Many years ago, I was invited to attend a Landmark Education weekend seminar.
There is some controversy about the course, most of which I wasn’t much aware of before I said yes to going. This happens a lot.
I’m glad I went and a decade and a half later, there are at least two pieces of the intense weekend that have stayed with me. One of them is the concept of Strong Suits.
In a super tiny nutshell here are a few points about Strong Suits:
- They are traits we like about ourselves and traits for which we have been rewarded, praised, paid, loved … you get the idea - and also this tells you why we like them so much. A loopy kind of thing.
- They develop early on, in phases, out of some psychological pain. Often a desire to belong. Or to be safe. Or both. We then use these Strong Suits to get through life, and the more we use them, the better we get at them, the more rewards we get from them - and the more they become our comfort zone.
- At some point, we will usually fall out of balance with how we dance with our Strong Suits, and as Ulysses Maclaren says: “It could be that the best things you like about yourself are the biggest things holding you back.”
Ok, I think that’s enough info about the general idea of Strong Suits for me to move on to what I want to share here.
Since my teenage years, I have been attached to the Strong Suit of Hospitality. I now know clearly where it comes from and how it served me then. Sharing what I had was my offering to my peers, my way of saying: “See, I am not that different from you, here, take what I have.” It worked: my home became the place to have the best Saturday night parties and I was accepted for that. Being accepted is a big deal when you are thirteen.
The years passed and not surprisingly I grew into an adult who could live in a phone booth and always find a way to squeeze in a bed or a meal for someone else.
Nothing wrong with that, it often led to beautiful times and it would have been hard to see the dysfunction in my wide-open, unbridled, joyful Hospitality. In fact when Airbnb became an option, running three listings in my small cottage added to the validation that YES, I could even get paid to scratch this old itch. How wonderful! Months after starting, I earned the badge of Super Host.
I had guests at home, I ran a Community Happiness Center and I hosted Retreats. Scratch, scratch, scratch that Hostess itch. Man, it felt good. And really, in many ways, it WAS good, really deeply good.
Then came The Change.
Between the pandemic and me starting to see some not-so-sweet consequences of my open-door policy and my “Here! Have it! If it’s mine it, I’ll share” ways, I answered the call of stepping out of my regular life. Away from where I had history and where it was so easy for me to cater to my Strong Suits, I would surely be safe from them.
On January 1, 2021, my pup and I moved to a tiny one-room cabin close to the beach in a village in Mexico. Just the two of us.
That Christmas, seven of us and our adopted Mexican kitten were piled in my cabin, happily sharing hammocks and taking turns at the camping stove. Ha!
My family, my loves. I was deliriously happy.
Because you see, the Strong Suits are not the problem. The out-of-balance is the problem. The lack of discernment is the problem. Being an uncurable Hostess is wonderful and it can lead to delicious times WHEN we know who and where and how we want to host. When we choose. When we don’t default.
The months passed and I started to process of creating a beautiful small home in the country. Just a few minutes from the bustle of the village, at the foot of the jungle.
I drew the house on a napkin and nine months later we moved into it.
But not before making an adjustment to the original plan: a guest house. I needed a guest house. Nothing fancy, just a sweet little room to always be available to whoever needed a bed. My Hostess smiled and nodded at that decision. She was pleased.
Then, as the tiny guest house was being built, while I was in the US selling my beloved cottage, The Whisperings began.
“You have to paint,” it said.
“I paint,” I said back a little too quickly.
“You have to have a place to paint, a studio. It’s time,” it said.
“I see,” I said back. Because I did see.
So I grabbed another napkin and drew how I was going to use this small outbuilding to satisfy both My Hostess and My Artist, whose voice I had recognized.
I could do it.
There would be a bed in the room, for The Hostess, which would turn into a couch when The Artist wanted a turn. A nice couch on which to nap between creations.
The work table would turn into a desk for guests when The Hostess was in charge and I would get nice big totes to store the art supplies.
I did it.
Twelve hours after the stucco walls were dried, in December 2022, my first guests arrived. Beloved guests, they inaugurated the space and quickly after they left, more friends and family arrived. And arrived, and arrived. And it was sweet and it was great and I knew that at some point, my paints and brushes would come out of their totes. I had sort of forgotten how the space could turn into a studio, but I had my napkin and I trust napkin drawings. The Artist was tapping her foot a little bit but she knew The Hostess had been the boss for so long that she needed to be cool about it all. Thinking back now I think she knew exactly how this was going to turn out.
June came and I knew the heat was going to keep visitors away for a few months and that I could let The Artist have at it for the summer.
Before I left for a quick trip to the States, I pushed the bed against the wall, opened the totes, and arranged the paints. I filled the shelves with my yummy art stuff and got on the plane knowing I would come home and paint … something.
Days after I returned, a dear family needed a place to stay. Two of them, three kids, two dogs - one of the dogs Chamo whom I had handed to them six months before - were going to move in and we would figure out the rest later. We didn’t know for how long but we could do it.
I moved the art supplies into my bedroom, told The Artist to please be a little more patient and that we were going to figure it out. The Hostess was needed right now.
They all piled onto couches, the hammock, the bed in what was once again the guest house and my oh my The Hostess was happy! Too classy to be outwardly rude to The Artist, she just smiled her best smile.
Truly, it was a super special time.
Two days later my friends found a place in town and that’s when The Artist made her big move. And has not stopped since.
First, not content with pushing the bed against the wall, she had us move it into the main house. There was no waiting allowed. My friend is about half my size and the two of us somehow carried the bed into the living room before she left. The first time I walked into the space without the bed in it, I felt a little dizzy. Once the paints came out again, I wasn’t sure whether I was out of my mind excited or scared as heck.
But it was late June. No one comes to visit in the summer. I could just do this for a few months, keep The Artist happy, and see what happened next.
That’s when my nephew called and told me he and his love were coming to visit.
Oh, it’s so silly.
The Hostess and The Artist began a staring contest. I reached for my Morning Pages as for a lifeline.
I was so uncomfortable. Of course, they could sleep on the same bed they had slept on before which was now in the living room. “It would be just as comfortable,” said The Artist. “But how terribly selfish of you,” said The Hostess. Selfish… ufff - she used the big guns with that one.
Back to the Morning Pages. Lots of them.
The Artist won.
The kids were fine. They left their stuff all over the living room, slept like rocks and I occasionally walked into … THE STUDIO and looked around.
It was not modular. It was not half this and half that. It was A STUDIO. A small, lovely art studio. My art studio.
Then, after my family left, The Artist took a deep breath, exhaled, and with that exhale launched me into a project that I am still in awe about. She led me from place to place, person to person, pink to rose to burnt amber, and well, magic happened. It was as though she had been waiting decades to be allowed to come out and play, to be loved, to be respected. And now that she had a home, now that she didn’t ever remember that for so long she didn’t, she was going to hold my hands and we were going to go places.
Next month, just a few short months after the big standoff, I am HOSTING (!) my first show in town.
52 portraits of some of the people who make this village so special. A work of Celebration, Art, Love, and Community. What happens next, I am not sure but I bet it’s going to be good.
I reflect on Ulysses Maclaren’s words: “It could be that the best things you like about yourself are the biggest things holding you back.”
My Hostess is a thing I love about me AND she had been holding me back. I still love her and she and I are never going to be apart.
But from now on, it’s just going to be different.
Because it’s The Artist’s turn to play.
This life …
See all the paintings here:
SCARED OF THE SACRED