Claiming My Story

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.

#DaretoExcel Challenge #15:

Claim your story and howl-out.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


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


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.

#DareToExcel Challenge #9:

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
  • Invite feedback

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:

  1. Create a short treatment of the book–either a plot summary, concept teaser, or short story
  2. Test for proof of theme and concept, whether people find it valuable, and if the complex structure works
  3. Share it with a select 3 to 5 individuals to start (I already have 3 people in mind)
  4. 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.


Dare to Excel

Six weeks since my last post and in many ways I am still struggling to pick up the threads of my Quest that suddenly unravelled at the end of March. Sure, I have had moments of clarity, epiphany, and even a few bursts of creative energy, but on the whole I have continued to slog through my days for, now, more than three months. That’s more than long enough.

Enter #DareToExcel, the latest brainchild of wonder-tracker Jeffrey Davis, the man who brought us #Quest2015. His timing could not be more perfect. And so here we are at the start of a new month-long challenge and the point of transition from the first to the second half of the year–both beginning in the month I, myself, began–49 years ago next week.

Forty-nine years… I have to admit, that’s hard to wrap my mind around. I don’t feel 49, and I sure don’t feel almost 50. I barely feel older than 29. It’s funny how life sneaks up on us.

Back when I did turn 29, I totally freaked out. For some reason it’s the year before the big birthdays that get me, as though I suddenly realize that I only have one year left to accomplish everything I wanted to do before reaching whatever looming age is approaching. And usually I do check off the top thing(s) on my list. At 29 I completely changed careers and learned to belly dance.  At 39, I bought my first house. And now, with 49 one week away, I find my mind turning toward the big dreams I’ve longed to accomplish before I turn 50, which in turn leads me back to the power of questions.

#DareToExcel Challenge – 1:

What burning question of possibility will influence what and how you create during the next 30 to 90 days?

Choose and write down or illustrate the burning question of possibility you commit to. Don’t be afraid of illustrating it with a little personal flourish. The best innovators and design thinkers make their work “their own.” So own this question.

Write it on a card. Print it out on a poster of your own making. Make it attractive to your creative mind of action so that every day this month you will Rise to Excel and live this question.

Of course I never seem to be able to answer with just one question, and this prompt is no exception. Two questions bolted into my head in rapid succession–one focused on the big picture, and another on a specific project.

What if I (we) stop planning, analyzing, over-thinking, worrying, and controlling (or at least trying to control) and instead just focus on making?

This is a theme that has come up for me repeatedly throughout both Quest 2015 and my life. I am a thinker, a dreamer, a planner, sometimes even an obsessor, often to the detriment of actually getting things done. For the next 30 to 90 days, I plan to switch that up. To start with the making, and save the thinking for once I have actual work to think about. Consider it a NaNoWriMo approach to the rest of my creative life–maybe even my entire life. Starting today, I will spend my limited time and energy on word counts and stitch counts and completed action counts. At the end of the challenge, I’ll tally everything I did and decide whether I have enough to start building with or I need to keep my head down and my hands busy a little (or a lot) longer.

Which brings us to the second question:

What if the story is wrong?

A couple of weeks ago I posted the following to the Quest group during our weekly howl-out:

About an hour ago while I was washing dishes, a book idea came to me. I think this might just be the one.

The book (code named 3T) centers around a medieval tale, one that I have been deeply drawn to since the first time I encountered it and whose main character has shown up stories I’ve written, and who I have met the embodiment of, over and over again in my life. In some ways, that story has helped define who I am and how I relate to other people and to the world.

But what if that story is wrong? Because I am beginning to believe that it is. And the transformation of that wrong story into the right story will be the work of the book.

So here here they are, the first a dare, and the second, the existential question that has already started to break everything open. The how, and the what.

And just in case you were wondering, yes, it even includes the apocalypse.

Intrigued by #DareTo Excel? Read what some of my fellow#DareToExcel participants came up with then take the pledge