Taking chances.

January 21, 2013

above, Summer, 2012

It feels like it has taken me a long time to gain my momentum back with my art since Tulsi was born, but I’m thankful it’s back. I am only working part-time, but I realized about 9 months ago that the “lack” of time for my art could actually be a gift. And that has made a huge difference.

It gave me permission to let go of a lot of work that wasn’t important to me — freelance that was fun and paid well but didn’t fill my cup with energy and excitement — and also excess pro-bono projects. Can anyone relate? When I realized I could only do so much, I decided to choose one focus (for now). That was easy. Books! Books inspire me wildly and feel like a way I can really contribute to the world. One of the most freeing things I heard last year was “a ‘no’ is a ‘yes!’ to something eles.” Yes! (In case you are wondering about the financial part of that decision, of course it makes it a challenge, but there is always a way. Just gotta get creative.)

Once I made that decision, I felt like the universe supported me. I was chosen for the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Book Award for Same, Same but Different (I’m still wowed.) And then the South Asian Book Award and Frostburg State U CLC Book Award. What honors! :))

Suddenly, I also felt nervous and worried since I didn’t have more books in the works yet. Of course, that was one question everyone asked me, too. “What’s next?”

Transitions are tough. Standing in between worlds. Looking at a blank slate. No, not a comfortable feeling exactly. But necessary sometimes to grow, you know?

Luckily for me, these honors, and especially the amazing PEOPLE who offered them to me, and the other award-winners, filled my cup with encouragement. I am grateful. :)

So then what?

I admit, I still have a hard time calling myself an author and yet, I love to write and dream up stories. (Author Kristin Bair O’Keeffe interviewed me in the fall about my writing process.) In May, I was feeling stuck. Jane Yolen, the most prolific author of children’s literature, thankfully shifted something for me when I heard her say in an interview that she NEVER gets writer’s block because she works on several different things at the same time. Light bulb! So I looked through my notebooks and made new lists of ideas and themes of what felt really important to me and inspired me. After talking these ideas through with my editor last summer, she asked me to focus on bringing two (specific ones) to life.

Enter Patrick. My hubby is a rockin’ partner. We both work for ourselves and “trade off” working and being with Tulsi. He sent me off during the day, for a few days a week, during July and August — always with chai — to write in a friend’s cabin (above — so peaceful and a perfect retreat!) and then to OCHO, a wonderful local artist co-op. Patrick kept cheering me on even when I’d come home after 7 hours with very little progress to share. He listened to draft after draft after draft. He trusted I knew what I was doing when I scrapped a manuscript I had worked on for a month in order to follow a different, approach that meant drawing the entire story out in search of the text. The funny thing is, I remembered this is how I work best! This took another month though, or was it two? I then shared rough dummies and manuscripts with a few close friends (and Tulsi) which was really helpful.

I definitely questioned myself as a writer during those few months until I realized I don’t have to call myself that. I can simply be a picture book maker. I like that. After all, the words and pictures and story have a way of dreaming up something more than I know how to do with words alone. Yes, it’s scary and daunting at first…trying to bring a book alive…and I stall, drag my feet, procrastinate, but when I finally work through the scary beginning, it’s awesome. And I love love love it!

Well, fast forward 6 months and travel and holidays and one round of edits with my editor…I am in my new studio every night, still plugging away and nearly finished with both book manuscripts and dummies! Although I can’t share much yet on either of these books, I can say that it’s amazing how the universe supports dreams (and sends obvious signs) after I give more effort, trust more, believe more, and take chances. :) Plus, I’m having so much fun and feeling excited! It is certainly a journey!

Yes, every book has its own birth story! In case you missed it, in November, I shared the back story of Same, Same but Different at the Taos Pecha Kucha night. (For me, this presentation was another moment of finding courage. Luckily I didn’t faint.)

What about you? Where are you on your own journey(s)? I’d love to hear about your process, too.

And one last thing, these really inspired me during the past 6 months of taking chances: What if Money Didn’t Matter and the film HAPPY. Hope they do the same for you.

15 Responses to “Taking chances.”

  1. Katherine Dunn Says:

    This is a great post – and I can relate so much to a lot of things you have experienced and said here. The timing to hear it is really good for me. I got too wraped up into ‘got a get a publisher NOW’ for some projects I’ve worked really hard on, and I was frustrated with the slow grinding wheels of traditional publishers [I am NOT patient]. But something clicked for me in early January. I let go of some stuff in my mind, and just started thinking of my days as an ongoing story in and of itself. But I have to make a living – so part of that desire was to have income. I started to realize i didn’t have to think of making a book as income, I don’t treat my painting that way – I just paint and then they sell – eventually. ANyway, I’m excited to hear about your new books! COngrats!

  2. Amy Says:

    Wonderful, wonderful. Thanks for sharing your journey so honestly and openly. Your hard work and immense talent are two big ingredients that are propelling you forward – it is risky and scary and you are so brave. Even if you are still hesitating to use the word “writer” I will have no hesitation in saying, oh yes you are! You have a great talent of telling a story in picture AND words – and you are just getting started. More recognition and awards right around the corner and the biggest award of all, all those little munchkins inspired by your stories – learning how to be big dreamers too.

  3. Rachel Says:

    Thank you for sharing Jenny! I can totally relate to show much that you said. When I entered mama-hood four years ago I was ready for a break. I had been working for a few years in India on a documentary photo project part of the time and working at a job to make support the project the other half of the year. I felt that my life was split in half and I really wanted to bring both sides (earning a living and creative work) together. Being with my son was a much needed break and was the first time I had taken time off work in years. When I went back to work I started to photograph weddings and surprised myself by how much I love to tell the story of a couples special day. I always imagined that I would return to a new documentary project in India, but now what I really want is to make my wedding photography totally unique and hopefully do some destination weddings along the way. It’s so rewarding that people actually pay me to take photographs!

  4. Chrissy Says:

    Thank you so much for this Jenny:) I have been a huge fan for a long time! I am a self taught artist and struggled to make my way through my first children’s book not knowing what I was doing, but trusting each step, letting go of the results. I treasured hearing how you came to create “Same Same..” And I could relate to so many things. I am currently in the manuscript/dummy book phase of my second book and feel the thrill of exploration and discovery each time I sit down to work. Every day there is a new gift given, in word, design, theme, pure joy. I have no idea what will come of this second book. I self published my first. But, sometimes the most important part of the process is simply letting go:) Thank you for all that you do and share with us. XO

  5. coloredsock Says:

    Thanks for sharing, Katherine. I get everything you are talking about. The money piece is tricky at times, but yes, as long as it comes from somewhere… i know you also have so many stories inside you, (many outside already), that you want others to discover and be inspired by. I love what you said about thinking of your days as an ongoing story (with your animals). They are, and that is unique to you and your art + writing. I appreciate that and its aunthenticity. I really envision your stories reaching more and more people. xoxo

  6. coloredsock Says:

    Hi Amy! You are such a “mom” and I mean that in the very best of ways. I will happily accept your cheerleading any day. :)) Thank you. And you are right — about the kids — that is the VERY best reward of all! I got to do quite a few school visits in 2012 and it was amazing and energizing and made me smile. Still does. :) And thank you again for your eyes and ears and heart (and Charlie’s) with my manuscript(s). I’m really grateful! xoxo

  7. coloredsock Says:

    Wow, Rachel. I’m sorry that I’ve been out of the loop with your own photography journey since Arun was born — but I’m so happy to hear and catch up! And really — i just looked through all your “favorites” on your site, and i LOVE them! so many fun, beautiful ones. the bride with the scissors tattoo, the “casual” women on the bench, the men in the street, the bouquet on the bookshelf, etc. You really do tell their stories well. How happy they will be to have your photos to look back on. it’s fun to hear how you found a new something that surprised you and that you love and are doing so well at! Yeah!! xoxo thanks for sharing!

  8. coloredsock Says:

    ps Rachel, your wedding blog is great! stunning photos!

  9. coloredsock Says:

    Hi Chrissy, i’m was so happy to read your comment. :) and know you are in the same stage as i am presently. yay! i’ll cheer you on, too. also nice to hear about your process and yes! it is true, each day with a fresh look or read, there is a gift, something moves, and it grows. the medium of image and story and words are very much like working with clay except with some core essence that stays even if you have to (at some point) moosh it down and start anew. and i read your book! wow! really, it’s just beautiful, in so many ways. layered in meaning as much as collage. and your blog, too! i feel very inspired after getting “lost” (in a good way) on your blog. hee. thanks for sharing, Chrissy. :))

  10. Kiri abraham Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with process. It is so interesting how words, language can so profoundly change how we feel about the way we work. Recognising our own patterns and the things that create a ‘rich’ environment is so important don’t you think. Also, allowing these to change with the seasons of our lives…letting go and starting afresh. Ahh it’s all so rhythmical. I guess being open and aware is all that is required of us really. I love how we can constantly be discovering new things about ourselves no matter how old and jaded we can sometimes feel!

  11. Rachel Says:

    Thank you Jenny! It’s all so different that what I was used to doing, but fun. I have a fantasy to do a few weddings in India…maybe next trip.
    Can’t wait to see your new books ;-)

  12. Amy Says:

    haha, I can’t help myself. but I do feel proud of you just by witnessing this journey and growth – the artist in me, the friend in me, and yes the mom in me!

  13. Donna Ingemanson Says:

    Hey Jenny-You’re living a charmed life and your writing is a soothing inspiration for the journey of our lives. Best of luck with your new focus.

  14. Kati Says:

    Hooray! Congratulations. So excited for your two (!) new books. Our family loves Same Same But Different and we can’t wait for the next ones! Thank you for sharing your very inspiring process. Let me know if you’re ever passing through San Francisco…Come over for tea and a play date with Tulsi and my girls. :)


  15. Carla Sonheim Says:

    Yay! I can’t wait to see your two new books. You are one of my favorite artists ever. Loved your post.

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