Month: January 2018

Just Move the Pen

I wrote that I’d like to publish a collection of poetry this year, so of course I need to start writing poetry regularly in order to make that happen.

I wrote two poems this fall, and haven’t moved the pen in that direction since. So one day last week I searched for poetry-writing exercises/prompts and saved a bunch of links to a folder on my bookmarks bar. This way, I wouldn’t have that hurdle the next time I’d try to write.

Finally, the other day I acted on my “10 minutes of writing poetry” to-do list item. Sitting down with the intention to write a poem will likely leave you frozen, so I sat down with the intention to do one of the prompts, that’s it. To get myself in the habit of regularly writing freely in this little notebook (from an issue of Flow), which I’ve dubbed my poetry notebook. To condition myself to be okay with writing shit on the page, so that better stuff can come later.

Although I never intended to show these pages with anyone, today I’m going to share what happened that day—as a reminder to myself of how ideas are born and why sitting to write anything for 10 minutes, no matter how “bad” it sounds, can be helpful to one’s creativity.

I went to the first link I had bookmarked and read the first prompt that appeared. Jennifer LoveGrove writes:

One that I’ve used from The Crafty Poet is where you choose a profession or worker of some kind – plumber, accountant, hairdresser, contractor, lawyer, whatever – then brainstorm a list of words associated with this job. I find nouns and verbs work best. The prompt suggests adding in some contrasting terms, which will add tension and depth later. Your title or starting point is to be “The ________________ said you need” and then you write from there, using your word list. My poem “The Mortgage Broker Asks for My Net Income from the Previous Year” in my recent book came out of this exercise.

I chose “teacher” and began to make a list of nouns, verbs, and some contrasting terms, writing whatever came to mind first:

Then on the left-hand page I wrote:

The teacher said you need to study
But I know you must also play

I continued on a new line:

Playing will teach you to share

But then I was bombarded with a bunch of other thoughts about sharing, that you’ll create and entertain yourself, too, plus all the other benefits of play. I noticed there was no rhyme scheme going on here, and I didn’t know what I wanted to say. But instead of halting and trying to write some “good” lines, I let my stream of consciousness continue:

and create and entertain yourself.
You’ll visit worlds never before seen
and

After writing “and,” my mind focused on “never before seen,” and flashed (you’ll see I never even finished the phrase) to the idea of a never-before-seen movie, a premiere. Almost instantaneously, my mind brought up the contrasting idea of painting a never-before-seen picture.

And then as if a water hydrant had cracked open, all of a sudden my pen began to spurt out a list of contrasting things to do, x or y, consume or create: scroll through memes or invent your own using a template, or even creating your own meme. To stare wistfully at a friend’s photo album from a trip to Costa Rica, or take a walk and marvel at nature’s beauties: a squirrel, a bird, a stone, a leaf.

After I had jotted those down, I turned to a fresh page and wrote this list:

Just like that, I now had the idea to write a poem that compares and contrasts different options of things to do—one which is an act of consumption and the other of creation. Its ideas of creation would hopefully inspire and prompt people to use their creativity immediately after reading.

Later I’ll go back to this list and start to make phrases, seeing what sort of structure the poem might take on.

But what’s important here is that it all began with an unrelated prompt about teaching, and allowing the pen to move. By not censoring myself and letting my pen write whatever words were coming to mind, I ended up drawing connections and now I have several ideas of possible poems to pursue!

I started with nothing, and in less than ten minutes I had ideas.

This is how it begins!

Just move the pen. This is how ideas are born.

Write anything and connections will be made, the mind will turn the soil, and with consistent practice shining down, over time, creations will bloom.

Just move the pen.

Goddess-Cards

2017 Year-End Reflection + 2018 Resolutions

Like many of you, I consider the end of the year to be a natural opportunity to look back and realign—not some sort of finite ending to an “old” me. So I’ve been reflecting, looking back on the year, flipping through old bullet journals, thinking about what needs to be illuminated and eliminated, and even turning over some tarot cards.

A Look Back at 2017

To start, here’s an overview of where I began the year and some of the themes that kept coming up throughout.

Setting the scene, at the end of December I published my atheist coming out story, which is the first time I’d written publicly about all of those events. It was fueled by the push to tell the truth and be more vulnerable in my creations.

Then in January I was invited by Violeta Nedkova (after meeting her on Twitter in December, and later Skyping) to be an “Honorary Rebel” for her Creative Rebel Academy (site is no longer live, but the academy launched at the end of January and was three months long). Honestly, this outside validation really gave me an energy/creativity boost—to know that this woman saw me as a “creative rebel” who could help guide the community. Before I left for Madrid at the end of January, I created lots while I was still at home (my notecard story “Never Again,” Self-Permission Cards, postcard binder books, the flag patches sewing project, my first #MomentSketchers sketch). As soon as an idea came—boom, I just made it and shared it, without giving myself any time to overthink.

Then, bringing a sketchbook along on my travels helped me to slow down even more and appreciate the magic of human connection. I met several locals and experienced small, joyful moments thanks to sketching out in public or at my hostels. I listened to the Couragemakers Podcast a lot during these months, as well.

All of this led towards a gut feeling to say “yes” in April when Meg invited me to be interviewed on the Couragemakers Podcast and when I saw the call for artist submissions from my town’s newspaper for their public art project “Trains on Main.” Even though both felt a bit scary, they were exciting stretches that I knew deep down I had to try.

Also, both of these events ended up being great ways to reflect and incorporate lessons I’d learned so far that year. The podcast required me to respond on the spot—something I’m not used to doing as a writer, but which provided insightful moments when I went back and listened (and re-listened!) to the episode—and the train allowed me to bring together and express (and share publicly!) many of the thoughts I’d been having as of late about human connection, social media, vulnerability, and unplugging.

The rest of the summer allowed for calm days reading lots from the library and growing my first garden. Highlights were volunteering as counselor at Camp Quest—something that’s been on my “life list” for years and years, and which was incredibly fun and fulfilling—and giving a talk about the Camino de Santiago at my local library. Camp Quest is incredibly accepting of all people from all backgrounds/lifestyles/dietary choices/sexualities/interests/etc., thus it was liberating to be around people who were so bravely themselves.

Throughout August I worked with Meg Kissack (highly recommend!) via her “Get Shit Done” encouragement/accountability experience to create this very site. That project is another which allowed for much reflection—looking back at who I’ve been and trying to articulate who I was at that moment in the present. (And that was just my About Me page!)

Although that project kept me creating and excitedly working towards something, my lowest point of the year fell during that month as well. I felt ready to move on to somewhere/something new (out-of-state seasonal work is what I was looking for), but was overwhelmed by the options. There was a period of days where I hardly left my room and would spend hours in the evening doing internet searches of jobs and potential places to live, feeling lonely and mildly depressed.

It was ACE which got me out of that rut, and within less than two weeks’ time I went from feeling sad, lost, and hopeless in my bed at my parents’ home to living in Flagstaff, AZ with an exciting new community/friends and work life. The people/environment at ACE has only helped me to become more of myself, and even more openly. I’ve been learning how important it is to play and laugh, as well as how good it feels to unplug and hang out in nature.

Aside from the mild depression in August, other challenges this year were losing two prior-good friends (by “breaking up with them” in my mind, to change expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed at our distance) and mourning that loss of friendship; losing (to suicide) a cousin in May; and being disconnected from a family member.

For over half of the year this family member needed distance from all of us, which was more difficult than I let myself feel. It kind of all exploded out earlier this month when we finally saw each other; I’d been distracting myself from feeling too sad about all of it while in ACE, but the feelings were there, underneath. And now we’re reconnecting, though it’s been prompted by significant health issues with their partner (I actually just pushed my return flight to AZ back two weeks so I can help be caretaker), so there’s a lot still being worked through at this rocky point in time.

Overall, I’ve really improved listening to my hut (hut = heart + gut, à la Alexandra Franzen) and am settling into myself. I look inwards for wisdom/answers/direction rather than doubting myself or turning to outside resources/”experts.” I’m much more comfortable and confident being my true self in a society which doesn’t necessarily share my values/lifestyle/choices. I can see the growth towards my compass directions and I’m excited to continue moving in these ways!

Social Media Usage in 2017

Facebook-free

This December marked three years without Facebook, and just like last year, I’m still very happy to be off the platform; I don’t miss it at all.

Computer Usage

I tracked my computer/internet usage with RescueTime during the year, which you can see in the year’s Resolutions Checkpoint posts on the old blog. My lowest-usage months were the three months I was backpacking in Europe and the three months since I joined ACE. (We work for 8-9 days at a time, camping, so I’m completely off of phone/computer during those times). I was hardly ever on my laptop during our off days, too—as evidenced by the silent blog over here—but it feels really good to be blogging again these past few weeks, so I’ll make an effort to continue doing so even when I’m back on the 8-on/6-off hitch schedule.

Twitter Hiatus

Twitter is a platform I’ve enjoyed for many years. Since getting a smartphone, I’ve never had the Twitter app—I only use it on my laptop from a browser. That means to tweet a picture, for example, I’d have to email the photo to myself from my phone, open it on the computer, download it there, and then upload it to Twitter from my computer. It sounds cumbersome, but that’s basically the point. I was much more intentional about sharing photos because there were a few extra hurdles.

Since it’s not on my phone, and since my laptop basically lived in a bin under the bunkbeds once I moved to Flagstaff, I was rarely on Twitter this fall. In October, someone tweeted at me that they’d read my post about leaving Facebook and had been thinking about leaving Twitter. I encouraged her to just do a two-week hiatus and see how she felt. She emailed three weeks later in November saying that she hadn’t been back on, and eventually deactivated her account. I let this soak in and about a week later I thought, why don’t I go on a Twitter hiatus, too? I’d hardly been using the platform lately, and I knew it was a distraction for the mind. I was curious what it would feel like to not have that distraction, plus I’d become more and more aware of how I’m spending my life minutes.

So, I signed out of my account that day, November 24, and haven’t logged back in since! Although Twitter has been excellent for connecting with new friends/opportunities online in the past (i.e. Meg Kissack/Couragemakers! Violeta Nedkova/Creative Rebel Academy!), asking quick questions, receiving poetry prompts, or sending bits of encouragement, I’m going to remain logged out of Twitter as we enter the new year and see how it goes.

Instagram

I think one reason it was probably so simple to leave Twitter in November was because I’d recently joined Instagram in September. My prime motivation for joining the platform was to interact with the #MomentSketchers community. While in ACE I was happy with my usage—but being home in December with wi-fi all day has me checking the app like crazy. Ah! I have notifications turned off, of course, but being so accessible (it’s three swipes to the right, hidden in an “Other” folder) has me checking multiple times a day. There’s simply no need to do so!

One idea which would help me reduce logins is if I could delete the app from my phone and only use Instagram from my laptop, as I did with Twitter. However, you cannot post to Instagram from a desktop web browser (why!?), so the only way to post is through the phone app. (I’ve looked at a few workarounds but haven’t found a way to post from the website, yet. I use Opera, by the way. If anyone’s found an Opera workaround, I’m all ears!)

Aside from number of log-ins, I like how I’m using the app. I’m choosey about who I follow because I want to control what I see in my feed. It’s primarily sketches and art journal pages. I’m not really interested to be distracted with other people’s day-to-day lives, so I don’t put those in my stream. Following on Instagram is nothing personal to me, it’s simply the content I wish to be consuming when I’m there.

The “Discover” area (which I’ve recently discovered, hah) has been fun, because there are cool calligraphy/painting videos which get me excited to create. So, I’m still working on this one. I know usage will be fine again once I’m back in ACE, but I won’t be living on an 8/6 schedule forever. I will experiment with different ideas to figure out how I can use the platform more mindfully.

Quick Lists: What Went Well / What I Released

These next two sections are mostly for myself for future reference, so I’m leaving out lots of explanation.

What Went Well in 2017

  • The Writing Sit in June — I took on a 30-day challenge of “sitting” each day for 30 minutes in front of my computer to write. I could write in my journal with a pen if I didn’t feel like working on a post, but I had to show up and do my time. This worked well!
  • PT
  • Camp Quest
  • Playing, being outside, and unplugging in ACE
  • Growing a garden – (Actually starting it when I could have easily not)
  • Trains on Main
  • Couragemakers Podcast
  • Waunakee Tribune interview
  • Travel sketching while in Europe / Moment Sketching
  • Reading so many books
  • Eating a mostly-vegan diet since July

Things I Released in 2017

  • English With Rebe – (Ended hosting for the site)
  • 5-in-5 Connection Challenge
  • The idea of LL as “best friends”
  • An unhealthy friendship (GL)
  • A relationship that wasn’t right

Progress on 2017 Resolutions

Yup, we’re not even to last year’s resolutions yet—but here they are! My three resolutions of the year were originally (1) leap, (2) stretch/yoga/pilates, and (3) unplug/be outside, as well as to continue living my values, creating, and meditating. Here’s where I stand on each of those:

Leap

A refresher for those unfamiliar with the term, the idea of “leaps” came from Tara Mohr’s book “Playing Big.” A leap is a decision + action that puts you in contact with those you want to reach/influence (aka involves sharing; is not solitary). It’s a simple action that can be described in a short phrase and completed within 1-2 weeks. It gets your adrenaline flowing and has a question at its center (something you can learn by doing). It gets you playing bigger now, not when you feel “ready.”

My leaps were:

  • April: Put up flyers at university in Montpellier (and made video advertising the editing service)
  • April: Submitted a proposal to be an artist for the Trains on Main public art project in town
  • May: Was a guest on Meg’s Couragemakers podcast
  • July: Contacted my local library about speaking and gave a presentation about my experiences on the Camino a month later
  • August: Applied to ACE/AmeriCorps
  • August: Launched this site

It didn’t feel at all like “The Year of Leaps” I’d originally intended to have (as I mentioned earlier, it was more like the year of becoming myself and trusting my inner wisdom), but I might not have done half of these if the idea of leaps hadn’t been on my radar. So I’m happy with the small leaps I did make, even though I wasn’t ever at or near any “max” capacity of comfort zone pushing, if that makes sense.

Stretch/yoga/pilates

This one has been on my resolutions list (either main three or in the “tidbits” section) for several years now, and I finally made it a priority this year! Writing a reflection on 12 years post-spinal fusion in June definitely brought the topic to the front of my mind. So much so, that I made an appointment with a PT (especially since I was on BadgerCare). The appointment was successful—I asked questions and learned, I got specific exercises/stretches to do, and I did them nearly daily for the next two months. (Here’s where I recorded the start of this journey to have photo evidence for progress shots and whatnot.)

During that time I also bought a set of adapted yoga videos, made specifically for people with spinal fusions. These are excellent and I’m still using them today, however they require wi-fi so I haven’t used them on hitch nor much at the apartments in Flagstaff (we had several weeks without internet off and on throughout my first two months). My stretching also fell from my focus these past three months in Arizona, but I’ll turn it around.

Unplug, be outside

I was outside a lot this year—thanks to my personal sabbatical (choosing to be unemployed) and then serving on ACE’s conservation corps in the fall. We’ve already touched on social media usage above, so that’s all I’ll say about unplugging. Yay!

Continue Living My Values, Creating, Meditating

These were three other tidbits I’d thrown in with last year’s resolutions.

  • Living my values — I kept my personal compass at the top of my mind throughout the year and recorded small moments when I used it to take action in an everyday situation. I’m planning to put together some sort of booklet/PDF with a collection of these stories and examples, to show how the compass guided my daily actions this year.
  • Creating — I’m happy with the role that Creating has played in my year, and feel the energy only mounting to create more in 2018.
  • Meditating — Looking back at my Calm app, the first part of the year I was meditating about half of the month, then I was on a roll for every day in May, June, and nearly all of July. It’s September (my move to AZ) when things dropped way down to 3 days, 8 days in October, 4 days in November, and back up to 15 days being home most of December. Part of the reason is that there’s no wi-fi out on hitch, though I could have always done a silent 10-minute meditation, or used an offline meditation. I’ll work on this in 2018!

Looking Ahead to 2018

What Needs to be Illuminated* in 2018

*Hat tip to Havi Brooks at The Fluent Self for this wording/question.

I did a quick mind map in my journal of what I wanted to see more of this year (though I prefer the term I saw Havi use in a blog post a few days after: “illuminated”), and here’s what I wrote that day:

  • Lindy hop / dance
  • Regular writing (read: Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, get a journal I like)
  • Outdoors
  • Kids/Teaching?
  • Morning meditation
  • Mindful Instagram usage
  • Writing poetry
  • Big creations quarterly
  • Sketching (Weekly? X portraits?)
  • Music (ukulele, guitar, singing, songwriting?)
  • Creating (zine, turn off wi-fi)
  • Leaps (postcard painting, lead a workshop)

[Side note: Seeing it here above, I just realized I haven’t shared yet that I bought a ukulele two weeks ago! A gift to myself—yeah!]

Tarot Card Reading

Then, back in December I was hanging out with my friends Emily and Liz, and we all ended up working on lists of 18 things we want to do in 2018. When we got stuck, Emily suggested we use her deck of these Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards. How fun! I’d learned the month before that a friend’s mother reads tarot cards, plus I knew Violeta Nedkova offered a tarot card reading as one of her services—so anyway, the idea had been on my mind for months and I was excited to have an easy opening to play with them!

So the three of us took turns using the cards to guide questions, and eventually we each made a map of the year (one card for each month, plus an overarching card). Here’s my year:

My guiding card for 2018 was “Sensitivity,” which you can read more about here. (There are longer descriptions in a booklet that comes along with the deck.)

My first thought upon flipping that card over was my increasing awareness about the amount of waste we produce, so I took it as an affirmation that continuing to learn about the zero-waste lifestyle would be a great focus for the year.

It was uncanny, though, because not two days later my friend Cathleen sent me an email which included the phrase “You truly are becoming an aware and sensitive being…” Aha! Sensitive! There it is! I thought.

For fun I later asked the cards what I’ll do after ACE, come April, and I got these gems:

Goddess-Cards
Receptivity, True Love, Unconditional Love, Endings and Beginnings

In sum, if you’ve ever been curious to try tarot cards, I really enjoyed this particular deck. All of the possible cards are positive traits, but it’s interesting how seeing a word or phrase (when asking a question or thinking about a situation) can help you view things through a new lens and perhaps leave you with new connections/insights.

18 Things I Want to Do in 2018

Here’s the list I came up with after finishing this exercise:

  1. Publish a PDF of my IBS story
  2. Put together a poetry collection
  3. Use social media/phone intentionally — develop framework and evaluate monthly
  4. Explore counseling / life coaching (as possible paths)
  5. Increase hamstring flexibility / daily stretching
  6. Yoga
  7. Backup photos on external hard drive and online
  8. Regular art journaling
  9. Work at an outdoor school/camp?
  10. Do a cross stitch kit
  11. Dye hair blue
  12. Learn five songs on the ukulele
  13. Do a 100-day project
  14. 30 days of #TheGratitudeLetters
  15. Lead a workshop
  16. Read two books in French
  17. Go to a Nicole Antoinette Live event
  18. Give myself a creative/writing retreat

2018 Resolutions

And with the “illumination”/”18 things” lists as warm-ups, I’ve narrowed down the focus (somewhat) for the year (or rather, until I reevaluate and realign!):

Zero-Waste Lifestyle

I do want to continue learning about the zero-waste lifestyle and slowly implement changes to reduce the amount of waste I’m producing each day. I’ll do my best to learn in public, so others might have the chance to learn / make small changes as well.

Yoga/Pilates/Hamstring Stretching

As I touched on before, I had a hard time keeping this one into focus with my 8-days-on/6-days-off hitch schedule, but I’ll be back to Arizona soon for three more months of it, so I need to come up with a plan to make stretching/yoga more frequent than it has been this fall.

Art Journal Regularly

Moment Sketchers and my 100 Portraits project will certainly keep me sketching this year, but I want to let loose and do more art journaling. I got introduced to the idea through Candace’s “3 simple ways to keep an art journal in 2017” and “3 more simple ways to keep an art journal in 2017” posts earlier in the year.

Making the Magazine Playground Art Journal in August was fun, but I didn’t bring it along with me to Flagstaff. The other day I purchased Amy Maricle’s “Starting Your Art Journal” ebook and have been playing around while I’m still at home (and thus have many more materials available—I only bring my tiny watercolor journal to Flagstaff, for sketches). As I wrote about earlier, I’ve also been curating my Instagram feed to show many art journals. So anyway, I’m interested in developing a regular art journaling practice this year!

Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly

Somewhere on her blog I saw Candace write about using this quarterly framework (to make her free “Travel Sketching 101” and “Art Journaling 101” resources, for example), and it really resonated with me. So the goal then is to create four bigger works this year, one every three months.

The first one I want to make is a PDF about my decade-long journey with IBS (now that it’s over). It felt good to capture my atheist-coming-out journey and my spinal fusion story last year, so I want to get this one written before it becomes any more distant. I’d plan to share the PDF freely from this site, in case it should help a fellow IBS-sufferer.

I’ve mentioned two other “bigger things” in this post: a poetry collection and a collection of stories about navigating the year with my personal compass. So those are on my horizon as well! I’ll have to develop a writing habit on my off days in Flagstaff, to chip away at it bit by bit (like when I finally finished that Korean food guide in 2016).

Bits and Pieces

Lastly, a few bits I want to capture here, to revisit on my monthly resolution checkpoints:

  • Continue to use compass/values to guide everyday moments and monthly reflections
  • Write in poetry notebooks weekly — If I ever want to publish a collection, I need to have poems to pick from first! I’ll ease myself in with some poetry exercises to get myself regularly playing with words and phrases. (It’s hard to even open the notebook if your endeavor is to write a good poem!)
  • Monthly/weekly screen sabbaticals — It was either Emily or Liz who mentioned this idea while we were thinking about the new year. I love it! Maybe I’ll have a “social media/screen time” section of each monthly checkpoint, to make sure I’m periodically evaluating and visiting the topic.
  • 100-day project — I really liked doing my 100 Days of Mind Mapping project the end of 2016/start of 2017. I learned so much from it! So I’d like to do another 100-day project this year. (Ideas?)

Past Years’ Resolutions

Finally, if anyone’s curious, here are my year-end reflections and New Year’s resolutions over the past five years:

>> Year-end Reflections/New Year’s Resolutions: 2017 // 2016 // 2015 // 2014 // 2013

I reread those posts before I put this one together, and as always, I gained some new insight by looking back that far. I had dubbed 2015 the “Year of Creating,” for example, but I feel like 2017 is when I really created.

In 2014, one of my three resolutions was “I have been struggling with a digestive disorder for over nine years, and this is the year I’ll conquer it.” Again in 2015, a resolution was “Eat a whole foods, plant-based diet; improve digestion.” At the start of 2016, I reflected “Unfortunately I can’t really say that my digestion improved at all during the past year. I should give it more focus this year, but have lost that hopeful “this is the year!” I had back in 2014. And again in 2015.” And yet, eight months later was when it all started to turn around. And 2017 was my year without IBS issues. (Yeah!) This is also the year I went from a primarily plants-based diet to a primarily vegan diet (I’d been eating dairy-free for years, but cut out meat/eggs at the end of July. I still eat honey and do not like to give myself the label “vegan,” though. This is a post for another day, though.)

Here’s one more: In 2015 I wanted to “Develop a daily stretching routine/habit.” In 2016, part of my “Tidbits” section was “See doctors in France about my IBS and back” and “Develop daily stretching/yoga habit.” But it wasn’t until 2017 when I finally saw a PT and began developing a daily stretching/yoga habit. Maybe there’s a two-year lag on these focuses or something!

Regardless, by bringing these desires into focus, I am slowly making my way towards them, as evidenced in the past five years of year-end reflections.

And so, once again, I’m adjusting the focus at this time of year, while taking stock of all of the growth I’ve experienced over the past twelve months.


Okay, dear friends, the space below is all yours—and I would love to hear from you!

Do you do any sort of reflection at the end of the year? If so, what does your reflection look like? And what did you notice this year?

What would you like to illuminate/eliminate in 2018?

Have any recommendations to help with my resolutions?

And anything else you’d like to share/comment on/question, the space below is always available.