Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Self-Discipline: Myth, or . . . myth?

the great Louise Nevelson

I want to tell you about an idea that failed. Er, got abandoned. OK, OK: an idea which I abandoned. 

I don’t know about you, but I found that the longer our confinement period got, the more courses and challenges I got offered. And I confess I fell prey to a few. 

I mean, I love that sense of accomplishment and the unexpected revelations that come from diligent attention to one thing for a steady period of time. But the risk,  particularly for a recovering dieter who's uneasy trusting her own inner guide and  often looking around for some kind of Authority, is that sometimes what looks like healthy motivation is in fact a cleverly-disguised project founded on an idea that I'm not enough as I am. 

Which is why I was susceptible, during the confinement period, to such propositions cluttering my mailbox. Online work groups, meditation gatherings, tapping challenges. Thirty days of ballet. Financial health in 15 minutes a day. You CAN write a book proposal! (You KNOW you want to write a book proposal.) Each compelling, harmless in and of themselves, and no doubt really useful. I can find ten minutes every day for this, right? 

After gathering the wits to finally say No to a particularly tantalizing 1-month course, to which I was personally offered a steep discount (they wanted me! ... I think), I was again lured to another. 

This one seemed special: aligned with my own writing goals; clear structure; ambitious; no-nonsense. It assured I’d find ways to build my readership. It suggested offhandedly, tantalizingly, that I’d very likely start to make a bit of money along the way. 

Dammit I was seduced, and I bit. It was summer; most of my teaching had been cancelled. We’d be traveling, but no worries, I reasoned: I could get up early and carve out some time. So I signed up for the temporary* free** membership, and I set off on my journey. 

The project, offered by an outfit called Ninja Writers, is to Blog Your Own Book (or more cleverly, BYOB). It was simple: In July, you choose a topic, consider your reader, clarify your subtopics, figure out how to reach people, plan out 31 days of blog posts, and ramp up your writing. For every day of August, you write a post and you publish it. In September you take everything you’ve done and build it into a book. Then in October, voilà, you publish, in whatever format you choose. 

Laura Rodig Pizarro

I started by clarifying my topic carefully, considering my ideal reader, as our guide suggested. I dug around and chose one I loved and was already exploring. I had recently started what was becoming a series, portraits of women artists, whom I’d been discovering through an amazing resource in Paris, AWARE, the Archive of Women Artists, Research, and Exhibitions. 

My plan was to introduce a new artist each day. I would show my own portraits, plus examples of each artist’s work. At the end of each week I'd do a round-up of useful resources for further research

Our guide kept telling us you have to have a way to capture your audience, calling it an “opt-in” where people get something in return if they subscribe. So I thought, I could do a giveaway! When people subscribed, I’d put their name in a hat and the end of 31 days I’d draw a winner, who could choose whichever portrait they wanted and I’d mail it to them. 

My plan checked all the boxes. I’d been wanting to combine writing and my own artwork more in my blog. AND clean up my mailing list and reach more readers. How? Pshaw, I’d figure out how later. For now, omigod, it seemed perfect. 

Vanessa Bell

Let us pause, just for a moment, for a confession. In the past, I have been known to create a “single” goal which is in fact many goals masquerading as one. In a way, I’ve even set myself up for failure by creating complicated, complex goals that are hard to sustain let alone complete. Goals like that put me at high risk for decision-making fatigue — they sometimes seem like more organizing than doing. Which can make quitting easier to justify. And then I wonder why I can’t do it. And then my inner critic has a field day, reminding me why I suck. Not, I admit, the most sustainable model. 

Romaine Brooks

Anyway, I started mapping my project and breaking it down into sections. I decided I’d begin with Maria Helen Vieiera da Silva, the Portuguese abstract painter and the first that had caught my eye. I’d move on to Pat Steir, whom I was familiar with but maybe never fully appreciated, and in whose portrait I’d begun to integrate background. Next would be Etel Adnan, whose work spoke to me first; I’d tried to integrate her style and work into the portrait itself. 

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

Pat Steir

Edel Adnan
 
By now, we’re in the third week of July and I’m noticing that I’ve stopped hearing from our guide. I realize it was never really clear how often we should expect to; but it’s become more and more sporadic and now she’s kind-of disappeared, just when things are heating up. Where was she when I needed her support? 

A metaphor came to me: Imagine lines of a poem, each on a separate strip of paper, and your job is to assemble them into a full, coherent piece. Every piece is a critical part of the full poem. The thing is, you don’t know how long it is exactly, nor how to begin to make poetic sense of all those individual lines. Plus, they’ve all been scrunched up into little balls thrown at you at once, landing all over the place. And there’s a timer, ticking away ominously. That’s kinda how I felt. 

I began finally to admit that my idea was maybe too complex. Writing about women artists, OK. Thirty-one days in a row of publishing, tough but not impossible. But the illustrations, they often take their own time, and sometimes they don’t work out. 

Maybe, I acknowledged, artwork and writing was going to be a bit of a lot to chew, even in August. With travel, I had an hour max to spend most days. I did some math, and reasoned that I could either do one new portrait every other day, or spend a weekend doing a whole pile. I’ll be fine, I assured myself, brushing concerns aside. Just a bit more smart planning. Anyway, this is what it’s like to be a real writer! Are you committed, or aren’t you? 

Still, I observed a wave of stress. 

The mailing list was another beast I didn’t yet know how to tame. Should I create a newsletter, and if so would that require a subscription upgrade? Or would I use another server? Should I migrate the blog to my website? What does that even mean?? I needed some answers before launch date. I looked at the clock and saw that, lo, it was still ticking. 

Another stress wave, little bit bigger this time, more panicky. 

What if I didn’t finish? What if I promised something and never delivered? I’ve read so many blog posts saying “we’re back!” or “part 1 of 5”, and then radio silence on the part of the writer. 

By now, the final week of July, I begin to really flirt with the idea of just hanging up the towel. I’m writing and planning diligently, but I can’t see this thing being ready. I haven’t told my anyone about it much, rationalizing perhaps that it would be ‘fun’ to keep it secretive and reveal it with a big taDA! But actually, I could really use some encouragement. Still our sporadic guide is nowhere to be seen and the information she’s sending us in inconsistent intervals is dizzying. 

Finally, I bargain, postponing the “launch” a few days and feel myself relax again. I’ll start August third, give myself a little breathing room. Then I change it to six days a week. A few days later, the urge to quit it all, and just take a really long nap, is almost irresistable. Aren’t I on holiday, for pete’s sake? 

at least someone's on holiday.

Finally, in a brief parting of the clouds, I remember inquiry. 

There I was, traveling along, and I hit a bump I couldn’t get over. I tried to push harder, but more force wasn’t the answer. 

My usual approach would be to wonder what’s wrong with me that I can’t do this? Where am I somehow wrong and at fault? Or my quote-unquote helpful inner critic would offer some brilliant insight, telling me in so many words: You lazy bum, get off your hiney and keep at it. You’re clearly not a real writer/artist/etc if you can’t get tough when the going gets tough

But (thank the gods) things have changed, and we’re all about self-compassion around here. Especially when it counts and when it’s hardest. We’re not into ruining our life just because an idea — someone else’s brilliant idea — isn’t taking hold in its current form. 

So I dropped the success/failure discussion, the false notion that more discipline is what leads to change, and applied my tools of compassionate investigation. 

(Really, sometimes I think this blog is just a place where I digest the lessons of a few teachers, monks, and poets, including Tara Mohr — who introduced me to this tool.) 

This profound approach is — get this — morally neutral. Have any two words sounded more beautiful? For this former member-of-an-organized-religion, together they are a revelation. Just saying them clears the way for action. 

I stopped assuming there was something wrong with me. Instead, I asked myself, where’s the obstacle, the error in the equation? After all, I knew I still really liked the idea. 

Then I sweetened my language even more. Honey, I said. What’s the issue here, and what do you need to move past it? 

I remembered, first, that in creating goals, it’s helpful when it is a gift, rather than a should. I recalled Tara’s metaphor, of building a sturdy-enough support structure so that the journey there feels like water flowing downhill. I, by contrast, was on a steep climb up a mountainside, marching pleasurelessly toward my obligation. 

Salou Raouda Choucair

The second thing I remembered was to build projects based around our own individual strengths that are already present, rather than adhering to someone else’s template. 

Um. 

While it was certainly useful in bits, the entire mold didn’t fit. And then, I was basing my notion of success or failure to reach my goal based on someone else's idea of what works. 

Oops. 

Thirdly, I noticed how alone I felt. I needed someone to check in with, a partner, someone who could see the future for me and provide encouragement, without comparison or competition. A boost when I stumble, or get sidetracked or overwhelmed. I thought it would be there; but I also hadn’t set it up for myself. 

✽ 

So where did that leave me? Because the thing about compassionate investigation is, there’s listening, but there’s also acting on the answer

Was it time to totally let it go? 

Not uncoincidentally, I listened to a favorite podcast yesterday which talked about perfectionism, and for perfectionists or those among us who think we are impostors, it’s often either succeed or completely fail, very black-and-white. 

I thought about that. Maybe it’s not a question of success or failure. Maybe, rather than drop the whole thing, I could learn a few lessons from it, and redefine it with sturdier architecture in place. 

With — there it is again — moral neutrality, plus an understanding that it’s an ongoing process. 

First, I could work with my strengths to create a plan that serves me. I didn't need to try to operate on someone else’s — especially someone I’ve never met — creative schedule. 

It’s a big question, isn’t it? When reality strikes and I can’t take it but I don’t want to leave it either, how do I stick with my intention? That seems like the place — when I don’t know what to do — where I can resist turning my frustration upon myself (or someone else); open; and really learn something.

For starters, I’m publishing this post. Not the 31 posts I’d originally hoped for but, ironically, the result of 31 days of digesting this process, the reality of what happened. 

And it’s still about the portraits, and these extraordinary women artists. I finished a new one yesterday, of the artistic explorer Marisa Merz — 

Marisa Merz

— and I’ve a bunch in the sketch stage, waiting in the wings — 

Ms. Schjerfbeck, in progress

... and I’m offering my thanks to the process. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

courage -- or as the French say, COURAGE

all photos © the awesome Patrick Betbeder
Woops! I didn't mean to abandon you for six months like that. I was right in the midst of a really important project, and I was planning to tell you all about it, and then everything veered off in a totally nother direction and I was swept away, and pressed pause on the writing in order to address a couple of practical and existential crises. 

I know you know what I mean. 

And though I also know I’m not saving the world through this blog, it’s so good to be back. 

After all this time, it was hard to know where to begin again. It’s so overwhelming, all of it. But then, three things happened, and that was all the illumination I needed. And as we all know, even just a little light these days can be such a welcome thing. 

The first was that I rolled some dice. Tossed coins, actually. 

A teacher of mine suggested it: when you don’t know quite what to do or focus on, give chance a chance. Gather all the info you can, and then — eff it, and follow your intuition. 

I had just spent several weeks with her, gathering lots of objective information — marketing, branding, income, resources, opportunities — and we were winding up our journey. 

She gave us students a game board of sorts. We picked up five coins of different sizes, to represent importance, and tossed them on the little chart to see where they landed, letting fate determine what was asking for our attention. 


Thank you MATS !

All my coins landed in a heap right in the middle. My first reaction was that I must have tossed them wrong (revelatory in and of itself). But then I thought, wait a sec, open up here, kid. I looked closer and noticed that all of them, aside from a couple who crossed over into “Clean Out Your Workspace”, was “Meditate to Feel More Confident”. Hm. 

We’ll call that Thing One. 

Then, Thing Two arrived. I’m not sure why — maybe because her TED Talk about the pandemic was getting lots of traction and I watched part of it — I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s brilliant Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and began to reread it. 

The first chapter is called Courage, and I was like: coincidence? 



Gilbert talks about how fear — which I refer to as my Inner Critic, or The Voice, when it manifests as deflating self-doubt and blanket-statement bossiness — is this thing we don’t ever fully rid ourselves of. It’s an unavoidable companion along the creative journey. 

Meditate for Confidence. Courage. The two began to percolate. 
Thing Three was a torturous incident with a photographer, which ultimately resulted in a showdown with my Inner Critic. 

In a strange and swift confluence of events, I ended up, one weekday afternoon, in a gallery I’ve been wanting to visit with people I’ve been wanting to work with. After reading about an artists’ rally happening the following week, not fully clear on its purpose but a little desperate for connection after weeks inside, on impulse I signed myself up. 

At the heart of the event was a photographer, Patrick Betbeder, whom I’ve come to know a little and admire a lot, for his work and his warmth. He had taken on the task of photographing each of the event participants in his particular, inimitable, style. 


all photos © the generous Patrick Betbeder

Photos of me are not my thing. I like them only under certain limited circumstances and a good stretch of time after they’re taken. I can find beauty in everyone else; yet pictures of me slice right into the deep doubts I have about my appearance, which somehow inextricably tied to my actual worth, and being seen. Not exactly emotionally sophisticated, but there you go. 

Anyway, the idea was to go to the gallery, which was organizing the event, and to have our portraits taken by Patrick. So rather than call, I decided to drop by one day when he said he’d be there prepping the space, to arrange an appointment. 

I'm feeling a bit tired, and I leave the house having vaguely attended to my hair, not much more. I dismount my bike a bit windblown and disheveled, as per usual. Patrick greets me and says, rubbing his hands together, Great, why don’t we just do your photo today, since you’re here? 

I step back and I’m like, Whoa, hold up there. What’s the rush? 

I’m not ready today. 

Can I just come back later? When I’m really ready? Like maybe … (looks at watch) … when I'm sixty? 

But Later didn’t seem to be an option, and of course Now made the most sense. 
Patrick’s in the process of taking a test photo with a young woman, and the two gallery owners are there too. It seems like it’s their daughter or a niece or something. She’s younger than I by a couple decades easy, and looks nonchalant with her red lipstick, her fluent French (damn them!). 

As I watch my friend and his process with great interest, I’m noticing a growing anxiety, as I try to mentally prepare for my own photo. Fears and doubts bubble to the surface: measuring up, to what standards I don’t know; being in a spotlight. 

They ooh and aah over the photo of the young woman, her facial structure; even its asymmetry is charming. My Inner Critic sees a window of opportunity to pipe in, uninvited as per usual. Also as usual, she is both patronizing, subtly insulting, and faux-kind all at once. 
It’s nice you’re here, dear. But you’re not really very pretty, are you? Plain is a better word. Don’t expect people to notice you. You don't really have what it takes. Try not to stand out. And wipe that funny lipstick off your face — you look like a clown. 
My turn comes. I do my best to be present, even as the IC’s drumming is getting louder. I attend to my posture, my breath. What I really want is to run away, to hide. 

We look at it the photo together, briefly. It’s like I’m high, paranoid that everyone is thinking the same thing. Sighing and rolling their eyes: This one isn’t worth fussing over; let’s just move on. 
In essence, fear, or the Inner Critic is saying STOP. It shows up at moments when the outcome is uncertain. When I’m doing something risky, attempting to play even just a bit bigger. 

And, in this case, it works: I do stop, for a little while. I get sidetracked as my IC takes over, and like a bad but deep dream it’s hard to shake. At first, I don't even realize I’m dreaming. 

My Inner Critic has a heyday. Because appearance is seemingly unrelated to creative pursuits, it’s particularly sinister and effective when she wants me to halt any and all emotionally risky activity. Ugly is my IC’s ace in the hole: She starts with some pretty good arguments to get me on her side, and then she finishes off with that final jab — and besides, look at you! 

That’s how mean The Voice gets. I know I'm not alone here. 

But I’ve seen this before, this feeling of depletion and deflation. It seems I can barely open my eyes and I’m kneeling, as Geneen Roth says, at the altar of The Voice. Everything is all or nothing, black/white, bad/good. I’m no good, and I never was. 

So, in a teeny-tiny parting of the clouds, it dawned on me, for just a brief moment, that perhaps this was fear manifest, simple as that. I thought back to Ms. Gilbert. I’m close to a goal, doing something I don’t ordinarily do, and then this fear arises, in spades. Coincidence? Maybe, just maybe, this was the Inner Critic, butting in unasked, to sabotage my growth. What if I’m mistaking her for truth? Perhaps my Inner Critic is reasoning, in her warped way: If I concentrate on this un-knowable un-quantifiable outwardly-dictated notion of beauty and appearance, I won’t feel the fear and the risk and the vulnerability. 

Perhaps, rather than containing anything logical, it may actually indicate that I’m going in the right direction. 

As Gilbert advises, if I am to continue on this path, then I have to figure out a way to recognize this voice of fear when it arises and know that it’s a) not me, b) not in charge, and c) not wise. It’s along for the creative journey. I don’t have to let it steer the bus. It definitely SHOULD NOT steer the bus. 
If you can’t learn to comfortably travel alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting. 
The content of my Inner Critic's arguments is beside the point, cunningly persuasive as she may be. And I do have tools to manage her. 

I’m still thinking about going back and re-doing the photo shoot, in the hope of turning up on a better hair day, better-rested, steeled and ready for any potential impact of offhand comments. But instead I’m meditating for confidence and thinking about Gilbert, deciding that if she wants creativity in her life she’ll have to make space for fear, too. 


all photos © the talented Patrick Betbeder

It really is good to be back. But I’d better get going — it’s way past Bastille Day already, and as my English student Gérard said recently during our midday Zoom call (when the asparagus he was cooking was ready), “The ring is belling”. 

Artistiquement votre, 

Una

Thanks to Tara Mohr and Playing Big for the language and understanding of the Inner Critic. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Narrow Escape

RIP.
I know I am not the first to observe that sometimes what you never wanted is exactly what you need. 

About a month ago, for example, I was reading our local paper, La Dépêche du Midi, when a headline caught my eye: 

American woman has bicycle stolen while out celebrating all that is great about France 

Poor thing! 


… oh no wait, that’s me. 

 Sigh. 

I won’t go into details about the whens and the whos, except to say that they are very, very mean people, and I called and booked reservations for them in hell. 


After the first flood of tears dried a bit — my bike, my foremost means of transport! — I sought sympathy in friends whoever’d listen. 


More than one person said to me, Look on the bright side, Père Noël is coming early this year! Ha ha ha. 


Not funny.

It’s true though, I am lucky. And in this season of gratitude, I’ve decided: let’s focus less on the loss and more on the gains. The journey into finding a new one, and its surprisingly bright sides. 

Bright side #1: discovering Toulouse’s bike share program, VélÔToulouse. I knew of it, and friends visiting have used it; but its ease and convenience exceeded my expectations. It’s like when you learn a new word and you start to hear it everywhere… suddenly materialized all these bike stations I hadn’t seen before. And they’re like five-euros-a-week cheap, with handy little baskets, and (knock wood) the brakes work and they all have front and rear lights. Three gears, perfect for our flat city. My confidence grew as I cruised from station to station, tossing in the odd bus ride as needed, and by the third day I felt almost like a native. 




My first thought, as I began my search for a replacement (as if!), was to visit the shop where we originally bought our bikes our very first week in Toulouse, and just get the same thing again. I loved mine, the French-made Arcade Escape — though I never knew when describing it if I should pronounce its name in English (that is to say, correctly), or in French, arcahd escahp. Do I choose between being right but unintelligible (former) and being understood but sounding totally absurd to my own ear? I opt for arcade like in French, escape like in English. Keep them on their toes. 


Anyway, I adored it, I cared for it, I had the happiest derrière in Toulouse after recently purchasing a new seat. New basket, toe clips, reinforced tires.... 

OK, OK, I’d better stop, or I’ll burst in to tears again. No wonder they stole it! 


Turned out, though, that the company stopped making the model last year. The owner and I agreed: big mistake on the company’s part. It was so ideal, good for commuting or for longer distances, lightweight and maneuverable. I tried another of their models but its clunky gears didn’t feel right. 


I did discover however that my French had improved since that first year, when I used to stop in at the shop for minor repairs and air for my tires, stumbling around bicycle vocabulary. 

(That is, until I fell in love with the woman who makes bike-repair house calls.) 


My hero, MécaniCycle.


We’ll chalk that up as a win and call it bright side #2: language has improved! Basic questions no longer a struggle! Purpose of visit clear! Pace of conversation more normal-ish! Fewer long awkward pauses!


So I left, and decided to take the good with the bad, and walked home. 


A second shop right in town had a beautiful Trek, and that would have pleased LPG, who thinks it’s great because he has one and he's all about brands these days; but with no time to test ride... Hold, I thought, that thought. 


Next I visited my new favorite repair shop, the one I go to if aforementioned traveling mechanic is unavailable: Arnaud Bike, situated close to where the crime took place. While they didn't have what I was looking for, I did (as I wrote that evening in my daily journal of small accomplishments — the one I keep to remind me in darker hours of overgeneralizing that I’m not doing nothing), talk for 20 minutes in French about bicycles! Is this Bright Side #4 already? I’ll take that small victory. I still had my city bike for backup. I wasn't giving up. 


In an interlude flush with bright sides, this whole journey brought me in touch with people. A very sweet friend lent me his bike so that I could make the 40-minute journey to work outside Toulouse, and I savored the perfect sunrise. I finally connected with one of my coffee roasters, who seems friendly but a little distant and around whom I always feel foolish — the one who looks like Daniel Radcliffe if he (Daniel) lifted weights. I came into the shop, parking my clunky vélo outside. Because I was paying more attention to it than to our exchange, I felt obliged to say, Sorry, I’ve got this bike, mine was stolen. Oy, he said, sympathizing, except in French: Merde. Well, he said, my motorcycle was stolen. What?? How? Hauled off in a truck probably, he said, clearly still pissed and preoccupied. We related, a tiny bit! And then later, my friend at the co-op with whom I have frequently bonded over bikes empathized, and gave me that amazing smile of his with those dreamy light-brown eyes. That’s three bright sides right there! 

My friend Delio from school told me that that charming shop by the train station, Maison du Vélo, known for rentals and repairs, recently had their annual bike sale; maybe they’d have a few left over. When I wandered in, a workshop was underway, ambitious students fixing chains and changing tires. A grey-haired fellow wiped his hands on his shop rag and approached me, asking if I needed help. I explained my situation; he commiserated briefly, natch. They had only a few for sale, so no dice. But he said, You know, I really like the Giant Escape. I got it for my partner recently and we're really happy with it. Nickel. He gave me the name of the shop, out on Toulouse’s left bank. 


Maison du Vélo, courtesy of their FB page

I liked their name, L’Échappée Belle, the great escape. So later that week, I hopped on a trusty vélo and found a station right next to the shop. The guys were friendly and the place was bustling, a dad with his kid, a delivery guy needing air for his tires. I explained my dilemma. He showed me this quiet blackish bluish number, un-flashy and just like my old one almost. Its price was low on account of a little scratch on its stem and because it was about to be replaced by newer models, poor thing. I asked if I could ride it. 

When Ms. Kondo talks about sparking joy, I know she’s talking about the feeling I got when I sat on this babe, even with a seat too low and a few adjustments needed. Light, maneuverable. 


It’s just what I’m looking for, I said when I returned, and before I knew it we were talking about what he’d do to get it ready for me to pick up the next day. 


Welcome to the world!

Ever since, I’ve been soaring round the city almost on air — that is, until I fell two weeks ago, but we’ll save that sad tale for another time. Got basket; toe clips are on order. 

Ah, Mission accomplie. At last I was able to turn my thoughts back to other things, like grading, and Aunt Marge's caramels, and learning about the Post-Impressionists, and the best path from Cézanne to Duchamp. And whether Santa really exists. 


Sometimes what I you want is exactly what you need. And, it might even help you — maybe appreciate things — in ways you can’t predict and which are totally obfuscated at the outset. 


Sigh.

Friday, November 1, 2019

a message in the spiritual in-box

It's our capacity to sit with the uncomfortable — not how many to-do items we can check off in a day — 
that circumscribes the boundary on how much we are able to move forward. 
– Tara Mohr 



After a respite of several months you deserve a better opening line than this, but here we are again, end of October in Toulouse, happier than ever to be puttering in the pre-dawn hours, fixing a pot of coffee from my new favorite roaster, and planting our tush down to continue this ongoing project of love. 

In accordance with my stern resolve to keep it simple, or at least not-too-complicated, let’s dive right in to this month’s topic. When considering what to write about, I usually begin with a kind of loose inventory of what’s been happening, and notice what resonates. This time, a knock on the door came in the form of an e-mail from Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big. She shared a recent blog post, which struck a chord and continued to sound. It began: 

"When you are stuck, procrastinating, or perfecting…"

. . . and I was like, who, me?

Think of something, she suggested, in your work life that you want to do but are not taking much action around.

OK, you got me.

Because there are a few things — admittedly, more than a few — in my life where I am unable it seems to move forward. I see it there, right in front of me, accessible, available, inviting even; and yet I can’t quite get my arm to lift up and reach for it. Intellectually I know it’d be Good For Me! But something’s stopping me, something I can’t seem to get past.

Often, she says, what prevents us from moving on things, from taking action, is that we don’t want to feel the uncomfortable feelings that might arise — that almost definitely will arise — if we do them.

She goes on to say that this avoidance of what we don’t want to feel “is the invisible drive that shapes our lives, often unconsciously”. We can tell ourselves it's about lack of time, or knowledge, or tools, but often it's simply this: there is something we don't want to feel.

Then she suggested picturing yourself doing that thing, and all the feelings that arise. But it’s not the you-in-five-years-who-has-her-shit-together you, but you now — overtired maybe, young child, too-small apartment, insecurities and hang-ups. Notice the uncomfortable feelings surfacing.



Within maybe fifteen seconds of reading, I thought of twenty things that this could apply to. I started out with the arena of work, and then spilled over into life in general. There’s a lot of overlap. Things like: 

- engaging with/posting on Instagram
- responding to person who wrote me on Instagram
- spending time drawing in the studio
- spending time drawing in the street
- painting
- responding to guy about artwork
- sharing my blog with more people
- texting anyone in French
- looking for a studio space
- contacting JD about possible exhibition
- taking any steps toward organizing next exhibition
- making an appointment with PE
- making a haircut appointment, and going
- making a dentist appointment, and going
- contacting P and meeting for French conversation
- speaking French around the house
- looking directly at my financial life
- going to the seisin
- learning new tunes
- … and pretty much anything related to me playing an any arena that’s bigger, or unfamiliar. 

I noticed, as any reader might, broad themes. Each contained the possibility of growth or expansion. In many cases, there’s a potential consequence I anticipate, and that raises fear.



What Tara then says is that we can tell ourselves it’s about lack of time, or knowledge, or tools (or, in my case, money); but often it’s simply that there’s something we don’t want to feel.

So imagine yourself, she suggests, doing those things. “Live into what it would be like if it was you just as you are now — you with all the difficult feelings and nerves and fear that would show up for you as you do that thing”. Again, this is not some ideal version of you who’s thinner or prettier or less tired or more organized or whose desk is clear, but right now today. And notice what arises. What are those uncomfortable feelings for you?

When she spoke with women, and when I imagined my own feelings arising, these surfaced:

Feeling lost    Feeling unskilled    Feeling small and incompetent    Feeling unsure    Feeling exposed    Feeling foolish after having made a mistake    Worrying that the quality isn’t high enough    Feeling out of control, without a map    Feeling the fear of being ‘not nice’ or selfish   Feeling the confusion of being accused of selfishness    Having to experience the familiar tape of second-guessing and self-doubt about whether it’s good enough . . . 

For me, the biggest is the uneasy feeling that arises when it’s a matter of trusting my decisions. Out into the vast boundary-less universe of not right and not wrong, where the guideposts are internal, or nonexistent.



Fortunately, Tara says — phewf, as le petit garçon might say — there is good news: we are actually capable of experiencing these things, we have the capacity to sit with them, and survive them. We can actually decide that it’ll be OK.

It gets better: we can even be students of the feelings themselves. Explore them, with humor and gentleness. Because the idea, behind this blog and all of it, isn’t to give ourselves 30 lashings and make ourselves feel like shit. It’s to say, gently and kindly, what can we explore here?

As she says: “We can decide it will be okay to feel that thing. We can choose to experience it, and breathe through it . . . what is this feeling about? What earlier feelings in my life does it connect back to? What happens if I sit here through it for a few moments?”



Inspired, I decided to focus on two, Instagram and drawing, on the streets of Toulouse. And as I do, seeing what feelings arise, and agreeing to just feel them.

As predicted, the self-doubt and second-guessing arrived, in spades.

I don’t know what I’m doing    Cringing: Is it any good?    Feeling I am muddling around in the dark, lost at sea alone    Hearing the incessant voices questioning my judgement    Doubting: It could have been better . . . 

I steeled myself. I’m just going to feel what I feel. A little foolishness. A lot of inadequacy.

Maybe she’s right — these are survivable feelings, aren’t they? So first, there’s the willingness to experience them, and finding I can actually weather them. Second, the curiosity — looking around with wonder, and gently opening myself up to those situations and exploring the assumptions behind them, maybe even working them into something new.







Living in France, like any new place, is riddled with the potential to avoid situations where I don’t want to feel uncomfortable things. So many new situations, accompanying awkward feelings. An abundance of items on my list had to do with scheduling appointments. Can it really be that difficult? I mean, c’mon, Una. But also — argh, the intense discomfort of feeling lost, incompetent, unsure, small.

Of course, Life in General is like this, and Pema Chödrön says it really well — that there is this innocent, naïve misunderstanding we have, that we’re supposed to avoid the life that’s right in front of us, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that that would somehow make us happy. She instead encourages us to see clearly what is, with gentleness.

Avoiding uncomfortable feelings seems like a logical idea. But in doing so, am I also blocking progress, preventing myself from accessing something higher, deeper and richer? Is it like Tara says — that “It's our capacity to sit with the uncomfortable — not how many to-do items we can check off in a day — that circumscribes the boundary on how much we are able to move forward”?



Sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten how to learn. How to go about it, whether to be organized and deliberate, or more open and fluid. Can I just allow things to unfold, without knowing what the final outcome might be?

There is also the idea of should — which never turns out well for me. Not only that I should do it, but that there is a particular way it should be done, a rulebook to follow. I was listening to a talk recently, and the speaker remarked that tools like social media are ours to shape. While we use them, we also actively create them.

I could shift my thinking and attitude, and made it a kind of gift. What do I think it could or should be?

And so I am posting, I’m drawing, I’m feeling uncomfortable feelings as I bob around in this ocean, unmoored. Not rocket science to many of you, I’m sure, but I so needed an apt and unfussy reminder.