What to say when you don’t want to say anything

 

I woke up this morning thinking about what to write and…and my brain was empty.

What do you say when your brain has gone blank?

This is what introverts face all the time (self-included)…when we have to say to people that we don’t have anything to say (or talk about not wanting to talk.)

This is also an issue when my husband comes home and wants to greet me and I’m in the middle of writing a sentence that will fly away forever if I even murmur a word…and he say’s “Hi, Honey…”

(We’ve developed a code.)

To help us introverts and others, I’m designing a line of T-shirts you can wear to avoid this problem. (You can send me your order…we don’t even need to talk.)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any suggestions for the line? You can post them below…quietly.

On Valentine’s Day: How to skip the sugar and give some real appreciations

Remember “Sweethearts,” the little pink sugar hearts made by Necco that are given out on Valentine’s Day with words stamped on them? They’re called conversation hearts and printed with expressions like: Be mine, the best, hug me, luv me, too sweet, etc. Believe it or not, 8 billion hearts were sold last year, although some of them have been updated with sayings like, “text me” or “tweet me”

On Valentine’s Day, we’re trying if only in a sugary way, to tell people we care. Here’s a better way to tell someone you care without the calories or chalky residue left in your mouth:

Appreciate them. With a real saying. From you.

Unlike those little heart sayings that could be handed out to about anyone, make your appreciations longer and specific. You’ll make someone’s day. The more specific the better. I admit, even though I’m trying to kick the habit, I’m still a lush for appreciations like, “You’re great” or “Love your writing.”

But, if you really want to make my day or that of someone in your life, offer an appreciation that lets people know a particular reason why you like them or their work, or give an example of what went right for you. For example, that last blog post made me think, and I love that, even if I don’t totally agree.

A way to give positive feedback

When I teach about giving feedback, I sometimes encourage students to use the following sequence to offer their experience of another:

When you …(say what happened)

I felt ….(describe your experience)

and

As a result of that (share any outcome).

Sometimes a class member will complain, “But I don’t know them,” or “I haven’t been with them outside of class,” or “I’ve only known them for two years.”

This usually means one of two things:

  1. They have their radar up for insincere flattery and appreciations that are designed to get something (like sweeten them up and then ask for something).
  2. They aren’t used to noticing things about others or expressing what they notice. I assure participants that they should never offer insincere or manipulative appreciations.

Then, I then suggest they practice noticing.

I promise you that in a two-minute interaction with a clerk in a store you can find something to appreciate. It might be a pin someone is wearing or how they attend to you so quickly, or the fact that they ask you how you are.

Here are some real-time appreciations I can imagine giving to people in my life:

  • When you came into Zumba, I felt the energy pick up in the room.
  • When you asked about my Mom, I so appreciated your remembering. It makes the situation we’re dealing with easier.
  • The comments you offered in the meeting really got my attention because they were so thoughtful and relevant.
  • The fact that you do the food shopping is such a gift because it allows me to concentrate on my writing (thank you, husband!).
  • The story you told moved me because I could relate to your example of that girl.
  • The way you convened the group and brought everyone together was artful.
  • You have an incredible knack for finding just the right card to send; your cards make me feel great.

Practice makes the art of appreciation a lot easier, and what better time to practice than on the official I-care-about-you day?

Besides, appreciations are a good value (aka free) on the annual double-the-price-of-roses (Valentine’s) day.

Of course, there are some specifics you might not want to say:

  • That dress or Hawaiian shirt makes you look less fat.
  • The mic makes your voice sounds less screechy.
  • This time your presentation was interesting.

But you already know not to do that!

Can you imagine a Valentine’s Day where you make it your mission to appreciate others in your sincere, just-being-you way?

What will you stand for?

 

What do you stand for?

Isn’t it time to get a little bolder, to speak up for the truths you hold in your heart, challenging the inequities you see around you? You don’t need to be on the streets, or on the frontlines of the revolution to have your own potent message. The stand I’m referring to isn’t about regurgitating political positions or philosophical doctrines, but sharing the truth of your own embodied experience, the wisdom you have gained through living.

Speaking up doesn’t require a megaphone or even an audience. You can hold a subtle message in your heart and when the time comes speak out. Your voice may be gentle, or you may roar like a lion. There are many ways to take a stand.

I believe that standing for what you believe in is one of the keys to a long life.

If you want to see a beautiful example of standing for something, watch Oprah Winfrey’s speech to the 2018 Golden Globes. It’s getting a lot of press so you may have seen it. I could watch it again and again, just to soak in some of her prowess and power.

 

For those who study and teach presentation skills, as I do, Oprah’s remarks demonstrate what a great speech looks like. She starts with a story; acknowledges her audience; uses her powerful, resonate voice in varied ways; weaves emotion throughout; and moves us on an emotional arc that ends with a relevant and poignant story. She closes with a compelling call to action.

All of that represents fantastic technique. But the greatness of the speech came from how she shared her heart, rather than the technique she used. She won me with three special factors:

  • She owned who she was. There was no apology, no thinking small. She knows the power she wields. Oprah is Oprah–and she stood tall on that stage.
  • She embodied what she was saying. There wasn’t a gratuitous or abstract word in her presentation.You knew that she had lived or witnessed what she spoke about. She held the truths she knew in her heart, in her body, as well as in her head. Listening to her voice, you felt a credibility that extended way beyond her celebrityhood.
  • She took a stand and inspired us to do the same.

The issue of the hour (or the year) at Hollywood’s Golden Globes was #MeToo, a hashtag that became a movement, emerging from the brave testimonies of women who dared to reveal how they had been sexually maltreated over the years by men in power. Oprah spoke right to the issue and acknowledged the courage of women, in media and throughout the culture, who dared to speak out. She addressed the courage of celebrities and also of the laborers, the forgotten, and the poor, black women whose histories haven’t been publicized, but who have endured atrocities. She made it clear that she stood for social justice, the empowerment of women and the end of sexual misconduct.

Oprah is undoubtedly the most powerful woman in America. Unlike some of her male peers who rival her in wealth and influence, yet do not speak out, Unlike some of her male peers who rival her in wealth and influence, yet do not speak out, Oprah knows how to use her influence and fame to shed light on issues, to offer support to those who have been denied a voice, and to encourage us all to take action.

I hope many of us, women and men, will be inspired by Oprah to stand up for what matters most to us. This is key to staying vital–at any age. There’s so much that needs to be addressed in our culture; all of our voices are needed.

It’s time to let your words be heard. Take a stand on the issues you care about.

When it comes to changing the world, in your particular way, it’s time to say,“Me, too.”

Finding Lightfulness

‘Tis the season of light in many faiths. But not all of us are feeling jolly. This is also a time of year that can feel dark and heavy, especially with what’s going on in the world.

Given all that is dark, how can we find a little light, levity, and lightness?

I recently wrote about bringing in more light this season. Then this weekend, I attended a workshop on Lightfulness, a word coined by Moshe Cohen, a master clown and teacher from San Francisco. Just thinking about the word lightfulness inspired me to relax and breath a bit more.

Moshe has plenty of experience injecting levity into dark and heavy places. As the founder of Clowns Without Borders, he has traveled the globe bringing laughter, magic, and healing to children whose lands have been devastated by floods, earthquake, violence, and war. Challenging places to get people laughing, yet that’s what Clowns Without Borders strives to do, with delicacy and compassion.

Moshe has invited children who are near-paralyzed with fear and trauma to play his games. As they move with silliness and spontaneity, the children can safely release deep, difficult emotions while they enjoy Moshe’s Mr.YooHoo clown persona.

The group of us attending his workshop at Seattle’s Nalanda West Center were mostly meditators. Moshe is often referred to as a “zen clown.” (Thanks to my clown-buddy Lynne Marvet for bringing Moshe to town!) We hadn’t been devastated by war, but we were feeling pretty heavy about the world. We needed Moshe to show us how we could discover traces of humor and lightness in the load of concerns we were bearing. We discovered that levity isn’t just about feeling “up;” it can accompany any mood.

Lightfulness is an opening to a subtle lightheartedness. Rather than playing for guffaws, it invites an inner smile, a sense of whimsey, a touch of humor that can be found even within otherwise difficult emotions, like fear, anger and extreme frustration.

Lightfulness invites humor to come out–but doesn’t force it to play.

Moshe invited us to play with huge, colorful, plastic bags that we floated in the air and then caught. At first, we just delighted in the game, but then Moshe offered us some variations. We were invited to bring to our game a feeling of frustration, a too-easy assignment for most of us. As we tossed our bags into the air, Moshe asked us to notice feelings within our bodies. Sometimes he suggested we try on a feeling such as floating, then switch it to frustration, then return to floating.

As we explored moving with our frustrations (discovering that play and deep emotion can go together), Moshe invited us to inject a little lightness into whatever we were doing. He did not tell us how to do that or what lightness meant. We found it in our individual ways.

There were no rules for lightfulness…(that would have defeated the point). Silly loves experiments.

Sometimes lightfulness comes through the twinkle of an eye. Or discovering a little oddness in a movement. Perhaps we find it as we become curious. Or find ourselves in a little game with a partner. During the workshop, we explored lightfulness through our awareness without needing to make some else laugh.

Lightfulness lives happily in quiet spaces, inhabiting a glance, a shrug, a small movement, a funny inflection in the voice. Lightfulness does not try to be funny. It lives best in a subtle connection with another person, in a wink, a secret smile, a moment of mutual wonder even in the midst of an argument.

Thinking about my last week, would there have been any way to add levity to that awful customer service encounter? When I think about it retrospectively, it was pretty absurd. Could I have taken a time-out to just laugh at it? Or could I have found a way to play with the customer support person who was robotically trying to solve my problem?

Any little change might have allowed me to breath better. And stop banging my keyboard in frustration.

Sometimes feelings come up when I’m alone. What to do then?

Maybe I could:

  • Make a funny face while talking on the phone (not on video!)
  • Become fascinated by something completely small, like a spider web and put all of my attention into it.
  • Make a weird, small noise.
  • Become fascinated by just about anything…or anybody.
  • Spin in a circle.
  • Step out of my emotion for a moment, to see it from afar and then step back into it (if I want to…)
  • Replay a difficult conversation in my own head in gibberish. (Or grunt sounds.)

I bet you have some great ideas!

Shakespeare, (now dead), author of many works, and Cathy Salit, (very much alive), author of Performance Breakthrough, would agree that “all the world’s a stage” and a lot of life and leadership can be viewed through the lens of performance. As actors in our own drama, we can try on different moods through which to play a scene. Without striving to fix or change anything, we can shift our performances and open the door to a little levity.

Lightfulness suggests that we have more room for creating our experiences than we might have originally believed.

As we celebrate

This month is a time of light and celebration in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism as well well as the pan-African Kwanzaa. It’s  a perfect time to practice lightfulness, injecting lightness and levity into pain and heaviness, and looking for that famous crack that lets the light get in, as Leonard Cohen sang in his hymn-like song, Anthem.

I love and cherish finding still spaces for myself at Christmas time, hoping that a light bearing mystery and possibility can once again be born out of darkness.

Whatever your faith, may you find light, levity, and lightfulness as we move towards the new year.

 

 

Weaving community–through stories

weaving shuttles and multi-colored yarn in a basket

Last week, I had the privilege of once again participating in a Story Bridge event in Seattle. A very diverse group came together to share and perform our stories as a way of exploring issues facing Seattle’s historic African-American neighborhood, the Central District, now challenged by gentrification.

In an early exercise we each shared a story with a partner, in response to a story prompt to talk about a time when we rose to an occasion in our lives. My partner-in-story was a tall African-American man who offered a poignant story about surviving a health crisis. I offered him my story about moving to New York City, lonely and afraid, only to be mugged during my first week living in Brooklyn.  As I started to share my story, I looked at my partner and wondered if it would be offensive to mention that the assailant who had pointed a gun at my head was a tall African-American man. But my partner, who had lived for years in Harlem, listened with warm attention, and said, “That’s terrible, How did that feel?” And once again, through the magic of Story Bridge, I found myself feeling held and supported, and falling in love with this partner whom I had only met thirty minutes earlier.

What a gift it is to be able to see in the lives of people whose lives have been so different than ours!

When I can’t be participating in a live experience like Story Bridge, another way I learn about people’s lives is by reading memoirs. Unlike an autobiography, a memoir gives us a slice of a life, not the whole pie. A memoir is an author’s attempt to make meaning out of the shards, scraps, and stories of her or his life.

I’ve heard it said that there are too many memoirs being written today–I disagree. That’s like saying there are too many stories! Memoirs offer a way to travel into lives we would never otherwise know.

Here are a few memoirs I’ve read recently

My Life So Far by Jane Fonda

Love her or hate her, Jane Fonda’s has had a lot of influence throughout her seventy-plus years. Who would have known that behind the curtain, she was a very vulnerable woman, born to a father who could only express himself emotionally when he acted. Fonda ended up subordinating herself to men, making some bad decisions, and only beginning to feel like she could really be herself when she turned sixty. This isn’t a “poor me” story, which would have been ridiculous from a woman with such a global presence. Fonda transported me back into memories of my own youth, growing up in the 50’s and then at college during the Vietnam war when social change was exploding everywhere. Fonda, like all of us humans, is complicated: a woman who was a sex-object in some of her films, but also a feminist; a social justice advocate who married and divorced a former radical and then married a multi-millionaire; a bulimic who brought health and fitness to millions of American women. Today, she continues acting but spends much of her time helping young, indigent women in Georgia. She’s definitely not done yet.

Born a Crime  by Trevor Noah

When Trevor Noah took over The Daily Show on TV’s Comedy Central, he began as “Not Jon Stewart” (the famous former host). Reading Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, I see Trevor Noah now as his own guy and a great choice for the show. In his book, Noah brings humor and history together, offering us a view into South Africa’s stratified society during the apartheid and post-apartheid periods–as seen by someone whose mixed-race status and education insured that he didn’t fit in anywhere. Unlike the satirical books authored by Daily Show alumni Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart that flamed and faded, Noah’s book is built to last: funny, gritty, and worth reading.

Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel by Nicolaia Rips

Who’d think that a high school student could write such a magical tale of growing up in New York City’s famous Chelsea Hotel, home to artists, derelicts, poets, and prostitutes? The setting is fascinating, her writing fresh and engaging. And, as quirky as life in the Chelsea was, Rips spins a story that reminds us of what it was l like to never-quite-fit-in at school and in our pre-adolescent years. I was captivated!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

How do you take a truly terrible childhood, and bring it to life without trashing the people who should have taken care of you but didn’t? Jeanette Walls does this in The Glass Castle. She begins the book with an opening scene of her, as a successful adult, happening upon her mother dumpster diving in New York City. I was riveted and continued so throughout the book. This book has been already made into a movie–but I wouldn’t want to have missed her heartfelt and gripping prose.

Another way to learn from the power of storytelling is to write about your own life, whether it be in a book, journal, or on the back of napkins. In writing, we learn that stories aren’t static and we can reshape the narratives we grew up with.

Whether it be through live community events like Story Bridge, memoirs we read, or our own writings, we create a rich tapestry of community as our stories are woven together.

Create a world. In six words.

Remember when you were in grade school and you returned from your summer break, knowing that your new teacher would ask you, once again, to write a story called My Summer Vacation.

Why not write a story now that can convey the essence of your summer, in only six words?

You know that images can say so much, and it takes very few words to evoke an image.

But don’t take my word for it, have some fun and try it!

The assignment

Here’s the assignment I give to managers in my class on Leading Through Story: Write a story in six words. It will test your ability to create an image in a few words–and it’s really easy. No poetry or great art required. Hopefully, it can stir the imagination of your readers, regardless of whether they see exactly what you see.

Here are a few six-word stories from my summer:

Buffoon mocks buffoon. Scary. “Rocket man.”

Too much: Drought, Northwest. Floods, Texas.

My book. Moving forward. I hope.

Seattle housing prices rise. Teachers leaving.

Dahlia glows. Hope survives drought.

Mom lives. In hospice. Two years.

Your turn! Have fun. Then,

Please share. Your words. With me.

Here’s to fall!