Nothing to Compare

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It is so easy when you are feeling at sea to start to compare your life to others. Others who are your same age or gender or in the same field or doing something altogether different than you. It is so easy to be able to look at someone else and to see what you think should be happening for you or where you should be at. Unrealistic expectations are really hard for over-achievers to come to terms with. Idealism is by definition an “unrealistic belief in or pursuit of perfection” (Oxford Living Dictionaries – English). I think I’ve always been an idealist in one way or another. At times it has caused me great pain and at other times and in other ways it has served me greatly. A lot of the illness in my life can be directly attributed to the recurrence of over-extending myself. And my positivity and go get ‘em attitude, my moving to a foreign country, all my adventures and risk-taking, can be attributed to that idealistic side, to those rose-coloured glasses.

How then do these expectations and beliefs get all out of whack? I see it in my own life particularly when budgeting anything from time to money. There is what I believe I should be able to get done, what any normal person could get done, there is what I would like to get done and what I am actually able to get done and at the same time enjoy some balance. Very rarely are all of these in alignment. Expectations, even ones we think are very realistic based on our ability, have a way of being inflated. Mostly because they are formed in the laboratory of our mind, but played out in the reality of our world. In our mind when we are weighing the possibilities we don’t see the late buses, the colds that sneaks up on you, the exhaustion from a long and productive day, the friend who needs a chat because of their break-up, the celebration of your friend’s new job, those are all conveniently left out of the equation. So then, as our expectations turn into disappointments we wonder what happened and we beat ourselves up for not being able to live up to our own expectations.

I for one would like to change this pattern. I’ve been practicing being more forgiving of myself when I do fail to meet expectations. But for real change, I need to start at the source, where the expectations and beliefs are formed. There have been multiple instances for me in the past couple of weeks that have brought this home for me and have brought me back to the drawing board and led me to withdraw from events that I would have preferred to be able to take part in. I’m still learning how to tell the difference between the different forms of resistance I have – when am I being a petulant child and when am I experiencing a reality check? If I was able to set more realistic expectations with my money and time, I would have to say “no” a lot more, but I would also feel more accomplished and in alignment with my true self and my desires. I don’t know “how” to make this shift, but I know it is necessary for my own health and sanity.

Need Want Desire Prefer

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Want (v) “have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for.”

Desire (v) “strongly wish for or want (something).”

Need (v) “require (something) because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable.” or “expressing necessity or obligation.”

Prefer (v) “like (one thing or person) better than another or others; tend to choose.”

I remember sometime last year, my sister passed on a technique that she had heard from someone that encouraged the use of the word “desire” instead of “want” to encourage a more positive spin on wishing. We’ve both been trying to turn around our beliefs about money. And language is really powerful, the words you use can be connected to and reveal how you think. The definition for the word “want” includes the concepts of lack, deficiency and possession. Using the word “want” can unknowingly reinforce lack. “Need” is often used in the same way. Need should probably be reserved for those particular moments when you are talking about the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, your physiological and safety needs, not necessarily that ticket to that amazing concert or holiday abroad. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with desiring those lovely things, but what are the words you are using, where are you putting the emphasis in your life? The emptiness or the abundance?

I’m an attacher so it is particularly wise for me to be aware of the words I use, because often there is deeper attachment or meaning that goes with what may appear to be a very innocent phrase. A book my husband was reading talked about using the word “prefer” instead of “want”. Prefer lets you share your opinion, your desire, but detaches you from the outcome. If it is just a preference it means that you know what will float your boat, but you are able to live with whatever happens. The word sounds a bit clinical because it simply isn’t as loaded as the other three and that is what makes it a more interesting bet. I love the passion of need, want, desire, yet, there is such a freedom, simplicity and peace in prefer. Again, there is nothing wrong with passion, but if there is passion in every decision, every little preference you have, then living can be truly exhausting and also disappointing. There is so much that I do have that gets pushed to the side when I focus on the lack. What we focus on gets bigger. So why not focus on respecting your preferences, your choices, your inclinations and growing the confidence in your ability to thrive no matter what.

Resistance My Old Friend

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Last week was spent in the face of resistance. A writer friend and I had been working on a short film adaptation of his short story/one-act play for the past three years. We wanted to film in Ireland and frankly we wanted it to be Oscar-worthy. It had to be beautiful and rich and full or there was no point doing it. We watched shorts in festivals. We wrote and re-wrote the script. And my friend occasionally asked, “Are we really going to do this?” He gave me plenty of outs and still, despite the part of me saying “NO, run away now!” I always said, “No, it will get done. Timing is everything.”

Well, the time finally came. After being inspired by shorts at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh and a panel set up by the lovely Eibh Collins, my partner-in-crime reached out to the the directors of a short that he loved visually. In turn I was talking to a couple of friends about possibilities. And eventually he found a match, but they were only available if we shot it before October 10th or sometime next year. This was late September! We had a call with the director and DP and they seemed sound, willing and dedicated. Could it be done? Could we whip the script into shape and gather the people and the resources we needed to film a short — in the space of one week? Could we actually make this work?

At some point in time you just have to commit and we gave ourselves a deadline to find the basic funds to cover costs – if we had it in line, we would do it. And due to wonderful producing partners such as the cell in New York and a number of other generous donors, we thought we had enough to get it off the ground. So I said “Okay, let’s do this.” I knew it would still require a number of miracles, but if worst came to worst, we had the lead cast members and the director and DP, we could get something in the can. In producing situations in the past, it has been very easy for me to get caught up in the obstacles and difficulties, but early on in this process I knew:

1. This was happening with or without us (the project has its own momentum).
2. Every obstacle is an opportunity (either for someone to save the day or to let go and move on).

I won’t go into all of the details here, but suffice it to say that there were obstacles aplenty … but there were more miracles than obstacles, more amazing people than I can even begin to mention, more strangers lending a hand than putting up a fight and in the end we shot it. I’m still in awe and so very grateful and humbled and just, wow. So glad that resistance didn’t stop this one, but I can feel it still. This project required my openness and vulnerability, I’m still feeling raw a week on. It is no wonder I tried to spare myself the cold, damp exposure, but I also wouldn’t have experienced the great heart-warming people of Mayo and the great pleasure of bringing people together to create.

TLWG Team
TLWG Team 2

Controlling Speed

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I’ve always been afraid of speed. I remember being thrilled with the new state of the art roller blades I bought with my high school graduation money, I was so excited. That excitement faded to fear very fast on my first time out. Somehow I had never learned how to stop properly. Anytime I gained what I felt was too much speed, i.e. I didn’t feel in control, I would veer off into the grass and usually fall down to stop. I nearly gave myself whiplash. I had the same experience when I was learning how to downhill ski as an adolescent – I ended up going down the hill on my bum with my ski tips dutifully pointed in towards each other to create a pie shape, the beginner’s breaks. Perhaps my only experiences going with the flow and “embracing speed” are the times I’ve ridden roller coasters, but one of the only ways I can get through that experience is by telling myself “this will be over soon.”

Where did this fear of being out of control come from? It doesn’t just affect my speed, it permeates all areas of my life, from drinks to acting. I did break my nose when I was around 9 years old, riding on an adult’s back who was on all fours goofing around and bucked me off smack dab on my nose. That 4th of July I watched the fireworks with an ice pack on my nose. Maybe that is how I learned that to be out of control leads to pain. Either which way, I’m now learning the difference, especially in my acting work, that letting go of control and lack of physical safety are not the same thing. My acting work thrives when I do the prep work (safety) and then abandon control and play in the moment. I may not be able to do it every time (that is where doing the prep work comes in handy) but I’m increasingly able to do it more often. I wonder if there are other areas where I may be limiting myself by my need for control. Fast success scares me too. There are so many dreams I have and would love to have them come true right this moment, but that would also terrify me – “What if I’m not ready, what if other people couldn’t handle it, what if I had to step up, what if it stops before I want it to, what if, what if, what if?” Instead I want to say, “I’m ready, bring it on. Fast or slow, I am open to success. I am open to being safely out of control.” More and more I believe that is exactly where the magic happens.

Letting Go

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I’ve recently become reacquainted with my propensity toward attachment. In one way or another it is something that I’ve always known about myself – maybe from moving around so much, maybe not – I’ve always been able to feel affectionate regard for things quite quickly. In a new place I’ll find ways to feel at home, to make it my own. With new people, I will look for connections and ways we click. With things, I will associate them with the place, event, person and fond memories around the time they were acquired. I’m an attacher. In one definition of attachment, it equates responsiveness with attachment, and this is in no way a problem for me because even if it is an inanimate object I will endow it with life and meaning. Even if it is an idea or a hope, I will attach. In many ways this ability to attach has been a gift – it makes me fiercely loyal, protective and affectionate. It means that people trust me and feel safe in my presence.

The flip side is that it weighs me down. Think of those vacuum cleaners with multitudinous attachments, the ones where you cannot even find a place to put all of the attachments so you tie or velcro them on, wedge them in between each other. That is me. In a recent course on abundance we spent one of the weeks clearing space. My husband and I picked an area – clothing, I think – and started purging, using the “Does this give me joy?” barometer. And wow, it worked and that space felt so good. I reduced my hours at my job to make time for creative work and boom, I booked an acting gig. Making space can bring you joy!

Now as we prep to move out of the apartment we have been in for a decade, we are using the KonMari Method to help us purge, clear and start fresh. I love the results, but the process can be pretty painful for me. The first couple of days I could be found occasionally curled up in the fetal position. It exhausts me and I just want to cry. Why? I have accumulated a whole lot of stuff. And I am attached to my stuff. It makes me feel safe, secure, important and ready for anything. Letting go makes me feel like I am in crisis mode. However, as I shred these documents I’ve been attached to, including the police reports and claims from when I was hit by a car, I see the stories I’ve held onto and how they have helped me stay small. When you are buried in stuff, weighed down by your possessions and relationships that don’t feed you, you are not available to say yes – your wings just don’t have the space to spread out. This painful process of clearing out, detaching, separating and letting go is providing me with a beautiful chance to grow and heal. It is time to let go of old beliefs. It is time to grow into the woman who I want to be, who I was made to be. This process of becoming me requires a lot of trust and faith. I may not “arrive” in this lifetime, but I will continue on this path, surrounding myself with joy, stretching out my wings and, when the time is right, flying.

untilyouspreadyourwings

Maya Angelou says…

Phenomenal Woman by Dr. Maya Angelou
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I’m not sure when I first came across Maya Angelou or why I feel such a deep connection to her and her writing. I guess I have always been drawn to spiritual women, women who I feel share a deep connection to mother earth and all people. Sister Fabu was another such woman and in some ways paved the path for my heart connection to Dr. Maya Angelou. Sister Fabu (not a nun) oversaw the summer and after-school program I worked at way back in the 1990s. Fabu was also a poet and she embodied peace and grace. Watching her mere presence calm an overexcited child was beautiful to behold. I wanted to be like her in the absolute best sense of the notion. To be able to hold a room of children, adults, whoever, in love. To be able to share a sense of grace, forgiveness and acceptance with all you encounter. That is something I hope in my lifetime to be able to do. Even if it is a fraction of what women like Maya Angelou and Sister Fabu were able to share, I know it will change the lives of others and my own.

I have a strong affinity to Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman.” In our first year of drama school this was the poem I chose to work on in voice class. Perhaps at the heart of this poem is the same kernel of what draws me to these phenomenal earth mother types – there is an acceptance and celebration of self, there is an awareness of the attractiveness and power in that, and there is a visceral expression of that love in the rhythm and between the lines. And always there is the mystery, how despite all odds this human being can share so much love. So thank you, Sister Fabu and Maya Angelou, for demonstrating what womanhood can look like, what embodied grace and love feels like, and what truth and acceptance sound like. I am forever in your debt.

Phenomenal Woman by Dr. Maya Angelou

One Fine Day

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Last summer I had the privilege of acting in “It’s a Fine Day,” a one act by Mayumi Lane as part of the HB Studios event The Central Park Plays. Jes Bedwinek and I played sisters laying our mother to rest in Central Park. It was such a pleasure to work with director Celine Rosenthal. Celine and Jes were at the same MA program together (for directing and acting respectively) and I so appreciated the relationship they have built – the shorthand and respect that comes from working together multiple times over a number of years. I’ve always believed in the strength of the company system. Of course it can work both ways, but the benefits I see are that your relationship off-stage enriches and deepens your relationships on-stage. You are able to communicate quickly and effectively. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and are in a position to call one another out in love. And that is probably the biggest benefit – love. When you truly appreciate and have a real relationship with those you work with, the love comes through the work and is seen and experienced by the audience and everyone around you.

As a new chapter in my life is about to begin, I take with me the knowledge and joy that one fine day Paul and I will be standing in a theatre that we have built with the people we love, and that we will have a chance to see that love grow and develop relationships with artists and audiences alike. Love is a powerful force and meant to be shared!

good company

Dancing Grace

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Sometimes grace feels a bit like a dance, like I’m trying to dodge it, but it just keeps coming. I see it dancing with someone else and I am moved. I draw grace towards me and, just as it gets close, I reject it. Perhaps that is actually the dance of unworthiness in all actuality. I think in the past few weeks I’ve been extra open to the magic of grace. I’ve found myself truly moved many times, in tears and in blessed embrace. At the end of a women’s event all about grace and the messiness of life, the women concluded with banners held high, moving to music, dancing out grace.

The birth of a butterfly is grace. When I was younger I received a scholarship to take modern dance and I was so excited. I’m not sure who it was, but someone I was close to said upon seeing my recital that it had really improved my grace. Being a gangly all-limbs kind of gal growing up, meant that I wasn’t that flowing presence of grace, I was mostly a bit awkward. I tried sports but could never really excel. My parents wanted me to be a runner, but that was not going to happen. As the years went on I still continued to get comments about my limby-ness, I remember a director once trying to help me to gain control of my flailing arms. It doesn’t help that I talk with my hands too. But after college when I wanted something physical to do, I got a job as a ballroom dance instructor. And even all-limbs, I felt graceful. I would never have the form of the professional competitors, but I could do my best and sell it with personality. I do love dancing. It is a great way to express yourself, whether love, hate, defiance, fun, there is a dance to go with the desires of your heart. If you’ve never tried the bolero, I totally recommend it!

To finish off, I was thinking of giving you a great playlist to dance to, but instead I’m going to give you a grace list. Inspired by an exercise in a Brené Brown course, I’m sharing with you some songs that move me and tap my heart with grace. Enjoy!

Grace Needed, Grace Now

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full-of-hopeI may be a bit obsessed with grace. My name does mean “full of grace” after all, but maybe it is just because there is such a need for it. Grace can be a bit tricky to define and often carries with it a religious connotation, but for me grace is another word for love. What makes grace different is that it is love in action that is perceived to be undeserved. In my first draft of this blog post I talked about how humbled I felt by grace because I feel so undeserving, but then I had a coaching session with a remarkable woman, Kristin Hanggi, and my perspective shifted. Grace is actually a unique form of love that is humbling because it reveals the boundless nature of love; it is forgiveness, it is compassion, it is understanding. Grace grounds you in the truth that we are all connected and it resonates deep down because it says “I am the same as you.” Grace isn’t just given from on high; it is given laterally and that is what is so amazing. Love is a powerful entity and I want to be more open to it in my life. It is so powerful that it can be scary, but it is also extremely beautiful. There is a pervasive feeling of unworthiness that I feel and see, and grace should be what lifts us up, dusts us off and shines through us. Love is needed in this world. When we get an opportunity to share love, we should take it. When I witness an exchange that says “you are worthy,” it moves me and fills me with love. The balm of grace is a beautiful gift.

In a recent yoga session led by my talented sister, I learned that the area around the solar plexus is the core of our identity. And that is where I feel it when I see an act of mercy or kindness, an unexpected gift given and received, an extending of love where before there was hate. It moves me in the very center of my being, it resonates in my soul. May this holiday season be filled with love; breathe it in, savor it and share it with whomever you meet. You will be stronger and richer for it.

The Families We Choose

Photograph of AboutFACE Company Members
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Photograph of AboutFACE Company Members

My AboutFACE Family

Does anyone else crave family? I’m blessed to have been born into a pretty alright one, dysfunctional yes, but I have good relationships with my siblings and step-siblings and I love my parents. I feel loved and accepted (or at the very least tolerated) for who I am. I also married into another great family that I adore. And still I look to create family experiences wherever I go. I think for me there is an energy, a creative release, an amplification of strengths, an opening for you to be your best self when buoyed up by the grace and love of family. I mean that is the freedom, right? Being loved even when you don’t “deserve” it. When I feel that grace, when I’m in that atmosphere of love and peace, I can be closer to that person that I want to be, I can do my best and be generous to those around me. I can handle the messiness that comes with relationships as long as grace is in the air we breathe and the words we speak. This is especially true in my artistic family. Producing theatre is not an easy task. Inevitably things will go wrong, egos will flare, budgets will be constrained and artistic visions will conflict, but if you surround yourself with the right people, the ones who share your passion and have a sense of humor and know how to give each other the room to be themselves and to make mistakes and still be there on the other side, then you’ve found gold.

I definitely feel very lucky to be part of the AboutFACE Ireland family. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, of marriages and break-ups, of deaths and births, of fights and barbecues, but they are the people that I want by my side going into creative adventures. And these are some of the most exposing adventures of all because here you lay out who you are, you bare your soul. You share what really matters to you and sometimes you have to compromise and that can be hard because who wants to appear weak? The times when you disagree, when you are far from your best self, that is when the true test of grace, of real love, is shown. Can you be honest and exposed and accepted? Can you accept the failings of others without making them feel small? In this family you can! I’m thankful for each member of the AboutFACE family, they each bring something unique and different to the mix and as crazy as I can be, they still love me. I choo-choose you AboutFACE.