As a fun experiment, I’ve recorded myself reading this essay. Listen below—in three parts—or simply scroll down to read.
Last spring, before I headed to the trailhead of the 800-mile Arizona Trail I was about to thru-hike, I loaded up my water supply to full capacity: 6 liters.
I wasn’t sure what water sources would be like nor how frequently I’d come across them, so I wanted to err on the safe side.
Four of those liters were easily accessible while hiking: two gatorade bottles and two smart water bottles.
The other two liters were stored in a Platypus—a clear, flexible water container—which lived deep in the back of my pack. It was not easily accessible while hiking, and in my mind I thought of it as my “emergency water.” Just in case.
After the first two days, I’d crossed enough flowing streams to know that two liters of emergency water was overkill. There was no reason to be carrying all of this dead weight! Read more
As I did last year, I’ve put together a little round up of some of the creatives I’ve supported this year. My reasons for doing so are to celebrate these people, to share their work with you, and to show some concrete examples of what support can look like. I believe that if we encourage and help the people who are bringing more kindness, creativity, and truth into the world, their impact will expand exponentially. Read more
This year something that’s been on my mind more and more is how to support the creatives in my life and those whose work I’m a fan of. While you’ll see below that such loyalty is not limited to monetary support, I’ve been more aware of my purchasing power as well.
I’m getting a little better at checking Etsy when looking for a particular item/gift, rather than heading straight to Amazon (though Amazon is still very much a habit), and this fall I’ve been buying all of my painting supplies from a local art shop in Flagstaff.
It’s important for me to support the values I believe in—not just when it’s convenient for me. This means taking a closer look at my smaller, everyday actions—including purchases—and evaluating how well they align with my values. If we encourage and help the people who are bringing more kindness, creativity, and truth into the world, their impact will expand exponentially.
As I reflect on my year and this particular topic, the people below continue to pop up. I’m excited to share their work with you—because obviously I think they’re really cool people doing great things—but I’m also including some of my interactions with them. The purpose of sharing these is not to pat myself on the back, but rather to provide concrete ideas/examples of what support can look like.
While staying in Venice, I saw an event on Couchsurfing for a free walking tour, hosted by Josh. I’ve gone on many walking tours throughout my years of travel, but this was hands-down the best. Picture the Bill Bryson of walking tours. Josh was incredibly well spoken and pointed out such interesting details and nuggets of history that he had my full attention for the entire three hours. What a joy to experience that tour!
Surprisingly enough, this was only the second time he’d given the tour. Ever. He was trying it out via Couchsurfing to see if it’s something he could charge for, down the line. He accepted tips at the end, so I gave much more than I tip at “regular” walking tours. Then I gave him encouraging spoken words, assuring him that he could totally make a living doing this—the quality is superb.
When I got back to my hostel, I felt propelled to push him along even more, so I sent a message via Couchsurfing with some positive testimony, which he later used to advertise future walking tour events.
Kim Dinan – “The Yellow Envelope”
I’ve been a long-time reader of Kim’s blog, So Many Places, and thus a long-time fan of Kim. Naturally, then, I pre-ordered her book “The Yellow Envelope” late last year before it was released this April.
A few days after returning to the states this spring, I attended her book signing event at Barnes and Noble in Madison. I recommend the book to others and share her Yellow Envelope project on my site.
Meg Kissack – Couragemakers/That Hummingbird Life
I hope you’ve heard me talk about The Couragemakers Podcast before, as it’s been a favorite of mine this year. To help support Meg’s fantastic podcast, I left a positive review on iTunes earlier in the year and often shared episodes via Twitter when I was active on the platform.
Since I align so well with her values and approaches, I also hired Meg as a mentor/coach for two of her “Epic Shit” session offerings: “Get Shit Rolling” (a brainstorming session for multi-passionate creatives) and “Get Shit Done” (an email accountability/encouragement experience). The (tangible) result? This very site! It was an even better experience than I could have imagined, and you can bet I provided feedback and testimony for this amazing Couragemaker.
Luke Thering – Musical Creations
Luke is my younger brother, a wonderful human being who plays piano (incredibly well) and composes (also incredibly well), among other actions. In past years I’ve supported him on Kickstarter and attended performances. What comes to mind right away for this past year was sharing two of his fun videos with others:
“Fire Sale” – Any“Arrested Development” fans out there should check this one out!
“My Best Friend” – In this video, Luke adds accompaniment to Key and Peele’s “best friend” comedy sketch
And while we’re on the topic, here’s a one-minute wintertime video that always brings a smile to my face:
Candace Rose Rardon – Moment Sketchers
Another woman I’ve mentioned a lot this year is Candace Rose Rardon and her Moment Sketchers community (to which I belong). I support her by commenting on blog posts, sharing the community with others (writing about it, talking about it, inviting others to join me for the monthly sketch weekends), and encouraging fellow community members via Instagram comments.
James Hansen – FOUL The Webseries
A friend from high school is creating a webseries called “FOUL,” which he is funding thanks to Kickstarter. I was happy to contribute to the campaign when it was live.
Genevieve Lacombe, a fellow Moment Sketcher, opened her Etsy shop this fall: Atelier Art Postal. I had lots of fun ordering and sending out the adorable postcards seen above. I left positive feedback on her Etsy page and shared the postcards on Instagram too.
This year I’ve also been on the receiving end of such support. From a monetary view, I received $7 in tips from two people via Paypal donation (which I’d added to my Oh No She Madridn’tblog a few years ago—these are the first donations ever received) and I sold six copies of my Korean Food/Restaurant Guide on Gumroad. (Hooray!)
Just a few days ago this new blog received its first comment (thank you Eva!), and that’s definitely something to celebrate.
I have a folder on my desktop where I keep screenshots of tweets, emails, and other encouraging words from friends and fellow humans. I added several clips to this folder throughout the year and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed.
I appreciate the friends and family who came to the Trains on Main reception this summer, and all of the supportive words I’ve received—while travel sketching, speaking at the library, chatting with friends, via snail mail, etc.
How to Support Creatives in Your Life
As we move into the new year, I’ll keep an even closer eye out for ways to support the creatives I value. Remember, there are many ways to support creatives in your life—no matter how new/far they are on the journey. Here’s a starter list:
Comment on a blog post / Instagram post
Write a letter/email of encouragement
Recommend an encouraging book/post/podcast/community to your creative friend
Share one of their articles/creations/event info. on social media or by email
As soon as this arrived, my mind built it all up into a mountain: the gear I needed to get, the amount of money I’d need to spend, the things I had to get done in the next seven days. It felt as though I were leaving the next day, even though I had a full week of unscheduled time to get everything done. Bit by bit, the world conspired to get me here with ease.
It all began with the backpack. I searched Craigslist for large backpacking backpacks and found two that fit the bill. One was listed for $75 and was green, the other was $90 and beautifully blue. They were both good brands and hadn’t been used very much. I sent an email to both, explaining that I’d just been accepted to work on the conservation corps and needed a backpack in the coming days.
The woman selling the blue backpack was free to meet on Friday morning, but the woman selling the green backpack ended up being free to meet Thursday evening. Not only was she available earlier, but she suggested meeting at the public library in my town, meaning she would drive in from out of town. To boot, she texted on Thursday to say the pack also came with a rain cover and 2.5 L water bladder, which she hadn’t mentioned in the Craigslist post. As this information trickled in, my desire for the blue pack faded. I biked to an ATM to get cash, certain I’d be making several Craigslist purchases in the next few days—this green backpack being the first.
We met at 6 in the library parking lot. I had brought some full water bottles, books, and my yoga mat along so that I could try on the backpack with some weight in it, as recommended by my friend Emily.
I put in the assorted items and tried on the backpack, not a clue as to the correct way to size it. It seemed to fit just fine, the rain cover and water bladder were awesome extras, and I was anxious to check off the first item of my mountainous to-do list. “I think this’ll work well, I’ll take it!” I said.
The woman replied, “Great, because I’m giving it to you.”
I opened the car door, pulled out my wallet, and began to count out the twenties I’d gotten earlier in the day. “Twenty, forty—
“No, I mean it,” she interrupted, “I’m giving it to you. It’s a gift.”
“Noooooooo” I said, my tone dropping in confused disbelief.
“I insist,” she said.
Was this really happening? My emotions were swelling
“Thank you,” I mustered.
As the words left my mouth I could feel their gross inadequacy. I took a step towards the woman and gave her a hug, doing what felt right in the moment.
“Have fun on your adventure,” she said as she headed back to her car, leaving me in awe at the Craigslist kindness I’d just been gifted.
The following day I emailed a Craigslist seller because I was interested in his North Face sleeping bag (15 degrees). A brand new one would have cost $270, but he was selling his for $130. Once again, I briefly explained why I needed the sleeping bag. He replied to my first inquiry saying that he’s actually from Arizona!
We met the next day at a public high school and ended up knocking $10 off his asking price. Then, he gave me recommendations of where to visit and explore while I’m based in Flagstaff.
After buying the sleeping bag I drove to Farm and Fleet to see what they had available. It was a disappointing visit which didn’t help my to-do list, but Gander Mountain was on my way home so I decided to swing by, as this was their big store closing sale. I missed the turn, though, which meant I was even closer to my route home. It was getting later in the afternoon and I needed to be home within 45 minutes, so I considered going straight there. For some reason, though, I exited the highway, got back on, drove back, and made the turn.
Upon walking in I saw that the store was already 3/4 empty and was only continuing to get picked apart at each passing minute, so I didn’t expect to find anything on my list.
After a quick size-up of the remaining shelves, I made my way over to the shoes just for a glance. And there they were: leather boots, non-skid bottom, ends above the ankle, and no mesh on the tongue or ankle. They were half a size smaller than I usually wear, but they seemed to fit all right and my toe didn’t hit the edge. Plus, the closing special? 70% off! I bought $120 boots for $37.
(Update: These boots were also steel-toed, which, I later learned at ACE orientation, are absolutely not recommended. “No steel toe!” I wore the boots on my first hitch and they worked fine, but I now have a pair of non-steel-toe hiking boots to use on my second hitch. I found them in the “Commons Closet” of another ACE house here in town, meaning they were free!)
Finally, near the end of my gear scavenger hunt, I was still searching for women’s work pants. Emily recommended Duluth Trading Company in Mount Horeb, so I drove the 40 minutes to get there on Saturday, hopes high. In the end they didn’t have my size in the women’s work pant they were currently carrying. The woman helping me suggested altering or mending the pair to make them fit, but I didn’t want to spend $70 on a pair of pants and need to make modifications so quickly.
I drove to the west side of Madison and tried on men’s pants at Menards. Then I texted my aunt to see where she gets her work pants. “Farm and Fleet,” she responded, but sometimes she finds some at Savers or Goodwill, she added.
So I drove to the nearby St. Vinny’s and headed straight to the women’s pants rack. I started flipping down the line of size 4s, immediately moving past any regular pants or non-thick jeans. I couldn’t believe my eyes when my hands felt a pair of black pants that were super thick—nearly the same material as the work pants I’d just tried on at Duluth Trading Company.
I look at the tag:
Duluth Trading Company work pants – $7.99
I grabbed them and headed to the fitting room. They were a little short, but would definitely do for one pair. What crazy luck!
Then I stopped at Goodwill for kicks, since it was just a few minutes away and I was already out and about with mom’s car. Once again I went straight to the size 4 section of the women’s pants rack, and oh my goodness, the stars were aligned. Here I found two pairs of Duluth Trading Company work pants and jeans, both size 4 and this time they were the correct length. $7.99 each!
Although these work pants fit great everywhere else, I couldn’t get one pair buttoned but still bought them. The following day while out at my grandma’s I showed her my finds. As soon as I mentioned I couldn’t button the pants, she said, “Well just put on a button extender.”
A button what?
She went into her bedroom and came out with two cute little button extenders that go right on to the button of the pants. I could now button the pants!
I had all that I needed and still three days to go.
I reflected back on how panicked I’d felt merely four days earlier, and then marveled at all of the people, generosity, and serendipitous connections which had helped me acquire what I needed for this next adventure. I knew the frenzied feelings had only been a hindrance when I let them surface the first day, and I let this serve as a reminder to breathe and continue to take it one step at a time.
On Monday evening Emily and Liz came over for one last art night before I took off. Emily showed me how to adjust my backpack correctly and also brought along some old clothes up for grabs, which have already turned into staples for me here: yoga pants, a sun hat, a warm fleece, socks. At one point during the evening, Liz reminisced back to when she’d flown to New Zealand to study abroad in college, and how her body had manifested all of the nerves she’d been feeling on the way to the airport. I could relate; I’ll never forget the feeling of my stomach dropping as I took that first flight to Madrid in 2009.
But as I boarded the bus to Chicago early Thursday morning, there were no worries, stomach drops, or fears. My thoughts returned to amazement at how quickly my trajectory had changed. And despite the sudden shift, I felt completely at ease—thankful for the people and experiences which got me here.
All day in route I was nothing but excited to see what Flagstaff looked like from the ground and what ACE would have in store for me. Where have the butterflies gone? Have I done this so many times that I now know to my core everything will work out? Or am I so confident in my ability to adapt and find the good that there’s no room for doubt?
Or perhaps, this time I had the entire universe conspiring along to get me to Flagstaff.
Well, universe, we made it.
What It Cost
Here’s a rundown of the required gear and how much I spent to get myself to ACE here in Flagstaff:
Backpack – $0
Sleeping bag – $120
Boots – $37
Rain pants – $40
Wool socks – $18
Sleeping pad – $100
Sleeping bag liner – $40
3 pairs of work pants – $24
4L MSR Dromlite bag – $30
Headlamp – $9 Subtotal – $418
Bus to Chicago – $30
One-way flight – $150
Checked bag – $25
Shuttle to Flagstaff – $53 Subtotal – $258
I was grateful to join the campus’s student organization AHA (Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics) and to finally have Sunday mornings free. Little by little I became more okay with talking about my lack of belief with certain others.
One of the places I felt safe to share my beliefs was in my Spanish 203 class, taught by TA Elizabeth Walz. For one composition assignment, I chose to write about discrimination against atheists in the United States and how it affected me personally.
In the simple sentences I could form at that point, I wrote in Spanish that it had been about three years since I began self-identifying as an atheist, and that it had been hard to come out to my family. “I don’t tell many people I’m an atheist because I don’t want them to judge me before they know me,” I wrote, “but it doesn’t feel good to keep it a secret.”
While we were on spring break, Elizabeth forwarded an optional survey to our class, which would help a grad student conduct research about motivations for learning languages. I submitted my answers—why not?
She wrote back and thanked me for having participated in the survey.
The email could have easily ended right there, confirming she’d received my survey, but she went on. In a second paragraph, Elizabeth let me know that she was there if I ever wanted to talk about anything. She hoped that celebrating Easter with my family hadn’t been too uncomfortable, but based on my composition, it probably hadn’t been the easiest of weekends for me.
She closed with a friendly reminder:
Acuérdate de que tienes apoyo moral también en la universidad, ¿vale?
(Remember that you have moral support in the university as well, okay?)
I was so touched.
I stared at the screen and then read the email again.
Here I was, just a tiny freshman in a campus of 40,000 students, and yet here was my TA—who had her own grad classes, lesson planning, grading, and an incredibly intense M.A.-Ph.D. Qualifying Examination to worry about, not to mention her personal life—stopping to think about me on this weekend, asking was I okay?
I remember feeling a little guilty, actually, because Easter with my family hadn’t been notably difficult, and I thought there was likely someone more deserving of such concern.
But the message which reached me clearly is that I was not alone. I had support here at the university, people who cared about my well-being and feelings, starting with my Spanish TA. It was also the first time Spanish words had a very real impact on me, which made the email even more striking.
This compassionate act cannot be measured or quantified, but rather appreciated and paid forward.
I still have this email, and it’s the only one I ever received at my wisc.edu address to hold such significance. It reminds me to be the Elizabeth in other people’s lives—to let others know they’re not alone. Because a thoughtful email? It can change everything.
So today, take a minute to consider: Who could you lift up? Send a short note of support or encouragement—to a friend, an organization you support, a stranger on Twitter, the atheist freshman in your Spanish 203 class.
That quick email might be one your recipient holds on to for years and years to come.