Carolyn Scarborough is the author of Backyard Pearls: Cultivating Wisdom and Joy in Everyday Life. She is also an Inner Wisdom Writing Coach, helping people get in touch with the message they're here to share with the world, then supporting them to write it in books, blogs or articles. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two teenage daughters and their big-haired labradoodle. This interview was conducted for the Story Circle Journal.
Read Lisa Shirah-Hiers's review of Backyard Pearls for StoryCircleBookReviews.org.
Interviewed by Lisa Shirah-Hiers
Posted on 06/03/2010
Your book began as a series of newspaper columns you wrote when you were staying home with your two girls. What made you decide to collect them into a book?
I hadn't really thought about it, but the newspaper readers kept asking if I would put my essays in a book. The more I pondered this, the more I liked the idea. Now, I'm thrilled that I did. The book is something that I can pass down to my daughters, it adds to my professional credibility. and it's a lot less messy than newsprint!
In the first chapter (Identity Pearls), you describe your choice to leave a busy and glamorous career as a travel magazine writer to stay home with your kids—and the funny fact that you felt uncomfortable answering questions about your "new" career. As you put it, "...I settled on the least objectionable label and said I was a stay-at-home mother. Granted, this one too was misleading—did it mean I was a mother at home, but once out the door it was nothing but spiked heels and salsa parties for me?" Say a bit more about why you think this is a tricky question for women (and men) in this position.
I think it's our all too human nature to label people outwardly, rather than tuning into the magnificence of who they really are. We do it so much that we think it's the truth about someone. So, somehow, being at home with kids meant I was different than I was as a high profile magazine writer and editor. The superficialities are indeed different, but my most essential qualities are the same, and that gets overlooked.
In the book you define "backyard pearls" as "...moments of beauty, insight or joy [that] are always available. It simply takes paying attention to what's right around us and inside us." Can you elaborate?
When I'm with my daughter at the same time I'm thinking about taxes and washing the dishes, I can still hear some of what she's saying and look efficient. But I'm not going to scoop up any pearls in the dish suds. I'm not present enough. I'm moving through life, but not living it.
If, instead, I put down the dish rag and clear my thoughts, I may notice the slightly tangy scent of her hair, or the awkward, sweet teenage question. My heart starts expanding. Gratitude comes in. And sometimes, I even get to bliss. But finding those pearls all starts with awareness and being really present in the moment. There's always a different way to see things.
This even works in the middle of a seemingly negative moment. I can be tapping my fingers in frustration behind three slow customers in the grocery checkout line—one counting a dollar's worth of change in pennies—and put myself in hell. But the pearl in this case is in first noticing my thoughts and accepting (rather than resisting) the situation, since I can't change it anyway! Once I do that, taking some deep breaths and moving out of my racing mind, I may notice a fragility in the woman counting pennies and feel some compassion. Or notice how I have a belief—perhaps that people shouldn't take more than their "fair" share of time—that is causing me stress and that I need to release. There's always a gift.
It's like when we're writing. Pearls are abundant there as well. When I'm writing and I'm disconnected from my body and my mind is wrestling those thousand-pound mental alligators (such as, "Who cares what I have to say?" or "This isn't good enough"), then the results come out in the writing. But when I pause, tune into my body and breath, compassionately and non-judgmentally notice my thoughts and release them, then I drop into this well of original thought. The pearls come, because that's where they're hidden.
Why did you decide to include writing prompts at the end of each essay?
Since I am really a coach at heart, I wanted to encourage people to ponder how the subject of each chapter affects their own lives. Some of that exploration starts when they're reading the stories. I feel so honored when people confess to me that they think I'm spying on them, because how else could I understand their exact experience?! That's what we try to do as writers—capture the universal within the personal.
What are three or four "pearls" from the book that are your favorites?
One of my favorites is "Living in the Pause," where I come upon the realization that often what's worthwhile doesn't appear while we're doing the tasks on our to-do list, but in the pauses between the tasks. Another favorite is "'Tis better to Receive than to Give," which turns traditional wisdom on its head and helped me better understand my mother. And I'm always moved when I re-read "Open Hearted Living," about my father's death and the gifts we can experience after the loss of someone we love.
Do you think writing our stories is transformative?
The whole process is transformative. First, there's capturing the story. Often I'm in the middle of my day, perhaps feeling out of sorts (which is often because I'm mentally in the past or future, not the present), when suddenly a moment comes and I get an "aha." My perspective changes, I spot a flash of beauty, whatever. That moment alone transforms me, even if I don't write about it.
But when I take it further and decide to write about it, the insights keep coming. I may spend the next week just looking for patterns or anecdotes related to the topic. For instance, in one of my stories I had an aha about interrupting people. Once I had that, I started looking for patterns. When am I interrupted? Why do people interrupt? What happens when we resist that urge? I learned so much through that exploration, and more shifts happened.
The actual writing of the story takes it even further, inviting a deeper wisdom to come forth. As I follow the threads, more is revealed.
And ironically, when I read my own stories, perhaps a month or year later, I get more from them. I think that's because when we write from that deep place, we're tapping into the divine. In our daily life, we don't have that level of connection all the time. I'm very human and sometimes forget the wisdom in my own words!
Overall, the whole process is transformative and has taught me to slow down, because that's where the pearls lie. When we're speeded up, we rush right past the bliss. We react mindlessly to life. We get a lot accomplished, but don't necessarily feel much joy. When we slow down, all this beauty just opens up.
What led you to your new path as an Inner Wisdom Writing Coach? What do you do for people?
I have always been fascinated by the psychological and spiritual aspects of how people tick. As a journalist, no matter what I'm interviewing someone about—from how to make a soufflé to where to skydive—I have a knack for pulling out the deeper meaning in an experience. It's somehow wired in me.
So, when I heard about the profession of life coaching, I knew that it was perfect for me. I attended and graduated from Coach U, then added those skills to my professional career as a writer, journalist and author. Now people call me the "book whisperer," because my depth and questioning helps people reach deep into themselves, see what's there, and express it in writing.
Some clients come to me because they have a passion to write something, and either can't start or can't finish or need direction. I inspire them to write in a way that energizes them, to tune into their bodies as they write to access more depth, and to play with time so it's an asset instead of an enemy. It's a method that makes the process light and fun, from writing to marketing and publishing.
What are some dreams you have for the future? What things do you hope to experience or accomplish in your lifetime?
My life is such a ripe plum now, how will things get better? I experience so much daily that fills me up, that I don't have dreams other than to squeeze the bliss out of each moment. Right now I'm sitting on my front porch, where I do much of my writing, and I'm noticing that the sound of the wind in one tree has a different music than the wind in the tree next to it. The interplay is creating a symphony. The clouds are floating by, my dog is asleep at my feet, my heart is wide open. What more is there?
I went to hear Byron Katie speak a few months ago in Houston and someone asked her about her dream. She replied something along the lines of "To sit on a street corner and watch the world go by." I think when your mind gets so clear that there's some spaciousness rather than constant worry, judgment and endless recycling of tapes, than it matters little what you're doing. You're at peace and happy wherever you are.
What is ahead for you now? What will you do now that your book is out in the world?
I truly love coaching people who want to express through writing, so what's ahead is enjoying my growing coaching business, snuggling with my husband and daughters, writing more pearls for a future book... and perhaps, as Byron Katie says, sitting on a street corner and happily watching the world go by...
To find out more about Carolyn, read her blog or order her book, visit her website.