Self-care and Launching New Projects (when you don’t really wanna)

Self-care and Launching New Projects (when you don’t really wanna)

(Image description: In the lower left the cover of Avery Alder’s brilliant RPG Monsterhearts 2 is visible. In the upper right another RPG book is partially visible. There is a character creation sheet between the two books, and a pile of various sizes, shapes, colours, and types of dice. Photo credit to Scott Foster, who inspired this post.)

This is a Patreon reward post for Scott. At the $10/month support level, I’ll write a post on the topic of your choice for your birthday, too. My Patreon supporters allow me to continue this work, and I appreciate them so much. You can join that small (but growing!) community, if you want!

Scott requested a post on self-care and new projects. They asked me to focus on projects that you’re not excited about, or that you’re afraid of.

Scott is a consummate gamer – when we started dating, they told me that they needed to have one whole evening to do nothing other than gaming at least once every few days, because that’s how they recharge and decompress. I have learned a lot about the value of gaming from Scott! They have also DM’d multiple tabletop roleplaying games, including D&D, Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, Mouse Guard, Goblin Quest, and more. When they game, they’re in their element. And they do a great job of making gaming spaces safe and accessible for the people they game with. (Someday I’ll interview them about that process for this blog.)

So, this post focuses on approaching new projects gamefully – not only because that’s a good idea in general, but also because of who I’m writing this post for.

For this post, I really appreciated Jane McGonigal’s work on gameful living, which I’ve been deep-diving into for the upcoming Gaming and Self-Care series that I’ll be launching on the Facebook page next month.

In the introduction to her book SuperBetter, Jane McGonigal writes:

You are stronger than you know.

You are surrounded by potential allies.

You are the hero of your own story.

She says, “This book is…about learning how to be gameful in the face of extreme stress and personal challenge. Being gameful means bringing the psychological strengths you naturally display when you play games – such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination – to your real life. It means having curiosity and openness to play with different strategies to discover what works best. It means building up the resilience to tackle tougher and tougher challenges with greater and greater success.”

New projects are all about challenge. Whether it’s an exciting project, a terrifying project, a project you chose or a project you’ve been dropped into, it’s almost guaranteed to be a challenge of some sort. And gamefulness is all about stepping up to challenges.

So You’re Starting A New Project: A Brief Guide to Being The Boss of Your Project (and Practicing Sustainable and Gameful Self-Care While You’re At It)

Okay, so you have a new project about to launch. You want to make sure you get through the planning, launching, and in-process phases of the project without burning out, crashing into a wall of self-doubt, or losing track of your own needs in the process.

Start with some assessment 

Take a minute, take a breath.

Close your eyes and picture that project on your inner horizon. Think about what the project will look like, feel like, and how much of your life will be wrapped up in the project. Imagine yourself beginning the project, working through the project, and completing the project. Picture yourself right in the thick of it, and picture yourself surveying the final result.

How do you feel? (You can check multiple.)

a) I feel amazing! This project is gonna be so good!

b) I feel hopeful. This project has a lot of potential!

c) I feel anxious. This project is gonna be a lot of work.

d) I feel terrified. This project is gonna be a disaster.

e) I feel something else.

Whatever you feel is okay.

Projects that make you catch your breath in excitement and anticipation are awesome. But not every project is one that we want, or that we would have chosen. Projects that you find yourself thrown into unexpectedly, projects you would never have chosen for yourself, and projects that terrify you can also be approached with self-awareness, compassion, and intentional self-care and you can get through them.

You might even end up gaining valuable skills, insight, and experience in the process.

Knowing how you feel about a project, and being honest with yourself about that, can help you plan for the project and for the self-care you’ll need to focus on in order to get through it. In this moment of assessment, try to let go of your expectations for yourself, and other people’s expectations for you. You may be embarking on a project that you ‘should’ be really excited about, and you might actually be terrified. You might be starting a project that you ‘should’ be terrified about, but you know you’re going to rock it. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you know how you feel. Trust that knowledge. You are the protagonist of this story. You are the narrator. This is your story to tell.

And it’s also okay if you don’t really know how you feel, or if your feelings change over the course of the project!

Once you’ve given some thought to how you’re feeling about the project, it’s time to…

Identify your available resources

Think about resources in a broad and inclusive way.

This isn’t just the money, time, and space that you’ll need for the project. It’s also the social resources – that friend who is always available to tell you that you’ve got this who adds to your resource list, or the family member whose skepticism is always lurking at every family gathering who is a drain on your resources. It’s the internal resources – your sense of resilience, hopefulness, and self-efficacy (your belief in your ability to take action and to have your actions positively influence the outcome).

Sometimes it’s also domestic resources – help with laundry and the dishes, or the ability to order in when the project gets heavy, or the knowledge that you’re on your own to carry your own weight or the weight of the family, and needing to plan accordingly.

It can help to make a list of all the resources you have available, and to let that list be expansive and even silly.

Do you have an inner Elf Commander who can marshal your internal troops for a big productivity push? List that as a resource!

Do you have a family member or friend who will be your cheerleader? List that!

Are you creative, curious, compassionate, or committed? List them all!

Let yourself sit with this for a while, because often new resources will float up to the top of your mind the longer you let yourself look at yourself and your life through that lens. Keep the list open for at least a few days, and just keep adding to it as you think of things to add.

It can also help to make a list of the resources you might need. Are you going to need money, time, or energy that you don’t currently have? Be honest with yourself about that.

Finally, it can help to make a list of the things that will drain your available resources. This list is important because it can help you decide where to set boundaries and how to protect yourself as you move through the project.

If you end up adding a lot of the people in your life to that list of things that will drain your resources, chances are, you feel bad about it. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. You are not a bad person for recognizing the way that some relationships and some social interactions drain you. And that drain does not mean that you’ll cut those people out of your life or stop being a support to them. It just means that you’re recognizing your own needs.

Assessing our resources, and being honest about what we have, what we need, and what drains us is always an exercise in vulnerability. It’s tough! And it’s also really valuable.

Once you’ve assessed your feelings and your resources, it’s time to get your hands onto that project!

Find The Challenge 

Jane McGonigal writes, “A challenge is anything that provokes our desire to test our strengths and abilities and that gives us the opportunity to improve them. Crucially, a challenge must be accepted. No one can force you to tackle it. You have to choose to rise to the occasion.”

Regardless of how you feel about your project, you can choose to accept the challenge and to meet the project on your own terms. That’s the first step in turning the project from a threat into a challenge. Any project can be a challenge that you choose to tackle, even if (especially if) it’s a project that you don’t want to start, are afraid of, or don’t have a choice about. Gamefulness will help you avoid the hopelessness and the feeling of powerlessness that can accompany a project that we don’t want and don’t have a choice about.

What you’re doing when you find the challenge is switching from a threat mindset to a challenge mindset, and the reason that’s valuable is because it shifts the narrative and opens up new ways of engaging with the project. Threat mindsets focus on the risks, the potential losses, and the potential harms. It’s important to recognize those things, but when you’re about to tackle a project (or you’ve been dropped headfirst into a project), a threat mindset can get in your way.

(And, at this point, I want to make a super important point. Many of us are habitually in a threat mindset because we have consistently faced loss, risk, and danger. It makes sense to view everything as a threat when everything is scary! Shifting your mindset is not about blaming yourself for seeing everything as a threat, and it also isn’t about gaslighting or victim-blaming yourself. If you struggle with this, that is okay. It takes practice! And it works best when we start with shifting our mindset in areas that are low-threat, rather than trying to shift something that feels like it’s life-or-death.)

In contrast to a threat mindset, a challenge mindset focuses on the opportunity for growth, and brings realistic optimism to the table.

From SuperBetter, “In a threat mindset, your fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, which activates your sympathetic nervous system. If your sympathetic nervous system is engaged continuously for hours, days, weeks, or longer, your immune system can become compromised, and you may experience more illness. With a challenge mindset, however, your nervous system finds a better balance between the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and the parasympathetic (calm-and-connect) responses. This balance helps you avoid nervous exhaustion and burnout.”

McGonigal also says, and this is really critical, “a challenge mindset does not mean living in denial of potential negative outcomes. It simply means paying more attention, and devoting more effort, to the possibility of positive outcomes or personal growth.”

So, how do you do it?

One way is to frame your project as something you’re moving towards, rather than away from. Find a potential positive outcome, and use this project as a way to get to it.

These potential positive outcomes might be increased resilience, increased independence, increased creativity, increased health. However, these potential positive outcomes are not always apparent or available. When that’s the case, another way to find the challenge is to identify (or create) “the unnecessary obstacle.”

From SuperBetter, “The key is to identify an obstacle that you feel capable of tackling within the larger obstacle, an obstacle that other people might not choose to tackle.

Use your imagination to answer this question: What would be the worst possible, least helpful reaction that you – or anyone else in your shoes – could have to [this project]? You don’t have to be completely realistic here. Let your mind go to extremes for a moment.

Now: What is the opposite of that worst reaction?

Whatever the opposite of your “worst possible, least helpful reaction” is, consider adopting that as your unnecessary obstacle. Challenge yourself to do something that requires more strength and determination than what someone else might do in your shoes.

Why it works: When you imagine the worst possible reaction you could have to the adversity, you highlight your agency in the situation. You do have options. And as long as you’re not doing that worst possible, least helpful thing, you can challenge yourself to do something better. It may not feel like total agency and choice, but it involves some agency and choice – and that’s enough to activate a challenge mindset.”

Once you’ve found the challenge and decided to tackle it, it’s time to…

Break Your Project Down Into Steps

Set yourself small, achievable goals along the way to your big end goal. Think of ways to reward yourself along the way, and consider how you can find the challenge in each of the smaller steps of the project.

When you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of your project, take a breath (again! Gosh, so much breathing in this process!) and find a smaller goal to accomplish within the larger goal. You have choices about how this project gets done!

And finally…

Design Your Self-Care Plan

Lean on all of the work you’ve done leading up to this.

Take a look at your resource list, especially the parts of it that are vulnerable – the places where there’s lack, or where there are significant drains on your resources. Think of self-care tools or activities that can help recharge you in those areas.

Remember that community care is a big part of self-care. Build social self-care into your plan! Ask a friend to be your cheerleader, or find a professional cheerleader in the form of a coach or counsellor.

Write a list of self-care tools that you know work for you most of the time. Put the list somewhere accessible, so that when you get tired or discouraged, you don’t have to think too hard before you can implement some self-care.

Turn self-care into a game, by setting yourself self-care goals and giving yourself points or rewards along the way.

Make a list of “power ups” – drinking a glass of water, texting a friend, walking around the block, whatever works for you! – and try to power up at least once a day.

And now…

Fill in the blanks!

What’s missing from this post?

What kind of self-care do you find helpful when you’re starting a new project?

What other advice would be helpful here?

Feeling Towards Wholeness

Feeling Towards Wholeness

October 23 – December 4

$125 / $60 for Patreon supporters or returning participants (sliding scale available)

Online course – all content delivered in PDF and email format, with an optional weekly Google Hangout and a closed Facebook group for participants.

Email me, comment here, or message me through Facebook to register.

This course is for the heartbroken, the burnt out, the sad and the afraid. It is a course for bruised and bleeding hearts. It was not originally supposed to be – when I mapped out year of content, Autumn was always going to be emotional self-care, but I had intended a more lighthearted course. But the world, in the 10 months between designing the year of courses and running this course, has turned more overtly and explicitly brutal. There are a lot of broken hearts in my community.

We are grieving, collectively, for what feels like the loss of our future. Climate change, far-right ideologies, economic instability, and the chaos that existential dread can create within relationships – so many of us are dealing with so much. Loss, and the loss of hope, and the loss of joy, and the loss of stable ground under our feet.

Six weeks is not long enough to heal a broken heart, transform a trauma into something bearable, refill the cup or relight the candle that’s been burned out. Six weeks is certainly not long enough to address the great grief of climate change, political upheaval, economic collapse. So this course is not about healing our collective, or our individual, grief.

Instead, this course is about feeling our way into the grief, loss, trauma, and heartbreak so that we can do the long work of healing individually and collectively over the next months and years. The goal of this course is to offer tools and skills and a safe space for talking about how we begin to recover. How we find our way back to ourselves, so that we can find our way back to community, so that we can find our way back to hope.

This world needs us.

Those of us who have broken open and broken down in response to the pain in the world and to the losses in our own lives – our empathy and sensitivity is needed. Self-care and community care and deeply linked, and sustainable self-care is only ever the result of awareness, compassion, and intention in our actions. Those of us who feel deeply and who are struggling right now have already been practicing emergency self-care. That’s how we got here, searching for tools and answers and skills. We already have the ability to bring awareness and compassion and intention to the self-care that we practice individually and that we model and share within our communities.

My goal for this course is to help foster that awareness, compassion, and intentionality in your self-care practice. To give you a few new tools and a solid base of support and scaffolding to continue healing, growing, and renewing yourself.

The course has two sections.

In the first three weeks, we will work on mapping out our current emotional state, identifying our emotional needs, and finding the edges of our remaining positive emotions. For many of us, heartbreak, trauma, and burnout cut us off from our feelings of joy, hope, and self-efficacy (our belief that we can make positive changes within our own lives). The first three weeks will focus on connecting back to those feelings, without demanding that we “stay positive” or find the “silver lining.”

In the second three weeks, once we’ve established a thread of connection back to our joy, hope, and self-efficacy, we’ll start working on recognizing and responding to the needs that originate in our feelings of loss, heartbreak, trauma, and grief.

The course will use three core strategies:

Narrative – If you’ve taken any of my previous courses, worked with me one-on-one, attended my workshops, or read my writing, this one won’t come as a shock. Narrative therapy is my jam. I believe that using narrative – understanding our lives through metaphors of story, seeing ourselves as the protagonists of our own stories, and giving ourselves the space to tell our own stories – can be life changing. We will definitely be talking about narratives of loss, grief, heartbreak, and healing in this course.

Mindfulness – The self-awareness and compassion piece of the self-care puzzle requires that we spend some time being present with ourselves, observing what’s happening and what we’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing, without judging ourselves for it. In order to tell our stories effectively, we need to know what we’re trying to tell. That’s the mindfulness piece.

Gamefulness – This one is new to my courses, and I’m excited about it. We’ll be using some of Jane McGonigal’s research into how “living gamefully” can facilitate healing and growth, and trying out some of the games, challenges, and exercises from her book SuperBetter.

Over the six weeks, you’ll develop stronger self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-care skills.

It’s going to be great.

#100loveletters: The letters we don’t write

#100loveletters: The letters we don’t write

(This post is part of the #100loveletters challenge, which started June 21, and is open to anyone, at no charge! The challenge is really easy, and really hard – for 100 days, from June 21 to September 29, write yourself a love letter. It can be short, it can be long, it can be a stick figure or a sonnet or a flower or a song. Share your pictures, comments, thoughts, and stories in the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in your blog, and find a community of people practicing a summer of daily self-love.

You can join the email list to receive writing prompts, encouragement, and success stories.)

Yesterday, just a week into the 100 Love Letters Challenge, I didn’t write myself a love letter.

I thought about it. I almost wrote it. I almost wrote about ten different versions of it. There were multiple points in the day where I thought “I did that well, I love that about myself,” or “that was really challenging, I could use some gentleness and love around that issue.”

(Like every day, there were moments of confidence, moments of doubt, moments of anger, moments of joy. Once you start noticing your experience, the complex and varying texture of each day becomes so much more apparent.)

I even pulled out my box of greeting cards* and flipped through, looking for the right card for what I was feeling.

I thought about writing my love letter in another Facebook post – I’ve done that most days so far.

I thought about taking some more pictures and turning one of them into a meme to go with the love letter – I’ve been enjoying the nudge towards more creativity.

I thought about scrawling a stick figure on a post-it note, as midnight approached, and I started to feel more anxious about missing the deadline.

But the stick figure on a post-it note would have been purely performance – that wasn’t the love letter I wanted. It would have just been for show, to prove that I’m doing the challenge successfully. So, I didn’t do it. It didn’t really feel loving.

I’m not sure why I didn’t write myself a letter yesterday. I could have – I had the time, I had the content, I had the motivation. I wasn’t hating myself, or particularly disappointed in myself, or feeling ashamed of myself. I had moments of self-awareness and self-compassion that could easily have become a love letter.

But I also had a significant reluctance to write. To write anything. Anything at all.

My reluctance was both internal and external.

On the one hand, I felt anxious about being visibly self-loving. What if I love myself too much, too openly, too loudly, too visibly? What if it makes people hate me? And, also, what if I love myself visibly, but I do it wrong, and people are disappointed in me? Visibility is risky. That’s the external reluctance – the fear of what people will think about what I write to myself.

But then, the internal resistance.

It’s just hard, my friends.

Writing myself a love letter every day is hard.

I don’t like it.

I like self-care that focuses on my flaws, my anxieties, my failings. I like looking at my failures and then forgiving myself for those. I like paying attention to the sadness, the fear, the wounds that still hurt. It keeps the focus where I’m comfortable.

Love letters are different.

Romance is different.

Different, and hard.

I can do love letters to others, and romance for others, easily. But not so much for myself. I might do it wrong. I might do it wrong.

And so, yesterday I didn’t write.

Because I am running this #100loveletters challenge, that unwritten letter is, in some ways, as visible as any of the written letters. And it’s worth acknowledging the lack of a letter. It’s worth talking about the resistance.

Every one of us in this challenge will run into resistance. There will be so much resistance. And we will get through it, whatever it is. Fear of “doing it wrong,” anger at ourselves, shame, discomfort, embarrassment.

When you hit that wall, if you haven’t hit it yet, know that you’re not alone.

We are here together, floating on the glow of self-love and dragging with the weight of self-hate.

There will be days with no letter, and that doesn’t invalidate your participation in the challenge, and it doesn’t diminish the love you are cultivating for yourself.

We can look into the parts of ourselves that are less comfortable, and we will be okay. That loving abyss is gazing back, and yeah, it’s terrifying, but, you know, it’s also really great. I’m pretty sure it’s really great.

Here we go, onward!

* I have a phenomenal collection of greeting cards, and I’ll be sending a hand written letter to five challenge participants over the course of the hundred days. I’ll be randomly selecting one challenge participant every twenty days of the challenge. To enter, just send me an email and let me know that you’re participating in the challenge and you’d like to be entered for the hand-written letter!

 

Moving Towards Wholeness: Summer Online Course

Moving Towards Wholeness: Summer Online Course

Registration has been extended to July 16! There are still five spots available as of July 9.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 – Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

What does it mean to have a body, and to accept the body that you have?

To “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”?

What does it mean to be present in the physical world, as a physical being?

To see that “the sun and the clear pebbles of rain are moving across the landscapes”?

This course, Moving Towards Wholeness: physical self-care and body narratives, is an invitation to ask, and begin to answer, those questions.

Moving Towards Wholeness is a six-week online course designed to encourage gentle, playful exploration and acceptance of ourselves as physical beings in a physical world. We will work on sensory awareness, and even incorporate some elements of sensory integration for emotional regulation.

This course is explicitly welcoming for fat, disabled, trans, racialized, and traumatized bodies and selves. Self-love is not required. Awareness, intention, compassion, and presence will all be cultivated in the course, but the elusive ideal of self-love (so often inaccessible to those of us with histories of trauma or marginalization) will be left on the table for you to pick up or not.

The course will focus on encouraging mindfulness and presence, and physical acts of self-care such as staying hydrated, stretching, moving in accessible ways, mindful breathing, focusing on our senses, and engaging playfully and creatively with our bodies, our senses, and the physical world around us. We will work on recognizing and being present with the physical body, and on recognizing and reframing internalized narratives about what it means to have a body and to be “healthy” or “unhealthy,” gently challenging our internalized ableism, and bringing an intentional awareness to how we move through this world.

Where Writing Towards Wholeness, our spring online course, focused on mental self-care and the act of writing, this summer course will be much more embodied, and we will climb down from our thinking/overthinking cerebral selves and into our seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling/touching physical selves.

Because this course is running over the summer (July 10 – August 20), and the summer is often full of weekend getaways and vacations and schedule disruptions, the course content will be delivered in the form of a PDF package at the beginning of the course, which will include writing by me (Tiffany Sostar), as well as content by special contributor Emily Goss, the author of Go Wild! and blogger at groweatgift.

The package will include a daily physical self-care checklist (modified from the request made by the participants in the spring course!), as well as a sensory scavenger hunt, with an optional photo scavenger hunt.

In addition to the PDF package, there will be regular emails and an optional weekly Google Hangout chat, as well as an opt-in private Facebook group for course participants.

Course Details

July 17 – August 27 / $125*
*$60 for Patreon supporters or returning participants, free for coaching clients, sliding scale available
Space is limited

Email me to register!

#100loveletters: Begin at the Beginning

#100loveletters: Begin at the Beginning

The #100loveletters challenge has officially started, and the first few posts have been amazing. I am so excited about the next 100 days, and honoured to be facilitating the challenge. To participate, just write yourself a love letter every day for 100 days. You can participate online by tagging your photo or post with the #100loveletters hashtag, or you can participate offline. Either way, I’ll be sending out 5 hand-written letters to randomly selected winners. Just email me to enter! You can also join the email list to receive weekly prompts, encouragement, and success stories!

I can’t take credit for the idea, though, and I was lucky enough to be able to interview my friend Stasha about her experience with the 100 love letters project when she designed and undertook it for herself last summer.

Tiffany – First of all, thank you so much for posting about your own experience of sending yourself love letters every day for 100 days. This project wouldn’t exist without you! How did you come up with the idea?

Stasha – Well, I had just broken up with my best friends, one of which was my partner. I was in the most difficult part of my phd dissertation, where I was trying to not lose myself in the formula of academic writing.  I had just been safe enough to realize that I was never going to be a front-line youth worker any more, and this broke my heart. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to belong, not be tolerated. I wanted to survive my phd with my soul intact. Both of these people who I had broke up with had told me that I should take medication because of the symtoms that I have from feeling feelings very deeply. This hurt me. I agreed that I needed an intervention of love, in addition to my normal methods of coping and healing.

I wanted this love to come from me and be all about showing myself that it is a joy to love me, not a burden!

Tiffany – That piece about wanting to be loved, wanting to belong, wanting to survive… that really resonates for me.

Stasha – I combined the daily love letters with listing three things that I was thankful for.

Tiffany – I love that approach.

Stasha – Right? Intense livin’! For me belonging is spiritual, how we belong to something larger than ourselves, like community or nature.

Tiffany – Yes! I’m hoping a community will develop around this challenge.

One thing I felt anxious about as I was trying to figure out how to put your beautiful idea into a format I could share widely was not wanting to participate in weaponized positivity – all that really brutal messaging around “you have to love yourself first or nobody can love you” and “you have to find the silver lining.” I think it’s possible to work on loving yourself without also becoming complicit with that victim-blaming, aggressively positive-at-the-expense-of-all-else stuff, but how did you navigate that in your journey?

Stasha – Ooooooo yes, I like this question. Writing love letters to yourself is so romantic because I know what Stasha likes, I know all her symbols, I know that if I write ‘think positive’ when she is feeling suicidal, that she will get super mad at me invalidating her experience. I said things I was thankful for not grateful for because the idea of gratitude has been ruined for me by the charity model.

It has been my experience that only privileged people demand positivity, and that this positivity erases oppression. Some of the things I was thankful for were ‘cats exist’ or ‘I listened to the river today.’ Fuck positivity, there is research that pessimists are happier because wehave our assumptions validated more! Joy transcending sorrow, because the sorrow is part of it.

Tiffany – Totally! I think that for myself, developing a concept of self-love and self-care that *included* my gloom, my sadness, my trauma (separated from the topic of healing – I am often working towards healing, but allowing myself to love myself and care for myself *regardless* of whether I “healed” or not was a turning point) – that inclusive shift felt a lot healthier and more sustainable for me than the idea that I had to fix myself first, or that the love would fix me.

Stasha – Yes! I recognize the Gloom Fairy as a way of recognizing this concept!

A lot of my love letters were about confronting things I do that are destructive to relationships. I did lots of art about how I could be a better listener and interupt less. I focused on what could help me with the feelings behind my interupting.

Tiffany – Confrontational love letters – yes! Love that is self-aware, and that holds us to the standard we want to meet (not the standard others have set for us). That feels like an important thing to bring into this project, and to the challenge.

Stasha – I did a lot of weaving (of paper and ribbons) and a lot of fairies stitching my automical heart back together. A lot of vines growing out of letters, roots and such.

Best kind of love, working on a never ending self-healing project.

Tiffany – Connective imagery in the art. I like that. Finding roots, finding new growth, finding healing. And fairies. ❤ ❤ ❤

Shiri Eisner, who is one of my favourite authors and bisexual activists and academics, has been posting recently about the problems with validation culture, and how not all behaviours should be validated – some of them need to be confronted. What you say above about lovingly coaching yourself into more constructive relationship patterns fits with what Shiri’s been posting recently.

Did you find it difficult to stick with the love letters over a long period of time?

Stasha – I wanted a role model for this kind of love. Love with great intension. One letter, I tried to draw myself with long flowing turquoise sea foam hair. Because my art skills are stick people, it ended up looking like a beard, so I went with it and wrote a poem about being a queer mermaid with a beautiful sea foam beard! When you write to yourself, you know about the ‘mistakes’ and if the acceptance and sentiments expressed in the letters are real! It’s high stakes!

Tiffany – I hadn’t considered that aspect of “mistakes” before. I think that’s really relevant. You’re right about it being high stakes!

Stasha – I was so fucking anxious that I was going to let myself down by not following through. It got worse when I told other people about the idea and they were shocked at the commitment. This feedback helped me see the fierce way I love though, because I have totally done things like this for other people.

It was a great grounding experience to create the letters and it was really fucking nice to get a love letter every day!!! If I was really sad one day, I would write something that I had to look forward to, like visiting a dog or hiking or a great breakfast. It was so nice to be able to respond IN THE NOW because I needed love to get through that summer. Now it is wonderful to be able to look through a stack of love if I forget how much I love me.

Part of what I was/am working on is self-regulation or ways that I calm myself. So this was great for that.

Some letters were just lists of things I didn’t hate. Like cake. And rivers.

Tiffany – That’s really inspiring, and encouraging. And I think you’re right about the way that we often love fiercely when we’re loving someone else, but we don’t often bring the same intention and joyful generosity to ourselves. A long project like this (100 days is a lot!) allows for ups and downs, sad days and happy days, long letters and post-it notes. It’s a different project than a week would be. (Not that a week isn’t valuable – just different.)

Stasha – That is me being positive! Yes I wanted to turn that love inwards for a bit. The phd really messes with your sense of time, 6 years doing a project! I think the scale was partly about that and partly about the scale of my losses and grief from the five years proceeding the break ups.

Also I am a huge research nerd and I love a huge pile of data!

Tiffany – Yes. I can relate to that.

I do relationship coaching, and one thing that I often think as I read the books or take the courses, is how applicable many of the strategies can be to our relationship with ourselves – offering charitable interpretation, maintaining clear and compassionate boundaries, meeting needs, bringing awareness, intention, and compassion to the relationship. But we rarely talk about our relationship with ourselves in those nuanced terms. At least not in the spaces I’ve encountered.

I also know, for myself, that I am a slow and cyclical learner. I need time with a project before it sinks in. I need to be able to circle around it many times before I feel safe with it, let alone anything resembling comfortable.

Stasha – Yes, that is one part of your work that I really admire, turn this strategies towards self! I wish I had done this project when I was 15 years old. I plan to do it several more times before I die. 

Tiffany – This does seem like a project that has value in repetition. I am also curious (because I’m a research nerd too!) about how it would feel in each different season. (Maybe I will run the challenge once a year over the next four years, in each season.)

Did you run into negative reactions to the project?

Stasha – It is very meta with the levels of awareness. Every one was encouraging. It made me sad how many people said they wanted to do it for themselves but didn’t. Makes me sad because I think a huge part of oppression and abuse is the messages about how we don’t deserve that/are unlovable. So it is a revolution at many levels. Some people wanted me to share them publicly, and I was like ‘f off’ this is between me and me. We need our privacy!

I was afraid that people would think I was selfish, and I worried about that less and less as the love rained down on me!

Tiffany – Yes! That part about privacy is huge, and is another thing that I felt/feel some anxiety about with turning this into a social media thing. I’ll make a point of finding ways to make it clear that this challenge is open to anyone, even if they don’t share anything publicly. Thank you for that reminder.

I have been thinking about Feminista Jones’ recent tweet thread about how angry men get when women accept compliments, and I wondered if any of that would land on a project like this. But I think your point about the level of fucks given dropping as the love rains down is really relevant, and lovely. (But it is another reason to make it clear that participation does not have to be public to be valid.)

I’m doing a little give-away as part of the challenge – I’ll select five random entries from folks who self-select into the contest, and send them hand-written letters. I had originally set it up so that the way you enter was by emailing me a link to your tweet/post/blog/instagram/whatever. But I’m going to change that, and you can enter just by emailing me with or without a link/public sharing.

 

 

 

I wanted to be loved. I wanted to belong, not be tolerated.

 

I wanted this love to come from me and be all about showing myself that it is a joy to love me, not a burden!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy transcending sorrow, because the sorrow is part of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you write to yourself, you know about the ‘mistakes’ and if the acceptance and sentiments expressed in the letters are real! It’s high stakes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It made me sad how many people said they wanted to do it for themselves but didn’t. … I think a huge part of oppression and abuse is the messages about how we don’t deserve that/are unlovable. So it is a revolution at many levels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post is part of the #100loveletters challenge.

The challenge runs from June 21 to September 29, and you are welcome to join at any time. You can join the mailing list to receive prompts, links, encouragement, and success stories, and you can participate whether you share publicly or not.

#100LoveLetters

#100LoveLetters

Every summer, attendance at my Writing in the Margins workshops dwindles as people head out on vacation or hide from the heat. This year, like most years, the workshops will be on hiatus for the summer.

This year, unlike every previous year, I’ve got something planned to keep us writing through the summer.

The #100loveletters challenge starts June 21, and is open to anyone, at no charge!

It’s really easy, and really hard – for 100 days, from June 21 to September 29, write yourself a love letter. It can be short, it can be long, it can be a stick figure or a sonnet or a flower or a song. Share your pictures, comments, thoughts, and stories in the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in your blog, and find a community of people practicing a summer of daily self-love.

You can join the email list to receive writing prompts, encouragement, and success stories.