July 25, 2009

Back when I was teaching improve-your-self-image classes I would expound on how our notions of our selves and others are frequently ill-founded and askew. I would speak of what I had learned about “great” people, and how great people are often plagued by the same fears and doubts as us average folk–we just don’t get to see it and so we over-enlarge their greatness. And I would emphasize that we all need to give ourselves more credit for our accomplishments–that BIG accomplishments are not the only things to celebrate.

To illustrate how we undervalue our accomplishments I would talk about typewriting (this was back in the day when the IBM Selectric typewriter was still hot stuff.)

Look at all that goes into typing a letter, or a poem. Working backwards from the typing of it, look at how we first had to learn to write and to read–which required learning the alphabet. Remember how much work that was? Remember all the many hours and days and years we spent learning to shape a letter with a pencil, to name the letters, to list them in alphabetic sequence, to string them together as words? Remember the pride in scribing “apple” and “pencil”? And then we could make sentences–with punctuation–conveying thoughts, messages!

Although I used to regularly tout all that, these days it seems I have to do BIG THINGS to be an accomplished person. Not only write, but get published. Not only be published, but win awards. Not only win awards, but be on the cover of “Time”.

Such thinking is bullsh*t really. And I believe the loss of connection to the incremental steps, the small “accomplishments” is a key source of unhappiness.

Lately I haven’t been feeling well, and so I’ve spent a lot of time just being still and looking out the window. I can see my husband outside, moving earth, building walls, making progress with the landscaping. Me, I am resting and doing nothing much. I gaze out the window, and I consider the green shapes of the maple trees against the summer-blue skies. My big accomplishment is learning how to distinguish a male Pileated woodpecker from a female.

I’ve been pretty hard on myself lately. My printing press still needs refurbishing. There are those lily bulbs that should have been planted two months ago. And what about that great idea I got last November for a series of books; I haven’t even written a synopsis let alone a chapter. I am not feeling good about myself for all that slacking.

But somehow yesterday I had a moment of grace, and in that moment it seemed like what I was doing right then was exactly perfect and all that was necessary. And I can’t say how it is that in the Big Scheme it makes any difference that at that moment I was observing a fat robin bathing, wings outstretched and water ripple rings traveling around her–but it was a sweet moment, as if I was being forgiven and blessed at the same time.

Later, an idea came to me that I’m sure was allowed to arrive and be heard only because of that earlier moment of grace. There would be a birthday party that night that I would be unable to attend (because I was feeling too sickly), and I was sad about that. But it occurred to me that I could video-record a happy birthday wish and send it off to the party. And then the real idea arrived, the moment-of-grace idea.

And this goes back to my belief in the validity and importance of acknowledging, celebrating, and never discrediting the small accomplishments, the little steps.

See I recently acquired a piano. And I am not a piano player. I don’t have a musical gene in my DNA. But this piano, well, it seems meant to be this piano and me. I’ve written about this and the essay will eventually be published (if I am worthy, by Chris Guillebeau otherwise, here on my blog) but for now suffice to say that I am embracing this piano with all my ineptitude and awkwardness and no-talent inabilities. And brazenly being naive with this piano is contributing to a new, more genuine Me.

So I ran with my moment-of-grace idea–and made my first music video. I found some sheet music in Google images and ran through “Happy Birthday” a few times. There was a spot that didn’t sound quite right, so I futzed around a little until I found some sound I liked, then I memorized the whole thing and recorded it with my little Flip Mino camera.

And then, I made the whole bumbling thing public.

Some credit for having the bravery to post my video must go to Colleen Wainwright, who boldly published a video of herself and her song, “The Boulder”, (warning: f-words and all), which is a little ditty about the merit of many small steps. (It is also a brilliant bit about allowing the light of our true selves the freedom to burn.)

So then of course this morning something leads me to Leo Babauta‘s post The Art of the Small: How to Make an Impact. The past year or so ideas that Babauta addresses in his book The Power of Less have been uppermost in my mind. I have had a rough time sorting through my possibilities, keeping an eye on the feasible, the plausible, the valuable. All those notions of how ACCOMPLISHMENT looks only certain ways doesn’t help an iota. The Art of Small post sort of just ties it all up for me right now–even a small element, with focus, becomes a force.

The notes for the little Happy Birthday song: G G A G C B G G A G D C G G G E C B A F F E C D C

I don’t have to make BIG THINGS happen in order to matter. The simple ABCs are important.

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Leila July 25, 2009 at 3:02 pm

And as a footnote–of sorts–after posting this I took a nap, and when I woke I found a signpost to this: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

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