A Thread of Thought

Seed hanging in spider web

Virginia Woolf’s premise—that a woman needs money and a room of her own to write—is certainly true for anyone who creates. Having enough money and your own space gives you precious, uninterrupted time—and a place to focus.

Stretches of time are essential to my writing, if I’m going to go deep enough. The more “little” things that interrupt my day, the harder it is for me to tap into my creativity.

I started today feeling creative. On my morning walk with my dog, I thought about what I might write about in this blog post. Then I had a routine health appointment, and after that, a grocery store trip. And then, I navigated traffic to get home, and made lunch.

Now, here I am, trying to get back to where I was hours ago. If I imagine my mental space to write as its own landscape with a map, can I get back to where I was?

Backtracking sometimes works. Taking another walk would probably do it. But it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside. So instead, I’m sitting at my desk in an office of my own, enjoying the rotating fan that helps me weather my hot flashes!

When you can’t backtrack, take another path.

Yesterday, as I sweltered in the hot, humid yoga studio, the teacher said that heat is transformative. Her comment stayed with me, because when I’m experiencing intense change and growth, I often think of myself as “being cooked.” When I’m completely submerged in it, I call it “being in the soup.”

Following my thread of thought, from uninterrupted time and space to the heat of transformation, what do I find there?

A single bead of sweat, clinging to the end of the thread, like a jewel.

View of shoreline through water drop

When I look through that clear sphere of water, I see shapes distorted. I am reminded of a snow globe, with a tiny world inside, curving inward.

So if my mind is a map, and it curves back on itself, I realize that even when I think I’ve lost an idea, or a description, it’s still there, cooking, breaking down, re-forming, and blooming in warm, rich soil.

In the end, if I stay with it long enough, something emerges.

If you don’t have uninterrupted time, and a place to create your art, it’s up to you to make that happen. And when life interrupts, wander the paths of your own mind. Root around in the soil.

Keep going!

Something will turn up, I promise you.

Water drop over ripple

The Creative Heroine’s Journey

Woman walking down road into sunset

While writing my novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” By studying many cultures, Campbell identified recurring themes in stories, and distilled them into a universal pattern of human growth.

As a creative woman in midlife, I am on a journey to find new meaning in my life. Finding my voice and sharing my vision is part of that journey. And I find myself wondering, what is the “Heroine’s Journey,” especially for creative women in their middle years?

Although there is a general order in the journey, growth isn’t linear, and you might revisit each phase along the way. This is what I’ve learned so far.

Phase One—The Default Life

Woman with dirty dishes in kitchen

Whether your current situation is good, bad, or indifferent, you know it’s time for a change.

Maybe you came to your “default life” through a plan that led to exactly where you wanted to be. Or perhaps, life derailed your plans, leading you to where you didn’t want to be.

Regardless, you know you need to grow and stretch beyond your current life.

How do you know? You get a wake-up call.

Phase Two—The Wake-Up Call

Telephone receiver on clock

Your wake-up call might come as a subtle whisper, or a jarring scream.

It can be a rejection of something you don’t want: NOT THIS!

It can be a calling for something you do want: YES, THIS!

For me, it was a combination of both.

I did not want to work in a business that put numbers first and people last. But more importantly, I needed to express myself creatively. To not create was not an option, because creating is my calling.

The wake-up call can be especially poignant at midlife, because along the way, you’ve experienced real losses and narrowed choices, and the clock is ticking. You have a sense of urgency.

How do you discover and follow your calling? You simply start doing what matters to you. You take the first steps.

Phase Three—First Steps

Footprints in sand on beach

This is where you get to explore and discover. You get to play and make mistakes. I love this phase because it’s full of curiosity and wonder!

You follow clues and have insights. You try on many hats until you find the one that not only fits, but looks like you.

It’s exciting! You’re full of energy and enthusiasm. You’re having fun.

The world is full of possibilities… until it isn’t.

Here come the dragons. Here come the doubts and regrets, the confusion, the loss and grief. “Welcome” to phase four.

Phase Four—Lost and Found

Dark forest with fog

You know you’ve entered this phase when you feel alternately lost and found, hopeless and hopeful.

You might experience a roller coaster of ups and downs, marinate in a stagnant soup, or twirl in a whirlpool.

Round and round you go, until you find your own still center, at the heart of the moving wheel that is your life.

Here’s the key to this phase: Letting go of what is passed allows your life to expand again. It’s not easy. This phase is difficult, but essential. (See When Hope Evaporates for an example.)

This phase cooks away everything extraneous. It leaves you with the core of yourself, stronger and wiser.

Phase Five—Committing


There comes a point on your journey where there is no going back. This is where you make it real in a way that you haven’t before.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Begin it now.

— William Hutchison Murray

Commitment has been especially challenging for me. All sorts of fears come up, but foremost is the fear of not having enough. It jumps right into my path and demands that I deal with its taunts, that I won’t have enough money, enough food, enough help. Enough (already)!

To borrow from Campbell, this is where I have to face my inner dragon and make friends with it, because each time I try to “slay” it, it returns. It is teaching me something, painfully at times, that I need to understand.

There is truth in what the dragon says; it’s just a matter of degree. Facing the dragon diffuses the drama. It turns the raging beast into a little lizard. It’s still there, but it’s not going to destroy my dreams.

There are no guarantees, except that one day, this life will end. It matters immensely how I choose to live the life that I have left on this beautiful earth. I choose to create.

Phase Six—Finding Your Voice

Woman singing into microphone

As you take your first steps, find and lose your way over and over, but commit to your journey anyway, your unique creative genius emerges.

No one sees the world exactly like you do. No one else looks through your eyes, no one else shares your mind, your soul, your experiences that make you who you are.

Sometimes, I start to talk myself out of doing something, because “someone else has already done it.” Of course someone else has already done it! That’s not the point.

The point is, no one else can do what you do, the way that you do it. Sing loud and strong!

Phase Seven—Sharing Your Vision

Woman looking through fingers

When you develop and share your gifts, you are giving in a powerful way. You touch people beyond your circle of family and friends. This is profound.

Creative women who are also caretakers, often think they’re being “selfish” when they take care of their own needs—let alone follow their calling. They must face the “Selfish Dragon.”

If you’re struggling with this, let me offer you a new perspective: When you follow your calling—when you write your novel, paint your masterpiece, sing your soul—and share it with the world, we all benefit.

That is what I mean when I say, “The world wants your gifts!”

My life, your life, everyone’s life is a journey of discovery. We’re all exploring some facet of the universe, using the gifts we bring to this world. When we share these gifts, we enable others to look through the lens that we see through. It expands our lives. And that is thrilling!

Don’t hoard your treasure. Don’t waste your gifts. Share them with us!

What Are You Waiting For?

Empty waiting room

Last week I was watching a TV show, in which a character died, and then went to a place where she reunited with her loved ones. It was comfortable and safe—a place to pause and rest, before moving on to the next life.

I turned to my husband and said, “She’s sitting in God’s waiting room.”

My words struck me; they came back to me several times in the following days. I kept turning the phrase over in my mind. I knew there was a deeper message for me.

There have been times when I’ve been stuck in waiting mode, or worse, in survival mode. When I no longer fit in my old life, yet I was unable to move on. I either believed that I couldn’t live the life I wanted, or I wasn’t able to see what was possible.

Your Beliefs Frame Your Vision

Your beliefs about what’s possible, and the vision you hold for your life, are inextricably linked.

When you believe that the universe supports you, and that you are part of a bigger purpose, your openness allows you to see possibilities you might have missed otherwise. That’s when you feel most inspired.

When the vision of something you want is so strong that your belief in what’s possible has to expand to support it, you feel the most driven.

I’ve felt inspired many times in my life, and synchronicity always plays a role. I wrote about one of those times in my blog post, Changing Your Perspective.

One of the times I’ve felt most driven was years ago, when I applied for a scholarship to a writing class in Tuscany. I didn’t get it, but less than a month before the class, the person who got the scholarship couldn’t go. So, I said “YES!” The only catch—I didn’t have a passport. For a short while, it didn’t seem possible. But I told a friend that I was going to go if I had to swim across the ocean. I found a way to get my passport in time, and I made the trip!

How Do You Know You’ve Outgrown Your Current Situation?

On one end of the spectrum, you’re comfortable, but bored. On the other end, you’re in acute psychic pain.

It begins with a whisper and ends in a shout: “You. Must. Change!”

The only way to change your life is to change your self. And that’s not easy. It involves growing pains. It involves asking for, and getting, help and guidance.

So sometimes, you stay stuck.

Hermit crab in shell on beach

Do I dare?

Feeling stuck is kind of like being a hermit crab, living in an old shell that no longer fits you. It’s tight and pinches.

You see a big, empty conch shell nearby, but you’re too afraid to brave the open water to claim it. You believe you cannot possibly make it. (But you can.)

Sometimes you can’t see what’s possible, and you don’t believe it’s even there.

So you carry the old shell around like the burden it’s become. You adapt and twist yourself into an imitation of someone who still fits in that place.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s uncomfortable, and it hurts for a reason: to push you to keep growing.

We dwell “in God’s waiting room” during natural pauses in life, moments of rest before expansion. But comfort can trap you into staying too long. When it’s time, you need to walk over to the door and open it.

Conch shell on beach

Your bigger life is calling you.

If your life feels too constrained, your expanded self—the part of you bigger than your circumstances—actually wants  you to stretch beyond where you are. It’s pulling you toward a bigger life for a reason.

What do you have to gain?

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
— Joseph Campbell

Becoming an Artist

It’s easy for me to feel frustrated at the gap between my vision of what I want to express, and a finished piece of writing. With painting, too, I have an idea, and then realize half-way through what I needed to do differently.

But on the other hand, the surprise of how a short story or painting ends up is interesting to me, and it’s how I learn.

And often, my “mistakes” teach me something I wasn’t looking for, but needed to know. They can even make the story or painting better than I originally imagined!

To me, making art is focused play, between the person and the media she’s using.

I like Willa Cather’s quote below, because creating is a process of becoming. I’d say that is true of any part of a person’s life, where he is growing. But just because it’s a kind of play doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult work.

Every artist makes himself born. It is very much harder than the other time, and longer. - Willa Cather

So if you’re feeling frustrated that it’s taking too long to get where you want to be—be gentle with yourself. Just as you’re bringing something new and unique into the world, you are doing the same with your creative life.

It’s almost a brand-new year.

You’re here for a reason.

What do you want to bring into this world in 2016?

Aligning with Your Wisdom

I’ve always loved this Joseph Campbell quote, because it puts our daily lives in a bigger context.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. - Joseph Campbell

Campbell isn’t telling us not to plan; he’s reminding us to listen to our deeper intuition about our purpose in life.

And he’s acknowledging the way life unfolds; just when we think we have everything “under control,” something can happen to turn our lives upside down.

As Jung said, “What is not brought to consciousness, comes to us as fate.” Our souls have a deeper agenda for growth.

No matter how much we plan, we have to respond to the unexpected. We are responsible for our lives. And being in alignment with who we are can give us more strength and resilience to do so.

When we are aligned with our values and our higher purpose, it grounds us in a context that makes sense. From there, we can decide what to do. We can change our actions, our course, our perspectives, or keep moving forward on our paths.

Take the time to listen to your intuition, whether it is a whisper or a shout. Write about it. Paint it. Sing it. Discover what you already know. You are wiser than you think.