Burn it down

I suspect I was an arsonist in a past life and that I’d carried those smash and burn tendencies with me into this one. When life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, or it was and i was still inexplicably unhappy, my instinct was to set  match to the familiar and do my best to burn the whole damn thing down.

–me, An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

I’m feeling the old itch again, the need to burn it down.

A jug of kerosene and one struck match seems like the easiest and best solution.

Solution to what? you ask.

To restlessness. To confusion. To doubt. To the choking sense of obligation and the box that has become to small.

My life is fine. By that I mean my real life, the external trappings and the personal parts, are mostly totally fine. The kids are alright, is what I’m saying, and my marriage isn’t in crisis. The day-to-day wheels are still spinning.

But I’m no longer sure where they’re taking me.

I don’t want to write about happiness anymore. Or at least not right now and not exclusively. Not because I’m not happy, but because I feel right now that I’ve already said what I wanted to say on the subject. I know a good content creator could repackage the same message over and over again, but I have no interest in repackaging. That kind of writing doesn’t excite me; I’m more interested in putting words to the discoveries as they’re happening.

I am not a content creator.

I’m a storyteller.

Perhaps I’ve become bored with my own story.

Except that I’m not. I write essays every day in my head, and they die there because I don’t have an appropriate outlet in which to share them. These stories are off-brand or irrelevant or not useful enough to my intended audience.

These stories don’t fit in the box.

And so I avoid the box entirely.

I don’t send newsletters or write posts or update social media channels. I don’t pitch to other blogs in my industry. I don’t write.

I don’t write. I identify as a writer; it’s how I answer the question “what do you do?” But the reality is that I have written and am not writing.

I tell my friends I’m feeling lost and confused, and they are surprised.

“But you’re planning this great retreat!” they say. “And you have the Listen to Your Mother show coming up!” they remind me.

All of that and more is true. I have things going on. I’m doing stuff.

I’m just not writing, and I am a writer.

I’m blaming the box.

The box, the brand, the expectations that are not evolving with me. I’m hemmed in by shoulds.

I want to blow up the box.

“Why do we always have to start over?” my husband sometimes asks. “Why can’t we give momentum a chance?”

I don’t know much about momentum. My experience is with stopping and restarting, a series of grand adventures that are loosely connected by the players. I’d be great in syndication.

But if Netflix has taught me anything it’s that there’s something to be said for continuity and longer story arcs.

I’m trying to give momentum a chance. I’m trying.

But I haven’t quite figured out how to move forward without a clean break. A big break.

Maybe there’s nothing to figure out. Maybe it’s just something you decide to do. Just move forward, just go, with no big declaration or goodbye bonfire. Just keeping put your foot down in front of you in the most right direction and trusting that eventually the journey will make sense.

Just write.

I’m Planning a Retreat and You’re Invited

It’s been two years since I made the connection between creativity and happiness.

That’s one of the great things about blogging: you can accurately date your ideas. And so I know for certain that it was in March of 2013 that I had the realization that we are all creators in some way. I also know that it was in April of that same year – almost two years ago exactly – that I first wrote about consciously making space for happiness + creativity.

My passion for making stuff has grown tremendously in the last two years. (My talent for doing so has grown a tiny bit.)

I am not a person who keeps ideas or passions to herself. The more important creativity has become in my own life, the bigger role it has played in my work. I’ve set aside time to make gratitude journals during corporate workshops. I’ve started women’s groups with arts and crafts. I’ve coached clients to get their hands dirty.

Then, earlier this year, I went all in on the creativity idea. I put together an event that was really and truly, no strings attached, 100% about spending time being creative.

I rented space in a wicked cool art gallery, and I reached out to some of the most creative people I know in Pittsburgh and asked them to show up as experts for a little chat about the creative process. I asked a studio owner and art camp director to organize “some kind of fun craft.”

“I don’t care what they make,” I told her, “I just want them to enjoy the process of spending a couple hours making just for the fun of it.”

With half-assed plans in place and a venue booked, I put the word out on the Internet and invited people to come.

creativesoulPGH event photo

The most amazing thing happened.

First, yes, people said they would come. They even bought tickets. But also: they said they were excited to come! They totally got what I was trying to say about spending a chill night just hanging out with a glue gun and maybe some feathers. Just because it would be fun.

The night of the event, every single person in the room was pumped to be there.

The panelists, who donated their time in exchange for nothing but free arts and crafts time, thanked me repeatedly for being included. They thanked me – when I was the one who felt overwhelmed with gratitude for their generosity.

The attendees, the ones who had paid $25 to help cover the cost of space and supplies and food, thanked me over and over again for hosting. They made the most beautiful things – even the ones who were insistent that they had no ability to make beautiful things. And the musician who claimed to have zero talent or interest in “anything visual” was putting the finishing touches on her very visual project right up until we shut the lights off and locked the doors.

creativesoulPGH event photo 2

Every single person left happy and expressing gratitude for being included.

I was floored. I was humbled. I was amazed at how much my crazy idea resonated with other seemingly not crazy people. I felt… normal. Not because I had changed, but because I had wandered by chance into the midst of people who needed and wanted the same things I needed and wanted.

At the risk of over using the A word: it was amazing. It was awesome – as in full of some awe.

I’m remembering that awe as I make this announcement today:

I’ll be hosting The Creative Soul Retreat in Pittsburgh, PA this September 11th through the 13th. It’s a weekend of creative workshops, rooftop parties, and hanging out with people who make me feel normal.

To be perfectly honest: I’m creating the retreat I would want to attend.

That means I’m making sure there is protein at breakfast and springing for the open bar at night. It means I’m trying to hire my favorite all-girl band for the welcome party. It means I’m bringing in the artists I’ve been stalking on Instagram and planning workshops for the kind of stuff I can actually imagine doing at my kitchen table.

And it means you’re invited.

This is not a local event. This is a chance for longtime readers and brand new friends from all over the world to come together for a low-key weekend of creating just for fun. Because I love connecting just as much as I love creating.

It’s not about learning or networking or professionally developing.

It’s about markers and glue and finally getting over the fear of drawing.

But also it’s about you. Because I am a pusher of happiness, and I’m absolutely convinced that a weekend away to do whatever the heck you want will absolutely make you happy.

You can find out all about The Creative Soul Retreat – and grab an early bird ticket – by clicking here.

How to Be Wild

how wild it was

Last week, I attended a women’s wellness retreat in Palm Springs to celebrate the release of the movie Wild on DVD and Blu-Ray. I was hired as the guest speaker and asked to “tie my inspirational message in with the film.” In preparation for the job, I watched the movie with my husband and a girlfriend.

Five minutes in, Jared started laughing. “Oh yeah, I can totally see you doing this.”

Reese Witherspoon – as Cheryl Strayed – was struggling to lift a monstrous hiking pack onto her back moments before she would set off to spend three months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail; it was the first time she’d ever attempted the feat.

My husband went on to clarify the resemblance. “I mean, I have never once thought of you when I saw that actress, but this character?” he laughed some more, “so you.”

To summarize: Hollywood’s sweetheart: no way. But a strung-out blonde who was comically ill prepared for an epic journey she was about to undertake? Dead ringer.

Thanks, babe.

Of course, I couldn’t be mad. When I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild a few years ago I also saw myself in her and her journey. In fact, I remember reading that very scene and laughing out loud thinking, “yep, I can totally see myself doing that.” I have a tendency to make big plans and assume the details will work themselves out.  I like to joke that, “It’ll probably be fine,” is my life motto. And I can definitely appreciate an epic journey.

As the movie played on, the similarities between myself and Cheryl became more numerous. But no one commented on those; the most obvious likenesses were too painful to point out.

It wasn’t funny to remember how fast and hard I had once run from my feelings. We still can’t laugh about my self sabotage that hurt us both so badly.

We were both, I think, relieved to watch Reese-as-Cheryl find herself again through her long walk. It was comforting to watch her heal, as if knowing redemption was possible for someone else meant my own was more real and likely to stick. It’s easier to have faith in something that doesn’t only happen to you.

But anyway, we’re watching the movie and I’m trying to take notes and pull out talking points. I’m listening for quotes I can use when I stand up in front of a bunch of journalists and try to be inspirational on demand.

And there were none. Not really.

Nothing happened to Cheryl, in the same way that nothing ever happened to me.

Yes, she walked alone in the wilderness for three months. And yes she lost her toenails and her hiking boots. And yes, there were several moments when it looked like something bad would happen because strange men came upon a woman alone in the woods.

But mostly nothing happened. Not on the outside.

Mostly she just walked, and walked, and walked. And because she had nothing else to do while she walked, she felt.

And that, I remembered, was the lesson in her story – in our stories.

Feelings demand to be felt.

And if you don’t feel them- if you run from them because they are too big, or too painful, or too scary, or too proof that you are a horrible person- they will destroy your life from the inside out. They will pop up again and again in stupid and irrational places, completely unrecognizable as feelings and looking instead like very bad decisions.

Until the day you can no longer run.

Either you hit rock bottom or you put yourself out into the woods too far from anything to run towards, and you have no choice but to feel.

And so you do.

And suddenly, everything is going to be OK.

That’s it. It’s as simple as that, and you think “how can that be it?” But it is, because that’s how crucial it is to feel the feelings and how insane the lengths we’ll go to in order to not feel them.

It’s big enough to fill a book and make a movie, movie that is, despite nothing really happening, really powerful to watch. (And I’m not just saying that because I’m me; my husband and my girlfriend liked it a lot.)

Wild. That’s what the book and the movie are called. At first glance you’d assume she was talking about the hike, or maybe even the trail. She was immersed in nature that was mostly untouched. But by the end I realized that wild wasn’t about her surroundings.

Wild is about the way we’re supposed to be. Wild is who we are when we stop fighting against ourselves. Wild is what it is to feel, to let the feelings be.

How wild it was, to let it be.

It’s amazing to me how much being ourselves is simply about surrender. And yet, it is that not fighting that is so difficult for us. We want steps and bullet points and instructions that we can follow. We want control over the process.

But the most natural thing is to just let it be.

Let the feelings come. Let the past go. Let who we are simply exist because it does.

Let it be.

And I promise, that is the most powerful thing.

Be wild, my friends. Be wild.

“What do I know about happiness?” A #PghGBE Post

When local blogger Alex reached out and asked if I wanted to be part of this year’s Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Because…

1) I’ve met Alex in person exactly once and have already decided that someday we will be super good friends and I’m working on a plan to ingratiate myself to him. Step one: say yes to all requests!

2) I love Pittsburgh. My adopted city is brimming with creative, interesting people and I make a point to take advantage of every opportunity to meet more of them. Even better if I get to introduce you to some of them.

So, Alex assigned all of us guest bloggers and guest blog locations (I’m over at Dawn’s today), and that’s how I met Katrina.

In other words: we’re strangers. We know nothing about each other. She asked me what she should write about on my site and I said, “well, I usually talk about happiness and what that looks like/means for different people.” With that auspicious start, I admit that I didn’t have a lot of expectations for this post.

And then, while I was sitting in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport Sunday afternoon, I got Katrina’s email with her post attached.

Kismet. Perfection. And another reminder that some truths are universal, even if the paths that leads us to them are uniquely our own.

Friends, I give you, Katrina’s happiness journey:

katrina jelly jars

I must admit, when I saw I was to write for Britt today, I got a little nervous. I thought to myself, “What do I know about happiness?”

I have not always been a happy person; in fact, I have spent a good portion of my life being a very unhappy person.

I’ve struggled with depression on and off since I was a teenager, but even as a child, I was usually the one crying. I am a very sensitive soul and things tend to get to me, even when I know they shouldn’t or even when I know they are not intended to hurt me. But I have made leaps and bounds over the past few years. I have felt a twinge of depression creeping in now and again, but I have been able to fight it back before it overwhelmed my life.

I wish I could tell you how I’ve done that, but it’s just been a conscious decision to not let it in. And I know, I KNOW, that it may seem like the impossible, but it has been possible for me.

I was in a very dark place a few years ago. I was living alone, completely alone, for the first time in my life. My best friend had graduated and moved away. I didn’t have a license so I couldn’t even make it home to see family without a pre-arranged ride. I lost my job and three days later, my boyfriend at the time broke up with me.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been that low…but one by one, as the blows came, I decided to just ride the wave. But I also decided to plan for the future and made an appointment with Duquesne University’s Psychology Clinic.

The next available appointment was more than a month away, so I decided that I would give myself 30 days. I could scream and cry and lay in bed all day. I could eat junk food or not eat at all and binge watch Netflix. I could be completely selfish and do whatever I felt like doing. Thirty days of any of those things were not going to do irreparable damage, but once those 30 days were up, that was it, I had to pull it together.

And so I did all of those things. I cried for days. I screamed into my pillow until my voice was hoarse. I ate whatever I felt like eating and I ate it cold if I didn’t feel like cooking. I blew through Weeds and Lost and countless other shows.

But a funny thing happened well before those 30 days were up…I began to feel better.

I started going for walks and reaching out to other friends online. I started applying for jobs and may have even put up an online dating profile. The crying mostly stopped and I stopped sleeping 16 hours per day. By the time my appointment at the Psychology Clinic rolled around, I felt good.

I still went to the appointment…and 2-3 after that, but even the clinician said that I was in a really good headspace. But what had gotten me there?

I think so often we do not give ourselves time to feel. We don’t want to be seen as weak or fragile, so even though we are breaking on the inside, we try to put forward a happy face…and that can, unfortunately, make things worse.

I know not everyone has the luxury of 30 days to grieve, but even an evening or a weekend could help. We can’t all be 100% happy, 100% of the time. I think it’s important to recognize that happiness may not be your default state and it is okay to have to work for it. And it is okay to have to take some detours sometimes.

I have worked hard…and I am here, I am happy. And every so often, I think back about where I was, and how far I have come and that puts a smile on my face.

Seriously you guys, kismet. I am right this moment preparing to give a talk on Feeling Your Feelings in Palm Springs.

Like an Egg About to Crack

like an egg about to crack

The sun is shining, the snow is melting, and birds are singing again. There’s no doubt winter is coming to an end and something new is coming around the corner.

My hibernation is also ending. The couch and the bed, the sweaters and blankets, the digital streaming: all have suddenly lost their appeal. Instead I’m craving color, light, and sound. I want to write and read instead of watch and rest.

I’m ready to make and do.

My friend Debbie Harding expressed this stirring perfectly on Facebook:

“I feel like an egg about to crack.”

I’m not just pregnant with potential, but I’m on the verge of popping!

This weekend I attended SWAN Day Pittsburgh, an annual celebration of women artists, and I could hardly sleep afterwards because I was dying to do something with all the inspiration I’d soaked up. Music, dance, live painting, live theater: I’m suddenly sure I want to try a little of all of it!


My season is definitely shifting, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. (I suspect that is no accident.)

I’m getting ready to host my first weeknight retreat for creatives (grab your ticket if you live in Pittsburgh!), I’m about to appear in the inaugural cast of Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh, and I’m just days away from announcing a huge, exciting - well, not quite yet. ;-)

My head hits the pillow at night full of new ideas about everything! I think about crafts we could do in Girl Scouts, new artists I could reach out to, stories I could write, entire new careers I could tackle if I just went back to school!

Plus, I kind of feel like mopping my kitchen floors.

Are you feeling it too? Is something crackling inside of you?

What are you doing to connect with it?

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