Category: Reading Nook

Find Inspiration: Beyond the Ceiling

This week I had the great good fortune to be sitting in an exquisite concert hall listening to the unparalleled voice of opera goddess Kathleen Battle performing for the opening night gala at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

Before the performance, several people gave speeches to mark Koerner Hall’s 10 th anniversary, including Dr. Peter Simon, who initiated the major build that created this magnificent space. He began with a vision of bringing diverse musicians and audience members together to share in the beauty of music and, Dr. Simon explained, he had imagined that maybe, every now and again, together we might experience a piece of heaven.

Imagine that.

His vision was to create something that maybe, just maybe, would offer a piece of heaven.

How bold. How sublime.

I turned to Justin right away and whispered, “I need to dream bigger!”

What I meant by “bigger” was “free of limitations”. I meant that it’s time to scrub away the dirt on any self-imposed glass ceilings and realize that they are not there. I meant that it’s time to remember that I have the freedom to dream whatever I choose to dream.

If Peter Simon can dream of offering a piece of heaven, what can I dream? What can you?

What if we were all that bold?

Imagine the dazzling world this would be.

PS. I must say that Peter achieved his dream when Kathleen Battle sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and we all held our breath.

The Power of Your Choices

You Full Choices

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices I’ve made over the past several years and how they’ve impacted my life, (created my life, really.) I think about the things that have been within my control and the things that have been beyond it and I do this in an attempt to integrate all of that hard-won wisdom. I celebrate the choices that have brought me closer to myself and to the life I want to be living and I do my best to be honest and compassionate about the choices I have made that have moved me further away.

I am not one of those people who believe that our entire lives are our own creation, that we manifest everything by our inner thoughts, our words, our deeds. Instead I believe that each of us has a set of given circumstances, a palette that life gives us to work with, and that as creative beings, we can make wonders with what we’ve been given. The art form that has helped me understand this the most is theater, which I studied in university.

An actor starts creating a character by looking at the given circumstances provided by the play. What does the text tell us about who we are? Does our character description give our age, our circumstance, clues to our personality? Do the facts of the play show us where we live, who we have relationships with, what we do for a living? Do other characters talk to or about us and give clues about our identity? Are they a reliable source of information or are they misinformed or have their own agenda? An actor scrutinizes the text for these given circumstances and, generally, doesn’t argue with them. The circumstances form the skeleton on which everything else is built.

Once the given circumstances are discovered, it’s imagination’s turn. Choices bring the character and the play to life.

Yes, we enter the room on our cue, “Lizzie, dear, can you bring in the coffee?” but how do we enter? Are we rushed, calm, resistant? Are we leaning forward or dragging our heels? If we brought the coffee, are we sure-handed or is the carafe precariously balanced on our tray? Do we look at the other people as we enter? Do we smile? Do we frown?

An actor makes a million choices to bring a character to life within the given circumstances of a play.

We do the same within the given circumstances of our life, though generally less consciously. When we walk into the office, the kitchen, the bedroom, the party, the dry cleaners, the apartment, how do enter? Do we hurry? Do we hesitate? Are we lackadaisical? Suspicious? Friendly? Do we stand tall? Slouch? Lean back? As we
engage with our activities and others are we terse, effusive, loving, resentful, sarcastic, funny, aggressive, timid? How do our interactions with our given circumstances impact the story of our life?

The wonderful thing is that we have far more freedom than a character in a play.

Inevitably, Romeo and Juliet’s love will end in tragedy and Didi and Gogo will keep waiting for Godot. But our magic is greater; we have more creative license. We can change not only our reactions and responses to the given circumstances but even the story itself.

When we hear, “(Insert your name here), dear, can you bring in the coffee?” unlike Lizzie, we may bring in the coffee or not. We may substitute wine, coconut water or
raspberry soda. We might bring the coffee on a tray along with carrot cake and one exquisite fall dahlia in a vase. We can suggest going out for coffee or for dinner instead. We can even enter the room with a cartwheel and say “Get your own damn coffee” and walk out the door.

Maybe we are sick and tired of being asked to bring the coffee. We want something different for our lives. Maybe we want deeper conversations, more challenge and responsibility. Maybe we want coffee in Paris. Maybe we want brilliant conversations about books and life and politics. Maybe we want to quit coffee because the caffeine keeps us up at night. Maybe we want someone to bring us the damn coffee!

We can change things when we stop believing our entire story is a given.

Yes, we have given circumstances. We all do.

And, we have millions of choices available to us every day.

Choices that are ours, no one else’s.

Choices that can change our story – even if they don’t change all the details.

Make a list of the given circumstances of your life. Then think about the story you want to be living, the person you truly want to be and start making choices, one by one, day by day, to bring that story and that you to life.

You can do it.

The Time It Takes To Unfold

Little Acorn
photo by Suzie Ridler

Often in interviews people ask me what I wish I’d known when I started out, what I’d like to be sure that people on the same path know. My answer is always the same: “It’s going to take longer than you think and longer than you would like.”

I’m guessing you don’t like that answer any more than I did.

When I wasn’t sure of my career path, I wanted to figure it out pronto. When I wanted my coaching practice to replace my day job, I wanted it to happen now. When I was ready to heal my art wounds, I wanted to make one brave gesture and be done with it. When I became a creative entrepreneur, I wanted to launch one product and BAM be a wild success.

Not one of those things worked like that. Not one.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I worked hard!! I thought that if I could do more, put in more effort, go faster, try harder, then I could get the momentum going. By sheer force of will I could make it happen. Now.

That didn’t work either. In fact, that only resulted in exhaustion and even more discouragement. 

Why wasn’t it happening?

With so much talk of ‘life purpose” and “flow” and “following the energy,” if things weren’t moving forward, maybe I was on the wrong path. Maybe I would never find my career, be a coach, heal my art wounds or become a successful entrepreneur. Maybe I was on the wrong path. Maybe I needed to start over, think harder, dig deeper, get advice, sign up for a programme. Whatever it would take to figure it out, I would do it.

But this wasn’t about me working harder. This wasn’t about me getting it right or getting it wrong. This wasn’t about me what was ‘meant to be’. This was about life.

Life takes time.

Power, beauty, wisdom, strength, confidence, skill, knowledge, experience – all of these things take time to develop and to unfold. We cannot hurry the stages of our growth anymore than an acorn can will itself into becoming a tree by next weekend. Even if it could, it would be a tree that hadn’t had the time to grow strong or deep or wise. It wouldn’t have dug its roots firmly into the earth so it could hold its own weight and stand tall and proud no matter the weather. It wouldn’t have layers and layers and layers earned through season after season after season. It simply wouldn’t have all that it needed to be a magnificent tree.

It seems so unfair. We’re not rushing for the sake of rushing. We’ve been waiting all of our lives. We’re not 16 or 26 or 36 any more. If we haven’t succeeded by now, will we? We’re in pain, we’re suffering and we need something to hold onto. We need to know that eventually we’ll get there.

We have no way of knowing where we’ll get to.

There are no maps that guarantee you’ll reach the destination you’ve set your sights on but that doesn’t mean the journey’s not worth taking – and it certainly doesn’t mean you should stay still. It also doesn’t mean that you should tear your hair out while deciphering map after map after map in an attempt  to plan the perfect route to guaranteed success. There’s no such thing.

Life is an adventure.

Sometimes we’re whooshing downhill on our bicycles, hands in the air, wind in our hair, amazed and maybe frightened by the speed! Sometimes we’re meandering a delicate meadow path, heavy with the day’s heat, pausing every now and again to watch butterflies. Sometimes we have our shoulder to the wheel, our feet are dug in deep, our thighs rippling as we push, push, push to move forward. Sometimes we’re knocking at the door, our gentle rapping becoming increasingly insistent as we tire of waiting for an answer.

Be where you are.

You are a great adventurer, {{ subscriber.first_name }}. You have come far and done well. Yes, there are more journeys – many, in fact. So, yes, get out your map. Yes, plot the journey, as best you can. Take one step and then another and another. Build your strength. Hone your skills. Taste the blessings of this landscape. And every day, celebrate how far you’ve come.

Studio Diaries: The Drop

Studio Diary: August 21, 2018

After 10 straight days of work, including production week for the Studio Yearbook,  I decided to take a couple of days to myself. I was looking forward to some reading, writing and art-making. I’d been wanting to get to a class I’d signed up for and thought, now is the time.

After laying down some lines and collage pieces, I quite liked the watery face that was emerging. I took a picture and thought I was off to a good start. But then, quite quickly, it turned into a familiar experience, one that I have seen clients go through again and again, one that stops us cold.

Let’s call it “The Drop.”

There you are, all excited to finally be painting, thrilled to have some creative time. You start working on something, full of excitement and anticipation. This is going to be fun! And suddenly, DROP, it turns hard. You hate what you’re making. In fact, it embarrasses you. You can’t figure out what’s wrong with it or how to make it better. You just know it sucks. Pretty soon you’re telling yourself that YOU suck. Why even bother? Clearly your 6th grade teacher was right – art is not your thing!

I was so disappointed when the drop hit me. I was frustrated and even kind of angry. Why didn’t I know what to do next? Was there an instruction that I had missed? Was there a missing instruction?  I honestly just wanted to throw my painting out and walk away.

But how would that help? What would I learn from that?

Just that I am a person who gives up on my art.

Not me. Instead I’m going to look for any little thing that I do like about my painting, no matter how small…

like this character’s right eye. Okay, that’s something.

Wait.. What about her left eye? I kind of like it too, the way it looks like a reflection of the moon, just like the symbol on her forehead.

Okay, what about what I don’t like? Anything in that category is fair game and can be painted over, eradicated, transformed or erased. No sense being precious about things that don’t work! Instead I’d just try something else and if it didn’t work either, well, at least I was experimenting and learning.

I didn’t end up getting the piece to a point where I liked it but I did make sure to actively gain insight from the painting and the experience of creating it.

I continued to ask myself, “What elements of the painting please me?” I looked for clues about who I am as a painter.  I liked any part that glowed.  I loved the way the orange looked against the purpley blue. I liked purple and blue and red. I loved the sense of the moon and mystery. I enjoyed the look of layered collage. I liked the scribble in the hair and in the shadows but not on the face.

Yes, I looked at what I didn’t like too. I didn’t just go for a big dismissive “I hate this” moan!! Okay, I started there. You know I did. But after some time, I got analytical. What was it that wasn’t working? I might not know how to fix it but being able to identify it would be a step in the right direction. I didn’t like the proportions. The head seemed too big. Could I make it smaller? What if I looked at it from far away? Did I feel differently?

Most of all, there was something about it that just didn’t feel like “me.” It wasn’t my style. Of course this makes perfect sense. I’m working with another teacher’s approach and I am just learning. It will take many paintings before my hand starts to shine through.

I learned and then I left it.

Later that day, simply to capture the moment, I decided to draw the simple outline of the face I had painted in my yearbook.

The unexpected thing was that I loved it! Suddenly this ‘character’ was more my own. She felt like she came out of my imaginative world (probably because I have done way more drawing than painting) and that felt good. And the truth is that if I hadn’t found my way through the drop, if I hadn’t stuck with it, I wouldn’t have landed here.

On top of that, I am confident that in sticking with a painting that I didn’t love I am that much closer to being able to create one that I do.

In fact, I’m well on my way!


Embracing the Joy of Ephemera

JRS Fall Ephemera Friday

It’s busy in the studio! We are in production mode for the #first100 print copies of the Studio Yearbook. This is always a lively and chaotic time. The kitchen table is covered with lists and labels and envelopes and ephemera. It’s a collective effort, as my sisters, Shannon and Suzie, help with putting it all together. We have a tradition called “Ephemera Friday” where we fill Shannon’s handmade envelopes with treasures we’ve been collecting for the season, primarily images from books and magazines.

Ephemera is a wonderful addition to any journaling practice. Gluing in an image, a memento, some words or paper scraps can add a moment of visual interest, inspiration to draw on and a connection to the present. It doesn’t have to be precious, fancy or fussy – and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

  • ​Cut out that pretty picture from a real estate flyer.
  • Save a piece of the blue pattern on the inside of an envelope.
  • Give gift wrap a new purpose.
  • Glue in your movie ticket or bus transfer.
  • Keep that golden metallic paper from your chocolate bar.
  • Use that sticker from your piece of fruit!

If you discover you enjoy gathering and using this kind of ephemera in your journal practice (or in your art, for that matter), you can start to invest a little more time and energy:

  • ​Cut out images from magazines.
  • Go treasure-hunting for old books. (Check your library. We have a great used book store at the library in Toronto.)
  • Check out yard sales or vintage shops for all sorts of paper materials – maps, music books, postcards.
  • Look for free printables and collage sheets online.
  • Purchase bundles of ephemera from online sellers.(It is particularly fun to get ephemera from different parts of the world!)

Create a ‘stash’ of interesting materials that you love and that you’ve enjoyed gathering – and then ​use them!​ Don’t let them gather dust as you keep gathering more and more and more. Add one or two or five to your journal every day. Create a card for a friend and send it. Start collaging or art journaling. Experiment with mixed media. Put a favourite in your wallet or daytimer to bring some joy whenever you open it. (I kept a badger in my wallet for years!) 

If your stash starts to get out of control (which can happen easily) have fun putting those papers in a glue book! A glue book (or I sometimes call it a picture book) is simply a book that you glue things into – whatever you like! It’s a fun and relaxing creative activity which leaves you with a visual journal that you can continue to enjoy. You can see one of mine here. With all the ephemera floating around our place, I’m thinking of starting a new one!

Gathering papers and images is something I’ve been doing just about my entire life.  When I was a teenager I kept things like concert tickets, restaurant matchbook covers and newspaper movie ads. For years I kept style inspiration journals, where I pulled together images of the colours, silhouettes and fashions I loved. For over 20 years I’ve created dreamboards full of inspiring images that help guide me on my journey. Now, I put at least one image into my Studio Yearbook every day.

The most important part of each of these processes has been the way that the gathering, curating and creating has helped me know myself and my preferences more and more and more. Whether I was a teenager finding my way, a woman finding my style or an entrepreneur finding my brand, engaging with the visual ephemera of everyday life has been both a delight and a guide.

Amazing what little snippets of paper can do!

Taking My Energy Back (aka Don’t Leave Pieces of You Behind!)

This week I let go of the last of my club-girl clothing, in particular this exquisite floor-length, black fitted dress that I loved beyond measure. I loved my life at the time I was wearing it. I loved who I was at that time too. And I love the feelings that  flood into me as this dress transports me back to my clubbing days, all those years ago.

We often hold onto items like this because they represent a part of ourselves. It’s almost as though we’ve taken a piece of our identity and magically infused it into the object. Perhaps this is why we protect the item so fiercely, why we simply will not let it go. It keeps an important part of us in safekeeping. We feel that if we let it go, we will lose that part of ourselves. So instead we keep that university textbook, that swimming badge, that cookbook, that club-girl dress.

But what if by letting it go of the object, we were able to release the energy and bring it back home?

What if instead of relegating my club-girl attitude to a dress at the back of my closet, I owned it again? I’m not talking about turning back the clock or living in the past. I’m talking about having that energy take shape in my life today, live in my body today, be alive in my psyche now!

Perhaps that dress is in a closet because I don’t believe that there is room for that part of myself in my life anymore and that is painful. In response, I mourn that part of me and build a shrine to it in my closet.

But that part of my identity is always available to me; it must be because it IS me.

It might not look the same now as it did in the past but let’s not get distracted by the details. It’s deeper than that. It’s about embodying the essence of who we are. So, while it’s true that I likely won’t be dancing at a nightclub into the wee hours, sweating, flinging my hair, hands up, hips moving*, I am still a dancer, still fierce, still sensual, still wildly alive.

I am the container for that energy, not the dress.

So the answer isn’t to take the dress out of the closet and start wearing it again. It isn’t about going clubbing or reliving my past. It’s about taking that locked up energy and giving it a home in my life now. It’s about answering the question, “What does that look like for me today?” I know it looked like me dancing in Luminato this year and that’s just the beginning.

No part of yourself needs to be relegated to the basement, the closet or the storage room. You get to be all of you at each stage of your life – wild, strong, fierce, gentle, introspective, curious, adventurous, solitary, playful, sexy, reverential, silly – everything.

This week, as I lovingly folded up that dress and put it in a bag for donation, I felt a deep sense of release but not in the way people talk about in books about decluttering. This release was not about letting go; it was about taking back. I released my club-girl energy from its beautiful black-dress cage so that it could roam through my life freely and with abandon once more.

Take It To Your Journal

Is there a part of you that’s been relegated to the past?
Is there an object that holds its energy?
How might you bring that energy back into your life today?

Let’s choose wholeness.
Bring your energy home.

Books – Can You Have Too Many?

From the emails and comments I’ve been receiving in response to our renovation, it is clear to me that so many of us are on a journey with our things and our spaces. Of course this makes sense. We creatives are sensitive to our environments, we have needs that are a little outside the norm and we value expressing ourselves in every aspect of our lives.

No wonder “home” is no small thing!

As we move forward in our renovation journey, my big progress this week has been with books. Oh, we do love books in our family! I had no idea that perhaps our love was a little intense until a mover came in to give us an estimate: “You sure have a lot of books, don’t you?”

Do we?

I really had no perspective. I mean, on my second birthday, my mom took me to the library to get my first library card.* Growing up, I had a spot on the side of my dresser for library books to be read and we had a spot on the top of the piano for library books that were to be returned. One of my first ‘businesses’ (I only put it in quotes because it was more like a non-profit) was setting up my own local library for neighbourhood kids.

Now, thanks to the mover’s off-the-cuff remark, I notice that we have bookcases in almost every room: the studio, 2 bookcases; Justin’s den, 3 bookcases, the bedroom, 2 bookcases; the living room, 2 bookcases; the kitchen, 1 bookcase; the guest room, 1 bookcase; the storage room, 1 bookcase – and every one of them full.

Okay, yes. We have a lot of books.

At a family get-together this past weekend I had the chance to ask my dad and my aunt how they downsized their collections. My Aunt Beth, a retired librarian, gave an answer that startled me, “Cutting is in a librarian’s DNA.”

What? Cutting? Not collecting?

As my aunt continued, it became clear that cutting is crucial to curating a great collection. A library only has the space that it has and so a part of the librarian’s job is to make sure that the space isn’t simply filled but that it is filled well.

Oh, now, there’s a thought. If the public library works within its spacial limitations when it comes to books, maybe it’s reasonable that I should too. What if instead of trying to make a home for ‘all the books’ (aka every book I have ever read, purchased or received), I made a home for…. well… now I’m stuck again. Which books should I make a home for?

I asked Aunt Beth what criteria libraries use to make their choices and was inspired by the clarity of her answer:

Condition: Is the book still in good shape? Is it damaged, dusty or otherwise shabby?
Content: Is the content still useful and relevant?
Circulation: Are people reading it?
So helpful! Even if these aren’t your criteria (for example, my dad said he wasn’t overly concerned about condition), the key here is having criteria.

As I considered these new ideas, curating my books started to appeal to me more and more. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling pressed and pressured to find a home for every single book. I also wasn’t feeling the need to declutter for the sake of decluttering. This wasn’t about being ruthlessly practical and austere.

Instead choosing which books to keep became an opportunity to create my own personal library. What would that look like? What subjects would I specalize in? What authors? What would I find most useful, inspiring and memorable? Is that my criteria? If not, what is? I’m still working that out and it feels like an act of creation, identity and love.

I also realize that this isn’t a one-and-done activity. Just like at the public library, the curation of my own collection of books will be an ongoing activity. This new-found approach is more like tending a garden than laying the stones of a building. I love that. Instead of building a dusty old collection of memories, my library can come alive and that’s just the kind of magic I loved in the books I read as a girl. Perfect.

What approach do you take with your books?
What criteria do you or would you use to curate your library?