Small Projects

Here’s the best thing about the Dare to Excel Challenge spurred by Jeffrey Davis at Tracking Wonder…he’s nudging us to sculpt a meaningful, well-developed project – but he’s sort of tricking us into it with all these brilliant little challenges and questions. To that I say: trick me any day you want! I need this kind of encouragement to keep moving forward.

The thing is, I do have one small project in mind. I haven’t been thinking of it as one small project but that’s really exactly what it is. It’s small because it’s the first step, the stick-your-toe-in-the-water-to-test-the-temperature-step. More so, it’s the action that says I am feeling brave and daring enough to move into new territory. I am brave enough to make my deepest dreams come true. Because, let’s face it – stepping toward your dream often means stepping out of the comfortable and into some new, oddly-fitted and risky. The trick is to know, to believe, that the net is there to catch you as you take that step. And I think that the only way to weave and hoist that protective net is to have a practice, to have faith, to have community, and to not really give a shit avoid being attached to the outcomes.

But back to reality. (And sorry for the expletive. Sometimes they are really just worth it! And I’ve deemed this my week to practice being ruthless, to not be sorry, to be bold, to maybe even be careless…so it seems fitting. But then I guess I shouldn’t apologize here either).

The best part of the Quest2015, and now the Dare to Excel Challenge is that it has helped me remember, embrace, how important a wildly creative and expressive life is for me. And it’s reminded me (more like kicked me in the ass) that I am free to make this life as wildly creative as I want. And I want to.

And the little project I want to tackle (among the other projects like running the farm and finishing renovations and listing the acre parcel with the house and planning to build a small house) is one of creative community. I want this place, these fifteen acres, to be more than just my haven of pasture grass, mosquitos, lightning bugs, pigs, chickens and vistas. I want to offer this as a collective space for big-hearted people to feel free to embrace the opportunity to tap into their deep creative well and make, dream, draw, sketch, create, relax and explore (or just take a nap in a hammock). But it starts with one small step, one small step I have been turning over and over in my head for a while now.

So, Question #2 in the Dare to Excel asked us:

What one small project can you define to start creating into your burning question? Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by assuming too lofty of ideas. The best innovative minds find ways to structure their ideas and place parameters around their ideas. Your defining a project brief can help you commit to living your burning question through a tangible, doable project. If you really cracked yourself open with the burning question of possibility, I invite you to define one small project- one small project that you can advance that will move you more directly into one of your burning questions questions of possibility.

My one small project is to host a monthly, on-farm retreat for people looking and lusting for that mental free time to really dive in to a project that’s at their finger tips or languishing on the back burner. You can read more in the Project Brief below, but here’s what I know and infer so far.

Project (Not So) Brief

Sometimes it’s hard to make time to do the self-care things that really make us feel alive. Maybe for you it’s putting effort into making a meal that means something. Maybe it’s that thirty minutes to roll out your yoga mat. Or maybe it’s allowing yourself the time to write. To breathe. To hold still. I find it’s just so easy to put off those projects because it’s so easy to de-prioritize them below work and schlepping and bills. And I firmly and squarely put anything ‘creative’ (and you can define that how you choose) into that self-care box. That the art always falls after the dishes. But I feel like I’m just saying a lot of stuff a lot of people say a lot of the time.

Here’s what I know from my experience. It’s hard to stop with the to-do list and the chores. It’s hard to relax when I know the grass has to be mowed and I signed on for three times more new tasks at work today than I cleared off my desk and my office is a mess and I’d like to re-sand the wood block countertops. It’s hard to stop, and put all that down and give myself permission to fully swan dive into the crisp cool waters of the pool of making and crafting and dreaming – because I know that once I start I won’t ever want to come back. I won’t want to get out of that pool and dry off and go back to real life. So I just don’t get on the diving board at all.

But that’s beside the point. I now understand the benefit of going somewhere else, reserving that calendar space, giving myself permission to be free to do whatever I want (which, frankly could just be sitting in a hammock picking my nose – but in this case we’ll stick to making). That the whole world opens up in new ways not just because you are in a new environment, but because you are allowing your brain to be on a much-needed mini vacation, and then giving it a mission to shine bright. And your brain puts down the weight of everything it’s been carrying and it feels so light and that’s a feeling we can all agree is a good one.

I also get it when it comes to the importance of community. Twofold. One, it’s just always a great treat to meet other souls who are on the same road as you. The inspired road, the long and windy road, the road with no specific destination but it requires you to stop-and-investigate-the-false-chamomile-along-the-way. But it’s more than that – it’s the very special energy. The energy of connection and building and spark that happens when a bunch of creative people get together and listen and inspire and encourage and collaborate and literally make magic just by being in the same place.

I know this because this has happened to me recently. Twice. The first being the amazing community around Quest2015. Yea, I know, it’s a virtual community of people – but it’s the most nimble and wonderful use of social-media-for-good that I have ever seen. There is a palpable energy among this group, and lots and lots and lots of amazing, real work that is happening and being shared on a regular basis. The second was the Sabrina Ward Harrison workshop I attended in Madison in May. The amazing group of women literally made magic over the course of two days, and there was something special about the bonding and sharing we did. It was growth. It was good. It was something special. (And thanks to the power of social media we now all can stay in touch so easily!)

But I think I have been rambling on and on without really getting to the point. My plan is this: host a regular, monthly, on-farm day for creatives. Ideally the same day each month (third Sunday or the like) so we can get into a rhythm and a flow.

This is how I’d envision the day:

  • Gentle morning yoga for those who are so inclined (9:15-9:45) I am eager to re-start my yoga teaching practice
  • Welcome and introductions that are just formal enough that everyone feels at home and knows where the bathroom is, and so that the group can at least be on a first name basis. I would love introductions to include a brief synopsis of what each person hopes to work on that day, and what their creative medium is (paint, graphic design, poetry, zombie novels, dreaming about donuts). (10 am)
  • A short, non-intimidating creative prompt to get everyone in the mood and to start letting down their barriers.
  • Cell phones are ceremoniously collected for the morning
  • Then we disperse among the farm to the big picnic tables, lawn chairs and blankets for everyone to experience some flow for the morning. People can set up chairs in the pig pasture, in the chicken yard, in the backyard with the hammock (across the fence from the neighbors cows), by the weed-infested garden – anywhere. I envision that people would come with something specific they want to dedicate time toward – or just to clean slate time to figure out what they want to do – or just doodle – who knows.
  • A break for a potluck lunch and conversation. I’d love for everyone to (roughly) stick together, but I wouldn’t force it. I’d hope for people to talk about the project they are working on, and to maybe learn about cool collaborations.
  • After lunch you can take your phone back if you want it for picture taking or other inspiration uses – but airplane mode is best. 🙂
  • After lunch people can go back to their individual projects and stay as long as they want. I’d probably even welcome camping that evening if people wanted to.
  • Maybe a formal closing, maybe people just peel off when they are ready?
  • Oh, and as Peggy Acott suggested – donations are welcome! I would love the event to be free and open to all, but I’m not against accepting monetary kindness from people who appreciate the opportunity.

That is the idea in a nut shell. Goal: host first run by August. All I can think to call it is “Creative Yarn on the Farm” – someone help me change gears on this name!

Then, Question #4 in the Dare to Excel Challenge asked us:

Do some research on the people who might benefit from your challenge. Look at the online conversations, on our private forum, or – better – have real-time conversations with customers or potential audience members. Make notes on what feels broken or not-quite-right or downright frustrating in their worlds. How does he feel when he’s not feeling so great? What one irritation keeps tripping her up? Then make notes on this: What does she want- a different feeling, a problem solved, one step toward a yearning – that your project might surprisingly give her?

This is where I am relying heavily on gut, and on a few enthusiastic conversations. And that’s why this event is free, and why I am including minimal planning and prep on my part. I am not 100% sure that people with come. And, frankly, the more and more I think about it and toss around this idea within the walls of my brain – the more sour I get on its potential. But I’ll snap out of it! I have some friends and colleagues who are eager for this type of project. Who are longing for a day from kids, from fighting bad internet connects, from the piles of laundry, from the dented car door the anxiety of a smart phone text message. I think we all want a chance to disappear momentarily from our day-to-day existence in order to merge with something bigger and grander.

These folks say they are excited – but who knows. My farm is also one hour from Madison…so I never know how likely people are to travel, even if for a ‘special occasion’ like this.

I think the real problem I am trying to address here is my own: I love the farm, I love having people on the farm. (That’s not really a problem. I guess the problem is that it doesn’t happen often enough). The other side of the coin is that I have to travel to do anything – and I would love for the people and the energy to come to me (not in an ego way, more of a not-sitting-in-the-car way). I want to fill this place with positive energy – and I think there is a strong potential to do that.

I also have a feeling that we all teeter on the precipice of this ‘creativity’ concept. I know plenty of people who design board games and make quilts and plan gardens and write and renovate homes who don’t consider themselves to be creative. Not because they don’t think they actually have the skills, but because they put it outside of the framework of creative and instead in the box of hobby or job or task. How is it that we let these things we love get the best of us with an anchor-like weight? I believe strongly in the importance of thinking outside the box, of building free, of scribbling outside the lines, or free-play…and fostering environments that allow people to do just that. Leaving behind your boundaries…that’a a different kind of expansiveness problem to tackle.

Plus…I think I answered a lot of those questions in the first section above too.

Lastly, this morning Question #5 in the Dare to Excel Challenge asked me:

To live your question, what new skill set do you need and want to develop this month and beyond to execute your one project exceptionally well? What existing skill set do you need and want to hone and sharpen? How can you do so more intentionally? Define it, claim it, share it.

Let’s be honest. It’s late, and I’m tired. Under these rules, bullet points apply. Hooray!

  1. A Habit Skill set? Curfew. This has been a lingering topic since April, more here. Each day feels so full, and the desire to do is usually heavier than the weight on my eye lids. Yes I know rest is so important. Self care folks, self care. This is a big, not-project-specific-skill.
  2. A Field-Related Skill Set? Concise e-mail invitations. Thoughtful outlining of ideas and sharing. New marketing skills.
  3. A Craft-Related Skill Set? Dusting off my yoga teaching skills, which I can’t do without an audience of sorts. Group facilitation. I do this all the time for my job-job. It’s a skill I embrace and enjoy. But I only use it in the narrow and well-defined scope of my job. It feels like a big leap to pretend, say, position myself as someone offering to fascilitate anything to do with the arts of creative living. [But, as I write this, and as I see yoga teaching emerge before facilitation – maybe I do have this skill and have practices it for years before? Maybe I just need the confidence to gear myself up in a new way?]

That’s it. Just keeping it simple. Sketching things out a little at a time.

I would LOVE your feedback on this project. Your ideas to improve it. Your lessons-learned from your own experiences. Where to expand, where to cut. Oh, and what to call the dang thing. Share and share and I will send you virtual hugs from Wisconsin.

Grateful for this dialog with you
xo,

vanessa

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2 Comments

  1. This sounds wonderful! I like the donation idea; your time has value, but I also empathize with your desire to provide something for people who don’t have the hundreds of dollars that creative retreats often require. If I lived an hour away, I would definitely make the drive!

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