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If it is a question of money: Quest Day 2 with Jonathan Fields

Morning rainbow
Uncle, is there a pot of gold, even here?

Your Quest2016 Prompt today:
You wake up to discover a knock at your door. A wealthy uncle you barely knew has passed and left you a fortune. It’s more than enough to live out your days in glorious splendor, but there is a condition. To be eligible to collect, you must commit your full-time working energies to the pursuit of an answer to a single question of your choosing for the next 12 months.

You are welcome to continue that pursuit after the year ends, for years or decades if it warrants, but you must remain fully focused on seeking the answer until the last minute of the 365th day. A minute shorter, the entire inheritance goes to your annoying and equally long lost cousin, Philly.

What is your question?

Oh this truly is my dream come true. For most of my professional life I have waited for wealthy uncles to die, but having none, the wait was futile. Which is to say I do have uncles. I have several, some still alive, none with wealth that might extend past their own children; so really, this dream-come-true prompt finally announces the arrival of the ship that I have waited to come in for years and years. Hurray!

Welcome Wealthy Uncle! Come in; let me stir you up a cup of tea while you wipe your chilly nose on this clean napkin laid before you. I am so happy you have arrived. I will turn up the heat so you can shake the December chill while the pot boils.

This condition, of glorious splendor coming if I commit to the pursuit of a single question, comes to me with some questions for you. Does this have to be a new question, or may it be a question I have been working on already? And how transparent must I be with the question? How will you check up on me-oh, I know the answer to that-you will know, just know, right, because when I veer off course, then truly, we will both know, eh?

Okay. Then even before I pour your tea, I can answer you this.

What if I don’t wait until my kids are out of the house to fully unmask my creative fertility? Why wait?

This question: Why wait?

For so many years I have waited for the kids to be grown, for life to find a rhythm like a boat at sea in a steady wind, cutting waves with accuracy and efficiency. But life, she is not like that. And I dare say, though I am not sailor enough to confirm it, that neither is the sea like this, steady all the time.

Life is messy. Life is chaotic. Ships rock. What happens if I write anyway?

Could I have a completed manuscript by the end of 2016? Maybe even a book designer and publisher? Could I work towards completing my manuscript while doing for others what I pledge to do with myself, to unmask creative fertility?

What happens if I write anyway, in the midst of even these questions? What if I show up at the page, every single day, even on vacation (but especially on vacation) and illuminate my literary and visual answer to this question:

Why wait?

So Uncle. Here is your tea. Rose tea, with pear, ginger and lemon infused honey, something to ease you as you warm yourself. I am deeply appreciative of you offering me this gift. If I complete it, may I use it for my own purposes? Could I supply a refugee family with this money? Could I fund my own retreat and supply scholarships for women in need to attend, all expenses paid? Could I re-insulate my whole house and upgrade our systems so that we are more energy efficient? May I use these funds to support the cleanup of the Housatonic River? Could I escape with Jonathan and our kids to a cabana in Costa Rica where we can work, surf, hike and eat more of that salted fish at Selvin’s in Punta Uva? Might I finally get to see the textile museums in the Norse Countries and spend weeks in a cottage up in the mountains working, resting, reading, hiking and getting to know about elk? Oh the places I could go with this money. My children would have the degrees they seek; we’d all have plenty to share, but Uncle.

Uncle.
If I don’t want the money, but want the question, would you hold it for me until I do, when I may use it as I wish? For Uncle, I have found, while waiting for you to arrive, all of these years, waiting to be discovered by the golden aura of success and financial independence, my own tincture of success that heals and eases and excites me beyond anything money could buy. Forgive my Dickensian, Raold Dahlesque, SARK-y digression here, for I am supposed to be writing my response to your generous offer, but I cannot stop my fingers to say, money is nice, but not everything. And in my life, as a woman who mothers, I have found so much. I would not want to lose any of the grace I have discovered when pots are boiling over, a leg gets broken, and we are late for church or soccer or bed. I have found in the cramp of yearning that has colored my years as a mother with creative dreams which knock me off my steady pace over and over again, that in this yearning, in this ache, is a certain medicine that women need. I want to deliver this medicine.

our Sacred Refuge table
our Sacred Refuge table. photo credit: Lynnette Lucy Najimy

So in asking, you have given me a chance to tell you this. Yes, money would make it easier for my family to live while I work fully and completely, immersed in my book and the next, teaching and making this work available to women in need, it would send me to the Congo to help Eve or to Armenia with John to sit in circle with women whose stories bear agonies I have never known. Money would do all of that. But, if your offer is to ease the life I have, then I would rather that you hold it until I need it for these projects, for I would not want to be released from my hunger to create from inside motherhood, writing from inside a woman’s life.

Oh Uncle, I misunderstood you. I thought this gift came with reconciliation of social norms and our government so that all people in our land value the offerings that caregivers contribute by raising families. I thought this dream-come-true assured me that our health-care and education systems would be overhauled in order that mothers and fathers could have paid leave and thrive fully in their lives. I thought this came with gun control and solutions to climate change, the polar bears and white rhinocerii. Oh. I see, yes, now I see that I have over estimated your gift, I over estimated the power of money. I see this is not your offer. Forgive me.

In truth, it seems your offer is simply to let me live in my question so fully, so that I could just keep living in to it, like wind in sails, they don’t ask, they just fill. If that is the case, Uncle, I must tell you I don’t need the money. You can hold on to it until it is my time to go to the Congo or run that retreat with scholarships. Yes for that work, I will take it, but only when I need it.

Dear Uncle, thank you. Let us meet again in December 2016. I will have the pot on the stove, tea will be ready.

 

Cups up at Bascom Lodge, Mount Greylock, MA

xo,

S

JONATHAN FIELDS is a New York City dad, husband and lawyer turned award-winning author, media producer, and entrepreneur. His last book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance (Portfolio 2011) was named the top personal development book in 2011 by 800-CEO-READ.

Tracking Wonder’s Quest is here. It is free. And as you can see, it is though provoking.

Brenna Layne’s response is here.

Kate Arms-Roberts’ is here.

Millie Jackson’s is here.

 

 

 

 

 

What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…

 

Quest day one

 

Your Quest2016 Prompt today:
What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…

The Quest is back. My loyal tribe of business artists making their way in to 2016 with clarified aims and newly discovered wealth and spirit is back to it’s robust sharing around the web. Since December 2014, I have applied myself to this quest mostly because I really love to work collaboratively on a topic and sometimes my writing life feels lonely. Yes, I teach. Yes, I have friends who I meet for tea. But all of my work is surrounded by the quiet solitude I need to listen, create, craft, and hone. To know that others are doing the same, questioning their aims and inspirations and owning their own gifts gives me immense courage. If you are curious about Tracking Wonder’s #Quest2016, go here.

Today’s prompt is from Susan Piver. Close readers of Laundry Line Divine might recall that I read Susan’s book, Start, Here, Now earlier this fall. Susan’s introduction to the practice of sitting meditation has completely enhanced my daily practice. Through her simple instruction, I have increased my sitting practice, which makes me feel more inner resilience when things get hot in the kitchen with my kids and allows me a clearer path to my creative work. As you may know, I am devoted to daily practices that support my well being and my work, with pleasure dwelling at the center. Susan’s approach to meditation has offered me a wealth of tools.

But, now, of course, she shows up as the first mentor offering a prompt today. Great. Of course, it is a question that I have wanted to answer; of course, she taps a vulnerable spot, which yields a few tears with the asking of it.

What do I most need to tell myself for 2016?

Here is the list:

1. That I am enough, just as I am.
2. That my work is worth the time I invest in it and my work is worth being paid a decent reliable sum.
3. That I can write anyway, even when I don’t feel the fuzzy thrum of ideas burbling, even if I don’t have a clue where I am headed, like right now, and even if my book feels like a large beast standing in the dark, being described by tiny little ant creatures feeling it with their tiny ant hands.

I have learned so much this past year. I have taught some amazing women from whom I have learned much. My brilliant mentors have bounteously taught me this year, way more than they likely realize, but gifts, gifts, gifts have cluttered my path all this yearlong.

“What we fear is more private, mysteriously belongs to everyone.”
-Mark Nepo

But hearing is hard at this time of year, even when what I tell myself is what I most want to hear. The clanging of carols and the impending holidays amp up our sense of necessary doing so much so that our own self care can waddle off to a corner and wait out the month. My dear pal, Dr. Deb Kern posted about rituals that can support us this season here.

Like Deb, I amp up my rituals this month. I was raised in the Lutheran church and for all the distance I have between doctrine and my faith practice, I have held close the rituals that warmed me as a child and passed them on to my children. Even now, the Advent calendar is in the window and the dinner table is lit with a one candle for this first week of Advent. Catherine and I attended church this past Sunday and sang songs she has known since she was a tiny tot. I learned a few years ago how much I benefit from more quiet writing and art journaling during Advent. I apply lots of black gesso to my pages and write with white pens, silver paint and gold lettering. I begin to feel the season inside me, rather than feeling it foisted upon me. The more I let myself witness the dark, the more I feel advent happening inside me.

Something about light
how it comes surprisingly,
just when you’d accustomed yourself to dark,
surrendered to this now dark way as forever.
But then,
she asks,
a cloud thins,
a way
opens.
You just had to wait for it.

-Suzi Banks Baum

a small poem I wrote yesterday.

As we approach the Winter Solstice, you can expect lots of posts about seeing light. There will be a very special event here on Laundry Line Divine around the Solstice. Until then, I urge you to think of the image of a campfire this month. Set it to blaze in your mind and then bank it up, don’t let it flame out of control; don’t let it get too spread out. Gather your inner resources close by. At the grocery store just now, I bought small packets of scented bath salts on sale. This is one small move of self-care that increases my resilience in December. Baths warm me, and are a perfect time away from doing. My girl cut a board just longer than the edges of our bathtub so I can read a book safely while soaking in eucalyptus scented water.

Definition:
To bank a fire is to cover the coals or embers with ashes or cinders, thus keeping the fire low but alive.

Let your fires burn low. Just as I found that definition of “banking a fire,” just beyond my screen a large red-tailed hawk landed on an oak branch just to the right of this sentence. Hawks appear in my life when I am beginning big adventures and this month, this Advent, these weeks before Solstice, before the holidays, before the arrival of 2016 feel just like that. A big adventure.

And what I most need to hear, when embarking on an adventure is, “I am enough. I am worth it. My work is worth it. And I can work, no matter what.”

Thanks to Susan Piver for the QUESTion today.

Please leave me a comment and let me know how you bank your fires during December. Also, share this post with a pal who may need a little boost in her self-care.

Thank you, always, for stopping in at the laundry line,
With a salute to the hawk,

S

 

Here are some of my other posts about Advent and art journaling my way towards the New Year.

One

Two

Three

Worry.

photo by Christina Lane
photograph by Christina Lane

How worried can I be on a bright sunny cold November day?

My daughter clambered on to a coach bus this morning with her Anatomy class to see an exhibit in New York City. I fixed her a thermos of tea, some snacks and checked to make sure she had her phone and charger, cash and a scarf. She did not wear socks, but some things must be left unsaid.

On any other day, this field trip might only be seen as a day when I can work uninterrupted for many hours, not concerned about who is home and when, what they want to eat or with what they might need help. No, today, my city savvy daughter is with her classmates in the city she’d like to call home, where her brother was born, where I met her father, 25 Thanksgivings ago.

I have to come clean here. I am a championship worrier. If it were an Olympic event, I’d rank. If I could be a Rhodes scholar for worrying, I’d be a top contender. Worry is why I pray. I learned in Al-Anon, “If you worry, why pray. If you pray, why worry?” Never one to single task on anything, I figure I can worry and pray and cover my bases. And yours. And the bus driver’s. And all the cars driving near that coach bus. And everyone on the West Side Highway. And absolutely every single soul in the region of Times Square, right now, with the towers gleaming in the sun, wind blowing through those fresh young faces, just where I stood when I was 24 with Stevie Wonder singing in my head.

“New York. Just like I pictured it. Skyscrapers and everything.”

(This song of Stevie’s is so very prophetic. I quote it lightly for my own purpose here, but had I been able to listen then with the ears of a mother of a son, I would have wept as I do now.)

Then by the kindness of the readings that appear in my inbox in the morning, or that I pour over in the soft early light of morning, I came upon this writing by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

“…there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.”
-Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I nearly nag, but not quite, my son with questions about alcohol consumption at college. I read the statistics, I listen to what other parents talk about, I have ears to our current culture about alcohol and drug use on college campuses. I have sat in the rooms of 12-Step programs for many years. I witnessed my father’s demise with alcoholism. It is the hardest thing for me these days to let that question rest. And yet, I ambush what could be rich conversations with my son, modeling worry instead of compassionate listening. Am I the only one who does this?

“When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.”

I have to rest in the faith that my son and daughter are both great ships, not built to moor at my side for long, but built for the open seas. Our friend Marley Reed is on a sail boat right now. Here is what he saw as they left Chesapeake Bay for the open sea. See that sail?

Marley Reed Sunset at sea
photograph by Marley Reed

Brené Brown discusses in Daring Greatly, if I meet my children with a face and heart of worry every time they leave my house, or my hand, or my car, if all I offer them is worry, then I am not seeing them as capable, well formed, great ships built to ply the waters of life. I am giving them the impression that I don’t see them as built for the adventure they each long for and live.

Last week I suggested we “make of our life an offering.”

Today, my offering is sandwiched layers of prayer, seeing my children as capable, our cities as safe, our roads navigable, and our country welcoming to all. I slather on the words that Vice President Biden said about not letting terrorism win.  I lay in grace and all my children have learned about the subway system, about kindness and about personal responsibility. Then, like a schooner catching the first winds out beyond the mouth of the harbor, they billow forth.

What happens to me, back here in the harbor, is up to me. And that is what my work is all about, what rises forth when I create from my own life experience. The same is true for you, gentle reader.

 

 

Ben in 2006
Ben in 2006

Please stay tuned here on Laundry Line Divine. Some big changes are up ahead for this website, most importantly, in name. I will be shifting to calling this site by my name and reserving Laundry Line Divine for the book I am completing this year. Your images of laundry lines are still welcomed, especially because I am making a collaborative mosaic collage for the Laundry Line Divine page that will soon be up on this site.

But til then, stay warm. Pray often.
All my love, S

Go easy. Pray often. Make of your life a beautiful offering.

Sacred Refuge Offering Photo by Lynnette Lucy Najimy of Beansprout Productions
Sacred Refuge Offering
Photo by Lynnette Lucy Najimy of Beansprout Productions

Staying real this season

As you know, because I have said it before, but let it be said again, the trifecta of holidays that is just round the bend has a certain concoction of pleasure, guilt and shame that really can put us through the wringer emotionally (who here has agreed with everything you hear coming out of your mouth while standing in the kitchen, still in your jammies, when the guests call to ask if they can come over early? Or who has paid for something with your credit card that you know you will regret later but it is easier to put that off by chirping, “Charge it!”), physically (staying up til all hours pouring over Pinterest to find the right craft idea for the gift that you haven’t made yet, but you are sure you can find something and whip it up-best work done is always after midnight, isn’t it,*bleary* counts?), spiritually (Oh please just know that I haven’t figured out how to navigate the holiday season without a ton of conflicting thoughts about what I believe. Boiling it all down to “gratitude” is helpful, but it does not stop the flow of tears when certain Christmas carols catch me off guard at the gas pump.)

To say that we need to apply gargantuan doses of self-care this season will only make some of us feel more overwhelmed. Who, really, can swim through these days without feeling compelled to overdo, overbuy, overcommit, over-invite, over-plan, overeat, overoverover? Women are so often the ones who make the holiday hoopla happen, while we partner with our mates, if we have one, to help pay for it all. Parents especially, feel taxed to do it all, and do it so our kids-know what?-what it looks like to over extend to provide an experience that will be so charged with grief that any goodness is wiped off the slate?

Oh.
I just have a head full of steam this year to dial it back.
Go easy.
Pray often.
Make of your life a beautiful offering and live like you mean it. Like you are the gift. Not the overwrought gifts we make in the wee hours when really, we could be asleep, dreaming of sugarplums.

People who make stuff, creative people, people who are all reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantastic new book, are especially succumbing to the “I’ve got ten pair of hand warmers to knit in five weeks while finishing the first shitty draft of my book and with my left foot I will be stirring the quince jam” syndrome.

It is the syndrome of making everything for everyone and not making any time for myself.

We are the we

 

Making stuff for other people is great.
We are all not my friend Benita who makes it in July.
She is the exception to this rule. I wager she has stuff wrapped already.
But for the rest of us, I wonder how we can dial back our doing and let ourselves find a few simple ways to stay present and well and real this holiday season?

How do I know when I am able to stay “present, well and real?”

When I get enough sleep, especially when I am in bed by 10 PM.
When my stomach is relaxed, excited is great, but not jammed up against my diaphragm making it difficult for me to take long slow deep breathes.
When I eat lunch at the table with a napkin. Not over the sink. Or in the car. Or at my desk browsing Amazon. Or not at all.
When I am looking in to other people’s eyes. This alone will be the source of so much more fun and connection than any picture you post on Instagram.

what I did with a napkin from Catherine Anderson's table
what I did with a napkin from Catherine Anderson’s table

 

Make of your life a beautiful thing.
Then, if you want, share it.
But share it with the people who are right in front of you. Sometimes I wonder if we said to actual people what we say on Facebook or Twitter, what sort of shift would come about? Would your kids know more of you? Would your partner see what you appreciate better, and thus, know more of you? Would your sister see a side of you she hasn’t met in person? Would your pet see more than your iPhone camera pointing at them?

More eye and I. Less i.

I see you.
Thank you.
Yes.

This is my tiny prayer for this coming week of Thanksgiving and holiday artisan fairs and farmer’s markets and me boohooing over being a Thanksgiving orphan. We are making a meal here at my house for whomever shows up and the fun we have will rise up from that concoction.

If what happens is we take our plates out to the picnic table out back and watch the twilight fall by candlelight, eating with our gloves on, that would be deluxe. But whatever it is, it will be real.

I see you.
Thank you.
Yes.

I am breathing easier already.
I hope you can find a way to do so also.

Thank you for showing up here on Laundry Line Divine.
Happy Friday.
xoS

 

a few more thoughts:

If you are curious about what to cook, go here.
For a really clear post about the difference between being “kind” and “nice,” go here.
If you are interested in fine-tuning your business life and upgrading your approach to making business art, please check out the Quest2016 here.
If you want start meditating this season, this is a good place to start.

 

 

Lastly, please share this post with your sister or your friend or someone you know who is starting to hyperventilate about the holidays. And then, go out for a walk. I will meet you there. xoS

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