Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The daily card, week 15

So I am currently in Mauritania and still making daily cards. But because my card-posting schedule is behind my card-making schedule, these are from a couple weeks before I left.

The "Ouch!" card is the fruit of messing up my back. I don't know exactly why it started - it hurt after I ran five miles on Saturday and so, like a totally sane person making good choices about her body, I ran another five miles on Sunday and it hurt after that too. (#humblebrag) I went to Bar Method the next morning and felt okay, but after I got out of the shower it hurt so badly that just blow-drying my hair made me wince in pain. So listen to your body was a major lesson learned that week. I made the card at the end of my sick day, inspired by pain and by Daredevil on Netflix.

A couple Sundays ago, my parents took us to see a play about Justice Scalia at the Arena Theater (only in DC, right?) The play starts with the actor walking out on stage humming along to an opera and, since I wasn't yet immersed in the story, the flicker of a thought crossed my mind that he looked silly. And then immediately after I admired the bravery and vulnerability of risking looking silly in front of a packed house. I realized he was Teddy Roosevelt's, and more recently Brene Brown's, man in the arena. For this card, I thought about using stamps or basically anything that would let me avoid freehand drawing, but decided that sketching - loosely, imperfectly, even a bit cartoonishly - was the best way to get the idea across. Made me think about what I can do to spend more time "in the arena" myself. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

I'm off!

May is going to be super crazy and super fun. On Monday, I'm flying out to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania for work. (I work in democratic development in North Africa.) I haven't been in just about two years now so I'm so thrilled to be headed back. Photos are from my last trip in April 2013. I'm excited to hang out at the port de pĂȘche, to drink camel milk, and to support our programs with political parties and civil society - this time with two more years of professional experience under my belt and slightly less rusty French. These work trips can be intense but are definitely a huge perk of my job.

I'll be in Nouakchott for about ten days, then I'll fly from Paris to Houston for a long weekend with the fam. (Luckily the climates of Mauritania and Texas are very similar so packing will be a cinch. I'm excited for some serious beach time.) Then I'll have about ten days in DC - long enough to check on my new backyard garden, run a 10k I am bound to be unprepared for, and get things in order at work before heading off for a ten-day adventure in Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. (I.e. more beach time. It's a tough life.) I'm so excited to explore a new-to-me part of the world and I think I'll definitely be ready for a vacation at that point.

So that's all to say, posting is going to be a bit irregular here for the next month - though I'll still try to get daily cards up on Wednesdays since I'll still be making daily cards. But I will hopefully be able to pop in occasionally with pictures and thoughts from my travels. I think it'll be a good chance to step back a bit and write a bit more off-the-cuff.

Here's to adventure!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The daily card, week 14

I am not really a closed book. (Sharing thoughts with strangers on the Internet is probably a spoiler alert.) But I am not a completely open book either. And aphorisms aside, most everyone else exists somewhere in the middle between the two. I think it's endlessly fascinating, what people share and what they keep to themselves, and the lines are different for everyone. This was one of those phrases that got stuck in my head one day - we often refer to ourselves or to others as open books, but never the opposite - and so it made its way onto a card.

Other highlights: the last of the 30 Rock cards and Cleveland Dyngus. And speaking of what we share and what we keep to ourselves... that card is blurred because some things that happen at happy hour should stay at happy hour. :)

Monday, April 20, 2015

A few recent thoughts on goals

Photo is apropos of nothing other than my recent trip to Home Depot, the adult toy store. ;)
The Internet loves goal-setting - monthly lists, 25 before 25 goals, all sorts of goals. As I have gotten into the swing of it myself, I have been thinking about the ultimate end of it all. I've encountered a couple good thoughts on goal-setting recently that I wanted to share.

My organization is going through a strategic review process, thinking about how we need to change our approach to our work in response to a world that's changed a great deal since we were founded in the early 80s. At a recent meeting, during some back-and-forth about how the strategic review is unfolding, one board member suggested that we approach it from the perspective of "At the end of this process, what do you want to be different about the organization?" I think that's such an important question, one that we shouldn't lose sight of in the process of making our lists of new things to try or new habits to develop. We need to keep the big picture in mind- what is the ultimate end of these goals?  What do we want to be different about ourselves, our lives, our paths? It reminded me of a post on Today's Letters about goal-setting: "The purpose for setting goals is to be transformed by them in the process."

Mormon mom blogs were my gateway drug into blog-reading which was my gateway drug into blogging, and I still read a handful. Shawni at 71 Toes recently wrote about her family's goal-setting for the next year. One commenter wrote, "I think the thing we have concluded is that setting goals is a wonderful kind of risk. The risk is that you won't make them all within the timetable set, but even so, you will likely be much closer to those goals than if you had not set them at all. Long live goal setting, long live risk-taking." I love the association he makes between goals and risks - no wonder they can feel so scary.

So yes - goals are all about transformation and risk. That's something I want to keep in mind as I set my own goals. There's certainly room for goals that will be relatively fun and easy - but they should be balanced by ones that will truly stretch and change you.

Friday, April 17, 2015

To and from my 22-year-old self

A couple weeks ago, my mom brought over some mail for me, including some old alumni magazines from my high school. I was flipping through absentmindedly, looking for art journaling material, when I got to the Class Notes section. The magazine was from 2012 and I was just starting to think, "look at all these dorks who wrote in" when I stumbled across my own submission.

Almost nothing is as cringeworthy as discovering things you wrote about yourself a short few years ago. Like the alt-text of a favorite old xkcd comic says: "I'm glad I'm not the clueless person I was five years ago, but now I don't want to get any older."

I kind of love that I came right out and said that I had no idea what I was doing - there's a brassiness in that that I admire, especially coming from the high school valedictorian. At the same time, I want to say Dude. Relax. You do not need to justify the fact that you don't have a job, or justify the fact that you have no plans to head to grad school anytime soon. It is not "a reprieve from formal education." It is just living.

It is refreshing, though, to realize that I really am different at 25 than at 22. It can be hard to see those changes piling up from close-in, and sometimes I think I haven't changed much. In some ways, what I feared at 23 has come to pass - time has indeed moved very quickly since starting that job. So I appreciate the reminder that I express myself differently and interact with the world in different ways than I did when I was 22. I am not completely transformed, but I am just a bit more grown-up.

It's also oddly liberating to think that no matter what I write these days, chances are I will be embarrassed by it in three or five or twenty years. The goal can't be to polish everything to absolute flawlessness - because what sounds perfect to me now may very well sound stilted or forced or cringe-worthy in the future anyway. So I've just gotta keep doing my best where I am with what I have - and let my future self decide what to make of it all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The daily card, week 13: 30 Rock edition

 Crystal Moody, one of the inspirations for this project, has recommended working in a series when you want to stretch your ideas further - she's done 12 days of Christmas, presidents, and now is painting a weekly portrait of a rescue dog. And every time I go to Cleveland, I think of that epic 30 Rock episode and Jack Donaghy's line, "We'd all like to flee to the Cleve and club-hop down at the Flats and have lunch with Little Richard, but we fight those urges because we have responsibilities." 

So inspired by Crystal and Jack, I decided to do a 30 Rock series over the Easter weekend. Two cards are Cleveland-themed, one features a Tracy Jordan line that I've been quoting a lot lately, and the Easter card has the most perfect Jack Donaghy quote for the holiday. 

Similar to when we went to Virginia for a long weekend, I prepped before we left by putting together a travel kit - pens, date stamp, ink pad, glue stick, scissors, white cardstock, watercolors, letter stickers and 30 Rock photos that I printed off. Thinking through my ideas ahead of time and pulling together supplies makes it easy to bring the show on the road. We were in Cleveland through Monday so this is a sneak peek of one of next week's cards.

I also love that Excel spreadsheet card- I may share some more thoughts on that subject soon. And please excuse that clownish-looking one from April 1 - it's proof that the show must go on no matter how many drinks I've had at happy hour. :)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hello spring

Almost exactly timed with April 1 - the end of the first quarter of 2015 and the beginning of the second - it feels like life is speeding up. In a very good way. It reminds me a bit of how I felt last summer when I realized the rest of the year was going to be a crazy roller-coaster.

A big part of that feeling is that I have some big travel plans coming up. I'm heading to Mauritania (the least well-known country in Africa) for work at the end of April, and then to Guatemala and Belize for fun at the end of May. (I'm super excited.) Austin and I are loosely mapping out weekend travel plans through the summer. I have a 10k on May 17 that I need to cram for, especially since I do not anticipate I will be doing much running in Nouakchott. We are prepping our tiny backyard for an urban garden and I am figuring out whether I'll be heading back to the community garden this summer.

And in a few other ways, I feel like I am playing in a bigger arena. I am taking on some additional responsibilities at work and taking some necessary steps towards figuring out my career path from here.

The introductory email for the Get Messy Season of Brave almost uncannily captured what I've been feeling:
With spring in full bloom, this is the time when we shed those winter blues, we seem to come alive again. All our senses are heightened and we are excited for all that there is to come.
Let's dig into those feelings and make those dreams and plans come true. Let's be brave. 
In some ways I'm loath to leave behind the slow pace of the long winter, but I'm excited for what's to come. And April last year is when things got fun (and then I blinked and we were ringing in the new year). Here's to a new season and a new start!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tricks we play on kids

For a long time, I knew I wasn't good at drawing or team sports - so I took that to mean that I wasn't creative or athletic. And so I have a two-part theory about the misconceptions we pick up as kids - which stick with us as we grow up.

When we're kids, being good at drawing somehow gets linked to being good at art, and being an artist gets linked to being creative. I don't know how that message trickles down. Maybe because drawing is the most accessible of the art skills. All it takes is a pencil and paper; it's what kids start doing as soon as they can grasp a Sharpie and access the nearest wall. I have never been good at drawing, so I got it into my head that I was not artistic and therefore not creative.

I feel like I, unfortunately, perpetuated that idea at first as I stumbled my way through teaching arts and crafts in Palestine (pictured). I taught a bunch of drawing projects that, while they were clever and easy to prep for, were probably frustrating to kids who didn't feel like they had drawing skills. This was certainly not the case with my own art teachers, who came up with fabulously creative projects that I took pride in my work on.

As I've described before, I graduated college and got bit by the creative bug and started art journaling and making minibooks and taking on creative challenges. And now I wish I had made making stuff - fine art though it is not - part of my life sooner. Because there are lots of ways to be creative, and very few of them involve line drawing.

Similarly, I think that when you're a kid "being athletic" gets associated with "being good at team sports." And I was decidedly not good at team sports. Some combination of the athletic skill and coordination I didn't have and the shyness I did. (I feel like team sports are designed for people who are either athletic or confident enough not to be bothered that they aren't). So for a long time, I thought I was completely unathletic and therefore never really developed any kind of independent exercise habit. (I am not counting playing on the tennis team because, the way I played it, it did not involve a ton of hustle. I also never made varsity and so the varsity coach took pity on me and made me the "team manager," aka water girl. But that's another story for another time.)

But the thing is, in your adult life it doesn't really matter how well you can throw and catch a ball. Sure, pickup games and team sports can be fun and bring people together (or maybe it's just the post-game drinking that does that) - but the important thing is that you move your body. Which, really, is a completely different thing. Turns out, I am not completely unathletic. I am decent at jogging and Bar Method and pacing the house to get my 10,000 steps (though I am not good at spin class). And taking that time to move my body has made all the difference in my well-being in the rest of my life.

So somehow we get the idea that drawing = creativity, and team sports = athleticism, and form our beliefs about our skills in each accordingly. I can't really link this to any concrete messages I got from adults as a kid, but I think these are fairly common conceptions.

The point is not that I am an amazing artist or athlete. But I am glad that, in fumbling my way into adulthood, I've been able to broaden the story I tell myself about myself. Pretty cool that we get to grow and change and choose how we want to create and move our bodies - and see ourselves.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The daily card, week 12

I feel like this week is more "autobiographical" than many- or at least more drawn from what was going on in my life those days. I doubt that in 20 years I'll look back at these and remember the events and thoughts that inspired them, but I like that I've captured little snippets of things going through my head- which is probably more evocative than a detailed account of my daily life would be anyway.

I can't remember if I've written about it before, but the daily card project is one piece of what I think of as a daily creative trifecta. In addition to making a card every day, I'm also aiming to take a photo and to write a line in a line-a-day journal. I think they all complement each other nicely. Maybe if I put the photo/journaling/card for each day side-by-side someplace, it would result in a fuller picture for posterity - at the moment you'd have to cross-reference three different spaces - but I like that I'm guaranteed to document at least a bit of my day in three media.

The top-left card, which was pulled together a bit randomly, is what inspired one of my favorite art journaling spreads so far. I hoped that this small-scale project would generate ideas for larger-scale ones so I'm glad that the wheels are turning in that direction.

And sorry for the weird lighting in this one (and, truth be told, on many of these daily card posts). I never knew it could be so hard to get a decent photo of paper products against a white background until I started blogging.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Fleeing to the Cleve

Anyone keeping score at home may note that I've been trying to post M-W-F (though it's more like M-W-F with a bunch of random art journal pages thrown in whenever I finish them). Having a set posting schedule feels like overkill some days, since I'm so new at this, but I like having the structure to make sure I keep writing and showing up here.

But that said, I'm going to sign off for a few days - I'm heading to Cleveland for Easter! (Because we can't always fight those urges.) I'll be back on Wednesday with a new week of cards.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The daily card, week 11: Q1 edition

As of today, April 1, I am now exactly 90 cards in and a quarter of the way through 2015.

Some of the novelty has definitely worn off this project. I have pretty much run through the backlog of ideas that I started the year with and I've had to work a little harder to get the ideas to flow. And I often find myself dragging my feet about sitting down at my desk and making a card at the end of a long day. But I am learning to "trust the process," as they say- to know that the ideas will come once I get my hands moving. And I am always happy I made something and almost always happy with the result. Especially at the end of a blah or frustrating day, creating something gives me a sense of accomplishment in just a few square inches.

As daunting as it is to remember that I have 270+ cards stretching out before me between now and the end of this project, it is so cool to flip through my ten pages of cards (they are in trading card protectors) and see everything I've made so far. If I didn't work through the hump of "I don't feel like doing this today," I wouldn't have all this.

Because it's all about taking it one day at a time. I can't think of a better illustration of the idea that "big things happen one day at a time." (This is the goal tracker that was a big part of the idea to attempt something every day for a year.) The thing is, I don't have to come up now with the ideas for the 270 remaining days. I don't even have to have a plan for that day's card when I sit down at my desk. It is all about making the creativity happen one day at a time.

The cards, as fun as they are, are not much individually. But having a body of work that I've contributed to on a daily basis is pretty cool. It makes me think about how much else I could make progress on if I chipped at a project every day, just a few minutes at a time. Good stuff.