Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Ten for Tuesday

Let’s get right to it.

1. On “Thoughts and Prayers”

Another mass shooting, this time in Texas, means another mass of posts on social media from various perspectives. My friend Roy posted the following yesterday and it spoke to me:

Amen.

~

2. “Thoughts and Prayers,” part 2

After the Las Vegas shooting–yes, that was only a few weeks ago–I read the following on a friend’s Facebook feed about “thoughts and prayers” in Islam. It spoke to me:

Today, my actions include spending a few hours at a nearby polling place, handing out literature for the candidate who I believe is the best choice to be our governor.

~

3. Noticing Kairos Moments

My improv buddy David Westerlund reflects on time and presence:

In an improv scene if I’m worried about what I didn’t say five seconds ago; or overthinking what might happen, I’m missing what’s happening right now, I’m missing the dynamic now, of what is unfolding as I tune into my scene partner.

The now-ness of improv is one of the things I love best about it… and why I’m a constant student of it, because I often miss the now in my daily life!

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4. Press Play (TED Radio Hour)

Speaking of improv, this edition of the TED Radio Hour talks about the importance of play, for all of us. I suggest that in these fraught times, play is even more vital.

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5. Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

Aging is harder for women. We bear the brunt of the equation of beauty with youth and youth with power — the double-whammy of ageism and sexism. How do we cope? We splurge on anti-aging products. We fudge or lie about our age. We diet, we exercise, we get plumped and lifted and tucked.

These can be very effective strategies, and I completely understand why so many of us engage in them. No judgment, I swear. But trying to pass for younger is like a gay person trying to pass for straight or a person of color for white. These behaviors are rooted in shame over something that shouldn’t be shameful. And they give a pass to the underlying discrimination that makes them necessary.

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6. Five Important Women of the Reformation

We recently celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, an event that has profoundly shaped history whether you are religious or not. Here are some women you should know.

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7. David Schwimmer praised in wake of Harvey Weinstein scandal for offering female film critic a chaperone

David Schwimmer has been on my Nice Guy list for a while, since producing a series of thought-provoking PSAs about sexual harassment. But this was a very interesting story in the wake of #MeToo:

[Journalist] Nell Minow, in response to the disgust felt at Hollywood behaviour, has spoken of her meeting with the Friends actor in 2011, when he was promoting Trust – the film he directed, telling the real life story of a young girl preyed upon by an online abuser.

The restaurant they were due to speak in proved noisy, and so the Friends star hesitantly broached the notion of going up to his room. Schwimmer said he could ask a third person to be present in the room.

“I haven’t thought of that since it happened but the Weinstein stories made me not just remember it but remember it in an entirely different context as an indicator of the prevalence of predatory behaviour and as an indicator of Schwimmer’s integrity and sensitivity,” she said.

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8. Female Shark in Seoul Aquarium Eats Male Shark Because He Kept Bumping Into Her

Because sometimes you have just had ENOUGH.

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9. How to Build Resilience in Midlife

In honor of my ‘baby’ brother who turned 40 last week:

Remember Your Comebacks. When times are tough, we often remind ourselves that other people — like war refugees or a friend with cancer — have it worse. While that may be true, you will get a bigger resilience boost by reminding yourself of the challenges you personally have overcome.

~

10. Astros!!!

It was so wonderful to watch the Astros capture their first World Series title in franchise history. I shared this video on my FB feed, which was my favorite moment from the celebration.

But this was a close second.

To Be Creative

Happy November!
(My favorite month, featuring my favorite holiday.)

Lots of stuff cooking in the Blue Room right now—my next newsletter will include an announcement about a project I’ll be offering free to readers between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Stay tuned.

And my next book, God, Improv, and the Art of Living, will be available for pre-order soon!

In the meantime, I’m catching up on reading, including a delightful book of memoir-ish essays, My Adventures with God by actor Stephen Tobolowsky, about his growing up Jewish in Dallas, Texas. (You may remember him as Ned Ryerson, the insurance agent in Groundhog Day.)

In his essay “The Garden on Orchid Lane,” Tobolowsky remembers receiving a gift of a painting set as a child. The lid of the box featured a picture of a beautiful garden. He took one look at the intricate image and handed it back, shaking his head. “I can’t do this,” he said.

His friend handed it back to him and said, “You can do it, Stevie. It’s easy. It’s Paint-by-Numbers. Open it up.”

Tobolowsky continues:

I took the plastic off the box and looked inside. There was a white canvas board. It was covered with little lines. It was like a map drawn with almost invisible ink. Inside each tiny area was a number. Sarah pulled out a brush and a plastic palette that had twenty small containers. Each container had a color, from the deepest green to the lightest shades of pink. Sarah explained, “Each paint has a number. All you have to do is match the number of the paint to the number on the drawing. Stay within the lines and you’ll have a beautiful picture.” She handed the top of the box to me. “Use the cover of the box as a guide. Follow the numbers. You can do it.”

The world felt generous. Someone else was the artist.
Someone else did all the work, but the picture could still be mine.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read about creativity, and almost all of them insist that we are all creative beings. I believe this is true… but I meet so many people who insist that they are not. A lot of what I do, whether through writing, speaking, or coaching, seems to be about helping people get in touch with that thread of creativity that runs through everything.

Reflecting on Tobolowsky’s words, I suspect the key to creative living is not to try to find the inspiration within oneself, but to see the world as a generous place, full of both guidance and color. Then our job gets much easier—to simply follow the generosity of the Artist… wherever it takes us.

~

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.

Image is Paint by Numbers by Alex Watson and used through a creative commons license.

Ten for Tuesday

A little of everything this week. Some made the rounds, some I hope will be new to you. Onward!

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1. Guy Photoshops Himself Into Childhood Pics To Hang Out With His Childhood Self

These are oddly poignant, and if I were Conor’s mother I would absolutely treasure these.

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2. Russia Wants Bulgarians to Stop Painting Soviet Monuments To Look Like American Superheroes

Fight back with beauty… and wiseassery.

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3. & 4. Don’t Yuck My Yum! and Now Playing: the Theo Tacos

A two-for-one deal–twin reflections from the wonderful Mary Beene about the recent workshop I co-led with Marthame Sanders at Columbia Theological Seminary on improvisation .

God is, in fact, quite playful. When you study Greek, you begin to see how Jesus was very funny much of the time.  There are so many little inside jokes in both the Old and New Testament, that I feel completely confident in saying that spiritual formation may be one of our most serious undertakings – and it is also one of the places where we are least served by taking ourselves too seriously.

~

5. Turns Out, UPS Drivers Have A Facebook Group About Dogs They Meet On Their Routes, And It Will Make Your Day

UPS Dogs is a nation-wide network of canine-loving ‘big brown truck’ drivers who post pictures of the pups they become acquainted with along their delivery schedule. Some of them have known their clients’ dogs for years, and have worked out complex treat-exchange systems with them. The group has been going strong for 5 years now, and is still moderated by McCarren himself. “It’s a good example of the relationships our employees build with their customers, two- or four-legged,” a UPS spokesperson told Buzzfeed News.

I love it. Click through for some pics and stories.

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6. Technology Overuse May Be the New Digital Divide

According to a recent survey, children who come from low-income households spend 3 hours and 29 minutes a day on screens, on average. That’s almost double the 1 hour and 50 minutes of daily screen time that a child from a higher-income home experiences.

Big picture:

Clark cautioned against judging low-income families for allowing their kids so much screen time. “You need to understand what is actually happening. Is screen time a better option than sending them out to play outside where it’s not safe?” he asked. Higher income families can pay for more childcare, sign their kids up for activities or allow their kids to run around a backyard.

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7. Recipes Organized into Component Parts in Food Styling Photos by Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj

So satisfying, so enjoyable to behold.

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8. Tom Hanks Considers The Cosmos, Nora Ephron, And A Man Dressed As A Shrimp

This 30-minute interview is so worth the time. I love what he has to say about bucket lists. (He doesn’t have them. Instead he describes an approach to life and creative projects that sounds a whole lot like improv.)

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9. “Stop Following Others. Be More Like Yourself.” Dan Blank Interviews Windham Hill’s Will Ackerman

Along those same lines, this expansive interview with the founder of Windham Hill records is a treasure trove of wisdom about pursuing a creative life and following your own instincts and path. Also features a frank conversation about Ackerman’s bout with depression. If you’re a fan of Ackerman, but even if you aren’t, it’s a good listen.

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10. The New Yorker Cover That’s Being Replicated by Women Surgeons Across the World

Thank you ladies for being awesome.

Nevertheless she persisted.

Everyday Bravery

Greetings from the fullness of fall! Late September through early November is one of the most lively times on my calendar, with events in Texas, Michigan, Georgia, and here in Virginia, working with groups to explore improvisation as a spiritual practice.

It’s been deeply satisfying work, with lots of belly laughs, aha moments, and even some goosebumps and tears, as people not only think about the world and their spiritual lives in a new way, but actually embody that new way through storytelling and play. (When’s the last time a theologian in residence program or continuing education event inspired deep, sustained, healing belly laughs, I ask you?)

Even deeper, though, is how humbling it is to hear people say, “Where have these ideas been all my life?” and “I have to have more of this.” It makes me all the more excited for the day when my book will finally be loose in the world. (Pre-order information coming soon!)

In the meantime, I am reading Brené Brown’s (pictured left) latest book, Braving the Wilderness, which I highly recommend as a powerful companion for improvisational living. Lots of quotable quotes, but this bit from Viola Davis (below) is infused with bravery, and well worth passing on.

Davis is an award-winning actress, and one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people, but she grew up in a household filled with trauma, dysfunction, and even violence. It’s been a lifelong process to heal from the wounds of her childhood. Brown asked her whether she had a practice for her own living these days, and here is what Davis offered:

1. I’m doing the best I can.
2. I will allow myself to be seen.
3. I apply the advice an acting coach gave me to all aspects of my life: Go further. Don’t be afraid. Put it all out there. Don’t leave anything on the floor.
4. I will not be a mystery to my daughter. She will know me and I will share my stories with her—the stories of failure, shame, and accomplishment. She will know she’s not alone in the wilderness.

This is who I am.
This is where I am from.
This is my mess.
This is what it means to belong to myself.

Amen, and may it be so for us all.

Peace, Joy, and Yes.
MaryAnn

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.

Want to work on your own inner bravery? I do personal/professional coaching. Learn more here.

This Week’s Muffin: Spinach (?!?)

It’s been a long time since I posted a muffin recipe, mainly because it has been sooooo hot here in NoVA. Who wants to heat an oven?

Also, I’ve been trying to cut back on that kind of food. I won’t go so far as to call muffins “junk” food, but I’m trying to make better choices, such as quality proteins, and cramming as many fruits and veggies into my day as I can.

But finally, the weather has turned, and fall is here. These spinach muffins call for 6 ounces of baby spinach–that’s more than half of one of those big rectangular containers–and they use whole wheat flour. SOLD!

But dang, that batter is green:

I mean… wow.

Christmasy!

I haven’t tasted the finished product yet, but the batter is tasty–the banana takes center stage, while the spinach flavor recedes into a generic earthiness that’s quite nice. I have no idea whether my kids will eat them. Part of me hopes they don’t.

SPINACH MUFFINS 
from the Six O’Clock Scramble menu-planning site–We’ve been happy subscribers for a long time, and they’ve just started adding weekly breakfast suggestions, like this one!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (GF is fine)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk (use any kind you have)
  • 6 oz. baby spinach
  • 1 banana
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease or line two muffin tins.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter. In a food processor or blender (I used an immersion blender), mix the milk, spinach, and butter until it is completely pureed. Add the banana and vanilla and blend until just mixed.
  4. Pour pureed mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until completely combined. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full and baking 18-20 minutes.