The Moon Was Once My Friend

My body was trying to give me a hint of what was to come. I guess I just wasn’t listening, or  wanted to deny it. First it was the extra girth. Then came the bursts of body heat so intense I swear I could feel flames coming through my skin.

But try as I might, I couldn’t ignore the fickleness and then total absence of my lunar friend. Since the age of eleven, she was a faithful, though very reckless visitor.  Every month, like the rising of the tides, she came bounding into my life.

When I was very young, she turned me into a raging banshee. But once I hit middle age, something beautiful happened. She became my pitchfork in the back, my wonderful instigator. She was the friend who comes over, grabs the book out of your hand, and takes you out to watch the most exquisite sunset you could possibly hope to see.

Everything became heightened. My senses became keener. My emotions changed from gentle pastels to brilliant bits of red, orange and blue glass. All bright, brazen and stiletto-sharp.

I listened to music endlessly. From the music came the stories, the characters so real that I could see them in my mind’s eye, so close I could almost touch them. That’s when I wrote. And played. And wrote much more.

At first I thought I was imagining this, but I began to see a pattern. I truly believe that my creativity heightened during the period leading up to my friend’s visit.

Is it really true? Is creativity enhanced, or even sparked, by a woman’s menstrual cycle?

Well, turns out I’m picking up on this about 2,000 years after the fact.

In her piece for Broadly, writer Gabby Bess chronicled an interesting project. Sculptor Lara Mossler took her own 28-day challenge. Using her own style of meditation to harness the power of her hormones, Mossler created art each day during her cycle and noted the changes in what she created.

Mossler  said she was inspired by research on cultures and societies where, since time itself, menstruating women separated themselves from the community and went off to create.

Many  female artists find that the period before ovulation helps them to produce their best work.

But what about those of us who are no longer graced by our lunar friends? It’s really strange-what I once dreaded I now miss. Terribly.

Now, it’s all about night sweats, feeling frumpy and grumpy, fatigued. But I’ll be really honest, it’s the loss of creativity that hurts the most. Or maybe it’s the loss of words. With the moods and colors came the words. The words still come, but are harder to pick out of the air. They’re just flying by, and I’m missing them. And I’m not feeling them.

Wait. I’m not giving up yet. There’s hope.

In her article in High 50, Celia Dodd makes the case for a fabulous phenomenon known as “Post-Menopausal Zest,” or PMZ. Unlike its evil step-sister, PMS, it doesn’t feature the crazy emotional swings. Depression reportedly decreases significantly.  And as estrogen levels drop and testosterone increases, so do drive, motivation, sexual energy and,well, zest.

Most encouraging was Dodd’s mention of a British Psychological Society study, which found that memory and overall cognitive function improved once the symptoms of menopause disappeared. Many of the women reported that, overall, they felt better at 60 than they ever did at 40.

But what about those moods? What about those intense highs and lows? What will I harness now? The words? The music?

I’m writing almost every day, so the quantity of my output has increased. But what about the quality?

I’ve no idea, but the words of the Menopause Goddess Blog give me a glint of light in the darkness. Maybe this is a new iteration of my creativity.

My favorite part of her article is her mention of how, at our stage of life, many women just don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. We chase our creative imps anyway. Just for the hell of it. Because we’re driven to do it. Yes.

I’m going to leave this with a little prayer and a hopeful question, once posed by the poet Mary Oliver : ” Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

 

 

 

See It, Then “Be” It: The Power of Visualization

I’m going to be a lot kinder to myself from now on. For a long time, I’ve lamented the fact that I haven’t practiced my drums every day.  How on earth did I think I was going to improve? Well, I’m finished beating myself up, because although I never knew it, I’ve been  rehearsing on a daily basis for many, many years. In fact, well before I began drumming.

In my mind’s eye, I see my twelve year-old self sitting in my room. I spent hours there, listening to music and imagining myself playing along. Little did I know, I was actually practicing. So  even though I didn’t own a drum set in those days, I was unknowingly tapping into the power of visualization in order to set in motion a “blueprint” for drumming that was not fully realized until decades later.

This comes as no surprise to world-class athletes and trainers. Since the 1970s, Russian competitors have effectively used visualization to improve athletic performance.  In her 2009 article in Psychology Today, AJ Adams cites studies that have shown that imagining yourself doing an activity is nearly as effective as actually motoring through it. Intense mental practice involves engaging all five senses. Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist, found that those who actually went to the gym to work out experienced a 30% muscle increase. Surprisingly, those who performed virtual practice also improved-nearly half the amount of muscle increase as those who actually exercised.

Why does it work?  Visualization engages mental processes that are crucial to successfully completing an activity. These include motor control, attention, perception, planning and memory.  You might be sitting in your favorite recliner or driving in the car, but your brain is training itself to perform the activity.

As it turns out, however, simple visualization may not be enough. According to Srinvasan Pillay, seeing yourself in the “first person”  is a very important part of the process; breaking the task into smaller bits of information will further enhance the experience. If I want to learn that soul-stirring drum break, then, it’s not enough to  just “watch” myself playing it, as if I were viewing myself in a movie. I  have to be in the moment. I need to see the drum kit in front of me, and listen to the song while “feeling” my arms and legs go through the movements.

It’s tempting at this point to pat myself on the back. After all, if ten thousand hours of practice makes one a “master”, haven’t all of those years spent in rapture in front of the stereo brought me  that much closer?

Well, not really.  Researchers remind us that while visualization alone is incredibly useful, it becomes a potent force when paired with real-world physical practice.

When has visualization worked for you? Please leave some comments and thoughts below.

 

 

“I’m Scared”

I’ve spent a lot of time in bars. Sober.  Call it an occupational necessity.  Because I’ve watched life’s pageant there with a clear head, I’ve been able to make some observations. Here’s one of them: we don’t usually get real at a bar, unless we’ve had one too many. Few of us that are still coherent and standing will bare our souls to someone we don’t know.  That’s what I thought, anyway, until I met Stacey.

She’d been sitting with friends, but when she saw me, she made a beeline in my direction, just as I was about to open the patio door.   I’d just sat in with the house band for a few songs. The desert heat had drained me to the point where I was desperate for a drink.  Stacey smiled at me, her eyes wide with wonder. “You really rocked…you were amazing” she said. I don’t do well with compliments. Part of me longs for them. The other wonders why anyone thinks my drumming deserves mention at all. I thanked her.  “I’ve always wanted to play the drums”, Stacey said shyly. I encouraged her to pursue it, saying it was easy to find an inexpensive set on Craigslist.  “It’s never too late”, I assured her, “just jump in and get started”. What came next was utterly unexpected. Her young brow knitted itself into a frustrated line.

“But I’m too scared”, she said.   Stacey’s honest words left me speechless. It wasn’t just what she said, though.  What really pierced my insides was the emotion behind them. Maybe I was reading into this far too much, making Mount Everest from an anthill, but I heard something. For that brief moment, twenty years of her life seemed to melt away.  It was as if the little girl inside of her was speaking.  All of the longing and fear she’d probably held in for years seemed to come bubbling to the surface.

I understood. Boy, did I ever. I used to feel that way, too. While I dabbled in several instruments during childhood, drums always seemed like forbidden fruit. They were the boy you liked, but in secret, for fear of anyone finding out. To this day, I can’t explain why. That feeling- that an electric fence stood between the drums and I- lasted well into adulthood. When I finally began playing, it’s as if I had to grant myself permission in order to start.

Our conversation was very short, so I never got to share any of this with her. I saw Stacey again only once, but we didn’t have a chance to connect. I wanted to share my story with her, and tell her I understood how she felt. Some people let their dreams go casually. Many years later they might look back at those childhood desires with a mixture of wistfulness and embarrassment. Some dreams die hard, though. They don’t go easily. I got the sense that Stacey was holding onto hers.

So, if you’ll permit me this literary license, I’m going to talk to that little girl inside of Stacey. Why is she afraid to try? Who knows; it could be one of an almost infinite number of reasons: fear of failure, of looking silly, of being made fun of, of not being perfect, of having to struggle. I guess this is the ideal place to quote some online study or insert some wisdom from one of the books I have on art and the creative process. But I’ll spare us the lesson and just speak from the heart.

What would I say? A million things flash through my mind, but it seems like, in a split second, they all distill into one thought.  I take her hand gently and say, “just try it and see what happens, and if you do, I’ll be right beside you, because no matter what, you’ll be okay”.

 

Julia Cameron is an utterly brilliant writer and teacher.  I highly recommend her book about nurturing creativity and the creative process :“The Artists’ Way: A Spiritual path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992, 2002.