it's the most amazing, life-altering gift.

Community-gratitude.jpg

I sat down to write, and all that emerged was gratitude.

Maybe it's the warm fire blazing next to me. Or the smell of candles wafting in from the other room.

Perhaps it's the cozy sweater wrapped around my shoulders or the sound of rain on the roof or the lilting sounds from my favorite Spotify playlist. 

Maybe it's the spring buds or the new moon.

But as I sipped my coffee this morning, I found myself caught in an overwhelming, undeniable, completely encapsulating thankfulness.

I am grateful for, and so utterly aware of,

the steps along the path that prepared me for this moment.

I am grateful for friendships that, despite time, distance, and change,

are founded in pure, transformative respect and love.

I am grateful for surprise visits.

I am grateful for goodnight kisses and good morning 'I love you's.'

I am grateful for the way my kittens hug my sides.

I am grateful for the challenge, for those that disagree.

I am grateful for family, for love, for knowing how to heal each other.

And for forgiveness, always for forgiveness.

I am grateful for best friends, for old friends.

I am grateful for vegetable gardens and tall trees, 

and moments connected to the earth.

I am grateful for long walks and spontaneous sprints.

I am grateful for sweet puppy dog snores.

I am grateful for those that inspire me,

even when they have no idea that they do.

I am grateful for lectures, and books, and learning.

I am grateful for passion and drive.

For the natural ebb and flow of creative expression.

I am grateful for sunlight and moonlight and stars.

For clear nights and blue skies.

I am grateful for my cozy, little home.

I am grateful for you.

Thank you for allowing me to come into your life and write and speak about the things that inspire me, challenge me and move me to change - it's the most incredible, life-altering gift.

I can't wait for all that's to come, love.

xx k

this is how we know

We're a couple who likes to buck convention. 

On the evening before our wedding last August, the night that most soon-to-be brides and grooms traditionally spend with their wedding party and close family at a rehearsal dinner, my sweetheart, Patrick, and I decided to do something a little different.

In lieu of that traditional rehearsal dinner, we – along with some of our beloved aunts, cousins, and parents – planned two separate family reunions. 

Because… out of around 100 invites sent out in the months before our wedding, nearly 75 of them were to members of our family, spread out among more than 7 states and spanning from San Diego to New York City. We wanted to welcome them, celebrate them, and spend an evening soaking in each others' presence.

On one end of town, Patrick's family filled up a room at a local Irish pub (they are, as the name Patrick McCarthy would suggest, quite Irish). On the other end of town, in a tiny room in the back of a local seafood restaurant, my family gathered together.

It might seem odd, spending the evening before our wedding at two different parties. 

But the truth is that these reunions – the gathering of loved ones from all over the country – turned out to be one of the most beautiful and moving parts of the weekend (and believe me when I say that our wedding was so beautiful that I still well up at the thought of it, nearly a year and a half later).

For us, family is everything. And, while I can't speak for the McCarthy Reunion (I heard it was a blast!), I can say this: in that little room in the corner, my family showed up.

For me, and for us.

You see, unbeknownst to me, at different points during the dinner, my family had planned a set of surprise presentations. 

First up, my mom and brother. They began with a photo montage (set to music, no less!) that walked us through the last four history-making generations of our family. There were laughter and tears and the kind of laughter that made you cry from the joy of it all.

A little while later, my oldest cousin, G - just a year older than me - stood and cleared her throat. 

She announced that she, along with several of my other first cousins (there are 13 of us, altogether), had prepared some words. Together, they spoke of support and deep respect and the kind of love that broke my heart right open. They shared words that, until that point, we had never uttered to one another. It was the first time that (almost) all of us were meeting as adults, connecting with grown-up and steadied appreciation for one another. It was new and so beautiful.

Finally, my aunt stood.

A writer, editor, and publisher herself, she shared that, while the adults hadn't planned anything, they were moved to speak, as it was clear that the cousins had put them to shame.

She spoke about my grandmother who, less than a year prior to that night, had passed away, and about my great-aunt who had recently joined her. You could hear her voice tremble as the room fell quiet.

You see, my family is, for all intents and purposes, a matriarchy. The women, strong and stable and wise, hold us together. The men, raised by such women, are kind and true and grounded.

She shared about how, on that night – the night before my wedding, it was the first time that we had all been together since the matriarchal torch had been passed. She spoke about the loss, the grandma-shaped hole that was missing from that night. We sat for a moment, caught in the grief of it all.

And then she spoke of our shared joy. She talked about watching each of us and our deep admiration and connection and spirit. She spoke about Patrick and I and our steadfast love for one another.

I'll never forget what she said next.

"You see, this is how we know. This is how we know that we can hold two seemingly opposite emotions at once and that they can both be true. We can grieve and mourn and feel the loss of our loved ones and, all at once, be moved by the celebration of the present moment. Grief and joy are not opposed. They can both be held in an instant."

She raised her glass and toasted us.

I've been thinking about this moment quite a bit over the past week. 

And I came to a conclusion.

We, as humans, are entirely miraculous beings. 

We can hold so much. Grief and anger and joy and hope, and all at once. Heartbreaking pain and worry and love and solid certainty, all in a single moment. Passionate action and deep knowing, held simultaneously in one human being.

We hold so many seemingly opposing emotions and experiences, and yet we don't crumble under the weight of it all. Miraculous, wouldn't you say?

I say all of this to remind you: you are a miracle. Strong and soft, anxious and certain, courageous and vulnerable, whole and wonderful, all at the same moment. Miraculous and magical and fragile and deeply, deeply powerful.

If, like so many of us in the U.S. and abroad, this week has left you wearied and worried… 

If you find that you can't sleep or that you can't seem to drink enough coffee to make a difference… 

If you've got a pit in your stomach and a weight on your shoulders...

... know that that's what comes from holding so, so much. 

We're being called to hold more than usual. To feel more deeply and with more urgency than we ever have before. To sit in the depths, in spite of the discomfort, and continue to love and feel and hold each other. To recognize that joy and grief can exist in the very same moment.

Because they do.

most days, this is how you'll find me

Most days, this is how you'll find me:

Perched in front of my laptop with my creative "necessities" laid out in front of me. Journal in hand, I'll cozy up in our breakfast nook or find a table at one of my neighborhood coffee joints to get my inspiration on. I'm currently writing you from the corner booth at a local Starbucks while my husband works at a college fair down the road. I'll sneak in these moments anywhere. 

Laid out in front of me are my tools o' creativity. Favorite pen, check. Filled water bottle, check. Coffee or tea (tonight, it's peppermint tea), check. Favorite "Decomposition" spiral notebook, check, check. 

And... Go.

I love writing. It's like my fuel. Forget the caffeine, what really gets me going is putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were). It doesn't matter if I'm writing about the creative process or how to write authentic content or about something mind-blowingly cool that I learned about yesterday in one of my favorite podcasts, if I'm waxing poetic about relationships or giving you the down and dirty on how to stay away from all-the-shiny-things and lead with soul… it's like air.

I've got my favorite pens, my favorite journals, my favorite Spotify playlist playing in my earbuds (psst... it's this one). I've captured a rhythm and a routine to my writing. I've learned what environments inspire different topics, and where I need to be to get stuff done. 

This past week, I filled the final page in a notebook that I purchased just prior to launching katekmccarthy.com last December. Made out of recycled cardboard with line-drawn woodland illustrations on the front, it was one of my all-time favorites. It holds inspiration, business building tips and tricks, notes from meetings, appointments, and doodles that have fueled my creative fire. 

In honor of this notebook's "passing" (aka finding its resting place on my bookshelf), I am bringing you my favorite tips for cultivating an intentional and inspiring creative practice -- and I'm hoping that you'll share some of yours with me! 

ONE. Define creativity on your own terms. 

Creativity doesn't always look like what we might categorize as "art." Your creative muse might inspire you to volunteer, create an organization, or crunch data - just as easily as they might push you to write or paint or cook. Creativity is a natural extension of whatever gets you excited or engaged or inspires you to expand. So stop judging yourself for not being "artsy" and start creating whatever gives you life. Or use the experience as an excuse to try something new. I find that when my writing flow is stuck, picking up a paintbrush or a sketch pad can be incredibly freeing and helps me get back into the flow – in a way that feels good.

TWO. Do it. Do it a lot.

"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." - Maya Angelou. Just like a muscle, creativity only works when you use it. So write, or paint, or volunteer, or whatever gets you moving in the direction of creativity. And do it a lot. As a writer, I sit down to write almost every day. It might be crappy, it might be cliched, or it might be brilliant… but I'm always writing. You don't have to publish it or share it, but moving the creative muscle keeps it healthy and working and growing!

THREE. Make lists. 

I haven't always been a list-maker. But now you'll find the walls of my workspace nook covered in lists. Blog post brainstorming. Lists of things that make me happy. Lists of things I want to change. Lists of my favorite places, my favorite people, my favorite quotes. List writing -- and the act of putting those lists on paper -- inspires. It forces you to think outside of the box, to download all of the chaos into something that can actually be used. Lists are the fodder for creative genius.

FOUR. GTFO. Get. OUT. 

Changing your environment creates actual neurological shifts in the brain. Play around with this. Whenever I'm stuck, I grab the dog and go for a walk around the block. The combination of movement, curiosity, and the natural world is electric for me. Whenever I know that I need to write something particularly soul-centered and wholehearted or knock something spirit-driven out for a copy client, I make sure that I'm writing in an area where I can catch some extra inspiration from the people around me. You'll know when you're in a place that facilitates communication with your muse.

FIVE. Respect the muse. 

There's a reason that I carry around a notebook with me everywhere that I go. The reality is that if you don't respect the muse, she'll stop showing up. You might tell yourself that, if it's important enough, you'll remember later. But that's just not how it works. So, when she shows up, listen. Write it down, sketch it out. If you're at an event, escape to the bathroom to write down lyrics or lists or phrases. The more you listen, the better you'll get at recognizing the voice of the creative muse apart from the normal chatter in your mind.

SIX. Magic lives outside of your comfort zone. 

Over the past couple of years, I've spent some time working through Danielle LaPorte's The Desire Map - the premise of which goes a little like this: get clear on how you most deeply want to feel and then... go do things that make you feel the way you want to feel. In our Type A culture, it's pretty revelatory on a personal level. One of my "Core Desired Feelings" is expansive. I want to live wide, open, expanding into spaces that previously, well, scared the hell out of me. So, I write about things that scare me, do things that bust the comfort zones wide open, have conversations that expand my view of the world. Talk about material for transformation. Within the confines of being safe, go explore, my friend. Magic lives there.

SEVEN. The good stuff takes time. 

Be patient with yourself. Don't judge your creation in comparison to someone else's. (Was that two pieces of advice?) The really good stuff takes time to create, so let it percolate and simmer. Whether it's a painting or a book, an entrepreneurial pursuit or a new entree, give it the time that it needs to cook.

What about you? What are your creative rituals? How do you make the intentional time and space to write or paint or play?

the queen of high expectations

I am the queen of high expectations.

Not so much of other people (though my husband might disagree with me on that, sometimes). But of experiences and seasons and my cooking and, most of all, myself

That I know my husband wouldn’t disagree with.

Maybe it’s a by-product of sensitivity or good ol’ high-achieving perfectionism, but, whatever the reason, I get caught up in the “should’s” and “supposed-to’s.” I lose myself to comparisonitis and the pain of unmet expectation.

Let me tell you something. It’s dark and cold and lonely in there, friends. Like quicksand and heartbreak and suffocating.

Last week, I found myself there. In that deep, dark blackhole o’ shame and “should’s.”

I had, like any good, little entrepreneur, started planning and goal-setting for 2017. I sat down at our little breakfast nook, pulled out my notebook, and began mapping out the next 12 months. Workshops. Retreats. DIY courses. Mentorships and copy polishing and creative expression. I set big, big financial goals. I made plans for expansion and new projects and website copy to match. 

And then I crumbled.

In the midst of dreaming and scheming and envisioning what could be, I got caught up in what should be. I stumbled upon the long, long list of “must-do’s” and “supposed-to’s.” Numbers. To-do's. Strategy. Check lists. Like I said, high expectations. So far to fall.

Instead of expansion and hope and energy, I found myself suffocated and stuck. I began doubting my plans, my dreams, my abilities. 

I closed in, shut down, and stopped.

And, then, a dear, dear friend lovingly reminded me that I was going about it all wrong. 

She asked: What would have happened 12 months ago if you had made a “plan" and stuck to it? Where would you be? What would you be doing?

Her questions stopped me in my tracks. And, all of a sudden, instead of expectation, I recognized the feeling of expansion.

The past 12 months have been nothing if not unbelievably surprising and wholly transformative. What started, quite accidentally, as an editing business has quickly become a vessel for creative expression, courageous and curious community, and wholehearted, soulful entrepreneurship.

Twelve months ago, I would never have envisioned that I would get to work with such an incredible tribe of business owners and creatives. I would never have imagined the depth of the work I would be doing, or the way that things would shift and change and transform as I learned more about myself, my voice, and this great, wonderful, beautiful, painful and imperfect world we inhabit.

Twelve months ago, I just couldn’t see it. My view, too narrow. My foresight, limited.

The truth is that I can’t imagine or even attempt to plan for the next 12 months. If they’re anything like the last twelve, they're going to be a magnificent and magical combination of challenges and changes and expansions and contractions. Beautiful and brutal. Hard and so, so good. I’ll have to claim parts of myself that I never knew existed, journey through fear and pain and untethered joy, and let go of the pieces of me that no longer fit. 

I’m letting go of the expectations in order to receive what’s true and real and wonderful.

I can’t wait.

Now, it doesn’t mean that I’m not planning for what’s coming next. Because, love, I am.  

Those retreats? They’re coming.

And those workshops? They’re in the works. They’re bits of my heart wrapped up in writing prompts and self-discovery and wholehearted community.

I’m shifting and expanding my work as a writer and editor, deepening my offerings to support my entrepreneurial clients so that they, too, can share their work with the world.

But, rather than boxing myself in, I’m opening myself up. I’m going slowly, surely, with intention and courage and flexibility. Granting myself permission to be imperfect, and forgiving myself when I fail. Or, you know, trying my best. 

Last year, I wrote this, all about failed resolutions and learning to walk before we run. I think that, maybe, I got it half right. Or maybe a bit more. Maybe the practice is less in the habits and more in the heart. Or a healthy dose of both.

Either way, I’m looking forward to 2017, and all of the unexpected and beautiful surprises that are sure to come with it. I’m looking forward to stepping forward with courage and creativity, to greater expression and deeper connection. 

Who’s with me?!

More to come, love.

- xx k -

P.S. If you're seeking a retreat for 2017, I'll be co-leading an intimate retreat in a secluded area of the Santa Barbara region this spring (April/May TBD) with my dear friend, somatic therapist and writer, Caitlin Lyon.

A treasured weekend of movement practice, meditation, healing, and contemplation.
Limited to 12 people.
A deposit of $150 reserves your spot.

More details on this coming oh-so-soon.
Simply email me at kate@katekmccarthy.com if you’ve got questions.

All will be revealed soon. Promise.

 

the 2016 best of: book edition

It’s no secret: I love, love, love books. 

That new-book smell. The feel of crisp pages between my fingers. Unwrapping books from their boxes. All of them lined up in a row on my bookshelf. Bookmarks and highlighters and notes scribbled in margins.

Sometimes, when I walk through the doors of The Elliott Bay Book Company, my favorite local bookstore, I imagine the millions upon millions of years and moments and bits of personal experience that are stored on the shelves. Literal blood, sweat, and tears have gone into their pages, hundreds of thousands of lifetimes stored in their bindings. It's awesome in the truest sense of the word.

When I graduated from college, I told myself that I would never stop reading. After my last class ended, I remember being terrified that my life would be like one long summer break. While one long summer break doesn’t sound so bad - all bike rides and sunshine and long stretches of freedom, for me, it also meant the inevitable atrophying of my mental muscle. Remember sitting down at your desk after a long summer break only to realize that you forgot how to do the work? Forgot how to write, pen to paper? Forgot how to think critically and gather knowledge? 

That. That’s what I was afraid of.

So, when graduation approached, I made the commitment: I would never stop reading.

And I haven’t.

As a writer, a creative, and a human dedicated to knowing more, learning more, growing more, reading is my creative nourishment. It’s how I introvert in and rejuvenate my spirit. It’s how I expand and learn to express and remember how to feel and behave and reflect. Fiction. Non-fiction. Memoir. Poetry. Short stories. It doesn’t matter. It’s fuel. Food. Self-care. Life.

And when my husband became a reader (4 years into our relationship!), I swear I fell in love with him all over again. There’s nothing more attractive than a man with a book. Other than a man with a puppy. Because… puppies, y'all.

Anyhow… Each year, I collect and recollect the best books that I’ve read over the past 365 days. And, love, there have been so. many. good. books.* 

Without further ado...


 

Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton

This recommendation is a no-brainer, love. I read it back in October, and it has featured prominently in the wholehearted creative expansion that has occurred over the past few months. True, real, heart-wrenching, and hopeful, I wish that each and every loved one in my world had a copy of this book.

 
 

milk and honey, rupi kaur

I’ve long been a fan of rupi’s poetry via her Instagram profile, and I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of her book, milk and honey, this past summer on a trip to Portland’s Powell’s Books. Feminist, fierce, and, ugh, oh-so-good. She’ll crack you open and put you back together again through her poetry. And you’ll be better for the journey.

 
 

Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The truth is that - with business and writing and work - I don’t get much fiction in. I mean, over the past 12 months, I’ve mayyyybe read 3 novels? Thank goodness this was one of them. Adichie, the bestselling author of Americanah, flawlessly weaves the story of Biafra’s struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the late 1960’s. Beautiful. Evocative. Vivid.

 
 

You Are A Badass, Jen Sincero

When my dear friend told me that this book had become her bible, I took note. This book is part mindset practices, part spirituality, and entirely wonderful. I’ve passed it along to my husband, my dad, and, now that it’s back at home, it’s on my list for a re-read. 

 
 

Upstream, Mary Oliver

Ok, confession. As we speak, I’m only about halfway through Upstream, but it’s shaping up to be one of my absolute favorites. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry, but her selected essays in this book are something else, y’all. For a girl whose heart lives amongst the tall pine trees, this book takes me home.

 

Honorable Mentions

From books that didn’t make the Top 5 to novels that have been recommended by, well, everyone, these are a few that should find their way into your Amazon cart (or to the counter at your favorite indie bookseller)!

New and Selected Poems, Mary Oliver
A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
The Book of Joy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams
The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, Bari Tessler

What are some of your favorites?! Share in the comments below.


*You’ll note that book links lead to Amazon.com, but most if not all of these titles can be found at your favorite local, indie bookstore!