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20 October 2008

Voice your hops and drems

Tess_at_laptop Yesterday afternoon, five-year-old Tess begged to use my laptop. I understand the attraction, the tiny white keys flat and inviting, a world of blank screen to fill. I opened Word for her and walked away because she told me what she was writing was private.

A little while later, I stopped by the dining room table where she stood, deep in thought, the table top hitting her mid chest. I watched her for a moment, that satisfied and quiet and glowing watchfulness of a mother who can hardly believe she gave birth at 44, before Tess realized I was there.

“Can you help me finish my story, Mama?” she asked, after a long pause.

Tess_fav_book Tess taught herself to read when she was barely four—in a house full of readers, I can imagine she was feeling quite left out and determined to remedy the situation herself, posthaste. She carries a copy of Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights and Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out everywhere she goes. For all I know, she’s actually reading them. From a very young age, she has been composing long, complicated, amazing stories on the computer, arduously “spelling” very complicated words like “constellation” and “otherwise” and “remarkable” in pixels and Scrabble tiles Tess_constellation as only a five-year-old can.

What she had written yesterday was short, but powerful. She had typed three lines, then dictated the final three for me to type:

Dere hops and drems hops? Have you ever! Come back? To me?
Well? Have? You? If you do you will not wine a pries you
Will go! Back with my! Drems! And drems you to!
And my heart needs hope and dreams and sometimes
My heart loves to play with my hopes and my heart my hopes are related to my dreams.
My dreams are connected to my heart

Here’s your translation key:

“dere” = “dear”
“hops” = “hopes”
“drems” = dreams
“wine” = “win”
“pries” = prize

Craftmatic We assume children busy themselves with dolls and Spiderman tattoos until they reach the age of adult reason when they can be considered as fully human—as if paying taxes and changing the oil every 3,000 miles catapults us into humanness—but that’s just not true. They are complex humans from forever young, with hops and drems like you and I. When they are young, naming those hops and drems comes easy. They say them out loud: “I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.” “I want to marry Daddy.” “I wish I had a Chatty Cathy doll like Rama Dean.” Or in the memorable words of Emma who used to shriek to raise the dead every time that commercial for a Craftmatic Adjustable bed came on TV, her paean of desire: “I NEED THAT! I NEED THAT! I NEED THAT!”

When we grow up, we lose that ability to speak—out loud—of what we hope for, what we need. Or many of us do. We hide what we most need, sometimes because we don’t know what it is, but often because we fear that voicing that deep desire puts us in a vulnerable position. Others can taunt us with it, like on a middle school playground when we are teased about who we love, who we are K-I-S-S-I-N-G-ing in a tree. Or we become passive aggressive, saying no and meaning yes, not asking but expecting anyway.

Or we just don't think to ask. At our recent Life is a Verb retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, one of the participants—in introducing herself—said she wished she had a fig to use as part of her introduction. I knew she had spent the night before in a bed and breakfast literally across the street from my house near downtown Asheville. “I wish I had known,” I said to her. “I have a fig tree in my back yard.” Later, someone wished they had a cat there to illustrate their introduction. “I’ve got one of those too,” I said.

It occurred to me then how important it is to say out loud what we most need and want. That someone in close proximity might have what we need, might even offer it to us if we make it known. Even if we are on a quest to detach from things and outcomes, sometimes we do need and want. Or believe we do.

My friend Jodi introduced me to the concept of God Boxes, a place to hold wishes, dreams, prayers. “Once,” she said, “I wrote a note for my god box that said, ‘Just writing to say hello. Love, Jodi. P.S. Please notice I’m not asking for anything.’” Another of the slips of paper in her God box once read, “Would it kill you to introduce me to someone nice?”

Every story, writer Robert Olen Butler tells us, is a yearning meeting an obstacle. What is my yearning? What is yours? Not the symptoms, but the roots. (And what obstacles are we facing? Are they real obstacles or convenient excuses?)

What if the person next to us on the airplane from San Diego to Atlanta or from Cincinnati to Asheville or from Miami to Parsippany has exactly what we need to overcome that obstacle? What if the person across the street from us has figs in their backyard and that is what we most need?

I asked a question on Twitter recently—what three things do you most need and want right now? Here’s what people told me:

•    Balance, perspective, support
•    Sleep, chocolate, elves who will grade papers for me
•    Balance, more hours in the day, great chocolate
•    Learn to stay “unstuck,” find at least one moment of beauty daily, stay present
•    Creative fulfillment
•    (giving) forgiveness, (self) permission to stop trying to do it all, more time in nature
•    a personal trainer, a good night’s sleep, a romantic night out
•    solitude, a force field that keeps me from absorbing other people’s energies, a room of my own
•    a brilliant thinker—to help vet an idea, an organizer—to keep things moving, 2 sponsor/partners to participate
•    A place to stay, more work, more sleep
•    NO “thing,” NO “place,” NO “time”
•    Rich friendships, sashimi, and peace in the world
•    I need space to say no, I need help getting my work done, I need love

What are your three things? I don’t necessarily mean the three biggest desires you have—not those big, altruistic ones like solving world hunger—but the three things you need right now to start moving forward toward those bigger desires?

Mine seem pedestrian, not lofty or special or ideal, but very, very human and—perhaps—circumstance driven rather than values driven, focused on the now. Perhaps they aren’t really the three things I need, but they are the three things I think I need, right now. Perhaps they serve the bigger good that underlies the book itself—I hope they do:

1.    A quiet, simple, clutter-free white room with one chair and one small desk on which to write.
2.    For everyone who loves LIAV to write a review of it on Amazon.
3.    For Oprah Winfrey to receive and fall in love with Life is a Verb and invite me on to her show and give me a fabulous makeover and a hip, new, slenderizing wardrobe, and surprise me with guest appearances by (my choices are a shocker, are you sitting down?) Johnny Depp and Billy Collins, and for her to give away 100,000 copies of the book all over the world (hey, I think specificity matters. Smile). And letting me borrow her private chef for a year wouldn't suck, either.

How do we reach our hops and drems? I think we have to voice them first. Out loud. For others to hear. Who knows? They might have the fig we need, the partner we’re in search of, the private phone number of a certain Mr Depp. I’m just sayin.’

Sometimes what we receive is not what we asked for. And that's a gift of a higher calibre. And sometimes, just sometimes, we actually receive what we need by giving it to others.

37days Do It Now Challenge

Tess_at_laptop2 How hard it is to say out loud something that is so clearly a hop and a drem: “please hold a place for me in your heart,” as Tracy Chapman does in this gorgeous song. And yet, without naming them, we can’t realize our hops and drems. Later, we can sing them. If a five-year-old can write so eloquently about her hops and drems, perhaps we can, too.

Mark Twain has said, “I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.” I think we know what we want, deep down. Telling others feels unsafe, egocentric, too much a fantasy sometimes. We might be mocked for our dreams rather than helped to reach them.

Risk it.

Tell someone what you want today. Be specific. Don't say "no," when you mean "yes, that's exactly what I need." Let someone else help you, even if it's hard.

But it’s the telling that’s the important action, not the receiving. So what if you don’t receive what you asked for? Perhaps not today, perhaps never. But you’ve asked. And that means you’re thinking about what you need and want. It also means you are opening the space for someone else to provide it. And you are believing yourself worthy. Because, you know, your dreams are connected to your heart. And so are everyone else's.

Dere hops and drems hops? Have you ever! Come back? To me?
Well? Have? You? If you do you will not wine a pries you
Will go! Back with my! Drems! And drems you to!
And my heart needs hope and dreams and sometimes
My heart loves to play with my hopes and my heart my hopes are related to my dreams.
My dreams are connected to my heart


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Specificity. The perfect term for rooting out wants.
I can not rid myself (and don’t want to, frankly) of a Friend’s story, when she related to me that she knew a woman searching for that soul mate, a kind, honest, and loyal male, filled with an eagerness for companionship. And lo and behold, soon thereafter, she had made a match with a Golden Retriever.

Enjoy this year-of-the-five-year-old. That wisdom cannot be contained.

What I want right now is a feeling of security. I don't like wanting that. It feels like I want to hide from life. But not having that feeling is seriously hindering me at this moment.

I also want to be regarded as someone's best friend ever. I work on that every day.

An exquisite piece of cheesecake would also be a nice touch.

I want toast and vegemite with a cup of Twinings Afternoon Tea

I want my husband to be with me instead of on the other side of the planet - he's too far away

I want to go home

I've always believed that if you don't ask, you don't get, but somewhere along the way I got afraid to ask. It may have been an undeserved eyeroll, or one disappointment too many, I stopped even wanting for a long time until I let myself long for dreams to come true. And some of them have. Now I need to sit down and think about what I need, to make a gentle longing part of my day again.

i reviewed your book on amazon ....
i'm emailing oprah ...
i'm no help at all on that clutter free room thing ....
two out of three efforts.... with varying degrees of effectiveness ...
how's that?

just sent this off ....

dear oprah ...
i've read a book that is amazing, astonishing and beautiful ...
it is called
life is a verb .... 37 days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionally ....
it is written by patti digh ...
i've not met patti, by i am a regular reader of her extraordinary, groovy blog ....
this is the sort of book that can change lives and minds ..... i wish you'd read it .... i'm sure it would make you want to celebrate 37 days on your show ....
if you send me your address, i'd be happy to amazon you a book right over ....
i promise it is SO worth the read ....
thanks ...
happy day to you ...
elizabeth beck

I did not ask - but what I have wanted was one of your long essays - mulling over, taking a look at life, asking questions and setting out a challenge - and here you are. Sharing hops and drems. Thanks. Ellouise

I want the US election over and President Obama to get started saving the country and the world.

I want a more fulfilling job.

I want to lose 30 pounds.

Now, off to write Oprah...

Funny thing? Patti--but I created my own "God(dess) box a few weeks ago--not sure where Igo the idea? but I called it a "Prayer Box" and decorated it--and I have been putting in my "prayers" a few times a week...and --yes, sometimes they are notes that say---please help me, and sometines they are full of gratitude, and sometimes angry...

hopes and dreams--children are so wise, huh? I have a dream that I will find my creative dream job--where I am paid handsomely to design and paint lovely textile designs all day...ah! and another dream--I will have my own small apartment in a wonderful artist's community, and lastly--I will have enough time (!) to create all the art I want (I think the term is "a room of one's own")

Why do adults complicate everything? Being able to say what you want is not necessarily a bad thing, even if you only say it to yourself. Hopes and wishes and dreams and love. That's what our hearts should be full of.

i emailed oprah as soon as the book came out, but i will send a second one now. i am so looking forward to seeing patti digh on that stage!
one catch-- i need to have tickets to that show because chicago is definitely within driving distance for me. XOXO

*a loving, aware, awake, partner* (first I've said that out loud - I like to pretend I don't need or want that)

*another day, or several days, with everyone from the retreat*

*a reliable, low-gas-mileage car, with insurance and taxes paid* (again - I like to pretend I don't need that, but really? I do. We do.)

And I'll add - more time with Patti and Tess.

Tess, Tess, Tess!
What a beautiful poem--thank you so much.
I forgot that my dreams are connected to my heart and appreciate your reminding me.
Thank you for being so wise and for sharing.

I'm sure it won't come as a surprise that I love, love, love this post. But what really jumped out at me in Tess' poem/story was this: "Well?" and "Have? You?" Reading that, it occurred to me that all too often we pussyfoot around our hopes and dreams. I like that Tess speaks to hers straightforwardly. And given your synchronicity track record, I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that I woke yesterday morning thinking out of the blue that maybe it was time to break out my god box that's been gathering dust on a shelf. Don't know what I've been waiting for. As Tess would say, "Well?"

So simple, pure, and true. Thank you, Tess! =) May we all have the courage to ASK.

Hi Patti, it's me again.

This is what I just e-mailed to the Oprah producers:

I would like to suggest that you interview Patti Digh, author of "Life as a Verb." What I know for sure is that the two of you would connect on a soulful level; her blog touches the heart and expresses a deep understanding of what's really important in this world.

Please let me know when they call you! =)

So So glad to have found this blog! I haven't read your book, but I'll be running right out to buy it. Your voice rings out with passion and authenticity:)
As for my three things

I want an empty room that I can fill with art supplies and blank notebooks and pretty pens and candles and bright fluffy pillows and rugs. And I want a lock on the door.

I want new, meaningful, deep and easy friendships.

I want a closet full of gypsy skirts and t shirts with sarcastic slogans and pretty scarves.

Lovely post.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who told us that there is no "real world", as adults liked to tell us. Our world was just as "real" as theirs, and as anyone's.

Your point that children may not be able to express it polysylabically, but they have complex inner lives that we should try to acknowledge and respect, if we can't actually indulge them.

Unless its my nephew Simon. Him, I'll indulge.

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