artist date

Journal-Making, Excuses, and the Deafening Sound of Silence

Can you tell how excited I am? I had to get a photo of my completed Buttonhole Stitch Journal with the master Bari Zaki from Bari Zaki Studio in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.

Can you tell how excited I am? I had to get a photo of my completed Buttonhole Stitch Journal with the master Bari Zaki from Bari Zaki Studio in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.

“Realist shit I ever read: ‘People pray for the cake. Then God gives them the batter, eggs, oil, icing, a pan, an oven, they get frustrated and leave the kitchen.’ Let that sink. Sometimes you have everything in front of you, but how bad do you want it?” – courtesy of The Female Hustlers (via @TheFemaleHustlers on Instagram). 

Excuses are so easy to make, aren’t they? Even when opportunities present themselves, we’ll find a way to give up lest we fail. It’s easier not to try something because failing is hard. 

My Pretty Finished Buttonhole Stitch Journal.

My Pretty Finished Buttonhole Stitch Journal.

Since January of this year, I’ve tried hard to push myself to overcome my fear of trying something new or reaching out to a big-name prospective client or editor because I may not be a good fit. Some months are better than others. And one media outlet (you likely know which one) makes me nervous to pitch because I feel like I have to read every single issue over the past 12 months to *really* have a good handle on what and whom to pitch. Again, dumb. I know I can do it but I’ve already pitched twice and gotten two rejections from two different editors. But here’s the kicker: both responded. One liked my story idea (the other thought it was fun and funny but wasn’t sure it’d be a good fit for his larger readership). I know I can do it. Still, I’ve not pitched anyone at this outlet since January. I need to overcome this fear and get another pitch out there. Sooner than later.

One more - this time standing up. Isn’t she pretty?

One more - this time standing up. Isn’t she pretty?

Until then, I’ve explored other things I’ve been wanting to try. Today, I made my very first journal – from scratch! The process couldn’t have been lovelier, from the moment Bari Zaki responded to my email asking about upcoming courses, to her scheduling one around my calendar because I was so excited, to the actual class. Touching the Japanese paper that would become my journal shell, using my bone folder to create the creases, threading my journal using wax thread. 

The whole experience was both meditative and stressful because I so wanted to do it right. In the end, under Bari’s careful and patient guidance, I created what I think is one of the most beautiful things I’ve made using my hands. I love it and while I don’t want to use it because I want to keep it and look at, I also want to use it because I want to journal in it. I’m hooked and I can’t wait to take a Coptic Stitch class with her next. If you’re in Chicago and have any interest in papers or journals, do yourself a favor and check out Bari Zaki Studio in Lincoln Square.  

Balancing Noise, Silence, and the Novelty of The Light Phone

Finally, if you’ve been reading my blog posts every month, you know I’ve been intentionally trying to be more mindful of my space – physical, mental and emotional. I’ve been taking myself out to Artist Dates, meditating (167 days straight and still going strong!) and journaling daily, and reducing my screen time, especially around social media. I can’t shut off social media entirely since it’s part of the work I do, but I can control how much time I spend on it and I have been. 

Cal Newport recommended a phone called The Light Phone in his latest book, Digital Minimalism. There is a wait list for the phone, so I added my name. It’s a $150 phone that makes calls. That’s it. For those of us who feel uncomfortable leaving our homes without the safety of our phones, this is one solution to leaving your smartphone behind yet still having access to your close family members or to whomever you need to stay connected.   

The Need To Spend More Time With Friends And Being Silent

There are two things I’m experimenting with right now: trying to find a balance between spending more time with friends in real life and spending more time in silence. I’ve been pretty successful with the former, the latter…not so much. I’m trying. It’s shockingly hard (to me, anyway) to appreciate silence. 

What new things have you tried since the beginning of this year? And any advice on how to enjoy the silence? I’m all ears (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it!).

Do What You Love Is Bad Career Advice, Or Is It?

Hatchards in London is the United Kingdom’s oldest bookshop, selling books since 1797. It was so fun to visit and, yes, I bought a few books to bring back to the States!

Hatchards in London is the United Kingdom’s oldest bookshop, selling books since 1797. It was so fun to visit and, yes, I bought a few books to bring back to the States!

This weekend, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at one of my alma maters about becoming a communications consultant and entrepreneur and leaving a stable corporate job. When someone in the audience asked how to go about securing new business and focus your energy, I advised to focus on doing what you love because you’ll attract work you want to do. Following my answer, someone else in the audience said something to the effect that while the mantra of “doing what you love” is nice, she wanted to caution people that sometimes reality dictates the kind of work that comes your way.  

What I heard is that doing what you love is bad career advice. I think she’s wrong.

To use another too-often used mantra: Life Is Short. So damn short. Why would we want to work on stuff we hate? Of course, we all have bills to pay and work we have to do that we don’t always love. I get that. And when I first began my business 12 years ago this month, I took on work for clients that I wondered whether we’d be a good fit. Some were, some weren’t. But every single one of those clients and editors taught me something – even if it was that I don’t love working on those types of projects and to steer away from them.

In the course of these twelve years, though, I also learned the kinds of clients and work I love doing and want to attract more – work that focuses on: art, architect and design (including landscape architecture and gardens and trees), environment and sustainability, food and food justice, health (especially mental health), travel and culture, and women’s and children’s rights. It’s a lot, right? I also really enjoy writing profiles and biographies, as well as features. I love interviewing people and learning their stories. I love telling their stories. I find research fun. This is why I love my work. I’ve written and/or worked on all of these topics in one way or another during the last 12 years.

Rather than take on work you don’t love, why not focus on attracting work you do love? And what better way to do that by doing what you love in the first place? Volunteer for organizations you feel strongly about and network within that space, attend conferences or read trade magazines in the topics you’re interested in, connect with people already working in companies that you might like to work with in the future and let them know you’re available if they need someone like you. The work may not come immediately and it could very well take years, but by constantly putting yourself out there and doing work you love, you’ll start to earn a reputation and that becomes your business card.

Deliberate Freelancer

Recently, I was recently interviewed for Deliberate Freelancer, a new podcast by Melanie Padgett Powers on how to build a successful freelance business. During the podcast, Melanie asked me how I organize my day and stay on task. I’m a planner and I like to plan out my month in advance, then by week, then by day, then by hour and then by 15-minute increments.

Right now, I’m using an excel spreadsheet (you can view a template of it here) because I can drill down that deeply into my day. Similar to a Bullet Journal, what doesn’t get done on one day “migrates” to the next day (or gets saved for next month, depending on the project). The idea is that every project or work on this week-at-a-glance or specific day of the week has to work for its spot. Further, each day has a financial goal attached to it so that by week’s end, I’ll hit my financial goal. If I have a meeting out of the office that isn’t going to generate income (let’s say a networking event), that gets captured on one day but that means another day has to make up for this non-revenue-generating day.  

I’m fascinated with how people plan their days and hit their revenue goals. This format works for me but I realize this can put some people over the edge because it’s so specific. They prefer to have more fluid schedules. That’s totally fine with me – but that approach doesn’t work for me. I’m deadline-driven and goal-oriented. If I don’t have a deadline, it won’t get done. If I don’t have a goal, it’s much harder to get motivated to complete something.

Embracing Creative Pursuits

Appreciating the need to give myself more space to be creative, I’ve been intentionally seeking and embracing more opportunities to welcome creativity and the arts into my life.

As the weather improves in Chicago (thank goodness, the rain this week notwithstanding), I’m so excited to get outdoors more. I’ve signed up for a bookbinding workshop at Bari Zaki (come join me!), booked ceramics classes through the Chicago Park District, and bought tickets to see a friend’s improv show with my girlfriends. My friend Katie inspired me to take up drawing (thanks, Katie!). I’ve visited a Chicago arts shop and bought some art supplies to try some new mixed media projects. I scheduled a baby goat yoga session (don’t judge - I’ve been wanting to do this for years!).

All this to say, I’m ready to play. I’m continuing my weekly Artist Dates, which have been truly a delight to plan and do every week. I’m seeing my friends in real life more regularly, which has been a joy. I’m experimenting with new work and clients, with some surprising results. I’m working out more regularly. It’s all good.

My family and I visited London last month to spend time with friends and family. One of things on my bucket list was to go to the U.K.’s oldest bookshop named    Hatchards    (photo at the very top). Those who know me well know I adore book shops in every form, from old bookstores like Hatchards to Little Free Libraries. I had the pleasure of finding a darling Little Free Library in an old red phone booth! Too bad I couldn’t fit the whole booth in my suitcase. Now I want to build something like this in front of my home. Hmmm, a summer project, perhaps? Anyone want to help me build this?

My family and I visited London last month to spend time with friends and family. One of things on my bucket list was to go to the U.K.’s oldest bookshop named Hatchards (photo at the very top). Those who know me well know I adore book shops in every form, from old bookstores like Hatchards to Little Free Libraries. I had the pleasure of finding a darling Little Free Library in an old red phone booth! Too bad I couldn’t fit the whole booth in my suitcase. Now I want to build something like this in front of my home. Hmmm, a summer project, perhaps? Anyone want to help me build this?

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud - Week 6

Daffodils William Wadsworth

Many of us live in a world of constant chaos. Noise surrounds us: both audible and visible. It’s no wonder by the end of the day we’re fried, hoping we can find solace in the comfort of a hot bath or warm cup of tea.

In his poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, which I share below thanks to The Poetry Foundation which has it on its website, Wordsworth welcomes the silence, calling it the bliss of solitude. He ends his poem with:

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

Silence and mindfulness are not something many of us, I’ve quickly realized, are comfortable with even though research has shown that silence helps to reduces stress. I’ll raise my hand and admit I was among those people. While I need complete silence to write and work, silence when I’m not working felt off to me. Like I needed to fill in the time and space with something, anything. But I pressed on, hoping I could get to a place where it wouldn’t feel odd.

This week I ran the first time without my ear buds playing music to help me. I forced myself to take in my surroundings, hear the birds chirping, the kids laughing at the playground during their recess, the hum and honks of the cars driving past me. What I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t just the new sounds I was hearing, but the new smells I was inhaling, too. Without the music to distract me, all of my senses were on alert - including my sense of smell. I took deeper breaths to take in the intoxicating scents of spring - little wisps of sweet hyacinths and the odor of manure mulch a landscaping service was unpacking from their trucks near a home.

I missed listening to my music and using the music to help me get through my run but then as I paused to think about it, why was I using the music to help me “get through” something? Is it possible I might enjoy running more if I was more attuned to how my body was reacting during the run? I don’t know but I plan to found out next time I run outdoors. Right now, I still plan to put those earbuds in when I run at the gym.

In the meantime, if you made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope you’ll enjoy a moment of silence today, as I did, and seek out some daffodils that are finally making an appearance in my part of the world.


I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud 

By William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.