Thinker Thursdays — All A Gift
It’s time to think of giving and receiving gifts. I’m a teacher at Life in 10 Minutes; and one of the awesome perks of being a teacher within the Life in 10 community is that I get offered all sorts of gifts; one of which is complimentary writing classes as taught by Valley Haggard. I love these gifts.
Valley Haggard and the Life in 10 Crew
How to describe Valley? OMG! Today, when I decided to write about Valley, I googled her. I have this app whereby every time I google something, Google shows me a work of fine art from a museum located anywhere in the world. (How cool is that?) Anyway, today, while searching on Valley, I pulled a painting of a little girl cleverly and curiously sailing a toy boat in what seems to be a sewer. I’m like how Valley!
Yeah that’s Valley.
Valley is the owner (actually I prefer to say creator) of Life in 10 minutes, and the Life in 10 minutes concept. (Which I love!) It is an amazing thing, to surrender your weapons, come to Valley’s Halfway House for Writers, and write the most deep, powerful and intimate revelations about yourself and your life — in 10 minutes.
What a concept! Is this not one hell of a concept? I tell you it is.
Valley is one of the coolest, most awesome, most amazing people I have ever known. Love her! Technically, (very technically), she’s my boss at Life in 10 Minutes. But Valley has got such an amazingly gracious, endearing, delightfully cooperative way about her, it hardly feels like she’s my boss! But trust, she is a boss!
Life in 10 is a business, and a thriving one at that. It just launched Unzipped, a quarterly publication of stories that are urgent, brave + true. Please pick up a copy! Gift one to a friend for free! It’s a BOGO sale! You will not be disappointed, neither will your friend. You just need to subscribe to Life in 10 to get these offers.
The writers that Valley cultivates through Life in 10 minutes are so inspiring and talented. Cindy Cunningham just published a memoir under the Life in 10 press entitled Wild Woman, Memoir in Pieces. Um, you are going to want to check this out. Cindy can write her ass off! It’s good. Oh Trust, so, so good. No, I haven’t read it yet, but I have sat in classes with Cindy. Based off what I have seen her do in 10 minutes? Oh yeah. Gotta get this memoir.
Unspoken, Writers on Infertility, Miscarriage and Stillbirth, edited by Whitney Roberts Hill and Elizabeth Ferris (also of the Life in 10 Teaching crew) will break your fucking heart. You can’t read this without crying, but that is life. Take it in 10-minute increments.
Got kids who wanna be a part of the solution? Gift them with the every so brilliant The Activist Notebook, written by the amazingly talented and brilliant Henry Haggard (Valley’s son.) Oh trust…this whole family cuts up. Yes they do. It’s currently sold out because it’s an awesome resource for anyone considering activism or even learning about activism. I highly, highly recommend it, from the depths of my civil rights litigating heart.
At Life in 10, we offer a series of soul searching classes like:
Lessons in Love with Paula Michelle Gillison. This is one of our reduced cost Community Workshop Sunday classes (we usually host community offerings on the weekends). Paula keeps it real, 100% of the time. She will have you laughing. She will have you crying…but she will also have you coming with nothing but the truth, in her other class, Write Yourself True. Time in Paula’s classes is time very well spent. Especially if you want to get real…with yourself.
Dr. Hollee Freeman gives us classes like So Good, Soul Good. Hollee had me at, “If you are like me, your emotions are showing up like crayon scribbles on a blank page.” Girl! Hollee gets me. And she’ll get you too if everyday, when you look out at the world, you scream: WTF? And really? Seriously? Hollee will get you. And Hollee Freeman is like her name. Hollee can teach you about the importance of channeling your inner joy (especially black joy!) and being free! I love hearing Holle talk about what she is doing in her life. It’s always something wild and incredible. Like Valley. Those two. Stay all up in something wild, fun and free!
As a writer there are just some classes you know you need to take, if you want to expand upon your skillset and perfect your craft. Elizabeth Ferris’s Writing the Body: Using the 5 Senses to Tell Richer Stories, is a class I definitely need to gift to myself; because as a writer I suck at this. I know Elizabeth could help me. I have to make the time. (Note to self her class is January 29, 2021…OMG I can’t believe it’s going to be 2021…I’m getting old.)
In these classes you will meet awesome writer/artists like Jocelyn Ulevicus. Jocelyn is a prolific writer and artist (she’s a 2020 Van Gogh!) in the Life in 10 Minutes Online Writing Community. Everyday, Jocelyn is painting several paintings (and they’re good!) Where does she find the time and energy? I just had to have her Water Series, №4: a woman’s body is a walking ocean.
OMG! Just had to have this painting! I had to, had to, had to, had to have it! It moved me. And then when I read her description:
I set the table with a blank canvas, paints, and several different tools. Today, I wanted to go nowhere and everywhere with my work. I wanted a storm and I wanted something calm. I painted a water scene and then covered it up. I checked my phone and then scraped all the paint off the canvas only to begin again. Hours passed as I listened to the news. My body is tired, my legs are tired, my heart is tired. My body is a walking ocean of creativity. The work can be considered a snapshot of watery-change, of momentum, and a moment in time. I am always wondering what it means to be a woman; how many different ways you can be a woman, and how many different ways you can fail. I chose bright pinks, golds, and various blue hues to capture the competing feelings of anxiousness and indifference I feel toward normative culture, and what normative culture wants from me. I am romantic and I am passive, I am energized, and I am lazy feeling. I am many other things too. I never stay silent, not anymore. I move, I change like water.
I was like: Jocelyn…I’m so with you. I too, want to go everywhere and nowhere with my work. Everywhere, because my writing (truth-telling) and my lawyering (truth-telling) is work that definitely needs to be done. Nowhere, because I can be lazy. Especially as I get older. I find I want to do nothing for entire days.
A yet, there is work to do. On larger and larger platforms, I think. Like Spandau Ballet: Truth is the sound of my soul. Even my Trump loving prep school classmates known this about me. I want the truth to be known.
Speaking of the truth, I first became acquainted with Life in 10 minutes, via the Restory, classes with Erin Mahone, founder of the If You Could See Me Project. Erin is an amazingly clever, creative and absolutely brilliant multi-tasker, who ran the Restory classes out of Life-in-10, as a primer for her If You Could See Me Project.
In Restory, we explore concepts such as the retelling of our stories in empowering ways. Erin says things like:
So many of us allow others to take our power, occupy negative space in our lives, and ultimately have more control over our happiness than they should be entitled to. It can be so difficult to protect ourselves especially if you are a people pleaser who just wants everyone to be happy and you take on the responsibility of making everyone happy — like me. I’m not sure if it’s maturity, meds, mindfulness, or a healthy combination of those things and much more but I have actually begun to internalize this truth. I’m here to tell you that you are worth protecting. It is not your job to be the keeper of other people’s happiness. It’s ok to say no, set boundaries, and disallow negative people from getting too close. Be kind, be respectful, be compassionate, and also be aware that you are worthy of existing on this earth and you don’t need to prove that to anyone.
Very cool shrinky stuff. (Cause Erin is cool and shrinky.) So cool and shrinky that she can actually convince you to tell your restory up on stage to an audience of total strangers! I participated in both the Restory Class (summer 2019) and the If You Could See Me Project (Winter 2020).
It was an experience like no other. It was one of the most terrifying, courageous, and exhilarating experiences of my life! And it caused me to just fall in love with Life in 10 Minutes, as it all started there. Thanks Erin!
If You Could See Me has a show coming up this January 2021. You got to check it out!
Get Your Spa On
Now that I have explained to you how incredibly awesome all the Life in 10 teachers and associates are, I know you’re going to take a class there, right? Let me tell you why I love to take a Life in 10 class. For one, I’m forced to write something relatively clear and cogent in just 10 minutes. This is quite the feat for me! (Meanwhile Cindy will write the first chapter of her memoir, seemingly effortlessly. It’s a little intimidating, quite honestly.) But the second reason, I like Life in 10 classes so much, is I get to spend time with, people like Cindy. Life in 10 writers are some of the most brilliant, creative, awesome writers and artists around. And we have Valley guiding us on the best adventures and travels! We traverse the most amazing spaces… in our imaginations. I love it!
Valley loves lots of things, but two of her greatest passions are self-care and animals. Her Life-in-10 Retreats, are like being at a spa and I am such a spa girl! There are few things that I love more than spa-ing with the girls! (Yeah, I made that verb “spa-ing” up just now. I have a Masters in English and taught it for 10 years at Northern Virginia Community College, so I am allowed to do it. That’s the official word, from well me.)
I am a woman over 40, and my kids are grown! This means I just want to drink my white wine and eat my shrimp Scampi, establish my boundaries with these kids (the answer is probably no), and go to the spa with my girls! Shout out to my bestie Hillary still living her best life even during a pandemic! She just took her fam to a forest (somewhere in Minnesota) to cut down their Christmas tree! Hill, we are still going to get our totally butt naked full body scrubs at Spa World, I promise!
All women over 40 deserve a totally butt naked, full body scrub at Spa World. It is orgasmic, I’m just saying, but I digress. The pandemic has robbed me of two of my favorite self-care rituals, swimming and sauning (yeah I made up another verb). I can do both (and more! ) at Spa World.
Since the pandemic, no more Spa World for me. Valley’s virtual self-care retreats have been all that I’ve had this year. Her retreat and self-care classes have been absolutely incredible. Like going to the spa, with your girls on Zoom. Seriously! Love yourself and do one of Valley’s retreats or self-care classes. You will not regret it.
The last self-care class I took with Valley, was about a week before Thanksgiving. I had been working 15-hour days straight on a case from hell…just unreal. I had to submit a 50-page brief, just to begin to skim the surface of the insanity and corruption my client (and all of the women working with her) were facing every single day that they clocked in to work a shift. Writing all of that up makes me feel like I too am punching the clock in hell, and then I got to fight with this battle axe litigator from hell. (Seriously much respect D. you know how to fight with your pen sword.) But, my God! I needed a break. Valley’s class was right on time. Valley always starts us off with “Right Now I am…”
My response was:
Frazzled. I have 1000 different things coming at me at 100 miles an hour and I am overwhelmed, challenged and just wanting to catch my breath and just breath…just breath…at times like this it’s so important to just breath.
Valley loves animals…and not just domesticated animals, like cats and dogs (I mean we all love our cats and dogs, don’t we?) Valley loves animals likes snakes, and trickster rabbits and chickens, and bull-squirrel-racoons, just all the animals.
So, in our last class, Valley had us tap into our spirit animal, and share, with him and ourselves, all the things we had to be thankful for this holiday season. And so, (as per the rules) I wrote a piece entitled, “The Gift of Flight” in under 10 minutes. Wanna hear it? Here it go:
The Gift of Flight
I’m on the back of a dragon. It’s no ordinary dragon. It’s a huge, red and black flying dragon. His name is Wylio. He is as big a dragon as Drogon; and just like Khaleesi and Drogon, we take to the sky, in flight. Flying higher and higher and higher, he and I become one. A little speck in the sky, barely perceptible, not even knowable, to all the crazy eyes down below. They are not believing…always judging. So, trapped and lost. They just don’t know. I can fly. Even if only in my mind, I can fly.
I have the gift of flight, in my soul. And in my soul I can fly. My soul remembers to do that. Even in this broken body, it remembers. Even inside this cloudy, and inflamed bipolar brain, it remembers.
And a flying soul can easily answer Valley’s questions and say,
Ahhhhhhh it’s all a gift. All of it. I’m grateful for all of it. The enigmatic shrinky husband, who I’ll never fully understand, and certainly he will never fully understand me. It’s all a gift. Even the full-grown ungrateful kids, now boys to men, very challenging in the way that boys, who become men, (who are incidentally your sons) can be. It’s all a gift.
It didn’t begin there either. There is my crazy ass childhood nuclear family, that haunts me to this day, my psychotic homeless brother, my strange reclusive stay-high sister. My baby brother, (he’s halfsies with a different daddy.) He wears neon pink wings and a thong to pride with pride. He does this, knowing no one in his family (except me and my reclusive sister) truly accepts this about him. Even for him, though, it’s all a gift. Even for my brother who no one knows (Who I barely know now) because he spent the first 20 years of his adult life in prison, because he did bad things. And those who do know him don’t particularly like him. Nevertheless, I always say, but you don’t know him the way that I do. I knew him when he was a baby, I know he barely had a chance. And so, I say:
Don’t judge him. You just don’t know. And besides maybe, just maybe…maybe with my help. He will turn it all around. Maybe. And you don’t know. So, Don’t tell me I’m wrong or not to get my hopes up, because what is the point of hope, if not to get up?
And…it’s all a gift! Even the borderline mom, who only seemed to care about the most shallowest things, but who taught me, a shallow thing like the size and quality of my purse, can matter so much, in a certain time and place. And my hair! (Oh, we won’t go there.) It’s all a gift even the bad nappy hair (per mama’s description.)
And even the crazy controlling, tyrannical father, who did so much more damage than he ever imagined that he could do, Dave Granger = grave danger indeed. But also bright and beautiful and warm and enticing and destructive! Like FIRE! He was all that! But even that. All a gift. Strange as it seems. It is all a gift.
A gift that gives and takes and gave me cancer and healed me whole again. It’s a gift that makes me laugh, and makes me cry and brings me to my knees! And through my laughter and simultaneous tears, snot, smiles, joy and pain, I look up at Valley, and I say:
I’m thankful for all of it. It’s all a gift.
This holiday season, what’s your animal? What’s he or she showing you? Are you grateful for it? All of it?