I realized a couple of months ago, a short time after I decided to leave my position at Abrams, that every day a soft voice inside of me tells me what I really want to be doing. While I'm going about my daily routine, It says things like "I'd like to learn how to make pickles" and "I have always wanted to see India." I now write down these whispers—which are quite different than the mental rundown of of chores and responsibilities that repeats in my head each day—and use them as a guide. I don't know if I will be able to embrace everything on this list and I'm sure the list will evolve over time, but I've realized how important it is to pay attention to the whispers (and to not let them be drowned out by the demands of my routine), to look for themes, to believe it is possible to transform what may at the moment seem like a fantasy into a reality
I started the list in May. Here's what it looks like today. (I've already started pursuing a few of these, and I even completed #11.)
- Learn how to build a shelter (start with a tent).
- Learn how to change a tire.
- Learn Illustrator, PhotoShop, InDesign, Excel, basic video-making and podcasting.
- Travel to India, Japan, South Korea, Scandinavia.
- Visit Marimekko studio in Finland.
- Go to a yoga retreat in a tropical place.
- Spend (at least) a month living in the south of France.
- Design fabric, washi tape, wrapping paper.
- Go to writer's workshop/retreat for at least a week.
- Design stencil(s).
- Take identity design class at RISD.
- Write again (maybe another book, maybe a novel).
- Learn how to make pickles (with confidence that I won't make anyone sick).
Recently I was talking on the phone with Sherri Lynn Wood, author of the Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting & Living Courageously (STC Craft). In this new book, which came out a few months ago, Sherri offers stitchers a "score," or a set of parameters to follow, when making a quilt. The score replaces the step-by-step instructions that many stitchers follow to create a replica of an existing quilt and provides a structure for improvisation. So, each quilt made according to the same score will likely have some commonalities, but will look different. Following a score takes away the scary part of creating a quilt without a pattern. And in the process of making the quilt, each stitcher makes unique creative discoveries.
It occurred to me after my conversation with Sherri that my decision to write down those whispers is my score. Instead of asking one big, open-ended question—What do I want to do with the rest of my life?—which is like setting me down in a fabric shop and telling me to choose any fabric and design a quilt (but even more paralyzingly broad!), I simply decided to make a list and see what the list reveals. Every one of us can make a list—that is, follow the same score—and probably no two lists will be ever be exactly alike.
When it came time to choose a photo for this post, I immediately thought of the image above, which Sara Remington took for Sherri's book. I can hear it whispering: Each idea you hold on to is like a threaded needle, ready to be used to stitch together a beautiful life.