Wednesday Wonders: Finding Help When Art Scares You Silly


Clarinetists with warm-looking fingers

Thursday night I was driving down to the church when I realized my fingers were freezing, my heart was beating, and my mind kept thinking of all the ways I was going to embarrass myself.

I wasn’t headed to a solo performance with my clarinet. It was the rehearsal with the choir.

The music I was playing for Lent only had one short run. The key signature wasn’t difficult, but the time signatures changed from 4/4 to 3/4 to 6/4 to 2/2. They changed repeatedly from measure to measure, even during my rests in places where I didn’t have them marked in my transposed version. I had to rely on the director to see when to play my notes on the entrances.

For those who don’t read music, imagine a dance where the rhythm keeps changing and everyone will see your neon tap shoes stomp on your partner’s toes if you get the count wrong.

The whole thing nearly gave me hives.

And I didn’t feel any better after we practiced together.

The rehearsal ended with me totally flubbing the last notes and everyone thanking me for agreeing to play for the church in three days.

I felt like they thought I was a lost cause, but they weren’t going to worry too much. It was just a regular Sunday, not Easter, after all.

I tried several mental tricks to calm myself, many of them things that I tell others when they are stressed out.

  • I took deep breaths.
  • I thought of other times when I had been successful.
  • I reminded myself that the people listening loved me and would still love me even if I played all the wrong notes and came in after the song was over. My family might even love me more out of sympathy.

These things helped a little. I looked for more ways to reassure myself.

  • I reached out to the pianist and begged her to help me since I could not practice the timing alone. (Miki agreed. She is such a blessing.)
  • I imagined feeling calm and successful after the piece was over.
  • I asked my dear friend Ruth to pray for my peace of mind.

These things helped more but not enough. My fingers were still so cold I could hardly work the keys on my instrument. (Cold fingers are one of my stress reactions. They are not helpful.)

Finally, as I was sitting through the beginning of the service, waiting an eternity to stand in front of the crowd, I thought of a writing idea I use when the words get mired in fear.

I told the song that if she wanted to come out of me, she was going to have to do some of the work because I wasn’t sure I could do it myself. I even got a little snotty with her because I was feeling so stressed about my potential public humiliation. (Never mind that I had agreed to play and, on some level, deeply wanted to do it.)

I had often talked to my stories this way but I had never tried it before with a song.

I instantly felt calmer. It was almost like the song had just been waiting for me to ask.

Ten minutes later I walked in front of the pews and played. I made a few small mistakes but came in at all the right places in the right tempo. Or maybe Lenten Song moved through me and managed her own entrances.

Either way, I loved the peace I found by talking back to my art.

It’s a little woo-woo, I grant you. But the older I get, the more woo-woo the the best parts of life feel to me.

I didn’t make this up myself, by the way. I got the idea from Elizabeth Gilbert’s first Ted Talk and from her book Big Magic.

I’m beginning to think that this sort of sass might work for any great endeavor we try.

Want to finish a degree? Take the classes, study hard, and then tell the degree that if it wants you to earn it, it will have to step up.

Want to raise children? Change the diapers, set limits, hug them often and get serious with the universe, explaining that you are going to need help with that insanely impossible task.

Want more peace in the world? Volunteer, be kind to others especially when they cut you off in traffic, and then tell the world that this is way too big of a task. Insist that you are going to need help to see what to do and how to get it done. A lot of help.

Get snappy with the degree, the universe, or the world. This is key. Maybe talking back shows you are not kidding around. I don’t know. I just know it works for me.

And then relax. The song, the degree, the grown children and the world might surprise you with the impossible things you can do.

They might even surprise you like “Lenten Song” surprised me with the exact right timing so that the people in front of me could hear the song the way she wanted to be heard.

May you rest in the help you can find when you need it-

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Here’s the “Lenten Song” written by Mark Hayes and the solo played by a flute.

And a few other wonders from my week:

A recycled bit on the wonder series:

I love the way writing and other art forms open my eyes to the surprises around me in my everyday life. Many of these wonders will also be in my Instagram account since I discovered the joy of that program during an advent photo project.

I collect these surprises like little rocks in a kid’s pocket. I may use them in a story. I may not. Either way, life gets a little brighter when I take the time to notice.

Wednesday Wonders: How Fear Can Make You Brave


I promised last week to write about deadlines.


I don’t want to write about deadlines. I spent the last two months working toward two deadlines: an application for a project I would love to do and a fiction contest.

I’m tired.

And I’m scared.

I’m scared the people reading my submissions will laugh. I’m scared they might like what I wrote so even more people will read my work and they might laugh. (See how, either way, fear finds a way to keep me wrapped up?)

I keep thinking of all the things I should have done differently and how I should have done them differently.

A part of me regrets throwing myself out there. That’s the part, of course, that looks like the skinny guy wearing glasses in the movie Inside Out with Amy Poehler playing Joy and the sincere blue Sadness who ends up saving the day.

Fear is the skinny guy. I’m learning to let him ride along with me, but he can make things like sending submissions so uncomfortable I feel like biting off my tongue.

And he’s still there now, telling me everything I did wrong or might do wrong and trying to make me regret reaching high, so he can keep me safe from my next harebrained idea.

But, truthfully, he’s a part of the fun, too. He gives me the jolt I used to love when I thought I couldn’t die and rode upside down roller coasters or jumped onto zip lines.

I know the thrill of fear drives my son’s girlfriend to watch horror flicks with a grin on her face.  I can’t relate to her on this but I see how fear is a part of her joy.

He’s also a part of what pushed me forward for those months, churning out hours of writing time I could have sworn I did not have.

Here’s the secret fear doesn’t know:

Fear ends up defeating his purpose and making  me feel more alive than when I don’t dare to do anything interesting. I’ll put up with his shenanigans for a bit of the zing he has to offer. 

Meanwhile, I’m resting a bit and playing with paints this week. I do like to take breaks from fear and exhilaration now and again. More on that next week.

Ash the Distraction is sitting in front of my inspiration reminding me that he can mess it all up at any time. No questions asked.

May you know the delightful thrill of fear in a life fully lived-

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A recycled bit on the wonder series:

As a part of my 2016 blog revision, I started a new small weekly post I call ‘Wednesday Wonders.’

I love the way writing and other art forms open my eyes to the surprises around me in my everyday life. Many of these wonders will also be in my Instagram account since I discovered the joy of that program during an advent photo project.

I collect these surprises like little rocks in a kid’s pocket. I may use them in a story. I may not. Either way, life gets a little brighter when I take the time to notice.

Fear and My Jury Duty



This month I had planned to write about fear and then jury duty happened to me. Again.

This is not my first jury duty rodeo.

Once when I was in my 20s, I got busy with school and did not read the newspapers or talk much with anyone about current events which made me the perfect candidate to sit on a jury for a murder case. I could probably write a blog series on that experience all by itself. Maybe someday I will.


What I’d like to start with today, though, is how much I rely on and cherish my ability to speak freely. During that (blessedly short) trial in 1995, I was repeatedly instructed not to discuss or investigate the case. I did not until after we found the defendant guilty of first degree murder. (He was something of a small time Ted Bundy. Really.)

In this most recent superior court case, I was again instructed not to discuss the procedings so many times, I thought my eardrums might burst from repetition. Now the instructions included a mind numbing number of electronic ways we should not mess up our empty minds with researching the case or communicating about it.

We also could not discuss what we heard with our fellow jurors. It was almost comical to hear difficult testimony and then go back to our small room to talk about those Seahawks.

In addition to the judge of many words who gave us the instructions multiple times, I sat in the juror number three chair with my legs crossed in front of a laminated print out detailing all the ways I should not communicate and how I could be held in contempt if I did.

I kept my mouth shut until the case resolved, and I noticed something while I stayed mum.

I find it extraordinarily hard to write when someone is constantly telling me to keep my mouth shut.

I’m not saying I think jurors should blab. I’m saying I don’t want to be in a profession (like lawyering) where I feel constrained like that. I’m saying I treasure my ability to speak and write my experiences more than a good number of other things in my life.

And I’m explaining why my blog has been gathering dust on the web.

This month was supposed to be about trying things that scare me. I think I’ve done that by:

1. Passing through security checks multiple times a day at that towering courthouse (they took my lunch fork!).

2. Facing an intense voir dire with potential vocal jurors questioning the process while a prosecutor and pro se defendant asked us awkward personal questions.

3. Once again knowing I might have to make a decision that would affect others’ lives so deeply.

I spent a good deal of time praying for all the players in the stifling drama of the courtroom while fumbling around looking for my own center.

Maybe I need more than a month to write on it or think of what to say with my new found freedom.

For now I’m turning over how much of the story is mine to tell even after I am no longer facing that laminated sign telling me how many ways to hold my peace.

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A Shocking Fear



Two weeks ago I took a class entitled “I EAT FEAR” taught by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe as a part of her 38 Write series. After some self reflection, I chose to eat my fear of electricity. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t triumph. But here’s what I wrote for the class:

Electric shock. I abhor electric shock. And my teenage son happened to get a god awful shocking ball as a Christmas present from relatives who know him well. He loves it. The sight of it makes my stomach lurch.

I called my son who is at his dad’s house for the weekend and asked him where to find the electric ball in the wasteland of his room. It’s the size of a baseball, and deep inside it’s the color of a blue ocean with yellow writing shouting ‘warning’ with illustrations of bolts of electricity. 18 dime sized metal pieces lay around the ball over clear plastic. When I look through the blue interior, I see a nest of electric wires connecting the metal pieces.

My teen told me I needed to use a pen to click the on switch through the center of the ball. He said it would shock in 5 seconds and then again every 20 seconds. My ‘conquer the fear’ plan today was to lay the toddler down for his nap, take my own nap and then shock myself with the ball.

The napping parts of my plan went smoothly. But when I picked up that ball and held the pen over the switch, my heart lurched like my stomach. Again my rational mind said it couldn’t hurt that bad. My son does it for fun. FUN. But I couldn’t get myself to push that button. Could not.

Forgive me Fear Eaters, but I’m waiting till the teen gets home. I’ll watch him enjoy the shock first. Then be brave enough to do it with him watching. This, I’m hoping will help me in two ways. First, he’s very supportive, and I know he’ll be kind in walking me through this. Second, as his mother, I’ll feel obligated to show him that I can face my fears. Mother guilt is a powerful motivator.

I wish I could do this now. It’s the blasted assignment, after all. But I am proud I even picked up the ball from my son’s room and examined it to describe it here. Baby steps.

And even though I didn’t conquer today, playing with the shocking ball makes me feel more alive. Not blissed out in a state of Zen-like peace alive. But bolts of electricity coursing through me alive.


Because I know you’ll ask, yes, I did zap myself with the rotten ball when my son got home to help me. I didn’t procrastinate with a nap like before. It also helped that the ball didn’t even wait the 5 seconds to keep me in suspense. As soon as Kieran handed it to me, it got me.

I believe my exact words were, “Oh! That hurt and I didn’t like it!” as I quickly handed it back to the brave pain loving boy.

But here’s the thing. The pain wasn’t as bad as the fear I’d had of it. I’ve started trying out Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice since then and tackled new heart pounding moments. It turns out that it’s fun to peck away at my fears and do what scares me. Even with stupid electric balls.

“Do one thing every day that scares you,” -Eleanor Roosevelt