“I Declare, This Space is Now Clean.”
Ah, Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit”. It’s so refreshing to read someone who makes NO apologies for having high standards and who has made the choice to give herself over to her art, continually immersing herself in the world to uncover the most compelling stories to tell.
Commenting on which of a composer’s works she selects for a dance, she writes:
“You only go around once, so I’m not interested in creating dances to their minor works.”
Ooh…how many of us give ourselves permission to simply say, “I’m not interested in this, it simply isn’t worth my time.” (Especially you women out there…I mean that isn’t very nice, is it?)
As for the habits which feed creativity, she’s very pragmatic and makes no bones about it…you won’t accomplish anything worthwhile in life if you don’t show up to the task of creating it…and you have to show up every day.
Right on, Twyla.
So, I was reading about how she approaches projects from an organizational point of view and since my own system needed tweaking I got the bug to reorganize my office.
That’s when it started.
I have a lovely little office, with nice windows that I can open and watch the birds frolic in the birdbaths outside. I have many books and a new computer and it’s all very charming, kind of like an English library (with incense). BUT, the air in the room simply never felt right.
Even with the windows open the air in my office felt like lead every time I walked in the room. I could feel it just like a wall…dead, heavy, still. Nowhere else in my home feels that way.
So, I started to organize my binders and clean files and all of a sudden it dawns on me. I picked up a file of evaluations from my former employer. I always got excellent ‘grades’, but also sandwiched in this file were all the letters back and forth with HR when my salary got cut (long story), the letters about my choice to withdraw an application for a higher position when it was clear that I had stepped in to a major political battle, as admitted to by my own boss (even looonger story).
There were old, thick files of deposition transcripts where I was called on as an expert witness (talk about stepping in to a battle). Basically all the remnants of everything that burned me out and led me to leave my first career were still sitting in my file drawers.
It called to mind the story that I used to tell about myself…hard working, dedicated woman constantly slapped around by an insensitive system that was chewing up and spitting out its best people. Subjected to dealing with lawyers who just wanted to win and you were but a chess piece on the game board. No one had integrity. Blah, blah, blah. I grow weary of this tale…
That isn’t my story anymore. I rewrote it. Those files needed to go.
And then there were lots of files with ‘expert opinions’. Everything from articles from Consumer Reports…which visionaries the Utne Reader said I should keep a look out for…The Top 10 Things I ABSOLUTELY have to do if I ever want to have a prayer of surviving in the world as my own business woman…
There were files of assessments created by Thomas Leonard. While I owe that man a lot (he put coaching on the radar screen so that I could find it, after all) the fact is, he was a single, wealthy white man who traveled around in a huge RV with no spouse, no kids and he took pride in never doing errands. He had a certain world view (as we all do). Some of it matched up with mine, some didn’t.
The mature mind practices discernment.
Like all newbies, I wasn’t necessarily able to practice discernment (critical thinking) when I stepped in to this field. I was burned out and everything I saw was all shiny and new and held great promise. I had a huge love fest with all things coaching (while still holding on to my old evaluations reminding me that I was good at what I used to do…just in case…).
The thing is, I’m older now. And wiser. I am 42 and have a healthy crop of gray hair (which will never see dye). Time for me to give myself credit for my own intelligence and stop being a repository for the opinions of everyone who has ever written a book.
And THEN it REALLY happened.
I had two books in my house that were causing me problems.
Why? Well, I thought they were crap.
But I LOVE books. They are nearly sacred to me. And I never throw out anything that can be used, or given away. I didn’t want these books…couldn’t give them to anyone in good conscience since I couldn’t endorse their messages and I didn’t even want them in the library.
One was about having a profitable business. It looked like it would have a personal branding vibe. It did but it also engaged in HUGE tirades on how anyone who wants to find meaning in their work is a naive fool and needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Business exists to bring you money. PERIOD. Get in, make a bundle, get out while you can and THEN do all the feel good stuff you want.
Be a mercenary, it said.
The next was a book on the political landscape of today and how ‘pagan’ thought may have much to teach us about how to approach the tensions in the Middle East. Apparently Kissinger thought this was a great read. Well, you know I was intrigued. Imagine my surprise to learn, ‘pagan’ apparently is really anything that isn’t Christian and the whole book was on command and control leadership and how people prefer that strong leaders take over because then they can just be blissfully unaware sitting at home eating Cheetos undisturbed.
Not the people I talk to!
Most of the folks I know who are eating Cheetos and wishing someone would fix things are feeling depressed, powerless and disenfranchised as citizens of USA, Inc. This isn’t blissful reliance on daddy to fix it for us.
I did my first radical act…I tossed the two books in the garbage. Then, sitting among 5 LARGE bags stuffed with all the remnants of the person I no longer was I did my second radical act.
I built a fire.
And I burned the books.
I…burned…TWO…books…and all the paper that harbored the old stories of who I was and what I darned well had better do in the future according to the experts.
It took two hours.
The air in my office FEELS different now. I don’t think I have had my last fire, but I’m not done writing my personal story yet so I don’t expect to be done.
As Tom Peters noted,
“Sometimes the best light for a journey comes from a burning bridge.”
I’m not willing to hang on to uninteresting stories any longer. Even my own. I’ve raised my standards. Don’t get me wrong. I have great respect for personal history. All those things that led me to where I am now were critical in my development.
When it comes to the story I of my life, I choose to tell a living story.
And, with Twyla as my Muse, I’m standing firm in my right to not find everything interesting. Next Sacred Cow…I’m going to remove some music from my library.