“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.” — Toni Morrison
I grew up just outside Washington, D.C. My dad worked for the government and as lobbyist (not a dirty word all of the time) for most of my life. The paper versions of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal were at the breakfast table every morning (is my privilege showing?).
I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Political science and spent three of my college summers interning in D.C. including in the U.S. Senate. I wrote my thesis on charter schools.
Certainly I wish someone had grabbed me by the shoulders and said “Hey! Rachel! Snap out of it! What are you doing majoring in political science?! You know yourself, you should be a psychology major with an art minor. Obviously.”
Alas, no one held that intervention, it was a slog to the end of those four years, and it took me a bit longer to find my true path. One of the results though is that political engagement remains a core value of mine and never has it been more tested than now.
The truth is that since January I’ve been riding these two waves: periods of intense engagement followed by periods of intense burnout and overwhelm.
I believe that when the ground is shifting underneath us and the aftershocks (or subsequent earthquakes) haven’t ceased, feeling shaky is to be expected. It’s normal is we don’t yet know what the new normal looks like.
That said, I also believe that each of us, especially the privileged among us, needs to be committed to sustainable civic engagement. I say ‘sustainable’ because, as so many have said, this is a marathon and not a sprint. So the question I’m left with and that I pose to you is “What will allow me to be engaged and active in a sustainable way?”
My answer, so far, has been: activism + art.
This equation that’s working for me right now.
This equation is what’s keep burn out at bay.
Here’s what this looks like in practice:
- Attend my local Indivisible meeting
- Paint protest postcards.
- Call my representatives.
- Sewing for my niece.
- Create a fundraiser for causes I believe in.
- Try a new recipe.
- Sing my protest.
- Play with Sculpey.
- Watch Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin break it down. (Then watch Rachel Maddow)
- Sew some more.
This is the dance I’m trying to do: make my activism infused with art or following my activism with creating of any kind. The goal is to fill my tank, which creating does for me in spades, so that I have something to give to the resistance.
It’s worth noting that the label “artist” ignites many people’s imposter complex.
“Who me? An artist? I don’t think so!”
All humans need to make. Creative expression, no matter the form, is available and essential to everyone. The forms of art that I have been playing with (sewing, painting, cooking, etc.) are the ones I’m called towards. Let what you’re called towards, let what you make, be enough. This isn’t about being Picasso. This isn’t about making perfect things. This is about making because the act of making renews us.
On the protest front, if you’re still not sure what actions to take but want to be part of the resistance you can check out this beginner’s guide I put together back in January. It’s chock full of resources and places to start.
I’d love to hear what’s working for you? What’s allowing you to find your path to sustainable engagement? What’s filling your tank? What are you making these days? Pop on over to my Facebook page and share your experience.
“My thoughts turn to something I read once, something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well- the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born.
I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life that I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself.” from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
There are a few times in our life, if we’re lucky, that we can palpably feel that we’ve become what we were becoming. This isn’t to say we stop growing, changing, maturing, just that there is an arrival of sorts.
When I started my business four and half years ago (on 1-1-11), I very much felt like an acorn that intimately knew the oak tree she was becoming. But she wasn’t there yet. I didn’t start things off as the oak tree. I couldn’t. I had to live my way to her unfolding.
I had to coach, teach, sit with, circle, and guide so many hungry women. I had to make mistakes. I had to taste things that didn’t taste good. I had to risk being seen. I had to open to receive praise and affirmation. I had to let it be easy and to let it evolve in the ways it wanted to evolve.
And today, as I reintroduce myself to you, I can feel my deeper roots and the broader expanse of my branches. I know the heart of my work. I know the fingerprint of my magic. I know the trimmings that needed to happen to that the best parts of me could shine. I know not to aspire to be a different kind of tree, but rather to embody as much of my own self, my own suchness, as possible.
A website, if you let it, is so much more than pretty dressing or a means to deliver information. A website, I believe, can meaningfully narrow the distance between you and me. The internet age is a time filled with a lot of pseudo-connection, but I believe a good website married to honest words does bring us closer.
So if you want to know who the oak tree is that I’ve become have a look around. Watch the video on the about page. Read the words I’ve written about my work. Browse the testimonials those who have worked with me have shared. Check out Feast, the best thing I’ve ever created. Let’s get reacquainted.
And while you’re exploring perhaps today is a good day to reflect on who or what you are becoming?
Add a splash of gumption. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Pleasure is a food group. I’ve been known to say this fairly often.
It’s a way I remind myself and my clients that things other than food go into making us healthy and well-fed.
While the USDA no longer promotes a food pyramid (I think it’s a circle now?), most Americans remember this popular illustration from our childhoods outlining the types of foods and number of daily servings our government claims is optimal.
Inspired by the pyramid’s iconic image, and also as a tongue-in-cheek jab at it, I created The Fulfillment Pyramid.
Instead of me telling you what and how much to ‘eat’, it’s blank.
It’s up to you to fill it out based on what you know about what feeds you.
There is a 2D and 3D version of the pyramid plus suggestions and instructions are provided in the kit, which is free, when you sign up for my newsletter list.
Below are lots of examples readers have sent to me of their Fulfillment Pyramids. I’d love to see yours.
This is a fun right-brained way to approach building your own well-fed life. It’s great to keep on your personal altar or bedside table—reminding to feast in ways that leave you feeling most alive.
If you already are on the list and missed the link to the kit, send me an email and I’ll resend it to you. If you’re not on the list, sign up over there on the side bar or at the bottom of this.
Ask yourself: “How many of my daily servings of pleasure have I gotten today?”
It’s not uncommon to have a house or pet sitter for when we’re on vacation. In such cases we often leave a list of to-do’s (“water the plants”), rules (“Don’t go in the basement”), and emergency contact information (“Call the neighbors, if…”)
Perhaps the metaphor is stretched a bit here, but I’m headed to Taos tomorrow morning to teach and I thought your spirit could use a little reminder information while I’m gone.
Make the bed. Fluff the pillows.
Experience pleasure. As much as possible.
Talk kindly to your houseplants. If you don’t have a houseplant, get one.
Eat what your body and heart wants. Enjoy it.
Tell the truth.
Savor all the evidence that suggests you too are a perfectly, imperfect human. Take amusement in how much you resist this fact.
Marvel at your functioning anatomy.
Ask yourself “What am I truly hungry for?”
Make art. Big or small. Make something.
Smile at an animal or child.
Change your linens. Ask yourself: “Do I love my sheets/towels?” Listen to the answer.
Do something that reminds you just how connected and alike we all are.
Wear something from your closet you haven’t worn in the last 30 days. Rock it.
Call the oldest person you know and set aside at least thirty minutes to talk to them.
In case of emergency…
Call the person you trust the most and that has the biggest heart. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Allow yourself to be supported.
Go outside. Look at the sky. Breathe deeply. As if it were a new shade of paint, give the sky’s color a name.
Send flowers or an actual letter to another human being.
Go on a photowalk. Capture things that start with all the letters in the alphabet, or all the colors in the rainbow, or just what looks interesting.
Write it all down. All of it. Don’t edit.
Consider your attitude.
Back Monday night.