What Forty Feels Like

On July 24th I turned forty, and I welcomed my birthday with some of my very best friends who greeted me in the morning naked in my pool. We’d shipped the kiddos off to spend the night with their grandparents so we could enjoy an adults-only party, and we gave the neighbors plenty of warning. The people behind us got the hell out of Dodge, which is a shame, because of the naked burlesque troupe in my pool. It’s classic that they would all wait to the light of day to shed their swim suits.

what forty feels like

If you had told twenty-year-old me that life would look like this at forty, I would have been very delighted. And probably a little shocked. Back then, I thought I would end up being a classical actor, and I was pining away for a guy who didn’t know I was alive. Now I’m the retired Artistic Director of a cabaret burlesque troupe, a burgeoning writer, and an entrepreneur. I have a sexy husband and a gorgeous wife who believe in my talents, and three beautiful and healthy children. All three of our families are wonderfully supportive and loving. I have a quirky and spacious home to host all these wonderful people in our lives. I make money doing work I love, and work that I can do anywhere in the world. I’m better looking than I was at twenty (yep, I said it) and I’ve healed so many old hurts that my heart is bigger than it’s ever been. I’m in my skin in a way that I couldn’t possibly have been decades ago, and I love it.

Forty feels like I’m finally ripe. It feels like I know myself a little better. I feel like I’m not afraid to look vulnerable. Turning forty feels like I know how to be grateful.

As far as goals are concerned, this year I want to continue to move forward with my writing. I also want to add a comprehensive fitness component to the lifestyle changes of last year (we gave up grains and sugar, and now I’ve kicked dairy too), I want to meditate every day, and I want to grow my businesses. As far as the rest goes, I’d love to keep up simple living, volunteering, eco-friendly shopping (lots of thrift stores in my life), awesome family moments, commitment to my own passion, and balance of life, work, and creativity.

Where I come from, birthdays are precious. I’ve seen some very near and dear people not get nearly enough of those milestones, and I want to savor each and every one. Part of what makes that possible is keeping my mind and body as sharp as I can. The rest is about balance.

We each have a daily list of ingredients required to keep us at our best. Click To Tweet

Here’s my daily list of happiness ingredients:

Reflection
Exercise
Clean Eating
Creativity
Nature
Family
Reading
Hard Work
Domestic Bliss (I like this better than ‘chores’)
Love (giving back, helping, holding)

I’d love to hear how turning forty made you feel, or how you imagine yourself at forty. Leave your stories in the comments below!

Four Ways to Maximize the Last Days of Summer

How can it be August already? I mean, actually, how? I feel like I was just packing up teacher gifts and bracing myself for summer vacation to begin, and now we’ve only got 30-ish days left before the kids are back in school and (gulp) my little one begins kindergarten. July was filled with incredible family time and epic birthday celebrations (I turned 40, more on that later!) and we’ve promised ourselves that we’d slow way down this month and focus on relaxing, being as lazy as we can get away with and spending time with our kids. Here are some ways to maximize the last days of summer:

four ways to maximize the last days of summer

1. Make a Wish List

The last weekend in July was the first we had free in over a month, so we spent some time as a family chatting about the things we’d like to do before the warm weather is done. This was a great way to connect and get a sense of our family’s needs.

Here’s some of the stuff we came up with, in case you need inspiration:

More gardening time when the heat lets up (we’ve had a drought here this year.)

A family trip to an amusement park

Sleeping outside in the tent

Visiting with cousins

Lazy meals cooked outside

Family swim time

A weekend in the big city

Visiting our in-laws

Reading books

Laying on a blanket in the park while the kids play

2. Make Some Plans

With a fairly open schedule, we’re lucky to be free and flexible when it comes to some of these plans. Our first step was to try to secure some dates for family visits. For the rest of the wish list, we’re staying open. The extreme heat doesn’t lend itself well to long days wandering around amusement parks or busy trips to the city, so we’re watching the weather forecast and trying to take advantage of more favorable weather.

3. Focus on the Feels

Sometimes the best way to make the most of your time is to tune in to the way you want to feel. A word that kept coming up in our family meeting was ‘spontaneous’. Another was ‘relaxed’. Here are some others to consider:

easy

budget-friendly

connected

unplugged

creative

fun

adventurous

4. Plan to be Flexible

Above all else, don’t get stressed out about trying to get everything on your list done. It’s easy to get caught up once you set those goals, but remember these are the LAZY days of summer. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t knock out everything on your list. Carry some of these activities and ideas into the early fall months and use your weekend time. Cooler temperatures might actually make some of these activities more fun.

What’s left on your summer wish list? What are you most looking forward to for August?

A Pep Talk for Creative Types

Hey you artsy soul, trying to make an impression on the world…

a pep talk for creative types

You’ve picked a hell of a path, haven’t you? People think it’s crazy to spend so many waking hours living with your imagination once you’ve hit age eleven or so, but you just can’t help yourself, can you? I’ll bet there are days you think it’s crazy too.

Sure, you have a job that pays the bills. Sometimes you probably even like it. You and I both know there isn’t a single second when you aren’t thinking about your other work. That creative work that doesn’t pay you a dime most of the time, but fills your soul until it’s near to bursting. Except when it doesn’t.

You know those moments where you take a good long look at yourself and say “Seriously, why are you still doing this?” When you stop and count the hours you’ve devoted to your creativity and measure that against the financial dividends of that time investment, do you feel a little sick sometimes? Is there a niggling voice inside your head telling you that it’s time to ‘grow up’? Is that voice telling you that your art isn’t going anywhere?

Well, guess what? I feel the exact same way. Especially right now as I’m typing this. My nay-saying inner monologue is practically screaming, but I know with certainty that as sure as I will not make a cent from my writing this month, I will also come back to it again and again. I will write until my dying day, and it’s not because I have some delusion that I’m poised to become the next bestselling novelist, it’s because I have to write. Even if my stories are absurd, even if I never quite master this craft, I know that when I am not writing I am slowly dying inside.

I’ve had a lot of creative pursuits that I’ve left by the wayside. You’ve probably done the same. There are other avenues I’d like to explore (like pottery!) before I leave this life, but writing is in my blood. You know the feeling. Even in your most frustrated moments you can’t walk away from something that is so much a part of you.

And you shouldn’t.

If your art does nothing more than feed your soul and give you a reason to keep moving through your days, that is a gift worth more than any pay check. If your art helps you contextualize the insanity of the world and seek out the beauty in any situation, you are armed with a power few possess. Build your life carefully around your gifts so you can support your creative space and keep enjoying those personal rewards. I have total faith that if you invest so deeply and create from a place of personal pleasure and power you will make exactly the kind of mark you hope to leave on the world. You probably already have.

xoxo

cat skinner

 

 

They Even Have a Sandbox

So today was a pretty exciting day for the Noodle (my nick name for my three-and-a-half year old son) and I. He had been looking forward to this day for months, in a way that surprised me – I didn’t know a kid that age could track time this way. Today was kindergarten orientation. He caught a glimpse of the excitement waiting for him in September, and I caught a glimpse of just how many boxes of tissue it was going to take to get through the first day of school.

They Even Have a Sandbox

The kindergarten classroom was everything I wanted it to be: clean, bright, filled with natural materials, lots of hands-on play opportunities, a solid house corner, water table, and as Noodle breathlessly declared “They even have a sandbox!”. To him, it was a little dude paradise. The teachers seemed lovely, and switched on to the importance of things like one-on-one attention, affection, and outdoor play time. Noodle even had a pair of his buddies from daycare to bond with. The highlight however was the practice bus ride. Oh my heart.

Watching how his big head and little body bounced and lurched on the bus made me realize just how little an almost-four-year-old still is. Sure, he’ll be on that bus with his ten and nearly thirteen-year-old sisters. Sure he’s beyond thrilled about the whole thing. Still, I saw The Sweet Hereafter, well before I had kids, and the idea of a little body on a huge school bus simply makes me want to barf. I kept my cool though. I know it’s dumb to download those illogical anxieties on your kids. The world’s his oyster, and I want him to feel that way just as long as he can.

But here’s thing…No matter how vast the universe of possibility and opportunity I want for him, it aches deep down into my very atoms (another Sweet Hereafter reference?) when I think of him growing up. Obviously I want him to grow and thrive, but there’s always going to be a part of me that wants to keep him as close as I can. Like, on a cellular level. I guess that’s what you get for growing a person in your body. Though hell, I get those pangs for my non-bio daughters too, and I didn’t even get to meet them until they were three and five.

Watching my twelve-year-old’s sharp angles slowly morph into softer curves is the sweetest form of heartbreak. I know she’s going to blow minds and take names, but I also know that the sweet little bubble we have built up around our tadpoles, with spit and love and tenacity won’t hold forever. Eventually it will burst because the world is just like that. It’s a bubble bursting, bubble blowing party.

And as long as they aren’t dating, playing injury-causing team sports, blowing auditions, taking school buses, having adventures without us, basically, we get to keep that bubble in tact. Kind of. Not really. Sigh.

The greater your love, the greater your fear of loss. The greater your loss, the greater your fear of love. I can’t shut it down, no matter which end I tackle. I feel the magnitude of my fear just as deeply as I’m filled with the depth of all this love in my heart.

So, I’ll keep my shit together on that first day of school until he’s safely inside his classroom. (Because I’m driving him there on the first day. The bus will have to wait until day two, damn it) Then, after I get into my mom-mobile I will shed those tears and say goodbye to the sweet stickiness of the toddler years. Goodbye to our carefree Fridays off, playing zoo and enjoying day trips together. It won’t be as bad as the first day of daycare. I know this, because leaving him sobbing in the arms of a stranger was the worst parenting experience I’ve had thus far. He’s excited about Kindergarten (or JK/SK as he calls it) in a way that he never was about daycare. Maybe he had a premonition of all of the colds he would be destined to bring home from such an unsophisticated place. Or, maybe even he knows he’s growing up and hitting the big leagues. Even he knows this is a great big deal in the department of milestones.

Thrive on little man. Play with all of the plastic animals. Sift your pudgy fingers through all the sand. Make all the macaroni art. I’ll spare you my tears, just know that I want you to drink up every moment that JK/SK lays at your feet. And please, for the love of God, be careful.

 

 

Tasting My Own Medicine

You know how I’m always saying how important our passions are, and how we all deserve to make more time for them in our lives? Well, I’ve kind of been a jerk about this in my own world. It’s a kind of ‘do as I say’ situation around here right now, but I think I may have had a break through this weekend in tasting my own medicine.
Tasting My Own Medicine PIN

On Friday I packed up my computer, my huge printed copy of my manuscript, and very little else and drove about four hours north of where I live for my first ever writing retreat experience. It was a a small gathering of totally inspiring, encouraging super women and I felt so very lucky that this opportunity kind of fell in my lap.

You’ll notice I haven’t written much lately. I did that thing again, where I decide that money-earning work is more important than soul-satisfying work, and while sometimes they are the same, the two don’t always co-exist. My writing found its way onto the chopping block again. No blog posts. No novel revisions.

At this retreat, I had a LOT of silent time to work on my revisions, and I ate it all up. I skipped out on swimming in the lake despite the gorgeous weather. I only indulged in one short walk. If you tried to find me, I would nearly always be on the screened porch, overlooking the water and the trees, typing FURIOUSLY. It just didn’t feel like enough time.

We broke the day up with delicious meals we prepared for each other and with thoughtful and beautifully facilitated writing workshops. These were amazing, but I found there was an angry beast inside me that just wanted to keep pounding away at the novel, so painfully aware that there was a real risk it would start collecting dust again as soon as I made it back to the city. I felt guilty, because I wasn’t totally present for the other stuff, even though it was important, and fun. I was a bit singular in my focus and I fear that I came off disinterested and detached. Maybe the other stuff helped feed the monster inside me who just couldn’t stop writing? The beautiful little sign beside my bed let me know every night that ‘there is no wrong way to do this’.

Never mind that guilt business. I don’t want that feeling to be my takeaway, not when there were so many other feels: inspiration, admiration, love, peace, purpose, excitement, wonder, fear. My goal was accomplished. I got to revise about nine chapters, which feels good. I also created two new scenes. And, most importantly, I woke up an hour early this morning to keep the momentum going. I need to write. Every day. Or else all of the other ducks in my life start to quack out of their rows. Or else I’m not living the life I want myself to live.

Beyond the still silence of the lake, the chilling morning call of the loons and the musky/damp riches of the trees, one of the stand out impressions from my weekend were the forget-me-nots. Their cheery little periwinkle heads popped up everywhere, lining every path, arranged with little fern fronds for dinner table decor. It was a constant reminder to myself of how important this kind of space is.

Here’s a little sample of my workshop writing. It’s not from my novel, just a little poetry exercise. It’s rough, but I wanted to share a little bit from the weekend.

 

I wanted love.

I got more than I could ever imagine.

I wanted a family.

I found one ready-made, and made just for me.

I wanted to experience the heights and depths of life.

Then I looked at death as many times as it takes

to touch the finger tips on both of my hands.

 

I wanted to create life.

First I created worlds,

then I created an institution.

Now I’m creating a tiny legacy with words.

 

I wanted a child,

And three humbling wonders reached

for my unworthy hands with sticky digits

They showed me that I knew exactly nothing about myself.

 

Now all I want is to deserve it all.

To show up for it over and over again.

Open, unafraid of my newly discovered softness,

Yielding to the splendor of just simply being here

With my heart in my sometimes steady hands.