Stephanie Soper | Portrait of an Artist

Stephanie Soper grew up in Rhode Island, and currently lives in Washington D.C. where she does intuitively-guided emotional healing.  Previously she was an education consultant, which included leading a project for the State Department's Office of Overseas Schools that designed standards for the American overseas schools.  Her three childhood dreams were to be telepathic, an artist and to be a doctor.  Though not a doctor, she does help people heal.  With the addition of her newly-revived habit of painting, she is living out all three of her dreams.

I've been ruminating on the idea of daring to dream in the weeks since I first encountered Whitney's website.  It made intuitive sense to say dare to dream instead of just dream, but I kept wondering why dreaming requires daring. Seems like a thing we all do naturally, right?

I also thought about Janna Taylor, who has guest blogged here.  I've watched Janna's own dreams (and her accompanying fears) unfold over the last two years. There's been daring in what she's doing. It's been thrilling to watch, but I haven't been sure I had the nerve to do the same.  Janna introduced me to this site because she knew I was trying to start painting after a long time of avoiding it (about fifteen years) and was trying to make a go of my home business.  I thought the home business was the big issue for me, but it's turned out to be my painting that has really taken some daring.

Besides Janna, I've been fortunate to have in my life two other friends, Jan and Michaela, who have steadily ‘noodged' me back to painting, which is my dream. They, in turn, have been trying out, but dancing around, their own dreams of becoming published writers.  They are both so gifted that it seems ridiculous to even imagine that they might not succeed if they brought their dreams to life. But I also know how horrifyingly natural it can be to sabotage one's own dreams.
A few weeks ago, while Michaela and I were on the phone telling each other yet again that we REALLY SHOULD paint/write, we simultaneously had this ‘feeling' that we should promise each other to write (her) and paint (me) for three hours each week and report on our work each Thursday afternoon.  Miraculously, making a commitment to one another has worked; we have now checked in with each other four weeks in a row.  She has a story nearly finished, and I've completed one new painting, finished three that have been half-done for forever, and started a new one today.  It's been about more than painting and writing, though — it's been about figuring out our fears and stepping through them.
I finally finished two works that put out in public view my grief over not having had children (I'm 49, not yet married, childless, and Mormon — not an easy combination).  More to the point though, these paintings made ME acknowledge my own grief.  I think that part was harder.
The first painting is a forest along the banks of a river.  I knew it was missing something, but didn't know what.  About a year ago, I figured out that it was little ghost babies, the five babies I'd always wanted, and that the river was a River of Tears of Grief.  I couldn't make myself paint those babies until last week.  The other is called The Offspring; it has similar themes.  Finishing these paintings has been surprisingly liberating.


River of GriefBoth of them were done in the medium I'm comfiest with — temperas.  Tempera paint (basically the poster paint we used in kindergarten) has saturated, brilliant, opaque color.  It's cheap and it dries fast so you get quick satisfaction.


The Offspring


But the real reason I use temperas is to avoid oils.  Using oils always seemed like a real commitment to painting; it means saying I am an artist, not just that I do a little painting.  And wow, have I avoided that.
About a decade ago, I bought a gorgeous collection of little oil paint tubes, a palette, brushes, turpenoid, the works.  They went untouched until today, when I finally used them.  I had to wrench the caps with pliers to get them unstuck (kind of metaphor, I guess).  I half hoped they were too dried out to use, but alas, they were still fresh and I had no excuse to avoid.
The result?
I did a so-so job with the painting, and I'm almost unbelievably ok with that and am willing to keep trying.  For a perfectionist's eldest daughter who's used to success at everything I'm willing to try because I so carefully avoid doing what I think might end in failure, this is a titanic shift in perspective.   The dare part of dare to dream came alive.  I was well into work on a canvas when I decided it was too big.  OK, I made a wrong choice — not a big deal.  (But thinking not a big deal WAS a big deal).




I began again on a smaller canvas and made a fresher-looking drawing.  It looks like it's just a sailboat far from the shore; in fact it's a metaphor for my capacity and willingness to sail in deep emotional waters, to become my whole self.
Because oils take so long to dry, all I have to show right now is the rough undercoats that look, frankly, dreadful.  And yet it feels OK that it's a work in progress.
OK that it's not perfect.
OK to put this on the web where it will be seen in its way-less-than-perfect state.
OK that I'm doing something that I really want to do, even though I'm not very good at, and that after all the work that lies ahead, I may still not like it.
OK to have to learn instead of starting out as an expert.
This — for me — takes daring.


In the post Listening to and Learning from… I mentioned the importance of our bearing witness to another's grief.  I am honored, and hope you are, that Stephanie would choose us — our community — as a safe place where she could talk of her grief.  You may say — it's not us — but that's not true. Were your comments not so insightful, supportive, and generous, she would not have shared her work with us.  I believe that.

The systergy that Stephanie experienced was crucial to her moving forward.  Is there something we want to do, that making a commitment to another trusted friend will become our pivot point?

In one of our e-mail exchanges, Stephanie remarked, “now that I'm painting, I feel like I can breathe again.”  Her answer as to why she feels this way is broadly applicable:  “I often catch myself holding my breath
[before I sit down to paint], but when I do finally settle down, I feel my whole body and mind relax, and I flow, and breathe.  On a deeper level, I think there is a connection to prana, the breath of life, that by the act of non-painting, I deny life itself.  When I paint, I become whole again.  This wholeness is not just the painting, but the sense of joy and peace I feel.  I shift from part-me to whole-me.”
Is there any piece of your self that it is time to bring back to life? 

Celebrating Our Woman-ness

I wonder if you will see these two poems in opposition to one another, or as two sides of the same coin.

After you read them, will you share your thoughts?


The final (and my favorite) song in Macy Robison's cabaret-style recital Children Will Listen is The Story Goes On by Maltby and Shire.  Her rendition gives utterance to the raw joy that I felt as I welcomed children into my world.

So this is the tale my mother told me
That tale that was much to dull to hold me
And this is the surge and the rush she said would show
our story goes on.

Oh, I was young
I forgot that things outlive me.
My goal was the kick that life would give me
And now, like a joke,
something moves to let me know
our story goes on.

And all these things I feel and more,
my mother's mother felt, and hers before
A chain of life begun upon the shore of some dark sea
has reached to me.

Newborn baby

Source:  istockphoto

And now I can see the chain extending
My child is next in a line that has no ending
And here am I full of life
that her child will feel when I'm long gone
And thus it is
our story goes on.


Earlier this year, Janna Taylor shared Mary Oliver's poem The Journey with mereminding me that in the midst of caring and connecting — and especially mothering — it's important to care for and connect to ourselves.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.


Source:  istockphoto

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.


The article 5 Scientific Reasons Mom Deserves Mother's Day is both interesting and affirming.  Is it affirming in part because it was written by a male scientist? (Thanks to @guykawasaki for flagging).

What do you think?  And how do you feel?

Are women both/and?  Or either/or?

Janna Taylor | The Handless Maiden

About a year ago, Janna Taylor, a Manhattan entrepreneur, told one of her stories in the entry If You Get Defensive, You're Getting Close.  In this post, she shares her thoughts on the myth of The Handless Maiden.  As with the myth of Psyche, The Handless Maiden chronicles feminine psychological development (e.g. she preserves her uniquely feminine nature even as she makes something happen).  Note too that while some tasks along the journey can be delegated, some cannot.

The The Handless Maiden is a fable first introduced to me through Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ seminal work Women Who Run With the Wolves, a book that explores messages about women’s nature in myths and fables.  This myth, in particular, hearkens to living our dreams even as we belligerently scream, “But, I can’t!”

As the tale begins, a young maiden’s hands have been severed by the devil. After an intense journey of physical and psychological travail, she finds safety and peace, and eventually marries a good, devoted king and births a healthy baby.  But one day, “…the young queen goes to the well. As she bends over to draw water, her child falls into the well. The young queen begins to shriek, and a spirit appears and asks why she does not rescue her child. ‘Because I have no hands!’ she cries. ‘Try,’ says the spirit, and as the maiden puts her arms in the water, reaching toward her child, her hands regenerate then and there, and the child is saved.”


Like the handless maiden, we have dream “babies” come along. We birth them amidst trials and challenges, and carry them close to our hearts.  But because of circumstances in or out of our control, sometimes our dreams start to slip away, losing our sense of can-do-it-ness. This happens not only because of the inevitability of distractions, but also by devaluing our dreams by saying they take too much time, attention, sacrifice.

We feel hand-less.

Mercifully and benevolently, however, there is a piece of our self, just like the maiden, who knows we must try.  Try even though it looks impossible. Try even though everyone, including ourselves, thinks we might be crazy and don’t have the skills.

In the process of reaching deep within the well of ourselves to save our dreams, internal and external naysayers notwithstanding, we get back our can-do-it-ness.

We grow the hands.

As you have plunged your hands deep into your psyche to save your dream, what has grown or even re-grown?

Why can this task not be delegated?

P.S. from Whitney — I find the focus on hands especially poignant, perhaps because I am a pianist by training.  I was also intrigued by Gerald and Lindsay Saltzman's commentary in Marketing Metaphoria.  They write, “everyday conversation is rife with expressions that equate hands with the deep metaphor of connection…'Lend me a hand', to ask someone for help.  ‘Taking someone's hand in marriage' connects us to a social institution as well as a highly personal commitment…Hands create art, movies, clothing, books, houses, and so.  We value handmade crafts because of their connection to the jeweler, weaver, potter…bestowing handmade gifts is ‘like giving a part of

[our]selves to another.”

Janna Taylor | If You Get Defensive, You’re Getting Close

Several months ago, my friend Kathleen Stone introduced me to Manhattan entrepreneur Janna Taylor. Knowing of Janna's pedigree and track record, I was surprised to read that she had initially been defensive when people suggested she open her own tutoring business.

I had unequivocally believed that if people saw possibilities for us that we couldn't ourselves see, we would readily and gratefully embrace these possibilities. Yet as I reflected on my own life, I found that this has not always been the case.

BUT, here's what I've discovered — the more defensive I become, the closer I am to identifying my dream.

With Janna having pinpointed defensiveness as a bane, but especially a boon, to daring to dream, I've asked her to ‘tell her story'.

May you be as encouraged as I was.

In fall 2007, I opened Mind Full Tutors, a tutoring company located on the upper east side of Manhattan. Even though starting a tutoring business had been my dream for several years, I resisted pursuing it like a stubborn mule.


Prior to receiving a Master's of Education at Harvard, I'd helped build a successful tutoring company. But when I graduated, I took a job working for a non-profit teacher education program with no plan to start a tutoring business. Even though my work for the non-profit was meaningful, I was unhappy. The job responsibilities did not play to my strengths and were far from the “action” of educating students.

When I complained to friends about my job, many responded with, “When are you going to start your tutoring company?” Each time, I met this encouragement with defensive responses such as, “There is no way I can do that,” “I can’t even think about that right now” and “Maybe someday…I don’t know.”


I have wondered — why was I defensive?

Firstly, I was protecting my heart. I fervently wanted this dream to be a reality. But to pursue the dream would be to expose it to possible failure. I wondered if my heart could bear the disappointment.

Secondly, I was deflecting guilt for not acting authentically. I knew in my bones that part of living authentically was to start my own tutoring company. Because I knew it was going to be difficult and risky, I resisted.

These two factors blinded me to the possibility of success.

After several more months of job dissatisfaction, I decided to take a chance on what my friends and family could see, and what I had lost sight of. I wrote a business plan and five months later opened Mind Full Tutors. When I shared this news with my loved ones, all of the responses were akin to, “Finally!”

So what were my friends seeing that I wasn’t?

My friends saw an open road to success, where I saw barricades and roadblocks. They saw abilities, where I saw deficiencies. They saw, “Why not?” and I saw, “Because…” They saw my need to live with passion and purpose, and I saw a need to compromise because of fear.

I’ve learned that others can play an important role in anchoring us to our dreams. They remind us of what we can and are meant to accomplish in this life. While it is true that some people can detract us from our dreams, those who know us the best often see us for what we are – women of great ability and purpose.

Mind Full Tutors has been in business for almost a year now. My heart feels alive and I know that I am making difference in the world every day – one student at a time.


How would your loved ones respond if you asked them, “What do you see is my dream? And what qualities and abilities do I possess to make my dream a reality?”

Have ever felt defensive when someone mentions you should fulfill your dream? If so, why?

Have you ever fulfilled a, “Finally!” dream?

Related posts:

Play to Your Strengths
Rock Climbing and Rethinking Our Competence
What is Your Dream?
Walking Through the Unknown

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