A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Future

The thing about change is that you never know where it will go. A little over three years ago things were bad. My job was bad. My living situation was bad. My relationship was bad. My health was bad. Of course I’d been working hard to change all that. At the beginning of July, 2010 I had an offer for a new job on its way, an offer in on a beautiful house in a quiet ocean-side suburb of San Francisco, a new understanding with my boyfriend after a near breakup, and  improvements in my health due to a strict new diet that banned gluten, soy, nightshades, and all sugar, as well as many other things I had been eating every day. I had even been accepted to a graduate program called Action for a Viable Future, that would help me begin to have a more positive impact on the world.

I was sure I was on my way to a better life, until one day in the middle of the month a layoff in the company I had interviewed made them retract my pending offer, my house bid was declined for a lower offer, and the graduate program was cancelled for lack of enrollment. I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me.

A few days later I was talking to a coworker about her recent trip to Santa Fe. She told me how she had met writer Natalie Goldberg in a cafe, how Natalie was teaching writing workshops, and that we should go. A few weeks later my friend had to pull out, but I knew I needed to get away from everything, so I booked the workshop and my flights and went alone.

That retreat was September, 2010. In January I asked for a leave of absence to spend the next year in Santa Fe studying with Natalie. They gave me six months. When that six months was over, I quit, found a more permanent address, and stayed, thinking I would finally finish that novel and become the writer I’d always known I could be.

Things don’t always work out how you expect. I did study with Natalie that year and into the next. I published some poems in local journals and papers. I even finished the first draft of that novel I’d been working on. But what I really discovered was that more than anything, what made me feel most at peace, what brought me the most joy, was returning to something I’d learned to do when I was ten–making quilts. And not just making quilts, the promise of how quilts can help make this world a better place, by comforting those who need comfort, by helping people heal from trauma and feel they are loved, by representing and commenting on injustice or pain in the world, by inviting people to become creative forces for good.

That is why I created this site and blog, this idea that by doing something I love in a way that has meaning I could make a difference not just for others but for myself. Being broken makes it harder to heal others. Heal yourself first and not only do you have more to give, you have a story you can share. A story of hope. A story of change. A story of finding joy.

I am still writing my story. I have found my passion, but having given up my high-tech salary, I now work three jobs (more when I can get freelance work) to make ends meet. I find myself stuck in a kinder, gentler version of the same trap, with little time or energy to create. Living a life that still doesn’t feel like the life I’ve longed for, the dream that moved me 1,200 miles from my family, friends, boyfriend, and home town.

And so, my life continues to evolve. In November I will have my first solo quilt show and teach my first class. It’s a good start, but I want to do more. I want to look more closely at the materials I use and the businesses I support. I want to look more closely at where and how I live. I want to look more closely at the footprint I leave. And, most importantly, I want to look more closely at the good I can do, not just for myself or the people I love, but for the people I have never met and the planet we share. And yes, I do have an idea of where this might go and what forms it may take, but if I’ve learned anything from the last three years, it’s that the path of change is seldom straight, and the glittering light in the distance might lead you away from the deeper joy of a warm hearth and encircling arms right in front of you.

How a Brutal Election and a Natural Disaster Helped Me Find My Calling

Looking back on these last few weeks (months?) it’s not hard to imagine that the Mayan apocalypse theories are true. The ugliest election I’ve ever seen filled the airwaves and internet with poison and vitriol. A gargantuan super-storm flooded huge sections of Manhattan and wiped out power for millions along the eastern seaboard. Terrified victims slammed the doors in strangers faces refusing to help those in desperate need of saving. This country, this planet is coming apart at the seams, and it’s not just the liberal in me that believes that. Hate has no place in family values. Neither does violence. Neither does fear. And we are a family, like it or not. We need to learn how to get along. Our survival as a nation and as a species depends on it.

The election is over, but declaring a winner and a loser is far from the end of the struggle. This election only underscored the fact that we are a people divided. That there are critical issues that need addressing yesterday. Yes, the election is over. Now it’s time to clean up the mess.

You may wonder what all this has to do with my calling. It started with this blog post written by congressional candidate Colin Beavan (aka No Impact Man). In it was a call to action.

We all have to start dedicating some of our lives to these problems. Not just voting for the right people. Not just leaving comments on blogs. Not just having intense conversations over coffee.

So what then?

Here’s a thought. Decide to dedicate five to ten hours a week to helping figure out what to do. Then use those five to ten hours to bring your personal gifts to the search for societal solutions and the means of implementing them.

If you are an artist or musician or writer, use your talents to bring more and more attention to our problems and the quest for the solution. Be a constant reminder of the peril our society and world faces.

Overall, though, my point here is that all of us have a role to play in our cultural healing. There is no leader who can tell us how to contribute. Each of us has to look around us and use our own minds and souls to see what needs doing and how we are best suited to do it. Each of us must contribute in our own way. 

What is the one thing you know how to do? What is the one thing you can dedicate a slice of your life to? 

Those last questions are ones I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with, but for some reason, reading them in this context gave me a whole new perspective.

What do I know how to do? Write and sew.

What is the one thing I can dedicate a slice of my life to? Combining those two things to raise awareness of the suffering I see in the world, and doing my part to heal it.

That suffering may take different forms — recovery after natural (or man-made) disaster, coping with the fallout of war, living with the legacy of hate in all its forms, the planetary crisis of global warming, poverty and hunger to name a few.

I have found and purchased a new URL. I have outlined the new site and the things I hope to do (both online and beyond). I have committed to writing and sewing every weekday. I’m finally on the road. And from my joy at my first few steps I will ask you my version of the questions Colin asked:

What cause matters most to you?

What can you do about it?

For more inspiration, check out: How to Change the World (Hint: It’s Not Voting)

The Challenge of Choice

I have always envied people who grew up knowing exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. To have that kind of clarity is something I’ve only dreamed of. Me, I’m all over the map — gardening, sewing, writing, belly dance, aviation, landscaping, preparedness, interior decoration and organization, arthurian mythology, education… I’ve dabbled in all of them and more. That’s what makes this whole figuring out what I want to do with my life so hard.

Thinking it might help, I am retaking the Liberated Life Project’s Fall in Love with Your Work e-course. I figured that having gained clarity about my overall mission, it might help me narrow the field of options. So far, though, I’ve had no luck. When it comes to picking a direction (or even two or three), I’m still stuck, so I decided to do a little thinking on the keyboard — type it all out and see it that helps, sort of a pro/con list. Keep in mind, I’m unlikely to settle on just one, but it might help me narrow the field a little, and come up with a priority list and timeline for the things I decide to pursue. So here are the options in no particular order:

Writing

I am a writer. It’s who I am. I write poems, novels, essays, most of which languish in drawers and computer files. Sometimes I wonder why I write, and then I remember: because writing is like breathing. I just have to. I have something to say. Lots, apparently.

For years I thought that made writing the perfect career. And it was for a while. I can write the heck out of online banner ads, web pages, product descriptions… you name it. And over the years I have honed my editing skills to razor-sharpness. Which would be great if what I wrote for all those other companies actually mattered. Or if I was able to wield that precise editing sword to sharpen my own work. So far though, no dice.

Cons: no money, pattern of inability to finish, hate editing, hard work, frustrating, hard to get published, hard to market, hard to build an audience, takes forever, brings up tough emotional issues, sometimes I lose my words

Pros: lots to say, tons of ideas, in general, I’m a good writer, great vehicle for getting messages out there, low cost to entry, I’m going to be writing no matter what

Quiltmaking

I love making quilts — blankets, art pieces, objects. Quilts can comfort. Quilts can heal. Quilts can convey a message. The act of making a quilt is itself a form of therapy. When I find myself unable to write, making a quilt is how I work my way back to words.

Quilts are also my favorite form of service for a cause that hits close to home: helping to heal the devastation of war. I made my first Valor Quilt earlier this year and hope to make many more. What better way to raise money for that effort than by selling other sewn goods? What better way to raise awareness and inspire others to take up the cause, than by spreading the word through my work and my example?

Cons: highly time-intensive, high materials cost, seldom lucrative, can rarely charge what you put in

Pros: labor of love, believe in the power of comfort, the cause is deeply important to me, creating art changes the world for the better, can be used as a platform for important issues, i will make quilts no matter what

Coaching

You know how a lot of self-help gurus these days tell you to go toward the thing that scares you? The thing that you secretly think about but are terrified of even considering. This is one of those thing for me. I have done some teaching, some mentoring, some coaching and you know what? I love it. But I’ve also seen a lot of coaches, teachers, mentors who seem to fit that old cliche “if you can’t do, teach.” I don’t want to be one of those. I don’t want to pretend I have the answers when I can’t even finish my own book. I am terrified of failing and letting people down.

Then again, I know what it’s like not to fail. To really make a difference for someone. To watch them change their lives for the better and know I helped them do that. And I know what it takes to write a book and change a life. I’ve done both. More than once. So there you go.

Cons: fear, lack of credibility/credentials, hate selling myself (and bad at it), fear it’s a shadow career

Pros: experienced writer/editor, mentor, and goals trainer, hugely satisfying/rewarding, could be lucrative, I’ve already done a lot of the work (or at least pieces of it), a lot of what I said in that cons list is crap

Veterans Projects

Here’s how I always start: My grandfather was a veteran. He never talked about the war. Maybe if he had, he wouldn’t have been devoured from the inside. Maybe if he had he would have been around longer.

War destroys lives, destroys families, destroys souls. The war machine chews people up and spits them out, shoving them back into a world where many no longer fit. No longer know how to function. They are burdened with the memories of what they saw and what they did often with little support in working through it. And so they grow silent, like my grandfather. This is not acceptable.

There are already several veterans writing projects throughout the country, one of which I have a connection to. This is the big one. The one that matters the most, matters so much that I can’t even breathe when I think about it. Yes, that’s probably a sign.

Cons: fear, lack of credentials/credibility, lack of experience with veterans, fear, too emotional around this topic, too introverted, not a veteran, fear, waited too long to get in touch with contact, overwhelming, no money, did I mention fear?

Pros: it matters, a lot, maybe more than anything else

Preparedness

I always throw this one in here. Partly because I’m a bit of a closet survivalist (make that a total closet survivalist. Partly because zombies are all the rage. Partly because I know I can take something scary and make it easy and fun (and maybe even help save a few lives in the process).

Cons: a little silly, would divert time, attention, and energy from more important projects

Pros: fun, easy, could make good money, important stuff for people to know, folders full of ideas, really enjoy it

So there they all are. Reading back through what I just wrote, it’s pretty clear which one tips the scales. But a girl’s gotta eat and pay the rent, so I’m thinking what I always think: maybe a mix of a few of these things is the answer. Because yes, I can always write and edit my way to a paycheck, but I’m tired of spending all my energy on others’ dreams while my own dreams languish. Especially when those others are corporations and institutions. Anyone can help them. Only I can make my own dreams come true.

The Fine Art of Finessing

This morning I woke up with a start, having finally figured out what was missing from my mission statement. Okay, actually it was some telephone solicitor calling way too early that woke me up and Maia’s latest email and one of my course-mate’s posts that helped me see the light. Aside from the nagging thought that I expressed yesterday about what exactly was my passion (probably not illumination), I was missing two key pieces of information:

  1. What type of people I hoped to serve
  2. What need of theirs my work would fulfill

So with that in mind, I’m going back to the drawing board. Lucky for me, I already have a pretty solid foundation to build on.

What is my passion? I know I’m stuck on a word here. I love the word Illuminate, but is that passion or action? I feel like I was much more direct with the form I filled out on the Franklin Covey site (RIP Franklin) — to create and inspire. Actually what I said was “be creative and help people” — which one is it, help or inspire?

How will I do this (and make money)? By creating inspiring works of art and literature and by providing tools and possibly platforms. Some possible tools include: quizzes, assessments, articles, videos, reviews, coaching programs, ebooks, ecourses, and, of course, compelling content, including examples and how-tos.

Who will I do this for / what need will it fill? People who aspire to be creative, who aspire to better health (emotional, physical, spiritual, personal, community, global), who aspire to be more involved, more prepared, more connected, more liberated, ready to face a changing world head-on, more informed, more empowered… empowered, yes, I like that.

Not all of us are built for the standard social action of standing on street corners or getting arrested. Not all of us want to make calls or write letters. Not all of us want to campaign for a candidate. Some of us are built to walk the back streets of foreign cities search for answers in our histories. Some of us are built to use a pen or a brush or a needle as a spotlight. Some of us are built to raise a voice for the silenced. Some of us are built to hand others a pen and a flashlight. And some of us can only do our work from a place of safety and sanctuary. But sometimes we have to build that first… but I digress… allow me to return to my general mission.

  1. My passion is to create art and stories that illuminate the issues that matter to me.
  2. My goal is a) to get that work out into the world where it can inspire others to speak and act, b) to provide tools that empower them to do it, and c) to build a community that amplifies and projects what emerges.
  3. My audience is anyone who has something to say that has been still or stifled but who longs to find their voice again, or who has been longing to act but is afraid or doesn’t know what to do or how to do it.

Or, to put it a slightly different way, for those who are afraid to speak or act, my work will show them it can be done, my tools will help them learn (or remember) how, and the community and I will give them the support they need to do it.

And if you’re still wondering what those issues are that matter to me, they appear to cluster primarily around the word Resilience, but there is also an important component of remembering our history, both the bits we can use, and the bits we need to learn from so we don’t have to keep repeating them over and over again.

Let’s Break It Down

Clearly this whole mission-writing thing is going to be an iterative process, so let’s start where we left off yesterday, with the statement:

My mission is to illuminate the causes that matter most to me by creating art, stories, and tools that inspire people to connect to themselves, the world, and others and to act on their behalf. 

Here on day two of this process, we are focusing on the second section of the statement: the how. So let’s break it down and see what we’ve got.

  1. What: illuminate the causes that matter most to me
  2. How: creating art, stories, and tools
  3. For whom and why: inspire people to connect and act

Hmmm… looking at this again with fresh eyes, I can’t help but ask myself a truckload of questions:

  • What causes? Whatever strikes my fancy at the moment, or is there a single, overriding cause that I can identify and describe?
  • Is my passion really illumination or is illumination really a how? Perhaps my passion is really creation.
  • Are art, stories, and tools enough? Or do I also want to create a platform for sharing these things?
  • Where will the money come from? Do I even need to get that specific? Is selling these things implied?
  • What people?
  • How will they connect?
  • How do I want them to act?

What do you think? Am I right about the weak points or am I just over thinking things?

Here are a few more points to consider (or something like that — I’m just making this up as I go along):

  • Cause-wise, the word that keeps surfacing for me is Resilience — it applies to health, the environment, communities, skills, relationships, and personal, cultural, societal, and planetary survival; it even accounts for my obsession with apocalypse and holocaust stories and why, whenever my teacher asks what I will remember from a specific, often horrific book she’s assigned to us, my answer is always the part where someone stood up and tried to change things
  • I like the idea of a platform, but it may not be essential except as a delivery mechanism; still, it is something I am already considering
  • It doesn’t matter which people, it will be whichever people respond to my unique message formats
  • How they connect and their choice of action is also not my responsibility, but I may have a few ideas (which I will dig deeper into tomorrow when we are scheduled to tackle that third part)
The truth is, I have an idea. A cool, fun, crazy idea. Something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And it is making me rethink my mission. But it shouldn’t. I can see now that different projects could require their own missions. Related to the personal mission, of course, but with a few tweaks for the specific implementation. So have I gotten anywhere with this little exercise? Not really, but that’s mostly because the more I think about it, the more I think the current version holds.

 

On a related note, I just visited the Franklin Covey website and used their mission statement creator just to see what came out and here it is:

I am at my best when creating and inspiring others.
I will try to prevent times when i feel trapped, uninspired, or bored.
I will enjoy my work by finding employment where I can solve problems.
I will find enjoyment in my personal life through making things, writing, reading, and research.
I will find opportunities to use my natural talents and gifts such as art, writing, empathizing.
I can do anything I set my mind to. I will make quilts, write novels, travel, and spend time with friends.
My life’s journey is to lead by example to inspire others to live healthier, more fulfilled lives.
I will be authentic.
My most important future contribution to others will be supporting and loving them, and encouraging their dreams.
I will stop procrastinating and start working on:

  • Being more socially active in the causes that matter to me
  • Sharing what i’ve learned about health, wellness, creativity, and happiness
  • Spending more time creating and finishing projects

I will strive to incorporate the following attributes into my life:

  • Fearlessness
  • Focus
  • Ground-breaking creativity

I will constantly renew myself by focusing on the four dimensions of my life:

  • Eating and sleeping
  • Being quiet
  • Reading
  • Connecting with others

There’s some great stuff in there, especially that first line, but still pretty sure mine is better.

A Girl with a Mission

Candles - Earth HourWe are just past the halfway mark of Fall in Love with Your Work, and I have already learned an amazing amount — about myself, about what matters to me, about my skills, my options, about how other people see me. But today’s lessons is where it really started coming together. Where all the work I’ve been doing for so long has finally started to crystalize. Today is the day we started writing our personal mission statements.

To be honest, this is not the first time I’ve tried to construct one. I’ve worked on missions statements for corporations, for teams, for individuals, and, yes, for myself, and let me tell you, it is always hardest to do for myself. So hard, in fact, that I have never gotten even remotely close. Until today. Thanks to a combination of three sets of words.

  1. Four words that came to me as I woke up the morning of day 3: to educate and inspire
  2. A list of verbs Maia provided for our consideration: bridge, brighten, communicate, connect, create, discover, embrace, encourage, give, heal, integrate, lead, learn, love, mentor, open, organize, relate, remember, restore, teach
  3. My own list of verbs inspired by her list: act, educate, excavate, illuminate, inspire, unearth

I marked the ones that resonated the most strongly (italic for strong, bold for strongest) and got to work.

First, I replaced the word educate which felt didactic, judgmental, and heavy-handed with the word illuminate. Illuminate is one of my favorite words not just because it means to shed a light on something, or because that spotlight reveals but does not dictate what any person should do with that revelation, but because I am, among other things, a medievalist whose primary focus was church carvings and illuminated manuscripts. And those drawings were not just decoration, they were illustration, they were revelation, and they were unbelievably, stunningly beautiful — even when what they showed was suffering. And that is it for me. That’s what I aspire to do with every form of creative expression I undertake, be it fiction, poetry, quilts, photography… to show the world in all its happiness and pain. In all its glory and suffering. In all its joy and sorrow. In all its scarcity and abundance. To show that all of those things, all that humanity and majesty and misery is exquisitely beautiful. Awe inspiring. A miracle. And that all of those things, all of these people, are intertwined. Intimately connected. And to help other people see and feel that, too. And to remind us all that with that connection comes a responsibility to each other, because if one domino falls, we each fall in succession.

So with that in mind, and despite the fact that we still have two more days of working on our mission statements, moving from what we hope to do, to how we plan to do it, to who we are doing it for and why, here is my full missions statement, still a work in progress, but closer than I’ve every been to that shining star that will help guide and focus me on this path I am walking.

My mission is to illuminate the causes that matter most to me by creating art, stories, and tools that inspire people to connect to themselves, the world, and others and to act on their behalf. 

It still need a little tweaking, but I’m getting there. And I know I’m close, because when I look at the writing I’ve done already, the stories and art I most want to create in the future, it all fits perfectly and all the other things, those driven by other people’s agendas, or my own internal “shoulds” begin to fall away, making space for what really matters.

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Chinese Proverb

 

Resolving to Make No Resolutions

I’ve always been big on New Year’s resolutions. So big, in fact that I do them twice yearly, once on New Year’s and again on my birthday six months later. And they’re not some simple “loose 10 pounds” or “go to the gym” type of resolutions either. They are a multi-category, multi-goal, multi-step extravaganza. Thing is, just like everyone else, by the time the next new year rolls around, I just wind up putting the same old things back into the same old spreadsheet (yes, I’m that girl). Maybe I change a few words here or there, like the name of the novel I swear I will finish this year, or swapping yoga for chi gong, but nothing really changes and the song remains the same. Until this year. Thanks to some wise words from some fellow bloggers, and the new perspective that comes with remaking your entire life.

This year I will set no goals, list no due dates, make no resolutions. This year, instead, I chose a theme. One word that sums up what this year will be about for me. 2010 was all about looking at my life and figuring out whether the life I was living was the one I wanted to live. It wasn’t. In 2011 I changed almost everything in my life in order to give myself a chance at the kind of life I’ve always dreamed of. I quit my job, I moved, I hunkered down. Call this tiny casita a chrysalis, if you will. It is time now, to bust out of the shell.

2012 is the year of EMERGENCE. Of stepping out of the shadows. Of bringing my work out into the world.

And how about you? What will the theme of  your year be? Here are the articles that inspired me in case you need a little inspiration as well:

Already I’m learning how much I can accomplish when I stop focusing on the goals and just do the work.