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climbing back into the box

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climbing back into the box

Tanya Geisler - Instagram Graphics - Nov 18.png

Remember Paddington Bear?

The marmalade-loving, welly-wearing bumbling sweetheart found by the Browns at Paddington Station with a “please look after this bear” note?

Yeah. He was my main squeeze. Literally. I was given him at the age of five. Maybe six.

I loved that he was soft and gentle and sartorially splendid in said yellow rubber boots (that you could actually take off!),  jaunty red bush hat and blue duffle coat. I loved that he loved elevenses and enjoyed two birthdays a year, “just like the Queen”.

But most of all, I loved our adventures.

We had a big cardboard box that transported us everywhere. We'd fly to the mountains of Nepal, the badlands of South Dakota, the outback of Australia and the moon. Obvs. At the end of every adventure, we’d cry “tally ho to Darkest Peru”. (Neither of us knew what the hell it meant. Which was more than fine.)

It felt cruel and unusual to hoard such delight from my loved ones, so Paddington and I would often reenact our adventures on the stage that was the living room after dinner.

Into the box we would climb and regale (ahem) our audience of friends and family with the sights, sounds, smells of our escapades and keep them rapt with our witty repartee (he was the naïve sillyheart to my sage straight man). And, always knowing how to keep ‘em satisfied, we’d ask them to shout out where they’d like us to go next. To Marrakesh! To Mimico! To Miami! And we’d see what we could see and get ourselves into scrapes, as only a bear and a little girl in a box could.

When it was clear that the audience had had too much of a good thing (my mother's wrap it up gesture and the guests' glazed-over countenance were the telltale cues), we’d “tally ho to Darkest Peru”, take our bow and retreat to my bedroom where I’d remove his boots, hats and coat (long since lost), and we’d rap about the performance and plan for the next day’s adventures.

In short: my parents were the most excellent kinds of parents.

They fostered my uniqueness, encouraged my creativity and celebrated my desire to express what was mine to express.

They engendered in me an inherent belief that whatever was being created in that box was good and valuable and worthy of witnessing. No matter how rambling, drawn out or, if I’m being brutally honest, entirely aimless it was.

I was worthy of their time and attention.

I’m thinking about my mother in advance of mothers’ day, as I always do. Missing her and her unconditional love. And I’m thinking about the kind of love my father had, and still has for me. And feeling completely and fully blessed.

And. This.

Even with the creative colostrum of support they nourished me with at such a young age, somewhere between that last “tally ho” and now, I had lost that innate sense of worthiness. I started to believe that there were rules I would never be able to fully grasp. That I was missing the heart of the artist. That it wasn’t my job to do. That creativity was for others.

Somewhere along the line, with the compositions, then essays, then theses, then proposals, then pitches, then video scripts, then sales copy then editorial calendars, then posts all written from a deep and earnest desire to be useful and helpful and heard, I lost the delight, the flutter, the adventure and the wonder I felt in that box, with my beloved bear by my side.

No where is this more apparent than in my book writing process.

I currently have 63,129 words written for my book on the Impostor Complex. Good, thoughtful, smart, helpful, useful, insightful words.

Words that defend the answer to the question: Who am I to write this book?

(The question is both internal and external. Agents want to know. Publishers want to know. But more viscerally, my own Impostor Complex wants to know, sneeringly derisively in the asking.)

So yes. Every last word is good and smart.

But I’m writing them from the wrong place. I’m writing them from my bubble.

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It’s from my BOX that I need to write from.

Back to where I knew that innate sense of worthiness.Where I knew the enduring power of what’s possible.Where I knew that my heart had more to say than my head.Where I knew that joy wasn’t a nice-to-have. It was everything.

So that’s where I’m going now. Climbing back into the box. Ditching many of the 63K words and starting fresh.

Undefended. Leading with my creativity. Knowing that this is where the magic happens. And where there is magic, there is flight.

(Say hey to my newest writing partner, and oldest pal, Paddington.)

 


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Twelve

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Twelve

Dearest L – You are twelve. You are TWELVE.

Unlike my letters to you on your eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh birthdays, I choose to start this one with an apology.

It came to me over the weekend as I tidied up the mounds of stuffed animals you hauled out for your girlfriends in advance of your slumber party (just in case they forgot theirs). I had an immediate pang that maybe next year, you wouldn’t be quite so concerned about such things as stuffies.

And I did a quick mental scan of all the places that pang was so familiar. Worrying about what next year might bring as you move into middle school. Worrying about what the summer might bring if you choose (or DON’T choose) overnight camp. Worrying about all the worrying.

And of course, in doing so, I have been trying to hang on to your youth. An exercise in futility, to be sure, on every level.

I’m sorry for that, Darling One.

I’ve been trying to bottle perfection, you see. It seems that every birthday that comes around, I am struck by just how ideal you are. Right here. Right now. How can anything be better? And yet, every single year, you manage to top yourself.

You deepen into your humour, your brilliance, your wisdom, your generosity, your bravery, your power and your creativity. You expand your capacity for love and acceptance and independence and kindness. And you challenge the ideals of perfectionism that I seem to be so hell-bent on capturing.

On this last point. Every day in my work, I see the effects on people who have spent their lives in the painful and elusive pursuit of perfectionism.

I am glad you are questioning the world around you. I am glad you are questioning me. I am glad you are finally seeing me for the flawed human being I am. That Daddy is. That (gasp!) your friends are. And, even, that YOU are.

This will serve you well.

You can be entirely wondrous and imperfect.

It’s a beautiful thing.

My Mama told me when I was around your age that I would set the world on fire. It was intended as a blessing, to be sure. How could she have known I’d spend a good part of the next two decades trying to live into a concept I didn’t fully understand?

So I will do my best to not assign you any ideals to live into. Just be you, okay? Perfectly flawed. Perfectly you.

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I know I say to challenge “always” and “never” as the lazy all-or-nothings of our belief stories, but forgive me once again as I use them to underline the absolute truth as I know it in the very nuclei of my cells:

I will never withdraw my love.I will always be your soft place to land.You will never go wrong if you are always yourself.

Twelve years ago today, the moment I saw your fingers, your face, your eyes, I was wrecked with love that, still to this day, I can't put into words. I try. But I fail. And that’s just fine.

I am celebrating you today, and every day, Sweetheart.

Because…you.

xx/Mama

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Mean People Suck

Tanya Geisler - Instagram Graphics - Nov 22.png

She was maybe six years old when she said it. Young enough to not necessarily know what "suck" meant, but old enough to know that it fit the bill. The age at which I ought to have called her out for her language. But her eyes... her eyes were so filled with hurt and confusion and pain that I let the PG-rated near-curse slide and made a silent prayer to take all the pain and hurt and confusion from her so she wouldn't have to feel it. But more importantly, that she wouldn't have to know the truth that she already knew:

Mean people suck.

In truth, I can't recall how what happened next. If I offered any advice or simply a soft place to land. (I hope the latter.)

I was thinking about this last Thursday night when I went to see Amy Cuddy speak here in Toronto. You've likely seen her TED talk on power poses and the body-mind connection.

Her new book speaks to what lives on the other side of the coin of power. If powerlessness is HERE, we would surmise, powerfulness (why is this not a word?) is THERE. Not so. She says it's presence, which is quite appropriately the name of her book.

I respect and admire her work (and HER presence) and reference both in my work on the Impostor Complex, so I was delighted when asked to hear her speak and then join her party for dinner afterward.

My date, a talented and big-hearted columnist who has received more than her share of vitriol, and I often talk about handling snark and trolls and she was curious to hear what Amy had to say on the matter.

Similarly, during speaking gigs where I walk people through my Step into Your Starring Role process (and we "meet the critics"), I usually get asked about how to handle everything on the wide spectrum from critics to asshat bosses to haters. (Happened again on Saturday when I spoke at an event for 70 women in engineering - and a couple of brave dudes.)

So when Amy was asked a question from the audience about how to deal with people in power who try to subjugate you and make you feel powerless, we both leaned in. (Get it? Impostor Complex humour.)

"Don't try to out-alpha the alpha dog," was Amy's response. AND:

"Stand your ground (literally and figuratively). Try to stay open. And above all, if at all possible, try to find a touch of compassion for them."

Simple, smart, sane, and challenging. Of course. How could it not be challenging?

There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all approach. But I have yet to come across another way. It's generally a feel-your-way-into-it variation on:

  1. Feel what you feel.
  2. Know who you are.
  3. Try to imagine why they do what they do. (They generally know not what they say, nor do, nor their impact.)
  4. Integrate what you need (from their criticism - assuming we're not talking about trolls - and release the rest.
  5. Surround yourself with the best and brightest and love your lovers.
  6. Try to find a bout of gratitude for the teachings they have offered in their own inimitable, asshat-esque way. (You know, like, I'll NEVER manage anyone like that.)

A day or so after my then six year old's declaration about mean people, I circled back and asked her how things were working out with that grade school meanie.

"Fine," she said, entirely unruffled. "She is still calling me names, but I'm not going to let it bother me."

"How are you managing to do that, love?" I asked.

Well, you can imagine how my heart swelled when she responded with:

"My power is my happiness and no one can take that away from me."

You heard that, right?

NO ONE.

All love,

TG-Signature-1-2
 
 

For more, I recommend Maria Popova of Brainpickings curated this wellspring of resources on managing haters. Specifically: Benjamin Franklin’s trick for handling haters, Vi Hart on how to tame the trolls, and Daniel Dennett on how to criticize with kindness.

 


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The parenting post I never thought I’d write (or: 15 things I know for sure about parenting)

One of the most precious texts I ever received came from my friend Kate. We had been chatting on Skype and my daughter made a cameo appearance. The text came a day later:

Watching you with L and seeing all the bright shining light in her eyes told me two things: one, Tanya Geisler is winning at this life thing; two, I pray that I have that kind of closeness with my daughter.

No matter how wrong I think I’m getting this parenting thing, this text reminds me of at least one moment in time that I was getting it right. And to pre-empt myself from sounding falsely humble, I’ll claim this: that one moment was a culmination of a lot of moments.

Which is awesome, because this parenting gig really, really matters to me. Like, rouses-my-Impostor-Complex, matters.

And while I have miles and miles to go before I sleep, I’ve been paying plenty of attention to what makes for some good parenting in the miles that I HAVE traveled and I want to share some of what I know for sure with you.

But first, a story from my youth.

Like most Saturday mornings, I went to the corner store at the bottom of our street with a note tucked into my poncho.

I was seven. It was 1979. Back when the sight of a seven-year old girl walking by herself to the store was as common as ponchos.

The note said:

I give permission for my daughter Tanya to buy two packages of Export ‘A’ Regulars and one package of Medallions Ultra Lights.

(It was signed by my dad, Richard. A distinct R then a double-looping trailing line with a dot. Ridiculously easy to forge, as I’d discover in my teen years.)

I loved this errand.

It meant I got out of most of the housecleaning and I generally got to keep the change for my troubles.

I loved the jangle of the door as it opened and handing the note over with great assurance of a kid on a mission and the accompanying ten-dollar bill.

I loved to help the cashier find the right packages amidst a dizzying array of available smokes.

I loved inhaling the heady scent of sugary bliss while I waited, and calculating in my head what treat I might get with my “tip”.

But this particular Saturday, my father had asked me to bring the change back to him. No treat this week as we were going to Mr. Greenjeans for dinner, and I’d be sure to get a “Here Comes the Fudge” sundae for dessert.

So instead of helping the cashier find the right cigarettes, I took the opportunity to grab a pack of gum and shove it under my poncho.

Swift and sure.

Where did THAT come from, I wondered as he turned back towards me, smiling and handing me the cigarettes, my change and the note, wishing me a wonderful day.

Never having stolen a thing in my life I didn’t know what to do next, so I shoved the entire pack of gum into my mouth the second I was out of his sight.

Oh, the irony. In my hasty desire for sugar, I’d managed to nick the only sugar-free gum available back in the day: Carefree. The gum of choice for denture-wearers everywhere.

No matter. In went the whole pack. I looked over my shoulder furtively as I scurried home, certain that I was being sought after by the police.

So preoccupied with getting busted was I, that I forgot to spit out the gum…until it was too late. I had distractedly found my way home…only to land face to face with my parents, digging in the rose garden in the front.

An entire pack of gum is too much for anyone to swallow, so I just stood there, staring at them, cheeks bulging out.

What’s in your mouth? asked my Dad.

Mmmmthng, I replied.

I see, he said.

What’s in your hands?

I may have been a badass stealing denture gum, but I was still too much of a good girl to litter. So I showed him the crumpled wrappers.

To your room, he ordered.

I went.

I’m fairly sure the second they thought I was out of earshot they burst into laughter. But they got it together by the time they came to my room an hour later and sternly ordered me back to the store to apologize. And to sweep the store for the shopkeeper. And we didn’t go to Mr. Greenjeans that night. (Boy, was my sister pissed at me.)

I never shoplifted again.  (Well, except that one time. I chalk that up to peer pressure. Ahem)

And so, I give you: The 15 things I know about parenting.

#1 Consequences are good. Stealing is wrong. Making amends is right.

Not everyone agrees with me on these points and that’s super duper okay with me.

Because I know this:

#2 We’re all trying to do the best we can. (Click to tweet)

Over the last 42 years of being parented and in the past 11 years of BEING a parent, I’ve learned a fair bit and all I can do is offer you what I know. Take what serves you and leave the rest.

Because in addition to #2, I also agree with James Altucher:

#3 Nobody is an expert parent.

Truth.

Onward.

#4 Keep your promises and your commitments to yourself. Model this for your kids. If you don’t let yourself down, she won’t let herself down. This is huge. ‘Cause there’s a whole big world out there waiting to swoop in when she lets herself down.

#5 Meet them where they are. It may not be where you want them to be. But it’s where they are.

#6 Acknowledge them truthfully and acknowledge them often. Truthfully. But often. (Don’t forget truthfully.) Let them see what you see. Being seen is a gift that you still crave to this day.

#7 Allow the tough conversations to unfold. Don’t force them…or worse, get in the way of their unfoooooooooolding.

#8 Come at said tough conversations from the place of your strength. Your strength is curiosity? Get curious. Humour? Bring it. Courage? Oh, you’ll need that, Honey. Be courageous. (But don’t forget #5 + 6.)

#9 Let them see you feel. Let them see you be messy. Let them see you be human.

#10 "Be loving, be strong and you can’t go wrong."Vivek Patel shared this piece o’ poetic truth at Sunday’s (INCREDIBLE! EMPOWERING! MAGICAL!) GDay and I can’t get it out of my head. (Hallelujah.)

#11 Don’t send your seven-year-old daughter to the store to buy your smokes. Just don't. 1979 is long gone, man.

#12 Experiences over things. Every time. (Click to tweet.)

#13 No matter how busy, how stressed, or how harangued you are, there is always time for a breath, a pause or a hug as needed.

#14 Grades matter precious little in the long run.

#15 It doesn’t last very long. The sweet moments and the bitter ones. They are equally fleeting. Devote yourself fully to the ones that matter (and they alllll matter.)

I’m learning, messily and sloppily and joyfully and painfully. Over on FB, won’t you share with us one precious piece of wisdom you have as a child of a parent or as a parent of a child? What do YOU know for sure? Let’s learn this thing together.

xx

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PS – You can see that this all applies to life…not just parenting, right? Yeah. I thought you would.

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To my Darling 11 year old Daughter.

Dearest L – It’s your eleventh birthday. You’ve said this is a dreamy age. Over the pressure of double digits,  not yet a teen, still a kid. You’re happy about that.

For your eighth, I made some wishes upon your sweet head.

For your ninth, I offered you a well of wisdom to drink from.

For your tenth, I asked our friends to help you see the power of YOUR wishes.

For your eleventh, I simply wanted to share the you that I see.

L's 11It’s the morning after your Terrific, Happy-ful, So Good, Very Rad birthday party. Last night, we took you and your friends on the subway to an artisanal pizzeria. You laughed like maniacs and delighted in the crazy. (We did too.) You came home and chased the cats, pummeled each other with balloons. Instead of the custom cakes I’ve been making you for years, you requested a sundae bar. You then watched a movie and judging by the look of the basement carpet, got into a popcorn fight that everybody won. You and your friends whispergiggled far too late into the night.

In this moment, you’re still downstairs. You’ve slept 6.5 hours and are currently playing Would You Rather. Debates are raging over who would rather sport a beard of licorice over an afro of crazy straw.

If I had a quarter for every time I heard one of you said fart, I suspect that trip to Europe we’ve been planning would be imminent.

So the you I see is silly, yes.

And thoughtful. You, the girl who brings $5 to the bake sale and comes home with $4 worth of meringues for me, a chocolate cupcake for your father (that sat on your desk all day, tormenting you), and gave 25 cents each to two friends who didn’t have cash. You had a sugar cookie. A burnt one. You don’t like sugar cookies.

And encouraging. Only you could get Daddy to write. He listens to you.

And wise. You remind me always that we have always this moment, when I find myself melancholy about the swift passage of time.

Yes, eleven is pretty dreamy. And though you never like talking about this,  we can’t deny that your beautiful body is beautifully changing. That’s its job.

I love that you are starting to deepen into the wisdom that it holds. Though you find it perplexing, may I offer you this: don’t try to figure it out. Don’t fight it. Just listen to your body.

Because there will be times, my Darling, that you’ll think you’re supposed to do this. Think that. Say this. Be that. You will try to fit in.

But if you get really quiet, and really listen, you will hear your soul speaking through your body. Ask her what she knows.

And then you will know what you’re supposed to do. Think. Say. Be.

When things feel tough, really tough, ask her what she knows. And hear her whisper: it won’t last, sweet one.

When you wonder what you should wear, hear her whisper: that which makes you feel like you, honey cakes.

When you don’t think you know what to say, hear her whisper: the truth, angel love. Always the truth.

And when you want to express thanks for her wisdom and guidance and ask her what she wants from you, honour her when she says: don’t make anything more important than me.

Please don’t. Don’t make anything more important than honouring your soul. My friend Julie taught me that. And now I’m teaching you.

Can you promise me that?

I’ve got a breakfast to make and a scavenger hunt to organize and a badminton net to set up. So here's what's left to say:

You make me laugh. You make me think. You make me appreciate. You make me crazy. You make me so unfathomably happy to be alive it hurts my heart. In the best possible way.

You are eleven. You are love.

xx/Mama.

 

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11146405_1583330528604252_387630982364785892_oNavigating the tenderness and magnificence of this age is no small feat and it's for this reason that I am so excited to be speaking at G Day Toronto on April 26th. A day of empowerment and celebration for girls (and their champions). How wonderful is that?

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