Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Dreamtopia: the best things that happened

I spent a magical two days at Cathy Heller's LA workshop, Dreamtopia 2019. Cathy and her friends didn't disappoint. I knew it would be inspired but I didn't expect an experience so affirming and life-changing. 

Something in me has been shifting as of late. Call it a light switch being flipped in the "on" position. Whatever it is, I think it's the beginning of an enlightened Second Act. 

I'd love to share my Dreamtopia experience with you. Here are the Ten Gifts I took home with me:

Finding kindred spirits - You know when you've found your tribe? Your fellow creative souls? Your sisters and brothers who just get you? They flew in from all over the world (the UK, Australia, Thailand); many braved the 101 and trekked from the Valley to Sunset Boulevard (gasp!); and one guy even drove all the way out to Los Angeles from Georgia. For two days, I felt the love and positive vibes radiating from these 200 perfect strangers (who, by the end of the conference felt like true community).

Don't give up. You're on the right path! - My partner and I have been chasing our own crazy big dreams for the past six years. There have been countless ups and downs. Heartbreaks and breakdowns. Breakthroughs and f*ck ups. Coming so close only to be so very far away the next day. The emotional strain of it all has been so great there were moments where our sanity (and marriage!) felt like it was on the verge of oblivion. But hearing the stories shared at Dreamtopia (animator Saul Blinkoff's incredible journey in fulfilling his childhood dream resonated so deeply with me) confirmed that we are never alone. "Don't give up! You are MILLIMETERS away from seeing your dreams become reality!"

Cathy Heller - She's the girlfriend who kicks your ass in the best possible way. There's a reason Cathy's podcast, Don't Keep Your Day Job, is at the top of the charts and boasts over 5 million downloads. It's because experiencing life with her is like taking big gulps from a fire hose. She is an inspirational POWERHOUSE and helps you plug in to the best version of you. I needed a serious nap after spending two days with her. Wow! (And someone please get this woman her own standup special. She's freaking hilarious!) 

Transformation - The first day was Fire. Synapses exploding in the brain. So many ideas. So many connections. Scribbling notes like mad (It's time to expand my audience! I need to seek partnerships! I want to finally write my book(s)! What about my podcast? Need to get going on that, too! And the event! The magazine! The creative collaborations! Let's build community! Aahhh!) The second day was Earth. It was the "Oh sh*t! Where do I go from here?" sobering reality that comes after your feet have landed on the ground.  

The sound bath - Have you ever heard of a sound bath? Me either. I knew nothing about it until I started doing homework before the conference. I found out that sound bath meditation is a calming yet powerful auditory experience for the mind and body via instruments like tuning forks, gongs and Himalayan singing bowls. Honestly it all sounded a bit mawkishly sentimental for me (raise your hand if you're naturally a skeptic like me). At the conference, our sound bath was led by scientist and sound alchemist Shanila Sattar. I'm telling you, I experienced something supernatural. I promise to tell you more in a later post, when I interview Shanila about my experience!

The maze is the key - Illustrator and Creative Pep Talk host Andy J. Pizza (how can you not love a guy with a name like "pizza") shared a powerful story about "the maze." After scoring big with The Indie Rock Coloring Book - an adult coloring book inspired by his final year at art school - Andy felt like he had bypassed the maze. Meaning, he had figured out the code, found the key, slayed the dragon and skipped to the "You Won!" part of the proverbial video game without going through all the levels. Early on in his career, Nickelodeon came knocking on Andy's door, wanting to collaborate. Ecstatic, he sent his sketches. They responded. "This is great for a first pass," they wrote. "Could you send us your finals?" Those were his finals. He didn't get the job. He felt like a failure. Andy had skipped the maze and the world found out. 

After some soul searching (and many nights spent face down on his living room floor - flattened like a piece of cold pizza), Andy picked himself up and found his mojo. He made his own maze: a 100-day challenge to create a new illustrated character every day. Some were awesome! Some, he said, were awful. But he did the work. Every single day. And you know what? Nickelodeon called again. And this time he was ready. "The maze is the key," Andy told us at the conference. "The journey is the point. You can't skip to the end of the game. Well, you can but you will only be cheating yourself."             
H.U.S.T.L.E. - I love fitness guru Jennifer Cohen's Keanu Reeves story. I had listened to it on Cathy's podcast, but to hear it from Jen herself at the conference was amazing. The story: It was 1995. Jen had heard the superstar was in town. Six months earlier, Keanu had rocketed to fame thanks to Speed and was now positioning himself as a "serious actor" - tackling Hamlet in Winnipeg, Canada of all places. Jen had her own dreams of becoming a veejay at Much Music, the Canadian version of MTV. So she hatched the perfect plan: interview Keanu and submit it to Much Music as her audition tape. Cut to opening night at the Manitoba Theatre with Jen waiting outside after the show. She fights her way through the crowd of hundreds and manages to reach Keanu. He thinks she wants an autograph, like everyone else there. "I don't want an autograph!" she yells to him over the mayhem. He seems confused as she explains her request. OK, give me your number and I'll call you, he tells her. She's dubious. "You're not going to call me!" Jen says as she hands him a gum wrapper with her phone number written on it. I will, Keanu tells her. And he does. Two days later Keanu F*cking Reeves is in Jen's living room. She videotapes the interview. Her mother makes them a snack between takes. In the end, Jen didn't get the gig (she was runner up!), but she learned a very important lesson: Find your killer instinct. Be relentless. Don't give up. "Why did you call her back?" Jen's mother asked Keanu that day. "Because there was a fire in her eyes," he replied. 

Naked on stage - I wasn't literally naked on stage in front of 200 people. But I came pretty close, thanks to Amber Rae. The Brooklyn-based artist and author of best-selling book Choose Wonder Over Worry talked to us about the concept of thoughts and feelings. How we are vessels for our thoughts and feelings but we are NOT our thoughts and feelings. "The Ancient Greeks believed our emotions are like visitors," she explained. "So what message does it have for you?"  

Our thoughts, feelings and emotions are like archetypes of ourselves. Amber asked us to join her in an exercise. "I want you to name your archetype, name this character," she said. "The one putting excuses in your head." Who do you think you are? It's too hard. It's impractical. It might never happen. But everyone is doing it already. Amber's archetype was called Grace. She was uptight and wore glasses and had a posh British accent. We all feverishly jotted notes in our journals. Giving voice and shape to our own "devil on your shoulder" characters. I named mine Nancy (maybe subconsciously I was doing some word association and "Negative Nancy" came to mind?). Nancy didn't look like anyone in particular. Rather, she was my shadow. Always with me. Always following me. She's quiet. Kind of an introvert. Very Type A. Always planning and plotting. Worrying. Driven by fear. But deep down, she wants the best for me. Amber called on three of us to share our archetypes. I just KNEW I had to go up there. I didn't want to expose myself, to be so vulnerable. I didn't want to do it, but the next thing I know I'm raising my hand and Amber is looking straight into my eyes. "Here we go!" I said under my breath as I got up from my folding seat and headed down the aisle toward the stage. I'm holding the microphone in my hand, looking out into a sea of faces and my heart is beating like a hummingbird's. Somehow I muster up the courage and introduce everyone to Nancy:

There was silence and a lot of nodding in the audience. Quiet affirmations and positive, loving vibes. "What would you say in response to Nancy?" Amber asked me. I paused for a moment. Then said, "I would tell her, 'I see you. And I thank you. For reminding me who I am and that I don't want to feel like this anymore. I thank you, but I need you to take a back seat now.'" It seems counterintuitive, but I became empowered in my vulnerability. Nancy forced me to come clean, to lay bare my brokenness and insecurities. And in that, I found my freedom. 

Funny is so much better than almost everything else - I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between comedian Wayne Federman (he's that guy you don't know but has been in like EVERY movie and tv show ever) and the hosts of the Self-Helpless podcast (Delanie Fischer, Kelsey Cook and Taylor Tomlinson). They shared how they hone their craft (write every day!), what makes a person successful (learn how to deal with rejection), and how painful moments can be used as a future anecdote that you will share when you are a super successful mogul. 

This gal - Consider yourself lucky if in your entire life, you can count your true friends on one hand. Those are the friends you need to cherish. This woman is the reason I even showed up to Dreamtopia in the first place. It's been a long, arduous road and I was feeling stuck, confused and lost. She knew exactly what I needed. Thank you, Ann.

Dear friends, my wish for you is all these things and more. You were made to create something. We are all makers at heart. You'll never be ready to do it - so you might as well get started now! And most of all: Believe in yourself. Because YOU ARE ENOUGH.


Stop Writing Alone host and fellow Dreamtopian Nicole Rivera shares her top takeaways from the conference. Yours truly sounds off at 46:00. (Stop Writing Alone)