Competitive Collaboration Redux

There are certain parts of this process that trip me up every time. This challenge is one we’ve talked about before and my answer is pretty much the same.

#DareToExcel Challenge – 11:

Reach out to a collaborator. Define at least one such person.

Draft notes about the following and share: What will you ask of that person? How can you frame your ask in a way that the person recognizes what is of value to her or him? How can you frame the ask in a way that will resonate with a meaningful ideal that transcends both of your self-interest? Hint: Go back to your burning question, and go back to who it’s for.

Bonus points if you actually ask the person within the next two days! Dare you!

Back in February, my answer was this:

This is a great question and one I think about often. In fact, I do have a list of people and ideas. But for now, that’s where this whole discussion needs to stay, for two reasons:

  1. I have given up dealing with the Big Picture for Lent. Obsessing over what I might do some day has been preventing me from taking the small daily steps that I need to take to get me there. So far, it has made a huge difference in my mindset, if not yet my actual productivity. And I need the productivity to catch up. Come the end of Lent, it may be time to reclaim my relationship with the Big Picture, but from where I sit today, I’m pretty sure it won’t.
  2. I’m not ready. Not in a “I need everything to be perfect kind of way,” in a “I need to solidify my own foundation before even considering collaborating with others,” kind of way.

I need to find my stride, build my own voice and vision, become who I need to be in my own right BEFORE inviting anyone else in. Until I do, this week’s more detailed questions have no place in my process. Until I do, I will continue to focus on doing my own physical work, and occasionally, as lightning strikes, adding a name to my list.

My Big Picture challenge for Lent is over, so that is no longer a stumbling block, but the rest continues to hold true. My life has changed dramatically since this post. Very important relationships have ended, leaving a hole that has resisted healing. My financial and work situations have changed–not all for the better. The stress resulting from these changes has triggered health issues that need attention and, in some cases, intervention.

BUT… out of the resulting maelstrom has come a new focus–one that better encompasses the most important values and ideas from the last 8 months of introspection beginning with the #Quest challenge in December. So while I still have a list of people and ideas, I find myself needing once again to solidify, if not completely rebuild, my own foundation.

As I noted on the last day of last year, I chose the word CULTIVATE to guide my work in 2015. Seven months later, with everything going on, that word no longer quite fits what I need. Cultivate is about tilling, planting, growing, encouraging. I need a word that represents gathering of all of my lost, damaged, and disparate loves, ideas, and pieces of myself, bringing them all together to mix and steep, and meld into something that can feed not only me, but the world. This time has become a time of reclaiming, healing, reflecting. Yes, the time for connecting, collaborating, building will come. But that time is not now. Now is the time of COMPOST–of allowing the alchemy of time and space and chemistry to transform what no longer seems edible, viable, useful into the elixir from which everything grows.


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, 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.


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
have left
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.

Lauren McLean Ayer

What might your one small thing be?

New Story

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.

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

I had a plan for today. That plan was to go back through all my 2014 journals and create a detailed accounting of what I accomplished this past year. Halfway through March I got bogged down in all the details and rehashings, so I turned instead to a list I made a couple days ago of the year’s most memorable moments. And that list was enough, so here it is, in no particular order:

  • Completed 9 quilts and sold 5 (including two commissions)
  • Made and sold 6 potholders
  • Started
  • Completed a 31 Day Writing Challenge, with the above-mentioned blog and have continued to blog almost daily
  • Started a new novel, Consequence, for NaNoWriMo
  • Took a poetry class from Tony Hoagland
  • Published lyric essay “Wider Than an Ocean”  and got tons of publicity
  • Launched this site:
  • Joined wonder tracker Jeffrey Davis for #Quest2015
  • Attended two funerals, my grandmother’s in April, and my neighbor Ann’s in May
  • Learned free-motion quilting
  • Travelled a lot: Rochester, NY, Durango, CO, California (San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Yosemite), and various places in New Mexico (Las Vegas, Taos, Truth or Consequences, Aztec, others)
  • Blew glass for the first time (a bucket list item for me)
  • Sewed a button-down, collared dress shirt (my first)
  • Had quilts in three different shows
  • Did several freelance projects
  • Distanced myself from a challenging work situation
  • Expanded my day job hours
  • Reconnected with a selection of my Silicon Valley NaNoWriMo tribe
  • Visited Alcatraz and saw Ai Wei Wei’s @Large exhibit there
  • Connected with two long-lost cousins of mine, amazing poets MJ Iuppa and Suzanne Iuppa
  • Set up two holiday craft faires
  • Started the Koru Project, then later put it on hold
  • Created my Year of Clear focused on streamlining my life in key areas (money, time, space, health, work, preparedness, and relationships)
  • Bought a small sewing machine to take to classes (my big one is too heavy)
  • Gave away a bunch of stuff I no longer want or need during Lent
  • Started the year with a no-spend January
  • Generally got my space, work, and life in better order
  • Had a major epiphany that may completely remake the scope, kind, and style of work I do in the future (we’ll see how that goes)
  • Read 36 books and watched 78 feature-length films

Looking at this list, it’s clear I’ve accomplished a lot, but throughout the year I felt overwhelmed and behind. And when I look at my original goals:

  • Streamline the basics
  • Define and build my businesses
  • Become financially solvent

I don’t feel like I made much progress, even though I did.

I don’t want to feel that way in the coming year, so to that end, I will set no goals,  just priorities to guide my actions.

  1. Health
  2. Creative work
  3. Learning
  4. Relationships

CultivateAnd though it was my intention to simply be, do, and bear witness without creating yet another Year of word (which in past years have included Recovery, Emergence, Work, and Clear), a word arose just the same: CULTIVATE.

Cultivate better health. Cultivate the creative work that best feeds and most excites me. Cultivate an attitude of learning, to grow knowledge, awareness, and understanding. Cultivate valued relationships while weeding out those that drain me.

If 2014 is any indication, what that work will entail will likely change considerably over the course of the year, but as I sit here typing these words, it will begin with the Apocalypse Garden. And I am ridiculously excited.