The Muse Will Show

The muse will come when you stop messing around on Facebook or goofing off on Twitter. Reading other people’s stuff sometimes inspires the muse, but the muse can be prickly, even jealous. Ignore your own creativity? The muse runs away. The muse doesn’t like when you spend too long working for other people and not long enough on your own. If you don’t care about your creativity, the muse won’t either.

This is where I am writing, — in a room with a window seat, looking out on Lake Champlain. The muse likes a room with a view.

The muse will show up when you let go of perfectionism. When you stop comparing yourself to all of the successful, rich people you get bombarded with every single day. Those beautiful people get to your muse. Those people are like vampires, making you run into your house and lock your front door.

The muse doesn’t like when you choose safety over the midnight walk in the woods. The muse loves to roam too and wants you to live on the edge of a cliff, not in the cocoon.

The muse will show up when you put fingers on the keyboard and wipe away the blank screen.

The muse will show up when you stop cleaning the kitchen.

When the muse shows up, it’s not work. It’s play. You just have to get out of your own way. Something, some brilliance — seriously! – will flow through you. You will sit back when you are done and go, “Wow! I did that!” But no, you didn’t do that. Not alone any way. You were the conduit. The creative spirit, the muse, flew through you and is now flying away because your ego — such a barking dog — chased it away.

And tried to take all the credit. But that’s okay; that’s the ego’s job.

The muse will be back tomorrow. Or later. But won’t/can’t stay forever, because you have to eat and go to the bathroom and chat with your kids and make dinner and throw a load of laundry in the washer and gossip about the neighbors and, don’t forget, you’ve got to pay the bills.

I know, as an artist and writer, I can visit the muse when I jot my ideas and images in a little notebook, even when I am away from my keyboard or canvas. I use Field Notes, a product. But I get no money (or respect) from Coudal Partners for this endorsement. Although occasionally, I swipe pack of Field Notes when I am at the Coudal household.

As Field Notes saying goes, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

I want to write more about my prickly, beautiful, sensitive, strong muse. But I have to go for a walk. I have to stretch my body. I have to take my time. I have to let my muse fly.

This post was inspired by the Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a book that made me to take my muse seriously.

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Lose It!

According to this month’s cover Atlantic story, The Perfected Self, by David Freedman, people, including the author’s brother, have lost weight with the free app Lose It!

The application seems a perfect way to use social media to connect people around positive life goals. I know I have blogged (almost) every day because of the prodding of my online community of Catherine Flowers, Julie Jordan Scott, Kim Koning and Meredith Cardenas Weis at Post A Day (Week) Challenge at Postaday2012 on Facebook.

I have another friend who regularly documents the pounds she is losing on Facebook and she receives a ton of support (and a bit of unasked-for advice!)

The Freedman article is an homage to the psychologist B.F. Skinner who advised positive reinforcement as a route to changing individual behavior for the good of society. Alcoholics Anonymous does this for problem drinkers who seek sobriety.

I’m not sure if an app can replace a support group (or peer pressure). For me, one real-world application for this app is: Sure, I feel good when I work out — but I feel even better when I work out and other people compliment, encourage and admire me for doing so! (Or compete against me!)

I’m always bragging (complaining) to my kids — “I did Pilates and rode my bike to work today!” To which, they shrug!

I like praise for working out! I’m just not sure if an app will praise me enough. Will the app shrug at my efforts for health and fitness? I may try it and find out and document my attempt at: Running Aground, my health and fitness blog.

Social Media Mania

I’ve been trying to post on one of my blogs every day for the month of June. Yesterday I was dragging. I didn’t have anything to say, couldn’t come up with a good idea, had too many social occasions to attend. One of those occasions was our monthly Lunch and Learn workshop which is a venue for our brilliant Communications staff to share their expertise.

At yesterday’s lunch, Beth Buchanan of the web team gave an awesome Prezi.com session. The title? Social Media Mania. It inspired and informed the two dozen of us there, half of us experts (ahem! like moi?) and half beginners (moi aussi!). After Beth’s session, I felt energized to get through my slog of a daily blog.

Here are a few take-aways from Beth.

Beth's profile pic!

How do we get into social media?

  1. Sign in
  2. Listen
  3. Engage
  4. Evaluate

I’m not particularly good at Numbers 2 and 4, but I am going to be!

Buchanan emphasized a few best practices for social media. Such as “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, think before posting.

Social media is a conversation, not a monologue, she said. So don’t swamp people with your point of view without taking an interest in theirs.

Another novel concept — and why haven’t I thought of this? — Have a social media strategy and make it work for you. To get thinking about this, start with the question, Who is my audience? (How am I supposed to know!)

I loved some of Beth’s quotes (and did tweet them during the session), like this one: “You establish who you are by what you post.”

On Twitter, Beth said if you’re tweeting for a company — for every three business posts, include one personal post. Duh! I microblog on Twitter for New World Outlook magazine @NWOMag and for myself @MaryBethC but I don’t cross-over; personal is personal and business is business. But I’ll try to cross-pollinate, just like Beth Buchanan, the social media maven at Global Ministries, does. Thanks, Beth! @BJBuc and @connectNmission !

Beth is the friend and colleague who got me started on blogging, Facebook and Twitter. And now there’s no stopping me! At least for the month of June!

Oh No, My Mother Just Joined LinkedIn

My mother just requested to join my network. What should I do? Soon she’ll be telling me to change my profile picture, get a hair cut, rewrite my status update, stop cursing. (I tell my son that last one!)

On the other hand, I may need a job recommendation and we have worked together. Seriously. I was a guest lecturer in her college classroom. And she’d be there if I needed her. It’d be a way for us to be linked if our phones went down.

I’m not sure. I’ve just felt that social media was my realm, my playground. And I’m doing great without her. I’m growing up, Ma.

I know Facebook is not far behind. Facebrag has a competitive edge. Who has the cutest kids? The most friends? The wittiest comments? Me, Joanne Woodward, Lou Stellato.

Yes, she’d get to see a lot more photos of her grandkids. And read a lot more of my writing, including this post. So I better stop writing now.

I do write to be read. And I do love my mother. So, yes I’ll accept her request to connect to my network on LinkedIn. After all, their tagline is: Relationships matter. Yes, they do. Especially the online relationships between parent and child.

More Friends

I’ve been trying to drive up my number of Facebook friends to surpass 1,000.  I believe the more friends you have, the more you achieve.

There are studies to bear this out. UCLA researchers studied LA high school students and discovered More school friends?=better grades. I like to think that the study goes for more adult friends too. More work friends?=better work.

Journal of Research on Adolescence — adolescents with more in-school friends than out-of-school friends had higher grade-point averages and — complementing this finding — that those with higher GPAs had more in-school friends. (from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603172221.

It fits in beautifully with my Rules for Happiness #1 — Pile on the People. http://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/pile-on-people-and-activities/

The key for me is to draw the circle wide. My friends are varied in status, age, race, gender.

I learned a long time ago, especially as a writer, that the person to befriend is not the CEO but the CEO’s assistant. He or she is the one who really knows what’s going on and can get you the good story.

I love that FB has made the word friend a verb as well as a noun. It’s no secret that I’m in love with social media, especially blogging on WordPress.

One of my real (and FB) friends mentioned that she’s concerned that by blogging we’re creating a false sense of intimacy. Maybe it’s true we reveal a little too much of ourselves. I’m not sure — to figure out what I think about this, I’ll have to talk it over with one of my friends. Or maybe I’ll just instant message them.

Daily Blog

For about 66 days I posted on one of my four blogs every single day. I started January 1, 2011.

I may keep up the daily habit or begin to post weekly.

Here’s how I did it:

1) Connected with a community of writers (Twitter, Facebook, 43Things, MediaBistro) 2) Gave myself permission to write only 100 words 3) Wrote early in the morning, late at night (and occasionally on my lunch hour) 4) Told myself ‘It will only take you 20 minutes’ 5) Showed my vulnerabilty 6) Showed my awesomeness.

For extra credit: 

1) Included photos 2) Told a story with a beginning, middle and end 3) Promoted books and philosophies I believe in 4) Piggybacked on other bloggers’ good ideas 5) Commented on others’ blog posts.

What I learned:

1) That writing improves your self esteem 2) That there is always something to write about 3) That I began to organize my life and thoughts around the four different blog areas — fitness, writing, spirituality and New York 4) That how-to posts and completely honest posts were the most popular 5) That my writing, especially the first couple of paragraphs, have to be simple and not witty (Humor comes later. Explaining the point of what I’m writing comes first.)

Twitter versus Facebook

Lately, I’ve received Twitter messages that say, “Follow me on Facebook too!” I thought Twitter and Facebook were two different worlds.

I thought Facebook was for people you had met in high school or real life; and Twitter was for people you wished you’d met in high school or real life. My Twitter friends are writer-types with names like SmartBitches, AmyLow, GottaLaff and HippieChick (I wish I’d thought up a clever name. I’m simply MaryBethC). My Facebook friends are also sassy-types, only they use their real names.

After being on the Twitter-verse when I log on to Facebook, the Facebook world feels slow and earnest. It feels like cross country skiing after downhill racing. 

Sometimes I like the random roll of the dice of Twitter. And sometimes I like the mashed-up friendliness of Facebook.

After I’ve been on Facebook a while, when I get on Twitter, I wonder Who ARE these people? Do I know them? But I can’t stop reading their updates.

I’d like to write more about this right now, but I’ve gotta check my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ve got to see what my friends — real and cyber — are up to.

On Facebook, Megachurches, and Brevity

Episcopal priest and social media expert, Tom Ehrich, began his talk on social media with a bunch of paper handouts — extremely gloomy charts showing the steady and certain downward march in Episcopal church attendance.

“The world of the 1950s ended a long time ago but churches hung onto it. We are the corner hardware store in a Home Depot world,” Ehrich said. People laughed uncomfortably.

For the record, I still love corner hardware stores. I like to say “Gene Doubray” (dzień dobry) to the Polish guys who own the hardware store on 72nd Street. I have never been in a Home Depot. But I like their commercials that show older women as experts. I digress, back to last week’s luncheon. Here are my takeaways:

Facebook

How does Facebook work?No one knows.” (Someone must know!) “Facebook is a mystery. Facebook tells your friends ‘Here’s what I’m caring about today.'”

Update your church’s Facebook frequently and recruit people to attend your church. Inviting doesn’t work; recruiting does (recruting always sounds militaristic to me).

Give people what they want. When people come to a church they may have questions. But the questions they have will be ones about their own lives — “Should I send my kid to private or public school?” they ask. They don’t ask, “What is your Sunday school like?” Ehrich said. True, true.

Create buzz. Let churches “touch people,” not “create members.” True.

Why do restaurants in New York not have to advertise? Restaurants get business by generating buzz, Ehrich said.

Megachurches

Getting people to attend Sunday worship is not enough. Churches have to be open 7 days/24 hours a day.

“Sunday is for tourists,” Ehrich said. He gave an example that Rick Warren’s megachurch, Saddleback Church, has its real worship on Wednesday nights, not Sundays.

“The Megachurch is not the enemy. They have methods that work. They greet newcomers. Train leaders.” Warren’s goal was to start 2,000 new small groups in a year; that is, 20,000 new members.

Megachurch Willow Creek sends an email newsletter that reaches 3 million readers. (I’m not sold on e-newsletters.) In his weekly Willow Creek e-newsletter, Bill Hybels, the founder, has passion and enthusiasm for upcoming sermon.

In his e-newsletters, Hybels writes, “Please come. If you can’t come, please pray for me.” That is cool. (How often do grown men asked to be prayed for? Love it!)

Full disclosure: for several months as a teenager in Park Ridge, Illinois, I was a part of Son City, which Bill Hybels founded. It was really fun. I don’t remember him specifically, but I remember that I sang rockin’ Christian songs in a big auditorium. I’m not a singer, but I remember thinking I sounded really good. I loved the idea of Son City, especially when I heard rumors that kids were allowed to run around and have chicken-fights in the church aisles of the South Park Church. I digress.

Digression on blogs may be unnecessary.

Brevity

Ehrich was a proponent of brevity. On Twitter: “140-character limit is magic,” Ehrich said.

Ehrich blogs daily. I love that. His word limit is 100 words. My blog posts tend to exceed that. (This one’s up to 560!). A blog doesn’t need to be friendly but can establish you as an expert. (I wonder if my blog(s) are making me an expert at anything.)

Another takeaway: Social media is a good tool for networking but not for controling. And these luncheons are definitely good for networking and sparking lively conversations about religion and media.

Ehrich’s blog and web pages can be found at: http://www.morningwalkmedia.com

The November RCC (Religion Commnicators Council) luncheon was held near the United Nations at the Episcopal building on 43rd and 2nd. The RCC luncheons and events are always provocative.

People Like Unfinished Business

Brokenness and rawness are cool. I was reading Don Miller’s book. http://donmilleris.com/

Tom (Hazelwood) suggested I read “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing my Life.” I so loved it. I loved that Miller talked about being a fat kid. I loved that he talked about longing for a woman who did not long for him. About his shame at being a couch potato, about wanting life to be about big adventures. I loved that he admitted his  imperfections, was honest about his struggles. I loved that he talked about his dad’s beer drinking. I loved that he was funny.

I love people’s unfinished and messy business. I like reading blogs where people are working things out — like yesterday’s freshly pressed:

http://theycallmejane.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/al-and-tipper-john-and-jane-were-all-fighting-some-kind-of-battle/

I’ve noticed when I express my struggles on my Facebook status updates — like “I’m so lame I let my kids stay up too late,” or “I’m depressed so I am going to the Met” —  I get lots of feedback, discussion, thumbs up, “likes.” But when I go, “I’m awesome. I invented bike riding in New York City”? Crickets.

So long as you don’t wallow in your negativity. So long as you bring some humor to your struggle. So long as life is lived in “an atmosphere of growth.” That quote’s a paraphrase from “The Happiness Project,” another awesome memoir about trying to keep it together. But I think Gretchen Rubin could’ve been even more honest about her struggle.

Because it’s true, we’ve all got some kind of struggle, not just Tipper and Al.

People identify with lovable losers. With losers who are trying to win. We like the underdog, the schlump, the Don Miller. Maybe we identify. Or maybe we think, ‘At least, I’m not that bad.’ It can be hard to be honest, but it’s a good way to win readers’ hearts.  Maybe, like Miller, it’s a good way to write a bestseller and snatch a movie deal, “Blue Like Jazz,” too. Okay, I’m jealous.

Too Many Friends?

I like to read book reviews. That way, I feel I’ve kind of read the book. So after reading a Q&A with Brian McLaren, “A New Kind of Christianity” in the UMReporter, I thought “This guy and me — we are on the same page. We should be friends.”

I didn’t want to be real friends, just jokey cyberfriends. So I Facebooked him. He would not me be my first friend on Facebook whom I have never met in person. Brian and I have several mutual friends, including Jim Wallis.

Yup, Bri was on Facebook. I found his profile but instead of a picture of himself, there was a picture of his book. A cool book cover with a vine-covered Celtic cross. It was the book that had the review I liked. Not a review actually. Even easier to read than an actual whole book review — a Q&A.

“Great, we’ll be cyberfriends,” I thought. We are both into the New Age Christianity Movement mentality. “Good ‘ole Bri,” I think as I clicked on the handy-dandy, “Add as Friend” button. And you know what? It said that Bri has “too many friends.” Yup, he topped out at 4,813 friends.

Now who sets the limit of friendship? Did Bri tell Facebook? “When I hit 4,813, I’m done. No more. Basta!” Or did Facebook say, “This guys’ friends are clogging up our works, like photos on a hard drive, slowing our system down? He’s done!”

I heard this happened to a friend of mine with Don Cheadle. She actually had a tenuous friendship with him and wanted to Friend him. And yup, too many friends for good old Don, too.

Now, I can kind of understand Don Cheadle having too many friends. He’s a movie star and a director and well, famous. But have any of you ever heard of Brian McLaren? What’s so great about him? Why does he get to have so many friends? I’m just like Bri and I still have room for friends.

Also, what’s all this about a new brand of Christianity if there aren’t room for more friends? I don’t know. I’m digressing. That’s the point of a blog I guess.

What I’m really trying to say is “Why does Bri have more friends than me? Why can’t I develop a cult following like Bri?” I’m going to assume it has something to do with his book cover and the fact that I don’t currently have a book out right now. Let alone a cool, hip, rethink church book.

No, in case you’re wondering, I’m not jealous. I’m just curious. Why Bri? And why not me?