The sun had barely crested the horizon when I pulled on my worn leather boots and slung my pack over my shoulder. I hadn’t told the innkeeper what time I would be leaving, I didn’t want her to be worried about seeing me off. She hadn’t wanted me to go to begin with. “Tis too dangerous out there for someone in your condition,” she had warned, “Orcs, dragons, the creatures of the forest, the mages in the western lands; who knows what you will come across. You should just stay right here where it’s safe. I could use the extra help.” She knew her words were falling on deaf ears, that my mind was already made up. I had a Muse to rescue, and my heart would never sing again if she remained locked away in that tower.
I tiptoed past the rows of tables, making my way to the front door. “Thought you would go without me noticing, did you?” I jumped when I heard the voice from across the darkened room. She stood in the doorway to the kitchens, arms crossed over her chest, “You forget, my child, you are not the first adventurer to lay your head under my roof. I know what that spark in your eyes means, I knew you would be leaving in the next day or two.” She reached down to the table beside her and picked up a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied together with twine. “It isn’t much, but it should keep you from starving,” she waited for me to take the bundle and gently add it to my little pack.
Her eyes seemed distant when she spoke next, “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve watched walk out that door in search of adventure. Most of them don’t ever come back,” she watched me closely for a moment before continuing, “Do me a favor, if you can. Whatever it is that you are searching for- don’t give up on it until you find it. And once you do, I want you to come back here, sit in front of this very fire, and tell me your grand tale. I could use a good story to lighten my heart.” She nodded her head once before turning back towards the kitchen, busying herself with the morning chores. She refused to look back in my direction.
The village was swathed in shadows as I made my way outside. The pre-dawn sky was filled with roiling gray clouds that drizzled lazily over the landscape. A small shiver raced down my spine, though I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold or sheer anticipation. The weather promised a storm would be soon to follow; perhaps not the best time to begin a grand adventure. But I knew if I waited another day, I would simply fade into the background of this place. It would be far too easy to ignore the voice that was calling me forward and hide inside the inn with its crackling fire and lively conversations. No, it was now or never. Even if that meant I was walking straight into a hurricane; that was better than wasting away in the comfort of routine and expectation.
I took a deep breath and placed my foot on the cobbled bridge that led out of the village and towards the Forrest of Furies. There were rumors of fearsome beasts and midnight Whisps that delighted in confusing the wayward traveler. It was time I learn what truths this strange place carried. It was time start the journey.
What kind of tale would Bilbo have been able to tell if the path to the Lonely Mountain had been paved and well-traveled? Every good story starts with strife. It is practically a requirement that things will start out a bit rocky, jarring you from the comfortable routines you have slipped into. The real adventure is found within the challenges, the monsters faced, the tests overcome, the burdens carried; these are the things that will crystalize your character into its greatest version. Some days you may want to load up your pack and turn around; Bilbo craved the sanctuary of The Shire many nights. But he continued on regardless: this quest will be much the same. There will be days you want to stop, but if you keep going, your art and your soul will sing.
This past week I made my first valiant attempt at rescuing my Muse. To be honest, I probably looked a bit more like Don Quixote rather than Geralt of Rivia as I charged into my personal battle. But the key takeaway: I still charged in. In spite of everything inside of me telling me to give myself a break and do it tomorrow- I tried. Did I fail? Oh, spectacularly at times. But I also stumbled across a few unexpected successes.
If the past COVID year has taught me anything, it’s that creativity can be found in the most unlikely of places. For me, a huge amount of my innovative thought funnels straight into my workplace. Last year was all about learning how to function in The Upside Down, finding patch-gap solutions and fine-tuning them as we went. It was clunky, challenging, and incredibly exhausting- but we did it. Like an earthquake, COVID completely changed the landscape of my working life. Which means that now that we are slipping into Phase Two (Operation Reopening) we aren’t in a position to just flip a switch and send everything back to the way that it was. My old job will never exist again in the form it once did. We are all evolved Pokémon now, there is no going back. Once again we are being challenged to come up with new innovative ideas, to create a hybrid of what once existed, and mash it up with what we’ve been doing for the past year. Coming from a field that is notoriously resistant to change, this is a unique and unprecedented opportunity. It is a chance to flex those creative muscles again, albeit a different kind.
And while I won’t spend much (or really any) time talking about my day job or the creative challenges I face there, I do think it’s important to include this element in your personal quest. Don’t sell yourself short or ignore a successful venture just because it wasn’t an artistic masterpiece: sometimes solving a work-related problem takes even more novel ideas than anything else you could make. Celebrate those wins, acknowledge the mental energy they take- because otherwise you will feel like you are failing when you don’t have the extra energy once you get home to do even more. Creativity comes in so many forms: in your professional life, in caregiving roles, in making dinner, heck- even in parking the car at times. Always give yourself credit for these roles.
And now moving on to my personal creative challenges: the past week I have put my entire focus on writing. More specifically, I’ve been taking part in Camp Nano. I set my goal for 50,000 words by the end of the month. Although I secretly hope to hit a double NaNo (100,000 words total, gulp). Now, I’ve participated in Nano events since 2013, and have logged in over a million words through the various challenges. I used to win every year and prided myself on that streak. But then a life event happened that sent me reeling. It was like the earth cracked in half and swallowed me whole. It’s taken be several years to my way back to the surface again.
People respond to trauma in a variety of ways. For me- I felt like I had been burnt to ash and needed to rebuild myself from scratch. Writing had always been my identity, and suddenly I had run out of words. I was tapped, I didn’t have it in me anymore to create. My well had run dry. As silly as it sounds, I remember trying to compete in Nano and losing. I remember how that made me feel like I was less than the girl I had been. Who was I if I wasn’t a writer, a creator? Who was I going to be if I couldn’t complete this one silly challenge I had done for years?
The truth of the matter is you have to give yourself time. Healing is not something that can be rushed through. I’ve tried Nano for the past three years and almost always failed. When I did meet my goal it was with gibberish ramblings that weren’t ever going to be useable in any project. But then this year happened. And while I am not sure why it felt different: it did. I’ve been preparing myself for months, amping myself up through this Creativity Quest (which you are probably realizing means a lot more to me than just upping my productivity- it’s a search for self: the version of me I miss, the one I want to be again).
The truly exciting thing: it meant that for the first time in three years, I was actually ready for my Nano challenge. And guys- I’ve been doing it! Since the first of July I have written over 43,000 words, meaning my goal for a double Nano is actually within reach. Now, you have to keep in mind: I was on vacation for the first few days of July, and I didn’t complete any other thing on my vacation to-do list. You also have to realize that now that we are over a week in, reality is starting to step in the way and my numbers have gone way down the past few days. I have to refocus on finding a balance. But damn, it felt like I had finally broken the curse. I was me again, I was the girl with ten different stories running through her brain, the girl who could throw in a plot twist and pivot with a moment’s notice. I was a writer again.
I feel like my writing is bringing me back home, helping me discover that, though I am a very different woman now, there are some things that will never change, no matter what I go through. For the first time in a long time I have hope back on my side, and it feels so amazing.
I’m working on adding new elements to the challenge. A coworker of mine is a pretty awesome artist, and she’s going to start giving me lunchtime lessons with watercolors. I have some house projects that need to be completed- shelves that need repainted and a string art piece that’s (hopefully) going to grace my bathroom wall. Plus, a monster travel-wall project for my entryway that is going to take a long of ingenuity (particularly if I don’t want to spend a small fortune-which I don’t really have on hand to spend, so there we go).
So on we march, my brave adventurers, to see what awaits us beyond the next veil of trees. Keep creating, even if those creations aren’t at all what you were expecting.
- Join Camp Nano and begin to write- any goal, any type of project, just start moving the words from your head to the page
- Draw a picture of the forest you are about to enter
- Sculpt a monster you might find in these woods
- Create a camp-out meal creation and taste-test in a backyard picnic