I love a good collage. There is something about taking found objects and arranging them in new ways to give them new meaning that has always sparked my creativity. I’ve been making collages for as long as I can remember, and in the last few years I’ve gotten on the vision board bandwagon, which REALLY taps into my desire to rip pictures out of magazines and tape or glue them to poster board.
I’ve also used collage to some success in television development. I’ve worked on projects where I was tasked with creating boards to either evoke the mood of a show in development or to help visualize and capture the essence of the main characters in a new show. In a collaborative effort such as working on a TV show, these boards are then used by the artists who are taking these ideas and turning them into something concrete.
When I was working on the second draft of my novel, INSIDE CHANCE, I knew I wanted to go deeper with the characters. I wanted to flesh them out more, understand their back story and motivation more, I wanted to get inside their heads and inside their worlds more. So I figured, if I’ve used collage to create visions for my life, and I’ve used collage to help develop characters for TV shows, why couldn’t I do the same for my novel?
I spent a couple of pleasant hours diving through stacks of magazines at local thrift stores, and scored some truly unique titles and even found some from the 80s, which is when my novel is set. Then I set aside an afternoon and looked through them all, pulling whatever sparked my interest or spoke to me in some way about the character, even if it didn’t make logical sense. Here are three of boards I made:
The Bearded Man
I hung them over my desk in my workspace, and whenever I was writing, I took some time to look them over. I can tell you that there are things on these boards that made it into the novel – details I would have never included that I took directly from these images, which I think give each character more dimension, more color and more humanity.
If you’re feeling stuck or simply want another way of developing your characters, your setting or your story, why not give collage boards a try? Anyone out there ever done this before when working on a novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Though I’m the type of writer who needs silence in order to hear my own thoughts, music did color the edges of my writing sessions and help me bring the characters of Inside Chance to life through their musical tastes. I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the songs that inspired me to help create and define them.
My young adult novel is a story about a 14-year-old girl, Joni Chance, who is struggling to come to terms with the strange sounds she keeps hearing in her head. She worries she is going to turn out like her mother, rumored to have been schizophrenic, who disappeared from Joni’s life when she was just four years old.
Joni lives in a small town in Indiana, and is just about to start high school. The year is 1989. I don’t know about you, but I know that when I was 14, music played a big part in my life. It helped me to experience new thoughts and feelings, expanded my universe and helped me understand more fundamentally who I was. Joni experiences that same soul expansion as music helps shape who she is and who she wants to become.
Plainsong, The Cure
Prayers for Rain, The Cure
Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac
Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell
It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine), R.E.M.
Add It Up, The Violent Femmes
Space Oddity, David Bowie
Where Is My Mind?, The Pixies
How Soon Is Now?, The Smiths (as covered by Yes The Raven)
When was the last time you learned something new on purpose?
Now, I don’t mean like learning how to do pivot tables on Excel or how to perfectly hard-boil an egg so it doesn’t get that weird green ring around the yolk. I mean, when was the last time you learned how to do something new just for the hell of it? Not for work or because you were asked to make deviled eggs for your Aunt Melba’s 66th birthday party.
When did you last learn to do something because it sounded like fun and because you just wanted to?
It’s an easy thing to do when you’re young, because you are in the habit of learning new things. But once you get past a certain age (I’m looking at you, 40), there seems to be less of an emphasis on doing new things for fun. I mean, oh my god, there’s already so much to do that we don’t have time to do, who has time to do something entirely new just for shits and giggles?
But, really, shouldn’t we be learning new things? Life can be a straight-up drag sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) so I think it’s more important than ever to purposely do new fun things as we get older. It keeps your brain young, it connects you to your inner child and it can make you smile, dammit! They’re good for you!
The best part of learning fun new things at a certain age is that you’re probably not going to get graded on it. No career is hinging on it. Your livelihood isn’t on the line. It’s for fun! So it’s okay to fuck up! In fact, fucking up can be kind of fun in and of itself!
Here I am demonstrating a fun new thing that I’m learning how to do – play the ukulele! I’m singing “Drops of Jupiter” and fucking up while I’m doing it. But you know what? It’s fun! I’m doing it just for me (and OK, for my cats, too) and it makes me smile and it helps me relax and it makes me feel good that I can do something I’ve never done before.
You don’t have to learn French or how to fly a plane (well, you can if you want to). It doesn’t have to be hard. The only requirement is that it sounds like fun.
So what new fun thing are you going to learn how to do?
Like most folks around the New Year, I get a little introspective. I’m one who enjoys rituals and ceremonies and the symbolic significance they can hold. There’s power in ceremony, in the deliberate focus that it requires. If nothing else, it gets your thoughts in order.
I also believe in the power of thought. A lesson that keeps coming at me is “What you think about, you create.” Wallow in thinking that you don’t have enough, and you never will. Reframing it into gratitude for what you have and visualizing what you want to make space for seems to be an important ingredient of success.
This New Year is about letting go of what doesn’t serve me and inviting – in a specific way – what I want in my life. So I figured I’d create a little ceremony around that idea, give it some space to rattle around in my head and my heart for a bit, to help it resonate a little louder. Beckon it into being.
Hubs is endlessly supportive of these whims of mine, so he was on board for the little outing I devised for us to welcome 2016.
We headed about an hour north of Los Angeles to the seaside village of Carpinteria. I’ve never been before, but passed it on the highway at least a dozen times over the years, on the road to flashier destinations. I wanted to go somewhere we’d never been, to symbolize new horizons, new adventures for the New Year.
Carpinteria did not disappoint. I’m surprised more people don’t take day trips up here (or maybe they do and I just don’t know it). There’s a swatch of coastline that the locals have rallied to protect, known as the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve. From January to May, a portion of the beach is closed so that harbor seals have a place to birth and raise their pups. A knowledgeable volunteer was positioned at the overlook and gave us some background on the seals. Several other folks were out having a look, enjoying what was a warm January afternoon.
After watching the seals sunbathe for a few minutes, we hiked down to the portion of the beach that was still open. It’s a bit rough-and-tumble down here, the beach is rocky, so it was blissfully quiet, save for a few people walking their dogs and jogging on the beach (which seemed treacherous to me, but to each his own).
Hubs and I scrounged a few smooth rocks from the beach – there were more than enough, of course – and we each took a Sharpie and wrote on the rocks what we want to let go of and what we want to invite in. (Okay, I feel a tiny bit guilty about defacing the rocks, but I also think it will be fun for someone to later find a rock that says “love” or “$$$$$” – I know I would).
I had already been thinking about what I wanted to write, and it felt good to turn into the coastal wind, waves washing up around my Wellies, and hurl those rocks into the ocean. I was afraid my arm would hurt the next day. Hubs – ever simple in his ways – tossed two rocks into the ocean. I threw in about a dozen in all.
Like most people, I’ve pinned a lot of hopes for 2016. I feel that urge to hit the reset button on January 1st. I’d very much like to ditch some of my negative ways of thinking and being, and a adopt a healthier, more positive outlook. I’ve come a long way already, but there is always, always farther to go. But that’s part of the fun, is it not? To keep practicing gratitude an acknowledgement of what we have, how far we’ve come, but to keep reaching for more, to be better.
I feel this obligation to write something beautiful and profound this morning, because that’s what we’re supposed to do today, right? We’re supposed to have a sudden clarity of purpose and concoct the perfect list of how to “get it right” this year? A guide for our collective do-over?
I don’t feel that way this morning. It feels like most other mornings.
On this day I feel the same hopes for more. Isn’t that often what it boils down to – wanting more, hoping for more? I haven’t had any breakthroughs in the last 24 hours, I didn’t dream of a perfect future last night after bidding 2015 adieu. I fell asleep as I normally do, got up as I normally do. I’m still hoping to figure out how to do better in this new year. How to get more right, to feel happier more often. I don’t have the answers, but I think it’s good to name what you want, what you’re hoping to find, in order to call it into your life.
I hope to find that clarity of purpose this year. I hope to exorcise some demons. I hope to lessen anxiety’s grip on my heart and mind, even just a little bit.
I hope to feel good about myself in my pants. I hope to eat less sugar and to take more walks.
I hope to be gentle with myself.
I hope to make more time for friends and to break out of my self-imposed isolation more.
I hope to have more courage to face down whatever discomfort, unpleasantness or calamity may visit me this year.
I hope to laugh more, to sing more, to dance more, to look at the night sky in dark places more.
I hope to show my husband in both word and deed how much I love him and am grateful for him more often.
I hope to call my parents more, and to figure out how to Skype with them more so I can see their beautiful faces.
I hope to cuddle more with my husband, because he likes it so much (the cats get plenty of cuddles – any more and I might need an intervention).
I hope to pay more attention, to follow my own deadlines more, to eat healthy food more and to avoid the foods that make me hate my pants more.
I hope to work with a sense of ease more often, to express my gratitude more and to move with a light heart more.
I hope to be more authentic – whatever that means – and to let my inner compass guide me more, even if it feels like the wrong direction.
I hope to write more and to find more ways to make more money doing what I love.
I hope for more peace among my neighbors – both those close at hand and those across the globe. Aren’t we all now neighbors in this modern age?
I hope my loved ones find more inner peace, more moments of grace and laughter and joy, more connection and more meaning.
I hope to learn more, to read more, to listen to good music more.
I hope to watch the birds flit around the yard more, to share more meals and meet more interesting people.
And even with all these hopes for more, I hope to feel more gratitude for what I already have and for who I already am. I hope to find more balance between hoping for more and being grateful for what is.
I think about this idea from time to time, when I’m reflecting on whether or not I am living as authentically as I could be. If I’m listening to my intuition and bravely setting off in my own direction. There are times when I feel like I am dancing in sync with that divine melody, and other times when I am clearly out of step.
I had a glimpse at a life lived in naked truth this weekend. I happened upon a documentary on Netflix called “Bill Cunningham New York.” I don’t know why, but at the moment it looked like EXACTLY the thing I wanted to watch (and I happily found it after only a few minutes of searching, as opposed to the hour+ it normally takes me to decide on a film).
Holy cow, what an interesting man! I’m certainly not a fashion maven, though I do have passing interest in how people dress, myself included. But I don’t follow the fashion world and I avoid fashion magazines like I do old boyfriends.
Well, apparently, I’ve been missing something pretty great.
Bill Cunningham photographs people on the street in Manhattan for the New York Times, focusing on how they express their individual style through what they wear. He’s been doing this every day since 1978.
To be clear – he is not paparazzi. He is a bona fide documentarian, not interested in celebrity or money. He is invited to all the best society parties and functions, but he doesn’t attend them to have a good time or to avail himself of all the free food and booze. He often doesn’t accept money for the work he does. He lives simply in an apartment stuffed with file cabinets and sleeps on a cot. He wears the same blue workman’s smock that he has been wearing for decades. He uses old school film. He rides his bike everywhere. He is 86.
He is absolutely amazing.
I find it fascinating to think about all the different ways one can live a life. Those that make unusual choices and take direction solely from their inner compass are the most intriguing. Bill Cunningham embodies this idea in the most simple and joyful way. I smiled the entire time I was watching the film.
If you have a little free time, do check out this documentary, even if fashion is not your thing. Because it’s not about fashion. It is about joy and truth and culture and honesty. It has inspired me to tune into that inner voice and listen to it more carefully, and to seek out beauty.
Well, maybe there isn’t more sadness than usual, but I’m noticing that my friends have more of a willingness to share their sadness.
Folks are sad for a myriad of reasons, all of them perfectly good, tangible reasons to feel sad – a break up, a sudden and unexpected career shift, a life-changing illness.
There’s also a deep well of sadness for those things that aren’t so tangible – disappointment with oneself, a perceived sense of failure, a lack of meaning with one’s life, a feeling that one just isn’t quite enough.
I look around at my friends, my family, at myself in the mirror, and I see sadness reflected back at me. Defeat. Anxiety. Fear. It has many names, this multi-headed beast.
But I think that’s okay.
I think it’s okay that we’re all a little sad right now. A friend of mine who is going through a career shift, a life-defining transition that was self-imposed – wrote a beautiful piece on it today that I thought was absolutely lovely.
Which got me to thinking about where we are. Where I am. I have sadness, too. Sometimes it’s pretty heavy. I’ve had storms of tears over the last couple of weeks. I’ve had crushing disappointment with myself. With my mistakes, my failures, my stubborn insistence on following this path I’ve forged for myself, which is pretty rocky at the moment. I actually said, “I hate myself” out loud more than a few times over the last few days.
Then I got tired of it. I just got tired of hating myself. It serves no purpose other than to set me back. It depletes my energy. Hating yourself takes so much energy, it burns up your resources. It tires you out quickly. And I realized that’s just bullshit.
So I decided to stop hating myself. Seriously – I made a decision to not do it anymore. I decide how to treat myself, and I decided that I deserved better than that. You do, too.
Don’t hate yourself because you’re sad, or you feel defeated, or you made a mistake. Even in you made a really, really big mistake.
Instead, practice self-forgiveness. I’m quick to forgive others, why can’t I treat myself the same way, right?
So I’m going to sit with the sadness for a little while, hold its hand, tell it that it’s okay for it to stick around as long as it doesn’t mind sharing space with happiness, joy and excitement. Because I feel those things, too. Sometimes all at the same time! Our emotions can co-exist. Sadness is just one part of who we are.
So, if you feel sad right now, know that I feel sad, too. And that it’s okay.
Back in May, I had the pleasure of escaping for a week to Colorado where I met up with Michelle, an old friend from college whom I had not seen in 20 years.
My 40th birthday was looming on the horizon, and I had expressed many times that I’d like to welcome in this new chapter of my life with some quiet time for reflection and meditation. Michelle generously invited me to spend some time with her at her cabin in the mountains and then join her sister for a yoga/meditation retreat with SoulSpark Journeys in Steamboat Springs.
I was game. Who could turn down such a thoughtful invitation? It was one of those more obvious examples of synchronicity in my life, for which I’m always on the lookout. I had put it out there into the universe that I wanted this experience, and the opportunity presented itself.
Over the two days of the retreat, we were pampered with plenty of quiet time (holy cow do I love Yoga Nidra) and unbelievably tasty vegan and raw food (who knew?). But perhaps the most enlightening moments for me were spent in a workshop aptly named “Slow Down and Tune In.” I mean, that’s exactly why I was there.
I was expecting two hours of mindful meditation, or something else equally as quiet. When we began the workshop, however, I was surprised to be greeted with a tall stack of magazines.
“Have you ever made a vision board?” our instructor, Alex, asked us.
“Have I ever made a vision board?” I thought to myself. “My office walls are covered with them!”
Although I’ve made plenty of vision boards in the past, I would never turn down the chance to make another. I LOVE ripping up magazines and gluing the pieces to poster board. It engages with my ever-hungry-for-more-messy-situations inner child.
Plus – I think visions change over time. What we want right now might not be what we want tomorrow, or in a month, or in ten years. It’s worth taking the time to explore how our desires change.
If you don’t know what a vision board is, it’s pretty simple. Take a stack of magazines and give yourself about 30 minutes. Look through the magazines and pull out any images or words that speak to you. Don’t overthink it. If it sparks something inside of you, rip it out. (The more ripping the better – ripping is fun and therapeutic!)
After you’ve looked through all your magazines and chosen your images, arrange and glue them on a poster board in a manner that is pleasing to your eye. Here’s what mine looked like that day:
Heavy on the words, which is not insignificant given that many of my goals and aspirations have to do with being a successful writer.
But wait – there’s more!
But it was the next step that threw me for a loop. Every time I’ve made a vision board, once the images are glued together, I stop. I admire my creation, hang it up in my office, and wait for the visions to arrive.
But Alex asked us to take it a step further. Once we completed our vision board, she asked us to take 10 minutes to write about what we saw in it.
It never occurred to me to do that before. And I’m a writer!
I took a good look at my board, and this is what I wrote:
Afterwards, those who wanted to showed us their vision boards and shared what they wrote. I think all of us were awed by the power and depth of feeling captured in each collage, and the poetry that resulted. That’s really the only thing you could call the words that the other women were sharing. It was all so spontaneous, yet all so deeply felt and richly recounted. I know I’m not the only one who got goose bumps that day.
What is your vision?
I challenge you to set aside an hour this week to make your own vision board and write about what you see. And I’d love for you to share it here with me, if you are so inclined.
We need to give voice and space to these desires and visions of ours. It is the first step toward creating the life we have imagined. Go for it!
Oh, and check this out!
My amazing friend Michelle owns a fantastic shop named Oak and Hawthorn. She specializes in plant magic and herb lore and makes gifts inspired by yoga, Ayurveda, Celtic mythology and the natural world. I highly recommend you check out her Etsy shop, Facebook page or blog. I’ve got a few of her medicine bags and chakra jars. It’s magical stuff. And if you live in Denver, she does house parties!
I’ve made a realization recently that makes it a little easier to come to terms with how I feel inside some days.
I’m still a 15-year-old on the inside.
Maybe that sounds like I’m emotionally stunted, but hear me out. I still feel all the same feelings I did when I was 15 – hurt, sadness, emptiness, joy, disappointment, hope, anger, fear. If anything, I feel all these things even more intensely.
I still sometimes feel left out when friends or family are doing things without me. Although I also appreciate my solitude more now.
I still feel disappointment when things don’t go as I had hoped, although I know now from experience that things have a way of working themselves out eventually.
I get excited about dressing up for Halloween, or going to a party, or eating at a fancy restaurant, or going on vacation to someplace I’ve never been.
I’m sad when a friend moves away, or somebody is sick and I can’t help them.
I get frustrated with myself for not being more successful, for not being as confident as I’d like to be, for eating a donut for breakfast instead of oatmeal.
I feel infinite when I listen to music sometimes, like I’m expanding far outside myself into the universe and into other people. Just maybe not as much as it did when I actually was 15. But when I do I appreciate it more and it has more meaning.
I get angry at injustice, or being intentionally hurt, or seeing a friend get hurt. When I have no control over a bad situation.
I have all the same feelings. I still feel like I’m 15 on the inside. But I’m 40 on the outside. It’s weird.
My stepdaughter is 15. I’ve told her before, and I’ll probably say it to her again and again. How she feels on the inside right now? That’s how she’ll feel inside her whole life.
The difference is that at 40, I have 25 years of experience of being 15 on the inside.
These emotions are no longer surprising. Sometimes they are scary, and sometimes they hurt, but I know better how to deal with them. I am gentler with myself. I understand sometimes that my irritation is caused by hormones and I just have to give it a little time and I’ll feel better in a day or two. That sadness isn’t going to last forever. That pure joy is absolutely possible.
I think it’s okay to feel 15 on the inside. I kind of like it. I think being a child inside is just about the best thing you can carry with you as you age. I still feel wonder at the world. I smile at butterflies and hummingbirds, like I’ve never seen one before when in fact I’ve seen thousands. I like to go outside and play. I like to act silly, or retreat into my room alone and cry sometimes.
It’s all the same feelings. But I’m building a roadmap. I’m learning how they interact with each other, what causes them, how to encourage the ones that make me feel good and process and release the ones that don’t. I think it’s a lifelong job, making this map.
But I like it. I’m glad. I’m giving that inner 15-year-old a hug right now.
Here’s my 15-year-old self with my childhood best friend, Kim (who is still my childhood best friend at 40).
And here I am on my 40th birthday in Sozopol, Bulgaria, feeling like a giddy 15 on the inside.
Lately I’ve been telling hubs that I feel like the walls are starting to close in around me. That if I happen to be in one of our sheds in the backyard when a big earthquake hits, that I will be killed under the avalanche of stuff haphazardly stacked and stuffed in them. That I desperately want to get rid of some of our stuff.
I really didn’t think that I had much stuff. I thought most of our stuff belonged to my husband. He has a poor visual memory so likes to hang on to stuff for the memories they elicit. In the last few years we’ve also inherited parts of collections once belonging to his now deceased parents.
It’s a lot of stuff to deal with.
But it wasn’t until I started to take a look at all my own personal stuff that I realized that I, too, have amassed quite a lot of stuff I don’t really need. And it was time to go through it and let some of it go.
I’ve been talking about creating space in my life for the things I really want. And this seemed like a concrete way to put that idea into motion. I could create physical space that would, in turn, create mental space that would then invite in some of those things I’ve been longing for. Less things to care for and think about means more time for writing and other creative pursuits.
I purchased the book on Amazon for a mere $10 and change, and on the day it came I read the entire thing in one sitting. All 200 pages. I have a tendency to go whole ass on things once my mind has clamped on to them.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Konmari Method, basically it boils down to this: go through all of your possessions quickly and intensely by category, taking in your hands each and every object. Decide what to keep based entirely on what sparks joy. Discard everything else.
Wow. Simple, but effective.
She recommends starting with clothes, since we have the least emotional attachment to them. I did all my clothes in one day, and easily discarded at least half of my wardrobe. Kondo then recommends taking everything that you are keeping and storing them vertically in your drawers, like this.
The process is a little more challenging with cats.
At first I didn’t think I’d like folding my clothes this way, but now I LOVE IT. I take more care with every item, and I can see everything at the same time. I love fun socks and have quite a collection, and now this sock drawer practically shouts joy at me every time I open it.
Some categories are harder than others.
Books were easy. I’ve moved around a lot and books are heavy and take up a lot of space. I was able to cull my collection so that it all fits easily in one bookcase. I’m discarding this entire tub. I mean, how many Spanish dictionaries does one need?
Papers were hard. Really, really hard and tedious. Kondo recommends discarding all papers. Obviously, there are things you need to keep, like insurance papers. But everything else should go. I spent 12 solid hours on my living room floor going through every piece of paper I owned. It doesn’t look like much, but it is once you take out every. Single. Piece.
By the end of the day, I had filled an entire blue recycle bin with shredded bank statements, credit card statements, and pretty much everything that was not essential to my daily life or that you have to keep for tax purposes.
It was a rough day, but I feel so much better for it. All my papers now easily fit in this small file cabinet.
Photos and keepsakes are also hard because they are emotionally charged and tedious. My old letters have been stored at my parents’ house until two years ago when I drove from Los Angeles to Indiana for Christmas and could thus transport them back in my car. My mom had actually organized all my old letters by sender and tied them each up into tidy little bundles – cards and letters from family through the years, old letters from my childhood penpal, all the letters my ex-husband sent me when I studied abroad in college. That is not easy stuff to go through, but I did and I lessened the weight of it considerably. Be prepared to feel all the feels when you do this.
Other keepsakes were hard, too, because my mom had so lovingly organized them into scrapbooks – things like old report cards or awards from elementary school, old playbills and drawings and who knows what else. I couldn’t really cull the collection without completely dismantling each book, so most of those stayed intact for the time being.
In the end, I ended up discarding about half of my possessions, easily enough to set up an entire new household. It’s a stunning visual to see it all piled up on my back patio.
I’m going to have a garage sale once the weather cools, because it seems a shame not to after doing all this work. I’ve even seemed to inspire hubs, who willingly went through all our kitchen gadgets with me and is parting with several (like that food dehydrator right there), and is planning to go through other things of his before our big sale.
I’m excited about the space this has created in my life, both physically and mentally, and how chaos has been tamed. I’m spending the month of September with a clearer mind so that I can complete the second rewrite of novel #1. I’m ready to start the outline for novel #2, which I want to begin writing in November, so there’s much work to be done.
Have you tried the Konmari Method? What do you think about it?
The spirit of the time as experienced by me, Amy Clites