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Kristine: Hurry Up And Wait

When I quit my job to work at home as a freelance writer, I did so with much trepidation. It was a huge risk. While we had the security of my husband’s paycheck to sustain us, the loss of my full-time salary did made a dent in our financial situation. For three months, I didn’t bring any money in. I sent out resumes and approached potential clients with the hope that something would come in. Thankfully it did. My leap of faith turned out to be the best decision I ever made in my life, and I’m grateful for every day that I’m able to do the work that I do.

I attribute my success in launching my freelance career to two things: determination and patience. The determination part was easy. My desire to work at home was so intense that I was willing to sacrifice a lot in order to get there. The patience part didn’t come so easily, and it still doesn’t.

I read a book several years ago called ROMANCING THE ORDINARY by Sarah Ban Breathnach. In fact, I liked it so much that it still resides on my bookshelf. One of the chapters has special meaning to me because it has to do with the concept of waiting, a skill I don’t perform very well. Several sentences in the chapter were particularly insightful.

Waiting is not punishment, bad karma, or lousy luck, although at any wretched moment while you are waiting it feels that way. The truth is that waiting is when the magic happens. Waiting is the mystical space between the dreaming and its coming true. Uncertainty, not waiting, is the enemy.

It seems as if I’m always waiting for something or someone. Waiting for artwork or text to come in from columnists to meet my deadline. Waiting for the doctor to call me back about my daughter’s blood work results. Waiting for the scale to move back ten pounds. Waiting for the day when I can finally declare that I’ve finished my novel.

I guess it’s true that good things come to those who wait. I mean, we all waited nine months for our darling babies to be born and look how that turned out, right? ☺

Charlotte: Introducing myself

Having said a while ago that it seemed to be the polite thing to do to introduce myself properly, by the time I figure out how to do a blog post AND think of something pithy and beautifully composed to do the job, I will probably have spent months clogging up the Monday page with “comments.” So I’m asking Miranda if she could put this up for me, in case any of you might have wondered who this stranger amongst you with a blue patchwork face might be. (I rather like my piece of patchwork.)

I’m Miranda’s cousin, living in London; we’re about the same age and have never actually met, but are going to soon, because (re)discovering this blog and marvelling at how disciplined you all manage to be in making (and using) time for your own creativity while also managing households and children has finally spurred me into action. I’ve set aside a few weeks to come over to the States for a “writing retreat,” which Miranda’s mother has generously agreed to provide and police! I’m hoping this will result in something a bit more concrete than just a few pages of scribbles, though right now it feels as if it would be a step forward just to get into the habit of having a sensible timetable and writing a little every day. I need to create a pattern that I can continue back home. This is often hard for me for reasons that are not child-related, more to do with having to do a lot of work of different kinds at very erratic times.

Like most of you, I’m also a freelance juggler. “Journalist, editor, translator, actress, writer” covers most of it, I think. That’s what it says on my tax return, anyway, or does when they manage to fit it all in the box. The journalist bit means I am often working odd days and odd times — sometimes nights, sometimes very early mornings, and always very long shifts. The actress bit is fun, but in practical terms means that I might, like this summer, be away on tour for months, constantly on the road and exhausted. It also should mean that I focus on trying to get work when I am not working — or indeed when I am — which is much harder work than the working itself. I quite like translation in small quantities, and I only really translate interesting articles and stories, so that’s nice — but not really very creative (yes, yes, I know — but it’s not the same as I don’t do the actual writing). Editing (there is too much of this) drives me crazy, but it’s regular and pays the bills, and I get to take it with me wherever I need to be — which is good, but means it tends to pull my focus away from the more creative stuff, like acting — and writing.

Writing has always come last, because it’s something I want to do for myself rather than something I have to do for someone else or to pay the bills; and also because it’s something that, like most things that are really worthwhile, doesn’t come easy. I used to write constantly when I was young; I’d written two novellas by the time I was 14. Then at some point I stopped completely — probably around the time I started studying literature and literary criticism, and learned to express myself on stage instead. I forgot that I had ever been a writer until someone asked me about my writing, about 20 years ago now — and I found that, while I could still craft pretty paragraphs, I couldn’t finish anything. I felt — feel — that I have both nothing and too much to say.

However, in the past 3 years I’ve written two books for children (age range 10-13) for the series I also edit. They’re bilingual English-German (narrative in German, dialogue in English). I’m fluent in German, but I’m not bilingual. I found writing in it incredibly liberating, as was writing a children’s book which was intended to be good, but not great literature. Suddenly the pressure to be perfect was off! There was no way it was going to be perfect, or expressed EXACTLY as I envisaged it. I was writing in a language that wasn’t mine, wasn’t my primary medium, one in which I was supposed to be extremely proficient. I was allowed to make mistakes. I was able just to tell a story, for fun, without trying to make every sentence into some kind of intricate piece of jewellery. I had a great time; the characters started talking back and doing things on their own, and the story just poured out without a problem.

So now I need to work out how to do the same thing in English, without despising what I am writing for being insufficiently brilliant or beautiful or perfectly crafted. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the making of any and every excuse not to sit down and do the thing we really want (or say we really want) to do… Fear of failure or fear of success? Fear of the terrible blank page, or fear of having too much to say and getting it wrong? All of these, perhaps… In any case, being on tour this summer has taught me that while I like to be doing different things, I definitely need to be more focussed on acting and writing, whereas at the moment the scales are heavily weighted towards editing and journalism. I have to do something about this, before even more time slips by. Oh, and after a lifetime of never being very bothered about money I have also suddenly realised that you need money to buy peace and quiet. (ALL Londoners have noisy neighbours.) Since I always forget to buy lottery tickets, my only hope of ever making any money is to write a bestseller. Well, they say you should always aim high…

Jenn: Running and Writing

Hi all, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Summer was crazy with teaching, then my daughter, parents, and I spent 3 weeks in very remote coastal Maine and New Brunswick.  No phones, no internet, no tv, bliss.  Now I’m back in the swing of things, and the textbook is progressing rapidly.  I have 20 chapters total, and have submitted 10 of them in final draft form to the publisher.  The next 10 are transitioning quickly from rough to final, and I anticipate getting the whole thing in by the end of the year.  Yay!  It’s been so much fun to write this book, and I feel like it’s made me a better teacher as well.

The frustrating thing is that I don’t feel like my publishing company and editors have been giving the book enough time and attention.  The editors keep saying they’re going to be sending along comments soon, but nothing ever comes.  I am trying to be patient, as my rough draft deadline isn’t until July 09.  They may not have budgeted time this soon to spend on my project.  But the other concern I have is that this company doesn’t do the promoting that some of the big companies do.  When I told my representative at a big company I do a lot of business with that I am writing this book, she just about killed me for not asking her company to publish it.  I think it would sell MUCH more with that firm, but I’ve already signed a contract.  Does anyone have any idea how to navigate these waters?  Can one get out of a contract?

Also, I’m still running like crazy, last weekend I ran a 5K on Sat and a 1/2 marathon on Sunday.  I don’t usually do 5K’s, because my rule is to never run a race it takes longer to get to than it does to run.  But this one was sponsored by the University where I’m employed, and it was very close to my house.  I ran it too fast, which made the run the next day quite painful.  But it is the 1/2 marathon I wanted to write about here. It was the Maine Coast 1/2 Marathon, and only women are allowed to enter.  There’s a “significant other 5K” and one man, chosen from a lottery, got to run with us.

It was a spectacular race, highlighted by the fact that Kathrine Switzer was the emcee.  She has the distinction of being the first woman registered for the Boston Marathon, and many people recall the photos of Jock Semple (race director) attempting to physically yank her off the course once he found out a “girl” was running his race.  She’s since ran several marathons, and now organized races and does a lot of event speaking.  She’s written three books, and was signing and selling books at this race.  I purchased “Marathon Woman,”  which was a great book for the first two thirds.  By the end, it started to read like the acknowledgements section… too many names, dates, places, and races that stopped being as riveting as the first half of the book.

But Kathrine Switzer is a great example of a sort-of mom (a stepson entered her life fairly late in his teenage years) who is able to balance work, writing, running, and family magnificently.  She’s 62 years old and looks about 45.  She’s slim, solid, and exudes happiness and grace.  She also wrote “Running and Walking for Women Over 40,” which is a great starting book for those wanting to get into the sport.  I find that my best ideas are hatched while running, and my best actual writing is done immediately after running… all that oxygen in the brain.  If I’m ever stuck on something, even a quick 2-miler is guaranteed to free up any writer’s block.

Kelly: Is the Universe Speaking?

…And just what the heck is she saying? I have two close friends who are big followers of the principles in the book The Secret. If you’ve been under a rock and haven’t heard of it, the basic premise behind The Secret is that if you open yourself up to it, the Universe will bring you what you need. Okay, so I admit, I haven’t read the book, and I’ve thought it was a bunch of nonsense. I’ve always believed you create your own luck and drive your own fate. But lately I’ve been wondering if there’s not something to this Universe stuff. Back in July, I talked about When Life and Art Meet Frustration, basically the struggles I have with time in holding down a full-time job (or two), raising twin girls, and trying to live a creative life. In that post, I talked about a couple changes I was considering, one of which was shifting from full-time college administrator to full-time faculty.

So here’s where that pesky Universe thing comes in. Off and on over the years, I’ve considered joining the K-12 teaching ranks. Now that my girls are in school, that’s starting to look more and more attractive. Working their schedule would be quite lovely, not to mention those summers off, and furthermore, teaching at their school would make my life a very sweet piece of key lime pie compared to the hectic schedule I deal with now. A couple weeks ago when I emailed my girls’ teacher about Sarah’s little smarty pants reading display I talked about here, I also told her that I was considering making a move to K-12 and asked her if she knew anything about the alternative certification program we offer here in Florida. She replied why yes, “I was the professional development facilitator for the alternative certification program last year.” Okay, maybe there’s one point for Madame Universe. Last Wednesday we met and talked about my background and how it might benefit me in a switch like this (“Oh, I think you could bring so much to the children!”).  We also talked about what she felt her challenges were as a K-6 teacher. Sure, there are a few, but apparently at this school, not many, as she said, “We have such a great culture here, and I can honestly tell you, it’s not like that everywhere.” The school is an “A” school. She suggested I sit in on some classes to see what it was actually like and directed me to make an appointment with the principal to schedule the visits.

So off I went to the principal’s office to make an appointment. “Oh, she’s available now!” said her secretary. “Would you like to talk with her?” Two points for the Universe?  I wasn’t quite prepared for that, but told myself what the heck, since I’m already here, I might as well. Lovely woman, Principal Johnson. We talked easily, and I told her my thoughts. We discussed my background and what would be necessary for certification. “Given your background, there’s a good chance you could simply take the General Knowledge exam, pass it right away, and voila! You’re certified!” Hmmm…interesting. She started making some suggestions on classes I should visit and then stopped mid-sentence. “What did you say your master’s degree is in?” “English.” “Hmm, I have a 4th grade English and Language Arts teacher going out on maternity leave in December, and she’s decided to become a stay-at-home mom and will not be returning.” Okay, did Madame Universe just offer up a slam dunk, here? Seriously! What are the chances that (1) my girls’ teacher was the professional development facilitator for the program last year, (2) the principal just happens to be available to talk, and (3) said principal just happens to have an opening coming up in my subject area? And just for a few more giggles…the teacher who’s leaving? Her last name is Nelson. My maiden name? Nelson. And guess whose class my girls’ teacher’s daughter is in? Yep, you guessed it. Ms. Nelson. Do I need to go read this darn book?

Now to toss a different crouton onto the salad….I’m down a staff member and will start interviewing to fill that position soon. Today, I reviewed all the applications. I have 32. Nearly two-thirds of them are current Duval County school teachers; nearly two-thirds of those are current Duval County elementary school teachers. Are you catchin’ what I’m layin’ down here? (Sorry, I work with college kids…sometimes that stuff just comes out. 🙂  First, I have that danged Universe concept potentially throwing open the doors for me, and then boom! She throws me a curve ball. Why do they want out when I’m thinking about going in? Is this just a “grass is always greener” scenario?  So what gives? Fill me with your knowledge, my friends. I’m open to advice! I’m spending the day in Ms. Nelson’s class on Monday.

Breakfast with Allison

This week’s Breakfast date introduces us to Allison Strine, the artist, blogger, and mother otherwise known as Elizabeth Beck‘s best friend. If you’ve ever doubted your creative path, read on. Prepare for an omelet of reinforcement and inspiration!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
My name is Allison Strine. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a mommy, and mostly I’m one of the luckiest people on the face of this Earth. It’s a bit ironic, considering the fact that for first 30-odd (and they were odd) years of my life all I wanted was to be someone else, anyone else. I never thought of myself as having a single creative bone; instead I delivered pizzas, worked with horses, and later became a television editor.

CC: Tell us about your collages, jewelry, and what’s up in your Etsy shop.
AS: Okay, I totally stumbled onto being a “real” artist. I had spent several years being very involved in the scrapbooking and altered arts industry, focusing solely on doing work for publication. I really loved seeing my work in print, especially in highly regarded mags like Cloth Paper Scissors and Somerset Studio. After a while, I started feeling like I was losing myself, doing work that I thought editors might like, instead of listening to my art heart inside. So after a short art break, I whirled through a spurt of creating highly personal little figures that talked. Since they were part lady and part bird, I came up with the brilliant moniker of LadyBirds (I know, it’s shocking, but true). A friend mentioned Etsy as a possible outlet for me, and I started a little shop. It wasn’t easy to shush the “what-if-no-one-buys-them” naysayer inside of me, but I’m so glad I did! That was about two years ago, and now I’m proud as can be to be one of the top selling artists on Etsy. LadyBirds are also sold to almost 100 girly gift shops and galleries all across the country, and I’m lovin’ it!

LadyBirds were born from a desire to bring joy and some healing feelings to my little world, all on an artist’s canvas. First, I make a colorful, textured, layered background, the kind that you have to look at closely to see everything that is there. Kind of like me! Using patterned tissue papers, transparencies, specialty papers, paint, and whatever else I can get my hands on, the background comes to life. When that dries, it’s time for the next step.

I like to let each LadyBird evolve of her own volition. There are so many negative messages sent to women about our bodies, and it is important to me that they are made of all shapes, from massive silhouettes to pencil thin bodies, and their skin and feathers come in every color imaginable. The whole process is so random that I marvel every time a finished canvas looks right to my eye. I’ve been known to blindly reach for paint colors, thumb through odd catalogs, and play a game to see if I can use something from the mail of that day in each piece (thank you Pottery Barn). I am big on recycling, and this makes me feel better about all that junk mail!

Each piece is a tiny world of detail, colors, sizes, and shapes that emphasize inner beauty and individuality. When the LadyBird is finished, I look to see what she’s saying. I’m listening for that quirky, sometimes-irreverent, sometimes-touching, but upbeat message that most of us think — but never think to say about ourselves. I want to make art that sends a positive message to my daughter about what it means to be a girl, to help her to understand that she is much more than what others see on the outside.

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
When I finally called in a website designer, it was important to create a site that changes frequently, to keep the look fresh. So the home page of my website is actually my blog, and although I find myself showing the artwork that I’ve spend money on more than anything, it’s still fun!

CC: You came to art later in life than some. How did you discover your artist self?
If you’d told me five years ago that I’d become an artist, and create collages that actually speak volumes to people, and sell my work to lots of women all over the world, well…you better believe I would have thought you were crazy! I’m learning so much about myself during this phase of my life; chiefly that I really do have my own voice, and that lots of people feel the same way I do, and that that I’m not the only one to go the whole day without putting on a bra!

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
: Ahh…I’ve taken over a huge hunk of our basement. One section is for my studio, with a couple of big tables, and bookshelves for supplies, and my new favorite thing — an idea board that takes up the whole wall. Love it love it love it! I also have a big “factory,” as my helper Lisa and I jokingly call it. It’s really a corner of the basement dedicated to storing LadyBird items like soldered pendants, prints, magnets, and greeting cards. There’s a soldering station set up for creating new LadyBirds, and of course a shipping section!

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
Start with the fact that I never thought of myself as creative, or an artist. But when my Olivia, age 11, turned about 2, I discovered pottery. Oooh, the feel of the clay, the challenge of trying to throw a pot, I fell in LOVE. I think I’ve figured out that I have a bit of an obsessive personality because I soon found myself with a potter’s wheel and enough clay to keep me and Olivia busy all day. After Ethan (now 8 years old) came along the clay went away to be replaced with crayons and Play-Doh for a couple of years. Now, I love that with my basement studio, there’s a place for my kids to comfortably paint, and draw, and do rub-ons, and bead, and do clay, and make a mess! If only I could train them to clean up after themselves. Actually, if only I could train ME to clean up after myself!

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work? How do you manage to fit everything into your busy life?
Considering that I’m writing this at 11:19 pm, when I’m *supposed* to be long asleep, you may not think I’m great at the big juggle. Heh… Most weekdays Lisa and her two dogs join me and my dog in the morning. After a visit with Lily the guinea pig, Lisa starts with creating items for shipping while I do the correspondence and Etsy work on the computer. That’s why it’s extra great for me to paint with Elizabeth — if I don’t force myself away from the computer, I can spend the whole day working with my images on the computer, and doing LadyBird business stuff.

CC: What do you most hope to accomplish with your artwork?
It’s so funny — I feel like I’ve accomplished far more than I ever would have expected two years ago. On the one hand there’s no WAY that I’m satisfied, and realistically there’s only so much time and energy available for me to spend on LadyBirds. Part of me really wants to go after licensing my work, and part of me thinks I don’t want to spend the time doing even more business-ey non-art stuff. I really want to be featured in a national magazine, but at the same time I’m not submitting press releases. I don’t know — is it wrong to say that I’m just letting the winds sway me?

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
I think inspiration is everywhere, from artists whose work I admire to the colors of the blouses in Chico’s catalogs. But really, the best inspiration is my art pal Elizabeth. She and I paint together at least once a week, and I recommend that kind of inspiration to everyone who’s pursuing a future as an artist. We bounce ideas off of each other, we push each other, and we motivate each other to keep creating and growing in our art.

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
What an oddly difficult question! I actually feel like my whole business-ey life is my indulgence. If it weren’t for an incredibly loving and undemanding husband (“the house looks fine, honey, we don’t need to have the laundry folded”), and relatively low-maintenance children I would never be able to spend my days in LadyBirdLand!

CC: What are you reading right now?
I’m all over the place with my books this week. Okay, here’s what’s on my night stand right now. I just finished the autobiography of Gordon Ramsay, a tough guy chef who knows how to work as hard as necessary to get what he wants — I admire that ethic. I’ve also got a book about the last Russian tsar — for some reason the story of Nicholas and Alexandra has always enthralled. There’s a Magic Tree House kids book, and for me, the childhood classic Wind in the Willows.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
Find that time, girls! The laundry doesn’t have to be perfect, and you are worth it! Make yourself happy with art!

CC: Thank you, Allison!

Inspiration: A Year of Mornings

The photo blog 3191 is a daily pairing of photos taken by two friends, MAV and Steph, who live 3,191 miles apart — one in Portland, OR, and the other in Portland, ME. (Read my previous blog post about this treasure trove). The friends have just published their first book, A Year of Mornings. I received my copy this week and it’s beautiful.

Cathy recently noted that she can pick up just about any book and flip to a random page to find exactly what she needs to read at that moment — and I think this book serves that purpose beautifully. Bravo.

Karen: Intro

Karen Winters headshot

Karen Winters, creative journeyer

I’d like to thank Miranda for welcoming me so warmly to this blog as a co-author.

The topic of fostering creativity is very near and dear to me, and I’ve spent my whole life in some kind of creative profession or pursuit. Art was a first love in my early years, but somehow I got put into the “writer” pigeonhole because I seemed to have an affinity for it. After UCLA grad school in journalism, I went to work for an ad agency as a writer. Somewhere into year six of that career I found I was taking all my vacations to work on documentary projects with my husband, so I made a career change and learned how to produce and write for that medium. Excitement, expeditions and Emmys followed. As time passed and the digital era dawned, I learned how to do computer graphics for our productions, which led to publishing an aftermarket book on Photoshop. By this time the circle had started to close and art was once more a major and beloved part of my life. More time passed and with our children launched into college and careers, I revived my passion in art and I am now a mostly full time fine artist. I’ve taught and managed creative people, mentored others and love to demonstrate and teach whenever I get the opportunity. These days I can most often be found doing plein air painting, being a part of the daily painter movement, studying art or getting ready for shows and competitions. My daily art blog is called A Creative Journey because for me that’s what it’s always been about. It’s not a goal but a never ending journey that brings constant challenge and satisfaction. I love to meet fellow travelers and to learn from and share with others. Thanks for letting me hang my creative hat here.

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