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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?

…a great deal of real art is made under the radar. We barely know we are working. We just suit up and show up and grab what moments we can, and it is only in cozy retrospect that we can see the level of skill we were able to muster. It is humbling, the degree to which we are like automatons. Our art moves through us despite us.

–Julia Cameron, Finding Water

The most important thing creators do is work. The most important thing they don’t do is quit.

–Kevin Ashton, How to Fly a Horse

Today’s retrospective analysis of the last 10 years of My Little Spacebook revealed an overarching theme running through many posts.  Since the beginning, that theme is showing creative work – my own work and other people’s work that I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with or to witness.

In the last decade there has been a lot of work shared and a lot of shared work!

There’s been knitted work, decoupage work…,

dec2012 022

…messy work in progress,

Mess

…incredibly weird work,

hypertufa planter head

Herman the Hypertufa Planter

outside work…

midsummer 2013 001

messy inside work…,

june 6 012

mosaic work….,

August 2012 064

…and exhaustion from the work.

Picture1

 

 

Pharaonic

Tonight’s rehearsal

True Story:

Yesterday I went to work with my pants on backwards.

It wasn’t the first time.

I can’t be bothered by which way to put on pants.

I have a lot of goddess shit to do.

 

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.

-Pablo Picasso

battleship cheat

 

 

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

–Sun Tzu,  The Art of War

 

 

Battleship

Magic

Last week I heard myself say possibly the weirdest thing I’ve ever said at work:

“Ooh, that’s right! Today is the day the ponies have to go to outer space.”

But that’s exactly the sort of thing you have to say when zombies, aliens, and monsters invade Pony Land and the battle lasts several days. Fortunately, the ponies are a forward-thinking species that have resources and contingency plans to deal with such problems.  While the Pony Queen fended off the monsters, the little ponies said their magic words to make the door to the rocket ship open and allow them safe passage.

Pony Exodus.jpg

The ponies blasted off and flew through outer space and arrived safely in their haven on the moon.  Meanwhile, Fred the taxi driver loaded up the defeated monsters into the back of his dump truck and hauled them off to their monster hideout.

Taxi Driver Fred

Headed to Zombie Hideout

The ponies are doing well colonizing the moon.  The monsters, aliens, and zombies are on the road to recovery.

———————————————————————————————————

A job title doesn’t even come close to answering the question: “What do you do?”.

Robert Fulghum, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It   

Herein lies the annual archiving of the books that occupied me this year.  I’m breaking this down into multiple posts to make it easier on all of us.

1. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

If you like Amy Schumer’s comedy and you want a good laugh, then you should go watch Amy Schumer’s comedy instead of reading this book.  If you are curious about the person behind the clown, it is worth reading. It’s written in the style of a personal diary – loosely organized thoughts about her family, her life, her loves, her stuffed animals, and her years of work behind her “overnight” success. She includes excerpts from a diary she kept in her early twenties with retrospective commentary.  It made me want to dig out the Winnie the Pooh journal I kept in my teens to remind myself what I was thinking back then.  As a whole, the book has a vibe of raw honesty that people rarely reveal to each other.

2. A Monster Calls

“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”


I paid too much for this book at the airport newsstand because it said “monster” on the cover. It was October 31 and I needed a way to mark the holiday that would be otherwise consumed by travel.  I crammed myself into a little airplane seat with my monster book and read it cover-to-cover. This book had me crying all across the sky on Halloween.

“…and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.”

–Patrick Ness

3. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity


Silberman has provided the most comprehensive historical perspective on autism that I’ve read in my 16 years of studying autism and working with folks on the spectrum. He also delves into the wide range of controversies, treatments, and organizations associated with autism. It’s a work that honors the varieties of human intelligence.

4. The Japanese Lover

 From a retirement home in San Francisco, an octogenarian recounts the events that shaped her life to her young Moldovan employee. Her recollections span from her immigration from Poland to the events leading up to her marriage and beyond. In the telling I learned a lot I didn’t know about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII  – and that was just the backdrop for a short episode in the narrative.

It’s hard to say what I admire most about Isabel Allende’s novels:  Her settings are as nuanced as her characters. She makes history live and breathe on the page.  She also guards her characters’ secrets well.  You have to get to know them and love them before you gain their confidence.

5. Another Day

This was the much-anticipated sequel to Everyday [Reviewed Here], the fascinating story of a bodiless teen who wakes up in a different person’s body every day.  Unfortunately, Another Day sucked and I am kinda (irrationally) mad at David Levithan right now. It was the same story, same events, same characters as before, but it was told by the boring character’s point of view instead of the awesome one’s.   Ugh – Why do that?  Maybe because it was written more for commercial reasons than for artistic ones.

6. The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism 

A friend wanted to read this book together, so we did. Drawing heavily from research in positive psychology, Cabane offers practical exercises to sharpen listening and speaking skills and to increase one’s general likeability.  The practices and advice were reminiscent of the principles from yoga teacher training, though Cabane couched them in the language of the corporate and academic world.

7. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works-A True Story

 

TV journalist Dan Harris attributes meditation to making him happier and generally less of an ass.  In his self-help/memoir hybrid he shares the experiences, ideas, and  research to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the type of happy that meditation provides.

8. Leaving Time


A psychic and a detective reluctantly join teenager Jenna Metcalf’s search for her missing mother, Alice.  The search centers around the elephant sanctuary where Alice worked as a scientist. As the story weaves back and forth from past to present, the author explores mother-daughter bonds, memory, and grief in both humans and elephants. The ending had a crazy turn that I did not see coming.

9. The Great Gatsby

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly.”

–F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve been a little obsessed with the 1920’s this year and because I hadn’t yet read this classic, I figured it was time.

10. What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows


An interesting look at how technology changes the way we think. I posted thoughts this one HERE.

We show up,

burn brightly in the moment,

live passionately,

hold nothing back,

and when the moment is over,

when our work is done,

we step back,

and we let go.

-Rolfe Gates, Meditations from the Mat

fire

Beneath those flames

the charred remains

of four years of work.

Therein the ash and smoke

lie thousands of hours of

hopes

dreams

plans.

The fire ate them all

with no regard

for the size or shape of the ideas.

I stood and fed the greedy tongues

as they hissed and sputtered,

devouring it all indiscriminately–

the fire and I whispering

all of your names

on the wind.

–Lunar Euphoria

 

And within the course of a week life went abruptly from this

butterfly2016

 to this

staypositive

The morning could hardly be described as “dawning.” It emerged warm, dark, and drizzly. The garden was a fragrant sauna and the ducks were quacking their delight over it all.  Star-shaped mushrooms had sprung up delicate, translucent, and otherworldly. I picked rain-washed basil, then stole time to tie it off and hang it over the doorways.  The fragrant leaves dangle low enough to anoint El-D’s forehead as he passes through each threshold. He shall be thoroughly seasoned in the next four weeks as the bundles dry. The whole house smells good enough to eat.

The fall semester has begun.  With loins girded I returned to the fray. It’s my fourth year of this. There are two thousand and two hundred children on the roster. By mid-morning I was surrounded on all sides by two-year-olds.  Things were going surprisingly well all things considered. Right before lunch screaming and tears erupted when a little one objected to my intrusion. Tensions were mounting on all sides. This human, just under three feet tall, had me near defeated when my friend and colleague snatched up a nearby puppet and launched into the most wildly entertaining impromptu song and puppet show I have ever witnessed. Devoid of all adult-like dignity, her performance was so brilliant and hysterical it stopped the two year old in his tracks mid-wail. Victory! It was the sort of inspired moment, so vivid and well-lived, that makes the heart unbelievably glad.

I had a magical woodland fairy moment last night.

I stepped into the back yard at dusk, my mind all a-flutter with at least 15 different undone things on my daily ToDo List. I don’t remember why I was headed out back…the ducks were fed, so what could I possibly have had to do out there at nightfall? What I do remember is looking down at the ground and being so lost in a swirl of thoughts that I was seeing, yet not seeing.  Then suddenly I lifted my gaze and my attention snapped back into the living, breathing world as a family of deer – two adults and two babies – came bounding out of the treeline and into the little meadow on the other side of the pond.  I stopped in my tracks and they in theirs as we all stood looking dumbfounded at each other by this chance encounter.  After an eternity or maybe a few seconds, the adults sauntered on through the clearing on their spindly legs and the two babies frolicked, literally frolicked, on as if the word had been invented just for them and they had to show everyone what it meant.  It was so ridiculous and adorable, I could hardly stand it.

Prior to all that I was having “one of those days.”  I had an afternoon class to teach and I had spent all morning- from 6 a.m. ’til noon – preparing for it, and when it was nearing time to leave, I did a final mirror check and realized I had glitter all over my face.  My attempt to brush it off succeeded only in adding considerably more sparkle and smearing it around, for the glitter was all over my hand as well.  Apparently one of my little friends had overturned a jar of glitter in a drawer I had been digging around in for supplies. Another glance in the mirror revealed little chocolate polka dots all along the backside of my skirt.   I had sat in my own chocolate chip cookie crumbs.  On my race to the kitchen to check the time (there was none left) I stepped on a tailless lizard that Yip had been torturing in the living room. It was  on its back – still somehow alive and waving its front lizard foot at me as if trying to tell me there was no time left for either of us. “Go on, go on…” his little gesture seemed to be saying.

So I did.

And I taught my class sparkling like a Stephany Meyers vampire, smelling of chocolate, with lizard blood on my shoes.  I wonder what this will do to my teaching evals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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