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.
What can you stop doing in 2016 such that it would allow you to focus on higher payoff activities?
The stop part of this list is easy:
Stop wasting so much time on TV and Internet
Stop wasting money (even pennies), food, and other resources
Stop avoiding or procrastinating chores and healthy habits, like going to bed at a decent hour
Stop clinging to the past
Stop clinging to stuff
Stop overcommitting to things that don’t inspire or improve me/my life/the lives of others (actually, stop over committing, period)
Now, I’ve written probably a hundred or more versions of the stop list before, and the same things keep showing up. Probably because I haven’t given myself a compelling enough reason to actually stop.
That’s where things start getting a little harder–identifying what those higher payoff activities might be, especially since there doesn’t seem to be a high correlation between value and money in my life right now. If payoff is measured in dollars I should just pack up my toys and return to corporate tech work, but I think most of us know how well that particular career path worked out for me. And since this week is all about prioritizing our value (values?), I’m going to leave money out of it for the moment. Luckily, I think that last stop item gives a pretty clear picture of what I value–inspiring and/or improving myself, my life, and the lives of others:
WRITING ( actual projects, not just in the journal)
CONNECTING with others
Finding/creating SANCTUARY (in my home, community, and body)
And here is where the money will hopefully start coming in:
Crafting my RIGHT LIVELIHOOD from the building blocks listed above
And that exploration is time much better spent than on any of the items in that first list.
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)
Once upon a time I had a dream of lush, sustainable, edible gardens. I dreamed about helping to build resilient communities by teaching others how to grow food no matter the size of your yard, or even if you didn’t have a yard. That dream was called OneGarden, and it was filled with projects, plant information, sustainable gardening tips, and more.
It would be easy to say I have new dreams now, but it would probably be more accurate to say my dreams have evolved. It takes more than a garden to build resilience in our lives and our communities. And the gardens we do cultivate are at the mercy of our increasingly erratic climate. Still, they hold an import place in building a resilient life–along with self-care, art, story, mindful living, and making a difference in the world at large. So rather than simply let all that juicy content disappear into the ether when the OneGardenOnline domain expires at the end of this week, I have opted for integration. Each of us is, after all, the result of our combined experiences, interests, passions, loves. And this gardening bug has been with me since grade school or before, when I used to save my pennies to buy whatever 2″ potted plants caught my fancy, creating a jungle in my half of the shared bedroom.
With the new content, you will notice a few new categories, a handful (maybe two) of new tags, and a flurry of new/old posts from the years before this site was built. Consider it a missing piece of the puzzle that, now found, clarifies just a little more of the bigger picture. And soon more missing puzzle pieces will be added. Quilts of Change has also been brought over, but there are a few others out there waiting to make the journey home. I will do my best to make any disruption to the site as painless as possible.
Special thanks to Christine U’Ren who designed the lovely OneGarden masthead. I will be sad to see it retired.
Another inspiring, insightful, and game changing Tracking Wonder-fueled challenge is winding to its end, which means it’s time to pull together all of the twisted threads and see what the tapestry’s weaving reveals.
What is the greater-than-you Story? Maybe there’s a word or phrase that helps you start to shape and define what that Story is that you are only a part of but starting to shape and lead.
Don’t shy away from that Story’s magnitude and magnificence. When you lead, you cannot hide behind anyone else. Dare to go toward it. As far as I know, this is it, baby – this one brief creative life. Let’s make the most of it. Together.
Bonus howl-out: Look back again on these past 30 days. How are you being called to think, feel, imagine, create, and act in different ways this year as a result of your daring to excel this month? How are you engaging and relating if not elevating people differently this year as a result of your daring to excel this month? How are you starting to feel free to be your best again?
That greater-than-me Story has revealed itself through my book in progress Three Threads, and in my burning question:
What if the Story is wrong?
Not this Story, of course, not the greater-than-me Story… I’m talking about the lower-case, small story that taught me that it’s the people with the power that make the difference, that my role is to keep them strong so they can do their important work–no matter what weakness that creates in me.
It’s Time to Rewrite the Story
To prune its twisted, misshapen branches back to its strongest most ancient roots–where its true power resides. To clear away the brambles that choke its growth, and block its sun. That suck up all the most valuable resources–nutrients, water, air–starving it of what it most needs and leaving only poisons behind.
And suddenly I’m no longer talking about some relatively small medieval myth and the half-truths it whispered to me. Suddenly myth meets struggling life and suffering world and all three are blown open.
And with those words as a rallying point, here are my answers to the bonus questions:
How are you being called to think, feel, imagine, create, and act in different ways this year as a result of your daring to excel this month? With the unexpected discovery of my #OneTrueProject, the avalanche of “wouldn’t-it-be-fun” projects have begun to fall away, and the larger picture has begun to sharpen into focus. I feel like I have finally found the still-point around which everything else revolves. Writing, sewing, poetry, my beloved Apocalypse Garden have revealed themselves as the spokes of a larger wheel, not the wheel themselves. They provide the structure that keeps it strong enough to turn.
How are you engaging and relating if not elevating people differently this year as a result of your daring to excel this month? I have learned during the course of this dare, (probably over and over again), that art cannot be born in a vacuum. That all work is the synthesis of a million tiny pieces, often gathered over a lifetime. That one sentence in a stray conversation with a stranger can be the spark that lights everything up. And so, I have been sharing more and more of other people’s work, especially work that sparks for me, because who knows what it might spark in or for others. I am also opening myself more to collaboration and connection. I’ve always resisted asking for help–preferring to be the one that offers rather than receives. But events of this month have changed my mind. I am learning that we, none of us, can do it alone. That together greater things can be born. Things will fully formed wings and talons to fight off the naysayers. So I have been sharing more. And asking more. And inviting more. And I will work to make all three part of my regular practice.
How are you starting to feel free to be your best again? For the first time, I am beginning to feel like my disparate interests, training, experiences are no longer fighting for my attention. I no longer feel pulled in a thousand different directions, torn apart by shearing forces, or lashed like some Gulliver to a miniature beach with a thousand narrow threads that together are too strong to break through. Instead all the different things that have built me are working together, feeding each other. I feel whole or closer to whole than I remember ever feeling. And with that, with its related new-found focus, I feel like I can finally bring the best of me to the project, undiluted with distractions, and the ever present lure of each shiny new thing that passes by.
It’s funny, I’ve been thinking a lot about style lately, especially with regards to clothes. What we wear can be one of the most initially impactful ways we have to show people who we are, but for the most part, what I wear these days has little connection to who I feel I am inside. I’ve always wanted “my outside to match my insides”–a phrase I’ve often repeated like some kind of mantra.
But this dare really takes it to the next level. Because, of course, Style isn’t just about what you wear. It’s how you move, how you live, what you love. It’s your voice, your values, your “essence” as Jeffrey Davis puts it. So what’s my signature style of excellence?
Examine this one small project through the lens of your signature style of excellence. Here are three queries to help you consider one way to make this project – its focus, its execution, its impact – possess your signature imprint.
Make notes about or illustrate and share responses to these queries:
Genius: How can you bring forward your young genius to your audience or customers – the beneficiaries of your project?
Integrity: What core value – something you care deeply about – is coming forward through this project? Does this project reflect how you act and live and what you believe in?
Distinction: What about this project – its scale, its mood, its scope, its depth, its joy – will make this project yours versus someone else in your field?
When I wrote them down I was surprised by my answer because they hadn’t been very present in my life in a long time. But actually, that’s not true. I can think of a very specific and recent time that they were not only present, they were taking the lead. That time began in April 2013, when I fell in love. He was the first person I completely trusted with all of my heart and ours was the first relationship, possibly the first anything, where I allowed myself to be all-in. It was intoxicating, invigorating, liberating. Until a couple of months ago when we split up, and suddenly those three qualities become the hardest to things to imagine could ever apply to me. Except that here’s the thing. It was the loss of that relationship, and the facing of patterns that I have repeated since I was four years old and lost the first great love of my life, my grandfather, that delivered the story to me. And if I’m going to deliver it to others, I am going to need to be all-in, the way I was while in love. But I’m also going to need what I learned, what I re-learn every time, after that first big loss:
To turn inward
To return to my roots
To reclaim and own my power and my responsibility for myself and to the world
Integrity: So what is the core value that this story reveals? Resilience. And not just the resilience of strength and youth. The resilience of someone who has experienced deep and even crippling loss and has continued to get back up, to love, and perhaps even trust again. The resilience of someone who has learned over and over again that shutting down is not the answer, because even though it stops the pain in the short term, it always catches up with you, and when it does, it’s much, much stronger and harder to overcome. The resilience of someone whose mantra in the face of loss, death, trauma, grief, is “I have to do something.” Even better if that something can help more than just me.
Distinction: The main through-line of my book will be a story from medieval legend that has shaped my life and the way I see my role in the world. A story that I now believe is wrong. What I bring to this project:
My history with this story and the destructive relationship patterns bred by it that I now recognize in my own life
My desire to reveal this story’s untold perspective–that of the “absent” woman
My personal process of rewriting the story
The interwoven paths of memory, history, mythology, and social action that make up my quest to reclaim a potent feminine symbol and use it to help heal myself, ourselves, and our world
I have to admit, I find my book project a bit daunting. It’s larger and more complex than any book I’ve written before, and when someone I respect asked if I thought it might be over ambitious, I had to ask myself whether he might be right. But then again, I have to do it anyway.
Today’s challenge provides one way to test whether the story has legs without having to struggle through the whole 90,000 (or more) complicated words of it. Without entangling myself too much before I even start.
Sometimes big ideas daunt us because of their big-ness. Instead of trying to “publish” your project in full form, how could you test it out on a smaller audience? Maybe even behind-the-scenes?
Define the prototype–what you actually will create at a significantly reduced scale; allow for messiness, allow for mistakes and imperfections
Define what you’re testing for
Invite a few people behind the scenes
In the words of Lean Start-up author Eric Riess, then decide whether to move forward and persevere to publish the big project or to pivot toward a different project
I’ve actually done a little bit of this already, sharing the story and structure of the book with a few select people. I’ve gotten very positive responses and some important questions to ponder. I’ve learned that the story is important and needs telling, not just for me, but for its audience as well. I’ve learned that just because the protagonist and her struggle is based on me, doesn’t mean she is me, which means I can fictionalize it, freeing me from a lot of anxiety around how to map my life to the story without making it feel forced. But I have more to learn. To that end, I will:
Create a short treatment of the book–either a plot summary, concept teaser, or short story
Test for proof of theme and concept, whether people find it valuable, and if the complex structure works
Share it with a select 3 to 5 individuals to start (I already have 3 people in mind)
Where possible, follow up with a phone call to gather and discuss feedback; where phone doesn’t work, I’ll use online chat
I’d like to have the prototype complete by the end of July, but with everything I have going on right now, it will more likely be mid August.
Regardless of the results, I know this story must be told, but how it gets written and what form it takes are still in flux. Who knows, it could turn into a screenplay, a series of quilts with associated poems, a blog series, a travelog, an online self-help workshop… perhaps even more than one of these over time.
In this world of endless possibilities it can be easy to get lost. This prototype idea seems like a great way to define one small concrete part–an anchor to still the drift, a cornerstone, perhaps, upon which the rest can be built.
Take time during the next two days to look back on the past two weeks and acknowledge any positive changes you have noticed during the past two weeks in terms of how you feel, how you are paying attention more to what matters (challenges and all), any new relationships you’re striking up.
Write down and share what you are celebrating. When you celebrate in public, others get to celebrate with you. Your celebrations are not self-centered. They are uplifting to your peers and to your audiences and customers. So what are you waiting for? Howl out and lift us up!
Halfway through July’s #DareToExcel and it’s time to celebrate our accomplishments. Why is that always so much harder than it sounds? Probably because what’s left to do seems so much bigger than what’s already done. But it’s precisely that illusion that makes this challenge so important.
So what positive changes have I made so far?
I accepted the challenge in an effort to pull me out of the morass I’d been stuck in since the end of March
I wrote down my two most burning questions: “what if I focus on making instead of mulling?”, and “what if the story is wrong?” (which really leads to the more important question: “what if we changed the story?”)
I committed to one small project (Hands in Motion, Mind at Rest) to help clear mental, emotional, and physical space for my one big project, the book referred to as 3T
I have been practicing Hands in Motion, Mind at Rest, if not every day, at least most, and am now just 3 long seams away from finishing a quilt started more than three years ago, making me feel lighter, more focused, and like I’m actually getting stuff done; I can’t wait to finish it and move on to the next
I identified three young genius traits that I want to reintegrate into my life and work: Vibrancy, Resilience, and Freedom
I identified my audience for the book–something I’ve always been reluctant to do–and in doing so gave myself a renewed sense of purpose
I identified a skill that I need to cultivate in order to improve my chances of completing my small and large projects, and while I called it “saying no” it’s actually about discernment, which also includes attention to what I need to say yes to, in some cases making tradeoffs–saying yes to one thing in order to release something else
I identified my cross-training and versatile heritage skills–sewing, mindfulness, writing, research, and content architecture, but realize now that there are others that are less obvious and in some ways more powerful: creating a backyard homestead garden, learning belly dance and performing on stage, writing several NaNoWriMo novels, and learning how to fly a plane, all of which taught me about focus, dedication, dealing with uncertainty and obstacles, and facing some of my most long-held and agonizing fears
I continued to take my #365 daily photos, getting myself out of the house and into the world, all the while staying focused on the concrete world around me, and the beauty there, even in things that don’t at first seem beautiful
And perhaps most importantly, I have begun talking about collaborations and getting more involved with other people’s projects–sharing my immune disorder story with Tracee Vetting Wolf for her project, discussing a possible short story collection with Brenna Layne, and attending Jeffrey Davis‘ Tracking Wonder event in Albuquerque where I met some great people and got some great advice about my book from the man himself
Seeing the list written down like this makes me realize how much I’ve accomplished in only two short weeks. Yes I still have a long way to go, but if I can maintain this level of progress for the second two weeks of the challenge and beyond, there’s no telling what I can accomplish.
Compost. That’s the first word that sprang to mind when I read this challenge. Reclaiming the past to feed the future. I’ve done versions of this challenge before, but each time there is something new to learn–not the least of which is just how full of experience, knowledge, and important skills my life really is.
#DareToExcel Challenge – 6:
Cross-training is defined as how working on one project or in one field can complement your endeavors in another field. Cross-training can happen sequentially (e.g., your work in your 20s can help your work in your 40s) or simultaneously (e.g. the thinking required in your work as a lawyer can help you in your book project).
Versatile heritage is defined as the repurposing of previous experience in a current endeavor. For example, you may have previous experience in art or design. This experience can then inform your work in marketing or coaching.
What unique skills and experiences do you already possess that you can bring to your project?
List 1-5 existing skills you have developed from previous experiences and work that you are bringing forward to this project.
First, the meditative sewing portion of the program:
Sewing & Quilting: I made my first quilt when I was 10, and have completed more than 40 since then, with several more in progress. What that means for this project is that deep attention is no longer required, allowing my mind to rest as I stitch.
Meditation practice: Although I wouldn’t say I have deep experience with meditation, I have studied both sitting meditation and writing practice with Natalie Goldberg and others, which means I have some experience and the basic skills to build on.
Then onto the book:
Research: Undergraduate and graduate school, writing for a museum publication and novels, and many years working in the content realm for a variety of tech companies and departments, have helped me develop some seriously kick-ass research skills–both online and in the real world. But beyond that, research is one of my great loves, so even when I’m not doing it for a project, I’m hunting down data, trends, and histories out of personal interest. Research is best when it’s full-immersion–books, movies, music, photos on the walls… I want to be able to slip completely into that other world.
Writing: Again, academia and my work experience have molded me into a professional writer with a wide variety of skills: I’ve written magazine articles for the Exploratorium Quarterly, crafted editorial experiences for Walmart.com, worked as a tech writer, marketing writer, advertising writer, newsletter (and e-newsletter) writer, social media writer, website copywriter, blogger, content and story editor, and proofreader. I’ve written and published poems and micro-fiction, completed drafts of 5 novels, many short stories, and two screenplays. I’ve also attended multiple writing retreats with author Natalie Goldberg. That’s more than 17 years focused on all aspects of the craft.
Content Architecture & Strategy: My professional writing career started with newsletter and catalog work–creating categories, writing copy, crafting flow between pages. From there I moved on to website content architecture and navigation–what appears on each page and how you move between them. These skills are essential in any written work, especially those with complex or interlaced story structures, which happen to be my favorite to write. My current project contains three distinct but connected story lines which will require unwavering attention to chronology, points of intersection, flow, and detail. Suffice it to say, there will be color and time-coded story architecture diagrams. Lots of them.
And of course, my whole #onesmallproject is a form of cross-training–sewing as a way to clear physical and mental space for the larger project I need to bring into the world.
But of course I’m going to add one more, in the form of a riddle:
What do gardening, belly dancing, learning to fly an airplane, and writing a book have in common?
They all require mastery of a million tiny nuanced parts, profound courage, and deep faith that one small step can lead to the journey of a lifetime and with it, the opportunity to transport others into a completely different world.