Getting In the Game: Embracing Imperfection on the Long Journey to Thriving

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.

The Long Road Ahead by Jon Rawlinson is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The Long Road Ahead by Jon Rawlinson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When I was in college — probably sometime around the second semester of my freshman year — I made a rule for myself: every semester, every class, I had to raise my hand and make some comment sometime in the first week. My comment didn’t have to be brilliant. It didn’t have to be profound. But I did have to do it.

As an introvert (or, more precisely, introvert/ambivert/learned extrovert), I never particularly enjoyed speaking up in class. I’ve always hated the feeling of having all eyes on me. Therefore, prior to making my rule, I often wouldn’t speak in class for weeks, then months — at which point it felt like my raising my hand to say something would be a Major Event. Whatever I was going to say must be monumental and erudite and important, if I was going break the silence of months! As a result, if the professor would allow it, I could go a whole semester without ever talking at all.

The new rule worked. For the rest of my years in college, I spoke up in every class in the first week. I no longer had to worry about whether what I said was important enough or intelligent enough. People perceived me as someone who spoke up in class, so my comments didn’t come with added weight. They didn’t have to be perfect or even sensible. The rule I made for myself took all that daunting pressure off me. It may not work for everyone, but it worked for me.

Still, it wasn’t until recently — many, many years after college — that I realized I’d been approaching life the same way I’d approached my classes — before the new rule. I’d mastered the art of raising my hand in the classroom in college, but somehow the “hold back until I’m sure” mentality pervaded throughout my life.

I’d been living my life waiting for the right moment to get in the game. Thinking that somehow, some day, I’d magically know how to do things the right way and avoid all possible embarrassment or failure.

Of course, I was wrong.

To sum up my past in a nutshell and without going into any psychoanalysis of the causes, for the first four decades of my life, I tried to be as invisible as possible. Not consciously, of course, but looking back, I can see that’s what I was doing. Letting everyone else shine, helping them shine (I am quite good at that “giving” thing, less good at letting others give to me), but never claiming my right to my own time and space in the world.

Then, six years ago [long story] events transpired, and I realized life as I knew it was far from satisfying. I worked with a lot of good people, but I hated my job. I wasn’t going anywhere, I wasn’t doing anything. I was a spectator to the world, not a participant even in my own life.

Realizing this, and recognizing how short life can be, I finally challenged myself to live.

At that point, I left my job to pursue a writing career — or at the very least, to try. I gave myself full permission to fail; I just didn’t want to end life wondering, “What if?” I’ve often said if I’d known how much courage this new path would take I wouldn’t have done it; but I’m glad I didn’t know, because it’s the best thing I ever did.

And really, looking back, this was the beginning of my own journey toward thriving.

I’ve read a lot since then, taken courses and listened to audio books and gone to lectures and participated in workshops, all in the effort to learn to live a better life. From Brené Brown to Shawn Achor to Carol Dweck to Seth Godin to Martha Beck, and so many others, to, most recently Arianna Huffington’s online Thrive course, I’ve been walking the path from being invisible to Being Seen. Arianna’s Thrive course re-affirmed many of the things I am working toward — in particular the idea of “no judgment”; the idea that we do the best we can, then we let our work out into the world, and then we let it go.

It has not been an easy road, but it has most definitely been worth it.

I’m still constantly working to find my way. It is a never-ending struggle to convert the old habits to new ones, but I know I’m making progress and I feel so much stronger now than ever before. My constant challenge to myself now is to live a brave life, to live and lead with “shields down” (a phrase I use in my mind all the time; I’m working on a blog post about this, so stay tuned). To be seen. Not to be fearless, but to be courageous, to be compassionate, and to connect.

My Huffington Post blog is a perfect example of this. Every time I hit “submit,” a wave of nausea hits me over the fear of being seen — or rather, the risks that come along with being seen: rejection, judgment, possible failure. Over at the blog on my own website, I have countless posts still sitting in the drafts folder, waiting for me to decide they are “good enough” — which often, in my mind, they never are. They sit, unfinished, incomplete thoughts that seemed worthy of sharing at one time, but which I could never articulate quite well enough to my liking to share with the greater world.

And therefore, every time I hit “submit” on this blog, it’s a new triumph. A new reminder that I am, in fact, living both the length and width of my life, that I am doing what is most important to me — simply trying. That I am “in the arena,” as Teddy Roosevelt might say. I am not sitting on the sidelines. Win or lose, succeed or fail, I am participating in the world, and to me, that’s what it’s all about. Am I the perfect writer? The best blogger? Of course not. But does it matter? At the end of the day, it really doesn’t. I can’t get better if I’m not trying, whether it’s writing or anything else. So I try.

We too often hold ourselves back. We think we need to write the perfect blog post or novel, finish the marathon in our best time, paint the most beautiful painting, throw the consummate dinner party, be the perfect partner, live the perfect life. And if we can’t be perfect, we shouldn’t try.

Our society doesn’t help in this regard. Mess up, and someone posts a video of your mistake on YouTube in no time. Put out a creative work, and the comment section jumps with criticisms. It’s no wonder we shy away from being seen.

But here’s the thing: We are all going to die. I don’t mean to ruin the surprise. This is not a spoiler. I am going to die, and you are going to die, and all of us are going to die.

What, then, are we going to do while we’re alive?

The blog post that is posted is better than an empty page.

The walk around the block is better than no walk at all.

The game played and lost is more fun than the game never played.

The evening spent with friends in an uncleaned house with a recipe that failed is better than wishing we’d spent more time connecting.

The messy, scary, imperfect life lived richly and fully is better than a life spent on the sidelines, waiting to be good enough before jumping in and giving things a try.

We need to worry less about whether we’re doing things right, and worry more about whether we’re doing them at all.

And we need to be kind with ourselves, and with each other, and with all our imperfections, as we travel this road together, as we step into the arena and into our lives.

Over the past several years, with all these courses and classes and books, I’ve accumulated an abundance of wisdom, ideas, and knowledge. My greatest challenge now, as Arianna said in the Thrive course, is to move from knowing that this is how I want to live, to actually living the ideas and wisdom I’ve learned.

So for now, I keep jumping. I’m jumping all the time, eyes closed tight and wide open at the same time, heart thumping, scared to death, but jumping. Falling a lot. Learning a lot.

Learning that the more I jump, the easier it is to jump, and to get back up when I fall.

That the more I jump, the closer I get to flying.

It’s a never-ending journey, but I’m here. Living. Working toward thriving, toward flourishing.

Speaking up. Getting in the game. Embracing imperfection and the risks of being seen.

Before it’s too late.


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The Blind Side Actor Takes on the Harsh Realities of Life After Prison in New Film, Halfway

Quinton Aaron as Byron. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

A recently-released convict finds himself caught between two worlds in the upcoming feature film Halfway, starring Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side). Aaron plays Byron, a man whose urban criminal past haunts his new life as the only black man in a predominantly white, conservative Wisconsin farming town.

The film chronicles Byron’s struggles as he adapts to his new life on probation, while trying to elude the very real threat of falling back into his old life of crime.

I recently chatted with Halfway Producer Jonny Paterson about the movie, the important social issues it seeks to address, and his work on the film.

Q: What are the themes in Halfway, whether underlying or explicit?

A: Halfway is a commentary on the fractured incarceration system in America and the serious socio-economic implications that result from recidivism (the re-incarceration of released felons for a similar crime within a short period of time). The American prison system has been at a breaking point for years, with a 700 percent growth in inmate population since 1973 that now stands at 2.4 million — higher than any other democratic nation in the world. Coupled with the discouraging statistic that nearly 66 percent of released prisoners will find themselves back in prison within three years, and approximately 75 percent within five years, it’s clear that more should be done to ensure that released prisoners are given the opportunity for an actual second chance.

Halfway is a right-of-passage story seen through the eyes of our protagonist and further themes that run through the story include strong family values and the belief that everyone deserves a second chance. Byron’s story asks the audience to consider the serious systematic failure within the American prison system, where a lack of opportunity for those who have transgressed in their past seems to guarantee a future behind bars. Aaron’s character faces harsh realities about decisions that need to be made when someone is given a second chance, in a new and unfamiliar surrounding.

The fish-out-of-water story at the core of the film has to do with race. It is very timely that with the events taking place in Baltimore and Ferguson (among others) that the United States still has a problem with race relations in many parts of the country, and whilst we cannot try and tackle everything in this film, we certainly wish to pose some poignant social questions. Should our past actions allow for prejudice against us? Can we expect to be absolved of all blame simply because we have served our punishment?

Quinton Aaron as Byron. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Quinton Aaron as Byron. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

Q: How did Halfway first come to your attention? What was it about the movie that grabbed you, made you want to be a part of it?

A: My first job in Hollywood was working with Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise’s producer. It was an incredible experience and I learned to track talent on the rise from her. I met Ben Caird at a networking event, liked his work, and he pitched me a film inspired by where he grew up that had to deal with race in America.

Ben has a tone and style to his writing that I’d seen him translate onto the screen with a series of successful short films that he wrote and directed. As I was reading the script for Halfway I could see his vision in my head.

Having worked closely with Quinton Aaron on the film 1982 in 2013 I knew I could introduce the project to him. I told Ben, “If I can get Quinton to do the film, then I think we can get it made.” Quinton responded really positively to the material and came on board after our first meeting. From there on I knew we could do it!

Q: Of all the scripts you read every week, what made this one stand out?

A: Halfway stood out to me for a few reasons, but I’ll focus on one practical reason and one creative reason. From a practical perspective, the story was contained and did not need a massive budget. As a first-time producer, I felt I could raise the money necessary to make the movie. From a creative perspective, I loved Ben’s vision and believed in the team. There is a European sensibility to this American story thanks to an international team; the director, cinematographer Ben Thomas, editor Karel van Bellingen, and I all come from across the pond.

Q: Once you decided you wanted to make this movie, what was the next step?

A: I remember it was on April 1, 2014, when Ben and I looked at each other and said, no matter what we need to do or how much money I can raise, we’re making this movie in October. We shook on it. Within six months everything fell into place and we started filming on Wednesday, October 1, exactly six months later, to the day!

But, in a very practical sense from that moment in April onwards it became a full time job for me, working 12 hours a day to move things forward one step at a time.

Byron with his Parole Officer. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Byron with his Parole Officer. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

Q: What made you decide to take on such an important topic?

A: It is important to me that I make a wide range of movies in my career that reflect not just my personal, creative tastes as a film lover but also satisfy my social beliefs as well. I studied history at undergraduate level in college in the UK and have always been fascinated in the evolution of societies and the powers that govern them. Since I moved to America in 2010, racial tensions have been at a boiling point. Halfway isn’t directly commenting on issues of police violence and racially charged tensions in big cities like Baltimore, but it is telling the story of someone who has been afforded a second chance after paying his debt to society through his incarceration. That’s powerful to me. The fact that ever since I moved to this country, this has been the most contentious socio-economic issue, made it prominent in my own mind, and as such, when this project presented itself to me it seemed like an opportunity to tell a story that is borne out of this world, but hopefully sheds a positive light on how we can move forward as a society if we give people a true second chance.

Q: Are you hoping the movie generates a larger discussion? In your ideal world, what impact would Halfway have on the conversations we are having in our country and around the world about race and the prison system?

A: Yes, I am certainly hoping that the film provides a platform for further discussion on the issues of racially charged tensions in America and the broken prison system’s involvement in inciting that. To that point, I, along with the Executive Producers, have plans to form the Halfway Foundation, which will seek to raise awareness for and create more public initiatives towards reducing recidivism rates.

I’d also love for our movie to be shown in prisons around the country, to young men and women who will soon be sent back out in to the world. I’d love them to identify with our protagonist and think, “One opportunity, no matter how obscure it may seem, is all that I need to get myself straight and make a good life for myself away from all the temptations and troubles of my former life” — I’d feel fantastic about that!

Jonny enjoying himself on the set. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Jonny enjoying himself on the set. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

Q: What do you think are some of the barriers in the way of our having and making progress in these important discussions — whether in our own small social groups or as a nation or world?

A: On a macro level, the prison system in America has become so expensive and the prisons are so overpopulated by people who are incarcerated for misdemeanor offenses that America has found itself in a challenging position to remedy the current state of affairs. To focus on one example, I met with the prison warden of the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institute in Wisconsin, and he told me a lot about the good work that their prison does to rehabilitate their prisoners, by offering them the chance to take classes and learn a trade, preparing them for life back on the outside. Unfortunately I don’t think enough prisons around the country are doing that well enough. And on top of that, the bigger problem is that when young men and women are released back in to society, they’re just sort of thrown back out there and expected to fend for themselves. There is an undeniable lack of opportunity for these people, and when they have to tick a felony box on every job application they make, it’s understandable that the general attitude is quite defeatist.

Q: Who else stars in the movie?

A: We’re incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful supporting cast of actors that includes the amazing Jeffrey DeMunn (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Walking Dead), Gillian Zinser (90210), Amy Pietz (The Office), and TJ Power (Eat Pray Love, The Sapphires).

Coming next week: More Q&A with Jonny about his career path and the producer life.

Coming in two weeks: Q&A with Halfway writer/director Ben Caird.

Find Halfway on Facebook and Twitter.

 


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What to do when you’re discouraged: a return to courage

Also published at my Huffington Post blog. Revision of a previous post on this blog.

I was going to start this post by saying, “I’m a writer, and in a career like this, it’s easy to get discouraged sometimes…”

But the fact is, being discouraged isn’t just a side effect of writing. It’s a part of life. I’d be willing to bet that whatever life you lead, you’ve been discouraged on occasion, too. Life gets hard.

Google “what to do when you’re discouraged” (as I’ve done more than once), and you get all sorts of great ideas. Refocus on your goals, do something small and easily accomplished, take one step to move yourself forward, keep it all in perspective, remember you’ve managed to make it this far. All great ideas.

But as a writer, I love words. And one day when I was feeling discouraged, I noticed something. Something really obvious, that had somehow escaped my notice before.

Discourage. Dis-courage.

The etymology of discourage is simple: “dis” (away) + “courage.” (I’ll leave a discussion of the etymology of “courage” for another time, as it’s interesting in its own right.)

The recognition of the word’s origins jarred me. I started to think about being discouraged, and how the word — and the feeling — are related to courage. If “discouraged” means having moved away from courage, then is the antidote as “simple” as “re-couraging” ourselves? Moving back toward courage?

If courage is bravery, then maybe when we are discouraged, what we’re really feeling is fear. The further away we are from courage, the closer we are to our fears.

Not so much the disappointment that we haven’t achieved our goals, but more the fear that we never will.

When we are feeling discouraged, can we find our way back by doing something brave?

Brené Brown writes in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, “Courage is… a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.”

Maybe when we’re discouraged, we need to remind ourselves to have courage. To be brave. To allow ourselves to hope.

Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is believe that everything will be okay.


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At the Heart of It: Colleen Raney on Music and Connection

Also published at my Huffington Post blog

Ask almost any artist, and he or she will tell you the expression of art is about far more than the art form itself. Painting goes beyond canvas and oils. Dancing is not just about choreography. Acting is more than memorizing and repeating lines. And for Colleen Raney, Irish singer, singing and music transcend sounds and lyrics and tunes, to serve a much greater purpose: connection.

“Live interaction with people, telling of stories, exchange of information, the ability to learn from the solidarity of shared experience as reflected in music,” these are what Colleen values about music, about art. “We have been conditioned by so much of our day-to-day life to fear any sort of emotional connection or investment, to avoid vulnerability, to surpass our own humanity. This struggle is where art lives.”

Photography by Della Chen
Photography by Della Chen

Though Colleen didn’t initially set out to be a musician, in the crisp vision of hindsight, her path seems inevitable.

Colleen, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, grew up in Seattle, where she spent her childhood Irish dancing and singing in church and school choirs. In Colleen’s family, music was simply a part of everyday family life. “Something to love. Something to feel connected to. Just a thing we did,” she says, “but never because it was our job. [My brother] Mark is a doctor, for example, and my sisters are teachers, and accountants, and real estate agents. I was in school studying engineering first and then moved over to theatre. I finished an MFA in acting in 2001 and still was just playing with Mark and with [the musical group] Magical Strings because it was a fun thing to do and not because it was my job. I taught high school for three years and moved to New York where I quickly found work as an actor and traveled and toured for a few years.”

Coastal Celtic Festival, 2010
Coastal Celtic Festival, 2010

Even with moving into theatre, music still didn’t take its hold on Colleen for a few more years. Colleen studied voice in high school, college, grad school, and then professionally in New York, but it wasn’t until the late 2000s that she picked up the guitar and bodhrán and started playing them again.

“I moved home from New York to deal with a family issue, and wasn’t really sure what I was going to do — stay or go back — when I ran into (musician) Hanz Araki at a party. We decided to make an album then (2008) and recorded Linnet, my first of four albums, that autumn. That’s when Irish music became a career in addition to a personal interest.”

In Dublin, 2013
In Dublin, 2013 / Photography by Orla McGann

What inspires Colleen these days? “At the moment, the thing that is most inspiring, musically and otherwise, is authenticity. By that I don’t mean pedigree, or immersion, or legitimacy. I mean the sense that you get from a person, piece of music, painting, meal, conversation, that there is something present there that is real, and gritty, and substantial. The quiet center of things is where I find most of my interest and inspiration. I seek the heart of matters, of people, of songs, of melodies.”

To Colleen, music and art offer a way for us to move beyond the masks and walls we all live with, even if only for a short time, and truly connect. “The veil that comes down when a show starts is fear. I don’t mean stage fright (that doesn’t ever go away). I mean the fear of vulnerability that many of us put on every morning as we begin our day. It gets checked at the door when people come in because we all agree to suspend reality for a tiny bit and live in a world where saying exactly how you feel about something or expressing a big emotion or thought doesn’t create awkward responses and emotional distance.”

Photography by Della Chen
Photography by Della Chen

Connecting without those barriers is vulnerable, but yet, says Colleen, “We want to experience it, either from a performer’s perspective, or from an audience experience. We want to be moved, to be changed, to emerge somehow subtly, but significantly different. We want to feel something. We want to feel like feeling something is okay. And we place our trust and our hope and expectation on the artist to provide that opportunity for us — the place where we get to not feel lost for a little while because someone has this under control. That is a deep responsibility and an incredible honor.”

“I think we all feel a little lost. Not everybody all the time, but everybody feels lost at one point or another in their lives. Some folks more often than others. We see these brightly packaged options for when we feel lost. Midlife crisis. Fancy vacation. Career change. Dramatic appearance change. Entire industries exist because we come face to face with our fragility at some point in our lives. Because feeling lost is hard. It’s made up of feeling vulnerable and scared and alone and we doubt and we feel foolish and we don’t know where to turn.”

Photography by Della Chen
Photography by Della Chen

As for her chosen genre, Colleen believes there’s something about folk music that has a lasting appeal to people, a staying power, a core truth and appeal that survive trends and time. “Folk music traditions carry these stories, lessons, emotions, reflections, fantasies, and possible solutions in them as well. Generations of people have experienced a thing enough to preserve a song from some time in the 14th century — that can be pretty reassuring in a lot of ways.”

The folk arts — music, gardening, canning, knitting, old time gatherings, swing dance communities, etc. — are popular, she believes, because, “I think it’s the way back to self…. It makes us feel a little less lost and a little more connected to a history of things that got us here in the first place.”

Photography by Kimi Kolba
Photography by Kimi Kolba

What does Colleen want from her career, from life? “To be a part of something that has value, integrity, elegance, depth, and respect. If I am to be recognized at all, I’d like it to be as a contributor rather than a maverick. Why does a person perform rather than just stay home and play the music for the love of the music? The answer isn’t that I think I have any particular value over anyone else. It’s maybe that my contribution is as a conduit. For the history, for the legacy, for the simple and inherent beauty of traditional song. When I perform, these days, the thing that feels joyful is similar to the feeling a person gets when he or she opens up a very old book. Touching something far bigger, that has been here for a lot longer than I have. The gossamer thread that binds one generation to another. To know that these words and these notes were sung a hundred years ago by someone else sitting on a different continent for different reasons. It’s like having Alice’s looking glass in a lot of ways.”

Colleen is currently touring the Pacific Northwest with appearances in the Northeast and California through the summer and autumn. For booking information contact info@littlesearecords.com.

Find Colleen at her website, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Photography by Jilly Lancaster
Photography by Jilly Lancaster

 


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Iceland Travelogue Combines Humor and Travel Insights

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.

Pam on the Map: IcelandIceland. What used to be a rare destination is now all the rage, and with several airlines offering nonstop flights from many cities around the world, getting there is easier than ever.

If The Land of the Midnight Sun is in your travel plans this summer — or if you just want to make a date with Iceland and your traveling armchair — I invite you to check out my book, Pam on the Map: Iceland. It’s a travelogue-style book (with an easy, blog-esque flavor) in which I detailed my own travels to the small island country in the summer of 2013.

Many of the Iceland travel guides I’ve found focus on the same points — the Golden Circle, the south, Reykjavík — so in my own travels I tried to find some lesser-known spots, further from the beaten path. Even with all the research I did before my trip, though, there were still destinations I missed. Therefore, at the end of each chapter I noted what I would do differently if I visit again. Make that when. Iceland is a destination that seeps into your psyche and stays with your soul.

The view from Dyrhólaey in the south of Iceland.
The view from Dyrhólaey in the south of Iceland.

The following excerpt from Pam on the Map: Iceland is from the opening chapter, “Arrival.”

Finally, I see a young man coming through the door, looking rushed, a placard in hand. Is that my name on it? … YES! My Route 1 knight in shining armor. He has arrived.

He is a lovely young man, dark haired and bright eyed, but when he tells me his name I am still flushed with the excitement that he’s arrived at all, and it doesn’t register in my brain. I can’t guess his age, either, other than “young.” I’m not good at guessing ages anymore. I always assume everyone is about my age, but I keep getting younger (don’t you?), so it’s hard to tell. People my age look so old! I don’t look that old, surely. Neither does he. He just finished his first year in law school, that’s about all I know.

When he drives me from the Placard Zone to the Route 1 office, Car Rental Guy (as I shall now call him) explains that “We don’t have an office, really. We have a WAN.”

Really? They have a wide area network? I am confused.

“You have a what?”

“A WAN.”

“………”

And then, it dawns on me. A VAN. V for van, pronounced like a W by some Icelanders. I know this because in preparation for my interview with Reykjavík’s mayor, Jón Gnarr, I watched several videos of other interviews he’d given previously. In one, he talked about the “Wikings” that came to Iceland. And I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing I heard him say “Wikings” before meeting him, because I am certain I wouldn’t have been able to suppress a giggle if I’d first heard him say it in my interview.

So Route 1 does not have an office but a wan. Car Rental Guy and I go to the wan, sort of a camper wan, really, where he gets me all hooked up. When I made my reservation online, I had declined all the extra types of insurance a person can get — gravel insurance, ash insurance, Super Duper Extra Insurance, etc. — but in my weary state, Car Rental Guy talks me into gravel and Super Duper. Who knows. He does say he doesn’t really think ash insurance is necessary, although I swear to you instead of saying “ash,” he said “ass.” At any rate, my ass is uninsured for the duration of the trip.

Car Rental Guy gives me a very thorough rundown of the car and the insurance and my rental, and then he pulls out the Big Map. (This is not a euphemism; it’s really a map. It’s a big map, and right on the front, it says, “Big Map.”) He then suggests places to see, circling them on the map as he goes: Grindavík, Fimmvörðuháls, Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón. In the north, he circles Dettifoss, Húsavík, Ásbyrgi, Mývatn. On a scrap piece of paper, he writes “Places: Silfra at Þingvellir, Kerið.”

He mentions Lagarfljót in the east, to which I reply, “home of the worm!” Car Rental Guy looks at me with a bit of surprise and a bit of delight.

“Not many people know about the worm,” he says with what I’m sure was a touch of admiration. The Lagarfljót Worm is Iceland’s Loch Ness Monster; it’s said to be a football field long, with many humps. It’s been noted in literature since the 1300s. So it must be real! Supposedly sightings of The Worm portend natural disaster, so I guess I’m hoping not to see it. But I’ll drive by on my route. I nod as he writes down: Lagarfljót.

And then, with no great hug or anything to commemorate the intimate time we’d just spent together, the thoughts on Iceland we’d shared, the moments we’ll always cherish, we parted ways.

A few thoughts about car rental: When I first started thinking about coming to Iceland, I investigated car rental prices and was a bit shocked at the cost, but I mentally prepared myself and added it to the budget. Then, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t make my reservation. When I finally got around to it, at the beginning of June (for an end of July/beginning of August reservation), the prices seemed to have doubled. Ack! I about had an apoplectic shock at that time. It then occurred to me that a place like Iceland, where tourism is growing, has a finite number of cars, and when they’re gone they’re gone. I realize that’s true of all places, but in my mind it makes sense, right? I mean, if you’re in Washington, there could be cars coming and going from Oregon or Idaho or even Canada. But Iceland is pretty isolated. What it has is more or less what it has. (The rental companies do note you may not take their cars out of Iceland. I found this quite amusing until they mentioned the ferry to Norway. Okay, check, not planning to go to Norway, and not planning to drive into the ocean, so we’re good.)

Read more in the book, available in both print and ebook!

Pam on the Map: Iceland

From setting off a hotel fire alarm, to getting a luxurious in-water spa massage, to going on a “traditional Icelandic ice cream car ride,” to interviewing Jón Gnarr, “the most interesting mayor in the world,” Pam experienced it all on a two-week summer journey that took her all around the outer edge of Iceland. Armed with a two-wheel drive car, a persnickety GPS, and a goal to discover the heart and soul of the country, Pam broke out of the boundaries of Iceland’s popular Golden Circle to travel the full Ring Road (the road that circles all the way around the country), and beyond.

In Pam on the Map: Iceland, Pam brings readers along on her trip as she discusses all things Iceland, including the restrooms at Keflavík airport, the Ring Road and travel infrastructure, the treacherous gravel roads and Highway 939, the omnipresent waterfalls, hot dogs and fermented shark, and the history and culture of the country and its people. Pam stops to talk with locals about their views and opinions on Iceland, tourism, writing, the economy, soil erosion, and happiness.

Filled with wit and wanderlust, Pam on the Map: Iceland offers one woman’s perspective on traveling around this tiny island in the far north Atlantic Ocean.

 Keep your eyes open as you drive around Iceland -- spectacular waterfalls pop up out of nowhere, like this one I found on the side of the road!
Keep your eyes open as you drive around Iceland — spectacular waterfalls pop up out of nowhere, like this one I found on the side of the road!

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Damian McGinty Knocks It Out of the Park with Stunning Performance of National Anthem

Also posted at my Huffington Post blog.

He may be from Northern Ireland, but Damian McGinty (Glee, Celtic Thunder) knocked it out of the park (pun intended) the first time he performed the U.S. national anthem, before an audience of 30,000!

Photo credit: Damian McGinty
Photo credit: Damian McGinty

Damian sang the anthem at the May 19 Kansas City Royals vs. Cincinnati Reds game, showcasing his beautiful, rich voice and great range.

After hearing Damian’s stunning performance, fans were imploring their own local teams to bring the singer to perform the national anthem at games in their own cities. NFL, MLB, MLS (especially teams in my own city — Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders), are you listening?

Damian can be found at his website, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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On Elephants and the Obnoxious Roommate: Seeing the Full Picture Inside Our Heads

Also posted at my Huffington Post blog.

I don’t know when I first read the parable, but I know I was young. I can distinctly remember the accompanying line-drawings, a near-black blue on a light blue background.

The blind men and an elephant. You know the story.

The tale originated centuries ago in the Indian subcontinent, but has spread around the world in several variations. In the version I read, there were three blind men, and of course the elephant, which the men encountered on their journey. One felt the tail, and thought the elephant was a rope. The second felt a leg, and insisted they’d found a pillar. The third felt the trunk, and was sure it was a tree branch.

The point of the parable, of course, is that our perceptions are limited by our subjective experiences; that in any situation, we need to remember we may not have all the facts, or we may be reaching conclusions based on incomplete information.

The story is generally applied to external situations, of course: disputes between countries, conflicts between people. What is less often recognized, though, is how the parable applies internally, to the stories we tell ourselves.

I’m reading Brené Brown‘s book Daring Greatly right now, for my book group. At the same time, I’m taking Arianna Huffington’s online Thrive e-course. This means I’m getting a double dose of reality these days on the ways we beat ourselves up, and the ways we could be kinder to ourselves.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit how much I beat myself up (Arianna refers to this as the “obnoxious roommate in your head“), because from the outside it feels like I’m the only one who does this. But, Brené and Arianna tell me I’m not alone in this, and who am I to doubt Brené and Arianna? So this post is for those of you who, like me, sometimes battle the obnoxious roommate. (And if that’s not you, consider yourself lucky!)

This morning I was in a “not good enough” hangover, having beaten myself up pretty well yesterday. The desire to believe I’m good enough is strong, but when I start to go there, a voice in my head screeches out, “But there is so much evidence that you are not.”

Today, when that voice loomed large and hopeless, that’s when the story of the elephant and the blind men emerged from the depths of my memory into the light.

When we listen to the gremlins as they present their undeniable evidence that we aren’t good enough, we’re seeing just one part of the elephant, and ignoring all the other evidence. We aren’t seeing the full picture. We’re taking one small thing we know, and stubbornly insisting that from that bit of information we can draw irrefutable conclusions.

But there’s more to the elephant.

My brain loves analogies, so when I made this connection, it was a bright “aha” moment for me.

I vowed at that moment to spend the day looking for other evidence, evidence I know exists, evidence that I am fully and completely good enough, that I am worthy and wonderful and fabulous.

Certainly the Obnoxious Roommate or the Not Good Enough Gremlin has some evidence to support his own cause, but it’s far from complete. Our worth is not defined by a trunk or a tail or a leg, any more than the elephant is. We are more than the sum of our parts. And if we have to choose which evidence to look at, then why not seek out and believe the evidence that supports the idea that we are worthy?

We have given more than enough time to the conflicting evidence. It’s time to let the prosecution rest, and see the bigger picture of our worth.

elephant 72 dpi 300wSpeaking of elephants, this is Rupert, drawn by Kenneth Schrag. He’s a little different from your average elephant: If you look closely, you can see he’s 2D rather than 3D, and what’s more, he exists in a place called the Hub, a place that is both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Rupert is the elephant in my young adult sci-fi novel, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse, and though he’s different, he’s perfect exactly as he is.


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Meet Kendall Custer: New on the Pop Scene With a Gracefully Bold Sound

Also posted at my Huffington Post Blog.

Kendall Custer’s first single, “Not Gonna Fall,” and the accompanying music video were released May 22.

The fact is, every moment we’re in is the product of all the moments we’ve lived. That’s just how it works.

Still, some moments, some days, are bigger than others. Some moments, some days, poignantly, magically distill a lifetime of experiences and hopes, of hard work and big dreams.

For Kendall Custer, May 22 — 5/22 — is one of those days.

This is the day of her first release of “anything, ever!,” specifically her new single and music video, “Not Gonna Fall,” from her upcoming album, 522.

“It’s exciting because I have been the decision-maker in every step, and the timing feels absolutely right. I’ve learned to trust timing,” says Kendall.

The 22-year-old artist moved to LA about three years ago from a small town in Texas. “If you watched the Friday Night Lights series, I grew up in a town just like Dillon,” she says.

Within a few weeks of when Kendall moved to LA, Tracie Verlinde at BMI set her up on a “co-write” with her now-producer, Shevy Smith. “[Our rapport] was instant,” says Kendall. “It just worked creatively. She is my favorite writer. We started writing together a few times a week until we got some songs we felt good about. Once it was time to start production we were both pretty weary about venturing out because we felt so good about what we were making. So, we decided Shevy would try producing.”

Shevy Smith, Kendall Custer
Shevy Smith, Kendall Custer / © Kristina Wunsch: Instagram / website

“‘Not Gonna Fall’ was the first song we put into production,” Kendall continues. “It became exactly the sound I wanted. At this point we knew each other so well and she had become family, that there was kind of no way it wouldn’t be my dream sound. We wrote every song, recorded everything and spent many nights sitting on her kitchen counter dreaming up the future. For the past three years we hibernated in [Topanga] Canyon developing the sound.”

Shevy felt the connection, as well. “Kendall and I definitely resonate deeply and run the same speed in the same direction most times. It is fantastic to create tunes with our minds being so aligned. The process is easy, even when it’s laborious. We both have a lot of fight in us to want to make something great, and are willing to be bold in trying to find sounds and phrases that have sonic and emotional weight. Plus, we just chill as buds together a lot, too. She’s the best hang and an honest, solid human being. She’s the genuine article.”

Liana Liberato, Kendall Custer
Liana Liberato, Kendall Custer / © Kristina Wunsch: Instagram / website

Liana Liberato, actress (The Best of Me, If I Stay) and one of Kendall’s best friends, directed the music video. “Liana has somehow made her way into a lyric in basically all of my songs,” says Kendall.

“Creatively, we had the idea of what we wanted to do for the music video done a year ago. We actually tried to make it happen then, but it was clear the timing wasn’t right. It was like the harder I worked to make it happen, the further the project felt away. I ended up calling it off. Then earlier this year I was in New York for some meetings, and was sitting in the meetings and knew I needed to try again. The second I realized that, everything fell into place.”

The intense support and excitement Kendall’s friends feel in being a part of this moment with her is palpable. Liana vividly recalls the moment Kendall first shared her music with their tight-knit group of friends. “For a solid six months Kendall would always disappear to Topanga Canyon to work with [Shevy] on some of her music,” says Liana.

The making of a music video
The making of a music video / © Kristina Wunsch: Instagram / website

“There was a specific night where a small group of friends were hanging out at my house and Kendall asked if she could play us the track she and Shevy had been working on,” Liana continues. “I plugged her phone into my speakers and out comes ‘Not Gonna Fall’…. I just looked over at her and said, ‘I will do anything to be a part of this journey with you. I’ll do craft service at the video shoot if that’s what you need.’ It was that night she asked me to direct her first music video. That was about two years ago.

“I wanted to help Kendall achieve a dream.”

The video concept was inspired by the relationship of one of Kendall’s friends. “She was seeing this guy who, after a few months, starting disappearing. Due to miscommunication, she thought the relationship was over — only to find out later that he had traveled to the Costa Rica and graffiti-ed a stencil of her and her dad on a wall there. He now takes that stencil everywhere he travels and spray-paints it on walls all over the world.”

Ryan Good, Kendall Custer, Liana Liberato, Hannah Marks
Ryan Good, Kendall Custer, Liana Liberato, Hannah Marks / © Kristina Wunsch: Instagram / website

The video represents miscommunication in relationships, says Kendall. “Both my character and [Ryan Good, the male lead]’s character in the video are stuck in the fear of falling for one another. Both of the characters have their walls up. The difference is, Ryan’s character is painting over these ‘walls’ with her.”

Says Liana, “The entire video was in the hands of myself, Kendall, our producer Julia Hodges, and our Director of Photography Casey Stolberg. We all met up twice a week, every week, for about two months developing the project. It was very easy to make the video because of this. We all had a clear vision and could trust each other to execute it properly. Because of all the prep before, everything Kendall and I wanted in the video actually made it in the final cut.”

Liana Liberato, Julia Hodges, Kendall Custer, Hannah Marks
Liana Liberato, Julia Hodges, Kendall Custer, Hannah Marks / © Kristina Wunsch: Instagram / website

The title of the album, 522, is inspired Kendall’s grandmother. “She instilled the qualities from the verse in Galatians 5:22 in my family and me,” says Kendall. (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.“) “There was never one moment when I decided the album would be called 522. In the studio we kinda just started calling it that, and then over time it became the title. With ‘Not Gonna Fall’ being released on 5/22 (May 22nd), it became a cool double-promo thing.”

Kendall says there’s no set “theme” to her album: “I just write to write — but you can’t hide who you are and what you’re going through if you’re being honest in your work. So, there is this underlying theme of me growing and up and trying to do the right thing in situations. Each song, I go through this inner battle on if I’m being a good person by doing the right thing, being honest to who I am and the way I was raised.”

522 will be released on Forte Poesy this September. “Not Gonna Fall” can be purchased on iTunes.

Find Kendall at her website, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

© Kristina Wunsch: Instagram / website
© Kristina Wunsch: Instagram / website

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