Can you make art during a crisis?

     Art by susanmcculley.com

 

Art by susanmcculley.com

One of my favorite moments of television happened on a 2006 episode of Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. It was supposed to be a travel show about the food and culture of Beirut, but Tony and his crew found themselves in the middle of a violent conflict. They watched the airport get blown up from their hotel room, and saw whole neighborhoods get blasted.

They were trapped there for a week before being transported out. And there is this scene, where in the middle of the tension and chaos and fear - Tony walks into the kitchen of the hotel, and he cooks. For a moment, he loses himself in the chopping and stirring, the creation of something to share with others.

That moment brought me to tears.

Tony cooked because cooking was his art.*

That's how he shared his love and passion.

That's the creative lens through which he translated the world.

We are in crisis right now. In a million different ways, this country is in crisis. I feel it in the pit of my stomach, and it's breaking my heart. I wonder, why make art? Why write? Why create anything when things feel this uncertain, when so many people are suffering? What is the point of creating in crisis? I stare at the walls and leave my projects untouched as I sit with my fear and pain and anger in my own little internal Beirut.

But as I think back to that episode, Tony Bourdain answered my question for me. We create  - we cook or write poetry or cross-stitch - because we are human. Because we've been doing this since the beginning of time. Because we made cave paintings before we bothered to figure out farming techniques because art was more important than eating regularly.  Because art connects the discordant, makes sense of the senseless, and gives voice to the unspeakable.

Creating something - anything - that makes you feel alive is imperative, especially in times that feel stressful or uncertain. Whether that stress is on a national level, or a personal one. So, if you paint, please, I beg of you, paint. If you sing or quilt or take photographs of the insects in your backyard, please go do it. Please make all the things, and then - here's the important part - share them with the world. Don't keep your creations to yourself because your ego is saying that's not really art, or that someone else already did it better. Get brave and get it out there, so we can experience beauty and stay in touch with our humanity.

We really need that.

In later interviews, Tony said that the experience in Beirut "changed everything." When he and his crew came home, they kept thinking, What's important? They made changes, both to the show, and to their lives. Tony's Instagram from less than two weeks before his death reads - "An eventful week. On the battlefield and off. Making art . Every motherfucking day."

So that's what I'll do. Life may feel like a battlefield. But I'll be here.

Making art.

Every motherfucking day.

——–

*I originally wrote about Tony in present tense, and it really sucks to change that. 

——–

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Public Speaking Event: Hi, Michigan!

I'll be at Glen Oaks College in Centreville, Michigan this Thursday!

I'll be speaking about my new book Not Just Me, talking about leaving L.A., writing, mental health, yoga and whatever else might be on my mind that day. I'll be signing books and attempting small talk, so come hang out and let's be awkward together!

For more information, click here.

Moms for Mental Health event in Ottawa!

I am so thrilled to be part of this event in my Canadian homeland!

Join me and the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa for a lunchtime discussion on mental health on October 18th. I'll be there talking about my new book, Not Just Me, and a member of the YSB Youth Mental Health Counselling team will discuss what counseling looks like for youth and how to encourage a young person to reach out for support.

All proceeds from Moms for Mental Health will support YSB's life-changing mental health programs for youth.

Click here to register!

 

Revisiting: Unpopular authenticity: so…you don’t have kids?

*I'm working hard on my new book and finding myself with little time for new blog posts. I decided to bring back some older posts, that you might have missed... Hope you enjoy! -------------------

I was shamed by a nine-year-old the other day.

She stood there, hands on hips, glaring up at me. She'd just asked me if I had kids. I told her that I did not.

"Why?"

"I never felt that was the right choice for me."

She told me that my life was boring and sad.

It was actually pretty cute.

What took the sting out of her statement was the fact that grownups have been shaming me over this for quite some time. Sometimes they attempt to lessen the blow by saying something along the lines of - "you do what is right for you, but you should know that becoming a mother makes your soul expand and you become capable of love bigger than you've never imagined and it's the most valuable thing you could ever do with your life."

I always wonder how they know how big my love is.

People who decide not to be parents hear this a lot. (And actually, there are increasing numbers of us Childfree folks.) I've been questioned and cajoled and told that I'll change my mind. There seems to be this assumption that I've not quite thought this through, but the questions posed are always ones that I've asked myself a hundred times. I've never met a Childfree person who has come to the decision haphazardly.

Sometimes when people decide to say what they really think, they call me selfish and say I'm not really a woman. I'm still confused about why anyone cares if my husband and I have kids or not, but it sure seems like a bunch of them do.

I like kids. Even the ones who stand with hands on hips and call me boring and sad.

But in my 37 years of life, and 10 years of marriage, I've never once felt the ticking-clock twinge of wanting my own children. (And believe me, I've held babies and smelled their powdery heads, trying desperately to kickstart it, because I felt like I was defective.) But there isn't anything wrong with me. It's just not my thing. I'm also not interested in having a boat. I like boats. I'm sure it's super fun to have a boat. I'm happy for other people who enjoy their boats. I just don't feel the need to have my own.

And yes, I am aware that children are not boats - they are even better than boats and having a child brings much to one's life. I know it changes everything and brings buckets of joy and does all sorts of other things that I will never understand. I believe all of that. I've seen it in action.

But raising children is an incredibly important job and it just doesn’t make sense to hand it to someone like me who doesn’t want it. If I were half as interested in having a child as I am in volunteering at an animal shelter, I would do it. It’s like choosing a President who is fonder of ceramics than politics. Who is that good for?

If you choose to grow and learn and leave your legacy by having a kid – I think that's awesome. And while you do that, I'll work on improving the world that kid will eventually inherit. That just seems like good tag team long-term planning. It's easy to imagine that childfree folks spend their entire lives thinking only of themselves, sleeping in late and getting drunk at brunch. But I promise that I'm doing my part to contribute to the world, just in a different way than parents. (I'll skip the part where I list all the important, non-selfish things I do - it'll make me sound boastful and more than a little defensive.)

But the real reason I'm writing about this is because it's indicative of an issue I keep seeing everywhere, something that causes a lot of suffering. I know moms who work outside the home and moms who don't. Both have been bashed and abused for that decision. I know homeschoolers and Montessori lovers and public school parents - all of whom feel they have to defend their decisions. And the judgment doesn't stop with parenting issues. I know painters and sales people and jazz singers and almost all of them feel like they need to justify what they do with their lives because someone is always waiting in the wings to tell them they are doing the wrong thing.

There are so many critics out there and we tend to internalize the disapproval and feel like we are constantly failing. Why does it matter that my husband and I don't have kids? It doesn't. It's not really that interesting, but people keep asking about it so I'm happy to discuss it.

Why does it matter what personal decisions any of us make for ourselves? I wonder what the world would be like if we assumed that everyone was doing their best. What if people made different decisions and we didn't see that as a threat to the validity of our own choices? What if we kept our eyes on our own papers - our own lives and families - and stopped bashing our neighbor for not buying organic? Things would be incredibly dull if we were all the same. What if we celebrated the fact that life is not homogenous and realized that everyone is doing what they needed to do to wade through this challenging world?

Because when it comes down to it, if you're spending your time criticizing someone else's personal choices, it just makes you seem insecure about your own life.

As for me, I like being able to act as the designated driver for the Girl’s Nights when my mommy friends can let loose. It seems that my “alternative lifestyle” has its perks for all, but most importantly, I get to live my life authentically -- even if it's hard to explain that to a deeply offended nine-year-old.

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Perspective shift: a weekend with history

blog-mlk-0029-2 A couple of months ago I went to Washington, D.C. with my husband. It was his birthday and we spent the weekend eating too much, drinking over-priced cocktails and walking around the city.

I'm Canadian but I have lived in the US for the last twenty years and I now have my American citizenship as well. I love this country, and I see the problems. And the problems have been overwhelming me lately. The divisiveness, the name-calling, the hatred and bigotry. I get deflated and anxious. I get sad and frustrated. I talk about moving back to Canada.

But while in D.C. we went to monuments and memorials: Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Roosevelt, WW II, Vietnam - and something occurred to me:

As a country, we have been through some serious shit.

Are things bad now?

Yes.

Have they been worse before?

Yes.

That doesn't negate what is happening right now, but what it does mean is that we can do this. We were made to deal with hard things. We are strong and resilient. We were made to overcome and heal and work together to become better. This is true whether we're talking about the political climate or global terrorism or our own personal struggles with anxiety or depression.

It's easy to throw up our hands and assume that it's all just going to hell. But apathy is the easy way out. We might go through hell -- but we're sure as hell going to keep walking until we get somewhere better.

We're all in this together, so let's be radically kind and endlessly courageous.

with love,

~L

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What do you say?

"You have great hair." I was putting down my yoga mat at the studio. I turned to the woman who had spoken to me, she was sitting on the floor, stretching. I had never met her before.

"Pardon me?" I asked.

"You have great hair."

My hair had been up in a ponytail all morning because I had been writing - fighting, really - a troublesome section of my new book and so now that my hair was out long, it had that weird kink in the middle where I had secured the elastic too tight. As I was writing, I had thought maybe the words would come more easily if I could feel some air on the back of my neck. It hadn't really worked.

My last haircut was seven months ago. I've recently started using this special shampoo in an attempt to combat my eternally oily scalp and it leaves the ends of my hair feeling dry. But I hadn't even washed my hair in two days.

I considered telling her all that. I wanted to explain why she was wrong and list all the ways in which my hair was not at all "great." I thought I'd tell her how I always wanted to have straight, blonde, angel-hair thin strands that hung passively to my shoulders, not the wild curls that make their own decisions about where they are going. I was about to tell her that my dark hair is increasingly streaked with grey and, while I don't take issue with the color, I do not understand why those hairs are a different texture and they stand straight up in the air - as if they are waving in the landing of middle age, directly upon my head.

But then I looked at her, staring up at me, offering me a smile and this kindness.

What do you say?  We ask little kids when they are given a gift.

Thank you. They recite.

When did we forget what to say? When did we get so full of self-doubt and self-hatred and whatever else this is that masquerades as humility? It's not humility when we reject someone else's gift of kindness. It's not modesty when we shut down someone's attempt at connection because we are unable to get over ourselves and our insecurities. It's just rude.

Maybe it was something about being in a yoga studio that reminded me to be grateful. Yoga has a funny way of doing that. So instead of taking her compliment and bashing it into the ground with all these bullshit issues about beauty and femininity, I said:

"Thank you. You made my day."

As I was walking out of class, I said to the woman in front of me:

"I love your leggings."

She shook her head, "Oh, no, they're cheap. I just got them from that consignment place downtown."

"I really don't care - you look super cute."

She grinned at me and laughed.

"Well, thank you."

Maybe someday, we'll all remember what to say.

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Embrace Your Weird event tonight in Virginia

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.31 AM Hi all,

I'm thrilled to be giving a talk tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event is called Embrace Your Weird: from Anxiety to Authenticity and it's based on the new book that I am writing. There is even a whole fancy Power Point thingy.

Many of us are afraid to talk about anxiety, depression and panic attacks – it’s about time we change that. This talk is a deeply personal exploration of mental health, told with compassion and humor. It’s a hopeful, entertaining and enlightening look at the root causes of anxiety, the results of the latest research and ideas for how to manage stress in your own life.

The event is free and open to the public, as part of Retreat Week at Ix Art Park. For more information and to RSVP, please click here. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, I'm feeling very anxious about giving an anxiety talk. But I'm gonna to do it anyway.

with love,

~Lisa

 

How to live in the world: tips for the anxious, the introverts, and other sensitive souls

 I’m going to have to make small talk, I just know it.

I’m going to have to make small talk, I just know it.

I am a person who gets easily overwhelmed by the world.

The snap of the shampoo bottle lid is too loud and startles me every time so I have to unscrew the lid which takes forever and spills shampoo everywhere.  Last Thanksgiving I read a book about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and my dismay almost ruined our entire holiday. We have dimmers in every room of our house because anything over 40 watts causes my heart to race. I was recently invited to a pretty cool event - I had to turn it down, mostly because there would be too many people there.

I'm what is known as a highly-sensitive person (HSP) which means that my nervous system processes sensory data more deeply than most other people. I'm also an introvert with an anxiety disorder.  It's the ultimate awkward trifecta.

And I always thought it was just me who had six fewer layers of skin than everyone else.

But there are actually a bunch of us. We're just not talking about it.

Being this way in the world has its challenges on the best of days, but in this age of constant exposure to the horrors of wars, terrorism and social injustice - it can be downright brutal. And to be completely honest, I've been struggling with this a lot lately. It's hard to know how to operate in a world with so much suffering.

But I've learned a few things that help:

Protect yourself from the media

I'm not saying put your head in a hole and ignore the planet. I'm not even sure how one would do that these days. But you can limit your exposure. You can read articles and watch programs only when you are feeling prepared to deal with it all. And don't fall down the rabbit hole and get hooked on marinating in the misery. Learn enough to be informed - then stop. The Skimm has revolutionized my life in this way. It lets me know what's going on in the world in one email every morning. It's framed in a fun but informative way, and reading it doesn't make me want to crawl under my couch.

If you're sad, feel sad

Really shitty things happen in the world. It's super hard out there. So, feel sad. Don't pile on extra angst that you shouldn't be so sensitive and don't worry that you'll fall into a doom spiral and you'll be sad forever. Just feel sad about the sad thing. Actually feel it. Don't distract yourself and drink/shop/numb it away. Give the sadness your full attention in whatever way feels right.  You can just sit there and cry, or you can write, draw, yell, beat the hell out of a couch cushion. The funny thing about feelings is that if you don't really deal with them - feel them all the way down to your bones - they never leave. They linger on your shoulders, ready to jump up and get in your face at any moment. We tend to be terrified of our less positive emotions - anger, sadness, loneliness, fear. But they are inevitable and just as much a part of the human experience as joy. They are all part of the package of being a person. Emotions come and go like waves, so we just need to learn how to surf so we don't drown in them.

Then, bring your focus to the light

After you've really acknowledged the pain that comes with life, it tends to dissipate. So, feel the suffering and if you want to engage or donate or go to a rally - do it.  And then resist the urge to dwell endlessly in the tragedy.  Look for the the things that are still lovely. Because we want to be realistic here: life can absolutely be hard, but we also need to cultivate gratitude for the wonderful things. Enjoy the simple moments. Go for a walk with a friend. Volunteer for a cause you love. Cuddle on the couch.

"Think of all the beauty still around you and be happy."- Anne Frank

This Living in the World thing is not for wimps, I'm still trying to figure it all out. But sometimes it's just nice to know that this sensitive soul of mine is not alone. There are many of us who feel lost and gutted by the suffering in the world.

And we'll cry together. But we'll also get up the next day and bravely show up to love wholeheartedly, stand up for what's right, and dance in the kitchen.

Because that's how things get better.

*this post was inspired by a question from a reader. If you have something you would like me to write about, send me an email - LisaJakub108@gmail.com

————–

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Questioning the Cult of Busy

 This is me being not busy

This is me being not busy

"How are you?" "BUSY."

It's become the standard answer to the question. Ah, yes. We're busy. We're all so very busy. We have so much going on. Things are CRAZY.

I'm not doubting that life tends to get hectic. Jobs and kids and pets and Instagram accounts. Yard work and workouts. Parents get medical procedures and laundry gets left in the washer.

We all have stuff.

But somehow, being "busy" seems have become a point of pride in our culture. Like, "I am a very important person because I only have time to sleep for five hours a night."

That doesn't make you important. You know what that makes you? A victim of advanced interrogation techniques.

I just had a book published. I did a book tour and media that consisted of things like twelve radio interviews in one day. I'm writing another book, I write two blogs, contribute to various online publications and I'm about to start teaching back-to-back workshops. I travel and give talks at schools and conferences. I teach yoga classes. I volunteer at an animal shelter. I also run the website and social media for a local business in my town. And then, you know. I have my life.

So, I understand busy.

But this is a shift for me. Generally, my life is not that busy. I've intentionally made it that way. I say no to things that spread me too thin and require me to multi-task because multi-tasking just means I do several things badly. For the past several years, I've just been working on my book. So, I was writing. I was walking the dog and doing yoga and cooking dinner. I read a lot.

But with this new avalanche of stuff, I've recently fallen into that trap that I hate - sighing and saying I'm BUSY. And enjoying the fact that people seem impressed by that.

But nothing in my life is better or more impressive or more fulfilling when I'm busy. It might be just the opposite.

So, instead of saying I'm SO busy, how about I talk about something real.

  • I'm excited about my new teaching gig.

  • I'm sad that my friend is moving out of town.

  • I'm madly in love with this new taco place I discovered.

That's actually how I'm doing. That has some substance to it. And it doesn't have the slimy aftertaste of a humble-brag.

What's so important when life is...let's call it... "full".... is that I don't get caught up in my own busyness. I don't think that any of it defines me, or somehow makes my life more worthy than when I have time to take a nap on a Wednesday.

Why do we feel the need to fill every second of the day with stuff? Is it so we can feel we are important to the world? Like we need to earn some badge of worthiness? Like people will forget about us if we're not everywhere at once? It is just the classic Fear Of Missing Out? If we step back, can we see that much of this busyness is self-imposed. We really can sit and read a book sometimes. The world will keep spinning all by itself.

I'd offer this: relaxing isn't lazy when it's planned.

We need time to relax and play as much as we need water. Play isn't frivolous. We can be better at the important things with the kids and the job and the pets and the Instagram accounts - when we have taken the time for self care. Stillness is important. Reading the Pottery Barn catalogue in the bathtub is important. Sitting on the porch and talking about why there are so many caterpillars this year - is important.

Stressing out about making the perfect key lime bars with the hand-squeezed key limes for the pool party is not that important.

We can choose to set boundaries on things and tell people we are sorry but we just can't take that new thing on. And we can be okay with the fact that we said no.

We can be *gasp* not that busy.

Because when we can create some space, we can actually be awake for our lives. We can be better for everything and everyone that we love.


Check out this New York Times article "The Busy Trap." It's long, and I know you are busy, but it's a good read.


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