Allie Cats: The Whimsy of a Creative Life

Creativity has always been a common thread running through my story. From the imaginary worlds woven into the landscapes of our unfinished basement growing up to the desk piled high with art supplies and magazine clippings in my last apartment, I need creativity to feel whole.

I’ve cycled through various mediums and outlets of creativity. Throughout various times, creativity has manifest itself through dance, acting, sketching, photography, collage art, upcycled furniture, oil pastels, pottery, book rebinding, acrylics, and poetry writing.

Allie Illuminated Creativity

Art was just a way of being for me. But it’s also often been an avenue of freedom.

Acting in high school helped me break out of my painfully shy shell. Journaling through mixed media in college gave voice to an ongoing struggle with depression. Writing on this blog was a lifeline that brought me to a career that feels much more in line with who I am.

This ongoing conversation with creativity has been deeply personal, but mostly a private affair. I filled dozens of journals with writing before attempting to share my thoughts online. I made a few attempts to sell my art, but there was a scant number of interested buyers. When my tentative hopes were met with relative silence, I slipped away from the limelight, tail tucked between my legs. Clearly, I didn’t possess whatever elusive quality the “real” artists had to be successful.

But the success of selling art and the need to create are two very different things. So I kept creating. I made agreements with myself that, for awhile anyways, my art was just for me. It didn’t have to be good. I just had to keep creating. When the bruising of my ego had faded a bit, I kept the possibility of selling art again in my Someday Pile.

Allie Illuminated WatercolorWatercolors have been the focus of my creativity in the past two years. I love the collaboration of pigments and water spilling out on the page. Varied by brush size and the timing, the art is a conversation. Learning the language of watercolor was playful, therapeutic. Just me and the paint and the water.

Right now, traveling around the west coast and house sitting along the way, painting has become a part of my rhythm. Several nights a week, in the quiet spaces of my evenings alone, I paint.

Most of these unfamiliar places I’ve been calling home for a few weeks at a time are housesitting jobs. Strangers welcome me into their homes to care for their pets while they are away. This level of hospitality is rare today, but it has been an unspeakable gift.

So when I was welcomed into the home of a Canadian family this October, I wanted to find a way to thank them. When I first arrived in their home and getting familiar with things, they introduced their two cats.

“Harley is 19 1/2 years old. He’s starting to get frail, but he’s really friendly. We kind of think of him as an old gay art dealer. Very posh and snooty to some, (mainly the other cat) but he’s got a heart of gold.”

Just then, the other cat Oskar came skirting around from behind the couch. “And that’s Oskar. I suppose he would be like a reclusive man living in the woods that believes in conspiracy theories. Not that bright, and really skittish, but sweet once he warms up to you.”

So, naturally, my gift to them was a whimsical watercolored rendition of Oskar and Harley.

Allie Cats Oskar

Allie Cats Harley

I didn’t realize that I had unwittingly stumbled onto potential greatness. Why?

Because people love their pets.

And because we all see the animals we love as having human traits.

And to see these pets as the people we know them to be is delightful.

And because the world needs more whimsy and delight.

Allie Cats | Duke

Allie Cats | Butler Dog

Allie Cats | Smalls | Sailor Dog

Allie Cats | Hawaiian Hikers

And now, I’m finding myself painting portraits of other people’s pets several nights a week! Unexpectedly, I stumbled into this niche market. And it’s working. (It may have everything to do with obsessive love of animals and not as much to do with my artistic genius.) But that’s not the point.

The point is that this is the unexpected and funny way that creativity, inspiration, and opportunity interweave. The success was in the declaration to myself that “the act of creating stirs an undeniable, soul-satisfying need, and that alone justifies worth.”

These are the implications of living a creative life. We vision cast and we strategize and we align our lives with where we want to go. And then we find ourselves delightfully caught off guard by new possibilities we couldn’t have imagined.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Facing the Reality of my Smallness

To-do lists and timers. These are the things that fill my days. I have editing work, research for new articles, contacts to pitch to, and online courses. But mostly I write. I’ll set my timer set for 52 minutes (because I read somewhere that 52 minutes is the ideal amount of time to be productive) and I try my best to show up on the page.

Because this is my life now. Part of my reason for traveling was because it makes me feel alive and inspires me and it was an opportunity that I knew I had to take. But the other part of traveling is that it would give me space and a break from “normal routine” to step into the discipline of writing.
And writing.
And writing some more.

bw1I’m writing and writing because I’m hoping that quantity will lead to quality. I’m putting my work out in the best ways I know how because I’m hoping that some of my writing is helpful and life-giving to others. And because this is a lifestyle that makes sense with who I am and how I want to live.

Most days, I feel giddy and grateful that I get to do this. That technology, privilege, and the generosity of others have made space for a season to pursue this. I have moments of sensing purpose and the confidence to keep moving forward.

But every couple of days, (usually on Tuesday afternoons for some reason), storm clouds of doubt roll in. I see the reality of my current situation in a different light, and I start to panic.

“Why the hell did you think this was a good idea? Everything you write is cliche and self-indulgent. I suppose it doesn’t matter because hardly anyone is reading it anyway. Look at the staggering volume of other writers out there, saying basically the same thing as you, only better. It’s silly that you thought you could actually do this. Maybe, just maybe if you try this formula from that famous blogger who made 6 figures in six months, or just try a little harder. You aren’t doing enough, but maybe you can be ok if you just…”

This is the point where I try to walk away from the conversation in my head. I make another cup of tea or call my sister. I try not to take my inner drama queen too seriously. Because I knew when I set out on this creative risk, that these thoughts would come.

I expose my inner monologue to you, dear reader because I think that maybe you have some of the same conversations inside your head. We all have our moments of coming face to face with our smallness. But everything—our happiness, our ability to make good work, our wholeness depends on how we respond to these doubts.

The recognition of being small? The awareness that everything that I produce isn’t immediately good? The wrestling with our desire to be seen and known and loved? This is what it means to be human.

The shaming thoughts of not being enough? Comparing myself with others when I can only see part of the picture? Launching campaigns to validate my worth by sheer effort? These are red flags.

It may look like a strong work ethic or humility, but chasing after an elusive perfection is a lie that will eat away my soul. My wholeness depends on evicting those thought patterns from my mind as often as they show up and try to take residence.

bw5This week in particular, I felt the weight of my smallness. The voices of self-doubt were louder. The second guessing and disillusioned reveries increased. These thoughts aren’t new. But the weary familiarity stung just the same. Traveling has made me feel small. Flinging myself out from under an umbrella of predictability and into a storm of unknowns has made me feel small. Attempting a creative career as a writer has made me feel minuscule.

Small isn’t a bad thing, but coming to grips with it can mean a wrestling match with your ego. I am very much in the middle of this, and I don’t know if that will ever change. I have to convince myself, at least once a day, that this is not only ok but exactly where I’m supposed to be. Not having it figured out. Not knowing how it will all turn out. Not doing it perfectly.

I try to have my eyes wide open to today. I try to focus on just the very next itty-bitty step, the piece that I can see. And I try to do that with excellence. For 52 minutes. This is where I start. 52-minute chunks of smallness that I’m trusting will build to something. What, I don’t know. But that’s not up to me, I suppose.

I think so much depends on how I choose to respond to these mood swings.

bw2My choice to let go of expectations and remain open to possibilities.
My choice to keep showing up, regardless of how I feel.
My choice to shift from needing a certain outcome to trusting the process.

My choice to keep claiming the arrogance of belonging. 

Ten Reasons I Love Road Trips

open roadI’m about to head out on the biggest road trip of my life. I mapped it out the other day and I’ll be putting in over 2,400 miles in the month of September. That’s a lot of time with me on the open road.

I don’t feel daunted by that. Well, maybe a little. But mostly, I feel excited. I have always loved a good road trip. Here are my top ten reasons that going on an adventure makes me feel most alive.

|Reason #10| The best conversations happen in the car

My affinity for road trips probably started when I got my first car. A 1999 Chevy Cavalier. Forest Green. My best friend from high school and I would roam the streets of our small Iowa town. We’d alternate between going through the Arby’s drive-thru, ordering curly fries in a British accent and wandering the streets, “philosophizing” about life.

There was something magical about my little forest green car. Driving aimlessly, reveling in the freedom of our pre-curfew hours, Jaci and I would have the best conversations about anything and everything.

Maybe it’s the stretches of time on long trips. Maybe it’s the sense of possibility in the air. Being en route has a way of helping people drop their guard and open up.

two girls on a car|Reason #9| Quality time with an audio book

It doesn’t take long for my not-so-subtle nerdiness to come out.

It hit me the other day why I’m not that familiar with the popular music from my era. I have to just smile and nod my head along to the vaguely familiar beat when everyone sings along at weddings and parties.

When everyone else was driving around, listening to the top 40 songs, I was probably listening to The Count of Monte Cristo (a 24 disc feat) or The Series of Unfortunate Events. I love delving into a good story when I have a long drive ahead of me.

Turns out you can have too much of a good thing. I’ve noticed that if I listen to an audio book for too long, the calming British voice will start narrating my thoughts.  I try to balance out my stories with music or a phone call with a friend, but I still feel giddy at the thought of getting lost in a novel or podcast.

I’m sure many people have looked over at a stoplight and seen me talking back to the narrator or gasp in surprise at a plot twist and gotten a good chuckle. There is something distinctly wonderful about the human love for a good story.

|Reason #8| The (sometimes not so) unexpected detours

One time, my friend Jamie and I went on a “Choose Your Own Adventure” road trip. We set out with no destinations in mind, ready for the open road and the spontaneity that would ensue. In the console between our seats were cards that we’d draw at random, saying things like “Take the next exit and find a place to go on a picnic.” or “Ask a local where to go to dinner tonight.” This trip resulted in us heading over 800 miles of travel in under a week. There were so many unexpected delights that we never would have come across if we had planned everything in advance.

The small hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The quirky little towns and well kept secrets of America. How else will we find these hidden gems unless we get in the car and go?

girl in front of van|Reason #7| Road trip snacks

I always associate traveling with giving yourself permission to splurge. Especially in the food department.

On the first day of vacation, my family would always pile into the car and head to the grocery store. This was the one time a year where the answer to any “Can we get…” question was always yes. Rice Crispy Treat Cereal? Yes. A king-sized bag of Peanut M&Ms? Yup. Two bags of Bugles? Why not?

My desire for what to splurge on has taken a somewhat healthier route, thankfully. V-8, pistachios, and a Cliff Bar are my usual gas station purchases. (Ok, and sometimes still Peanut M&Ms. I can’t resist!)

I love the sense of extravagance that traveling brings. The simple pleasures that you gift yourself add to the joy of the trip.

|Reason #6| Creativity born out of an escape from boredom

There us a distinct brand of goofiness that comes from being in the car for what feels like forever.

I became an expert at long stretches of car travel from the summer vacations our family went on every summer. Armed with a bag of toys, blankets, and some Rope Twizzlers, my two siblings and I would pile into our Dodge Caravan for the long haul to some idyllic destination. It wouldn’t be long before the blankets were webbed into a fort and the Twizzlers were fashioned into a red, braided beards on our faces.

Then in college, several of my friends decided to road trip to Charleston. We piled into this oversized 80’s van and drove halfway across the country and back in the course of a magic-filled week of epic adventures. Between the evenings of city exploring and camping in the Smoky Mountains were long stretches of time in the car. Being the creative souls that we were, we filled that time with storytelling. Joe spent the entire state of Virginia recounting the epic tale of The Lord of the Rings. This lost art of storytelling was rediscovered. We were literally a captive audience, with nowhere to go in the giant van. But we listened with rapt attention, drawn to Joe’s larger-than-life recounting. 

Someone said that only boring people are bored. So what else is a creative person to do when there’s 200 more miles to your final destination, and conversation runs dry?

|Reason #5| Concert: Party of two

I am not one to sing in front of an audience. Karaoke makes me cringe. But with the right person, and the right song, in the right car, and I’ll belt it out with the best of them.

Hand motions and car choreography included, I love a good car concert! (My roommates and I once had the idea to go “car-oling”–a version of Christmas caroling that included a choreographed dance to the N’Sync Christmas album. This was one of our better ideas as a collective group, I think.)

Who needs an open mic night? My car is all the stage I need.

|Reason #4| Margin is created in the in between

We don’t follow the normal rules of behavior when we are in transit. In the unavoidable commute time between point A and point B, we find space to just be.

I find driving to be an almost meditative experience. The mental clutter settles like flakes in a snow globe as the endless ribbon of highway slips by. Especially in a culture that accepts the frantic pace of unceasing activity and productivity, this quiet intermission is often mistaken for an annoyance rather than a gift.

girl truckI always get my best thinking done in the car. For awhile, I worked in a town thirty minutes away from where I lived. While others would drop their jaws at the length of my daily drive, I would look forward to my commute to and from work. Turning off the radio, I’d let my thoughts unfurl as I processed my day. There is something so helpful about driving in sorting out thoughts and ideas.

As I was planning out my route to the west coast, I have some eight, nine, and even ten hour days in the car. I get a week where my full-time job is to drive. It will be a living out of this in-between space, as I physically and mentally shift into a new season.

|Reason #3| Connecting with Strangers

One of my favorite things about the trips I’ve taken is the people I’ve met. Getting out of your own stomping grounds opens you up to the possibility of encountering other colorful characters.

Like the guy I met at a coffee shop in Colorado Springs. Self-proclaimed “Hobo Greg” struck up a conversation with me shortly after I sat down with my cup of coffee and journal. Not long into the conversation, he mentioned that he was a poet. He shared some of his poems, one part sheepish, two parts proud. We talked about the ways that writing can bring people together. Before I left, both of us had written a poem for the other person.

Or the time that my parents came to visit me when I lived in Brazil. We rented a car for the weekend and explored the state of Goiàs, relying on my very patchy Portuguese to get us around. The people of Brazil continually surprised me with their generous hospitality. Many times we had to stop to ask for directions, and without fail, smiling and gracious, they listened to my attempts at communication and pointed the way we needed to go.

Some end up being kindred spirits. Others are people that I’ll never see again, but I still think of them occasionally. With all the people I encounter, I am shaped and changed by their stories, and their willingness to hear mine.

|Reason #2| Being in the midst of ordinary beauty

I am a child of the Midwest. The “flyover states” as coastal folk like to dismissively label us. It’s not a destination. Not one of the Seven Wonders of the World. But there’s an unmistakable and unassuming beauty about the rolling hills of cornfields or the stubborn wildflowers growing in the ditches. Long country drives expose us to the beauty we might otherwise pass by.

I can’t wait to pull over in the foothills of the Rockies. To feel the smallness of the wide open plains of the West and marvel at the winding roads of Highway One.

There is beauty that we seek in our destinations, but surprising vistas can catch us off guard while we are on our way.

|Reason #1| Being found by getting lost

girl on top of carRoad trips lead me on detours that end up being remarkable. I love figuring out how to get somewhere without using Google Maps. (Admittedly, this is the way that everyone drove ten years ago but still…it makes me feel like a bad ass.) I love the process of finding my own way. Inevitably, letting go of the certainty of GPS, I have moments or miles of feeling lost. I stumble upon places that I didn’t intend to go. 

“The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask.” — 180° South

The process of getting lost (intentional or accidental) feels like a tangible metaphor for living out the questions to which you don’t know the answers. Right now, there are so many unknowns. So many questions that don’t have answers. So many roads I will be traveling on that are unfamiliar. But an adventure outward into uncharted territory is just as much an inward adventure.

The risk of unknown does feel scary, but the beauty of possibility beckons.

So what is it that you love about road trips? I’d love to hear from you! Plus, I’m putting together a “Road Trip Kit Giveaway” with all of the essentials that you would need to hit the road with a friend in these last few weeks of summer!

The Truth about Synchronicity (…or how I didn’t Make It Big in LA)

/syn·chro·nic·i·ty/ siNGkrəˈnisədē/ (noun)

the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

Moments of synchronicity are those goosebumps moments; when the hair on your arm is standing in ovation to the unbelievable luck you find yourself in. “The fortuitous intermeshing of events” as Julia Cameron calls it. It is that coincidence that you needed in that specific moment to remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. That nudge from the universe  to take that risk.

Serendipity.

Good Fortune.

Fate.

Divine Intervention. 

Or, as Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Heading into this new venture with so much unknown, I want all the synchronicity I can get my hands on.

heart rockSo I signed up for this blogging conference a few months ago. The timing, the location, the theme of the BlogHer conference all felt like more than a coincidence. I was eager for what would unfold in these two days in downtown Los Angeles.

Without realizing it, I walked into that star-studded town with the hope that so many others landing in LAX have.

I hoped that I would get my “big break” in LA. 

Not as a film star or in show business, but within the blogging world. It feels silly to admit to you now, but I had the fantasy that at this blogging conference, some talent scout (are there even such things in the blogging world? I don’t know…) would hear me at the open mic night and recognize my gift. That I’d meet some big blogger, and that she would take me under her wing and I’d be ushered into greatness and prosperity.

See, I wanted some synchronicity that would be more tangible.

Talking about traveling around the west coast and trying to become a full-time writer sounds great in theory when it’s six months out. And it’s been thrilling to have these small nudges from the universe along the way, confirming that this is right for me. But when that’s the plan of what I’ll be doing in a matter of weeks, and it’s still more of an idea than a reality, I’ll be honest. I’m having some moments of panic. I want a little more than just a “goosebump moment” at this point. 

Like maybe the universe could do a little more of the heavy lifting in this collaboration right about now.

Alas, there were no Cinderella moments at the BlogHer conference. No one whisked me away into a golden castle of writing bliss and unceasing success.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so glad I went. It was empowering. Helpful in the details and inspiring in the big ideas. It was connective. There were so many moments with other women who listened well and encouraged. It was insightful. There were so many opportunities to be a listener as well, hearing other women’s stories that were so beautifully different than mine.

But for every moment of connection, there were also moments of awkward isolation. Yes, I got up on a stage and read a post at an open mic night and felt so supported. But another moment found me in the corner of the expo hall, unable to find a place to sit for lunch, shoving a ham sandwich in my mouth while holding my plate and looking out at a sea of women for a friendly face or a place to sit down. Several times I would sit down at a table of warm and inviting women and hear their stories. But a lot of the time I was wandering around the event space, trying to drum up enough bravery to start yet another conversation.

Two voices in my head kept passing the microphone back and forth. One proclaimed “You were meant for this! This is exactly where you were meant to be!” But the voice of Self-Doubt would kick Encouragement off the stage and sneer “What the heck are you doing here? You don’t have what it takes.”

In wrestling with my fear and insecurity, I started second-guessing the generosity of this universe who supposedly conspires with me. This synchronicity business started feeling more like a mirage and less like a real collaboration with Spirit.

I needed to be reminded of how this whole thing works.

sparklerI needed to remember that synchronicity is a partnership.

It is not all on our own shoulders. We have this very American idea that any success we get is from our own efforts and ability to pull some bootstraps up. This is a myth. Everything we receive is a gift.

But at the same time, these gifts come when we are rising up to meet them. It is in the diligent showing up in the creative act of choosing to be fully alive that we find these moments of divine intervention. This weekend was such a reminder that it’s not an endless stream of glamorous moments. However, when we lean into these uncomfortable moments that do come, it rarely ends in regret.”The minute you are willing to accept the help of this collaborator, you will see useful bits of help everywhere in your life.” We labor, but we don’t labor alone.

I needed to remember that synchronicity happens in the dynamic flow of connection.

I have noticed that when I surround myself with others that are living wholehearted lives, there are many more moments of synchronicity. Our conversations are ripe with connections and correlations. “No way! It’s crazy that you mention that, because I was just thinking about…”

Austin Kleon calls it finding your “scenius.” Debunking the myth that “genius” and “talent” are born in isolated individuals, Kleon talks about how we thrive in an ecosystem in which creativity is ignited, fostered, amplified. We need to shed the impulse to hoard our ideas. We don’t need to feel threatened by others that are pursuing similar things. Rather, we should be diving into these relationships where discoveries become collaborative adventures.

Because it is the people we know that lead to the connections with the tangible next steps. 

I needed to remember that synchronicity is pointing me towards joy, not necessarily success. 

It has to be about the process, not the results.

I keep hearing that message. I need to be reminded of it often. If I try to anchor my happiness into a success that is measured by the amount of people that follow my blog, or how well my writing career takes off, I’ll go crazy.

Happiness isn’t found in some future moment of ease and success. It is always and forever found in the present moment.

The creative process, choosing a life that aligns with what makes you feel alive, is a mysterious process. It is not meant to be controlled towards a specific outcome. When the process becomes the focus, I can take myself less seriously. Without needing to know the ending, I can enter into my story more fully. And when the opportunities that present themselves lead to unexpected plot twists, I can be more open-handed.

Ultimately, I needed to remember that the source of this synchronicity is a God who is always in a good mood.

On the plane ride back, as I was wrestling with this fear and self-doubt, I prayed something to the effect of: “God, I’m kind of freaking out here. I don’t want to be dramatic, but Holy Shit! What the hell am I going to do in a month when I’m back on the west coast, with no job and no place to stay?! I’m asking you to show up here. Now. I need a place to stay, and I need to find a sustainable source of income. It feels so scary not knowing the particulars so close to the launching point, so I’m asking you to help.”

(Some of my best conversations with God include profanity. And I love that He’s not scared off by this honesty.)

And do you know what He did? Less than 24 hours from then, I got my first house-sitting job. Three weeks in Northern California, exactly what I had been hoping for.

Now how’s that for some “fortuitous intermeshing of events”?!

He’s not stingy or stand-offish. Not in the least. See, God is an artist, and I suspect that He is rather fond of other artists. He likes it when we ask for Him for big things and expect Him to show up. 

girl yellow umbrellaRarely is synchronicity like winning a sweepstakes. It requires us to “stand knee deep in the flow of life and pay close attention.” (Julia Cameron) It means being willing to be uncomfortable. It means submitting to the stretches of showing up daily, even with no tangible evidence to show for your efforts. It means opening up to risk and probable failure as necessary part of the process. It cannot be formalized or replicated.

Mysteriously, unexpectedly, and not always as quick as we’d like, we receive what we need. Often, if we have the eyes to see it, this provision is abundant–more than enough.

It’s not one moment of breaking into success, but millions of micro-moments. Of choosing, right now to step into the flow.

Why am I Writing This Blog?

“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions.” Shannon L. Adler

I am two weeks into my new life as a “pretired” teacher. It’s been filled to the brim with the details of both saying goodbye to the city I’ve lived in for five years and making plans for the upcoming season of traveling on the west coast. As this big change starts to come into focus, the realness of exactly what I’m doing causes three rotating internal responses:

  1. A feeling of giddy excitement at the thought of my upcoming adventures.
  2. A terror that settles in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps like the feeling a trapeze artist might get reaching for the next bar and feeling nothing. What the heck did I just do, flinging myself away from everything familiar and stable?
  3. A familiar ache of loneliness. I’m heading out into so much newness, and I’m doing it alone. I chose that, and I wouldn’t wish it to be different. Not really. But the reality of all the bravery ahead makes me feel small. Makes me wish for someone to hold my hand, to say “It’s okay, we’ll figure this out together.”compass hand

Underneath all of this cacophony of emotions and thoughts inside is a deep sense of rightness. A feeling that taking this journey is an act of aligning my actions with who I am and who I’m becoming. So I keep trying to take small steps forward.

Even though these steps are leading away from my expected and safe narrative.

Even though a mountain of unknowns looms in front of me.

Even though taking these steps forward will mean hard and raw realities in the coming months.

Small steps like trying to figure out what health insurance looks like outside of the luxurious benefits I’ve been living with as an elementary teacher. Small steps like trying to find people that will trust me to housesit for them through Trusted Housesitters. Small steps like trying to think through what the purpose of this blog is. 

I sat down at a coffee shop a few weekends ago, attempting a first draft of this post. I opened up the blank word processing page, flipped to the page in my journal with the idea web I had scrawled out earlier, and was flooded with the distinct joy that comes when you are doing work that feels like what you were made for. In that moment, I didn’t have any of the questions answered. No logistics figured out. But I was doing the life-giving work I know I’ve been needing to pursue for a long time.

journal computerThe Japanese have a word for this. They call it your ikigai. “That for which you get out of bed for in the morning.”(I first heard this in Rob Bell’s new book How to Be Here. So good.) Passion. Calling. Vocation. Purpose. Call it what you like, but aligning all aspects of your life with what makes you fully alive is so deeply important. The creative act of making a life in which you can flourish is the joy of being human. For me right now, a lot of my ikigai is found through the process of creating this blog.

Doing the work of clarifying what my ikigai is has been a long process. One that I’m still in the midst of defining. I think it started when I went on a “solo-cation” to Omaha this fall. I started to sense that this might be my last year as an elementary teacher. In the quiet space of that weekend, I asked my soul, “if not teaching, then what?” And my heart timidly responded, “I’d really like to write, please.”

To be honest, I was a bit bewildered at my own response at first.  While writing had been a part of the fabric of my life for almost as long as I can remember, it had mostly been a private affair. Journaling was a necessity, processing out loud the interior and exterior things I was coming up against. But I’d only been blogging, sharing some of those musings out loud, intermittently over the past few years. It was the spark of joy that came from crafting words together and sharing them with others that ignited something that is now changing the course of my life.

Not that there are any guarantees. No promise that quitting my career as a teacher to pursue writing will get me anywhere. That’s not what your ikigai is about. I have no idea if I will “Make It” as a writer. I have no idea if this is a Viable Career Path. But I do know that I feel the most healthy when writing is a part of my rhythm. I know that I feel purposeful in this work, even in the mundane, tedious aspects of it. This isn’t that thing I would try if I knew I couldn’t fail, like those motivational bumper stickers say. This is the thing I am trying, even if I do fail. And that’s how I know it’s my ikigai.

After the initial spark of inspiration in Omaha, there were still seven months in the school year. Seven more months of trying to figure out exactly what I was going to do in this quarter life crisis of mine. They say 90% of figuring out what you want to do is figuring out what you don’t want to do. Engaging in that process over the last few months has meant slowing down long enough to listen to what I am feeling drawn to, and distinguishing that from the noise of everything else. It has been a process of opening up to possibility and risk, but also practicing the bravery of setting boundaries and saying no to good things. I wanted to articulate some of the conclusions I’ve come to about Allie Illuminated with you.

I’ll start with what this blog isn’t. It’s not my intention for this blog to be an online journal where I only chronicle and process my life. While showing up on the page week after week on this blog has been deeply helpful for my own growth, that is what my personal journal is for.

Neither is it my desire to curate some formulaic how-to blog for working remotely and traveling around the country solo. I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I want some enviable online presence that portrays a myth that I’ve got it all figured out. In my present state, I can’t claim any expertise, but I can say that I’m trying to live the questions. In this blog, I’m hoping to voice those vulnerable questions aloud. I think my ikigai right now is creating things that bring those connective and so needed for the human soul moments of “Her too? Oh, I thought I was the only one!”

Allie Illuminated is a why-to blog about aligning all aspects of your life with that which makes you feel most alive. Rather than a formulaic how-to blog, this is a space where I’m sharing my vulnerable thoughts in the journey in hopes that others will connect, and I’m asking the questions aloud in hopes that others will engage with those questions and step into their own stories. 

I’m not claiming to have it all figured out here. With so many unknowns, I can only lean into trusting that God’s got me. I’m not even claiming to have my blog’s branding identity all figured out right now. But it’s a starting point. A step in the right direction.

Continually, I’m having to practice a posture of openhandedness, even as I start to make plans, making peace with all the uncertainty. It has been messy these first two weeks for sure. One foot is stepping out into this unknown, excited about all the possibilities. The other is planted in fear, wanting to try and have the perfect plan all laid out before moving forward. And there are so many moments of lonely self-doubt. But the more I talk to others that have gone before me, that security blanket of perfect plans doesn’t exist. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but you, dear reader, are welcome to come along for the ride.pointing trees

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

Don’t Spend Too Much Time Getting Ready to Get Ready

I have become a creative inspiration glutton of late. I have been gorging myself on inspirational podcasts, filling my free time with books* on creativity and how to live holistically, and watching films of people chasing their dreams.

IMG_0302I started this book The Artist’s Way almost 4 months ago. Each of these twelve weeks has discussed how to recover and nurture a creative lifestyle. It’s been great.

Except.

Except I haven’t been creating as much as I thought I would. Well, I have been writing more, which is absolutely is a creative endeavor. But I used to get out my watercolors several times a week, but for the past few months I haven’t been making stuff with my hands. I know that the seasons in which I’m in the routine of creativity, I am healthier, more fully myself, but right now, my creative life has shifted to an almost exclusively cerebral realm. I’ve been reading about creativity. I’ve been thinking about creativity and even writing about creativity, but I haven’t been actually creating.

Luckily, I am armed with an arsenal of knowledge about creativity, as my brain has been overstocked with nourishing wisdom for my inner artist. One thing I keep reading about is the importance of getting curious. Of paying close attention to our lives and leaning into the rawness of finding out what lies behind our actions. Or in my case, inaction.

There’s a helpful practice that I have picked up this year in my professional development at school. It’s a part of the Design Process.Originally a procedure for engineers to problem solve, Design Thinking guides any creative person from a problem to a solution. The first step is to accurately define the problem. To clarify the issue, you start with an assumed problem, a surface level frustration, and ask “why?” five times. The introspective geek who loves digging deeper into the root of things in me l-o-v-e-s this. I use it all the time to get curious about emotions that I notice arising on the surface. It helps clear the clutter and get to the heart of the matter more quickly. It could go something like this:

I haven’t been creating very much art in the last few months.

Why?

I haven’t had the energy to do get out my watercolors.

Why?

I have been putting my energy into reading, and also more into social media.

Why?

I’ve been wanting to research creativity as an occupation because it’s something I want to be doing more full time. I want to feel really prepared.

Why?

I think I connect feeling prepared and knowledgeable and fully resourced with feeling valid as a human being.

Why?

I’m not trusting that my creativity is enough. That I’m enough. I’m really scared to take this leap from creativity as a hobby to more of a full time thing.

Usually, around the third or fourth question, things start to get real. The excuses disrobe and the naked fear and insecurity are exposed. My problem isn’t that I’m not sitting down with my watercolors as much as I used to, it’s that I’m letting fear keep me from things that I know bring life. In getting curious about the why’s behind my inaction, these inner motives are revealed as attempts at self protection.

So, time to fess up Allie: what am I actually gaining by trying to self protect here? If I keep up the guise of preparing to be creative, I don’t actually have to be creative (yet.) I’m like a plane on the runway, with the captain telling the passengers that we will be “taking off shortly” (always code for 20 more minutes…) I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid of being exposed as an impostor. Of being uncomfortable. Or that I’ll be told I’m not good enough.

I typed those words out, and then I heard myself (or maybe it was Liz Gilbert’s voice in my head) reply “Oh, is that it? Yeah, those thoughts aren’t new, and they aren’t going away, but fear is boring! Being stuck in fear is even more boring. Acknowledge it, and move on!

Sometimes we get stuck in these habits of numbing comfortability—and it feels harmless, or maybe even “important” to our goals. Looking for a quick inspiration on Pinterest leads to 45 minutes of mindless scrolling and rabbit trails. Craving some stress relief, we turn on Netflix, and before we know it, the somewhat condescending notice pops up: “Continue Episode?” We make plans to start projects or pursue a dream, but they shift to the back burner because we are chronically and incredibly “busy.” Busy with what, exactly? Sometimes (for me anyway) “Busy” is just a covert version of “Scared,” frantically running around trying to feel important.

So I’ve been scared that my creativity isn’t enough. I’ve been making myself busy with blogs and podcasts and books about creativity. Now, I don’t want to throw any babies out with the bathwater here. I will probably continue to read and listen to mediums that fuel my creative thinking, but I need balance. I’ve come to learn that balance, for me, looks like a combination of reading and writing, consuming beautiful art and producing art, even when there isn’t a specific purpose.

So, this week, I started a creative project. One that will take awhile. The idea came while I was reading in bed, and I decided to close my book, to go over to my art table and start the project right then. I decided that it would be a project that I would do completely in secret. But before I began, I wrote myself this permission slip.

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When my focus is on the process of creativity, rather than the end result, the measure of success is in the very act of creating. And that’s when I thrive as an artist.

 *  Seriously though, if you are looking for some creative inspiration, here are some books you should check out! These books have deeply shaped me throughout the course of the last year.

Big Magic | Elizabeth Gilbert

Rising Strong | Brené Brown

The Artist’s Way | Julia Cameron

Eat, Pray, Love | Elizabeth Gilbert

Show Your Work! | Austin Kleon

The Art of Travel | Alain de Button

Essentialism | Greg McKeown

Walking on Water | Madeleine L’Engle

The Harry Potter Series (JK…lol) | J.K. Rowling

Live out Loud

I was trying to find one of my favorite quotes the other day and after trying the first line into the search bar, to my surprise, Google pulled up a link to my blog. With the gift of being able to see something I had created with fresh eyes, I re-read this post I had written months before, receiving the words as Reader, not Author.

I was so encouraged.

I often question myself when it comes to what I write and share. I wonder at my motivations. I feel leery at my keen interest in the stat page on my dashboard. I cringe at the prospect of sounding pompous, trite, or cliche.  

Simultaneously, I wonder what it matters– adding one more voice, saying so many things that have already been said. Certainly, there is nothing original in what I write, just a girl musing out loud about what things seem like. 

Fear of being too much. Fear of not being enough. Those familiar voices.

DSC_1008But at the end of the day, good or not, original or derivative, writing is a gift to me. It is cathartic to put words to the internal waves, weaving together themes and threads swirling in my head. It is by speaking out loud that I learn the truth that is inside.

And on the other side of the questioning of motivations, aren’t the motivations to not share, to not be vulnerable, equally devious? It’s certainly safer to stay quiet. See? These are the conversations that I have in my head. And then I just write them out and sometimes post them. In hopes that someone else will have a “You too? I thought I was the only one.” moment. Or I’ll have that with myself, a few months later as I stumble upon what I’ve written.

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I am coming to realize that when I stop needing to be “original” or “do something impressive” is when I am actually able to thrive. It frees me up to engage in what makes me come alive. When I’m less focused on the outcome, I’m more able to tell my own truth. Insert brilliant C.S. Lewis quote here:

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed.”

But choosing to engage in that which makes your soul more vibrant is a brave endeavor. Voices of doubt and fear creep in quickly. Oh the voices, (are you familiar?) that tell you that you are being self-indulgent, wasting time, being selfish. Oh the pile of shoulds that bombard me when I’m trying to create space to be human- to play, to rest, to create.

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But let’s think about this for a minute- call to mind the people who deeply inspire you. The people who shape the ways you think, the ways you see the world. Aren’t they who they are, doing what they’re doing, inspiring and influencing their world they chose to do what was life-giving to them?

Rather than rolling our eyes at their self-indulgence, we feel deep gratitude towards those who chose to foster that which gave them life. We’re so glad the poets and artists, the clowns and mystics didn’t think only of practicality. So happy that those authors, those revolutionaries didn’t hold back and didn’t tame down the truth they felt burning inside of them when it was inconvenient or hard. 

So this girl with not much, and yet everything to say, I will once again hit the “Publish” button. Content with remaining ordinary, realizing my worth is not derived from what I produce, I will continue to live out loud, create my art, tell the truth that is mine to tell.

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