:: WHY WE BE ::

Boo to false, self-imposed limits, we say. These champion oracles want to live enthusiastically. Follow our trip through projects that challenge, frustrate, and/or scare us. In the end (which is really the middle) we want to live like big bright free and authentically awesome people.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Clarity or Carpal Tunnel? (Becky)

I signed up for NaNoWriMo last night, about two hours before the November 1st kickoff, which is also about the same time I chose my COFFEE project. And I chose my project just a few hours before I was scheduled to post my first blog. So I need the pressure of a deadline to get anything done. Why is that? Maybe this is one of the many things about myself that I’ll explore in my 50,000 word novel. So to back up a little, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. All I have to do is write 50,000 words in the month of November. 50,000 words that somehow hang together to form a “novel” (read memoir) and I win! Here’s the link in case you want the details http://www.nanowrimo.org/

This is a good strategy to help me tackle my fears while still avoiding them. Does that count? You see, if I decided to try and understand my fear of relationships by blogging about my adventures in online dating (fear #1 if you refer to intro page about becky), there exists the potential to be embarrassed and expose myself to the dreaded vulnerability (fear #4). If I chose to do a specific project such as take a painting class or get back into photography; that would require a certain level of decisiveness and commitment (fears #3 and #2, respectively). But signing up for NoNaWriMo was accomplished with little forethought or planning, signing up takes seconds! (Can you tell I’m still in denial about the daily writing?) And since only my keyboard will be privy to my ramblings, I’m won’t be stricken with the same anxiety regarding the inadequacy of my musings as I am when I think about updating my status on facebook (fear #5).

So by avoiding all these fears publically on the blogsite, I will face them head on privately through a sort of forced journaling. Just me and my laptop. And I think I’m ready to be vulnerable in front of my laptop. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, for a brief moment, I was a writer. And that’s the end of that story. For some reason, I stopped writing. Then I stopped feeling guilty about not writing, and eventually I stopped even thinking about writing. But I do remember that writing had a way of making things seem clearer and truer. Writing unravels complexities, helps to illuminate contradictions and inconsistencies, helps me to sort out where I stand and what I think. So I will write 1,667 words everyday for 30 days (give or take).

By writing a 50,000 word novel in one month, I will regain my creative confidence, start posting fabulous facebook updates and comments, figure out what’s behind my fear of commitment and relationships and teach myself to make clear cut decisions without wavering or second guessing! I will gain insight into who I’ve become and where I’m going. Through quantity over quality, by resisting the temptation to edit, by writing in sheer volume, the answers to my deepest questions will be revealed and will guide me towards a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment! Or maybe I’ll just get carpal tunnel syndrome.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brain farts, AWAYYYYY! (Katie)

All right. This is supposed to be about fear and conquering said fear. Only, I'm afraid and not afraid. My biggest fears, like social conflict, are things I don't really know how to tackle. Have a grueling round of holiday party small talk where not once do I say, "Oh, that is so interesting! I read this study once that...."? I do not know how to use sarcasm as a joke. I do not know how to respond when people say passive aggressive things to me. I do not know how to act as if an inside joke is not an inside joke. I am not suave. I can stick to weather, and until we get to the real meat of a conversation that is all I got, so I hope you like talking about how nice it is that we have sunshine this time of year.

So, because of all those, "I am not's" I am routinely paralyzed by the social dynamics most people are comfortable with. And when I say paralyzed I do not exaggerate. I once went to a Christmas party hosted by a colleague where I took the guest list for granted and that it would include only our small circle of people I work with daily. It did not. I knew when not only the superintendent of the district I am employed by, but also the superintendents of the neighboring districts started showing up that I was in trouble. After accidentally offering the (clearly and obviously) pregnant wife of the principal at the high school a beer, I spent the entire 4 hour evening playing with our host's dog. With my husband by my side giving me wildly questioning looks indicating his total incomprehensibility at how I was acting. We beat a retreat as soon as it would not look like I was running out of the house with my pants on fire, and I tried not to hyperventilate as soon as we slammed the car doors. Upon which my supportive husband turned to me and said "you're really bad at that. We should never do that again." I was, and still am, in total agreement. Social situations cause me such anxiety that really, it is most helpful to everyone involved that I skip them.

So, what does that leave? There's plenty of things I am afraid to try, but mostly because of fear of actual bodily injury. I'm not a risk taker in the physical sense of the phrase. No one would classify me as an adrenaline junkie, although my husband would dearly love it if even a LITTLE bit of the time I was. Somewhere along the way I have become cautious with my physical person.

But I don't want to confuse "adventurous" with "adrenaline junkie." Because I do feel that I am adventurous. At 22 I backpacked in Scotland and England for a month, and then turned around and took the geriatric tour of Germany with my then-78 year old grandmother a week later with a bus full of other similarly aged people for 3 more weeks. (And wasn't THAT a treat! Don't mistake me, I love my grandmother dearly and it was a fun trip, but to be the only person younger than 65 automatically designated me as the suitcase schlepper, destination finder, curb spotter, and dinner-table-saver for the duration of the trip.) I worked for two summers at a camp for behaviorally disturbed 5-18 years olds in the boundary waters of northern Minnesota. I worked in Maine for the same reason. These experiences shaped my career path in that now I work full-time with behaviorally challenging kids. I applied (and was on the way to, had I not met my husband) to work in Scotland as an educational psychologist. If I find something I have an interest in, I don't have paroxysms of insecurity that prevent me from pursuing it.

But, I think there's the problem. I find it SO easy to talk myself out of being interested in stuff that involves effort and planning with the potential for failure. Am I interested in physical health? Sure, enough to eat right *most* of the time and to take walks with the dogs. But enough to actually get to a competitive level in sports? Nah. Do I like photography and enjoy taking pictures? Well, sure! But enough to put it out there and take criticism for it? Not really. Do I want to have a closer relationship with my only sister? Definitely! Enough to do the work? Sometimes.

I hate that good enough has become my philosophy. I am so averse to feeling anxiety and stress that I will go to amazing lengths to avoid it. My psyche craves equilibrium, and when I feel anxiety and stress my coping mechanisms aren't always the healthiest. Most often I eat. But, in the recent example of my wedding in June, I lost 20 pounds and was probably the most fit I have been in 5 years. However, the entire driving force behind this weight loss was the not-uncommon fear of looking like a whale who puked up a bolt of taffeta. As soon as that fear was gone, I went back to my old habits and quickly gained 12 of the pounds back I had (PAINSTAKINGLY, EXCRUCIATINGLY, EXACTINGLY, OBSESSIVELY) lost.

By the way, to lose that weight was an awful process. It took 6 months to lose 20 pounds and I counted every calorie in and every calorie out. My nature is not detail driven for the most part. "It'll be fine" is my rallying cry. It was exhausting, and more than once I wondered if I was a thin bride-to-be trapped in a body meant to survive Arctic winter on nothing but grass roots and reindeer hooves. However, I am now faced with the reality that my ass is spreading and my underwear is not fitting properly. This is distracting in meetings.

So. (Rein it in, Katie). Here's the challenges I have for myself. I have printed, matted and bagged 19 photos I have taken in the last 4 years, and am getting ready to put them up for sale at a local (very small) craft fair. I don't know where this is going to go, if anywhere. No one will call me Ansel. But, I guess I want to see if anything I have is marketable. Here is one:

I took this in New York, in April of 2007. My husband hates it and says it's not a real photo (I don't know what that means because clearly it is), but I like it and have included it anyway.

My second challenge to myself is to get my rear back in gear. I know how to do it. I did it less than 4 months ago. But it's SO HARD. I don't want to put a weight loss goal on it, but more of a fitness threshold. I want to swim 50 meters in 35 seconds (I'm at 47 seconds now). I want to stick to a workout schedule. Period. That's it. I DO NOT want to talk myself out of being fit.

So.... I guess onward and upward.

Stay tuned!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A few words for Fear & Challenge… (Stephany)

Wow... When I first heard about this project, I have to tell you that I was petrified but ON FIRE. A chance to be brave, put it all out there, tackle Fear, embrace Challenge, encourage and be encouraged by a group of empowered, strong, with-it women? Heck yeah, I thought, I’m in! Then, Fear and reality came crashing in on me. I just agreed to PUT THE TRUTH OUT THERE! MY truth! Oh, SNAP! WHAT HAVE I DONE? Gasp, gasp, can’t…. catch…. my…. breath……

Without going into all the gory details, I've spent the better part of the last three years exploring who I've become and why that's who I am. I have to admit that what I discovered about myself wasn't pretty, not in the least. How did that happen? How did I get so far from who I thought I’d be, who I wanted to be, who I should be by now? I have no idea. Wait, that's not true. I do know. I just don't like it. I don’t know about you, but I can see pretty clearly, when I allow myself that kind of brutal honesty, those moments of compromise when a little piece of me was handed over for whatever reason, never to be returned to me. Choices were made, changes took place, and little by little I became what I was.

(I’m a fan of compromise, by the way; don’t get me wrong. It’s necessary in this life to be open to it and able to do it. I think what I’ve learned, though, is that there are two kinds of compromise: the healthy kind that feeds a person and the relationship, and the kind that suck the life from one person in order to maintain the relationship. You might be able to guess which kind of compromise I made the most often. The reasons are plentiful and quite pitiful, the excuses even more so. Oh, boy, could I write an essay on this! However, I think it’s best I spare you that mess.)

If you’re like me, though, and you recognize some ugliness in yourself or your situation, you work tirelessly for that ugliness to exist somewhere under the surface, where no one else can recognize it. I became the master of “if it LOOKS okay, it’s got the BE okay.” (Shoulda written that book!) When the ugliness did surface or became too much to hide, I found out that my instincts had me pulling away from people I love and care about. I became a bad friend, daughter, neighbor – all to keep the truth from coming out! OUCH. It went a little like this: "it’s MY ugliness, and I’m not admitting it’s there, at least not to you. And if I don’t admit it to you (and everything looks okay on the outside), maybe it’s really not all that ugly in the first place." Uh huh. I honestly hope you have no idea what I’m talking about!

And so, after spending all this time taking stock of myself and the ugliness, I made some decisions. Some big decisions. Life-changing decisions. The kinds of decisions that mean I can look myself in the eye every morning again, that mean I can feel bold again, that have me tackling the ugliness HEAD ON, that have shown me that I can be who I am supposed to be, that I am finally becoming who I am supposed to be. How awesome and scary is that? It's been scary but I think it’s pretty doggone awesome!!! Part of that awesomeness is that I face challenges and fears quite differently than I did a few years ago. Another part of the awesomeness is that I want different things. I want better for me, for my kids. I want to expand my horizons, try some crazy stuff, explore, learn, be passionate about life again…

Enter Patresa and her big idea that she just HAS to share with everyone. “Let’s be big and brave and scare the heck out of ourselves by doing something we never thought we could do! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” (No offense, P, you rock! Admittedly, I’m immensely grateful to you for this.)

To which I reply, “Preach it, sister. Sounds incredible! Let’s ROLL!”

To which she says, “Okay, here’s how this is going to work…” (Leave it to P to actually put the big master plan into action! Good Lord, I love and admire that woman.)

Next thing I know, I’ve agreed to join the COFFEE chicks, as I affectionately refer these amazing and awe-inspiring ladies I now consort with via this blog and facebook.

And somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear Mom’s voice. “Be careful what you wish for, Steph.” Amen, Mom. Amen.

What I wished for was some concrete way to challenge myself, to better myself, to get crazy and, further, to be somehow accountable in those endeavors. Little P delivered it right to my inbox.

To stretch, to challenge, to grow, to chance failing at something (and quite publicly, no less)… it’s an opportunity, for sure. It’s also SCARY stuff. SUPER DUPER and in all ways SCARY stuff!

I have a list of challenges, scary things I want to achieve just because I can try to achieve them. I think that list is going to evolve somewhat throughout this journey, and it will be made public in due time.

For now, though, the reality of what I’ve committed to do is enough of a challenge.

Check that, what I’ve just DONE is a grand and exciting VICTORY! I’ve shared a bit of the truth, MY truth, put it out there and claimed it as my own. I did it. YES!

And you know what? Somewhere in the process of writing this, I actually caught my breath. That means, friends, that there is only one thing left to say today. And that is, "Bite me, Fear and Challenge, you’re going down!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010


What you can do: You can laugh, support, and/or commiserate. But it'd be even cooler if you joined us. If you would like to pick a project and be part of the satellite COFFEE Community, start a blog and respond to this post. Let us know: (a) your name, (b) what project you're working on, and (c) your blog address. We'll direct readers to your blog in our COMMUNITY section and feature you in periodic COMMUNITY UPDATES.

P.S. We all happen to be women here, but you don't have to be. Whatever parts you got = a-okay, as long as you have some soul.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

why runners should not be potato-arians. (Amy)

“A person cannot coast along in old destructive habits year after year and accept whatever comes along. A person must stand up on her own two legs and walk. Get off the bus and go get on another. Climb out of the ditch and cross the road. Find the road that is where you want to go. ... A person can grab hold of her life and change things for the better. This happens all the time. We are not chips of wood drifting down the stream of time. We have oars.”—Garrison Keillor

Part 1, Once upon a time.

Once upon a time (2004-2006, to be exact) I could run one whole mile without stopping. I did not enjoy running one whole mile without stopping, but when I was finished running one whole mile without stopping, I would mentally pump my fist in the air and silently chant “Power to the Amy!” three times.

Once upon a time, I ran/walked the Peachtree Road Race. Two years in a row, and not once along this 6.2 mile course did I stop for a McDonald’s hamburger or fries (apparently, there is a McDonald’s 3.1 miles into the Peachtree Road Race route, and people (not seriously) running this race will stop and enjoy a Happy Meal before finishing their last half). Oh, I smelled the greasy lure of coronaries and clogged arteries in the air. But not me! No, no. I kept going when I ran/walked (heavy emphasis on the walked) my Peachtree Road Races. And I walked up Heartbreak Hill like I intended to break its heart.

I was not a runner, but I liked to be outside, and I liked to MOVE.

Four years later, I am still not a runner. And I still like to be outside, but I do not like to move. I like to sit on my couch and think about being outside and moving, occasionally wondering: What the heck HAPPENED to you?? Which I imagine is very similar to what a beached whale must think under more tragic circumstances.

The craziest part about my running phase (2004-2006) was that in addition to not being a runner, historically, I am not an athlete in general. I mean, I quit ballet when I was 5 because there was too much dancing involved. I quit the marching band in high school because there was too much marching involved…and I played the bells. On the sidelines. I’m simply not exercising’s number 1 fan. Not even its number 999,999,999,999,999th fan.

And yet, for a brief moment in my history? I could run! A whole mile! Without stopping!

And so, my primary project for the next 6 months is to re-visit 2004-2006 and run a whole mile without stopping. And to complete a 5K, which I like to think is the goal of every not-runner, I don’t know why.

Also, due to an unfortunate obsession with all things dairy, my body will thank me by starting the process of dropping about 50 lbs extra I gave it, surprise! as a post-birth present. You can read more about that HERE on my other blog if you’re interested.

Which, speaking of extra 50 lbs/food obsessions, brings me to the 2nd part of my challenge:

Part 2, Don’t be a Potato-arian.

In February, my husband C was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer (he just finished chemo for this). There’s a long history of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes in both our families. C’s doctors want him to stay away from red meat, eat more vegetables. And I know, for example, I’m a fast track to poor health myself if I don’t lay off these M&M’s (which, currently, I am eating after a soul-depleting experience with my last class this afternoon) (and I've had a lot of these soul-depleting experiences this year with this particular group of children, and so you can just imagine how many afternoons I've spent commiserating with my M&M friends. They're really the only ones who understand.)

Plus, C loves steak: before his cancer diagnosis, he was on a quest for THE perfect steak in Atlanta and I was dragged along with him (not unwillingly).
This is not good; we do not have familial genetic histories which will support these poor dietary indiscretions. And so if I’m going to run a 5K, I thought: I might as well overhaul what goes into my body. And by doing so, make C’s doctors instantly proud and happy. Win-win!

And what better way to overhaul than to surprise my family with the challenging news that guess what everybody! WE’RE going vegan! HOORAY!!

When I casually mentioned my Big New Eating Plan to my brother and sister in law, this is how that conversation went:

Sister-in-law: Wait, isn’t it pronounced VEE-gan?

Me: You say it "VEE-gan"?! But we don’t eat VEEG-atables. We eat VEJ-atables. Why do they pronounce it VEE-gan? That makes no sense. Everybody ought to say it like it looks: VEJ-un. Doesn't that sound better?

Brother: I don’t know, but whatever you do, stay away from Tofu Shirataki.

Sister in law: Yeah. We tried that once when we went low-carb. Our first red flag should have been all the warnings to open as many windows in your house as possible before cooking it. It took us a whole week to get the smell out.

Brother: And it tasted like plant doody. Stay away from Tofu Shirataki.

Here’s the other thing I gave deep thought to after re-thinking my vegan plan a bit: I’ve been vegetarian before. With questionable results.

The last time I was a vegetarian, I was 20, had severe emotional boundary issues, and I was actually a potato-arian (and I do not advise, this all-potatoes diet. You get rickets and your parents wonder aloud over family dinners if all that money spent on therapy in your teens was for naught).

Eventually, I realized that, for me to be a true vegan, I would probably have to start consuming tofu or something like it, on a semi-regular basis. Here's the thing with me and tofu (and things like it): I love animals and want to save them all from needless suffering and pain...but not enough to eat tofu on a semi-regular basis. Also, throughout my potato-arian period, my dad pointed out to me often: you can’t go around saying you’re a vegetarian but every time someone serves bacon for breakfast you eat some. And so I started eating chicken and pigs again. And several years later, slid back into the full-fledged meat eating segment of society once again by admitting: Okay, okay. Cheeseburgers don't taste that nasty. Just don't think about what they were before you eat them. Just pretend somebody found them in nature, on a cheeseburger tree.

And now? Here I am. With a McDonald’s cheeseburger in my hand. Right next to my M&Ms and chocolate milkshake.

So I went back and re-tooled my healthy eating/vegan plan a bit, knowing myself and my past history. I decided to head the more semi-lacto-ovo vegetarian route. Which means my family, unbeknownst to them, will be enjoying meat 3 nights a week, and some type of lacto-ovo vegetarian concoction the other nights. But no more cows. Cow meat is bad for your arteries, bad for your colon, and (my sources say) increasingly bad for the health of this entire planet (actually, later, I'll write some stuff you may or may not agree with about how I don't think cow meat in general is terrible for the planet, just the way we currently manufacture it and treat all of our food animals).

This focus on vegetables will make my husband’s doctors too happy; they all keep insisting you simply can’t eat too many vegetables. I’m not sure how happy C will be when I unveil the culinary adventures I intend to embark us all on, because occasionally I do think meat is like air for him; no day is complete without it. But I bet I’ll get a bunch of love letters from the Georgia Cancer Center’s doctors and nurses with lots of high fives for my less meat/more vegetables dinner productions.

The other challenge to this will be the fact I’ve got a 2 year old who lives for Fridays, because Friday afternoons? That’s when the daycare teachers put out the gigantic bowl of Dum-Dum lollipops by the door. She likes to run and grab a big greedy handful on her way to the car. “Pop pops” is what she calls them. And if you ask her what she’d like for dinner on a Friday, she’ll matter-of-factly suggest: pop pops. Because in a 2 year old’s brain, really. Why not?

And I deeply empathize with her. Because really. We’re simply not big vegetable fans in this family. I can usually stomach a green bean here and there. And spinach if it’s disguised enough. And salads are okay if I’m in the mood and they don't have a lot of weird stuff in them. But really, just give me extra buttered up mash potatoes and skip the broccoli. Broccoli = gross. Potatoes = good.

See? Total scary challenge. In fact, I really feel like this vegetables focus is going to way more of a scary challenge for the next 6 months. Running a consistent mile or completing a 5K? Cake! Turning to spinach as comfort food and getting a 2 year old to eat a piece of broccoli? Skilled hostage negotiators would be brought to their knees.

Part 3, Stove arsonists and botulism scientists should NEVER be Chief Chefs.

In addition to all of that, please know: I’ve almost burned my house down (twice) while cooking and I once served an undercooked/semi-raw chicken to a pregnant friend and her husband--I simply do not have the Rachel Ray gene, or even a skilled McDonald’s burger flipper gene. And so I thought: why not? I mean, if I have to be the menu planner/chief chef, why not learn to cook really, really WELL? (I would like to note here: this role of Chief Chef was foisted upon me without my consent, and how the heck it happened I have no frickin' clue; people who've attempted stove arson and botulism poisoning in the past should NEVER be elected chief chef officially or unofficially.) And so. My house will thank me for learning to cook in ways that will not send it into flames, I can wow my family with mad knife skillz, and future dinner guests can eat with confidence. Learning some more appropriate cooking skills is a mini-side project of my large healthy project.

And that's my project: all health! all the time! (for the next 6 months.)

Putting it all together.

For the next 6 months, off the blog, I’ll have several journals-in-one going: a food journal, an emotional journal (I connect food to emotions, and vice versa, unfortunately, which is probably one reason I turn to M&Ms for emotional support and make friendly references about them), and a 5K training schedule of some sort. I’ll share some of this just to keep myself accountable (I'm notoriously lax if I think I'm unaccountable.) But I’d also like to take a cooking class and write about it, and possibly throw up a Bobby Flay-like cooking video here just so I can pretend I'm on Iron Chef. And I'll be researching/writing about things like the politics of food, body image, gym rats, and balancing health with work and family.

But ultimately I’ll be sharing what it’s like to lug one’s self off a couch and outside into the fresh air to move around (which I imagine will be similar to the process a walrus goes through when it decides it’s had enough sun now and let's haul this blubber into the water for a mollusk hunt).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My first friggin post.......and I apologize (Tanya)

So....... I have been in a work training since Sunday, which clearly means I have no real clue what I am going to write about, right? Ok, well, and since this whole thing started, I haven't really known or thought of one single thing that is GREAT to the point of personal achievement absolute GREATNESS that I am WILLING to do. So...... this must mean that my rigid controlled self is really really, really really really in a safe comfort zone. However, here is what I did do. In my cush comfort zone of running, I did run a race by my self last weekend. That is a brand new thing I've never done, and it felt pretty good. Again, it was pretty safe and not hugely out of my comfort zone. But, this is a start. I should also mention, I befriended a girl there who totally kicked my butt (I mean seriously kicked all of our butts and really really kicked my butt.... she was AHHHH-Mazing!), and this was very humbling for me. I was just another runner, thank goodness out of her running age group (right??), and I decided to ask her a lot of questions to hopefully learn a thing or two and spark up some new motivation. I also think I may join a running group and start "stepping it up a notch" overall (you know, get back to the gym, do some weights, do some other stuff that are good for 30-somethings). Lastly, and I do realize the blandness of this post, I do think I am going to jump out of that airplane at some point in the next 6 months(ish). This, however, does not really scare me. I AM EXCITED FOR THIS! :)

So..... this is it for me today. This is my first post.... but hopefully I will improve. HOLLA!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Step 1: Be joyfully and enthusiastically terrible. (Patresa)

I will sing and play the guitar in front of strangers. This is my project. The thought of it makes me want to barf. Wanting to do something that makes me feel like barfing doesn't make much sense, per se. But what DOES make sense is not wanting to limit my experiences because I have an irrational fear (and this fear is irrational).

This is largely an ego project; I will confess that right upfront. Music has been a big part of my life since I was a little kid; and the fact that now it's just meaningless and obscure personal trivia (similar to: "Judy makes good lasagna when she isn't filing at work."), makes me feel kind of sad. So, if I am being 100%, self-incriminatingly honest, I will tell you that my ego wants you to like everything I play and everything I do and for you to think I'm really awesome. I probably won't be satisfied if I suck and nobody likes my songs.

…which is the problem. I have absolutely no delusions of rockstar-ness. I will not be a rockstar. I will not be discovered by Sheryl Crow while she's passing through town. I'm okay with that. But I really don't want to suck. I really don't want to be awful. I really don't want my friends to come watch me play, and have them feel embarrassed for me. I can't bear the thought of people politely telling me, "Oh, that's an interesting song. How nice!" And then wandering away whispering about the disaster.

…which is the other problem. When I'm nervous, my breath becomes weak and shallow. Weak and shallow breathing = crappy singing. When I'm nervous, my hands get sweaty and trembly. Sweaty, trembly hands = crappy guitar playing. When I'm nervous, my brain races, and I can't focus. Racing, unfocused brain = poor memory for chords and lyrics. So a crap performance is a given.

So, if the fear is of being crappy; and crappy performances are guaranteed, then before I do anything, I have to embrace the suckage.


If I must be terrible, I will be terrible with great joy and enthusiasm. And I will laugh about it and then I will get over it and then I will try it again.

I remember this girl in elementary school named Julia. What I remember about Julia is that if you said, "Hey, Julia, sing us a song," she would do it. She would sing "The Rose" with great passion, with her eyes closed, with hand gestures and exaggerated vibrato. It would be sincere. And it would be awful. Just hideous. But she didn't care. The girl loved to sing, and she didn't give a flying crap if you liked it.

I see adult-Julia's now--I see them with clumsy guitar skills and bleh bleh voices, corn city lyrics, crooning away in bars and coffee shops. And I think, "Oh, you are terrible. This is painful." But they fail so brilliantly and with such verve, that I am simultaneously repelled and envious. I want to know what it's like to feel so free and comfortable that you can fail publicly and truly not care.

I think if I could get over my fear of failure and my own imperfections, that could really free me up to do a lot of things --not just sing and play the guitar in public.

Here is my concrete-yet-changeable plan:
  1. I will polish up 3 originals and 3 covers.
  2. I will work up a practice schedule and stick to it (more or less). My husband is a musician and former guitar teacher. He will like telling me what to do.
  3. At some point I will institute a "Can't say no" policy, wherein, I am not allowed to say NO when someone asks me to play.
  4. I will interview Wendy and Tawni, both of whom are musicians who have played and sung in front of strangers lots and lots.
  5. I will observe open mic nights.
  6. I will post a video of myself sounding hideous.
  7. I will post a video of myself not sounding hideous.
  8. I will give my family a concert.
  9. I will give my friends a concert.
  10. Then, I will stumble into an open mic fully embracing whatever happens.
It will be beautifully and unabashedly horrific.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

COFFEE: The Insolent Lovechild of Joy and Irritation.

The COFFEE Project. 

What it is: A group of people working on scary and/or challenging projects of their choosing. Here, we'll post updates of our progress (and regress): words, pictures, videos, the like. To read about us and our projects, click on our pictures --> over there.

What you can do: You can laugh, support, and/or commiserate. But it'd be even cooler if you joined us. If you would like to pick a project and be part of the satellite COFFEE community, let us know: (a) your name, (b) what project you're working on, and (c) your blog address. We'll direct readers to your blog in our COMMUNITY section and feature you in periodic COMMUNITY UPDATES.

How it started: COFFEE was born when my (Patresa's) Joy and Profound Irritation collided and commingled their juices. It fermented over beers with Holly at the Royal Mile. And then totally manifested between 10 brave souls over Facebook. Finally, Holly said, "How about calling it COFFEE and using it as an acronym?" And we all said, "Great!"

COFFEE: The Insolent Lovechild of Joy and Irritation

JOY: Because when we stop wringing our hands for a second and take inventory, we might find that life is… amazing. It's insane how amazing life is. Like if you tried to fit all of the amazingness of life in one building, the roof would rocket off and the walls would fall down. There is not enough room in my tiny melon to conceptualize the enormity of my life's amazingness. Do you get this?

I blame my optimism on The Gaithers. My sisters and I grew up Southern Baptist -- Missouri, North Carolina, then Kansas (By the time we hit Iowa, we'd run out of Southern Baptist steam.). We sang in church, a hideously sweet blonde trio in flowered dresses with Dorothy Hamill haircuts. Our mom accompanied us on the piano, she with her matching blonde Dorothy Hamill. (I know. This is too much, but it happened. We've all recovered, and you will, too.) The song I remember us performing the most was The Gaithers' "I Am a Promise." The lyrics are so corny; I shiver with embarrassment:

"I am a promise. I am a possibility. I am a promise, with a capital P. 
I am a great big bundle of potentiality." 

We did not have choreography, and I am grateful for that, but I do think these lyrics burned into the neuro-circuitry of my brain; I have never been able to get rid of them. This chorus erupts in my head, uninvited, and I am hostage. I turn up Alanis, but still The Gaithers are smile-singing, and they are so shiny and persistent, shellacked and well-pressed. Their cheerful 70's tidal hairwaves of possibility and potential bubble my chemistry. So many ideas and so many gifts and so much aspiration…

…And such capacity to do them! Not just one or two of them, but ALL of them. Not just because we're capable, but because we live in a place where we can follow whatever (legal) whim we choose! I am from a long line of veterans, including my dad, and am keenly aware that if I want to walk out the door in spandex today and become a hot air balloon operator, I can! (Thanks, Dad!) If I want to wear a navy blue pantsuit and work in a bank, I can do that, too. (Thanks, Pappaw!) If I want to join the circus and eat fire, go for it. (Thanks, Uncle Bill!) Wear socks with sandals and hitchhike to Dollywood? Yes, no problem! (Thanks, Cousin Gary!) Play the jazz flute in a Gaithers tribute band? Of course! (Thanks, Uncle J.C.!) It may not be easy or without barrier or public disapproval or unpleasantry or controversy or bodily harm or jazz flutes, but it's POSSIBLE.

All we have to do is put in the effort. We are free to be the truest versions of ourselves at any given moment, and no one is allowed to shoot us because they don't like it. And if we fail, we are free to try again. Sure, our country still has some work to do in the area of equal liberties (in my opinion), but the point is that the work is POSSIBLE (with a capital P).

The liberties here for all of us are mind-boggling. Politically, socially, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually… We are free free free people strolling through this endless buffet of opportunity. *I* am completely free free free, and yet...

PROFOUND IRRITATION: I do nothing. I complain of boredom or fatigue. I see limits and hardship. I get lazy and complacent. I demand more but for less. I sit and sit and sit and comply with the template even when the template is horribly misshapen and small and cannot capture the enormity of my soul. It's a wasteful and completely ridiculous way to live. But it's easy. It is easy to have everything and do nothing.

I chalk it up to fear -- of imperfect outcomes, of failure, of difficult work, of disapproval. How many things do we talk ourselves out of, because we cannot guarantee success? Lots.

And we're not just talking gigantic, quit your job and move to Ghana, elephant strides here. Fear and "false limits" keep us from doing small things, too. And those small things add up and keep us constrained: won't go to a movie alone, because it will look weird; won't wear a particular shirt because people will think we're strange; won't dance in public, because we feel dumb; won't reach out to someone, because they might reject us. Won't won't won't. Who would we become if we did?

My theory is that when we squish all those subtle (or not so subtle) pulses, we knock ourselves out of balance with who we were intended to be (which is innately good and joyful), and that imbalance is the source of a lot of unhappiness. We're squeezing ourselves into dysfunctional plastic soul suits and therefore not living openly or purely or joyfully.

The other part of that theory is that liberation can happen gradually. It can start with the small things. The more we do the little things that make us uncomfortable, the more we do, period. The fewer limits we perceive. The more we grow. The more profoundly we evolve. Eventually, inner and outer align: the things we do line up with who we are, at the purest level. Because who we are at our purest level is innately good and joyful, we start living that way. Everybody wins.

I know I'm not the only one who feels these things. There is not a single unique thing about the psychology of me. So--and this brings me to the origin of COFFEE--I thought, how about a collective? How about an experiment--recruit a group of smart, expressive people willing to:

a) scare the crap out of themselves, and
b) risk public failure,
c) in order to push past what they believed were limits, and therefore
d) live as they have been afforded and as they were intended -- free.

Our collective would pick projects, small, big, mid-sized, whatever. Push ourselves past what we believed were our limits. Share the imperfect process with others. And then see what happens.

And they said yes.