How to be One with Everything

I was that child who never pulled a leg off a grasshopper or a wing off a bee. I never burned an ant with a magnifying glass or kicked a dog for barking. I was that kid who named our plants and urged them to grow. I named our cars, too, and was furious with my dad when he sold one of our sedans without letting me say good-bye. I was that child who talked to the people in the paintings, and they talked back.  And the kid who knelt backwards in the backseat of the car chatting with the moon, whom I called Moonie. He was my friend. I knew that because he followed me everywhere.

I was that child who cried at night because children were starving in Ethiopia, while we had a grain surplus in America. And the kid who’d ask some elderly person what it was like when he was young. I waved at people in passing cars like I’d known them my whole life.

I had sleepovers with my guardian angels, and Jesus was that friend to whom I could tell all my secrets. Mother Mary was my second mother. And God? Well, God sent his Holy Spirit to fill me up in the confessional, so I wasn’t afraid. God had my back, even when bad things happened. And he had everyone else’s back, too, whether they were Jews or Muslims or Buddhists, as long as they were “good people.” It was that simple.

It’s not hard to be one with everything when you’re a child. It’s not hard to see how it all fits together: humanity, nature, science, art, religion, the cosmos. It’s not difficult to believe in the divine or in magic or in imagination. And then we grow up and have to “work” at being one with everything. We have to read books on the subject and attend lectures. We lose faith in everything, even ourselves. We no longer believe that anything is possible and that everything is relevant. We question it all.

But deep inside us dwells that child, the one who believes with all her heart we are capable of great things, and everything we create—if it’s created for good—is important and deserving.

That ability to believe is not something we need to “develop,” it’s something already inside us. We just need to feel into it once again and know without doubt that being one with the universe is as easy as seeing everything and everyone as your equal. Only then can you be truly open to anything. And with openness will come your very best art.

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It’s Time to Be Bigger

2017 was a hard year. Political turmoil, worldwide terrorism, natural disasters, and so much more. Many of my friends started the year in a state of panic. So much to do, so much to undo. They took to the streets to protest and rally, and to the phones to call their senators and congressmen. They joined or formed political organizations and recommitted to causes they value. They used their art to express their worry, fear, outrage, and confusion.

But as the year came to a close, something happened. Many of the people I know who care deeply about this planet and its inhabitants finally stopped to breathe. They began to focus. “I can’t do it all,” they admitted. “I need to figure out where I can best serve.” And they started to dig deeper into the things that mattered most to each of them.

This year, more than ever, I’ve seen people turning to words to help them identify what they stand for. They are asking, “What do you resolve to do this year? What will be your guiding word? What is your motto for 2018 (or mission statement or manifesto)?” We are looking for our purpose, and looking to state our intentions out loud.

I have not lately been one for New Year’s resolutions, and have never before adopted a motto, but I am this year. My motto for 2018 is “Be Bigger.” It was “think bigger,” and then my guides informed me that “thinking bigger” is not what it’s about for me. I’m already too much in my head. In the past, I’ve been driven by a nagging voice whispering always in my ear, “Figure it out.” This year, they said to tune out that voice and focus on being bigger so I can feel safe to stand in my power.

So that’s my goal. And in order to do that, I need to reduce stress and get quiet. And in order to do that, I need to focus only on the work that really needs to be done.

There are plenty of bad people in this world doing bad things. There always have been, and there always will be. But the good people are rising up and challenging them. They are using words as their weapons, and finding the courage to speak up, speak out, and speak for. It’s time for us all to “be bigger,” to find the power that resides in each of us and the courage to express it with our words, our actions, and our art.

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Happy Holidays from Teresa Funke

May your holiday season be filled with love, laughter, faith, hope, and peace.

Let your talents shine.

Show your true self.

Embrace your truths.

And get ready for a heartfelt, soul-driven, creative New Year!

With love, Teresa Funke


Wisdom Comes From Reflection

It’s that time of year again. Time to set my New Year’s goals and resolutions. Time to settle on my 2018 business plan. Time to think about changes I need to make and things I need to do better. Time to get serious about some very serious goals. If I buckle down, I can:

  1. Finish writing two books next year, not just one
  2. Double my business deals
  3. Learn to meditate
  4. Read 100 books
  5. Get fluent in Spanish

Or . . . I could stay sane. I haven’t decided yet which is more important.

Recently, though, I read something that suggested that experience, knowledge, and skill come from doing, but wisdom comes from reflection. It’s only when we stop and review what we’ve done and how we did it that we truly learn. And it’s important to stop and acknowledge what we’ve accomplished before we rush on to the next thing. This is a message I needed to hear, because “Activator” is one of my strengths, and rushing on is my specialty.

So today, a few writers friends and I did a champagne toast to the things we were most proud of accomplishing this past year. And it felt darn good!

We do so much more than we give ourselves credit for, we humans. Sometimes, just surviving this crazy, chaotic, mixed-up, overwhelming world seems like a monumental achievement.

But it’s also true that we are more than what we “do.” We are what we become. What did you discover this year? What made you happy? What are you glad you did, whether it succeeded or failed? What did you learn? How did you grow? What wisdom have you gained?

Amidst all the holiday pandemonium, I hope you find a few quiet moments to sit and reflect.

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Give With Faith and Abandon – Revisited

One of my favorite things about December is the call to action to support charities and nonprofits.  I donate to several nationwide and global organizations, especially those that support children, but I also enjoy finding those smaller, local nonprofits quietly going about great work in our communities. A donation to their organizations is always treated with such a wealth of gratitude that it makes my heart sing.

And, of course, I do what I can to support my own industry, the arts. Do you know that in Colorado, for example, about 21% of people donate to arts-related causes, compared to 40% who donate to animal causes? Me, I’ve always liked rooting for the underdog, and in the world of charitable giving, art groups fit that bill.

If you are going to donate to any groups this year,  though, whether arts-related or not, please keep one thing in mind . . .  I have partnered with dozens of nonprofits and charities over the years and by and large found their employees and administrators to be people wholly dedicated to their missions. Most of them are ridiculously underpaid and overworked. Many are highly educated people who could find financial riches in the private sector but choose instead to enrich the lives of others.  Nonprofit employees are the backbone of our society. They take care of our most needy and vulnerable populations, from abused children to mentally ill adults, from ailing seniors to homeless youth, from abandoned animals to disaster victims.

While the rest of us turn off our lights at the end of a day and sleep soundly, these people lie awake worrying over their most at-risk charges. They dip into their own meager savings rather than let anyone in need slip through the cracks. They shed more tears of sorrow and joy than any other group with whom I work.

So please give generously this holiday season and without constraints. Many of the nonprofit workers I know are operating with outdated equipment, shivering in inadequately heated offices, driving broken-down vehicles to serve their clientele. If you believe in the work a nonprofit is doing, please trust them to make the best decisions about how your money is spent. If we all insist we don’t want our donations going to “administrative costs” or “operating expenses,” for example, we tie the hands of the people who so desperately need to care for our most defenseless citizens.  When we scrutinize the salaries of nonprofit workers with suspicion, we fail to value the work they do. We should want our best and brightest people working to shoulder our most difficult societal burdens or to bring art and culture to our lives, and in order to attract those people, we should expect nonprofits to pay competitive wages.

And be sure to thank our nonprofit workers this year. Can you even imagine our world without them?

And thank you, dear reader, for choosing kindness and generosity. Doesn’t it feel good!

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When Was the Last Time You Got Lost in Contemplation?

When I was 19, I did that dirt-poor college trip around Europe. I was so poor, I didn’t even have a backpack, I just had a free tote bag and my college book bag. My traveling companions and I spent a lot of time riding in trains and buses. Because we weren’t getting along too well, there wasn’t much talking going on, and no cell phones back then to distract us. Mostly, we just stared out the window and watched the countryside ease by.

One day, my companion bolted upright and announced, “I can’t think anymore! I’ve thought every thought I have. There is nothing left to think about.”

I could so relate. When you spend too much time in your own company, you grow weary of your own thoughts. And as artists, toiling away alone in our offices or studios, we don’t have the luxury of outside distractions to take us out of our deliberations.

I’m often intrigued by people who say, “I can never get my brain working till I’ve had my first cup of coffee.” What must that be like? My brain is racing from the minute I open my eyes.

During my “restful” night’s sleep, my brain has been making lists. And by the time I’ve even reached the coffee pot, I’ve already thought of the 6 things I forgot to do yesterday; the 21 things I must do today; the 7 things I should do, but won’t; and 3 things I can’t remember if I did or not. Not to mention the nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something.

I have colleagues who teach people how to better run their businesses. “Oh, you just need better systems,” they tell me. “More spreadsheets, more checklists, more timetables. If you better organize your tasks, you can ignore the things that don’t really matter and they will no longer be on your mind.”

That’s all very well and good, but even when I’m caught up on tasks, my brain is in overdrive. Being caught up just means more time to think about whether the work I’m doing is really serving the world. Am I making a difference? Am I doing good? Is my book even worthy?  Heck, I think I’d rather be worried about tasks.

When my kids were toddlers, there were times I’d start the day with a long list of things I needed to accomplish, but the kids wouldn’t have it. They’d tug at my sleeve, they’d cry, they’d demand my attention. Eventually, I’d give in. I’d set my lists aside and take them to the park.

I feel like thoughts and ideas are sometimes like children. We can put them off most days, but some days, we need to set everything aside and just say, “Okay, brain. Spill it. Let it all out. I know you’ve been trying to get my attention.” Because creative work isn’t just about sitting at your desk and doing the tasks. It’s about listening to what your inner voice, your instincts, your muses, your doubts and fears are trying to tell you.

And today, my brain is telling me to stop already and think it through. It’s asking me to give myself permission to sit in contemplation, just like we did on those long train rides.

Because if you can trust that life is always taking you somewhere, you can trust that time to just sit and think is as important as time spent crossing things off your list.

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Giving Thanks to the Artist in Everyone

I finally had a chance to finish watching Ken Burns’ documentary, The Vietnam War. It was a commitment to watch all 10 episodes, and I’m so glad I did. I’m grateful for Ken Burns and how his documentaries have educated this nation and shown us the human face of war and history.

Toward the end of the documentary, we are introduced to Maya Lin, the 21-year-old artist whose design was chosen for the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. They mention some of the controversy around her design, and how people said she was too young, too inexperienced, too ethnic, too female to represent the conflict accurately.

Then they cut back to the people they’d been interviewing throughout the documentary, men who fought, and men and women who protested the war. In nearly every case, they said a visit to “The Wall” brought them to tears. Even talking about it on film, they still cried. This piece of art, this “scar in the landscape,” healed a nation and deeply moves even those of us who visit it and have no direct association with the war. This artist, whom some found undeserving, stood by her art, and we are better for it.

So this Thanksgiving Day, I will speak my gratitude for all artists. Those who do it professionally, and those who do it for themselves or their families.

I’m grateful for the artists who arrive at their “day jobs” yawning because they were up all night working on their real job.

I’m grateful for the artists who persevere when people tell them they are too young or too old; too uneducated or too knowing; too undeserving or too privileged; too innocent or too jaded to produce their art.

I’m grateful for the young people who have committed to pursuing their art knowing it’s never going to be an easy path.

And for the artists who take risks or who write and produce art outside of their own experience, even when they are told they shouldn’t.

I’m grateful for the artists who work to the point of exhaustion to meet the demands of success and fame, and those who work to the point of exhaustion trying to achieve success and fame.

I’m grateful for the artists who aren’t “very good” but stick to their art anyway. They teach us it’s the making of art that really matters.

And I’m grateful for the artists who are so talented they set the bar impossibly high. Their work takes our breath away and inspires us to try harder.

I’m grateful for the artists who are really prophets. And for the prophets who inspire artists.

I’m grateful for the children who climb on statues and point at graffiti and take a leaf home and paste it into their coloring books. They don’t have to be told to admire art, they just do.

I’m grateful for the mothers and fathers who read to their children at bedtime and play songs for them on the piano and sit at the table and mold sculpting clay with their kids.

I’m especially grateful for those who follow their muse, even when it terrifies them to do so.

But most of all, I’m grateful that even in times of trouble, we can still sing together in church, recite poems at our community gatherings or our rallies, read books together in our book clubs, and gather around the virtual water cooler to talk about the hottest new movie.

I’m grateful for those of you who practice the art of medicine, education, innovation, science, agriculture, business, and more. Thank you for sharing your art with us.

In the immortal words of ABBA, “without a song and a dance, what are we?” Thank you, artists, for giving those to us!

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How to Truly Thank Our Vets This Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. Before it was Veterans Day, it was more commonly known as Armistice Day, a holiday set aside to commemorate the cessation of fighting during World War 1. The armistice was signed during the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It’s also called Remembrance Day in some countries, and is often marked by the handing out of red poppies.

Several years before I knew I would someday be writing stories about World War II, I was rushing into a grocery store to pick up a few items. An older gentleman was standing outside selling purple fabric poppies for a dollar to support veteran causes. I was very young and very poor, and a dollar was a lot of money to me then. But there was something about this man, who smiled and nodded in my direction even as I appeared to be passing him by, that caught my attention. On the way out, I handed him a dollar, and he gave me a poppy and his thanks. I hung that poppy from my rearview mirror, where it stayed for years, to remind me of people like him who had made sacrifices beyond anything I could imagine, and to remind me that history must not be forgotten lest it be repeated.

Recently, I heard a discussion on NPR about the practice of telling veterans, “Thank you for your service.” People say it with the best of intentions, especially when speaking to Vietnam vets who never heard those words when they returned from war. I sometimes say it too, but it often feels hollow to me, at least as a lead-in to a conversation. The vets on the NPR interview confirmed my feeling that it can often create an awkward exchange. One vet said what she really wanted was for people to get to know her and ask about her service. It makes more sense to me thank someone after you’ve taken time to understand what they have done.

I recall talking to a vet once who told me, “I hate it when people say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I joined the military to get the GI Bill. It was the only way I’d be able to go to college. I joined to benefit me, so you don’t need to thank me.” I’ve talked to other vets who don’t want to be thanked because they feel undeserving. They believe the only soldiers or sailors who truly deserve our thanks are the ones who died or were injured in war. And I’ve talked to some who have said the phrase doesn’t mean much when said in passing. “What exactly are they thanking me for?” one man said.

To me, there are two ways we can truly support our troops and thank our vets:

1) We can make sure our children learn about American history and the wars we’ve fought. We do a poor job of teaching history in this country (placing no blame on our teachers). Our curricula put history on the back burner and many episodes in our past are glossed over or left out altogether. Our children need to hear the stories, not just memorize the dates for a test. They need to be taught to question whether our actions in wartime were right or wrong. They need to be encouraged to embrace their civic responsibility to be informed citizens and to vote.

2) We need to talk to our vets. Hear their stories. Ask about their lessons learned. See them as the people behind the uniform. I have several friends who are working to record veteran stories on the page and on film, and I admire the work they do. If you don’t know any vets, read their stories. Read the many memoirs by World War II veterans (male and female), read the personal letters from the Civil War soldiers and their wives, read biographies and well-written historical fiction. And read the World War I poets, who more than anyone, brought the full experience of war home to the reader.

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea ,1915

 

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My Perfect Place to Read and Create

A reader of this blog recently wrote to ask me how I would describe my perfect reading nook. Being a writer, she assumed I must also love to read. And I do! She described her own perfect place, which intrigued me. But when I went to respond to her, I realized I couldn’t identify just one spot. It could be:

My Bed: under the warmth of my down comforter reading a great novel in the soft light of my reading lamp.

My Kitchen Table: with my morning newspaper and a steaming cup of coffee.

My Front Porch: sitting in our Adirondack chair catching up on my magazines and waving at the neighbors as they walk by.

My Study: in my comfy, green recliner next to the bay window with my overly cluttered bookshelves behind me.

My Office: devouring the hundreds of books I use to research my World War II novels.

My Bathtub: on the rare occasion I have time to soak away my worries.

My Exercise Bike: because reading helps the time fly.

My Big, Blue Couch: in my family room at the end of a long day, when all I want to do is shut off my overworked mind.

I was talking to a writer friend once who explained how she uses four chairs when producing her work. One chair is where she reads. Another is where she goes to do research. Another is at her desk where she sits to write. Another is a chair set aside just for proofing her work. As she moves locations, she triggers different parts of her creative mind.

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says, “A room without books is like a body without a soul,” a quote from Marcus Tullius Cicero. I would take this one step further and say, “A room without art is a like body without a soul.” Music, literature, and art should surround us at all times.

So here is my answer to my reader’s question: wherever and however we engage with art is the best place to do it!

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A Little Applause for the Audience, Please

I recently saw a touring production of the Broadway show, Something Rotten. It’s a hilarious story about two brother playwrights trying to compete with their rival, the great and popular William Shakespeare. Though written for anyone, the show has special appeal to musical theater and Shakespeare buffs. It’s full of references only we would get.

We were there on a Thursday night and the Buell Theater in Denver was full, but not sold out. Still, it was one of the most enthusiastic audiences I’ve seen in a long time. After the numbers “A Musical” and “Hard to be the Bard,” the applause went on so long that, at one point, the lead actor actually laughed in disbelief.

You see, we weren’t just applauding well-performed numbers, we were applauding ourselves. We were patting ourselves on the backs for getting all the subtle and not-so-subtle references to the things we love, musicals and Shakespeare. We were sharing those passions with everyone else in the theater who got it too, audience and actors alike.

When art really works, it doesn’t just ask us to notice or observe, it asks us to participate. We don’t just “read” a book or “listen” to a song or “watch” a play, we experience them. We become part of them. We see ourselves in the characters, we recognize our own feelings in the lyrics, and we imagine ourselves into the worlds we are visiting.

This year, I read the book A Man Called Ove. On first appearance, Ove is nothing like me. He’s an older man, a curmudgeon, a Swede, and yet, the entire time I was reading that book, I was thinking, “Oh my God, this is me. I’m Ove.”

So in the end, it’s not about us, it’s about the people we hope to reach. The ones who will read our books or watch our plays or listen to our songs. It’s about being raw and showing ourselves so they can see themselves too. Sometimes they’ll laugh, sometimes they’ll cry, and sometimes they’ll hate you for what you show them, but always, a connection will be made.

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