2015 in Review (and Favorite Books)

It's time to sum up the year on Packing Lust! This is my fourth year doing this, and it's one of my favorite ways to get the big picture and remember the year as a whole. In 2015, we didn't travel outside of the U.S., however we certainly did some significant traveling and moving within the states. It was a family-focused year as we learned to parent and watch Bump thrive over the course of his first year of life. Our doggie, Jelly Bean, spent a few months living with my parents and then reunited with us in Washington, D.C. in October. At the end of the year we moved again (yes, just a couple days ago) and we're having fun in our new city.

Favorite Books

Of the dozens of books I read this year, my top three favorites were:

      1. Dying to Be Me -- A kind of spiritual-health memoir by Anita Moorjani about her near death experience and subsequent speedy healing from cancer. She shares her unusual experience in vivid and convincing detail and what she learned about the importance of living fearlessly and as true to her self as possible.

2. Me Before You: a Novel -- I've read two Jojo Moyes books and both placed one of their main characters in the type of ethical quandary that most of us will never have to experience. This one is about the relationship between a paralyzed man with a death wish and one of his caretakers. I loved the masterful storytelling and the way it helped me see the central question from several perspectives.

3. Life in Motion: an Unlikely Ballerina -- Misty Copeland's memoir reveals her journey to become the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.  I loved the window into the life of an elite dancer driven by the pursuit of excellence. Most of us will never experience being a prodigy in anything; this books lets you share the excitement of being 14 and discovering that you are one of the world's most naturally talented ballerinas. I was also impressed with the storytelling; it manages to be a page-turner even though we already know the happy ending to the story. I laughed; I cried. At one point I had to put the book down and dance alone in the room just to express the triumph I shared with her. This book is for anyone who ever worked hard on a dream and had to overcome unexpected obstacles to achieve excellence.

By Month

January

Having had baby boy Bump in late November 2014, I was two things: A) tired and B) excited to maintain my writing habit and keep the creative juices flowing.

To help out with A) I featured a guest post on creating a digital vision board to inspire your travel dreams and B) I did a 7-day blogging challenge.

February

My only post for February was a 2014 year in review piece. I guess I was still sleep-deprived from those early months as a new parent.

March

This month I launched SimpleLivingToolkit.com where I help people to declutter and join the simple living movement. I kept getting advice to narrow down/focus what I do to help people with my business (it's so hard when I do a variety of things, both to help people and just to express my creativity) so this new website was my answer. Join other simple living enthusiasts by signing up here.

April

This month I felt that it was time to share what I'd learned about about two things. One: self-publishing. Two: keeping things simple (stuff-wise) when you have a baby. Check out the very shareable "Minimalist Baby" list.

MINI BABY

May

This month we took a romantic-foodie trip to Myrtle Beach while my parents took care of Bump. Fun and yummy. 2015-05-22 10.44.53Another fun outing was the Dance of the Spring Moon powwow.

Also this month I launched my "Start a Daily Writing Habit" email coaching series. It's awesome and a great way to kick start yourself if you want to write more in 2016.

June

I posted my first and only packing related piece this year in June. It's about how you pack differently when you become a mommy and how certain things are less glamorous than... I thought they would be. I also blogged about a couple trips I took to Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston (34)

July

We moved from Lumberton, NC, to Arlington, VA and I wrote about the ups and downs of big city life with a baby.

I reflected on how simple living lets me enjoy textures and details.

August

Though my book on habits to help you make money from your creativity is very behind schedule, I did work on it this year with additional research. I posted this month and later in the year when I found articles about creativity and about the changing landscape of making money as a creative.

Don't worry ; I didn't let the year go by without publishing. Prince Charming and I co-wrote a book called Simple Kitchen and published it this month to Amazon Kindle and Audible. It's a quick read you'll want to check out if you like keeping things simple in the kitchen without sacrificing the cooking experience.

After moving to the Washington, D.C. area last month, we enjoyed exploring our new city including a trip to Teddy Island.

At the end of the month, Bump (his nickname on the blog) turned 9 months old and we took photos in a park in our Rosslyn neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. I shot more people too.

IMG_9623

September

We explored the Washington, D.C. area. You know us; it was all about the food.

pickles Creative types may enjoy my notes on an interview that Elizabeth Gilbert gave in which she talked about fear and creativity and being a grown-up.

October

We moved within the D.C. metro area from Arlington, Virginia to the Columbia Heights area of Washington.

I traveled to Black Mountain, North Carolina, reuniting with a bunch of family on my mom's side to celebrate my grandmother's 80th's birthday.

sunshine

November

We enjoyed exploring our neighborhood of Washington (Columbia Heights) on foot and living car-free. On the blog, I wrote about a memory of a snow ball fight I had back in Palestine in 2013. Bump turned one this month and started walking just before he hit that milestone birthday.

IMG_0384first

December

We moved to Los Angeles on the eve of Christmas Eve. Now, rather unexpectedly, but very happily, we're back in the city where Prince Charming and I met over five and a half years ago. I'm looking forward to what life in this city over the next year brings.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Fear, Paradox, and Being a Grown Up

I listened to every heart-grabbing minute of this interview. It hits the bullseye of what I believe about creativity and fear and taking smart, measured risks with your creativity.

If you don't want to watch all 47 minutes, 57 seconds of this interview and you'd rather read my notes, this is for you.

Why You Aren't Moving Ahead on Your Creative Project

  • People come up with all sorts of rationalizations
  • These reasons for not doing it all sound so logical and reasonable
  • The underlying reason you aren't moving ahead with your book/painting/etc., according to Elizabeth Gilbert's vast experience of deep conversations with creatives, is fear.
  • Some people are afraid that it's all been done before and they want to be original.
  • It HAS all been done before. But it's never been done by you.
  • Marie Forleo: "Everything is a Remix," I think it's a book to check out.
  • There is nothing truly original because we are creative creatures, there are billions of us, and we've been creating for millenia.
  • Do it anyway because, paradoxically, since you are unique, you can make something original. It will, however, always be a twist on, or at least contain references to something else.

How to Conquer Fear

  • Don't try.
  • Treat fear as a respected friend whose job it is to keep you safe.
  • Bring fear along for the ride but don't let fear make any decisions about what you create.
  • Fear thinks uncertainty will be the death of you, and it's job is to prevent your death.
  • Creativity is all about uncertainty, so that's why fear speaks. Say, "thank you for protecting me but I'm just writing a poem. It's not going to kill me."

On Creativity

What it Takes to Live an Enduringly Creative Life

  • Even your dream career comes with "shit sandwiches," (i.e., rejection letters and mean comments on social media) so get ready to eat some. If you're unwilling to eat the shit sandwiches that come with your dream, then you probably haven't picked the right dream because you will happily eat the shit sandwiches if you really love the creative work.
  • Following our creative bliss promises joy and fun, not financial gain
  • We're all grownups here, so let's talk about this:
  • Take big risks (sell the farm, quit your job) for your creativity only to the point where if you fail totally and lose it all, you won't be embittered or so broken you won't be able to try again in the near future. Throw yourself into your creativity without risking so much (time, money, relationships) that failure breaks your spirit.
  • This conversation about going for it - within limits specific to your life -  doesn't happen enough.
  • Failure is part of it and shouldn't be shameful.
  • Most life coaches, etc, just say "go for it!"  But inspiration never promises to pay our bills. Inspiration promises us the wild ride of our lives. The results MIGHT pay the bills sometimes but don't quit if it doesn't.
  • Elizabeth wants to change the bumper sticker from "Leap and the net will catch you, to "Leap and the net MIGHT catch you."
  • Leap any way. Just be happy to pick yourself back up and dust yourself off.
  • Marie Forleo worked "day jobs" (bartending, etc.) for seven years before her creativity-based business could support her. Now it brings in millions annually. She kept taking the right kind of risk, which is the one that lets you keep risking even if (when) you fail and fail.
  • I'm good at doing this and love coaching creatives to walk this line.

How to Beat Perfectionism

As my mother always taught me, done is better than good.

Elizabeth Gilbert

  • Yet again it all comes down to fear.
  • Often perfectionists don't finish things. Worse, they often don't start them for fear of making crap.
  • Self-forgiveness is what will get you to finish your creative project, not rigor. (SO TRUE!)
  • We all think that first day of writing, that first novel, whatever, is crap, something to be ashamed of when we look back from the perspective of writing on day two or the second novel.
  • "You forgive yourself for disappointing yourself... and you go and you do more. And that's it." - Elizabeth Gilbert

Play with Paradox

  • The paradox of creating is that you love your work and think it's precious, but simultaneously you must be able to be cavalier toward it. Trash a beautiful sentence you wrote if it's not working for the whole paragraph.
  • Once a book is published, let it go. It is not you. It's not your baby. It's out there in the world. Move on. Paradox: it totally is your baby, of course.
  • Another paradox is around helping people. Do your work if it brings you joy. It's great if it ends up helping people, but don't set out to serve.  (Note from me: serve by teaching if you have students, but when you create, just do it for fun.)
  • Eat, Pray, Love, was written for fun at a time when her life was a "hot mess." It ended up helping people but she certainly didn't write it from a desire to serve.

I have paid hundreds -- probably thousands -- of dollars for seminars on writing and creativity that don't do as good a job dealing with the voices of fear and inspiration in your head, so if this interview seems up your alley, you'll love watching the full video. There was also a section around minute 25 on the interview where they go fairly deep about preparing to for a public speaking gig (with Oprah). That's worth a listen if you are a speaker or performer.

This interview was centered around Elizabeth Gilbert's latest book:

 

Painting Your Own Career

Come fly with me. What do you say? #escape #flying #soaring #GaryBaseman #Baseman #sketchbook #drawing

A photo posted by Gary Baseman (@garybaseman) on

It's such a good time to be a creative! I was so excited reading Steven Johnson's August 23rd NYT Magazine cover article "The New Making It," today because I have an upcoming book (long delayed) about making a living as a creative in the digital economy. Johnson looked into the numbers to tell us what has seemed apparent for a while now: The internet and digital economy makes it easier to build an artistic career (for those who are entrepreneurial and want to interact with fans/build an audience). And writers, musicians, and filmmakers are doing it successfully in greater numbers. "On the whole," he writes, "creators seem to be making slightly more money, while growing in number at a steady but not fast pace." And "[...] the trends are making creative livelihoods more achievable." The article focuses on musicians, opening with Lars Ulrich's fear in 2000 that Napster (and free music) would kill the music industry. It has dramatically reduced it. But it hasn't killed musicians. The actual creators (not the labels and executives) are thriving.

Now that it's easier than ever to create and get one's work out into the world, critics worry that the lowering of the barriers to entry also lowers the quality of the creative work, that the masses entering creative fields will generate work that appeals only to the masses - to some shared base human tendencies, like a fascination with Kim Kardashian. But Johnson lays out some evidence that this is not the case. He also includes one of my favorite definitions of quality in the cultural sphere that I've read, writing, "All these numbers, of course, only hint at whether our digital economy rewards quality. Or -- even better than that milquetoast word "quality" -- at whether it rewards experimentation, boundary-pushing, satire, the real drivers of new creative work."

The book I'm writing will focus on the principles and habits needed to succeed as a creative in the digital economy, something the article only touches on briefly. In short, artists have to  be willing to create their own path, to shape and form their career in the same way they shape and form a painting, book, or sculpture.

To find out more about my book and when it will be coming out, sign up for full moon updates.

Summer Family Portraits

I took these photos of family members over the past few months. I love shooting people, in a photographic sense that is. I've been practicing my portrait photography for years (and improving very slowly), especially focusing on these types of shoots:
  • couples
  • engagements
  • families
  • mamas and babies
  • birthdays
  • anniversaries

I love taking pictures to mark special moments, milestones, and celebrations. I love how an image can capture a fleeting expression, a laugh, a moment of delight, thoughtfulness, or mischief. Also, my mom always quotes my grammy as saying, "You'll always look back at photos and think you looked good." Or something like that. The idea being that even if the mirror isn't kind to you today, the passage of time will give you a new outlook on your past attractiveness.

There's also the fun and creativity of doing "just for fun," photo shoots, which I have done with many of my friends since college. It's the grown up equivalent of playing dress up. It is playing dress up, with the addition of photos to remember the fun. I did one of these shoots with my friend Leena, where we did dramatic makeup and tattoo shots. You can see those photos here.

Also, I personally believe there is a bit of magical power in these fun photo shoots. I think seeing beautiful photos of yourself and your family can help us remember and appreciate what is important.

I do love to imagine, whimsical though it may be, that the photos I take of friends, where we play and enjoy and act and pose and dress up, do have some life changing magical power. I think portrait photography can help you see yourself in a new way. You can see your soul when you look at your eyes in a photo in a way you can't when you look into the mirror.

Leena

These are photos I took back in March 2014 of my friend Leena in Palestine. She recently got married. Congratulations to Leena and her groom. We miss you!

Textures and Details

Detail on a Jordanian kafiya. One benefit of simple living is the space it allows me to appreciate and create instances of detail, texture, and beauty moment-to-moment. I've been collecting close-ups in the form of photographs lately. Here are a few of them.

A doodle of mine.

Some will say that art, or creation, thrives in a state of chaos. Envision the stereotype of the studio piled high with canvasses filled and empty, paint brushes, scattered fruit. See the cliche of the writer behind her desk, hidden from view by books, pages, and files stacked high.

The edge of the moon viewed through a telescope on July 28, 2015.

I find that controlled chaos, or what I prefer to think of as curated or chosen chaos, is helpful for making connections that wouldn't be made otherwise, like how crashing into into someone at a packed party might help you meet a friend you would've otherwise never met.

I like chosen chaos for a certain stage in the creative process, the time when you are well into a project, deep in the jungle of it.

Detail on a pillowcase embroidered by a Palestinian artisan.

But, and here's how minimalism helps my creativity bloom, I like to start with a blank slate. My mind needs calm, an empty room, metaphorically and sometimes literally, to gain the deep serenity from which ideas arise.

If you never allow yourself the time to clean, clear, declutter, forgive, and take out the trash, traffic backs up, and with it the exhaust fumes of writer's block, burnout, procrastination, and distraction.

As scary as a blank canvas or empty page can be, you do need it to create something new.

One of my writing projects became the Simple Living Toolkit, which aims to help people reap a more joyful life by embracing minimalism. You can check it out here.

Oops, Almost Forgot to Blog

It's 10:01pm on the final day of the one-week Your Turn Challenge and, after a weekend out celebrating a wonderful wedding, I almost forgot to blog today. I'll keep it brief with what I learned from blogging for seven days in a row. It was a valuable experiment. I learned that it takes dedication to blog every day, even for just one week. I learned that I do not want to continue, at least for now. I may revisit the idea of "shipping daily" later. For now, I'll return to keeping my daily writing private. It was a useful exercise to think daily about things you, dear blog reader, may want to read. My daily writing is self-centered. After all, it is personal; no one reads it except for me.

One thing I like the idea of doing in the future is a limited series of daily posts, perhaps on one topic or in one genre. Let me know in the comments if you have ideas for a future series.

I Got Myself Into This

Last week I wrote about how some successful writers/creatives swear by posting daily. I mentioned a few examples. One I didn't mention is Seth Godin. He calls getting his thoughts published "shipping," and does it daily. Last night found me spitballing to my family about ideas I have for Packing Lust, and about how I was playing with this idea of posting daily. My sister said that Seth Godin had a daily challenge coming up soon.

I looked it up, and of course it was starting tomorrow. With such serendipitous timing, I couldn't say no. Or rather, I couldn't just imagine I would do it at some vague point in the future. So I got myself into this 7 day challenge led by Winnie Kao, the Special Projects Lead for Seth Godin.

This is what happens when you say your intentions out loud. People give you suggestions and opportunities. It happened last night and after tweeting my intentions out publicly, I was committed.

I'm doing this as an experiment to see how the rhythm of posting daily feels. I tried it years ago and I couldn't maintain it.  Why'd I fail back then? Maybe I can explore that this week and figure out a way to avoid whatever the reason was.

It feels good to start following my own advice.

 

http://yourturnchallenge.strikingly.com/

The Power and Difficulty of Connecting Daily

I'm learning so much from my research into how artists make a living from their creativity. One thing that keeps coming up for folks that have quickly built a solid income up from zero is communication with their audience or fans. Not just any communication, daily communication.

 How to Get Rich Quick(er)

These creatives attribute their success almost entirely to the daily post. It's a ticket to success -- and transparency or honesty, which is a huge factor in our ability to connect with our audiences or market, no matter what line of business we are in.
I'm thinking of a copywriter/ online marketing expert who writes an email every day to his followers. He teaches all his clients to write the daily email, saying it is his key to success.
I'm thinking of the author of a diet book who posts a daily vlog to YouTube sharing what she's eating and how she's living a healthy lifestyle daily, as well as advice for those who want to be healthier. She has over 300,000 subscribers.
And I'm thinking of artist Jolie Guillebeau, who built her art business up quickly by sending a daily short email with a photo of the day's work and a story or observation about it.
She still sends those emails. I'm on her list and love the daily peek into a painter/potter's mind.

It's Too Hard

So why don't I do the daily post? Why don't most creatives?
It's like the story I heard in Hollywood. A well-known screenwriter regularly teaches a sold-out seminar where he takes hours to break down and analyse the structure of the classic film Casablanca.
At the end, he promises that if all present would just repeat the exercise regularly, they will because successful screenwriters. How can he make such a promise, he asks? He knows very few, if any of his students will follow through. No one is willing to spend the time on such a tedious exercise.
Daily posts take a lot of time. I tried it a few years ago and gave up because I felt I'd over committed and couldn't keep putting in the time to come up with thoughtful posts every day.
The other major obstacle to daily posts is feeling vulnerable.
There will come a day when you feel you have nothing to write, or that what you have to share is something that feels too honest, too vulnerable. But that just might be what connects you most to your audience - what creates a strong sense of loyalty.
I'm not saying that you have to post daily if you want to make money from your art. I am saying that if you want to build an audience relatively quickly, posting daily is a tried-and-true method. Of course, one you have an audience, you have do have to actually sell something to them. But that's another topic for another day.

 Don't Do What I Do

So, do as I say, and not as I do. Post daily if you want to quickly cultivate a passionate audience for your work.
And maybe one day soon I'll find a way to post daily too.