Tsara Shelton (Video)
*Are you happy at the moment?
Absolutely! I’ve even written a song about how happy I am with my life:
*If you could go back and say anything to your 16-year-old self now – what would it be?
Keep writing. Keep exploring your own beliefs. Listen to others, really listen – don’t fill your head with possible responses and hopes to sound nice or smart – truly listen, then take your time exploring what you think. Keep writing, keep exploring, and know that you are intelligent enough.
*What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?
This year I’ve discovered I’m quite possibly and interesting person! I’ve always known that my life is filled with stories and insights and challenges worth sharing. I’ve always been comfortable sharing the stories authenticity; sharing my family and our adventures with passion. When I talk about autism, abuse, poverty, race relations, and much more, it’s easy for me to know the value of my experiences. But this year I’ve also come to know myself as also interesting. The way I see things, the way I tell my stories, the energy I offer. This may be the most important thing I’ve learned this year because it has encouraged me to reach out to a wider audience. And it has reminded me to tell my sons, who are young men, that they, too, are uniquely interesting.
*What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?
I want to continue working on my first novel, and hopefully finish it. Well, at least the first draft. I have learned that what I write doesn’t have to be a “literary piece” as long as it’s an authentic one. I’ve gotten comfortable with writing creative non-fiction without having too strong of a wish for what others think. However, I’m still a little bit in my own way with my novel writing. I catch myself fearing that it won’t be enjoyed the way I want it to be enjoyed. It’s so silly, really! I mean, if it’s enjoyed at all I’ll be grateful and honored! Yet I still catch myself worrying about what others will categorize it as, or how they’ll feel about it. So, my goal is to not be in my own way and to keep writing.
*What’s your secret to happiness?
It’s no secret! My happiness largely comes from my belief in intentional storytelling. The stories we tell of the life we live is up to us to narrate. Always, even in the darkest rooms on the darkest days, we can tell our stories with purpose. When I tell the story of my day to reveal an insight or share a learning or give the gift of an entertaining tale, I’m happier than when I want to tell the story of my day to get sympathy or to prove that my life is hard or to sound justifiably angry. I can’t control everything that happens in my story, but I can certainly narrate it with purpose! When I find that things are truly challenging, or something terrible has happened, I remind myself: It happened, so give it a reason.
And in discovering the reason, for myself or for my family or in an article, I tell the story with intention.
*What one ritual or practice keeps you grounded?
Watching movies with my sons and dancing in my dance room. I know that’s not one ritual, it’s two, but I truly rely on both of those things to stay grounded and for vastly different reasons. Watching movies with my sons, especially those delicious times when all four of them are with me under one roof, is a gift I would give myself every day if I could. We always have such surprising and important conversations when we have the time to watch films together, and we are always reminded of the value behind good storytelling. I feel the most like myself when I’m with my sons.
And then there’s dancing. My fantastic husband built me a tiny room for dancing and I love to lose myself in there. When life gets crazy, schedules are intense, or I’m just having a hard time knowing my worth, I dance. Close my eyes, turn up the rock music, and get lost in freedom. No rules, only energy and rhythm and movement. Dancing is the place where I get so lost in the energy of the universe that I’m found again. It’s also the place where I get pretty sweaty! That’s good too!
*What’s your biggest regret?
I don’t have regrets, but I have a whole lot of mistakes. There is a time in my life when I made some mistakes that I used to hold on to as regrets. As a teenager I was trying so hard to appear “grown up” that I began to treat my adopted sister with distain, just when she needed me most. We were both going through challenges and I didn’t want to be connected to hers, in case they made me seem immature, and so I pushed her away. She relied on me, and I betrayed her in tons of tiny ways. I was cruel, and I lost her. This used to be a regret. But now that I have sons who are young men I see that my mistakes have prepared me to help them. I understand their mistakes in ways that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I have been able to help them because of it. So, though I’ll forever be sorry for how I treated my sister, and though I’ll always admit to my cruel mistakes, I don’t have regrets.
*What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kid(s)?
Hold on, this is pretty insightful stuff! You’re going to want to remember this one. Ready? Here it is: Be yourself.
Oh, you’ve heard that one before? Well, I still stand by it. I am powerfully proud of all four of my sons. They are diverse, they are so different from each other, and they are themselves. Sure they’ve been known to compare and compete, but at the end of the day I’ve been able to example and teach the importance of being authentic to ourselves. That includes discovering who we are and being willing to shift without losing the true nature of us. It can be tempting, of course, to be like someone else.
After all, when I watch a leaf dancing in the wind, it’s the leaf I’m tempted to applaud. Yet I know that the wind is equally important in the performance. As are the surrounding trees, smells, and sounds. As are the millions of living moments that came before. When the leaf is authentically itself and the wind is authentically itself and the entire cast and crew of the moment are authentically themselves, we have a gorgeous performance. A gorgeous moment that builds into more gorgeous moments. So, ya, I think the most important lesson I’ve taught my kids, and I’ll continue to teach my kids, is to be authentically and actively themselves.
*What bad habit would you most like to change about yourself?
This is an easy question to answer. I wish I didn’t have the habit of feeling inadequate and completely useless when I’m stressed with responsibilities that affect my loved ones. I handle most types of stress well. Change in schedules, physical pain, money problems and so on. But if I’m responsible for something important for someone I love and I’m not sure I can get it done, I have the habit of immediately assuming that I’m useless and inadequate. Which, of course, makes me feel more stressed and then I actually become nearly useless and inadequate. The good news is I’ve found a wonderful way to help myself make the changes I want to make. I’m tempted to just avoid responsibility, but because I love being helpful I won’t. Instead, I’ve learned that by being smart and careful before taking on important roles, and by doing it often enough to learn but not so often that I take on too much stress, I’ve gotten much better. It happens far less often now.
*Aside from motherhood/fatherhood and marriage what are you most proud of in your life?
My comfort with every moment. My mom (international mental health expert Lynette Louise, aka The Brain Broad) says I do “satisfied” beautifully. I like that!
Almost every moment I’m happy. Sometimes joyfully so, sometimes quietly so, sometimes actively and purposefully so. It comes naturally to me but that doesn’t mean it’s always been my way. There have been years where I struggled with it, looking around and seeing a world that easily chooses hate and anger I worried that my simple happiness was a sign of immaturity. I’m proud to say, though, I’ve always purposefully come back to comfort with every moment.
*When were you happiest?
Now. Wait, now. No, now. Giggle! I’m happiest most of the time! But if I’m being entirely honest, I’m happiest in the moments I’m surrounded by all four of my sons.
In a perfect world my husband is there, my sister and nieces are also there, my brothers are there, my lost sisters are there, and my mom is certainly there. I’m guessing this would be her happiest, too. Yet, being entirely and deeply truthful, I just need my four sons. In those moments, when they are with me, I am happiest.
*What ten words best describe you?
Tsara Shelton is a writer of musings, a sipper of coffee, and a story addict. Having learned life exploring the edges of society she finds her footing in the world through storytelling—as a mom, wife, daughter and citizen. She blogs regularly at Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton and is the author of Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up. Follow Tsara on Twitter @TsaraShelton.