Showing Up

Walking across one of the many bridges that spans the Boise river, we spotted something bright red in the distance. Drawing closer, we saw that it was a nylon camp chair—empty. We looked in every direction for someone who might be the owner, but there wasn’t a soul in sight.


During one of the classes I’m teaching at UW-Madison’s Writers’ Institute, I’ll share that life is about showing up. So is writing. Failure to show up—be present—yields puny results. For a writer, that equals a blank page.

There are many different ways of showing up. We can arrive with a chip on our shoulder and a cup-half-empty attitude, or…

Remember Aunt Clara on the television series Bewitched? She may have fumbled and bumbled and usually arrived—covered in soot, hat askew—after tumbling down the Stephens’ chimney, but she showed up with a positive, go-get-’em attitude and a ready smile.

How do you show up for life?


56 thoughts on “Showing Up

  1. First I would mull over in my mind why there is a red chair on the river bank?

    I seek each day to show up in the moment of now, with clear and illuminated directions for my path, yet there are moments that you still need to go with the flow, not buck the current, not jump in head first, if I do than I have to show up to myself for reacting rather than responding!

  2. This fall I am traveling so much that it’s a challenge to both show up to the next place and reflect on the learning from the last one. I recently flew from Cuba to Toronto to Newark. Since I was reuniting with Stuart and our children and grandchildren, showing up was easy!

  3. I’m curious about the red chair. I wonder if anyone returned for it?

    I’m generally an optimistic person, but I can’t say there’s any one way I “show up for life.” It depends totally on the situation, day, and mood. In the gloom of November, I do have to force myself sometimes to go out and do things, when all I want to do is stay at home in my p.j’s–especially once it gets dark, now at 4:30 or so. 🙂

    • Merril — Today I quite unexpectedly find myself responding to comments from a nearby Starbuck’s. After calling our internet carrier, I learned that it’s going to be down-for-the-count for an unknown period of time. I was looking forward to responding (in my jammies) from the comfort of my own cozy little home. So I had to shift gears and head out. Now that I’m here I’m smiling because there’s some great people watching! 🙂

  4. For months I attached a Woody Allen quote to the cork-board outside my office door: “80 percent of success is showing up.” When students got into class, they heard me say, “If you get your body here, we’ll work on your mind.” I also rewarded them for arriving on time. But that’s another story.

    Your students will be rewarded with provocative questions like these at the Writers’ Institute you teach next April. They’re lucky to have you: optimism and wise instruction in one package!

    • Mariam — The positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing imprint you left on your students’ lives is wonderful. If it were a color — something we could visibly track with our eyes — we’d see a tremendous ripple effect that starts with YOU. Thank you for showing up! 🙂

  5. Laurie, showing up to me also means being present. Being here and not getting ahead of myself, or wishing I was somewhere else. It took me a long time to get back to this gift of childhood 😊

  6. That was my advice to my children when they started university. “Whatever you do, show up for class. If you do that, you’ll make it.” As for me, I like to believe I “show up to the page” as a writer, but sometimes it’s not the right page. I have an ongoing project that somehow always falls by the wayside. I’ll have to start following my own advice. 🙂

  7. I am learning to be “present” in the moment and think only of today, not worrying about tomorrow. I have been making progress in my accomplishments each day 🙂 not as much about writing at the moment. However, my accomplishments now will free more quality time in the near future to focus more writing, reading and learning! Yippee!

  8. It depends on where my head is at the time. If it’s screwed on properly I’m there, in the moment. If it isn’t, I’m probably be wandering around looking inside every doorway!

    • Joan — This is a great reminder! From now on when I look in the bathroom mirror in the morning to slap a little color on my lips, I’m going to make certain that my head is screwed on properly, too 🙂

  9. Laurie, thanks for the reminder to be present. I show up as promised, but being present? That is not always my strong suit.
    I will show up with a smile and continue to work on my presence. 🙂
    I will make a point to log in and make a post about the next time I’m truly present. (Its been way too long!)
    Also loving the river pictures…reminds me of my previous home on the river.

  10. Love that the chair was red. You are the expert on colors. I experience red as vibrant and full of energy.
    I do agree that showing up means being fully present, bringing my vibrant energy to what is, and engaging with all (mind, body, spirit, emotions) available to me. A colleague and friend would also characterize showing up as putting some “skin in the game.” I see this as “investing myself.” My work as a coach with leaders and others demands no less. Being sister, aunt, friend, colleague, deserves no less.
    At the same time, although my intention is to show up in this full way, it would be dishonest to say I always do.
    This year began with the loss of my mother after a year of working hard to be present through her illness and memory issues, the various ways each of my siblings and I coped with this amazing journey and her relatively peaceful death. I was not fully present with her all of the time (lost in my own emotions) nor with others (work or personal). Now that is the extreme. There are days when my vibrant energy has faded to dirty brown. Clearly I don’t show up fully then. There are days when I’m distracted by or pondering an issue or challenge. Many other reasons why the intention fails to be fully expressed.
    And yet I would propose that those days have value as well. The creative process requires time in the dark (think of the planting process). When we come back from these sojourns in life we may find ourselves bringing part of our self that was not available before.
    And as a coach I find that facing my own vulnerabilities allows me to be more fully present, frequently without words, when a client (or a friend) has their own vulnerable moment.
    This understanding of the ups and downs of presence and showing up allows me to be a bit more compassionate with myself. Perhaps the writer in me also learns from sitting under the tree rather than showing up to the blank page. Just a thought not a challenge.

  11. It varies, but I’m trying my hardest to be positive, especially when there are other people around too. Now we’re all going to be thinking about that chair…

    • Olga — I don’t know if it’s a saying that’s used only on our side of the pond, but perhaps you’ve heard: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Because our energy tends to “rub off” on others, I applaud that you make an extra effort to be positive when you’re around other people 🙂

  12. Except for generally being an optimist (I’m half optimist/half pessimist) I have to agree with Merrildsmith. It does depend a lot on what is coming my way or even what I see out there in the world. Sometimes I see wonderful things such as the rare time someone goes out of his or her way to help someone else. Sadly, it is often the opposite. I think the state of the world’s weather is a good barometer of life on earth.

    And I found that chair bobbing in the water interesting. I had a similar experience just before Halloween, although not on water. We are getting too many high windy days here and on one of those a large plastic pumpkin blew my way, landing in front of my property. I could not find where it came from, despite walking up and down my street and nearby streets. One place appeared to be a possibility (based on Halloween decorations out there and an empty veranda chair). When I knocked on the door repeatedly no one answered despite two cars being in the driveway. If that meant no one was home and they were out in yet another car, what does that say about our society’s acquiring too many status things if two cars were already in the driveway?

    Then there are too many car commercials, but that’s a whole other subject.

    As for the lost pumpkin, I was going to throw it in the garbage, but no. That’s adding to the landfill (doesn’t go in the recycle bin – I checked with the city). For now it’s stored with my other Halloween decorations. Maybe next year it’ll find its real home.

    Laurie, you always hit the nail on the head or whatever analogy you choose to use..


  13. Hi Laurie

    There are so many different domains into which we can “show up”, and it seems to me that there is no right or wrong way to balance how much attention we bring to any domain at any time, there seems to be only choice, awareness, action.

    It seems that we are each such amazingly complex entities.

    We have these bodies and brains which seem to be able to do certain sorts of things all by themselves, without our awareness having much impact at all. They seem to be the result of a process of evolution by natural selection happening over some 4 billion years on this planet, and from an information theory perspective can be thought of as strategies in action filtered over that evolutionary time bringing certain probabilities of dispositions to being into the present instance of our existence.

    At the next level we all get born into this cultural existence, of family, community, language, technology, and all the wider social groups we engage within our existence.
    Each aspect of culture comes with its implicit sets of relationships and stories about relationships of the distinguished elements within that culture, and its actual underlying systemic sets of relationships.

    At the next level comes our individual sets of awareness.
    It seems clear to me that our experiential existence is a software entity resident in a software model of reality created in the brain of our bodies by the complex sets of interactions of information and information processing systems of our specific body, which systems have been delivered by evolutionary selection over the life history encapsulated in that 4 billion years of existence as life.
    It seems that this brain is not restricted to holding a singular entity, and can (and most often does) house multiple entities simultaneously, and typically any one system (speech, locomotor, hearing, touch, smell, abstract thought, etc) is controlled exclusively by one of those software entities (though others may share the information). Thus it is, that we can both write, and observe ourselves writing, and observe our body do other things, at the same time. We can acknowledge a singularity of our physical being, and also often a multiplicity of simultaneous aspects of being. (In this context I like the Walt Whitman quote “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”)

    It seems to be possible to create abstract levels of being, and to create gaps between the subconscious impulses to action (at every level of awareness and action) and the execution of those impulses, and to insert choice into that gap when we choose.
    It seems possible to widen or to narrow that gap, to allow for greater consideration, or more rapid response, and we seem to be able to consciously alter the context of such changes (though there are also many subconscious systems also evolved to alter that gap, quite independent of any level of our conscious choices – so there is a level of uncertainty at every level of awareness and “control”).

    So I try to maintain balances at all levels of these aspects of being, sometimes maintaining several simultaneously, sometimes giving one or other near total dominance, sometimes being very focussed on achievement of very specific outcomes in reality, sometimes open to whatever possibilities to action reality presents (requiring an emptiness that is almost devoid of purpose). Sometimes intent on the crafting of a message, other times open to the messages of others.

    So there is a mixing, at many different levels, and of both the number and degree of types and levels of being.
    And it seems that each can have a certain level of utility in certain contexts, and it seems that there is no way to predict with absolute certainty what that utility might be, and with practice one seems to get a certain level of accuracy and reliability at making such choices, on an instant by instant basis. There seem to be aspects of both art and science to the choice of context (at every level of context).

    And for all the conscious level systems that may be present, they are always vastly outnumbered by the subconscious level systems, and it usually pays to have at least some of the conscious level systems alert to messages from the subconscious.

    So my life has a rich tapestry (a varied landscape) of existence, from the intensely intentional, to openness to the reality of being, to creating an emptiness that is a close approximation to pure creativity (a close approximation to empty of cultural or genetic influence).

    And I’m never quite sure who/what I am going to be when, and I do seem to have developed some capacities to action that are not particularly common, and those do seem to supply a rich and interesting existence, in the showing up of being.

  14. I am too loyal at times . When I say I’m going to show up , I do , always way before time and completely pristine …it’s my armour Laurie . Unfortunately not everyone is the same as myself . Wish I could have a spoonful of what they have . Mind you I do know how to find a good fiend . That red chair is intriguing . I must write a poem about it .
    Once I saw a pink sparkly sandle left on the beach covered in sand , that got the creative juices flowing .

    • Cherry — Now you’ve got me intrigued by the pink sparkly handle left on the beach covered in sand. I’m glad that the red chair is stirring a poem in your head. And you know what? I think that showing up pristine and before time is wonderful armor to have 🙂

  15. Laurie, I’m going to have to re-subscribe to your blog, this is the 2nd week you haven’t shown up in my mailbox! I try to never be a no-show, I can’t even stand to be late. I’m sure the reason my artistic endeavors haven’t made some sort of World impact, I need some one to stand behind me with a bull horn shouting” Go! Go! Go!”.

    • Sandi – If I can figure out how to send an invitation for you to subscribe again, I’ll give it a go. I wonder if it’s not showing up because it’s going to your old email address? Regardless, thank you for stopping by 🙂

  16. This week I just showed up and it turned out well. Every 14 months it is my turn to show up and host book group ( 12 members) Most are non-readers who for the past 6 years are working on reading and thinking about books and working on health and exercise – beauty is also very important in this group. I picked a 30 year old book that was a required read when i was teaching at the College and it was about the year 2059 after an ecological disaster, but it truly describes what is happening today so well, I wanted to re-read it. We also serve dinner with our discussion. Now I do not have a working kitchen in my new 1964 house ( MW and a refrigerator) and I knew 1 person was in Hawaii, and that the book would be challenging for a couple of the readers – I went ahead and prepared. I catered dinner from a special restaurant in town 10 meals and 2 Gluten Free meals. The RSVPs were slow to come in and 3 canceled at the last minute. It turned out to be dinner for 4 and none-had read the book. We ate the lovely food and felt warm and cozy and folks shared their stories of their lives. We were surrounded by unpacked boxes and warmed by our new heat system and we listened. One more arrived about a hour late and had read 1/3 of the book and was loving it – with enthusiasm. I shared the focus of the story and why I chose it and the theme of “What does it mean to be Human?” Everyone relaxed and unwound and were interested in the racism issues, immigration issues and really listened to each other Listening intently and each has sent a note saying how nurtured they felt after the evening. They were happy they came They felt centered and heard. I think the group turned a corner and found some depth. I showed up and did my part to make sure those who showed up were welcomed and supported. I think those who showed up were changed by the evening and connected in new ways with each other. It was a beautiful experience by just showing up
    Good words Laurie and a great idea to contemplate – yes there is value in showing up and it never fails to make a difference in my life.

    • Patricia — The smile on my face is so BIG after reading about this evening. At first I was angry on your behalf that so many had cancelled. But it appears that the Universe Right-Sized the group so that it could turn out as fabulously as it did! 🙂

  17. Laurie, I “showed” up with my wife and the rest of our family this past Friday night to take in an utterly delightful high school play which starred among others, my fifteen-year old daughter Jillian. Another priceless moment to store away in the memory banks. And another brilliant post here!

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