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 joyfully exist.

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

Dancing with Gratitude for Nelson Mandela

Thank you Nelson Mandela for making such a profound difference in our world. Our hearts are heavy because you’re gone, but we’re also dancing weightlessly, filled with gratitude because you were born.

Photo of Nelson MandelaWatching the news last night, tears streaming down my face – a wine glass in one hand, a tissue in the other – I marveled at the dizzying affect Nelson Mandela had on my life, simply because Continue reading

Helping Veterans and Their Families One Book at a Time

It’s rare I post twice on my blog in one day, but on this Veteran’s Day I feel compelled to pause for a moment and say thanks to our service men and women for their hard work and dedication to our country. I’d also like to share a book with you, which might help someone dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Diary of a Vet’s Wife by Nancy MacMillan.

Cover Photo of Diary of a Vet's Wife by Nancy MacMillanNancy took sixteen years to write her book, Diary of a Vet’s Wife: Loving and Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – A Memoir. It’s the story of her life with a Vietnam Veteran, and the journey they take through PTSD. She shares her story with courage and honesty in hopes of helping others who are dealing with the same issues. Nancy wants others to know they are not alone, and even offers a list of resources available to find help.

Diary of a Vet’s Wife has received numerous 5-star reviews, and is even at the White House in Michelle Obama’s hands.

If that’s not enough to inspire you to pick up this book, this might: Nancy has teamed up with Pets for Vets by donating a portion of the proceeds from her book to help this organization pair shelter dogs with veterans returning from war. Their mission is to help in the healing process and to add another source of comfort and support for those dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Diary of a Vet’s Wife is available on Amazon in paperback and for the Kindle. Spouses and family members of those afflicted with PTSD will find this especially helpful because it’s written from the perspective of somebody who has lived in their shoes. You can also find Nancy online at Blog of a Vet’s Wife.

Here is a hearty thank you to Nancy for sharing her journey to help others, and here’s to our military veterans who have not only battled in war, but who have faced numerous challenges while integrating back into their “old lives,” which of course, will never be the same after what they’ve experienced.

 

In the News…

Hats off to Dave Mason at Santa Barbara News-Press for his fine review of Steve & i in yesterday’s Sunday Books. It’s fun to share Jeffrey’s story with the Santa Barbara community and hear how others have connected with the book.

Photo of Steve & i review in the Santa Barbara News-Press

And yes, that’s a young Jeffrey Aaronson in the bottom right-hand corner–a photo taken by Steve Jobs at Apple Headquarters when they were both 29-years old. ❤

Why a Happiness Jar Works Tirelessly (and Effortlessly) to Remind Us to Be Grateful

Last January I placed an empty square glass vase on a side table in our living room. Next to it I stacked a small pile of colorful note cards and a pen. Then, after taking a deep breath and hoping not to sound too corny, I announced to my husband and daughter, “This is our happiness jar.”

Photo of our Happiness Jar, Containing our Gratitude

“Our what?” my daughter asked, head cocked.

“Our happiness jar,” I repeated as if everybody had one.

My husband and daughter looked at each other with raised eyebrows and said, “OoooKaaay,” as if trying to appease a mentally unstable person.

I laughed at their response, but continued with resolve, Continue reading

Sunday Sizzle: A Stunning Look at Gratitude by Louie Schwartzberg

“Oh my god”…find out how cinematographer, Louie Schwartzberg, defines those three words in his stunning nine minute TED Talk video, Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. You’ll see why over two million people have been wow’ed by this project.

“You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today…It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well.” ~Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast

Portrait of LouieSchwartzberg

 

Louie Schwartzberg is an award-winning cinematographer, director and producer who captures breathtaking images that celebrate life — revealing connections, universal rhythms, patterns and beauty.

Popping the Cork for Cork

Photo of Cork MillnerIn Memoriam
Cork Millner 1931-2013

Cork Millner, my writing mentor, whom many of you know I adored, passed away recently. I say “my” writing mentor because I felt a close connection to him, but clearly he was not just mine. His memorial service earlier this week was a testament to that.

Dozens of friends, family members, colleagues and former writing students all came to pay tribute to him.

Cork touched each of us in different ways, but it was clear we all shared one thing in common: gratitude for having had him in our lives.

The day of Cork’s memorial service couldn’t have been more spectacular. The sun arose with aplomb, casting a blaze of color across Santa Barbara’s morning sky, perfectly symbolizing the richness Cork added to our lives with his charm and colorful personality.

Sunrise over Santa Barbara on the day of Cork's Memorial

As we gathered for his service inside the cemetery’s intimate chapel, we were wrapped in Celtic harp music, then reminded by Reverend Miriam Lindbeck, Cork’s lovely, long-time friend and former writing student, of all the things we loved about Cork.

He was “old school stoic,” strong and private, yet sensitive and open. He loved fine wine, fine cars and fine writing. He was charming and dapper, and appreciative of humor–especially his own, which was wry and occasionally acerbic. He was confident, hard-working and fiercely proud of his family and his military service, which included 850 aircraft carrier landings.

Photos of Cork Millner's memorial

And then, of course, there was his name. Continue reading

A Bundle of Sticks Can’t Be Broken

It’s my birthday week, and the simple act of adding another candle to my cake always stirs a reflective and celebratory cocktail of emotions for me.  While many people loathe adding another candle to the top of their cake, I say, “Bring it on!” After all, celebrating another year aways beats the alternative, as far as I’m concerned.

Last year I shared my favorite music with you on my birthday and reflected on the impact it has on one’s life (click here if you missed it and care to take a peek).

This year I thought I’d share one of my favorite gifts, which I think you might appreciate as much as I do. It’s one I received a couple years ago from my dear friend, Kimberly Reeder-Riechel.

Photo of a Bundle of Sticks Can't Be Broken

This seemingly delicate, yet nearly indestructible bird’s nest, sits in my office in a place of honor near my computer, and it knocks my socks off every time I look at it–especially when accompanied by Kimberly’s hand-written note: “A bundle of sticks can’t be broken.”

This gift reminds me not only of how much I appreciate Kimberly’s friendship and all the strong qualities that make up my fabulous friend, but it also reminds me that no matter how challenging life gets, I will always feel loved and supported by the many caring, talented and diverse “sticks” in my bundle of life.

This proverb, while simple, is a great reminder that as humans we are infinitely more powerful when we band together to support one another than when we try to navigate through life as individual “twigs.” After all, it’s a snap to break a single twig in half, but nearly impossible to break a sturdy bundle. Just try it and see what I mean.

Somehow this notion seems especially poignant this year as I delve into a particularly fiery social issue (click here to read more) and also push once again to finish my book in the midst of all life’s daily pulls. Knowing that my “sticks” are there to support me gives me a sense of calm and strength, and even patience.

This proverb also makes me think of others around me like my friends who are still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy and those who are dealing with debilitating illnesses. It also makes me think of those who have lost parents recently or who are struggling to handle parenting issues of their own, all the while trying keep their humor and sanity. And of course, it makes me think of my writing and artist friends who continually try to keep the creative fires burning, who put themselves out there, who yearn to start or complete projects which have simultaneously inspired and tortured their creative souls.

I share my bundle of sticks with all of you to remind you that you are not alone, that we are all in this great big crazy world together; and to remind you that anything is possible with hard work and the support of those who care.

I also share my bundle of sticks to encourage you to be kind to yourself if you feel the need to ask for support. Asking for advice or help once in a while does not make you weak, but rather wise and strong. It shows that you are passionate about what you are doing and have the guts to reach out to make it happen.

The beauty of each of our bundles is that it continually grows and changes, getting stronger with each year and each new person who enters into our lives. I didn’t know my friend Kimberly when I was in third grade nor even college. In fact, I only met Kimberly a handful of years ago, when our daughters went to preschool together. I never could have imagined that such an important friendship could have develop in such a short time.

The same holds true with many of my writing and blogging friends. I may have only gotten to know some of you over the past year or so, but your words and personalities have added nothing but dazzling, colorful sticks to my ever-growing bundle.

On this day that I celebrate another candle, more importantly, I celebrate you, dear peeps, all the beautiful “sticks” in my life (you know who you are). Thank you for making my bundle impossibly strong and abundantly memorable and meaningful.