The Pure Joy Of Singing

Among the things I’m for, it’s definitely making music. I’m also for Mark, one of my most favourite people.

Mark Boogieman

Kathy Matkin-Clapton is the choral conductor for the U of L Conservatory of Music Choirs-Children’s (6-10), Youth, (11-16) and Incanto (16 & up.) If you’ve lived in Lethbridge for any length of time and had kids that liked to sing, there’s a good chance they experienced the joy being in one of Kathy’s choirs. (Both my kids did.) Kathy was the vocal director for a couple of shows I’ve done and we’ve shared the stage for a few as well. It’s always a better experience when Kathy is part of a project. Not only does she bring her expertise to the benefit of those around her, she is a consummate pro on stage. In between rehearsing scenes we’ve had many great talks both of a serious nature and of the rather inane. I’m not sure I’ve laughed harder than in a rehearsal for A Little Night Music. We were listening…

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Here’s to a year-full of the ‘right days’

 ‘There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. So today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.’

These words, written by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama sum up my only one and only resolution for the coming new year … to make each day of 2014 the right day to love, live and experience my world with my heart and mind wide open.

I know that if I can commit to this, then all of the other goals, hopes and dreams I have for myself this year will fall into line. Like almost everyone I want to exercise more, spend less, eat better and resist stress. I also want to be kinder, listen better, empathize more and spend far less time worrying about what others might be thinking. I want to see the best in others and believe others when they express what they see as the best in me. I want to connect more, laugh until my sides hurt and spend my time in the company of others who make me feel that I am loved.

As for the ‘yesterdays’, I want to look back with fondness rather than regret. I want to regard my mistakes with compassion and understanding. I want to hold tenderly all that I’ve done well. I want to regard all of it as an opportunity to learn and want to carry the whole she-bang– the good, the bad and the ugly–forward as new wisdom that will make ‘today’ richer, calmer and more gratifying.

I want that new wisdom to wrap its arms around me as self-awareness that makes me feel more certain about my ability to revel in whatever ‘tomorrow’ might bring.

All of this­–every single word of it­–rings with a simple and satisfying truth. That truth is that it’s all up to me. I get to decide how I love, believe, do and live each and every day of the coming year. I get to do this no matter what the world may serve up to me on any given day. I get to choose what I am for. And then I get to live every ‘today’ like it matters, with my heart and mind wide open.

Whatever your goals, hopes and dreams might be for the coming year, I wish you peace, health and a heart overflowing with all that brings you joy. Happy new year.


getting to ‘just right’

In my humble opinion, Goldilocks was more than just another pretty, fairytale face. Setting aside any moral dilemmas I may have around entering someone’s home and using their stuff without permission, I admire how Goldi approached the whole ‘just right’ thing. She assessed her options and chose the porridge, chair and bed that suited her fancy. She owned her choices without apology. Like a boss. Until the bears came home, at least.

Man, I wish I’d had that kind of moxy as a girl. But I didn’t. I grew up fretting about what people might think. Was I obnoxious? Or boring? Was I bossy? Or a door mat? Was I too opinionated? Or too daft to have a valid point of view? Was I a show off? Or a fake? Sigh.

My self-doubt funneled me down an ever-narrowing path that led me to believe was simply easier to play small than to live the glory of what I really wanted. My 20-year-old version of Goldilocks would have gone inside that little cottage and made everyone’s porridge, chair and bed ‘just right’.

No one ever asked me to play small. But I did. And it worked brilliantly for a time. It also made it possible for me to exalt the twin of small playing; the almighty ‘put others first’. I was so nice. You would have adored me. I was so nice it would have made your teeth hurt. The problem was that I ‘niced’ myself into virtual disappearance.

A variety of things nudged me off the planet of nice. Thank goodness. The birth of my  son was the first and biggest nudge. For him, I wanted to be a source of constant strength and light, not an Edith Bunker flickering flame. Other nudges included the end of a troubled marriage and living independently for the first time, among many other things. I also befriended some fabulous women who’d chosen not to play nice anymore. They played kind instead of sweet. They lived big instead of small. Their examples were stunning to me. STUNNING. Like Goldilocks seizing the moment and enjoying what her heart desired.

Even with 20+ years of practice, I’m still not always that great at that kind of carpe diem. Somewhere along the line, the message that I was both too much and too little was deeply planted into my emotional DNA. I still strain against the ancient voice that tells me to keep quiet, be sweet, retreat to compliant shadows and play nice.

But I know that those words are only masks that keep me from being my ‘just right’ self. Those masks served me for a long while, but they don’t anymore. That kind of cover up isn’t at all what I’m for.

What I’m for is simply discovering the best version of myself every day. Sometimes that self is too big and too loud and downright inappropriate. Sometimes that self is introspective and shy and sometimes she laughs out loud at words like ‘Uranus’ and ‘colon’ and the farting sounds that the ketchup bottle makes. Sometimes she wants to be all by herself or with just her family and sometimes she wants to be surrounded by people who make her laugh or think about bigger stuff. Sometimes she’s in tune with others and sometimes she’s completely clueless.

I am all of these things. All of these things are me. My hope is that every day, the self that people meet is the real deal.

This hope aligned with some very powerful words I came across the other day on one of my favourite sites:. My Beautiful Words. They were written by Marianne Williamson (although they’re often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela – another guy I’m pretty much for). Here’s an excerpt:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … We are all meant to shine … and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. 

We are all meant to shine. I want my life to reflect that. For me and for my beautiful husband and children. For those that I teach and for those that I learn from. For my heart-tethered friends and for those I have never even met. This is something that I really and truly am for.

words of wisdom from mama t

Enlightenment comes in fits and starts for me and in the strangest places and oddest moments. I will be entirely focused on something else when an idea, thought or feeling will hit my brain and then spread like an inkblot. And then, for better or worse, the thought stays with me and I’m never quite the same again.

Such was the case on a treadmill. Long enough ago that I was listening to a cassette tape on my Sony Walkman (Yes. A Sony Walkman). A friend had given me a copy of a Wayne Dyer presentation to listen to. Not your typical ‘workout mix’ to be sure, but that’s the way I’ve always rolled.

He had a lot to say that really resonated with me and where my head was at that time in my life but on that particular day, in that particular moment of my journey, he told a story about Mother Teresa that struck me with such power that I stopped moving on the treadmill. Which caused the ‘falling off the moving treadmill’ disaster you are probably imagining right now. If you know me, you won’t be shocked by the image of me on my keister in a crowded gym.

Anyway … back to the point. He told a story that you’ve probably heard and that has probably been retold so many times that its accuracy could be challenged. But it’s the core of the story that stopped me in my tracks (literally) and has stuck with me ever since. Here it is.

According to Wayne, Mother Teresa – who was a pretty amazing gal in my humble estimation – was asked to speak at an antiwar rally. She blew the minds of the rally organizers when she declined their offer. They were like, ‘Uh. You are MOTHER TERESA. Aren’t you against WAR?’ Her paraphrased response: ‘It’s not so much that I’m against war. It’s that I’m for peace. If you call it a Pro-Peace rally, I’m there.’

And this is where the ‘falling off the treadmill moment’ happened for me. She said ‘no’ to what she was against. And ‘yes’ to what she was for. More importantly, she turned what she was against into something she was for by changing the language around it, shifting a negative into a positive with beautiful, mind-blowing simplicity. Huh.

There was plenty I was ‘for’ in my life, obviously. But in that moment – and in millions of moments since then that have followed – I realized how much I positioned myself around what I was ‘against’. I was an elementary school teacher at the time dealing with a wild assortment of mind-numbing behaviours on a daily basis. If I took a page out of Mama T’s book, I could move easily from ‘I wish these *insert cuss here* kids would just behave’ to ‘Look at that wonderful kid who’s behaving so beautifully.’ I attached myself to the behaviour I was for. It felt good, really good. I was happier in my classroom. I praised the behaviour I was looking for. And guess what? There was less negative behaviour because those kids wanted praise, not nagging. The nagging (negative) got us all stuck in ‘against’ mode. The praise moved us to a whole different planet. Woah. The inkblot spread. And I have never been the same since.

Here’s the deal for me around this beautiful seed of wisdom:

1. Attaching myself to the negative drains me. It makes me … to state the obvious … an uber-negative gal. I feel grumpy, judgmental and dark. Like my lip is curled in a continual snarl. Like my brain is in a constant smirk. I also tend to lose my confidence in this mind-space and am easily hurt because I doubt myself and personalize almost everything.
2. Attaching myself to what I’m for energizes me. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t jerks in the world or that crappy, awful things don’t happen. It’s not about dismissing those experiences. It’s about not getting sucked into them. Also, I happen to really like myself when I’m in this mind-space. It’s when I am the best version of me.

I’m still not always great at doing this, but attaching myself to what I’m for is a thought that’s transformative for me. When I’m able to do it, it changes everything I perceive. It’s not magic. Because if it was, there truly would be no jerks and crappy, awful things in the world. But it is a tremendously helpful tool for me as a human – a Pisces no less – trying to do her best in this tricky world.

I guess that’s what this whole blog thing will be about. How in the moments when my lip is curled in a snarl and my brain is smirking with judgment at others, I will try my best to shift from what I’m against to what I am for.

in the works

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for a few years now to help me place my focus on things that lift my spirit rather than suck me into negativity. My first post is brewing but I’ll admit I’m a little nervous about putting it ‘out there’ into the world. On the other hand, being real is ‘what i’m for’. So I will let it brew just a little longer and then take the leap into sharing in (on?) the blogosphere soon.