Young Genius

It always surprises me what comes up when asked these kinds of thought-provoking questions. It would have made more sense to write about making my first quilt, about learning new skills, about wanting to do something compassionate for someone, about seeing imagination and work come together to create something wholly new, but that’s not the memory that wanted to be explored. And the one that did… sometimes I forget I ever was that girl. Clearly I need to remember.

#DareToExcel Challenge – 3:

Take a few minutes to remember a time when you were nine, or around that age, when you felt free to be your best.

Feel an exact moment in time and place. Are you outdoors or indoors? How does the air feel? How do you feel in your body? What are you uniquely doing or making? Who are you with and how are you uniquely relating to others?

Looking back with full compassion toward yourself, what 1-3 adjectives would you use to describe your younger self at her or his best?
These are your 3 Young Genius Qualities.
How can you bring some of those young genius qualities forward to this project?

The first memory that sprang to mind was from a picnic at the lagoon in the town where I grew up. It was summer and a bunch of my friends from school were there. The weather was sunny, warm, with maybe the slightest breeze off the bay. The water was alive, with the sun glinting off its low, lapping waves. The cries of seagulls mixed with our laughter.

My four closest girlfriends and I were on the lawn doing cartwheels, aerials, and back flips. The five of us were in gymnastics together and we were playing around, egging each other on in a sort of friendly competition, daring each other to new heights and new combinations. When one of us missed or messed up we’d shout pep-talks from the sidelines. If it was a really bad miss, we’d laugh it off and try again.

Little GymnastPlaying like this in the sun was so different than training or regular competitions. Free of the focus on perfecting techniques and form, we could just have fun. And because it was just fun, we dared to experiment, we dared to be fully in our strong and flexible bodies, pushing the limits of what they could do, to see how high we could jump, how fast we could run, how far we could fly. And because it wasn’t about trying to be our best, we were free to actually explore what our best could be. And often, we found it.

Three #YoungGeniusQualities

  • Vibrant
  • Resilient
  • Free

It’s strange to look at this list and consider that these are not words that I would use to describe myself now, at least not in the way I mean them here. The strength and flexibility of resilience has become a way to get through the tough times, to weather emotional, financial, and other storms, instead of an expression of the strength, power, flexibility, and adaptability of a trained athlete or of youth. And the freedom I have now, hard won and held through sacrifice and compromise, is not the freedom of what felt then like an endless summer where everything is possible. And vibrancy? Perhaps I just vibrate on a more subdued frequency these days. They are all still in me, just not expressed in the same way or with the same exuberance and joy as they were then. I want to get some of that back.

But that is my life. What about my project, Make, Don’t Mull?

In its conception my project was more about creating calm and space, about clearing away obstacles, about getting to work, which feels the absolute opposite of the me from memory. How do I infuse Vibrancy, Resilience, and Freedom into a project that essentially consists of slogging through a checklist of incomplete tasks that I just want, finally, off my plate…Why was that, again?  So I have the space and freedom to explore a topic that absolutely lights me up.

And there it is. Because my #onesmallproject has two parts: The chop wood, carry water part, and the freedom to experiment with a story that no longer serves me or the world, to play with new combinations, new manifestations, to push its boundaries, to see how far it can stretch without snapping, to give it more power, more strength. To help remake it into a powerful force for freedom, life, action, and hope. I may not be able to do a backflip again, but I bet I can relive the feeling it gave me.

Read more from fellow dare-takers:


One Small Project

Our second #daretoexcel prompt arrived yesterday, but, unsurprisingly, given my first burning question, it took me a bit before I could sort an answer.

#DareToExcel Challenge – 2:

What one small project can you define to start creating into your burning question?

Complete the top half of the My Project Brief Sheet – title, problem, feeling, and/or question as well as the wonder & curiosity that can light you up to excel. Share it with your audiences. You’ll be glad you did later in the challenge.

To help you focus, write or draw or design a simple project brief. Don’t make it overly analytical but don’t undervalue this really important process either.

Set limits and constraints. Maybe you limit how long you are going to take to create this small project. Will you limit how many pages, designs, or features the project will have? If it is for an audience or a customer base, what problem do they have that this small project might respond to?

Unlike our first prompt of the challenge which came to me in a flash (actually two back-to-back flashes), prompt number two required a little more thought–partly because I have two questions, which at first, at least in my mind, aren’t really that connected. The very first thing that popped into my head when I read this was Jeffrey’s rephrase of my first question, which he simplified into a short, catchy phrase: What if I make instead of mull? Which is great, but a) how does that translate into a project, and b) how does that project relate to my second question about the book, when the first question was actually about sewing? Which of course sent my brain into full mull-mode. So instead of continuing to let it spin itself into a tizzy, I decided to sleep on it.

As it turns out, “sleeping on it” is the perfect metaphor for how a Make, Don’t Mull project would work.


It seems counter-intuitive at first, focusing on quilts in order to make space for a book to grow, but the longer I sit with it, the more right it feels. In some ways it’s just like taking up meditation in order to relax and clear the mind, except with the added bonus, of finishing incomplete projects that have been weighing me down. Their completion will not only free the head-space that they’ve been occupying, it will also free up the physical space in my one small room, and may even bring in a few extra dollars to boot.

So while I am stitching away, at the rate of at least one seam per day, I will also be ramping up my book research. But instead of obsessing over every historical and mythological detail, trying to will just the right way to weave it all together, I plan to make basic notes as I go, but otherwise take a laissez-faire attitude, allowing the pieces to mix and mingle naturally, letting the threads and characters make their own connections, letting the story lead the way.

This is not my usual tack. I have always been a plotter not a pantser when it comes to writing books. It is also not my usual way to finish anything beyond a first muddled draft that I find it difficult to untangle. Perhaps by letting the story steer for a change, together we might actually reach our destination.


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