Daily Art Challenge (finding a spark)

When we are small we carry ten thousand little sparks within us: these are tiny flares of passion that have the potential to ignite if we care for them properly. We instinctively know how to fan the flames until they roar with life and crackle with promise. Yes, when we are small we are fire keepers. We don’t have words for this; it is a feeling, an action, an unnamed something- but we know it is special.

As we grow we learn the language of man and all that it entails. We stop speaking to the flames as we christen ourselves their masters. Like Pandora opening a box, we suddenly discover rigid definitions that we plaster to objects without a care. We lose the mystery of the unknown because we don’t have to make up stories to explain things to ourselves anymore. And perhaps, what is the worst ‘gift’ adulthood brings us: the idea of perfection, the concept that things are not ‘good’ simply because they exist. We create these strict rules that must be lived by, and we smother the sparks that gave us life.

I don’t know when I decided I “couldn’t” anymore. One day I was drawing tornado people, decorating cookies, skinning my knees sliding into home plate, creating math-codes that spelled out words, and dancing to the tiny boom box that was my pride and joy. And then suddenly I had these ideas in my head of what made those things ‘good’ and ‘beautiful,’ and I decided that I couldn’t live up to those standards. I decided that I couldn’t cook, or decorate, or play baseball, or do math, or paint, or draw, or dance. My chicken usually came out dry, my wiggling body inspired laughter instead of admiration, my drawings always had cartoon hands and bad proportions, and I never could knock that ball out of the park. It was easier to save myself the embarrassment of not being good enough and simply shake my head as I whispered, “Sorry, I’m no good at that. Sorry, I can’t dance. I’ll set off the smoke alarm if I try making eggs. Nope, I don’t draw, don’t sing- not gifted that way.” It was easier to turn these former passions into self-depreciating jokes; because, hey, humor’s fun and insecurities suck. And just like that- ten thousand sparks lost their light.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of perfection; to get frustrated when the ideas you have in your head don’t translate into the physical world. It’s easy to forget how to speak to the embers and give them life. It’s so damn easy to forget how to whisper to your own soul and bring it back from the brink of extinction.

So here is the challenge: stop lying to yourself and to everyone else. Stop saying you “can’t” do something when the truth is that you “won’t.” This was a hard pill for me to swallow: to accept the fact that I have spent years standing in my own way and keeping myself from things that I could love with every fiber of my being. I have spent so much effort building up walls and planting them in my own way. And why? Because I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough, that someone would giggle when I danced at the wedding. But so what if they do? If I’m having fun, why does it matter if I’m not any good at it?

Because here’s the thing: no one is naturally gifted at something, they just decided to invest in it. I am not a sculptor or an artist in any way, shape or form. But then one day I bought a little bit of fondant and decided to play around with some store-bought cake mix. I didn’t view it as art; it was just something to play with. And I liked it. So I kept playing. And then one day I was getting paid to make tasty treats for birthday parties. Not an ounce of talent in my blood- but I fed the spark and it ignited.

I can say the same thing for my cooking, and my writing, and my dancing (which is still atrocious by societal standards). But who cares how well I wiggle when I’m dancing around my living room playing keep-away with the dog, or waiting for the chicken to cook (and not burn, might I add- getting better). Who cares if I’m good at it when I’m doing it because I find it fun? The trick to lighting the fire: do something because you like it, and eventually you will start getting better at it. And even if you don’t: you are still having the time of your life, and that will always be beautiful.

My challenge to you: pick something, absolutely anything that you think you will enjoy but routinely say “I’m not good at that, I can’t do that.” Perhaps it’s dancing, or cooking, or art, or building rockets: this is your show, my friend, the sky is the limit. Pick that spark- and for one week give it life. Every single day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes: invest in that spark and see what happens.

For me: that spark is art. I used to love drawing when I was younger, but I was never very good. So this week I am challenging myself to draw something every single day. I am treating it a bit like a diary: doodles, how-to lessons, thoughts and images that pop into my head- nothing is off limits. And the goal isn’t to improve: the goal is to enjoy, to explore, to play. Now, that doesn’t mean that online tutorials are out of the question- sometimes those are the best way to dip your toes in. Remember what it’s like to do something for it’s own enjoyment; it’s pretty damn invigorating to play like you did when you were in the single-digits.

Throw perfection out the window and wiggle around the kitchen. Go outside with a bat and an oversized ball and make up your own commentary as you run around the invisible plates. Burn that spaghetti and enjoy every bite. Crochet a lumpy green scarf and wear it every winter. Create, love it, live it, breathe it in. And who knows, you might surprise yourself with what new skills you actually acquire when you were too busy having fun to realize you were learning all along. And even if you don’t: you are still learning how to speak to the flames again. So dance on, Fire Keeper- and never let go of that child-like magic.

The Journey Begins (Rescuing the Muse, Part 5)

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 forrest, 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 it’s 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? It is all but a requirement that things will start out a bit rocky, and you will run into countless monsters. It is the tests that must be overcome and the burdens that must be carried that crystalize a character into their greatest version. So stand proud when you face the struggle, because by facing it you are becoming your very own hero.

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 here is: 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. But I also stumbled across a few unexpected successes.

This past week I wound up working a lot more overtime than expected; I’m talking 12 hour days- grueling, to say the least. The primary reason: I’m a millennial, and according to everyone in my organization, that must mean that I am an expert in all things tech related. Why yes, you all caught me; my first language wasn’t English, it was C++, I built my own droid when I was six months old, and I can figure out what is wrong with an entire computer system just by whispering sweet nothings to the monitor. Sarcasm aside: I don’t consider myself particularly techy, but I guess it’s a relative term, since it was agreed that I’m good enough to be on the tech team (gulp- it consists of the only 3 millennial in our organization, funny, huh?). But I digress.

My point being: it required a lot of extra mental energy for me to problem-solve my way through the work day. By the time I got home, my brain felt like a shriveled little raisin. I was exhausted (and moody- sorry to every living being in my household, including the plants). To be honest, I felt completely defeated. Here I was straining all day long in the hopes that I could come home and work on the things that truly spark a passion in my soul. I wanted to write, to create, to draw, to make up my own dance moves in the kitchen while waiting for the chicken to cook. I wanted to live my best creative life, because, damn it, I promised myself I would. But real life has a way of slapping you in the face when you refuse to adjust your plans. And it can hit pretty hard.

So here’s the catch (you knew there would be one, didn’t you? I wouldn’t just drop you off in that dark defeated place and say ‘see ya, I gotta meet up with a guy to teach him how to rotate a PDF’). No, there was a stunning realization I made that changed my entire outlook on my creativity project and my work-life balance. I’ve always known that creativity isn’t just art: it isn’t only found between the pages of a book or hung up on a wall behind an ornate frame. No, true creativity is versatile, it’s found in everything that we do, it is something that truly makes us human and sparks a fire in our soul. I spent my evenings feeling awful that I didn’t have enough energy left to create. And yet, what was it that sapped every last ounce of brain juice I had left? It was a different type of creation- it was a form of creativity that I didn’t count as being ‘genuine’ because it wasn’t intentional on my part.

I spent my entire week assisting my team in building something clunky, unweildy, and kind of beautiful. I created this behemoth using a medium I don’t general dabble in. I assisted in making a system that would allow my organization to continue functioning in this new virtual world we are all trying to navigate in. I carved the “cogs” of this oversized machine as I painstakingly trained overwhelmed coworkers. I found a way to break it all up into bite-size pieces and compare to less-intimidating tasks they’ve already done. I spent hours putting out one fire after another; creating a patch solution that would get us through the morning until we could fix whatever hardware had malfunctioned. I was exhausted at the end of the day because it took every ounce of creativity to come up with those solutions. It took ingenuity and whole lot of luck- and that’s exactly what this ‘Rescue the Muse’ project is all about.

Would I prefer to learn how to paint something beautiful? Draw my very own comic book? Make the cosplay outfit of my dreams? Or finish one of a dozen stories hanging out there in limbo? Of course I would- those things have always been passions of mine. But there’s some merit to be found in creating a tool you didn’t know you needed, in finding a path that you can lead an entire organization down. Creativity does not just belong to the creative arts- it belongs to all of us in every field.

And I have to say, I think that’s a pretty damn good way to start an adventure: by realizing you had been on a path headed towards one for far longer than you thought. Truthfully, I’m still holding out hope that this coming week I’ll find more time for my ‘personal’ projects. I’m taking advantage of this long weekend and writing up a storm, researching some pretty awesome ideas, and building up the stamina I’ll need for the next week. Plus, I have some items in my fridge that really need to be used soon- items that would be perfect for an at-home version of Chopped. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to make someone else eat it. With any luck, I will be sharing storied and horrible drawings, and perhaps a few terrifyingly new recipes in the coming days; but we’ll see what awaits us beneath at canopy of trees up ahead.

Until next time, my brave adventurers- keep up the good fight, and don’t stop creating, even if those creations aren’t what you expected.

Rescuing the Muse Challenge, Part 4: Shopkeep, where are your wares?

I couldn’t remember what happened after I washed ashore; I heard the panicked voices of the villagers that found me before I succumbed to the darkness encroaching on the edges of my vision. I’m not sure how much time had passed before my eyes finally opened again, but judging by the stiffness in my joints, it must have been a while. The blankets they had draped over me were scratchy and thin, but a crackling fire in the hearth kept me warm. The innkeeper was a kind, rosy-cheeked woman who always prodded me to drink a second bowl of soup every night after the doctor saw to me. It took a week to convince them I was able to leave my sickbed and make my way out into the small village.

The innkeeper sent her young stable boy to accompany me, not trusting that my shaky legs would be able to carry me back to the modest establishment. As we wandered the cobbled streets, I couldn’t help but notice the dreary store windows, empty of wares, or the way that so many of the villagers jumped at the slightest noise. When I asked my young companion, he scratched at the back of his neck and kicked at a pebble before suggesting we make our way back to the inn for supper and a story. 

Over a meat pie and oversized ale the young boy told the tale of his sweet village, “It was a very different place once,” he took a tentative sip from his drink. “Plenty to eat, toys in the windows, oxen to help work the fields. People traveled from all over the realm to visit our seashores, it was a happy place to grow up. But then the orcs came- driven from the mountains by the three dragons who decimated the upper lands. They plundered our realm and cut off our trade routes. Our resources dried up. Those who could leave did, and the rest of us just do what we can to get by. They’ve made their camp just to the north, in the ruins of the old farmlands. If nothing changes, then I fear the worst for my little home.” He glanced to me thoughtfully before venturing to ask, “You are on a quest, aren’t you?”

I nodded and told him of my beautiful and daring Muse, locked away from me up in the tower of an old castle. My young friend nodded his head slowly, spearing a soft chunk of carrot and popping it into his mouth. “Well, we may have to get a bit creative in the shops, but I will try to help you gather supplies for your journey.”

In these modern times there are a million different tools at your disposal to assist with your creative endeavors. Want to make a Chewbacca outfit? You can pay an exorbitant amount for the right fabric and find a pattern online to help. Want to bake the world’s best carrot cake? There’s an app for that (and a few baking contraptions that promise to do all of the work for you while you idly sit in the kitchen). You can purchase the best markers, electronic drawing pads, pre-cut fabric with step-by-step directions to make the perfect Harry Potter quilt. But what happens when the world locks down and you have to get creative with your creativity? What do you do when you can’t just pop over to the store and any online retailer has a three-week wait? That, my friends- is when you truly learn to be innovative with your ideas. You learn to repurpose what you have to make something new. You can refashion an old cardboard box into a treat-whack-a-mole for your (very) bored dog. It was a lot of fun until he realized he could try to tip it over to get to the orange snack of his dreams (carrots have always been a favorite).

 

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Back in the ‘old world’ I was the type of person who would research the best supplies and techniques for any project. I would stock up with far too many options before dipping my toes into the work (fully aware of any possible hacks to save a little bit of time). But the beauty of Quarantine Creativity? It requires some extra ingenuity. The name of the game this month: figuring out how to use what you already have on hand.

Today’s goal: make a mental inventory of what wares your little home-shop has and how you can work those into your creativity quest. Are there any projects you’ve had sitting around for a while? Any old items you dug up during your spring cleaning that you were planning on driving to the dump? Any stories you’ve had percolating in the back of your mind? A pile of weeds in your backyard you want to weave into a basket (no judgment, I have a heap of my own little yard demons mocking me from the window). Make a list of challenges, steal some of the ones I’m attempting from the list below, google ideas, ask a friend what random hobbies that have- you might be surprised what you come up with.

Your first mission, should you choose to accept it: create your map. My original plan had been to make a daily challenge for anyone who chose to participate; and while I’ll still post the route I’m attempting to follow- I can recognize that we are all in very different positions right now, and what will work for one person won’t even be a conceivable option for another. Some might have extra time on their hands to do a deep-dive into a project, and others might only get a couple of minutes to skim the surface, some might need to integrate other family members into their plans, or need to take a pause to deal with health issues. So think of this as more of a choose-your-own-adventure story. The world is a bit topsy-turvy right now, and no one should be obligated to hold themselves to the same standards they would have in the ‘before’ time.

My personal path is geared towards overall creativity in my life; reigniting the spark that I’ve lost in my daily adulting, so my projects will probably be all over the board for a bit. While I had hoped to complete one challenge every single day, I know that isn’t going to be realistic for me. Right now I’m working a lot of overtime that requires a ton of extra problem solving. Translation: by the end of the day my brain has shrunk down like a raisin. I’m trying to be realistic about the fact that I might have to chip away at these projects instead of deep dive into them like I want to.

A few things that made my list of creative possibilities (separated out into categories because I could):

  • Writing Prompts
    • novelize a scene from my favorite movie/TV show
    • Pick a random line in a book and build a story off of it
    • Write a short story about a modern day Don Quixote
    • Think of a common saying (ex: an apple a day keeps the doctor away), and write a horror story about it
    • Write a poem about how you are feeling right now
    • Write a fan fiction
    • Turn your playlist to shuffle and write a plot based on the songs you hear
  • Culinary Creativity
    • Chopped: Home Edition (Challenge Mode: Cutthroat Kitchen)
    • Make a tasty treat inspired by a book you’ve read
    • Create a ‘new’ mixed drink using what you have on hand (alcohol not required)
    • Make a themed meal (ex: based on a movie, a place, a person) Bonus points if there is an activity afterwards
    • Try to make an old favorite treat yourself from scratch (ex: Hostess cupcakes, twinkies, little Debbies, those oatmeal cookies with the cream inside)- if you are looking for some inspiration or recipes to help you: there are a ton of YouTube videos, I love the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, but they tend to be way above my skill level
    • Recreate an ‘adult version’ of a kid’s meal (chicken nuggets, bagel bites, macaroni and cheese, top ramen– extra points for this last one because making genuine ramen is heckin hard)
  • Adventures in Art
    • try out a cartoon learn-to-draw video
    • use what I have to draw a picture of Link and Oreo (my two crazy critters)
    • paint coasters with nerdy/book themes (I already had this one laying around from the pre-COVID times, but never got around to it)
    • Bob Ross style class with the tools I have (honestly- probably some crayons and colored pencils)
    • Make a comic strip
    • string art (also something I had from the pre-Covid times and never got around to)
  • Creation Station
    • Cosplay using items in your house (it can be an existing character or one you created on your own- backstory is a must)
    • Plan my future Harry Potter escape room (originally supposed to be a part of my birthday party, but it was cancelled when the world closed- so now I have time to plot it out and make it even cooler)
    • Figure out how to fix something that broke during a fall down the stairs (only the object was hurt)
    • Redecorate/organize the writing space
  • Crafting Corner
    • Learn to knit
    • Make some Dobby-sized hats
    • patch my jeans…without a real patch
    • sew some masks
    • make paper/fabric flowers
    • learn origami
    • paper airplane competition
  • Lush-Us Lessons: Learn something new and write about it- can be literally anything
    • Neil Gaiman master class on writing
    • world history on Khan Academy
    • Honey bees
    • creativity and the brain
    • home brewing
    • (seriously, I cannot stress this enough: anything)
  • The Great Outdoors
    • plant something pretty
    • go for a walk, no headphones, just your thoughts (also works for any form of gardening)
    • Sidewalk chalk portraits
    • Name your plants
    • make a gnome home/fairy den
  • Journaling through the Tough Stuff
    • Oldie but goodie: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? What’s stopping you from trying anyway?
    • What’s one thing you need to forgive yourself for?
    • Name three things you like most about yourself? (bonus point: list three things you like about your appearance in addition to who you are as a person)
    • Write a letter to your past or future self
    • Name five things you are grateful for
    • Hardest thing you ever went through and how it changed you- the good and the bad.
    • What are your core values?
    • What do you think would make you happy?

Keep creating, my friends, the muse still waits in that dragon-guarded castle, but we are well on our way to that looming mountain.

From Pandora’s Box Came Hope (committing to creativity in an unsteady world)

If I’m honest with myself, I know I’ve been striking out on almost every single one of my goals lately. I haven’t posted in ages, I ended Camp Nano thousands of words behind, I got a whole extra month to read my book club book and I’ve barely cracked it open. My sink is full of dishes, I have an overflowing hamper in my laundry room, and my front yard looks like Jurassic Park after the dinosaurs took over. Although, to be fair, the silver lining on that last one is that Rusty, my favorite red-coated neighborhood raccoon, has fallen hopelessly in love with the yard’s wildness. I have caught him standing on my porch staring at it in unrivaled adoration several times.

The point I’m trying to make: failures happen. They can be miniscule or spectacular in scale. Some days you will roll right through them while barely slowing down, and other days they will knock you to the ground and send you crawling to the closest blanket to cuddle under. It can be hard to admit when you are struggling, when you’ve broken that internal compass and lost your way. It can be demoralizing and it can erode your perspective of who you are and what your future will look like. There is no need to beat around the proverbial bush: failure sucks. It opens up an internal Pandora’s box; we are left grappling with all of the large and scary creatures that came flying out, while desperately searching for those tiny fluttering wings of hope.

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Perhaps it is the world we are currently living in, but I’ll be the first to admit: my mental health has taken a bit of a hit the past few months. I find myself grappling with concepts far bigger than myself, trying to wrestle with the idea that the future I had always planned in my head might wind up being a phantom image that never comes true. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way; with so many people lost in the limbo the pandemic created, we often find ourselves grieving for what we are currently missing and what may be lost to us in future. My nephew is a high school senior who is missing his final months, prom, graduation- the milestones that mean so much to us as we figure out how to carry ourselves into the next stage of life. My sister is the hardest worker I have ever known- suddenly forced into unemployment because the school she teaches at couldn’t support distance learning for her young students. She has been caught on lockdown at home while waiting for her first unemployment check to arrive after six weeks (and counting). My coworkers and I find ourselves pushed to the breaking point trying to institute new technologies into archaic systems that can’t easily support the sudden jump to virtual court hearings. And when I’m on my own time, I find myself trying to come to terms with the fact that my dream of having kids one day might actually be at an end. After two miscarriages, my partner and I were already a little nervous about trying one last time. And then when the virus hit, that little glimmer of hope faded into the dust.

So what do you do when your new normal breaks your heart? You mourn, perhaps you sink into it for a little while, maybe you bake a lot of bread and finally start scribbling into the journal that’s been sitting on your nightstand for the past two years. You learn to cope and you pray that tomorrow will be a little bit easier. And at some point, you just might be ready to take a deep breath and ask yourself one of the most terrifying questions you can posit: what now?

For me, personally, the entire landscape of my future might wind up being very different than what I had carefully planned. The idea terrifies me- that sometimes ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t translate to the real world. It is crucial that I find a way to still be okay in my new normal, to still find a reason to be the happy girl I’ve always aimed to inhabit. What makes me happy, what keeps be fulfilled, what gives me the energy to get out of bed every morning? Hope- hope for new experiences, new ideas, new stories, new skills, new adventures. I still have hope that I can create a life I will be happy with, even in spite of the losses. A few days ago I didn’t have that same hope as I lay curled up on the couch with a drink in my hand and tears in my eyes while watching Rogue One (I’m not sure why, but it’s suddenly replaced all Disney movies as my new medium of comfort). And yet, time has a funny way of slowly eroding the rough edges until you can pick up your troubles and carry them again.

If I don’t commit to myself and the things that bring joy, then the only alternative is to slip back into that dark place I climbed out of. I refuse to live like that. So here I am, committing to myself once again- committing to new dreams, new hopes, new goals. Or perhaps it’s more that I’m dusting off the ones I dropped a few months ago when I curled up into my shell and hid away from the world for a while. This new month is going to be a bit of an experiment for me: I don’t guarantee that there will be successes, just that there will at least be an attempt. I’m worn out with my autopilot, and I’m ready to reinvest in my sparks: the things that bring joy to my soul and keep me moving forward. I am ready to open the door and rediscover the adventure.

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Rescuing the Muse (Creativity Quest)

She stands in the window of the tower, staring forlornly at a world she no longer belongs to. She remembers what it had been like, back when she could escape these four walls that held her. She remembers the way the dewy grass felt underfoot as she ran across the early morning fields. She can picture what it was like to sit beside a crackling fire sharing stories, fingers sticky with melting sugars and cheeks sore from laughter. The girl sighs, turning back into the dark and dingy room. That had been her life before; before the monsters came and stole her away in the dead of night. They whisked her off to this far away place and locked her in a fortress, destined to be forgotten by the world below.

I sit cross-legged with my eyes closed, picturing the tower from a thousand bedtime stories. I can envision the young captive, hauntingly sad eyes staring straight through me. My Muse, trapped behind a wall of my own making, held captive by the dragons and monsters I, myself, created. This isn’t the first time the damsel in distress needed rescuing; though the walls to this tower seem much thicker than they once were, the monsters are bolder, aware of all of my usual tricks.

Nonetheless, I take a deep breath and picture a tiny little hero stepping onto the field, long brown hair blowing in the wind in the striking way that only Hollywood can achieve. Her tall leather boots are tied all the way up her shins. Her traveling clothes are bedraggled and threadbare from the climb to this precarious place. The hilt of a silver sword glints at her hip , and a roughly hewn wooden shield bounces against her back as she steps forward. She takes a moment to tie her hair back into a neat little bun before squaring her shoulders and grasping her weapon in one hand. She glares at the tower, eyes scanning every brick and grasping vine of ivy on its way to the top. She is here to save the damsel, to rescue her Muse from the grasping clutches of the emboldened enemy.

My inner struggle with writer’s block has turning into a raging battle. It has become a ruthless war of creativity; a struggle for the words that will save the Muse from her dragon-guarded keep. In truth, it is no wonder that the inner war has grown so intense; I never slow down long enough to allow myself to create. By the time I am finally able to sit down and spill a few words from my soul, I discover that the well has run dry. I am simply exhausted.

We live in a world that is constantly vying for our attention, overly connected and tuned in to every shift of the wind. We fill every single moment with a distraction, not wanting to miss out on anything important. We don’t even notice our attention span starting to ebb as we switch from reading entire magazines to glancing at snapshot headlines. We never realized that we were locking our Muse away behind a wall of notifications, locking her in a paper mâché prison of to-do lists. We fed the beasts of distraction never realizing that they were suffocating our creativity. We didn’t notice until we ran out of words, until the mocking blank page was too painful to stare at anymore.

Cultivating a mental and physical environment for creativity is a daunting task in the modern age. And yet the only way to rescue the Muse is to fight for her; to give her the nurturing space that will allow her to fight for herself. So, how do we save her, my friends? Like any true adventure: we must peek at the map.

The Map to the Muse:

Creativity Quest
Map created using inkarnate.com

My lovely band of wayward adventurers, we are currently marooned on the Island of the Lost (bottom left of the map: that little campfire, that is our humble little home base). The mission: to get to the upper righthand side of the map: the dragon-guarded keep imprisoning our Muse. To begin this journey we must do the unthinkable: traverse the Sea of Distractions. Do not let it’s alluring waves fool you- this trek is not for the faint of heart. To survive this first challenge we must do the single thing that strikes fear into the hearts of even the bravest traveler: learn to be bored.

Science has shown a direct link between boredom and creativity. There is a reason why most of us get our best ideas while in the shower (about 72% of people have reported this is where most people have their greatest eureka moments). There is something about the combination of a mind finally able to wander aimlessly in whichever direction it chooses, coupled with the vulnerability and intimacy of standing naked under a stream of water. Our brains are wired for stimulation; and when we can’t get it from the outside world, we create it on the inside. Boredom gives your brain a chance to fire different neurons, processing events that have taken place, making new connections between unrelated ideas, working through problems, and providing insights that can lead you down the path of inspiration.

Unfortunately for us, we live in a world of constant connection. We are on a never-ending loop of notifications, plugged into the world around us, desperate to soak it all in so we don’t miss anything. While technology is capable of making our lives so much better: connecting us to people we would never meet otherwise, giving us valuable information with the tap of a finger, or simply help us manage our day-to-day lives; it is also far too easy to get drunk with the power you carry in the palm of your hand. Much like Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, our techy sidekicks have both the light side and the dark side within them. Unfortunately for me, I seem to be slipping towards the dark more often than not.

This first hurdle for me is going to be one of the hardest: detoxing from the distractions in order to open myself up for more creative thought. There will be a lot of trial and error, perhaps some painful insights and diving deeper into the root of why I let my monsters steal my Muse without much of a fight.

Tonight we gather around the fire one last time before climbing into our rickety row boat in the morning. So tell me, my friends, when you face the Sea of Distractions: what kind of monsters are lurking below the surface? And do we dare to face them together?

Camp NaNoWriMo (let the adventures begin)

The time has come once again my literary lovelies, wordsmiths, ink-slingers and syllable-stringers; it is time for summer camp. Lucky for you, being outdoors is optional (though highly recommended), you won’t have to share any of your snacks, and you can wear your plot bunnies as slippers from morning til night if you wish. The July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. Yes, it’s true, you can really do anything on the internet these days: even summer camp.

For those who don’t have a clue what I am talking about, let me just back up a step or two. Camp Nano is an offshoot of the main Nano, also known as NanoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a virtual writing challenge where thousands of people across the globe sign up to tackle a single venture at the same time. The main event takes place every November. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Camp Nano is the figurative little brother of the November session. It has more of a community focus to it. If you sign up, you get the option to join virtual cabins- either of your own creation or through a bot that will randomly place you. You also get to set your own customized goal- whatever you want it to be. You can track words, pages, lines, minutes, hours, and you can be as nice or ruthless with your goal as you want (this time around I’m being a little bit mean and going for a ‘double Nano,’ which means 100,000 words in 30 days). Every person in your cabin has their own project to work on, but you get to network and talk throughout the month as you all embark on the adventure together. Rest assured, it is a virtual camp- there is no travel required, and no real roughing it unless you decide to take your laptop out on the back patio.

I am addicted, I’ll tell you that upfront- and if anyone reading this is interested in writing- I strongly suggest you give it a shot, what do you have to lose? It’s such a positive community, it is one of the few places where I feel completely accepted. My oddball interests and quirks suddenly aren’t so strange anymore. Plus- there are thousands of writers who have years of experience, tips and tricks to share. And they are more than willing to help anyone who stumbles across their path.

I had never lost a Nano until this last year when a few things went a wee bit sideways in my life. I’m hoping that July will be my redemption. I have a few projects that are halfway finished, so I’m going to try to push through to get them ready for editing. I can’t wait. I haven’t decided if I’m joining a cabin yet this year; I’ve found a new writing group that mainly uses Discord to keep in touch through the year (all 60+ members met through Nano and have kept each other motivated the past few years), and I’m really hoping I can sleuthy-sneak my way into being one of the regulars.

Adventure awaits, my friends- do you dare take the first step to meet it?

The Cards Never Told Me the Computer Would Crash (my adventure learning tarot)

I sat there staring at the spinning wheel of death on my computer and couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. I was trying to register my final score after finishing a test to prove my proficiency with reading Tarot cards, and yet I still did not see this particular obstacle coming. It seems my third eye needs glasses just as desperately as my two earthly ones.

I’ve always had a fascination with the obscure and unusual. I am drawn to stories about the Oracles of Delphi, and tend to dip my toes into the realm of mysticism when dabbling with fantasy projects I’m working on. It also happens that I am a firm believer in jumping down the rabbit hole in search of your interests to see where they lead you. As fortune would have it, when I stumbled across the registration page for the Tarot course I made a decision and dove right in.

Now, tarot makes some people very nervous; the stories surrounding it tend to be dark and a bit creepy, the stereotypical practitioner you see in the movies is generally an odd little duck who points to bad omens before wrapping her thin shawl tightly around her scrawny shoulders, cackling and disappearing into a foggy night. The symbolism on the cards bring to mind stories of the occult. But as it turns out, the truth is a little less dramatic.

Tarot cards can be traced back to the mid-15th century in Europe. At the time they were not considered to be great lightning rods of divination. In fact, their original incarnation was in the form of a card game, which went by several names: trionfi, tarocchi, or tarock. To be fair- games were a very serious business in the age of the Renessaince. The artwork that began to adorn the cards became a point of pride as they made their way across Europe.

When the game traveled to France, the people there were acutely interested in Egyptian and hermetic philosophy and the purpose of the cards began to shift over time. New meanings were ascribed to the illustrations, and the drawings themselves began to change to reflect this thought process. As far as we can tell, some of these earlier iterations were more focused on assisting with inner and personal development as opposed to straightforward fortune telling.

Humans have a stronge desire to make sense of the world that they live in, coupled with an uncanny ability to connect dots where none had previously existed. As time passed and tarot cards became more popular, the narrative attached to them evolved. Authors of the age began to write books and theories about the origins of these divine cards, reinforcing the occult ideas and mystical symbolism painted onto each one. Eliphas Levi wrote The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic in the 1800s; this book is a key piece that led to the modern assumption that tarot had always been tied to the ancient mystical arts around the world, in spite of the lack of true historical documentation.

That being said, there is still a certain allure to the cards that depict the human story so beautifully. The cards portray the characters of our lives- they are full of heroes and villains, successes and failures. Over time they have been given allegorical power that symbolizes our journey from birth to death- adventure, betrayal, love, sacrifice, innocence, and enlightenment. This is where their modern power lies.

I will be honest- I am not the kind of girl who believes that the spirits are whispering to my cards and telling me the secrets of the universe. But I do still fully accept and appreciate that they carry significant power. as I have learned to read them, I have discovered a simple truth: we are all on a journey searching for happiness and enlightenment. The tarot is relatable and vague enough to apply to most situations. What it does is give people permission to view their problems from the safety of a new perspective. You can let your mind wander to what is truly bothering you and glean the meaning that you are looking for. It gives you permission to think and accept the thoughts that you already have buried in your mind. Perhaps you already know that the relationship you are in is toxic to you- the cards help you put those feelings into words. I believe their original use as a tool for self development is still the most accurate one there is.

And, if nothing else, they are a fantastic way to pull a story out of a plot hole you’ve written yourself into. Don’t know what to do with Toby after his shinanigans in chapter three? Pull a card and see what awaits his future. Perhaps it will be a three of swords (heartbreak and betrayal), or the wheel of fortune (aka the karma card), maybe he deserves an eight of cups (leaving the safety of what he knows in search for something better), or, if he’s been really bad, a good ol’ fashioned tower card (a sudden change, the thing that he dreads more than anything coming to pass). The possibilities are truly endless.

So in the spirit of my new certification as a tried-and-true Tarot reader, I decided to do a reading for myself and this blog. It was actually kind of fun. I did a basic 3-card spread (there are literally thousands you can choose from). This is what I got:

Justice in this particular position tells me that there was a large decision in my past that led me to the specific place that I am at in my life. In relation to this blog, the first thing that came to mind was my decision to go back to school full time while attempting to simultaneously work over 40 hours a week, maintaining a fairly busy family/personal life, and still making time to write. It should come as no surprise to anyone (except me) that this plan failed spectacularly. My writing took the biggest hit; I didn’t have the time or the energy after all of my other obligations were done. And while I absolutely loved being back in school, the personal price was too steep. My writing was the way I felt grounded, it filled my soul in a way that nothing else could. Sacrificing that time left me feeling like a rowboat unmoored in the ocean.

It led me directly to card number 2: the five of pentacles. It’s a sad looking card, isn’t it? This one is all about needing help, being down on your luck, and feeling like an outsider. The picture really tells the whole story. That was the very definition of me without my writing. I lost touch with who I was at the moment in my life when I needed it the most. My writing is my soul in physical form; when I sacrificed that I lost the most fundamental part of who I am. I felt one-dimensional, left out of the vibrant colors of my own life. I needed to find my way back.

That desperate need to rediscover my personal joy and creative spirit pushed me right to the final card: the two of wands. This little gem is all about reflection and opportunity. It symbolizes your need to search for the right path to follow. You have the tools and the ability, hell, the world is literally in the palm of your hand. But you have to find your place in this world, you must search for the direction that is calling to you. For me, the answer was simple: find my creativity again, start putting pen to paper and toss these words back out into the world. I missed this, far more than I wanted to admit.

This is the beauty of the cards: they give you the distance you need to admit hard truths. They helped me acknowledge the guilt I felt for abandoning the blog, the fear that paralyzed me these last few months when I couldn’t figure out where to start to get back to it. And the inevitable pride I felt when I finally broke down the wall and took the first step towards myself again- rediscovering the path I never should have left.

The cards may not have told me that the computer was going to crash, but they helped me figure out why I felt like I had crashed. I think I’m okay with that particular plot twist.

Camp NaNoWriMo on the Horizon

Holy guacamole Batman, I can’t believe that time is already upon us once again. My literary lovelies, my wordy birdies, my alliteration afficionados: camp nano will be back in full swing this April, and for any of you planners (and a few of you plantser) out there- now is the time to get started.

A few of you may be wondering what kind of gibberish is escaping my keyboard today, but never fear- I won’t leave you hanging out in the cold today.

So, a quick breakdown for those who have never heard of Nano: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual writing challenge that takes place every November. The brave souls who choose to gather their writerly weapons and embark on the ambitious quest have a single challenge: write 50,000 in 30 days. You can share in your successes and failures on the message boards, full of thousands of other writers who are just as crazy as you.

But what about the other eleven months of the year, you ask? Oh, how glad I am that you brought it up. These brave warriors armed with their pens and laptops started to get anxious when they weren’t engaged in their quests. They knew that any brave adventurer needed to train, to prepare for their daring November mission. So they created the notorious Camp. Think of it like Camp Half-Blood (for you Percy Jackson lovers), but for the writerly world. This Camp is a safe haven for the writer, meeting in April and July every year.

But don’t worry, my daring friends- you need not travel far to engage in this adventure. This Camp is a virtual endeavor- you sign up, create a project, and can even join a cabin. The cabins are probably my favorite part. You can join a group of other writers and have your very own private message board. You can meet other people who are just as crazy as you, bond over books, snacks and beverages, share stories, obstacles and successes. You can cheer each other on and participate in short writing challenges to boost your word counts. I’ve met many amazing people that I have kept in touch with over the years. I’ve made connections forged in the fires of the pages, bound together through the fluid chains of words.

Another feature you get to see during Camp that you don’t get for your November challenge: customizable goals. During Camp you can do whatever you want- you can set your finish line anywhere you would like. You can be ambitious and go for the coveted Double Nano (100,000 words), or go lower if you know that life is going to be crazy for you that month. You can set your goal to words count, pages, hours- anything you wish.

But wait, you say- I am not a novelist, why on Middle Earth would I want to join a writing challenge? Another good question, my fearless friend. With Nano you can sign up for any kind of project under the sun. Do you want to start writing in your journal more? Register it as your project- you are now mired in the pits of nonfiction (but beware, my dear- reality is often much stranger than the fiction that we write). Or perhaps you are hoping to pump up your blog (I know most of my dear readers have one), well sign up and start creating those beautiful posts so many are waiting to gobble up. The choice is your, my friends- this is a choose-your-own-adventure of a sort.

The challenge, if you choose to accept it, can be found at Camp NaNoWriMo. It is never too late, my friends. We shall embark on April 1st, but you can still join after that start date. You will always be welcomed with open arms in this crowd. I’ve never found the support that these fellow adventurers have bestowed upon me.

In the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore, “Let is step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress adventure.” Writing is predominantly a solitary endeavor, perhaps finding a few friends along the road wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. Are you ready? The world needs to hear your words, find others who will raise their voices with you.

I’m a Writer, I’m a Runner (and how they are the same damn thing)

I am not a natural runner, never have been, never will be. This is a fact that used to make me rage internally. I wanted to be that girl; there's a version of myself that I envision in some alternate reality in a galaxy far, far away. She's fit, lean, and ready to jog a marathon on a whim with a smile on her face and a light glistening of sweat that makes her look slightly magical as opposed to gross and smelly. The reality is far less appealing. I huff, I puff, I scrunch my brows into pained concentration. My hair jettisons out into a frizzy halo and the color of my face could rival the ripest tomato. I don't have any real form to speak of and could probably be confused with Phoebe from Friends as she's rushing to Central Perk. I am not a pretty runner. I don't say that to be modest or cheeky, it's true. When I was younger I even stopped for a while after being made fun of for it- my brittle self-esteem at that awkward age could not quite take it, so I avoided partaking in the activity for years- at least not when other people might see me.

phoebe-running-style-o

And so everyone who knew me was quite shocked when I agreed to take part in a multi-day, two-hundred (ish) mile relay race. I was dreading it, if I'm being honest, but I had a team of eleven other people who were depending on me- peer pressure can be a truly motivating force.

A few things happened that I never expected while I was out there on those roads, pushing through mental roadblocks and physical limitations, taking a pounding from the relentless sun and basking in the beauty of a star filled sky. I fell in love with this difficult challenge that forced me to find a sense of grit we lose in this world of modern convenience.

I didn't think I could do it- I went into the challenge simply hoping to survive long enough to cross that finish line. But there's something refreshingly human in the desire to prove yourself wrong; when you dig deep and find that resilient spirit you tucked away so many years ago. There's something empowering when you stand there staring at your own expectations of what you are capable of, holding your weaknesses in your hands and smashing them to the ground with a war cry of your own invention. There is something invigorating when you find a shard of strength you didn't know you had embedded deep your soul; that moment when you realize you actually did the one thing you always thought would be impossible. You become a fighter, you become more than you were yesterday.

There is something that we always seem to forget about grit and strength; contrary to what Instagram would have us believe- it is not always pretty, it does not always look empowering, and things do not suddenly become easy simply because you have changed your frame of mind. You don't suddenly morph into Mulan and start kicking ass without an ounce of trouble. I did more than I thought possible- but I still looked like a burnt puffer fish running down those roads. I was still in pain, my muscles screamed, my lungs went into panic mode. I still had to fight for ever inch of ground I gained, and I had to keep up a constant dialog with my own brain to convince it that my body could keep pushing. Success does not come easily, it does not always look like those inspirational pictures with the cliche captions on Pinterest. Life is messy, it is hard, and you will have to fight for all of it.

When you are out there pounding the pavement with no other distractions to steal your precious attention; your mind starts to wander into places you don't often visit. You find yourself searching for inspiration, for a reason to keep on moving forward. As I was out there on the road I thought a lot about life and what I wanted from it (apart from surviving to the finish). I thought about this past year and all of the steps that I have and have not taken towards my dreams. I thought about school, about work, about my writing. And I realized how similar my running and my writing actually were; it made each step a tiny bit easier when I realized that I already knew how to do this. I find my grit when I'm writing, I push myself, I battle with my inner critic who wants me to quit- I silence that voice. I knew how to run because I knew how to write. Knowing the patterns of the struggle reminded me that I know how to overcome them.

They say that running just entails putting one foot in front of the other, and writing is merely stringing words in a row. And yet to those who love them, they are so much more than that. These two completely different hobbies require the same frame of mind. You have to want it, you have to push, you have to fight for every advantage. And the enemy you are going up against isn't some scary monster- all too often it is that little voice in your own head saying 'you can't do this, you aren't good enough, why bother? Just stop.' You have to fight that voice with everything inside of you even when you don't believe your own inspiring words, even when you start to fall for those lies that little voice tells.

I'm a master of excuses. I can come up with ten thousand three hundred and thirty two reasons not to do something- each one more creative than the last. I do this on days I should be writing, and I especially do this on days when I'm supposed to hit that pavement. And yet with both the real struggle is simply beginning. Once you start- the world is fine, and you might as well keep on going. You have to fight the urge to be comfortable, you have to be willing to push yourself when you don't want to. You have to want it more than you want the bubble you hide in.

You have to be willing to put in the work if you want it to look effortless. I wrote a lot of horrible pieces when I started- and sometimes I still do (a lot of times). I had to keep practicing, putting words to paper as a foundation. I knew that I could sculpt it later, but I needed something tangible to work with. I had to start if I wanted to get better. It's easy to read a book and say 'I will never be that good, I am not that talented.' It's easy to forget that you are witnessing merely the tip of the ice burg that author has carved. There were months of awful work behind that. There were first drafts that were painful and difficult. There was editing and redrafting and polishing- all to create this little collection of pages that look so effortlessly beautiful.

Running is no different; it does not come easy to most people. When you see them on the road cruising along like they're floating on air- that's because they worked for it. You didn't see all of those months when they were gasping for air and pushing to reach the next telephone pole. You didn't see the struggle, you are witnessing the outcome of their hard work. They had days where the road kicked their ass, they had a time when the idea of running an entire mile without stopping seemed impossible. They had weeks where they didn't feel like they were improving at all. They would push just a little bit farther every day. They had to fight to make it look so easy, and truthfully, inside they are probably still waging that war as you watch them. These big rewards were not meant to be easy, these dreams are not ones you will accomplish unless you truly and deeply want it.

You will have to work hard, even when every piece of you is resisting. Writing when the muse is with you; that is the most beautiful time for any author- when the words flow freely like a raging river and the characters transform into living being right before your eyes. Writing is easy when the stars align just for you. But the truth is, this won't happen often. Most of your time will be spent pushing through the mental roadblock, and that fickle little muse will be off indulging some other wayward fancy. You will have to carry the story on your own. You will have to find something inside of you that pushes you forward, something that will keep you sitting there stringing one word behind another. Out on that road you will find the same thing. There is a period where the steps are easy and the pace is fast; you could go in for miles- so it seems. You feel great and your mind is keenly in tune with your body. Perhaps you have someone near you to keep you motivated; I do my best running at the beginning of a race when you are surrounded in a pack of likeminded individuals embarking on the same adventure- I beat personal records right in that sweet spot. But it doesn't always feel like that. In fact, a lot running (for me) consists of an inner dialog that I cannot turn off. It's my voice yelling to reach that next marker, to push it just a little bit farther. Most of it- for me- is hard work. A lot of really hard work.

When I did that relay- about eighty percent of the time I was not pleased with being there. It hurt- my muscles ached, there was a stitch in my side that would not go away, the sun left me parched, my face was so red police officers were actually concerned for my safety, and I was breathing like an elephant in need of an inhaler. It was not glamorous, it was not this magical moment that the fitness vloggers out there would lead you to believe. Pixie dust might sprinkle itself on them when they hit the road with their running shoes on, but not this Princess. But I was still out there. I was still fighting for every step, every inch, every mile with every fiber of my body. I didn't quit. Just like I don't quite writing when it's hard and the muse is gone.

The thing that I love about these two very different adventures; they both make me feel alive. They both push me to do things I would never typically attempt. They force me to see things from new eyes and to turn that gaze back on myself, to see me for who I truly am when my shell had been broken open and I am just a girl losing her way through life.

I am a writer; I spend my time telling stories, weaving together inspiring tales of flawed people. But this time- just this once- I got to be the character in my own story. I got to be the one to push myself, believing I was crazy the entire time. I got to have an adventure. I ate at a place called Bob's Burgers (if you've seen the animated show, then this might make you smile- they were delicious and the waitress was amazing). I also got locked in the restaurant after closing on accident. I stood in the Puget Sound as freezing cold water lapped at my knees watching the sunset with five amazing people. I walked to the dock in the middle of the night and sat on the stairs that lead to nowhere, drinking in the sights of the lights glinting from the opposite shore. I danced in a phone booth wearing a sloth costume. I ran to the Canadian border and set foot in another country (albeit fleetingly). I slept on the floor of a high school with a few hundred strangers. I crossed Deception Pass at two in the morning (albeit in a van- running it was not my challenge to face this year). I listened to my shoes hit the pavement as I ran through fields in the middle of night with nothing but my thoughts to keep my company. I found peace in a crazy world during one of the most exciting challenges I've been privy to in a long time. I cheered for strangers and had those who've never met me shout out words of encouragement (and the cowbells, oh how could I forget the cowbells). I crossed that finish line. And when I was done I stood on the back of the ferry and watched the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen- I immersed myself in it so much that I didn't even stop to get a picture (sorry friends, but I suspect it's something that just wouldn't have come out quite the same when you weren't in person). I celebrated with wine from a can, like a classy lady.

I fell in love with something that scared me. Just like with my writing, I was reminded how important real adventures are in this short time we have on earth. I was forced to truly look into myself and ask if I was the person I wanted to be- and how could I reach out to that girl? My stories taught me how to be inspired and brave; but it took a real adventure to show me what I was capable of. These two things are not so different. When used together, they can help one another thrive. My stories helped my running, and my running is helping me live more stories. I have more grit than I realized. I am stronger than I thought. Writing an adventure can be a beautiful thing, but do not forget to live them as well.

Waiting in the Wings (for the ones who pushed me to greatness)

In life we are constantly in search for our own accomplishments. We strive. We hustle, we push; we fail and we succeed. And yet so often we forget about all of the hands who were there to help us along the way; how many people stood in the background while we thundered through our moment of glory, basking in our own personal spotlight. Today I was so quickly reminded what a simple kind word or thoughtful gift could mean to someone in the midst of the struggle.

Nothing will bring you back to reality like bonking at a physical fitness challenge. I am currently participating in Ragnar Relay- as I mentioned yesterday; two vans, twelve people, two hundred (ish) miles in two days and one night. I didn’t train like I should have, and thus- it has been a challenge, to put it mildly. 

I was terrified when my teammate showed up to our exchange full of energy and good vibes, slapped that bracelet on my wrist and sent me on my way to run my very first leg. You see, even though you sign up with large teams and spend your days in the company of five other people- the actual act of running is pretty solitary. It’s you and the road, two feet stomping pavement as you follow the signs (and other runners) to that ellusive exchange zone. You get to take your magic slap bracelet and tap someone else to begin their own portion of the journey. 

My leg was at 11:00, the day was hot, the wind was scarce and the sun was set to extra strength. In the first part of my run one of the officers patrolling the course actually stopped to ask me if I was okay. After explaining that yes, I was, and my face just always gets that red when I’m running, I trundled on my merry way. But the problem was- my body wasn’t ready for this sudden jolt of activity. I was not physically prepared for the challenge I signed up for.

So I struggled, and I walked (a lot!). I pushed myself as hard as I could go as person after person passed me by (which is actually saying a lot because my speed walking if nothing to sneeze at). Every person who passed by called out words of encouragement; which made a big difference to me. They recognized my struggle (which can be embarrassing), but also acknowledged and appreciated the fact that I was still out there in pain, exhausted, sweating- and still putting one foot in front of the other at whatever pace I could muster.

There is a difference in the type of support that people offer you; the officer, who meant well, approached me as if he didn’t think I could do it, concerned for my safety he wanted to make sure I was okay. This is something I deeply appreciate, but his lack of confidence in my abilities forced me to question what I was doing there that much more. It took the winds out of my ebbing sails. And yet the other runners out there never once questioned my ability to be ranked amongst their numbers; they saw the exact same stuggle as that officer, but they approached me as if me finishing that leg was a guarantee. They had faith that I could do it because I wanted to do it. They had no hesitation when they offered me their simple unwavering support. 

And then there was the van of amazing women who completely changed the tone of my first leg. They had a runner on the road who was consistently near me, so they would pass me and see me as they waited for her. Instead of only caring for their own person, they paid attention to me as well. Even going so far as to pull over to ask me if I needed a little bit of water. This may not sound like much, but it was exactly what I needed at the perfect time. I was hitting a wall and wondering why the hell I had even signed up- and their words of encouragement a small gift of water completely changed my perspective. It reinvigorated my body and soul for the road that was still winding ahead of me. 

There are moments in our lives when we are the runner, and there are times when we are the cheerleaders. Both are vitally important. Just a small act of kindness, a tiny nod of encouragement can morph a struggle into a beautiful experience. Without the people on that road pushing me forward, the mental struggle I was waging could have easily changed my entire experience.

When you are standing on the sidelines in someone else’s story, never forget how important the supporting characters can be. Always offer a kind word; you never know if that will be the tipping point that will propel them to greatness. And when you are standing in the spotlight, carrying the show- don’t forget all of those people standing behind you who have helped you on your path. Don’t let them forget that they are a big part of the reason you are standing where you are.

So to everyone who yells out words of encouragement to friends and strangers alike; to all of you out there who rang your cowbells and cheered me on as I pushed past my own endurance- thank you. To the man with the rainbow shorts, long beard and no shirt- you made my day with your encouraging words and contagious enthusiasm. And to the ladies of the black and pink van who stopped to help a runner in need of both physical and emotional replenishment- thank you, I would not have had the same experience without you. You are truly inspiring, thank you for welcoming me to this amazing adventure.

Excited amazement that I actually survived my first leg- in the van on the way to support our next runner as he hit the road (and killed, by the way- shout out to Cody)