Failure and What Writers Can Learn by Channeling Dancer Charlie Hodges

Some of you may know I’m a dance mom. And no, not that kind of dance mom. You’ll never find me on one of those hellacious reality shows where they’re snarky and screamy, and always denigrating their darling dancers. Ack.

Nope. I’m just a regular ol’ dance mom who taxis her twinkle-toed, tutu’ed daughter to and from the studio and/or theater six days a week, like all the other moms (and dads); and who supports her dancer’s every move in her passionate pursuit of all things related to pointe, pirouettes, and pas de bourrées.

A few weeks ago I chaperoned a group of dancers from the studio my daughter has attended for nearly ten years to Regional Dance America (RDA) in Spokane, Washington. This four-day conference, which brought hundreds of dancers from twenty studios all over the region, was not an inexpensive venture, both in time and energy, not to mention finances. As we lifted off from the Santa Barbara airport, I sat buckled in, questioning my sanity in volunteering for this gig, hoping it would all be be worth it.

Layover in Portland--keeping it lively on the moving walkway.

I won’t bombard you with too many details, as I’m sure you already know what I’m about to say….It was worth every penny and every ounce of energy.

Let me repeat. Every. Single. Bit. Of. It.

Getting ready for a pointe class.

The girls took master classes in ballet, pointe, modern, contemporary, improv, and choreography from some of the top instructors in the U.S. and Canada, dancing between 3-5 hours each day. They also took strength/fitness classes, enjoyed lectures, and observed dozens of dances performed by different companies over four evenings. And finally, they reveled in a gala at the end of the conference in which they celebrated all their hard work, and cheered for their fellow dancers as over four hundred thousand dollars in scholarships was handed out. I’m not kidding.

This week of total immersion swirled together into the same kind of inspiration you find by attending a writer’s conference. You can’t help but grow and feel like you’re ready to elevate your game when you’re surrounded by others who are as passionate about your artform as you. This kind of synergy sets your creativity on fire and launches your motivation into the stratosphere.

The reason I’m sharing this with all of you is because it reminded me of how important it is to invest in ourselves as artists—whether it be dance, music, sculpture or writing.

We are only here on this planet for a limited amount of time, so if we want to be the best artists we can possibly be, we need to find inspiration and knowledge wherever we can, then set aside time to master our craft, tell our truths, and throw ourselves out into the universe to share our passions.

On the last day of RDA, the girls and my fellow co-chaperone and I attended a lecture I thought you would appreciate as much as we did. It was a TedTalk given by a dancer and educator named Charlie Hodges. His lecture was about learning from failure and finding your truth, which is not something most of these 14 to18-year-olds had heard much about, and something this adult appreciated hearing—especially on such a visceral level.

Charlie Hodges at RDA

First of all, about Charlie Neshyba-Hodges. He’s a thirty-eight year old contemporary American dancer who danced for nearly two decades, predominantly with Sacramento Ballet, Twyla Tharp and LA Dance Project. He’s known for “his unique ability to blend powerful and fluid dancing with tragicomic projection.”

Photo credit: Charlie Hodges Design

But that’s not the reason he was there to tell his story. His deeper story is that throughout his entire career he was told he was too short, fat and bald to be considered for lead roles, or even be accepted into the most prestigious companies, even though he was one of the most talented dancers. He received rejection after rejection—41 companies turned him down, in fact—(what writer can’t relate to that?), but he found a way to keep on going through dark, dark days, and eventually came to find his truth, and regain his joy in his artform.

Here is Charlie’s TedTalk, which I highly recommend checking out: 
Charlie Hodges Learning From Failure and Finding Your Truth

This is what else Charlie had to say at RDA…

Every day starts with space to get better.

Some of the best moments in life happen when you say yes. I wholeheartedly agree with this, as so many positive things have happened over my five-plus decades when I’ve taken a leap of faith and said yes. I was thrilled he shared this notion with all our dancers.

Don’t rely on luck, waiting for good things to happen. If you do, you could be waiting a very long time. Relying on skill is a much better approach.

Turn chance into choice, luck into skill (in other words, work your ass off).

Mastering something R.O.O.T.B. (right out of the box) is not how life works.

Effort—when it stops, growth stops.

Honest passion is always rewarded. I loved this too, because it reinforced the idea that you don’t have to be technically perfect all the time to connect with your audience. It’s about being authentic and passionate, and being the best version of yourself. It’s about sharing your love of your artform. That in itself should make you want to spread your wings and soar instead of shrink away to the claustrophobic “land of perfect,” where few people breathe deeply or exist joyfully.

Charlie Hodges at RDA answering questions afterward

Don’t become too afraid to fail. Failure is a rainstorm. If you just let yourself get wet, you’ll realize how much fun it is to splash through puddles, dance in the street, and feel the cool rain on your face. I loved that Charlie hammered home this notion with our dancers because I feel like there’s a ridiculous amount of pressure placed on young people these days to be perfect, always succeed, and never falter (Harvard and American Ballet Theater are waiting, after all!). Being afraid to fail provides the perfect recipe for always opting for the safety and comfort of what we’re good at over pushing outside our comfort zones where all the magic happens.

Don’t let someone dictate the outcome of your experience. You have control over how things are recorded. Continue reading

Favorite Five Friday: F Words

Happy freakin’ fabulous FRIDAY, everyone! Who doesn’t love that F word? It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a Favorite Five Friday, but as I ease back into blogging after a two-year hiatus, I thought it might be fun to resurrect this light-hearted Friday tradition. Below are a few of my favorite F words. I’d love to hear yours!

Favorite Five Friday F Words

What are your favorite F words? It would be fabulous if you would share!

Hallelujah for Anne Lamott

It’s been an eternity since I’ve blogged, and there are numerous reasons, for which I’m sure many of you can relate, including multiple moves, caregiving, death, and of course the constant pull of life. There was also a year of Ironman training thrown in there along the way, as well as wildfires, mudslides and the completion of my first novel. More about that another day though.

Then there’s this—the incessant drumbeat of chaos and negativity that’s been swirling through our nation since November 9, 2016.

Becky Aaronson in front of the Granada Theater before Anne Lamott's talk

Having had the pleasure of listening to author, political activist and writing instructor, Anne Lamott, speak last week though, it reminded me of one simple thing: if you want to write, write.

Also, Do. Not. Give. Up. Hope.

Because her talk was the best dose of medicine I’ve had in a long, long time, I wanted to share it with you so we might dance in hope and inspiration together.

When bespectacled and dreadlocked Anne Lamott walked on to the stage of Santa Barbara’s grand dame Granada Theatre wearing jeans and a biscuit-clolored flowy blouse, I instantly felt at ease. Her authenticity warmed the audience like the knitted shawl she wore wrapped around her shoulders. When she opened her mouth, I knew we would be friends or life.

I’ve always enjoyed her writing, but what she brought last Tuesday night was something more than writing wisdom. It was soul food, and what I dearly needed to hear. Based on the reaction from the rest of the audience, it was something they needed to hear, too. We are not alone in our angst and worry, and we must never give up.

For fifty minutes Anne riffed on mercy, hope and writing, all the while reinforcing the notion that we’re all neurotic and vulnerable, and we’re all enough exactly how we are.

“Truth is rare in popular culture,” she said. “Be big, juicy and real. We are as vulnerable as kittens, the world is devastating, but be you. There are no codes to lifeWe’re all a little tense and vulnerable…When you look in the mirror, reclaim the delight of your own reflection.”

The idea is that if we lose our amour and open up our hearts, we allow a place for mercy and compassion for others and ourselves.

She said mercy means “Heart for other’s troubles and struggles,” and “Mercy is radical kindness,” which is the definition I related to most.

Mercy is what brought Anne hope, especially after the devastating election in which it has felt like we’ve been bullied and lied to for months and months and months as the environment, children, elderly, immigrants, minorities, journalism and our allies have all been marginalized.

What else brought her hope? The same things that brought me hope and many others: people standing up for what they believe in…the Women’s March, defending Dreamers, the #MeToo movement, the Parkland kids and all the kids around the nation fueling our hearts, giving us a second wind to push for changes in our gun laws.

Getting out there, signs in hand, marching for what we believe in, and being surrounded by others who care passionately about our country and our democracy gives us hope. We are not alone.

2017 Women’s March

2018

2018 March For Our Lives

Action brings empowerment, and Anne reminded us that history shows that just one percent taking to the streets is how things have changed in the past.

One percent.

“Goodness bats last,” she said.

She also said, “Hope is medicine…and water…and the way home. When I laugh again, I’m home. When I’m home, I’m hopeful. Laughter is carbonated holiness…

Hope can be found in calling around. Find hope in your best friends. Get happy by taking care of people who are not even visible to the world…

Feed the hungry…

Go outside and look up. Nature is an elixir. It is where you find the divine…

Do things afraid and in bad moods, but do them…

We have to remember to hit reset and not have the comfort and familiarity of anger and annoyance.” This was an important reminder for me as I’m constantly yelling at the television news, cringing at the latest despicable offense coming from Washington.

Another favorite she attributed to someone else was: “Heaven is a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently.”

And then came Anne’s thoughts on writing, which is why I originally went to hear her talk.

Here are a few nuggets…

• Write what you would love to come upon—the kind of book you’d love to read yourself. And read widely—the masters, poetry, everything. See how they did it. Learn from them.

• If you want to write, write. It will be hard–really hard–but if you don’t, you will have a deep sense of regret.

• Stop not writing. It’s a very addictive habit. Be available for this thing inside you that you have to say.

• Stop hitting the snooze button. You don’t know if you’ll be here tomorrow or next year. You can’t wait for perfect circumstances.

• Write a really shitty first draft (amen to that).

• Perfection is the voice of oppression. Do things less well, but do them.

• When you’re stuck, ask for help. You get to ask others to step into it with you. People love to share what they know. It’s a gift to share and give.

• Print out everything and read it. Do not read your work on a digital screen. Print and overprint (and then send money to the Sierra Club, she joked). Don’t cringe. She’s hugely pro-environment. This made me smile because I thought I was the only one who needed to hold paper in hand to really read something.

During the Q&A, she was asked

“How do your book ideas come to you?”

She responded by saying: “By paying attention. Nothing is lost. Being receptive and available to tell your stories.”

Then she was asked to share some of her favorite books, which she drew a blank because there are just so many books. We can all relate to that, right? Eventually she listed a range of books and authors from Vonnegut, Yeats, and E.E. Cummings to Little Women and Little Men, Pippi Longstocking, Anna Karenina and Middle March. Poetry was high on her recommendation list as one can learn so much about how to write exquisitely with few words.

When she was asked which women were her heroes, she quickly rattled off a list of strong women: Gloria Steinem, Hillary, Margaret Atwood…

There was also a question about navigating grief, which hit home, since many people I know have recently lost loved ones, including our family.

She said, “Grief is the way home. It is the hardest and most blessed work we do. Our culture tells us to get over it. It makes people miserable to see someone in grief, but some deaths you never get over. When you lose someone, you go into the ‘Land of the Fucked.’ Your heart is literally broken. It’s like an anvil dropped on you. It’s excruciating—the most pain you’ll ever feel.” It took her years to come to terms with losses in her life, and the more she cried, the more peace she felt. The love and support of Hospice is what helped her most.

When talking about broken hearts, she reminded the audience of Leonard Cohen’s words, “Everything has a crack. That’s how the light gets in.”

Our lovely evening at the Granada ended with a rousing applause for someone who tells it like it is, leans heavily on her friends and faith, even though she’s appalled by Christianity, and reminds us that life is messy and magnificent. Afterward she signed her recently published book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy (as in even when things are totally shitty and falling apart, hallelujah anyway).

This blog post is way too long, and it’s far from perfect, but I’m going to take Anne’s advice and not feel oppressed by trying to be perfect. Instead, I’m going to revel in the joy of the writing process and reaching out to reconnect with you once again. Hallelujah to getting back on track.

Until next time, my friends, I will leave you with one of my favorite Tibetan proverbs:

“The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure.”

xo Becky

PS: If you feel like leaving me a comment, I’d love to hear from you! Have you read Anne Lamott’s latest book? Or which one is your favorite?

The Elegance of Reading on Your Writing

Photo of a hedgehogIt has been eons since I’ve written anything here on my blog, and for that I apologize. It’s not because I haven’t thought of you, my fabulous readers/followers, because believe me, I have…often.

The reason my blog has been silent for so long is because my life has been so packed with running, racing, and coaching—my other passions–that something had to give.

That something…which I can barely admit here because it’s truly unthinkable…is…reading.

Gasp. I know.

Considering how much I love to read, it’s not something I ever imagined I’d let happen. But being in constant motion over this past year, I could never keep my eyes open long enough to get to the bottom of a page, or stay focused long enough to swim in the magic of words on a Sunday afternoon.

And here’s the thing: without reading, there is no writing. At least no creative writing.

It’s that painfully simple.

When you are not enveloped in the beauty of language and pulled where your senses are awash in imagination, writing takes on a different quality. Oh sure, you can still knock out little blips here and there, and if you’re lucky, you might even be able to eke out a gem or two, but to fully tap into your inner-writing amazing-ness, you’ve got to read.

Fortunately, after far too long, I’ve finally crossed back into the literary world, thanks to a morning run up the street with my dog.

Photo of neighborhood lending library

Our sweet neighbors set up a little neighborhood lending library in front of their house (yes, I live in Mayberry, thank you very much). On a whim I grabbed The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

That’s all it took.

The writing is so fine, I lingered over words and sentences longer than my morning cup of coffee (if you know me, you know how long that can be). We’re talking goosebump producing prose, and characters that make you continually contemplate the over-arching beauty and complexity of the world around us.

After reading this book, I feel like I can breathe again, like my right arm has been reattached, and I’m suddenly back to where I cannot ‘not write.’ It’s the same feeling I had when I knocked out over a dozen chapters of my book in progress, The Art of an Improbable Life, while at the same time writing magazine articles, blog posts and three-quarters of a novel—one whose ending still bumps around in my head.

Who knew that reading could have such a profound affect on one’s writing? Well, of course we all know how important reading is, but until you’ve survived a literary drought, you will never fully understand the depths of its importance.

Now that I’ve finished Barbery’s masterpiece, my mind is gleefully spinning, trying to decide which book to linger over next. I’m searching for one just as compelling as the last so I don’t let old habits creep back in and let other responsibilities become more important than my precious reading time.

Do you have any book recommendations for me? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo of doggy running partner, Doodles

 

PS: In the meantime, I thought I’d share a picture of my big brown running partner, Doodles. This was taken on a rare rainy day here in CA. He doesn’t go far, but somehow he always manages to take me where I need to be–like the lending library up the street.


Love Letters

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson and Sweet BugAaah, Mother’s Day, one of my favorite days of the year. Not because it’s the day I’m fed peeled grapes and fanned with a palm frond as I lay on my fainting couch having my toenails painted (especially since I don’t even own a fainting couch).

It’s because this day reminds me of how profoundly my life has changed since becoming a mom; how that little universe I was comfortably operating in shifted on its axis so dramatically that my head still spins ten years later. How my already happy, full, crazy life instantly became more textured and meaningful, and infinitely more challenging (in all the best ways).

Becoming a mom also suddenly compelled me to start doing things I never imagined I’d be doing. For example, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that when Sweet Bug was just a Tiny Bug in preschool that my love for her would inspire me to dig deep into my creative bucket and pull out a quirky idea that would soon transform into a special ritual for both of us.

It started out simply as a little note and sketch in Tiny Bug’s lunch box, but quickly evolved into a more elaborate daily dose of love and learning. Each day I’d chose a new word for her to learn then make a crayon drawing on her napkin and place the corresponding letter cookies in her lunch so she could match the cookies to the letters on the napkin before she enjoyed her tasty treats.

Every single day of preschool I made Tiny Bug a napkin. And yes, she ate and shared a lot of letter cookies, especially when they were long words (bad mommy).

These napkins were simply meant to be momentary messages of love, to connect the two of us while she was away at school, and to surprise her with a new word each day as an extra way to get her excited about learning.

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with Library page

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with farm page

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with house page

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with star page

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with the write page

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with fish page

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with pink and purple pages

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with tree and spring pages

These napkins, which I made long after Tiny Bug went to bed each night, were never meant to be kept and saved. In fact, when Tiny Bug brought them home from school every day and insisted we keep them, I didn’t know what to do with them—especially the ones with glops of food spilled on them. For a long time I piled them in the corner of our kitchen counter. Eventually, they went into a drawer, then finally a box.

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson's book Love Letters with planet and colors pages

It was when we moved to a new house the real decision had to be made. Are we seriously going to move a pile of old napkins? I moaned. I’m sentimental, but not that sentimental. But Sweet Bug was adamant: “Mommy, these are special to me. You can’t throw them away.” So, as you may have guessed, Continue reading

Off and Running! Something New to Share

Sorry for the “radio silence” here on my blog, as my writing and blogging friend, Melissa, has so aptly referred to it.

Run Be Run Happy FeetWhen my blog is quiet, there’s always a reason…or ten. This time is no exception. I won’t list all the things that have consumed my writing time, but rather share the most exciting thing: a new blog/website I just launched called Run Be Run.

I know I’ve shared a few of my stories with you in the past about what running means to me, but in the last couple years this sport has taken a front seat in my life as I’ve started racing again and coaching several kids running teams. I wanted to create a site that not only shared my passion for the sport, but also celebrated the everyday joys and challenges of being a runner. And of course, there will be a large dollop of “life” thrown in along the way, because, well…that’s just who I am, never one to stick strictly to a script.

Run Be Run is still a work in progress, but I hope you’ll swing by and check it out. If you like what you see and would like to receive automatic updates each time I post a new tidbit, you can sign up via email in the right side of the blog. If not, I promise I won’t look at you sideways.

Here’s a peek at Run Be Run. You can click HERE or on the image below to go to the site.

Photo of Run Be Run website

I’ve missed connecting with you here, dear readers! I still plan to continue this blog and also my ongoing book project, The Art of an Improbable Life, so if you stick with me a bit longer, I’m hoping to be back up and blogging consistently once again. Thanks for all your support! My cup runneth over!

I can’t wait to catch up with you all! Tell me, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve done so far this year?

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. – Special Guest Post

Today I have the special honor of welcoming guest writer, Sweet Bug, to my blog. Yep, on this day we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s a privilege to share her tribute to Dr. King, which comes in the form of a lovely cinquain.

King
brave, courageous
leading, caring, changing
inspiring others to dream on
hero

 

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr.

Now, it’s your turn! See if you can write a 5-line tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. and leave it in the comment box below for all to enjoy. Don’t worry if you feel woefully inept at poetry. So do I, but I still found this to be a fun way to celebrate MLK, a man who made a profound impact on our world. And of course, it’s more the thought that counts–even if you don’t have the right number of syllables! 

A cinquain – which, by the way, is pronounced “sin-cane,” not “sin-kwane” – is a form of poetry that was created by American poet Adelaide Crapsey about 100 years ago, and is similar to Japanese poetic forms, such as haiku and tanka.

Though cinquains are just five lines long, the best ones tell a small story. Instead of just having descriptive words, they may also have an action (something happening), a feeling caused by the action, and a conclusion or ending.

The first and last lines have just two syllables, while the middle lines have more, so they end up with a diamond-like shape, similar to the poetic form called the diamante.

THE RULES OF A CINQUAIN

  1. Cinquains are five lines long.
  2. They have 2 syllables in the first line 4 in the second, 6 in the third, 8 in the fourth line, and just 2 in the last line.
  3. Cinquains do not need to rhyme, but you can include rhymes if you want to.Source: Poetry4kids.com

A Delicious Interview with Editor Krista Harris

Edible Santa Barbara Winter 13 Cover Fortune CookiesWhen I’m not blogging, working on my book, or delving into other creative projects, I have the great pleasure of writing magazine articles. One of my favorite publications to write for, Edible Santa Barbara, is right here in my own backyard.

Krista Harris and her husband, Steve Brown, started Edible Santa Barbara in the spring of 2009 with hopes of sharing in-depth stories behind the food and culinary traditions of Santa Barbara County. This beautifully produced magazine provides a visual and literary feast for anyone interested in food.

This quarter I had the joy of writing about the history of fortune cookies. Though they may not have specific ties to Santa Barbara, per se, fortune cookies do have surprising and intriguing West Coast roots. Several other stories I written for the magazine over the past few years include pieces on artichokes, almonds and latte art.

Krista happens to be one of of my favorite editors to work with, so it gives me great pleasure to interview her here today. Take a peek to see what makes this shaker and mover tick, and see how her passion is elevating Santa Barbara’s food movement.

Portrait of Krista Harris Editor of Edible Santa Barbara

Q: Why did you start Edible SB? What was your motivation? Continue reading

Doodles Announces the Winner of the Creative Peeps Calendar

Congratulations, Tina Fariss Barbour! You are the winner of a 2014 Creative Peeps Inspirational Desk Calendar!

WINNA, WINNA, WINNA, I say! Woof!

Doodles 2014 Creative Peeps Desk Calendar Winner Tina Fariss Barbour

Send me an email to improbablelife (at) gmail with your mailing address and your calendar will be on its merry way.

Thanks for taking part in the fun and helping me get out of the doghouse. You’ll be happy to know my mom isn’t mad at me anymore for sneaking on to her computer. In fact, she said she has a whole new appreciation for me after reading all your comments. She’s even forgiven me for making her spill an entire glass of red wine all over her keyboard when I bumped her elbow a while back (even though it still glows purple).

I’m not super big on having my picture taken, but as you can see above, I tried to be a good sport. I’m smiling on the inside. Really, I am.

Hugs and kisses,
Doodles