Author Archive | Debra Smouse

Sunday Sanctuary: When Makers Gather

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

I take the Q Train to Brooklyn on a sunny September Wednesday to have coffee with another maker. We know each other the way people know each other these days – mutual friends, becoming Facebook friends, witnessing the ways we each make art. She tells me about an idea she has for a film, confessing she’s only told one or two others so far.

There’s something about the vulnerability of a new idea for a creative – the need to share pieces of it with others, the desire for another soul to see the glimmer of brilliance within it. We need to see the sparkle in someone else’s eye or a nod of the head to let us know that they get it.

There’s also something delicate about a new idea – and we know that we can’t share even a smidge of the idea to just anyone for the idea is too tender. Nor can we overshare, knowing that too much talking about a project can shift us into perpetual talk and no action. Or worse, take the magic out of the idea.

Steven Pressfield confesses to using a code name for each project… so The Devil doesn’t Know The Real Name. We all have our suspicions around art making.

Her moment of sharing is an act of sacred trust, the acknowledgment that she sees a spark within my soul. I treat the moment like a china figurine filled with gossamer light.

I’ve brought her a gift of tea towels, one of which sported a map of Ohio. We spread it on the table between us and talk about the geography of Ohio and the surrounding states.

Her idea for her next movie involves a Road Trip through the Midwest.

***

Five months later, she asks me if I’d be willing to act as a producer for the film. There are too many logistical pieces. I agree and begin leaning into one of my favorite things: spreadsheets!

We rely upon a new-to-me app: Voxer. And over the months, as we talk about the film we do what we humans do best: we share stories. As we discuss our daily moments and confess our strengths and challenges over the months and a deeper connection between us forms.

I talk her off ledges and fill out paperwork for SAG. She talks me off ledges of art making and witnesses the ways in which I serve those I love. I remind myself and her time and again that “life is happening FOR you, not TO You.”

We set the schedule for the road trip to coincide with my partner, John, being away on a business trip.

***

Seven months after we spread the tea towel across a table in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, she pulls into my driveway. She has driven from New York to Ohio and her car is filled with people she loves: another filmmaker, an actor, and an artist. Her car is also filled with clothes and food and computers and cameras.

We hug and I usher them into the house. We have an aggressive time table for the evening, but first: dinner.

Already at my home is a local gent and his daughter. He’s part of the larger Kindred Community and has agreed to serve as a mentor for those in need of connecting with other creative souls.

I’ve reached far and wide to provide film extras. They arrive, one by one. A consultant turns storyteller. A champion of film making in Dayton. A girlfriend from my book club along with her husband. A local coaching colleague who also happens to be a musical theatre actor. Her neighbor.  The mentor’s wife and his middle daughter. A writer and member of the Dayton storytelling community.

We range from fifteen to seventy.

Folks mingle. Migrate to the porch. Connect with strangers. Tell stories. We shuffle folks upstairs and down. A mock workshop on art. A mock workshop on storytelling.  We snack, laugh, connect, and share our own stories of joy.

Folks leave and I shift into nurturing mode: ensuring everyone has a bed, a towel, and the WiFi password. We talk about future film days and locations. We review the morning schedule, agree to a 9 AM breakfast, and I ensure that both coffee pots are full of beans and ready to go. There are tea bags and teakettles filled with water, just waiting to boil.

We make adjustments to the filming schedule for the next day sitting side-by-side at my dining table.

By midnight, each of us is snug in our bed for the night. Less than six hours after they arrive, the first full day of the road trip and filming is officially complete.

***

It never matters how late I go to bed, I wake around six each morning. The morning after is no different.  Yet, my world is different. I’ve spent the last twelve hours immersed in the creative lives of others. My house is quiet as I toss on clothes and a long sweater. I start the coffee and join her on the porch.

Everyone else is still abed so It’s just the two of us as we talk about the previous night, the day ahead, and life. And how life is affecting our art.  We begin to look ahead to the rest of the road trip, the schedule, and I pull out my laptop to fire up a Mailchimp note with location details for two nights away.

She leans into me and smiles.

“I hope we get to do this again. Sit on your porch and work together.”

Others begin to rise, float in and out. More coffee and tea. I warm a breakfast casserole and set out fruit. And before long, the food disappears and it’s time for them to go.

What began as an inkling of an idea has begun to be born as a film.

***

“If we could make our house a home, and then make it a sanctuary, I think we could truly find paradise on Earth.”
— Alexandra Stoddard

When we create art, we must make it from a space of vulnerability. And safety. We need a sanctuary from the rest of the world and that safety comes from people we connect with, a favorite piece of equipment, and a port in the storm.

I am reminded that a roof and walls is a house, but what makes it a home is the choice to curate a nourishing environment. I’ve taken the best of who I am and proven to myself that creative a life includes curating a sanctuary.

As such – both an extension of my creative spirit and my safe haven – I protect it fiercely. I know that the wrong energy can damage or taint it, so it was with great care that I open my home – my sanctuary – and provide a safe haven for folks to land, be themselves, and create.

And I am also reminded that though we are often alone when we create, we are always a part of something more.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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The Goodnight Ritual by Kolleen Harrison

Ever since my two daughters were little girls we have had our “I love you” rituals at the end of each day.

As a single mom it was very important to me to tuck my girls into bed each night, snuggling them in just so, making certain they were warm and cuddly, and had whatever they may need before calling it a night. This time of days was hands down my absolute fav, as they were typically all sleepy eyed and mushy and willing to let me love and hug on them as much as I wanted to. Often times even asking me, “Please stay” or the obvious nightly question, “Mom, can we sleep with you?”

One night, when my youngest Sydnie was about 3 years old, I went in to her room per usual, sat down beside her as she lay in bed and said “I love you Syd”.She looked up at me with her beautiful big blues and said “I love you too mommy.”

I then proceeded to delay the goodnight a little longer, asking her, “Syd, how much do you love me?” She looked at me, smiled, and innocently responded, “I love you 47 mommy.” I sat there for a minute, smiling and laughing under my breath, thinking to myself, “This kid, never ceases to surprise me with some of the things that come out of her mouth!” I leaned down, gently planted a kiss on her forehead and quietly exited her room.

As I began making my way down the hallway towards my bedroom, I started to giggle even more, reflecting on her words and admiring the sweet innocence of my littlest.

The next day started out as “one of those” days. Syd didnʼt like the way I did her hair, I ran out of milk for their cereal, an argument arose because Syd wanted to wear her favorite pair of jeans AGAIN, (for God only knows how many times in a row!), and traffic was a damn nightmare!

On top of that Syd had to pay a visit to the principalʼs office at her school for continually not listening to her teacher. (Iʼm pretty sure this was Ms. Flippenʼs absolute last straw with my little bit and her “very social” ways!)

Unfortunately that evening when we arrived home, I had to do what I believe many parents dread doing, and implement a consequence for her behavior. Her punishment – “No TV, reading or coloring, and then straight to bed.”

As bedtime rolled around, the normal routine played out. I went into Sydʼs room, sat down beside her on her bed and began to get her all nestled in. I looked at her and softly said, “I love you Syd”. She hesitated and reluctantly muttered “I love you too mommy”. I could tell in her face and body language she was still somewhat mad at me, not really making eye contact and barely letting me hug on her. I asked her, “Syd, how much do you love me?” To which she replied, “I love you zero mom”.

It took all I had to not bust out laughing at her response presented in such a stoic, matter of fact, steadfast manner.

The following day came and went, without much fuss or drama. (Thank God!) Once again as bedtime descended upon us, the “I love you” exchange occurred between Sydnie and myself. Although, this particular night it was a bit out of the ordinary. Tonightʼs response not only completely and utterly melted my heart, it created a night time ritual to this day, 11 years later.

This special night when I asked Syd, “How much do you love me?” She looked at me, sat up in her bed, wrapped her precious little chubby arms around my neck and whispered “To the last number mommy.” (MELT YOUR HEART, right??!!) I squeezed her tightly, whispering back in her ear “I love you to the last number too Syd”.

Thus, The Goodnight Ritual was born.

Today, Syd is 14 years young and we still say those words to one another every night, although we have shortened it to “TLN”. (We decided to do this knowing it can be our little secret for when her friends may be around). It is a beautiful, tender night time ritual birthed from humor, love and innocence which I will gladly continue on for as long as I am able.

“I love you to the last number. Goodnight”.

About the Author: Kolleen Harrison

kolleenHarrisonbioKolleen Harrison is a creative living in the beautiful Central Coast of California. She is the Founder of LOVEwild and Founder/Maker of Mahabba Beads. Her passions lie in nurturing her relationship with God, loving on her happily dysfunctional family, flinging paint in her studio, dancing barefoot, making jewelry (that is so much more than “just jewelry”), and spreading love and kindness wherever and whenever she can. You can find her popping in and out at LOVEwild.org or MahabbaBeads.com

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Video Friday by Jeanette McGurk

In an odd coincidence, my daughter and I had a similar writing theme this month.  She had to write a paper about a favorite ritual.  I have been ridiculously indecisive about what ritual or routine I have wanted to write about for this issue of Modern Creative Life.

As I’ve gotten older, pondering these things takes on edges of nostalgia and love that feel overwhelming. That much emotion sometimes leads to the equivalent of writer’s freezy brain.  Unfortunately it doesn’t go away as quickly as Slurpee freezy brain.

So, in desperation I went hunting for inspiration through my 5th grader.  “Umm, so what ritual did you end up writing about for school?  Easter with your cousins?  Summer weekends at Grandma and Grandad’s?  New Year’s Day cheese grits?” I ask.

“No,” she says, “I wrote about Video Fridays.”

I try to probe more, get specifics in her words but for her it is something we do every Friday.  She and her sister love this small 30 minute activity more than almost any other treat I could offer up.  And this started kind of as a fluke.

The last days of summer we tend to spend being really, really, lazy.  I have been known to pull through the McDonald’s drive thru at 3pm in my pj’s, girls in the back in their pj’s, for dunch.  Our afternoon version of brunch.  We just combine lunch and dinner.  Then around 6pm we have ice cream and hot chocolate chip cookies; custom made 4 at a time from the tube.  On these days, when all the play, and crafts and swimming are spent, the days when the Texas August heat has beaten us down into our nice cool house cave, the girls binge on their favorite YouTube videos.

These binges are epoch.

Lauren can watch 3 hours non-stop of Cookie Crumble.  A woman whose face we never see but who has lovely, well manicured finger-nails.  One of her YouTube channel activities is opening 100’s, perhaps even thousands of mystery Shopkins.  The latest craze in Kiddom is to buy mystery toy packs.  My kids love them almost as much as Video Fridays and apparently, Lauren can watch someone with unlimited resources open one after another for hours on end.

For Helen, her favorite YouTube diet consists of people sampling different mods and playing Minecraft.  She is a connoisseur and should you ask, she would recommend Pat and Jen as the best of the lot.

Does the previous two paragraphs seem foreign to you?  It absolutely did to me.  I realized one day that listening to my children talk about this stuff was like interacting with martians.  Granted, perhaps if my husband and I were better parents, the kind who meticulously screen all the content going into their young brains, we would speak Minecraft lingo and Cookie crumble.

We are not those parents.  We were 70’s kids.

We lit matches in the street.  We climbed in houses being built during the early 80’s housing boom.  We wandered for hours unsupervised on foot and on bikes without cell phones or bicycle helmets and survived.  It is not in our DNA to super screen.  But, we do like to communicate with our kids, and our kids, who are just starting to get an inkling that we are dorks, still like to hang out with us.  In fact, I was being followed constantly through the kitchen while chopping onions or putting a roast in the oven, “Mom, mom, look at this video.  It is hilarious.”  You cannot learn YouTube martian lingo in these moments.  I realized I needed a dedicated time to be immersed, undistracted.

“Girls,” I said, “why don’t we sit down after I get this in the oven.  In fact, Fridays while dinner is cooking is a good time.  We can all share a favorite video we have watched from the week.”

In that moment, a family ritual was born.

I had no idea what an instant sensation this idea was going to be.  It has spent at least 20 weeks at the top of the charts.  Any week we miss, we double up the next week.  I cannot tell you how many times I have watched the “Puppy Monkey Baby” commercial in horror.  The girls never tire of watching me cringe.  In fact, a lot of the videos are cringe worthy but occasionally I will shout with glee over a particularly fun pumpkin carving Minecraft competition or the very cool movie theater mod someone created.  It never gets old trying to mimic Cookie Crumble’s high pitch munchkin voice.  In fact I think she uses some sort of machine to make her voice do that.

I, of course, torture the kids with inspirational TED talks and nature videos.  All 5 minutes or less.  After Helen’s first 35 minute Minecraft video we had to set time limits.  So the whole thing is usually wrapped up in 20 minutes.

Seriously, it is only 20 minutes every Friday and yet, it is the ritual the kids talk about before bedtime Thursday night.  It is what we discuss at Friday morning breakfast.  It is brought up after school.  It is what Helen chose to write about above all the other rituals we have so carefully crafted over the years.

Perhaps it is because in those few minutes every week, they know, I want to know what they find funny or interesting or intense or silly.  I want to see their world, not to snoop or make sure they are not watching something they shouldn’t.  It is a ritual set aside with no purpose other than letting my children know that their world matters to me.

Years from now, when they think back on Video Friday and they have a moment of emotional Freezy Brain, I hope that is what they remember.  Well that and I hope they suddenly get the urge to look up Puppy Monkey Baby as adults and experience the cringe!

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

Typical Tuesday with Laura Foley

I wake or, more preciously, am awoken, before 6 a.m. by our dogs, who insist it’s morning, in spite of still-dark skies. After a quick walk, I feed the beloved beasts— two German Shepherds,  Arlo and Alys; one yellow Labrador, Chloe. I prepare peppermint tea, return to bed with a cup for my partner and one for me.

But let me back up for a minute. For twenty years I was happily married to a man. After my husband died, I was busy raising our three children through their teen years; I also discovered I was attracted to women. Those years included many soul-searching, silent retreats, Zen ordination, Chaplaincy training,  Jungian analysis, Karate (I made it to second level Brown Belt) and Yoga (trained as an instructor).

And I discovered poetry.

Before that, I had been an academic, with degrees in English Lit. from Columbia University. I had read a lot, and studied a lot, but I had never written anything creative. At 45, as my husband was dying, I started writing. Today, 15 years later, I have six poetry books published, two more in progress.

On this Tuesday, I return to bed with two cups of tea, one for my partner, Clara, whom I have lived with for four and a half years.

After another snooze of the alarm, I get up at 7:15. The sky is brighter now, sun beginning to light the yard around our house. I jump in the shower, drive from our house in Pomfret Vermont to my favorite yoga class in Norwich. The teacher’s approach is Tantric, which fits nicely with Zen: a body-centered awareness, including explorations of how emotions manifest, how to work with them. Yoga class is a spiritual experience for me, a reminder of the ever-present, deeper stream beneath the busy-ness of a day.

After yoga, it’s off to a local coffee shop for oatmeal and a cappuccino. I make a nest of poetry books, my laptop, and spend some time reading poems on Writer’s Almanac, Poetry Breakfast, Autumn Sky, Poetry Foundation. Today I also watch a You Tube video interview with Sonia Sanchez, a poet who speaks about being in China, recites a haiku about the International Date Line. This triggers a memory for me. I grab my notebook, start to write about my father’s WWII experience (he was in China).  This is a subject I have tried to wrestle with before, how he always knew war would start on a Sunday, and it did, but it was Monday in China, because of the date line. Today the idea returns in full force, and I’m off, into the creative process.

After about twelve drafts, I feel the poem is ready to share with my online women’s group.  I have been in the habit of sharing rough drafts with them for many years; often receiving encouraging responses. They are my family, and I’m sharing work hot off the press.

By now it’s time for lunch,  soup and salad.  I spend the afternoon editing older poems, sending finished poems out to competitions and journals, preparing for the writing workshop I will lead tomorrow, in the local hospital, for those affected by serious illnesses.

At 5:00 I return home, over the river and through the trees, to our house far away, up on a hill in the woods of Vermont. My partner is preparing a delicious dinner of spaghetti squash with her own tomato sauce. Clara, originally from Spain, is a foodie, one of those fabulous, rare beings who loves to cook.

After her full day at the Law School, where she’s a professor, she unwinds by preparing me my favorite meals. As she stirs and chops, I carry in wood, prepare a fire in the fireplace, take the dogs out for a romp around the yard. We eat dinner, share stories about our day, sit on the couch with a cup of tea, some dark chocolate and a cookie. We watch Trollope’s Doctor Thorne on Netflix.

At ten o’clock, I take the dogs out one last time. I notice the brightness of the stars on this new moon night; Orion, reaching across the sky.

About the Author: Laura Foley

Laura Foley is an internationally published, award-winning poet, author of six collections. She won the Common Goods Poetry Contest, judged by Garrison Keillor; and the National Outermost Poetry Prize, judged by Marge Piercy. Her poetry collections include: WTF, Night Ringing, The Glass Tree and Joy Street. The Glass Tree won a Foreword Book of the Year Award; Joy Street won the Bisexual-Writer’s Award. Her poems have appeared on The Writer’s Almanac, in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Lavender Review, The Mom Egg Review, in the British Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, and many other journals.

A certified Yoga Instructor and creative arts facilitator in hospitals, she is the mother of three grown children, grandmother to two granddaughters. She and her partner Clara Gimenez live among the hills of Vermont with their three big dogs.

Follow her on GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Sunday Sanctuary: Bringing Copenhagen Home

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t thought  – or at least fantasized about – running away from home. While I don’t believe there’s magic pill that can fix whatever’s going on in our lives, travel has a sort of unstoppable power to help break us out of our ruts and illuminate changes we can make once we’re back at home.

For six months, I’d been struggling with any kind of consistent routine. Nothing I tried was as nourishing, supportive, or just right for where I was in my creative life as what I needed it to be.

A recent trip to Copenhagen changed that. In fact, by the second day of our time there, I felt as if a magical veil had been lifted, allowing me to find something that worked. My morning routine while there helped me write three times as much that week than I had in the previous three months.

Here’s what it looked like:

Each morning after rising, John showered and got dressed for the day while I did the basics of care: brushing my teeth and slip on some yoga pants and a tee. I’d scrape my hair back into a ponytail and we’d head downstairs to breakfast with his colleagues.

I had a typical European breakfast: hard-boiled eggs, veggies, fruit, and a thick piece of rye bread slathered with jam. And coffee, of course. After they headed to work, I went back upstairs to shower and get dressed. As I took my time putting on my make-up, I hopped onto my Voxer account and left a message to a couple of my friends – another writer and a filmmaker. My filmmaker friend was in the middle of a challenge on her next project, and my messages to her explored her options while also talking about what it is to be a maker.

Being hooked up to earbuds and my app while I looked in the mirror carefully applying cosmetics became a ritual of sorts, forcing me to voice what it is I do. Not just as a “life coach” but as a writer, a partner, an editor, a friend, a woman. I have this theory that extroverts aren’t as good at articulating these things as introverts; because we talk to understand what we think, often what spews forth sounds like nonsense. Yet, having this lifeline to friends, knowing that no one would hear my words for hours, morphed into something holy and needed.

Then it was time to leave the hotel, so with laptop and journal in hand, I walked the block from our hotel to the Baresso, a Danish coffee chain.

I’d head to a corner booth and shed my coat and scarf. I’d plug in my adapter, set up my laptop, and pull out my journal and a couple of pens. Then, I’d head to the counter to pay for my Triple Latte, which the manager, upon seeing me walk through the door, had already begun making.

We exchanged pleasantries, sometimes sharing little details about our life or day so far.

I shared a photo on Instagram

I would begin writing. I wrote letters on paper. I wrote in my journal. I wrote blog posts. I worked on my book. Every day, words flowed like a river.

Some days, I’d order lunch before I left. Some days, another latte or Americano.

I left between noon and one each day, back to the hotel to either coach a client on Skype or drop off my laptop before heading out to shop or explore. Often, my filmmaker friend had left me a message at this point of the day, sharing stories and details and talking about art making and life.

Each day felt satisfying. Like making progress and finding my way, something I’ve been struggling with since before September.

I actually lamented this to my writer friend and her question to me – wise as always – asked me what I needed to do to bring Copenhagen home with me.

On my flight back home, I began the process of analyzing what it was that worked so well and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Breakfast right away. I always wake hungry, but more often than not, don’t bother with much beyond coffee, at least not right away. Yet, my brain needs protein and my body needs hydration. To make this easier, I do a little prep on Sundays: boil eggs, slice bell peppers and cucumbers, and chop fruit.

Getting Dressed. It’s not unusual for me to wait to shower until late in the day. I get up, and get busy. Yet, devoting just a half-hour to ready myself for the world as a loving process went a long way towards my confidence. Working from home gives me freedom to dress however, yet sweats or yoga pants all day don’t add to my productivity ever. Though I go downstairs to my office to work, I’m dressing as if I’m heading out into the world.

Articulating Who I Am. Though my Voxer messages aren’t as long as they were whilst in Copenhagen, I’ve kept this ritual at least a couple of days a week.

Not being constantly connected. While we were in Europe, my phone stayed on “airplane mode” and I only connected when I had a WiFi signal. I’ve begun putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” AND I no longer allow my email to auto-sync. These two tiny shifts mean that my phone isn’t constantly distracting me. And, when I go to check for email or even messages, it’s a conscious choice.

A Beginning and An End. When you run your own business, it’s so easy to slip into the mode of always being “on”.  But having a set beginning and end to my “work” time forces me to focus rather than dawdle. By committing to a start to the day – after I’ve had breakfast and gotten dressed – as well as the end of the day (when John texts that he’s on the way home) focuses my time.

I know that I’ll never recapture the feeling of Copenhagen exactly now that we’re settling into our regular days. It’s hard to maintain the energy of Hans Christian Anderson, Hygge Comforts, Castles, and tales of Vikings. Yet, I was reminded that while home is always my favorite place to be, sometimes you have to leave the sanctuary it provides. In order to find the path to keeping our home a sanctuary for creating, we have to find our answers when we’re off exploring.

What about you? What do you find essential to good routines? When has travel helped you find a missing link?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The Magic of Gathering by Natasha Reilly-Moynihan

How is it that we come to know one another? One could say it is the moment we first meet and exchange pleasantries and yet, is what we learn in that moment enough to say we know someone? How is it that we truly come to know one another? We find each other inside stories. When we gather together with someone or with a number of others to tell our tales, we are seen and we see others in the most authentic light. After attending a recent gathering, I discovered that within a community of kindreds there lives the magic of true connection and belonging that we all seek.

The acceptance or extending of an invitation to come together instantly opens the door for infinite possibilities to arrive in our lives. As we invite people we know alongside people we have only dreamt of knowing to join us, a beautiful, diverse group assembles to share their truth which electrifies imagination and conversation. In those inclusive spaces, we can talk about the things that make us unique just as we are free to discuss the things that make us different. We are safe to share issues and find creative solutions. The most stunning part of our conversations is when we push beyond the things that we think divide us to find the many similarities that connect us. The differences and the similarities give way to a celebration of our humanity.

Within the communities we build, we practice not only heart-centered sharing but heart-centered listening.

In taking the time to deeply listen to someone, we are reminded that we are not alone. We listen knowing that we are being given a wonderful gift when someone grants us permission to truly see them. We build a trust with people who may become lifelines for us in moments of great joy and tremendous challenge.

Gathering allows us to not only share talents and passions with one another but it permits us to create our tribe. As you find your kindreds, the possibility that someone may inspire you to make a dream come true simply by sharing their story or vice versa increases significantly. The support and encouragement that develops helps serve as a reminder that we all have wings and together we can fly.

So often our society tells us that we have to “go it alone.”

If you want to make something, get out there and make it happen. “Don’t depend on anyone else”, we are told,” you can do it.” Yes, we can do it but often times what people forget is that we need one another to make it happen. We need the stories, the connection, the encouragement, the resources and most importantly, we need the nourishment that can only be found within our creative communities.

A community of kindreds is like a well of creative goodness. Coming together with people provides sustenance for the soul. So many of us work in isolation, creating works that express what is in our heart. That work is powerful and necessary but so is stepping out of that space and into a community of kindreds.

Becoming part of a community that believes all are welcome and anything is possible has such a powerful effect upon people. It provides a constant reminder that you can create the life you want, you can make your dreams happen and, while you are building, you have the support and love of a community of friends.

About the Author: Natasha Reilly-Moynihan

Natasha Reilly-Moynihan is a writer and artist who is part of The Local Community Initiative, a program to grant resources and online support to new and beginning community gatherers. For more information or to apply, visit jenleeproductions.com.

 

Sunday Sanctuary: The Picky Details

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

I was reading Lauren Graham’s I’m Talking As Fast As I Can and found myself nodding in agreement, saying “me, too!” and realizing that according to the advertising world, I am a woman beyond their preferred age and spear of ideal influence. Why? Because I have a favorite / preferred / won’t-choose-anything-else brand of paper towels.

She tells the story of how, despite the fact she needed paper towels, she turned down a huge pack of free ones from a friend because they were the wrong brand.  Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls fame and I share a love for the exact same paper towels. Bounty. Select-A-Size.

On the rare occasion I accidentally pick up the full-sized-sheet ones, I almost recklessly go through them and make sure Hope uses them when she cleansI don’t like the full-size sheets. I only use a half-sheet to clean the grinder when I make my morning coffee. And three halves is just the right size to cover my 2-cup Pyrex Measuring Cup when I heat a can of John’s (almost daily) can of tomato and basil soup. And when I pack his lunch, that perforated line is perfect so that I can provide two neatly folded lunchtime napkins.

But it isn’t just the paper towels I’m particular about. I only like the Glad Force Flex trash bags, Charmin toilet tissue, Tide Laundry Detergent, and Cascade Action Packs. And the best scent to indicate a freshly cleaned bathroom is PineSol, like my mother and grandmother used.

The tending of my creative life also plays favorites. Though I’m not too picky on the color of my ink, I only use Uniball 207 Gel Pens (medium tip) when I write letters or write in my my Leuchtturm 1917 Hardcover Journal.  (The A5 size with dot grid paper. )

From this little litany you might be thinking that I’m both picky and spoiled. Or wound incredibly tight with a series of anal rules for the way I choose to live my life. And while I admit that all three descriptions might fit me, the selection of individual elements that populate my daily life are deliberate choices I make in order to cultivate a kinder, more nourishing home environment. As Alexandra Stoddard writes in her book Living a Beautiful LifeWhen something small is right you can then forget about it and think about more lofty ideas.”

The little things matter because it allows me the grace of creation. When those seemingly small details are automatically tended, I have brain space. When those tiny physical needs are  met, it gives me the permission to get uncomfortable when it comes to my creative work.

I have learned in my almost forty-nine years that attention to these small details matters to the overall quality of life. Some choices are due to nostalgia and the deeper parts of my DNA. Though I rebelliously flirted with Gain in my twenties, deep down I know that my mother chose Tide for a reason. Realistically or psychologically, I believe that Tide makes my clothes cleaner.

Sometimes, tactile reasons drive our choices, drawing in a particular scent or feel. Pine Sol in every bathroom smells like my grandmother’s house. Soap & Glory’s Righteous Butter Body Lotion is the perfect example of that mix of tactile and scent with its silky texture and soft scent of roses.

When John first moved to Ohio and couldn’t find his preferred bar soap for the shower (Coast) I didn’t hesitate to search in every store until I found it. It mattered to me because it mattered to him and this seemingly small gesture was a way to choose the creation of a beautiful daily life.

Just like my day runs more smoothly when I have those perfect Bounty paper towels, his day begins swathed in the scent that means both clean and comfort. As a bonus, I now have the olfactory magic of connection any time I get close to him, that scent that is uniquely him: Coast Soap, Old Spice Deodorant, and freshly starched shirts.

No matter what your art may be  – writing, painting, film making, fiber arts – tending the tiny, seemingly insignificant details opens the door to feeling safe and comfortable. The magic of comfort is that it allows you to be uncomfortable when it comes to your art. Because, as we all know deep down, doing the hard stuff and choosing to expand and grow our art will always present us with scary and uncomfortable moments.

Cultivating my home has provided one of the least stressful ways to give me that safe space of expansion. And, outside of the ways we are makers, we are also in the midst of making in each moment of our day.

“Intimate, necessary details add up to one’s private life. Select them with care because they are your life.”
–Alexandra Stoddard

What about you? What details matter to the quality of your life? How does seemingly picky details enhance your creative life?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A Letter from the Heavens by Christine Mason Miller

I had an astrology reading done for the first time at the end of 2014, right around my birthday. As far as my knowledge of astrological meanings and intricacies before that reading, I knew I was a Scorpio, and that this meant I was fiery and passionate. My husband is a Scorpio too, and whenever we share this, the reaction is always, “Oh, wow!” (I get the impression they think we must have a) fierce clashes, b) wild sex or c) both. Maybe at the same time.) I like the persona of Scorpio—the intensity, the spiritedness—and I’ve always looked at it as something to live up to and honor.

Although the scorpion is not my totem animal—which would mean “I am a very strong person with the ability to inspire others” according to spirit-animals.com—as my zodiac sign, it has been with me for as long as I can remember, serving as a point of reference as I’ve tried to figure out who I am and who I want to be.

This week, I listened to my reading for the first time since it took place. I was struck by how clearly I remembered some parts of it and how quickly I had forgotten others. This was my natal chart, so it involved looking at what was happening at the date, time, and location of my birth, all of which tell a story about that particular time and place. Meaning, there was a very specific arrangement of things in the solar system, around planet earth, that were different from any other time and place. We all come into the world this way—with connections and relationships between the sun, the moon and the planets that are specific to the latitude and longitude of where we are born.

Astrology is something I can’t say I’ve even so much as dabbled in, but I think it’s possible I could get hooked on it without too much cajoling. The engineer in me loves the very precise diagram of where things were when I was born, with lines marking their angular relationship to each other. I love the symbols and the symbolism—the woman who gave my reading, Carol Ferris, uses the language of Greek mythology to tell the story in an astrology chart, so different characters were explained in a familiar context. Being able to visualize these characters and their stories was easy, which enabled me to understand their role in my chart.

After listening to my reading again this week, I walked away feeling affirmed. As in, the things that are going on for me right now internally are, in fact, reflected in the story of my natal chart as interpreted by Ms. Ferris. Which is not to say I got to the end of the recording and thought, “Yep, that’s exactly who I am!” but that I saw the connection between my existence and the vastness of the heavens that surround our planet. They say we’re made of the same stuff as stars, right? So perhaps the stars and the planets and the sun and the moon made their imprint on me the day I was born, which, like, fingerprints, might not necessarily determine my fate, but have been part of me from the moment I took my first breath.

In my search for meaning, understanding and awareness, I’ve read books, watched films, discussed, debated, and prayed. Getting an astrology reading was part of that process. It is helping me make sense of some of the forces at play within myself—my longing for beauty, my ambivalence about certain possibilities, the way I love being at home. I don’t see it as a guide that is telling me what to do but as a letter from the stars that says, “You’re doing just fine. Everything will be OK. Trust us.”

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Mystical Power of Words by Mail

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

Writing is a mystical process. You sit with pen in hand – or fingers poised over a keyboard. Words flow from your brain into your hands. Ink and paper help words become flesh. Words transform themselves into stories when they are birthed into the world.

In our 140-character social media society, we may have forgotten how this mystical process of writing is the embodiment of the ordinary magic when the words are then read.

It doesn’t matter who the reader is. Maybe it’s only you, rereading words in your journal. Maybe it’s anyone who passes by your blog or Facebook page. Perhaps you are seeking an audience that isn’t exactly countable as you send your words into the world by writing a book.

Or maybe you’ve leaned into the sacred space of love, connection, friendship, or advocacy by writing a letter intended for one, single individual.

I’ve been in love with the mystical process of turning straw into gold in the form of stories for as long as I can remember.  While the miller’s daughter may have never found joy when confronted by Rumpelstiltskin’s wheel, for me, spinning individual words into an essay, a piece of fiction, or a letter gleams as brightly as any precious metal.

I’m also in love with receiving mail. Opening the mailbox to find a card or letter is a physical reminder that somewhere out there, someone cares enough about me to go through their own ritual of turning their thoughts into snippets of their own story – just for my eyes. It’s proof that in the sea of humanity, I am valued. It’s a reminder that someone chose to connect with me by taking some of their precious time to not only write a few words in a card or pen a long letter, but also address an envelope, stick a stamp on it, and send it out into the world knowing that their precious words won’t be received for any number or days.

Yes, this can take place in a reply to a Tweet, a ‘like’ on a Facebook post, a comment on a blog entry. Emails can convey real sentiment. I will never tire of sharing real-time words via phone calls, nor will I ever undervalue the way a telephone call with a friend brightens my day.

A handwritten letter, though, holds a different kind of magic.

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”
― Phyllis Theroux

I know that I’ve mentioned it here before, but since August of 2015, I’ve been writing letters with a girlfriend focused mostly on our creative lives. We are both devoted to the process, honoring the fact that we each have daily lives full of responsibilities. Sometimes, there are weekly letters, our creative minds unable to stop the flow of thought. Other times, the letters lag and we eke out only enough energy to write a single letter a month.

As with all the various pieces of our creative life, letter writing ebbs and flows.

No matter which part of the cycle I’m in, I look forward to each letter. I experience a thrill upon opening my mailbox and finding a cheery envelope with my handwritten name upon it. I set each new arrival aside until I have dedicated time to sit and savor it.

I give myself time to reread and digest, and then I take up my pen once more. I begin afresh, putting more ink on paper, collecting thoughts, arranging words, filling pages or note cards either to save, or to send away. Sometimes, I tuck in a magazine article or a thin bar of good chocolate.

Whether I am writing letters or reading one, I find myself deeply connected with my own creative energy and better connected to enduring creative spirit of humankind.

  “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

We are living in challenging times. No matter what side of the aisle you may find yourself on politically, you’ve probably felt frustrated, angry, irritated, upset, fearful, exhausted, or disheartened in the last few months. I have felt all of those things at differing points, and the number one solace I’ve returned to is words.

Well, not just the solace of words, but the magical power of stories.

I purchased a beautiful copy of Beauty and the Beast purely for the illustrations by Angela Barrett. I read biographies of strong women. I’ve read books some might consider fluff, yet know they are secretly disguised as medicine. I’m reading a passage a day from the last journal written by a Catholic priest. I purchased a Sunday Missal. I’ve reread letters.  I’ve unsubscribed from folks that harp on politics, be it on Facebook, Twitter, or their Blogs. I’ve immersed myself within my journal, and sought new blogs to read that don’t focus on politics.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across the concept of InCoWriMo. A nod to the familiar NaNoWriMo where you commit writing a novel in November, InCoWriMo is a commitment to write a piece of correspondence per day in February.

What if I were to take up the challenge of writing a letter per day next month? I’ve already learned that receiving a letter makes me feel as if I matter. I’ve experienced the way a letter that arrives just when I’m feeling most discouraged can soothe my soul.

More than that, though, I’ve discovered that putting ink to paper in letter-form has shifted my creative DNA. It forces me to slow down, invites me to think differently, and encourages me to trust the mystical power of birthing my thoughts into the flesh.

The process of sending and receiving physical correspondence has it’s own tinge of magic. For how else can I explain receiving an encouraging letter about my body of work on the exact same day I got an email rejecting my application for a writing residency?

What if someone out there just needs to open their mailbox and find an envelope with their name on it, written by hand?

I can write letters of encouragement and letters of compassion and letters of love to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.

I can write thank-you letters to those who impact my world for the better, like authors, soldiers abroad, and the Postmaster General.

I can write a mushy love-note to John, for far to often we forget to appreciate those living under our own roof.

I can also use the power the written word can yield by taking up my pen as if it were my sword, writing letters to my Senators and Congressmen.

I ordered a fresh supply of stationary, readied my supply of postcards and greeting cards, and have stocked up on stamps. I’ve begun gathering addresses. I have committed to at least one piece of handwritten correspondence every day in February. (If you want to receive a letter in February, just leave a comment below or email me at debra (at) debrasmouse.com)

 “Our lives are made up of time, and the quality of our existence depends on our wise use of the moments we are given.”
–Alexandra Stoddard (from her book Gift of a Letter)

If writing is a mystical, magical process, then letter-writing must be one of the wisest uses of writing time. We must nurture and tend our creative life. And sometimes, we must fight to ensure that the outside world doesn’t encroach on our sacred need to create.

What might unfold in your creative life if you were to take your pen in hand for the sole sake of connecting with a single individual? How might taking up your pen as a sword be the best way to be an advocate? What magic might you open yourself to if you were to open your heart on paper? Might an age-old approach to correspondence tend the sanctuary of your own soul?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Dear Tender Heart

Dear Tender Heart,

Seven was a hard age for me. I broke my right arm in two places that year,  just as we were learning cursive. Mrs. Dean, my 2nd grade teacher didn’t love me, a shock after two years in my long academic career of being the teacher’s pet. Ballet was next to impossible with a big, heavy cast. (We won’t mention the horrible yearbook photo, with the crooked pigtails and chapped lips.)

And my sister, seven years older, had outgrown the patience to play with me, as her attention turned to boys, being a twirler with the band,  and performing at the football games. Oh, how I longed for her velvet and sequined costumes.

I arrived home from school one December Day to a big surprise: my mother had put up a tiny tree in my room and it was decorated with little felt dolls: toy soldiers, little blonde girls in Christmas dresses, and, of course, Santa and Mrs. Clause.

I had begun collecting dolls earlier that year, so the sight of all those little felt dolls made me feel so special and so loved.

I set up that little tree Christmas after Christmas until I was around twelve and began to outgrow dolls and Santa and the little table the tree sat upon.

Until this year, I had forgotten about that little tree.

I had also forgotten how, in so many ways, the mother of my childhood had been loving and generous.

Years of her depression and dissatisfaction at life had replaced the moments of light. The tantrums she threw and the hateful words she directed towards me as I grew into adolescence and womanhood overwhelmed all the kind words and gestures, pushing those memories to the recesses of my mind.

Instead, the memories that typically surface are the hard ones. I remember being a nineteen year old newlywed, so proud of my new home yet feeling confused as she screamed at me, telling me I was selfish for moving into a new house without her approval. Her demands that I “return everything she had ever given me since my marriage.”  It’s far easier for me to recall removing pictures from the walls, filling boxes with decorative knickknacks, and piling sweaters on top than it is to recall blue-clad soldiers and smiling, blonde-haired, felt faces.

The memories of neither of my parents meeting my second child until after her second birthday are stronger, oh Tender Heart, than the faded memories of a hand-stitched stocking adorned with little Gingerbread Men and my name in Gold.

Those years of pain and stress and rejection, I must admit, put layers and layers of protection around you, didn’t they, oh, Tender Heart?

I have a truly wonderful life, but I have to admit, this year has been as difficult for me as the year I was seven. There is so much anger and stress and pain in the world, it’s been a challenge to see the world from a place of love.  I create best from a space of peace and calm, and the environment of the outside world sure hasn’t been any of those things lately.

I dove into spiritual activities to soothe my soul during all the unrest in the world.

During the period between All Hallow’s Eve and Thanksgiving, I set up an “Ancestors Altar” to honor the Beloved Dead during the season of All Saints and All Souls Days. I gathered symbols of the season: an owl, a raven, and tiny pumpkins.  I retrieved the photo from our living room of my grandmother and the one of my parents along with their parents at a wedding shower, the only photo I have of either of my grandfathers. I found a photo of my friend who died on 9/11.

I dug through our photo albums.

First I pulled out photos of John’s grandparents, great grandparents, father, and brother. Then, I found the photos from my sister’s first wedding shower and bridesmaid luncheon in 1981. There, I discovered a photo of my Aunt Betty, who died two weeks after my mother. Then, I found this one photo, a picture of my mother laughing with her sister, Nita, who died in the 80’s along with their mother –  my grandmother – who died in 1992.

My mother was so young and full of joy in that photo. Still raven-haired and dressed in a bright pink dress. The mother I had before the years of depression dulled her sparkle. The mother who loved a young Debra, rather than the woman who seemed to despise the woman little Debra grew into.

Every morning through the fall, dear Tender Heart, I lit candles on that altar. I prayed for the souls of all those gathered there, seeing each face as a Beloved. I walked by their smiling faces several times a day and they kept me company as I worked.

And each day, that gaping wound of not being good enough for my mother to love began to get smaller. The walls I have constructed around you, on Tender Heart, began to crumble just a little. That is the mystical power of intention, candles, and prayer at work.

When Thanksgiving drew close, I knew it was time to break down my altar. I put away the candles, raven, and owl. I discarded the softening pumpkins and lovingly gathered the photos to save for next year.

I had no plans for another altar until St. Brigid’s Day in February and realized how bare the space would feel without the smiling faces, so I decided to put up a Christmas tree. I found a little tree at Target, on sale for $15. I bought extra lights and tiny baubles. It’s a happy little tree, illuminating the Spirit of Christmas as I work.

John arrived home from a business trip and I showed him my little office tree as we prepared to decorate the rest of our home. Then I remembered my first little tree standing in a room of my own, and I shared the story, and cried.

“You know, that’s the nicest thing I’ve ever heard your mother doing for you,” he replied.

He has been my witness. By my side, celebrating each Christmas with me since my mother died. This is my sixth Christmas without her, oh, Tender Heart, and only now am I able to reach into the depths of memories and retrieve interactions with my mother that don’t involve pain or more heartache.

I chose a couple of felt gingerbread men to adorn my new little tree; not like the toy soldiers or felt Santa, but still with the nostalgic memories of Christmas as a Child and the stocking my mother created with her own two hands. The remembrance, oh Tender Heart, of creations from love instead of the unimaginable space of anger and dislike is critical to extending these tenuous feelings.

Now, each morning, I turn on the lights on my personal Christmas tree. I sit in a recliner – displaced for the Christmas Tree of John’s Christmas Past – writing in my journal or reading, and, like the smiling faces from those old photographs, the twinkling lights illuminate the dark, shining love and hope, nostalgia and remembrance of the other little tree.

Each day, oh Tender Heart, you find a way to heal a little more as I seek a way to recall the loving gestures instead of the hateful ones. I am allowing the magic of honoring ancestors and the mystical power of grace and forgiveness to help me forget the bitterness.

Though 2016 has been a challenging year, this gives me hope that 2017 has the potential for more.

May you continue to find love, oh Tender Heart. And heal.

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present,hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”
–Agnes M. Pahro

Happy Christmas.

Debra ♥

About the Author: Debra Smouse

Debra is a life coach and the Editor in Chief of Modern Creative Life. She is the author of three books, including the recently released Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision.

She lives in Ohio and believes in the power of Love.

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