Hang Your Hat on That

Dream board
October Dream Board

Some words have emerged repeatedly lately in different settings and with different people, but the words include seeds, harvest, planting, germination.  “You have planted your seeds, now let them grow.” I also read a chapter from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, which I haven’t held in my hand for years, but resurrected because I asked to join a study group.  The theme of the chapter is about recovering a sense of autonomy and it sums up so much about my life lessons recently.

I had the unique experience and privilege of an Akashic records reading last month and I wrote down as much of the reading as I could.  My questions, as they have been so often in my life, included “Am I where I am supposed to be right now? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?”  Those questions felt unanswered for so long, that I stopped asking for some time. I began moving ahead jaggedly and backward and ahead, not really asking for help, and not getting as skilled as one might, for lack of wanting to ask for help.  Because we make ourselves better when we ask for help. When we are in community with trusted others. Because asking for help demands courage and vulnerability, which I couldn’t afford to muster.

I chose opportunities to hone what came natural to me, and I think I’m fortunate that what comes natural is kindness, listening, supporting.  While I haven’t been willing to reflect that back into my own eyes very often, if at all, I have to believe that at least faking it, projecting goodness–if that is what it was–even if it isn’t coming from a place of self-love, at least offers some redemption when the realization comes:  Self Love Is The Heart. We can’t authentically share whole-hearted loving goodness with others until we hold and nurture it in our own hearts first.

The questions came up again.  The answers: I am there for a reason.  I am the right person for the job.  Strong, sturdy, capable. Trust that it is right.  More Soil to till. More Seeds to plant and crops to tend.  Until the work is finished. No matter how I approach this job, it is supposed to be. Trust my training and experience.  I am good at what I do. Growth and change, hang your hat on that. Those who put me there know I have the capacity for growth and I am up for it. Approach with a sense of knowing I have what it takes. Consult myself a bit more.

I have taken the stance of novice throughout my life, with the thought that others know better than I do.  Self-doubt, hesitation and ambivalence have been my travel companions, but that gorgeous brown haired little girl inside has been persistent and nudged me along with her delicate hands.  She whispered invitations to come play, so I took art classes, sometimes she made forts with the sheets in my bed when I couldn’t budge at the end of a week. She has been skilled at playing hide and seek, and I have been a frequently unwilling playmate, leaving her behind to wait.  

New territory–this is to be expected.  It is to my benefit to put myself in that person’s shoes to see what they need at that time to help build a bridge.  Shock someone out of their way of perceiving the world with compassionate statements and a sense of shared experience.  Engagement. There are new ideas I haven’t tapped into yet. More I can do in its infancy and early stages. More changes that are less drastic, but more research.  Tending.

I frequently pause when people ask me if I like my new job.  I pause, tongue tied every time and it isn’t that I dislike it.  I feel really alive. I started out with great hesitation, not accepting my worthiness to be a leader, but as I have allowed self-doubt and ambivalence to fall away like tired leaves from a branch, new growth has unfurled toward the sun.  A lot of new growth, and some sturdy foliage there too, if I am to continue with this metaphor.

I shared with a learning circle today, my seemingly disconnected parts–mosaic art, clinical training, family systems training, yoga teacher training (that actually doesn’t look so bad as it felt written in words!) but as I said it aloud my spidery inner critic began grumbling about what a scatter-brain I am.  Without the improved force-field of self-care that I have been engaging in this Fall, yoga, meditation, choices to nurture myself, that spiny critic may have sent me back inside yet again.

Fear not, however because my reading also told me this: This requires creativity–rather than segmenting art and work, include it and apply it into your leadership role.  Opportunity to bring creativity into your workplace. Your approach–a blend of linear and creative. It may not be art specifically, but creativity. Apply the creative mind and processes to the work I’m doing.

To my little brown haired inner girl, I’ll jump in the leaves with you this year! In retreat yesterday, Sarah Avant Stover led us in a prayer and this I said for you, especially, “May you be filled with joy.  May you be happy and loved. May you be safe.”img_0815

An important memory from my twenties is having seen a Ginkgo tree for the first time, anchored in my memory by a defining experience of independence and capable adulting.  The Ginkgo leaf has been a symbol of capacity and openness. It is now an image that my children also hold special, because they have seen and heard me point out Ginkgo trees wherever we go. It seems fitting to reflect back to that beginning of adulthood and know that I had a sense of being rooted in some self-love even then.  

The trees are shedding their leaves now.  Gorgeous hues of gold, auburn and green drift and float to blanket the ground, preparing to serve in a new role of fuel and rebirth beyond the dormancy of winter.  The Ginkgo trees are now gold and they shed their leaves too. I’m letting go of some stuff. I feel lighter, more capable. Growth and change. Hang your hat on that.


Bad Habit

I have some bad habits.  Although one might say there are worse things, one of them is laughing, a lot–often times incongruently with the emotions I feel inside.  It is nervous avoidance that drives the chortle and somehow allows me to brush past the acknowledgement of a feeling. It is an involuntary habit and I’d like to catch myself doing it more, not because laughing is so bad, but I’d like to be more aware.

During the Christmas season, my daughter drew my attention to a habit I wasn’t really aware of until she named it.  We were driving along Dempster at dusk and a woman with a long, gorgeous braid of hair, wearing an ankle-length patchy winter coat was draping twinkle lights along the hedge in her front yard.  She had threaded the lights to spell “Love,” and we were both so touched by the gesture, the sense of embrace from a stranger in front of her home.  I exclaimed, “Oh, that is so wonderful,” and immediately followed that with, “Oh, I’m really bad.  I never take the time to hang lights or decorate my home so nicely.”

“Do you know you do that all of the time?” my daughter asked. She fumingly explained that every time I express admiration for someone else’s talent, attribute or deed, I habitually follow it with an affront to myself; self-deprecation, criticism. As I sat with that feedback, I understood she was right.  I could see all of the “I am bad…” attributions floating around in my recent memory of blather that spews from me involuntarily.


First I felt shame to have modeled the behavior in front of my daughter.  I would be saddened to hear any of my children talk about themselves in that way.  Further, it gave me pause to consider why I do this and be more aware of the habit.  I think somewhere along the way, I came to think of humility, a value that was reinforced by my family of origin, as denying my own value.

Humility doesn’t mean self-effacement, but an effort to remain grounded and refrain from thinking I’m better than others.  Self-love is no affront to humility, but an opportunity to replenish and more authentically care for and love others. There is just so much to do and so much good to contribute, the self-ripping is over.  I choose to love myself and all of the identified and unidentified parts that add up to Penelope.

That I Could be Good


Good. Adjective: of high quality;of somewhat high but not excellent quality; correct or proper.
The word is a trigger word for me. One part of good is like being a “good girl,” obedient, submissive, following instructions. As a child I was referred to as a “good girl,” a lot by the men in my life, my dad, my grandfather. Being told I was a good girl, was one of the warmest shows of affection from these men, my inference was they were proud of me, happy and grateful for my good behavior. For years I didn’t understand I was an actual self, and without intention of any kind, lived as the person I thought I was supposed to be, the “good girl.” Gradually, slowly, I saw glimpses of self, and I became less concerned about being a “good girl”–I was in my 30’s by then. The programming pretty embedded. I’m still trapped by the default “good girl” way of relating to men, at the core.

About 10 years ago I heard the following song by Alanis Morissette, “That I would be Good.” I had heard it before, but this was the first time I listened to the lyrics, took them in, understood the meaning of the words. It shook me, stopped me in my tracks and reduced me to red-faced crying, drool, snot and tears smearing together. I could hear the affirmation, that I am a good person, but also understood that I didn’t believe it, that I was not good for every mistake made, for inabilities to perform, for being less than I had hoped. A deeper part of me, one deeper than my more silly, avoidant, parts named so far has held this as truth for a long time. I don’t have much to go on here, but I know it relates to shame, an exile part, isolated and covered up by that hideous shredder guy and little miss perfect.

I told my therapist this song was an epiphany for me. He looked at me and said, “you mean, that you think you aren’t good?” His tone and expression were matching hues of, “I couldn’t be more sad for you, and I didn’t know it was this bad.” Oh the shame that rose up for me with that–I could even make his sadness for me a means of shaming myself. The song became the closest thing to an affirmation I could muster, because still many of the things Morissette said about being good, I didn’t agree with for myself personally. I definitely associated my fails with the opposite of good. Further, some of what she names–losing her hair, going bankrupt, being without someone–I have feared as the ultimate fails, experiences I have been fortunate enough to control and avoid, but would have me crawling under a rock if I did experience them.

That I would be Good
that I would be good even if I did nothing
that I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
that I would be good if I got and stayed sick
that I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

that I would be fine even if I went bankrupt
that I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
that I would be great if I was no longer queen
that I would be grand if I was not all knowing

that I would be loved even when I numb myself
that I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
that I would be loved even when I was fuming
that I would be good even if I was clingy

that I would be good even if I lost sanity
that I would be good
whether with or without you

I still fill with tears when I read or hear the lyrics. It shows me I have more excavating to do, because how could I not believe I am good? I believe everybody else in the world is good–at their core–can forgive people for doing heinous things, out of compassion for the traumas that led to their behavior. I could share an inventory of the work I do, the kindness and compassion I have in my heart, and in doing so, could also tell you I’m bad–not good–for not being humble. What a mind fuck that is.

The Open Studio Project uses “intention” as a practice of making statements about the present, some are obvious descriptors framed in the positive, others are statements that take the possibility of something and present the idea as though it already is. Of course I struggle with this part of the process. It is very affirmation-like (although intention is not the same as affirmation) and means self-kindness, hopefulness. I’m going to keep working on it.

Little Miss Perfect

Borrowed from wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_Little_Goody_Two-Shoes

A recent disagreement with my daughter helped me to notice this part of me in a more honest way.  She wanted to go to the beach with her girlfriend after practice finished at school.  That meant it would be after dark.  I was uncomfortable with it, as I know the beach closes before dark and usually the only thing going on at the beach after hours is a healthy dose of nothing good.  I couldn’t give her an explanation she could accept for my “no” answer;”  I could only say I wasn’t comfortable with the whole situation.  She was angry and the silent treatment ensued.

It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my 15-year-old daughter, although I know that seems naive.  I really wasn’t that worried about what would be happening on the beach either.  I was worried about breaking the rules.

In a later discussion about this, my daughter told me, “I know you want to be that hippie-happy-go-lucky mom that questions society and makes controversial choices with her head held high, but deep down, you just can’t do it.”  So prescient and wise, that girl is.

Little Miss Perfect has been a major protector of me throughout my lifetime.  Critical thinking did not come naturally for me, and furthermore, challenging authority was risky business for this highly sensitive person.  Coping with an unpredictable emotional parent, I honed the skill of making safe choices, whenever I was alert to them.  I was hyper-vigilant about following the rules, resulting in my dad calling me “a model child.”

This also extended to “being perfect” at school, getting good grades, making sure my teachers loved me.  I stayed out of gossip, didn’t pass notes in class, turned in my homework and extra credit when the opportunity presented itself.  I was that kid, “miss goodie goodie.”  I prescribed to paternalism without ever considering a downside.  Self righteousness defended any alienation that I experienced and my mom taught me to “kill ‘em with kindness,” so few of my peers were ever annoyed with me for too long because at least I was nice to them.

To the credit of some other more authentic part of me, I was attracted to kids who had the twinkle of “fuck it” in their eyes.  I was too afraid to go along with them most of the time, but I listened to what they had to say with curiosity, wondered about what gave them the courage to face the consequences of their defiance.   Admired their bravery.  Even if I wasn’t following their lead necessarily, I was taking notes, tucking away their wisdom–because they were so smart in their anti-social way– in a place I could refer back to sometime.

Differentiation happened a little more slowly for me than it does for many.  I came to understand my own identity, my privilege, appreciate the injustices suffered by so many of my brothers and sisters. I understand that my play-it-safe-condition can even contribute to and perpetuate injustice. It means that fear still motivates the suppression of indignation and outrage, speaking out and acting out in ways that would be risky–even if it is the right thing to do.

Bear with me in this thought, as it isn’t grounded necessarily in a studied discipline, but I think pain and trauma manifests behavior as if on two sides of a coin.  On one side self-preservation is motivated by fear, cringing and playing it safe (Little Miss Perfect); the other side is motivated by defiance, radical questioning and brazen disregard for the pain and alienation that may ensue (Betty Friedan, Dian Fossey, Rosa Parks, Georgia O’Keefe, insert other brave ones here.)  Both sides of the coin suffer, spinning and turning in the confusion.  It can be hard to see straight with all of that spinning, but there are moments of clarity, for some anyway.  Duality is so interesting.

I know Miss Perfect has had the best of intentions.  She also has a lot of power.  She has been a guiding force for a really long time, but I know I don’t need her anymore.  She doesn’t step aside easily as she is self-righteous as hell. There is even a way in which she influences my efforts to be an advocate for social and racial justice–my thinking becomes wrapped up in how I can be the “perfect” advocate.  Dialogue that involves speaking up becomes a dance of “one-up” instead and I trip over my own indignant judgement.

So, I’m working on it.  While becoming a parent wasn’t done with a great deal of critical thinking or intention on my part, I have to say the privilege of raising children has really helped raise me.  I’ve made all kinds of mistakes and I often wonder who is getting more out of all of this, me or them?  I have enjoyed the Mom-part of me, the one who loves, cares, grins and giggles, smells the wonder of freshly washed baby hair and skin, holds, caresses and tucks the sheets in at bed time.  She is also completely insane, but those are some of her good points.  

Ramona is a Pest

This little version of me is younger than Ramona and she’s just too charming to be a pest. I had a little run-in with my 7-year-old-ish part, Ramona yesterday.  She is very concerned about what is fair and in keeping with the rules.  She is too immature to manage her own problems when she feels […]

Inner Critic, Animal or Noble Intentions

Chompy!  Chompy is my ruthless protector and much like Sabine, he really really likes homeostasis.  When I’m curious and feeling experimental, vulnerable enough to put some ideas out there, his appetite is stimulated like a carnivore getting a whiff of fresh blood.  He wants me to stay exactly the same, so any efforts to peak over the precipice are swiftly cut up, shredded by his layers of razor-sharky teeth.  He is my inner critic, and I have spent most of my life having a limited perspective of his existence.  I knew he was there, enough so to allow feelings of shame or embarrassment to warm my cheeks to a blush if I dared feed his hunger with something new.


I met him face-to-face in an IFS session and saw my first visual representation of Chompy the Killer.  During the meditation, I felt whoozy, like I could faint and when the fog settled, there he was, crouching on his haunches, a fantastical grinning beast, baring his teeth. Menacing, spidery legs sat poised, ready to spring into action.  He morphed from a growling, spitting creature into a razory-metallic shredding machine, and I was aware of how his intimidation, spiny barbed barriers, stopped me so many times from being authentic, taking risks, connecting to inner wisdom, and the wisdom of others.  With encouragement from my therapist, I breathed and took a moment to take in his identity.  It didn’t feel quite as scary to have been introduced, still we didn’t understand each other.  My therapist encouraged me to draw or paint the imagery I found within these sessions and while I pondered doing so, I didn’t actually follow through, until…

The OSP process challenges us to develop a daily practice of art-making, even if it is a quick sketch on an index card.  I was particularly crabby one day with my kids snarking at me, (hadn’t developed a daily art practice—nor have I yet, really) feeling a bit like a punching bag.  I took a few moments to “draw it all out,” literally.  I got out the pastels and an index card, (because I felt dubious and ambivalent,) threw it down and began to strike at the card. The dark scribbling, so fitting for my mood at the time, emerged as the chomping little shredder I had met a few years back in my IFS session.  As I witnessed, I had a chat with my little chomp-animal, and in the process felt endeared to him.  He took on that Muppets-Animal appearance, his once matted coat fluffing out to billow like red feathers. In our dialogue, I asked him to cool his jets a little, and let me be.  He told me he was really there to help me avoid embarrassment and failure, but in the process, he rather sheepishly revealed his good intentions.  The dialogue tamed his fiery rage and as I scooted a little closer, his once erect-pinscher ears folded down, allowing me to caress surprisingly soft, downy plumage.  His teeth stopped chattering and spitting and a boyish, toothy grin emerged.

So, there he is.  Instead of a fearsome, terrifying beast, scaring me into submission, he now seems more like a little brother—a daring and noble little brother.  It doesn’t mean I am suddenly exempt from fear and self-suppression, but it helps to have made his acquaintance.  Instead of being paralyzed with reactivity, I can take a breath, understand rationally that he isn’t crouching to bite my ankles and then, negotiate with him a bit.  He still wields a decent amount of power, but we are working together on the possibilities of our future together.

Sabine the Saboteur

Last year I started taking a facilitator training for the Open Studio Process (we like to call it OSP) through the Open Studio Project, a non-profit arts organization in Evanston.  The idea of the work there is that 1. Anyone can create art, 2. The process of creating art can be cathartic and information giving and 3. It isn’t about the final product—it is all about the process.  I’ll be sharing more about this in future posts in case it interests you.

A motivator for me in starting a blogging effort is to build a sense of discipline into a practice of creative process.  That’s a mouthful.  There is this part of me that likes to sabotage my goals and dreams that starts like this, “I wish I was more like her, or I wish I could do “X” on a more regular basis.”  My little Sabine the Saboteur allows me not to take responsibility for my inaction and ambivalence when my wishes don’t come true.  She says to me, “you’re just so busy,” or “you’re so tired, and wouldn’t another 30 minutes of sleep be so much nicer than anything else?”  She is a two-faced, manipulative, controlling little be-atch because she wispers these soft little nothings to me, soothes and comforts, but ultimately gets her way, which is to keep things exactly the way they are.  I don’t change.  Sabine likes homeostasis—she doesn’t really like Penelope either, because even though she isn’t the most intimidating force, she’s younger and more peppy than Sabine.

So, I have this thought that if I’m writing to you out there in the blogosphere, my process efforts won’t feel as much like a practice to her.  It will feel responsive, I’m writing a letter to good people—it suits that service Part of me—which is a different story to explore someday.  I will write more about what I mean when I reference parts too–I’ll tell you all about it.  I hope to include bits of art that I make in my process along the way too and I might even figure out how to create a page with a little gallery.  Below is a little diddle that I dreamed up last night after this book came in the mail!  Newest fad for Sabine to sooth away, or is it?

Lesson #1 (sort of, as usual with me I did my own interpretation of the lesson) from the Book, “One Zentangle A Day,” by Beckah Krahula.

Zentangle #1
Zentangle #1

That’s Not My Name…well sort of

My parents did not name me Penelope, I did.  Penelope isn’t my official name, she is one of my parts.  Penelope was born out of my need to cope with feelings of fear toward my Dad, when I just didn’t know how to connect with him. Penelope is my trickster protector—she wants me to be brave, but helps soften the edges a bit.  She coaxes with childish whimsy, kicking my pants with her clown shoes.  I know in my heart Dad did the best he could.  As for the wounds that remain–sometimes like scabs, that just beg to be picked–I accept them as a part of me, albeit I would really love them to fade away completely like a bruise, because I love my dad and I think he would feel sad and ashamed if I admitted to him that I had felt this way, and still do at times, even in my forties.

I read once that I fit a profile called a “highly sensitive person,” one whose response to stimuli is reactive and vulnerable. My melodrama-scabs are not literal and I wasn’t burned or physically abused by my father— he lacked in the ability to be tender or gentle–qualities we HSP’s need while developing our emotional control panel.  He was an earnest provider for our family.  He worked more than one job, while taking classes too so he could finish his bachelor’s degree. He was tall and imposing, with large hands and broad shoulders. His working hands always looked swollen, like generous sausages filling the casing. He worked on cars in the garage, cut plywood and drywall so he could finish our home that he himself built.

We feared the hands when they started swinging—usually over the front seat of the car to the back seat where we squirmed and cajoled each other.  My brother and I knew we better shape up when the mammoth hand flew over the seat—sliding  to inner and outer edges of the seat, as the hand smacked upholstery instead of fleshy legs or arms, staying  just out of reach, a cat-and-mouse bit that served only to frustrate him more. Not that we wanted to be smacked, but we took some pleasure in the blind searching of his hand while he tried to keep his eyes on the road.  It was not quite as exhilarating as taunting our grandparents’ cat, Mittens, who hated us and when cornered under my grandparents bed would resort to whacking our hands in cartoony-fast thwaps.

Dad worked daily in his garage, shelter from the reality of an overwhelming life of being parent to 4 kids.  Before we had a phone extension out there, we would rock-scissor-paper our way out of having to be the messenger if a phone call came for him.  WHAT do you WANT?!  He would bellow from beneath the chassis he worked on.  Later, he got an extension out there, but I never understood why, because interrupting his process served only to infuriate and annoy him. If the phone was allowed to ring more than 2 or 3 times, he would inevitably lumber to the phone, answer and terrify the caller, because they were sure to hear, “HELLO!!!!” roaring like a grizzly, volume stretched above his stereo and engines.  Everyone knew this was the reality if you had to call our house. Our friends were either terrified or amused by his antics, depending on their previous exposure to his cursing and bellowing.

Calling the house inspired major dread for me.  Of course this was pre-cell phone time, so I couldn’t just choose who I called specifically. Calling home from a friend’s house, so I could ask for a ride, would summon boiling gut-acid.  If Dad answered the phone, I hung up; couldn’t face it and I didn’t dare try again—I would do anything possible to delay making the call again–I’d find a ride, or walk. When I went away to college, I was homesick and really missed my mom, but I continued to hang up if Dad answered. His greeting never changed— he had no idea back then if it was me, no caller ID.  So I would call and pray that my mom would answer and thankfully, most of the time she did.

By the time I was in my twenties, I was really bored with the phone call game, tired of hearing his annoyed barking, when in fact I wouldn’t have minded a conversation with my dad.  I couldn’t reconcile the startled emotions I felt when considering telling him off.  So one day, I braced myself and prepared for the inevitable retort when the lines connected.  I managed to stomp my foot and say, “hello.”  “WHO IS IT?” he yelled, channeling his inner Archie Bunker.  “Well……. it’s …..Penelope,” I offered hopefully.  Pause.  Surprisingly I heard him laugh with surprise–I took him off his guard, reduced the churn of annoyance that so often led his responses.  “Well well well, Penelope who?” he mused and I laughed too, relieved by the way this was going.  We actually talked for a few moments until gruffly he said, “OK, talk to your mom.”

To this day, when I get a message from my Dad to call him back, my first reaction is that child-remembered dread, a slight jolt as the contents of my stomach take a little tilt.  With slight delay–it depends on my vulnerability on a given day– I return the call and wait for his answer, which is much less barky these days.  His “bellow” has “mellowed” over the years.  He still asks, “who is it?” when he answers and my reply remains “It’s Penelope.”  One of my sibs may have told him why I address myself as Penelope on the phone—he’s never asked me why though.  I’m sure a part of him understands down deep, that it would be ok for him to be a little vulnerable…but Penelope is my part, she helped me be vulnerable enough and I love her.