Fade to Grey

daniel-cheung-129838

I am an only child, but I have siblings. I am a strong, capable, independent woman, but I am currently fully dependent on my male partner. I have a group of friends and family who I love so deeply I still see them around every corner, nearly seven years after I left them for a new destination. I cried so hard at the airport that day that I lost my breath and ran out of tears. But I still got on the plane. I call Utah home, but London is equally as comforting for different reasons, and although my physical home is currently in Oman, I spend most of my days looking forward to my next home, a place I have never lived and have only been to once.

My life is complicated. Life is complicated.

And yet I have developed a habit of seeing the world in black and white, good and bad, true or false. Fully accepting life’s inherent complexity and uncertainty takes a level of bravery and stamina I haven’t taken the time to thoroughly develop. Sitting calmly amidst paradoxes and dichotomies takes a level of academic confidence I lack. Kneading out the grains of truth from a sticky ball of life takes skill and dexterity, and for whatever reason I have been utterly unwilling to get my hands messy.

Instead, I often twist and turn a complicated reality, contorting it until it fits into a binary mold. Then I operate under those conditions and throw a small fit when this doesn’t lead to that but leads to the other instead. I want to know it all and I want to know that I know it all. Not so that I can boast of my intelligence or capability, but so that I don’t have to experience perplexity or confusion about what will happen in my future or the role my past played in getting me there. I want life to be packaged up neatly with a big fluffy bow and I want it to have a hand-calligraphed card on it saying:

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I want life to be simple. I want it to be easily understood through the stark contrasts of black and white, high and low, yes and no.

But do I, really? Would I truly enjoy living in a world so lacking in nuance and subtlety. Swimming around a fish bowl every day is binary. Swim or stay still. Eat or don’t eat. Live or die. Fine for a fish, perhaps, but it comes up lacking for this complicated human.

I revel in the depth and complexity of the people I love, slowly learning more about them over time, wrapping myself in more and more levels of their love in return. I delight in the scientific discoveries that constantly make our world a more fascinating place to be, all because of its seemingly endless complexity. I even seek out the discordant trill of uncertainty, the vibration that tells me I am at the edge of my comfort zone and things could get much more interesting from here on out.

You see, I do appreciate complexity and uncertainty, so long as they stay where they belong: in the realm of intellectual pursuits and high adventure. They are not regularly invited into the boring, mundane considerations of my day-to-day existence. There I am uninterested in accepting any messiness or confusion.

But if day-to-day life isn’t complicated, I don’t know what is. And I don’t know what “life” consists of except the chain of ordinary days strung between intermittent moments of purposeful adventure. It is in this realm of the absolutely ordinary where I am working to accept that nothing can be broken down into two simple possibilities and that, instead of seeing reality as a stark contrast of black and white, I need to appreciate, and even relish, its beautiful and infinite shades of grey.

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Anchors Aweigh!

I did a really scary thing yesterday. I asked for advice from someone whose opinion I respect immensely.

And as a result of that advice, I did an even scarier thing today:

I deleted all the ideas I have ever collected about creative projects I want to do in the future. 

This tricky task was the result of an email discussion I had with someone yesterday who knows his shit about this stuff, a creative mind I have followed for a long time, Paul Jarvis.

If you haven’t read any of Paul’s work or listened to the Invisible Office Hours podcast he does with Jason Zook, you should get on that. Every time I read or listen to his ideas (and Jason’s too), I come away with so many nuggets of wisdom that help me in really big ways. Plus, he’s a really nice guy who genuinely likes to help people, so that’s a pretty awesome combination.

When I emailed him yesterday with a question, he gave me two pieces of advice that I took as a challenge for today. The first one is:

“The more I’m thinking, the less I’m working.”

This point really resonated with me because I tend to sit down and think out all the fine details of what will happen after I do the thing I am thinking of doing. I let my fantasy take me away, imagining where the project will go, what it will look like, what people will say about it and how I will feel as a result of how awesome it will be (obviously it will be a global success that will make me a financially independent world traveller the second it goes out).

But then I never actually do it. I never start the project. I never put the pen to the page. Because that’s where the real work is. That’s where things actually get hard.  And who wants hard when it’s so much easier to sit on my couch and imagine all the not hard things that will come from all the hard work I am not doing?

It’s the act of doing the work that make things happen. 

That’s where we’re are actually up against it, slugging through, trying things out, seeing what fits, experimenting, playing, but most importantly, working. Thinking about how awesome it will be at the end will never get the project up and running. Ever.

It’s a massive illusion to think we can predict where things will go, what a project will look like once it’s done because it will shift the second we actually start working on it. Then you’re in a tricky situation where you have built up expectations (remember, these are no bueno) and you begin comparing the actual work with what you think it should be. This is not a good combo.

You cannot think your way through a project. You have to get involved to see what it wants to be, where it wants to go. That’s when you get a feel for the essence of it – what elements of it elevate your soul and make your smile wider. You can only feel these things when you’re actually doing the work.

This brings me to the second piece of advice:

“When I have an idea, I write it down. If I don’t ACT on that idea within a few weeks, I delete it.” 

Because I am really bad at learning lessons, when I read this I thought, “Yes!! That makes so much sense! I would feel so light and free if I threw out my stale ideas and allowed room for new ones to grow. Won’t that be lovely!” and then I went off happy and proud of myself for doing such a liberating thing.

Had I actually done it? Nope. Not even close. I watched a movie instead (Big Fish, if you’re wondering – I really like that movie).

This morning, the real work came.

Armed with the first piece of advice, I dove into the second challenge: delete outdated ideas

It was really hard to start on this. I was a little bit pissed off that Paul suggested it because I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing some of these things out. Still, I wanted to give it a try because, well, he knows his shit and he’s done his work and pushed through and made things that he is proud of, and I want to do that too.

When I began, I felt like I was throwing myself away. I felt like I was erasing hours of work, hours of thought and creativity. It was pretty difficult.  But now that it’s done, I see that I wasn’t erasing any work at all. I was erasing things that took away from my actual work. Things that distracted me. Things that weighed me down.

Some of my notes have been a weight on me for years. I kept past ideas around because I thought I would reference them at some point. I thought I would come back to them and be reminded of what I really want in life, what I want to do, where I really want to go. I thought I would read these old, worn scraps of paper like tea leaves and bear witness to some kind of revelation about my ultimate purpose in life.

But outdated ideas are the opposite of insightful. 

Instead of pushing me toward the future, they pull me to the past. They anchor me to times and places that are no longer relevant to my life and the work I need to do right now. They are heavy. They are stressful. They are unnecessary. And they need to be cut out.

The funny thing is, it wasn’t until I started throwing things away, throwing the weight off, that realised I had been carrying it in the first place. I felt so much lighter, so free and liberated. I felt so much creative space opening up. It was amazing.

No longer linked to past ideas, I am now free to engage in the ideas that are coming from the present. The things that are relevant to me NOW. That are meaningful to me NOW. That excite me NOW.

When I set out on this mission this morning, I wanted to think that I knew better than Paul; that he was wrong about this; that his advice wouldn’t apply to me because I’m a different person.

But he is totally right.

It’s essential to diligently keep our creative slate fresh and clean. 

Holding on to stale ideas binds us to the past and inhibits our growth in the future. Deleting them allows the really relevant ideas – the ones that matter most to us right now, in this moment – space to breathe and grow. For me, that is the definition of creative freedom.


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Choose Three Things….any three things

Hello again.

It’s me again.

And I need your help.

I’ve been tinkering around a lot with the book I mentioned last time – making lists of people whose work I admire and lists of the people they find inspiring so I can read them all as soon as possible; spending excessive amounts of time perusing graphic novels and making note of which styles appeal to me most; sketching a very rough layout of the key points of my story…I’ve been busy.

As I mentioned previously, I have no real history in illustration. I doodled a lot when I was younger and I sketch here and there when I journal, but I haven’t really tried to publicly express myself in a visual form before.

This is where you come in.

I need practice drawing. And I want it to be a real challenge – something that will push me forward by changing my frame of reference and force me to work with new concepts while I learn this new skill. I don’t want to get boxed in. I want to play with different forms, different styles, different ways of drawing. I want to try lots of things.

So.

I have 24 postcards sitting on my desk. I want to send one to you. All I ask of you is that you tell me three things to draw on the postcard. Any three things (obviously within socially appropriate bounds) for me to ponder on and decide how to stick together on one card.

Two examples so far are:

  • a mermaid, a hula hoop and a glass of wine
  • bunting, One Direction and Marmite.

I’m still working on that last one…

Anyway. I would love to make a card for you and use it as a way to practice this whole drawing thing. So click this link and tell me three things (any three things) I can draw for you. The sky’s the limit.

I look forward to staring at the screen in bemusement and trepidation when I receive your request.

Love,

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PS. For those of you who have requested cards already but haven’t received them, first, my apologies. Secondly, I will use the ideas from the brilliant descriptions of yourselves you gave me to make a special card for you.

Thanks for sharing about yourselves, by the way. Your stories make my day every time!


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Just Like That

Ok. This is going to sound crazy. It feels crazy. But it also feels like exactly what needs to happen.

I’m going to write a novel.

With no words.

For someone who has always relied on her words, this is kind of a strange situation. I woke up last week and watched an entire story play out in front of me. I saw every scene. I felt the whole story. But it’s all images. All snapshots. No dialogue. No description.

It’s all coming from my chest – from a feeling deep inside that I can’t describe.

I sat down this morning to doodle and my pencil carried me deep into the story, laying out the sequences, showing the emotions in each scene. I have threads. I have arcs. I have characters. I have relationships.

I have a story.

But I have no history in illustration, no background, no experience, no skills.

It’s all a bit overwhelming!

I need to make this book. I have to make this book. It’s dying to get out, to be a part of the world. And yet I am not entirely sure how to go about it. I have my sketches. I have my feelings. I can see it all. I just need to get it on paper, to refine it, to tell it like it is, with images and colors and expressions.

This is going to be an interesting journey…

Fluffy Sofas and Domestic Bliss (or not)

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A strange thing happened this morning. I woke up giddily excited about the day. The day. Not anything it contains, not anything that will happen in particular. Just the day itself. The fact that it exists. I haven’t felt that way for a very long time and I am pretty excited about it.

There are a few reasons I think this might have happened (and hopefully will continue happening). I’ve been really focusing lately on the way I think about the events in my life and how I chose what things I do (and don’t do). I have learned a few things since moving here (ok, re-learned the same things again, for the millionth time) that have made me approach my life and my attitude differently. It feels good. It feels fresh. It feels like I am walking through a forest, smelling the pine trees and fresh dirt and feeling happy to be alive. It’s really nice.

I’ve been wanting to share a few of these ideas with you (I’ve missed our chats!), but as I started writing about each one they got long enough to be their own post. So I will just start with the one that is on my mind most today: expectations.

Moving to London

When I moved to London, I was SO freaking excited. I could barely contain myself. But in the last couple of months leading up to the move, I also felt some serious fear and frustration because, although I was DYING to get there, I couldn’t picture what my life would look like at all. I had no idea how to envision it. I knew I would be studying and that’s about it. I had no idea where I would live, who I would live with, what friends I might meet, what my classes would be like, what my university would look like, nothing. Absolutely nothing. And looking back, although that really caused me a huge amount of stress in the lead-up to the move, it was the greatest gift I could have been given.

I walked into London with no expectations at all. Not one. It was amazing. I truly made every day my own. Everyone was a new friend waiting to be met. Every street was a little present waiting to be unwrapped. Every walk was an adventure. I watched every day play out however it chose to and not only appreciated that I was there for it but experienced unbridled joy at the thought that I was lucky enough to be in the middle of it all. It was really one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.

Now, let’s compare that to my most recent change. Continue reading