Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Let Me Be Clear

I'm team-teaching a class on Sundays in January on the books of Asheville writer Patti Digh, in preparation for The Gathering, a women's retreat I'm involved in next month, with Patti as keynote speaker. To prepare for the class, and for the retreat, I am opening Creative Is A Verb randomly each day, reading the story and working through the creative challenges Patti provides. Today's impromptu opening revealed page 180, Embrace your Clearness Committee. (more on that later)

I haven't known Patti long, but on a frustrating day last spring, as we were struggling to find a keynote speaker for our event, I stumbled onto her blog. I liked what I saw — a fellow writer musing about intention. And creativity. And story. About living life as art, even if we have never felt like artists before. 

As much as I would like an entire weekend to be about ME and all my needs, I had to step back a bit and be (somewhat) unselfish. (Let's face it. All writers want ATTENTION.) Still, Patti's blog practically shouted at me to ask myself some questions. What was I doing in my life that was intentional, creative? Had I forgotten my own story? Might there be other people out there who could hear the shouting, too?

As I clicked further into her blog, I found the very language that we had been trying to define for our event:
  • What learning and significances are right in front of us, in the stories of our days?
  • How can we move beyond the limits of who we think we are into what we were meant to be?
  • In what ways can we relinquish our “role” in order to discover who we might be beneath the mask?
  • How can we live more mindful, intentional lives by saying yes, being generous, speaking up, trusting ourselves, loving more, and slowing down?
Oh, and she was funny. Very funny. She liked Bobby Sherman, and anyone who knows a thing about him has to have a sense of humor.Somehow I knew she would be the perfect choice for our keynote, not just for me, 
but for everybody else, too.

I told my friend Mel, The Gathering organizer, about her. She read the blog and liked Patti immediately. Send her an e-mail, Mel said. And write your heart out. And so I did, telling Patti of our a shared passion for "Julie, Julie Julie do you love me?" (ok, we were 13, so give us some slack...) And our small town N.C. roots. Not to mention that in one of her photos she is wearing a sailor collar dress like I used to have in first grade. I told her that I connected to the fact that she has sailed around the world because my husband has a sailboat, though we have as yet only sailed around Kerr Lake. I titled my e-mail: I have been looking for you all day. Which was true, since I had spent the whole day in a maze of Google searches that seemed to have no end, until I found her blog.

I said a little prayer. And then I hit SEND.

In 14 minutes, an e-mail from this woman who travels around the world and has written boocoos of books and speaks all over everywhere, showed up in my box:

My dear Susan -

Imagine my wonderment and delight to be sitting here at my computer and see your message come up. Anyone who shares my fondness for Bobby Sherman... and little did you know that my daughter will start NC State University in the fall, so Raleigh is very much on my radar and I am looking for excuses to come there.

I would be delighted to come. Let's find a way to make this work.

love, patti

Captain Who?
What I learned later is that Patti gets hundreds of requests in a month's time, and she never responds quickly, much less in 14 minutes. A quick response she reserves for her daughters, husband and maybe dear Bobby, should he ever figure out who has been Googling him. And maybe a certain actor with a penchant for pirate movies. My e-mail clicked, and well, whodaever?

Funny, funky Patti Digh
In the months since, Patti and I have had several conversations about The Gathering, and a few weeks ago, I attended one of her readings locally, wanting to meet this woman who is so honest about herself that she has started a new blog this week about wrestling with weight, trying to be a more bendable in body. She strikes me as being particularly bendable in spirit. She is soft-spoken and Southern and funky and funny and just like the self she projects onto the page. When she joins us in February, she'll talk about her path in hopes that we all might draw something from her life that will fit in our own. 

It's Patti's fault, really, that I subjected y'all to this blog during December. She challenged her Facebook followers to join her in Reverb10, and I just said why not? The fact that I haven't posted anything in several days tells you that I need the challenge ever-present in my in-box, and though keeping the blog going is part of my 2011 self-improvement plan, apparently I don't hold much clout with myself, at least just yet. But this is a start.

So back to the Clearness Committee. It's a group of people gathered together to support us, whose job is not to have the right answers, as Patti says,  but to craft respectful and supportive questions. Do we each have a such a group we can convene at the important moments in life, she asks? If not, we should find them, surround ourselves with such people, and at least a couple of them should have different perspectives on life from our own.

My answer would be yes, I do have a CC. And it's not just the people who say: you're terrific, though I do love those people. (Please keep it coming!) My CC is made up of those supporters, and those who aren't afraid to help me figure out when I have screwed up, have hurt someone, have fallen short of my potential. Those good folks who point out my typos, both literal and figurative. If I would only ask.

But am I open to the truth of me, and the truth as someone else sees me? My family (and a couple of people on my CC) would probably say no, I am not.

And, this: Am I on anyone else's CC? Have I shown my friends that I am the kind of person who can listen, who can ask respectful and supportive questions, who can give, as Patti says, "unconditional love with hopeful expectancy?" I hope so, but I wonder sometimes if I just take take take and don't give as good as I get. Yet another thing to work on. 

So as I count down the weeks to The Gathering, I plan to gather my CC for the weekend, too. And together I hope we will craft respectful and supportive questions for each other, and in doing so, retell our stories, challenge our creativity, and maybe even admit we all loved Bobby Sherman, once upon a time.