Looking forward (glancing back)

It’s that time of year again when I review the past year’s accomplishments, make a graphic for the year ahead, and set a focus.  Read on, if you want, but I warn you that I’m going to get bleak before I bring it back to my hopes for the future (and hopefully inspire you for the year ahead too).

2021 has been rougher on me than 2020.  There, I said it.  The last two school years and the pandemic have taken a toll.  I’ve been in survival mode and so far, since I’m still here, that’s been accomplished.  I’ve been trying to lift my eyes up to the horizon, to the future, constantly reminding myself that this horrible time isn’t forever, and here we are!  At the start of a brand new year.


Photo Credit Debby Hudson on Unsplash

I have some hopes for 2022, but sadly, not a lot for the next 5 months.  I still need to finish surviving the rest of this awful school year.  THEN a change is coming.  I don’t know quite what that is yet.  I will figure it out over the next few months.  What I do know is that I cannot continue doing the same thing.  I’m reaching the end of my health and sanity and that’s NOT good.

Teaching has become … I fail to find the words.  It’s no longer fulfilling, especially as I’m not allowed to thrive.  Right now especially, as I’m under the eagle sharp eyes of constant criticism and change, it has felt like this:

desert1_Billy Pasco

Photo credit Billy Pasco on Unsplash

I feel as if education has become a barren wasteland, a desert of expectations.  The only thing that matters is test scores.  The children are not seen as human beings, but numbers.  I cannot change any of this.  I’m drowning in sand.

BUT I realize I’m not alone in the desert as this image depicts.  Many teachers are feeling like this is the situation these days.  So maybe this image is more appropriate:

desert2_jean wimmerlin

Photo credit Jean Wimmerlin on Unsplash

Perhaps it’s better to say that education has become a house full of sand.  There is very little teaching going on any more.  Not when teachers simply read scripts (and don’t you dare deviate from that!).  Why in the world did I need a Masters of Education that required me to think and learn about brain growth (among many other things), if I just need to read a script and teach the regimented curriculum?

I digress, but I do feel as if I’m in the desert.  And as I thought about that image, I also thought about what this past year was like, what I will still need to survive, and my hopes for 2022.  I realized that a desert is not just full of sand.  And when I realized this, I found the image (and the quote) to inspire me for the year ahead.

First, I found this one (though I thought it was still a bit too dark):

quote1_Ashim D'Silva

Photo credit Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

I still had to share it (though it’s not the final image I want to leave you with).  To quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “I’m not dead yet!”  Because it’s true!  The desert hasn’t killed me!  I’m feeling beaten down, parched in a dry and dusty land, but I WILL survive this. I AM surviving this!

And despite watching my creativity (and any time I have for it) wither and dry up like a plant without water, there have still been some pockets of amazing creativity this year.  It is something that will always thrive despite my circumstances.  It cannot be killed.

Let’s review some of this year’s accomplishments.  I wrote 6 new picture book drafts.  Now, that’s not a lot, but considering everything else? That’s brilliant.  One of those was only for adults (“The Giving Teacher” which I shared here), and one of those is a collection of poetry.  I have my first poetry picture book idea and I spent time over winter break finally fleshing it out.  I’m thrilled with how it looks right now and I’m really hoping it goes somewhere.  That’s something to be joyous about!  This number also doesn’t include all of my revisions, or continued work on art work.  Let’s talk about that for a minute.

On the art work front, I got an iPad for Christmas 2020.  I spent time playing with it this year and getting familiar with it.  I did a whole series of sketches of people (some better than others, but yay for pushing my comfort zones!) that people quite liked (to my surprise). I was asked to do a banner for one of the weekly kidlitart chats and my vision actually turned out like what I had in mind (and again, people quite liked it).  I was able to (with the help of lots of other people in other SCBWI regions) put on another online illustrator event at the beginning of November, AND still managed to create a cut paper creation with Vanessa Brantley Newton’s workshop that she raved about (and many others loved too):

Leafy Sea Dragon

I think I need to do a lot more of those (and I do have an idea for them too).  I also did a series of winter critters that I’m thinking about converting into Christmas cards for next year (because again, people loved them).  I love seeing my work bringing both me and others joy.  That was a huge boost this year at various points.  SO uplifting.

And while I’ve received nothing but rejections this year, I noticed that I was putting myself out there more.  In fact, my records (because I do track these things) show my submission efforts doubled this last year.  YAY!  And one of my agent submissions made it past 600 rejections (of others’ work):


One of my manuscripts made it to that cream-of-the-crop pile that needed a second look.  While it was still rejected ultimately, that’s still progress and I’ll take it.

It’s easy to forget the accomplishments I’ve had when I focus on the sand in the desert.  It’s easy to forget growth and progress can still be made one step, one day at a time.  BUT THEY DO!

So I share another quote with you that I debated on making the annual quote for the year.  In the end, this wasn’t my final thought.  it wasn’t inspiring enough for me to be my computer’s wall paper for the next few months, but it’s still a good one and one I also wanted to share with you.

quote3_cassidy dickens

Photo credit Cassidy Dickens on Unsplash

Because, it’s important to remember this too.  I know I’m not the only one struggling with this last year.  I know the struggle has looked different for a lot of us, but 2021 was still full of difficulties.  And I can’t guarantee for any of us that 2022 will be any better.  I can hope.  There is always hope.

Despite grief from all of the losses we’ve experienced; despite the troubles in all of our lives that have multiplied quite significantly; despite conflicts, wars, politics and just overall dumpster fires, we will survive and, because we are creatives, we will create.  We need to remember, that we can still grow and we can still create, despite the deserts in all of our lives.

And that is why I chose the quote I did for this year ahead.  I also decided to not do it as a photo this year, but as a painting.  I was going to do traditional watercolor, but I ran out of time.  SO I tried to do it as a digital watercolor with traditional watercolor techniques in mind.  I wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped (it’s not as great as I was envisioning, to be honest), BUT I think it still works.  Here it is:


Take whichever quote you like best and I hope it inspires you to continue to create, even when you feel like you’re in the desert.  Remember, dear readers, that you are also not alone in this.  Be the flower in the desert and flourish.

4 thoughts on “Looking forward (glancing back)

  1. Jena, your creative spirit shines forth despite any sandstorms. All the best for a healthy and productive 2022!

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