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.
In times of change it can be easy to blame whatever life event caused that change for knocking us off path–which is exactly what I’ve been doing since the end of March. If only things had stayed the same, I tell myself, I wouldn’t have needed to put everything on hold. Imagine how much farther along I’d be by now. But of course, that’s just an excuse. Because the truth is, I was already floundering. Had been for months. Sure, I talked a good game, especially here on this blog, but some deep part of me knew that something was wrong.
The beautiful thing about a life coming completely undone, is that it forces us to look at every part of everything we do–not to figure out where everything went sideways, but to figure out which projects, people, passions are worth carrying forward into the new life that begins when each old one ends.
Some epiphanies come like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. Others take a village. My clarity arrived through the words and work of others–specifically fellow Questers Marisa Goudy, Brenna Layne, and a Northern Indian man named Jadav “Molai” Payeng. Through them I’ve realized that it’s not what I’ve been doing that’s off, it’s how.
Of course there have been signs–let’s call them breadcrumbs–along the way. Small reminders that where I was wasn’t where I was supposed to be. That I was off course and needed to find my way home. And lately, those reminders have been getting larger. And louder.
Marisa’s post was the one that finally broke through, completing the arrow begun by the other two–pointing me back in the right direction.
When every day you spend as an entrepreneur is measured against some dream of growing beyond yourself when all you really want to do is be who you are, you’re poisoning yourself. — Marisa Goudy
In my case it wasn’t just poisoning myself, it was crippling my work. I had been trying to force my passions into an entrepreneurial mold for years now–years filled with fits and starts, with derailments and roadblocks, with soul searching and second guessing, all because that mold didn’t fit.
The goal of the entrepreneur is to sell out for a lot of money, or to build a long-term profit machine that is steady, stable, and not particularly risky to run. — Seth Godin
Risks make the artist. And I found myself so focused on how to streamline and monetize that is sucked the joy out of the most important part of being an artist–making wild, courageous, meaningful art.
Which pointed me back to Brenna’s post which is outwardly about ambition, but inwardly speaks to why we bother doing anything as insane as creating art in the first place.
But I am ambitious. I want to make a living as a novelist. This is a ridiculously ambitious goal, but it doesn’t stop there. I don’t want to hit the NYT Bestseller List so much as I want to make a difference. I want to write stories that crack people open, that make them laugh-cry, that offer up the moments of transcendence that the best stories have given me. Books saved my life. I want to pay it forward. — Brenna Layne
The point of creation, at least for me, was never about earning a sizable income and gaining notoriety. It was about exactly what Brenna describes–the moments of transcendence that can crack people open in the best and most life-changing ways, the way others have done for me.
Creating work like that doesn’t happen up against a deadline or when driven by revenue goals. It bubbles up from the deep well inside, sometimes after decades of allowing it to rest while it builds effervescence, and sometimes after a lifetime of tiny, daily steps which may have begun with a small glimmer of an idea that built itself into a life’s work.
Which led me back, once again, this time to an article about Majuli islander, Jadav Payeng, who 30 years ago started planting seeds along a barren stretch of beach. Through his dedicated work, it has since grown into a jungle.
Reading the article, watching the film I find myself wondering, like the filmmaker, “what 10 Payengs, or 100, or 1000 Payengs could do.” And more importantly, how can I awaken my own inner Payeng.
One tiny positive act a day, repeated with dedication and persistence, can change everything–be it words or art or trees.
And so from this unexpected clean slate, I will refocus my attention on recognizing and cultivating the one small thing I have to give, with the reminders of those times in the past when I have felt most fully awake, alive, and radiant with purpose to guide me.
Crack open the shell you have
built for yourself.
Follow the path the birds
Not the sodden track
of mildewed bread.
It’s the trail of seeds
scattered by beaks.
Their tiny green sprouts will
show you the way.
So here it is, our last prompt of our #livethequest journey, and it’s a doozy.
#LiveTheQuest question 12: What is the #NewStory you are living and creating into in 2015?
Stand up and own your new Story. It’s unfolding. There’s a lot of uncertainty in owning a new Story. But what is the one you are standing up for and sharing? Yes, part of the Story is deeply personal. How are you being called to think, feel, imagine, create, and act in different ways this year? How are you engaging and relating if not elevating people differently this year? And 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. Rise and 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.
Last November when I signed up for this Quest, I had no idea what my story might be. Or maybe I had a few, but this one, the one that claimed me, it surprised me.
I still find it hard to believe that the crazy idea that first started to germinate 10 years ago (quite possibly closer to 15), one that I dismissed time and time again as too frivolous, too morbid, as just another distraction, has revealed itself to be what I have been searching for all along. It’s amazing what can happen when we trade avoiding, second-guessing, rejecting for embracing, cultivating, nurturing. When we stop analyzing and striving, and start experimenting and creating. Which is story enough in itself, especially for those of us just starting out, or who have found themselves armpit-deep in a bog, or who have spent so long sitting in a box following other people’s rules that it has become second nature not to question, so strong, in fact that the idea of escape fills you with fear.
I was once starting out. I have found myself stuck in bogs. I have even from time to time believed I loved those boxes that held me. And I’m pretty sure I will find myself in at least one of those places again. Probably all of them, over and over again. Because that’s how life is. But for this moment, in this place I am standing up for cultivating resilience in our lives and the world. For looking into the scary places and saying “don’t be afraid, because even here there is light.” Or, “Don’t worry, we all get scared sometimes. Let’s take each other’s hands and face it together.” For believing that story and art–our own, what’s come before, and what’s yet to be created–can change everything for the better. For staring the apocalypse in the eyes and saying “now is not your time. This time, it’s ours, and it is full of wonder.”
This may be the end of this leg of our travels, but the journey itself? It’s only beginning.
Something has been shifting out here in the snowy southwest, and it all started with a picture. This picture, actually…
… a young girl asleep in the back seat of the family car with her best friend Smokey Bear, dreaming the beauty of a world to come. The first photo in a series that will grow to at least 365 images deep. Perhaps more.
I’d done a 365 project before, starting Koru365 in December 2010, when my dissatisfaction with working in corporate tech was reaching its crescendo. At that time I had already begun to plan my escape, but needed something to both inspire and anchor me during the transition. And it did. So I already knew that a 365 project could change a life. And since I had been longing for a little positive change again lately, when I read her second article, The 365 Project as a Creative Process, on my friend Saundra Goldman’s wonderful site, Creative Mix, I knew it was time to give a new 365 project a go–posting a daily photo from my life and work to my Facebook page.
Only 13 days in I am already feeling a shift. So far my photos have revealed dreams, distractions, the artistic lines of words on paper, major blocks to creativity, the beauty of what’s outside my windows, and more. The process has returned my attention to the world I inhabit and what truly matters, as I consider what I want this chronicle to reveal about my life this time next year.
And it has done something else. As promised, it has gotten me writing consistently again–a feat supported by a second very simple 365 project I’m doing with two friends, in which we share one sentence we’ve written that day with each other. Knowing that they are waiting, that they are also writing, makes me want to share something beautiful with them. And so every morning for the last five days, I have written either a poem (sometimes more than one) and/or a page or two in a novel that I started but didn’t finish this past November.
One sentence, one photo doesn’t seem like much, and maybe that’s why it works. Because it is so simple, almost stupidly simple, to complete, we complete it. And sometimes we do more. Sometimes a lot more. But even if we don’t, over time, these small bricks, stacked one on top of the other, combine to build something extraordinary–a castle, a bridge, a cathedral. A body of work. A life.
What one small project can you define to start creating into your burning question?
The thing is, that burning question (or rather the spiral of questions) that lead to what is essentially: “What if I existing art could help inspire the art to come, and what if together they could heal our communities, our world, and ourselves?” lead to another important question thread still burning:
What if I just make art and write as inspiration and daily practice move me instead of focusing on how to turn it into a business? What if I follow the path of fun and joy? Read the books I want to read, make the art I want to make, take the classes I want to take? Isn’t it possible, maybe even probable, that the rest will arise from there and my path will become clear?
And then to yet another, as I considered how my Apocalypse Garden project fits in with my path as a Poet | Artist | Optimist:
What if instead of preparing for the worst, I prepared for the best?
And sure, I could easily come up with a project that would fit each one, but what if I combined all three questions into one:
What if focusing on mining and making art instead of building a business gave me the freedom to find my own voice–the one that could eventually support my best work and my best life? And what might that look like?
Experimentation and play. Taking classes. Reading. Going to movies and galleries. Exposing myself to a broader range of thoughts and ideas. Going on Artist Dates, to conferences and lectures. Collaborating with other artists. Getting out of town with a sketchbook and camera. Whatever it takes to keep creativity awake and alive and whatever it takes to set aside daily time and space for creation. To actually create–a little bit every day, and a more than a little bit on some of those days. Which sounds exciting, but it’s not a small project. And then I realized that some of my greatest struggles for direction come from feeling like I have to choose–between writing and quilting and photography, between living life and preparing for the apocalypse, between poetry, novels, memoir, and my deep love of speculative fiction. Which brought me not just to an answer to my small project question, but to my biggest burning question of all:
What if instead of having to choose, I could combine the things I love?
And so, my small project will be to create an object of art that incorporates:
Inspiration from existing works of literature, poetry, and art
And dreaming my way through our world’s uncertain future
Because I am beginning to believe that my path lies not in walking a straight or winding road, but in building a home at the place my roads converge.
The Quest, it continues. Not just as DIY, but as its founder says, as DIT (Do It Together). That means a full twelve months of weekly Monday prompts, beginning with this one:
What burning question of possibility will influence what & how you create these first 3 months?
What if acts of creation could counteract pain, and fear, and war, and destruction? What if art could heal communities, the world, ourselves? And what if those powers aren’t just available in the art we are making now, but in the paintings that have already been painted, the songs that have already been sung, the stories that have already been told?
Why wait another minute to dig deep into our own art and the art that already inhabits our world?
Why not use what has already been done to inspire what’s to come? Why not just dive in, then share both mined and minted treasures?
At the intersection of Creative Work and Learning lies a space that invites experimentation, trying new things, getting our hands dirty. A space I like to call play. It’s where we explore those things that sound intriguing, that grab our attention, that make our ears prick up, or our hearts skip a beat. The things that we suspect with little or no experience or knowledge, might just be meant for us. It’s also where we give ourselves the freedom to do those things that just plain make us happy.
And because it can sometimes be very hard to give ourselves permission to “indulge” these seemingly non-productive dalliances (NOTE: they are not non-productive dalliances, they are essential to our well being), I’ve decided to make a list of activities, events, skills, whatever, that just plain sound like fun. Just in case I forget.
It’s improbable that I’ll get to all or possibly even any of them, but the mere existence of this list makes me excited for the new year. And since I plan to add more ideas as they come up, I will probably be even more excited as the year goes on.
Sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Not what should, or might or always had, but what did. Make that list. Be honest, even if it surprises you. Keep the list with you this month. Add to it when it happens. Train yourself to notice. Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?
The list is longer than I expected, which shouldn’t surprise me. I have a lot of different interests.
Holding the finished 7 Blessings quilt top up to the light and watching it glow like stained glass
Having a fellow quester compare 7 Blessings to an Australian Opal