In the fall of 2016, I hiked to the Upper Meadow to gain some perspective and to write. I challenged myself to begin a story. Since fiction is mostly an unfamiliar genre for me, it felt awkward and uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I began writing in my journal without expectation, motivation, or any concept of a plot. After scratching out a few paragraphs about n Old Couple waking up on a winter morning, I stood up and I continued on my hike.
A few weeks later, feeling overwhelmed with how to solve a problem like Global Warming, I decided to channel my feeling "too small to make any difference" into writing a story that would answer that very question: what do you do about Global Warming? My story had already began in a fantastical world, and it seemed appropriate to continue to dream up a solution in a world where humans, plants, and animals can work together to try to return a healthy balance to their mutual environment.
I continued to write my story, Woven Woodland, over the course of 2017, and decided that in 2018, I'd like to create illustrations for it. Already in 2017, the Old Couple debuted as puppets and became movie stars in my short stop-motion movies. Now, I'll be posting bits and pieces of the story along with accompanying text to bring this contemporary folk tale to you.
I believe that it's through storytelling that we connect with people, concepts, and worlds unknown to us. Through nurturing this relationship that begins in story, we can hopefully be inspired to make changes in our relationship with our natural self and our environment.
Begin reading Woven Woodland by clicking here! Enjoy!
Mondays can be slow moving in my house, and today was no exception. It was a struggle to wake up in the darkness of rain. It seemed like the sun wasn't ever going to rise, and when I rubbed Penelope's back to rouse her from sleep, she commented, "It seems like the middle of the night." After a breakfast of chilaquiles and swapping fleeces for winter coats, the kids were off, with umbrellas in hand, to catch the bus.
It's an unusually warm day and I swear it sounds different outside. Is that possible? Does the temperature, humidity, and precipitation affect sound? Anyway, as I made my way to the barn in the strange stillness, I heard that I was not alone. Ten deer were nearby---running and reveling in the humidity and warmth. They seemed to be chasing each other and stretching their legs for the sheer pleasure of it.
At the barn, the cats lingered. They were fascinated with the water moving beneath the ice on a partially frozen stream. Ninja kept sticking her paw into the frozen water. I laughed knowing there weren't any fish--just bubbles and current, but I think that she was happy to be hunting. Winter can be boring and restrictive for the cats, too.
I set up a grooming station (stool and brush) near the ducks in order to spend sometime with them. The cats followed me. Ninja, in particular, gets jealous. She requires periodic and reassuring pets. The ducks, however, kept their eyes on Ninja quacking to let her know that she should keep her distance from them. She minded them.
I always love the peace of grooming and snuggling with bunnies, but this morning, it was near euphoria to be outside and not be cold. It's been so long! I hadn't realized how fun it is to just notice the outside world, to watch the animals, to get lost following squirrels or birds. I love winter, but I largely experience it in motion--going for brisk hikes, rushing between house and barn, and blinking to keep your eyeballs from freezing.
So, today's challenge for Year of Play is to watch animals this week to see how they play. Notice how they are interacting with their environments. Does the temperature or weather influence their moods and behavior?
Throughout 2017, I consistently felt called to play more. I was taking life too seriously and neglecting my playful side. Furthermore, I believe, and studies show that we, humans and animals, learn through playing and that play is necessary for existence. My artist friend, blogger, and twitch content creator, wrote an elightening post on her dartily.com blog about the science behind play, which you can read here.
I began to wonder how I could introduce play into my own artwork, and how I could invite others to join in the fun. When I first dreamed up this project, I thought of it as a research project, but that sounded like an awful lot of work. So instead, I am simply trying to observe play from the experts, children and am trying to remember how I played as a child. I will be sharing my observations in blog posts periodically and offer an invitation to a playful challenge.
Today's observation is doodling. What happens when you cover your table with white butcher paper and allow yourself to fill in the space? There are no limits, no parameters. You let your self-conscious dictate the content. The mindless process of scratching repetitive lines or spirals are soothing. There is no need for composition or meaning. It's just play. Overtime, the butcher paper becomes littered with layers of doodles in all kinds of media: pencil, marker, and pen. Characters emerge from hash marks, whole landscapes exist next to math problems, fragmented words become become incidental poems, and someone figures out how to make a rubbing of the table top protector.
These doodles become the backdrop of the "real" work that his happening on top. Pig faces stare back at you as you work, and when your mind wanders, you can draw a meaningless geometric shape in some blank corner. You find time to play among all of the work, and maybe that creative discharge leads to the next idea or is a sufficient break from the concentrated thinking.
I'm so impressed and inspired by my kids' doodles, which are pictured below. I think those restaurants that allow patrons to draw on their papered tables or on their walls are smart for disarming the diners. Put a pencil in your hand, let your mind wander as it did in the margins of your history notebook, and see what comes out. If you do, let me know what happened! Happy doodling!
Listen, I love a good new year. I love a new calendar, new lists, new outlooks, and temporal cycles. I love resolutions, goals, and second chances. There is so much hope in a new year being born. This year, I feel there less baggage attached to my resolutions, less fear. I've grown accustomed to the mystery and the uncertainty. Mystery is my friend.
And that said, I'm going to immediately contradict myself in outlining four things that I feel fairly certain about it. They are four things that have helped me to exist as a human person, and I carry them with me into 2018. In addition, I will list for all to see my resolutions for 2018. Hopefully, in a year, I will have some wisdom to speak about them. Okay, here they are, my life lessons from 2017:
1. Make My Bed Everyday
I used to be a nonbeliever in the bed making ritual. It seemed like a blind faith chore that only non-questioning, type-A hyper-tidy, do-gooders did. So, for years and years, I never made my bed--not even in college. (Sorry roommates for enduring my mess). Then, I heard a wise woman on a podcast tell me to make my bed. She told me to believe in it. So, I tried it out and have not looked back. I am a faithful servant now. I full on drank the Kool-Aid. Here's the thing. I could have a day full of doubts and fear, of poor decisions, of dirty dishes and dust-bunnies, of a vegetable-less dinner, and I still made my bed. I still did one thing that an adult does, and no matter what my actions, I made my bed and will lie in at night for eight glorious hours of rejuvenation. (More on the eight hours later). Your made bed is a second chance---everyday. It's also the little things that add up and make bigger things easier. Making my bed makes it easier to eat more vegetables, or something like that.
2. Make Breakfast For The Family
"What? Is this 1950? Doesn't Anna have a degree in Women's Studies?" Here me out. This past year, I found myself at home in the mornings and drowning in the school time morning routine, which many of you may recognize as an hour of pure chaos and torture full of nagging children to brush teeth, searching for lost shoes, grumbling about making lunches, and remembering to do last minute homework. I realized that my very responsible Abraham was waking up to a cold and dark kitchen as he made himself his lunch, often his sister's lunch, and breakfast. I thought to myself, "What the hell are you doing?" By this time, Pat had taken over the majority of dinner preparations, but I could take care of breakfast. I wondered what would happen if Abe walked down to a warmly lit kitchen that smelled like homemade scones, hot oatmeal, or sauteed potatoes. What if instead of feeling anxious for the day, we met each other around the kitchen island to eat a warm meal, help each other make lunches, and talked through what was on our minds? People often talk about the importance of family dinners, but I have to plug the family breakfasts. Since I have the luxury of being at home in the mornings, it is my responsibility to give my kids a positive morning that makes them feel safe, less anxious, and well fed. Soon Abe would ask before bed, "What's for breakfast?" and I learned that instead of being a stressful, chaotic panic, breakfast could be my favorite time of the day. Of course, there are days when I fall short, or the kids are in a particularly disgruntled mood. In that case, when even scones don't help, I put music on and dance or sing until my kids are embarrassed for me, and they are more than happy to run from the house to the bus stop to escape it.
This was the year that I came back to regular exercise. I remember sitting in a doctor's office a couple of years ago discussing my depression and anxiety. He asked, "Can't you exercise or meditate?" I wanted to punch him in the face. No, I couldn't! I had no time and more so, was struggling to just brush my teeth. That's how depression works, Dr. Dude. I needed the meds, and he was happy to give them to me. I've since weened off of them, and have come to realize the while I can manage without the meds, I can not do without regular exercise. I need it for my brain. Walking is my drug of choice. It works for me. It's simple and free. I walk three miles around my hilly neighborhood. It's enough to get my heart rate up and sweat out the stress and anxiety to reveal me. It enables me to work better. So, I even think of it that way. Walking is work. Thinking happens while walking, and when I don't feel like doing it but do it anyway, it's a physical manifestation of making the impossible happen. So, I put one foot very literally in front of the other until I climb that hill even when it was hard, or really cold, or don't feel like doing it. I think to myself that's the only way I will get anything done or get close to achieving what I want for my career. It's one step in front of the other, one made bed, one blog post until I figure out the next step. Lastly, walking is a way for my hermit self to be in the public--to be seen and to see. I think it's important for me to have a physical presence in the world and my community, and right now as pathetic as it might sound, my neighborhood is it, but I suppose that's a good place to start.
4. Sleep Eight Hours
I've come to this last one kind of late in the year. I've always been someone unwilling to forfeit her sleep. I'm a morning person, a breakfast maker, not a late night owl. I'm pretty sure there is genetic proof of that. Anyway, the research is in (somewhere out there, google it) that every human needs eight hours of sleep, and if evolution could have found a short cut, it would have. It's the way our very mortal bodies are made, and denying sleep, for me, only leads to less focused performance and more depression. For awhile, I was trying to cheat evolution and wake up early to walk, cook, or write, and then promise myself a twenty minute nap in the afternoon before the kids got home. I would slog through the day, gulp extra caffeine, and succumb to the afternoon nap which was fraught with guilt and pressure. I would half-way hyperventilate until I fell asleep just before the kids barged through the door. I never felt refreshed--just sullen and more tired. Since allowing myself to sleep, the whole day has opened up. I'm better able to focus and enjoy being awake. Our subconscious and immune system need time to work-- eight hours, in fact.
Enough back patting! Of course there are plenty of times when I break all of these rules (except making the bed) in a single day, but more often than not, I stick to them, and the sticking to them gets easier. So, it's time to challenge myself again because that is what the Gregorian calendar says to do. Here are my three goals for this year:
1. Meditate Regularly
I tried doing this during the cheating sleep phase of the year, and I would just fall asleep meditating. So, I'm going to try again this year. Meditation is kind of like making the bed for me. I'm doubting the process, but I really hope to be a believer by the end of the year. We'll see. I realize this is a lot harder than making the bed and takes something like a lifetime to get the hang of. So, better start now!
2. Make Money Moves
Now that I have some creative moves under my feet, it's time to get my financial ducks in a row. So, I'm setting some specific goals for this year as well as a general resolution to try to be a better business person which begins by valuing my own work and ends with putting myself into uncomfortable places. Nothing risked. . .
The word "play" has been a recurring theme of 2017. Like, the universe was telling me to play more. When I feel out of control, my natural tendency is to buckle down and sow some punishing structure. (Maybe that is totally apparent in the previous paragraphs). So, I dreamed up this grand research project that would entail reading about play and adults and design curriculum games for myself and others to incorporate play more into the everyday. But then I realize that all sounded like a lot of work, and I have money moves to make. So, I think I'm going to learn from the experts at play: kids and my childhood self. I'm trying to be more observant about how play crosses my path (Even the deer and cats play--reindeer games of course). I want to notice the play, try to incorporate the play, and report about it in a playful way non stressful way. So, this is vague and unspecified and I'm going to leave it at that. Even if all that happens is that I go to more movies. That's fine. Let's see how play evolves in 2018. . .
If you've read this entire post, thank you! Your time is precious, and I appreciate you! Thank you for all of you who stuck with me through 2017. I hope your 2018 is magic, and if you feel like leaving your 2017 wisdom or goals for 2018 in the comments, please do!!!! I want to hear from you!!!!
Welcome 2018! Your arrival is well received, but I must thank 2017 for the good it had to offer, grieve the losses and injuries it brought, and embrace 2018 with its potential for redemption and joy.
On a personal note, I'm looking forward to continuing established projects such as Woolgathering, Spring Bird's newsletter and mediation on the seasons, but also begin some new writing and creative projects, of which I will share more specifics next week!
In the meantime,this is the cover of my January bullet journal. Please download and install as your wall paper on your cell phone or mobile device if you'd like!!! And enjoy the baby fresh days of 2018!! Isn't she a cute baby year?
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.