from you. Is there anyone you know who is contemplating a big career shift? Do share Gretchen’s advice with them!

P.S. Gretchen’s book “Better than Before” came out just a couple of weeks back. My sister who lives in the US is couriering me a SIGNED copy all the way to India. CANNOT WAIT. Till then, busy watching the videos of Gretchen Rubin on the book tour (such as this one at Google.)

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