Letters: On Celebrating the Small Stuff

Dear Friends,

Here is a thing I made!

I’m not going to make a PDF copy of it because you can make your own. I don’t see the use in you having a list of my big wins. But I do see a use in me having it.

I don’t want to be a downer, but life is hard. Maybe you’ve noticed. Even when life is good it can be hard, and I have to be honest: I have a really good life. I have a lot of good people. I have a safe place to sleep, enough food to eat, and something left to share with my friends and enjoy for myself. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, all my boxes are consistently checked, so what could I possibly have to complain about? I won’t burden you with my list because as much as I might want to tell you everything that’s wrong with my life right now, the point here is to lift both our spirits, not dig in to the gloom. I’ve been talking with my team at work about celebrating our victories, and I realized I didn’t know quite how to model that authentically, so I thought I’d give it a try.

This little zine had its inception during scrimmage practice last week. After the first couple jams, I still couldn’t shake off my work week funk. I wasn’t doing badly, but as I returned to the bench after jamming, I was beating myself up for not getting lead. I felt mentally and emotionally tired, and it’s surprisingly hard to make a great physical effort when your brain is much. The face of my friend Prima came to mind. We were fresh meat together years ago, and when we played in our first scrimmages, she would say one positive thing she had done after every jam. I decided to try it …

Oh right! As soon as the other jammer got out, I made a successful star pass that allowed my teammate to get out as jammer and force the call off. And I immediately switched to playing defense and wasn’t too winded to block. Oh, and we had that sweet drawback …

With my focus shifted, I reaffirmed my intention to be as fully present with the game as I could, and riding the wave of positive reinforcement, started looking for little victories on the track for both myself and my teammates. My night took a turn from there and became full of wins. Obviously I needed to keep the joy going when I got home and had a little creative energy to burn, and that’s why I made my little Post-it note zine.

Learning to give myself credit is hard because there’s always this voice in the back of my head that’s like, “So what? You met your basic adult responsibilities. Some of them. Have you seen your desk lately? And you know so-and-so hates you now, right? Because of that thing you said when you were trying to be funny. It totally wasn’t funny. You’re kinda terrible.” That voice is brutal. My therapist tells me our inner critics are often trying to help us or protect us from perceived threats, and I guess this one is no exception. In a weird way, this relentlessly critical voice thinks it’s helping me. It keeps insisting that I get up and keep working even when it’s hard because life is probably always going to be hard in one way or another, and my choices are to keep going or give up on my dreams. On the other hand, what’s the point of living your dreams if every time you achieve one, some mean inner voice takes all the joy out of it?

I admit, my dreams are modest. I want to play roller derby to the best of my ability among friends who value and support one another. I want to run a sustainable business that empowers good people to do good things and makes a positive impact in our industry. I want to be a source of goodness in the lives of the people I love. I really wish I could save the world, but I don’t think that’s a one-woman job, so I’m just trying to do my part. I don’t expect to be the best at anything, mostly because I don’t want the pressure that comes with it. Life is hard enough when we are just meeting our most basic responsibilities. This idea of life as a competitive sport in which we are all vying for the most money, likes, followers, accomplishments, or whatever it is people are counting as currency these days … well it’s bullshit, and it’s no fun. I am opting out of that game.

I will probably not be asking folks to make zines in our next team meeting, but I will start a new practice in my journal of writing down my big and small wins each day. Because sometimes everything is hard. Sometimes your mom gets sick, people don’t pay you on time, and poor communication turns your whole world into a mirror maze, and sometimes even (or especially) in the midst of all that chaos, I just need to remember that I am doing ok. Day to day, moment to moment, one decision at a time, I am doing the best I can, and I trust that you are, too.

So that’s where I’m at this week. I hope you’re doing well. I hope you have some personal victories to celebrate this week.

Sincerely,

Mary

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This is My Letter to a Slightly Smaller World

A letter from the desk of Dirt.

Weds. Feb. 27, 2019

Dear Friends,

Recently, I tried an experiment to break a heavy creative block that I’ve been carrying around for years, and I asked people to volunteer to receive letters from me. I wanted to write letters to people who I knew were (a) open to receiving them and (b) theoretically interested in whatever I might have to say. Doing so was creatively freeing for me, and it provided a feeling of connection that made writing much easier. One of the reasons I have found it challenging to write over the past few years is that I don’t know my audience, or I’ve been writing for an audience of “everyone,” and that includes a lot of people who probably don’t care one whit about me. “Everyone” also includes my inner critics, my parents, my college advisors and mentors, my entire grad school community, and a massive chorus of internet commenters who only read headlines before forming their very important opinions. It is extremely hard to write for such a broad and hostile audience. In the age of the internet where everything has to be entertaining and the best way to succeed is to go viral, it felt like a disservice to myself and my craft to try and write in a way that would appeal to literally everyone all the time. I know there are people in the world who don’t like me or  “my kind,” whatever that means to them. I know there are and will be people who think my ideas are shit, my execution is sloppy, my research is lacking, and that I am too emotional, too subjective, too … whatever. I am no longer sorry about not appealing to those people. Instead I just want to connect with those who are willing to receive a sincere letter from a real human being without a promise of being entertaining or clever. I don’t have any big ideas to spread except that of connection — being human together by sharing genuine thoughts, feelings and experiences.

So far, I have I found this practice to be deeply healing. It has helped me to remember that I am writing not just for myself or for a monolithic audience but for real individual human beings. I make no promises about the quality of the work, just that I will write each person a unique letter, and that they can request that I write about certain topics. With each letter, I included a note that the recipients were not required or expected to write back although return letters are welcome and appreciated. Not many people write back, and that’s just fine. After all, we do live in a busy world and everyone’s got a lot going on. It’s a simple honor to be allowed however briefly to be part of the lives of these friends, acquaintances and strangers.

To be clear, these letters are not for sale. These days it seems like everyone is preoccupied with monetizing everything, as though anything people won’t pay for is inherently lacking value. While I do like to get paid for my work, I give myself permission to focus on the connection and the creative act — both with the letters and with my other current creative pursuits. Specifically excluding money from the letter-writing experiment helped me to feel  more connected to the people I wrote to. And yes, I was still receiving something from them in exchange for my letter. I received their trust when they gave me their personal mailing address and names (especially those social media friends who don’t know me in “real life”). I also received their time and attention when they read my letters. And perhaps most valuable, I received permission from them to show up on the page and in their mailbox, just as honest, vulnerable, thoughtful, and sincere as I could manage to be. That part was priceless. And in a few cases, I got very sweet, thoughtful, and inspiring letters in return. It felt great to know that those who did choose to write back did so out of their own desire and not obligation, again creating genuine human connection.

On the whole, the letter writing experiment was hugely successful in helping me set down that big concrete block of self doubt and move forward with greater creative freedom and a real appreciation for my audience rather than a fear of them. Since I started it, I’ve had a renewed inspiration in other areas of life and have been making more zines, collages, and other artwork. In addition, perhaps you’ve noticed, I’m finally blogging again. It feels so strange and new, yet old and familiar at the same time. I think for the first time in my writing life I have begun to understand the concept of audience on more than an academic level.

I hope to continue writing letters to friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the internet. If you want to receive a letter from me, I invite you to comment here with your request or follow me on Twitter where I occasionally as around for volunteers. The expectations are the same as before: You provide your name and address, and I will write you a letter. You can suggest or request a topic, but I make no promises about the quality. If you don’t specify a topic, I’ll just write some reflections on the world, my personal experience, or something that I hope will interest you based on what I know about you. If you let me know how to look you up on social media, I’ll take a peek at what you’re sharing in order to know a little more about who I’m writing to, but if you don’t want to share that info, that’s perfectly fine.

In closing, I would like to say one last “thank you” to the people who invited me to send them my thoughts and ramblings. You may not know exactly how much you’ve helped me with your participation in the project, and I don’t know what impact my letters have for you if any. However, it’s my wish and intention that each letter brings at least a little bit of joy into your life because we all need joy, and we are all in this together. So with all my heart, thank you, and good luck.

Sincerely,

Mary

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What is Anxiety?

I made a zine! I started making zines way back when I was a kid. I’d cut out magazine pictures and use the copy machine at my dad’s office to make copies I could mail to my friends. These days, zine making is one of the most accessible forms of art for me. I absolutely depend on some amount of creative exercise for my sanity and well being, but my days are packed full with running a business and playing roller derby, not to mention having a personal and social life. Making a zine can be a pretty quick project. I made this one over the course of a few days, doing a little each morning before work. You can download this zine and print your own copy using the link below. Just download the PDF, print it using the front and back of the page, then cut the pages in half and stack them to make the booklet. Tada!

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Directing my energy toward creativity

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been pouring myself into creative outlets lately. It’s not as though I have a ton of spare time, but if a day goes by that I don’t engage in some kind of creative activity, I feel lost. For me, creative practice is part of my sadhana (spiritual practice) because it’s a way that I can look inward and not only be honest about what I see but also do something with it. I don’t tend to stay in one lane creatively, either. Some days I need to write a poem. Some days I need to sing a song or make art of other kinds.

One of the cool things I learned from roller derby was how much fun it is to start something you have no idea how to do, and then really see it through. It felt amazing to put on skates and learn to hit and play and really become strong in the unique way that derby makes people strong. Likewise, it feels awesome to pick up the ukulele and learn a new chord or compose a little song with one of my favorite meditation mantras. The process of learning is deeply satisfying in itself, but the reward of having learned something and getting to engage in the act of creation using what you’ve learned … it’s just stellar.

This is why I’ve been enjoying audio recording so much lately. I’ve been spending a good bit of time on  my Soundcloud experiments. A long time ago I recorded some poems for sharing, but more recently, I’ve been experimenting with music using Garage Band, my ukulele, and my voice. Admittedly, I’m not starting 100% from scratch on the music thing. I did have piano lessons, voice lessons, and a few years of choir to learn the basics, but I was not a strong student of music theory, so I’m kinda winging it on the composition front.

If you’re into meditation songs or ukulele punk, you’re invited to follow me on Soundcloud. For a taste of what I’m all about, here’s a meditation song I finished today.

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