New Decade, Same Journey

I hate resolutions.  I stopped making them as a teenager when I realized I was making the same ones every year and not actually accomplishing them (usually about my weight which I’ve NEVER been happy with).  At some point, I started using New Year’s as an assessment tool instead.  And over the last few years, I started creating a graphic image that set my goal for the year.  Today, I have a new one.

Three years ago, my thought was simply “grow.”  Last year, it was simply “persist.”  This year, the image and thought remain similar about keeping on the path to my journey.  But before I share it, let’s talk about that journey.

I don’t know about you, but 2019 had a LOT of disappointments for me.  I only wrote 3 new manuscripts, which is very unusual for me.  As a member of 12X12, I aim for a new manuscript every month.  That did NOT happen.  Creativity (and learning and progress) came to almost a screeching halt at the end of spring this last year.  There was a lot of travel in the summer (some work related), strange excess heat and smoke that stifled anything but survival, a chaotic beginning to the school year that threw everything else out the window for the last few months, AND moving.

There was a manuscript that went up the chain at two small presses with great hope for publication, only to fizzle out with marketing.  Twice.  (Actually this would be the third time that’s happened for this story.)  I had an agent I’d met in person who was incredibly interested in another manuscript (raving about its poetic qualities) only to ultimately end up ghosting me.  I admit those took the wind out of my sails a bit.  And this last fall, with everything dove tailing at once in October … I almost quit this writing/illustrating journey.  I was drowning in stress and work and thought, “this is what my life will be. Teaching will always demand the most of my time and creative energies, won’t it?”

There were tears and many conversations with my husband who loved me and supported me and wouldn’t let me give up.  And I realized that it was those little writerly fear voices talking to me again.  Some people call them monkeys.  I call them demons.  I always imagine those old cartoons (Looney Tunes? Disney?) where the angel is on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  Those little guys WANT you to quit.  They don’t want us to create anything (poetry, paintings, picture books, etc.).  I remember reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield years ago and he put it this way:

“If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet. You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God. Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

I can’t quit.  I can’t quit trying and I can’t quit creating.  It’s in my bones.  It’s in my heart and my spirt and my soul.  It will win out, no matter what I do.  So I must continue on my journey and I must change my focus!  It’s not about what I didn’t get done in 2019.  Instead, let’s evaluate my successes.  I cannot overlook the one dream that did come true in 2019, which surprised both my husband and I.  We didn’t think it would happen for years yet to come.  But let me back up and make myself a little vulnerable as I tell you a tiny bit of my personal story.

Many years ago, I was a High School English teacher.  I was straight out of college (straight out of high school) and life was on a path I had determined from my teenage years.  Then everything went to hell in a hand basket.  I lost my career and I stumbled around for years trying to figure out what to do with my life (writing all along the way).  There were times where I fought poverty, struggling to put food on the table for my cats, let alone myself.  I lived in an apartment I hated in a terrible neighborhood where bullets flew at night in the park behind me and I wasn’t sure my life was ever going to improve.  That was the start of a dream: the dream of owning my own house.  But I was drowning (in debt, working multiple jobs, etc.) and that dream seemed impossible.  That was 20 years ago.

I can flash forward and tell you the end of the story, but let’s not breeze over those 20 years of struggle.  I worked HARD.  I went back to school and worked multiple jobs while doing so.  It took a while to find my new career (teaching Elementary school).  I paid down debt (thanks towards the end of that 20 years to living with a friend going through a divorce who let me live with her rent free to really hammer on it).  I finally started to see a light at the end of the tunnel when I could finally start saving, but even that was hard (cars break down, unexpected bills arise, etc.).  And all along the way there were new dreams being discovered too.  Finally pursuing my love of picture books as a writer and learning more.  Then finally admiting that I could be an illustrator too and learning more about that.  And let’s not forget meeting the love of my life, falling madly in love with him and marrying my soul mate.  Even during the struggles, there were successes.  There always are.

2019 saw my hubby and I buying our first home together (a long held dream for him too).  We didn’t think it would happen this year.  We thought it was years down the road and had been working towards it together, but I couldn’t stop looking around at houses this last summer.  And it all came together in the most wonderful way FINALLY this last October.  Right when things at work were falling apart again.  So things stayed in boxes and we unpacked a bit here and there (and we are still doing so).  Over Christmas break, I FINALLY got to unpack and organize what others are calling my studio.  My very first working space just for me and my art (and writing).  I’m sitting in it right now as I write this up.  And I’m reminded that there is hope.

As I’ve talked with other illustrators sporadically the last few months in the kidlitart chat, this quote kept popping up and I knew I had to do something with it.

2020 Goal

These are snowdrops.  They bloom in winter.  I’ve always been a late bloomer (according to my mother), and this image of flowers blooming in the snow spoke to me about my own journey.  I need to stop focusing on what isn’t being accomplished and focus on the things that are.  My time will come.  What I didn’t know is that snowdrops are also symbolic of hope (and sympathy and optimism, etc.).  There can still be growth later, after summer has passed.  There can still be growth in winter, even in the harshest of circumstances.

Be it death of a loved one, divorce in the worst possible circumstances, dealing with an unexpected illness, loss of career (or a career going hogwild nuts), or any other dramatic life change, the journey can and will continue.  We artists and writers cannot stop creating.  It’s deep in our bone marrow and DNA.  Don’t give up!  Be patient with yourselves (as I’m learning to be) and may 2020 bring you new dreams, stronger journeys, and hope renewed.

5 thoughts on “New Decade, Same Journey

  1. Jena, even though I knew much of this your heartfelt story brought tears to my eyes. You are an inspiration for us all. Your students are lucky to have such a compassionate and thoughtful teacher. All the best in 2020!

  2. Your comments about snowdrops remind me of one of my favorite images in the Bible: “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” (Is. 35:1-2) We need to remember that things can change, beautifully.

    It also reminded me of a comment I once read in (of all places) a gardening book — basically, that when you see a beautiful garden, you don’t see all the plants that the gardener tried to grow, but failed. You’re seeing the ones that worked.

    I hope your 2020 is filled with beautiful surprises.

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