True magic happens when you learn that you don’t have to take smack talk from your mind. This is what I have learned thus far along my journey of self mastery. That journey continues by the way. The ultimate goal is being truly present in the moment without reacting unconsciously to conditions. This is where the adventure really gets exciting.
I have met many extraordinary (whether they knew it or not) people who have been like beacons of light along the way. Few more impactful than the human being I am about to describe.
Up until about a year ago, I had been teaching for the social painting corporation ‘Paintnite’. If you’ve never been to a paint party, it goes something like this:
A large group of people, 99.9% absolutely non-artists (Many ‘real’ artists wouldn’t be caught dead at a paint party, however the odd time you do get one who brings their own bag of brushes, announces that they paint, and proceeds to make sure you know they can do it better than you, lol.) gather together at a bar. Alcohol is considered necessary for these kinds of activities. Paintnite’s logo is a martini glass with a paint brush in it, and their tagline is ‘drink creatively’. Teachers (actually, party hosts, “this is not a class!” according to Paintnite) are prompted to encourage people to drink more. “If you don’t like how your painting is going, take another sip”etc.
98% of attendees are women. Men show up occasionally, and usually add dragons or alien space craft to their paintings. Or, my favourite ever, a fellow who was clearly dragged out against his will by his wife just paints a big ‘NO!’ on his canvas.
Most of these ladies are incredibly nervous, after all, they haven’t painted since kindergarten. Everyone is trying to get the seat closest to where they think I will be instructing from (sometimes I would set up my example painting at one end of the room, and then switch it to the other once everyone was seated, just to mess with them). 10 or 20 people generally swarm me while I’m setting up, asking “where will you be?” and trying to reserve seats by hanging their designer coats on the backs of chairs only centimetres away from where I am pouring paint onto thin paper plates from 2 litre jugs.
My answer is always “I walk around while I’m teaching, theres no bad seat in the house, I will come to you”. This is usually met with “I really need to be at the ‘front’ (there is no front), I’m blind as a bat, I will be the worst student you have ever had, I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, I couldn’t draw a stick person if you paid me”….etc, etc.
To which I respond “Good thing there are no straight lines or stick figures in this painting!” smile, and proceed speedily set up 30 painting stations, in a bar that was never designed to hold art classes.
So then there is the matter of seating 30 hyped up, on their way to being drunk ladies who are out on the town for a good night. The thing is, they come in groups of 2, or 3 or 17…Planning the seating is a feat of mathematical genius in and of itself…especially being that we have very little indication on the manifest (list of names) as to who is coming with who. So I have to seat people as they come into the painting area. They want to sit all random places (first choice is always the ‘front’…there is no front!). They want to leave seats between them so they don’t have to touch arms with a stranger, little do they know they will eventually be packed in like sardines, every seat is accounted for.
Sometimes my calculations fail, and the last two stragglers show up and their seats are across the room from each other. Occasionally I am able to convince everyone to rearrange their seats so the last two can sit together, but sometimes, there is a resounding “No way, we got here first”.
I have had grown women cry when they were separated from their friends. Because of this, it became very important to me that groups are seated together. I started disallowing people to seat themselves. When anyone entered my zone I would ask “How many are with you?” I developed complex systems of seating arrangements.
So, about a year and a half ago, I was teaching a Paintnite at a local bar called ’15’. Every location comes with its challenges, and ’15’ has tall booths lining the walls, tall booths, which of course you cant see through. So I had to make sure I had a clear walking path around the main tables and to each of these booths. Part of this path was also the way into, and out of the kitchen. Every once in a while I would have to take this path, painting raised, addressing the audience (students? partiers?) walking swiftly around to make sure everyone had a good view of the next step, I would come within millimetres of a waitress carrying 7 plates and a caddy of condiments, and silently as though in an under water ballet, we would move around each other without missing a beat.
I decided to arrive at this location, 2 hours before I am scheduled to start the party (btw, this was reported to my paint nite licensee as a complaint, I’m supposed to set up in under an hour)in an attempt to circumvent the challenges of the space.
They are having a staff meeting in the area where I need to set up, so I sit and wait. 45 minutes later I get to begin my flurry of dragging tables and chairs around the place (Some of those tables had wrought Iron bases…totally toned my arms teaching paint parties!).
I’m in the midst of set up now, when I get in that zone, I can only see humans as blurs of colour and motion in my periphery, I’m in the set-up zone…someone approaches. I force myself to pause and make eye contact. I extrapolate the information that they have 7 in their group, and I start constructing my seating plan in my brain.
Flurry, flurry, flurry…wait, one of those ladies is walking toward the kitchen (Which looks like where the bathrooms should be, but they’re not, they’re downstairs). O.K., I’m mildly annoyed that I have to pause, but I need to redirect her.
I approach, and I’m greeted with a wide smile, kind eyes, and rosy cheeks. I am immediately disarmed by her energy. The “Hello!” I hear is in a cheerful, confident voice, she lets me know she’s excited about the party. After a brief exchange I let her know that she’s headed for the kitchen, and the bathrooms are downstairs. I point to the stairs going to the basement. I notice a momentary flash of hesitation cross her eyes. It might have been totally imperceivable to someone else, but I have a kind of superpower for reading faces. She walks toward the door to the basement and its then I notice, no arms, and a slight stagger in her gait that indicates she’s walking on prothetic legs. For a moment I’m astounded that I hadn’t perceived her physical differences when we were talking. I wonder to myself if the stairs are going to be a problem and quickly scan my memory for a business with a main floor bathroom in the general proximity. In my youth, I had worked at a centre for independent living, and because of that I am a little more aware of accessibility issues than some. Before I can finish my thought, another frantic lady is asking if she can sit at the front…there is no front!
I glance back, I don’t see the woman who was looking for the washroom, and I figure she got it figured out, and I get back to my set up. People a flooding in now, everyone wants to sit at the front and I have booths to deal with, which means I have to divide many people into 4’s. Group of two? over here with this other group of two…group of 4?I have the perfect booth for you…group of 8? no, this line of chairs is reserved for a group of 7. What? you are part of that group and now theres 8? Frantic reconfiguring.
“No, its o.k., I can sit over there”- the same sweet cheerful and confident voice. Its the lady with no arms, and she is offering to sit with perfect strangers at a paint party.
Like, I don’t know if you understand the level of confidence that takes. Maybe you are reading this and you are like “whats the big deal, I love sitting with strangers?”, but the average paint nite attendee is terrified of painting a snowman, let alone rubbing elbows with strangers who might judge her (or his, but seriously, the dudes are way less prone to caring how their paintings turn out, they are usually in it for the beer.) ‘terrible’ painting.
But this lady was totally down. Cool, she sat with a group of 3, who were in a booth, at the front…despite the fact that I made it perfectly clear that only groups of 2 or 4 could sit on the booths. This was an angel, sent to save me from a seating catastrophe.
So, as I stand in front of the audience/class/partiers, I assess what I am up against here. We’ve got a couple of inflated egos to the left, over here on my right, a booth full of ladies who are practically in tears with nervousness, a woman who has been separated form her group and is about to paint a painting with no hands. Over here I have the pathway between the kitchen and the bar running right through my class, complete with newly installed, heavy swinging doors that the waitstaff is not yet accustomed to. One waitress who considers me to be the bane of her existence for showing up 2 hours early and rearranging every table in her bar in a tornado of paint squirting.
Cool. I got this.
I always start my classes with as much encouragement as I can convey. “Easy step by step instructions, I’ll make sure you don’t miss a thing!” I say, “You will impress yourself, I promise!” I say, “2 rules in my class, no talkin’ smack about your own artwork, and don’t dink the paint water!” positive self talk etc…but no one believes me (except about the paint water, it happens way more than you would imagine), at least not until the end.
My strategy is to give lots of extra emotional attention to the humans who are experiencing sheer terror in the face of trying something new, while subtly making extra slow passes by the lady with no arms in case she asked for help. Having some experience at the centre for independent living, I know that most people that have a disability really pride themselves in independence (and are way more independent mentally than their able bodied counter parts truth be told). Now, if able bodied people could just pride themselves in independence I would probably have less people crying at paint parties.
Anywhoo…I set about making my slow passes. Upon the first pass, I overhear the cheery voice asking the other three ladies all kinds of friendly questions about their lives. I can hear that she is making an effort to make them comfortable, and succeeding!
I’m thinkin’ I love this chick.
I continue my rounds, navigating wait staff and fragile egos (not mutually inclusive), like the grand square-dance of life…I pass again. Everything’s cool, she doesn’t need me. I linger a bit, catch a glance of her painting. Whats this? Its awesome! Not awesome for a person with no hands, just plain awesome. She’s holding her paintbrush with some kind of metal spatula, rubber band concoction looking thing. I am amazed with her dexterity.
Cool. More instructions, another round, finally she asks for assistance turning the painting upside down. At this point I am so excited and honoured to be of service. ‘There ya go.” I turn her painting over, grinning like a fool and feeling like I had just saved a puppy from a well. Its funny how being of service can just make our egos jump for joy.
The night proceeds, at the end there are group pictures to be taken, long, sometimes drunken goodbyes, and trying to clean up around a group of 30 people who had just had a totally cathartic, alcohol fuelled, good old time.
Many of them don’t want to stop painting now that they’ve finally started. Thats cool with me, I let them paint as long as they like and just clean up around them.
The stress has all dissipated, almost everyone has totally amazed themselves (just like I told them they would, it happens every time). There is a sense of joyous relief, and a bit of pride in the work done here, on all fronts. A sense of camaraderie, we have all made it through this paint party together.
In between prying half dried paintbrushes off of plastic table cloths, I am asked to take photos for groups, and “Oh can you take it with my phone as well”?. Because of this I have learned how to access and operate the camera on almost any make of phone. Standing on the seat of a booth (for a high angle, more flattering for all involved and generally appreciated), a stack of phones in my arms (Similar to Gus-Gus from Cinderella with the corn kernels) I start taking pics.
In this group is the beautiful, confident, and kind, lady with no arms, holding her painting high…well kinda(she’s on the bottom right, I wasn’t exaggerating about that awesome painting!). She’s smiling with her friends. I hear someone address her, I think I hear the name ‘Gracey’, and I think to myself, thats an appropriate name for her.
She is the epitome of grace.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her. In my life, I have experienced and witnessed so much fear, so much insecurity. I had created scenarios in my mind that had no basis in reality about my imaginings of others judgements of me. I had spent years of my life in a state of crippling self doubt and anxiety.I spent years reading self help books, working to challenge those feelings just to be able to operate in the world, and there before me stood a woman, on prothetic legs ( incidentally I never found out how she navigated the bathroom situation), who seemed fearless, socially at least.
After I was done packing up, I sat down for a well deserved, IMO, glass of wine. I know that I talked with at least 2 people at the bar about how profound this experience was for me.
After work, I went over to my (now) boyfriend Dezzs place (I think it was before we started actually dating) and I told him all about Gracey. He encouraged me to look her up on facebook. A brilliant idea. There was no ‘Gracey’ on the manifest, but there was a Tracy. Tracy Schmitt. She accepted my friend request! Woooo!!!
I wanted so much to tell he how I felt about our meeting. After much deliberation, I sent the following message:
I just want to tell you what a pleasure which it was to meet you the other night. I imagine every person who meets you is impacted by your presence. What was so incredible for me was that I was immediately captivated by your energy, by your power…before I noticed anything about your physical body (other than your radiant smile and knowing eyes).You continued to inspire me with your connectivity and confidence throughout the night.
To top it all off, you have considerable artistic talent which I am sure you are aware of.
I want to thank you, because your very being makes those around you better, myself included.
Gosh, you’re awesome lol!
to which she responded:
Well the feeling is mutual and how thoughtful of you to reach out and say so I definitely scored you 10 out of 10 already on your survey before you Facebooked.
Paintnite sent out a survey to all attendees so they could rate my performance, and complain that they didn’t get a spot at the ‘front’, just kidding, I got a lot of really great feedback. 😉
Eventually, with Dezz’s encouragement, I started to develop my own paint party brand, ‘Paint Partiers’. Dezz encouraged me to write blogs (which is not my forte, as you can see this one took me a year to get to) and collect testimonials. Being that one of the most impactful experiences I have had at a paint party was meeting Tracy, I asked her for a testimonial for my new website.
Our conversation went like this:
Me- Hi Tracy, I have been inspired to write a blog post about meeting you at Paintnite. I want to write the post for my new website paintpartiers.com I have gone out on my own teaching paint parties. My intention is to inspire people that they can do anything, and painting is one of those things. The way you so confidently engaged with everyone, despite the fact that you were separated from your group was phenomenal. I have actually seen others get quite upset in the same scenario. I was thinking if I wrote about you in my blog I could link to your website as well ( http://www.unstoppabletracy.com/ ) so people could get inspired by you directly. Let me know if this is cool with you. If it is, it would also be super awesome if you wrote a few sentences about your experience with me as a teacher. thank you!
This was Tracys beautiful response:
very generous of you!
Monique was a fabulous Artist role Model and incredible Teacher!
I thoroughly enjoyed her humour playful instruction yet thorough and clear simple easy to follow instructions.
I was so impressed everything was ready when my friends and I arrived what we thought was early.
I was more impressed Monique treated everyone equally. Young old, experienced new, with a disability or not. I am an amputtee all 4 limbs missing and Monique guided us all through the exercises and steps and visited each of us to demonstrate and support. I really valued Monique saw me as capable and treated me no differently. Just instructions as was done with everyone … She was approachable, easy to follow, fun and friendly with us all.
I really valued that she didn’t say if you need anything just ask…
I really valued she didn’t say your an inspiration!
I really valued she was just available and saw me as a person.
It was great to enjoy the night without any over compensation.
Just clearly a willingness if need be.
And that was for me as a 4 way amputee and for my 4 friends who were much more high maintenance than me.
And I mean that lovingly.
All could be proud of whatever their result was. And Monique tailored feedback to each individual. Thank you!
Loved my night!
I went back again though disappointed it wasn’t Monique.
Though 111% returned because of her!
Whoa! She likes me too!! I was over the moon about this response, I have a slight lump in my throat re-reading it…mmmm feelz…
So Tracy gives me this amazing testimonial, and I didn’t even do anything with it right away. So much has happened in the last year an a half, and you know what? Its a lot to do with her.
Everything in my life is changing. I am learning how to be unstoppable too!! I’m letting go of long standing fears, and often think to myself ‘If Tracys not afraid, neither am I!’. Since then, Dezz and I have moved from a 2 bedroom basement apartment, to a 4 bedroom farm house in which we are creating our own art and music school. All things are possible!
Over the next few months I start to see all kinds of stuff happening on Tracys Facebook. She has a page now, Unstoppable Tracy Schmitt. What? She’s launching a book she wrote ‘Unstoppable You’, what? She has tag lines like ‘Lim(b)itless’, and ‘No arms, no legs? No problem!’ Its a best seller!!! I want to high five her all day (high one?).
What? She climbs mountains, races tall sailing ships and skis? (none of which I have ever done!)
She’s travelling around the world speaking on big stages with celebrities…she’s famous!
Is she famous? How did I not know this? I’m so glad I didn’t know this when I met her!!!
Then Dezz starts encouraging me (like every day for a year) “you should start a podcast, and you should interview Tracy”.
It was pretty much a daily conversation.
Anyway, I approached her, she said yes, the interview is awesome I’m not going to try to describe it with words, you will just have listen to my podcast ‘Ra Perspective’ whenever I launch it…
but heres a snippet of the interview:
Near the end of our interview, Tracy starts telling me about how her Paintnite experience with me changed her life too. I find that hard to believe, but I believe it anyway because this life is full of infinite possibility. She suggests we host a paint party together. And, you should know that we are hosting a paint party together!! ‘Moving Mountains’. Its a big deal. I hope you can make it, and if you do, I’m fairly sure you will never be the same again.
Its happening in Bowmanville, in a small intimate venue, the Birch Bistro. This is where you can find out more information about the event.
Don’t take smack talk from your mind, it doesn’t get to talk back! You are the boss, you are unstoppable!