Design to Delight

#DareToExcel Challenge- 13:

We live in an experience economy. Your customers and audiences don’t want products and services. They want experiences. Leaders who live with integrity and artistry build businesses that deliver on delightful experiences – regardless of what product or service they sell.

Define and act upon one way you can design to delight your audience or customers within the next two days.

My book is still in its beginning phase. There is nothing yet to read or see… But, wait, that’s not actually entirely true. In fact, I’ve already shared a piece of story-inspired collage art in my previous post that has already delighted one of my readers. So, inspired by that and by a conversation with fellow quester Brenna Layne, I will create a page on my site featuring this image (and others I create along the way) as well as a reading list, and perhaps other related references, resources, videos, whatever I can find to help keep me and my potential future readers excited about the project. And I already have other extension projects in mind–quilts, poems, maybe even an opening signing at a gallery filled with this related work… so many possibilities!

And while we’re on the topic of delight, I think this year I’ll send holiday cards to the people who have bought my quilts. It doesn’t take grand gestures to create a little delight in the lives of those who support us.

Signature Style

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?

#DareToExcel Challenge – 12:

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:

  1. Genius: How can you bring forward your young genius to your audience or customers – the beneficiaries of your project?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?

Genius: I almost couldn’t remember the #YoungGeniusQualities I wrote about. I had to look them up.

  • Vibrant
  • Resilient
  • Free

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
  • To rebuild

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.

GrailDistinction: 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

Not All Poetry is Pretty

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month, during which I managed to write at least one poem a day–32 in all. Some were free writes, some written from prompts.

I’d like to say that is was an inspiring creative experience, but the truth is, I struggled with every single word and got almost nothing in return beyond being able to say I finished. Someday I may be able to look back at these slithering creatures I’ve written and find hidden gold, but for now, I am just unbelievably grateful to be able to put the pen down for as long as it takes for the process to transform from torture back to joy.

Here is the list:

  • 4/1: Impatience (prompt)
  • 4/2: Night (no prompt)
  • 4/3: Desperate Atrophy (prompt)
  • 4/4: Pause (no prompt)
  • 4/5: Younger Then, Older Now (prompt)
  • 4/6: Another Selfie (prompt) two different poems
  • 4/7: Natural Resources (prompt)
  • 4/8: Relentless Pursuit (prompt)
  • 4/9: Not Here (prompt)
  • 4/10: Chance Metting (prompt)
  • 4/11: After the Fall (prompt)
  • 4/12: Carnivorous Air (prompt)
  • 4/13: Another Response (prompt)
  • 4/14: Where I’m Going (prompt)
  • 4/15: Obvious Secrets (prompt)
  • 4/16: Depth Perception (no prompt)
  • 4/17: 2017 (prompt)–apocalypse poem
  • 4/18: Awkward Moment (prompt)
  • 4/19: Night Light (prompt)
  • 4/20: Second Language (prompt)
  • 4/21: Endangered Animal (prompt)
  • 4/22: A Conversation with My Destroyer (prompt)
  • 4/23: The Way Home (prompt)
  • 4/24: No Right Answer (prompt)
  • 4/25: Diaspora (prompt)
  • 4/26: Another Grey Santa Fe Day (no prompt) and Lest We Forget / Act As If (no prompts)
  • 4/27: Last Leg (prompt)
  • 4/28: Middle of the Road (prompt)
  • 4/29: Animate and Inanimate (prompt)
  • 4/30: Mull (no prompt)


Late Snow

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here–so long, in fact that I had to go back and re-read my last post to try and figure out where I was when I was last here. Excited. Optimistic. Full of energy.

It seems a lifetime ago. In some ways it is. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes we get derailed. Sometimes we need to stop everything until we find our footing again. Sometimes that takes longer than we think it should, but it takes as long as it takes, and it does no good to try and muscle through.

What does do good:

  • Paring down to the barest essentials
  • Focusing on just what’s in front of us
  • Writing it out

For the last near-month, I have cut all but the barest essentials–work, food, simplifying my small space. I have continued to keep up with my #365 photo project and on April 1, I started writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month, prodded by amazing poet MJ Iuppa. And I have kept those up, too. What I haven’t kept up are my blogs, but here I am, at least for the moment, and hoping that this post will create some momentum to get back in the groove.

Some days we we are surrounded by the glorious colors and scents of apple blossoms and lilacs. Some days we get sub-freezing temperatures and snow. We just have to have faith when the sun comes out again, that the trees are resilient enough to still bear fruit come summer.

Apple Blossoms, April 18, 2015
Apple Blossoms, April 18, 2015


Trying to Have Something Left Over

Lately I have had a poem stuck in my head, much like we often have songs. I suspect it was initially triggered during poetry class. Each week our teacher, poet Tony Hoagland, gives us sample poems to illustrate the week’s lesson. That week, as part of our lesson on voice, we read The Butternut Tree at Fort Juniper by Jack Gilbert.

I had read Jack Gilbert before. Had a copy of his book The Great Fires on my shelf at home because of another poem, heard in another writing class, read by another writing teacher. That poem was Trying to Have Something Left Over.

Trying to Have Something Left Over

There was a great tenderness to the sadness
when I would go there. She knew how much
I loved my wife and that we had no future.
We were like casualties helping each other
as we waited for the end. Now I wonder
if we understood how happy those Danish
afternoons were. Most of the time we did not talk.
Often I took care of the baby while she did
housework. Changing him and making him laugh.
I would say Pittsburgh softly each time before
throwing him up. Whisper Pittsburgh with
my mouth against the tiny ear and throw
him higher. Pittsburgh and happiness high up.
The only way to leave even the smallest trace.
So that all his life her son would feel gladness
unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined
city of steel in America. Each time almost
remembering something maybe important that got lost.

I thought of this poem again a couple of weeks ago when someone asked me what place I considered my home town. I answered the same way I always answer when confronted with this question: I was born in Los Angeles, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the truth is, the place that most feels like my heart’s home is Rochester, New York.

I only lived there a couple of years, but those were the years that made me–fraught with emotion, with life and death, with rugs pulled out from beneath tiny feet. Everything that happened during those years was amplified, while I sat at terminal and non-terminal besides alike, still and silent, bearing witness decades before I learned what those words meant.

The poem came up for me again this morning as I ruminated on the novel I am writing this November, and why my main character, a girl without a name, found herself in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Although it does seem the kind of town that might attract someone longing to be lost, I believe in her case it was more than that. There was something calling her. Something like an oft whispered name and happiness high up. Which gives the story an interesting twist, transforming a girl wandering alone into a girl with something to search for, a girl who carries within her at least one happy memory to cling to, even if she doesn’t quite remember it.

The Siren Song of November

National Novel Writing MonthIt’s been a while since I’ve been so excited about November. Yes, I know it’s only the middle of October, but today is the day that National Novel Writing Month opened it’s site for this year’s novels.

I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2001, just  two months after 9/11. I’d heard about the challenge the previous year at a holiday party, just days into December. I knew I would be writing with them when November came around again.

That year–their third annual–there were only about 500 participants. In October I got onto the forums to connect with other writers in my area. A couple of us met once a week in a bookstore coffee shop to crank out words and commiserate. The experience was liberating and empowering. I finished my novel, Wake, on November 30th at 50,057 words.

In 2002, I became the local Municipal Liaison for the Silicon Valley chapter, organizing write-ins, throwing kick-off, half-way, and TGIO parties. I got to know the founder, Chris Baty. I finished my second novel, Anatomy.

In 2003, I took over the ML program, organizing more than 300 Municipal Liaisons across the globe, providing press release templates, wrangling giveaway mailings, and providing advice on how to handle difficult participants and inspire those who needed it. I also founded a sister program, National Novel Editing Month, to help writers take their novels from draft to done. And I still managed to finish my book, Glass Cases.

In 2004, I moved to San Francisco, leaving my Silicon Valley group in the hands of others, and though I was still involved, coordinating cross-region writing events and challenges, life got in the way. Between an expanded work schedule and buying a house, I didn’t finish my novel. I also handed off the Editor-in-Chief position for National Novel Editing Month to someone else.

I was away from NaNoWriMo for five years, returning in 2010 for another win with my novel, The Herbal Companion. I had planned to do the same in 2011, but a cross-country move from San Francisco to Santa Fe sapped my concentration, and another novel met the end of November incomplete. In 2013, I decided to change my approach, writing 350 words 3 times a week, but again fell short with just over 21,000 words and no end in sight.

It’s easy to say this year will be different, but what I’m really hoping for is for it to be the same. The same as those first three years when the writing came easy, words flowing from my pen like someone else was writing them. The same as when I had a community of writers, scratching or clicking away beside me as we sat on thick-cushioned couches at the back of our favorite coffee shop until closing, writing each other into our stories. Sharing giant oatmeal cookies, drinking warm coffees or vanilla steamers.

Moving to a new town can, at first, take the wind out of your sails. But it only takes a few people to get you sailing again. Now, armed with my small cadre of writers, I am aching for the first cold days of November after the last haunted night of October during which, at 12:00 midnight I will scratch out the first, well-rehearsed lines of my 2014 November novel, the one that has been, is, building pressure within me longing for its release.

Freshly Pressed

It’s been an interesting week.

Last week, I got an email from Andrea of AndreaReadsAmerica telling me she’d like to publish my lyric essay Wider Than an Ocean. It went live on her site on Wednesday. A few hours later, she got an email from an editor for saying that my essay had been chosen for Freshly Pressed, which Andrea forwarded to me, asking if I have a blog she could link to.

I’ve had a lot of blogs, a lot of sites, a lot of online squats and identities, but none of them have had much to do with my writing, or even much about me. And since I didn’t want to tell her no, I decided to build myself a site that does. So here it is.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be gathering up relevant posts from my other sites and consolidating them here–eventually creating an online home that combines all the things I love most. Until then, here’s a video of me reading some poetry. I hope you enjoy it.