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Founder and owner of the Word Garden, Mary Anne Radmacher makes her art her life and her life an art. And in Lean Forward into Your Life she invites us to do the same. Or as she says, Lean Forward into Your Life is a commonplace book for leading an uncommon life. An uncommon life need not include fame and fortune. An uncommon life means living with intention, paying attention, celebrating, taking care of yourself, risking love. To live an uncommon life is to live large from the ...
Founder and owner of the Word Garden, Mary Anne Radmacher makes her art her life and her life an art. And in Lean Forward into Your Life she invites us to do the same. Or as she says, Lean Forward into Your Life is a commonplace book for leading an uncommon life. An uncommon life need not include fame and fortune. An uncommon life means living with intention, paying attention, celebrating, taking care of yourself, risking love. To live an uncommon life is to live large from the heart.
Each section of Lean Forward into Your Life opens with a hand-lettered aphorism in the author's signature collage style. The essays, stories, and exercises that follow are designed to bring the reader into her or his own uncommon life. In the tradition of The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer and I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova, poems that evolved into best-selling books, Lean Forward into Your Life is an intimate book that leads readers into the center of their own ability to change the world.
* An invitation to the millions of people who want to make the most of their lives and leave the world a slightly better place.
Lean Forward into Your Life
Lean forward into your life. Indeed. Often I embrace this instruction and put my shoulder to the moment. But certainly not always. There are times when, if I were to lean forward, all I would do is fall over. The roots of the word "despair" can be found in old French—a pairing of "down from" and "to hope": to fall down from hope. When I am not leaning forward into my life that is why. Because I am busy falling down from hope. Sometimes the ship of life is pitching so viciously that the best action I can muster is to just sit down and hang on. The storm subsides. I stand up. I look around. I lean forward a little.
My chiropractor, Dr. Colleen McDonough, was helping me recover from a moment in which I had rapidly leaned backward. I'd stepped backward, while walking my dog, into a recessed planting area in the sidewalk. I snapped something in my back. My doctor was being attentive to the details of my life while working to correct the problem. "Now how's that writing going?" she asked. "That book you're working on—what's it called? Fall Forward into Life?"
I laughed so hard. The irony of my chiropractor getting the title of my book so wrong and yet so right, struck me as howlingly funny. When I stopped laughing I told her the correct title. She observed that I more frequently seem to leap forward into my life. A running leap, she modified. With your dog along on a leash. Leap. Lean. It's just one letter difference.
A pilot would tell you that a seemingly insignificant lean of a wing will dramatically alter the direction of the plane. Perhaps if a bird could speak it would share that, with the right wind, a little ruffle of a feather may change the way of its flight.
There are many reasons you lean forward on any given day. They are all perfect metaphors for this book. When you're trying to see something better, you lean toward it. When you are listening to someone and can barely hear, you lean in. When the really exciting part of a basketball game comes, you lean forward in your seat. When you're trying to catch, to see, to listen to the best bits—you lean forward.
Lean forward into your life ... catch the best bits and the finest wind. Just tip your feathers in flight a wee bit and see how dramatically that small lean can change your life.
Begin Each Day as if It Were on Purpose
go to the self help section of the library. Or bookstore. There you will find protocols, guides, methods. Ten steps to this. Easy solutions to that. Thirty ways to hop, skip, and jump to a more successful, thinner, efficient, purposeful, happier life.
This is not that.
This book is an invitation. A reflection. A mirror. A set of prompts to help you remember the questions you want to ask yourself. An intimate portrait of some of my processes that have allowed me to separate life as it happens to me and life as I choose it. They are such very different things.
So often people discuss purpose as if it were a far off mountain, difficult to see and even more difficult to climb. Purpose is discussed as if it were the one thing that we are to ultimately achieve in our life.
Jan Johnson, my publisher, has said well that things are not only "done on purpose, but with a purpose." I awaken with my purpose. I bring my purpose to every party. I have the choice of applying my purpose to every set of events and enthusiasms of my life. My purpose. The unique intention that only I bring.
You know that feeling of being completely energized, which occurs when you are doing something you absolutely love? That thing that might make others tired, weary, but you could do for hours, and then get up the next day and do it all over again? That thing probably has a lot to teach you about your purpose. When people speak of being "in sync," when things are flowing or a part of a groove. What they could say, instead, is "I am acting in complete accordance to my purpose and it makes everything sing."
Life is the biggest schoolroom there is. Show up. Take notes. Notice the details so you gain mastery over the skills, talents, and abilities that all comprise your special purpose. Writing notes to yourself is one of the finest ways to come to a deeper understanding of your purpose. Here are some suggestions.
Write to make sense of life experiences. Write to learn as much as you can from all the challenges and the joys. Write because words and ideas are fascinating. Write because exploring concepts is play. Write to synthesize explorations and make them practical. Write to become the best version of yourself. Write to inspire, motivate, comfort, facilitate, discover, communicate. In the process of seeking empowerment, empower others. In this scratching, this making marks, encourage others to make their own mark. Write to discover everything you (already deeply) know about your purpose. It's waiting for you.
Uncovering Your Purposeful Beginnings
in the classes I teach, Writing Places and Wordshops, I often ask participants to write the story of their mythological creation. Nearly every tribe and civilization that we can name has their own set of creation myths. It explains their unique presence. The terrain. The history of the tribe. Creating your own personal myth is a remarkable journey. It's digging into your purpose. Let me share my own creation myth.
"Entirely too hot!"
"Entirely too high!"
"By all our heads I swear this will turn sunset to a crisp."
"Stop your murmuring and just complete your tasks!" Umbria chastised the rising criticizers.
"You don't think this fire is large enough already?"
"You know size is irrelevant; it's the density of the burn we always look for. Don't be stingy. I know you've not poured yours in yet."
Vitae was embarrassed at being caught. She retreated to the wavy edges of the fire. Appropriately corrected, she humbly reached into her boodle bag and pulled the bottled essence for which she was named. As a single drop entered the fire the core flame leapt higher than Vitae's tall head.
"Only one drop?" Umbria asked.
Shamed, again, this time by her lack of generosity, Vitae poured lavishly—and stepped quickly back from the rising heat. Years later this extra portion of vitality (for which Vitae could take credit) would sustain the breath of this fiery spirit.
Umbria kept her invitations flowing. She calculated on her fingers, "All right, yes! Compassion, Intention, Chaos, Camaraderie, Intimacy, Loyalty, Vision ... and had Creativity come?" Oh, yes. Of course. She came in that silly disguise of hers that many mistake for discipline. Now ... oh, yes!
She called out, "Calculation! Prosperity, Strength and Wellbeing! Come on. It's nearly time."
While it was somewhat unorthodox, the latecomers all came and piled their offerings in the keeping of Strength—the intensity of the heat had become too much for the rest of them.
"Are we done yet?" Calculation inquired.
"Almost," she impatiently assured. "Would somebody call for Attentiveness and Gentleness? I need them to add something."
Umbria was still deciding what from her bag to bestow—balance or insight. It seemed silly to contribute balance into a fire of this magnitude. The flames were licking the sun and the clouds had begun to complain bitterly. Clearly the only choice they had was to begin a deluge—which tempered the flames slightly. Thereafter this spirit would love all water, especially walking in the rain.
As Gentleness, at some personal peril, added her silken threads, she heard, "Isn't it time yet?" in choired unison.
Umbria gasped at the error of her own long consideration. She knew such an overdue pause would forever compel the belly in which this fire burned to be late. Such things happen. Perhaps insight would help. Umbria tossed her slivers and shards of insight into the flames. In an instant the tower of heat was reduced to a molten coal. Intention and Chaos grabbed the cradle and deftly slipped it under the newly compressed ball of fire. Then they swung the crib back and forth while the others stood in a circle. Following a familiar form they sang their ageless invitation. Soon they heard from the other side of the world.
"It's a girl, Mrs. Radmacher. Does she have a name?"
"Yes, her father and I will name her Mary Anne."
I was oblivious to the inquiry until second grade.
"No! They are my parents, not my grandparents." I was certainly used to them as my parents. The last of my grandparents had died when I was five, and I did not come to understand grief in regard to my grandfather's passing. Only relief. He was described by the non-religious members of my family as some kind of "crazy bastard." Perhaps even the religious family members found it within their experience to levy the same charge against him.
My curiosity pushed beyond its civil limit, I finally asked, "Why? Why do you think they are my grandparents?"
The answer was apparent to all but me.
"They are so old."
So old. So old. It was true. Amorous in their anticipation ... I was the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary celebration to Hawaii that my parents never took. Oddly, I think my mother never really forgave my birth for cheating her of what would have been her first time out of the Pacific Northwest. At least she chose to have me. She was receiving endless unsolicited advice to have me aborted for the sake of her health. She was forty-four. She had a history of miscarriages. Both of my parents insisted that when they married they wanted five children. I would make the fifth, if I survived.
And I did. Against a host of odds. My mother's general health was challenged, and the two packs of cigarettes she smoked each day became a challenge for me. It was mitigated, somewhat, by the two glasses of scotch on the rocks she would imbibe before five.... Oh, what we didn't know then—in 1957—about fetal health and the life-time effects of smoking and drinking while pregnant.
The nine-month lounge act I enjoyed in my mother's belly introduced me to a world bronchially challenged from the word go. At nineteen months old I had a menu of illness offerings: scarlet fever, pneumonia, this and that—the list eludes my accurate memory. Poor care added staph infection to the masterpiece of illness, like a malicious single stroke of red across the painting.
My oldest sister, a nursing student, was home on a break, looked at me for ten seconds, and called the head of pediatrics at Oregon's Health Sciences University. That call saved my life. I was immediately transferred. Months later I was released from a group of loving people whom I had come to view as my family.
That hospital staff had posted twenty-four-hour volunteer duty with me as I was in intensive care alone. Residents reviewed their reports aloud. Students read their textbooks to me. Doctors and nurses read reports and children's stories. Doctors would poke their noses into my room and ask me to repeat what had just been announced over the loudspeaker. I did so, verbatim. This was more a developmental exercise for me than a neccessity for them. It certainly was foundational to the way I listened to words.
When I was placed in a normal room, I wondered, at first, who the civilians were who were not dressed in scrub green or white, but who visited me and seemed interested in my progress. I slowly sorted the details of my blood relationship to these guests. This experience would serve as a life-long habit of choosing my own family, rather than simply accepting the bounds of family that blood dictates.
At the going away party, which the staff gave me, I was gifted with a yellow, soft, stuffed elephant. It was made of the same kind of looping of which bedspreads were made. Like overstuffed tatting. I don't know the word for the technique. Bedspreads of this sort are now considered antiques.
The elephant and I were inseparable. Yet in all the time I had it, I had no memory of its source, its beginning place. I had, in fact, no recollection of my time in the hospital at all until much later in my life, until the experience was fully informed by my older sister. The elephant had simply always been with me; it traveled with me, slept with me. I frequently ventured out of doors with that elephant, and it had its own place in my favorite tree. I would jam it under my shirt as I shimmied up the trunk and then place it on its perch where it could view the world along with me. In my memory, its name was the force of its comforting presence, and while I must have called it something, I do not remember giving it a name.
I knew none of the above hospital details until my oldest sister visited me for the fourth time in her life—the first being that visit of which I have just written, the second being my mother's funeral, the third being the visit to officially determine the level of dementia visited upon my father's mind by alzheimer's disease, and the fourth being a few years ago. It was on that fourth visit that I thanked her for all the stories she read to me when I was a wee lass. I had, for decades, attributed my vocabulary and love of books to my oldest sister whom I recalled read to me incessantly when I was a toddler.
"No," she confessed, "it was not me." And then she spun the tale of my illness, my life hanging in a balance for months. The story captivated me, and suddenly made so many nonsensical things about me make sense (things like my precocious vocabulary, my love of new words, my habit of repeating phrases verbatim, and so on). It also disappointed me. How could I have gone through over forty years without anyone telling me such a significant thing about my own life? I asked her.
"I guess no one thought it was important that you should know" she answered. Ah, the odd bits of information families choose to keep from each other.
I don't recall taking my elephant to school, except maybe for show and tell. When I was in fourth grade, my brother left his electric blanket on, crumpled. An electric blanket on an unmade bed in a tinder box of a messy room. A room just across the hall from mine.
The house burned from the roof through to the structure of the second floor. Everything I owned—my art, my writings, all my origami paper brought to me from Japan by my third grade teacher, my clothes—burned. I wept only for one thing. The yellow elephant.
That summer was the only summer my father took me anywhere in the city. He bought a pass to the Portland Zoo. The pass came with a zoo key. The story would be more tidy if the color of the key was yellow. The key was red. Each display had a prerecorded message about the animals, their native habitat, their eating habits. One listened to these messages by inserting the zoo key. The red elephant. My father took me to the zoo a number of times that summer. He should have been sleeping, for he was a graveyard-shift manager at a heavy equipment manufacturing plant. Trying to object to my making a single dart to the elephant exhibit by asserting there were all kinds of things we could see—he finally succumbed.
My last visit might still be remembered to this day by the adults that were there. Packy was my favorite elephant, my favorite creature in this structure of fences and yards and pens. I'd participated in a contest to name him. My name, which I cannot recall, was not chosen. But still, Packy was my favorite. I was aware of murmurs from the crowd around me. Only in retrospect do I know they were saying things such as, "It's like they're speaking to each other," and "Look, that elephant is just staring right at that little girl."
I reached my hands out over the rails, my little body splayed over the double metal railing, my dad holding on to my feet so that I would not go sliding down the cement cliff lining the elephants' area.
Packy raised himself up on this hind feet, his trunk seemed to fly in the air like a restrained bird. And he called to me. A resonant trumpet of a call. And then he thundered himself down and, to the amazement of every one but me, Packy kneeled. His great, soft, leathery, tree-trunk-like legs bent, and that creature bowed to me.
I bowed back as well as I could manage. In much the same way it did not occur to me to think of my parents as old, it did not seem to me that this exchange was in any way odd.
Excerpted from Lean Forward into Your Life by Mary Anne Radmacher. Copyright © 2007 Mary Anne Radmacher. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Posted April 19, 2013
Great tips and thought provoking for making the most of life. I stumbled on this book at a time in life when I needed the reminder.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.