Sunday Sanctuary: What I Need to Be More Creative (And You May, Too)

I can’t believe this is my final Sunday Sanctuary for Modern Creative Life.  It seems like only mere moments ago, I was writing my first column sharing my love for Housekeeping and Creative Living. And where those worlds of mine collide. And, in truth, how life sometimes pulls me away from writing and having the tidy home I need to be at my best.

The timing of this column is apropos.

I have been home for a little over twenty-four hours after seventeen days of travel. The suitcases have been unpacked and though I’ve gone to the dry cleaners and have done five loads of laundry, the basket in my laundry room is overflowing. There are at least three more loads of laundry to do in order to be “caught up”.

There’s a thick layer of dust across the buffet that stands in our entry hall. Something I didn’t notice when I got home on a gloomy afternoon. But can’t help but see as the morning light shines in through the glass on the front door. I was carrying a tray laden with coffee and cream and the other accoutrements of spending a Sunday morning in our downstairs den, so I didn’t stop to remedy the situation.

But oh, did I want to! To immediately deal with the untidy situation. Despite the fact that the cleaning lady will be here in a couple of days. Despite the fact that I know cleaning one piece of furniture will lead to tackling every other piece of furniture in that house.

Though the immediate reason I didn’t stop to dust was the tray in my hands, the reason I didn’t immediately rush back upstairs is that I’m trying to create some new habits when it comes to my creative life.

When we made the decision to put Modern Creative Life in stasis, one of the core parts of that decision was the need (and desire) to tend our own creative demands. Less editing should equal more writing time for my coaching practice. Less editing should equal more story creation for Melissa. Less editing should equal more creative living for Becca.

But to be honest, I am not yet writing more for my coaching practice.

Yes, not editing here will open up a block of time for me. However, what is keeping me from writing more is my own bad habits.

Travel is a great way to get honest with yourself when it comes to life. When we are in different surroundings, we automatically shift away from the ways we live at home. Though I desperately need my routines, I have to admit that those routines are often chock-full of actions that keep me from producing good work.

The last six days of our travel were spent in Honolulu.

Each morning, I made a pot of coffee in the room. And when John headed to work, me and my first cup of coffee walked two blocks to the beach. As I sipped, I watched the sun rise. We were on the west side of the island, which meant that as the light began to bathe the earth, I was treated to varying degrees of pinks and greys and golden rays.

I took lots of photos to the north (hotels and surfers) and to the south (Diamond Head and beach walkers). I walked along the beach and watched the tide rush over my feet, leaving behind tiny shells and heart shaped pebbles. I watched people. Some surfing, some admiring the beauty around them, and others simply going about their day getting in a morning run.

Those moments of watching the light, sipping coffee, and taking photographs were far different from what I do on a regular day. However, if I am to be completely honest with you (and myself) though I cannot walk to the beach in Ohio each morning? The heart and soul of those mornings can be duplicated here at home.

Though I didn’t get much solid work writing done during our travels, I did write in my journal. Here’s some of my observations about what is really in the way of me producing more work.

I need to read less news.

I want to be an informed citizen of the world. However, my habit of reading the news is keeping me from writing. Not only do I read the headlines, I read multiple articles. I read  the comments folks leave behind. I click around to other news stories in the sidebar. I worry about the craziness of the world. And before I know it, not only have I lost an hour of time, my brain is full. Rather than spinning stories and finding creative solutions to a problem, all my brain power has been spent. And I am worn out.

I need to click around less on social media.

I love knowing what folks are up to. I love seeing morning routines of loved ones. And new babies and glimpses of travels and links to the writings of amazing folks. But all that scrolling and clicking and scrolling and clicking keeps me from writing. Especially when I “check in” first thing in the morning. Once again, I spend precious thinking power and wear myself out.

I need to unfollow more people on social media.

All that scrolling and clicking has the potential to be more uplifting and less exhausting. I know this because when I first began blogging, reading other blogs spurred me on. If I unfollow every person that complains, focuses on the negative, or spreads fear, that means my feeds should be filled with more light and grace and inspiration. I go through spells of this, but I know I need to be more protective of what I take into my brain (and heart).

I need to find better people to follow on social media.

Just like those early days of blogging, I know there are great folks out there doing amazing work. I need to seek them out. To follow them on social media and see their photos. To click on their links and fill my mind and heart with quality input. I also need to follow more great photographers on Instagram whose sole purpose is to fill my feed with beauty. I am in need of more beauty.

St. Augustine by the Sea in HonoluluI need to go to church.

There are times I forget that my soul needs a little formal nourishment. When I was in Honolulu, I went to morning mass at St. Augustine by the Sea a couple of times. It was at the end of the block from my hotel. And easy to slip into after watching the sunrise. There’s something about attending mass in the middle of the week that nourishes me in ways that going to Church on Sundays does not. And it seems to help me find my center. I could use the excuse that church isn’t “convenient” at home like it was in Honolulu. While not a block a away, it’s still within biking distance…

I need to take more walks.

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julie Cameron prescribes a series of activities to spur creativity. In addition to now famous morning pages and artist dates, she recommends regular walks. Not with the purpose of burning calories, but simple to BE. To notice. To feel the wind across your face, to hear the twittering birds, and to see scampering wild life.

I need to read more books. And magazines.

To be a better writer, reading is a must. However, when I have been reading the news, social media, and email, the last thing I want to do is crack open a book. If I begin the day with my phone in rather than a book and my journal, I never produce as much. Fiction never fails to move my brain in different directions.

And dare I mention magazines? So many magazines put all their content on line and I subscribe to few. Yet, the few I do read, always inspire me. My time is well spent flipping through glossy pages because my brain gets beautifully stimulated.

I need to eat better.

Our bodies need fuel. While we were traveling, not only did I have coffee each morning. No, after I watched the sun rise I’d head to the Starbucks on the corner and have their egg white bites. Two tiny little egg and pepper omelettes. At home, though, I start with the best intentions. Yet, often, coffee is it for hours upon hours before I eat real food. Just like my brain needs better inputs, my body needs quality fuel.

I need a tidy home.

Nothing distracts me more than dust. And piles of laundry. And stacks of papers. I’ve cut my cleaning lady back to once a month because we’ve been traveling. And, to be honest, I am distracted when she’s here.  What I used to do was head out for errands or go to Barnes and Noble to write or look at books. Getting her back onto a bi-weekly schedule helps me tend the stuff in between, too. But, again, if I were to be honest, sometimes I use the excuse of needing to clean to delay writing. (Nope, I still haven’t dusted the buffet yet. Yay for me!)

I need to procrastinate less.

This last column is late. Yes, I am still publishing it on the due date, but I should have written it earlier in the week instead of on Sunday morning. I know it’s human to wait until a deadline to finish something.  However, I need to put more thought into my writing by giving things space to breathe. My writing is always better when I draft and then revisit the next day. So, better planning and less dragging my feet is more important than I would like to admit.

I need to protect my precious attention.

The one thing all this has in common? Attention.  Focus. I protect my precious focus and attention like a lioness protecting her cub. But rather than honing that precious attention to writing and other forms or creative living, I allow myself to be distracted. Some of it may feel out of my control – the news! Facebook! the Dust! I’m too busy – but it really isn’t. Is it? I am responsible for this. I am the only one who can tend my creative life and focus and attention. So, if I want to write more, then I need to pay attention to all the ways I allow myself to love focus.

While each of these items seem small and as if they should hold no power over me, I am the first to admit that the smallest of things can be huge when it comes to moving forward. The cure for creating more good work is to create more good work. To tune out what distracts me, keep my head down, and allow the words to flow from an inspired brain, nourished soul, and tended body.

What about you? Do any of these ring true to what keeps you from being creative? What advice would you give me – and others – to protect that precious creative energy?

Post script: I am sad to be leaving you here at Modern Creative Life. I will miss sharing the corners of my creative life with you. And more than that, I will miss being inspired by editing your work. Please do stay in touch.  I am ever grateful for your love, support, and presence in my creative life.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on MediumTwitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: on Why

When I began writing online back in 2000, I was grateful for the small community of bloggers. We visited each other’s blogs and, because it as before the days of comments, we connected via email. I felt incredibly lifted up by the connections I made. And, honestly, the other blogs I read.

I wasn’t alone in my deeper need to create. None of the other bloggers I read or connected with ever thought I was compulsive in my need to write daily. Or, sometimes, multiple times a day.

The community of bloggers opened my eyes to the ways in which we could contribute to the creative lives of others. My first discovery of this came when I was able to download a “graphics set” to decorate my blog.  That led me down the path to the other ways in which we could share other’s creative pursuits.

Soon, I wanted to contribute to the larger conversation online. I wanted to do more than just link to blogs I liked.

I created an anonymous group blog called Hormonal Bitch. Something I’ve never confessed to before today. We wrote tongue in cheek commentaries on life. Later, I created a group blog called The Back Porch and we chose a monthly theme to write about. These were the folks that I was writing with when the planes hit the towers on 9/11. We processed how we were dealing with the tragedy as individuals and a community.

I also began to write book reviews for a magazine called All Things Girl. By 2005, I was serving as the Editor in Chief. For those of you that have been around during the run of that magazine – or are new here – know that putting the spotlight on other people’s work is of utmost importance to me.

I believe that as creators, we are richer by supporting the creative works of others.

When it comes to my personal values, it’s in my top ten.

And that’s why it’s hard to write this. To tell you why after three short years, we are putting Modern Creative Life in stasis.

I mentioned it when we launched this issue, aptly themed “Nostalgia”. And since that time, I’ve gotten multiple emails asking me a reasonable question: “Why?”

The reasons are simple, yet complicated. They are straightforward, yet layered.

And as much as I value putting the spotlight on the works of other people, the work I am most called to do right now is my own work.

I am well aware how selfish that might sound when down in black and white.

Earlier this year, I began working with a new business mentor to take my coaching practice to the next level. Actually, I am working with a team of experts. Ones that know how to dig more deeply into the things that would send me down a rabbit hole of data.

Much of this focuses on making what I write for work more “Google-Able”. And, in order to do that, my team informed me this summer that I needed to write at least two blog posts per week. Preferably three.

To make space for managing Modern Creative Life. As well as do other things that are important to me. Like actually coach clients. And tending my home and nurturing my relationship with John, I had made the decision to cut back to writing only two blog posts per month for my coaching practice.

Yep. I was unceremoniously informed that I needed to go from two blog posts a month to two or three per week. That meant that I needed to not only write a little more. I needed to quadruple the amount I was writing for my own website.

To confess that I was overwhelmed with needing to up my productivity to that degree is an understatement. In all truth and honesty, I had gotten a little lazy when it came to my writing. For work and otherwise.

This coincided with Melissa having knee surgery. Which meant that not only did I need to spend time at MCL, I had to not only do a portion of the editing here. I was doing all of it.

And the thing is, running Modern Creative Life is more time consuming than running All Things Girl was. Because of social media.

Part of shining the light on the works of others demands that we not just publish it, but share it. And each and every piece here deserved to be shared not just once, but multiple times. Despite the joy I have in sharing the work here on Twitter and Facebook. And despite that I loved digging back into the archives to remind you of brilliant pieces from the past.

I just don’t have the bandwidth to continue doing it.

I don’t have the bandwidth to quadruple my writing for work, increase the guest posts I write, and managing the social media feeds for my coaching practice. AND maintain all the work I do here for Modern Creative Life. Just the social media alone could honestly need another person to manage it. And there have been no “takers” to mange it for us beyond me.

And to be vulnerably and nakedly honest with you, I haven written a single word for the next book I want to write. And I haven’t gotten back to editing the book I had planned to publish two years ago.


And to be even more honest: I like the writing I do for my coaching practice. I appreciate the opportunity to help folks shift their lives. I love my work as a coach.

Even if quadrupling the amount I write feels overwhelming and a bit daunting, the truth is, that having more deadlines helps me build my writing muscle. And, if you didn’t know, just like exercise, the more you write, the more you find you can write.

As creative people, one of the unfortunate things we have to do is to choose what to work on. Even if we have multiple passions. And a slew of interests. Our creative gifts demand that we become devoted to a particular topic, task, or type of work.

Another one of the tasks on my list thanks to my team – and all the updates to the way websites are run on the backend – I needed a new design for my website. I rebranded my website last month. And, though I am head-over-heels in love with the design, it didn’t come without a slew of new tasks.

There was some funky piece of code lingering in almost every old post.  And, also thanks to the rebranding, most of my blog posts need new images. I have written over 300 blog posts for work. That’s a lot of photos to find and posts to edit. Even if the editing is small and picky. It still takes time.

You may ask why I would bother to edit blog posts I wrote years ago. (I started writing for my coaching practice in 2011). Well, old pieces that I wrote often bring in new readers. In fact, more than 30% of my organic search traffic comes to blog posts written ages ago.

That means that those post that are old, yet bring people I can help in some way? They need to be not just lightly restyled with a new photo. Some of them need to be re-written to be more applicable to the world today.

The other thing I have discovered is that what the industry terms as “backlinks” can matter to the reputation and authority a website has. See, Google (and other search engines) notate how many links there are “out there” to any particular website. The more quality links you have, the more reliable you are seen no matter your field.

That’s why I am committed to keeping the archives here at Modern Creative Life intact. It was something we were unable to do with All Things Girl thanks to a hacker and an inept tech support person. But now that I understand what must be done, I am committed to make it happen.

Because even if I don’t have the bandwidth to continue to manage a regular magazine, I can ensure that the works here at MCL do not lose the impact they have. That they continue to enhance the work creators do. Because the unfeeling robots known as search engines may not see the true brilliance of your work. What they do see is the number of times this website refers folks back to your online spaces.

Besides, once the dust settles, we may decide to do a special issue. Or a limited series of features on wonderful poets and photographers and storytellers. And maintaining the site will be a huge help for any spur-of-the-moment decisions.

I have had to come face to face with reality of late. There are truly only so many hours in the day. And, despite wishing I were Wonder Woman, I am me. I am a fifty-year old woman that is a finite resource.

And when we get down to the realities of living a creative life? We must always make our own work a priority.  We must listen to that inner voice within us and answer the call to use our time wisely and create more. More stories. More works of art. More expressions of how we see beauty in the world.

Sometimes, this may seem selfish to those we serve. Yet, if we have served them well, deep down, folks will understand our deeper desire to create.

If you are so called to do so, I’d still be honored to edit your poems, stories, and essays as we wind down this issue on Nostalgia.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: Noticing the Details and Making a Life

I’ve come to believe that in order to live the kind of life we desire, we must choose to create it. It’s a concept that sounds good on paper, yet making it happen can be harder. We humans tend to look at things from a lens of the big picture concept side and though they say that the devil is in the details, we rush past the smallest of details. We look for big signs that we are succeeding and hope that huge leaps will result fast and life changing results.

The truth is that if we want our creative lives to be sustainable, we need to learn to subsist on tiny sips of inspiration and see the infinitesimal moments of beauty and perfection as our building blocks.

What will save us, therefore, isn’t grand gestures or sweeping changes, but the small moments. A perfect cup of coffee, a ten-day old bouquet of grocery store flowers, the way the flame on a candle flickers as it reaches the end of the wick.

Yesterday, we lost electricity for several hours. My plan for the Saturday was to write and edit. And I needed to be doing that in WordPress. Without electricity or internet, I was at a loss as to what to do now that my plan had been changed.

Rather than worry about finishing this column. Or editing a blog post for work. I moved back into the bedroom and got a change of perspective. This past summer, John’s mother sold her house and some of her furniture came back to Ohio to live with us.

A part of that furniture is a peach colored wing back chair nestled into a corner by the windows. On John’s side of the bed. I never sit their, and honestly wasn’t thrilled about the addition of that chair. And a side table. And a lamp.

It’s been growing on me, though. And for the first time since it’s been in our bedroom, the loss of electricity led me to sit there. With what little natural light was available on a rainy day, I found comfort there. Nestled in a chair that had held dozens of O’Connors over the last twenty-five years.

Rather than fret about this column. Or those blog posts I meant to finish editing today. I wrote a letter. I wrote in my journal. I sat and listened to the sound of the rain pelting against the windows.

To feed my creative life, I need to allow myself to experience these kinds of moment.

One day last week, I walked outside to place a Netflix video in the mailbox. My phone was in my pocket and a cup of coffee in my hand. I paused to watch the changing sky as the rising sun colored my view with tinges of pink and shots of gold against midnight blue sky. Then I gazed to my left to see the shimmer of raindrops shimmered against the deep green leaves of my roses. And the way the drops on a spider web made it glimmer

Such stark beauty was all around me, and if I had hurried just a little, I would have missed it.

We tend to believe that when we talk about “making”, it must be something done with from a high art perspective: writing, drawing, making music, etc.

Yet, my core truth is that we are always making. Each moment of living is a choice in creative living. We just have to notice them.

It’s watching John load the car in the mornings: first he walks to the back of his bright red car. He waves his foot under the trunk, the car beeps, and the lid begins to rise. He places his lunch box and briefcase in his trunk. And then drapes his suit jacket across his briefcase so it doesn’t wrinkle. After closing the trunk, he opens the driver’s door, leans in and puts his coffee cup in the holder.

Only then does he climb into the car, push the button to start the engine, and buckles his seat belt.

Sometimes I can hear his morning radio choices: The Beatles or Pop Rocks on SiriusFM. He hits the hazard lights, waves one more time, and backs out of the garage.

If I am going to continue to stay devoted to living a creative life. And allowing it to inform and nourish my life. Then, I must continue to notice those infinitesimal moments that add a layer of richness to my world.

Like noticing the ways raw sugar plinks as it hits the coffee in my cup.  And then watch the bloom of dairy goodness as I splash in some cream. And that first sip, how the bitterness of the coffee is tempered with the richness of the cream and the sweetness of the sprinkled in sugar.

It’s sharing a joke with the butcher as he packages up a pork loin. And then some ground chicken.. And noticing how he comes alive and smiles a little deeper. Grateful to be seen and acknowledged.

It’s the quick kiss I get as John walks in the door and the scent of him against hours old starched shirt, faded Old Spice, and the workday.

It’s gazing in the mirror and seeing my own inner light as I fasten a necklace. It’s the shift in light as the day is swallowed up by night.

No matter how busy we get, there must be moments of coming back to center. To notice our own life. To see the tiny moments that create my own existence. And the life of those I love. To honor the way creative living plays into my everyday life.

For this is what the core of making is to me: making a life.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: on Books and Authors I Have Known

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my life, there is nothing like a great book to escape. I learned this at an early age, that books took me to other worlds: Narnia, Sleepyside, and Victorian London.

Books saved me, too. I was a inquisitive and talkative child. By encouraging my love of books, my mother found a key to a few moments of blessed quiet: I didn’t talk (as much) when I was reading.  Besides adventures, I found answers to the ways the world worked in books. And recall one summer when I decided to read the encyclopedia. That was back in the days when the way to find answers was found in beautiful hardback books, not with the click of a mouse.

Some of my fondest memories are climbing into a tree in my grandmother’s front yard on a hot summer day. Armed with a pillow, a Dr. Pepper, and a book,for long moments I escaped the oppressive heat of a 70’s era summer. She didn’t have air conditioning, but there was shade from the oak leaves and if I was lucky, a breeze to stir the thick air.

Books have been a constant companion all these years. I’m fifty now, and though I’ve had periods of time when I didn’t read as much, I don’t recall a time when I didn’t have a book close at hand. I still find great pleasure in taking a good book and myself to lunch. I can’t imagine traveling without a book (or two) (or now a loaded Kindle in my purse. When I traveled a lot for work, the airport bookstore became my BFF.

And I am one of those rare people that can read in the car without getting sick to my stomach. So a long car trip with John at the wheel is an opportunity for diving into a great story.

In all the years of reading – and later writing – I haven’t had much opportunity to attend book signings. It seemed such an exotic opportunity, designed for the fancy folks living in New York City. Oh, how I envied the idea of those literary salons and easy access to famous authors at Barnes and Noble. I was from a small town in Texas, and authors didn’t really come to little old Mansfield. And if they came to the big cities of Fort Worth or Dallas? I don’t know how in those pre-internet days we would have found out about the events.

All those years of loving the written word and I was almost 21 before I met my first real author. Well, I felt like I knew Sandra Brown because she was a weather girl on Channel 4 when her first book came out. But that isn’t the same. No, the first author I met was Larry McMurtry.   I was a junior in college and he was to be a guest lecturer. I took a literature class composed entirely of his works.

He was quieter in person than he seemed on the page.

With All Things Girl, I began interviewing authors. Meeting them online and sending emails back and forth, often with a PR agent as our go-between. I know a lot of authors that way. Always game to help them promote their latest book. My love of books and their work makes me want to see them succeed.

That’s how I met George Pelecanos in 2008. Because we were both in DC at the time, we did a telephone interview rather than email.  And then, as luck would have it, I was in DC and got to attend a lecture and book signing of his.

George Pelecanos - August 2008 - Poetry & Prose in DC

Talk about mesmerizing! That man has charisma. The sheer power of his presence invited me into another world and I saw clearly how he was not just a successful author, but a screenwriter that invited me into another beloved escape: television.

In the last few years, I’ve met many authors online and I am grateful. I have dear friends that have written books. Somehow, knowing a writer as a friend before you read their book puts them in the friends I love, so of course I love their books.

Settled in Ohio, I have now met three authors in the last four years that I didn’t know as friends first. Can you imagine? In forty-five years of reading, I met two authors between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-six.  And now, in my middle age years, I’ve met Tess Gerritsen and Jill Santopolo. Both thanks to my local library and the Jewish League of Dayton. Each was delightful and talked about their writing process and answered questions. And though I knew Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles characters thanks to TNT, I didn’t read either of their books until after meeting them.

Then this past week, I met Fiona Davis.  Fiona is a former Broadway actress and she has such charisma!

Fiona Davis - August 2018 - Bexley, OH

I have devoured Davis’ previous books: The Dollhouse and The Address. And have recommended them to friends. So, when I found out that she was going to do a luncheon and book signing in Columbus, I reached out to a girlfriend and we attended together.

I loved hearing about how she approaches a book. She’s the most logical writer I’ve ever heard speak.

She begins first with a location. All her books are set in a specific building as the backdrop – and almost character. Her new book, The Masterpiece, is set in Grand Central Station. Since her book are historical fiction, she must do extensive research. She allows herself two months to do research. Enough time to dig in without going down the rabbit hole too deeply. Also a way to ensure she doesn’t use research as an excuse to not write.

As historical fiction, she has two timelines in each book. One in the past, one more modern. Both set in the same location, that becomes a character of its own.

She outlines. Extensively. Before she gets to the page, she knows the general trajectory of each character, the two plots, and when the timelines of the main characters will collide and merge. On some rare occasion, a character goes off the outline and demands to do something earlier than she planned.  But that has only happened once so far.

She says she doesn’t suffer from writer’s block. Sure, she said, she has better days than not. But her years as a journalist taught her that if she wanted to get paid, she had to get the work done. And knowing that she has a contract to do a book with a deadline propels her forward.

After lunch, her reading, and her answering questions, she lovingly signed books and chatted with the attendees.

Fiona Davis - with Debra Smouse & Blaze Lazarony

Her obvious love for the craft, for writing and creating stories, reminded me once again why I love books. Why their companionship has comforted me over the years. Why reading is still one of my greatest pleasures.

I waited until Friday night to begin The Masterpiece. I devoured the story of art and women and the fight for what is right. I finished it last evening. Discovering once again that between the pages of books, I could escape to another world. That the curious and inquisitive child I was at five still lives inside me. Always there waiting  to see what a turn of the page brings next.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: Summer Night Air

I sat out on the lower porch for an hour last night.  My companions: a glass of wine and a spy novel. It was a clear evening and I watched as the sky went from brilliant blue to purple and finally inky.

The trickles of the pond, the softness of the breeze, and the sighting of an occasional firefly invited me to employ all my senses as I sipped the cold, crisp glass of rose.

It was just the heart medicine I needed.

I am taking a break from myself and my focus on writing for my coaching practice. I am sorely in need of this break and cannot recall the last time I simply sat in my beloved space breathing in the night air. We’ve had heatwaves, reconfigured our pond, and have traveled.

There’s a special quality to the night air of summer.

“I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal.”
–May Sarton

Earlier, John had sat alongside me.

We alternatively read and chatted. He’s reading David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers and shared tidbits with me. Despite being together 24-7 for the last week, there is always more to talk about: how the plants are faring after the heatwave, the return of frogs to our pond, and a strange interaction with a neighbor.

We also sat for long moments doing neither. Not talking or reading, simply sharing the nourishment of side-by-side companionship. At times I take advantage of the soft motion of rocking. Every piece of outdoor furniture rocks in some way.

When he went back inside to play his Xbox, I stayed. Another type of comfortable companionship: home together yet allowing each other some necessary solitude.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
–May Sarton

My mind drifted to summer nights when I was a child. My parents would drag out their lawn chairs and sit near the front porch. My mother rocking, both sipping iced tea. Sometimes talking, sometimes not.

I could never quite understand the point of just sitting!

I was always needing to move. To run, to jump, to dance. Though I wasn’t one to go long without talking, the only advantage I saw to the summer evenings sitting outside was the way the sounds of the night came alive. The cicadas and frogs singing in harmony.

I would sit in my own chair or sometimes my mother would get out the big blue quilt and let me throw it on the grass so I could gaze at the stars. One of the rare times I could be (mostly) still and (almost) quiet.

Now, at fifty, sitting on my own porch on a summer night, I finally get the point of just sitting outside and allowing the night air to soothe and comfort me.

I also finally understand why my mother loved a lawn chair that could rock. I desperately wished for that blue quilt with the tiny red splashes.

Once more
I summon you
Out of the past
With poignant love,
You who nourished the poet
And the lover.
–May Sarton (from her poem “For My Mother”)

Mother and Daddy at their Wedding Shower

I am taking the weekend off from work. Though it seems to be something I should do, I rarely do it. At my core, I am a workaholic.

I also like to check things off my list, mark them done. Right now, I am in a perpetual cycle of tasks for work that will take weeks, if not months, to complete. These undone tasks hang over me, and true to my ENTJ nature, I obsess.

When I am not writing, I am planning to write. When I am not planning to write, I am creating a plan of attack to manage the updating and rewriting of old pieces I have written. My archives are a valuable commodity; however, they must be modernized to fit new rules of search engine algorithms and the ways in which we consume content.

I have spreadsheets.

When I make progress on the plan of attack, I take action and begin editing and re-writing old blog posts. Often, I am cringing at things I wrote back in 2011 or 2012. Adding to the sense of urgency to get them all reworked.

And when I am not writing, planning, editing, or re-writing, I am pouring over stock art websites. In April, I began a soft rebrand. Rather than using line art for blog posts, I switched to photos. It fits me better now, the person I am at fifty rather than the person I was at forty-three when I began my coaching practice.

Because the aesthetics matter to me, while I am doing all that revising and editing, I am also changing out the art. I’ll admit that I have an inner perfectionist, too.

“A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.”
–May Sarton


Though I am needing to take a break from this obsession with writing (and rewriting) for work…and though I have committed to take this weekend off, I admit that I miss it. It takes every ounce of self-discipline I possess not to at least open one of my spreadsheets with my various plans….

The challenge excites me. The need to push myself fuels my creativity and mind in ways that nothing else does. In many ways, I had allowed myself to become complacent, my work to become stale.

As creative beings, we must regularly feed and water our creativity. Infuse it with challenge to amp up the joy. To cultivate new work, we must cultivate pieces of our heart and soul.

“…I feel more alive when I’m writing than I do at any other time–except when I’m making love. Two things when you forget time, when nothing exists except the moment–the moment of writing, the moment of love. That perfect concentration is bliss.”
–May Sarton

After dinner tonight, I plan to return once again to the porch.

I only came inside last night when I did because a skunk made an appearance nearby,adding an unnecessary element to the perfection of the summer night air.

My hope is that he finds another space to play.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: on Cultivating Friendships, Social Media, and Death

Though I had a home computer and dot matrix printer when I was in college, the first computer to have a modem and thus an internet connection was a Windows98 computer that came with a free month of AOL. I still remember the exciting dial tone, beeps, and then SCREECH of that 56.K Modem connecting to the world beyond my walls. And, of course, the exciting announcements from AOL of “Welcome” and if you were lucky, “You’ve Got Mail”.

The thing about the “you’ve got mail” part was that until you found others to connect to, that mail box was pretty empty. Can you remember the days when getting an email was fresh, new, and rare?

After quickly boring of chat rooms and IMs from complete strangers, I wondered about what I could find online. You probably aren’t surprised that one of the first things I searched for was “Trixie Belden books”, wondering if I could find replacements for the ones my mother sold in a garage sale.

Then I discovered Zap’s Trixie Belden Message Board. It wasn’t long before I began to do something I hadn’t imagined possible with the internet: cultivate real friendships.

Back in the olden days of the internet, it took effort to get to know someone. You had to comment on message board threads, send direct messages, and exchange email addresses. There were no Facebook posts to like or Instagram selfies to see who you were connecting with.

It began with words. Because, back in those days, getting a photo online wasn’t an easy task. You had to send emails. Exchange phone numbers. Send real mail. And comment on each other’s writings. (Yes, I confess to both writing and reading an inordinate amount of Trixie Belden Fan Fic way back when.)

All of this comes up for me right now because one of my first good internet friends passed away on May 25th.

We met on that Trixie Belden Message Board in 1998. We began emailing and eventually exchanged phone numbers, talking at least once a week. Although she lived in Pennsylvania and I lived in Texas, eventually we put together a sleepover at my house. We invited several other Trixie friends to join us, the first of three or four ladies’ weekends.

When I began blogging, I encouraged all my internet friends to blog, too. We exchanged emails and phone calls and learned about each other’s lives in that way, but those early blogs allowed us to connect in a deeper way.

We became creative kindreds.

Though I moved on from Fan Fic and began writing for All Things Girl in 2002, she and I still stayed connected. We continued talking on the phone, exchanging emails, reading each other’s blogs, and never missed a birthday or Christmas. I still use the Pampered Chef garlic press she gave me one year.

When I took my oldest daughter to the ER because of her suicidal thoughts, she stayed on the phone with me on the drive there. She was a high school guidance counselor and understood the ways of the teen mind.

When I divorced, she came for a visit and took me shopping. She wanted me to have a “happy divorce” gift, and the pair of lamps we chose were a reminder of her love and light.

We knew each other before she married. Shared intimate details about our lives, including our sex lives. We talked about our dreams and desires for the future. We explored our views of God and creation and faith and hope.

Over the years, my focus became ensuring that the bills got paid, a task harder to do after divorcing. I stopped blogging as much and drifted away from most of my friends. Compartmentalization was the way I survived, and I missed the connections. Yet, I didn’t have the bandwidth nor did I wish to burden her (or others) during those years I traveled 200+ days a year.

The thing was, though, I had a secret anonymous blog. She found it, figured out it was me, and loyally kept my secrets.  After moving to Ohio, and settling down into a semblance of ordinary life, I sent her a long letter, apologizing for drifting away, and making confessions.

She accepted my apologies and told me she knew about my secrets and didn’t judge me for them. We began letters and cards and the occasional calls. But, less frequently.

It seems as if I am on the phone less often these days outside of talking with clients.

All the things we do in real life to deepen a friendship seemed actually easier in the days before social media. We had to make an effort. We had to write more than 140 characters. We had to send individual emails, not blasts. We had to pick up the phone and talk rather than sending a text.

Yes, all those things now seem like so much effort, but cultivating real friendships take effort. Yes, social media is easier. But let’s be honest: it’s less personal. And now thanks to the advent of anything we post being kinda “forever”, we are far less likely to share what’s really going on in our lives.

Real vulnerability, something that’s needed for folks to connect, doesn’t happen when you’re sharing with the world. That requires intimacy. Social media is not intimate. Though I try to be authentic, I know that vulnerability is something that only trusted people get to witness.

I found out about her death on Facebook.

I had vaguely known she was back in the hospital due to her battle with a rare liver disease. The last posts I had seen made by her, she seemed hopeful and upbeat about being on the transplant list. I am ashamed that I have begun relying upon social media to know what’s happening in so many of my friend’s lives.

Is social media, the way to connect with hundreds of friends, actually making us less social and more shallow?

And the thought that plagues me this many weeks later is: what if I hadn’t see the post her mother made on her daughter’s Facebook page announcing her death?

I used to write in my blog daily. I sent multiple personal emails a day. I never missed getting a birthday card in the mail to a friend. It feels as if all the ways social media makes it oh, so easy to connect actually is eroding the ways to truly connect. And, I have to be honest: all the ways I create seem harder now that social media is there to distract me.

I write thousands and thousands of words less per month than I used to write. That’s because all that clicking and checking on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my favorite news sites are addictive. And an easy way to numb. And an easy to distract myself when writing feels tough.

I have been making a hard effort to be on all those social media platforms less.

But what if I hadn’t seen that one post? What if in my need to curb my addiction to clicking and scrolling, I didn’t know she had died?

How do we cultivate friendships now in the age of social media? I mean, real friendships. The people you can call when you have a challenge with your teenager? The friend you can tell you’re having marital issues and know they’ll be a voice of wisdom (and keep it private)? The folks that you can spend hours on the phone with, laughing over the craziness of life and getting older?

Deep in my heart of hearts, I know that cultivating real friendships thanks to the world wide web is possible. Yet, how do we go beyond the surface? How to we stay attentive to what needs to be tended, like our business pages on Facebook, while carving out the time for deeper connections?

How can we keep building these true, deeper connections? Connections, which frankly, we all desperately are needing?

Are we destined to learn about births and deaths – marriages and divorces – on social media?

All I know is that this death of one of my first creative kindreds has sobered me. And inspired me to connect in ways outside of social media. After writing a sympathy card to her husband and mailing a check in her memory to her school, I sent another half-dozen cards and notes out to friends. A thank you note here, a birthday card there, and a few hey-I-was-thinking-of-you letters.

I need my creative kindreds far and wide. And I am grateful to first meet them thanks to a blog they write or a photo of their favorite cup on Instagram. I also know I need more.

And some way, I need to cultivate the time and space to make that happen.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: My Creativity Mothers Me

One of the first mothers I connected to in book form was Helen Belden – aka Moms – in the Trixie Belden mystery series. The first six books were written by Julie Campbell between 1948 and 1958 and what I loved was that picture-perfect Americana image of a housewife and mother: nurturing, loving, nourishing, and supportive while also fierce in the way she cared for her family and her children’s friends.

Helen Belden also excelled in creative ways: gardening, canning, sewing, cooking, and painting. She was in many ways the embodiment of what I envision when I think about honoring the art of creative living.

While I have loved other literary mothers in my readings over the years, my mind continues to go back to Helen Belden for this simple reason: in the way she was the perfect mother to remind me that my creativity also mothers me.

Yes, you read right: my creativity mothers me. All the ways in which I see Helen Belden as the quintessential Americana mother character, my creativity does that for me as well.

When I am in need of feeling nurtured, all I need to do is to reach for my journal and a favorite pen. Allowing my thoughts and emotions to flow on the page soothes me and reaches a part of my soul that not much else does.

When my thoughts turn to love, loving others, and loving myself, I turn to the ways in which creating a home holds me. I crawl into my favorite leather chair, pull a blanket over my legs, and read a book when I need the comfort of a loving touch. I tidy up the house, tend to John’s wardrobe, or gather food for meals when I want to be loving towards others. And when I want to love myself, my creativity saves me again: back to the page, to the garden to snip daffodils for tiny vases, or sing in the shower as warm water cascades across my body.

When my body needs nourishment, I turn to the ways in which simple ingredients can be artfully combined to create a meal. When my soul needs nourishment, I seek the words of poets and philosophers across the ages, reveling in the ways their use of their talents feed my heart. When my mind is in need of nourishment, I read yet more words and then take it back to the page to help me puzzle out what a character or piece of research makes me think about more deeply.

When I am in need of feeling supported, my creativity never fails me. I can sing and dance around the house, lifting my spirits. I can turn to other creative friends and share what I’ve made. I can simply walk through my own home, admiring the art we’ve chosen and how the placement of furniture provides a warm and welcoming space.

My creative life saves me in a myriad of ways, so as I’ve begun to see the ways in which it mothers me, it’s easier to devote myself to the pursuit of it.

I’ve also come to realize that in order for my creativity to continue to mother me, I must also mother it. Like Helen feeds and waters her garden and her children, I must also feed and water my creative life.

I need to feed my soul with the good work of other makers: writers, poets, filmmakers, actors, artists, and photographers. I must fuel my mind with inspirational home make-overs, tips for being a better writer, and learning new cooking techniques to make cooking dinner more fun.

I must support my creative life by giving it the right tools for growth. As a writer, that means pens, papers, and easy to use software. As a homemaker, that means a good vacuum cleaner, a favorite fabric softener, and sometimes the support of a cleaning lady to help me tackle things I’m not good at. Or, to simply step in for me to tackle tasks so that I can spend some time with my writing.

Yes, time. Just like mothers want to spend quality time with their children, I must also spend quality time with my creativity. I must sit at my desk and write, not surf. I must make time for good television, inspirational magazines, and music.

Like Helen’s fierceness in loving and protecting her children and their friends, I must be fierce in my protection of my creative life. I must guard it, love it, and ensure that I don’t let it fall to the wayside.

Many of us are in the space of our lives when our mothers no longer are around to tend us. To cook a favorite meal, to offer the words of comfort only a mother can. Many of us are also in the space of no longer actively mothering small children, and that ache of an empty nest is met with a sadness colored with both joy and freedom.

Yet, always within our grasp is our creativity and the way in which we can live in an artful manner. When we see that through the lens of both being mothered – and mothering – we are reminded that the unconditional love a mother has is always within reach.

I think Helen Belden would agree.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


Note: Top Image is a Scan from the 1965 printing of Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion. The artist is Paul Frame. Copyright belongs to Whitman Publishing.

Sunday Sanctuary: Nature VS Nurture

When our father passed away, my sister discovered three little dresses in our mother’s cedar chest. Fashion wise, she determined they had been mine, worn sometime between 1968 and 1970. I happily brought them home, and when I took them to the dry cleaners to prepare them for storage, I noticed the one that was my first little Easter Dress came from Neiman Marcus.

A couple of notes here: no, we didn’t buy all of our clothes at Neiman Marcus, however, it was a place my mother loved shopping for special occasions. My first memory of a dress from Neiman’s was a pink and white gingham dress to wear for my cousin Judy’s wedding when I was four.

Also, can you imagine how labor intensive bringing in new merchandise was for Neiman Marcus back then? To sew tiny Neiman Marcus labels in every item of clothing it sold?

But I digress. Sort of.

See, my mother’s love language was gifts. She love getting gifts, but moreover she loved to buy gifts. Though I never recall her loving grocery shopping the way I do, one of her favorite excursions was to go to go shopping for clothes. It didn’t matter if the clothes were for her, my sister, my father, or I. And some of my fondest memories are of going to one of the big malls in Dallas and making a day of it. Not just shopping but having lunch out at a fancy tea room or creperie.

To this day, I cannot eat a popover with Strawberry butter, sip a cup of chicken broth, or dine on chicken salad served atop a salad without thinking of good times with my mother.

Though these forays to Dallas didn’t happen more than once a year or so….and though my play clothes came from Sears or JC Penny’s…my mother ensured that I was always well clothed. We shopped for clothes three or four times a year: for back to school, for Christmas, for Easter, and for Summer.

We also ate well. Though I never really liked some of the basics when money was tight like red beans or wieners and sauerkraut, I don’t recall ever going to bed hungry or worrying where my next meal came from. When times were good, we ate out at least once a week. I vaguely  recall a year when we ate out almost every meal, my mother having tired of cooking.

I owe my love of shopping, love of food, and love of reading to my mother. All things that carry me through this life with a sense of joy and love. All areas that fuel my creative life. These are imprinted on me, a part of the very make up of who I am.

On the question of Nature VS Nurture, I can tell you that Nurture matters.

A popover with Strawberry Butter at Neiman Marcus

Back in December, I shared with you the story of finding my birth mother. I wrote that piece mere days before I got on a plane and spent four days in Southern California. After several months of regular emails, I knew it was time for us to sit down across the table from each other.

To look into each other’s eyes and be willing to bear witness to the lives that began together with flesh and bone and traveled different paths for the last forty-nine plus years.

We had agreed to meet in the lobby of my hotel. I had risen that morning at 3 AM Eastern and it was 5 PM pacific when I walked downstairs. I was tired and wired.

And I knew her immediately.

It was like looking into a mirror in the future in so many ways.

We had a glass of wine thanks to my hotel’s Wine Hour and chatted as we people watched. She wanted to know all about the girls, the extension of this connection of blood and bone.

Though we had emailed for months and shared DNA, we were still strangers. Well, familiar acquaintances. The way in which you may feel about me: someone familiar, someone whose story you know a piece of, someone who feels like a friend. Yet, if we were to sit down over a glass of wine or cup of coffee, we would discover that neither of us had tapped the surface into each other’s real stories.

She’d told me in a phone conversation that when she came home from the maternity home, no one talked about her experience. The theory those days was that a young woman that “made a mistake” should simply go back home, get on with their life, and pretend that nothing had happened.

Yes. Pretend as if the previous nine months of your life hadn’t existed. That you hadn’t given birth to a baby.

After sitting out a year of high school, most folks, including her mother and father, were surprised that she wanted to go back and get her diploma. She did. She graduated high school and went to work. When she learned to read in elementary school, she realized her mother didn’t k now how to read well. Of course she couldn’t understand her desire to learn.

When she moved out to California, she wanted more for her life, so she began going to college in her thirties, getting a degree in accounting.

Life had never been one of ease or privilege for her, so she learned to figure things out. Once she faced any kind of crisis, she figured out how to not repeat the same mistake.

My love of learning, my need to research until I find answers, my understanding of how scientific research can be translated into actions I could take in my every day life.

On the question of Nature VS Nurture, I can tell you that Nature matters, too.

As humans, I believe one of the most important responsibilities we have is to bear witness to the lives of others. Unfortunately, there are so many people out there who have not had anyone, or at least many folks, willing to witness her life.

Not speaking about me for almost fifty years meant that the stories of her life came tumbling forward. My responsibility: to be the witness to these untold stories.

My life was never perfect, and often challenging. However, it retained an essence of sweetness and naivete.

It was nothing like hers. At least for her first forty years.

It’s something most of the people I know share, threads of connection with the lives of their parents that repeat generation after generation. A love of cooking or reading or a flair for design. Yet, despite the connection of nature, our lives had been vastly different.

My love of food was due to pleasurable memories of Christmas dinners and the results of good old southern cooking. Her first memory of food is meeting her stepfather when she and her brother were dumpster diving behind his bakery because they were hungry. He fed the kids and gave their mother a job.

She moved ten times before she was ten. She thought that throwing whatever you could in a trash bag and gong to a new place was how everyone did it. Too many homes she can remember had wheels. She didn’t live in a house with a real foundation until her late thirties or early forties. She’s lived in more than five states.

I have lived at only five addresses my entire life. I never left Texas for the first forty-two years. Hell, I never left Tarrant County Texas those first forty-two years. Every home I’ve known has had a solid foundation, sturdy walls, reliable heating and cooling, and more of what that stood for: stability.

Home, oh my love of creating a sanctuary within my home, is something deeper within me. A love for making home, something I think all humans crave, is more easily translated when you’ve experienced stability.

She got new clothes when school started, but the idea of updating her wardrobe to account for changing weather or various seasons was foreign. When she went to court on the day her stepfather adopted her and became her father, she wore a dress that was so short it showed her underwear. No one had noticed she’d had a growth spurt.

Not only were their no special occasion dresses bought at Neiman Marcus, the idea of shopping as a delightful day out was never a part of her fond childhood memories. Childhood memories of clothes are more akin to reminders of shame, neglect, and poverty.

Nature VS Nurture? Nurture wins hands down when it comes to the experiences.

Over my four days in California, we shared a meal to accompany her stories. I visited her home twice. An opportunity to witness how far her life is now compared to the life of her childhood. She has a sturdy home now. She also has reliable transportation, a bike she enjoys riding, and cats. Her husband is loving and not abusive, though he does have some Vietnam War related illnesses that are challenging.

Her life is solid. Not without challenge, but everyone has challenges.

We are back in our rhythm of regular emails and the occasional card via snail mail. I know that the decision she made fifty years ago to allow me to share her body and then release me into a different life was one of the best decisions a young woman of seventeen could have made. Most of us women are wired, by nature, to want our children to have a better existence than we’ve known. Her life was hard, and would have been harder trying to care for a child.

My life was far different from the kind of life I could have known. My life was rich with beautiful things, books, and love. I carry with me the privilege of being tended, nurtured in the ways in which all children should be, with all of my needs met.

Going to California was one of the most important things I’ve done the last few years. I left awash in both gratitude and guilt. For nature and nurture.

“Perhaps we are born knowing the tales of our grandmothers and all their ancestral kin continually run in our blood repeating them endlessly, and the shock they give us when we first bear them is not of surprise but of recognition.”
― P.L. Travers

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: Connection, Nourishment, and Intuition

I am passionate about food. It isn’t that I just love to eat. I derive immense pleasure from all the stages of bringing a meal to the table: shopping for the ingredients, chopping and preparing fruits and vegetables, and transforming raw ingredients into something that will nourish our bodies. I find a seductive beauty in many of the ingredients I choose – from the rich orange yolk of pastured eggs, to deep red strawberries grown by a farmer I know, to the way simmering chicken bones (and feet) with onions, carrots, and herbs creates a deeply layered stock.

Approaching food through the lens of passion has catapulted that passion in other areas of my world: my work, my writing, my home. It allows me to see how important the exquisite details of life are to me, no matter what their form.

I am giddy when a new idea for a meal results in something delightful. I doubly appreciate it when scientific research on nutrients or how our bodies process foods allow me to create something that takes nourishment to a whole new level. Food is comforting and sensual and life-affirming. Food is one of the ways I lavish affection on those I care about and show folks I honor and appreciate their presence.

In my “day job” as a life coach, I write a bi-weekly (used to be weekly) newsletter. To date, I’ve written 300 newsletters, a level of consistency I wondered if I had within me. In addition to sharing a recent blog post and a personal note about what’s happening in my world, early on I began ending each newsletter with a recipe. Then, I went to a retreat designed to help me take my business to the next level.

Out of more than three hundred participants, I was chosen to get up on stage and be advised on some ways to level up. When the Biz Guru reviewed my newsletter with me, she told me to ditch the recipes (as well as any book recommendations) because it didn’t promote my coaching practice or any of the programs I was selling.

I’d paid a lot of money to travel to this conference and, after all, she was the expert. So, without tuning into my own intuition, I blindly listened and stopped sharing the recipes.

After a few weeks, I realized that I was diluting the connection and love I wanted to convey to people who gifted me with their time and attention was missing something – like the way spices and herbs turn a blah ingredient into something special.

So, I added the recipes back in and ignored any other guru who told me to ditch ‘em.

How can I say I am devoted to curating a life that’s loving and nourishing – the theme of my coaching practice – if I don’t listen to my gut? I know that usually our intuition is wiser than any expert. A reminder for my business life. Yet more important when it comes to our creative life and the ways in which we make things. Because being a maker is a path to curating a life that is fulfilling.

Yet, because we are human, we often dismiss what our gut is telling us. We listen to the experts, following a paint by number for success instead of coloring outside the lines.

To get clear, I had to dig into what my true purpose of writing and then sending a newsletter to subscribers. Of course I want folks to buy a book or course from me sometimes; it is a business. At heart, though, I am a maker who hopes that the work I create matters to anyone that experiences what I write.

My goal for every single newsletter I create is that I nourish the subscriber in some way.

Maybe my words make someone feel less alone. Maybe a paragraph serves as a wake-up call. Maybe a single sentence I write is just what that person needs to read so that she make that decision she’s been putting off. Maybe a photo I share makes him smile. If I’m lucky, maybe my words allow you to connect more deeply with your own soul or someone you love.

And if nothing I write nourishes the mind or spirit, then at least that recipe at the end is a way of sharing a way you can nourish your body.

“Food… is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty.It’s about identity.”
–Louise Fresco

The ways in which we create things matter not to just us as makers, but in the ways in which we can connect and nourish others. The stories of others save us, a lesson many of you have learned. Creating something – a knitted blanket, a photograph, a poem, a painting – saves the maker, too, doesn’t it?

When the words refuse to flow to the page or every note I sing comes out as flat, I can soothe myself by heading to the kitchen. Whether I chop some vegetables, try a new recipe, or bake a cake, the act of making something from just a bunch of raw ingredients nourishes a part of my soul, and then it nourishes my body – and the bodies of anyone else I share the meal with.

I am also reminded that I am connected to a long lineage of beloved mothers and grandmothers and great-uncles,  creating with flour, eggs, and bounty from the earth. Food is a necessity to live, yet it’s also a factor in the creation of who we become. Our mother’s spaghetti, something we’ve never been able to duplicate. The way in which our grandmother deviled eggs were presented on the good china at Easter bonds us to ourselves and others. The stories and laughter shared over cakes and pies and coffee.

I am by no means an expert or a guru, yet I can tell you these two truths about living a creative life.

When you find yourself in doubt, it’s okay to listen to advice of the experts, but let your intuition overrule that expert at every turn if it doesn’t feel right. And when all else around you seems to be floundering, heading to the kitchen to create may be just what you need to pull you out of the deepest creative – and life ruts.

Or at least nourish your tummy with a delicious treat. Bon Appétit!

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: Scent-Sational Journey

I popped into Walgreen’s the other day to pick up a prescription and stopped dead center in the beauty department due to a perfume display that took me straight back to 1977, bell bottoms, and my burgeoning ideas of what being a glamorous and independent woman might be.

Forty years after the enticing commercials captivated me, there was Charlie. “The gorgeous sexy-young fragrance for women.”

I was nine in 1977, but my sister was sixteen. She was grown up to me, and oh so charismatic. Of course, I wanted to be like her, yet more sophisticated. That Charlie commercial invited me into that possibility. I wasn’t allowed to actually wear perfume quite yet, but it wasn’t long before Mother let me wear a little eye shadow, and after that,  I couldn’t wait to choose a signature scent. Would it be Charlie? Or Windsong, which stayed on his mind? Would I bring home the bacon and never let him forget he’s a man with Enjoli?

Try as I could, I just didn’t love the tarragon and musky scent of Charlie. I expected something sophisticated and alluring, but it just smelled of alcohol.

Two years later, while staying with my grandmother for a few weeks in the summer, we went shopping at Marchman’s, a local department store. She bought me something I hadn’t considered: White Shoulders. It smelled of roses and jasmine and sandalwood.

I wore it religiously until I was fourteen. And thought of her every time I put it on.

*  *  *

My first date was with a boy who smelled of Polo. Or should I say, he drenched himself in Polo like most of the cool boys did in 1981. We only dated for a couple of months, but I loved borrowing his jacket at school and getting that whiff pine, patchouli, and musk.

The White Shoulders I had once loved felt so old and artless now that I was in high school and dating an older man (he was a senior)! I begged my mother to take me to Sanger Harris to buy something a little more mature, and since everything Polo and Ralph Lauren was so chic, I assumed one of the Lauren perfumes for women would make me, well, cooler. I fell madly in love with Tuxedo, it’s square black bottle with a thin red highlight. It smelled of bergamot, rose, gardenia and vetiver.

It was also a bit androgynous with those hints of clove and musk. An invitation for years to come, to tinker with the occasional sample of a men’s cologne when I make an order at Sephora and choose my free samples.

*  *  *

It was the winter of 1996 and I bundled the girls into the car and we head to the mall. It was a routine designed around the entertainment of window shopping combined with an attempt to get back into my pre-pregnancy jeans with all the walking. Mall walking was becoming popular in the late 90’s.

With my infant in a stroller and my impatient toddler, anxious to get to The Disney Store, I paused at the perfume counter in Dillard’s.

I felt frumpy and unattractive, and wondered if I’d ever feel pretty again. You know, like a woman, not just ‘pretty for a mom.’ Oh, how I longed to feel a little sexy. I had been coaxing a few drops out of my last bottle of Tuxedo and was devastated to discover it had been discontinued the previous year.

How could I ever feel sexy again without my favorite perfume? Destiny was with me that day, thanks to the kind sales lady and a patient little girl.

I left with a bottle of Romance by Ralph Lauren, a perfume I still consider my signature scent. A hint of patchouli, violet, and an element that tied my favorites together over the years: rose. My oldest was rewarded with a Pocahontas Barbie.

*  *  *

It was 2006 before I would understand that saving my perfume was as silly as waiting for a perfect day. I began to understand the real truth of life: that each and every day deserved to be embraced with your whole being. Scent included.

It was late 2010, and I discovered that the sexy and comforting scent I associated with my growing love for John didn’t come in any kind of glass bottle. He doesn’t wear cologne, but he does use distinctively scented toiletries: Coast soap and Old Spice Deodorant. Classic, not the froufrou scents for the new millennium with the “your man could smell like me” commercials starring Isaiah Mustafa.

To this day, I give him a lingering hug most mornings as he leaves for work, just so I can get that comforting scent of him to start my day.  The mix of his soap, deodorant, and a freshly starched shirt? All kinds of captivating.

And I have to confess, I like the after-work scent of John, too. That enticing scent of citrus and clove mixed with living life.

*  *  *

My mother’s signature scent was Youth Dew. I remember making special trips to Neiman Marcus to buy it. (Back in the 70s, the only places in Dallas that sold Estée Lauder were Neiman Marcus and Lord and Taylor.) I can still see that hourglass-shaped bottle on her bathroom counter alongside the occasional blue box of matching scented powder and the powder puff.  I can also see the dust gathered on both from not being touched often.

I stopped by the Estée Lauder counter last October. Attracted by some sale for a youth serum, I lingered over the perfumes and had to get a whiff of Youth Dew. I sprayed it on one of those white cards and struck up a conversation with the man behind the counter. I had assumed only women over eighty were still buying Youth Dew, but was told that it’s still a top seller. Did you know they now make Youth Dew deodorant?

The scent was nostalgic, yet its spicy scent brought with it a feeling of melancholy.  I had to wonder: if my mother had followed Mrs. Lauder’s advice to use your favorite scent daily, not just for special occasions, would the olfactory spark of joy could have pulled her from her bouts of depression?

I wear perfume every day now. A spritz or two when I get dressed. Sometimes, a spritz before bed. I’ve learned, over the years, that saving anything for a special occasion is a waste of a good day.

I have a confession, though: as much as I love Romance, I’ve been itching for a new fragrance. I’m not looking for a replacement,  I simply want to give myself some variety.  I want the scent I choose on a given day to support the way I desire to feel and be.

In my search, I’ve spritzed the white cards at every department store. I ‘ve added every available sample to my Sephora orders. I’ve even purchased a few small bottles here and there, but nothing stuck.


On a recent visit to the Jo Malone counter at Nordstrom, a patient saleswoman helped me explore some options. Citrus. Florals. Fruity. Spicy. She tells me that new scents can be made by layering.

I left with Peony and Blush Suede, elegantly adorned with a black grosgrain ribbon. The peony with hints of jasmine, musk, rose, and red apple. A fascinating combination as I edge towards fifty. I wonder if it will help me become who I desire to be? Who? I am destined to be

“What we talk about less often, because it is harder to explain, is the way a perfume can give breath and body to the phantom selves that waft about us as we go through our days — not just the showgirl, the femme fatale, and the ingenue, but all the memories and dreams of the taller, meaner, sharper, sweeter, softer people we have been or long to be.”
— Alyssa Harad

When we talk about being a maker of things – a creator and curator – of art, we often dismiss how our life, our ordinary daily life, is a part of that creation. That throughout our days, the tiniest of details we’ve chosen will guide us from one phase of life to the next. That each project we set out to create – a meal, a home, a book, a painting – will be forged from the core of who we are, our experiences, and what we wore. Our olfactory memories will forever tie us to the scents around us as a part of the experience of any creation.

What about you? What perfumes have accompanied you through the journey? What specific auras remind you of people, creations, and your experiences in this glorious life? Do you have a signature scent?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.