the panic before the party

Last Sunday, Allyn and I hosted a book launch party at our new home to celebrate the release of my short story collection, WOMAN, RUNNING LATE, IN A DRESS. {You can snag a personalized copy here!}

We’d been planning this party for months. Even before we found our new home, when we weren’t even looking at houses yet but were planning to move when our lease was up, I said to Allyn, “You know what would be cool? What if we had a combination housewarming/book launch party when my book is published?” Allyn immediately agreed it would be cool, but said what would be even better is if we left out the housewarming part and just focused on celebrating my new book. He’s teaching me more and more how to step into my own spotlight rather than feel like I need to dim my light. One of the 846,748 reasons why I love him so much. ūüôā

Once we found our house and signed the lease on our new place, planning really began in earnest. We set a date for the party and made an invitation on Facebook. We spread the word to our friends and family. I ordered cute raffle prizes featuring the book cover {coasters, a tote bag, a puzzle} and made bookmarks. We felt hugely motivated to get all of our boxes unpacked, our pictures hung on the walls, and everything organized before the party. {Which, if you’re willing to handle a bit of stress, I would totally recommend — never before have I felt “all moved in” so quickly!}

We planned out the food and the drinks, the seating and the mingling areas. I made a display of my books. Some of our guests volunteered to bring wine; others brought beer; others brought appetizers and veggies and sandwiches. The day of the party, I baked mini pumpkin muffins, set out paper plates and napkins, and organized plastic utensils into cups. I took a shower, dried my hair, carefully applied eyeshadow and mascara.

Everything looked beautiful. Everything was sparkling and clean and ready to go. Everything was exactly the way I had hoped it might be, back when Allyn and I began planning the party a month ago in our crammed-to-the-brim-with-boxes apartment.

I felt that excited, nervous energy that bubbles inside you when you are preparing to embark on something that you have been dreaming about for a very long time. Because this party wasn’t just about this one afternoon. Nor was it just about this new house we had claimed as our home, or about the 178 printed pages between two shiny covers of my published book. It was a party that had been years in the making. A party that, for a long time, I had thought would never come.

I sent out my short story manuscript for six long years before it won the Cypress & Pine Fiction Award from Yellow Flag Press and was accepted for publication. Six years of form rejection slips and crushed spirits and doubt. Six years of dreaming that, one day, I would hold this book in my hands and proudly share it with my friends and family. Six years of stubborn hope that these characters in my imagination were meant to leap into the hearts and minds of other people — that they weren’t just meant to live inside me.

And now, here I was, standing on the threshold of that day I had gazed at on the horizon of my life for so long.

My mother-in-law arrived first, bearing enormous platters of delicious sandwiches. We arranged them on the kitchen table and the island. We uncorked the wine. Then my grandparents arrived, with a cooler full of beer that we put on the back patio. We gave them the tour of the house. They helped themselves to sandwiches. Our dear friends Justin & Fawn arrived with their adorable baby boy, and it was so nice to visit with them in the kitchen, catching up on life. And yet, laughing there in the sunshine, an urgent panic began to rise within me.

What if no one else showed up? What if this party — that I had been dreaming about and working towards for so long — what if it was a total lame disappointment?

Allyn squeezed my hand. The minutes ticked by. The doorbell was silent. My phone beeped with text messages from friends and family members, explaining that they were so sorry but they could no longer make it. My panic gained strength, whispering in my ear like a mean girl in middle school:

This was a stupid idea. You never should have planned this party. You never should have put yourself out there like this. Now everyone is going to feel sorry for you. No one wanted to come to your party and no one cares about your book. You should have just stayed quiet and kept to yourself. Why did you even take this risk?

Panic doesn’t only visit us before we throw a big party. It comes whenever we try something new — when we step out of our comfort zones, launch a new venture, share something that is important to us. It comes when we express excitement about a new opportunity or decide to make a change in our lives — take time off work to travel; sign up for Whole 30; start a side-hustle; pursue a passion project. It comes when we plant our flag in the sand, stand tall in our truth, and say boldly, “This matters to me!” Because in doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable. Our high hopes might be crushed. Our beautiful plans might be met with lonely disappointment.

This inner voice of panic was familiar to me. I had felt it before many times in my life, which was actually a blessing because it helped me recognize what was happening. I spoke back to my panic. I talked my nervous heartbeat down from the ledge.

Shhh, shhh, calm down. It’s going to be okay. Look at these people around you. They came a long way to be here with you today. They’re happy for you. They’re proud of you. Focus on savoring these moments with them and loving the hell out of this experience while it is happening. This is precious and special. Right here. Right now. All the rest is just white noise from your ego. Let it go.

I think it is natural to feel that panic-before-the-party in many aspects of our lives. We make a decision focused on all the wonder and magic that might unfold, and then when we’re confronted with the messy reality we feel panicked that maybe we made the wrong decision. But I think that our inner voice of panic is actually a clue that we’re on the right path. That we’re growing.

The truth is, it would be easier to stay safe. To never risk that panic. But I don’t think “easy” is an ingredient in the recipe for a satisfying adventure in this one wild and precious life you have been given.

Another truth: so often, panic is short-sighted. It is focused on the immediate moment and spirals into despair. But so often, even when the reality is messier than you anticipated or there are a few bumps in the road, eventually things level out. You look back and realize that everything turned out even better than you had imagined it would. You are so grateful you made that leap and took that risk and tried that newness on for size. The voice of panic is completely washed away and it is easy to forget that it was ever there… until you plant another flag in the sand and the panic comes to visit again in full force.

I think panic loses its power when we recognize it as part of the process. It is simply part of the journey and we don’t have to listen to it. We can turn our head away and focus on the other voices in our hearts that are cheering us on.

Even if no one else had showed up to my party, it would not have been a disaster. It would have been a lovely intimate gathering with six of my favorite people. But more people did show up. First a slow trickle; then guests arrived all at once. Before I knew it, I looked up from arranging a bowl of fruit salad and realized our kitchen was crammed full of people, talking and eating and enjoying the afternoon. Later, everyone gathered in the living room and I read an excerpt from my book, and then champagne and Martinelli’s were poured and toasts were made. As I gazed around the room so filled with love and support, I felt tears prick my eyes. I kept thinking, This is it. This is it. This is it.¬†

This is what was waiting on the other side of the shore, during those years I swam through the cold waves of doubt and disappointment, wondering if I would ever reach that land I was striving towards.

This is what was waiting through the moments of panic and fear, uncertainty and envy, hopelessness and frustration.

This is what was waiting. And it was more than worth it.

When you finally do reach the shore — when the train does finally come — the struggle of the journey makes the celebratory champagne taste so much sweeter.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about the questions below that speak to you:

  • When is a time you have felt the “panic before the party” in your life? What did the panic say to you? What actually happened?
  • Write about a time you took a risk, felt doubt, but pushed through to a new opportunity.
  • What is a risk you long to take in your life now? How do you yearn to grow?

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.

moving away from fear, towards fiery possibility

My dear Holly wrote a stunningly beautiful, achingly true piece about grief and love and our friend Céline. I have read it many times since it was published last week, and every line of it resonates. I have been thinking a lot about these lines, in which Holly writes about the new self she is in the process of discovering and becoming:

I hope that she will be like Céline and make friends everywhere she goes, that she will move towards fiery possibility instead of away from fear, that she will view faith and adventure as intertwined.

celine flowers

In all honesty, my natural self can be a fearful person. Even as a child, I was cautious. I liked to test the water before diving into the pool. I would read a book at the base of the tree, instead of climbing its branches. I have never been a wild daredevil, taking risks or acting impulsively or figuring things out on the fly. I am a planner. I like to consider my options. I like to make lists.

Sometimes, I worry too much. Sometimes, I make decisions more as a way of moving away from fear, rather than intentionally moving towards fiery possibility.

But C√©line was a fiery possibility type of person.¬†She always seemed fearless. And¬†I so¬†loved and admired that about her. Being her friend made me more fearless, too. The good¬†kind of fearless. C√©line taught me that being¬†fearless doesn’t mean you make rash, stupid decisions or refuse to think about consequences. It’s more a mindset of being brave even when you feel scared, of¬†pushing yourself to grow, of not putting limits on yourself. Getting outside your comfort zone, even just a footstep or two. Trying new things. Not labeling yourself or confining your own ideas of who you can be or what you can do.

lamppost paris

So, inspired by Holly’s beautiful words, and in homage to C√©line, I have been trying to actively move towards fiery possibility, rather than away from fear. Here are just three examples from this past week:

After church yesterday, I led the first meeting of¬†a community circle for young adults in¬†our congregation — a time for people to gather together and have meaningful conversation about their lives. Facilitating this group was¬†intimidating for me. I have never done anything like it before, and worried that my questions would not resonate, that conversation would be awkward or stilted, that people would think I was a fraud, that nobody would come. But it ended up being a wonderful experience.¬†The¬†atmosphere in the room felt safe and authentic, conversation flowed well, and¬†we all go to know each other on a much more genuine level than coffee-hour small talk. It was soul-nourishing for me. I am already looking forward to next week.

trees and shadows

I pitched myself for a copywriting assignment in a field I do not know much about, but am interested in and¬†passionate about. I¬†landed the assignment and am interviewing¬†half-a-dozen professionals in the field this week and next week for the article.¬†At first, I felt nervous, thinking, Who am I to write this? These questions are probably silly. What if I don’t come across professionally? But instead of worrying, I made a choice to¬†shift my frame of mind and focus on the exciting possibility of the assignment: a chance to meet fascinating people and learn something new. And I am really enjoying stretching myself in this way!

me and allyn lottie's

Last night, Allyn and I went to a 2-hour beginner’s Improv class. Oh my, was I scared to do this! While I generally enjoy public speaking, I have never really thought of myself as an actress and was especially intimidated by the “not-knowing” aspect of Improv. What if I couldn’t think of any good ideas? What if I had a mind-freeze? What if I ruined the scene and let down my partner? Intentionally, I made the decision to push these worries aside and just focus on having fun and soaking up a new adventure. And it ended up being one of the best “date nights” Allyn and I have ever had! I loved seeing him jump into a new endeavor, just as I could tell he was proud of me each time I raised my hand to volunteer and bounded onstage. There was so much energy and creativity in the class, and everyone was very supportive of each other. I was definitely a little nervous/uncomfortable the whole time, but it was exhilarating to get up in front of people and act out a zany scene on the fly. It made me feel proud of myself, and ripped off the label I had always put on myself as “someone who could never do Improv.” Now that label is gone. In fact, Allyn and I are already talking about going back to the class sometime soon!

sunflowers

Here is what I am slowly learning: when you move away from fear, the fear only gets stronger and bigger. You can never move far enough away. It will always cast its shadow over you.

Instead, when you move towards fiery possibility, the joy and sense of adventure soon eclipse the fear entirely. What is left is a bigger and braver and more beautiful sense of yourself.

a year of Wooden: week 19

Hi, everyone, and happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend. Tomorrow I’ll share some photos from my lovely weekend at home, but today it’s time for¬†this week’s¬†year of Wooden¬†challenge.

a year of wooden

  • January:¬†Drink deeply from good books.
  • February:¬†Make friendship a fine art.
  • March:¬†Help others.
  • April:¬†Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May:¬†Be true to yourself.

For the month of May, we’ll be focusing on the very first item of Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Be true to yourself.” Each week, I’ll be posting a question for you to reflect on, perhaps through journaling or meditation. The goal is that by the end of May, you’ll have a clear idea of what it means to be your happiest, most authentic self so that you can work on being true to that self.

Last week, the question to reflect upon was: If you won a zillion dollars and no longer had to work for money, how would you spend your time?

I would spend my time visiting and laughing with the people who matter most to me; traveling across the U.S. and around the world; writing pieces I’m passionate about without worrying about anyone reading {or not reading} them; volunteering for social justice causes; teaching; reading; going to plays; planting a huge organic garden; cooking and baking. I feel incredibly lucky that, even though I haven’t won a zillion-dollar lottery and do need to work for money, my life includes pretty much all these things that I love and my job is something I would do for free because it fulfills and nourishes me.

This week, here is your question to consider: What in your life makes you feel drained, overwhelmed or fearful?

quote on stress

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

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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