I learned a great deal from my past three Summer School courses. I barely recognize the woman I was in 2017, the woman who struggled to answer the question:
“If expense were not an issue and you had a 6-month sabbatical, what would you like to do?”
My answer? Crickets.
During that first Summer School in 2017, I realized that for years I had been leading a reasonably happy life, working full time, had a small group of lovely friends, but I had no dreams whatsoever. I was mildly depressed, but had nothing to complain about, right?
I was very clear on what frightened me: physical illness (which has visited me often), financial loss…you know, the usuals. Most of all I was afraid of disappointing (or God-forbid angering) the people I cared about. I lived in fear of being judged, while all the while I was slowly crucifying myself. I came to understand that without a dream, I could only focus on avoiding pitfalls, and that is no way to live.
Rereading my notes from the last three Summer Schools, I am amazed. My circle of creative friends now consists of about a dozen amazing people. We could never meet up for coffee because we live all over the world: Oregon, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Australia. We are not all writers or painters or embroiderers or bloggers or knitters, but that doesn’t matter because what we do have in common is Mutual Enthusiasm, and the willingness to show up even on our not-so-great days, to cheer each other on.
Creative output flourished this past year: It is because of their unfailing support that in the last twelve months, little by little, I was able to create forty blog posts and have a successful watercolor exhibit selling over twenty-five paintings.
Resilience also appeared unexpectedly: When I killed a perfectly good laptop with a cup of tea, I barely missed a beat, scrounging together the money for a new, smaller computer. No time wasted grieving or berating. Why? Because I was clear–I needed one to continue doing what I do, being who I am.
Vision is about Perspective too: I experienced more complications with my dwindling eyesight, but rather than letting it discourage me like it did thirty years ago, it inspired me to push on even harder for the time I have left to see.
Reaching beyond my neighborhood: In January I combined my love of writing and watercolor, and pitched a proposal to an international education travel organization. They liked my ideas, and preliminary plans were in the works when the pandemic hit. No worries: God willing, when the pandemic has run its course, that project may be resurrected as well.
This past year would have slipped through my fingers if I were not preparing for Week One of our next Summer School: the week where we look back and identify the high points and challenges of the prior year. (Remember “Seize the Sieve”? Very Important!)
So here’s my point.
Sometimes it’s helpful to look back over your shoulder, simply to see where you started losing the thread of your creative passion, settling for tidying the house instead. But we don’t linger looking back, because there is serious dreaming to be done.
Next, we look at where we are today, and let ourselves dream a bit (or a lot), possibly using a guidance system for support.
Then finally, we each make a plan. We write out the dream in a love letter to the Universe. We write about our creative goals, and at the same time make a plan for how we will take care of our creative hearts along the way. We infuse our plan with a gentle affection for our sweet self.
Then each of us shares this plan, this personal North Star for the coming year, with the inner circle of our tribe, and they share theirs with us. We make a plan to get together, online or in person, regularly, even weekly, to check in and cheer each other on.
It is important to also create a private daily practice, to remind yourself why you are showing up for life in this brand new way. Thanks to the Artist’s Way course, I write Morning Pages daily, and I feel off-balance if for some reason I skip a day. Those pages are my car-pool lane to Gobsmacking Insights.
I don’t need to write the greatest American novel or finest blog post ever or paint a watercolor that appears on the cover of Time magazine. What I do need to do is befriend the woman I am, whom I have treated so unkindly over the years, pushing her to get better and better at things that didn’t fill her heart. I struggled so hard to fit in, in worlds where I didn’t belong in the first place. Now the entire world is my home, because I found my tribe.
You deserve to be understood and applauded. Remember: the only thing worse than a blank page is a blank stare. Get a tribe. Surround yourself with a few wonderful people who get you, get your heart and soul, and are applauding all the way.
Then get ready to soar.