A big giant new thing

The past 36 hours have been one surprise after another. I now have further proof that some of the best things that happen to us are things we never would have known to plan for.

Instead of explaining this a million times, I'm just going to share the letter that I sent to my email subscribers this morning. (And BTW, this new development has absolutely nothing to do with the angsty blog post I wrote last week...that was a completely different thing! Which I will write more about at a later date.)


Hello my dear friends,

I don't know how to start this letter. I've already told John (of course) and the kids and my parents and my current clients, and now it's time to tell you. I've fallen in love with one of the nations I've been helping build. They've asked; I've accepted...as of this moment, I'm (metaphorically) headed west to the land of the yetis. I hope they let me bring my hat and sword.

This whole thing has caught me completely by surprise, although hindsight is allowing me to see a few signs. I've been struggling with what Adam calls being "a lone wolf" for some time now. I actually never meant for A Small Nation to be just me. Before all of this, I had built up a small web design studio; me and a couple of folks doing strategic design and front-end development. But I wanted to do something bigger...something that would really change the way people thought about what they were creating and the kind of impact they could have on others. So I transitioned my studio and our people over to a new way of thinking and working.

I don't know if I tried to change too much too fast or if I was struck blind to reality by my idealism, but it didn't completely work. Through a series of unfortunate events (and probably poor leadership on my part), it slowly, slowly became just me over here; the lone wolf again. It was like ice melting...I hardly even noticed it was happening until I was standing in the middle of a puddle by myself.

It's been the Great Lakes of puddles, though. I've gotten to work on some amazing projects and have become besties with the founders I've been working with...breaking the news to them has been a hard hard thing. Lots of hugs and tears.

But such good things are coming! And I know you probably have questions. Let me try to anticipate a few:

So what does this mean for A Small Nation?

asmallnation.com will retire and begin automatically forwarding to sarahjbray.com soon.

What will happen to The Year of the Nation?

The Year of the Nation will continue for now, since it's serving as "pre-book" training wheels for me, helping me get my feet wet with putting these specific ideas in a format that is useful. The sign-up page now lives here.

Oh, so you're still writing the book?

Yes, I'm still writing the book; in fact, I'm hoping that working with these guys will help challenge some of my pet beliefs and give some additional depth to this body of work. But it could be years before it's ready...and who knows? The internet may have changed things so much by then that it's no longer relevant. But I hope it's relevant. I really want to create something that has longevity...but we shall see.

What about your workshops?

I am holding off on production of any workshops at the moment. The material that I've developed for the workshops is all being put toward the book.

What about group nation-building?

Alas, I will no longer be holding group nation-building intensives.

Will I ever hear from you again?

Yep! I'll keep sending letters when I'm inspired to send them. They'll just be from me though...not A Small Nation.

Are you going to be blogging?

Yep. I haven't been particularly consistent with it in years, but here lately, I've been in a groove. I'm kind of afraid to type that though, because I don't want to jinx it. If you like, you can follow along at sarahjbray.com.

Who is &yet and why do you love them so much?

Where do I START? My friend Erin first introduced me to Adam back in the fall. We decided to meet up on the phone, and I'm pretty sure the first words out of my mouth were "I have no idea what I'm doing", with the next half hour spent confessing my failures. I was in a weird mood that day, and I was not thinking of him as a possible client...we were just fellow comrades, doing creative stuff. But by the end of the call, he asked if I'd like to help out with some nation-building projects.

Soon after that, I flew out to Richland, Washington to spend some face-to-face time with the team while we started thinking up some new ideas. I walked into the room, and it was like meeting a second family. After a few days, I wanted to stay forever. When I got back, I half-jokingly asked John if he'd ever consider moving to southeastern Washington.

I can't explain it. The culture is just different than any place I've ever been. It's special. Everybody works in their strengths, on what they're passionate about. There isn't a formal hierarchy. Nobody is trying to put on a confident face or race anyone else to the top. When people don't know things, they admit it and then go figure it out. They give high fives all the time. They run around the building singing "We are the Champions". They build things they themselves love. They make the most incredible coffee (and one of their local coffee shops has THE BEST toast!)

But mostly, it's the people. There is Jenn who is selfless and honest and funny...Amy who seriously could be my brain twin...Mike who gave me the best pencils ever and is the most delightful, smile-inducing person. So many more.

We went out to lunch one day, and Mike asked me, "If you could buy anything and all your needs were taken care of, what would you buy?" And I said, "This. What you guys have here." I was sort of joking, but I guess it turns out I wasn't.

## Are you still going to make stuff? Sure! Yes! No matter where I am, I will always be working on stuff that I love, that I hope you will love, too. You'll be the first to know.

Are you leaving the entrepreneurial world now?

Being an entrepreneur is a state of mind. You don't ever leave it. I still believe in making the world you want to live in, and I will keep doing that.

Are you moving to Washington?

Not at the moment!

What about Hello, Month?

Still haven't decided that one yet. The point was to make every month better for myself (starting at my emotional rock bottom in August). The way my life has changed since then is amazing. I am not the same person I was eight months ago.

In a way, I want to finish the project...give these last four months a solid go, so that there will be a complete year available to anyone who needs it. But there is another part of me who realizes that I myself don't need it anymore...so it's hard to keep going. I don't know if it's as powerful as it was in the beginning when I was so desperately needing some perspective. We shall see.

Do you still love me?

Yes.

Are there sidenotes and addendums?

Yes! What would the world be without sidenotes and addendums?!

Sidenote: I'm going to change my email address soon, so be on the lookout. I'm not going to be passing it around on the whole wide internet anymore, but you'll have it since you're you.

Addendum: You are awesome. Being an entrepreneur and a founding nation-builder is awesome. Being honest with yourself about whether you want to build something by yourself or with other people is also a good thing to do. You might surprise yourself.

If you want to build something with other people but don't want to work on a team, consider partnership. Find someone you love and respect who loves and respects you and read this book together, answering all the questions like you're about to get married. (More on that soon.)

And if you're a lone wolf and you love it, go do that. Be sure to howl at the moon for me.

Love, toast, and big giant hats, Sarah

A plea for divine reassurance, and a small sample of one of my darlings

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about change. About how frustrating it is that life changes and that you have to make choices about how to spend your time.

I got an email from someone I know from the internet (even though I vow NEVER to check my email on the weekend, this was one of those justthisonce things). It basically said that this person was concerned about me because of all the stuff I'm doing -- writing a book, going to school, homeschooling my kids, working on a few client projects, doing The Year of the Nation, and Hello, Month. Plus we're fixing up our house and selling it and trying to find a new one and we STILL haven't done our taxes. He was saying, kindly, that this was probably really hard to do well. It wasn't judge-y at all...he'd actually held on to the email for a month before sending it.

Although I'm not offended, I have mixed reactions. I like taking on new projects that I care about. It makes me feel trapped when I can't take action on an idea. And most days, I feel lucky, not overwhelmed. Because of the years I've put into creating systems that work for me, I'm organized and efficient, and hard work and accomplishment feels good. Contrary to popular belief, I do not work 24 hours a day, and I am not intravenously attached to my phone. So normally, that is what I would say in response to anyone who was worried about me.

But recently, there came an opportunity. An opportunity that is both serendipitous and out of the blue. I feel like circumstances have been preparing me for this for a long time, so I've decided that this opportunity is something that I can't pass up. If I did, I know I would always wonder "what if?". I'm excited and scared and all of those good things.

The thing that scares me the most, though, is changing course. I simply cannot take this opportunity and continue with all of my current projects. Some things are going to have to go (or change significantly), and I don't know what yet. It feels like choosing between your babies. Impossible.

I think, though, that the decision is going to get easier and more clear over time. It isn't something that needs to happen all at once, thankfully. Mostly what I'm looking for is some divine reassurance that it's okay. That this time of re-organizing is natural and fine, and that "they" (whoever they are) don't really care one way or the other. That moving into a new opportunity doesn't make me a flake, and that everything I've done has been preparing me for whatever I do next, no matter what it is.

That is what I would tell you, by the way, if this were you. But since it's me, every decision feels complicated and portentous. (Also, portentous is a great word.)

Maybe this email I received this weekend is some of that divine reassurance I'm looking for...that people care more about me as a person than about the stuff I make, even if they live thousands of miles away. That maybe I should do the same.

That's not what I set to write this blog post about. I was actually going to give you a sample of The Year of the Nation, because I thought you'd like it, if you someday find yourself with a nation to build. And I guess you could say it's one of those babies I'm trying to choose between. So here you go...this is actually the introduction email that I sent out, and you can download the materials by clicking on the image, or the download links. And if you'd like to participate (it's free), you can start here.


Good morning! (Or evening, or whatever time it may be in your woods.)

Things are changing in my life — in big ways and small ones, and in ways that I haven’t even realized yet. In one way, I am excited about all this change happening. I see a new vision, and I’m ready to grab my big Napoleon hat and embark on it. In another way, I am frustrated that the vision can’t just stay the same. It was such a good vision! Why does it need to change?

If I’m honest with myself, the real reason for my frustration is that my changes end up being very public, and I don’t like that. I would like everyone to think that I have it all figured out, and that once I make a decision, you can count on me to follow through with it. I am even telling myself as I write this that after this NEXT round of changes, that will be it. No more change after that. I’m just going to keep picking up speed, because I won’t be changing course all the time. I have adopted a bias of longevity, after all.

But having a bias of longevity does not mean that we never change. It simply means that we put ourselves under no illusions that the grass is greener over THERE and that a new project is going to fix our lives. We consider change carefully and objectively, and we lean toward creating (and finishing) things that are going to last longer than we will.

A bias of longevity must be balanced by a commitment to the truth in the here and now. It is true that opportunities have opened up that were completely unexpected. Synchronistic occurrences have me flabbergasted until I’m sitting here open-palmed saying, “Okay, okay! I get it! I’m supposed to be moving now!”

In a public-facing world, the truth is what saves us. Truth allows us to move like liquid rather than getting stuck in something that you said about yourself so many yesterdays ago. I may have a bias of longevity, but I have an ironclad commitment to the truth.

This week is simply about truth-telling, and how to use it to make every decision and every piece of communication easier. (Truth: I think telling the truth is even more important than telling a good story.) Download this week’s materials here.

Happy nation-building!

Sarah

An open letter to my meeting scheduler

Man, my tweet redemption has worked a little too well. It cured my internet addiction in a matter of days. Turns out when you have to write every time you get sucked in by the internet's wily charms, you get sucked in quite a bit less.

It's Friday, though. And I've missed you, internet. So I thought I'd say hello and redeem one of my tweets for you. This time, in a letter to my past (and future) self.

Dear Sarah,

Why do you always schedule phone meetings? Don't you remember that I hate them? The meetings themselves aren't so bad once they happen, but the looking-at-the-clock-repeatedly-beforehand is the worst. As soon as I realize a meeting is happening soonish, that meeting is all I can think about. I can't focus because I'm afraid I'll get in the flow with something and end up missing it. Think of all the time wasted! All the anguish! All the creative ideas that probably never materialized because I was worried about missing the meeting! We must stop this charade.

Here are some alternative ideas for you:

  • Schedule meetings early in the morning before you work on anything else. Don't worry about the west coasters. They are highly adaptable creatures.

  • Learn telepathy and teach it to your clients.

  • Become allergic to phones. (Must do this for real, since you are a terrible liar.)

  • Become allergic to meetings. (Wait. Maybe you already are?)

  • Become a Luddite.

  • Go into a different profession that doesn't involve meeting with anybody ever.

  • Get a stunt double.

  • Hire a hypnotist. You do like phone meetings. You do like phone meetings. You do like phone meetings.

  • Just be the crazy old lady who won't schedule meetings. Tell people to call you during a certain window of opportunity so that you have no idea when the meeting will be happening, and henceforth cannot stress over missing it.

    I would really appreciate you getting on this post-haste. Preferably before Monday's meeting.

    Love, Sarah

A podcast worth a listen

I totally forgot to listen to this podcast after I tweeted it. (For shame, because Erin is a good friend, and the podcast has been live for 3 weeks!) But today as I chose my randomly generated number of tweets (lucky #50!), I decided to listen. It helped that I am sick in bed with the very same 24-hour stomach bug that has dominoed through my kids this week, and I am being forced to sit (or rather lay) still. That never happens.

I love Erin. She is the most genuinely connected person I know. She cares about people more than I care about toast. I owe many, many flourishing relationships to her. (I started to list them but there were too many.) She knows the kindest, most disinterested, most talented people, and she's not blinded by their supposed influence (or lack thereof). She is the best kind of person. She's also incredibly creative and has an eye for quality and doing things well, which I realize is the same thing...don't say anything, Mike.

That's why I knew this podcast would be fantastic. And now that I've finally gotten to listen to it, it has confirmed my every hope. There's a crackling fire! And crickets! And really interesting people who make me want to go climb a mountain or join a roller derby team. Also, Erin has this great soothing voice that might just relieve me of all of my symptoms. Listen to it with headphones on. I think you'll love it.

Holding my sacred ground

I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about this one, so I'm going to be unpardonably vague. Several weeks ago, someone contacted me from an organization I respect to ask if I'd like to help them build a nation around a project they were working on.

Throughout the initial introductions and question-asking, I was really nervous. Not just nervous that they wouldn't like me (though there was that), but nervous that I would act either stupidly pompous, degradingly self-flagellating, or just plain silly. I was afraid I would either accidentally pretend to know everything about something I knew nothing of, or I would blurt out all of my failures and inadequances in a not-as-rare-as-I'd-like moment of insanity.

When I am especially eager to please, there is a fine line between charming and idiotic that I end up quickly passing right over. I did not want this to be one of those times.

After every conversation, I came away proud of myself, because miraculously, I did none of these things. As Brene Brown says, I did not puff up and I did not shrink. I held my sacred ground. And yep. I got the project.

The Best At Cursive

Lately I've been doing The Artist's Way, which I've done several times before but not all the way through. This time, I'm determined to complete the course.

One of the main tasks in the 12-week program is the morning pages -- 3 pages of stream of consciousness long-hand writing done every morning. I've tried this before, but this time it stuck. I've been doing them for six weeks straight, only missing two mornings (which I made up for in the evening). I can't imagine not doing them now. In fact, I can hardly keep it to just the morning. Whenever there's a thought build-up in my brain, I write. I write afternoon pages, evening pages, middle of the night pages...so many pages.

I bought these brightly colored Royal & Langnickel cloth-bound unlined sketchbooks for $5 in December (that I have been unable to find ANYWHERE else, even online...it was a Christmas miracle), and I've been filling up at least one a month. These are big, page-y, letter-sized notebooks, about the size of two of my high school yearbooks stacked on top of each other. When I find them again, I am going to stockpile them.

I've noticed that when I'm being very good and dutiful, my notebooks get filled up with the prettiest handwriting. It reminds me of my handwriting in the third grade. I was so proud of that handwriting. Mrs. Crise (my teacher who I thought was named that because she was as good as Jesus Christ) would always say that it was the best cursive handwriting she'd ever seen. This fueled my drive to be The Best At Cursive. It even topped my first grade goal of being The Fastest-Walking Line Leader, which I formed after my teacher Mrs. Taylor said "My, you sure do walk quickly!". I was a praise junkie even then.

But when I'm being Sarah, just Sarah, my handwriting gets messy and crazy. I can barely read it. That's when I like myself the best. I'm not trying so hard to please. I'm not being good anymore. I'm just telling the scribbly messy truth, and that's enough.

(By the way, notice that I published two of these today. That's how sucked in to the internet I got. I've decided I'm going to start doing these in the evenings so that the promise of not having to do one will be an incentive to hold to my internet boundaries during the day. Except I'm really enjoying this, so it might not work. Anyway, I am fully planning on starting fresh with my internet ways tomorrow. #tweetredemption for the win!)

Doing good, and doing nothing

I have a few friends who died when I was 16. One was Manda. My second job was as a Medical Records Assistant (I made sure to always capitalize it), and I found out that she died as I was filing some paperwork in her personal file. It said "Deceased" at the top. I read it twelve times before I understood what it meant.

She died in the passenger seat of a car while a friend was driving her home from the park. She fell asleep, and and he fell asleep, too.

Another friend of mine died going to a youth group retreat that I didn't attend. He had stopped for snacks or something and was trying to catch up to everyone else. He ended up losing control of the car and crossing the interstate median.

I didn't go to either of their funerals. I felt ashamed afterward, but I felt like I didn't belong there. We weren't close friends. We talked sometimes in passing, but that was it. I felt like I would be intruding on someone else's sadness.

I didn't go to a funeral at all until my grandfather died, and the clearest memory is of his plastic elderly Ken doll-looking face. All of the red bumpiness was gone. He wasn't laughing or yelling, for once. I remember thinking that they buried a completely different person. But there were people there. So many people. And I didn't stop once to wonder how close they knew him, or why they came. I was just glad to be surrounded by them.

After reading this piece by Deidre Sullivan, it made realize how much I had missed, and have missed, in assuming that I didn't belong or that I would just be intruding. Solidarity is never an intrusion. When it comes to the human capacity for love and suffering, we all belong.

Tweet Redemption, Vol. 1

Of course my first randomly generated Tweet Redemption has to be something stereotypically mom-oriented. Not that I have anything against mom-orientedness (I love my family! They're the best! Go team!), but I was hoping for something a little more existential. Something that says, "Wow Sarah, you sure know some things."

Isn't that what the internet is supposed to do for us? It helps us craft these identities that we hope will somehow turn us into the people we want to be. If we can seeeee it. Then we can doooo it. If we just belieeeeve it. There's nothing tooooo it. (Name that song, fellow children of the 90s!).

A client the other day was asking me, "So how do you craft a tweet so that it's intrinsically shareable?" And I said, "It needs to make the person tweeting it look how they want to look." If they want to look smart, make the tweet make them look smart. If they want to look trendy, make the tweet make them look trendy. Easy.

It is evil that I know this. I promise I don't use this terrible knowledge, except during war times. And for clients. Otherwise, you're safe with me.

But this particular tweet, mom-oriented though it may be, was a moment that I was compelled to tell the wide internet world about. My heart was happy. The day was freakishly warm for early February, and we were able to go walk on the beach for the first time of the season. We all had bed head from not bothering to get dressed or leave the house for days -- the prior week had been too cold and generally miserable. I had been sitting around Making Worthwhile Art and scheming for clients, Nolan had been sitting around making Scratch projects, Lilah had been sitting around making her art, and Charlotte had been sitting around staring at my iPad. (I RUE THE DAY I accidentally introduced her to this wicked device! But that is another story.)

Once we got the idea in our heads that we could escape our tyrranical prison ruled by technology and comfort, we all ran out to the ocean as far as we dared, bed head and all, and you couldn't keep the smiles off our faces. I saw Charlotte's tiny feet prints in the sand, and I thought it was a miracle how small they were next to mine. I took a picture.

One thing I've noticed about taking pictures of small things is that they never look quite as small and adorable in the picture as they did to your own eyes. But it was a wonderful moment. Nolan and Lilah were making "Sand Crispies" and feeding them to the waves. Any time a person came up, they would be regaled with the story of the Sand Crispies. The sand was undeniably stiff that day, the closer you got to the ocean. Nolan marveled at how his feet didn't even make dents in it, as long as he glided instead of stomped. Charlotte was in her own little wonder world, talking to the broken seashells and the husk of a horseshoe crab. I tried to give her a shell I liked, but she didn't share my enthusiasm. Not Invented Here. Look at this one I found, it's better.

I am looking forward to more days like that. Hopefully without the bedhead and without caring how I look on the internet. Just sunny and warm and honest as the Sand Crispies.

The beginning of my tweet redemption

I just read "How much my novel cost me" by Emily Gould, and it broke my heart. It's long, but I never noticed until now. There was one part that struck me particularly -- of course it was the part about her turning point with the internet.

"Twitter and Tumblr and even email—anything that rewards constant vigilance and creates repetitive cycles of need based on intermittent reinforcement—were the bitterest foes of the sustained concentration that’s necessary to making worthwhile art! DUH! How had I been so blind?! How had I lived such a debased life for so long?"

This is an epiphany I have had approximately 23 times. Each time, I am committed anew to attain and "preserve my monastic habits" as Emily describes it. I will break free once and for all!

But the problem is, I really like Twitter. A lot. Some of the dearest and loveliest people I know are on there. Twitter is full of kindred spirits, and it's the only time I get to see them. And when you spend most of your hours and days without adult human companionship like I do, Twitter conversations are better than no conversations.

And anyway, I can handle it. I tell myself this. I can avoid getting sucked in. I'll tweet via text message and Buffer interesting things that I find during my find-interesting-things time. I can batch-check it. Once a day, no more. I'll respond to my friends who've tweeted me and check up on my Fun Tweeterers Who Make Twitter Feel Like 2008 Again list and that will be enough for me.

It mostly works. I'm not perfect. But still, it's time that could be spent Making Worthwhile Art. (Although, there is only so much time I can spend Making Worthwhile Art, and that's in the morning and I only respond/check Twitter in the evening...or who am I kidding every hour and a half in between Making Worthwhile Art, but still. A person needs breaks.)

So I'm not giving up Twitter anytime soon. But maybe I can...redeem it? I will redeem my Twitter usage. I will Make Worthwhile Art out of it. Or at least...something. Something that will move me forward in my writing. Something that will not be super-pressurey, but will allow me to create and share in public in a more extemporaneous way than I get to do with my other projects.

I am embarking on a little side project. A silly little project that I'm calling Tweet Redemption. Whenever I feel like I've been sucked into the Internet against my better judgment (especially Twitter, but Facebook and Instagram and Feedly and Pinterest are not entirely immune), instead of feeling guilty about it, I am going to redeem myself. I am going to randomly choose a number, then I am going to go back in time to that many tweets back. I am going to take that tweet, and I'm going to use it as a writing exercise.

No, I don't really need Twitter penance (I'm not even Catholic!), but I have wanted to start blogging more. Since reading Writing Down the Bones recently, I've also wanted to practice just telling the truth and seeing what comes out...not having an agenda ahead of time for what I write. And how cool would it be to know the bigger story behind a particular tweet? Maybe some of it will even be Making Worthwhile Art!

This could be a stupid idea. BUT. If it's something you'd like to try too, it would be fun to hear the story behind your tweets. You can tag it #tweetredemption and I'll look for it (on twitter at least...on other platforms, you might have to let me know).

Love and toast! Sarah

P.S. DON'T WORRY JENNIE I'M STILL WRITING MY BOOK. :)

Getting to know you

I've been wanting to write more random bloggy things lately. My work has been so incredibly focused and in the zone, two modes of being that I am quite fond of, but it doesn't leave much time for shenanigans. But today, I have 10 minutes until my scheduled workday starts (woo! I am such a planner!), so I figured...what better than to spend 10 minutes reading blog posts? Then I saw that Kerry wrote this Getting to Know You post on her blog, and I felt compelled to enter in on the fun. So shenanigans! They will be had.

  1. What's your favorite thing about the city you live in?
  2. What movie could you watch over and over? This doesn’t have to be your favorite movie or even necessarily a GOOD movie.
  3. How did you meet your best friend?

Numero Uno. Virginia Beach is a city I've often made fun of for its touristy-ness and lack of delicious food. But I'm actually starting to like it here. My favorite thing is that it's so sprawling. It takes a good hour to drive from the part where I'm spending my winter now (a less-populated beach in the boonies on the very southern part of the city) across to the direct opposite of Virginia Beach. Because of this, there is so much variety -- you can live in suburbia, you can live at the beach (several different types of beach), you can live in the country out in Pungo, you could live in the downtown-ish part. Or you could move to the Norfolk for some historic urbanity which is just a skip away. It's actually pretty great here. I'm officially going to stop complaining about it.

Numero Dos. Singin' in the Rain! I have a dream of playing Kathy Selden on stage one day.

Numero Tres. I CAN'T REMEMBER. Seriously, I have the worst memory ever. She probably called me up and asked to hang out, because I would most likely never do such a thing. She does such things all the time.

How about you?

The difference between rocks and pearls

Last week, I started doing The Artist's Way for maybe the second or third time (I say "doing" rather than "reading" because although it's a book, it's also a 12-week course for getting creatively unstuck...the magic is in the "doing"). Although I'm not stuck (more than usual anyway), I've been looking at it as inspiration for the book I'm writing. It's got such a great balance of philosophy and practicality, which I'm hoping to strike in my book.

One of the basic practices in The Artist's Way is the artist date. Despite how important Julia Cameron says this is, I've never done the artist date. Morning pages, yes. All that requires is me picking up my pen and a notebook and writing down whatever comes into my head for three pages. The artist date actually requires me to go somewhere. Alone, without my kids or my husband or my best friend.

Today, I did the artist date for the first time. Since we're living on the outskirts of our city right now, I thought it would be a great idea to take advantage of our sticksville location by going to an eatery that's even further away. They have really great food, and you can hang out with animals after you eat. I parked my car, got a cup of coffee and one of their famous cinnamon rolls, and sat down to write my morning pages (I'm not sure if it's technically allowed to do your morning pages ON your artist's date, but I'm allowing it).

If you don't have three kids who you homeschool (from home, naturally) and a company that you run (from home) and a house that is so far away from civilization that people barely visit you, you'll just have to imagine how light-footed I felt, sitting there among new, interesting people who I wasn't responsible for. I sipped my coffee and wrote my words and ate my cinnamon roll with a big smile on my face the whole time.

After about half an hour of this, a sweet middle-aged lady came in (I presumed she was the owner). She bantered with her employees and checked to make sure her customers were comfortable, and then came over to my table.

"How are you? Is everything good?"

"Yes. It's great." (Then in an attempt to connect with this new person somehow.) "Actually, I'm on an artist date."

"A what?"

"An artist date. Have you ever done The Artist's Way?"

"No."

"Well, it's a book...for finding your creativity."

"Oh, that's nice. That's so nice. Are you having fun?"

"Yes."

Then she went back to work. I felt a little stupid for being so forthcoming, especially when I was checking out with a big chicken pot pie under my arm, and she turned to a man about her age who had a similar look about him (her spouse? co-owner?) and said, "Look, she's on a date with herself!" And he said "Oh!" and then silence. I made a weird combination giggle/smile, gathered up my purchases, and left.

I don't know what I was expecting, really. Maybe a glint of recognition or some kind of interaction that would make me feel closer to my fellow humans. After all, I don't usually strike up conversations with strangers.

As I was driving home, I was oddly reminded of that verse, "Don't cast your pearls before swine." I've always felt weird about that verse...it seems a small comfort when you're misunderstood or flat-out rejected. It's like you're saying, "Anyone who doesn't get me is a big fat pig and can shove it". Sometimes that's completely justified (I have a neighbor who this interpretation most definitely applies to), but it doesn't account for the people who "don't get it" who are kind and lovely, and not at all pigs.

But today I realized that it's not about people being self-absorbed and smelly like pigs. At least, not most of them. It's about people receiving something precious and not realizing what it is. Like an adorable little pig, they are simply unable to distinguish between a pearl and just another piece of rock.

I wonder if that's not why many of us who put our work out into the world naturally want other people to see the value in it. It's not that we need the constant validation. It's that we have created a pearl, and we hope we are offering it to people who don't mistake it for the gravel they use to fill up their driveways.

One thing I love about the internet is that it's easier to find the kindred spirits. There isn't a wall of flesh and self-awareness between me and the other person. That flash of recognition happens so regularly and often when I make something or write something for people who I discover are astonishingly like me.

Of course, I like the pigs, too. I'm sure I am one at times. But I don't create for them. I create for Sarah and for the people who are made up of something similar. I create for that spark of recognition between me and you, the one where we see ourselves in each other and are comforted that we aren't the only ones. That may happen rarely or often, but when it happens, it's special...maybe even more valuable than the pearl itself.

The paradox of joy

Last night in the pitch dark, I trekked to the beach in below-freezing temperatures in order to see the “big waves” with my family. (The waves were enormous, and we all wanted to see them up close). We don’t normally do things like this, even though we’ve been renting a beach house for the winter while our house with the formerly-caved-in-ceiling gets fixed.

I am not the kind of person who likes to be uncomfortable. I’ve designed my career to be the kind where I can stay home every single day and not have to wake up early or interact with people if I don’t want to. I usually don’t want to. I prefer a slow pace to my life, and I guard it with unflinching determination (read: I don’t get out much). It takes me a huge amount of mental preparation to even go to the library, and I love the library. Granted, since we moved to the outskirts of our sprawling town, our closest library is 15 minutes away. I also have 3 kids to get ready before we go anywhere, and if I’m in my pajamas at that point, then there’s my own personal hygiene to contend with. But the point is, I usually prefer the comfort of my own home to pretty much anything outside of it.

So yesterday, when John asked me if I wanted to go with him and our almost-7-year-old Lilah to the beach, I said no thanks. We had been out all day and had just gotten home. I had settled in on the couch with my laptop in hand, ready to answer the last bit of email for the week. I knew what the beach looked like right then. It’s pretty. And dark. And windy. And freezing.

But John and I have been talking lately about doing hard things. About how the things we were afraid to do or didn’t want to do are the things we remember most, and fondest. Like when John jumped out of a hot tub into a freezing cold pool with his friends when it was 20 degrees outside. Like when I went to an 80s dance party in the middle of Portland and danced with internet friends and strangers until the night was done.

Then I started thinking…maybe that’s why there is so much of my life that I don’t remember. Because I was safe in my home, snuggled up with my book and my toast and my chai. I was comfortable in my solitude. I didn’t choose to do hard, uncomfortable things.

So I stepped out last night with John, our schnauzer Colby, and our 8, 6, and 2 year old onto the frozen sand path that would lead us to the ocean. I couldn’t move my face after the first minute, but the stars were so bright it didn’t matter. John paused to show me how to see the rest of Orion, in addition to his belt. Colby tugged us on and on.

When we started up the sand dunes and got our first glimpse of the water (and our first shock of the icy ocean wind), Nolan started to get nervous and asked to go back home. I can understand why…the ocean at night is formidable. It’s thunderous and black with white foam, and even though the beach stretches out for a long time in front of it, you can’t help thinking, “What if a tsunami happened right now, and the ocean came and swallowed us whole?” Or at least, Nolan and I can’t help thinking that.

“We’re building character here!” is all John said in response.

We kept walking closer to the inky waves, though it’s hard to judge the distance at night. Nolan kept saying, “Stop! We’re going to walk in the water!” But of course, we didn’t. When we finally got to our destination, we stood and looked up at the stars and down at the water and out into the darkness. We stomped our feet on the crunchy sand. We turned to each other and giggled a little. When we’d gotten our fill, we turned around and started back home.

“You know what you’re really going to appreciate when we get home?” John asked. “What?” said Nolan. “Warmth.” And we did (especially 2-year-old Charlotte, who didn’t have gloves for our journey and ended up with red, cold hands from taking them out of her pockets so much). But more than that, we felt alive and invigorated. We felt the truth in our hearts that discomfort brings comfort into sharp relief, and that’s what good memories are built on.

Like most true things, joy is a paradox. We most often find it, not when we’re doing things that bring us immediate pleasure and gratification, but in disrupting our lives with something that is difficult, out-of-the-ordinary, inconvenient. So this year, instead of avoiding hard things, we’re going to start wrapping our arms around them and jumping into them on purpose. We want to become the kind of people who are not afraid of discomfort, but who appreciate it and heartily go after it.

Two new projects to help us have a beautiful new year

I'm really excited to release two lovely new projects today. The first is called The Year of the Nation, and it's 52 weeks of inspiration, prompts, and resources for nation-building. I am thrilled with how it turned out. You can get started here (it's free!).

The second thing I've created is a continuation of my Hello, Month project. Hello, January is focused on dreaming big in order to expand our sense of possibility, rather than jumping straight to the resolutions and to-do lists. No sign-up needed; you can get started here.

Wishing you a glorious new year!

- Sarah