Last month I participated in Inktober, an art-prompt challenge to create and post a drawing with ink every day of October. And wow, did I learn a lot! I created 31 paintings in 31 days, and this is why you should too.
Knowing what I would share daily negated the decision paralysis that generally hit me when I needed to share my work on social media.
I also felt braver in sharing my work with so many days ahead. This might seem strange since we always have an endless number of things we can create, but having the plan made that more real. I knew anything I didn’t love would get buried at the bottom anyway.
Posting more often makes a huge difference in your engagement and introduces more people to your work. That said, a sustainable pace is better than burning out. I could post so much more during October with a plan in place.
You have to get creative with lighting when photographing the work you’ve just created every night. Being forced to get creative will give you many more tools to use in the future.
I felt freer to experiment with different papers, mediums, and styles. Since everyone understands that prompt challenges are an experiment, it’s easier to worry less about perfection and just get caught up in the fun of trying something new.
Practice makes a huge difference. The more you create and the more often, the quicker your skills will build.
Seeing other people’s work made me braver and gave me great ideas for techniques.
Prompts inspire and challenge you to step outside your comfort zone. That can reinvigorate you and your artwork in a big way.
Having work planned doesn’t negate authenticity. Your style and intention shine through as your authenticity.
Committing to this challenge came with so much encouragement from artists, friends, and fans.
If you post a lot and create a lot, you will be less concerned with how each piece performs. This is actually a good thing. You can control your effort, but you can’t control the outcome.
When you’re creating, you need fresh eyes. If you’re creating and posting everything in one day, that can get difficult. Sometimes, I would walk away and come back. Any time I couldn’t do that, I would decide it was finished, take a photo, and then I would definitely see what was wrong.
Sketch paper is great to start on because it isn’t so scary. Most of the time, inspiration will find you if you start working.
As I got more comfortable with the medium, I began finishing more pieces on good paper, and it made a huge difference. Next time I want to complete everything on good paper.
I made one image every day and woke up to a decent size body of work. Suddenly all of this was over, and I had 31 new pieces I could add to my art store or portfolio. If you’re too busy, focus on little steps. Little steps can lead to bigger things.
Next time, I want to do a couple of things differently. First of all, I want to create more full pictures, as opposed to sketches. Secondly, I want to finish each drawing on good paper to include more pieces in my Art Store. This might only matter for some, but it’s something that I want to focus on more for myself.
Regardless, I learned so much from this experience. I definitely want to take part in another prompt challenge in the future.
If you’re in a slump, I encourage you to try something similar in your creative field. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Many of my pieces from Inktober 2022 are now available in my Art Store!
I hope you enjoy my book review of “Unsaid” by Asmita Rajiv. I received an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Let me know what you thought of my review and what you thought of her book! We all see things differently, which makes it extra special when we’re able to see things similarly.
“Some tease, provoke, entice. Some run away, some hide. A memoir of my thoughts…the ones that I could catch.” – Asmita Rajiv
Before I even read this book, I was drawn to the cover art. Although the pictures inside were quite different, the raw black drawings felt appropriate to a manuscript about our unspoken thoughts.
Asmita says early on that she chose to veer away from a clear organization, and I feel like it worked well for her. It is a mixture of short-form poetry paired with her artwork (reminiscent to Rupi Kaur), traditional poetry, and prose.
I can see why she named it “Unsaid,” but these also feel like conversations that we do have. It feels like the thoughts we think when we’re trying to break through into healing, like conversations full of vulnerability, and how we ache to share our ideas and breakthroughs with others.
“Unsaid” is for anyone that wants a word of encouragement sprinkled with understanding. I received an eARC, but I recommend a printed book so that you can take her suggestion at the beginning. Turn to a random page, and ask yourself what you think about the entry. Ask yourself how those words relate to your life right now. Maybe it will resonate, and maybe it won’t.
In her last letter to us, she accepts that we might disagree with her conclusions or have some of these same thoughts. For instance, in “Anatomy of a Thought,” I was reminded that laying our thoughts bare can take away some of their power, and some things are not better left unsaid.
Thank you, Asmita Rajiv, for an ARC in exchange for my honest review. I feel privileged to have read your words.
My identity was as much a mystery as where I was or how I got here. A deep buzzing sounded, vibrating through my bones. Even breathing made me dizzy in the thin air. Small rocks pressed into my back, but otherwise, the ground was somewhat soft, like sand or powder. I tried to sit up, and lights flew past my eyes, tiny sparks that appeared and disappeared as quickly.
I was on a flat plain with almost no noticeable structures, but one. A single, immense black sphere floated in the distance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t estimate how far away it was. There wasn’t so much as a hill or shrub as far as I could see.
My mind searched for anything familiar, but I had no frame of reference. In fact, even the memories were drifting away, disappearing like echoes. It was as though everything before this moment was a blank. I searched a darkened memory for who I was, trying to grasp the echoes, but there was nothing.
Certain words were even missing from my vocabulary, concepts only apparent in their absence. Thoughts dropped away, unable to explain or preamble. There was nothing to do. There was nowhere to be.
The spots of light returned and condensed, shimmering around the edges of that far-off Sphere. Then they blinked out again, as though I’d imagined them. That was when I felt the tug in my chest, and everything around me appeared clearer, brighter, almost glittering in its brilliance.
As I stood, my eyes focused on that Sphere. There was nothing before now and nowhere else to go. As I walked, I felt the strange sensation that someone had inserted a hook through my solar plexus and tugged.
A touch of unease suggested that the Sphere might be dangerous, but another whispered that being out in the open was just as dangerous. In the end, I didn’t know why I should feel either way, and the tug was insistent. Walking forward, the thoughts disappeared again. It was quiet for a long time.
I don’t know how much time passed. Eventually, I glanced up at the bright bare sky as though it might have answers. But something was missing. It suddenly occurred to me that the sky was missing a sun. I couldn’t really remember what it looked like, but the word popped into my mind before drifting away again.
I walked more quickly now, disconcerted by the awareness that something was missing, that without a source, the brightness didn’t make sense. But the words eluded me again, and the world didn’t fall apart.
Eventually, I relaxed and forgot about the oddity. The word “Sun” floated around untethered somehow. I could easily have made it up. Although I didn’t remember making anything up, it clearly didn’t exist.
As for the Sphere, it still seemed so far away, like I hadn’t made any progress at all. While I knew that couldn’t be true, my sense of time was tenuous at best. Nevertheless, that hook was always drawing me forward and toward what I hoped were answers.
Even from a distance, that blackness became a singular focal point, hypnotizing me with the light that sparkled along its edges before being swallowed whole by the darkness. I wasn’t paying attention to anything else. Still, there was nothing but a flat landscape, so I was surprised when I tripped and fell hard.
When my knees hit the ground, it didn’t seem so soft anymore. The pain reverberated through my body, ringing in my ears, and I screamed despite myself. Even the light shifted: shades of pink, pale green, and blinding white light.
When my head finally cleared, I saw the body beside me. They lay in a heap, arms and legs entangled around them, their body so similar to mine. I noticed their long fingers and brought my hand close to my face, examining it for comparison. Uncertainly, I reached out to touch them.
As my finger brushed their arm, countless memories rushed through my mind. I watched the images pass across my vision and all around me. The landscape shifted, and other people walked beside me.
Then I saw the sun outside and felt the whole world moving through me. I saw trees, mountains, and so much more. I had an entire life full of pain, loss, and love. When I woke beside them, my eyes cleared. Although I clutched the memories, they began to float away again. Joy, pleasure, pain, it all disappeared. I grasped for them desperately, wanting to keep them, but they were gone. They were only dreams.
Suddenly the sleeper’s eyes fluttered open. The sleeper grasped my hand, and I remembered them like they were a part of my own body. They sat up groaning, blinking their eyes drowsily, and I wondered if that was what I’d looked like so long ago. I reached to help them up, and as our eyes and fingertips connected, a high-pitched noise filled the silence.
We were suddenly propelled across the landscape. I couldn’t process the speed, and so I didn’t try. We landed in a heap beside The Sphere, and the actual size filled me with something like awe or fear. We were such small things, dwarfed by its size, but also its inherent darkness, as though we might be swallowed up and never recover.
I jerked my head toward the one other being like me, but there was no longer only one. There was a host of them, staring into that dark Sphere. Even my companion was captivated. I touched their hand and felt that eerie sense of remembering.
Then they were all a part of my body, our body. There was no way to know whose hand we held because we were all lost in the same sensation of unity. As one Self, we lifted our eyes back to the Sphere.
With that single movement, a knowing overcame us. The entire world was our Self, and it contained every thought, every experience, all now. Nothing was lost. And that sphere was not dark but filled with light, more than we could previously conceive. In fact, it was brighter than the sun, pure energy and shifting form. Even the sphere was Us, a part waiting, signaling, bringing us together.
We were only waiting for the rest of our Self to awaken. Strangely there was no worry or impatience. It didn’t matter how many times we fell asleep or how long we slumbered. We’d all eventually end up here, trying to wake up one last time.
And in the knowing, there was no more fear or pain. There was only indescribable joy and peace. There was only love, not a facsimile of emotion, a shadow of reality. It wasn’t desire or need. It was what we were, the fabric of reality, whether sleeping or awake, whether we remembered or not. We existed in a state of pure rapture. My Self was everywhere, and we were walking now.
*”Snowdrifts and Echoes” was written in response to a Reedsy.com prompt:
“Write about two people going sledding for the first time in many years.”
Authors note: As a writing exercise, I tried incorporating all five Reedsy Prompts for the week.
My other inspiration was memories. Sometimes they are like echoes, and other times they build up like snowdrifts until we’re ready to heal.
There is something about the snow here. It may come down softly at first, but it can transform into a full blizzard in little time at all. The last time I’d checked, the snow had been a speck on the horizon. Now the snowflakes looked closer to golf balls.
I glanced back at my computer screen. It had shut down 10 seconds ago with nearly everything else. I don’t know how it happened so fast. These buildings were set up to handle worse weather than this.
Looking around, I surveyed the empty offices. Of course, I’d decided to come in on my day off work. I did that a lot now. I vaguely remembered a different life that wasn’t all about my job. I shouldn’t have come in when snow was expected, but it was too quiet in my apartment, and there was a lot to do here. Well, there had been a lot to do.
I thought that I had more time. I sighed and picked up the phones to call security. There had to be a generator for this place. No dial tone. Great. I switched on the flashlight connected to my phone. There was still light filtering through the windows, but that wouldn’t reach far.
Sluggishly I stood and walked toward the exit. I’d either find someone to help or just go home. Well…if I wasn’t already trapped. The overhead lights flickered then flared back to life just as I passed The Door.
We didn’t go in there. None of us did. Some people said this was where they kept the prototype. All we knew was that we weren’t allowed inside. You needed better clearance than I had.
The lights flickered off again, and it was almost pitch black except for the cold illumination of my flashlight. I was sure it was locked, but curiosity was suddenly stronger than reason. I aimed my phone toward the doorframe, and its harsh blue light made the door seem more sinister than it was.
It was locked anyway. I was sure of it. My fingers tentatively pressed the handle, and it clicked open. I passed my light through the small room. It looked like a closet, but there was a darkness that my flashlight couldn’t penetrate.
This was the moment when you were supposed to leave or be the first to die in a bad horror film. Something tugged at me, though, irresistible. One step inside, and everything changed.
The darkness turned to bright sunshine, and I wasn’t in the closet anymore. I glanced behind me, but the door was gone. Instead, there were vast stretches of field, a lake, and a bare forest.
My breath quickened, and the fear rose, chilling my whole body. Then a real chill fell, and snowflakes began falling all around me. I held out my fingers and felt the cold drops tingling. It tasted like real snow too. The smell of it was in the air, mingling with something else…wood smoke.
I turned my head and saw the smoke puffing steadily from a small cabin in the distance. They’d have a phone, I was sure of it. However, as I got closer, the cabin looked more familiar, and my heart plummeted with the cold. I’d told myself I’d never come back.
Then I saw her. Alice. She stood on the porch, holding my heart, and I knew there was no phone. There was no electricity. There was just a wood stove, soft hands, and eyes that could melt chocolate with their warmth.
She waved at me, and I started sobbing as though I wasn’t standing in snowdrifts up to my knees now. I rushed toward her, and even when she was in my arms, I couldn’t make sense of such boundless joy and sorrow wrapped into one.
“Of course, I am, sweetheart.” My heart was cracking, and I cried like I might never stop. When I finally calmed down, she took my hand and led me inside.
“Why’d you go outside, wearing that? Go change. I’ve been waiting to go sledding all day.”
I blinked, and a host of memories filled me in the quiet. I ran to change, but as I walked into our bedroom, I found myself outside again, although more suitably dressed.
“Come on.” Alice laughed, and its strange, beautiful music filled my whole chest.
As we loaded into the toboggan, her hands around my chest brought that familiar flip that I hadn’t felt in years. Even as we careened down the steep hill, the adrenaline was no match for that. As we stood unsteadily, I kissed her, and she laughed, clearly delighted.
I noticed the way her button nose was bright pink, and her eyes sparkled brightly like they had before she got sick. I was caught off guard when my arm jerked, and she pulled me up the hill.
I knew that I would sled all day if she asked me, and we almost did. When we finally headed inside, my toes felt frozen, and I was sure that hers did too. Her fingers and toes always got cold sooner than mine.
My fingers burned as we entered the warm cabin. We stripped off our coats and boots and hung them by the stove. Bits of ice turned to water and water to steam. Alice placed a mug in my hand before I knew what was happening. She’d always been that way, taking care of others before she took care of herself.
I knew before tasting that it was her home-brewed hot cider. The cinnamon filled the air, coating everything with sugar like it coated my tongue. I drank the cider, and my eyes drank her.
I tried not to think about when she passed, and I had passed along with her. I wasn’t ready to die again. I wanted to live today. I would worry about the consequences later.
At one point in the afternoon, I noticed her ice skates. Before, I’d never wanted to skate with her, and she was always asking. Now there was nothing I wanted more. I held up her skates. “Well?”
“Yes. Finally,” Alice squealed and kissed me fiercely. We twirled around for a second before she set to work on the laces. There was a pair beside my feet suddenly, though I was sure they hadn’t been there before. I didn’t care.
I looked up, and suddenly we were beside the cold frozen lake. Alice took my hands, leading me onto its still surface. Tentatively I stepped onto the slippery ice and predictably tripped over my own feet. But she caught me, and I marveled at how lovely it was to be out of control if she had it.
I didn’t improve, but after a time, we whirled together, her propelling us forward and me trying not to get underfoot. Sometimes it’s okay to just not get in the way.
As we spun around, I noticed the snow starting to fall again and snowdrifts gathering like memories in my mind, like echoes of reality. I wasn’t ready for the echoes to end. I wanted to let the memories crop up until I was buried beneath them.
But the evening was quickly falling, and I was a bit afraid that the dream would too. So I held Alice tighter, breathing in her scent and reveling in the cold of my nose against her neck.
We finally walked back to the cabin, stumbling, frozen, and happy. I hated the cold, but here with Alice, it was the most precious feeling in the world. But so was the heat as we walked into the warm cabin.
So were the warm blankets as we got ready for bed. So was Alice’s skin as we held each other tightly beneath the quilts. Throughout the night, I was unable to discern what was memory and what was a fresh experience. It was some strange amalgamation that was as good as any reality I’d ever had. I didn’t know if I’d ever been this present before, this desperate to experience everything.
As we fell asleep, I heard an owl hoot and the brush of branches against the windows. I noticed how hot Alice’s skin felt beneath mine. My legs wrapped around hers, like roots beneath the earth, like a poem about a snowy night. I almost laughed, but I didn’t want to wake her.
Eventually, I fell asleep too.
When I woke on the floor of the bare closet, it was like being ripped from the world and plucked in a cold approximation of life. I desperately wanted to wake whatever lived inside this room and go back to Alice, but something whispered to leave before I was caught.
I’d barely stepped into the hall and closed the door when the system restarted. I didn’t stay longer than it took to grab my stuff.
As I hit the elevator, the pain moved through me in waves. Years of built-up grief, snowdrifts of pain, echoes reverberating through my body. I pulled myself together as I crossed the lobby, but it was like trying to hold back a furious storm.
When I stepped outside, the snow had miraculously stopped, and all that remained was a thick quiet. Once in my car, I slammed the door hard, screaming loud enough to scare any passersby. I roared again, a roiling gale of anger and regret. Then I glanced at my dashboard.
Only a couple of minutes had passed since I’d gone in the room. It almost shocked me out of my fury. I drove home in silence until I felt a tug, like the one by The Door. There was somewhere I needed to go first. I didn’t want to, but I knew that I needed it. I can’t tell you why.
What might have been minutes or an hour later, I sat beside a cold ice rink. At first, my fingers fumbled with the laces, then I could have sworn I felt Alice’s fingers on mine. A calm swept through me in waves, quieting the pain.
I finished lacing up the skates and paused momentarily. I swear I felt Alice squeeze my hand, and then I stepped alone onto the rink’s frozen surface.
With the days still short and uncertainty rampant, sometimes we all need a little light in the dark. And all light begins with a spark. Although the holidays are over, I hope these stories will brighten your day and provide sparks of inspiration.
Light in the Dark
The first of these is my short story, “Winter Daughter: A Yule Tale,” recently nominated for Spillwords “Publication of the Month.”
Winter Daughter: A Yule Tale
You may have noticed one of my latest illustrations in “Winter Daughter: A Yule Tale.” This is the full watercolor painting!
Sometimes stories inspire art, and sometimes art inspires stories. I honestly think that we can find inspiration in almost anything. That is what this poem is about. Although the holidays are over, the winter is not, and sometimes the smallest things can keep us going.
A Little Cheer: Sparks in the Darkness
Some memories are like snapshots and wordless impressions. I remember that it was a tiny apartment, full of empty spaces. Sometimes it felt like loneliness, but other times like solitude and safety.
It was another Christmas alone, and the decorations felt too heavy, too much. But a string of lights, I could handle that. As I stood in the Christmas aisle, a bit overwhelmed yet determined, I saw them.
I’ve always been the kind of person that loved learning. I’m the friend that enjoys sharing random “fun facts.” I’m also the friend that would rather launch into heady topics, leaping past small talk altogether.
I found “Strange Attractor Journal Four” sitting all by itself at a used book store. I’ll admit that I was drawn in by the name and the cover. I had no idea what it was about yet, except that it was an anthology of sorts, and I wanted it.
What I discovered were essays and anecdotes, which left me questioning the line between fact and fiction. Some essays pulled me in more than others. My advice is to press through the ones you don’t connect with and keep reading.
Even the ones that didn’t interest me were windows into the unknown. I learned about topics that I had never considered adding to my curriculum. Alternately, I found a few of the subjects so interesting that I ended up down an internet rabbit hole, eager to learn more.
The stories, while often focused on fantastic subjects, are scholarly in tone. Sometimes, I felt like it was required reading for a class that I never had the privilege of attending. And like most writing, they sometimes reveal more about the authors than the tales themselves. Opinions, cultural perspectives, and history weaving together in interesting ways.
I have been looking forward to this for a while. It’s the first of her books that I had the privilege of reading, and now I want them all. My first introduction to her was in quotes and illustrations, all of which were beautiful by themselves. In a full manuscript, they formed a story that was worth experiencing as a whole.
When “Home Body” showed up on my doorstep, I can’t explain my excitement. It honestly showed up exactly when I needed it. When I turned the first page, I devoured it. Now I want to reread it, savoring each page.
Through a series of small poems, the author takes you along on her journey through trauma, depression, and healing. It felt like I was watching her grow. Certain details, while explicit, felt necessary. It felt vulnerable and brave, as you must be to share your past and your process so transparently.
Her words are beautiful. Each illustration feels appropriate while enhancing the words around them. Cover to cover, this book felt special. While my experiences have not all been the same as hers, there was something simultaneously personal and relatable in her words.
She talks about the things that get us through the aftermath of trauma and the joy of learning to love parts broken by others. It makes me want to sit with another person and talk about everything I loved and felt down in my bones. I’m so glad that Rupi Kaur shared this with us, and I’m glad I had the chance to read it.
Congratulations, you’ve survived everything that 2020 has thrown at you so far. It feels like anything could happen next, and a familiar nemesis is on the horizon. Not only could your seasonal depression feel heavier this year, but some of your usual coping mechanisms might not feel available to you.
This only means that we need to get creative and find new ways to survive in the fourth quarter of this year.
I published this poem on Booksie, as part of a poetry contest.
A moth flew through my balcony doorway and made a beeline for my lamp.
I tried to help. I switched off the lamp and switched on my balcony light. But there was still that space of darkness in between, and my deck light wasn’t nearly as bright as the lamp had been. The moth didn’t want to budge… or maybe I wasn’t patient enough.
I struggle between impatience and too much patience. Either I move on quickly, or I wait too long.
Regardless, it wouldn’t go outside, and for a while, I let it rest inside the lamp’s glass curve.
Maybe it was just too tired. I’ve been too tired before. So tired that I couldn’t see more than a pinprick in front of my face. So tired that I couldn’t move or didn’t want to. I’ve been so tired that all thoughts pulled me farther beneath the waves, heavy as anchors.
In this book, you’ll delve into the conversation of consciousness and the Self. If this is your first time looking at consciousness from a philosophical or spiritual perspective, you’ll likely get a lot out of it.
Smoley begins with the story of Shiva and Parvati. While their tale remains the primary metaphor, he quickly expands his comparison to other religions and ideologies. He is a philosopher foremost, and that bleeds into his ideas. In a way, it might be the best way to introduce these ideas to the uninformed. He isn’t trying to convert you to anything. Instead, he is attempting to begin the conversation.
That being said, there is something for everyone to disagree on if you are looking for absolute truth. Smoley doesn’t want to tell you what to believe or dissuade you from your chosen faith. He does want you to be willing to see it differently, to question your daily experience. If you’re reading this book to find answers, you will be disappointed. If, however, you’re reading to learn or gain a new perspective, this book might resonate with you.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to begin learning about the subject of consciousness from a philosophical standpoint and doesn’t know where to start. Smoley easily puts everything into layman’s terms and breaks down the different arguments, comparing and contrasting them to familiar ideologies. If you are only beginning your philosophical study of the Self, this is a great place for you to start.
My Quiet Time is an essential part of my self-care routine.
I will admit that I heard the term when I was still a part of the church. Because of my past associations with it, I avoided it for a long time.
I don’t see Quiet Time as a religious practice anymore, although it can be. Years later, when I was discovering self-care routines that worked for me, the term Quiet Time was there waiting. It was the easiest way to describe to friends and partners what I needed to do for myself.
If it brings you peace, then bring it into your Quiet Time. It can be a few minutes with your coffee and silence. It can be your morning prayers. It can be sitting down with your tarot cards. It can be meditation. It can be thirty seconds where you take a few breaths to calm yourself. It can be countless other things.
It’s about meeting yourself where you are emotionally, mentally, and physically. It’s about getting to know yourself and appreciating all of your needs. It is about self-love, and loving yourself will influence the way that you actively love others. The best way to have Quiet Time is to choose practices that fit you and your life.
I don’t always do the same things, but my Quiet Time often looks like:
I might use any or all of these techniques. I meet myself where I am at that moment. Some of those techniques you might have heard used interchangeably, but the subtle differences can change how they work for you. I have had different experiences with them all.
Quiet Time doesn’t have to take long. It can be ten minutes to yourself before you get ready for school, work, or before the kids are awake. As long as I’ve known her, my mother has had Daily Devotions. It is a spiritual practice that prepares her for the day and all of its uncertainties. For you, it might look completely different.
It’s an essential part of both my morning and evening routines.
At night I use it to let go of the day that’s already gone. I use it to clear my mind before bed and forgive myself for the blunders of the day. I calm my thoughts and minor anxieties. As a result, I tend to sleep better on nights that I respect my Quiet Time.
I use it in the morning to prepare for the day ahead. There is a notable difference in my mood before and after my Quiet Time. If I’ve taken time to fill my glass, it’s much easier to have something to pour into others.
On days that I take advantage of Quiet Time, I feel far more capable of facing the day with its inconveniences and uncertainties. I started to learn how to make myself feel better even when my anxiety was high for no reason. I find myself beginning my day in peace and confidence instead of worry and hurry.
If you take medicine for anxiety or depression, Quiet Time is not a replacement for your medication. Medicine may also be an essential part of your self-care. Quiet Time is only a companion to take on the journey.
Set yourself up for success. Create a space of time for yourself every day. It doesn’t have to be called Quiet Time, and it doesn’t have to look like mine. But give yourself some peace in the present. You deserve it.
The first day of spring arrived, rainy and full of thunder. Spring always sparked a strange excitement in the town of Haverston. The widow, Gloria, re-opened her shop today. She was open each year from the first day of spring through Halloween. Outside of Haverston, no one believed the hype, but the locals swore by her.
Rain streamed down the edges of Ava’s red umbrella, as she reached the storefront. The only indication that it was more than a house was the white sign on the lawn. It read, “SPRING CLEANING – Declutter your home, declutter your life.” As Ava opened the door, a bell sounded above her. It looked even less like a shop, on the inside.
“Hello.” Ava turned her head toward the voice. The woman was young. She couldn’t have been older than forty. Her face seemed to glow a bit, but that was probably only a trick of the light. Ava wasn’t sure what she’d expected.
“What can I do for you?”
Ava felt lost for words. She’d planned a speech, but it was gone. There was no way to recover it now. Gloria seemed to understand. Smiling quietly, she led Ava to a side room. A sturdy table held a china tea service. Ava hated tea.
“Don’t worry. I have coffee there too.”
Ava smiled gratefully as she settled into one of the over-sized armchairs. The silence drew out between them as Gloria filled their cups. Gloria smiled and glanced out the parlor window, as though they were only two friends, enjoying a quiet moment. Despite herself, Ava fell into the comfortable silence. Amidst that stillness, the courage became more substantial than her fear.
“I need to move on from my Ex.” Gloria smiled kindly but didn’t respond immediately. Ave continued, “One of my friends told me, that what you do…helps. She said that one visit from you, and her uncle never touched another drop of liquor. She told me about her parents and how you saved their marriage. Kayla said that they’re happier than ever, and they were about to divorce. She said that you can do anything. I need anything.”
Gloria looked at her for a long time. Ava started to open her mouth again, but an unusual peace fell around her. The way that Gloria looked at her was like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold day. All of her thoughts disappeared, and the quiet deepened, as Gloria sipped her tea.
“I didn’t save their marriage, you know. I just helped it along. I’ll tell you what to do to start the magic, but you’re the one that’s going to make it happen. That is if you really want to move on.”
Gloria seemed to consider the question. “However much you want to give. No more, no less.”
“Okay, what do I do?”
“I want you to go home and clean your house. When you’re finished, go get your hair cut.”
“Does it always work this way?”
“Nope.” Gloria chuckled.
Shrugging her shoulders, Ava paid her and walked toward the doorway. A man was waiting inside the foyer when she entered. She’d barely reached the front door when he said, “I need to get some vermin out of my flower beds.” By the time she’d crossed the street, he was back on the sidewalk.
When she arrived home, the heaviness and loneliness hit her like a brick. She didn’t waste any time. As she vacuumed and scrubbed, Ava thought about the life that she wanted to build in Haverston. She imagined herself washing all of that pain away.
Ava started to notice things in her house that she didn’t need or want anymore. As she packed up the items in a donation box, it felt like she was curating her life.
When she reached her bedroom, her eyes went straight to a single unpacked box by her bed. She didn’t have to ask what was in it, but she opened it all the same. A few things went into the donation box, and some went into the trash. Satisfied, she headed to the salon.
“We don’t take walk-ins. Would you like to make an appointment?” The older woman asked when she arrived.
“I guess I’d better.”
The woman looked at her curiously. “What do you mean?”
Ava didn’t know why the woman had bothered to ask or why she answered so honestly. “Gloria, from ‘Spring Cleaning,’ told me to.” Ava shrugged.
The woman’s entire face changed. “Well, then, I’ll make an exception.” A bell sounded, and two older ladies seated themselves. “Tonya,” A young girl with pale pink hair walked over to them.
“Will you take care of Ms. Lathum and Ms. Harris? This lady has a prescription from Gloria.” All three women perked up their ears, and Tonya nodded eagerly. “I’m Charity, by the way. Follow me.”
As Charity washed and massaged her scalp, Ava felt something heavy wash away with the dirt. Strangely this special treatment made her feel connected in a way that she hadn’t managed since she’d moved to Haverston.
“Are you new here?”
“Sort of. I moved here over the winter, but…” Her eyes welled up with tears that choked her throat.
“Hmm…say no more.” They didn’t speak again until Ava was in front of the mirror. “How do you want it?”
The thought came to her in an instant. “Cut it short. I want it all gone.”
Silently Charity cut away. Ava’s glasses sat on the counter. Although she couldn’t see, she felt it all drop off. It felt as though he was dropping away too.
Charity handed her glasses back to her. As they slid onto her face, her new image slid into focus and new feeling beside it. It was then that she decided that she was going back to “Spring Cleaning,” and she was going to give Gloria more money.
For a long time, I thought that journaling wasn’t for me. I tried over and over throughout the years, but it never stuck. If you had mentioned journaling, I might even have rolled my eyes.
Far too often, I started a journal and then ripped pages out (or tossed it completely). I wouldn’t have treated my other books that way. Journaling brought something out in me. Fear, embarrassment, frustration, you name it.
Now, journaling is an essential component of my self-care routine and Quiet Time. It’s also something that I wield when I am going through hard self-work. It has become a sword and shield when I’m moving through tough times and healing from uncovered trauma.
A big part of why it’s become so important to me is because of how I use it. I want to tell you what I do, not because it’s the “right” way, but because maybe it will help you in the same way that it helped me.
If my process doesn’t resonate with you, toss it out. There might be a better process for you, or journaling might not be for you at all. We don’t all need the same things. But if it does, then consider how you can begin applying it to your life. Consider how to add this to your mental health tool kit.
When I started this process, I was at an incredibly low point in my life. I think that I started because I was looking for any way that I could survive myself. As cheesy as it might sound, that year was also the year that I learned to love myself.
Loving myself changed the way that I responded to everyone around me.
It changed the things that I valued, and it changed my relationships completely. I wish that I had learned to love myself sooner. I might not have burned so many bridges when I was younger.
Journaling this way helped me begin that process. I’m not saying it will fix all of your problems. I’m saying that it helped me to fix some of mine.
One of the first things that helped me was what I decided to stop doing. I removed the things that I didn’t like about journaling. If you want to find your process, then think about what you consistently don’t enjoy about journaling. It might be a place to start.
What I DON’T do:
I don’t use first-person pronouns unless it’s an affirmation. (E.g. “I”)
I don’t vent about what’s going wrong. (It tended to make me spiral down and fixate on things that were making me unhappy)
I don’t write details or specific incidents of my daily life. (Goals are the exception to this. I mainly disliked diary-style practice.)
*Venting and Diary Style practices have value, but they don’t work for me.
I don’t limit what the journal needs to be for me, beyond these rules. I let the journal transform. The purpose of your journal will change as you do. When I began my journaling habit, it looked quite different than it does now.
I was incredibly depressed, hurt, angry, overwhelmed, and bitter. I felt rejected, abandoned, and quite frankly, I had no idea how to be loving to myself. A friend gave me a type of bullet journal, so that was where I started. I hadn’t knowingly bullet journaled before this point. I’m not saying that journaling fixed those things, but it helped me begin the process.
In the beginning, my journaling looked more like this:
I wrote a LOT of lists.
I wrote down goals that I wanted to accomplish and hopes for the future.
I wrote down the things that I did accomplish.
Sometimes I wrote down fears, but only if I was also writing why I shouldn’t be afraid.
I wrote affirmations.
I wrote quotes.
I wrote gratitude lists.
Sometimes I wrote sentences like “just breathe” over and over until I felt better.
I wish that I had kept that journal. I would love to look back and see how far I’ve come. It was the last journal that I threw away. My journaling looks a bit different now, but I learned what worked for me.
What I DO include in my journaling process, now:
I use the second-person pronouns. (E.g. “You”)
I write everything to myself. (Before you laugh, I don’t write, “Dear Jessica”) I write, as though I am talking to someone I love. In the beginning, that person wasn’t me.
I write about what is going well, although I try to stay general if it’s not a gratitude list.
I write things that make me feel better. (For myself, this includes quotes and gratitude lists. It might be different for you.)
I write new ideas or personal breakthroughs.
I write about stuff that I’m learning, even if it seems irrelevant or unimportant.
It’s a love letter to my future self. I write to a girl that might be heartbroken, or in pain. I write to a girl that might be dealing with intense anxiety or overwhelming sadness. When I use second-person pronouns, I can read the words as though they were from someone else.
When I was already sad and saw a quote that made me feel better, I would add that too. It felt like a knight finding a sword in the middle of battle. I didn’t want to throw that away. I wanted to take it with me. Eventually, I changed and the things that I saw changed with me. Slowly I learned to love myself by practicing loving myself.
Why journaling helped:
I could see what I wanted to accomplish
I could read my gratitude lists and remember that everything was probably okay, even if it didn’t feel that way.
I could read my common fears and see beside them, the truth that they weren’t real
I could shift my attention away from what appeared not to be working and toward solutions.
I learned to be loving to myself.
I could read what I was learning and see how far I’d come.
Sometimes I would come across an old entry and receive the reminder that I needed at the moment.
It re-wired the way that I thought.
A journal might not be for everyone because we all need different things. My process might not be for you. But if you’ve been struggling lately and need a new tool for your self-care, I hope that you’ll give it a try. Journaling doesn’t mean that you lay down your other methods of self-care. It means that you add more to your collection.
Maybe my journaling process isn’t for you, but find as many tools as you can. Give yourself a fighting chance. Journaling isn’t a cure-all, but it could be a place to start. I hope that you learn to give yourself all the love that you deserve. It’s always more than you think.
I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends recently, regarding Shadow work. You may already be familiar with this term, or it might be brand new to you. This year, especially, we are being brought face to face with our Shadows.
I doubt that many people would disagree when I say, that 2020 has been hard. There seem to be endless problems cropping up, with little to no breaks. This year has been pretty overwhelming, and it’s only half over. We joke about the year being “canceled,” but Shadow work offers another way to see it.
Shadow Work is about confronting the deep rooted issues.
These are things that have hidden in the dark. Shadow work is the process of going inward and confronting our fears, our guilt, our prejudices, our anger, and our trauma.
When you’re intentionally doing Shadow Work, you begin to see trials as opportunities to “do the work.” Anything that shines a light on your Shadow can be seen as helpful.
I want to be clear, that the pain you have experienced is not invalidated by your healing. Furthermore, bad experiences aren’t made “okay” because something good seems to come out of it later.
You are valid and your feelings are valid. When you’re going through this, you might have a lot of so called “ugly” feelings or responses. This isn’t the time when you shame yourself. This is when you do the work. Everything becomes an opportunity for healing. And it begins with confronting the issues that come up for you, in the moment.
Even if you aren’t planning on doing the work, you will be faced with opportunities to confront your Shadow. Situations will arise, that make you feel like everything you care about is being attacked.
In a way, we are all being confronted by our Shadow, right now.
In my experience, the best way to cope isn’t always to run away from it. Your Shadow will always be there waiting, for the next opportunity to show its face. Instead, face it down. Don’t be afraid. Shadows might be illuminated by the light, but they are easily transformed that way, as well.
Remember to practice self-care. Self-care is incredibly important when you are undergoing big changes. Be kind to yourself, while you’re fighting the big battles. Give yourself time to rest, as well as examine. Set yourself up for success.
Confronting your Shadow isn’t about creating or avoiding problems. Problems will happen anyway. It is about deciding for yourself, how they change you. When i’m doing the work, I am choosing to use my experiences for self-examination and growth. I am choosing to use them for healing.
This year is bringing about the kind catalytic experiences, that will alter us entirely. So when you feel like these experiences are pulling you under, remember that you get to choose the person that you’ll be when it’s over. You also get to change your mind.
Don’t be afraid of your Shadow work. It isn’t your destruction. It’s your transformation.