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May: Navigating

Hello friends,

As usual, I have some wandering musings for you. Perhaps a little heavier in nature this month, but that hopefully resonate no matter where you are and how you are feeling.

In the middle of last May, we lost some very close family friends in a tragic way. For lack of a better term, I’ll just refer to this as The Event. As is often the case with anniversaries of things, this month, I find myself thinking back to the moments before The Event and the moments after. The sweetness of the longer days of early May, when birdsong framed the beginning and the end of the day, the daisies starting to poke their white petals out from their dark green stalks. And then that sweetness cut short. Sleeping long heavy hours and waking still feeling exhausted.

For several weeks after The Event most energy went to making food, often in big batches as we were spending time (socially distanced) with other friends and family also grieving. There was a sweetness to be found in those moments as well, in the moments of sharing joyful stories in the midst of darkness, the moments of laughter, the moments of remembering that the season would just carry on no matter how we felt. Nature is always dependable.  

Much like with the March anniversary of Covid, and the detailed moments that we carry from that time—the result of how memories are shaped by trauma and big events—there are many things that stand out for me from the month of May. There is the playlist that I listened to while I was running, the particular smell in the air early in the morning, the last bad joke shared, the piece of artwork that I finished a few hours before bad news began to seep in. 

In the first weeks of May last year, I was feeling ready for new projects. I had adapted to a more shutdown world, and the initial fog the Covid reality had caused felt like it was slightly lifting, at least enough to have mental space: I was ready to begin. In fact I had even agreed to take on a friend’s intimidating project of writing a book in two weeks. I felt like big things were on the horizon.

And then there was The Event, driving me back into the fog, albeit a much different one. It took several months before I was able to feel even a remote interest in creating art of any kind. Eventually I came back to it (creativity is like that, it’s there for you when you are ready). I navigated forward. In the end, I made a lot of art, I taught more too, but most of it occurred in small, manageable doses. That’s all I felt that I could commit to. There was no one big project, no overarching thing that had an endpoint. I navigated by doing, small acts slowly sculpting the larger path. 

I have been thinking a lot about this concept of navigating lately. I wrote about it a little bit last month, and it’s something that I discussed recently over on the She Explores podcast in an episode devoted to creativity. 

When life is running along without too many obstacles, it’s a lot easier to see the path in front of us. We set goals, we hold expectations, we move forward. But when an obstacle pops up—and an obstacle can be all kinds of things, big and small—that path becomes murkier, and it can feel harder to move forward.

But we are always moving. Always navigating. Even in the moments when we set a straight path, there’s no ensuring that we won’t experience obstacles along the way. In fact, obstacles are a given. Our path will always be subject to change. And in that sense, we are always navigating. 

I keep challenging myself to say “pre-Covid times” instead of referring to life before Covid as “when things were normal,” or even to think of what comes next as “going back to normal.” We don’t go back. We move forward having adapted to what has taken place. We learn, we grow, we end up somewhere new. 

Big things happen that drastically change our life experiences. Friends and family die, we lose jobs, we get injured, we have the proverbial rug pulled out from underneath us. Whatever causes the shift, these events feel big, enormous. We go from feeling like one person one day, and someone entirely different the next. As we work our way forward, we too do so by increments. We take the steps we can, we challenge ourselves to take a few more. Things change so gradually that sometimes we barely even notice that we are moving forward. And then one day, we wake up and realize we're somewhere entirely different than when we started. We find our way back to ourselves, not our old selves, but our real selves.

Our real selves are to be found in our small, regular steps. 

Several years ago Alastair Humphreys, who I have been working with on our monthly series of Coffee Adventures Outside, coined the term “microadventures.” The idea behind microadventures is that they are short, simple, and inexpensive. Basically with the goal of infusing more adventure into your everyday, whether it’s camping in your backyard, climbing up a tree, or seeing if you can run every street in your neighborhood. 

In thinking about the past year, and the roller coaster that all of us have been on (and are still on), during our She Explores podcast interview, my friend Gale and I talked about the value of “creative microadventures.” In other words, how to infuse creativity into your everyday.

It is so easy for us to get hung up on the big projects, the ones that have an endpoint, the ones that can be checked off with a sense of accomplishment. But creative navigation requires constant movement, constant experimentation, constant play. Our creative path is more robust when we find ways to bring small acts of creativity, and small investments in creativity, into our everyday. Our creative microadventures are what ensure that we can keep navigating, in moments of lightness and darkness. 

I think it’s important to spend some time thinking about these small investments in creativity, particularly as we head into late spring and eventually summer. Unlike winter and its call for hibernation, this is traditionally a time of "doing."

Perhaps you’re like me, feeling like you’re warming up, opening back up to the opportunities around you, fueled by a new sense of energy. You may have identified some big projects you want to work on. No matter how much energy and inspiration you have, those larger creative investments inevitably require a scaffolding, something to support you and carry you through. 

Here is your challenge this month: identify your own creative microadventures. These are both creative acts (ie making art, cooking a new recipe, etc.) and creative investments (ie going on walks, taking five minutes every morning to meditate, etc.). Make a list. Change it when need be. Let it evolve.

If we are conscious about building creative microadventures into our regular routines, we ensure that creativity itself is part of our regular routine. That investment is something that in our good moments, we can draw inspiration from, and also that in our moments of hardship, we can fall back on.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the daisies in the last few weeks, watching them go from inklings of leaf clusters to taller stalks topped with tight buds. Just yesterday I noticed a few who had finally blossomed. It’s yet another sign of a beautiful, wonderful month, a month full of promise. I think of my friends, of the last time we spent together. It was an early May evening, there was a fire and a wonderful sunset. The kind of evening that gives you life. 

As the days of this month go by, marked by all kinds of memories, I hold on to the knowledge that emotions are deeply intertwined. If we’re cracked open by sadness, we’re also cracked open for joy. The two are woven together, like intertwining roots spreading out underneath the ground at the base of a tree—they hold it up, they allow it to grow.

These contrasting emotions are what shape our minds and our hearts, our insight and our creativity. 
They are what help fuel our navigation, guiding us and moving us forward, no matter where we are headed. 

Wherever you are on your path, whatever emotion you are feeling, whatever obstacle is or isn't in your way, keep navigating. And remember this: we’re all doing it together. 


ps: I'm doing a shop update next week, but figured that in time for this newsletter I should at the very least have the "Navigating" print available. You can snag it here

pps: I am leading two adventure bicycle trips this summer, with Swift Adventure Co., all devoted to art and creativity. One is in the San Juan Islands and the other is on the Olympic Peninsula... maybe you want to join us?

I didn't do a single daily drawing during the month of April, so I am working at being a little more regular with my practice this month. A friend started doing hers without listing the dates, which I thought was particularly useful in letting go of expectation. Regardless of how you do (or don't do) these, maybe they'll be a little catalyst for a creative microadventure.
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