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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A Super Hero Dress and Daily Practice

Daily drawing practice continues, nearly four months in. It’s been difficult, relaxing, surprising, challenging, and instructive. I’m not even half-way through, but it’s already definitely been worth the effort.

During one of the more difficult weeks when I skipped a few days and felt totally unmotivated, I found new inspiration from my friend Amy. Check this out:

Space Zinnia Dress

Amy read my original post about daily drawing and decided to design a new dress every month. The one with the circles on the side was inspired by the first flower to bloom in space, a zinnia. Her enthusiasm and playfulness (read more here) reignited my commitment to daily practice. (I’m also wanting that zig-zag dress — doesn’t it look like something a super hero would wear if her super power was creativity?)

Then, I found an image shared with Carrot Condo’s Instagram account that totally made my day! This is the activity page from my storybook “The Weirdest Things Happen at Our House,” where the reader gets to illustrate their own weird event. This is what Brenna drew:

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First, playing games with M&Ms instead of marbles is pretty brilliant, right? Secondly, look at that drawing! It’s great, isn’t it? I don’t think she’s old enough to have studied perspective, but she’s got the table and chairs just right. I am so happy to see this!

Lastly, two whole hours without a single interruption found their way into my life last weekend unexpectedly. I didn’t let myself consider anything other than going straight to the drawing desk. I finished one Card You Can Color that I can’t wait to show you!!!  (But it will take me a while to get it printed.) And another is in its final stages. A third is just getting drafted. It has to do with the comforts of having a cup of coffee. I needed a reference, so I stacked these two cups from my parents’ cupboard–I’ve loved these enamel cups for as long as I can remember:

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As hard as it feels some weeks, the daily effort has been incredibly good for me, even the days when I spend only 90 seconds sketching. Something is better than nothing, at least with creativity.

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Change of Plans

I had planned to participate in the A-to-Z Challenge again this year because I had such a great experience last year. However, other priorities have come up, so I’m going to be a spectator this year rather than a participant.

My plan had been to re-read:

I divided the book into 26 sections for each letter of the alphabet. For example, A was going to be “access” because Gilbert shows how creativity gives you access to a more fulfilling life experience, even if you never plan on becoming “An Artist.”

After drafting through “D,” I realized two things: I have limited time/energy, and my theme was starting to feel a bit dull, or like a re-do of last year.

Although I’m a bit sad not to take part, this is not all bad. One of the reasons I have limited time is because my creative efforts with Carrot Condo designs were re-ignited a few weeks ago and have been going strong ever since. The story of serendipity is here if you’d like to read it and see some illustrations by a cool Portland artist.

Thanks A-to-Z community! I will still follow along and daydream of next year. Good luck to everyone participating. It’s totally worth the effort!!

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The Twits

I was 8, or 9, or 10 when I read The Twits by Roald Dahl. I remember reading it aloud to my parents and laughing so hard we cried. My mom still remembers it, and we have an on-going reference to Mr. Twit tucking food into his beard to snack on later.

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My sense of humor has changed, apparently, so when I re-read it a couple of months ago, I didn’t find it as funny, rather mean, dark, and a little tedious.

But I still like the illustrations, and I can’t seem to stop pondering this message. In case it’s too blurry to read:

If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.

True? Not true? I can think of people who radiate beauty because of their personality, kindness, joy, and humor. But I can also think of people I would describe as beautiful who are hounded by self-defeating, negative thoughts.

Still, I think it’s generally true that what people think/feel comes through in how they look. I still remember the face of a woman who simply passed by me on a sidewalk in a small town near Portland. All she did was smile as she passed, but her face! Her smile! Something about her wrinkles and eyes–piercing vivaciousness, even though all she was doing was walking by and smiling in plain, regular clothes, with plain, regular hair.

I thought: I want to be like her. She must live right. She must eat well and love her life. I want to live in a way that makes me look like that!

If I were a better (and more bold) photographer, I’d snap pictures of everyone I find beautiful and post them as an antidote to the same-old-same-old images.

Last example–a boy at the park the other day. I only caught a glimpse of him, and it was during a moment of glee. His caretaker (not sure if it was a mom or nanny or friend) held one hand as he jumped down a tall step and hurried off to something that interested him.

His feet turned inward, his head looked too large for his body, and he spoke in noises instead of words, but he bounced when he moved, his eyes sparkled through thick, round glasses, and his smile stretched wide. If I had to assign one word to him, it would be: bright.

It was as if he carried his own light around with him. That’s the kind of beauty I want to cultivate.

 

 

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