the boy who crossed the street

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Two days before a tantrum that would result in my bursting into tears, my kiddo stood on the edge of a curb and seemed afraid to cross the street. We  had practiced this a lot, and he’d never shown fear before. We looked both ways, but he stayed on the edge.

I didn’t know he was on the cusp of big changes. Crossing more than a street, but crossing into toddler-hood and tumultuous changes in himself which would also mean tumultuous changes in our parenting experience. I didn’t know how challenging the next four months would be, nor that it would result in the sweetest of sweet spots: a well-adjusted kiddo, eager to help around the house, proud to say “thank you” and “please,” and filled with an abundance of love and exuberance.

On that day as we balanced on the edge of the curb, I impatiently encouraged him to “come on,” vaguely aware of a strangeness in the afternoon light and an unsettled feeling in my stomach.

An older boy, about eight years old, came toward us. I watched as he crossed the street and started to pass us. His black hair hung a bit shaggy around his face. He wore long shorts and a t-shirt. He was sweaty, like he might be coming home after a game of street basketball.

Just before he passed us, without even looking at me, he stopped and focused on my kiddo. He leaned down a bit and in a soft voice said, “Come on, it’s okay, I’ll help you.” He took my kiddo’s hand and ushered him across the street as I followed along. My kiddo trusted him implicitly, like they understood something together that my adult self couldn’t see.

The boy turned to re-cross the street and headed back where he’d been going. I gushed thanks but it was like he didn’t even see me. He just saw a little boy afraid and helped him in the most casual, natural way possible. No big deal.

But it was a big deal. This experience was six months ago, and I still think of this boy often–any time I need comfort or cheer. That boy’s moment of easy empathy and helpfulness reverberates in my life and lifts me up during heavy-hearted times.

Let there be millions and millions of children and adults like this in the world. Let us act in this easy manner of kindness and generosity as many times each day as we possibly can. You never know who you might be helping, and there’s no limit to how you might help.

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I Think I Can…

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From Katu.com –even this doesn’t really capture the crowd.

As you know from reading this blog, I’ve been working on living a creative life for the last few years. Facing fear–recognizing it and managing it–was one of the very first steps toward living a creative life and continues to be something I work on.

Last weekend, I joined in the Women’s March in Portland, and to my surprise, it tied right into living a creative life.

First of all, I almost didn’t go. I am a homebody who likes quiet weekends full of coffee, time with my family, and library books. The organizers expected 30,000. That felt like a crowd to me. And figuring out how my friend and I would get there was getting ridiculously complicated and confusing.

I just wanted to stay home. And I almost did.

Instead, the morning before, I found my resolve, figured out the bus system, told three friends what my plan was, and *poof*–all of a sudden, eight people are meeting at my house to take a bus and a train to the march.

I didn’t know what I wanted to get out of the experience except to go, observe, and get home safely.

So, we did it–in cold, thick rain after a panic-inducing ride on a packed train. We arrived. We avoided the one group shouting angry things, joined the nearly 100,000 people who showed up, and simply stood in the rain being together with all of the different messages and signs: women’s rights, healthcare, environment, black lives matter, si se puede, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, etc. All of it.

The experience gave me a feeling of capability. A powerful feeling. A real antidote to fear. Instead of feeling unable, telling myself “I don’t know how” or “I can’t,” and fretting that it’s all too hard and overwhelming, I felt capable. I mean, if all of these people stood peacefully, even cheerfully, in mud and rain for hours together, what else might get accomplished? My eagerness to try, to act, dampened my perpetual fret and worry.

I think feeling capable is, for me, the true opposite of fear.

My kiddo found a book that my great uncle gave me when I was a child. One you’ve certainly heard of–The Little Engine That Could.

When I read it aloud, it surprised me. It contains the “I think I can. I think I can,” lesson that most people know. But what I didn’t remember is a few trains coldly refuse to help–one because he thinks he’s too important, one because he thinks he’s too old and unable. The train that chooses to help is the smallest one, has never been over the mountain, and is the only female train.

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The real lesson is that before she even knows what the broken train needs, she offers to help. Her desire to help motivates her to face a challenge and overcome fear.

It’s the same with the women’s march and with creativity–the desire to contribute something positive overrides fear, and once an action is started, it generates a feeling of capability that fuels the next steps.

Maybe feeling capable is a form of hope. A form of confidence. The trust in myself that I can say, “How can I help?” and be of use, even when I don’t know what kind of help is needed. I’ll find the resources within myself or among the we-can-do-it friends and family I’m lucky to have in my life. Saying “I think I can” and “I’ll figure it out” and even being curious about the process feels a lot more constructive and creative than standing back and wondering if I can and how.

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Good bye 2016

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One-Year Anniversary

Well, dear readers, it’s been one year since I started my creative business–Carrot Condo.

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Some of you read about it here as it happened. Friends and family came to my launch party last November (pictures and stories are here) and supported me with gusto. I had four Storybooks You Can Color and one set of Cards You Can Color.

When I look back at this last year, I am inspired to keep plugging along and astounded at how many great things happened:

All four storybooks are nearly sold out! I need to decide if I’m going to do a second printing or let them be a first-edition only to make way for new projects.

I now have eight different Cards You Can Color. My favorite is AIE, the name we gave to this little yogi-dinosaur. She popped out of my sketchbook one day when I’d been attempting a Very Serious Drawing. At fist, I was mad about her cuteness when I’d been aiming for depth, but then, I fell in love with her pluck. Now I try to model her attitude.

img_2419At the one market I sold at last year, I met Lisa Coulson of Panda With Cookie. Now, not only has our dinosaur card-ornament collaboration sold out of the first set, I am grateful to claim her as both a mentor and friend. She has taught me a lot about running a creative business, has modeled what it means to take time to do your best work, and put total faith in me when we began our collaboration. Thanks to Lisa, my dinosaur cards with her ornament are also sold at Tender Loving Empire, a shop with three locations in Portland and an incredibly inspiring story (read it here).

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Speaking of friends, I’d admired Amy Daileda of Vivid Element for years in our weekly yoga class, but I didn’t talk to her until about a year-and-a-half ago. In that one brief conversation, she offered to teach me all about selling on Etsy and help me with my business goals. Now I gratefully claim her as a friend, too. I admire her quiet strength and passion. Thanks to a bold moment when we agreed to try something new, we now go to a zumba class together once a week. Zumba! I know! We’re yogis swinging our hips around to ear-crushingly-loud music and strobe lights. It’s good for me–forces me to lighten up and let go.

In August my writing group did a goal-setting exercise. I said I wanted to get into three shows for Carrot Condo. That felt daunting at the time, but here I am! The first show has already happened and went well, except that I learned I cannot set up my folding table by myself. It worked on the carpet in our basement, but on the smooth gym floor, it slid out from under me…repeatedly. It was like wrestling a wet octopus. (Thanks guy with the nice beard who hid his laugh and offered to help!)

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And while I still have much to learn, my website and Etsy shop are humming along, and my photos are getting better…not great, but better.

My big challenge now is to figure out what’s next. I have tons of ideas, but which ones should I pursue first? As you know from earlier posts. I’m learning how to set goals and project deadlines for creative work. It’s been difficult; as a teacher, I just followed the college’s calendar and had automatic deadlines and breaks, and I knew how long prepping and grading would take. Now, I get an idea, and I have to think through a lot of details and unknowns. (Actually, one lesson I recently learned: just assume it’s going to take twice as long as you expect the first time around.)

If you’d like to follow along, I blog about my projects at www.carrotcondo.com.  “All But The Kitchen Sink” is a more personal space, and some of you have been visiting me here for years, so I wanted to share here to say thank you. Carrot Condo is still tiny, and I have much work to do, but I would NEVER have gotten this far without all the encouragement and enthusiasm from you.

 

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The Comforting Clarity Of An Expert

While writing about routine and creative work, I finally took care of a burned out light bulb, which ended up relating to my musings.

Our kitchen is dark. There are only two electrical outlets. We gave up having a toaster in order to have a coffee pot. And, for many years now, we’ve cooked over a dark stove top, so dark that I’ve leaned in close enough for a whisper-singe of my eyebrows.

When my cousin asked if I wanted a string of lights she was no longer using, I realized I could pin them above the stove and share the outlet with the coffee pot. Voila! A less-dark (not quite bright) stove to cook over at night, and a romantic whimsical effect in the morning while pouring that first cup of coffee.

Then a bulb burned out. Then I bundled kiddo into the stroller or the car seat and slogged our way to one-stop shopping centers, hardware stores, a specialty battery and lighting store. Not only did they not carry replacement bulbs, all but one of the salespeople suggested I just toss the strand and buy a new one.

I can’t stand this idea! We avoid wasting things as much as possible, and that starts by not buying/acquiring things we don’t need in the first place.

During the early and bright days of summer, I gave up. But then, August came along, and mornings started getting darker, so I used precious babysitting time (aka: creative time) to drive to NE Mississippi Street and visit Sunlan Light Shop.

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Whoa. What an experience.

In a world where you can get anything you want at any second of the day by Googling for information or ordering on Amazon Prime (which we don’t use, but that’s a whole other story), it was refreshing to walk into a light store that sold nothing but: lights.

Floor to ceiling shelves of lights. Lights hanging from the ceiling and across windows. A wall of tiny drawers neatly labeled and filled with tiny bulbs of all types. Nothing-but-lights! Not even a t-shirt for sale.

The woman at the cash register, whom I presume to be the owner, told me I was out of luck for saving my strand, “They stopped making those,” she said and suggested a few adaptations that didn’t work. She commiserated with my frustration about waste, then told me all about lights–how LED technology is changing everything (for the better) and how I could use my old strand unplugged as decoration and weave new LED lights around it because LED lights don’t get hot, and on and on.

I was mesmerized. This is a woman who knows lights.

I’m sure she knows other things too, but with lights, she’s an expert, and talking with an expert gave me such a feeling of peace and groundedness–she had an answer for everything, no hemming or hawing, no pondering or researching, just calmly sitting there answering–or even preempting–my questions and solving my problem.

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Especially while working as an academic, I felt inferior not being an expert. Although you could narrow my field to “English,” I’ve always been a generalist. I know a little about a lot, but I can’t quote Shakespeare lines or reference obscure ancient texts. Even now as an artist, I keep thinking I ought to get to know one area really well, but that would mean giving up so many other interests and meanderings.

Paradoxically, visiting Sunlan made me appreciate my broad spectrum (get it? spectrum like light spectrum? Ha!). The precision of the light expert felt reassuring and illustrated how the world can make sense. However, when I told my Creative Minds teaching partner Robin about all of this. She said: But you are an expert; you’re becoming an expert in creativity and the creative process.

Hm, I suppose it’s all how you look at it. Either way, I’m accepting my generalist personality while simmering onions under a brand new strand of lights. (The old set sits with a box of decorations to be re-purposed–they still won’t end up in the trash.) Maybe this will shed light on the less-obvious-to-me strengths of being a generalist without the pinpoint clarity of an expert.

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Routinize Yourself: Maybe Monday Is Mend Day?

In my last post, I wrote about routine, but a big part of the question is actually about commitment: What to commit to in my creative life, and what to let go.

In Wild Mind Natalie Goldberg says “It is good to try different things, but eventually we must settle on one thing and commit ourselves. Otherwise we are always drifting and there is no peace.”

That’s what attracts me to routine: peace. It’s decided–I do XYZ on these days and times, life’s purpose decided, done, check mark. But what also makes me hesitate is what if I want to do B instead of X? What if I don’t feel like Y?

My friend who loathes routine (see last post) said “it’s too close to knowing what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. That’s a horrifying thought to me.”

I’ve always wanted to know what I’ll be doing the rest of my life. It feels like a relief knowing I am THIS PERSON who does THESE THINGS and that’s that. No more wondering, or wandering for that matter.

And yet, I hesitate to claim any title (artist, writer, homemaker), and daydream of twelve projects while slogging to get one completed.

“Basically, if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything,” says James Clear the author of 100-Year-Old To-Do List at Fast Company about the deceptively simple Ivy Lee Method for getting things done. (The five steps are listed at the end of this post.)

While the Ivy Lee Method requires you to list six tasks, Clear suggests it could be fewer. What matters is imposing limits and creating constraint to get ourselves focused when we get overwhelmed by too many ideas.

The task list also gets us over the dread of starting each day because we know where to begin–with task #1 that we decided yesterday was a priority. Clear says: “As a writer, I can waste three or four hours debating what I should write about on a given day. If I decide the night before, however, I can wake up and start writing immediately.”

I don’t know. What do you think? Is this a good method for creative work?

In a Vanity Fair article, President Obama said The First Lady makes fun of “how routinized I’ve become.” He says, “You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” However, he also says this self-discipline makes it “much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. … the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”

Serendipity and surprise seem important to creative work, but when just about any other task has more immediate and obvious value: meals made, dishes washed, clothes cleaned…something must make room for creative work.

Well, speaking of routine–my friend Amy of Vivid Element has stuck with my #365daysofpractice challenge. She’s creating one new dress design every month for a year. Look at the most recent:

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Here’s how the Ivy Lee Method works:

  1. At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.  (From James Clear 100-Year-Old To-Do List at Fast Company.)

This fits the bullet journal fad right now, and I like that I don’t have to commit in Big Ways but in small specific tasks determined one day at a time.

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Is Monday Mend Day?

These hand-embroidered kitchen towels from ~1960 keep coming to mind as I try to organize myself, our household, and my creative work. The days often feel chaotic and unfocused: I’m not sure what to prioritize, and by the end of the day, I’m not sure what’s been accomplished.

Would I be more productive and efficient if I marked each week the same? Laundry on Monday, writing on Tuesday, groceries on Wednesday…

I haven’t tried this yet for two reasons. First, I fear I’ll create a routine that’s way too rigid or even grueling, and I’ll resent the routine and the tasks. Secondly, I don’t know how to create a routine that could adapt to the unexpected: kiddo gets a cold or spouse has a vacation day. Do I double up on that day’s routine tasks on a different day? Do I shimmy it all down the line so now laundry is on Tuesday and writing is on Wednesday?

My friend told me she hates routine. She said she “can’t stand doing the same thing at the same time day after day, it feels super claustrophobic. I don’t have the same energy level every day, can’t stand an alarm to wake up, can’t fit enough stuff in the day that way.”

I’d always thought the opposite—that those with strict routines accomplished more each day, and that they didn’t mourn the loss of doing something else. They’re so committed to their routine that they never stop to feel that they’d rather be doing something else at the moment.

Routine requires commitment to a set of tasks. Maybe I’m unsure of what to commit to, but also the tasks that come at me, that I have to do, are plentiful and sometimes demanding.

I’d like to think these towels were made by women for other women as a message: “You’ll be doing laundry on Monday, but so will I, so you’re not alone, and look—we can make art out of anything, even a kitchen towel commemorating the tasks that least define us. Get it done, dear friend, and get back to your books, your painting, your wistful gazes out the window.”

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