I’m loving Kombucha Revolution by Stephen Lee. With brightly colored illustrations and interesting combinations, Lee encourages readers to drink Kombucha, the “wonder drink.” An ancient home-brewed tea, Kombucha “detoxifies the body, aids digestion and reenergizes the mind…” What could be better? The book encourages healthy living with a flair of creativity, riffing off the original Kombucha with such recipes as “Lavendar Lemonade Kombucha,” “Kombucha Root Beer Sasparilla,” and even “Edamame Kombucha Spread.” Overall, I appreciate the fun and flair with which this book is written, and am enjoying exploring the recipes. Give it a try, I think you’ll like it too!
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
One of the most daunting challenges I’ve faced as a writer is to write about my faith. I always insisted I wouldn’t do it, and when I was asked directly to write about faith, I did so with fear and trembling, and even then, only through the lens of fiction. When one has been brought up to believe there is a fundamental right and a fundamental wrong, no matter how much one grows spiritually, it is impossible to overcome the fear that one will say the wrong thing. The voices never stop: You might get it wrong, and what then?
These voices are crippling, particularly when eternity is in question. When one has learned from the very earliest age that faith is the one thing you must not get wrong… there’s the rub. If you get it wrong, it’s not just death on the line. But how is one supposed to get it right if one can’t discuss, ask questions, reflect, ponder?
Girl at the End of the World is a bold, brave book, one that challenged and inspired me, one that brought up deep questions. I want to thank Elizabeth Esther for having the courage to write about her experiences and about her continued search for answers, even though she hasn’t yet figured everything out yet. I’m inspired to dig deep myself, to try to shine some light in those places where fear reigns.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Writing isn’t like most other art forms. While one might apprentice with a painter by observing the artist at work, cleaning brushes and gathering habits and strategies to try, watching a writer at work would not likely bring about such clarity. So much of the writing process happens between our ears, not out there in the tangible, real world.
Also, while writers do create processes for their work, these systems tend to change per book. And no writer could prescribe a system for another that would fit perfectly in a one-size-fits-all way.
Thus, when a master writer takes on the challenge of sharing their process on the page, I’m always appreciative. This turning one’s mind inside out and putting into words what is largely invisible is no small feat. Reading such accounts does the most fantastic thing for my writer-self. Books such as this make me feel a part of a community of like-minded people. I feel seen. The strategies and habits and thoughts shared by the writer give me a starting point for doing my own thinking. How is my process like this other writer’s process? How is it different?
Robert Benson’s Dancing on the Head of a Pen was an excellent read for these reasons. Benson blended introspection with stories from his experience as well as practical strategies. Once I finished the book, I wanted to re-read again more slowly, journal in hand, to start up a writerly conversation with the ideas I encountered on the page. After reading this book, I feel empowered to think more about my process, to revise the way I approach my writerly life, and to commit again, and more deeply to working on my craft.
One of my favorite parts of the book was when Benson addresses the three hats he wears, his beret, his New York Yankees gamer and his fedora. He equates these hats to the three roles he plays: freewheeling artist wearing his beret, hard-working revisionist with commitment wearing his gamer, and businessman wearing his fedora. Throughout the book, Benson makes the variety of tasks writers must wrestle visible in just this way.
For writers who need a boost of inspiration or some perspective on their writing life, this book is well worth the read.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
I have to admit, when I picked up Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger, I thought, I’ll just see what I can take from this technique and make my own. There has to be a way to use watercolors with more control, sharper lines, more definition…
Then, I read the first page where Scheinberger wrote, “Watercolor is, however, not just a technique; it is almost an attitude. Watercolor always does what it wants. In a way, it is willful and anarchical. Therefore, for me the secret to using watercolor to create pictures lies in striking a balance between control and letting go.”
Uh-oh. Just when I thought I was loosening up, I slammed into another internal wall. I thought I was ready to play with watercolors but I was actually planning to force the medium to fit between my very limiting lines.
Intrigued, I read on. And on and on. I almost forgot to eat dinner I was so wrapped up in this book. Instead of starting with an art supply shopping list and step-by-step instructions, Scheinberger launched into the history of gum arabic, stories of pigments and where they originated, specifics of how watercolors work on the page layer by layer and the science of color.
Through each passionate word and image, Scheinberger enchanted me, surprised me, took me where I never expected to go. I thought I wanted a how-to book. Turns out, what I got was a book that challenged me to continue letting go. To let myself be an artist in a new way. To play and experiment. When I finished the book, I turned back to the title. Urban Watercolor Sketching? I don’t know. Obviously they couldn’t have called the book Fall in Love with Watercolors. But I did fall in love while reading this book.
You know that feeling you get when you can’t wait to see someone but you think you probably should spend twenty more minutes in front of the mirror, getting ready? You’re excited and also a little bit afraid? That’s how I feel about watercolors now. I can’t wait to put some paint on the page. Also, I want to live up to the history and depth and beauty of the medium, which I never knew about before. In the book, Scheinberger tells a story about an ancient Chinese painter who worked patiently for a long time in preparation for one masterful painting. He was a master, but it still took him a long time to prepare. And there’s the reminder. Living up to the medium is more about delighting in the process rather than expecting a certain outcome.
Urban Watercolor Sketching is dessert for the creative soul. Don’t miss it!
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
I just read a post by Michael Hyatt about the way that balance feels. You should read it, too.
Michael wrote that when one is balancing on a rope, one doesn’t feel balanced. Instead, one is constantly noticing what is off-balance and adjusting. When I read his words, my stomach did that strange swoop thing it does when I’m walking on any narrow object. Yes, I thought. Absolutely. No wonder the very people who intentionally seek balance always feel off-course. The only way to stay balanced to be aware of what’s out of balance. I’ve written frequently about finding balance through adjusting expectations. When we have a realistic picture of our lives, grounded in the facts of our given circumstances, only then can we make needed adjustments.
Last weekend, I spent time with alumni from Hamline’s MFA program. The question came up: How do writers find a work-life balance? For writers, finding balance is particularly hard. We are passionate about sitting down at the page and setting down words. We must do this for our mental and spiritual health. Yet, writing is such a quiet, personal thing, that it can appear like doing nothing. Sometimes the people in our life point this fact out, asking us to drive them to the airport or help pack for a move instead. For me, though, the biggest obstacle is myself. Daily, I struggle to remember that my writing is important, that it matters, and that giving myself the time to write isn’t selfish. I’m giving myself time to be me. Wouldn’t I passionately defend such time for anyone else?
So, here is the reality. We aren’t finding balance. We are actively balancing. It’s a verb, not a noun, and one one that evokes a visceral, gut-level sensation. Balancing isn’t a warm glow the way happiness is–That’s where we run into trouble. We expect balance to feel soft and airy, the way one might feel after an intense yoga session. Balance is a jolt, a shock of electricity, an instinctual reaction built into our DNA. We may long for balance that feels calm and settled, but instead, we must adjust our expectations. Balance is aware of itself. It is an ongoing, active process, full of experimentation, strategy and practice.
What if instead of asking, “How do I find a work-life balance?” we asked, “Where am I leaning too heavily? What adjustments might I make to right myself today?” The more specific the answers, I think, the better. No need to be overly ambitious about fixing one’s whole life. Tomorrow, we may be out of balance in a completely other way. This task is one that can’t be checked off the to-do list. We must engage in balance every day.
Balance is individual, but in the same way that stories deal in specifics, the particulars of others’ solutions can clear our own murky waters. So, what are you doing today to adjust and find balance? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.
When you set out to do something, truly commit, you can’t have any idea what’s around the corner. That’s the beauty of a journey, I suppose, maybe even the reason for a journey. We want to strike out into new territory for better or worse. We want to grow.
If you’ve been reading along these past few months, you know I’ve set out on a Hero’s Journey, and that about a month ago, I transitioned from the first stage of Ordinary Life to the stage of Listening for the Call. Some practices I intended to put in place in order to listen included yoga and a specific kind of prayer called Lectio Divina, a prayer that acknowledges the need for silence and listening after reflecting on sacred words.
I have started working with these practices, but what has overshadowed this month more than anything was the sudden death of my aunt. Listening hasn’t been about holding practices out at an arms length. I’d been thinking of listening as a quiet, settled activity, one that would allow me to breathe deep and soak in some kind of capital T truth. Or some kind of capital Q quest. Listening hasn’t been anything like that this month.
It started with a phone call when my husband and I were out for dinner. My phone didn’t ring, but I saw a message pop up from my mom, unusual for a Friday night. Unusual enough that I listened to the message, and from the sound of her voice urging me to call tonight or tomorrow, I knew I needed to call right then. Listen.
I called and she told me the news about my aunt. It was a month and a day after my uncle, another of my mom’s siblings, had passed away. She assured me that all would be okay, and yet I heard underneath that she needed me. My upcoming week was full of preparation for a full-school musical I was directing, but when I sat down to tell my husband the news, he asked, “Do you need to go home?” Listen.
Yes, I needed to go home, right away. The next morning, I woke up early and was on the road, driving to Portland as the sun rose. Friends and colleagues covered me so I could be with my family. On Sunday, Mother’s Day, I felt the tiniest of nudges: Go for a walk. Go to the Gorge. Listen.
My mom and I went for a walk to get coffee, and we talked the whole way. After taking care of a little more business, we went to the Columbia Gorge and watched water pour off cliffs, mist filling the air with energy, freshness, life. We were on the edge that day, so close to death and so aware of the life around us, the beauty just waiting to be noticed. Had I been home, I’d probably have been fretting over the musical or the multitude of other details about life. Listen.
After a few days, I came back home and dove in to help finish the show. A little less than a week later, I stood in the auditorium watching the kids take their bows, and then the auditorium burst into song, singing to me. Happy Birthday. Listen.
I’ve been struggling to name the call, to wrap my mind around something that is so simple it’s difficult to label. It’s the starkness of seeing what’s left when a life ends, and yet tasting the richness of being present, of seeing one’s work right here, right now. What am I being called to do? What is the work of this journey?
One could call it many things. Settling into my skin. Being Naomi. Becoming an artist. It’s definitely not about working harder or accomplishing more. The call is about how I life my life, not about what I do so much as about who I am. Maybe once I set off on this journey, the call will crystalize, become even more clear. I like the word “becoming.” For the past ten years, I’ve worn a butterfly ring, a symbol of the process of transforming, a life theme for me. I think I’ll set out with that word in mind.
I’ve also realized I need a ritual, some kind of marker to help myself pass from stage to stage. It’s hard to know when one stage is done and when the next is ready to begin. I do think it’s been the right choice not to force each phase to last a month. Some will be shorter and some longer. That’s only natural. However, a tangible act is needed to mark the passage. Were I on a real journey, I might mark the path with a special rock, or write what I’ve learned on a paper and toss it into my bonfire. Probably I’d keep one copy, too, so as to keep track of what had come before. Maybe I can find some kind of replica of this in my real, everyday life, since I’m not hiking trails or cooking by bonfire each night. Something will come to me, I’m sure. And then, I’ll move through the next stage, Crossing the Threshold into… who knows. Whatever it is, I know it will give me opportunity to grow, to notice the richness of life, to be fully present right now. Listen. Each moment matters.
- A friend emailed me with the perfect link, encouraging me to think about slow work. I love what Micha Boyett has to say in this post and am looking forward to reading her book, Found, too. I’ve been looking for a book just like this, one that helps me slow my rhythm and re-center my focus.
- I couldn’t get my audio book to work while I drove into work, so I ended up driving in silence, listening to the wind and the cars rushing by and the sounds inside my car and my own thoughts. In the quiet, calm settled over me. Some words I had recently read from Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin came to mind: The days are long, but the years are short. Yes. There was plenty of time in my day, and yet, I needed to enjoy each moment of the day because it would be too easy to let it slip by.
- Then, when I showed up for a wild rehearsal with tons of kids at the elementary school, one of the young actors ran up to me with a tupperware filled with cupcakes–vanilla, my favorite-and one of them sported a white chocolate Flat Stanley on top to match the theme of our play. She’d stayed up late and made cupcakes just to thank me for my work with her and her classmates. We shared them after the rehearsal… and I felt a gentle nudge. Notice. Listen. Soak this in.
- When working with one of my students, we were looking for the perfect word. Turns out the word required was “peculiar.” Except neither of us could say the word without getting tongue tied. I tried, and couldn’t. Then he tried, and couldn’t. Then, the babysitter across the room chimed in and couldn’t say it either. We were all laughing out loud and the sound was a drink of fresh water. Exhaustion exited the room and energy bubbled up. Again, I felt that nudge. Notice. Listen. Soak this in.
- Then, this morning, I had an email from one of my Inklings instructors, Helen Pyne, who blogged about how much she learns and is inspired in her work with young writers. Again, the nudge. This is why I do what I do. This is why all the hard work matters. Not just to me, or to the students, but also to our instructors and every single other person it touches.
Our world is busy and chaotic and filled with noise. Often, I’m tempted to add to the noise, to try to shout over everyone and be heard. But why? Don’t I actually want to be part of a grand patchwork, to play my unique part? To both inspire a creative girl and enjoy her gift of amazingly inventive cupcakes? To open doors between writers and young writers to allow them to find inspiration and joy? The connections we make person to person are truly the thing.
And this, after just one day of listening. I’m looking forward to what I’ll hear today.
I’m wrestling with the temptation to stick with the beginning of this journey for too long, to try to get everything in order before allowing the journey to really start. But that’s not how the phase of ordinary life works in the Hero’s Journey. In every epic adventure I’ve read, the journey takes the hero by surprise.
It’s time to start to listen for the call to adventure. I need to be ready for it, whenever it appears. So, I’m erasing the word “begin” on my whiteboard and moving on to “listen.”
Before I turn my attention from ordinary life, though, I want to take a moment to note what I’ve noticed so far. I’ve risen up above the treeline. I’ve taken a look at all of my clutter and ideas and worries and resources, organized, clarified and created places for each kind of input, and started to practice the habit of keeping my workflow clear. As new email, ideas and requests come in, I put them into my lists so that I’m not only reacting to the newest request. At any given moment, I can see what I’ve committed to already, and can easily determine how important the new issue that shows up is in relation to the whole. I am able to keep track on a weekly basis of whether I’m giving time and attention to my larger goals, and to the issues that may not be emergencies today, but which might become emergencies if I don’t maintain steady progress with them.
My responsibilities and commitments are clear. And what do I see?
- I’m actually doing a better job of living a creative life than I realize. Even in the busiest moments, I find time to sketch, to brainstorm, to cook a simple but interesting meal. I find playful approaches to nearly every task, and now that all the things I know I need to do are written down and not rattling around my head, I have been starting to have fun doing them one at a time.
- I’m committed to more than I can realistically do. However, I’m not alone in this. Nearly everyone is committed to more than they can do given our many dreams and our practical realities. Given the fact that I can do only one thing at a time, I can now decide which of the important things I’ll do at this moment and let the other tasks and projects wait. And I can practice saying no, standing on the strength of my clear knowledge of what I have already said yes to.
- For me, being busy isn’t the problem. I like being creatively engaged with my world. However, I enjoy doing tasks creatively. For instance, sending out a monthly newsletter to a mailing list sounds horrible to me. Inventing a themed monthly missive that sums up what I’m already thinking about and sharing it with people who really want to read it? Totally fun. Particularly if I give it a fun name and draw the logo. For me, it’s all about the approach.
- Even though I’ve been working steadily at creating a body of work for quite some time, I’m still at the very beginning. And that’s okay. I need to be comfortable with where I am and realize that with the huge projects I’ve taken on, I’m in for the long term.
I love this feeling, being able to see where I am clearly. I feel ready to open myself up now to listen. Sure, I have all of these projects and dreams. But, where am I being called to journey right now? Since I am at the beginning, in which direction should I head? I have a number of ideas of ways to listen: yoga, lectio divina, prayer, meditation, journaling, sketching, running, walking, sitting on the beach, reading, not reading, listening to music, taking time away. But instead of getting busy with any of them, I’m just going to start today by paying attention. Today, I’m going to notice every time I feel that breath of creativity flow through. What causes it? What’s tugging on my attention?
The Getting Things Done (GTD) method offers so much wisdom by way of collecting and organizing the stuff of life. I hope you’ve read the book by now. To get the most out of this post, you’ll want to be familiar with GTD and also with Evernote and Daylite.
If you’re strategizing before you start your GTD collection process, or puzzling through the finer details of the system, you may find these tips about how I’ve structured my system to be helpful.
Checklists: I needed checklists to help me move through the collection process each week. I find that the checklists in Evernote are a perfect solution. I have a notebook called “Weekly Review” where I keep my trigger lists (as David Allen refers to them) and also where I keep my horizons document that outlines my vision, goals and areas of focus. Referring to these documents helps me when I’m making sure I truly have collected everything in my head.
Inbox/Outbox: One notorious place of disorder in my life is my car. Because almost half of my work is done out and about, I tend to collect papers, books, notes, and of course, clutter, on my back seats, passenger seat, on the floor and in the trunk. Beyond the inbox on my desk, I have an inbox in my car, and an outbox that I carry back and forth from my office to my car and back to my office each night. That way, those items that I need to address each day can make it into my office inbox, and those that need to go out from my office actually get into my car where I’ll need them.
One Journal: I have started using one journal for everything I jot down outside of my daily reflecting session. All meeting notes, workshop notes, brainstorms, quick thoughts about projects, spontaneous writing, drawings, everything, all goes here. I have an envelope in the front of my journal with stickers and I put a sticker on a page once it has been scanned for any to-do items. That way, I can move all thoughts of relevance into my computer system when I am back at my desk.
Siri: I found out that if you put Daylite on your phone, you can ask Siri to add tasks to your worklist. She’ll add them and they’ll show up in your Daylite on your computer and everywhere else. To make this work, you need to have the calendar CalDAV set up on your phone to sync with your desktop application.
Project Support Materials: I wasn’t handling project support materials very well. In fact, I’d often start a project, and then lose the email, document or paper that I’d originally created. It was too much work to search all the places I might have put ideas about a project already in progress, so usually I just started over hoping my good ideas would show up again. Now, I’ve created a paper folder to match every project that is complicated enough to require support material and put it in a drawer file behind my desk. I have the drawers sorted by my big-picture categories (more on setting big-picture categories here.) I also have an Evernote notebook for every single project and when I finish working on a project for the day, I make a note about where I’m leaving things so it is easy to pick back up the next day. I can also keep project related research, emails, drafts of documents, and many other items in these project-specific folders in Evernote, too. I’ve stacked all of these project notebooks in one stack called “Daylite” (the name of my project/task management software. More on that soon)
A NOTE: Since I organize everything by my big picture categories: Core (personal), Connection (reaching out to others) etc, I use these words as the first in naming my notebooks to make the stack easier to navigate. So, one notebook is called Connection: Experimenting with our First SCBWI Agent Day.
A SECOND NOTE: I name my projects in ways that help me remember what my overall goal is with the project in order to remind myself every time I open up the project just what I’m doing and why.
Someday Maybe: I found that Someday Maybe items were the biggest reason I wasn’t able to keep my system clean (as David Allen suggests may happen in his book. You were absolutely right, David!) I realized the problem for me was that I had different kinds of Someday Maybe items, and not all of them should be in my to-do software. So now, I have a notebook stack in Evernote that organizes Someday Maybe notebooks for restaurants, vacations, classes, movies, etc. I also have a list of deferred projects (which Daylite allows me to do) for projects that I’ve started to think through but need to wait on. I also keep materials that come in on various areas of responsibility (marketing, fundraising, etc) in notebooks for those purposes. Then, when I need to explore new ways to market or fundraise, I can pull up those notebooks and explore instead of dealing with every new resource the day it comes into my email.
Daylite: I use Daylite to organize my projects and opportunities. I like the system because it allows me to track all the emails and people connected with any given project. I’ve found that tagging for context, such as “Email” or “Office” allows me to track tasks most simply within Daylite. I have lists on my menu bar for each key context. I also use @HOT to keep the most important items in front of my mind, and only allow myself to use the Worklist (or flag in another system) for those items that truly must be done today.
I use “waiting for” as a tag for those items I’m waiting to hear back from others on, and “for later” for the items I don’t need on my active lists. Then, when I created my smart lists for the menu bar, I could tell the system not to include any of these types of items.
Sketchnoting: I’ve found that reviewing is much more fun when I create a sketchnote to show myself where I am in my overall life. I keep these in a “Review” folder at my desk so that I can see the progress from week to week.
Three Top Projects: Before I complete my review, I write down my top three projects for the week. I always know that life will not go as I expect, but knowing what my top three priorities are for the week helps me remember where to focus when time gets tight.
To me, the start of the journey has to be locating myself. There are many ways to do that, of course: journaling, conversing, mind-mapping. One key part of this, for me, is to try to rise up above my life and see. In order to do that, I’ve been clearing clutter. Physical clutter, mental clutter, digital clutter… I’m taking stock of it all. I knew I’d need some kind of system to help me organize everything.
A few years ago, I tried out David Allen’s method, Getting Things Done (GTD). The system did help me to organize and clear the clutter, but that time, my system didn’t stop the mental lists from running nonstop through my head. If it wasn’t my to-do list on mental repeat, then it was my to-worry list.
But this time implementing GTD has been different. Maybe it’s different because I tried it once before. Now I know where things fell apart for me, and where I needed to push myself on creating new habits. It’s taken real effort, but I’ve been able to create a GTD system that’s working in my real life. I have places for all the incoming paper, ideas, requests, resources, and also for the enormous inventory of ideas that pop up inside my own head. My system reminds me of my childhood room, where I had buckets and boxes for every kind of thing. Organizing was a game. I knew where every kind of item went, and when a new toy arrived, part of the fun was finding where it fit.
How can this be part of a creative journey? Being organized? Becoming more productive? Don’t real artists lay around in their PJ’s most of the morning and then follow every whim that pops into their head? I have to admit it. When I hold myself to a system and work on improving my practical experience of work and life, I can’t help but feel I’m not being a “real artist.” It’s a lie, though, and I know it. Right now, I have my life in order and my creative energy and enthusiasm are in high gear. I feel ready for anything. Why?
I found some clutter quotes that might offer a clue.
Clutter is stuck energy.
The word “clutter” derives from the Middle English word “clotter,”
which means to coagulate -
and that’s about as stuck as you can get. Karen Kingston
Clutter is a physical manifestation of fear that cripples our ability to grow. H.G. Chissell
When you have cleared all of your clutter, you can be of greater service to those around you. Michael B. Kitson
Clutter is stuck energy. Mental clutter is the same, but it’s not easy to see. An intentional process is required to transform our thoughts, worries, and ideas into productive action. Might I even say creative action?
Artists may be known for their playful ability to follow the muse, but to be able to do so, we have to clear and categorize and honor the many ideas (internally or externally generated) that come into our lives. If you’re anything like me, this is MUCH easier said than done. However, it’s definitely worth the process. I’ll write more about it as the journey goes on. In the meantime, if you need a launch point for your own creative journey, I highly recommend reading David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. He says implementing the whole is greater than the value of picking and choosing parts, and I can attest, that is absolutely true.