Thursday, August 21, 2014

Spiral Notebooks

Buying spiral notebooks has been a compulsion of mine that started when I was in grade school. 

Lately, I buy the color that relates to the chakra I am focusing on.

I love the texture of the cardboard, as I glide my palm over the colored cover. There are two notebooks in my line of sight. A purple one, I have not yet written in and a yellow one that is under a stack of books. 

There are two notebooks in my purse, and one in my research tote. The laptop I'm typing on is propped up by a red one.

Back to school is one of my favorite times of the year. Although I buy various pens and notebooks year round, back to school shopping provides me a plausible excuse, to feed my addiction.

Under the local box mart fluorescent lights, I’m teeming with intentions of filling the blank pages with stories, dialogue and brilliant insights. I grab various bargained priced, one subject, cardboard spiral notebooks - but - once I get home, the blank page fills me with fear. My mind tells me: you have nothing to say, writing is too hard, I’ll sit down and write, after I do this, or that.

Friday, August 1, 2014

My Mini Miracle

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. - Abraham Lincoln

I'm barely beginning to wrap my mind around my new grant writing profession. Letters of intent, grant proposals, budget developments, comprehensive fundraising plans, social media marketing...see what I mean?

My boss, Penny, has been so patient and generous during my learning process at Grant Writing Specialists. She adoringly watched me for the first 45 days, while I slashed around, in the kiddie pool of grant writing. Then, the time came when she put orange floaties, around my arms, and pulled me into the shallow end of the swimming pool with her. It was there, where I began mimicking her movements, in the grant writing waters.

One of my first assignments has been to provide 10 hours of grant writing instruction, for two board members, at a local High School Robotics Team. Penny was the lead, and I was her assistant.

My newbie status kept me quiet much of the 10 hours, and although I'd written Letters of Intent (LOI), a main focus of the Robotic team's instruction, I'd felt too inexperienced to regularly add my impressions, in front of the clients. BUT -  we ended up stuck, crafting a  LOI, for 4 weeks!

It began when we gave our clients a LOI homework assignment; then met back with the team. Penny and I spent time giving gentle feedback and ideas; we gingerly instructed them about the necessary contents of a LOI. We distributed handouts that recaped what needed to be included in the letter, in order for a funder to invite the Robotics team to submit a formal grant proposal. Yet, week after week, we were presented, with a revised letter, that contained almost none of the edits or suggestions we'd discussed.

It's like the cliche' in AA:  'Help me. But don't tell me what to do.'

The final two hour session, with the Robotics Team, was earlier this week. The first ten minutes, Penny firmly reminded our clients that the necessary components for a successful LOI were discussed last class. And, once again, the final product failed to include what was agreed upon, last time we met. Exasperated, Penny then announced, "Today we are going to have a working meeting. B and K (the two robotics team board members) we are going into the main office and Liz is going to sit, at the computer, and help write the letter we're looking for."

Me? Huh? Wait. What?

My silent ways had caused B and K to size me up, as suspect, at best, and hell, I agreed! Yet, there Penny was, assigning ME to delete most of their work, while they watched. Great! The mute would be in charge of nudging the clients onto the right path.

Without warning, Penny had decided - it was time. She removed my floaties, hoisted me over her head, and tossed me into the deep end of the water.

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.- Epictetus

After I deleted 85% of the letter, we were ready to put something on the page. B stared at me for a few moments, her eyes questioned my very right to exist in the space she occupied. Staring at me, for what felt like a lifetime, she finally said, "- well?"

The silence, pregnant with expectation, demanded delivery. Ahem (mustering my best professional tone), "Like Penny said...", citing a reference that held way more credentials than mine, "...we want to st-", B immediately cut me off, "OK, just quit fudging. Say what you mean."

Those things that hurt, instruct. Benjamin Franklin

Silenced, I realized, my officious pontificating wasn't going to phase B. My fledgling confidence -dismissed- with a single statement.

Unconsciously, I was trying to regurgitate what Penny taught, in order to fully grasp it myself. But, the board members had heard it before; and, they sure as hell, weren't hearing it from me. My mind went blank and I began asking pointed questions, "In what year was the high school established; and in what year did it become an Academy?"

B rejected my questions. Asserting those facts weren't necessary to include (BUT THEY WERE!). She then decided that K would sit at the keyboard, and I would hover, in the background.

In less than a millisecond, I was convinced of my inadequacy. I. Was. A. Fudging. Failure.

Then, something funny happened. I noticed my mind whipping up a gigantic serving of self-hatred. A flash of insight reminded me to observe what was going on in my body. I planted my feet into the ground, pressed all my toes onto the earth, and took some, low key, deep breaths; intentionally sending the breath into the bony basket of my pelvis. This technique helped to settle the visceral knee jerk response of self-flagellation. Then, I began to inquire about the physical sensations, in my body.

I noticed, my heart was pounding, my cheeks were warm, and it felt like lava was rising from my feet to my solar plexus. As I awkwardly learned to dance with the sensation of embarrassment, I had a revelation. Okay, so I felt embarrassed, but not devastated. That was a first. Then, the quote by Epictetus, "If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish or stupid," popped in my mind. Silently, I began repeating it to myself, like a mantra. And because I concentrated on the physical sensation, of my experience, it stopped my old beliefs from bossing me around. I went from devastated to determined, in less than ten minutes. I forgave myself for not being perfect and quickly reminded myself of how fucking far I have come. I felt energized and continued to actively participate, in the difficult instruction, of prodding B and K to produce a solid LOI.