At the beginning of 2016, I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish by this year. A 2-year plan. The idea came about after a coffee date with a friend. I used my catch-up update to complain about how stuck I felt. I couldn’t see any signs of forward motion in my life. My friend asked me what I’m working toward, to explain it simply, and when I couldn’t, they offered the list idea to help me get out of my funk. Dream big. Be specific. Write it down. Keep it safe.
I was resistant to the idea, which is often my reaction when faced with a possibility that will be good for me. I procrastinated and argued in my head for all the reasons it would be a waste of time. So when I decided to try it, I worked hard on it. I thought about what my part of the list looked like for days before I shared the idea with my husband. The opportunity presented itself one evening while we were drinking beers on a rare date night. When I explained it, my husband said he wanted to do it, maybe it’ll help, so we kept drinking and we had an honest, eye-opening talk. By the end of the night we had composed a rough sketch of our dream life on a beverage napkin. It was fun. We laughed and held nothing back. I remember feeling like a teenager. My whole life ahead of me. Anything was possible. Happy in love. When we got home, I found an envelope, rewrote the napkin scrawl into a legible list, and sealed it all inside. I wrote “2018” on the front with a little flourish underneath.
2018 is halfway over now, so a few weeks ago I decided to open the envelope and read the list. Correction. I opened the envelope after a friend pestered me to, after listening to me moan about how my life doesn’t seem to be going the direction I had hoped or planned. The same friend who had suggested the list over coffee in 2016. Again, I resisted the advice. I argued for its failure. I worked as hard on opening the envelope as I had creating the list in 2016. I was certain that when I opened it, I’d unleash a list of unaccomplished fantasies. I anticipated a swell of regret.
Instead of disappointment, I felt surprising and comforting relief. I have accomplished a few things on my list, and the things I haven’t completed, I’m making consistent progress toward. There are even a few things listed that I wonder why I haven’t done them. In hindsight, they’re relatively simple or small universal asks, and I still have time. I was astonished. Whatever sort of magic was activated the night we penned our dreams is still working.
I can see my consistent effort alive in the list, and I’m not so ready to give up. I see that I’m not stuck, I just don’t like the process. I want the process to be blatant: dreams + efforts = instant results. I want everything all the time and I want it now. In that hunger, I forget my expanded view. I get distracted by my limitations, my day to day reality, and the shiny objects of life. Momentary diversions that take hold for a time but don’t ultimately contribute to my bigger picture. This is the pattern of ersatz fulfillment. Then I have some sort of shakeup, like this list, and I see things with a broader awareness again.
When I opened up that envelope, I uncovered a list of lies I tell myself: lies of self-doubt, lies of memory, and the lies of not enough. I lie to myself that I don’t know what I’m doing, or how to do it. That I’ll never actually reach these goals, despite daily evidence to the contrary. The lie that my process is not enough to be proud of, or that there’s some sort of end game. That at some point I’ll run out of dreams or goals, or the teenage grandeur will fade. Or that I’ll forget what I’m fighting for.
The things on the list, the dreams and goals – I don’t think they’re even my destination. The achievements and experiences I’m asking for are not the point. Maybe they’re sign posts along the way – confirmations that my future is happening right now. That the future I know is possible is building right along with me. I’m not asking for tangible results. I’m asking for the persistent, palpable, rhythm of creation. The life spark. The elusive zest. I’m asking for everything all the time.
He adds items to our luggage after I think we are finished packing for a trip. I say we won’t need it. I say we should pack light. I always say that. I tire easily when preparing for a trip. My excitement usually peaks, then crashes into irritability and fatigue right before we start to load the car. I gripe about why we’re taking so many bags. Why it takes so much time and effort to pack the car. He is always right about the last-minute items. I am always appreciative. “I’m so glad you thought to bring that,” I’ll say. He never says “I told you so.”
He was a Boy Scout and then an Eagle Scout: a childhood career of citizenship, commitment, survival skills, and “Always Be Prepared, Always Do Your Best.” He is still an Eagle Scout. I was in the Girl Scouts for less than a year. Like many of my childhood interests, I quit after one season. I still find it hard to persevere.
He is our children’s playmate. I am the one who nurtures and organizes our flock. It isn’t that I don’t like to play. It’s more that I’ve forgotten how. Our daughter will invent a game and he will see the whole picture, enthusiastically synthesize her vision, and they will enter the new world of their creation. I struggle to unearth the child I’ve buried inside. On the rare occasions that she does come out, we are late to the party. If I am honest I should confess – I used to resent this. Now, I’ve come to accept, even love, my role as observer. If I watch long enough I will learn the secret that only they seem to know. If I watch long enough, I’ll grow out of my fears and join the fun.
But even before parenthood, he taught me about adventure. Once, in the very early days of our relationship, during one of our first out-of-town trips together, we found out that one of our favorite musicians was playing in the same town. We were visiting my parents. I still felt young enough to need my father’s permission to go, and was nervous to ask. Requests for impromptu fun were tricky with my Dad.
I waited in anticipation: Did he enjoy our visit? Does he like him? (PLEASE LIKE HIM) Is he in a good mood? Is he worried about me?
He said yes! And then – I lost my mind. We didn’t go to the concert. I cited our early morning departure and low cash flow as evidence to the idea’s absurdity. Why did he agree with me? Why didn’t we go? What were we thinking?
18 years later he surprised me on my birthday with a ticket to see the same artist. He stayed home with the kids – our son was still an infant. It wasn’t until I got to the concert that I recognized a sneaky fear that I would not assimilate to my younger self. Had motherhood, many years of marriage, and life in the suburbs altered my reality that much? Had the childhood part of me been eradicated? Snuffed out during the process of growing up?
But, at the show, I was 19 again. Safe in the familiar landscape. Anonymous in the dark, smoky venue. The music started. Goosebumps. Joy. Youth. This music gets me. The songs written just for me. He is not here – my partner, sidekick, inspiration. My co-parent, co-pilot, co-conspirator, with whom everything is brighter and more fun. Was he off on an adventure with our daughter? Castaways on a princess pirate ship crashed on a cookie island?
He easily transitions from work to play. I am almost always thinking about work. But now, our adventures include 2 small people, all of them propelling me to let go. With them, with him, we seesaw between our early days and the future we’re creating. And despite our differences, we are doing it all together. He and I.
This is a funny but true reminder to never give up. If you have an idea, it’s because it needs to be in the world, and you’re the person to share it. Sending you all the “I can do this!”
#mycirclegame #goodideas #inspiration #creativitymatters #youmatter #dontgiveup #shareyourwork #shineyourlight
If you would like to be a part of the 2nd and 3rd book in my children’s book series about how we can use our 5 senses to share, please visit my crowdfunding page.
Do you have a copy of my children’s book “Your Hands Can Change The World!”
Did you know that I also offer an educational resource full of activities to deepen and extend the lessons in the book: “Use Your Hands to Share: Exercises for Hearts & Hands.”
Are you an educator, group leader, home-schooling parent, or passionate about educating children with a positive, proactive outlook?
I offer an E-Book bundle perfect for keeping your kiddos busy during the summer. I’d love to share it with your family.
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Share their responses in the comments!
This is the fourth installment of the new blog series, ‘Shiny Sparks.’ Today we hear from lifestyle blogger, Dakotah Hale. Here’s her take on maintaining inspiration.
“What Keeps Me Inspired”
I am surrounded by inspiration all around me. From the feather that I spot on the street to the birds flying in the sky. Nature, people, the landscape around me-everything. As a blogger and somebody with a creative background I am constantly in awe and in thought of beauty in everything. I find this to be a wonderful way to experience life. When I first start my day I like to wake up and immediately say five things that I am grateful for before my feet even reach the floor. This allows me to wake up inspired and ready to start my day. I then move on to doing my five minutes of morning meditation where I focus on quieting my mind and truly reflecting from within. This is a huge opportunity for me in the morning that allows me to really put my best foot forward and be in the right mindset.
After my morning routine I like to move on to getting ready for the day. Since I have a 9-5 job during the week I have to really be mindful of when I can focus on my blog and let my creative juices start to flow. I do my blog work at night and on the weekends where I give myself permission to let the inspiration flow from within. I truly love doing my blog and I believe that when you love something it is very easy to always stay inspired. However, if I do hit a block in the creative road I simply take walks to really clear my head and ask the universe to allow me to get refocused and re-energized. This usually helps to get me back on track and back to doing what I love. The recipe for staying inspired is to simply do what you love and surround yourself with people that love and support you.
Dakotah Hale is the founder of ‘Elephant Shoes,’ A love & lifestyle blog that is dedicated to inspire you to love and create everything you have ever dreamed of. After all, when you whisper “Elephant Shoes” it silently appears that you are saying “I love you” from far away.
Dakotah currently resides in Dallas where she is constantly on the search for new wellness hacks and focusing on spreading peace and love online as well as in the community.
This week is the third installment of the new Shiny Sparks series, and we hear from MC Dalet about the power of music. MC Dalet provides a snapshot into his creative process: music is his guide, his healer, and an expansive tool to fuel his own creations.
I can work anywhere. In fact, a piece often pops into my mind, and I immediately jot down what I can, wherever I am. I work in spurts, and sporadically. But if I need to jump-start a creative session, my fuel of choice is music. I suppose it would be trite to say that I draw my inspiration from music were I strictly a lyricist, but that’s hardly the case. By career I’m an academic, building scholarly articles, presentations, and classes. I am a poet, a playwright, and as of late, I’ve written a fair amount of speculative fiction. No matter the mode or genre I’m spinning I find myself searching for the rhythm of the thing as much as I am for language, and I buckle down best at night, when the beautiful but raucous voices of my small children fall silent to slumber and the inaudible noise of emails and tasks take a pause. In the darkness, the light is revealed–there is clarity and inspiration. I sit on my back porch beneath a canopy of trees, the rustling of their leaves and the wind (or the insects) a buzz of white noise, cleansing the sonic palate. Inspired by urban nature I begin a generative process by throwing on some music. Headphones on, I brainstorm, sketch, and draft wildly in bits and pieces, phrases and rough, swirling thoughts. There’s no lyrical bleed-over. Though sometimes song subjects do nudge content, my content generally comes from the day’s memory banks and wild imagination now blending with the mood and cadence of my chosen musical input, be it synth-laden Rush, the distorted folk of Neil Young, the driving pound of Tool, the wandering movement of Edie Brickell, or whatever just seems right. After a few songs, or one side of a record, silence. Everything coalesces into its own unique rhythm and full drafts emerge. I’ll edit in the light of day, when the Dreamtime gives way to tasking. For me, writing is a rhythm. When I remember that life is a jam session, all I have to do is find the riff I need, let pen hit paper, and make it sing.
MC Dalet holds a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas and teaches humanities and English at Tarrant County College. He has presented his scholarship and performance pieces, which focus on performativity and the interdependence of life and art, in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. As a performer, he has trod the stage as an actor, fallen off buildings as a stunt performer, and raised a ruckus as a percussionist and (sometimes) vocalist with Mule Dixon, Fish Fry Bingo, and Shotgun Friday (https://www.facebook.com/ShotgunFridayTX/; https://shotgunfriday.bandcamp.com/releases). He is currently writing a scholarly book and working on a solo album with the help of the band Straight 2 Video. His poetry, short fiction, and drama have appeared in Marine Creek Reflections, New Plains Review, and Sojourn and on his Facebook page (https://m.facebook.com/MCDalet/). Dalet is a regular contributor in Essay Club (https://www.facebook.com/EssayClub/) .
“I’ll trade you my Barbie for 2 of your My Little Ponies.”
“Ok, but you can’t have Twilight Pegasus.”
“Well you can’t have Barbie and The Rockers, just one of the regular ones.”
My sister and I championed this phrase. It was our secret handshake.
Then, when we were older:
“I won’t tell Mom you set the trash can on fire if you let me borrow your car. And no takebacks.”
My sister is 19 months younger than me, so if I accepted this offer I’d be breaking the law. And really, she was playing dirty with this negotiation.
I hadn’t set the trash can ablaze on purpose. After school one afternoon I was in my parent’s office, talking on the phone, probably to a boy. I was probably chattering, excitedly. He was probably pretending to listen. I’m not a person who just sits and talks on the phone. I fill the space with a mindless action: doodling, shuffling a deck of cards, typing random sequences on a word document, and then when I got older, smoking cigarettes. This time, I was lighting matches. I’d strike the match, watch it burn down until the flame almost met with my fingers, and then I’d shake it out until the ember became a black trail of sulfur smoke. I guess I didn’t let one of the matches burn out long enough because my one-sided chatter halted when I smelled the rancid odor of burning paper. I hastily mumbled “I’ve gotta go!” to my boyfriend, and barely got the phone back on the hook when the smoke detector started screaming.
My sister came running. “Chris! What happened?!”
“I accidentally set the trash can on fire!”
We were latchkey kids. A common part of being a kid in the 1980’s. Our bus stopped in front of our house at around 4 p.m. and my mom didn’t get home until almost 6 pm, so our late afternoons were filled with freeform adventure, mostly in the form of television, unsupervised snacking, and long phone calls with boys, which our mother hated.
Instinctively, I ran to my parent’s room and grabbed the jug of distilled water that was always on the iron board. I doused the flames.
The fire alarm screamed, and my sister was panicking. It was a brutal and invasive irritation, and I think we both feared that somehow there would be some sort of record that it had been set off. That our dad would come home early from one of his week-long business trips and know it had happened. We had no idea how to stop a smoke alarm from alarming, so we did what I must’ve seen on television: we hit it with the end of a broom handle. The scenario is always the same in these fictions: the broom handle hits the alarm case, the alarm case breaks, the batteries fall out, and the noise stops.
I frantically jabbed at the white plastic disc, which was attached to the ceiling. It was harder than the movies made it look. I could hardly reach it even with an extension. I failed to stop the screeching and instead punched broom-handle sized holes in the ceiling all around the smoke detector. I can’t remember how we got the damn thing to stop wailing, but it eventually quieted. We waited for the phone to ring, for the fire department to show up, for Dad to pull into the driveway, but instead it was just silence, my sister and I, the smell of burnt paper, and pure adrenaline.
I told her, “I need to clean up the trash can.”
I returned to the scene only to see that all the water I’d used to extinguish the flames had leaked out the bottom of the rickety, old school metal bin. Dark, sooty stains puddled out onto my mom’s newly installed, light gray carpet. And the clock was ticking. She was due home in less than an hour.
We devised a plan in which I held the trash can over a bucket while we carefully lifted our contraption and moved it down the hall, down the stairs, wincing at every slosh, until we got it out the back door and dumped the soot in the mulched garden bed. I used the water hose to rinse out the remaining evidence from the bin, and my sister dried it. Then it was back upstairs to the office, where we used old cleaning towels and Formula 409 to frantically scrub the soot out of the carpet. Next, I furiously vacuumed the spots to dry the carpet, begging it would be sufficient to go unnoticed.
“What about the holes in the ceiling?!” my sister cried. Her anxiety in the moment only proves our eternal bond, despite our ongoing sibling rivalry. She had not caused any of this carnage. If our efforts to cover up my dumbass actions were unsuccessful, she wouldn’t have been the one in trouble.
“Well, Daddy always uses spackle for holes,” I said.
So, it was back down the stairs, out into the garage, where we madly searched for the miracle paste. Back upstairs, my sister held the small step ladder while I clumsily globbed into and over the holes, praying no one would notice. My broom handle attack had also cracked the face of the smoke detector, so I spackled that too. When I noticed the shade of white in the spackle was different than the detector’s hue, I used my craft paints to try and blend the color.
Finished, sweaty, and out of breath, we stood in a weird, silent expectation just long enough to realize it still smelled like smoke and burnt paper, so we turned the ceiling fan on and opened all the office windows.
We put away our crude instruments. We waited.
My mom got home at her normal time. She was happy to see us. We talked about school, and ate dinner, and watched our evening programs, and told our dad goodnight from whatever city he had traveled to that week and got ready for bed. Throughout the evening, my sister and I shared furtive looks, expecting that any second Mom would ask us why the carpet was wet, or why the windows were open upstairs, or why all the distilled water was gone, or why we were being so nice to each other…but she didn’t. It was a wildly uneventful, normal suburban evening in middle America.
So, years later when my sister brought up the small fire as a bargaining chip to take my new car, and my brand spanking new driver’s license, I agreed. Not because I was thought I’d be punished or because I believed she’d actually tell on me. I agreed because despite our complicated sisterhood, and our startling differences, she’s always been my partner in crime. This pattern of negotiation created a stable bridge for us to be united. She’s the only person in the world who really gets my wacko genius, and she’s the first to step up and protect it. Every time. Unconditionally. When we’re united, we’re unstoppable. My trouble is her trouble. Her pain is my pain. Forever and ever. No takebacks.
My 6-year-old daughter came screaming into the house as I put the final dinner dishes in the dishwasher. The clang of the appliance’s gate clattering our dirty tableware synchronized perfectly with the front door of the house, bursting open with my child’s wail. Startled, I asked if someone had been hurt.
My daughter sobbed through her story – a misunderstanding had happened on her bike ride with her brother and it had escalated to this. My daughter is sensitive – there are no warning signs to signal an impending meltdown. She accelerates from happy kid to crisis in mere seconds and it can be immobilizing for everyone. And it can be challenging to unpack her upset, to find the cause of it, and help her center herself again.
But I persevered with her. And she did calm down enough to tell me what had happened to upset her. She had gotten her direction all mixed up. She thought home was one way, but she was really going in circles. No one was listening to her. She wanted to come back home through the alley instead of the street, her brother wasn’t listening to her, and she freaked out thinking they were lost.
“I have a feeling no one in the world has ever felt!” she cried.
“And what feeling is that?” I asked.
“Confidence losing.” she said. More tears. Big and fat rolling waves from a deep well inside. “I lost my confidence and I’ll never get it back.”
In that moment I felt the impulse to correct her. To tell her that losing confidence is something everyone faces and it’s a big part of the game of life. I thought for a split second that sharing a story about all the ways I’ve lost confidence would help. But in the next split second that feeling was overtaken by a knowing that she needed me to let her feel it, and all I could do was hold space for her experience and be an ear and unconditional heart. She shared a lot of what was on her heart. I asked questions instead of giving answers. She calmed down and we agreed on a plan: when she felt like she was losing her confidence, her ‘confidence losing’ feeling, she’d take a few deep breaths and try again. Her bike ride drama had in fact been only a trigger for a bigger experience that had happened at school, and a lingering fear she’s been carrying that she can’t do several things she wants to do.
This is pretty big talk for a 6-year-old, but that’s my kiddo. She’s always been wise beyond her age, and has a deeper understanding of the bigger picture. When she’s allowed the space to just have a meltdown – if I love her through an upset instead of punishing her or judging the events, we have conversations about some pretty deep concepts. I know I’m planting seeds of confidence and fortitude. I refuse to make her sensitivity wrong.
I did eventually share with her a few times I’d lost my confidence, how I had to practice some things many times before I felt strong enough to trust myself to do them. We agreed she can practice until she’s stronger, and she began her bedtime routine with a much happier vibe.
But the conversation stuck with me. We hear a lot of disembodied motivational quotes and watch inspirational success stories, but how often do we think of the minutia? The day-to-day grind of practice and commitment required to achieve our goals and dreams? How quickly we lose our own sense of confidence and accomplishment over trivial things – someone offers feedback that is hard for us to hear, or we don’t see the results of our efforts for what seems like a very long time.
The process of idea to actualization can be a brutal roller coaster of doubt and uncertainty. Sometimes, we do fail. We have to start over from the beginning or scrap a plan entirely. Sometimes the things we’re asking for just do not happen. Sometimes they do happen, but the results are so different from what we expected that we wonder why we ever even wanted ____________.
Lately I’ve come to a new understanding for myself. I don’t ever fail, no matter how it appears in the moment. If I don’t get the results I’m after, I know I can look at the situation from a different angle. I can let go and ask what else is possible. If I’m still working on myself and fighting for my own happiness and dreams, then I’m never failing. It’s a judgement I’m no longer willing to abuse myself with.
I hope this is a lesson my daughter can internalize because she sees me doing it every day, and not because I offer platitudes. I hope I can be the person I know I can be, and that by BEing that my daughter knows that her ‘confidence losing’ is just a tiny blip on an otherwise beautiful trajectory.