STORYSTORM 2019! Brainstorm, Play, and Ideas

Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm! Play, play, play! Ideas, ideas, ideas!

brainstormcats.jpg

These three core creative values pretty much sum up the heart of my creative process. They also sum up Picture Book Author Tara Lazar’s annual Storystorm Challenge, which I’ve participated in for many years.

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The Storystorm challenge (used to be called PIBOIDMO—picture book idea month) is a challenge on Tara’s blog where participants agree to come up with a new picture book idea every day for 30 days in a month. 30 ideas! In a month! Seems crazy at first. But no. It’s great. 

Because where do I get my best ideas? Out of a pile of terrible ideas. It’s true. Basically I get my best ideas by coming up with lots and lots of ideas, putting every idea into the pile, and then later worrying about whether they are any good or not. And that same basic concept has now extended into so many aspects of my creative process that I feel it somehow captures the entire spirit of writing and art for me.

My Bureau of Fearless Ideas shirt and my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, both purchased at the  Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company  in Seattle, a storefront for the  Bureau of Fearless Ideas , a non-profit writing and tutoring center for kids.

My Bureau of Fearless Ideas shirt and my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, both purchased at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company in Seattle, a storefront for the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a non-profit writing and tutoring center for kids.

So in the spirit of fearless ideas, here I am this past week wearing my Bureau Of Fearless Ideas shirt next to my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, (purchased here, more info in the caption). And why am I wearing my BFI* shirt? Because STORYSTORM = FEARLESS IDEAS! And it’s that time of year. I’ve just finished up 2019’s challenge and I’m celebrating all the ways ideas, brainstorming, and play make my art better.

This past year I signed a contract for my first PB after working at it a looooong time. And THE ELEPHANT HIDE-AND-SEEK HANDBOOK (scheduled for release from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in 2020) was definitely born from this process.

So cheers to fearless ideas and fearless brainstorming! And a big shout-out and thank you to Tara for all she’s done for the writing and illustrating community over many years!

THANK YOU TARA!

The bumper sticker on my car. Bought it at  Wild Play  zipline course on Vancouver Island, BC. Pertains to art and writing too.

The bumper sticker on my car. Bought it at Wild Play zipline course on Vancouver Island, BC. Pertains to art and writing too.

*BFI = Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a real place. It’s a tutoring center for kids. But they also have cool shirts and posters. And in Seattle they have a Space Travel Supply Company. So that’s awesome.

Grateful for the life of Mary Oliver

The first time I read a Mary Oliver Poem, I was visiting my mom at her college, while I was also in college. Even if I missed our house, the one mom had sold and left for her new career adventure in middle age, we’d moved so many times when I was young, I’d done this before, I could do it again. Home probably could be wherever there were people I loved. But. It was my last semester at school and it had been a difficult few months—I was struggling to let go of a very unhealthy relationship, perfectionism and anxiety raged. I didn’t know how to give myself permission to do the things I knew were calling my name. I didn’t know where I belonged. Still, visiting mom felt like soup on a sick day. I could breathe again. I felt a little more well. And there in the “kitchen” of my mom’s cramped student-housing apartment, I think under a magnet on the waist-high mini-fridge, was a poem. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

As far as I was aware it was the first time in my then 23 years that I’d read anything by Mary Oliver. When mom wasn’t looking, I copied the poem to take with me. I love my mom to pieces but it’s hard to talk about hard things. I didn’t want to talk about how that poem made me feel—the same feeling of exhale I felt by visiting mom, actually. It was permission to not be perfect or have the answers and still love life anyway, all in a poem, and in a visit to my beloved mother.

My life is better because of the words Mary Oliver shared with the world and now has left behind—not just that one poem, but so many I’ve fallen in love with since.

Thanks for your words and life Mary. I’m so grateful you were here among us sharing them for so long.

Sharing Play at Dumas Bay SCBWI Illustrators retreat

This past weekend, illustrators from around Washington and Oregon gathered to retreat, play, and learn on the water in Dumas Bay, Washington, and I was among them. We were honored and thrilled to have illustrators Christian Robinson and Catia Chien guide us in our play. What a line up!

Indulge me a minute while I express how giddy I personally was to sign up for this retreat. I am a huge, huge, dinosaur-sized, Christian Robinson Fan. When I pour over his collages I feel the same joy and wonder as I did when I was a child pouring over THE SNOWY DAY and other books by Ezra Jack Keats, my childhood favorite author. And at the same time Christian's work is fresh and modern in a way that offers me joy in the here and now too. Plus it doesn't hurt that LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET (illustrated by Christian and written by Matt de la Peña) is probably my son Lars's favorite book.

Lars, who is 3-years-old, takes the bus in the morning several times a week with Daddy. He is especially excited when his favorite bus, the purple one, is the one that picks him up at the curb. You should see the light in his eyes. But even when it's just the regular bus he loves to climb on and sit by the window and talk about all the noises and people and moments on the bus. LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET is called THE Bus Book in our house even though we have several other bus books. Lars likes to close his little eyes the same time the main character, CJ, does. He closes his eyes and listens to the music, wherever the music is in his heart.

So this past weekend I got to go to Dumas Bay and connect with the music in my own heart. And I got to share that experience with many other illustrators. And I also got to learn from Catia Chien, whose work I was less familiar with ahead of the retreat with but now am excited to love.

I gained insights about my own work and practices as I always do at SCBWI events but the thing that probably will stick with me most was just the realization that no matter what happens externally in the world or my own life, I am an artist and I will always make art. That is the music in my own heart. I don't mean to make it sound like a new commitment, rather a quiet acknowledgement of the obvious and what is already there at a time when so many things in the greater world feel uncertain.

We children's book creators will continue to do this thing because it's what we do. And we will do it with heart and passion and even when we take years to get published, or never are published at all, or are banned, or make mistakes, or whatever, we collectively will keep working to make the world brighter and better through books.

Many thanks to my local SCBWI chapter volunteers, especially Tina Hoggatt, for all the work you did putting this retreat together. And many thanks to Catia and Christian for sharing your light with the world and with us this past weekend.

From a walk I took in the garden at Dumas Bay

From a walk I took in the garden at Dumas Bay

Back on the bike!

I posted this on facebook but thought I'd post here too.

Starry Starry Ride...

This week I'm celebrating the magic of getting back in the saddle after a setback. I cut this collage out before

my bike crash

last summer. Needless to say, I had no desire to finish it after my crash.

But this past week I decided to follow through. I glued it to mark the week I finally got the courage to get back on my bike (a little over a week ago now).

Cheers to getting up and trying again after a crash.

Yesterday in the grocery store parking lot

 
I don't often write personal essays, but journaling about my day yesterday* I wrote this regarding my struggles with pavement (or maybe I should say anxiety) since my bike crash last summer and decided I might share what I wrote here. It's off-topic from my usual blog posts but I'm attempting to be braver sharing my art with the wider world and for whatever it's worth I thought posting this might be a small act of such bravery.  If that interests you, read on. Otherwise I encourage you to skip this post. 

Even while leaning on the grocery cart as if it were a walker, the elderly stranger looked like she'd topple. My mom and I were walking out of the grocery store, pushing my stroller full of my son and our groceries, on our way home when we saw the old woman. She moved glacier slow, the cart her crutch, her feet shuffling like a wind-up toy losing its wind. I motioned to my mom to take the stroller from me and I offered to help the old woman.

She was glad to let me put her groceries in her car. I stayed with her as she pushed the cart to her car door, tip-toeing with determination. She was grateful for my company, she said so, but I sensed hesitation in how she kept pausing and testing her grip on the cart, as if she wanted to let it go. It was clear she wanted to be able to do this herself. I felt for her. I wanted to respect her autonomy. Maybe she did usually do this herself. But then again, it was also clear something wasn't right. She looked off-center and a touch distant. Maybe it was a health episode?  Maybe she'd worn herself out shopping?

So I stood nearby after I unloaded her cart. And when she finally did let go of the cart it was like watching a cliffhanger letting go of a cliff. The old woman tipped, her hips swayed, her knees buckled. I lurched forward with both hands and latched on to her arm. She kept falling, I didn't have a solid hold on her and I tipped with her, at least partially. But she fell, my awkward catch at least softening the contact with the asphalt.

She was shaken, embarrassed. So was I. But she wasn't broken, at least I hoped not. My mom and I got her up and into her car. I stood next to her with her car door open and asked if she was okay. She looked at her arm. It was bruised. Probably from me grabbing it. She seemed rattled, but said, "I'm okay." Then she looked at her hand. "I'm bleeding," she stammered. And she was bleeding; it was a big cut, right on the butt of her paper-thin palm. Her hand shook.

My mom gave us some tissues and went to find a store clerk to help us. The old woman glanced at me, and looked down. "Thank you," she mumbled.  I asked if I could call anyone. She said she lived in an assisted living center not far away, but she'd be fine. She didn't want an ambulance. Her eyes knotted. I asked if she was in pain and she said she'd be okay. But I knew the pain was something different.

She was ashamed.

I recognized the look in her eyes, simultaneously grateful and horrified I'd gone through this experience with her. Or maybe that was just how I felt. I knew I wasn't only speaking to her when I pressed the clean tissues into her bleeding hand and knelt down with her, she in her car and I next to her on the asphalt and said, "You aren't alone. Lots of people fall. I've fallen. Look at this scar."

I pointed at my chin, at the place where I'd crashed into the pavement after flying over my handlebars on my bike just months before. The scar: the physical reminder of the accident that still replays in my head over and over and over during moments of weakness and vulnerability, the epicenter of my own mental issues with pavement.

The elderly woman looked at my chin. It was the first time she really turned and looked at me and she was looking right at my ugliest most unreasonably shameful spot. I traced the long red line of the scar.

"I got it only a few months ago falling myself," I said. "Someone else helped me get up afterward too." I added.

I thought not only of the two men who picked me up bleeding off the side of the road those months before, but of the paramedics at the fire station they took me to, and the emergency room doctor with the gentle hands who threaded my chin back together, and the friends who'd helped with my kids while I recovered from the accompanying concussion, and the friends and my husband who encouraged me to seek help when the anxiety and flashbacks and headaches overwhelmed me months later, and of my therapist who'd offered me relief just hours before.

"It takes a village," I said to the old woman who now sat bleeding and defeated at her steering wheel.

She nodded and half-smiled. I thought I saw her even raise an eyebrow. "It takes a village," she agreed."

I gave her my blessings as the store manager and a few clerks surrounded her and took over helping her. The asphalt was still hard under my feet as my mom, my son, and I walked away. But the sun was warm, the birds were chirping. And I was, at long last, moving forward.


*Please note that I re-wrote the intro to this essay a few days after I posted. Why? Because I didn't like the old one.

If drawing is the balm, I’ll take it


A partial pile of drawings from the last couple weeks.
Practicing Ahimsa (A yoga term for non-violence that basically means I’m honoring my edge) towards self while healing is not easy for me (or my family). Five weeks after the bike crash I’ve been given the clear for the splint to come off my left hand… but only when no children are around and I’m doing something restful. Also (and this one I’m in denial over but really have to admit) if I’m out and about doing too much I get dizzy-concussion symptoms still. So yes, the next few weeks still hold a bunch of laying-off-it for me.

Can I just say…Ugh. I don’t like laying-off it.

But then again, there’s another side to this silly attitude of angst. When I’m normally doing all that other stuff that I’m currently laying off of, I normally wish I were being better about honoring my drawing time. And drawing requires a lot of butt-in-chair. Which means…

Yay bike crash! You gave me an excuse to blow-off everything other than drawing.

 (Just as an aside this is also one of the many reasons I love deadlines. I love love love telling the to-do list to go to heck over a drawing deadline! Give me a deadline and I’ll love love love you!).

So ya, anyway drawing is what I normally wish I were doing but often set aside more than I wish to because well mommy and glacial speed of my industry, and well. Excuses pile up. I hope I remember this time as the time I crashed my bike so bad I could do little other than what I most wanted to do anyway.

So. Sorry husband! I still can’t change diapers. Sorry dirty dishes! My second hand is still too inflexible. Sorry millions of mommy tasks and house tasks and life tasks everyone is annoyed I’m neglecting! For most every purpose the next few weeks, I still only have one hand.

And meanwhile, if drawing is the balm, I’ll take it.

(But next time I think I’ll just blow off the other stuff on the to-do list if I want to get a drawing project finished and save myself a lot of trouble.)

After the bike crash

So I got home from vacation two weeks ago, got on my bike for a little ride before getting to work on Monday and...
 CRASHED!
Ouch.
So last week I practiced a new sport called concussion healing (I was wearing a helmet but took it hard in the chin). Concussion healing involves doing this: Nothing.

And by nothing I mean resting not only your body but your brain. No reading. No listening. No puzzles. No drawing. Nothing.

I am type A. Nothing suuuuuuuucks! I might have cheated a bit. But I did rest mostly.

And what's important is that I'm mostly okay. People do this awesome and amazing thing: we heal. We take crappy painful spills and even though we sometimes don't recover, we sometimes do. The healing process makes me marvel.

I'll spare my old blog the details of my crash but add a note of gratitude for the good Samaritans who picked me up in their pick-up when I was bleeding and wrecked on the side of the road (I can't even remember what you look like!) and for the firemen who ultimately got me to the hospital and for all the friends and family who've helped me heal.

And also to fate: I'm so happy that my drawing hand was the one spared. Which leads me to this week.
 This week has been quiet and full to the brim with drawing. 

I've had months of setbacks with my work and after all of it it is so nice to be able to just draw. And draw. And draw.

Because this is part of healing too.
I'm finishing up drawings for a revision I could/should/would have finished ages ago if I hadn't moved. It's delightful and fun to draw this much despite being self-conscious of not getting everything done long ago and right away and perfectly-timed and without any hitches involving mommy life and moving, and multi-tasking. Despite the perfectionist on my shoulder nagging me that I'm not perfect it does feel pretty nice to just pick up the pen and do it anyway.
 
So here's the imperfect me (still bandaged, pirate scar to come). Feeling lively despite the scars.
 

 

New Studio... Another post about it



MOVE is a four letter word.

My new house, my new studio, they are both fantastic dreams. These are pictures of my studio. Isn't it incredible?

But somehow I was in complete denial that moving would not throw me off my game (while I have a toddler around no less! HA!). While it was a fun challenge to be a superhero-mom-artist-mover person, it did not (of course) work that way really. Really it was a heck of a lot of distracting work (good work, but not my illustration work). And my studio was in chaos for far too many months (we redid floors, painted, etc etc etc).

Still I got a bunch of writing done. 

And! I upgraded my technology (since I was derailed a bit anyway and technology upgrades are always a bit unsettling).

Check out my new printer and scanner! BIG FOOTPRINTS! But it is beyond nice to have a scanner that works really well! HOORAY!

All this being said, I'd be lying if my inner mean-girl wasn't fussy nearly the entire time I was fixing my house and studio that she couldn't do everything. (*Sigh.* Why can't I always do everything? And do it perfectly? )

And it can suck to pick up the pieces when you drop the ball on things important to you. It's hard! You feel overwhelm! And neglect! So you procrastinate!

But then, one day, you decide to let the perfection go because what else can you do except never do it because you didn't do it all perfectly. Besides that who really cares except you anyway? 

In order to pick up the pieces you just have to pick up the pieces

So this is all just to say hi to the internet again. I'm still here. I'm really here this time. I'm drawing again and those projects I mentioned a couple posts back that were pestering me to finish are making me super happy lately because I'm working on them and I see many months in my future where I get to be type A like I like to be and try to get them done.

I have a big fat hairy goal that I'm working on. And I'm hoping to use this blog to help me make it happen. But let's save that for another post and for now I'll just enjoy the fact that I picked up the pieces and rejoined the internet. 

Cheers (always and forever) to letting go of perfect. Because perfect is truly the enemy of getting anything out there at all. 



Working on a new portfolio: Sneek Peek

I have some big change-ups in the works for my illustration.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

After lots of play and several critiques that nudged me this direction, I'm working on overhauling EVERYTHING. 

It's been super fun, even if a little scary. That's the way adventures work I suppose.

Anyway, I look forward to also overhauling my website and this little blog. But that will be awhile yet. Meanwhile...

Since my last post —oh so many months ago —I've come to the conclusion that it's really working better for me not to be as engaged with the Lady Internet as I work. But I have a new idea to be engaged and not engaged at the same time. 

I'll try to just post more snapshots of my drawings and works-in-progress now and then without taking too much time to write or explain and thereby distracting myself from the important work at hand. I've always been kind of reserved at showing all my sketches. But over the last few years I've taken to drawing a lot. Reams of paper filled in a week or two sometimes. Might as well share more liberally, even if they are rough and it makes me feel vulnerable to do so.

Cheers to a good kind of risk! I hope you are busy finding your own good kind of risk too.

Screen time gives way to a happy something else

Do you ever feel like the NOW around you is way too full of screen time? I gave up nearly all television years ago. Not because I didn't enjoy it exactly. Just because I realized I enjoyed so many other things so much more. I guess I've had a bit of a wake-up call recently with another sort of screen. You know the one. You are looking at it now if you are reading this.

But the internet is sooooo darn useful.

So I won't give it up. I haven't disappeared. But. I do have a very good reason to have stepped away a bit and to be so absent recently from posting on my blog.

Here's why:

His name is Lars Archie. He was born on August 5.

(Ahem. Like I said, I know I'm late to post).

He likes to be held in his Mommy's lap (while she reads actual dead-tree books). He doesn't like the car and usually cries like crazy when he's in it. He seems to like being outside and I like being outside with him. His big brother makes him happy. When I play the ukulele for him, he coos along with me as though he's singing. When his daddy burps him, he belches like an old man. His smile can make one melt.

Sometimes being a mommy to a newborn is also super super painfully hard and tiring. But maybe because I've been here before I know that the hardest stuff doesn't last long.

And neither does the super sweet precious little-tiny-baby stuff.

So posting may stay a bit spotty for a bit. But pretty soon baby will have to share me with the outside world more. Pretty soon I'll have a bit of childcare and the siren song of my art and studio will nudge me into sharing with the world more regularly again.

But meanwhile I'll relish this very lovely moment.

A Mother's Day Treat

Yesterday when I picked my son up from school he had a belated Mother's day surprise for me.
 He had painted a flower planter yellow (my favorite color) and planted yellow flowers in it for me. 
 He also gave me a special drawing/card that made me melt.
That picture is of us in my studio making art together. He said: "There aren't faces on us Mommy because those are the backs of our heads." 

So sweet!

I think I'll read him an extra story today to celebrate children's book week!

Delicious Spring

I love journaling.
Often I think the act of keeping a journal helps me look out for things worthy of journaling about.
Blogging is no different.
Increasingly though, I find that this often takes a non-written form. I look for color or light that's just so. And that's somehow what I feel like recording.
 And so sometimes my camera is my journal.
And so I share some snippets here on my blog of moments I've spent recently, relishing spring.
This is my nephew, Richard.
I'll catch up with posting some drawings or process pieces for recent illustrations and current illustrations I'm working on soon.
But, as hopefully most out there know, sometimes life is too rich to spend too much time plugged in or online.
But it is nice to stop in now and then and share/record the richness.
:) 


Necessary things

  "Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas." -Henry Ford
 What if we all took a minute to ponder what feeds our enthusiasm for our own work...
Go ahead. Do it.

Now ponder what kills it? What leaves us feeling half-there when we show up and sometimes drains us to show up at all?

Consider it.

And what about those things that do both?

Like parenthood.

Or striving to be the best.

Critique comes to mind.

How do we embrace the lovely tension of wonderful things that both feed us and drain us?

These are things I delight in and wrestle with as I approach my own artistic work. They haunt me and heal me. They usually feed my enthusiasm but sometimes they dull it.

They also all seem completely necessary to my life.

 What about yours?

Still Juggling

Juggling, juggling, juggling...

FIRST BALL UP IN THE AIR:

Quiz:
What's the biggest and most significant difference between these two pictures.

If you answered that one cast is on the left wrist and the other is on the right wrist, you answered correctly.

Yes. My child fell off a slide at school exactly one week after getting the cast off his left wrist and in doing so he broke his right wrist.

At least these things heal fast. Cast number 2 came off yesterday. NO. MORE. CASTS. PLEASE.

SECOND BALL UP IN THE AIR:

Settling back into home. Still. My current project has been condensing my studio from two rooms to one. It's looking good. Pictures coming soon. I promise.

THIRD BALL UP IN THE AIR:

Thank God.
I'm still an artist.

What's the cure for blogger's block? Just sit down and put something up, Kjersten! Like how about an illustration. Yes, that will do.

Here's a new illustration sample I've made to go with my new dummy that I (YES!) finished putting together in less than 2 weeks. CHEERS TO A HARD GOAL MET despite juggling numerous balls at once.

And how about I make a public goal of getting back on track with posting every week. That'd be a nice ball to add into the juggling mix because it seems that I've dropped it a bit lately.

Done.

Wish Granted: Working like a maniac to meet a deadline

Just as my studio started to resemble a happy working space last week (finally!) I got my wish for a crazy deadline. HOORAY! The deadline is for the illustrator intensive I'm participating in for the L.A. SCBWI conference. I somehow missed the memo about the assignment when I signed up. I think the website said something like, "details to be announced later," in my defense.
Anyway, I'm working on a new thumbnail dummy for a story of mine about a goose.
In just one week (last Friday to this one), I have filled up nearly two sketchbooks with drawings, drawings, drawings.
And I'm loving every crazy minute of it.
I made a goal a couple of years ago to work toward being able to draw faster. I'd say that goal is met.

And if I seriously get a rough dummy finished in less than ten days (as I'm on track to) I so am going to jump up and down. Especially because, even though the dummy isn't perfect, I LIKE IT! It's a good start! YAY!

Anyway, I love a good challenge to rise to. BRING IT ON! THANK YOU FOR LISTENING UNIVERSE!

On a side note I was telling a friend this story yesterday and she laughed and said in a teasing way, "Yay! I'm stressed!" I got a tickle out of that one. The thing is, I know it sounds totally cheesy, but I don't feel stressed. I feel determined. I can do this. I WANTED a crazy deadline, and I got one. Be careful what you wish for! You might just get it!

Cheers to anyone else out there who is taking some butt-in-chair time to get lots done. Don't forget to walk up and down the stairs every hour or so. Or get a walk in at some point during the day. Butt-in-chair may be good for getting lots done, but it's not so good for one's actual butt. But I digress... Gotta go get back to work.

Juggling act

As May is winding down, I realize I have been a bit neglectful of my happy little blog. Well, that's not exactly the truth. The truth is, I've been getting my life back in order after our move across the ocean! It's exciting and fun and busy. Things are starting to come together a bit around here (soon I'll have pictures of my new library dining room! And colorful staircase!). Basically, I've been unpacking; both my literal baggage from living abroad and also my experiences of the last two years.

Well there's all that and I've been on extra Mom duty. We had a little calamity here...
Oscar's fine. It's nothing much. It will heal good and fast and strong. But this is all just to say, I've been busy being a mom too. It's not only the repatriation issues and broken bones that I've been wrestling with. There's also kindergarten (Oscar will start this fall). I've been trying to figure out our options for kindergarten and I've been visiting schools and calling other parents to ask questions, on and on.

Wait, what was that?

I hear a inner voice.

Is it a critic?
Perhaps...

Or maybe it's just myself acknowledging myself.
Hi self.
"Kjersten, this blog is for your art. For your passion, vocation, and calling. This blog is not a mommy blog. What the heck are you writing right now?"

Well, I've had to set myself aside a bit this past month.

*She waves her head at herself in disgust and stares herself in the mirror and wags a finger at her own face: "I thought you were committed to your dream too! You have to take care of yourself, too!"*

But... Doesn't it suck to be hard on yourself either way? To feel guilty to work...

 (There isn't a current pressing deadline with my work after all — I've often been wishing there was — and meanwhile there IS a lot of pressing personal deadlines with getting things in order outside of my art right now)

...and at the same time to feel guilty about not working more?

(How are you ever going to be a real artist if you don't make time to work, even when other things are pressing?)

And now I might feel guilty that I'm being hard on myself.
And now I might feel guilty that I feel guilty.
Ugh. Now I'm just annoying myself.

Does this struggle back and forth sound familiar to anyone else?
If this sort of struggle never happens to you, bless you. I admire your ability to shake off the guilt and always know how to prioritize.

It is a well known fact that mommas sometimes have to juggle. We do. It happens. It's a clear suspect in why sometimes our careers lag behind those of our male counterparts.

No, no, no, you may say. It doesn't have to be that way. But.

Isn't it often the truth?
We can even see it ourselves.
It makes us mad.
Normally at ourselves.

And yet,
would I have it another way?
I'm not sure.
I don't think so.
I love being a mom.
But I'm an artist too.

Just saying...
That's what's on my plate right now.

All that and...
I've set aside June to finish my studio and get back to work!
It's haunting me that I completed two black and white pieces of art right in the thick of the worst of the chaos (because I wanted to make a deadline) and I liked them.  That means I was capable of meeting a deadline even if I had all that other stuff on my plate. I'm wishing I had more of those sorts of deadlines! Someone throw a curve-ball deadline at me, will you? I'm anxious for another challenge of that sort. I can't believe I'm writing that!

I read a line in a newspaper the other day that seems related just now somehow. The woman in the article was telling a story and one line of it stuck out to me. She said: "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I was up for the job."
I feel that way about my art. About my commitment.
My muse is chomping at the bit.

And so the juggling act goes on.

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!

But.

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.