RuPaul: my new Zen guru

RuPaul. Uncredited photo.

I tell my writing students that our teachers are always available 24/7 waiting on our bookshelves or a click away on the internet. We only have to read, to listen. If we’re lucky someone will place the book we need for instruction into our hands at just the right moment.

As they say: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

But writers aren’t our only teachers. The world is our collaborator, and sometimes we can be surprised from where inspiration comes.

My friend, children’s author and illustrator Matt Phalen, couldn’t stop talking about Master Class (video lessons taught by experts in their fields) the last time I saw him. He plays the lessons as he draws, and not just the ones on writing and film, but others on food, music, or science.

I was convinced and signed up for a year-long subscription. I chose to start with “RuPaul Teaches Self-Expression and Authenticity,” because I wanted something I could listen to without feeling the need to take notes. (I’m a compulsive note taker.)

As I listened to the first lesson, “Finding Your Frequency,” I was surprised to hear him talk about stillness and meditation!

There’s a frequency that is unique to you, and your job is to locate it. You locate it through stillness.

RuPaul talking about mindfulness? Yes. He talks about how there’s so much noise! As my blog is called Writing Through the Noise, he had my attention. Meditation is as simple as “being still and listening to your body.” “You want to create space in your conscious for your frequency to shine through.” When that frequency comes through, not only will you have a sense of your true self, but once you embrace it, your people, your tribe will find you.

In “Cultural Lighthouses to the Soul,” RuPaul describes himself as always being a seeker, and pop stars were who he looked to. “Pop stars represent your secret self.” He was drawn to rule breakers like David Bowie and Diana Ross, and (now for something completely different) Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

At one point early in his career, he thought that he couldn’t make it to the big time doing drag. When a friend encouraged him to return to drag, he wondered where he’d heard that he couldn’t do it. He realized that he was the one telling himself that. He was the producer of that limiting thought. As he says,

The calls were coming from inside the house.

Once he changed his mind about that limiting thought, everything changed.

RuPaul talks about his childhood, his struggles as a gay black man, his self-esteem, his tribe, his strength and creativity and so much more in these lessons. As I listened to one lesson after the other, I thought, everyone should listen to RuPaul. He’s a daily devotional, a Sunday sermon. There is so much love and acceptance and wisdom in his words. (And yes, he does talk about makeup and wigs and dressing in the right shape for your body.)

I’ve been meditating for years now and these aren’t unfamiliar concepts, but I can always use reminding, particularly from a new perspective. Thanks to my new Zen guru I remember that my teachers, whether they be mindfulness or writing or life experts, can come from unexpected places. RuPaul taught me about finding my own voice in the stillness and how to recognize when I’m the one standing in my own creative path.

When it comes to teachers, I only need to stay open to the possibilities.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What surprising teachers have you had? Have you ever realized you weren’t pursuing a dream, because of self-generated limiting thoughts?

Writing Exercise: Lovingkindness in the Second Person

In Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In the Dream House, she addresses the younger version of herself, the person who is in the abusive relationship as “you.” In the chapter “Dream House as an Exercise in Point of View,” Machado writes, “You were not always just a You. I was whole—a symbiotic relationship between my best and worst parts—and then, in one sense of the definition, I was cl91zeicdP-gLeaved: a neat lop that took first person—that assured, confident woman, the girl detective, the adventurer—away from second, who was always anxious and vibrating like a too-small breed of dog.”

Often the second person point of view is used by the narrator to address a younger, former version of themselves as this author does. In other chapters, Machado speaks of her intellectual self—the one writing, the one researching abusive lesbian relationships through legal cases, literature, movies, TV shows —as “I.” It’s a fascinating and experimental treatment of memoir in which the “I” and the “you” exist in the same work each with a clear role to play.

In the Dream House inspired this month’s writing exercise. Yes, the assignment is to write in the second person, but with an additional element. Add in some lovingkindness.

Writing in the second person is a very mindful act, if you step back and create space between the present you and the experience you are recounting. In becoming the observer and not getting pulled under by the raw emotions of the memory, you can gain perspective and see your former self in light of all you have learned, with compassion and understanding. So, remember to treat yourself with kindness, even humor, as you write this month’s exercise.

Lovingkindness Meditation

If you are unfamiliar with lovingkindness meditation, here is one from Palouse Mindfulness that is under 15 minutes. I recommend listening to the meditation before you do the exercise to put yourself in a lovingkindness mindset.

Writing Exercise

For this exercise, think of an event, situation, or time in your past that stands out to you. Perhaps, you got an asymmetrical haircut, or met someone you admired, or started a new job, or left your hometown. Address that former version of yourself with lovingkindness, with wisdom, and with humor. What would you say to them?

Let me know how this exercise worked for you.


It occurred to me in writing this that one of my favorite poems is in second person. I always thought of Mary Oliver addressing me personally, but perhaps she is speaking to herself.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver

Finding truth in fiction

Thoughts are real, but not true

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Thoughts are real, but not true

I’m taking the Power of Awareness online course with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield – two of my favorite mindfulness teachers. In her talk “Thoughts are real, but not true,” Brach explains that thoughts are real in the sense that we are  having them and in that our bodies and minds are reacting as if they are happening. For instance, if you are thinking of an argument you had in the past, a messy break up, or a scary walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood, your body will tense up and emotions will arise in you as if you are in that place and time.

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Discovering mindfulness

Several years ago, I read a blog by a writer I was unfamiliar with at the time and it changed my life. The writer was Dani Shapiro, her blog is called On Being. In her post “On Beginning Again,” she writes about how writing and meditation are similar in that with each we must continually begin again. Each time we face the page or come to our mat is a new beginning, which can be daunting, but “We remain willing to feel our way through the darkness, to stop, take stock, breathe in, breathe out, begin again.  And again, and again.”

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