Yesterday a post went out with a link to my Tiny Book, "How to Survive in the Dark." I'd pre-scheduled that post a while back because I knew I'd be visiting family and not online much at all while we were together.
The Tiny Book was created for Maya Stein and Amy Tingle's Type Rider 2 and having just cheered them on at the finish line in Beloit, I knew I'd want to celebrate their journey as well as share my Tiny Book. I was rushing around when I scheduled the post. I wanted to share my book, but didn't have a lot of time to think about what was behind my creating that particular book.
But of course, little did I know that the week I'd scheduled this post, there would be the tragic suicide of Robin Williams. I didn't remember my scheduled blog post until today, when I returned to the office.
I realized that if I had written that post this week, it would be a very different post.
So this is my re-do.
I created that Tiny Book for myself, because as many of you know, darkness and fear love to come knocking on my door. My practice of celebration grew out of a need to seek and create little pinpricks of light to keep me from being swallowed up in that darkness. (I used to call it "the pit.")
Throughout my life, I've often felt ashamed of that thin wall between my joy and depression. I've also been terrorized by it.
But I've been fortunate in that I crossed paths with so many kind and loving teachers, each of whom gave me tools and practices to help me move away from the darkness and inner judgment — and toward pinpricks of light.
There have been so many discussions these past few days about depression and suicide. Robin's death tapped into a well of grief and fear. Many of us feel the loss of this beloved actor who brought us so much laughter, thoughtfulness, and joy. But I think we're also feeling a shared fear of the depth of despair. If we don't know that place ourselves, it is likely that we know and love someone who does.
Mostly these past couple days, I've just been thinking that it is so courageous to be a human being and to survive everything that comes along with that — all the loves and losses and dreams and desires and grief and uncertainty and joy and pain. No matter who we are, what our health situation is, how "successful" or "not successful," we grapple with the same things. We also seem to find joy and simple pleasures, no matter what our circumstance. It's those "10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows."
We're all wired differently, though. We feel the highs and lows differently. And we can never really know what it is like inside anyone else's skin. To live within someone else's inner landscape. To live within anyone else's uncertainty or despair.
I just feel such a rush of compassion for Robin Williams, his family//friends ... and all of us.
One of my favorite poets, Ellen Bass, says it like this: "What would people look like if we could see them as they are, soaked in honey, stung and swollen, reckless, pinned against time?"
We can't hold Robin William's hand or talk to him in the dark hours of the night. We can't sit with him silently, while he weeps. We can't read him poetry or take him to our favorite dahlia garden. But we all have people in our lives whom we love. And we can offer these things to them. We can see them as they are. And love them as they are.
As a tribute to Robin Williams, perhaps we can all take the time to reach out to one or two people in our own lives whom we know may be suffering in some way?
And if you know someone who is especially in the dark right now and you want them to receive some extra love, let me know. I'd be happy to send a handwritten note to loved ones of the first ten folks who email me.
P.S. If you didn't read my Tiny Book, you can do so here. It will take you just 22 seconds.
Cherry Blossom Soup
The whole crazy landscape of being human— including some of the, er, "less-preferred" feelings and emotions.
In honor of this, I created a Tiny Book called "How to Survive in the Dark."
It's just six eensy-beensy pages long and you can read it in 22 seconds flat!
Hope you'll take a peek and let me know what you think.
And don't forget: seek celebration, even in the dark corners.
Hey everyone. It's been a hard week around here. Some health stuff. Some heartache. Things that made my energy and mood plummet. (See how blue I look?) You know how it is when you just want to close the curtains, crawl under a soft comforter, and hunker down with some distracting fiction?
I know it sounds cliche, but appreciation for others is always the antidote to whatever is bringing me down. I've known this for many years, but it is always great to get to experience it anew. This week I saw it when I left some audio notes of gratitude for a few folks who had helped me out. I saw it when I wrote a card for a good friend. I saw it while collaborating with girlfriends on a surprise for someone we love.
If you're feeling a little low-energy or blue, try it and see what happens. Send out some appreciation to someone you love and let me know how it goes!
I want to share with you the wonderful note and photo I mentioned above, that I received from Kristi, who is part of this community.
A man named Sam passed away this week. I didn’t know him, had never met him. But his daughter, Sue Ann, is a friend of mine. And she wrote a beautiful tribute to him on her blog. Through her celebration of him, I got to meet him and I fell in love with his warm and generous spirit.
I fell in love with the way he would chat with strangers in the grocery store. (“You would never send my dad to the grocery store if you needed something quick!”) I fell in love with the way he’d say, “This is a great party, isn’t it?” during any ole family dinner because every meal was a party for him. I fell in love with the fact that in his seventies he reinvented himself as a watercolor painter and began exhibiting his work. I fell in love with the way he would surprise Sue Ann by warming up the car and cleaning off the windshield when it snowed so she could safely drive.
I never met Sam, but he is alive in my heart as I write this. I’m changed because of him. And that wouldn’t have happened if Sue Ann hadn’t taken the time to share a few things about him that make him unique.
This isn’t new stuff for me, but it’s like seeing the sunset. There’s that same “wow” factor every single time. It’s this: there is something profound in sharing and hearing what is good, lovable, wonderful, and unique about someone. In a world of not-enough and jump higher and do more, we all yearn for the simplicity of simply loving the people around us. It is the antidote to “something wrong.”
Just recently, I’ve talked to someone who surprised her son with a collection of Love Lists from dozens of friends and family. And I just received an email from someone else who did something similar for her 80-year-old mother.
I created Graduation Celebration books for a high school woman and a college man. I made a retirement book from a man’s closest colleagues who wanted him to know the legacy he was leaving as a teacher.
I talked to someone whose son wrote her the most beautiful letter for Mother’s Day after she asked him to make a Love List for her instead of buying something. And someone else who took the time to jot down a few things she loved about her friend and send them in a card through the mail.
I got a note from a Celebration Book client who told me that for eight years, every wedding anniversary, she and her husband have pulled out the Wedding Celebration Book I made so they can read all the stories and re-experience all the love written in those pages.
What all of these gifts have in common is that they are tangible expressions of the deep connections between people. They’re gifts that reflect people’s spirit and uniqueness through specific stories, just like Sue Ann did by telling us about her father in the grocery store.
I know we’re all busy. I know that there is a tremendous information overload in the world. I know it can be a little awkward and vulnerable to share how we feel about people.
But I also know this: that there is nothing more important. And that all too often, we wait for a bigger occasion. We wait for a feeling that isn’t so vulnerable. We wait until we have more time.
And that time never comes.
I don’t care if you buy a Celebration Book from me or make a homemade card or create a Love List. The form doesn’t matter. What I care about is that you do it. That you take the time to let people know what it is that you love and appreciate about them. I promise not only will it have a wonderful impact on the person receiving the gift, it will transform you in the process.
And for extra celebration credit, tell someone else. Tell you son what you love about his father. Tell your best friend what you love about your sister. Write and tell me what you love about your daughter, friend, or colleague. The more we express our love and appreciation, the more it anchors in. The deeper it gets. The bigger it grows.
I just wrote to Sue Ann and told her that my heart still feels squishy and tender. Her dad, Sam, whom I never met, has changed me today. Reading about him has helped me align with my own life and priorities. That’s the power of expressing love for people and sharing it. (That's the “sunset factor” right? It is just as powerful every single time!)
How about in honor of Sam, we all vow to strike up a friendly conversation with a stranger in the grocery store this week? Or, just once, when you’re having an “ordinary” dinner, exclaim, “Oh, what a party this is!” Or, how about this— in honor of Sam, we take the time to jot down three things we love about someone and send it off — right now!
Express your love. It changes everything.
Here’s my email address if you want to tell me what you made and for whom! I’d love to hear. (Really! It makes my day when people tell me about great gifts they've given or received!)
I’m not a musical person. I mean I like music. But musical talent —playing instruments or singing— doesn’t come naturally to me.
Until last fall, I’d never even picked up a stringed instrument and tried to strum it. But when a pink ukulele magically came into my life, I really wanted to be the kind of girl who could play. I imagined how fun it would be to whip out my uke at a dinner party or beach bonfire and add that bit of charm, weaving a web of light, lovely tunes reminiscent of an evening in Hawaii on the lanai.
Yeah, I wanted to be that girl.
I took my first uke lesson and was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t read the tablature (Um, I didn’t even know what tablature was!), couldn’t make my fingers curl the right way to create chords, couldn’t strum without getting my thumb tangled up. It was a group lesson and other people seemed to pick it up naturally. By the end of the first class, I was still struggling to play a single chord and they were all playing and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” like pros.
I was discouraged, embarrassed, and ready to quit.
When I was telling the story to my good friend, Laurie, she said, “Honey, listen: all you have to do is learn three chords and you can strum those chords and say some poetic words. Just that. If you do that, you will be a girl who plays the ukulele.
Three chords? I can do that. (I think.) I set out on that mission.
“C” was pretty easy. Just one finger holding down one string. (I stayed with “C” for a long time.) When I went to visit my family in Ohio last December, I took the ukulele, guessing I’d have lots of time to practice and maybe learn a new chord. I walked around my mom’s house plunking out that “C.” My niece, Nikki, and I sat on the couch and strummed crazily, making up goofy songs and pretending we were two ukulele-rocker girls on the road playing gigs. My mom laughed at us and acted as if she was our audience.
She yelled out, “Moon River!” “Play Moon River.” We pretended we knew the song and belted out, “Moooooon River, wider than a mile…” (Audrey Hepburn was probably turning over in her grave!)
A week later I was back in San Francisco and missing my mom. I got in the car one morning to go get groceries and when I turned on the radio “Moon River” poured out. Oh! I immediately called my mom to tell her that I missed her and that “Moon River” just came on and I thought of her. She said, “You really gotta learn that song on the ukulele.” We joked about that because of course there was no way in 1000 years I could learn that song. I was still struggling with my three chords.
And while our family got lots of great talents, we both knew that the musical gene seemed to skip our clan.
But something clicked that morning when I was driving home. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I really did learn to play “Moon River” on the uke? I was going to be back in Ohio for Mother’s Day in May. What if I could surprise my mom? I got really excited. The idea took root.
I listened over and over again to dozens of different people playing “Moon River” on YouTube. I searched all over the Internet for the very simplest tablature for the song. I painstakingly started to learn each of the ten chords in the song. I watched videos on learning how to strum. I practiced over and over and over again.
And you know what? I still stunk.
My fingers still stumbled and tangled and skipped and flopped. My voice was weak and wavering. No matter how many times I practiced, I couldn’t learn the chord sequence by heart. It felt like trying to teach a cat to cook scrambled eggs.
But nevertheless, I just kept trying. Even though I was not very good, I could begin to imagine being that girl who could play the ukulele!
And every once in a while when I would talk to my mom on the phone, she’d joke about me learning how to play “Moon River.” But I knew she never in a million years would guess that I might actually do it. Even though I totally stank at my efforts, the joy of trying to learn it for her was truly great. I got so happy inside whenever I thought about actually showing up on Mother’s Day and playing it for her.
And then, when Mother’s Day weekend came and I was catching a plane from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, PA, it felt pretty darn awesome to tote the uke through the airport, to pull it out of its case while waiting for my flight, and to quietly practice my strumming. (Anyone looking at me would think I was a girl who could play the ukulele!)
I made my mom a card and in it I put a little certificate I’d made with a photo of me holding the ukulele. It said, “Yep, your gift is that I really did learn how to play “Moon River.”
So I wish that the way the story ended is that I could tell you I pulled out the uke in front of my family and started strumming and it was amazing how great it sounded. I wish I could tell you I sang so sweetly that it made my mom cry. I wish I could tell you that I felt exactly like I had hoped I would — confident and fun.
The truth is, even after all that trying, I kinda sounded like a fish with a cold that was trying to strum with his flippy-floppy fins. My fingers missed some of the chords and I was focused so hard on trying to play the darned uke, that I sometimes forgot I was supposed to be singing.
It was bad.
I was gawky and awkward and out of tune.
But you know what? It didn’t matter that I wasn’t that girl who can play the ukulele. Because I was the girl who tried to play the ukulele — for her mom. I was the girl who spent hours and hours attempting something because I wanted to give my mom a special gift. I wanted to make her smile.
And if you’ll check out the photo, you’ll see that my mom did, indeed, smile. I think she understood that I tried my best and put my whole heart into wanting to give her a memorable gift. And just so I wouldn’t feel so bad about my own playing, she gave the ukulele a whirl. She pretended to sing and she strummed like crazy and she even raised the uke over her head and banged out crazy chords like a rock star! We all had a blast.
I’d still love to be the girl who can play the ukulele. And I’ll keep trying. But you know, I realized that what is even more important to me is to be the girl who tries her best to give gifts that hit the right note. And I do feel like that girl.
P.S. My mom says that I keep posting really bad photos of her in these newsletters. But I think they are awesome. She is SO much fun to be around and her spirit shines through. Don’t you agree?
PPS: I’m way too embarrassed to post a link to me singing “Moon River.” But here’s a link to Audrey Hepburn playing ….
PPPS: It's never too late to become the kind of person who gives gifts that hit the right note. Here are some places to begin ...
- Create that technicolor feeling in your daily life
- Sometimes we need to celebrate even when we fall flat.
- Is there something in your life that you really want to learn to do, but squirrel-mind is keeping you from it?
- Can you let yourself be fully alive and expressive — whether that looks like joy, confusion, despair, bliss, or grief?
- The secret to living an extraordinary life can be found in tiny, ordinary moments.
- How can we love the one we’re with when either —or both— of us is not quite exemplifying star-quality at the moment?
- Confessions of a packrat
- Do I have a deeper relationship with the person I think I should be than the person I really am?
- Andrea Scher
- Art by Gregory Bracken
- Britt Bravo
- Cheri Huber
- Cassandra Rae
- Christine Mason Miller
- Gregory Bracken
- Jen Gray
- Jillian Todd
- Jill Salahub
- Kelley Walker
- Kelly Rae Roberts
- Keri Nola
- Kind Over Matter
- Laurie Wagner
- Living Compassion
- Mary Jane Ryan
- Maya Stein
- Nancy Lefko
- Pamela Sterling
- Rich German
- Stefanie Renee
- Stacy Morrison
- Superhero Journal
- Tiffany Dyer Bird
- Unforgattable Elegance