Jeffrey Davis just shared his closing thoughts on Quest 2016 and gave us our final homework assignment–one small project to be completed within the next three months.
To be honest, I have yet to finish a single small project that came out of any of our endeavors: #quest2015, #livethequest, or #daretoexcel, which makes me reluctant to create yet another goal that I won’t meet.
Now part of the problem may have been the projects I chose–at least one of them I picked because I knew the project I was really interested in was too big. But the end result was to drain all the passion from both of them. So this time, I’m going to get a little more vague in the hopes that it will give me enough space to fulfill my desire to experiment wildly with the whole alchemy of integration thing. And so…
Within the next three months I will experiment and play with ways to integrate as many of my core passions as possible–art, writing, personal connections, travel, sanctuary, and healing–into a new form for my art. At the end of that time I will have at least one completed work to share with the group.
I may even share the craziness that happens along the way.
Quest 2016 has come to its close with the final synthesis of week four and one last question from our gallery of mentors.
The theme for week four was Doing Your Best Work, Not Someone Else’s, and the prompts were:
#Amplify–focus on the intersections of key passions
#BraveRace–true strength feeds us and others (dare to walk away from that which doesn’t)
#2Stories–power, change, hope, connection, art, no more silence
And how will I do my best work, not someone else’s?
GROUND (and heal) myself–body, mind, and soul.
ALCHEMIZE my art by combining my strongest skills, and deepest passions.
(RE)CONNECT with my big life dreams, my tribe, and the earth.
Which pretty much sums up the month for me, and the year to come, but just to recap the most prevalent themes, they were:
And even before this new year started, I am already embracing the feel of this new Quest, thanks to a spontaneous road trip to the happiest place on earth (at least for me). Spending a total of 16.5 hours in the car catching up with an old friend. Riding on roller coasters despite a life-long fear. Buying myself a set of Minnie Mouse ears. Seeing new places and meeting new faces. And more than anything else, having so much fun… something that was lacking in my life for most of 2015.
Which brings us to the final question, because this isn’t just about fun, it’s about building a better life.
What will you do in 2016 to assure you and your best work are unmistakable?
In my life, I will focus on strengthening my foundation–mind, body, spirit, and connections to give me a strong base to build upon.
In my work, I will focus on the alchemy of intersections, the places where the things that matter most to me overlap or interconnect–art, writing, the apocalypse, prepping, healing, home/sanctuary/haven, homesteading, travel, connecting with others. Not only will the unique combination of materials, methods, and experiences create something truly unique, it will also allow me to better focus my energy instead of spreading it too thin to make any impact.
Because of holiday travel and other related events, I seem to have blown right by our synthesis for Quest week three: Prioritize Your Value.
The prompts were #payoff, #3qualities, and #serve.
In #payoff, we wrote about what we need to stop doing in order to focus on higher payoff items. And there were plenty things I need to stop, mostly around:
Waste (time, money, and other resources)
Procrastination (especially around things that are good for me–going to bed at a reasonable hour, cooking healthy food)
Clinging (to past, to stuff I don’t need)
In #3qualities, I wrote that between life, work, and compensation I will be focusing on quality of life in the coming year because until I deal with health and home, I won’t be able to give my work the energy it needs and deserves.
In #serve, I wrote that I planned to serve my muse, but I suspect my answer wasn’t 100% on-track, given my answer to the previous two. It’s all well and good to want to serve the muse, the story, the call to path, but first I need to be healthy and focused enough to answer those calls.
So, despite the fact that the Venn diagram doesn’t show much overlap, really all three answers are about creating a solid, stable foundation from which I can produce my best work. And then from there, clearing the decks to do just that.
So, on to Jeffrey’s two questions:
What actions can I take today to move in that direction?
What actions can I take on January 2, 2016?
Tonight is easy. Instead of driving an hour or more to the city to hang out with friends when I’m fighting a bad cold, I’m opting to stay in and watch movies with my sister’s dogs. After all, it is the everyday small choices repeated over time that make the most difference.
January 2nd will be more of a challenge as I’ll be spending the day traveling back to New Mexico. On the upside, I’ll have plenty of time in airports and on planes to journal and map out my plans for self-care and creation.
I’ve gotten a bit behind on Quest with all the holiday preparations going on, but with all he presents wrapped I finally have some time to catch up. So, without further delay, here is the prompt from day 10:
Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year?
Instead of considering simply doing more work, take the time to consider which elements of your work would most light you up to amplify. What’s holding you back from amplifying it? Is it that obscure little thing no one will care about? Or is it that if they see it, they’ll care too much and call the Imposter or Weirdo Police?
There won’t be a time in the future where it’ll be easier to amplify that part of your work. p.s. You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.
What I want to amplify in the coming year is the intersection of my key passions: Sewing, writing, apocalypse, healing the planet. I’d also like to start working on collaboration. In fact, I’ve already spoken to several photographers about a project I will be working on beginning January 1st once I’m back home in New Mexico–something I’m really excited about.
The other thing I need to amplify is my focus. To that end, I’m also narrowing my attention to two key projects: One book (the novel I started working on earlier this year) and the art project alluded to above.
Last night it snowed–somewhere around 7 inches. When I fell asleep the ground was bare. This morning tall walls of snow balanced on narrow branches, and our tiny patio table was piled into a white dome.
Jeffrey Davis, creator of Tracking Wonder and leader of our Quest, just challenged us to look back on our week. To find the common themes between our future selves’ advice, our daydreams, and our review of who would miss us.
Looking just at words, I came up with three themes:
Connect–or more aptly, reconnect
Heal myself–in part by letting go and in part by reclaiming parts of me that I’ve misplaced
Travel and Home came up again and this time there was also a heavy dose of Play (Experiment’s more lighthearted little sister). And yes, we are beginning to see a pretty clear pattern here.
And then Jeffrey asked us to find a horizon and to sit in front of it for five minutes and let our discoveries steep for a bit.
Now it’s still pretty cold out and I had already had a good bracing walk earlier today to capture an image for my 365 photo project. During that walk I did what I always do when I head toward the river. I stood at the center of the footbridge and let my eyes rest in a south-westerly direction. I even snapped a picture.
So instead of heading back out into the cold, I looked at this. Really looked at it. And here’s what I saw:
A river that rarely sees or holds any water, except during heavy rains when it transforms into a torrent
Growing things that struggle to stay alive during times of drought and times of flood
A sky so wide and so blue that it is sometimes hard to notice anything else
And yet… I glimpsed tracks in the snow–two people walking next to each other, one person walking alone
Despite the walls of the river bank and the houses that line them just out of view, this vista feels, at least to me, hollow and alone. Sure there is water just below the surface, otherwise there would be no trees–especially not cottonwood and willow. But that water is hidden, protected, squirreled away for emergencies. There is life, and there is LIFE.
And I see myself as that river, as that empty basin that longs to be filled, to nourish, to be reborn. And I see in the brittle winter bones of trees a deep rootedness and will to survive, just waiting for abundance to be reborn.
And then I turned around and looked north…
And saw the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising from the clouds, guarding the back of Santa Fe–the city of the Holy Spirit. And there, in the distance, the white crown of Mount Baldy, covered in snow. Snow that come spring might just help our river run again. And I remembered that the river may not always be able to feed herself, but, whether behind or besides her, there is that strong presence watching over her. Taking care of her. And beneath us is a vast aquifer–one we can tap into if we just send our roots deep enough.
Those who will miss us are the mountains. We are the river. And whether we see them or not, we are never alone. And knowing that, we are free to keep our eyes on that transfixing blue sky, as long as we keep our roots in the ground.
What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?
Last year, Seth Godin asked us a remarkably similar question: Who would miss you when you’re gone? That question had a much stronger feel of finality for me, than the “if” in the new prompt. Last year’s question felt and still feels like it’s talking about after you die (you can read my response here). Perhaps it’s a year’s worth of shifting perspective, but the new question brought to mind not death, but distance.
In a sense, I’ve already been “gone”–from the place I grew up, from my family, from most of my friends–for almost five years now. And as to whether they miss me, I know they do because they’ve told me so. And I believe them because of how much I miss them. Because leaving, as healthy and liberating as it’s been for me, tore a small hole in my heart. And while that small hole was filled, at least for a little while, by a new love, I realize now, that love was just a bandage that hid it from view and that the hole had continued to grow a little each day. And when the bandage was torn off? That small hole grew to a gaping wound. And because distance begets distance it was too hard to reach across the miles, or even across the flagstones.
While being absent from their lives has been hard, it wasn’t the hardest part. Because it wasn’t just them I abandoned, or my new friends in my new town. This past year I also abandoned myself–my work, my joy, my art, my life. And I realize now, that before I can change anything about who might be missing whom, I have to start by getting myself back.
So in the coming year, I will start with myself. With my art. With digging in and reaching out. With rebuilding, reconnecting, reassessing who I am, how I am, what I am, with who I am, and where I am and want to be in this world. In fact I’ve already started. Because the thing about that distance, is that while it may be too hard for me to reach across on my own, it’s not too far for two arms to span when reaching from our separate sides toward each other.
I’ll be honest, in some ways I feel like a lot of these Quest prompts are simply reframing the same question using slightly different words (and sometimes using the same words). And yet, I find myself having to acknowledge that sometimes the subtlest shift is all that’s needed to break the whole thing open.
Take yesterday’s prompt for example. When I first read it, all I saw was “business as unusual”–the same words that tripped me up two prompts ago. But this time, after letting the sentence steep for a day, I pushed those somehow halting words aside and focused on the part of the question I could find a way into.
What recurring daydream for 2016 inspires you to do business as unusual like never before?
Recurring daydreams… yes, that’s entryway. As I try not to trip over “for 2016” which may make this room too shallow to hold them. These dreams will require a space at least as big as Carlsbad Caverns’ Big Room…
It begins with a longing for twining vines, with broad heart-shaped leaves. Perhaps I have been too long in the desert, because this lush tangle of opulent fecundity greets me every time I close my eyes against the dust colored walls, the blinding cerulean sky, the hot white sun than still burns even as its angle to this part of the world diminishes.
In the verdant world behind closed lids, my felt wall holds a fabric wasteland with words stitched over its every pale color of absence. Yet in the foreground the colors start to change. The earth takes on a richer shade. Soon green begins to appear at the margins. Each day new growing things begin to sprout and curl, inching in, slowly at first, then with increasing urgency and abandon–reclaiming that barren place as their own.
On a table across the narrow alcove, tree-plundered pages describe a young prince wandering through a medieval forest thick with underbrush. He catches the sharp scent of wood smoke and moves toward it. Not far in the distance a grail-shaped girl, sensing his approach, backs away from her fire trying her best to disappear into the trees hoping to avoid his wanting gaze. Still, despite her efforts, in a few moments he will materialize from the shadow of the twilight woods and find her.
And somewhere in the distance, perhaps beyond the passing of this coming year, there is a cottage just far enough from the bustling world to remain unseen from the nearby roads. It is the garden that hides it. The garden dripping with dark falls of newly ripe currants, with its carpet of wintergreen and thyme, with its climbing, obscuring vines–honeysuckle and boysenberry, hops and scarlet runner beans. It keeps itself hidden, waiting for a woman with butterscotch hair to find the key that fits its single lock. For her to open the door and sleep within its polished walls. To take its green into her bones, finally finding the magic that heals her. That heals them both.
I have already begun culling my possessions and preparing for a journey. Carefully calculating what I can carry. Scouring the dusty shelves of dim shops for treasure maps and magic beans and a compass aligned with a subtler force than magnetic north. A force that knows, while home may already be inside me, there is a place where that seed will blossom more radiantly, more powerfully than in this parched place where I currently live (both without and within)–and it may be closer than I imagine. #daydream
The journey (with journal and camera at the ready)
Sometimes I can be a little thick in the head. It turns out that this year, Quest focuses on a different theme each week. Week one was Get Clear with Yourself. At the end of the week we were invited to take a look at our answers and see if a pattern might be emerging.
And so I took Jeffrey Davis’ advice and sketched out my favorite piece of geometry–a Venn Diagram–and distilled my answers to a set of words that could fit in each circle to see where they might overlap. And I found three words in common:
Art (which includes all creative endeavors, including writing, of course)
But it also left out two other very important items that have arisen repeatedly lately:
Home (which also includes health because body, building, planet… they are all essentially the same thing)
So even though the great and mighty Venn seems to have failed me here, I’m going to just go ahead and add them to the mix.
What advice would your future self a year from now give you today?
Apparently my future self is pretty outspoken because in addition to the five pages of writing which I have distilled down to the bullet list below:
Sometimes it’s not the thing that seems like the perfect fit, but the thing you’ve been running from, that gives you what you need
Do not let this life/world tame you, the color of the wheat fields may be beautiful but there is a sadness in them that you don’t need to carry around anymore–put it down
Dare to under-schedule–make space in your day and in your rooms
Keep your house clean and your body well rested
Get out of your head, out of your house, and into the bigger world
Make big messes–ones that need at least three beach towels to clean up
Do one small thing every day to move you closer to your dream–you don’t have to wait until you own property to start building your dream home
Make something just for yourself, and go big–really BIG; fill the whole wall if you can, try to fit in everything you love, everything you want to learn, but leave out anything that might hold you back–this is not a memorial, it’s a treasure map to your freedom
And for God’s sake, stop referring to yourself as a girl–you’re a woman, own it
She also told me that when it comes to wild dreams, mine aren’t nearly wild enough. She may be right. #futureself #3towelyear #treasuremap #iamwoman #wild #synthesis
And on that note, here are some wonderful other responses to the prompt.
How would you do business as unusual in 2016 if you knew – no matter what you chose – you would not fail?
And once again, though I wrote pages on the topic in my journal upon waking–more long lists of everything I would try, the answer changed during the time I got out of bed and when I arrived home after a more than 9 hour work day followed by errands to the grocery store and the bank. Because here’s the thing: For me, the only sure way to fail, regardless of our visionary’s promise, is to keep trying to do so many different things all at once…unless… (and this is an unless that I’ve been thinking about since at least last year’s quest)…
…unless I can find a way to combine them.
As it turns out, there is only one way to figure out how to transform the scattered joys of my desiring into a cohesive whole, and that one way, is ( drumroll please)… trial and error. And that means there will be failures. Glorious, hilarious, heartbreaking failures. There have to be. Which means you can’t wave your hand and take them away from me.
And while we’re at it, in the year of percolation and experimentation that 2016 is fixing to become, the word business also has no business there–unless you’re talking about monkey business. I will, however, take your unusual and raise you an ebullient, a sometimes slogging through quicksand, a pair of epiphanies and a very valuable Tracking Wonder for good measure.
And since my year of sequestered retreat from the world didn’t do much for my creativity–teaching me once again that great art abhors a vacuum–I have a four step plan for inviting failure to my house to play:
Experiment wildly with my art in all its myriads of form and media
Expand my horizons with travel (even if it’s just to go to the local coffee shop to write instead of hiding in my casita)
Explore new sources of inspiration–including the kind provided by spending time with interesting creative people
Expose more of my work, my process, and myself to the world (yes, I went there)
So, I will do business as unusual by turning my office into a mad scientists lab, by forming an expedition to locate and embrace other members of my tribe (can we all just meet somewhere in the middle one of these days, please?), and by getting out of my head and back into the world. Which I’m pretty sure is a recipe that cannot fail. #nofailure
And one last thing, because all those unlesses have been rattling through my head and ricocheting around this singular quote from one of my absolutely most formative books.
This year, caring will look less like lecture and more like play.