If you become aware that you are the creator of your story, you can choose to create a masterpiece. Using your faith, your will, and your intent, you can change your story at any time. Don Miguel Ruiz
We are the storytelling animal. Salman Rushdie
I carry stories like stones in my pocket, touchstones that comfort me, that provide inspiration, insight, and the energy to carry me forward. I love the way that I can lift a story out of my pocket, rub it between thumb and forefinger and discover some new nuance in it, something relevant for the moment. I recently was reminded of three stories, stories I had shared with others that came tumbling back in my direction. And these three, I quickly gathered up in my arms and now hold dear again as reminders of gifts to bring with me as I journey forward:
The Gift of Magic:
It was Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, that first introduced me to the concept of the God Box, a place to tuck away images and words that reflect your heart’s desire. It was in the mid-nineties, a decade before I more clearly understood the operatings of a vibrational universe, how everything in this wondrous world is pulsating, thrumming, vibrating at a certain speed — everything! — and only vibrational matches, like to like, are attracted to each other. Back then, I sort of got it; that is, I would place something in the God Box and let go and and go on with my living, and then be astounded at the way it would manifest in seemingly magical ways before my eyes. For example, I cut an image out of a catalogue of two dolphins intertwined and spiraling upward and surrounded by a beautiful aura of soft colors. And I pasted it on an index card and wrote a wish on the back– that Cam and I would find ways to strengthen our relationship as our kids entered their high school years. And then I forgot about it, until my next trip to visit my mother in Maine. After our initial hellos and our catch-up time, she had instructions for me. “I bought you something,” she said. “Go look on the bed!” And on the bed was a cardboard tube and in the tube, there it was! The exact poster image that I had cut out of the catalogue. You have to understand; my mother is not a poster type of gal. “It just called to me,” she said. “I thought it was perfect for you!” These things happened all the time for me. They still do. And the magic seems to be in the surprising and creative ways that the Universe responds to your outpouring of desire.
So this is the story that was gifted back to me a few weeks ago. It was in that same era of the God Box, and it takes place at a weekend writing workshop at Fortune Lake Retreat Center that I was co-leading with a friend. It was the first night. We had gathered for introductions, eaten our dinner, completed the first writing exercises, and now we were settling into our bunks for some writing/reading time and sleep. One of the participants, a woman who I met for the first time that evening and now has become my dear friend and writing buddy and the reminder of this story, hauled out a gadget, a traveling reading light like i had never seen. “Wow!” I said with gusto as I watched her clip this thing onto her bunk. “That is really cool! I sure wish that I had one of them too!” And then, for some reason, I reached behind the mattress and felt something wedged next to the wall. And, it was literally within the blink of an eye — the blink of an eye!!! — that I. too, held a traveling reading light in my hand. It’s powerful, this Law of Attraction, this way that we put some desire out there and the Universe dances back with a response. So, as I journey forward, I’m going to remember this powerful law, and this reading light story, and I’m going to be conscious of my desires and I’m going to state them in clear fashion. And I know where I’m going to put them. I’m going to put them into my God Box, and I’m going to allow the magic to happen.
The Gift of Authenticity:
It seems to happen when I’m nervous, out of my element, am wanting to make a good impression, when I’m caring about what people think. I get obsessed with clothes. I start ordering from catalogues. and talking to friends, asking for opinions. What does a gal wear to a wedding or a funeral or a professional event that isn’t taking place at her own creativity center? What does a gal wear when she really wants to look like she has her act together? Back in the early nineties, our poetry graduate class traveled downstate to a conference to present for the first time. Our professor helped us to weave our papers into this beautiful tapestry with a common theme, we rehearsed with gusto, and i bought myself a two hundred-and-fifty dollar suit. That was a lot of money for a suit back then, especially for a gal who isn’t really a suit person! And off we went in the school’s van on a Friday afternoon, revved up for this presentation that would take place the next morning. Saturday morning. We didn’t know then that Saturday morning wasn’t ideal, that it was, in fact, far less than ideal, the very end of the conference, that our audience would consist of a grand total of two casually-dressed professors and that no one, no one at all would give a rip what i was wearing.
So, a few years ago, I found myself in one of those spots where i was obsessing about what to wear again. A good friend recently reminded me of this story. This time it wasn’t a conference I was attending, but it was on a college campus, and it felt even more important to me than the event I had participated in in the early nineties. It was at Amherst College in Massachusetts, the opening of an art exhibit and lecture focusing on the life work of a premier etcher from the early twentieth century, and the artist, Ernest Haskell, was my grandfather. I hadn’t known this grandfather who died in 1925 in a car accident, and this afternoon of honoring him was an opportunity for me to get more intimately acquainted. I was flying east from Michigan and my cousin was taking the train from New York and our plan was to meet at the gallery and spend the afternoon together. I was nervous and excited and i wanted to be at my best, present for my grandfather and present for my cousin and present for myself as i breathed in the stories about him and his art and his life that I had known in mere snippets. What does a gal wear to such a thing? “Something artsy,” friends would say. “Black and sophisticated,” others would pipe up. I packed my bag filled with options: flowing tops, leggings, scarves. Nothing seemed perfect; nothing seemed sophisticated or art exhibit-y enough.
And then I dressed for the plane ride, in my adorable mauve tunic top with the lace hem and the dark jean-colored leggings and the olive sweatshirt that has an amazing ruffle of a hood and the cutest of lines, and the scarf with the flowers that ties it all together and my cute winter play boots with the buttons, in the outfit that i wore ALL THE TIME that winter, the outfit that took me from the yoga studio to the ski trail to the airport, which is exactly what it did that day — and then onto the plane where the flight attendant gave me the two-thumbs up for this adorable ensemble, and to the Detroit Airport where there were more compliments, to my motel room in New Hampshire and to the next day and to the car ride to Amherst. I kept wearing my comfortable “Helen” outfit, this outfit that i loved, and figured that I would change in Amherst before the exhibit. After all, I had a suitcase filled with options. I arrived in the town early, figured that I didn’t need to take off my “tried and true” right away, found Emily Dickinson’s home, explored the campus, then stopped at a boutique. Perhaps, there would be something even more perfect than what i had packed in my suitcase. Perhaps I would find the holy grail. But lo and behold, all the owner could focus on was my sweatshirt and my old buttoned winter boots.
And then it was time to meet my cousin, time to gather for this event, time to honor my grandfather, time to soak it all in. And there was no time to change. And i didn’t care. My cousin and i held hands and we listened to this beautiful tribute lecture and we met the young woman who had curated and researched and done such a beautiful job at bringing our grandfather and his art to life and we walked the campus together, filled to the brim, and i found my room for the night and i fell into bed, too tired, too filled to take off my clothes. And the next day, I hauled my suitcase to the car, a suitcase i had barely opened, still wearing the outfit that I loved. It certainly wasn’t clean at this point, and i don’t think I’d showered since I left home, and yet, the compliments kept flying, from TSA to flight attendant to guy on the ski trail where I stopped for a quick lap on the way home.
So, is this just about clothes? Or is this about the skin beneath the clothes? About being comfortable in my own skin? What a huge one for me! To let go of giving a rip what others think and wearing what feels good to body and spirit, to let go of giving a rip what others think and letting my body be as it is today, what it feels like today. To let go of image and just plain BE. Enough. Magnificent. Perfectly imperfectly perfect. I’m taking this story to heart as I journey forward, remembering how good it felt to just be me, as I am, in the NOW.
The Gift of Fun:
I was raised by a father whose middle name should have been ‘fun’. And for this upbringing, I am deeply grateful. He knew how to squeeze fun out of the most mundane moments, how to make the ordinary into an adventure. From boat rides, to the hanging of art exhibits, to the hauling of brush from the woods to the beach, fun was his set point. And it comes easily to me too. Especially when the sailing is smooth and there is an even keel and the wind is coming from the perfect direction to fill the sail. But what about during the wild-wind times, the bumpy and turbulent times, when things are shaken up and the ride isn’t so smooth?
Here is a story gifted back to me by a friend who i met during one of those wild-wind times — a template for moving forward. It was indeed a stormy night, the snow flying sideways and the wind howling like a wolf, a no-picnic-in-the-park time as the six or seven of us ducked onto the plane in Detroit, the old propeller type of plane that we used to take up to the Upper Peninsula before the jets moved in. The flight attendant instructed us to sit in the back, all of us, for weight purposes, and warned us that this was going to be a ride filled with bumps. i was jittery. I was scared. And yet, there was something else. Perhaps it was this nervous energy that brought out a giggle. Perhaps there was something about being sent to the back of the plane, the back of the bus, that brought out a junior high humor, not just in me, but in all of us. It is easy to be “bad” when you’re in seat Number Twelve. It is easy to start heckling and talking too loud when you’re clumped in the back. And the flight attendant, she joined in. She loved our junior high vibe. She played along. She became the teacher on a field trip who can’t quite control her class. And as we bumped and as we swayed and as we tipped this way and that, and we did a lot of tipping this way and that, we laughed and we were raucous and and we demanded more snacks and we had a blast. And when we landed, we cheered a hearty cheer and were glad to be safely on the ground, and we left that plane more energized, more full of ourselves, more in touch with a spark of junior high fun that set our spirits flying. So that’s what i’m taking with me as i make my way forward, that spark of junior high fun that is just waiting to emerge, even in — maybe especially in — the turbulent times.
What gifts I carry in my pocket! Magic. Authenticity. Fun. And now I share them with you, so you too can carry them forward on your journey. Here’s to the adventure!