when your brimming cup of tea spills all over the table

You guys, I had one of those rough days yesterday. We’ve all had them. Those days when, for some mysterious reason, Criticism and Rejection and Disappointment decide to band together and visit you, one right after the other right after the other, all within the same span of 24 hours, like annoying uninvited guests who crash the perfectly lovely party you had planned.

Now, I want to say right off the bat that I know I am really lucky. My bad day did not include me, or anyone I love, becoming hurt or sick or injured. It did not include any car accidents or broken gadgets or lost items. The worst it contained in that regard was a cup of spilled tea, which I will get to in a moment.

But still, at the end of the day, I was left feeling a little bit beaten-up. A little bit discouraged. A little bit heartsick. And I want to share this with you because sometimes the Internet can be so shiny. We read these beautiful blogs with gorgeous photos and happy news and goals and milestones and that is all well and good. I love reading these inspiring blogs — they give me hope and motivate me. However, no one’s life is a highlight reel. I believe there is beauty and worth in the messiness, too. I want to show you my messiness as well as my happy dances.

fallen tree

I have been fortunate enough to have been able to pursue my dreams of writing and teaching for more than a decade now. At this point, I have learned to expect rejection. When I send out a short story or query an editor about an article idea, I prep myself for disappointment as soon as I press the “send” button. Rejection is the price of admission to creativity, as one of my favorite writers says. Every “no” you receive is one step closer to a “yes.” I believe in that, deeply. So rejections don’t normally bother me too much, even when they come in a string one right after the other.

But lately, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Inspired by the amazing Whitney at sometimes.always.never, I have given myself a goal of taking one small risk every single day. Applying for programs and opportunities that I might have otherwise talked myself out of. Putting myself out there, reaching out to people I admire, sending that email, submitting that idea for a speaking gig, because, I ask myself … what do you have to lose? Nothing. 

Let me tell you, friends, that is a terrific space to be living and creating in. I have felt very inspired the past month since I started doing this. I am feeling more empowered in my creativity. I am filled with more optimism and ideas. While sometimes I am still anxious to take these little risks, as a whole I am finding myself embracing the unknown more than I would have thought possible. My life has felt full-to-the-brim with opportunity.

But something that I wasn’t anticipating was what it would feel like when these new little risks ended in rejection. For some reason, the disappointment feels more acute. I haven’t braced myself for it in the same way I prepare myself for rejections of my writing pieces. Maybe my skin hasn’t had time to grow thick enough yet, in this new space I am occupying, outside of my comfort zone.

So yesterday, when I received two perfunctory rejections to neat opportunities I had excitedly thrown my hat in the ring for, in addition to a rejection of one of my short stories from a literary journal… it stung. It really stung. I felt that pit of disappointment yawn open in my stomach. That awful feeling of not being good enough hovered around the outskirts of my consciousness like a dark cloud threatening rain. I think we all have that feeling sometimes. You can be a confident, strong, empowered person, and still have those moments when you doubt yourself.

What I’ve found works best for me is not to give those doubts any extra power by tapping into anger or jealousy. I repeat to myself, over and over in my head, that I am worthy and I am enough, exactly as I am. That I don’t need any accolades or rewards to make myself matter. And, after the initial sting has calmed down a little, I reach down into that place of compassion and generosity inside myself. I try to open it wider, like a valve being loosened. And yes, when I push myself to try, I truly can feel others’ joy. I can feel joy for the people who did receive the opportunities that I was rejected from, because they worked very hard and are incredibly deserving. Just as I know that one day in the future — as has happened in the past — I will be on the receiving end of an acceptance letter. There will be other people who receive rejection letters. I would want them to be happy for me. This is what it means to me to practice abundance, not scarcity. To celebrate the joys for each other.

water-redwoods

Yesterday, I was teaching a private writing lesson for two of my favorite students. Everything was going wonderfully — they were super into the lesson, writing their creative stories with abandon, pencils flying across their lined notebook paper. We have our weekly lessons at the kitchen table and their mother always sweetly pours me a cup of tea to enjoy. On this day, mine was filled to the brim. It was sitting on the kitchen table, cooling down. One of my students had a question, and as I reached over to take a look at her paper, my arm bumped the mug of tea … and it spilled all over the table. I mean, ALL over the table, my friends. I leaped up and grabbed the mug, but the damage had already been done. My students’ papers were soaked through.

I felt mortified. I felt ashamed. I felt disappointed in myself. I felt stupid. I felt SO bad for spilling that tea!

But my students taught me something. They are only nine and eleven years old, but they possess so much grace.

“I’m so sorry, you guys!” I said. “I can’t believe I just did that!”

“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” they said. And I could sense it immediately — they weren’t upset. They grabbed some paper towels and rags from the laundry room, and together we cleaned up the mess. I blotted their papers with towels and set them on the counter to dry. They weren’t ruined after all, just wet. Once they dried, they would be fine.

However I was still annoyed with myself, feeling aggravated and to-blame for the disruption. “I’m so sorry, you guys,” I said again.

“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” said the nine-year-old boy, a seriousness in his voice that I rarely hear. (Usually he is full of laughter and playfulness.) “It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes.” And he proceeded to tell me about the time he spilled an entire bowl of soup on his lap.

“Plus, now it smells nice in here — like green tea!” his sister chimed in.

Even as I type this, I have tears in my eyes. I want to treat myself with as much forgiveness and gentleness and understanding as those two wonderful kids showed me. When, metaphorically, my brimming mug of piping hot tea spills all over the table — when I feel disappointed, or criticized, or rejected, or frustrated — I want to respond the way they did. With calm. With love. With a shrug of the shoulders. With the knowledge that it’s going to be okay.

Together, we dried off the table. We got out fresh sheets of lined paper. They kept writing.

20160130_150838

So, do you know what I’m doing today? I’m picking myself up, dusting myself off, and starting over again. I’m still pushing myself to take those small daily risks. I’m still going after those opportunities that seem out of my reach, out of my comfort zone. I’m still trying my best to learn and grow and push myself every single day, even when it is painful. Even when it is hard. Even when it is scary. Because it is still worth it, always.

Oh! And in case you’re wondering, I did learn another lesson from that mug of spilled tea. As I sit here at my desk, I’m drinking my green tea out of a travel mug. With the lid on. 😉

what our smelly little compost bin has taught me about hope

Where I live, waste management services not only take our recyclables and trash, they also take our food scraps to be composted. Composting is so important because it helps keep biodegradable waste out of landfills, thus not producing methane — the most potent greenhouse gas. {For more information on why this is so important, here is a helpful link.} Another amazing thing about composting is that it takes what was once “trash” and turns it into something useful — our banana peels and apple cores and egg shells eventually become nutritious fertilizer to help grow the next generation of plants, flowers and food.

However, in our apartment building, not many people compost. Here are the reasons the building manager gave: the little green bins get “stinky” {true — which is why you take them out often} and could potentially cause bug problems {not true in our experience}… also, that they are “a hassle.” But, when you think about it, pretty much everything that is good for you is a hassle! Brushing and flossing your teeth is a hassle. Cooking healthful meals is more of a hassle than the fast food drive-through. Going out of your way to help someone else is “a hassle.” All of these actions are more than worth it because they ultimately make our lives, our health, our communities and our world better.

Besides — especially when you live somewhere like we do where waste management services take care of dumping the big compost bins and carting the compost away every other week — composting is not that much of a hassle at all.

Still, something I have learned in life is that we can try our best to convince and persuade and motivate others, but when it comes down to it, we only truly have control over our own actions. Allyn and I cannot control whether the other people in our apartment complex care enough about the environment to compost their food scraps. But we can choose to compost our own food waste. We can choose to make grocery lists and buy less so food does not go bad wastefully. We can choose to buy food in bulk instead of in plastic containers. We can choose to carry our reusable bags to the grocery store. We can make small choices every day that reflect our values and make a tiny difference that, over time, adds up to big change.

*

When I was in high school during the second Bush presidency, one of my teachers was a Vietnam war veteran. He taught physics, but would occasionally go off on tangents about current events and politics. One day in particular, during the height of the Iraq War, he started ranting about the terrors of war. In a firm voice — the same tone he used to teach us the facts of the universe from our physics textbook — he predicted that there would once again be a draft and none of us would be able to get out of it. We would all go to war.

The fear in that room was palpable and contagious. One girl in the front row even started crying. She had a scholarship to play softball in college the next year, and by the end of class she was convinced that she wouldn’t be able to go to college because she would be drafted into the military. I remember comforting her in the hallway during passing period, my own fear a steady pressure in my chest. I don’t think our teacher meant any harm. I think he was dealing with his own worries and his own memories of war, and we were a captive audience. But I learned that day about the power fear has to take hold in you, and how quickly the flames can be fanned. The dark cloud of fear can eclipse your bright hopes for the future, unless you are vigilant and guard against it with the best resources you have. When the smoke of fear billows up in your life, you have two choices. You can use the fear around you to fan the flames of your own fear. Or you can choose to try your hardest to blow away the smoke with faith and patience and love and hope.

*

Many people in our nation — in our world — are hurting and scared. This is always the case, but it is especially true right now. Maybe you are hurting and scared. What can you do today to show yourself self-care and self-love? How can you be gentle with yourself? How can you choose love over fear today? And what is at least one way you can reach out and help someone else who needs it?

*

When I lived in Indiana during graduate school, composting was not the norm. Recycling was not very prominent, either. I still remember collecting all my bottles and cans that first month of living there, and searching online to realize there was no place to redeem them as there had been in my California hometown.

I have always cared about the environment. When I was a little girl, I used to daydream about planting trees along the grubby highways when we would drive to Los Angeles to visit relatives. It sickens and frightens me to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the decimation of rainforests, the looming extinction of many animal species, and our rising sea levels. And I do profoundly believe that the actions we take make a difference.

However, during this time I let myself sink into complacency. I did not make the effort to compost, or recycle as much as I could, or cut down on my plastic waste. I drifted along in the easy culture of consumption, letting myself forget that the trash I produced would actually GO somewhere — it didn’t magically disappear by a magic wand when the garbage collector took my trash bags away every other week. I didn’t take the time — didn’t go through the minor extra hassle — to truly ACT on my values. I let myself fall into the trap of believing that my small actions weren’t important “in the grand scheme of things” — that my actions, for some absurd reason, could be exempt from having consequences.

There was a lot going on in my life at that time, and I could make a lot of excuses for myself and my behavior. But I don’t want to. I feel sad that I let myself get carried away on the tide of apathy, but soon enough I found myself back on the shore. And, now more than ever, I know that I never want to be apathetic again. The thing about letting yourself “off the hook” — of choosing to look away, to not care, to pretend that you have no choice or power to change — is that it comes with a steep price. The guilt catches up to you.

*

Allyn very sweetly is the one who always takes our smelly compost bin out to the big green bins lined up by the parking lot and dumps our food scraps into the communal bin. When we first moved in ten months ago, he said there were hardly any other food scraps in there. Even worse, sometimes the big bins would be contaminated by trash or recycling.

But slowly, over time, a shift has happened. Allyn has started to notice the communal compost bins are fuller and fuller each week, and there is less and less contamination. Little by little, more people are beginning to compost their food scraps, even though it can be smelly, even though it can be a hassle. More and more people are beginning to care.

Every time I reach under the kitchen sink, lift open the lid of our compost bin, and dump in a banana peel or an apple core or an egg shell, I think about hope. I think about change. I think about beauty and love and selflessness. I think about doing whatever I can, in this singular life I have been given, to act on my values and do my part to make our precious world a better and brighter and more compassionate and inclusive place. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and onward and onward, I will make choices. I will choose to try. I will choose to care. I will choose to fight for justice and goodness and love. It is all that I can do.

I hope you will join me.

celebrating martin luther king, jr.

Today we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m celebrating by participating in a community service project and by doing as many random acts of kindness as I can fit into my day!

I’m also spending time today reading the words of Dr. King and reflecting on his wisdom. I was especially moved by this passage:

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation.” {Source: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/pacificaviet/riversidetranscript.html}

My dad’s wonderful column this past week was about Dr. King and I want to share it with you as well: http://woodywoodburn.com/column-let-service-ring/

I’ll be back tomorrow with this week’s year of Wooden post. Hope you are having a beautiful day filled with service, compassion and reflection!

Question of the day:

  • What are you doing to celebrate MLK day?
  • What are your favorite words of wisdom from MLK?

year of kindness challenge: week 15

year of kindness button

It has taken me a while to write this post because I am just heartsick over the terrible tragedy that happened in Boston. When acts of hatred and violence happen, the impulse can be to sink into fear and despair. What good do small acts of kindness really serve? What are flowers and thank you notes and cookies and free cups of hot chocolate in the face of bombs and guns?

But I think, in moments like this, kindness matters more than ever.

It was difficult watching the footage from the Boston Marathon today — the blood, the smoke, the confusion and fear, all those innocent people who had come together to celebrate and support one another. But then my brother pointed something out to me — he said, “Did you notice all the people who ran TOWARDS the explosion, going into the fray to help?” And once I noticed that, a scene of intense despair became an incredibly moving portrayal of heroes.

Then I came across this on Twitter:

boston heroes

And these two articles about the amazing acts of kindness and love committed by everyday heroes in Boston:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/gameon/2013/04/15/boston-marathon-blast-help/2086273/

http://www.businessinsider.com/inspiring-images-from-boston-2013-4

In the midst of so much sadness and horror, my heart swells with gratitude and wonder at human compassion.

One of my friends on Facebook posted a note that really struck a chord with me — and touched on the whole purpose of this year of kindness challenge — so I wanted to share it with you, too:

I think that we can’t let ourselves be made powerless by acts like this, and we need to use this as a reason, if we didn’t have one before, of stepping up and helping someone else. Even if you don’t live anywhere near Boston. Go to your local Red Cross and donate blood; go to your local soup kitchen and spend some time helping those who are less fortunate than we all are; go donate books to a library; go donate your time and your considerable skills to help someone write better, sing better, paint better, sculpt better, whatever.

 

I don’t have a lot to offer, but I’ve got blood, and I’ve got a head full of poems and stories and some words that mean something to me, and hopefully that can mean something to someone else, too. Days like these are such a stark reminder of how fragile life is, so if our time here is so short, shouldn’t we use at least a little bit of that time to go out and help out other people?

 

mr rogers quote

I was thinking how the most precious thing we can give to others is our time. So the kindness challenge this week is to simply spend meaningful time with someone else you otherwise might not see. Call up an old friend and make a lunch date. Invite your neighbor to go on a walk. Ask that shy coworker if they’d like to grab coffee. Spend some time this week reaching out and connecting with someone else.

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com.

In love, hope & kindness,
-Dallas

—————————–

year of kindness archives:
– week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
– week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
– week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
– week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
– week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
– week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
– week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
– week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter
– week 9 challenge: post a kind note in a public place
– week 10 challenge: do something kind for a child
– week 11 challenge: thank someone in a genuine & meaningful way
– week 12 challenge: deliver baked goods to a fire station
– week 13 challenge: give someone flowers
week 14 challenge: donate books