Here Be Dragons

012In December, I participated in #Quest2015, a month of creative community and responses to thought-provoking prompts by visionaries in various fields designed to get us thinking about business as unusual, and how we will live our personal and professional lives with creativity and integrity in 2015. The Quest was such a success, and became such a worthwhile endeavor, that its creator, Jeffrey Davis, generously and graciously agreed to continue it into the new year, with prompts on Mondays for the next twelve weeks. This Monday, he invited each of us to articulate a burning question of possibility for 2015, one we could pursue in order to guide us in living out our creative vision for the next three months.

So here’s my burning question:

What if, instead of being a collection of reactions to the things that have happened to me, I author my own life with the compassion, attention, and wonder with which I author my stories?

We speak ourselves into being with the stories we tell. My epiphany this Epiphany, though, is that often I let those stories anchor me instead of filling my sails.

Like probably every writer since the dawn of the written word, I’ve hoarded up stories of discouragement–the parent/judge who disqualified me from a writing contest in eighth grade, the college professor who told me point-blank he hated my poetry, the rejection letters from publishers and agents. Like Smaug’s gold, these stories have embedded themselves in my hide, at once armor and irritation.

What if I chipped them away? What if I remembered that I have other stories, too?

A post by A.K. Anderson has stuck with me since I read it over a year ago. It’s about making a life list–a list of what you’ve already accomplished–instead of a bucket list. Ever since I heard the term “bucket list,” it’s inspired a certain revulsion in me. I don’t want to think about “kicking the bucket.” And where am I going to get the money to live in a castle in Ireland? And exactly who is going to resurrect J. R. R. Tolkien so we can hang? And–most insidious of all–isn’t this just another “to-do” list that’s going to freak me out when I fail to check off all the boxes?

When I see people’s bucket lists, I feel vaguely panicky and more than vaguely inadequate. When I thought about my life list, I also felt more than vaguely inadequate. Until I started actually making the list.

I have single-handedly gotten an injured woman out of a remote rainforest.

I have birthed two gorgeous, wild boys.

I have survived a car accident that left me with a lacerated liver and kidney, a cracked rib, a collapsed lung, and a broken collarbone.

I have survived mental illness.

There were a ton of things on my list. These are the first few that come to mind. I am not as boring as I think I am. None of us are. If you sat down right now and made a life list (do it! do it!), it would astonish both of us with its courage and craziness, its moments of strength and beauty. But I’d forgotten all my mighty and wild moments because I’d been clinging too hard to the icky ones.

So, for these first few months of 2015, I’m going to work on my own narrative. Instead of focusing on telling and re-telling myself the stories of my scars, I’m going to work on writing my life right now.

I’m going to create more. I’ve got a big chunk of clay and some barely-used paints. I’ve got stories to write. I’m going to treat writing like water and art like food. I need them both to nourish my creative spirit.

I’m going to do more. Not in the sense of overachieving, but in the sense of just getting out there in the big wide scary-gorgeous world and experiencing things. I’m thinking about using this very cool framework of 52 Weeks of Adventure from blogger Brenda. I discovered it via one of my new favorite blogs, Such Small Hands. I love the way Brenda frames adventure, not as something necessarily huge and not as something to inspire envy, but simply as a reaching out into the wonder of the world, an embracing of new experiences.

Finally, I’m going to nurture myself more. I already do a couple of smart things, like regular massage to help me cope with anxiety. I’m going to work on the other stuff now–more sleep, more long walks, more time with friends, less self-criticism.

For too long now, I’ve been trying to do and be all things to all people while continuing to tell myself the stories that hold me back. What if, this year, I focus on being the captain of my own soul? What if I chart my own course? What if I write my own story, one precious day at a time?

This post from #Quest2015’s Fearless Leader, Jeffrey Davis, is excellent food for thought: “Are You Living & Dying in the Waiting Room?”

What burning question will help you navigate the uncharted waters of 2015?

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17 thoughts on “Here Be Dragons

  1. I don’t know why but it does seem easier to focus on the negative in one’s life…what I don’t have, haven’t done, shortcomings and faults rather than appreciate what we have accomplished as father, mother, friend, co-worker, person, etc. (I definitely include myself in this group). Maybe we’re worried about becoming complacent or to full of ourselves…I really don’t know but I think the life list is a cool idea.

    I’ve also really come to appreciated that self-care/self-nurturing is invaluable, be it extra sleep, longer walks or shooting up an opponent’s Battlemechs (maybe that’s pushing it a bit). it’s one of those things I think we know intuitively but it’s so easily pushed to the background to make time for the “important” stuff. When you care for yourself that has a positive impact on every other part of your world.

  2. You inspired me to update my list! I’m really impressed by your rainforest item, and I want to know that entire story, because DAMN.

  3. Brenna, I love this line: We speak ourselves into being with the stories we tell. Funny, but I hadn’t read your blog post before I posted mine today about the power in telling our stories. I think this year is going to be a great adventure for both of us. Keep writing, nurturing, and making art. xoxox, Ginny

  4. If you ever manage to resurrect J. R. R. Tolkien, let me know and we’ll all hang out! I think we focus too much on the big things that end up in those bucket lists. The other day I helped someone’s daughter out with some grammar questions, and it was great. Every time I help someone I feel like I’m building that life list. I think that’s why I get such satisfaction from writing my blog. Although I wouldn’t say no to living in a castle. 🙂

    1. Sue, you make a great point about the importance of the seemingly small actions. All those little kindnesses, those teachable moments, those offers of assistance are, in the end, the things that build the world. And you are definitely invited to tea with J. R. R. and me. We’ll work on the details. 😉

  5. Thank you, Brenna. I am going to play with the life list (though that nasty, nasally, sing-song critic voice inside me chides “what are you trying to do, Colleen, brag?? Little nasty critic man, go away) We do write our own stories, so let us do so with love and tender attention. Very helpful reflection for me to have read this evening.

    1. Colleen, I’m so glad it was helpful! I actually ended up making a huge life list and never putting it out there in the world because I worry about bragging, too. Ugh. That little critic man IS a nasty one for sure!

  6. I very much like this commentary. I’m afraid I have been guilty of bucket-listing it recently. (Not dying, just so you know.) I’m doing all the things I won’t be able to do after surgery this spring. I’ve already zip-lined this summer and yesterday I went ice skating for the first time in about 30 years. I struggle with anxiety and the exercise reminds me that I’m not dead yet.

    1. Thanks so much for your response! Your bucket-listing sounds not so much like bucket-listing as making sure you have lots of fun before you have to sit still for a while. I struggle with anxiety, too, and I know exactly what you mean about getting out and getting moving! I hope your surgery goes very smoothly and your recovery is as comfortable–and quick!–as possible.

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