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I recently went on a job interview that was conducted with a considerable degree of gravitas. It was an affair that required metered parking, a conference room, and an entire assembled committee present to ask questions. This is exactly the sort of thing I have been doing my best to avoid for the last decade of my work life. Yet, there we all were sitting at the table with all the questions. One of the questions posed in the interview was an unexpected delight:

How do you do the work?

That’s it.

That’s the whole vague and fantastic question.

At the time it was posed, I was confounded. I had never given voice to my process. How I do the work has been a very long and winding road across time and country, over the river, and through the woods. While the answer I gave summarized that journey, there is something about that question that has been revving and honking (with a Klaxon-like “AHOOGA!” sound) at me ever since it was posed. That question feels like a tiny clown car that I could get inside with twenty friends, and we could go anywhere in it.

So today I am here still mulling over that question with the intent to share some thoughts and scenes from my everyday work life that may help shed additional light on the answer as it continues to unfold. As Rainer Maria Rilke has written,

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

How do I do the work?

First off, there is a generous supply of silliness in my work, and that is by design. I have to do quite a bit of work on myself on a regular basis to get my mind-set right. That work begins with Shakti-building exercises and intentional goal-setting to keep me a happy, healthy human. I guess other people would probably call this “planning” or maybe “self-care.” Anyway, the way I do it looks like this:

Big plans

Having the right mind-set prepares me to deal constructively with the obstacles and menacing hindrances that inevitably present themselves as I’m going about the work, whatever that work may be…

Laundry Day Impediment

When working through problems and I get stuck, allowing time for conscious play, or blending the lines between work and play does wonders for unsticking the stuck.

The Building Blocks exhibit at the National Building Museum

A lot of the work I do is setting the stage with the right props and providing the space, time, and encouragement necessary for other people to play and learn and express whatever it is they want to say. Serving as a witness for this self-discovery is one of my favorite things about my work.

there were so many story starters in this little friend’s mind

It isn’t all fun and games. Yesterday morning’s work was a frenzied internal battle to get idea from brain to paper. When the dust settled this was the scene that remained:

Shrapnel from the War of Art

There have been times I have been crushed by the work and fellow passengers pulled me from the wreckage. Other times, Good Samaritans have come along to fluff me back up when I’ve gotten deflated. Never underestimate those singing spirits of the world who hide right out in the open.

~*~

How do YOU do the work?

What questions are you loving and living?

Have you ever liked a song so much that you listen to it a gazillion times and you think you have the song all figured out, then years pass and you grow out of that song and move on to other songs until one day you hear the same old song again, but suddenly something in that old, tricky song has shifted and a whole new world of meaning opens?

Of course, it’s the listener that’s changed, not the song, right? Hmmmm…or is it?

No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

–Heraclitus

Or perhaps it’s the zeitgeist that changed. On a grand scale, I think this happened in the collective consciousness with the song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on the wake of the “Me Too Movement.” What seems like the innocent flirtation of one era turns into nefarious intent in another era.

Recently I experienced a song’s shift (in a good way) when I heard Madonna’s “Vogue.” ‘What just happened here? ‘ I wondered to myself after hearing the song with these 2020 ears. There was a lot more depth there than I remembered there being in 1990 when I first heard it. (Can y’all believe that song is 30 years old now?!) I had to go look up the lyrics and then the etymology of the word “vogue” to discover that in addition to the “fashion forward” meaning of the word, it’s also a boating term indicating the “drift, swaying motion (of a boat).” It’s from Old French voguer, meaning “to row, sway, set sail.” [according to vogue | Search Online Etymology Dictionary (etymonline.com)]

So this week in my classes we are going on a sailing adventure.

All you need is your own imagination

So use it that’s what it’s for

Go inside for your finest inspiration

Your dreams will open the door

-Shep Pettibone & Madonna/Vogue

“By opening the door to the shadow realm a little, and letting out various elements a few at a time, relating to them, finding use for them, negotiating, we can reduce being surprised by shadow sneak attacks and unexpected explosions.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

On a sleepless night earlier this week, I used the gift of extra time and energy to do some reading that has been neglected on my nightstand for far too long. Since then, a particular passage in the book The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York, has been tapping at my mental chamber door all week. Author Jacquelin Cangro, recounted a scene that unfolded during her subway commute: a little girl got onboard the train with her father and soon after erupted into a spontaneous twirling dance accompanied only by the music inside her own mind. The author watched with amusement tinged by a wistful yearning for the sort freedom of expression that comes with being four years old.

I sympathize with the author — oh to be free from the trappings of adulthood — from the notions of decency and decorum, from responsibility and respectability, from the ‘shoulds’ and ‘Thou Shalt Nots,’ from the veils and gilded cages.

A tiny dancer still lives inside of these subways, chambers, shadows, and longings…

If we cracked the door open just a little bit, what would we see…?

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