Today I’m working with some feelings of inadequacy. It’s the kind of feeling that creeps in unexpectedly and without warning, like its been living under my sternum for months, giving me little doses of low confidence once in a while, but mostly keeping itself in check. Do you know what I mean?
This afternoon, though, I let out the feelings of inadequacy from their ribbed cage and they had much to say as they rattled and clanged their way out. Instead of shutting these voices down with the silent treatment or pep talks, I let them yell, and this is what they said, in the form of art:
Right now, I think the “cures” for these feelings can be found in the repeated words at the bottom and top, but I’m not sure yet. And I think the egg means hope of some kind. In a world where we often share our “best moments” with the world — our smiling selfies, our accomplishments, and our important and pivotal moments of greatness — I think it’s also important to be real with what is irking us, with what challenges us, with what we’re still working on even after over 40 years of life. Sometimes we need to expose the pain that’s living behind our chests, and for me, I need to turn it into art, and apparently I need to share it on my blog, too.
What are you methods of dealing with those tight feelings of fear or inadequacy or pain? If they could express themselves outside of you, what form would they take?
My December Reflections project has come to an end and here are my final photographs and reflections. Happy New Year!
December 25: LOVE IS…
LOVE IS… a moment on a beach at sunset accepting imperfection, embracing compassion.
December 26: REAL LIFE
I do a lot of this. I have stacks of essays and assignments. I read. I comment. I grade. If it’s a nice day, I’ll even do it outside.
December 27: 2015 TAUGHT ME…
Yes, this. Even if things don’t turn out the way I want them, even if there are tornados in my heart and earthquakes in my legs, there is an everlasting okayness that will prevail.
December 28: A SECRET WISH FOR 2016
After four decades of life, I still struggle with confidence. I believe in confidence and have small moments of grounded self-acceptance, but often I feel like an impostor. Here’s to a new year of feeling that I am strong, capable, smart, creative, beautiful, and loved.
December 29: HOME
When I can touch the earth, I feel more at home. Here’s to more trees, more water, more grassy fields, more dirt.
December 30: THANK YOU FOR…
I thank my body for her self-healing abilities. She is always trying to create harmony and equilibrium for me.
December 31: MY WORD FOR 2016
Here’s to an abundant new year of manifestation! Create! Produce! Manifest!
December 4: RED
Red is one of my favorite colors, mostly because of its potency and boldness. There is no mistaking red. Red knows that she’s powerful. I created this art piece above our mantle over a year ago, and I am still struck by how people see different things in it. Some see a moon on the water as the surf froths up and some seem rain falling down. What do you see?
December 5: SACRED SPACE
When we moved into our new place in Bellingham this fall, it took me a while, but I did my usual space clearing and energizing ritual. This year, my cat Selkie wanted to be involved and he was very curious by the smells, sounds, and shifts in energy.
December 6: BEST BOOK OF 2015
I am quite biased, but I am also a very good judge of a powerful piece of writing. My mom’s memoir Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye was published in paperback this year after a run in hardback with a different press. This memoir explores my mom’s journey with loss in a lyrical and transcendent way. I am moved each time I read it, not only because this book is about my mom and my family, but because, through writing, my mother is able to let the light shine gently on grief and loss. For more on her book, please visit her website, where there are excerpts, beautiful reviews, photographs, and more.
December 7: BRANCHES
It is very dark in the PNW this year. Our resident weather expert Cliff Mass posted an article about how yesterday was the darkest December day in over nine years in our area! Instead of sharing a photo of branches from this time of year (though barren branches and dark skies can be quite beautiful, too), I am going to share a photo from this past April. These pink puffs of love delight me to know end. And set against a hopeful blue sky, I can almost smell the fragrant joy bursts.
It has been seven years. If you had never gotten sick—if you had lived—who would you be now? Would you still love peanut butter sandwiches and fishing in the waters of Puget Sound? Would you still be a golfer and a jokester and the grounding force in every room? Would I still see tears in your eyes when you are moved by social justice? Would you still say to me (now at age 39, almost 40) “Way to go kid”? Memory is sometimes fickle, other times an iron burning a deep mark in wood. Here is one of those deep marks distilled in a poem. Here you are, a version of you from many years ago, still clear in my memory.
WATCHING HIM TIE THE CORDS
for my father
One summer, they come—
pups with wet fur, slick in their amniotic gloss.
My father flops each black body over like a fish
to reveal the pink bellies and the gray umbilicals.
He cuts and ties each cord like a fishing line.
I recognize his gentle one-handed turn,
remember when the knife sliced
the salmon’s pink flesh, scored the scales
and one glazed fish eye stared back at me
across the bloodied sink.
Today, he strokes each tiny body, ties
the cords into knots and places the pups
at their mother’s row of plump nipples
for their first suck of life.
c. Courtney Putnam, 2015
This afternoon I took a walk through my neighborhood park (Ravenna Park) with the intention of 1) moving my body to help with my recent dip into the “Seattle Winter Lethargy” (that’s SWL, for those who need to know) and 2) finding beauty in the dark muckiness of winter in the Pacific Northwest.
At first, the trail ahead of me seemed barren and everything, no matter what color, seemed to have an ashen overtone. I saw three colors, really: brown, gray, and dark green — far from the vibrant greens and blues of spring and summer. I noticed wet decaying leaves marinating in mud puddles; cold naked deciduous trees looking a bit embarrassed; various slimy plant matter drooping and brown; and fallen branches and rotting tree stumps looking lost and discarded.
Even my Instagram filter has a hard time convincing me there is beauty here.
And yet, I know beauty *does* exist in what’s happening in these photos above. What’s happening is seasonal metamorphosis. What’s happening doesn’t look “pretty” because decay isn’t very photogenic. The process of transformation is not often gleaming with vibrancy either. I can’t help but think of the many personal growth spurts in my life. I think of how much muck I walked through, knee deep, in order to find my way again. Detritus is essential for new growth.
But can’t there be true beauty along the way, too, even in the shadow times of our lives? On my walk today I looked for beauty and found it when I got up close and personal with nature. I will be honest: I didn’t see beauty right away and I sometimes had to convince myself to see differently. But this is a good exercise, right? Find beauty in something that you think is ugly.
The wide angle lens proved to be disappointing, but when I paid attention and zoomed in, look at what green gorgeousness I found:
When I changed my perspective, the barren tress turned into art:
When I touched nature, she was surprisingly soft and welcoming:
And when I looked up, the deciduous and evergreen trees embraced the sky regardless of their different states of undress.
There is beauty in the winter, in the shadows, in the decaying muckiness of the season. There is beauty in you during your “winter” season, too. Zoom in, change your perspective, look up, connect. You will find mossy vibrancy and hope inside you. There will be a corner of blue sky peeking at you some days. And those mud puddles? They’re just there to remind you to take risks, get dirty, and play.
Let’s burn those traditional New Year’s resolutions. Take all of your “to-do’s” and “shoulds” and “have to’s” and place them in a pile of kindling. Watch them curl and scorch and turn to ash. Feel your body lift and lighten as the smoke rises. Listen to your heart’s caverns expand. Be present to how those “shoulds” have held you back, kept you from rising. Replace them with “I am” and “I want to” and “I am becoming.” Write your way into a brand new year of self-love, self-compassion, deep listening, and creativity. Listen to your body, write from your body, let your body speak.
The ZenPen journey begins on January 12, 2015.
Join me for body-based writing for healing, personal growth, and transformation.
$69 for the entire six-week e-course!
Give ZenPen as a gift to someone you love this holiday season!
The Goodies: What You Get in this E-Course
- Six weeks of “Lessons,” each covering a different ZenPen theme.
- A guide to body-writing basics, including the “ZenPen Kata” and “Trigger Point Writing.”
- A personal video from me once a week.
- Body exercises to try (breath, movement, meditation, etc.).
- At least five body-based writing prompts per week.
- Inspirational quotes, videos, images, and links related to each theme.
- An “Inspire-Me-Thursday” post with inspiration and motivation to keep you writing.
- Responses to and feedback on your posts on CourseCraft and in the Facebook Group.
- A community of like-hearted people with whom to share writing, insights, experiences, and resources.
- A 30-page ZenPen course document that is yours to keep at the end of the e-course.
- Unconditional love and support!
Here’s what ZenPen graduates have to say about the course:
“I love that we incorporate our bodies into our writing — or rather, let them do the writing for us. I’ve been trying to learn more about how to heal through my body and what it remembers, so I’m excited to add one more process in my journey. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to explore and heal here.” — Faith
“Your prompts, and the writing I crafted in response to them, at various moments made me take deeper breaths, burst into tears, listen more closely to various parts of my body, feel connected and warm, mourn, hope, build courage, and so many other things. Thank you.” — Jessica
“I have been journaling and studying all things journaling for four decades and the content here is very interesting and the information was new to me. I know have a whole new landscape to explore in my journaling. Thank you. — Bheki
“That’s why this course has been so helpful: little by little, I am seeing small ways to improve my awareness of my body, and now I can include it in that powerful triumvirate of mind-body-heart. I am only starting on this kind of awareness training, but I am already seeing the benefit: I am more present, less violent with my language towards myself, and much, much more forgiving of my ‘human-ness.’ Your course is tying in nicely with everything else I am learning about right now.” — Lauren
“Courtney is amazing. And I was needing a ‘reason’ to start writing again, but felt like if I just tried it on my own I’d be discouraged with more grocery-list type entries (from the head) rather than really getting some creative writing out. Through the ZenPen process, I learned that my body has a whole lot more to say that my Big Bad Mind won’t let it. Sorta like a stern parent, my mind REGULATES, and so when I can put my mind in time-out, then my body feels free to open up and give me lots of good stuff to work with!” — Jenna
“I learned to not rationalize too much, to listen to my body, to trust myself and my instincts, and to know that it’s OK to not make sense! I struggle with anxieties that something is wrong with me because I find great differences between me and many other people, but I’m slowly learning/struggling/challenging myself to believe that my differences are me and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve gained new perspectives from this course and I am very grateful for you Courtney.” — Hafsia
“ZenPen is helping me to be more present and loving with myself. It is facilitating a deepening relationship with myself that is necessary for me to be more of ME. I love your insights and exercises and the way you share yourself — very inspiring!” — Rachel
“The ZenPen E-course was outstanding in quality and quantity. I liked having lots of things to return to throughout the week — writing prompts, body work, videos, mid-week inspiration, and posting. Courtney’s replies to my CourseCraft posts were the highlight of the course for me! Through the e-course, I learned that I can do what I thought I couldn’t (write from my body) and that it’s an ever-expanding opportunity I can keep returning to and deepening.” — Nicole
A brand new year is on the way. How are you going to show up for yourself in a deep and meaningful way?