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The Relationship Ferris Wheel: Part 4

This is the first part of a five-part series designed to help you build the intimate relationship you’ve always wanted. Though the process is primarily used in-person by a graphic facilitator, you can use the series and the accompanying handout to do it yourself, following along with the posts. It was developed by Martin Haussmann, one of the founding members of the Kommunikationslotsen consultancy, a German firm that created the bikablo technique.

That’s quite a story you’ve concocted for those people in that image at the center of your diagram. Think of how much work they did! Can you believe they made it through all the external forces that life threw at them? Recession, family, job, personal health…not to mention all the ways we self-sabotage relationships.

They overcame miscommunication. They managed their expectations. They took the leaps of faith – and yes, there’s always more than one – that were necessary to trust enough to reach that state of intimacy.

And you can see the work they did.

You’ve documented their journey with all the steps that form the spokes of this Ferris wheel. You’ve seen everything they did, every step of the way. Journaling. Counseling. Date night. Personal time. Check-ins. Supportive friendships. Whatever it took, as you look at the spokes of the ferris wheel, the steps get more and more clear…until really, they don’t seem very difficult at all.

Sure, “Develop a daily journaling habit can seem complicated at first. But really, it breaks down into three simple steps:

  1. Get a journal & pen.
  2. Prioritize a time during the day where they are accessible.
  3. Write something.

In fact, most of the tasks are harder mentally than physically. “Go to couples counseling can seem as simple as “Find a counselor, make the time, go to the session” but in reality there may be some more difficult steps involved:

  1. Internalize that counseling is not fixing what’s wrong, it’s more getting coaching so we can be even better.
  2. Run the risk of telling your partner you want this and perhaps having them feel that something’s wrong (see step 1)
  3. Trust the counselor when they say this is a safe space to express your feelings.
  4. Trust your partner that the things said in counseling will not be used against you in any way back at home…

Suddenly this whole counseling thing is a much bigger battle mentally than physically. And that’s fair! Grab some more sticky notes or write these things down on the diagram. Those people in the center did not get there easily; they did the work.

And Now It’s Your Turn.

We’ve been talking about “those people” in the center, who have reached the pinnacle of their intimate, trusting relationship, in the third person, because it’s always much easier to talk about and solve other people’s problems than your own.

Time to face reality: those people are you.

That relationship they have is the one you want. It’s also, now, one that you can have, because you know exactly how to get there.

The furthest parts of the ferris wheel are like a To-Do list; the next steps towards the best intimate relationship you can imagine are right there, laid out, one by one.

Get to it!

Next week we’ll tell you the Big Secret about this diagram and your relationship. It’s a doozy. But meanwhile, you have plenty to keep you busy for a while.

The Relationship Ferris Wheel Part 3

This is the first part of a five-part series designed to help you build the intimate relationship you’ve always wanted. Though the process is primarily used in-person by a graphic facilitator, you can use the series and the accompanying handout to do it yourself, following along with the posts. It was developed by Martin Haussmann, one of the founding members of the Kommunikationslotsen consultancy, a German firm that created the bikablo technique.

  1. Introduction
  2. Part 1 of this series
  3. Part 2 of this series

That is one fine image you have there in the center of your diagram. Whether it’s a Norman-Rockwell-magical-realism fine art piece or stick figures with boxy labels, it’s great as long as you understand what it means. That image represents an ideal, it represents an emotional state you’re working towards: intimacy. Shared vulnerability.

Those people in that image – one of whom is you, remember? If you forgot that part, you should take the time to add yourself in there – those people have reached a point that, right now, might seem unrealistic. Impossible. Ridiculous even to consider, if this online personal development guy hadn’t kept telling you to shoot for the moon.

But they made it. They are sitting there, right there on the page, in that idyllic state of intimacy and stability and yay!

Now. How did they get there?

I know, your first response might be “how the hell would I know?” But here’s the thing: you do.

If you think about it, you know exactly how they got there. You are the one who defined the bedrock, after all – all those fundamental principles. You are the one who had the imagination to put all of those things together into one beautiful scene in the center of the page. You know what it took to get there. Even if it’s only on a visceral level that you can’t quite put into words yet.

That’s ok. You can put them into words with a simple formula:

The How/What Loop

One of the fun management mantras is “the Five Why’s”. The idea is that for any task or requirement, you ask “why do we need this?” There’s some idea that if you run out of reasons, then maybe it wasn’t as important as you thought, or if it was, you at least have a thorough understanding of it.

I don’t know. Never really cared much for it myself. But the How-What loop, on the other hand, that’s useful!

It goes something like this: you start by asking: how did they get to that wonderful space of intimacy? And the answer at first will be in broad strokes, usually keyed in by the foundation words. Trust. They learned to trust each other.

Great. So then the second part of the loop kicks in: What did they do to learn that?

Again, usually the answer is a pretty broad stroke, or some part of things. They learned to communicate their feelings. Or they learned to be more responsible for their actions. Or they worked on overcoming the fear of being hurt by each other. It’s a lot of things, and you can draw each of them along the spokes of the Ferris Wheel (and feel free to add spokes as you go along until this looks like a Renaissance manuscript as pictured above).

You can see what’s coming next, right? Let’s take that third one: How did they overcome that fear? Now the answers might be more specific: they went to couples therapy. They did personal journaling. They embraced radical honesty. (Incidentally, I really don’t recommend that last one).

But let’s assume you go with the middle one: they did personal journaling. What did they do in order to do that journaling. They bought a journal. They got up early.

How did they get up early? They set their alarm.

At this point, you’ve reached a space where you can do exactly what they did. And with enough repetitions of the How-What loop, you can get there no matter what. When you get to a step that feels like it’s something familiar, something you could follow along with right now, then you can stop the loop and just write the steps along the spokes.

Relax; I’m not going to ask you to do any of the stuff. Yet. Just look at the image, and be prepared to write down the answers to these questions, as many times as it takes:

How did they get there?

What did they do?

The Relationship Ferris Wheel Part 2

The Relationship Ferris Wheel series is an exercise you can do individually or with your partner designed to help you move towards a more intimate relationship. You should read the introduction, and then Part 1, and maybe download the worksheet, before reading this post. 

Now that you’ve got a long list of the qualities of your Ultimate Intimate Relationship, it’s time to daydream. Time to make it as real in your mind as you possibly can. You’re going to have to imagine a scene – a snapshot, like a Norman Rockwell Painting, that totally embodies all of those characteristics you put into the foundation.

Choose Your Metaphor

Some things may be easy to imagine – for example, if sharing music with your partner is one of the things that you need, then it’s easy enough to picture the two of you playing instruments, or at a concert, or each of you listening to one earbud. 

Some things, though, will be more difficult to embody. How does trust look in solid form? What about dependability? Or care

Here’s a cue: body language and talismans are good metaphors. One person who did this exercise had safety and care as two things that she needed for intimacy. She always felt cared for when her partner would stroke her hair, and their home was always a place she felt safe, so she pictured herself in her living room with her head in her partners lap, his hand stroking her hair. 

Shared beauty was also an item in her list, so she also pictured herself wearing an outfit she felt pretty in and her partner dressed the way she liked (remember, this is your own personal fantasy). 

When you’re doing this exercise, give yourself time and the relaxation to make it fun – and remember that old saying, God is in the details. Keep filling in the picture in your mind, leaving nothing out, and being as extravagant as you want. Remember, symbols are fine – if financial security is important, go ahead and picture gold bars on the table. If physical health is important, give yourself the body you want as you imagine this one scene.

So Good You Can Taste It

What level of real is that? Well, there’s a common trope in science fiction and fantasy about teleportation. It’s sort of an unwritten rule (well, until they write it, at least) that a person can’t teleport into a place that they can’t visualize in their mind. They need to have a synesthetic feel for the location – not just where it is, but how the air feels, how it smells, the background sounds. 

That’s what you’re going for when I say: picture a scene that embodies this idea of a relationship. Picture it in so much detail that you could teleport there if you were a character in a comic book. Every part: the floor, the ceiling (or the sky), the sound of your partner’s breathing, the way their skin reflects the light (or holds the shadows). Every part of it.

Then you’re going to draw it.

Don’t Panic!

I’m not asking you to draw it in that much detail! That’s the advantage of having this be a personal exercise: no one ever has to see it. And you can just draw the things that will remind you and represent the details you’ve already got in your mind.

The first time I did this exercise, there were literally stick figures with scribbled-in pants and shirts in my drawn image. That’s ok; when I looked at them, in my head I saw the detail of the fabrics, the fasteners, my partner’s hair. The image is simply representative.

Or, y’know, you could make it very detailed. There are a lot of things out there that you can use to create some pretty amazing art. Whatever you decide, put it in the center of the Ferris Wheel diagram. It should be easy to see how all of those words in the foundation lead up to that beautiful captured moment in your imagination where everything about intimacy is right there.

And yeah, I get that your next thought may be But that’ll never happen. That’s ok. You’re right; that’s an idealized scene.

We’re just going to get you a little bit closer to it, ok?

The Relationship Ferris Wheel Part 1: Building the Foundation

Alright, now you have your pen and your paper (and maybe the printout) and you’re all set to create your own Relationship Ferris wheel. Just so you’re aware, this exercise is going to “build” the structure all the way from basic foundations out through the supports and finally into fun little swinging seats of direct action at the edges.

But first, we have to start. We have to build the base of our Ferris wheel, and like any good foundation, it’s built out of only the finest materials.

What are those materials? That’s something that only you can answer, my friend. We’re building the Ferris Wheel of Intimate Relationships, right? So tell me: what do you think are the important parts of an intimate relationship?

Parts is Parts

If you’re like most people, you’re going to come up with some pretty generalized concepts:

“Trust”

“Communication.”

“Loyalty.”

“Sex.”

“Love.” 

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s true that these are important things in a lot of intimate relationships.But if stop with these big generic concepts, you’re kind of cheating yourself of the process. For each of those big-idea words, let me ask you a follow-up question:

What does that look like to you?

When you say “trust”, is that I trust my partner to come home to me every night, or I trust my partner to serve on the board of my LLC, or I trust my partner to care for my puppy when I’m on vacation? Those are all different kinds of trust. Imagine a situation – or three – which illustrates what you meant when you put “TRUST” in the big rhombus-looking shape at the base of the template. Feel free to illustrate it with a little picture if that’s easier – as long as you know what it means, that’s fine (if you end up showing this to someone else, like, say, a potential intimate partner, you can always explain the picture and they’ll think you’re extra cool because artsy). 

Do that for each of the big-idea words, and don’t let yourself be limited by reality. Remember, we’re building this foundation out of nothing but the best materials, and that means that you put in not what you think is fair, or realistic, or achievable – you build that base out of what you really want.

If any of the words give you trouble when you try to illustrate them in the framework of an intimate relationship, it’s possible you – like a zillion other people – got caught up in some kind of Disney buzzword bingo when it comes to relationships. We’re told, over and over again, what it is that “proves” love and intimacy: She won’t respect you if you don’t make this much money, He will think you’re a slut if you wear jeans that tight, Remember, nothing says I love you like a diamond from Our Jewelry Emporium.

Give yourself a little time to think about those words that you’re having difficulty with, trying out different ideas of how to explain what they mean to you when it comes to your Ideal Intimate Relationship. But if you can’t think of anything…go ahead and take it out. Cross it off. Remove it, because this is your intimate relationship and nobody gets to tell you what needs to be there.

Now, Go Wild

Ok, now that you’ve gotten the hang of those five-dollar words and how they manifest in your Ultimate Relationship of Beautiful Intimacy, let go of the big concepts and get selfish. Get silly. Think of things that aren’t in the big self-help books but that are what you really, truly want when you think of an intimate relationship. 

Example? In the movie Truly, Madly, Deeply Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson have a lovely bit where they play and sing the song The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore together. It’s a silly little bonding moment, it doesn’t embody any of those big five-dollar words (unless you included play in your list, and yeah, you probably should have, that’s ok, there’s time). Admittedly, it’s a fictional story – but that particular moment in the film (nope, it’s not on YouTube, you’ll have to watch the movie) absolutely speaks about intimacy

And maybe “my partner needs to be able to sing harmonies on cheesy love songs” is something that has always been what you secretly wanted in your ideal intimate relationship. Or climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Or must accept that the eleventh doctor is always the best, even if I haven’t seen the most recent incarnations. Again, there is nothing too silly or petty or unrealistic. Put in your ultimate dreams, your absolutely most-secret never-admitted fantasies and such.

Remember, no one else has to ever see this document.

You’ve got a week. Use the template, and come back to it every once in a while, looking at what you’ve written, adding things in as they occur to you (don’t take things out unless, as noted above, they feel more like you should want that concept rather than authentically wanting it). 

Build your foundation strong. It’s a great way to get back in touch with that inner romantic, the one you were before reality came crushing in.

I’m not saying you’re not still romantic. You devil (wink). But it helps sometimes to go back to the days of dreaming and wishing, and it’s going to be a great basis for the next step: the Core. 

The Relationship Ferris Wheel (Introduction)

This is the first part of a five-part series over the next few weeks describing a process used primarily in graphic facilitation. It was developed by Martin Haussmann, one of the founding members of the Kommunikationslotsen consultancy, a German firm that created the bikablo technique.

Relax. That doesn’t mean you have to draw.

It also doesn’t mean we’re going to keep going around and around in circles. What we’re going to do is use a simple framework that (kind of) resembles a Ferris wheel (hence the name). And while the process itself is useful for working out many kinds of work, the part we’re going to particularly focus on – because, that’s right, this is a Love post – is relationships.

Particularly, over the next month I’m going to bring you through the bloggish equivalent of an “Intimacy & Relationships” workshop that Natasha and I have presented before in live settings. While we have a big chart that I draw fun little pictures on, everyone in the class has their own worksheet that they can use to add their own text (or fun little pictures) to.

You get that too! You can download a PDF version of it right here

“I don’t need no relationship workshop!”

I get it, I get it. Every single aspect of your intimate relationships is perfect. It’s exactly  the way you want it, and there’s not one thing that could stand any improvement. I’m sincerely happy for you! You can either just skip the next month of Friday posts here, or maybe just follow along to check out the process of the “Ferris wheel” and apply it to some other part of life that isn’t quite as hunky-dory as your relationships.

For the rest of us – and yes, it’s definitely an “us” – there may be another level of resistance, or even a litany of protests something like this:

  • Dealing with emotional stuff makes me uncomfortable
  • I’m worried that if I rock the boat, things will get worse
  • It’s not like a bunch of little pictures will change anything anyway
  • My emotions and I made a deal: I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me.

That last one is something a person in the workshop actually said to us. I shook my head and walked towards him, telling him earnestly: “The emotions? They lie.”

“What Does an Intimate Relationship Look Like to Me?”

That’s the question to keep in the back of your head as you go through this week. What does “intimate” mean, anyway? What qualifies as a “relationship”? If you were the one deciding what a good intimate relationship was for you (spoiler alert: you are), what would that involve?

Next week we’ll be taking the first step towards building our Ferris wheel. By the end of the four weeks you’ll not only know the answer to that question, you’ll also know what can help you get that relationship for yourself, and even better, you’ll know exactly what you need to do next to move closer towards that goal.

It’s going to be great. With fun little pictures, too.

Loving Your Process

Yesterday I had an eep moment.

See, I’ve enrolled in a course called “Lettering with the Masters” from the amazing Heather Martinez (seriously, even if you’re not interested in lettering, just study her marketing funnel and deliverable videos and digital content. She really knows what she’s doing.)

The idea is that every month she interviews a “Rockstar” of the lettering/visual practice world, and you (the student) get the chance to ask the guests directly for input (or, if you miss the live broadcast, you get to see the re-broadcast).

I had gone through the first segment, where Corinna Keeling talked about her work as an urban artist using (mainly) the medium of chalk and the street. It has literally changed the way I write, sketchnote, you name it. My friend recently needed a sign with his last name on it to pick up his kids from school, and I eagerly dug out my brush pen as I confidently said “I got this…

But…I’m new at this. I’ve probably practiced it for about an hour, tops. Sure, I’m trying to put it into practice wherever I can…but in spite of the tremendous confidence granted to me by a world literally designed for my convenience, I’m not that good at it yet.

The Terrible Challenge of Praise

I also am a firm believer in documenting your own process, and sharing the challenges and progression, which is why my Instagram for CreativeGrayVisual exists. There’s a thriving community of letterers, visual recorders & facilitators, and sketchnoters on the platform, and it’s inspirational and makes me feel a part of this community.

Yesterday my friends’ daughter (who we’re watching, along with her siblings, while their parents enjoy a well-deserved vacation) invited me outside to do chalk drawings with her. I seized the opportunity with perhaps more gusto than was warranted, resulting in the image you see above (in case you’re wondering, it’s half of a quote from Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and no, I was not about to put the second part of the quote on my friends’ porch).

Dutifully, I took a picture and posted it to Instagram, making a joke about being “Bert from Mary Poppins” and of course giving credit for the inspiration and style to Corinna Keeling.

Of course, she saw it. And she commented back: Swoon!

Not “Good job.Not “Keep it up”. ” Not “That’s an interesting start to a possibly legible style.” No, that was not just praise, it was praise that made me blush.

And instantly, the voices were in my head: Of course she said that, it’s social media, she’s protecting her brand. You know it’s a smudgy mess. She’s really laughing and showing her friends just how ridiculous that old guy in flyover country is to think he can emulate her style.

Thankfully, those voices are not so much “loud” in my head as they are “tinny and distant locked away in a glass jar in a pantry in my soul marked voices we do not listen to.”

Learning to Love the Journey

But I confess, the pantry is pretty damn full. I can see all the things I wish were better about that drawing, and at the same time I can see things that I really like about it. The challenge is to extend to myself and my early work the same love and compassion I would share with others – while at the same time keeping myself uncomfortable enough to stay in that zone of Deliberate Practice.

I like the piece. I love lettering, and creating things with my hands in a way that I’ve not done much of in my life. It’s not a matter of whether I love the things when I’m doing them.

The challenge is to love them when they’re done, even if they are imperfect, and even if – or perhaps because they are helpful signposts showing me the direction I need to go.

Loving Yourself Through Your Mistakes

“I’m normally really precise. I did every step in the experiment exactly as it was supposed to go, every microliter measured…except, I did it in exactly the reverse order. It was a mistake that no one had ever seen before!”

”Oh, f*ck me! I just printed one thousand beautiful event postcards…with the wrong date on them.”

”Wow, these screen-printed notebooks look great! Let’s move them to the drying rack” – an improvised series of dowels & pvc laying across shelves – “to get a pic for instagram!” CRASH!

That last one was me, last week. We were able to dust off a few of the notebooks enough to make them presentable. But there was a moment when that crashing of the notebooks to the floor felt like the biggest failure. The voices started in the back of my head. Oh, what did you expect? You’re screenprinting in your girlfriend’s basement, how cliché can you get? Of course you’re going to mess it up…

Luckily, I have been writing a personal development blog for a few years now, talking about doing things like developing compassion and practicing self-care…so I was able to let the brief disappointment and fear of failure wash over and through me, and forgave myself for the mishap, laughed with my girlfriend about it (she saw the whole thing), and resolved to get better drying racks for the future.

Well. Sort of. Maybe it would be more accurate to say I went through the motions internally of forgiving myself, because I knew rationally that was what made sense, and going through the actions of laughing and figuring out how to make it not happen again allowed me to reframe the stupid – whups, that’s value judgement – the inefficient results of the experience.

But that’s not what gets the clicks for personal development bloggers, so we might as well go for some clickbait:

Three Easy Steps to Forgive Yourself

  1. Remember that you cannot predict what’s going to happen. Life is literally just one thing after another, and there is always a lot more going on around us than we actually know about. That’s why we can do things – we have an ability to focus on them, and filter out other things. That means that we are going to be surprised when the unexpected happens. If you need to, read the [list of inaccurate predictions] that Fast Company printed back in 2010, and imagine how much longer the list would be today.
  2. Imagine you saw someone’s kid do the same thing. This seems weird, but it’s kind of a shortcut to compassion. We have a hard time being compassionate with ourselves, and even sometimes with our own kids, but we tend to want to see other people treat their kids with compassion. So as your inner critic is ramping up the stream of vitriol, switch the scene to how you would expect a good parent to react to their kid making the same mistake. Hey! Now we know what happens when we do the experiment backwards! I never expected to learn that today – thanks! It’s also worth remembering how many great inventions were accidents. (I don’t actually trust that list, because it doesn’t include sticky notes, but whatever).
  3. Make a plan for what to do next. Sometimes that might be a fix for the problem; sometimes it may be changing things so as to reduce the chance of the mistake happening again; sometimes it’s just moving on to something else, because there’s no going back. Whatever it is, make it a concrete action that you can do. Move on, in time (not that you’ll have a choice in that) and if possible in place. Go somewhere else to figure out what to do next. Changing the environment will help your brain get out of re-living the mistake along with all the associated emotions.

Don’t Feel Ashamed. Feel Guilty

I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort… I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging…I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. I believe that if we want meaningful, lasting change we need to get clear on the differences between shame and guilt and call for an end to shame as tool for change. – Brené Brown

The key difference is that “shame” is a concept that is fundamentally connected to core identity, whereas “guilt” is instead connected to an action (which is why anyone who is “guilty” has to be “guilty of” something, whereas we usually frame the other as something like “you should be ashamed of yourself”).

Guilt is associated with responsibility. With acknowledging your contribution to what happens, and the efforts to contribute to what happens afterwards. It can be constructive, and it leaves room for moving beyond the mistake.

Try it out, this weekend. At some point there’s going to some shake-my-head facepalm moment, and when that happens, see if you can channel some compassion into your emotions.

It’s only three steps. And in case you’re wondering, it works just as well if you do them backwards, too.

Supporting the Front Lines

Tonight I got to take some direct action in the service of protecting the privacy of the people who I serve. We were all at the meet & greet before an open space that’s I’m facilitating tomorrow, a time for people to learn together about how to have stronger, more communicative, and more intimate and trusting relationships.

And someone was in the parking lot, videotaping license plates.

That’s not the most egregious breach of privacy ever, of course. While the person was on private property, these were cars that were easily visible from the street. Still, while there may have been little legal reason not to record the license plates, there certainly was a moral breach of privacy going on. To quote a recent movie about privacy, It’s not that I have anything to hide. I just don’t have anything I want to show you.

My part was simply to do my best to be right in front of the camera, to be recording the person who was recording, and and also to simply continually question Why are you doing this? What reason do you have to be on private property recording people’s license plates without their permission?

The person eventually left, without any physical altercation. And while I am not happy that it happened, there’s a small bit of satisfaction that when my clients’ privacy was threatened, I literally did my best to shield them.

But you don’t always get to be that direct.

The Heroes of the Bench

Recently my partner and I were contacted as possible transport to help bring a child, separated from parents at the border by the recent policies of ICE, to a Chicago court hearing. As it turned out, they found alternative transportation, so we didn’t go. But the attorney involved sent me a note, which I’m going to paraphrase because, in case you missed the first half of this post, privacy.

Your writing helps remind me that in order to keep doing the work my clients need me to do, self-care and family-care have to come first. This blog helps ground me. I didn’t do that much my first year of practice, and that’s part of why many people who do this kind of work burn out and quit. Every day I am mindful of how I can take care of myself and continue to work effectively for the people who need me.

That person is literally fighting the good fight. There are few jobs more noble or essential beyond reuniting a child with their parents. We write stories about this all the time, make movies, thrill to the idea. I think that both my partner and I were a little disappointed that we didn’t get to drive the child to Chicago, because then we would have been part of this story.

But then the attorney gave me the gift of letting me know: I am a part of the story. Not directly – but that’s ok. In fact, that’s better, because it’s centering people like me that got us into this mess to begin with. To know that I can be a support for the kind of person who does this work – that is an honor beyond just about any I can think of.

And it’s much more satisfying than having to dodge in front of a camera from a person trying to invade others’ privacy.

Which is why I’m back, and while I’m late, I’m on schedule to write this blog three times a week. I hope, in some way, it helps you get through the tough times as well.

Thank you, dear reader, for being here.

Your Semi-Annual Reminder: You Are Enough

I was reading a near-future dystopian thriller yesterday (Cumulus by Eliot Peper) and a quote literally jumped off the screen and lodged in my brain:

“Good leaders made themselves indispensable. Great leaders made themselves expendable.”

This saying feels like a part of the kind of understated and constructive leadership I’ve been trying to cultivate, and I was excited to share it with a colleague and fellow event producer.

She said,

“I love it generally and as intended…it touches on a fear for me, which I wonder if you have too…
If you’re expendable, would you get to go to the event?”

My reply was too quick, without much thought: “Of course you would. Why wouldn’t you?

Then I thought about it some more.

FOI: Fear of Irrelevance

I realized that the particular fear – of not being allowed to attend an event unless you are working for it – is a particular malady related to our (my colleague and me) constant battle with workaholism. It’s a pernicious and sneaky belief that is the dark underside of the whole idea of “work ethic”:

I’m only valuable for what I can do, not for who I am.

It’s the “What have you done for me lately?” feeling, turned on yourself. Doesn’t matter what you’ve done or accomplished in the past, that voice, that fear, won’t let you rest. Won’t let you enjoy the fruits of your labor. Won’t let you in on the sneaky secret.

Even when you can set up everything so that it can run without you, the people who care about you still want you around.

And more than that:

When it doesn’t matter what you can do, you don’t disappear.

All Better Now!

So this is your semi-annual reminder:

You have worth. Not for what you do, or what you’ve done, or what you have.

>You have worth simply because you are a sentient being, and as such, deserve respect and support so that we can all enjoy the world that we build together.

There! Now that you have read that, it’s all better, right?

It’s not that easy. My colleague could have been echoing my own thoughts, and those of my partner, my kids, our friends, when she said:

I don’t know why that’s so hard to believe.

> I know it’s not you.

> I can trust you on it.

> I just don’t think I’m worth it.

And you know what? That’s ok to think that way, if that’s where we’re at. It’s not an easy fix. All of us workaholics – and there are a lot in the company I keep – just keep telling each other:

You are enough,

and do the best we can to believe it.

Love, Fear, and A Wrinkle in Time

Last week I wrote about how re-visiting a book I had loved for most of my life revealed some flaws that made it, basically, unlovable.

There is also the flip side, though: when something you’ve loved for long time changes in some way, and you discover new reasons to love it.

“Please Don’t Ruin It.”

We all have that moment of fear when we hear about a book or a comic or even a video game that we loved being made into a movie.

(It’s kind of curious; we don’t seem to get as upset if a movie is made into a game or a book. It’s just movies that seem to evoke that reaction).

When I heard that A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, was going to be made into a movie I was at first elated, then frightened. About the only really successful moviefication of a book I liked was Princess Bride, but that made sense because the author was already an accomplished screenwriter.

Please don’t ruin it, I thought, along with many, many others. It’s an interesting way of thinking: I have these memories of reading the book (and the sequels) as a youth of about twelve. I continued reading and re-reading them on a regular basis into my late 20’s/early 30’s.

To give you an idea of the place they held, the first ensemble dance performance I co-created in college was named after characters in the sequel, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and the third book, A Wind in the Door, introduced me to St. Patrick’s Rune (At Tara in this fateful hour, I place all Heaven with its power…) that became a personal touchstone.

And that’s just the stuff I recognize as conscious influences. On a deeper level: I basically grew up into Calvin, without realizing or intending to.

You know how I know that?

The Movie Showed Me

They changed a lot in the movie. Casting a more diverse group for starters, and that was so refreshing, because the twelve-year-old boy never imagined Ms. Which, Whatsit, and Who as beautifully as the actresses who played them. They changed bits and pieces of the plot, and there were parts that terrified me from the book (a suburban world of perfect conformity) that were not nearly as developed in the movie as I would have liked.

But…Storm Reid’s portrayal of Meg Murry made me feel the fear and abandonment more than the book ever had. Ava Duvernay’s direction and pacing didn’t so much replace the images I’d created in my head as much as solidify them, fleshing them out in the way that I imagine the Harry Potter Theme Parks do for people who started with the books.

And along with the representation of others, there was the character that “looked like me.” No, not her father – for some reason, I never identified with him. No, the young Calvin, played by Levi Miller (no relation). I saw in that young man’s character the kind of support and quiet strength that epitomizes what can be good about masculinity. Not to say I’ve achieved that – this is fiction, after all – but I could see how his character had influenced me.

And Zach Galifianakis as the Happy Medium was nothing like I would have imagined the character…and yet was somehow not only perfect, but also gave me a new character archetype to emulate.

The Moral of the Story Is…

In an age of internet outrage, it’s easy to get defensive of our “pure” experiences of books, songs, and other touchstones of our youth. Especially with all the changes that happen to each of us, our memories of these works seem to be anchors to our memories of who we were in the past. Changing them can feel like a threat to the person we were, or at least who we remember being.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Rather than fearing changes in the things we love, we can be open to the possibility that the changes will allow us to find new ways to love them.

Wrinkles and all.