On Dancing

A long time ago, I began writing. I wrote in a sort of journal-esque manner whenever the mood struck me. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I was usually drawn to writing when I was feeling down. I scratched angry words. I painted poems of sadness. The words, always punctuated with a deep loneliness, flowed from my pen with such ease. I became a master of describing the sadness, the fear, the anxiety, and the isolation that ran rampant through me.

And then one day, I realized that I had painted myself into a corner. Or rather, I’d written myself into a box. I love writing. I love creating. I love telling stories and I love sharing myself with the world. But, I had gotten so good at writing about sad things that I was a complete novice with ZERO practice writing about the beautiful things in life (and there are so many!). Like the cartoon-figured muscle man who always misses leg day at the gym, the biceps of my depressed writing had overgrown the weak little legs of my writings of beauty, gratitude, wonder, discovery.

And worst of all, I realized that the evolution of my writing reflected the evolution of my own thoughts about life. I realized that I took great care in my head to explore, uproot, and analyze my sadness, anger, grief. But, I spent very little time discovering the essence of my happiness. I gave a cursory nod and faint smile to the sound of my children laughing, the warm embrace of my husband after a long day, the wonder of sunrises over the mountains. You get the picture.

If you consider the dance of life to be that of a pair of lovers, and the play between them is a discovery and display of their dependence and their devotion. They need each other. They want each other. The lovers are Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment. (They should really have sexier names like Sophia and Marlon, but they don’t.) Who leads? Who follows?

My lovers have fallen into a sort of unbalanced, aggressive, nearly abusive dance. Relentless Pursuit of a Better Life (that’s his full name) has forced the dance. Step here, pull there, dip, slide, step. “Me not you”, he says. And Supreme Contentment yearns to linger a bit longer in the embrace, to drape her hair and add a little swivel to her step.

When Travis and I were first dating, he wanted so badly to teach me to dance. We attended classes and practiced at home. The biggest challenge was that I insisted on leading. (Yes, I didn’t know the steps very well, but he didn’t seem to have an ear for the rhythm of the music… sheesh!) One day he told me, quite bluntly, that this dancing business will only work if I allowed him to take the lead. I was offended in a sort of feminist way. Why on earth did that make any sense for HIM to lead? Can’t we BOTH just drive forward together. Can’t we both just demand from each other and ourselves the Relentless Pursuit of a Better Dance?

When we were both driving forward, our dance became more of a mission and less of a celebration. When Travis led and I surrendered to Spaghetti Arms (remember Dirty Dancing?), the dance was his dance and I was a wilted piece of lettuce. But when I allowed Travis to lead, to pursue the next step and to choreograph, my work then was to add the flair. To swing my hips and flounce my hair with each turn and dip was my role. Without me, the dance was rigid. Without his lead, the dance lacked structure and courage. It is his determination and my damn-hot booty bumps that make our dances beautiful and full of love. For years we’ve curated our dance – on and off of the dance floor.

You see how this can happen with our thoughts, actions; and, how it’s happened with my writing. The more that I drive forward to improve, the more focus there is on what is bad. When I allow for gratitude, wonder, and love to have a voice and a place, the balance of Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment dance like the impassioned lovers they are, driving forward and always taking time to throw their heads back in laughter.

So what did I do to change this dance?

First, I write. I write first everyday. I wake up when the house is still sleeping, I pour a cup of coffee and I write. I don’t craft. I don’t pay attention to punctuation or sentence structure or anything other than getting words from my head onto the paper. Julia Cameron in The Artists Way calls this practice Morning Pages. And it helps me blow the dust off of my brain so I can approach the day from a fresh perspective.

Second, I practice. Rather, I am practicing. I make a conscious effort to see the pretty stuff. I take time (even a few seconds!) to remind myself how delicious coffee tastes with the perfect amount of cream, how funny Joe is when he’s describing his day, the richness in the color of my sister’s ginger hair, how soft and quiet the snowy scene appears when looking out my window. I’m taking time to stop and smell the roses, as they say.

Lastly and most importantly, I’m telling YOU all of this. Sharing with you the Truth of Me has been the single most important practice for learning to appreciate what a beautiful life I live. When I describe to you what I feel and think and why reminds me that although my sadness and loneliness has been better documented, my happiness and love is just as big and just as important.

So, I sign off with a commitment to you. I promise to explore and document my happiness. And I promise to share it with you.

Love, Kisa

What Are You Waiting For?

“How do you do it all?”

That is the number one question that people ask me. Hands down. I usually downplay my response. “Oh, you know. I just kinda put one foot in front of the other.” Or sometimes, I turn the question back on them, “I didn’t realize I had a choice? How could I not do it all?” All of the time, my first guttural, instinctive response is a big “Ha!” But seriously, what does that question even mean!??!

The truth is that the question most people are really asking is, “Why do you do so much?”

familyiseverythingMy four children who are now teenagers were born in the span of 3 ½ years. My husband and I are entrepreneurs. We own several businesses and a handful of residential and commercial properties. I am a dedicated student and teacher of yoga. I train in jiu jitsu and exercise regularly. I am an amazing cook and diligent housekeeper. I don’t like dirty toilets or unkept yards. I have a very large, amazing family that I keep in close touch with. I have a very involved social life and a travel schedule that will make your head spin. I read voraciously and write everyday.
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And I’m always looking for a new project.

Why?

Because I can. Because I want to. Because I’m called by a whisper that sometimes yells loudly in my head. Because everyday I engage with the people, activities, yoga poses, and ideas that tickle my interest – AND especially those that terrify me – is a day that I learn more about who I really am.

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Everyday I am challenged by a problem, time schedule, financial quandary, or teenage hormone-fueled drama is a day that I inch closer to the Real Essence of Me.

In my opinion, we don’t get better with the typical challenges of life. We get closer to our true nature. And every challenge, problem, weakness, shortcoming is just a speedbump or a crack in the road. Some of them take a little more thinking, a little more effort to traverse. But at the end of the day, there’s no choice. Keep going. Acknowledge your challenges. Use your strengths. Be bold. Keep going. Even better – bring it on!

So what’s my response to that initial question? How do I do it all? My response is a question.

What are YOU waiting for?

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Creativity from Within… a Diaper.

The best part of my oldest son’s personality is his love of life. Everyday is an opportunity for a party in Ted’s world. He loves people, he loves laughing, and he loves living life to its fullest. On paper, that’s exactly what we want to say about our children. In reality, that personality trait in a child will run you ragged. Trust me.

Years ago, I put sweet Ted in his toddler bed for his afternoon nap. Most days, he was happy to curl up with a story and his blankie. His eyelids would become slow and heavy. Eventually he would fall asleep. That day, there was no heaviness in his eyelids, no slowness to his breathing, and no quiet anywhere in his room. He laughed loudly, begging for another round of Goodnight Moon. Finally, I left him with a kiss on the forehead and the book to read on his own. “Sshhhh, Teddy. It’s time for quiet. Stay in your bed and rest for a bit.” He nodded and smiled sweetly.

It took about an hour for him to settle down, but eventually I could hear him talking softly to himself and clearly taking “quiet time” to himself. So I peeked into his room.

Oh. My.

When I cracked open the door, I could see Ted standing on his bed leaning against the wall. It looked very much like he was painting or swiping the wall with something. And then, the smell hit me.

Oh. My.

I opened the door in a flurry of confusion and concern (mostly for my carpet and walls, mind you).   And sure enough, Ted had slipped off his diaper and managed to use the contents as finger paints for a mural on his wall. “See! Mama, see!”

Oh. My.

Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while”.

Clearly, Ted had tapped into his creative side that afternoon. And while I mourned the loss of my pristine walls and untainted carpet, I was immediately transfixed and suspended in a state of confusion. Ted was so happy and so proud of himself for his “work of art”. How could I, as his loving mother, condemn his masterpiece?

Oh. My.

Cultivating creativity in children can be less disturbing and more encouraging, if we put some effort and thought into it as parents. That smelly afternoon took me down a new path with all of my children. I knew that day that I had a responsibility to do better for them. Creativity is cultivated by freedom and stifled by continuous monitoring, direction and pressure to conform. In the real world, there are few questions that have one right answer. And fewer problems that have one right solution. Cultivating creativity in children makes for a better world and is crucial to the success of our species.

What can we do as parents to cultivate creativity?

1. Tell Stories. Maybe you read books or retell stories told to you. For my kids, they love reenactments and retellings of my life history. They even love hearing the stories behind the most mundane of household chores. My daughter’s favorite is how Grandma Annie taught me a slick way to peel hardboiled eggs.

2. Get Messy. Play in the mud. Stomp in a puddle. Fingerpaint. (Dirty diapers optional.)

3. Play. Really, just play.

4. Ask Questions. Lots of questions. Open-ended questions are best. “Why is that horse swatting his tail? Why do stars shine? What do you think our puppy is thinking about when he hears your voice?” Let them think, discover, and hypothesize without your know-it-all interjections.

5. Set the Scene. A big part of our job as parents is to make sure that our children’s environment is set up for them to thrive. Think of setting up a tank for a pet snake. Something to climb on, something to hide under, and some water to drink. For kids, it could be paints and paper, music and instruments, or just free time in their busy schedule to daydream.

6. Put Away the Clown Suit. I’m often quoted by even my own children saying, “My job is to keep you healthy and safe. That’s it.” In other words, I’m not a circus clown. Kids don’t actually need us to entertain them. If given the opportunity, they can be quite entertaining on their own!

7. Let Them Decide. When kids have to make decisions, they actually sharpen cognitive skills in problem-solving. If they are young, you can give them a choice. “Would you like to read Dr. Seuss or Jack Kerouac?” As they mature, let them make decisions about what they will do, how they will do it, or when they will do it. Parents should always retain the right to veto, but at least we can give them the experience of making a decision.

8. Lose Track. Turn them loose in the house or the yard or the park and see what happens. Obviously, you are still responsible for protecting your children from harmful people, places, and things. But what would they do if they had the freedom to safely explore?

In the end, cultivating creativity in our children is an essential responsibility. This can be a difficult task given an aversion to emergency room visits or a propensity toward clean carpets. But, it’s clearly as important for the development of healthy, productive adults as any nutritional, educational, or moral aspect of parenting.

One final word to the wise, crayons and fingerpaints are always easier to clean up than a dirty diaper.

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