Brave Wandering Practice

10 23 15

I’m winding my way through the Quest2016 Questions…Here’s some pondering on last week’s prompt from Todd Henry, “foremost voice and authority on how teams and individuals can execute brilliant ideas every day.” He’s also author of a lot of good sounding books*. Here’s the question at hand:

It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you running your race, or someone else’s? 

Races imply finish lines.

That would imply that I have been training and signed up for something and I stood with bated breath at the starting line when the gun went off for some sort of competition. That I am running among some crew of people that are vying to cross some sort of finish line first. Argh. All of that competition makes it so easy to get off course. I know that is not what this question is getting at, but why do I have to be running a race? The competition, the anxiety, the stress, the singular focus?

I know – it’s a metaphor. I get it. It’s probably mean and snarky that I’m saying it doesn’t work for me.

But that helps me hone in on what this question does mean.

If I were to re-write the question, it would ask: It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you charting your own back-country trek, or someone else’s? 

You see, I don’t know exactly what I am doing here. So ‘race’ just doesn’t seem like the right metaphor**. I’m not on a course. It’s not a 5K or a marathon. And it’s not that I’m just not in a race, I don’t particularly want to be racing. That just implies some sort of short term over-exertion followed by a finish line.

I want practice.

Regular. Daily. Practice.


Practice. To get quiet. To tune in to the voice inside. To play. To uncover my strengths, and through repetition, repetition, repetition – hone them to become as easy as breathing deep. So that when there is a race to run (an article due, a house to design, a poem to write, a prompt to respond to, a book to write) it’s second nature to line up at the starting line and stay focused and sprint in a totally-perfect-to-me-way on that one jaunt – and then recover and keep training and be ready for the next race.

Because this isn’t just one race. And if I face whatever this one creative life is as a race – and not a wonder-filled and wandering journey – if I pretend that I already know the route and the destination – I think I’ll be selling myself short. Just think of all of the trees and skylines and vistas and sunrises and sunsets that I won’t see if I am just focused on one thing ahead.

So, instead of #BraveRace, maybe it’s just #BraveWanderingPractice

*Todd Henry’s books:

**Okay, so I am on a little bit of a race. Today is Day #352 of the #365Quote Project, which is really just a year of very specific, yet not-very-specific practice. If this were a race (which is isn’t, because I just can’t quite see it ending on January 10th) that day would be my finish line. And, what have I learned in this race? I’ve learned that I need practice. That it take a lot of wearing-my-blinders kind of practice to stay honed and centered on what my voice is. What it feels like it coming from me, and not what I think others want to hear. And, to stay tied to that feeling of authentic curiosity and creativity that is sparked from within, and from DIT – not just from following some LEGO kit***.

***Building with LEGO kit instructions makes kids less creatives (Psychology Today)
+ Why You Should Care About LEGO and Creativity (Note to Self)
+ Are Legos Stifling Creativity? (UW Business School)


Used Car Salesman

used car salesman

Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year? 

I’m sitting at the north end of the borrowed hardwood kitchen table, squarely facing the antique, white, double-basin kitchen sink and the stretches of golden, wooden counter top on either side. Although it’s just me in the house, I know that I am not alone. My right eye is just waiting to catch the skitter-skatter of country mouse scampering across.

I know he (or she) is here. I came home, after a day away for Christmas, to find (the quite lovely) pattern that mouse claws or front teeth nibbled away from the surface of the now-hardened pork fat drained off the Christmas Eve ham and into the faded, green Pyrex dish. Placed sink-side, the salty greasy goodness was impossible for him to resist. I also find his little poops under the sink. I’ve heard a mousy squeak once or twice as well. He, or she, or they – they’re good. Sneaky. Stealthy. Efficient. They do their best work when alone, in the dark, stealth-like. Knowing what’s best for survival, he scoots around the spotlight, the daylight, the snap of the trap, and people in general. He doesn’t need applause or recognition. He does best when completely invisible to the surrounding world of humans and farm cats and possums and raccoons.

I’m the same way.

Most of the time.

I write in private. Often at night. I share through online platforms and social media. I write letters. I share writings with a few friends through the good old fashion mail. I make tiny collages. I craft spaces. I design things. I make space.

Somewhere along the way, for a reason I have not yet been able to determine, I decided it was best to not be showy. To not be overly-visible. Not loud. Instead to be demure, quiet, reserved. At least in person, at least in my mannerisms.

I don’t mean this as in to hide entirely, but instead that it feels most authentic to not run around being loud about my feelings, my successes, my work, my accomplishments. That the cream rises to the top. That it’s better to have sweet potato substance on the inside, rather than an ethereal, fluffy, meringue-like substance on the outside. (Let me tell you, meringue does not last very long and it’s mostly air and it gets soupy and almost disappears as you try to spoon it out of the pie plate less than twenty-four hours after it’s been baked.) This is the part of me that hardly posts any photos of my self to the internet. Who wants her words to speak for themselves, instead of any photo or image or aesthetic getting in the way.

This may very well be that so many of my mentors, the strong women who have taught me the most, the women I look up to – they own their success so much that it speaks for them. They don’t have to preach, they don’t have to broadcast. They just have to step up and own it when the recognition or praise or gratitude is offered. (And they, and I, we sure do know how to write a kick-ass cover letter or resume or grant application – because that’s sometimes that fits into the quiet and mouse-like category).

In looking back, these words from Quest2015 sum it up pretty well: I am repelled and repulsed by the idea of self-promotion, and I don’t know to what degree that holds me back from being missed. How much of that is fear of the spotlight; how much is lack-of-confidence in my ideas and writing and creativity; and how much is just my personality. If we want to be creative business people, there is a certain amount of self-selling and self-advertising and self-involvement that is part of the process, no? What is the line between sharing a genuine creative product and pushing an empty creative product that is more about you and a snazzy head shot and pretty website? Are we selling ourselves, or our creative work? (Man, that sounds snarky, and I apologize). I am so skeptical and afraid of selling myself.

That is the quiet (although obviously still pretty passionate and opinionated) me. Happy to wile away during the dark hours. Mostly content and most effective when I don’t have a goal, when my mind wanders, when I am making as a way of figuring. When I am lost in the work.

We’ll call that Mouse Me.

Mouse Me isn’t afraid of making her work public, she’s just incredibly afraid that in sharing or having an audience or crafting and creating with a certain purpose in mind – that she’ll lose the golden thread that keeps her head, hands and heart connected to each other and to the work. That she will lose track of the why, where, when and how that the good stuff comes out.

But there’s more than just Mouse Me who lives in this house, lit by the glow of burning midnight oil.

Used Car Salesman Self also lives on this rural farmstead. He is my alter ego. (Okay, I guess we should call her a she, but I just can’t, because I see a slightly rotund-in-the-belly man with greasy, tousled hair and a dark mustache, wearing a short sleeve, white, button down shirt when I imagine this self. Oh, and he has a donut. He is almost always eating a donut.) I’ve written about him before, but really – he is the part of me that is a 100%, fear-less, crowd-pleasing, success when given a microphone and a captive audience. (And – here is where the EGO-alarm in my brain sounds off and my shoulders tense up so much they almost eat my ears. Because, this is the part where I have to say that I am good at stuff. Or, where I at least think that I am good at stuff. Man, it’s so hard to talk about the stuff I think I am good at.) So, I’m just gonna say it. I can be really good when I live really big and loud and bold – and not just clickety-clacking away at the kitchen table on a Saturday night with one eye watching for mice. Just give me a microphone. Promise.

Gah. So what does this all mean? I’m not entirely sure. But here’s what I do know. The most reverberating words of Mr. Gilkey’s prompt?

p.s. You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.

I think it’s a question that, as I type, may just turn into an answer. I’m not sure what I want to amplify. I do think that I want to figure out how to step out of the dark intentionally and consistently to find a more public voice for my creative self that still feels snuggle-y, brave, confident and – more than anything – authentic. How do I pick-out the best parts of Mouse Me and Use Car Salesman Self and knit them into a creative professional who is confident sharing and (gack) promoting her work in a meaningful way? What voice do I use for this sharing? How do I encourage Used Car Salesman Self to pick up the microphone a little more often? And how do I even make a teeny-tiny microphone for Mouse Me so she can sing in the dark kitchen and everyone can hear? (Oh, but dear god there will not be singing.)

How can I stand out in a way that isn’t stepping out in front of the crowd with a giant spotlight and sparkling red tap shoes, but more of a cool road sign that says Roadside Attraction Ahead for Curious Navel Gazers and Life-Figurers?

So, I guess the answer is two fold. The first isn’t what part of my work, but how do I actually want to amplify the work itself – by merging the strongest parts of myself into a coherent whole? (Not a donut hole.) The second part is about the work itself – how do I stand up and find more roles as storyteller, facilitator, speaker in my creative work – all the ways the Used Car Salesman shows up and really rocks it?

This (still slightly behind the pack answer) is to the Quest2016 prompt by productivity specialist & business advisor, CHARLIE GILKEY. He’s the brain and heart behind Productive Flourishing, best-selling author of The Small Business Life Cycle and driven to figure out how to help Creative Giants be their best selves in the world. Here’s his big question:

Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year? 

Instead of considering simply doing more work, take the time to consider which elements of your work would most light you up to amplify. What’s holding you back from amplifying it? Do you think it’s that obscure little thing no one will care about? Or is it that once you amplify it, people will care too much and call the Imposter or Weirdo Police?

There won’t be a time in the future where it’ll be easier to amplify that part of your work.

p.s. You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.


Compensation! Compensation!

1 27 15

Of these 3 options, which one is most important in your work right now?:

  • Quality of life
  • Quality of work
  • Quality of compensation 

Compensation! Compensation! Compensation!

But it’s not what you think.

(First, I’m confused because this question asks within the framework “in your work,” but the life / work / compensation triad throws me off. Because those things contribute to my whole life, not just my work life. So, just a note that I am applying this question to my whole life, not just my work life. Because, well, I tend to take a holistic approach – and they are all invariable connected.)

(Second, I really wish I had some sort of witty story or metaphor from real life that I could incorporate here. Sort of like Brenna Layne’s response that includes construction workers, gourmet recipes and piano recitals. But I don’t. And I’m feeling quite linear – so we’ll just go for it.)

I pick compensation. Here’s why.

If my work is my making and writing – and, by this I mean my chosen work, then I’m in it for the compensation. Because the compensation is rich and deep and sustaining. It’s what keeps me going.

You see, the compensation I receive is connection and a deep sense of community. An amazing network of support as I develop my voice and a body of work that grows from daily practice – along with a way to share it all. I am rewarded with rich feedback and response from mentors and human beans I admire. Whose opinion and response and conversation means so much to me – because I respect these people and what they make, are, and do in this world. And being connected to this sense of community, and a growing connection to my own voice, connects me to my own sense of self. And connecting to my own sense of self helps me connect most deeply to the golden thread that leads me forward in an authentic way.

So, if I had to pick just one – it would be compensation. Because the ‘payment’ I receive in exchange for the ‘work’ I enjoy doing so much is valuable beyond words. Meaningful beyond cash value. As precious as anything in the curio cabinet or bank box.

As a person who just wants to connect, and deeply, the halo of relationship that floats around my work is the most valuable resource I have.

(Oh, and let’s be honest. I love the totally scattered, hodge-podge, run-around quality of my life. And, well, we all know that this year is absolutely not about quality of work, it’s about just going for it – and accepting imperfection.)

Other thoughts that came to mind in response to this prompt included a response in line with the following two definitions for compensation.

1. Biology. the improvement of any defect by the excessive development or action of another structure or organ of the same structure.
2. Psychology. a mechanism by which an individual attempts to make up for some real or imagined deficiency of personality or behavior by developing or stressing another aspect of the personality or by substituting a different form of behavior.

Today’s Quest2016 prompt (well, last Thursday’s)  comes from SALLY HOGSHEAD,  who is well-versed in understanding and leveraging your value by the way you captivate and influence those around you. Her recent book How the World Sees You applies her research in the science of fascination to leaders and change-makers who want to be more of their best. Thanks to Jeffrey Davis and the Tracking Wonder team for making the Quest2016 happen!



There’s Only Make

Only Make

What is Failure anyway? And why are we all so afraid of him, along with its always-so-ominous-sounding kin: Mistake?

Here’s the thing. I’m done with it. All of it. Fail and Mistake. I am done ostracizing you as evil doers and sending you to the corner. I’m sick of running in the opposite direction from you as if you are infected with the most contagious plague. I’m done letting the thought of your duo raise my heart rate and give me the hot flashes of panic and anxiety and what-have-I-done?. Done. Done. Done.

Welcome you sad and misunderstood duo. Welcome to my clan. Let’s be friends. How about we try to understand each other a little bit more. What do you say to that?

Here’s how I see our new relationship, my new friends. Fail and Mistake, you have an important job. You are the fire watchers, the feeling sensors, the cushioning to the fall, the lookouts. I used to think of you as some scary, hidden-in-the-bushes, invisible forces. I didn’t know where you lived. I was constantly afraid that you would be just around the next corner, that you were just lurking in the bushes and waiting to jump out at me and scare the shit out of me and steal my self-worth and perfection, as if it were something as easily to snatch as a handbag. But I get it now, that’s totally not your show.

You are actually the first line of defense. You’re not mean and hiding and waiting to send me into an anxiety attack, you are with me all the time. You are not lurking to destroy me and my endeavors. No, you both are like the friendly garden gnomes out front. You are like a protective home alarm system. I have just been misreading your signals my whole life. You just want to protect me. Protect me from going too far in the wrong direction. And, quite frankly, I could use your help more often.

Here’s the thing. I am full of words and ideas and plans and inspirations and – well, mostly words. They are begging to come out. Even though they are mostly nonsensical or navel-gazey. About 75% of it is worhtless. Often poorly formed, misspelled with frequency. But they exist, all of the craziness in my head. And, they all want to see the light of day. And I want them to see the light of day. And I don’t want a bad relationship with you, Fail and Mistake, to keep them locked up inside me. So, I’ll keep letting them out – the words, the ideas, the art, the nonsense – and then we can have little check-ins. Okay? You let me know what’s working, what’s not. You have a good view from out front. You see how all of this stuff hits the world, how it falls, how it resonates. I promise to take your guidance realistically, as long as you promise to dole it out gently. I promise to embrace you. You promise to keep showing up to guide me in the right direction. Okay? (I will also bake you cookies and give you a warm place to sleep, if that helps at all).

I just don’t want to spend my life hesitating and walking on eggshells and holding stuff in because I am afraid you are right around the corner. I don’t want my fear of you to limit what comes out of me. I just want to generate, and I want you to help me be brave. So, let’s see if we can work together. I think we can. Here’s to a fruitful new friendship in the year ahead.

Mmm, I got a little off track from today’s Quest-ion, but I’m okay with that. Today’s prompt comes from author, brand consultant, and radio show host of Design Matters DEBBIE MILLMAN. She wraps up the Quest2016 Week One Theme of Get Clear with Yourself with this: How would you do business as unusual in 2016 if you knew – no matter what you chose – you would not fail?

I Will Not See This Coming

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 11.20.17 PM

Welcome to Day 1 of Quest2016! Today’s prompt is from Susan Piver – “What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…”. Thanks so much to Jeffrey Davis and the team at Tracking Wonder for hosting this second year of the quest. If you want to learn more, or participate (You should! It’s free and awesome!) visit this link. I’ll be sharing my responses to the Quest2016 each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of December. I wrote a bit more about what the Quest is, and what it means to me, here too.

From this morning…
It’s December 1, and I just did chores without gloves on. It’s that warm out, it’s just that unseasonably warm out. I didn’t see that coming.

And that’s how most if this year has been.

And this is exactly what I most need to tell myself about 2016…that I will not see any of this coming.

If 2015 has taught me anything, it’s that there is a great mystery in exactly what will churn itself up minute to minute, day to day, and week to week to make up this thing we call a year. Looking back one year, to all the hesitation and nervousness and unsure-ness as to the precise contents of my life’s suitcase, I could never have predicted I would be so BIG and full and alive as I write this now.

One year ago I hoped that things would get better. I worked hard to make a plan, a map, that would sail my ship back to the island of brightness I know my best self can inhabit. I had an amorphous vision, lots of feelings (many of which were totally contradictory), a shit ton of uncertainty and a fierce determination. But, frankly, that was it. I didn’t know what life was going to look like. I didn’t know if I would still be farming, where I would be living, how I would spend my days, if spring was going to come again. I didn’t have any answers. I just had a suitcase piled high with ginormous questions.

And I learned to live with those questions. I learned to be comfortable living without answers, but still grounded. I practiced saying I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I’m not sure. I let answers surface slowly, at their own (very, very slow) pace. I listened deep, and trusted that the answers were somewhere buried inside of me. And that I could find them and trust them if I held still and quiet and poke a flashlight into all of those dark and mysterious places. I learned to trust myself. I grew to listen to the tiny voice inside myself. I kept moving forward, even though I didn’t know where the path was headed. It was hard work. But good work.

But that’s enough about the past. The past is full of really good lessons, but I’m pretty determined to keep moving forward. And what I need to keep telling myself most about this year ahead is that it is chock-full of big questions and big goals and amorphous-big visions – and, ultimately, the content of the days will be full of mystery. And that the meaning of those days will only shine through as they are slowly stacked one on top of the other on top of the other like bricks as the calendar pages flip by and things happen.

And things will happen. Wonder-full things. Mysterious things. Things that don’t make sense. Things that break my heart and feel like unbearable loss. Things that break my heart into a million pieces that get reconstructed to be even bigger and better than before. Things that make me smilecry in the car or the kitchen or while walking in snowfall. Things that feel like they are throwing my boat off course. Things that guide me to a new and totally, joyfully unexpected path. Things like fireflies and fireworks and snowstorms and peonies and cake and sweet kisses and writing so much I run the ink right out of my pen. And all I can do is stay soft and open and take all these things into my heart and build them a little nest. Because, let me tell you, we hardly know the meaning of things as they happen.

What I need to remind myself most about the year ahead is that every day, every second, will be there to meet me – I just have to show up to be present in it. To Be Here Now. That practicing patience will keep me grounded. That farms and creative practices and big ideas are not birthed over night. No, everything BIG and GOOD grows slowly when we show up to glean the absolute most from every day. Like boiling the turkey carcass not once, but twice, into two batches of clear – and then cloudy – stock to store in the freezer as sustenance for the year ahead. I just have to show up, observe, notice, learn, hold still, breathe, smile (and sleep more) and dig deep. I don’t have to have the answers now, I just have to show up to catch them when they fall as bright stars out of this big Southern Wisconsin sky.

Because this year ahead is a giant, unknown mysterious ball of sparkly gold thread that will only unravel itself with the slow turn of time. I want to hold that unwinding thread softly, gently – and knit it lovingly into the arteries of my big, soft, wandering heart.

Happy Questing!
This was originally published, with a whole bunch more words, at the #365Quote Project daily TinyLetter. More on that here.

Quest 2016: A Creative Mess

Hi Friends. It’s been a while.

I stared this little nook one year ago, as a place to post my responses to Quest2015, the crack-you-wide-open visioning project for the year ahead hosted by Jeffrey Davis and his team at Tracking Wonder.

I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into when I made the split decision to run with the wild Quest pack – but I am so glad I did. From the late nights and early mornings spent writing to the lightning-bug-in-a-jar-bright online Quest community to the inspirational prompts and people – Quest2015 really did launch me into a fantastic year of growth. Catapult may be a better word for it. I continued to write and dissect here after the Quest. The #365Quote Project was born on Instagram. That evolved into the daily #365Quote TinyLetter, my favorite daily writing practice ever. (You can sign up here.) MAKE TIME evolved from idea to real-life-on-the-farm monthly event!

And that’s just the external stuff. I also feel deeply grounded; connected more meaningfully with friends and family; alive with a spark of big dreams; mentored and electrified by a creative community nearby and across the globe; and more in love with and determined to make something of this farm.

All really, really good stuff. With a whole bunch of other really good stuff that is only half as tangible and express-able as all of that juiciness.

So what?

So…2015 is almost over. 2016 is almost here. I’ve signed up for Quest2016, although this time with a lot more thought as to whether I have the energy to tackle this big self-turning-in-side-out project over the course of the next month. We start tomorrow. I’ll be posting here some, but mostly I’ll be sharing through the TinyLetter. You can view all those posts here, or you can join the newsletter to receive one typewritten quote and daily writing in your mailbox each day. (And I swear you can unsubscribe anytime and it won’t hurt my feelings.)

I’m excited to face this Quest2016 from safely back inside my rowboat, and on a determined course. I have a firm sense of the direction I’m headed, and can’t wait for the landscapes I’ll encounter along the journey. I hope it is creative and muddy and a giant, fun mess. I am looking forward to connecting with fellow Questers (like you!) over the month and year ahead. I can’t wait to see what golden threads we spin and how big we can grow.

Happy Questing!
vanessa jean

P.S. Here’s some really good other stuff to read in reflection of 2015, and in preparation for the Quest ahead.

True Stories.

#365quote note, *been. xoxo from dreamland

A post shared by vanessa jean (@maketimefarm) on


May 24, 2015

The country radio station is pushing out noise behind my head (Girl you better get your red head back in bed before the morning), old writing notebooks line the arm of the sofa, on the footrest the same set of markers that have inked my words for years (Hey mom, your daugher’s gone and there they go again. Hey-ehh!), the black dog who has been around long enough to be both my present and my past stretches off the sofa and onto the woven rug below my feet, a weekend in the brave company of an artist I have respected and admired for fifteen years, letters this week from friends I’ve known since childhood. I am looking backward in order to look forward.

A dear writing friend from Portland posed this question as part of her quest: What does it mean for a story to be true?

When I first faced this question earlier in the week, my quick response was “There is something really striking about The Moth tagline, something about ‘true as remembered by the storyteller’. There is something about absorbing your experience and retelling it that makes it real, and authentic, twice-over.”

Lucky me, I got a second nudge on the same question, with a letter from Peggy that arrived in my mailbox Friday afternoon (a glorious mail day, enough to last through the long weekend, and providing today’s quote too). A second opportunity to reflect on her prompt. On truth. On true stories. And after a weekend of full-ness, of recognizing that I am plodding the same route over and over, and meeting the same lessons on repeat, and moving in some weird uphill spiral that may be walking in circles, or growth or both…that maybe the truth is in the stories that stick. The stories that stay the same over time. The lessons we keep learning, in distinctly more detail each time around. Woven with the gold thread of our own selves that stays constant through years. That traces back in time to our roots, and routes back to the deepest cavities of our own heart.

In pulling Spilling Open off the shelf last night, I held in my hand a book that got me through the tumult of first heartaches and coming out. The book that showed me there is a place in this world for my type of creativity and thoughtfulness and words and questioning and solitude. That I belong. A book that I didn’t write, filled with pictures and words that are not mine, that somehow holds a weighty collection of my own memories. I’ve carried it with me from the east coast to the south to the west to the east and to land here, with me, in this place in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the country, the center of my heart.

Yesterday was a back dive into creative-presentness. Last night was a toe-dip into nostalgia and a tsunami of emotions welling up behind my ribcage. Today was an auspicious, serendipitous love-fest with a gallery of strangers becoming a room full of friends who generously handed me everything my heart was craving but I didn’t know I was missing. If I am still looking to understand grace, today it finally hit home. And it all flooded loose this afternoon, on the painted concrete floor of the gallery, amidst my scissors and a spread-out pile of scrap paper and words and ink. The rush of water, and tears, breaking loose stones and boulders and logs and everything jamming up the feeling that was still stuck. Not stuck anymore, sending forth the frayed edge of that sparkling gold thread for me to grasp, and thread back into the pin-point needle of now. Ready to stitch it back through the fabric of my life. Deeply.

That thread connected me to the hand-painted walls of my childhood bedroom, with Jack London quotes and floral patterns and collections of ephemera from the antique stores of South Pasadena. (I may have been the strangest, youngest customer in that stretch of stores. What must they have thought of me, perusing the pull-out drawers of letterpress typeset and wooden fruit crates and Beatles buttons?) I burst with memories of painting furniture by hand in the driveway, thinking I want to do this forever. I don’t want a real job. I don’t want to wear a suit. I don’t want to sit behind a desk. It knit me to the questioning and depth that came out through awkward high-school-age art. My scrawly cursive handwriting still the same, with undertones of quiet authority-questioning and insecurity and simultaneous bravery. How, even then, it felt like a safe way to express everything that couldn’t come out through my mouth. Or at least, looking back, I see the purpose it served. My words have caught up to me now. The collages of college. A crafty small business by hand. Making art as display for the man. The miles of words since then, like kite strings, set forth in notebooks and piles of letters. It’s been there all along, this creativity and this yearning.

It must be true if I can look back and see a trail stretched miles into the past. If this golden thread is thick enough to weave a life into place, into being, it must be true.

Life dreams are perpetual. They get me out of bed in the morning – they get me through my day. I still dream of the same things I did as a child, a quiet house by a river in Vermont, a quiet life, art, solace, water, wandering through days with fits and spurts of passion. Creating, tending. I still have that vision. And that’s all it’s ever been, as firm as an oil painting on the wall, one emotional glimpse of the way things should be. In the intervening twenty years the dream has grown to include a farm, chickens, a dog, writing. Sometimes a woman, once a family, but I usually settle in to a dream of myself, gazing alone into a snow-dusty sky, quiet solitude.

That is the dream I have not let go of. It may be the default image after pressing the reset button on life, it may be an idealized childhood emotion for peace and a still heart that I refuse to let go of. Or it just may be the way things are. There is always this disparity, this distance between the comfortable dream, the longing, that which our soul knows to be true


that of which we convince ourselves, with a tightening heart, pushed and pulled by the things around us that seem dream-like but don’t fall smoothly into the true vision we have for ourselves. And how easy it is to get off track, to stray from the dream.

This is the only dream I have not let go of. It may not be Vermont, there may be no river, no squawking chickens and only a tiny spot for growing heirloom tomatoes – but the peace of this dream I will not let go of.

In thinking through this idea of truth is the thing that persists, my memory fell upon the above response to a writing prompt from my time in Portland. When our creative-writing-through-food-class turned into a delicious-writing-group-of-dedicated-women. We met monthly for words and sharing – tasty morsels on the page and on the buffet table. It was the dark depths of winter, dormancy. And my heart was resting after a thorough thrashing, and my whole self was re-grouping for the proverbial spring ahead. We gathered in the second-floor apartment of M, before she set out on yet another adventure (as this woman defined adventure), before she left town for good. The evening’s theme: dreams. The kind we experience during sleep and the kind that we hold in our hearts with the hope they bloom in the future. I quickly scrawled out the words above to the prompt, “Life dreams. What do you dream of? What dreams have you not let go of?” The passage above could have come out of my pen in the last six months, verbatim. But instead was written seven years ago.

I thought of this all today, as my new friend T scrawled out for me “She went home to the farm, where love lived” without knowing the weight of those words, in a round of Exquisite Corpse. These are the words today that launched the freeing avalanche in my heart. That somehow spring-boarded me backward in time. I remembered so clearly how my words looked on the thin-set lines of that most favorite writing notebook seven years ago, and the very clear vision those words describe. A small room, me, solitude, wilderness outside, full-ness. I can picture it as clear as a painting, and now I can envision it as my life. And as my notebooks are dotted with these notions of solitude, creativity and (in the last ten years, farm) I now recognize they are all metaphors. Symbols for my self, my truth, the gold thread of creativity. The place that I long to come home to, the roof under which I yearn to live. 

she went home to the farm.jpg

These are the things that are true. The stories that arrive on repeat. That are timeless within us because they are ours. Stories that have become part of our own narrative, vision, dream, and help us to return to our core, our best selves. The stories that we keep reliving, throughout different years, with hodge-podge people, at distant dots across the map – these are the truest stories of ourselves.

– – – – –

This is a revised version of the #365Quote Project newsletter sent in the wee hours of last night. After two days at a Sabrina Ward Harrison workshop, I was cracked open and raw and moved and completely content.

Crackled.Sparkling.Ephemera was started to house my writings for Quest2015. It was a stop gap container engaged with no long term planning. Then the #365Quote Project happened. Then the associated daily newsletter happened. (I’m practicing just letting things happen, can you tell?) It’s wonderful to have a daily writing practice, with some sort of quiet agreement with newsletter readers that something will happen every day. But, it’s meant few things are translated beyond preliminary thoughts, and into this space. Maybe more to come, in the mean time you can find me here every day.