Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange

~Shakespeare, The Tempest

Today, a flotilla sets sail toward the horizon of a new year. Quest 2016 begins, led by  Jeffrey Davis and crewed by a whole slew of amazing makers and do-ers.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Quest, it’s a month of prompts–three per week–designed to instigate deep and productive thinking about the year ahead. It works because it’s not a handful of scattered New Year’s resolutions made in isolation, but a quest undertaken in community with a wild and wonderful pack of creative people from all disciplines and walks of life.

Today the first prompt arrived via email, a message in an electronic bottle from  Susan Piver:


What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…

Such a tiny prompt, and yet so vast.

For most of November, I took a social media hiatus. I find these extended breaks necessary in order to clear my mind and figure out where I’m headed. This past month, I spent time reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to map out my voyage.

Envisioning a year at sea…….

What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is that vague notions of success are not good ballast for my voyage.

In thinking about a new year, I envision December as a time to take stock, to prepare my vessel for the journey ahead. I’m poking around in the hold and deciding what I need to take with me, and what I can jettison. In the dank darkness, I’ve uncovered this slimy, fishy-smelling notion of “success.”

I’ve let the desire for success drive me–or weight me down–for a long time. I want to “make it” as a writer. But the problem with this goal is that it depends a lot on other people. On agents. Publishers. I’ve come up against the realization that I could write a good book that wouldn’t “make it.” While I’m not changing my professional goals for my writing, I do need to change my focus, stock my hold with good ballast.

Treasures await.

A few years ago, a close friend was diagnosed with cancer. She was given months to live. She did a clinical trial, changed her diet, prayed, believed, hoped. And now she’s cancer-free. If her story hadn’t worked out this way, though, she wouldn’t have “lost,” despite our prevailing cultural metaphor of cancer-as-battle. For many people, the battle metaphor works. For others, it doesn’t, because by implication, a person who dies of cancer is a loser. Not strong enough. Too weak.

I feel this way about the word “success.” If I don’t “succeed,” am I a failure?


Here be dragons…….

In 2016, I need to jettison these tired, slimy, barnacle-encrusted notions of “success” I’ve been hauling around. I want to make room for the good stuff. The treasures I can’t yet anticipate. The good ballast that will keep me steady in the water but not weighted down. I spent a lot of time thinking about this in November.

November is my safe harbor.

This month, it’s time to choose what I’ll take with me. Time to purge the dark hold, scrub off the useful items, and put them back with gratitude and reverence. Time to add a few new things in the form of good habits to sustain me on my voyage. All that other junk is going overboard.

This month, I choose what I will take with me into the new year.

I am jettisoning this notion of “success,” this idea that I have to achieve something specific and tangible, that the journey itself is not enough, that I, as I am, am not enough. I’m jettisoning perfectionism, that incompetent handmaiden of success. This may mean that I put stuff out into the world that falls flat. This may mean that at times I get lost, that clouds obscure the stars and I don’t know how to navigate. But I’m not waiting any longer. I’m leaving this blobby, seaweedy success-beast to settle quietly to the ocean floor. The barnacles can have it.

Work in progress…….

————————————————————-But, as one of my childhood heroes, Levar Burton, used to say on Reading Rainbow, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Read the good stuff other Questers are writing:

Suzi Banks Baum regularly takes my breath away with her words and images.

Vanessa Herald‘s writing is completely luminous and yet earthy-real, down-to-earth and yet dancing among stars, and you should definitely check out her TinyLetter project, because it will be the best thing in your email inbox every day. Seriously.

Barb Suarez is someone you want in your world, whether you’re having a baby or birthing a novel.

Katherine Reynolds tells an inspiring story of her transformation-in-progress.

Lois Kelly vows to stop her “business gambling.”

Janet St. John‘s response is a must-read for writers and impatient people.

19 thoughts on “Sea-change

  1. The one thing I do know is that one will always have to live with oneself. If I could discipline myself to write the kind of book that will ape others and succeed because neatly genred,I would have no self respect, and no amount of money ( should it come) would replace self respect. But possibly adjusting a book I am proud of to make it less ‘forbidding’ or more accessible might be worth doing. But if it is already floating belly up maybe I should write another to be proud of ( for different reasons)! A writer’s self confidence seeps into every word, and lack of it undermines the entire enterprise.

  2. What a beautiful image of mandala by month, just lovely, this post, too, Brenna. Success is a wheel like that mandala maybe, wildly different, fulfilled in wildly divergent ways depending on our feral hearts and moods. How’s that. Can’t wait to read what you write as you write it. Glad to be on quest with you…

  3. Oh, I loved this so much! All of it, the words, the pictures, your creativity bursting forth – and the snowflakes falling all the while as I read. Super magical! Had a smile on my face the whole timeI was reading (still do!) November was really good for you, I can tell, and I’m excited to see what you do with your weightless self in 2016! Quest on!

    1. Ooooh, “weightless self”……I love that image and the feeling it brings with it! Thanks, Barb–November was really good. It’s my birth-month, so I’ve always sort of claimed it. 🙂 Looking forward to following your Quest as well!

  4. This is utterly, fantastically, wonderfully wonderful. Thank you for challenging our often unquestioned cultural beliefs about winning and losing, succeeding and failing. Oh yes I am in love with this post.

  5. My most favorite part, that I keep coming back to look at, is the open space of the woman and the boat. That.
    All my love and thank you for linking to my post. And for hauling those dragons all over town. And for being your
    brave self. Methinks success will look very different for us. And I like that thought. xoxoS

    1. The open space……yes. Open spaces are so rich in their emptiness. Thanks for that thought. Lots and lots of love to you. I am loving watching you step into your success. I think it looks pretty flippin’ amazing.

  6. Brenna, I love all your dragon photos. In thinking about last year’s Quest, I remember how I fell in love immediately with your photo portraits of big stuffed dragons drinking tea. I thought – this is exactly the kind of person I want to know. And, how neat that you still have your dragon friends with you, just slightly smaller dragon friends. I love your metaphor here, and – quite frankly – I think you are a giant success. I think you are a giant success and your rooting and flying and your making time to write and staying connected to yourself. I am so glad to know you. And the TinyLetter and I are so grateful that you think we are worth sharing. Can’t wait to see all of your Quest ahead (forever and ever!). xo!

    1. Oh, V, thank you so, so much for this. I remember falling in love with the title of your blog before I read another word. And, of course, that lovely photo of eggs. I don’t know how to respond to such lovely words except to say THANK YOU. Thank you for making the time to affirm and to witness even while you forge your own successful path.

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