Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Voices We Hear

I confess I haven’t been writing much, except for journaling, which surely counts, right?

But my heart and mind and spirit warm at the thought of words and Brave Girls in the same sentence. I hope you are writing. I hope you are writing out your dreams and believing you can have them.

When I see the happy colors and lights and ruffles of The Brave Girls new warehouse home, it tickles something inside of me to be all I can be! Then the next little voice of the critic, the ”I can’t do it voice” interrupts and says, ”No you can’t. Give it up, that belief in you.”

What do we do when we’re battling those voices I call the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? The Good Voice welcomes us into who we are. The Bad Voice usurps those positive vibes with derogatory, limited mind jargon. The Ugly voice takes on a manifestation all its own when the Bad Voice’s message moves down into it dark mind tapes and to where they predominate.

We long for the good voice–the Good voice is the one that welcomes us into our own lives, to ask us to bless those visions that peek into our very nature. It is the voice of joy and light and possibility. This voice is the place of our becoming–sometimes we aren’t sure what that place will look like but we KNOW, fully KNOW it wants to be.

And I’ve found, it’s okay not to know, but it’s not okay to deny the calling. I guess I thought all my life that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t be that creative gypsy spirit that I am. I thought that space was created for someone like Melody or Kathy, someone who has organizational skills, marketing skill and savvy that I don’t have.

But the voice is determined. It will not be denied. It demands that I listen and watch and look and become and be and delight and believe and call forth the determined spirit that matches the creative gypsy one.

I must push to see that vision happen-–that gypsy spirit find her container. That small step made upon that promise is the start of my journey on my own yellow brick road. Being on our personal yellow brick road means that at then end of it we find our own Kansas, our own home, our own truth.

Today, I must believe this can happen in me. I know that because I know how I feel when I see others doing what they love and think that maybe even I could do that in some way--own a little store and make it glittery and fun and refuse to hear the voice saying, ”Oh, no store is like that.”

I realize God gave us these creative impulses for a reason. He gave them to us so we can honor them. How that will happen, what it will look like, I’m not sure, but I’m more ready to take the baby steps and keep stepping those chubby baby feet and wiggly toes toward the honoring of my imaginings.

I want you to honor your imaginings too. I want in this huge world of yellow brick paths fir you to find YOURs and realize YOURS and come home to YOURS.


Because you are supposed to and because deep within yourself you know that more than you’ve ever known anything in your life before.

I’m here to say, ”It can be.”

Be willing to begin to fly your flag–what does it look like, what words does it have, what colors beam from it, what is its story. When we’re willing to fly the flag of self, we’re able to claim the treasure of our own soul—becoming the very person we were meant to be all along.

Maybe we can be accountable to each other; maybe we can help each other, maybe we can take baby steps together toward our goals.

We can’t allow ourselves to be in the pit of dark without reaching again for that light above us. It is our redemption. It is our hope and honoring it brings us one step closer to finding it.

Right now, I’m watching a minister from Huntsville, Alabama, render his sermon. Recently, I haven’t been a lot about ministers or sermons. Some of my days of late have been dark with filtered light eking through here and there–-that light is a promise telling me to keep moving toward it, to keep doing it anyway.

This minister mentioned a commercial slogan for a well-known cereal. The slogan is
 "Taste it for the first time again.” When I heard that slogan, a brighter light seeped in, the light of truth.

We must be willing to taste the glory of who we are, and taste it for the first time again if we’ve let it fall by the wayside of the world’s critical voices and meandering as well as our own Bad Critic’s words.

When we allow the Bad Critic to have reign inside us, it eventually leads to the frustrated Ugly voice that encourages us to spiral down into a darkness where we were never meant to live.

As the minister suggested this morning, Taste it again for the first time. Taste the delight of who you are again for the first time and enjoy the fullness of that taste, the richness of that taste, the possibility of incorporating the TASTE of YOU in your every moment.

I’m here to ask you to do that. I’m here to ask myself to do that. Otherwise we are settling for a tasteless life–-a life catered to the palette of others–a life we weren’t meant to live.

See what the flavor of your life is–-write about it–-make a flag of your self to honor it–and wave that flag until you get there.

You WILL get there. And so will I.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Writer in the Toenail Clippings

You see I can’t write.

When I start, I think, well, I’m not this writer or that writer.

(Add the names here of any writers you aspire to be like—or would be willing to collect their toenail clippings in a jar, having been told all word inspiration comes directly from writers’ toenail clippings, and how handy that would be for you, not overlooking the go green aspect of writer toenail recycling).

I am not this writer or that writer. I am me writer—me writer who does not get published except once every ten years—me writer who doesn’t deliver such polished and coiffed words that make the buying public swarm into the bookstore for that fresh-inked smelling first edition.

So I don’t start writing because I’m a me writer. And I don’t know how to get over being me and not being one of them—the known ones—the writers whose words I read and wish I was Spongebob Squarepants so I could actually absorb each delicate parcel of their writings “like a sponge.”

Me writer, just trying to be funny.

And I can be funny, you see, as me writer I can be anything I want. It doesn’t matter. Even though I taught oodles of college freshman about composition and how much their written story “mattered,” and even though I believed it with all the sponginess of my heart, I cannot seem to translate that into what one does with their story once they write it down.

If it is so important for us to write down our stories or they will be lost forever, then what are we supposed to do once we take a writing chance, get the truth on paper and still no one cares any more than “before” we wrote it down?

Thinking back on those days of my trying to convey to those 25 sets of eyes how crucial their story was to the world, it seems like I was telling the “little white lie of writing.” The truth is—their story and the story of countless me writers like me—doesn’t matter after all.

Yet, each semester I could always see the importance of story in my students’ eyes before they ever tried to find their writer’s voice on the page.

The first day of class, I could see how they wanted me to know them—not in the usual stuffy English professorial kind of way—but in the can-you-lend-me-a-helping-hand kind of way because life is hard sometimes and I’m afraid.

I could see the fear stories in the eyes of these newbie composition geniuses when they opted for this seat or that one, or the one in the far back where they thought they would never be called on to be real.

They never thought they’d be called on to be real, and I never intended to be The Velveteen Rabbit of composition, but I craved real words from the inside of my students’ souls.

Their eyes told me. Their names told me. What they did or didn’t wear told me—what they would or wouldn’t say told me how much they needed to put on paper.

My job was to pull their Velveteen Rabbit words out of the holes where they hid who they really were.

Right now, I’m trying to remember how I managed to do that in the classroom so I can re-teach myself the world needs as many Velveteen Rabbit words and me writers as it can get.

And yes, it does sound like I’m a whiny writer and yes I can do that as much as I want—I have this collection on my mantle of tiny jars filled with toenail clippings I bought on ebay from the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, Sue Monk Kidd and Lorrie Moore to back up the inspiration behind my words.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What to do when everything breaks?

Last October, I took a time out from my marriage.

Now close to a year later, I'm still in time out.

I've enjoyed being by myself, purchasing little doo-dads for my tiny house I'm renting, waking in the middle of the night (like now) to only me and the hum of the refrigerator, the occasional Sleepless-in-Powder-Springs-Georgia bird chirping outside my window, the lone car's roar as it drives by at this crazy hour. Well, make that two cars. Another one just drove by.

Everything has been good.

My husband has been a wonderful partner to me for over 28 years. I love him still in many ways. Ways that won't change even though we are probably getting a divorce.

I don't regret our years together but know in my heart our journeys are turning away from one another. I know in my heart that sometimes we have to honor the turns those journeys take even when we don't understand them.

One new phenomena I've noticed the past few weeks is things are breaking everywhere in my house--not appliances thank goodness, but precious items I've bought for my place or people have purchased for me.

My mom bought me Garden Angel statuette for Christmas. The angel lost her head as she toppled from the top tier of a bookshelf. I had to glue her back together.

I purchased some light green Jadeite China at an antique store called The Classy Flea, and one of my favorite pieces, a sugar bowl with a lid, had a great fall like Humpty Dumpty and crashed into the sink from a nearby shelf. I couldn't save the lid.

I checked out prices for this item on eBay, which ranged from $63.00 to $82.00. I didn't realize what a great deal I had gotten on my sugar bowl until the lid broke.

Other things have chipped and cracked. My youngest daughter bought me a set of plates from Pier One that I love. Each time I pull something out of the dishwasher I find another white exposed part appears where brownish-gold ceramic glaze is supposed to be.

I'm thinking I may need to retrieve the dishwasher manual and take a quick read on how to properly load this appliance.

It's funny how quickly one gets attached to things--new things--how quickly they take bearing on one's heart--even if they are only lids and dishes. I find myself frustrated about the breakages.

Somehow I thought since I was starting a new life that nothing should break--that I should be given some moratorium on breaking for about a year or two.

Alas, breaks happen. Breaks happen in marriages that were by and large pretty solid. Breaks happen in hearts you thought would hold together forever without needing any kind of glue--Elmer's Glue, Gorilla Glue, spit.

Breaks creep into the exposed places in your mind, body, spirit and cause soul collapse where you just can't keep on living the way you once did--so you have to break-up instead.

I think of all the pieces of things I've tried to rescue recently, and I wonder if they represent pieces of myself that had fallen in ill repair before I said, "Hey, has anybody noticed I'm losing it here?"

No one notices the soul's call for salvation except the soul itself.

We could be sweeping pieces of our soul off the floor along with dust bunnies and never know the difference if we fail to look at what shows up in the dust pan--look how much of us has broken into shards on the floor of our own lives.

So things break. I get it.

Times may come around where I search back through my marriage, like I searched on eBay for a sugar bowl with lid to see the value of trying to replace it, and then find out how much it was worth--how much I gave up to get myself back.

Nothing is easy. Even Humpty Dumpty couldn't be put back together and he had King's horses and men. I've just got me and my resolve to piece myself back together again.

When sugar bowl lids crash into 54 green glass pieces, one grieves a bit, wishes it hadn't happened, has a brief sugar bowl pity party, and then gets used to the sugar bowl on the shelf without the lid.

The same process goes for all things that break in our lives whether they are sugar bowl lids, Garden Angels, Pier One dishes, 28-year marriages, or human hearts.

Shelnutt Copyright 2008

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


As the new year offers us the opportunity to turn ever more toward our true selves, I wish for each of you a 2008 that will offer you time to honor your own "ways of knowing."

We have ways of knowing inside. We question them--wonder if these ways are right, if they work in the boxed-in-tight world we live in. But what I've found with my own path, my own ways of knowing, is I must honor them--the wild call in my heart to live fully and the hushed whisper to draw into silence to find more truth. I must honor all I know. I must not give in to anyone else's ways of knowing. Finally I'm realizing that listening to others' calls instead of one's own only leads to someone else being fulfilled.

I think this may sound a bit abstract. I can't find the fingerprint for what I want to say. I want to say this moment 11:06 p.m. on January 2, 2008, is what I've been given--it is my gift. I've given so many of these gift moments to others thinking they could do so much more with them than I ever could.

From now on, I'm going to call my moments, my ways of knowing, my own. I'm going to put name tags on those moments that say "Karen." I'm going to invite the moments to explode into firecrackered wonder across the sky of myself. I'm going to bow in humble gratitude to the richness the moment offers and to the many ways of knowing a simple breath contains.

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Once upon a time, in a dark forest"

Whenever I sit down to write, my beagle, Sidney, gets up and wants to go out and so does Sunny, my white, fluffy mutt. Once they are taken care of, I settle back into my thirty-minute writing time.

So what do I have to say—what does my writer have to say?

I’m thankful for a great night teaching composition on Wednesday—thankful for the floor in the family room being fixed, for family and friends. I’m thankful that the universe is bringing my heart’s desires to me now.

I don’t know what to write here. Julia’s correct about how starting to write thirty minutes every day will be good practice.

My writing is rusty; reddish-brown crust has oxidized on my words. The words have been exposed to so much longing, pain, insult and disbelief they figure what could a little rust hurt. The words believe: if we stay here rusting, they’ll put us in the junkyard of language where all words that could have been written are tossed, rusted and unused.

Writing works best when we don’t let it have too much idol time to break down, to lose some of itsef by not finding the page, not being offered a chance to present the words to the universe.

When our writing lapses, the page is never given a chance to provide refuge for the random verbs and nouns, adjectives and adverbs that play and twist and turn in our brains, in our hearts. The page waits; the words rust; the hand, arm, or pen forget how to dance their cursive writing or printing or typing into being against a background of what has never been.

Maybe that’s what is so frightening about writing.

When we scribble down what has never before lived, we may fear what monsters our words might create on a page, not the beauty-queen words, polished and positive, the world longs to see. Writing is more than beauty-queen words. It is the way we get to our inner beauty, our inner royalty, our inner truth.

But we must slay the dragons first.

We can’t get to the other side until we’ve written through the sixteen demons hiding in our bodies’ dark places, until we allow their fire hot breath released to the page in inked heat, until we are ready to admit that writing for the beauty-queen life alone is the most irresponsible of fairytales—one that demands happy endings, shuts down the gifts writing brings and lays at our feet.

Knowing ourselves doesn’t always mean the happily-ever-after tone for our writing, but sometimes means writing that is like tangled vines covering the entry to ourselves, words of the frozen kingdom stilled by spells of the mind—dark veils covering the heart, words silenced until the truth of a single tear falls and light and movement flow into the kingdom once again.

It concerns me how many people want writers to be positive, to write positive things so much of the time. And I know that positive is good. Happy is good. Joy is exceptionally good. But to demand happy-go-lucky writing of our daily words, starves the soul, empties it of possibility, empties it of the feast of opening to whatever is.

Whatever is in the moment contains the story that the pen must tell. Whatever word agrees in contract with the page to join together is the word that is supposed to come. The words may be ragamuffin words or twin-headed dragon words, yet all hold the golden chalice which overflows with knowing and opening once pondered upon the page.

No one gets to the light unless they move through the dark entities first, and when they break through to a shining place, it doesn’t mean the halls won't harbor dank, foreboding crevices we must continually examine, patch, mend and bring to light again.

As a teacher of writing, I’ve seen more lives changed by those who are willing to open the dark night of the soul to the page and share it with others, than from those who squish about in Happiness is thoughts all the time.

I guess to some degree it’s about balance. Yes. But consider the legend of young Arthur. He couldn’t pull the sword from the stone without coming into the open to make his claim. And we, too, won’t know the glory of our own stories unless we draw to the light the Excalibur buried in heavy stone inside us.

Fairytales have happy endings. Legends hail heroic efforts written down and told again and again.

An artist I admire, Sylvia Luna, has a wonderful website ( which displays her work and links to a blog (she calls her LUNAcy blog) about her life. Sylvia has known darkness—Excalibur buried deep in the stone. She came home one evening ten years ago to find her 20-year-old son, Steve, dead on the floor of his room where he had been completing paperwork to apply to the police academy. Steve was her only child.

One way Sylvia honors Steve now is by placing these words on her website and much of her art work—“P.S. Steve I love you.”

The loss of her precious child forever changed Sylvia. She has embraced art, but she lets it be an expression of where she is, how she feels. And on her blog she reveals her life in process. She posts pictures of the ebb and flow of her creative living and labels them: Mess 1, Mess 2, Mess 3, Mess 4, and so on.

I dare you to take a look at her site. As humans, we don’t want to look at messes, clean up messes, deal with the messes we’ve made. We smiley face, Mr. or Mrs. Clean everything so we'll appear to always be one step ahead of the mess we just cleaned up or stepped over or pretended wasn’t there at all.

I’m saying the world is changed by truth—artists and writers telling their stories in truth—dark to light and every shade of gray, green, orange, or hot rod red that comes up for us.

We never want to lose the possibility of there being a fuller life than the one we have because we are afraid to take our turn at pulling Excalibur to the light, of letting our true self—sometimes messy and ugly, vampirish and weak, sour and crude—be exposed to others. However, when these darker qualities reflect off the light of a community of words and love, the spell is broken, the words free us, and in the writing and hearing of the truth of those words, maybe others’ words will be freed as well.

And when we think we don't know how to begin this journey, we might start by writing, “Once upon a time, in a dark forest . . .”

Friday, June 15, 2007

Back to My Basics--The Heart of Teaching

When I started teaching English Composition to Freshmen over four years ago now, I didn't know much about teaching. I was thinking about this recently. I thought how my getting dunked in the waters of teaching could be compared to my experiences dating as a teenager.

I think my main objective on dates then (especially with guys whom I loved, like Ken Hannah) was not to make a complete fool of myself. But while on dates, it seems some megawatt spotlight is always shining down illuminating each little time you mess things up.

One time while at the drive-in, I remember cuddling close to Ken Hannah while we sat in his cream colored Cutlass Supreme with square headlights. Lord only knows what movie was showing. I do remember we were in the front seat. I was such the prude.

That night Ken was wearing, get this, a black fishnet shirt--OK this is the seventies and these shirts were in style, I promise. My head was resting on Ken's shoulder and chest. When I tried to move my head, I was aware that my earring and consequently my ear were attached to his fish netting.

While making out with Ken Hannah, I'd caught my earring in one of those tiny triangles of his shirt. I was embarrassed. I felt like I did when I'd stuck my tongue inside the freezer to lick up fallen juices from Koolaid Popsicles I was putting in the fridge and my tongue had gotten frozen there.

Ken and I fumbled around trying to untangle me like I was some cod on a fishing line or something. Once separated from each other, I think we were hesitant to hug or touch anymore that night for fear of being permanently attached. I'm sure I never thought about just taking the earring off.

Another time of dating firsts was when I accidentally left my pants unzipped while on a double date with Ken Hannah and my best friend, JoAnn, and her boyfriend Jim. I recount that experience in my first blog entry on this site (On Leopard Print Panties and Writing) so I won't tell that story again.

In those early dating days, it didn't seem to matter what I did it still came out beyond awkward. That's how it was my first year of teaching as well.

The first semester I taught I had late night classes. My last class ended at 10:45 p.m. One night in that late class, one of my students kept looking at me kind of funny while I was in the middle of discussing Eudora Welty's essay from One Writer's Beginnings.

I thought a grandaddy long legs was on my head or something. I gave this student, Carey, a guy, a quizzical expression, and he mouthed some initials to me. I don't even remember the initials now. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, so I kept staring at him trying to figure out what he was saying.

Finally he just said it out loud--trying not to be too loud--but loud enough that I heard. "Your pants are unzipped."

"Oh." I got it immediately, zipped my gold brushed jeans up and laughed. I told Carey thanks and told the class that I figured it was good I had gotten these embarrassing events over with early during my teaching career so I didn't have to keep anticipating something like this happening.

Since then other things have happened in class. As a teacher who tries to write and read out loud along with the class, I've had moments of unexpected tears when I've read my words to them. I've had times when I've said the wrong thing or revealed too much.

Many times I have completely forgotten what I was going to say--my mind for some reason empties of all thought--I am standing in front of 25 sets of eyes looking for some wisdom and guidance on writing and I don't even have wisdom and guidance about how I got to the classroom. These moments I usually recover from pretty quickly by saying I'm old (fifty) or gave some of my brains away when I had children, etc., etc.

Last week, however, I had a new chink in my forgetting moments during class. Room 68, a computer room in the English Building is always hot, hotter and hottest. This summer it has been almost unbearable. My students' cheeks are red. I notice this lack of concentration look as if we are all sitting in a steam room rather than a classroom. No deodorant that I choose works under this much pressure and heat. Add to this hotness and sweat and lack of connection the fact that I forget what I am going to say.

Well, it's not like I forget. I have notes. I've read the material time and time again. But you see, I'm not a from the book teacher. I'm a from the heart teacher. When I start looking at a textbook to try to teach, my inner wiring gets crossed and begins to misfire and I can't begin to see much less say the next coherent note on my pad.

I have to excuse my sweating self from class. "You all I'm sorry but I've just got to take a minute." I say that to the kids after an eternal 45 seconds of me not being able to pull it back together.

I need air and hallway space and coolness on my face that hot rooms don't provide. I leave the room. I am sweating like 23 pigs. I've never left the classroom because I can't remember something.

But I do.

I clomp my sandals down the hall while I breathe deeply the soothing air in the hallways, sip some water from the fountain, take some more deep breaths and walk back into class knowing I cannot teach from my notes.

I return to my tried and true teaching method--speaking from my heart. And it works. Of course it does. When you are acting from a space of truth in your heart things always work.

I had tried to use notes and a more formal lecture to please some "other" people, but it didn't work for me, would never work for me. Well it might work for me if my students like expanded moments of silence during one hour and fifteen minutes of class. But since this is a class of writing, of language, of words, I feel many glitches in my presentation might seem a little weird.

I make it through the class even though I wouldn't put a blue ribbon on my teacher wall for this particular night. Hey, at least I come back in the room and don't run out into the dark night never to be heard from again.

On the drive home, I try to get on to myself for forgetting, for being human, for not always doing things perfectly. Something in me won't take the rap. Something in me knows it isn't about forgetting how to teach my students in class, it is more of forgetting who I am as a teacher, as a woman, as my true self.

As soon as I step off the block of Karen Shelnutt and try to edge onto the block of another teacher who uses notes and lectures with ease, I give up the gift I have of teaching from the heart. I know it. I knew it when I had 32 pages of notes in front of me and I know it as I type this now.

I can't pretend to be what I am not. When I do Spirit interrupts with something--unzipped pants, awkward silences, blistering hot classrooms. The silence I experienced last week in class was really a gift of Spirit saying, "Hey sister, shift gears. You are way off course. Go down the hall. Drink some water. Tell your heart you're sorry for not including her. Then go back in and do it the way you know how."

Friday, June 08, 2007

Where Change Meets the Past--and Sometimes Never Gets Up

"Tone it down."

As I sit to write in my journal, I hear this message in my head. It's a message from the past.

I don't know why it's chosen to present itself now.

I was often told as a child to settle down, be still, stop squirming, stop being so prissy. The way adults in my life saw it I was too big for my britches, I needed to watch my mouth, needed to be seen not heard.

I see why I still don't want to bring my full self to light even at fifty years of age.

At fifty, I hear echoes of the in-charge voices around me when I was five or six or seven or eight or ten and on.

When I hear those voices, I go into my children-obey-your-parents mode or my respect-your-elders behavior. If there wasn't room for fancy-pants, full-of-herself me as a kid, why would I believe people would suddenly request a truthful dose of who I am today?

So I hide and smother. I root myself as a couch potato and grow back into the same soft indention of the couch's nurturing place day after day. I sleep continuously as if sleeping will keep me from remembering what twenty-four hours fully realized might look like.

I make plans to change while I'm couch inclined. I make plans to read the books I've collected on rituals and then write an article on friendship and ritual and submit it to a magazine.

I'm going to peruse the books I have on folklore and personal narrative, on gypsy stories. I'm going to research labyrinths online and insert that information in the journal about my labyrinth walks.

I'm going to revise my novel, work on my new business of the week, grade an essay or two, and on and on the list goes of things I don't do, of things I only couch-think of doing.

I argue with myself--surely there's only so much sleep a person can need. Not me. I need that much and more. One more nap might reveal the Power Dream that answers all my questions, heals all my sassy-ass behaviors I acquired as a kid, the behaviors that prompted the tone-it-down commentary in the first place.

After the Power Dream, I might wait around for Power Dream II and Power Dream III before I take action. No need to get in a hurry.

It's pitiful. Dismal really. I don't know if I can blame it on this pattern of past voices twist-tied into my memory telling me to get over myself already and that I'm not the reason the sun rises every morning.

And in truth, I don't want to blame anyone as much as I want to rip my couch-potato-rooted self off her cushioned behind and send her on some real adventures--adventures that don't involve closed eyes and a wishful heart.

There must be a way to push through this malaise. Even as I try to type here, my eyelids flutter in an attempt to stay open, but prefer sleep.

Maybe answers come in time. Isn't fifty years enough time? How many years do I have and are the couch and sleep truly that appealing to me?

Right now they are.

The more I fight it, the more I curse it, the more I rebel against the heaviness of it, the more consuming it is.

I must believe that a pattern is the worst just before it clears. I must believe that even in my fatigue and ennui I am loved. I must believe that the way out is by loving myself fully for how I got in this space to begin with.

I must believe that when truth is offered as prayer, even when the words are formed from a self unsure and imperfect, not on her knees but on her couch, progress is somehow being made, patterns are somehow being broken.