Driving south on the freeway towards home, the Foo Fighters were blaring from the speakers of my husband's car stereo sound system. It was irritating and my first inclination was to turn the channel and find something a little more soothing, but I paused and decided to sit with my uncomfortableness. I wanted to practice trying to calm myself down by repeating the mantra choose grace over drama in my head and channeling my higher self. This is not easy stuff, but the lessons present themselves in the most unlikely of places and times. I would dare myself to pick another way to handle the situation and the uncomfortable feeling eventually passed, as I'm figuring out that they usually do. This is how my word for the year shows up in my daily life. Sometimes through Dave Grohl, oftentimes through people, places or situations that annoy me. I just never know who is going to be my teacher or where it's going to play out.
I like to pick a word for the year on January 1st and let it be my guide as I navigate the coming 365 days. I'll be linking throughout this post to prior blog entries, so feel free to click on those highlighted words as they will link you to more of my writing and dig a little deeper into my creative process.
This year the word DARE would lead me in ways I never imagined when I chose it. I landed on it because it evoked a tiny bit of fear in me, along with a more dominant feeling of excitement. I needed to be dared to get moving in a few aspects of my life and I hoped by picking this word it would serve as my compass.
My favorite month of the whole year is January. It feels promising and hopeful; endless, yet structured; full of early nights to bed and darkness and quiet. It's always been a month that allows me to ground myself and set intentions for what I want my life to look like. It's restorative nature is like a salve to my tired soul after the holidays. While big storms are brewing along the northern coast of California, I can be found shuffling around my 900 square foot home in my wool slippers, pouring myself endless cups of tea and turning in for the night at 7:30 p.m. Wild, right?
I had a few weeks off from school for winter break and when the middle of the month rolled around, I found myself back at the junior college enrolled in pre-algebra and beginning oil painting, both of which mildly terrified me. But my word for the year, right? Right. I dared myself to sign up for both of them and would show fear I wasn't a scaredy cat.
I would also embark on a self-imposed weekly creative assignment for all of 2017. You see, I like to do that, assign myself projects to get me motivated and hold me accountable. In a way, I'm daring to keep my word to myself, I guess. This time around it would be my Ray of Light Interview Series and I would create original artwork featuring women in recovery who are recovering out loud and post an interview, along with a mixed media piece of art of their beautiful faces every Friday. This would dare me to post regularly here in this space and be of service in a small way. You can read all of the interviews to date by clicking here.
February will always and forever remind me of Kacy.
And airports and security lines (six in total for the month); hospital rooms and intense love; true friendship and deep, deep strength; unbearable heartache and loss; beauty and the never before full emotion of utter grief. This month would dare me to show up and not numb out with booze or social media or drama. It would dare me to be my higher self and be of service and not get wrapped up in gossip or get my feelings hurt. It would teach me that cancer is not to be messed around with and to be an advocate for my own health. It was a bittersweet reminder that we are not guaranteed anything in this lifetime.
This month would show me that I can do hard, hard things. It would prove to me that by showing up when things are the darkest, there still can be beauty and light found in connecting with other humans who are at their most raw state of being. Witnessing my best friend take her last sips of air and holding her hand as she left this world for another was the single hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It was also a big fat reminder that our days here on earth are numbered and precious and to squander them would be an absolute fucking shame.
March would find me and my family back in Las Vegas for Kacy's celebration of life. Her husband asked that I give a eulogy at her service. I wrote 14 different drafts and still nothing felt right or adequate or worthy. How could it?
In the end, I would edit and rework a blog post I wrote a few days after she died and deliver it to a roomful of people that also loved my friend and counted her as one of their people. I had to dare myself to get up and do this thing I never wanted to have to do. I had to dig deep and get over my fear of public speaking and just show up and be me and honor the woman who shared life with me for 28 years.
Upon returning home, I had an assignment to paint a master for my oil painting class. My professor, fully aware of my grief, allowed me some leeway with the assignment and I picked Mark Rothko's White Center to try and replicate. It reminded me of Kacy and it was meditative and relaxing to work on. The old me would have been intimidated to try and emulate Rothko's style, but in light of what I'd just been through with losing Kacy I simply dared myself to do it anyway. Who cares? I mean, who really cares if I don't get it right? It was all about process for me and thinking about Kacy while I painted for hours on end.
Art has this ability to heal me and this was no exception. My Rothko knock-off hangs in my kitchen now and, in a way, Kacy is in that painting, too.
This month would find me thinking about the meaning of life and what it is I'm here to do. I just watched my best friend leave this earth at age 51 and I did not want to squander anymore of my precious days. I was tired of living in fear of trying something on for size creatively and so I reached out to my new creative soulmate, Sondra Primeaux, and said let's do that thing we've been talking and dreaming about for the last nine months. It's time. I kind of double-dog-dared us to do it.
And that's how we launched our new creative collaboration - The Unruffled Podcast.
Oh, it wasn't that easy but, like I said, we had been researching and having phone dates for many months and it was time to pull the creative trigger on our little podcast dream. It just wasn't as hard as I typically like to make things. With the help of my husband on the technical side of things and the graphic design brilliance of Chris Aguirre, we had a beautiful logo and a way to get this podcast up and running on the internet. It would be imperfect and wonky and wonderful and ours. We are 12 episodes in and it feels like a dream coming true.
Last summer, I registered for a three-day conference that would take place in New York City called She Recovers. The event would gather 500 women in recovery and have keynote speakers like Glennon Doyle Melton, Nikki Myers, Elizabeth Vargas, Gabby Bernstein and Marianne Williamson.
Another airport security line and potential anxiety management was on the horizon. I almost cancelled this trip half a dozen times, but my word for the year wouldn't let me. I dared myself to fly across the country, traverse airports and Ubers and subways. I dared myself to show up and meet women I'd only ever chatted with online. I would dare myself to invite a woman whom I had never met before to share a hotel room with me and my roommate, Natalie. I would dare myself to get over myself.
And guess what? It all worked out.
To overcome my anxiety, I served tea to anyone and everyone who would come back to our hotel room (which, by the way, was number 1111). I would dare myself to take a yoga class with the Elena Brower and Taryn Strong. I would dare myself to remember to choose grace over drama in any and all situations that started to make me feel uncomfortable. I would dare myself to tell the truth about how I was feeling. I would dare myself to just show up in my life and live it.
Upon coming home I would celebrate Mother's Day, attend the Never Not Broken yoga workshop at Love Story Yoga and host a dear friend visiting from Portland in my home. I would study for my finals and paint the largest painting I've ever made. I would continue making illustrations for #the100dayproject and I would struggle to parent my teenage son as he neared the end of middle school.
The first day of June would be the last day of 8th grade for my 14 year old son. We struggled with the last half of the 8th grade school year and the dynamics between us as mother and son. I dared myself not to take it personally, but it was hard and imperfect and draining.
A few days into the month found us flying out to Las Vegas to visit my best friend's home and her family. It would be the first time back since she passed away on 2/22. Again, another airport and another chance to choose grace over drama.
I can't pretend to know what it's like to lose a spouse, a daughter or a parent. I just can't. But I can show up and share what it's been like for me. I can also offer to help open up three months worth of mail and organize it. I can drink green juices every afternoon with Kacy's husband and talk about how much we miss her. I can take all of the boys out to jump on trampolines for hours on end and stuff our faces with Shake Shack burgers and watch the Golden State Warriors beat the Cavaliers. That I can do. No problem.
On Father's Day, we put Grady on a plane headed towards Sitka, Alaska. This would be his first solo trip to our 49th State and he would spend the next two weeks at a fine arts camp taking classes in electronic music, improv, mural painting, band ensemble (trumpet) and Shakespeare. He would learn how to navigate airport connections, use an ATM machine for the first time and form new friendships. He would perform a scene from Julius Caesar and study all-female composers in his music class. He would perform a geo-electroacoustic piece called the Rock Song using actual rocks composed by Alex Shapiro. He would send us funny texts early in the morning or just before he dozed off to sleep after a long, hard day of camp shenanigans.
While he was off galavanting and daring himself to go and do things he's never done before, I stayed home and dared myself to a few things I'd been putting off (for years), too. Like, updating my website. I tend to shy away from all things technical. I use a limited amount of technology - computer, phone, Instagram. I'm not ashamed to say I don't really know how to work the television in my home and I have zero desire to learn how. I think that's really it. When it comes to technology, I'm only motivated when it interests me. To that end, I knew I needed to add a marketplace to my website and try selling the work I've been creating over the last three years. This desire manifested itself on a Friday night and I worked on a new blog template and added a marketplace to this very blog that you're reading. Check it out! Isn't is fancy? Doing this felt like I had performed a Christmas Miracle, except that's being a wee bit dramatic. I got into it. It wasn't that hard. All I needed was the motivation to figure it out.
Within a week, I sold my first painting titled Full Circle No. 1.
I dared to put my work out into the world, albeit virtual, and value all of the time and energy I put into making art and, lo and behold, I sold something.
Funny how that works, right?
I've been dyeing my hair for 20 years straight. This month, I decided to be daring and I quit dyeing my hair. I'm going grey gradually and while it feels awkward and looks a little weird at this beginning phase, I'm doing it anyway. Sitting with the uncomfortableness because that's what I've been doing a lot of this year. These feelings really have been a great teacher. I'll keep you posted on Instagram about my progress. It feels nice to shed the hair coloring routine and return to my natural, more authentic self. I reserve the right to change my mind, too, because in the famous words of Bobby Brown, it's my prerogative.
I guess what this post is turning into is a dare for you, my sweet readers. What can you go out on a limb and dare yourself to do? What seems impossible in your mind, but your heart keeps reminding you that you want it? What matters most to you? What would you regret if you continue to idly sit by and watch others do the thing you were meant to do?
There's a reason Nike's slogan caught on, so I'll triple dog dare you to take the next step in your very own life and...
Just Do It.