Archive | Sunday Sanctuary

Sunday Sanctuary: Blessings in Leather

I’ve never been a purse person. Well, I’ve carried a purse since I was in junior high, but choosing a purse had always been about practicality: is there room for my wallet, some lipstick, and a couple of books? Oh, and a pen and a journal (or two).

What I never understood, though, was so many lady’s love of the designer bag. Dooney and Bourke was a big deal in the 80’s and I remember shaking my head when my friend DaLana splurged on one our Junior Year of High School and I wondered: why? Why pay all that money for a purse that gets stuffed in a locker or dropped on the floor in the movie theatre?

I’m all about functionality. I usually buy black purses and black wallets.

Up until last year, the most I’d ever spent on a purse was $50 back in 2006. And that was because the strap on my purse broke while I was in DC for work and the most practical purse – a Fossil messenger bag – was on sale at Macy’s. And I had a coupon. It was black. It was serviceable. I carried it for at least three years until I just wore it out.

Then, last Christmas, I bought myself a cherry red Michael Kors Wallet at Macy’s.

My previous wallet was small: just the width of a credit card. It was usable, but not stylish, and I’m sure I got it at Kohls or Target for $10 or less. Yet, it was falling apart. In addition to falling apart, I had just read an article from Briana Saussy and buying a New Wallet for the New Year as a way to put Mojo into your Money Mindset and invite prosperity into your life. After reading Bri’s piece, I decided I needed a green, royal blue, or red wallet.

And yes, I looked at Target and Kohls for a “cheapie” wallet. Then it hit me: if I wanted to not only replace something that needed replacing, but also put the psychology behind it of choosing to invest in myself and the way I manage money, settling for a crappy clearance wallet wasn’t the way to go.

Yet, it’s in conflict with one of my core beliefs: use your good stuff every day. Wear your best perfume, use that china, and eat the best foods you can afford. And my experiment with higher quality make-up had shown to prove the adage “you get what you pay for”.

And hadn’t choosing to seduce my writing life by using beautiful journals shifted something within my soul?

And then there was the vow I made to myself shortly after the elections: I can’t expect to change the world if I’m not even taking care of myself. So, I committed to performing at least one extreme act of self-care each month. I’d already survived a several thousand-dollar dental visit. And going for what’s cheap doesn’t sound like extreme self-care.

So, why not do it in leather? If this were to be an extreme act of self-care, then I needed to invest in something that was both beautiful and of high quality.

For months, I carried that beautiful cherry red leather wallet in a $10 Target fake-leather purse. Which in some ways makes me think about the Hannibal Lector said of Clarice Starling: good bag and cheap shoes.

That $10 Target Purse, barely a year old, was falling apart and needed replacing. I may lust after the iconic Quilted Chanel bag in Vogue or obsess over an Ox-Blood Coach thanks to regular emails from Dillard’s, But the thought of spending triple figures on a purse just made that Inner Critic of mine begin to chastise me:

Who do you think you are?
What do you need with a designer bag?
Choose something practical.
And cheap.

Though I was looking for something more fun than hours at the dentist, this seemingly frivolous and surface level purchase wasn’t just about replacing a wallet. It was about the psychology of self-care and my money mindset. Since that purchase, I have been treating money – and the ideas behind personal wealth – differently.

I also treat myself differently every time I pull out that cherry red wallet: more thoughtful treats, more investing in nice things, less buying the least expensive item on the rack, and less random indulgences on stuff I don’t really need. What if a nicer purse could extend those feelings?

Then, a blessing arrived by email; a gift certificate to The Coach Store.

I’d coached a client through a challenging break-up. Yes, I’d gone above and beyond the norm, with daily calls and multiple emails and texts. But, I would do the same for any of my friends in the midst of a crisis. Providing kind words and thought-provoking questions in tandem, just as I would for anyone I cared for. He saw beyond me doing “my job” and wanted to give me a gift to show his appreciation.

We had talked about the need for him to treat himself: quality shoes, a beautiful briefcase, stylish clothes. So, he turned the tables on me, forcing me to walk my own talk. If I were to commit to extreme acts of self-care and if I were to encourage clients and readers to invest in themselves, and use their best stuff: shouldn’t I invest in something for myself?

And let’s face it, a purse is like a traveling sanctuary.

Your home for all things important, especially when you aren’t at home. There, I have not just my wallet, but my library and Starbucks cards, which gives me easy access to the life bloods of life: books and coffee. My purse holds lipstick, hand lotion, and pens. Gum. Pens and journals. And, of course, a book and my phone.

I walked into the Coach store and welcomed like an old friend. Katie seemed more excited about my gift certificate than me and couldn’t wait to help me find just the right bag. Not a purse, an investment in walking my talk. And I purposely didn’t look at practical black bags. No, I looked at their bags in Prairie Print, OxBlood, Olive, and Saddle.

A new sanctuary for that wallet. And the four pens and my journals. And my Kindle and a paperback book. And two shades of lipstick. I wanted a bag that would hold not just one journal, but two. I wanted to be able to have at my fingertips everything possible to manage bad breath, a desire for a snack, the need to check in on the world, and escape in a good story.

I had expected a snooty sales lady and feeling out of place. Yet, Katie felt like an old friend and confessed that the leather lined bags meant you could spill an entire smoothie in there and not ruin the bag. “Don’t ask me how I know!” she says as she sheepishly grins.

I left the Coach Store with a big bag, which inside contained a big black box wrapped with a copper colored ribbon. Inside was an Olive Leather Brooklyn Carryall, designed to hold it all (including a 13-inch laptop or tablet).

After unboxing it in my office – and storing the nifty storage bag – I discovered it would hold my wallet, a small make-up bag, two pairs of glasses, gum, my Kindle, two journals, four pens, two sets of earbuds, my phone, my iPod, and a book.

Then, an hour later, I got the call from my sister that my dad would be moving from the rehab hospital to hospice care in her house. Just two days earlier, I’d talked to my father and he sounded good. Stronger. Suddenly, the need for having a sanctuary in a bag became more real. This wasn’t just about running to the grocery store and stopping for a coffee, this was now a space that would hold everything I needed to hop a plane and head to Dallas.

As I sat in the Dayton Airport waiting for my flight to board, I sent (another) thank you text to my client: blessings in leather, I told him.

That bag had everything I could need for both practical reasons and comfort. At the airport, I added a banana and a granola bar. It held handkerchiefs and lipstick. A bottle of water and credit cards. My much-needed journal and pens.

When I returned home from Daddy’s funeral, I discovered that Coach had not forgotten me. In the mail was a handwritten thank you note from Katie informing me that I could bring my bag in for cleaning every three months at no charge for as long as I owned the bag.

After a week filled with grief and some drama, it was like a tiny love letter offering a port in the storm.

For me, it’s not about being able to say I own a designer bag, the reason many women tell me they indulge in Louis Vuitton or Kate Spade because of the way buying one makes them feel about themselves. I’ve learned that investing in a quality handbag provides me with comfort away from home. To have at the end of my hand a handkerchief, a piece of gum, or a pen.

And I have to confess: carrying it makes me feel different about myself. All the way down to my soul.

And I also was reminded that though I am simply a gal in Ohio with a single Coach purse, Coach wants me to feel valued as a customer. Investing in our relationship with taking care of me in a time when what I most need is a gentle gesture and kind word.

Blessings in leather, indeed.

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.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Only Certainties in Life

As the saying goes, nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes. We hope to lessen the affects of both of those certainties: tax breaks, eating healthy, tax deductions, exercise, and praying for no one falling and breaking a hip. But the older we get, the more likely we are to come face to face with the inevitable: the loss of one – or both – of our parents.

At not-quite-fifty, I’m a little old to take on the orphan moniker, yet with the loss of my father last month, there is no one around who sat with me when I had the chicken pox at six months, slept in my hospital room when I was five and had my tonsils removed, or went to the ER with me when I fell off a chair and broke my arm when I was in the second grade.

When my mother was dying in 2010, I managed her impending loss with lots of butter, cooking all her favorite dishes to coax her into just one bite. When she died, I dealt with the loss by traveling to numb the pain and then decluttering my life down to what would fit in my car by moving to Ohio to start fresh with John.

Perhaps all that butter greased my heart and made it a little more pliable and flexible so that I could take that big ole leap of faith. Deep down I know that I could have never have made that move while she was still living. My mother was tiny in size but her big personality demanded geographical closeness to tie us to her apron strings.

While my mother hoped to tie me down to hold me close, my father was always the one giving me the wind to soar on my wings.

Go work. Travel. Explore the world. Search for what will make you happy.

Five months after my mother died, I sat down with my father and we reviewed a list of what big tasks I’d have to undertake to fix up my house to sell it. Then, we looked at the seemingly low offer the We Buy Ugly Houses Guy had given me earlier that day.

After some quick calculations, he looked me in the eye and said: “Debra, take the money and run.”

And I did.

Daddy’s impending death was nothing like my momma’s. She lingered for twelve weeks after her lung cancer diagnosis. Daddy slowly shrunk thanks to advancing emphysema.

On July 7th, Daddy was sent to the hospital. After five days there, the doctors suggested a transfer to an acute rehab hospital with the goal of rebuilding his strength. Giving him an opportunity at some quality days ahead. We’d had a good conversation on Tuesday afternoon, he sounded strong and praised the surprisingly tasty hospital food and bemoaned his inability to watch the Western Channel in the hospital.

He was dead the following Tuesday. He passed away at 12:18 AM as I sat by his beside, sitting vigil as he’d done for me during numerous childhood illnesses.

After settling in at the rehab hospital, he had a panic attack and a heart incident. The doctor sent him home to my sister’s late on Friday night with hospice care. When my daughter visited him on Saturday, she told me I needed to get back to Texas. Now.

It’s hard to be the one that moves away. To not know when to hop a plane and when to wait.

I arrived while he was still coherent: he shook his finger at me and told me I should be working, not visiting him in Texas. Thirty-six hours later, he was gone. And barely a week after arriving in Texas, he’d died, we’d had a wake, buried him, and I was back home in Ohio.

In some ways, being the one that moved away meant that I’d already in some ways mimicked the traveling part after Mother’s death as a way to manage grief. You prepare to have already said goodbye when you last visited, even though you hope for one more hello. But there had been no last favorites to cook to entice a few bites out of him. No banana pudding, no blondies, no brisket.

Back in Ohio, though, there was no where to run. There were no closets to clean out, except my own. There was no need to bake or deal with casserole dishes left by those tending the grieving.

I lost my appetite and struggled with sleeping that first week, waking around three each morning…

It was a relief when John was finally awake, too. Him heading to the shower signaled a normal day, a new normal for me. I felt the first spark of moving forward when I began slicing a cumber for a salad and that crisp, clean scent hit my olfactory glands.

As my friend Becca is fond of reminding me, life goes on. And, the truth is, the man who encouraged me to take every business opportunity that came my way – be it in Mansfield, Tulsa, Washington DC, Chicago, or Dayton – would have been shaking his finger at me if I were to linger too much in the sadness and not tend to the important things. Work. Writing. Taking care of my home. Caring for myself and for John.

So, when grief overtook me, I turned to tasks that embodied caring and tending.

I cleaned the Tupperware cabinet. Though nothing in there is officially Tupperware, I still call that collection of storage containers the Tupperware cabinet.

I emptied a drawer in my dresser, ridding the space of sweaters I’d never wear and workout clothes that were worn out. Then, I took two bags of clothes to Goodwill.

I diced onions and sliced more cucumbers. I made large batches of boiled eggs and chopped fresh tomatoes. I bought the first of the local corn and remembered enjoying corn on the cob in the summers with my father, corn being one of the few vegetables my father would eat besides potatoes.

I cleaned my office and found a spot on my bookshelves for the small cedar chest my father kept on his dresser.

I went to the dry cleaners to pick up clothes. Then, I matched John’s suits with shirts and matching ties, a very zen exercise for my overly exhausted mind.

It must have been a man who said that death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Because I know for sure that dust on furniture and dirty dishes and hungry humans are other real certainties. I may not be able to avoid the taxes and it’s been made very clear that I can’t skip death’s visits to my world. But I can channel my grief through dealing with the dust and the dishes and feeding hungry bodies.

For without my sanctuary of this space and my ability to find nourishment for my soul in household tasks, I don’t know how well I’d manage the rest.

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.

Sunday Sanctuary: Time in My First Sanctuary

It’s been a heavy travel year with suitcases packed more than 40% of the year and I’ve been longing to just be home so that we can return to our normal routines. Yet, when John was assigned a last-minute trip to Washington DC, I couldn’t help but tag along.

Long before I learned to create a sanctuary within my own home, the city of Washington DC was my sanctuary. My house was in Texas, but between 2005 and 2010, my heart found a home and my soul found sustenance for one week a month when I traveled to DC for work.

I cherished those weeks and sometimes, during the time between trips, I felt as if I were hanging onto my sense of self by only a tiny thread.

As my plane flew over the Potomac River and I saw my first glimpse of the Washington Monument, all the tightness in my body dissipated and I could finally take those deep, cleansing breaths that are the breath of life. My anxieties would begin to melt away.

What I didn’t quite get at the time, though, was that it wasn’t just that my anxieties that were melting away, but that the walls I had built around my tender soul were dissolving. For the first time in my life, I was traveling alone, and though I spent time with folks at work, I wasn’t living the way others believed I should be. More than one person – from my mother to my gynecologist – expressed the belief that my vagabond lifestyle was insane.

Yet, the vibrant, creative person I was deep inside, but had encased, was reemerging.

Like a butterfly out of a cocoon.

When I signed a long-term contract requiring me to spend Monday through Friday in the city managing a big document, I felt like it was a gift from God. Being in the city I loved combined with working with words every day felt like a match made in heaven. It was challenging work, and hard to be away from Texas for such long spells, but it was transformational to me as a person and as a creative.

I explored every museum, discovered favorite places to dine, and stumbled upon a half-dozen tiny spots within the city that held me.

The President’s Gallery in the National Portrait Gallery. The Rotunda and the founding documents at the Archives. King Street in Alexandria. The Lone Soldier at the Navy Memorial. Sipping a glass of iced tea and eating a chocolate salted oat cookie at Teaism nourished my body, while a walk into the tea shop just to smell the Earl Grey nourished my mind. Mount Vernon. The Hotel Monaco. Margaritas at Oyamel. Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Those years and the time learning to thrive in DC were a critical part of my journey in becoming me. As I explored beautiful and historical places, I slowly began restoring my soul back to myself.

It was a short trip, three days total. When we go into DC these days, I usually fill my schedule with lunch and coffee dates. But this time, I was in need of the deeper soul nourishment you can only get through solitude. So, when John went to work on our second day, I headed out to explore.

The Metro to Arlington National Cemetery. I waited for the gates to open and was one of the first visitors inside. I walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and skirted around the amphitheater to Section 35. There, I visited a friend’s grave for a bit and found then found the nearby grave of Astronaut John Glenn, where I left a coin to add to his many tokens. The day was warming, so it was time to head out. As I made my way to the exit, I stopped to leave another coin on the grave of Maureen Blair, known to most of the world as Maureen O’Hara; she’s there with her husband, Brigadier General Charles F. Blair.

Back to the Metro, grateful for the time to sit and think without needing to navigate myself. An exit at Federal Triangle and a short walk down Constitution Avenue led me to the National Archives. I queued through security, took the stairs to the rotunda, and waited my turn to view The Declaration, The Bill of Rights, The Constitution, and more. It seems darker each time I visit, the archivists attempt at protecting the fragile documents.

I lingered in the gift shop before I left.

I skirted my way across Pennsylvania Avenue, meandered through the Navy Memorial, and made a pit stop in Teaism. I have always loved their bathroom, almost as much as I love their cookies. I had a glass of iced tea and a cookie, and then took myself to the National Portrait Gallery, a beautiful granite building shared with the American Art Gallery.

The Presidential Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery is under renovation, but some of the portraits have been relocated. I found them, pausing to spend time with Lincoln. I strolled through an exhibit on Marlena Dietrich and then lingered in the courtyard before walking past the Hotel Monaco, The True Crime Museum, and the new Clara Barton Museum.

I had a reservation for lunch. It was just for me; you never can tell in DC how busy the restaurants are going to be.Though I hadn’t been in for three months, the very stylish head host (so much more chic than most!) stepped from behind the podium, hugged me and called me sweetheart, and told me he was happy to see me. He seated me at a table on the sidewalk, and under the shade of a big orange umbrella, I ate chips and tacos, and sipped a margarita as I watched the lunchtime crowds.

 

I indulged in two completely girly and totally me things: I visited a salon I’ve frequented often and got a blowout, and I went to Macy’s. Yes, I was in need of the sacred, but someone washing and drying your hair is a purely luxurious experience. And how could I resist a visit to the big, downtown Macy’s, which carries a plethora of things I can’t find in the smaller store I frequent in the Dayton mall? I bought a blouse and headed back to the hotel.

We had a date-night planned, dinner at The Palm, and I wanted time to refresh. I showered, re-applied my make-up, and after we shared a pre-meal cocktail at the hotel, we went dinner.

DC will always be a part of my soul, but it’s no longer the place I desperately need to get to so that I can be “home” and become myself. The city was a critical part of my journey in becoming. Now, it’s simply a reminder of where I’ve been and how important it is for us to have symbols of hope and places where we can reconnect to the sacred. Now, no matter where I roam, I am me, and home is the sacred space in which I can continue to remove layers of hiding from my own brilliant self. Because growth and becoming never halt.

I am grateful that our pre-July 4th trip, likely the last of the summer, took me to a place where I could refresh the essence of my creative being.

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.

Sunday Sanctuary: Going on an Artist Date

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I’ve been struggling lately, feeling all kinds of ugh when it comes to my creative life. I’ve felt uninspired, as if everything  being birthed from my fingertips is beyond boring. I was in need of feeding myself, not food, but  an experience designed to tantalize my senses.

I rise on a Friday morning, showered, and take exquisite care while getting dressed. I apply full makeup, including mascara, something I rarely wear thanks to watery eyes and wearing contacts. I slip into a peach sweater, white shorts, and complete the look with the pearls I received for my 13th birthday and the pearl stud earrings I purchased when I got my first job out of college. Then, I slide my feet into white loafers.

I take myself to breakfast. I order an omelet filled with chorizo and green chilis, and served with a side of dressed organic greens. I choose to drink water, having already consumed my typical two cups of coffee. I read the Wall Street Journal while I wait for my food, and when my breakfast arrives I focus on eating with occasional forays into watching my fellow diners. I will confess: it is tempting to pick up my phone and scan through Facebook, but I resist the siren call. I can’t give into that temptation, because it’s an important day for my creativity: I’m on an Artist Date.

In her classic book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron prescribes a weekly Artist Date as assigned play.

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.”
–Julia Cameron

I pay for breakfast and journey to the real destination for my Artist’s Date: Dorothy Lane Market.  And, yes, as the name might suggest, Dorothy Lane Market is a grocery store.

There was a time when I hated grocery shopping. Every inch of pushing my cart through the store felt like a mile. I dreaded it. I put it off. I begrudged every moment I spent doing it. But then, I got honest with myself: needing to eat is a fact of life. Our bodies need fuel and if I wanted to have a say in what I put in my body, then I needed to make peace with all aspects of my life around food.

Dorothy Lane Market is a locally owned store with only three locations, all in the Dayton area, and I credit my experiences there as a key to helping me make that mental – and emotional –  shift. As a company, they are committed to sourcing the best food available, as much from local suppliers as possible. With the ease of shopping at a big box store, I’m able to purchase local eggs, chicken, beef, fruit, and vegetables.

Within a year of regular shopping excursions here, I began asking myself: why not see grocery shopping as an adventure instead of drudgery? Adventure led to curiosity: where was my food coming from? How were my fruit and vegetables grown? How were the animals providing protein on my table treated? Was I choosing the best foods and, if not, how could I make better choices?

Curiosity led to creativity in the kitchen. Which foods were best served in their most natural form? How could I take raw foods and transform them? What would different flavors and textures bring to the table? How could I stretch my palate and nourish my body? How could I mix tried and true ingredients with new (to us) ingredients?

Being curious and creative about the process allowed me to connect to humanity on a different level.

Most of the time, of course, I pop in and out of the store to get necessities: milk, chicken, eggs, and spinach.

In all honesty, there is little that we need in the way of groceries. So, on this day, I choose the grocery shopping as an experience to tantalize my senses. A more suitable approach to seeing the adventure of shopping as an Artist Date.

“Experiencing our familiar rooms and belongings, our local supermarket and neighborhood streets as if we had never been there, is also traveling.”
― Melanie Peter

I enter, grab a cart, and head first to the coffee bar. I am coffee-ed out, still, but an iced tea sounds like a perfect treat. I pass by beautiful salads and ready-to-eat entrees in the deli department. Every aisle is an opportunity to discover something new. Each end-cap display offers me the opportunity to see consider something I may have missed. I stop in the bakery and take in the scents of yeast, chocolate, and honey, and order a loaf of Cinnamon Bread.

I make my way to the produce department and allow myself to get lost. I am delighted everywhere I look, thanks to the myriad of colors and variety of fragrances. Pungent spring garlic, resembling their cousin green onions. Sweet red strawberries grown by Jon, a farmer I know personally. Crisp green and purple micro-greens and sprouts: purple radish, sunflower, and more. I choose the most enticing items, and in my mind, recipes begin to form.

Not only have I been in a funk when it comes to my writing, I’ve been in a funk in the kitchen, too, making the same dishes time and time again.

Aisle after aisle, department after department, I open myself to what lies before me. I am transported to Alaskan waters in the seafood department and Europe in the Cheese Department. I smile at strangers and share conversation with the various employees. I leave with not only the Cinnamon Bread, Strawberries, and Spring Garlic, but the radish sprouts, wild Alaskan Halibut, a small sliver of cheddar cheese from Ireland, and eggs from chickens living less than thirty miles away.

But beyond items for our table, I leave feeling centered, and as if my well, while not overflowing, is at least no longer dry. And I am reminded that maybe, just maybe, I need to be open to seeing my regular spaces and places as the wellsprings of rich experiences to fuel my 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.

Sunday Sanctuary: Morning Person

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Well beyond my current ability to remember, I have been a morning person.  I awake and most mornings, desiring to bound out of bed, mostly bright eye-eyed.

I say beyond my ability to remember because, of course, there are the stories told by my mother of my ability as an infant to wake early and simply be happy for it. My internal body clock drives me to wake early, ready for the adventures of the day ahead.

As I’ve gotten older, though, a few moments of lingering in bed have become welcome.

On weekends, I still wake early, but now I may lay there and listen to the quiet rise and fall of John’s breathing or on a cold morning, snuggle into his warmth. Sometimes,  I reach for my Kindle and read a bit or listen to a podcast on my iPod.

Weekdays are different as we usually wake to an alarm, set sometime between 5 AM and 6 AM. These mornings can be a little harder to bound out of bed, yet once my feet hit the floor, it isn’t long before my morning-person tendencies surface.  A good thing, considering I often begin my workdays by coaching clients as early as 7 AM.

I hum or dance as I wait for the coffee to brew and anticipate particular moments on my to-do list. Yet, mornings can feel challenging to even this morning person . It’s the pressure of that time crunch, a particular number of tasks necessary before the day can begin in earnest – John getting out the door for work or me preparing for an early morning coaching call.

The secret to loving mornings after all these years lies in my evening routine. Seemingly small details can make the difference between a fabulous flowing and productive day instead of a crappy and chaotic one.

The number one piece of my evening routine is the coffee pot. Yes, the coffee pot must be ready to go at the push of a button. We have ones of those wonderful “grind and brew” pots, which requires the loading of coffee beans in the little grinder, a filter in the basket, and fresh filtered water in the reservoir.

In the last seven years, I have failed to set up the coffee pot before bed about a dozen times and have had what Alexander would call “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating a bit, but it hasn’t been pretty.  It just sets a tone of unpreparedness for the day, the need to measure water and scoop out coffee beans whilst my eyes are trying to open wider than a squint.

As if the smell of brewing coffee has become a necessity for my middle-aged self to be that bright-eyed morning person.

I’ve always longed to live a peaceful and beautiful life. As with every part of creative living, I’ve discovered that the little things do matter.

There are other little actions that filter into my evening routines, all serving to make my mornings feel more like welcome and ease.

Like the dishes. I hate getting up to a sink full of dishes and I’ve found that I can get the dishwasher unloaded in about the same amount of time it takes that coffee to brew.  Maybe stemming from the memories of breaking a glass on the kitchen floor and the way slivers of glass find their way everywhere. Or maybe it’s in response to no longer living with teenagers who would empty a hoard of hidden and food encrusted dishes into the sink whilst I slept. Just the memory of that makes me cringe.

Mostly, though, dishes in the sink make me feel as if my ability to keep a home that’s organized and beautiful is just out of my reach.

Sometimes, these evening routines take an inordinate amount of effort, especially on a Friday evening as we close a busy week. I want to crawl into bed instead of doing dishes or counting out the ten scoops of coffee beans into the grinder.

But I do it because when I don’t, I suffer.

And purposely causing myself to suffer doesn’t feel  like a beautiful way to live.

“What we do today, right now, will have an accumulated effect on all our tomorrows.”
–Alexandra Stoddard

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.

Sunday Sanctuary: When Makers Gather

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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.

Sunday Sanctuary: Bringing Copenhagen Home

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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.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Picky Details

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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.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Mystical Power of Words by Mail

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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.

Sunday Sanctuary: Crisis of Faith

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I sent a one line email to one of my most trusted friends:

“I almost applied for a secretarial job today.”

It was a distilled synopsis hiding behind the deeper truth: I was smack-dab in the middle of a crisis of faith.

Weeks earlier, I had completed the process of turning two of my digital coaching courses into hold-in-your-hand books. It should have been a pinnacle moment for the year, but once I got beyond the first giddy experience of seeing five years of my work become flesh, I felt like the gardener who’d made the mistake of planting too many zucchini plants in her garden and was secretly leaving baskets of veggies on her neighbor’s porch in the dead of night.

In my office was an unopened box from Amazon containing the book of a friend. I left the box untouched for days, lost in feeling both aggravated and downtrodden. I had been a strong supporter of every book written by friends and happily touted – and often purchased – the many digital courses created by friends and colleagues. Yet, in the midst of that week, I was feeling that no one was willing to step up and support me.

I knew for a fact that none of my friends or colleagues had purchased either of my books because I had zero sales. Everyone was “zucchini-ed” out and I couldn’t even give the damn books away!

Being a maker of any sort is often a solo act and can easily lead to the feelings of aloneness and isolation. My partner, John, is a huge supporter of my work, but he doesn’t quite get what my work is, let alone what it feels like.

So, the morning an email from a head hunter arrived in my inbox touting the “perfect” job for me, instead of the immediate “no thank you” I had penned dozens of times over the last six years, I clicked on the link and read the job description:

“Executive Assistant to CEO of COMPANYNAME. Need project management skills (preferably with PMP Certification), top-notch communication skills, both verbal and written, flexible attitude, be a great problem solver, and posses a deep understanding of the demands and stresses of an executive of a multi-million dollar business. Pet lovers only. Great benefits, including health, dental, and 401k. Bonus: bring your dog to work.”

I began to imagine going to an office and being around people. Every Day. I envisioned the need for sheath dresses, skirts, pantsuits, and high heels. All clothing I have loved wearing in my past life when I was a full-time consultant. I fantasized about an office Christmas Party! And though we are currently pet-less due to our frequent travel, daily affection – given and received – from well-behaved dogs whenever I wanted!

Not only was the fantasy I was imagining fulfilling, the job fit another requirement of mine: close to home. So close to home, in fact, that I could easily bike to work if I wanted.

I went as far as sending a quick response to the head hunter that I would give the job a strong consideration. I also dug out my resume, which hadn’t been updated since my last Government Contract seven years earlier.

I will be frank with you: it wasn’t about the money. I am in the position that every writer I know desires to be in: no need for a day job to ensure the mortgage gets paid.

It was about the potential to escape the desolate isolation and deeper loneliness of being an extrovert living the life of an introverted creator.

I walked away from my desk. Showered, dressed, and left the house to do one of my go to activities for lonely days: errands. I got a coffee at Starbucks and had a nourishing exchange with my favorite barista, Chase. I strolled through Pier 1 Imports and complimented the manager on the remodeled store. I picked up light-bulbs and giant bags of salt for our water softener (the most awkward bags ever). And then it was off to the Dry Cleaners to drop off John’s suit pants, pick-up of previous left pants and dress shirts left, and to hear the update on the owner’s wife’s cancer treatment and his daughter’s soccer tournament.

Though these errands can seem unimportant or mindless, the last several years of working exclusively at home have taught me to channel my extroverted need to interact with people by seeing the management of household needs as a form of ministry. I have learned to cultivate a connection with strangers that I meet through this tending of our life. I know the names and a few personal details of my favorite grocery store folks. I know that Chase, my favorite Barista, collects Starbucks Cards from faraway places and have brought him cards from DC and Hawaii for his collection. I know by sight, if not my name, the cashiers at my favorite stores. The ladies at the post office all know me and are genuinely happy to see me when I walk in laden with packages or just to buy some stamps.

Yes, I plan the occasional lunch date with girlfriends, but everyone’s lives are busy and few have the time for spur-of-the-moment lunches. Most of them work day jobs.

I forced myself to step back from my surface emotions and examine the deeper, more vulnerable thoughts and feelings.

Did what I do even matter? What was the purpose of what I did each day? Was there a point to continuing toiling away over words that few might ever read? In the sea of the thousands of life coaches these days, did my voice matter? Where was I keeping myself from being happy? How was I squashing my own joy? Was considering a day job just an escape? Was it an excuse steeped in fear of my writing and work?

The Kismet of timing, my phone rings. My girlfriend had finished a work call, gotten my email, and called to confess that she, too, has applied for a job here or there over her decade of being an entrepreneur.

She gives me the permission I need: go for that day job if that’s what my heart is needing. She talks me through the options and reminds me that I am not alone. Despite the fact that I felt so isolated just hours before, I am reminded that every single maker of any sort has moments of fear, doubt, isolation, and a loss of faith in their purpose and work.

I step away from the very lip of the ledge and to a safer distance from diving over. But I keep the edge in sight.

Everyone who chooses to live a creative life will have their own crisis of faith. Though money isn’t everything, having my work seen holds value to me, so where is that balance I need?

Who am I to add my voice to the world? Don’t more important people have something better to say than I? Who am I? Do I matter? Does my work even matter?

My logical side encourages me to get out a pen and paper and review the list of pros and cons of A Day Job VS This Creative –Out of the Box – Life I have worked so hard to create.

My choices over the last seven years have not been in any way unconscious.

Each decision has been calculated carefully with my big goals in mind and the clear understanding of what sacrifices I make, measured side-by-side the trade-offs and advantages of each one. Most of the decisions I have made have come down to the core question: how will this affect the quality of our daily life?

Last year about this time I decided to cut the time I spend on my coaching practice in half. There were two reasons: to have the space to write differently and to have more time to keep house.

Yes, you read that right: I wanted more time to keep house.

No, I didn’t get swept up in a time warp back to the 50’s. You won’t find me vacuuming the couch attired in a dress with stockings, heels, and pearls. However, one of the biggest contributing factors in the quality of our daily life is the way I manage our home. I take pride in the creation of beautiful meals that appear on our table. I love that in the evenings, we can cuddle up by the fire with a glass of wine and talk about the day instead of scrambling to pick up the dry cleaning or groceries. Because I manage all the tasks it takes to care for our home, we sleep in, make love, and leisurely enjoy coffee on a Saturday morning instead of me waking with my brain cluttered with a big to-do list.

I know myself well, and I know that if I were to take a day job, my home life would suffer.

One of the biggest shifts in my ability to create has occurred over the last seven years because, for the first time in my life, I am safe. Safe to be myself. Safe to be vulnerable. Safe to write whatever bounces around in my brain. As a child, my mother criticized and even destroyed years and years of my journal writings. Both my ex-husband and my children pried into any written journal – physical or digital. John never peeks and would never pry.

When Virginia Woolf writes about a woman needing a room of her own, this is the core meaning of that: in order to create, a woman must have privacy. The work needs to be safe from prying eyes until we are ready to share it. That’s one of the paradoxes for me in this creative life: I want my work to be seen, yes. But I need the safety of not having it seen until I make it ready for the world.

There is another side of this crisis of faith that I know to the depths of my soul: a crisis of faith is a sign that you are on the edges of an important evolution. Our brains sense that our souls are trying to change, and because our brains try to keep us “safe” from change, it convinces us, through fear, that what we are about to embark upon is dangerous.

My desire to escape the isolation is sign. And a test.

Do I really desire to live a creative life? Am I really brave enough to take that next step? Am I willing to try new ways of creating? Am I willing to fail? Am I willing to deal with the painful emotions associated with creating so that I can access that deeper sense of joy and happiness?

I may not have all the answers to these questions, but I do know that the almost-fifty-year-old version of Debra has more patience and a deeper sense of hope in the value of a creative life than thirty-year-old Debra ever imagined. The thirty-year-old me – heck, even the forty-year-old me –  would have taken the day job. After a few days of sitting with the decision, I tell the head hunter that I am honored. And will not be interviewing for the position.

I have weathered this crisis of faith and recognize three distinct truths. One: I am still in the shadow phase of my crisis and will need to diligently tend my bruised heart and tender soul. Two: this isn’t my last crisis in faith. The flip side of this wildly invigorating and profoundly rewarding decision to choose my own creative soul is that with each stage of evolution, there will be seeds of doubt sown side by side with each seed of faith I plant.

And the third truth is one I hope you take with you as well: a crisis of faith means that life is about to get interesting.  Very interesting.  Because it’s a sign that my creative soul is ready to grow beyond my wildest dreams.

No matter where you may be in your creative journey, know that however you are feeling, you are not alone.

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.
Do not lose courage… ”
–St. Francis de Sales

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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