Balancing goals with serendipity

How do we remain open to serendipity while still aiming at concrete goals? It's a pull back and forth, like a yoga pose, I suppose.

The day my husband came home from work 2 and a half years ago and said that he'd been offered a two-year position in Malaysia, my heart did a flip. Many thoughts went through my head.

Thoughts like, "

Wait, what? Huh? Malaysia? Do I even know exactly where Malaysia is? Near Thailand, right? Oh God, isn't it hot there? I know so little about Malaysia. That's embarrassing! Super embarrassing! How can I move somewhere I know so little about? WHAT THE HECK???


Petronas Towers with birds and a morning moon

It was totally out of the blue for me.

I was on a path, after all. We were on a path. Here. In Bellingham. Weren't we?

For myself, I felt like my artwork and writing were improving, I was getting lots of positive response, I felt closer to being able to better share my art. I felt entrenched in several networks that I loved. It seemed crazy to up and leave.

My husband loved racing his bike here, we had plans for my son for preschool. We owned a house. We were on a path!


Other thoughts went through my head too.


Is this really happening? We could travel a bunch, couldn't we? I'd get to see so many places in SE Asia.  I'd get to meet so many interesting new people. I could bury myself in my work when I wasn't traveling and just sort of retreat, couldn't I? Hmm... tempting. My son could be exposed to different cultures and languages when he's young enough for it to sink in deep. My husband could do something super cool with his work after supporting me for so long with my pipe-dreams. What a crazy opportunity, no? How can I say no when such a fantastic and fascinating opportunity comes my way?"

I couldn't.

We couldn't.

So I, we, said yes.

And I'll never regret that we did so.

The last few years I've grown and changed and seen so many interesting places and learned so many interesting things. My art has grown and changed. My son has grown and changed. My husband has. Our lives are richer, thicker with memory, more full of heart, because of our time in Asia.

But it did sort of mess up the PLAN. And now we are home. And I'm swimming in boxes and ideas.

Here's what my studio looks like right now...sigh.

Where do I go from here? How, exactly, has my work changed? What do I do with those changes? How has my family changed? How do I balance my feelings about previous goals not being met with my delight over serendipitous growth?

For me, the highlights of the SCBWI conference I attended two weeks ago — just over a day before our movers dropped off our container full of boxes from Malaysia (whew! It's been a busy month for me) — were hearing Melissa Sweet's keynote and also attending her playful collage workshop. She is one of my favorite illustrators. She incorporates collage in such serendipitous ways in her books. Yet the stories (in pictures) are certainly planned out. They have to be to get from the beginning to the end.

I made this collage during Melissa's workshop. The quote is from Picasso.

If you've never seen Melissa's work, do check it out (plus she's as nice as she is talented). My favorite two books of hers are

Balloons Over Broadway

(which she also wrote, about the man who designed the first puppet balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade) and

A River Of Words

, by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet (an inventive picture book biography about William Carlos Williams). In both she uses collage in this serendipitous, spontaneous way, while still completely following a story arc in a clearly planned out way.

I love this about her work. I'd love to do this more in my own work. Balance the playful, unplanned serendipity with a carefully thought-through vision.

I suppose it's the yoga pose I'm in now. The pull back and forth between the spontaneous and the planned. The visioning and the surprises.

Here's to the journey.